A/N: Just playin' with the pretty. The boys swear heaps and gobs. My husband is MY Muse, and he beta'd this story for me. Thanks Brian! KK!
A/N: Wow! I cannot believe it's the end already! My absolute humble and heartfelt thanks go to everyone who ever reviewed, alerted, favorited or simply read my story. You all made my "first time" extremely special and memorable. Thank you to Chostani-san128, Halit, Beckydaspaz, NongPradu, magoghair, smalld1171, Numpty, Zatnikatel and Anon for being so consistent, chapter after chapter, with your encouragement and feedback. Special thanks to smalld1171 for answering my newbie questions and soothing my first-time writer's angst! Super special thanks to magoghair, my buddy from the CW Boards "hurt/comfort club" thread. I wouldn't have written the story without having read, reviewed and discussed so many wonderful stories and authors with her in that thread this summer. If you enjoyed this story, please clicky on my favorite author list in my profile and give any of those amazing writers try. You won't be sorry. It was their talent that inspired me to pick up my own pen. And if you choose to do that, go one step further and leave a review for them if you enjoyed their work. It'll cost you nothing but a minute of your time, and it will mean the absolute world to those you leave a kind word for. Thanks for readin'! OK, 'nuff self-indulgence! Last chappie…
Killing Me Softly
Chapter 12: The Song Remains The Same
For all of the brain's magnificence, with its seemingly unlimited ability to calculate, quantify, compare and create, it had its flaws, and Sam's brain was flat out lying to him. It could not accept the raw data that his eyes were sending it. As Sam counted off the chest compressions that he's been administering to his lifeless brother for far too long, his brain kept interpreting the data, rejecting it as inconceivable. His brain made its own course corrections and began sending him false signals. He'd see Dean's chest move as if with breath. When he'd stop a second to confirm it, he'd see that it simply wasn't so. He'd look into vacant, lifeless eyes that he would swear he'd seen suddenly blink but, again, a second glance would reveal that his mind was playing the cruelest of tricks on him. As his eyes transmitted images of Dean's complete stillness and inertia, his brain simply balked and added in what it perceived must be there. Sam could not recall a single moment of his entire life in which Dean had not been in motion of some sort. His brain lacked the ability to cope with the unacceptable alternative. And so it lied.
The fourth shock came and went and still Dean's eyes remained fixed and unseeing. It was more than Sam could bear to look into them as he resumed compressions. His brain quickly calculated the minutes since Dean had gone into V-FIB, and he knew that any hope there may have been was rapidly evaporating. He counted off the chest compressions, and with each count his voice became more and more enraged and broken.
Rania watched Sam as he began to press more aggressively in his despair. "Easy Sam, stay focused. You'll break his ribs," she said gently, quietly. She knew that Sam was on the cusp of overwhelming grief. She watched him strive to hold it at bay as he counted off the compressions. Her physician's posture began its subtle transformation from life-saver to consoler.
Sam glanced up at her but she was just a smear of water and light, tears stealing his vision. Just as well, he thought. He didn't know how much more his brain could process. Backing off at the thirtieth compression, he watched with blurry vision as Rania blew two breaths. The machine began its cold analysis: Do not touch the patient. Analyzing heart rhythm. Do not touch the patient. Shock not advised. A horrible thrill shot through Sam. He looked at Rania, reflexively rising to his feet and stepping away in horror. "Shock not advised? Is he gone? Oh god, Dean. Is he gone?" he looked at the doctor with devastated helplessness. He watched as Rania felt for a pulse.
She looked up amazed. "We got him. We've got a pulse," she said, unbelieving. She checked his breathing. Dean's chest quivered and he filled his lungs with a rasp. "That's it, Dean. Another." Everyone watched as Dean's chest began to rise and fall on its own. Sam checked and double checked. There was no mistaking that. This was no trick of a brain in denial. Dean was really breathing.
Sam collapsed back onto his knees and took Dean's hand in his own. "Come on, man. Keep breathing. Don't fucking do that to me ever again." Sam was shaking uncontrollably and his teeth started to chatter. His confused brain was trying to combat the stress, misinterpreting his surge of adrenaline and emotions as an illness. The machine took another reading and again advised against a shock. Cleo glanced around.
"What are we going to do about…" she nodded toward Leana's mummified body. "The EMT's will be here in a minute."
Sam looked up. There was blood all over the floor, upstage near Leana's body. "Jesus," he moaned, but he did not get up from where his brother lay. He had no strength left. He felt so light-headed that he was not certain he wasn't going to pass out. All he could do was sit in a daze and watch Dean breathe.
"I've got it," Cleo said. She ran into one of the wings and closed the heavy stage curtain, hiding most of the tell-tales as sirens could be heard stopping out front.
If she didn't do something soon she knew he was going to drop. He looked like hell, eyes red and sunken, a numb, bewildered expression on his face. His tall body was thin from days on end of little to no food or sleep. "Sam, if you don't go to my office and get some rest, I'm going to toss an ID bracelet on you and hurl you in the next bed, because that's where you're going to end up if you don't get some sleep. I'm serious, Sam," Rania said sternly.
Sam sighed but didn't move. He was folded into a small seat, nestled in between IV poles, oxygen tanks, EEG and telemetry monitors. He'd never seen so many wires and tubes attached to his brother before, and that's actually saying quite a lot when you consider all the hospital visits since Dean had been old enough to hunt. Cupping Dean's hand in his own, Sam shook his head. His brother's hands were still covered in paint. Sam made a mental note to be sure to clean that up for him later. Rania cleared her throat and came over and put her hand on Sam's shoulder. He looked at his watch. It was now 6:00am. Dean had been brought in over eight hours ago but had not stirred a muscle. "How's he doing?" he asked. "Why hasn't he woken up yet?"
Rania looked over her shoulder to make sure no one was paying attention at the moment. They were in a busy ICU, and there was plenty of subdued activity around them despite the hour. "He's been through a lot," she said. "He's had two rounds of ECT in three days, been through VTAC and VFIB, required four shocks to bring back, his brain was without oxygen for at least four minutes and he was dangerously dehydrated—not to mention…" she lowered her voice even further, "not to mention that he was abducted by a crazy succubus, had his life force yanked out and then forcibly returned. He probably hasn't had any real sleep since this whole thing began a week ago now." Rania glanced at Dean where he lay unmoving. "This isn't exactly a scenario that I have much experience with. But with all that, Sam, he's stable right now. I can't tell you how encouraged I am. With everything he's been through, he's a fighter," she gently touched Dean's shoulder. She turned back to Sam and bent to look him in the eye. "Sam, please, you really need some rest."
"What if he wakes up while I'm not here?" He looked at her like a sad, tired child.
"Then I will come get you immediately." She tried to hoist the tall, young man out of the chair as best she could. "When was the last time you got more than a few hours sleep? It's been, what, three—four days now?"
"Something like that," Sam said.
"Right," the doctor said. "I had them put a cot in my office. I want you on it in three minutes or I'm calling for help to have you admitted." She twisted his earlobe and forced him up.
"Ow!" Sam grinned ruefully. Sam washed his face with his hand and tiredly rose. "Call me if there is any change at all," he said. By the time he made it to Rania's office he was seeing double. Still, before he lay down, he dialed Caleb to let him know the succubus was dead and that they were both alive. Sam was asleep before the call was even finished.
Sam eyed the monitor until he was mesmerized by the constant dips and peaks of his brother's beating heart. He'd been watching it for days now, and he thought he might have just seen a subtle change in pattern. He turned his attention back on Dean. There had been no outward change, despite the odd blip on the monitor. Sam softly brushed some matted hairs off of Dean's forehead and resumed the quiet monologue he'd been softly murmuring for far too long. "Hey Dean, you gonna wake up for me, man? Cleo brought Derby Pie for us today. If you don't wake up soon, I'm going to eat it all." He tried baiting his brother into consciousness, but he got no response. Not even for pie. Sam swallowed and reached for his brother's hand.
He'd spent every moment that Rania would allow, gently nudging his brother, talking to him, washing that fucking paint off his skin. In those hours Sam had found a lot of time for thought, time to try and process what had actually happened. He'd spoken to Caleb again but the hunter was just as perplexed. It was known that Dark Muses drained the life energy and assimilated the essence of those they attached themselves to, but as far as he knew none of them had ever gone off the rails like this one had. As far as Caleb was concerned, though, it didn't matter just as long as she was dead. He chalked it up to supernatural insanity and left it that, a win was a win. But Sam knew better. He'd witnessed the muse's behavior and heard her final words to him. Sam knew exactly what had happened and it had profoundly unnerved him. He'd always been well aware of Dean's protective nature, had witnessed it again and again throughout the years. He'd been on the receiving end of it more than anyone else ever had. He'd known precisely what Dean was capable of, but to see it played out right in front of him, to actually witness it had left him numb. Terrified. "Don't ever do that for me, Dean. Don't ever leave me that way. I'm begging you. I need you too much," he whispered. Sam put his face in his hands and massaged his forehead and eye sockets until he saw stars. He wanted to stop thinking, but the stillness of his brother made it impossible for his brain to shut off.
"I have a brother," Dean croaked in a hoarse whisper that muffled even further by the oxygen mask.
Sam's head came up with a snap and he looked at Dean. His brother's eyes were mere slits and there was pain in them, but there was also relief. And Sam saw his brother fully present in them for the first time in over a week.
"Dean! Hey, man," Sam took his brother's hand and gripped it in his. "Yeah. Yeah you do. I'm right here."
"Thought I lost you," he murmured quietly. "Bad dreams."
"Never, man," Sam assured him, giving his hand another squeeze. "It's good to see you," he said as he felt Dean make an attempt to squeeze back.
"W'time is it?" he whispered again.
"Time? You've been unconscious for two days," Sam said.
"Only two?" Dean murmured and closed his eyes. "M'I still Berkosomethin'?"
Sam grinned. "Berkowitz, and yeah, shhh," he said lowering his voice and looking around a little nervously.
Dean opened his weary eyes and looked at his brother. "You need a shave, dude,"
Sam smiled. "So do you, man. How do you feel?" Sam's watched as Dean began to sluggishly move other body parts.
Dean winced. "Chest hurts," he said trying to get his hand up to his chest. He gave up the attempt about halfway there.
"Yeah, sorry, man. I cracked one of your ribs." Sam looked at his brother, and the fact that Dean was going to recover from this hunt started to sink in. Sam felt dizzy. "Jesus Dean," he said as the taut balloon of ten days worth of fear and worry starting to deflate with a hiss of escaping tension and stress. "Jesus fucking Christ, Dean. That was too close." Tears welled up involuntarily, his body's reaction to the profound relief. He batted the tears away, not wanting to stress his brother.
"She dead?" Dean asked.
"Yeah," Sam nodded. "She's gone."
"You get her?"
Sam thought a moment and half smiled. "Just finished what you started. You Trojan-Horsed her, dude," he said.
Dean quirked a tired eye. "Huh?" he looked confused.
"I'll explain later," Sam said lowering his voice. All the monitors had alerted the nurses to the changes in Dean's vitals and they suddenly had company. Sam soon found himself pushed off to the side as a swarm of activity surrounded Dean. Dr. Liron came in a moment later.
"Hey you," she said as she bent down to examine her patient, her personal relief and delight palpable. "Nice to have you with us again. How do you feel?"
"Uh, m'OK, I guess," he said guardedly, uncomfortable with the flurry of attention that waking had earned him. Dean groaned and sighed when she pulled out her penlight and checked his eyes and other reflexes.
"Big baby," she chuckled. "Work with me, Dean. You're not even photosensitive right now."
"Dun' care. Dun' like it," he winced, finally relaxing when she was finished.
"All done," she said. Once the nurses cleared out of the vicinity the doctor removed his oxygen mask and replaced it with a nasal cannula. "Do you remember what happened to you?"
Dean looked wary. "Not really," he said looking toward Sam.
Sam bent close. "She knows everything, Dean. She was there when Leana died. Do you remember that?"
Dean shook his head tiredly and closed his eyes. "Don't remember much of anything," he said. Sam could tell that was mostly true. He could also tell that whatever Dean did remember, he wasn't ready to talk about yet.
"Well, you just get some sleep, Dean," Dr. Liron said, but she needn't have bothered. He was already there.
Dean improved quickly. The next day he was moved from the ICU to his own room. Once the brothers were alone Dean was able to stay awake long enough for Sam to fill him in on the basic details of what had happened. He told Dean how they'd taken Leana's body from the concert hall the night after Dean was brought to the hospital and he and Cleo had salted and burned it. He didn't tell him what Leana had said to him before she died, though. That could wait. As Sam told him the story, though, his brother became more withdrawn. Dean didn't ask many questions and soon opted out of the conversation all together saying he was tired. He slept on and off that whole day without saying anything else. Sam was worried, but he knew his brother well enough to know that he had to work some things through on his own, he vowed to give him some much needed breathing room. At least for now.
The next couple of days were taken up with more tests, courtesy of Dr. Liron. She performed another fMRI and found that all of Dean's brain activity had apparently returned to normal, and of course no hospital stay would be complete without a visit from Cleo.
She made sure Dean was well supplied with goodies, games, flowers and balloons. Dean shyly thanked her for everything but she pshawed him away with a flap of her meaty arm. "No need to thank me. That's what friends are for. You just get better, y'here?" She waggled a thick finger at him. "Bless your heart. Now eat lots, hon. You're too thin." Dean muttered something incoherent and looked embarrassed, but the first genuine smile since this whole thing began spread across his face as Cleo patted him on his cheek.
Dean was released on the morning of his sixth day at the hospital. Rania wanted to keep him another day, but of course Dean wouldn't hear of it. She agreed to release him on the solemn promise that he'd take it easy. She personally wheeled Dean out to the Impala that Sam had pulled around to the exit.
"Be sure to call me if you need anything. Sam has my number," she said, looking from one brother to the other. Sam bent down and embraced her.
"There's no way I can thank you for everything you've done," he said. "I'm sorry for all the trouble we caused."
"Don't mention it, Sam," she said with a squeeze. "I'm just so glad everything worked out for you boys."
"Are you going to be OK?" Sam asked. He knew she was still somewhat struggling with everything that had happened.
She looked at Sam and shrugged. "I'll get by. I have my work, and that'll keep me busy. I don't understand everything that you boys do, but I'm glad you do it. Just be safe, please." She turned to Dean and gave him a hug. "You take care of yourself, you hear me?"
It was hard to wrap his head around owing so much to someone that he honestly didn't remember all that well, but his gratitude was genuine nevertheless. Sam had told him everything she'd done for them and of her unrelenting efforts to revive him. He knew he wouldn't have made it if she hadn't been there. "I promise. Thank you so much, for everything," he said. Rania's eyes were moist as she regained her professional posture. She smiled and made sure Dean was settled in the passenger seat before walking away without a backwards glance.
Dean let out a sigh of release as his brother handed him the baggy with his amulet and other jewelry. As Sam started the car and pulled away, Dean settled back in the arms of his baby and dozed as Sam navigated them back to the motel.
Sam had gotten so used to seeing the mural that he really didn't give it much thought as they entered the room. Dean, however, had never really seen it or he didn't remember much about it. He stood completely still for several minutes taking it in. The longer he looked at it the more humiliated and uncomfortable he became. Sam watched him swallow and cast his eyes to the ground, not wanting to look at Sam looking at him. Without a word he went into the bathroom and showered until the water ran cold. When he finally emerged he kept his eyes averted and sat pensively at the edge of the bed. He began breaking down and cleaning his gun.
"Dean," Sam said. He'd promised himself that he'd give his brother space, but he could see the pain there. It was too hard to see him like that without at least offering help. "You need to talk about this, man."
Dean didn't look up and kept his hands busy with work. "Nothing to talk about, Sam."
"That's not true, and you know it," he retorted. "Now, talk to me, Dean."
Dean glanced up at the mural and then at Sam and shrugged his shoulders in frustration and bitterness. "What's to say? I don't remember everything, and there are some days that I have no memory of at all, but I know I became her little bitch and did whatever she wanted me to. And it sucks to know that I couldn't make her stop. She kept hurting me and working her mojo on me until I was hers. She won. She made me care about her, and I'm pissed about it." He worked deftly with the gun and then paused. "I'm pissed at her, and I'm pissed at me for not being able to fight her off. I was weak," he sighed.
Sam sat on the edge of his bed opposite Dean. "Dude, she was a fucking succubus. Not your everyday succubus, this was the industrial strength kind. Caleb says those that feed the way she did are extremely rare. Only nine are known to have ever existed. This wasn't like trying to fight off your average ghost possession, Dean. You do know that she said she had lived for three thousand years, right? Three thousand years and the only person that got to her was you. You can't beat yourself up for anything. Caleb also says that he hasn't heard of anyone being tapped by a Dark Muse and not being affected by her. I honestly don't think there is another person who could have fought her off the way you did." He paused a moment. "It scares the shit out of me, in fact," he admitted, forgetting to censor himself.
"What's that supposed to mean?" Dean said a little defensively.
Sam tried to correct his tone. He didn't want Dean to shut down entirely when he'd actually opened up if even just a little. He tread as lightly and as cautiously as he could. "Dean," he said gently. "She took your life force from you. She started talking like you, saying things you would say. She started acting like you, making decisions you would make in the same situations. You know exactly what I mean." Dean let out a skeptical huff of air and continued oiling the gun. "That scares the hell out of me, man."
"Don't be such a girl, Sammy," Dean said with a feigned shrug and forced grin.
Sam knelt forward and put his hand over Dean's to stop his feverish gun-cleaning and forced his brother to look at him. "She told me, Dean. She said that what she did to herself was the same decision you'd make."
Dean shook his head adamantly, his deflection entirely transparent. "Here we go again. Didn't we just have this conversation last hunt? She was a monster. Monsters lie, Sam. She fucked with my head and now she's fucking with yours. Bitch is dead and she's still trying to get to me. Well, fuck her. You can't listen to a damn word she said."
Sam wanted to shake his brother. He wanted to call him on his bullshit, because Sam knew that was exactly what it was. He was bone weary of having monsters tell him more about his brother than Dean would. Dean knew full well that the succubus hadn't lied about that. But like the mural on the wall, he knew that Dean resented her parading out his deepest, darkest secrets for the entire world to see. "Yeah, OK, Dean," he placated his brother this once, because he knew that Dean needed his privacy, even if they both knew that they both knew. "You just got to promise me, man. You've got to promise me that you'll be careful. I need you. I need you here, with me," he said quietly.
Dean paused in his work, but didn't take his eyes from the oil cloth he was holding. "I'm here. I'm not going anywhere," he said.
Sam got up and grabbed two beers from the fridge and handed one to Dean. "Good," he said.
Dean took a long drink and spent the rest of the night meticulously cleaning every weapon they owned.
Apparently the cure for chronic insomnia is almost two weeks of pure, unadulterated hell, because Sam slept like a baby for the first time since Jessica's death, at least for one night, anyway. He drowsily pulled his pillow around his eyes, shielding them from the morning sun that was spilling directly into his eyes. When he rolled over he smelled the strong odor of paint, and he heard Dean swearing as he stumbled over something. Sam felt a thrill of anxiety shoot through him, and he bolted upright, blinking the sleep and fear away as he focused on his brother. Dean was dabbing at a glob of paint that had fallen onto his shirt. He was speckled with it and had a pretty large smear across his forehead.
"Morning sunshine," Dean said as he waved his dripping roller at his brother. "Look at me, I'm like fuckin' Van Gogh's interior decorator or something," he smiled dryly and turned to make another large sweep up and down the wall, consuming more of the mural with the paint-laden roller. He bent down and dipped his roller in the paint pan on the floor and continued on with his work.
Sam sat up and watched him for a moment, groggily trying to come down from the shot of adrenaline. "Time is it?" he asked, blinking as he attempted to focus on the anachronistic digital clock on the bed stand.
"It's late enough for me to have gone to the hardware store and brought back breakfast," he said motioning to the table where coffee and donuts were sitting. "I think this is going to take a couple of coats," he said looking at his handiwork. Sam came over and surveyed the wall with him. A part of him felt a huge sense of loss with each stroke that his brother made over the wall, but at the same time, he understood. This should have never been. Not really. Sam could see it in Dean's eyes that he couldn't cover it up fast enough. For him it was worse than being naked in public.
Sam grabbed a donut and ate it in three bites and drank half of his coffee. He spied a second roller and filled another paint pan and joined his brother, wordlessly helping him to restore the walls. They spent all morning at it, neither saying a word about the painting or the succubus. They made small chit-chat and talked about other hunts, other towns they wanted to check out, and where their dad might be in all of this. After a couple of coats they were nearly as covered in white paint as the walls. They both stood back and looked at the blank canvas. The paint didn't quite match the rest of the motel walls, and they'd gotten more than a little paint on the carpet despite the sheets that Dean had placed around the work area. It was an amateur job at best, but not one smudge of the mural remained.
"Dude, we are so not getting our deposit back," Dean said ruefully.
"Nope," Sam agreed. "Not a chance. In fact, we should get the hell out of here as quick as we can."
"Yeah, well, I got to make one stop first. Cleo is going to meet us at the concert hall." Dean nodded toward the easel and other oil painting supplies he had stacked by the door. "Come on, help me get this stuff out to the car," he said.
Sam was stunned to see the door to the storage closet. "This wasn't here when we came looking for you," he said. He examined the door, checking the hinges and lock.
"Oh, it was here, all right. Leana just had ways of hiding things really well." They went inside and collected the other easel and canvases. Dean stopped and stood deadly still as he looked at the mattress by the wall where Leana had sung to him for hours on end.
"I'll come back and clean up most of this stuff. Let's just get the paintings and art supplies out for now. I'll meet you boys upstairs," Cleo said as she headed out the door, her arms loaded down with equipment.
Sam wasn't sure what Dean was feeling, whether pain or revulsion or a mixture between the two. He just knew he wanted to get his brother out of this dark, musty room. He stacked the canvases and moved to go. "You ready, man?" he asked, nodding toward the door. Dean didn't move. "Dean? You OK?"
Dean shook his head, looking suddenly stricken and withdrawn. "Coming back here…" he swallowed and gathered himself. "Coming back here has brought it back. I remember some things, now," he hesitated uncertainly and swallowed. "Well, no, actually I don't think these are my memories. I think they're Leana's."
"Dean?" Sam looked worried. Dean continued to stare at the mattress in pensive thought. He cleared his throat.
"I can't remember what happened that last day, but when she gave it back…when she gave me back, some of her memories came with it, too. Or something. I can see and feel what she felt that last day. I know she was sincere. I know she didn't want to be evil anymore. She wanted to be saved. She wanted to be good." He cleared his throat again and stood quietly, painfully avoiding eye-contact.
"Don't do that, Dean," Sam said. "The only regrets that Leana had were the regrets you gave her. Don't confuse things. She only wanted to be good because you were influencing her thoughts."
Dean thought for a moment, but the agony and guilt in his face did not diminish. "I know," he said nodding but clearly not entirely accepting the explanation, either. "I just wish…" he looked bereft. "She gave her life for me. Maybe it would have been better if…"
Sam spun on his brother, grabbing fistfuls of his jacket and shook him with bitter frustration. "Don't say it, Dean. Don't you even goddamned dare think it! Don't you dare feel like you should have done something or given up something for her sake. The only redeeming qualities that Leana ever exhibited were your qualities. You didn't see her after she fixed you. She was evil, Dean. There was nothing left to save. She tried to kill you. She spit in your face. Don't feel sorry for her. The only good in her was the good in you. Only one of you was going to survive, man. Don't you mother fucking dare look me in the eye and say that it should have gone any other way!" When Dean didn't respond, Sam let out a guttural growl of frustration. "Don't you get it? It was you who sacrificed, not the muse! And in some weird, twisted fucked up way it worked out in our favor this time. But what about next time, Dean? Huh?" Sam was breathing his fury and fear out in sharp, strained huffs. His eyes began to water. "What the hell are you thinking, Dean? You can't keep doing this. I need you, man. I need you here. With me. Don't even think it." They stood inches apart, face to face. Sam searched his brother's eyes even as they remained shuttered and averted. "Dean," he begged. He gave his brother one more light tug on his jacket. "You said it yesterday, she fucked with you. Don't let her keep doing it, man. She was a monster, plain and simple. You said so yourself."
Dean cleared his throat and briefly looked his brother in the eye, lifting the veil ever so briefly, revealing his pain and confusion. Dean's tension deflated. "OK," he nodded at last. The elder hunter shrugged off his thoughts and grabbed the easel and palette. "Let's get the fuck out of here," he said dully.
"Dean," Sam tried to stop him.
"I hear you," he said more gently than Sam expected. Dean looked at his brother. "I hear you. I'll do my best, Sammy."
They salted and burned each painting, one at a time. Sam didn't think the salt was needed, but Dean seemed to need the ritual of it. He tossed his sketchpad on top and let that go up, too. Sam grabbed the next canvas and looked at it before throwing it on the fire.
"Dude. You can't burn this. Holy shit, Dean," he marveled.
Dean came up and looked at the painting with him. "I actually remember this one," he said. "Leana hated it. Told me it was an ugly old thing and that I shouldn't have wasted my time painting her."
"There's no way you're destroying this," Sam said adamantly. "Is this what it looked like to you, when you were…you know…" he hesitated.
"Yeah," he nodded, lovingly eying the canvas. "Well, we can't take it with us," he lamented. "It's not like we can just keep it in the car." Dean caressed the edge of the canvas with reverence and affection.
Cleo came up and looked at the painting. "Oh my, honey. She's beautiful."
Dean nodded, "She really is, isn't she?" he agreed. He gave it a wistful look of regret. "I just don't see any way of taking her on the road with us."
"Would you like me to look after her for you? I can keep it for you. I promise I'll take good care of her. And that way, you'll have to come back and visit to make sure I'm treating her right," Cleo offered with a wink.
Dean thought about it for a moment, and then handed the canvas over to her. "You take good care of m'baby. Make sure she's lit well," he said with a grin.
"I'll do that," she promised.
"I want you to take the easels and paints and other supplies back to the community center and use them for the artists there," Dean said. "And there's one more thing. I want you to have this," he said shyly handing her another canvas.
Cleo gaped at the painting. "What is this?" she gasped. "This is gorgeous, Dean. Who is it? Is this some goddess?" She leaned the painting against the building and stepped back and goggled at the beautiful ethereal being in flowing white with prismatic beams of light shooting out from her.
Dean shyly scratched his head and looked at his feet. "Uh, no. It's you," he said dumbly.
Cleo goggled at him. "Me?"
"It's…you know. It's how you appeared to me when I could…I dunno…see under the hood, so to speak. It's what you look like. On the inside." Dean shuffled uncertainly and cleared his throat. Before he could try and make an awkward escape, Cleo caught him in a fierce bear hug.
"Oh, bless your heart," she crooned with tears flowing down her cheeks. She kissed his cheek and squeezed him some more. She looked at the painting again, and just shook her head, truly overcome with emotion. "Thank you, Dean. I'll treasure this always," she assured him.
"Alright," Sam interrupted, trying to save his brother further embarrassment. I guess that does it for us. "You ready to head out, Dean?"
"Yeah," he said before getting grabbed and squeezed one last time by Cleo.
"You boys take good care of yourselves," she said grabbing Sam next and squeezing extra tight. She kissed his cheek and pinched it. "Make sure you eat. You're both too thin," she chided.
"We will," Sam grinned. "Thanks for everything you did for us, Cleo. We wouldn't have made it without you."
Cleo waved him away. "It wasn't anything. Now you come back and visit again, soon," she said with a waggle of her finger.
Dean walked around to the driver's side of the Impala and motioned for Sam to throw him the keys. "I got it," he said. Sam tossed him the keys and opened the passenger door. Dean settled himself behind the wheel with a sigh of genuine comfort. "I missed you, baby," he sang as he caressed the steering wheel. With a wave, they bid Cleo a final goodbye and got back onto the road.
"That was really nice of you, Dean. You know, to do that for Cleo. You really do have a thing for her, don't you?" he smirked.
"Shut up, Sam," Dean said chagrined. He cleared his throat. "Where to? North?"
"Suits me," the younger hunter said. "We still have several hours of light. We can drive for a while and then spend the night in Iowa maybe. Find something there?" Sam looked at his brother's smile as he drove. He tried not to think about the succubus and what she had said about him, but the fear still clung to him.
"That'll work," Dean agreed. He turned on Zeppelin and rolled down his window allowing the crisp autumn air to blow through his hair. He glanced at Sam who was regarding him thoughtfully, expectantly. Oh god, he thought. Here we go again. He cleared his throat and looked at the skyline of the city as they headed out of town. "Lou-wee-ville," he snorted. "This is one weird-ass town, dude. Let's never come back here."
"It's pronounced Loo-uh-vul, Dean," Sam said absently.
"Same song, second verse…"
"What's that, Dean?" Sam asked.
"Nothing, Princess." Dean grinned and turned up the volume as Zep played them out of town.