SUMMARY: A vampire hunt takes an unexpected twist, leaving Dean fighting for his life and Sam fighting for a way to save him. What he finds is a little outside-the-box – even for a Winchester. Set mid-season Two.
RATING: T for mild language, some adult imagery
DISCLAIMER: Once again, I am borrowing the wonderful Winchesters, for fun – not profit, from Eric Kripke & Co to be the stars of this fic. I own only the SN DVD sets for Season One through Five.
A/N: The legend behind this story was told in a classic folk song, but it seemed to me a perfect fit for the Winchesters and became the basis for this story. More on the legend at the end of the fic so as not to spoil things. A great big thanks to Harrigan for the speedy beta and her friendship. I hope you enjoy.
THE WOUNDED KNIGHT - CHAPTER TWO
Sam paced beside Dean's gurney as his brother slept. A blanket covered Dean up to his waist, and his chest was bare except for the spider web of wires connecting him to a heart monitor. A blood pressure cuff encircled his right arm and a pulse-oximeter was clipped to his finger. He was receiving oxygen via a canula and blood and fluids via IV. A fresh bandage covered the Peuchen bite but it was already spotted with blood.
"Sam, stop." Dean rolled his head across the pillow as he woke up. He sounded tired, but his breathing wasn't tight the way it had been back at the motel. "Your pacing's driving me nuts."
"Well, you lying there hooked up to all that crap isn't doing my mental health any favors," Sam snapped. He stopped pacing and pinched the bridge of his nose. "Sorry. I'm just…worried. How you feeling?"
Dean licked his lips. "Thirsty."
Sam poured water into a plastic cup, then passed it to Dean. "I haven't seen your doctor since they brought you back here. What do you know?"
Dean took a drink then flashed a weak smile. "My doctor is way hotter than your doctor."
"Dean-" At that moment, the curtain was pulled back and Dr. Emily O'Brien stepped into the treatment bay. "Doc, Dean's been in here for almost four hours and nobody's told me a thing. What's going on with him?"
The doctor moved to Dean's side, on the opposite side of the gurney to Sam. "He's stabilized, but we have more tests to do before we isolate the cause."
Dean's eyes slid shut. "Awesome."
Sam swallowed as he again scanned all the monitoring equipment. "So…it was a heart attack?"
Dr. O'Brien checked the readings on the monitor. "The chest pain, the shortness of breath are both connected to the anaemia."
Sam's knuckles whitened as he tightened his grip on the gurney railing. "Anaemia?"
The doctor frowned at Dean. "You didn't tell your brother?"
"I was getting there." Dean looked up at Sam. "Tried to lighten things up first, but Sammy has no sense of humour." He winked. "But I was right, wasn't I?"
Sam ignored him. "Doctor?"
Dr. O'Brien turned to Sam. "Your brother's red cell count is dangerously low. Red blood cells are the oxygen carriers, and low oxygen levels in the vital organs, if left untreated, means they shut down. That can lead to a heart attack. Dean was in the preliminary stage of a cardiac event when you brought him in."
Sam blanched. "And now?"
The doctor offered a reassuring smile. "He's on oxygen and the transfusion has boosted his red cell count to stabilize him. We'll keep monitoring him while we run further tests to isolate the cause of the anaemia."
Sam felt sick. "What are the possibilities?"
"I don't like to speculate, but we did find something in the blood samples we took. We thought at first it may be a toxin, related to the snake bite, but our lab tells us it's a virus. They're working to identify it now."
Sam was staring at the bandage on Dean's arm. "This virus – could he have picked it up through the bite?"
"We're not ruling out anything at his point. Once the lab IDs it, we'll know how to proceed." Dr. O'Brien gave Dean's shoulder a squeeze. "We're going to move you up to the CICU, keep you as comfortable as we can until we get some answers. I'll let you know as soon as the results come from the lab. In the mean time, try to get some rest." She glanced over at Sam. "That goes for you to. The best way to help your brother is by looking after yourself." She smiled and left the bay, pulling the curtain after her.
Sam's jaw clenched. "No bullshit, Dean. Were you feeling tired…rundown…anything, before the Peuchen bit you?"
"No. No more than usual." Dean scrubbed a hand down his face, knocking off the oxygen canula. "But how could I pick up a virus from a snake?"
"Damned if I know." Sam moved in quickly to replace the canula under Dean's nose, looping the tubing behind his ears. He lowered his voice. "But the Peuchen feeds on blood. This… virus, it's feeding on red blood cells. No way that's a coincidence."
Dean was silent for a moment as he considered that possibility. "Okay then. If the cause is supernatural, if the Peuchen did this, no lab test is gonna find a way to fix me." He reached up to pull off the oxygen canula. "Get me out of here. We'll find a cure ourselves."
"No." Sam batted Dean's hand away from the oxygen tubing. "Leave that. Even if the Peuchen caused this, the effects are physical. What the docs are doing is at least making sure you don't get worse." His voice softened. "Let them do that, please, while I dig around, see what I can find."
"I don't wanna be here, Sammy." Dean's eyes widened as he forced them open, fighting the exhaustion that was threatening to pull consciousness from him.
"I know." Sam forced a smile. "But it's the safest place for you while we figure this out."
"Son of a bitch." Dean's eyes were closed now. "Don't want doctors…poking and prodding…looking for something…something that… doesn't even…" His voice trailed off as he fell asleep.
Sam's smile disappeared, his fears for Dean now on full view
Hunting beat the crap out of them on a regular basis, and they'd each spent more time taking care of an injured brother than they cared to admit. A motel room fix-up was often messy but rarely life-threatening. A hospital visit, though – that meant it was something beyond their skill set, something they needed doctors to step in and take care of. And that would never fail to scare Sam.
He thought back to the last time Dean was hospitalized, after the semi had slammed into the Impala. When Sam had finally been released, and they'd let him go to Dean's room, the helplessness at seeing his brother comatose and attached to all that machinery had made him physically sick.
His stomach was churning now. But if the virus was supernatural in origin, the doctors wouldn't be able to help Dean – not with traditional medicine. They could treat the symptoms, but they couldn't cure him.
That would be up to him. He could recruit Bobby and Ayelén to help, but it could take time and Dean was already making noise about wanting out of the hospital. Sam moved to the bottom of the bed and pulled out Dean's chart. He listened to make sure no doctors or nurses were approaching, then used his phone to snap photos of the charts. He'd stock up on blood, IV fluids and whatever else doctors were giving Dean. If his brother insisted on leaving, he could continue the stop-gap treatment until they found something permanent.
After replacing the chart, Sam tucked his phone into his pocket and moved back to Dean's side. "You hang in there, you hear me?" He tapped his fist against the bed rails as he looked down at his sleeping brother. "One way or another, we'll find a way to beat this."
"Ow." Dean woke with a start, and flinched at a sharp sting in his arm. "What-" He rubbed his eyes and squinted up at his brother, who sat at his side. "Sam? What the hell?"
Sam kept working. "You won't stay in the hospital, so the hospital's coming to you." He taped in place the IV line he'd just inserted into Dean's arm, the tubing attached to a bag of blood hanging from a pole at the side of the bed.
As Sam fussed with the IV, Dean glanced around. They were still in the Pikesville, Maryland motel room they'd checked into after they left the hospital in Poughkeepsie, Sam taking them two states over in case Dr. O'Brien made good on her threat to make him a ward of New York State. He was lying in bed, propped up by enough pillows that he was almost sitting up which made breathing easier. He had a vague recollection of Sam helping him from the car to the room, but nothing about how he ended up in bed or how long he'd been there. On the table by the window, there was a red and white cooler, with a red cross in a white circle on the front. "Robbing hospitals now?"
"Only when I have to." Sam dug inside the duffel at his feet and pulled out a canister of oxygen, which he placed on the bed, pressing the mask attached to it into Dean's hand. "Use that when you need it."
"Sam…" Dean dropped the mask on the bed. "What are you doing? All this…it's not changing anything. It's just prolonging-"
"Prolonging gives us time, and time is what we needed to find something to help you." Sam looked up at Dean. "And I've got something."
Dean's expression was a mix of surprise and suspicion. "What?"
"I found it while you were still in the hospital, but I wanted to do more digging before I said anything. Make sure it's kosher." Sam handed Dean a bottle of water and motioned for him to drink. "As near as we can figure, because the Peuchen was morphing when it bit you, the effects of its bite morphed, too. Whatever infection got in through the wound took on the characteristics of the host – the snake consumes blood so now the virus does, too."
Dean drank some water, then recapped the bottle. "That gives us the why I'm in this mess, but I still don't hear a fix. If I've got some mutant virus, how do we kill it?" He watched Sam chew on his bottom lip and rub his palms on his thighs, both telltale signs he was nervous. "Sam – what've you got?"
Sam exhaled slowly. "We've tried traditional medicine, all the teas and tonics Ayelén could think of, the incantation Bobby found… We-"
"Sam!" Dean's breathing was labored. "I know what didn't work – I was there. Now if you've found something, it's either really bad or Section Eight crazy 'cause you're dancing around it like your shorts are on fire. Which is it?"
Sam swallowed. "It's not…bad."
"Okay, then. Crazy it is." Dean twisted and untwisted the cap on his bottle of water as he waited to catch his breath. "So, we talking dancing naked, burying me in an anthill, drinking-"
"There's a witch."
"Wit-" Dean dropped the bottle of water on the bed. "No. No way, Sam. I-"
"She's a good witch."
Dean snorted, which started him coughing. "That's an oxymoron if I ever heard one."
"No it isn't." Sam grabbed the oxygen cylinder and opened the valve. "Technically, Ayelén is a witch… So is Missouri, if you think about it. There are stories around here about this witch helping people, deserving people, for more than two hundred years." He picked up the mask and moved to press it over Dean's face.
"Two hundred…" Dean snatched the mask from Sam, took two deep inhales, then let the mask fall into his lap. "Get me my gun, Sammy, and pray I shoot myself before I shoot you."
"Don't even joke. Look…" Sam exhaled softly. "Hear me out. It sounds crazy, I know, but, in addition to the lore, I've found three people who swear she's legit, say she's helped them or members of their families – and that's just in a few days of digging. I've been looking through the county archives, too. There are more references there. Okay, they're more vague but they go back decades."
Dean tapped his fist on the bed as he took in Sam's pleading expression. "I know I'm gonna regret this, but I'm listening."
Sam nodded in relief. "When I could find nothing in Peuchen lore or Malpuche shamanism to fix this, I had to think outside the box. I started looking into what other cultures had settled this part of the U.S., if there might be something there to pull from. When I started looking into Celtic and Scottish lore-"
"Scottish?" Dean smiled weakly as he dropped his head back on the pillows. "Please tell me the cure involves me drinking Scotch."
Sam shot him a look. "There's no Scotch."
"God, it's not that sheep's stomach thing they pipe in when-"
"Dean, stop!" Sam's eyes were glistening as he glared at his brother, his chest heaving as he fought to control his emotions. "We both know we can't keep transfusing you indefinitely. Doctors can't help you. Ayelén, Bobby, me…we can't help you. I think this witch can." He gave a small shrug. "What have you got to lose?"
"Me? Nothing. But the last time you pulled a miracle out of your ass to save mine, an innocent kid died." Dean rubbed his chest. He was feeling a lot like he did after being electrocuted while hunting the rawhead. Sam had taken him to see Roy LeGrange in good faith, but when he'd had been saved, the reaper had taken Marshall Hall's life in his place. "How do we know she's not working the same deal? I get saved, someone else dies."
"Because I did my homework." Sam's leg was bouncing with nervous tension. "Back then, I didn't know. But now, with this white witch, it isn't about souls or reapers, Dean. She just has the gift of healing."
Dean was still having a hard time buying it. "But you had to dig to find out about her. If she's so good, if she's legit, why isn't she plastered all over the eleven o'clock news? Why aren't there lines around the block to see her? People were pushing wheelchairs through a freaking mudfield to see Roy LeGrange."
"Because…" Sam's leg was still bouncing. "She's tough to find…and kinda picky about who she helps. She…"
"Sammy, I'm tired." Dean scrubbed a hand over his face. "The last time you were like this, you were seventeen and trying to tell me you'd backed the Impala into a tree. Let's start with the 'she's picky' part."
Sam pushed himself off the bed and started pacing. "You don't have a problem there. She'll help you. See, she… she has a soft spot for knights, for saving brave men wounded in the field."
"Knights?" Dean frowned. "You said she was two hundred years old, and I'm still wrestling with that part, but weren't knights a little before her time?"
Sam shook his head. "No. The stories suggest she came to this country around two hundred years ago, around the time a second wave of English and Scottish immigrants were settling around Chesapeake Bay. In Scotland, the legend goes back centuries, to before medieval times."
Dean screwed his eyes closed when the room started spinning. He snapped them open again when Sam sat down beside him suddenly, the bed sinking under his weight.
Sam grabbed the oxygen mask and pressed it to Dean's face. "Breathe deep."
Dean did, and the spinning room gradually slowed, then stopped. He nodded at Sam, pushing his hand away and holding the mask himself.
Dean nodded. "I'm no knight, Sammy. We fight the bad guys but you know as well as I do that between black and white, there's helluva lot of gray – and we've been camped out in the dark side of gray most of our lives."
Sam sat back. "One of the guys I spoke to, his dad was in Desert Storm – came back pretty screwed up. There were some missions that went bad because of faulty intel. Civilians were killed, some members of his unit…She helped him get his head straight, put his life back together. Another guy grew up in L.A., ran with gangs out there, got messed up on drugs. Came to family here on the east coast to get away from it, get straight. The witch helped him, told him his quest was just beginning. Now he's back in California helping others get out of the life."
Sam's voice was quiet. "That's what we do, Dean. We help others. You're as much a knight as they are, given the number of times you've thrown yourself in front of bus to save my ass, or Dad's, or Bobby's, or some stranger's. You said once we don't get thanked…but we make a difference."
"Yeah." Dean rubbed his eyes tiredly. "The world's a slightly less crappy place thanks to us."
"Dean, come on. We-"
"You said she was tough to find." Dean squinted up at Sam. "Where's she supposed to be?"
Sam's knee was bouncing again. "Calvert County, Maryland. Near a place called Parker's Creek. "
Dean snorted. "Let me guess – in a little cabin in the middle of nowhere."
"Not exactly." Sam cleared his throat. "She lives in a marsh…in the water."
Dean frowned. "Like on a boat?"
"No." Sam pinched the bridge of his nose. "In the water."
Dean's eyes widened. "In the… Like a freaking mermaid?"
"She's not a mermaid." Sam stood up and started pacing again. "Look, I know this all sounds batshit crazy, but so does ninety-nine per cent of the stuff we go up against. If we started telling people that wendigos and demons were real, we'd be in a rubber room inside of a week."
"I know…but in the water? Really?" Dean rolled his head across the pillow. "What's she supposed to look like?"
Sam stopped pacing, and shrugged hopefully. "The stories say she's… hot."
Dean's eyebrow quirked. "Like Daryl Hannah in Splash hot?"
"She's not a mermaid, Dean, and they didn't get into specifics." Sam sank down on the bed. "So, you'll give it a try? We can go find her?"
Dean stared a Sam for a moment, saying nothing, then let his eyes slide shut. "What the hell. Let's go hunt a mermaid."
"Where the hell is it?"
Sam risked another glance at the odometer, then resumed scanning the treeline to his left. Drive seven miles along the old salt marsh road. Look for a barred gate, then take that sideroad. That'll take you to her marsh. He'd driven seven miles – 7.2 to be exact – but there was no gate, no sideroad, nothing.
A soft groan from the passenger seat pulled his attention from his search. "Dean?" His brother had slept for most of the trip to Parker's Creek. Sam had rigged up an IV pole for the car so he could keep transfusing Dean while they drove. If they were going to do this…if Dean was going to do this, they needed to keep fighting the virus, fighting the anaemia as long as possible. "You awake?"
Dean squinted against the sun, low in the sky to the left, but nodded. "Yeah. We there yet?"
"Almost." Sam gestured with his left hand. "There's supposed to be an old gated sideroad around here somewhere."
Dean pushed himself up in the seat, yawned, and pointed just up ahead. "Like that one."
Sam did a double take when saw it. He would have sworn it hadn't been there just moments earlier. "Yeah. Just like that one. Maybe it takes the one in need of her help to see it." He shrugged at Dean's WTF expression. "We've found the front door - that's a good sign."
He braked, and made the left turn, pulling to a stop just in front of the wide gate. "Be right back." The gate was kept closed with a simple rope lashed to one bar and then looped over the gate post. Sam unhooked the rope, walked the gate open and quickly returned to the car.
As he slid behind the wheel, Dean was staring at the rough path ahead. Under no definition could it be called a road. It twisted through the dense bush, running parallel to a narrow brook on the right and then began climbing at a fairly steep angle. The top of the hill was lost in the tree canopy.
"We get stuck, you're digging us out." Dean shivered. "And washing every speck of mud off my baby when we get back."
For the first time since Dean had gotten sick, Sam smiled. When we get back. Despite his protests, his refusal to believe that the witch could heal him, a part of Dean was hanging on to some thread of hope.
Dean scowled when he caught Sam smiling. "What?"
"Nothing. But we get you through this…when we get you through this, I'll detail the Impala, inside and out, and pick up the tab for dinner."
Dean rolled his eyes. "If I was a chick, I'd say you were looking to get laid."
"Shut up." Sam was about to slide the car into gear when he noticed some tall, yellow flowers growing amidst the thick ferns by the brook. "Hold on." He left the car, pulled up some of the flowers, and tossed them into Dean's lap as he climbed back in."
Dean scowled at the flowers as Sam started driving along the path. "You cheap bastard. These are weeds. What kind of date do you-"
"It's goldenrod. We need it." Sam gunned the engine, building up speed to tackle the steep climb ahead while fighting to maintain control of the Chevy on the pothole-ridden path. "Lore says you drop it in the water to summon the witch."
Dean looked at Sam incredulously. "I take my goldenrod and drop it in her lake?" He snorted. "Nothing Freudian there."
"I don't make up this crap." Sam's grip on the wheel tightened. "I'm just doing what I have to…so she'll help you." The Impala's engine growled loudly as she began climbing the hill. Sam had the accelerator to the floor as he turned the wheel quickly left and right, allowing the wheels to maintain traction while they climbed upwards. It was a full ten minutes before the road levelled out between hills that rose on each side and seemed to head straight for the setting sun.
Sam adjusted his grip quickly when the path took a sudden downturn at a steep pitch, then began switchbacking through the trees. "You might wanna hang onto something."
"One step ahead of you." Dean had one hand locked on the door handle, the other against the dashboard, bracing himself as the road threw the two of them around inside the car.
The path swung to the left, then the right, the forest cover getting thicker as they went. The trees on each side of the path were tall enough that their branches met in the middle, forming a living canopy that filtered the setting sun as it turned from gold to red.
After twenty minutes or so of zig-zagging through the trees, the path widened and then came to an abrupt end as they broke from the forest cover onto the banks of a salt marsh. Sam slipped the car into park, turned off the engine and glanced around. The marsh was a winding ribbon of water that stretched out in front of them, forming a long inlet between the hills that rose up on either side and behind them. Tall cord grass lined the shores of the marsh as it wound its way to the Atlantic, which lay beyond a distant bend. There were no signs of civilization anywhere.
Dean was looking around, too. "Now what?"
Sam gave a small shrug. "We wait 'til the sun goes down. 'Til then, get some rest."
"Right. She only comes out at night." Dean shivered, then slid down in his seat, dropping his head onto the seat back. "Better not be because she's too fugly to be seen in daylight."
Sam shifted in his seat to face Dean. "She's supposed to be hot, remember?"
"A lot of people look hot in the dark. But turn on the lights and..." He shuddered.
"Whatever. Remind me again how this goes down."
Sam looked through the windshield to the steep, sandy bank which sloped from the end of the path to the water's edge. "Once the moon's out, you walk down to the water and throw in the goldenrod. Then, you wait. If she's willing to help, you'll see her. If she doesn't show before sunrise…
"She's decided I'm not worthy." Dean glanced over at Sam. "If she doesn't show-"
"But if she doesn't… this is it. We're not trying anything else."
"But nothing. I meant what I said at the hospital. I'm done." Dean looked out at the marsh. "I can't believe I let you talk me into this. I mean, you've come up with some bat shit-crazy stuff before, but this…"
"It'll work." Sam reached for the now-empty bag of blood hanging from the jury-rigged IV stand. "We have time for another transfusion before-"
"No. No more."
"Dean, come on." Sam grabbed his brother's arm to get Dean to face him. "The lore says you've gotta summon her by yourself. I can't help you. You need to be as strong as possible, so-"
"No." Dean pulled his arm from Sam's hold as he started to protest and began pulling off the tape that held the IV line in place. "I said, no."
Sam's jaw clenched. "Look, we've still got another three hours before it's dark. In case you've forgotten, you barely made it from the motel room to the car, wouldn't have without me holding you up, so-"
"I'm sitting down, Sam, not running a marathon." Dean winced as he pulled the IV needle from his arm. "I'll make it just fine." He cast a glance out the window, taking in the steep bank that led to the water. "Besides, it's all downhill. I fall, I just keep rolling, right to where I need to be."
"Not funny." Sam took the needle from Dean, coiled up the tubing and dropped it into the back seat."
"Look…" Dean turned to face Sam, his expression serious. "This is a Hail Mary, plain and simple. If it works, amen. If it doesn't…you did all you could. So no moping, or hand-wringing or-"
"Dean, shut up and get some sleep." Sam pulled a blanket from the back seat and unfolded it over his brother. "I'll wake you when it's time."
Dean batted away Sam's hand, letting the blanket fall into his lap. "Stop being a grandma."
Sam raised his hands in surrender and sat back, watching as Dean quickly fell asleep.
As Dean's eyes closed, Sam's confidence crumbled. Were they doing the right thing?
He mentally sorted through his research, making sure there was nothing he'd missed. Everything he'd read suggested the witch was the real deal, with the people he'd spoken to backing up the written accounts. Those she'd helped seemed fine – there were no deals with the devil he could find, no promises to sacrifice first-borns, literally or figuratively.
He could understand Dean's skepticism. Hell, if the situation was reversed, he'd be bitching just a loudly, if not louder. But this, this was all they had.
He stared at his sleeping brother, thinking about Dean questioning whether the witch would save him. Why was it so hard for him to see what others did? He'd played the smartass tough guy for too long, that's why, confusing the role he played with the man inside that emotional armour.
Sam had learned long ago to see through Dean's defences. As kids, when there wasn't enough food, Dean did without so Sam could eat, dismissing any protests with a curt, "I'm not hungry," or, "I don't eat that crap." When Sam was scared or unsettled by another move and another school, Dean told him stories about good triumphing over evil – although as Dean remembered it, he was just reading his comics aloud. When he had nightmares about Jess, Sam would wake in a cold sweat. Dean would already be up, fetching him a bottle of water from the cooler and delivering it with a gruff, 'Couldn't sleep either. Wanna watch a movie, maybe play some poker?' He'd let Sam decide if he wanted to talk about the nightmare, distracting him when he didn't, listening when he did.
Bobby, Ellen…they never bought into Dean's bull. The people they helped, kids especially, saw through it easily – Lucas who Dean had saved from the vengeful spirit in Lake Manitoc, or Jenny's daughter Sari in their old home in Lawrence…They responded to Dean because they saw the man he fought so hard to hide.
Sam smiled. That was the man the witch would help.
"Dean. It's time."
Dean startled awake with the gentle shake of his shoulder. The last thing he wanted to do was wake up, until he remembered that his clock was ticking. He stretched and rubbed his eyes as he sat up. "Guess there'll be plenty of time to sleep if this doesn't work."
"It'll work." The passenger door of the Impala was open and Sam was crouched next to him in the open doorway, pulling the blanket from Dean's lap.
"Yeah, yeah." Dean shivered as the wind picked up, blowing through the car. He glanced outside, across the marsh. The sky was now an inky blue-black, streaked with gray. The moon was pale and full, hanging directly overhead, its perfect reflection in the water broken only by the occasional ripple, its light strong enough that Sam's shadow trailed behind him on the rocky ground. "This is it, huh?"
Dean frowned as he studied Sam's worried expression. "Having second thoughts?"
"No, but…" Sam opened the glove box and pulled out a thick twig, about a foot long. "Take this."
Dean scowled. "What the hell is it? A wand?"
"It's rowan wood." Sam gestured again with the wood. "As long as you hold this, the witch can't harm you."
Dean took it suspicously. "Thought she was supposed to help me."
"She is…she will." Sam looked up and his eyes were glassy. "I've gone over everything, Dean. Over and over. There's no hidden clauses, no nasty surprises – at least that I can find. But…"
Dean waved the stick. "So, I ask again, why do I need the Harry Potter prop?"
"I don't want this to be another Roy LeGrange." Sam bit his lip. "You have to decide if you can trust her. If…when she shows, if anything seems hinky, you hang on to that, you yell for me and we get the hell out of here."
Dean looked out through the windshield and across the water. "Hate to state the obvious, Sammy, but we bail, I'm done. Kind of flies in the face of everything you've been doing to save my ass."
"I know." Sam looked nauseous now. "But if this isn't what it seems…then I buy the beer, find you Butch and Sundance online, and-"
"Sam." Dean waited until Sam made eye contact. "If I didn't wanna do this, you couldn't make me. I don't care how crappy I feel, I can still take down your sorry ass." He offered a tired smile as he batted Sam's shoulder. "Now get the hell outta my way and let's get this show on the road. See what happens."
Sam stood up, then reached down to help Dean out of the car.
Dean weakly shoved him away. "Gotta do it myself, right?"
"I can help you outta the damn car." Before his brother could protest again, Sam had his arms under Dean's and was hauling him to his feet.
Dean hated to admit it, even to himself, but if Sam wasn't holding onto him, he would've gone down. He closed his eyes, not fighting Sam's support as he waited for the dizziness to pass and his legs to decide they could hold him up. When they did, he slowly opened his eyes, smiled at Sam, and patted his arm. "Okay. You can let go."
Dean snorted. "No. But let go anyway." Sam did. Dean swayed but stayed standing. He tightly gripped the piece of wood Sam had given him, then nodded. "I'm good"
"Wait. Don't forget this." Sam ducked back into the car, pulled out a stem of goldenrod and handed it to Dean.
Dean teetered again as he reached for it. "You better be right about this. Any date I've ever had would be seriously pissed if I showed up on her doorstep with weeds."
Sam grinned. "When was the last time you took flowers on a date?"
"Bitch." Dean turned unsteadily toward the water. "Right. Let's do this." He stumbled to the edge of the path, then began slowly slip-sliding sideways down the embankment.
Sam's voice came from behind him. "I've got you covered, Dean. I'm not going anywhere."
Dean wanted to respond but the loose rocks and sand beneath his feet were shifting constantly and it was taking all his concentration just to keep himself upright. He didn't have far to go, thirty feet maybe, most of it downhill, but it felt like thirty miles. He took another step, lost his footing when the sand shifted faster than he anticipated and crashed onto his side.
"M'okay." Dean stayed there for a moment, catching his breath, before pushing himself up to his feet and sliding and stumbling his way to the water's edge. There, he collapsed to his knees in the shallows, the denim of his jeans quickly soaked and cold, but he was too damn exhausted to care.
Breathing heavily, he stared for a moment at the yellow flower in his hand, then swallowed. "Here goes nothing." He weakly tossed the flower into the water, then sank back onto his heels. He watched it float away until his vision blurred and his head fell forward, his chin dropping to his chest. Son of a bitch. He hated being this tired, this weak.
He'd thought about dying plenty of times. When he was electrocuted hunting the Rawhead and stuck in a hospital bed for three days, he'd thought of little else. When Yellow-Eyes had possessed Dad and started rearranging Dean's insides, he thought he was toast – and that was before the possessed truck driver had slammed the semi into the Impala. Nobody had been more surprised than him when he'd woken up in the hospital, choking on the ventilator with Sam yelling for help. Then a possessed Sam had shot him and he'd fallen off a Minnesota dock. He still had little recollection of how he'd gotten from the water to the boat ramp, shock, cold and blood loss stealing that memory from him, but he clearly remembered being surprised as hell to wake up shivering with a frantic Jo kneeling beside him.
When it came to death, the only thing Dean had crossed off his list of possible causes was old age. When his time came, if he had anything to say about it, he'd want it over quick and with Sam nowhere in sight. But this…this was the polar opposite – a torturously slow twist on bleeding to death with Sam in a front row seat.
But the truth was, if he was brutally honest, didn't want to die. He didn't want to leave Sam alone to deal with the freaky visions he'd been plagued with lately. He didn't want to leave his promise to avenge Dad's death and Mom's murder unfulfilled. He wasn't done yet. And so, he'd kneel on this beach, all night if he had to, to see if there was any truth to this crazy-ass legend Sam had dug up, to see if this witch would show up, to see if he was worth saving.
If she didn't? If he wasn't? Well, he'd cross that bridge when he had to.
The water splashed against his knees with each gentle wave that lapped at the shore. The air was heavy with salt, the silence of the marsh broken only by the buzz of insects, the rustle of the tall grasses when the wind picked up and his own harsh breathing. He may have drifted off, memories of past close calls filling his head, but woke with a start when the loud hoot of an owl echoed across the water. He looked up, wincing at the tightness in his chest, then froze at the sight in front of him.
The flower he'd tossed into the water had floated out to the middle of the marsh, carried by some unseen current into the reflection of the moon. As Dean watched, the goldenrod spun lazily and the water around it seemed to boil, bubbles breaking the surface quickly turning the navy water to silver.
In a matter of seconds, the still water of the lake was roiling furiously – but only inside the moon's reflection. And then, in the middle of the turbulent water, a woman's head breached the surface.
It was the witch.
Heart hammering against his chest, he watched as she rose from the water. She was tall, slim, and naked as the day she was born. Her hair was long and dark, her skin pale and she had full, firm breasts. His eyes widened as she kept rising, arms outstretched until she was standing on the surface of the water.
Dean's breath hitched as she took a step toward him. For a fleeting moment he could have sworn that, from the waist down, she was… a horse. He screwed his eyes closed, swallowed and looked again.
No. He was seeing things. She was walking toward him, still on the water's surface, still naked and all woman. As she walked, the marsh water rose up and swirled around her, the navy waters transforming into dark blue fabric that became a long gown, the bubbles of froth created by the turbulence turning into the silver links in the chain that encircled her waist. She stopped in front of Dean and looked down at him as the waters behind her calmed, restoring the lake's still, glassy surface.
Dean wanted to get up, meet the witch and/or his fate on his own two feet, but his legs refused to co-operate. So, he smiled. "Hey."
Her eyes were the same navy as the lake, her lips full, her skin flawless. At least one part of the legend was right – she was far from fugly.
The witch returned his smile. "You are my wounded knight?"
Her voice sent goosebumps racing down Dean's arm. "I was poisoned, not wounded, and I'm a hunter, not a knight." He winked at her. "I'm kinda hoping you're not a stickler for details."
The witch knelt beside him, the hem of her gown spreading out around her ankles and rippling as it became one with the gentle tide. "If I did not mean to help you, I would not be here."
"Oh." Dean swallowed. "Okay. Good."
Dean and the witch both turned to the side when they heard the loud click of the safety being released on a gun. Sam stood about ten feet to Dean's left, his gun pointed at the witch.
Dean frowned. "Sammy? Thought I was supposed to do this myself."
Sam kept his aim and his attention on the witch. "No. Legend says you have to meet and summon her by yourself. Says nothing about not having backup when she's doing whatever it is she does to save you."
Dean turned to the witch. "That's my brother. Was supposed to be a lawyer. Definitely a stickler for details."
The witch seemed unfazed by the gun pointed at her. "If I am to help, you must call off your protector and lay down your rowan shield. If you do not, you are unreachable to me."
Sam adjusted his grip on his gun. "Your call, Dean."
Dean stared at the witch. He considered himself a good judge of character, but how the hell did you judge the character of a witch who lived in a lake? All he had was instinct. He stared at her for a moment, studied her as she stared back at him, but he could sense nothing dark, nothing malevolent. "Put it down, Sammy."
Dean turned to Sam. There would be silver bullets in his gun – silver worked on witches as well as Peuchens – but killing the witch wouldn't cure him. He'd come this far; he might as well finish the trip. "Put it down."
Sam nodded slowly, then clicked the safety on as he bent down to place the gun on the ground. While crouched, he also pulled a piece of rowan wood from his pocket, and set it beside the gun. Then he stood, his hands raised and open to show he was now unarmed.
Dean glanced down at the stick of rowan wood still in his hand, rolled it between his thumb and forefinger, then placed it beside him on the rock-littered shore.
As he looked up at the witch, she smiled. "I thank you for your trust."
She waved her hand suddenly at Sam. His eyes rolled back, he dropped to his knees and then fell forward, landing sprawled on his stomach.
"Sammy!" Anger fuelled both Dean's attempt to push himself to his feet and the glare he gave the witch. "What the hell-"
"Your brother is unharmed." The witch wrapped her fingers around Dean's arms, holding him in place. "But this healing can only be between us."
Dean's gaze was still on Sam, who wasn't moving. "Then why the hell not just ask him to leave? He could've-"
"There is no need for fear." The witch turned Dean's head toward her. "Your brother will wake with the sun and, if it be the gods will, so will you." She glanced down at the bandage on Dean's arm which covered the Peuchen bite. After gently unwrapping the bandage, she ran her fingers over the bite mark. "The poison entered here, poison that is stealing your strength…and that will soon take your life."
Dean shivered at her touch, her fingers sending what felt like a small electrical charge through his skin. "It's that last part we're kinda hoping you can do something about."
The witch ran her fingers down his face, then turned and placed her hand flat on the surface of the water. The stem of golden rod Dean had thrown into the water floated from the moon's reflection toward the witch, as if pulled by some invisible thread. She glanced over at Sam and the Impala as she waited. "Much has changed since the first knights sought my help. Once, their steeds did not have four wheels, and they had a hound and a hawk to protect them, not a giant as a squire."
"A squire?" Dean pointed at Sam. "Him? I don't know what the hell a squire is, but that's my little brother." The goldenrod floated directed into the witch's hand. Dean waited until she picked it up and looked up at him. "And if you've hurt him-"
"I see that I was mistaken." The witch smiled. "It is the knight who protects the giant."
Dean held her gaze. "I look out for Sammy, always have. But now…he looks out for me, too. I mean, you've seen the size of him, right?" He shrugged. "The company we keep, it pays to have a Sasquatch on your six."
The witch frowned. "Language has changed much, too." She took the goldenrod and wrapped it around Dean's arm, binding the wound. "But in some things, the old ways are best." Closing her hand over the bite mark, she spoke softly in a language unfamiliar to Dean.
The dizziness hit suddenly and Dean toppled sideways, right into the arms of the witch as she opened them up to catch him. His face rested against her shoulder, her skin cool and soft against his cheek. As he tilted his head to look up at her, she leaned in and kissed him, slowly and deeply. The surge of electricity that passed through him was like her touch magnified tenfold.
When she broke off the kiss, Dean blinked in shock. "Okay. Didn't see that coming."
She smiled, then bent her head and kissed him again. Dean couldn't help himself; he kissed her back, and once more felt the electric current flow through him. It felt strange lying in her arms, more like floating in water than being held by someone. He couldn't move much, couldn't break from her hold, but he felt better than he had in days. He didn't feel sick anymore.
When the witch broke off the kiss, Dean raised an eyebrow. "Is this…going somewhere?"
She traced his jawline with the back of a finger. "Would you like it to?"
Dean swallowed as he looked up at her perfect features. "You know, you're way hotter than I expected…given your age and, you know… that you live underwater in an upscale swamp. And the kissing part? Total bonus compared to some of the cures I've had to choke down. But…" He glanced to where his brother lay unconscious, then reached up, grabbed the witch's wrist and squeezed. "It doesn't matter what you do for me, or to me... If Sam over there is not okay in the morning, then no magic, old or new, will protect you. I will shoot you, drown you or take your head off, whatever works, even if I have to come back as ghost to do it. We clear on that?"
The witch laughed softly. "Inside the hunter beats a knight's heart. I chose wisely." She peeled Dean's fingers from her wrist with surprising strength, then unwrapped the goldenrod from around the bite mark. After crushing the yellow petals between her fingers, she smeared the paste over the wound. "Now, you must rest."
She leaned down and kissed Dean a third time. With this kiss came more dizziness, more of the strange current buzzing through him. But this time, it fueled a tiredness he couldn't shake. He fought like hell to keep his eyes open, but as he stared up at her she blurred and faded into the darkness of the night sky. As he slipped into unconsciousness, the witch's final words spun through his head.
"Sleep well, good knight. None can harm you now."
Dean woke suddenly, blinking against the brilliant sunshine reflecting off the marsh in front of him, the water that had been navy by moonlight now a soft gray-green.
He rolled onto his back with a groan and screwed his eyes closed as the sun, high in the sky, hit him square in the face. "Son of a…" He sat up slowly and scrubbed a hand down his face as he peeled open his eyes. Blinking to find focus, his vision settled on his brother, still sprawled on the rocks to his left, still unmoving.
"Sam!" Dean scrambled to his feet and was at his brother's side before it even registered he was up and moving. "Sammy?" His mind's eye replayed Sam's fall after the witch had done…whatever it was she'd done to him. He hadn't moved since. Dean glanced around. There was no sign of the witch. He had no clue how long she'd been gone, but the sun was almost directly overhead which meant it was close to noon. Sam had been out cold for more than twelve hours – almost as long as Dean.
"What the hell did she do to you?" Dean pressed his fingers to Sam's neck, exhaling in relief when he found a strong pulse. "Sam? Come on. Naptime's over."
Sam groaned as Dean gently rolled him onto his back.
"That's it. All the way now."
Sam groaned again as his eyes slowly opened. "Dean?"
"Who else. How you feeling?"
"Like I did when we drank Bobby's moonshine." Sam covered his eyes with his hand. "That first batch that didn't turn out so good."
Dean's jaw clenched. "That bitch said you'd be fine. She-"
"Dean!" Sam's eyes snapped open and he grabbed his brother's shirt as confusion gave way to clarity. "The witch… Did she…Are you-"
"I'm fine, Sam. And she said you'd be fine, too. Said-"
"She's right." Sam sat up, using his grip on his brother's shirt to haul himself upright. He smiled. "My head's clearing now and...I'm fine. But you – you're really okay?"
"Think so." Dean started to relax now Sam was awake and moving. He took a deep breath: there was no tightness in his chest, no dizziness. He clapped Sam on the arm, then sat down beside him. "I feel…good."
Sam swallowed. "No bullshit, Dean."
"No bullshit. Looks like she fixed me." Dean pulled a face as he sniffed at his T-shirt. "Need a shower and a gallon of coffee, but otherwise-"
"Dean, the bite." Sam grabbed Dean's arm and turned it over. Where the Peuchen bite had been, the skin was unblemished. "It's like you were never bitten." He looked up at his brother. "What did she do?"
Dean ran his fingers over his arm where the bite had been. "She used that goldenrod as some kind of cure, with some kind of spell, and…" He looked up at Sam and grinned, "she kissed me."
Sam returned the grin. "Three times, right?"
Dean's grin faded. "You knew?"
Sam shrugged. "It's in the lore but, like you said, lore's just a game of telephone. I didn't know if it was real or not." He bit back a grin. "Didn't wanna disappoint you if it wasn't."
Dean snorted at that. "Well, it's real and, trust me, the lady knows how to kiss. She-" He looked out into the marsh, to where he'd first seen the witch appear. "You were still upright when she first showed, right?. What exactly did you see?"
Sam drew up his knees and wrapped his arms around them. "You mean…was she part horse?"
"You knew that, too?" Dean glared at his brother. "Damn it, Sam. How much of the freaking lore did you leave out?"
Sam snorted. "You were fighting me on meeting a witch who lived underwater. You really think adding in the part about, 'Oh, sometimes she's part horse,' was gonna strengthen my case?"
"No." Dean pulled a face. "But now I'm really feeling kind of squicky about the whole kissing thing."
Sam laughed and clapped Dean on the back. "Dude, what I saw walk out of the water was all woman, and a pretty damn hot one at that."
"And naked." Dean's gaze had drifted back to the marsh. "Don't forget naked."
"Right." Sam's voice softened. "Look, she's a witch – an ancient witch. Who knows how many forms she takes. The lore says the half-woman half-horse form is symbolic of the union between man and nature. She used nature, the goldenrod, to cure you so maybe…maybe she needed to draw from that part of her being."
"Part of her being?" Dean snorted. "Think I'll just hold on to the part where a very hot chick – a very hot naked chick – laid one on me three times." He frowned over at Sam. "Man, Sammy, you really got the short end of the stick on this case. At the hospital, with doctors, you got Dr. McGrandpa, I got Cuddy. For a cure, you got that crap Ayelen mixed up, I got some epic smooches."
Sam smiled. "Don't care, Dean." He shrugged. "We're both good. That's what counts."
Dean matched his brother's grin. "Well, I'm good. You, you've got a serious case of bedhead."
Sam's smile faded as he struggled to control his emotions. "Told you she'd find you worthy."
"Yeah, well…" Dean shrugged. "Guess I'm lucky she's just got low standards."
"Dean…Never mind." Sam shook his head as he pushed himself to his feet. "Come on, we should go." He offered his arm to Dean to help him up. "You know you're supposed to be protected now."
"From what?" Dean grabbed Sam's arm and hauled himself up, his legs solid beneath him.
Sam shrugged. "From…everything. Legend says, "None can harm the knight who has lain with the Witch of the West-mere-lands."
"Lain?" Dean snorted. "I didn't get past first base so I'm not sure that applies, but I'll remind you of that little detail the next time some fugly beats the crap out of me." He inhaled deeply, then smiled as he exhaled. "But, damn, it's good to feel like me again."
Sam bent down to scoop up his gun and tuck it in the waistband of his jeans. He said nothing but he was smiling, too. He turned toward the Impala but Dean stopped him by grabbing his arm.
"You, um, hauled out the buckets of crazy for this one, but…" Dean squinted against the bright sun as he glanced out over the marsh, his face relaxing as he turned back to Sam. "Thanks."
Sam nodded, smiled, then set off for the car.
Dean fell in step beside him as they scrambled up the bank. At the top, he held out his hand expectantly.
Sam frowned. "What?"
"Keys, Sammy. You don't think I'm letting you drive us outta here after the torture you put her through on the way in, do you?"
Sam shot Dean a look. "Oh, come on. There's not a scratch on her. She's a little dirty, but-"
"Yeah, and don't think I've forgotten you owe me a carwash." Dean grabbed the keys as Sam pulled them from his pocket. He pulled open the Impala's door, smiling at the familiar groan of her hinges, and slid behind the wheel. "Hey baby. Everything's back the way it should be – for today anyway."
"Whatever." Sam pulled open the passenger door and leaned in to grin at his brother. "But don't forget to move the seat forward."
"Bitch." Dean turned the key in the ignition, his smile returning as the Impala growled to life. "Come on. Let's go find a pancake house. I'm starving."
Sam's grin faded as he climbed into his seat. "I'd feel better if we swung by a clinic first, got them to run a blood test just to make sure that-"
"No." Dean's voice softened when he caught the worry in Sam's expression. "I know how I felt, Sammy, and I know how I feel. I'm good." He nodded as he slipped the car into gear. "I'll get a blood test later. First, I need food." He did a three-point turn on the narrow strip of land to turn the Impala around. "What are you gonna have, huh? We're celebrating, so anything you want."
Sam's eyebrow peaked. "Anything?"
"Yup." Dean grinned. "Cause you're buying."
A/N: The Witch of the West-Mere-Lands (or Westmoreland as it is sometimes called) is a legend told in a folk song written by Archie Fisher and sung by a variety of artists from Stan Rogers to Barbara Dickson. The lyrics appear below for anyone interested. I loved the story this song told and thought it offered a really interesting way to explore Dean's self-worth issues. I played with the legend a little bit but the witch does show up naked until the waters 'dress' her and, yes, she kisses the knight three times to heal him. Trust Dean to need a cure than involves a hot, naked woman and kissing. *g* Is Sam an awesome brother, or what? Hope you enjoyed. If you have a moment, I'd love to hear what you think. Until next time, cheers!
The Witch of the West-Mere-Lands
c. 1976 Archie Fisher
Ard-Ri Music, Dublin
Pale was the wounded knight that bore the rowan shield
Loud and cruel were the raven's cries that feasted on the field
Saying "Beck water cold and clear will never clean your wound
There's none but the witch of the West-mere-lands can make thee hale and soond"
So turn, turn your stallion's head till his red mane flies in the wind
And the rider of the moon goes by and the bright star falls behind
And clear was the paley moon when his shadow passed him by
Below the hills were the brightest stars when he heard the owlet cry
Saying "Why do you ride this way, and wherefore came you here?"
"I seek the Witch of the West-mere-lands that dwells by the Winding Mere"
"Then fly free your good grey hawk to gather the goldenrod,
And face your horse intae the clouds above yon gay green wood."
And it's weary by the Ullswater and the misty brake fern way
Till through the cleft in the Kirkstane Pass the winding water lay
He said "Lie down my brindled hound, and rest ye my good gray hawk
And thee my steed may graze thy fill for I must dismount and walk
But come when you hear my horn and answer swift the call
For I fear ere the sun will rise this morn ye will serve me best of all"
And it's down to the water's brim he's borne the rowan shield
And the goldenrod he has cast in to see what the lake might yield
And wet rose she from the lake and fast and fleet went she
One half the form of a maiden fair with a jet-black mare's body
And loud, long and shrill he blew till his steed was by his side
High overhead the grey hawk flew and swiftly he did ride
Saying "Course well, my brindled hound, and fetch me the jet black mare
Stoop and strike, my good grey hawk, and bring me the maiden fair"
She said "Pray, sheathe thy silvery sword, lay down thy rowan shield
For I see by the briny blood that flows you've been wounded in the field."
And she stood in a gown of the velvet blue, bound round with a silver chain
And she's kissed his pale lips once and twice, and three times round again
And she's bound his wound with the goldenrod, full fast in her arms he lay
And he has risen hale and soond with the sun high in the day
She said "Ride with your brindled hound at heel and your good grey hawk in hand
There's none can harm the knight who's lain with the Witch of the West-mere-lands "