A FRIEND INDEED

Chapter 8

Christmas is a time for miracles.

xxxxx

Dean felt the weight of a ton of concrete on his chest, crushing and squeezing every last breath out of him, making his head float nauseously and causing his drifting, greying vision to dim around the edges.

He knew he'd pretty much reached the end of the road, and he was cool with that. Cas' had done his best, and Dean really appreciated his efforts, he really did; but a life lived without his brother was no life at all; simply an existence, and one that Dean had neither the strength or the spirit to endure. Having lost everyone else he ever cared about except for Cas', to lose Sam was just the final straw. He'd given up.

Everything hurt. It hurt to breathe, to move; even to think. But hey, he figured this is what it's like when you're facing the final curtain; at least it was a darn sight more peaceful than the last time he'd bit it.

Then there were the fever dreams. Sam's face right there – guiding him towards the light, and good old Cas' too, looking down on him with those sad, sad eyes and that constipated frown. But on the plus side, not too many people had a real live angel to send them on their way – it was kinda cool in a shitty sort of way.

He felt a deep cough rumbling in his chest, and his whole body convulsed with the force of it, tears trickling down his burning face from the strain. Sam's arms, strong and warm, held him tight, making him feel safe and secure, oh, and Sam's voice too; a million miles away; echoing through his fading mind.

As hallucinations go, Dean thought, it could have been a helluva lot worse.

Although he wasn't quite sure where the dog came into the equation …

Long fingers carded through his hair, and it was nice, so nice; those fingers belonged to someone who really cared; someone who wanted to help, someone who knew about that little spot at the back of his neck that made him go all droopy. Could he not die, just for a moment? He really wanted to stick around and enjoy this bliss a little while longer.

That voice again; Sam's voice repeating his name over and over, soft as a melody. It was ordering him to open his eyes; damnit, Sam always was a bossy bitch.

Then there was that smell; familiar and comforting. Dean wanted to inhale that scent forever, to wrap it around him like a blanket and curl up in it; a hint of coffee on warm breath, the faintest musk of perspiration, a musty note of poorly-aired cotton, all of them combined with a trace of sweetly citrus cheap cologne.

It was the scent of Sam - and it was the one thing that dragged Dean out of his dream.

xxxxx

As Dean mouthed his brother's name, Sam could barely form a coherent response; "Hey Dean; s'me … that's right," he coaxed gently, desperate to keep Dean with him.

He turned to Castiel who stood watching them intently; "Cas', do your thing; get him to a hospital … NOW!"

Behind him, Heidi, sensing her master's very real distress, shivered and whined miserably.

Curiously canting his head, Castiel studied the brothers' exchange intently. "Keep talking Sam," he murmured quietly; "keep talking."

Sam stared at him uncertainly for a moment before turning back to Dean, taking his brother's hand in his own and gathering him in even closer as if that were possible.

"Dean, it's me," he whispered; "I need you to believe that because I know that's the only way you're going to get better, and I'm sorry. I made the worst error of judgement ever in my entire life; and that's in a long and stupid history of errors of judgement, and I hate myself for it and I need you to tell me that you know I'm here. I need to you forgive me for being so freakin' stupid, I need …" Sam's head dipped, and his voice tailed off, no longer able to form the words.

It was at that point that Castiel felt it; so faint at first, a softly shimmering golden light; Dean's spirit growing stronger and stronger, warmer and warmer until it burned furious and incandescent, hot as the sun, filing the dark void that Dean had become with light and hope and joy.

Rushing forward, the angel nudged Sam aside and planted a flat hand firmly on Dean's chest.

A hazy glow radiated from the contact and as Castiel poured his grace into Dean's frail body, it slowly filled the room, becoming brighter and harsher; forcing Sam to recoil, shielding his eyes from it's vivid glare. Heidi scurried under the table, plastering herself flat against Sam's back in fear.

Dean convulsed violently, as the curative energy tore around his body, mending and healing; but Castiel held firm, his palm pressed hard against Dean's heaving chest, his touch never faltering despite the hunter's pained thrashing. Gazing calmly through the blinding white incandescence that surrounded him, he stood and watched in silent satisfaction as the dark shadows beneath Dean's closed eyes faded away, and the grotesque fever flush staining his otherwise bloodless face paled with them to be replaced by the warm golden sheen of a complexion glowing with health.

Eventually, the angel stepped back, satisfied as Dean's eyes snapped open, the glassy pain behind them dissolving almost immediately into sparkling life and energy, even as Dean slumped boneless into the bed, panting as if he had run for his life.

Shaking like a leaf and half-blinded, Sam stumbled across the room and reached forward, pulling Dean back into a suffocating hug.

"Man," he gasped, voice shaking with shock and emotion; "I thought I'd lost you."

Suddenly, there came a skitter of claws across the floor and a slim streak of black and tan leapt onto the coach, worming and wriggling like a hairy eel between the two men.

Heidi's most precious person in the whole world was hugging someone else and she wasn't involved. That so wasn't how things worked. Ever.

Eventually, Dean pulled back from Sam.

"Sam," he croaked, glancing down at mass of brown fur plastered against him; "why am I wearing a dog?"

"Uh yeah," Sam swiped a hand over his eyes as he stifled a laugh; "that's Heidi."

"Heidi?"

Sam ruffled the dog's head; "Hey girl, this is Dean, he's my brother and he loves dogs just like I do."

Stepping back, he folded his arms casually and watched as Heidi went to work greeting Dean with her own individual brand of love, long pink tongue exploring his entire face despite his irritable squirming, and arm waving vocal protests.

Grinning broadly as Heidi climbed adoringly over her new friend, Sam reached back to squeeze Castiel's shoulder in a discreet but genuine gesture of thanks.

The angel nodded his response, but his returned smile was as broad as Sam's.

xxxxx

Christmas Eve

The frosty early morning sunlight filtered through the windows, as the Winchesters savoured their first coffee of the day. A soft smile crossed Sam's face as he glanced under the table at Heidi, who was curled up, dozing contentedly. Yawning widely, he rolled his shoulders to stretch the kinks of a night sleeping in an understuffed armchair out of his spine, and poured a generous stream of cream into his coffee.

"Well, baby bro'," Dean smiled, his volume fully restored along with his health; "we're all set for a rockin' great Christmas."

He glanced casually around the table; "we've got you, the trenchcoat king here, and my baby parked outside," he grinned and looked down, playfully nudging Heidi with the toe of his boot; "oh yeah, an' we've got the walkin' carpet down there."

Draining his coffee, he licked his lips in satisfaction; "so I reckon seein' as you're earning an honest wage now, you need to take your ass down into town later and get us some proper Christmas chow; turkey, cranberry sauce, the full works; maybe you can even get some crackers - never know, you might find some new jokes to impress the chicks with."

Sam effected a fierce glare over his coffee mug.

"Hey, later I'll head into the forest and find us a tree," Dean added, his face glowing with excitement. "Sammy, get some of that coloured construction paper while you're out; we can make some cool stuff to decorate it with."

Turning to Castiel, a wicked smirk played across his face as he wrestled Castiel into a playful headlock, completing the manoeuvre with an energetic noogie; "hey look, we've already got an angel for the top of it!"

Releasing the bemused angel, Dean sat back and smiled at his brother, his friend and Heidi.

Purgatory be damned; this was going to be the best Christmas ever.

xxxxx

end