Poor Father Paddy was exhausted, and he was winded by the time he'd reached the top of the stairs. At 78, he thought he was going to be spending his golden years smiling benignly at newlyweds, pouring water on fussy babies' foreheads and snoozing peacefully in his comfortable chair while younger priests said mass. He never envisioned that he'd be beseeching God to pay more attention, to chase away the devil's henchmen from these strangers, and from poor Laura Brennen, who had suffered enough already. He turned the corner and entered the room where Dean slept. There was already a chair beside the bed, and he lowered his stiff frame into it and sat, watching the pale and battered young man breathe quietly. Everything in Father Patrick's ecclesiastical experience had been mild, benign, and, truthfully told; fairly passionless. He had never experienced either the joy and elation of god's good...nor had he born witness to the direct efforts of Hell. He knew there was plenty of evidence of both in the world, but most cases were simply part of the human condition. But in terms of personal experience, he had to admit that he was fairly virginal. It was a rude and late awakening. And he was pushing eighty. He wasn't sure he was up to the challenge anymore. Maybe forty years ago, but now...well, what could he do now...?
This young man in front of him had been touched by the hand of the devil himself. It wasn't a metaphor this time, it was reality. And those people downstairs...they expected that he would know how to fix it, to protect them...that somehow Father Paddy had the answers.
Well, he didn't. He sighed and held his crucifix in his hand. It was old; the details at its edges worn smooth and featureless now. A gift from his mother, when he was ordained. He'd retrieved it from the tub, afterward. This thing in his hand, along with his recital of words he'd barely felt, had warded off the poisons that hell had thrust upon this man. It worked its goodness in the most tangible way he'd ever seen. And Father Patrick had no idea why, and that disturbed him to his core.
He had to see. He raised Dean's blankets and peered at his wound. It was ugly enough; ragged and fresh, albeit neatly stitched again. He placed his hand beside it, gently, and closed his eyes. Dean shifted and frowned, with a soft moan of complaint. The old man almost pulled his hand away again, but he didn't. Instead, he willed healing and health to flow from his touch, he prayed and listened for an answer.
Dean opened his eyes in alarm- "What...what are you doing?" he whispered, fearful and groggy.
Father Paddy opened his own and smiled tentatively. "Easy, son...just a blessing. I'm told you fight on our side."
Dean nodded. "Cold hands..."
"Sorry, I should have thought of that.." Father Paddy did pull back this time, feeling worse than useless now.
Dean knew what the old man needed. He wanted some sort of affirmation...he wanted Dean to tell him that what he'd devoted his life to really did make a difference. And Dean knew he was the only one who could do that for him now. He was tired and he hurt, but he understood what some honest words would mean to him. "You're the one, aren't you? You blessed the water..." he said quietly.
Father Patrick nodded.
"You know, you saved my life."
The old man looked down at his hands, unsure. Dean could see his doubt. He gathered himself to continue. "You never had to know before, did you...? The power you have...it's not just signed on for something way bigger than you ever knew. It's all real; the devil, Hell, maybe Heaven too; I don't know... But they're not all just fairytales...not just tools to keep us morons all in line. " He had to pause, as dizziness threatened to derail his train of thought. Father Patrick leaned forward, willing him to finish. Dean drew a deep breath and continued. "Father, you've done it right all along; keep doing it the same. Leave the battles to people like me. You need to keep people listening, that's your job. Keep them optimistic. The devil can't get in if there's nobody inviting him."
Father Patrick looked at Dean for a moment or two, his rheumy eyes watering. "Bless, you, son.." he whispered.
"Same to you."
The old priest stared at him for a moment, then nodded. He got up and made his way back downstairs. Dean smiled wryly to himself and drifted off.
Bobby drove the priest home. He was going to the motel afterward, to collect their things. The smaller truck would have to be retrieved later.
Sam stayed behind, he wouldn't have left Dean now, under any circumstance. He was much more sympathetic toward Laura now, but he wasn't about to leave his brother solely in her hands. He sat in awkward silence with her. She fidgeted unhappily, keenly aware of her guilt in all this, and his opinion of her. "What will you do, now, Laura..?" he asked gently. It surprised her.
She looked at him and simply shrugged. "I ...don't know, Sam. I really can't think, right now. I spent the last few years getting into the force, for all the wrong reasons. And It's obvious to me now, that I'm more screwed up than ever, over Dad and Karin. I don't know where to go or what to do now."
Sam leaned forward. "Laura, will you let me give you some qualified advice?"
She nodded. -why not-?
"Look, I've seen what it does to people; the lack of closure. My Dad, and Dean; neither of them ever got past my mother's death, and they're obsessed with finding and fighting the demon responsible. It rules their lives to the point where they will probably never live normally again. And in their case it'll probably kill them one way or another." He looked away for a moment, his composure threatened by his own bitter emotions. But he turned to her and urged, "You've got to find away to leave this behind, Laura. Get away from this place, get away from being a cop. Find a good shrink. But believe me, this will rule you, and you'll be miserable forever if you don't. Trust me, I have to watch it everyday."
Her throat was so tight that she couldn't answer him. She knew he was right.
Bobby returned with their things. Laura assured them that they were more than welcome to stay as long as needed. Sam was all for hitting the road, but Bobby wanted them to return with him, and he knew that the drive back to his own place was long and tiresome, and Dean wouldn't have the benefit of lying down for the trip, either in the Ranger or the ramp-truck. He wasn't up to that yet; he needed rest and quiet. Bobby had seen Dean through injury before, but he'd never seen him so weak and spent as now. And this whole issue that had arisen involving Sam...he didn't know what to make of it. He'd called John repeatedly, cursing everytime he got that damned voicemail. -stupid SOB- he thought angrily. -Quit chasing your own demons and look after your boys-!
Laura did her best to be a gracious host, she made sure everyone was well fed and comfortable. But Sam knew that she needed space to get her own life sorted out; he'd left for Stanford for that very reason himself. He snorted at the irony; he was further than ever from sorting out his own mess.
Dean strengthened slowly. He was normally a quick healer, but the infection that gripped him kept him down. The other-worldly part was cleansed by the holy water, but the remaining illness was part of this world and had to run its natural course. It all made for a household of grim, and unhappy people.
Laura had taken sick leave. She threw herself into tending Dean. Sam found it hard to find time alone to talk to him, she was with him so much. He understood that; it was her only way to keep her guilt at bay. He could hear them talking, quietly, seriously, for long periods. Both of them were pretty damaged; he hoped they could at least help each other find some equilibrium. As for himself, he was left with a nagging uncertainty now, more than ever. Their mother's death had set all of them on this bitter road, and it was enough in itself to do that. But now, there were whispers and secrets about demons, plans...about him, and nobody was willing to share what they knew or guessed. It left him hanging in a limbo that he feared was only going to be relieved by some future tragedy. He couldn't wait to get the hell away from here.
Finally, Dean decided he was up to travel. He wasn't, of course, but there was no arguing with him. He was strong enough to be a stubborn force and they gave up trying. Sam supported him as he got dressed. He could feel him leaning heavily against him, and more than once he felt him slip a little, and feared he was about to drop. But he stayed up, and got himself dressed warmly and Sam helped him downstairs.
Bobby looked up from his reading, pleased to see him up. "Hey, look who's decided to join the living! Getting bored of being waited on hand and foot?"
Dean gave him a wry smile and sat carefully on the sofa. "Man, I feel like a freaking old man. How do you put up with it, Bobby?"
Bobby leveled a weary glare at him, but he smiled. Dean leaned back against the sofa, tiring already. It irked him; he wanted to feel normal, he'd waited long enough. "Sam; all the stuff packed?"
"Uh huh. Bobby and I picked up the Ranger so he'll drive his truck and you and I will follow him, unless you want to drive with him."
"No. I'll stick with you. If I ride with Bobby I'll have to be nice the whole time."
"Oh, this'll be a fun trip." Sam grumbled.
Bobby had been talking to Laura while the boys were upstairs. He reiterated Father Patrick's's advice and tried to set her mind at ease over everything. It was kind of him, and the forgiveness she'd gotten from the three of them would be an important part of her forgiving herself.
At last it was time. Bobby loaded everything into his truck while Sam helped Dean get into the smaller vehicle. They said their goodbyes to Laura, and she watched sadly as they drove away through the fresh dusting of snow. She'd seen her demon and it had changed her life. She knew it was unlikely she would ever experience anything like it again, thank god. But those people would. She was saddened, knowing their troubles were probably never going to end. She sighed and looked around her silent and empty home. She a life to find. She had alot of work to do.
"How are you doing; are you ok?" Sam asked.
Dean sat, hunched, and grimacing with every bump the truck drove over. It was hardly a luxury ride; he was sure the tires must be solid, either that or square. "I'm fine, Sam." he lied. He wasn't. He wasn't going to be fine until he knew what the hell was going on with Sam, and he'd fixed it. And he was deeply hurt that his dad hadn't returned any of their calls, especially while he was sick. He would have been worried that he was lying dead or something but Bobby had let it slip that he was in contact with Missouri regularly. He was relieved to know that, but it didn't help his feeling that he, his own son; was second rate. After an hour he was too tired to stay sitting and he curled up uncomfortably against the door.
"Dean, you can rest your head on me. I won't tell anybody, I promise." Sam offered, rolling his eyes.
To his surprise, Dean did. "Just keep that camera away or you'll be eating it." he growled.
Sam smiled as he heard Dean slip immediately into a tired sleep.
His leg had fallen asleep by the time they reached Bobby's. "Hey, Droolio; we're here."
Dean groaned and sat up, rubbing his bleary eyes and wiping the side of his face with embarrassment. The drab and decrepit vista of Bobby's kingdom lay before him. It was a welcome sight.
The three avoided anything stressful that evening, they needed to keep it light for a change.. Instead they played some serious poker and got decently loaded on Bobby's cheap, rough beer. Bobby was surprised that Dean stayed up with them, but Sam wasn't. Sam also knew that once Bobby had retired for the night he was probably going to have to carry Dean up to bed. He took his arm over his shoulder and pulled him up.
"No, Sam. I wanna sleep down here; just get me a blanket, I'll crash on the couch."
"Don't argue, Dean, you'll be more comfortable in bed."
"No, I'm serious, Sammy. It's warmer down here; I'm taking the couch."
Sam sighed. "Fine, stupid. I'll get you some blankets. Go lay down."
Dean had his reasons. He hadn't told either of them, but since the demon had touched him he'd been suffering nightmares; vague frightening images that he'd seen while he was sick but couldn't remember clearly. The last thing he wanted was to have one of them come running into his room if he yelled in his sleep. At Laura's it hadn't been an issue as his room was the only one upstairs besides hers, the other two had been sleeping in the downstairs den. His face reddened, remembering the times she'd come in the middle of the night, disheveled and worried, when he'd awakened in a sweating panic, crying out in fear. He'd felt stupid and weak - childish. He hoped they'd stop soon.
Sam returned and tucked several layers over him.
"Yeah, yeah. Don't wander around; this place is a deathtrap in the dark. 'Night, Dean"
Bobby had trouble sleeping. He tried everything, but at three thirty, when his eyes remained wide open and his mind refused to quiet, he decided to go to the kitchen to pour himself something a little stronger than the beer he'd consumed earlier. He peeked in at Sam, satisfied that his soft snoring was an accurate indication that he was asleep, and checked Dean's room next. It was empty; the bed seemed undisturbed. He'd gone ahead of the brothers when the evening wound down and he didn't know that Dean had chosen to remain below. He crept down the stairs, shushing Rumsfeld when he growled at the disturbance. He passed through the livingroom, where Dean had chosen the couch, and switched on the kitchen light. Rumsfeld came in behind him, knowing that he would get a treat if he played his cards right. Bobby pulled his whiskey from the cabinet over the fridge and poured a healthy few fingers into a water glass, sighing with exhaustion. He hated the nights when sleep eluded him. But whiskey always helped, and he downed half of it, following it with half a glass of water.
The dog whined with anticipation.
"Ok, dog; you win." He retrieved a couple of ham slices from the fridge and sat at the table, tearing them into bits and tossing them to the waiting canine mouth. Rumsfeld snapped them up, fairly smiling. When the bits were gone, Bobby shook his head and showed his empty hands to the beggar at his feet. "All gone."
Rumsfeld huffed in disappointment and wandered back upstairs.
Bobby sat and thought about the past days. Once again, he and the Winchester boys had shared a difficult experience. That was par for the course; he would always come to their aid, just as he knew they would do so for him. They shared a common objective. But he was bitterly disappointed in his friend John. He was in a constant knot of worry over it; he knew John had gone underground after learning some key information about the demon, about the reasons behind Mary's death. It was something huge, something terrible. But it didn't excuse his abandonment of the boys. He sighed unhappily. John was hardly objective, ever since his wife was taken. He'd been more a grim and relentless instructor than a father to those boys. - Too bad Sam wasn't successful in escaping to Stanford- he thought. At least one of them could have been spared the horrors.
And that brought him to Dean. Tough, uncompromising, bull-headed...and if things continued as they were; destined to die tragically out of turn. He loved that jackass like his own. That's why he was an insomniac now. He had witnessed Dean's suffering, and he was sure; absolutely and miserably, that more was going to be his lot. John had drilled into Dean the relentless need to protect his brother, but no one was really able to do the same for him. Bobby knew Sam loved his brother, but he just didn't have the instincts. He sat in the dim light, wishing he could turn back the clock.
His musings were interrupted by a sound from the livingroom. He came in and sat beside Dean, waiting for his old eyes to adjust to the gloom. When he could see, he touched a gentle hand to Dean's head. Dean was frowning; fretting in his sleep, and sweaty, but Bobby was relieved to feel a normal temperature. Bobby smoothed the damp hair away from his face, hoping to chase away whatever was vexing him in his dreams. It didn't work; he watched helplessly as Dean grew more agitated, mumbling against his terrors. He tried to break him out of the cycle, gently talking to him, assuring him it was all ok. Suddenly, Dean bolted upright; wide-eyed, and choking back a cry.
"It's ok, son, it's Bobby. You're alright." he soothed, with his hands on his shoulders. Dean stared at him, bewildered and frightened, his breath coming in short panicked gasps.
"Yeah, Dean, you're ok. You're dreaming, it's just a nightmare."
"Oh..." Still shaking slightly, Dean settled back against his pillow. He stayed wide-eyed.
Bobby reached past him and turned on a table lamp. He regarded him critically. There were lines of moisture trailing away from his eyes. He still looked shell-shocked. "Son...you ok?" he asked softly.
Dean took a shaky breath, trying to regain a grip on his emotions. He nodded. "I'm ok...really, I am. I just...I keep having these dreams, images...I don't know. Just crap from when I was seeing all that hell shit, when I was sick. I can't ever remember anything specific; guess that's a good thing." He was silent for a few moments, still staring at his fading ghosts. Bobby waited for him to continue. He turned to the older man with a raw and vulnerable expression, still gripped by the emotion of his nightmare. His voice was barely above a whisper. "Bobby, there's something big coming... It's bad, and I don't know how to fix it 'cause I don't know what it is."
Bobby put a hand on his shoulder, with his usual reassuring squeeze. He kept it there for a moment. He wanted, more than anything, to be able to tell him that it was nothing; that everything would be alright, and that dreams were just meaningless spasms of imagination brought on by exhaustion. But he couldn't. There was something going on. John knew it; he was in the thick of it. And now Dean had been given some glimpse of it, but only enough to drive him nuts with worry. They all had that worry now; a shapeless, vague sense that there was a threat growing, one that revolved around them all, and one where Sam was somehow the eye of that storm.
He did the next best thing. "Listen to me, ok? Whatever's coming, and with the way we live, hell, it could be anything; you have to know that you are never alone. I know your Dad loves you boys. And he would've come for you, while you were hurting, if he could have. And he will; he'll come and shed some light on this thing. But in the meantime I am here. I want you to promise me that you'll lean on me when you need. I know how things work in that screwed-up head of yours. You carry the weight of everything on your shoulders, I know. And it ain't fair, or right, but that's the way it is. But whatever the future has planned for us sorry bastards, don't you dare struggle with it by yourself, ok?"
Dean rubbed the moisture from his tired eyes and nodded in silence.
Bobby continued, quietly. "So we've had some glimpses of something we don't understand. For all we know the devil's just yanking our chain. But it doesn't matter, ok? Cuz we're here in it together and we're just gonna plow ahead like it's nothing. Until we hear different, that's all we can do. It ain't gonna help anybody to obsess over it, right? Take a cue from that screwed up sonofabitch dad of yours."
Dean sighed. "Yeah."
"Ok. Good. Don't you forget that." He got up and poured two more whiskeys, and sat with Dean while they finished them. Dean's shockiness was wearing off with the comforting warmth of the . It was replaced now by an acute embarrassment; this was exactly what he'd been trying to avoid by sleeping on the dusty and uncomfortable scratched his head, feeling sheepish.
"Sorry to get you up, Bobby. Didn't think I was going to yell that loud."
"You didn't. You hardly made a peep, I was already up. I came down for a snort 'cuz I was counting cobwebs myself anyway. Now how about it; why don't you ditch that flea-bag couch and get your butt into the room I made up for you? You'll sleep better. And hell, your dignity's shot now anyway; won't matter what you holler now."
Dean shot him a wounded look, then realized Bobby was teasing him. He shook his head with a wry smile and followed him upstairs.
They spent a couple of weeks with Bobby. He and Dean made real headway with the row of wrecks that Bobby had deemed worthy of rebuilding. They got six junkers to a saleable state. Bobby was enjoying having another gifted grease monkey around. Rumsfeld was a good listener but he was pretty useless in all other regards. And the physical work was good for Dean; it kept his mind off all the worries, and he was so tired at night that the dreams couldn't gain any foothold. And he healed quickly, once he was free of infection.
Sam wasn't interested in spending his time with them in the yard. It wasn't that he disliked the mechanical work so much; he was just tired of their jabs and teasing over his lack of skill. That was their little club, and they could have it. Instead, he rounded up some boards and built some decent shelving, to try to organize Bobby's vast but chaotic library, achieving some real success. It also gave him the opportunity to go through the collection of ancient, dangerous books; trying to find something, anything, that could shed some light on their recent experiences. He was ultimately disappointed. But he did find Bobby's vacuum cleaner, hidden under a pile of paper. He put it to good use and Bobby was surprised to rediscover that his livingroom carpet was originally a shade of blue, instead of the grey it had been for longer than he cared to admit..
By the end of the hiatus Dean had forgotton some of his trauma and his feet were getting itchy. He really needed to spend some quality hours in the Impala; nothing was as much a balm to his soul as feeling the steady rumble of her powerful engine as he put miles and miles between himself and whatever weighed heavy on his mind. He figured the heat was off somewhat by now. The cops would have moved on to more current crises. But he knew it still wasn't safe to simply tour around in it; better to just point it in a direction and drive hard until he was somewhere that he didn't have to worry about being so much of a target. And it wasn't fair to Sam, leaving him stuck here in Bobby's grimy little paradise. Poor kid spent all his time cleaning or cooking, and all he saw day in day out was that sea of wrecked cars.
And then there was Dad. Dean knew he was without any tips regarding his whereabouts. He knew he was going to have to talk to Missouri in person to get anywhere. He frowned as his tender scar gave him a twinge, and he pressed a hand to it absent-mindedly. It seemed to do that more when he was tense, and if he stayed here much longer he was going to get progressively more anxious to be on the road. And he also knew from experience that it made him pretty hard to be around.. He talked with Sam that evening.
"Yeah...I think we should probably get moving."
Sam agreed, relieved that he didn't have to be the one suggesting it. "I mean, Bobby's been great; we wouldn't be so solid now if it weren't for him. But I need to see something different before my brain turns into you going to break it to him?"
"Yeah, guess so. So when; in the morning?"
"That works for me. I'll pack our stuff. I take it you guys fixed the car window?"
"Yeah, first thing. It's tuned up and ready to go. I'll go talk to him."
Dean found Bobby under the chassis of something grey and crumpled, that may once have been a volvo wagon. He directed his conversation to the pair of legs sticking out. Bobby heard him out, and then rolled himself from under it and sat up. "You're sure? You know you can stay here as long as you want, no bother to me."
Dean sighed. "I know, man. But I'm starting to get worried that we're pushing the odds by staying so long. Somebody's bound to ID us at some point and I just couldn't live with it if you got dragged down along with us. Besides, Sam's getting stir-crazy."
Bobby snorted. "Bullshit. You are. I know you, Dean; I've watched you getting wound up and snappy last couple of days. I know you need to feel road under your wheels."
Dean looked down. "Aw man, I'm sorry. You've been a great, putting us up, and everything else..."
"Don't apologize, Dean. I get where you're coming from. But you have to promise me this; I'm your first call when things feel like they're about to squash you, they're so heavy. Just like we talked about, ok?"
Dean met his gaze. "Yeah. Yeah, I promise."
Bobby got up with a groan and gave a hand to Dean, who pulled him to his feet. He dusted himself off. "Well; go tell that brother of yours to cook something up good. I'm going out on a beer run. If I only have one more opportunity to fleece you two suckers, I'm gonna bleed you dry at cards tonight. Be warned."
"Oh it is on!" Dean snorted.
Sam outdid himself with the odd mishmash of things from Bobby's fridge. And Bobby had unusually bad luck; he had to fork over more than two hundred dollars to a gloating Dean. Of course, he'd done it on purpose. And the beer went down fast and easy. It was perfect, loose and carefree, and for a few blessed hours they could forget who they were and what horrors bound them together.
As the brothers stood in the cold grey light of morning, Bobby shook their hands. "Boys, it was a pleasure. Sam; try to keep that idiot in one piece for at least a little while. And Dean; don't forget your promise."
They mumbled their affirmatives and settled in the car. Dean revved it a few times as Bobby smiled appreciatively. And they headed away.
Bobby stood for a moment, watching the car as it disappeared towards uncertainty. "Good luck, boys..." he said softly.