Disclaimer/Spoilers: See chapter 1. Note: Violence, potentially disturbing images, and language in this chapter.
a/n: Thanks so much for reading and for your wonderful, thoughtful reviews. It's through the thoughts expressed in one such review that I bring you this note. When conceiving this story, and thinking of the bond between the brothers, I held the Gaelic word dlúthchara in my mind. It means "close friend, rarest friend." It's the Irish way of saying soul's mate. "Soulmate" is a modern term. I'm told that Europeans tend to interpret it to mean "close friends," while Americans tend to interpret it to mean "fated lovers."
I tell you that so you understand at no time did I plan to or intend to insinuate a love between the brothers that was anything other than a rare connection. Some people believe that souls are literally made and/or fated to be the mates of each other, or to play certain other important roles in each other's lives. I hope that makes sense and that as you continue to read, and hopefully enjoy, you see the pieces I attempted to put into place so that through the next three chapters, the puzzle slides into place and the picture becomes clear. If not, please tell me so that I can do better for you next time.
a/n 2: After I got this beta'd by someone with a bit more medical experience than me (which isn't hard since I have none), I realized I should remind ya'll that I've made everything up in this fic. I have decided to lean on the sturdy wall that is fiction and tell a story that could, in the realm of reality, probably never happen.
Kelly, thank you for your efforts. Ash, you're the shoulder I needed when I was weak. T, if I had a shrine, I'd light a candle for you.
The anger swells in my guts and I won't feel these slices and cuts; I want so much to open your eyes, 'cause I need you to look into mine…
Open Your Eyes, Snow Patrol
The song was wrong.
Brother or not, Dean was damn heavy. Sam's shoulders ached from the strain of being bound for so long, and the added weight of Dean's arm felt like the yolk of a burden he wasn't sure he was strong enough to carry. He felt Dean working to move his feet the few steps they'd taken away from the support beams Adoamros had tied them to, but blood loss had made his limbs uncooperative and Sam had to readjust his tenuous hold on his brother's side.
"You came in from… from up there," Sam said, peering up through the wavering candlelight to the heavy velvet curtain, the wetness from Dean's body chilling his skin. "I don't know if we can—Dean? Dean!"
The weight against his side and in his arms suddenly increased and Sam stumbled, grabbing for Dean. Going to his knee, Sam grappled with slick, bloody limbs as Dean's head fell back revealing closed eyes in a pale, bruised face.
"Aw, no," Sam shook his head, balancing his brother in his grip. He reached up and tapped Dean's face. "No, no, no, man. You stay with me. Dean? Dean! C'mon, open your eyes, man. I need you right now, okay?"
Dean's eyelids fluttered and Sam felt the trembling in his brother's body increase to full-on shivering. Swallowing hard, Sam shifted, sliding Dean into the hollow of his arms and easing him down, hissing as the sliced, broken skin on his thigh and sides pulled with the movement. Using his free hand, Sam felt for his brother's pulse. It was racing.
"Hey," Sam said, tapping Dean's cheek again. "Hey, Dean, c'mon, man. I need your help to get out of this cave, okay? I can't do this by myself."
Dean's lips moved in a slow, sluggish breath of muted sound.
"What?" Sam leaned closer, his ear centimeters from Dean's mouth. "What was that?"
"Y-yes… you can."
"Yeah, well," Sam pushed out through chilled, numb lips, "I don't want to." He swallowed again, the sour taste of panic at the back of his throat as the impact of his words rested heavy on his tongue.
He used the pad of his thumb and brushed some of the cave dirt from Dean's face, knowing the truth of those words went far beyond this moment.
He felt the muscles in Dean's back and belly tighten with effort as his brother forced his eyes open once more, the pupils wide with shock and pain. Dean's shivering had become visible in the moments since he'd begged Sam to help him find Brenna.
Gotta get him help…
"Cold," Dean said, frowning as he tried to wrap his arms around his bloody chest.
"I know," Sam said, looking up and around. "You're going into shock, I think. Gotta keep you warm."
Carefully sliding his arm from beneath Dean, Sam stood, his eyes on the bedding covering the ledge about six feet above him. Just above that ledge was the opening Dean had emerged from. Sam looked down at his brother, watching his gore-covered body tremble, and knew that there was no way they were escaping the way Dean had arrived.
"I'll be right back," he said.
"I'll… just w-wait… here," Dean quipped, closing his eyes.
"Don't go to sleep on me," Sam ordered, reaching up for a hand-hold and pulling himself painfully to the next outcropping. The cut across his side stabbed ruthlessly and he muttered a curse, pressing his hand on the exposed meat of his skin, fully expecting to remove a blood-covered hand.
When he saw his hand was clean, he looked over his shoulder at Dean, unable to tell if his brother was bleeding again or not. Sucking in a breath through clenched teeth, Sam scrambled to the ledge. He rifled through the bedding and removed an old Army blanket, tossing it to the cave floor.
Turning around, he slid down the ledge, landing in a crouch, then grabbed the blanket as he made his way over to Dean. He worked the other sleeve of Dean's tattered shirt free, then carefully smoothed the gray blanket across Dean's bare, blood-stained shoulders. He saw with a degree of fear that new blood leaked from Dean's side. Pulling his lip in and catching it between his teeth, Sam looked up, meeting Dean's pain-saturated eyes.
"I know," Dean whispered. "Damn strong… spell."
"I'm trying to remember what he said," Sam confessed. "It was all Latin, but I… I wasn't paying close enough attention. I'm sorry, man. I should have—"
"There's… an elevator."
Dean closed his eyes and drew in a shaky breath. "Saw it… from the outside. Elevator."
Sam rested his hand on Dean's arm, rocking back on his heels. Thinking back, he pictured Adoamros lifting Brenna over his shoulder and disappearing into the shadows. Wincing with the movement, his body starting to feel hollowed-out, Sam stood and moved to where he'd last seen the wizard.
"There's an opening here," he called back to Dean. "Looks like it… yeah, there's a tunnel or something."
He turned, feeling the chill of the cave make itself at home under his skin. Stumbling as he moved back to Dean, Sam pressed his hand against his heart, feeling a sudden, sluggish beat that sent his head spinning.
"What the hell?" he wondered aloud.
"Comin'," Sam said softly, rubbing his chest through his opened shirt and tentatively palpating the slices in his skin.
"What's wrong?" Dean asked as Sam cupped the back of his neck, easing him into a sitting position.
Sam lifted a brow. "What's wrong? Really?"
"With… you." Dean shivered.
Sam closed his eyes for a moment, the wizard's rant clear in his head. …the spell is specific: one must be the weapon, the other the wound. The pain is felt by both, but while one bleeds the other is helpless and to save sanity, pleads for it to simply be over…
"We gotta break this spell, man," Sam said, one hand still on Dean's neck, the other, pulling the blanket tighter around Dean's shoulders. "It's… it's not enough to just… not believe."
"You're kidding," Dean deadpanned, looking for a moment like the smart-ass brother Sam truly needed in this moment.
Sam laughed, hearing the sob under the desperate humor and nodded once before lifting Dean to a wavering stance.
"Can you walk?"
"Bear… woods… you get the idea," Dean coughed once, wincing and Sam felt a stab of pain cut through his own chest. "Sam?" Dean reached for him as Sam stumbled forward. "Sammy?"
"Dean," Sam drew in a breath. "We need to move. Now."
"'Kay." Dean nodded, shuffling forward, the blanket and bowed shoulders shrinking him in the candlelight. "Lead on."
"Right," Sam put an arm around his brother's trembling shoulders. "Like you're going to be able to make it two steps without help."
"I'm… st-stronger than you th-think," Dean stuttered through chattering teeth.
"Dude, you're the strongest person I know," Sam said as he moved them into the shadows just outside the entry to the tunnel. "But you're not Superman."
"Says… who?" Dean pressed, his body weight shifting against Sam despite his obvious efforts to remain self-propelled.
"Clark Kent," Sam returned.
"'S okay… like Batman… better."
"Save your strength, man."
"Nothin' to… save," Dean said, his voice a raspy whisper. "Keep… talking."
"Why?" Sam asked, then realized that for the last few minutes he'd not felt the pain of his slices and cuts. He almost stopped moving, his surprise was so great. They crossed the threshold from the candlelit cave to the complete darkness of the tunnel and he whistled in appreciation. "Okay, so, yeah… an elevator, huh?"
"Watch out… land mines," Dean said, then groaned and stumbled.
Sam tightened his grip, working to ignore the heat that was building in the cut on his thigh. "Land mines?"
"Griffin… almost tripped one… way in."
"You think this guy would booby-trap his own escape route?"
"Dude… thinks he's a… wizard."
"Where would he get land mines?"
"Dad… had 'em."
Sam nodded, remembering the plethora of items hidden away in that secret storage unit. It was a prime example of where there's a will, there's a way.
"It's dark in here," Sam said, just to be talking. "Like, really dark. Can't-see-your-hand-in-front-of-your-face dark. Boogeyman dark."
"I get the idea, Sam," Dean grumbled.
"Where's your Zippo?"
They bounced slightly against the tunnel wall, straightening their direction with dual hisses of pain.
"Dunno," Dean confessed. "Needed it earlier. Didn't have it."
"You w-wonder… why… he didn't t-tell us?"
"Who?" Sam frowned, peering ahead and feeling with his free hand along the dirt wall. He could barely make out a light from what looked like a vertical shaft ahead of them. "Tell us what?"
Out of the blue, the memory of the softness in his dad's voice as he stood on the other side of Dean's hospital bed asking him for a cup of caffeine cut through Sam like a physical pain.
Dean's voice was fading, wavering like the sound of a water faucet being slowly turned off. Sam tightened his grip once more, trying to absorb some of the shaking, and took a few more steps toward the wan light.
"You mean… about his deal?"
"Deal?" Dean tripped, then caught himself. "No… the storage unit."
The light was right in front of them, shining like muted starlight down into an alcove. Sam breathed a sigh of relief, setting his brother against the wall and scanning the tunnel for something that looked like a call button. As he stepped away, moving his hand from its support on Dean's chest, he saw his brother's knees buckle and Dean slid to the ground, barely keeping himself from face-planting in the cave dirt.
"'M fine," Dean slurred, pushing himself more or less upright. "Look …for a rope."
"'S a pulley system."
Dean coughed again, and Sam braced himself against the wall and doubled over as a phantom pain lit his wounds on fire.
"Shit," he breathed, then began to drag his fingers along the walls looking for the rope that would lower the elevator.
The air from the shaft above spilled hot and heavy, reminding Sam that the cool of the cave was actually a respite from the unnatural heat, which seemed to have only increased during his time below ground. His fingers tripped across the rough hemp of the thick rope and he grinned.
Silence met his announcement and he looked over his shoulder.
"Where… else'd I be?"
"Talk to me."
"I know you're tired. Talk to me anyway."
Sam's brain was fuzzy, tripping over thought and matching the hollow, puppet-like sensation of his heavy limbs. Time folded for a moment, forcing him to lean forward, his forehead against the crumbling stone and dirt of the alcove wall. Voices echoed in his head, adding to the lingering dizziness that threatened to take him to his knees.
He heard his own voice whispering memories of breathing with Dean to calm himself. He heard his dad's voice talking them through an escape from social services—a fate worse than any hunt gone wrong. He heard Dean's voice on the other end of his phone telling him he was proud. He heard the cry of pain that he'd been unable to voice echoing in the sound of his own name as it ripped a bloody path on its escape from his brother's mouth.
He heard Dean say one year.
"Talk," he choked out, clearing his throat and fighting away the vertigo, "talk about Dad."
Two heartbeats of silence were enough to bring Sam's head up. He looked over at Dean's slumped form and for one agonizing moment feared the worst as he saw the starlight illuminate Dean's pale face, parted lips, and opened eyes staring at nothing.
Then, Dean blinked and Sam's world began to turn on its axis once more.
"He never… mentioned it. All… that talk about… need to know… shoot first… ask questions later…" Dean grunted slightly, the last words hissing out on a breath of escaped pain, "never was a later…"
Sam wrapped his long fingers around the rope, working to ignore the fact that he couldn't really feel the rope against his skin. Instead, he could feel himself tipping backwards to a dark abyss that no deal, no sacrifice of soul, no stay of execution would save him from.
The elevator platform was lowered on a dual rope system. One rope had to be pulled from the anchoring and then fed upwards while the other lowered or raised the platform. Clenching his jaw, Sam yanked on the rope, pulling it from the anchor, feeling a catch far above him and the slack in his grip contrasting with the release of another rope stretched alongside the one in his hands.
"Tells me he's proud of me…" Dean was saying, his voice undulating between tightly wound vocals and breathy whispers, telling Sam that his brother was far enough gone that he didn't realize what he was saying, or perhaps that he was even speaking aloud. "Tells me… tells me I did good… never said that before… never was a later, though… never got a chance to ask…"
Sam kept silent, mourning the loss of chances with his dad with as much quiet pain as he heard in his brother's confession. He fed the rope upwards, listening to the ancient creek of gears as the platform well above their heads began to crawl slowly downward.
"Pictures… Sammy, he had pictures," Dean continued, and Sam saw him begin to slip a little further toward the ground. "Of all of us… from… from a long time… 'go…"
"Never said… had it the whole time…"
"Hey! Hey, Dean!"
Dean seemed to sink a little into the wall and Sam's feeling of disconnect amplified. The rope slipped through Sam's numb hands and he fell to his knees, his body fighting his will in a battle for survival.
"No…" he whispered. "Not… yet."
Sam looked up, staring blankly at the rapidly descending elevator platform, confused by what was happening as his heart thudded hard and heavy with slowing rhythm. Something inside him screamed for him to move, that danger was eminent, but he was so tired, so tired…
A soul can be sacrificed, can be given willingly to save another…
Brenna's rebellious cry echoed so loudly in his head that Sam blinked, looking around, expecting her to be standing in front of him. The movement, the awareness was just enough to propel him out of the way as the elevator platform reached the bottom, thudding against the stone and dirt floor with a cacophonous retort of wood and metal. Sam flinched, covering his ears, his body curled into a position of protection.
A soul can be sacrificed…
"That's it," he breathed. "That's it!"
Rolling to his knees, Sam crawled to the shivering form of his brother. He grabbed the front of the blanket and dragged Dean up and close to him. It seemed strangely silent in the wake of the blast from the crashing platform. The air from the open shaft wrapped them in a steamy, suffocating heat, and the muted starlight shone significantly brighter without the barricade of the platform to filter its power.
Dean's head hung back limply, his throat flashing with his rapid pulse. The shudder of his body shook the blanket in Sam's hands, but he ignored it, cupping his brother's neck and pulling his face toward him.
"Listen," Sam said, his voice barely above a whisper as need sapped the strength of his demand. "It can't get you, Dean."
Wincing as another phantom pain struck him, this time on his upper arm, Sam shook Dean slightly. "And if it can't get you, then it won't get me."
He felt Dean catch his breath.
"You don't own your soul anymore. That's what Brenna was trying to say…" Sam's voice faded slightly as he spoke her name, fear and guilt warring for dominance in his consciousness. "That freakin' Harry Potter wannabe couldn't have you 'cause you already gave your soul up."
Sam's voice cracked as the very real pain of time slipping away from them and the knowledge that the person he loved most in this world may be gone sped his sluggish heart.
"And if the souls are paired… if it's a set that he needs… then he can't have me, either."
Sam nodded, encouraged by any modicum of sound from Dean's lips, though his brother's eyes remained closed. "Yeah, I know, man, believe me. These cuts, they hurt like a bitch, but… I think…"
He watched Dean's eyes roll beneath his closed lids, noticing the starlight start to fade from silver to a warmer bronze as twilight slid between the dominating gods of night and day.
"I think I remember some of his spell," Sam said, shuffling forward on his knees so that Dean rested against him, his back to Sam's front. "The spells in Dad's boxes… they were repeated a lot. I mean, you would say the same thing with different purpose and, something else would happen…"
"Swell," Dean grumbled. "That mean… we can… un-exorcise… a demon?"
"I don't remember what the spells were for, or if all of them were repeated, but I think maybe… maybe if I repeat some of his spell, y'know, and just reverse some key phrases, maybe this will stop."
"Hunt's fulla maybes," Dean sighed.
Sam closed his eyes, his head dropping forward tiredly until his chin rested on the top of Dean's head. Maybe the knife will save him… maybe Dad meant to tell us about the storage unit… maybe Brenna was a hunter… maybe…
"We gotta believe in something, man," Sam said. Or not believe…
"C-can't st-stop shaking," Dean confessed.
"I got you," Sam tightened his grip. "I won't let go."
He felt Dean draw a breath. Then another. The space between each one tangled Sam's stomach in knots.
"You start bleeding… 'm gonna kick… your ass."
Sam nodded, taking this to be the closest thing to go for it that he was going to get. Closing his eyes once more, he pictured Adoamros hovering over him, stroking the diamond-studded blade down his chest, muttering. He focused his memory on the wizard's lips, trying to read them, trying to remember…
Soul to soul… bound by fate… I torture to free…
"Did… you just say… crucio?" Dean's raspy voice broke in.
"Dude… what a freak…"
"He was in love with his brother," Sam revealed.
Dean stiffened, and Sam realized saying that while Dean essentially lay in his arms was probably not the best timing. "I think he was… talking to him."
"To… his brother?"
"Yeah. I think he thought his brother chose the victims."
Dean was silent for a moment. "Maybe he did."
Sam knew that he had to turn one phrase around, had to stop what the spell had started. He breathed shallowly, hoping as his lips formed the words that he was reversing the right phrase, using the right rhythm, making the right choice.
Blood of blood… bound to me… soul to soul I set you free…
"Jesus…Christ," Dean gasped, his eyes flying open, his head pressing back against Sam's shoulder as his back arched, his body bowing up in a taut reaction to pain. "Fuck me… what the hell, Sam?"
Sam felt nothing, not even the sting of the cuts that had been burning just moments before. Hastily, he looked down at his side where the worst of the wounds were and saw that it was still there, still pulled wide, still wet and raw, but blood-free.
"Ah!" Dean cried out, his shaking increasing until Sam all but lost his grip on the blanket, parting it to reveal a flash of his brother's skin.
"Oh, you gotta be kidding me," Sam breathed watching with horror as Dean's skin parted in a gash as deep and long as the one on Sam's side.
Sam slid from beneath his brother and laid Dean's jerking form flat on the ground, searching hastily in the growing dawn light that filtered down through the elevator shaft for more wounds, knowing exactly where they would be.
He could feel the heat from the wound on Dean's thigh, though his brother's jeans stayed intact. He opened the blanket completely and watched with horror as each slice, each cut from his body was mirrored in the gore on Dean's bare chest as his brother writhed in agony.
"Dean!" Sam's hands hovered, unsure where to touch, what to hold, how to stop the mess that he'd apparently created.
"What? What's burning?"
"Me," Dean panted, rolling to his side and looking as if he were going to push to his knees, unable to get his trembling arms beneath him. "Son of a bitch!"
"I don't know… I don't know what to do!" Sam rested his hand on the wound on Dean's side, only then realizing that while the skin had split, the wound was not bleeding. "Wait… wait…"
"Aw, fuck," Dean panted. "Fuck!"
The heat of Dean's skin beneath Sam's hand was dangerous, a fever causing Dean's body to spasm violently. Sam pressed his other hand on another visible slice, pressing down on the wound.
"The weapon and the wound," he muttered to himself. "There's always two… there's always two…"
"Sam, God, make it stop," Dean pleaded, his voice barely above a strangled whisper. "Un-do whatever you did."
"No, wait… wait, man, I think it's working. Hang on, Dean. You can do it."
Dean's hand reached up, his palm slapping against Sam's bicep, his fingers twisting tightly into the loose material of his shirt, gripping as if letting go would mean a fall into his own chasm.
"That's it," Sam encourage, not daring to remove his hands from Dean's body. "That's it, hang on. Dean, listen, it's getting better. Can you feel it? You're cooling down."
"Holy shit." Dean pressed his eyes closed, his face pale and taut, his jaw muscle jumping in time with his visibly racing pulse.
"There's always two, Dean."
"Wh-what the hell does th-that mean?"
"It means that… that I'm cut, you bleed, right? So… reverse it and the wounds show up to match your bleeding."
"Fuck's sake, Sam… get to th-the good part…"
"They're healing, Dean."
Dean started to breathe again, slow, easy breaths, working to calm himself, working to combat the obvious pain.
Sam shook his head, though his brother's eyes were still closed. "And risk getting my ass kicked? Not on your life."
Sam released one of the wounds, reaching for his brother's fisted hand, digging his fingers into Dean's grip and holding on tight. Before his eyes, the slices in Dean's skin started to seal, pulling together as if by invisible stitches. Dean cried out once more, but then clenched his jaw, holding himself inhumanly still as the spell worked its magic.
Sam looked down at his own wounds; still visible, but slowly beginning to seal from the inside out. And no blood. He breathed a small sigh of relief. At least he was strong enough to get his brother out of there.
"Try to relax, man."
"Bite me," Dean muttered through clenched teeth.
Sam grinned. "Not really my thing, man."
Dean huffed out a weedy laugh, his body shaking weakly as he relaxed his muscles incrementally. Sam grabbed the edges of the blanket, wrapping it close around Dean's bare shoulders, then carefully helped Dean to a sitting position. The spell reversal worked to stop the bleeding, and apparently the pain-tolerance connection, but it didn't reverse the damages already inflicted.
Sam could still feel the warm air from above skim across his open wounds in a stinging reminder that flesh that wasn't meant to be uncovered was gaping. Dean's pale features and trembling limbs exposed a body weakened through blood loss and pain.
The rising sun caught on a piece of metal above them and shone a beam down to spear the ground between them, sending motes of dirt and dust into the air and giving Sam a gauze-like filter through which to view his brother.
"He said the soul couldn't be feely given."
"Huh?" Dean lifted a brow, opening one eye to regard Sam.
"The wizard. He said the soul had to be taken… it couldn't be freely given."
"He's full of shit, Sam," Dean said softly, closing his eyes, his expression screaming that he knew where Sam was headed with his line of thinking and was trying to deflect the questions with a wall of resistance.
"Yeah? You sure about that?"
"I made a deal, Sam. Same as Dad."
"You're saying it just took your word—"
"I'm saying it took my will." Dean opened his eyes, his voice ragged, but no longer breathy and shaking. "I'm saying I did it freely. I'm saying that punk-ass M.E. is eight kinds of crazy and has lived too long. I'm saying no one took anything from me that I wasn't ready to give up."
"You were ready to give it up then. Until you realized what it meant," Sam said, sitting back on his heels, a dizzying hallucination of John's soft eyes swimming over Dean's wounded ones staring back at him.
"Even when you said you didn't want to go to Hell?"
"There's a difference, Sam." Dean looked up, his eyes skimming the length of the elevator shaft, looking as if he just realized where they were. "I don't want to go to Hell. But, given the chance, I wouldn't choose differently."
"Why?" Sam asked softly.
"Because the world is a better place with you in it."
It was such a simple statement said with such honest belief that Sam was unable to breathe for a moment. He looked away, licked his lips, then looked back. Dean was watching him, seemingly unable to do more than that.
"C'mon," Sam said finally, his head feeling more solid, his body less number. Gone was the sensation that nothing was holding him to the ground. "Let's get out of here."
He pushed himself to his feet, reaching down and pulling Dean up. Dean tried, he did, but his body had been through hell, and Sam was simply waiting for the moment when the blood loss would steal Dean's consciousness. He held Dean tight, moving him forward with soft, encouraging words, then eased him down on the elevator platform, far enough from the outer edge that he wouldn't scrape against the walls.
"You sure you can do this?" Dean asked, blinking slowly, looking up at Sam through heavy-lidded eyes. His fight for awareness was visible.
"No," Sam confessed, grabbing the rope, and sliding his eyes up the length of the shaft. "But I don't really want to stay down here until someone figures out we're missing."
"Good point," Dean closed his eyes.
"Stay with me, okay?"
Sam pulled on the rope, raising the platform incrementally. "Think there's any way Griffin might find us?"
"Griffin's hurt," Dean said, as if just remembering. "Sinatra took him out of the other tunnel."
Dean opened his eyes, regarding Sam wordlessly.
"Oh," Sam said softly.
"It's worse than that," Dean sighed. "Griffin was the only one who knew much about that fuckin' wizard."
Sam opened his mouth to ask why that was worse, pulling them slowly up the shaft, then realized what Dean meant. If they didn't know much about the wizard, they couldn't find him. If they couldn't find him, they couldn't find Brenna.
"We'll find her, Dean," Sam assured him.
Dean closed his eyes, his trembling starting to increase once again. "We'd better."
Sam tugged the rope, moving them ever upward, feeling sweat bead on his upper lip and along his hairline. He watched his brother's face pulling tight with worry, somewhat relieved that though Dean lay in a heap of weakness, it wasn't pain that pulled his brows together.
"You love her?"
Dean's lips twitched. His forehead folded into a frown.
"It's okay if you do," Sam tried, finding it difficult to express his tangled emotions.
They weren't the type of brothers who offered solace and understanding through words. He fought for a way to say I was afraid of her; I didn't want her to take you away from me when we have so little time left. He search for words that expressed I was jealous of you; I didn't want to watch you feel love when I am destined to be without it. When everyone I love dies.
He struggled with I want to be the one to save you; I want you to know that I saved you because you saved me, because you brought me back, because you have given up everything for me and I know I owe you so much and there's no way I can pay you back and I hate that. And she's powerful enough. She's just enough that she might do it.
The jealousy he felt toward Brenna wasn't something he was used to, and he was ashamed. Watching Dean lay on the platform, fighting just to stay conscious, blood soaking his clothes, Sam realized he was a fool. His connection to Dean went beyond anything either of them would ever have with another.
It was a link that had been born in the fire that took their mother. It was a melding of souls. Beyond friendship. Beyond brotherhood. When Sam was cut, Dean bled. Literally and metaphorically. And the only thing that could break that was inside of them.
"I mean it," Sam continued when Dean didn't speak. "I loved Jess. I looked at her, and, man, I wanted to wrap up the moon and give it to her. She made me… she made me feel, y'know? Like I was good. Like I mattered. Like without me, she didn't really exist."
Sam continued to haul them upwards, his weary, wounded body sweating with effort and from the oppressive heat they were emerging into as they ascended the shaft. Thinking of Jessica, he forgot about everything for a moment. He could still recall the spread of her smile. The snap in her eyes when she teased him. The way her skin smelled. The feel of her neck at the bend of her shoulder. The sound of her breath in his ear as they made love.
He never wanted to forget that. He never wanted to forget her.
Sam looked down at his brother, pale, trembling, laying on the elevator platform as if dropped from the sky. He opened his mouth to prompt an answer when Dean spoke, his voice slurred and rough, as if pulled from the recesses of awareness. As if spoken in reluctant confession.
"Yeah," rasped Dean, "I love her."
Unsure if he were relieved by the honesty, or more worried for his brother now than ever before, Sam called out to him.
When he didn't answer, Sam stretched out a foot, toeing Dean's hand with his boot. Dean didn't flinch.
"Shit," Sam muttered, pulling faster. "We're almost there, Dean. We're almost out."
What Sam hadn't considered, he realized as they crested the opening, drawing level with the ground and the opened door of the elevator, was that out didn't exactly mean free. He tied the rope, stepped off the platform and into the almost-tropical heat of the Pennsylvania morning. Looking around at the barren landscape, devoid of any form of transportation, he felt his heart sink.
"Son of a bitch."
Some time ago, Brenna had reached a level of control with her druid sight that allowed her to adjust it like a dimmer switch, seeing just enough into a person that she could take what she needed, and not be burdened with the rest. She accepted the power as part of her. Like the freckles across her nose, or her unruly hair. She hadn't considered it to be anything of notable significance.
"Perhaps it is you I should have cut." The whisper was heated, the lips wet pressed closed to her ear, not quite touching.
"It wouldn't have mattered," she muttered, pulling her legs as close to her chest as possible, gripping them tightly with her arms.
The cloistered air of the empty rail car was black as the inside of her captor's heart, the rhythmic rocking of the train a nauseating reminder of how far she was traveling from help, from safety. Brenna was thankful only that the wizard wasn't currently touching her. The journey she'd taken inside of his insanity had set her on the edge of a very deep, dark hole and she was debating on the benefit of falling in.
"Now, that's no way to talk," Adoamros crooned.
She felt him moving around her in the dark; she could smell him. The sour stench of his breath, the heat of his skin, the sulfurous waft of air that followed his motion. Brenna bit the inside of her cheek, keeping the traitorous whimper silent, keeping her eyes open in the dark because the images she'd inadvertently pulled from his brain played too easily across her closed lids.
"Get the hell away from me," she growled.
"I don't think so," the wizard chuckled. "We are going to get to know each other very well, you and I."
Seeing Dean bleed for his brother had broken a piece of her heart and sent it tumbling inside her, slicing and cutting a lonely, shattered swath in its wake. His touch had once left her defenseless against emotions that ricocheted on each other, fighting to be heard and to hide simultaneously. But he didn't belong to her. She'd always known that on some level. And now, as much as she wanted to deny it, she had proof.
"Where are we going?"
"Don't worry about it," Adoamros retorted. "All that should matter to you is how you are going to give me your power in order to spare you life."
"Who says I care about sparing my life?"
"Everyone cares about sparing their life. It is the salvation of the human condition."
Brenna brought her head up, still unable to see much, but fully aware of where he was. "Not true."
"You delight in contradicting me," the wizard observed. "You won't when you're begging for your life."
"Oh, for the love… do you have any original material?"
She heard his pacing steps halt. For several moments there was no sound but the clacking of the train as it raced over tracks taking them to God knows where. A bead of sweat traced a familiar path down the side of her face and she shrugged up a shoulder to wipe it away.
Her joints ached from having been bound for so long; the scrapes on her wrists stung as the oppressive heat of the early morning drew moisture from her skin. She scratched at the drying blood and her heart hitched as she remembered Dean, broken, bleeding, his eyes pinning hers with a promise only he could make.
I'm gonna find you.
She knew it was hopeless. Deep inside, in that place she fought to ignore, where truth festered and grew, infecting her with knowledge that she didn't want to recognize, she heard a small voice telling her that this was it. This encounter, this insane man who thought himself to be a wizard, would decide her fate.
"Dean," she whispered, closing her eyes and picturing him, hale and whole, standing before her. She traced a mental glance along jeans worn from life on the road, bowed legs relaxed and ready, gray T-shirt pressed against the contours of his body, short hair catching the morning light, green eyes shielded by lashes so long they would keep a secret safe.
Holding that image in her mind, Brenna opened her eyes, pressed her hands flat on the floor of the rail car and pushed herself to her feet. The glow from the rising sun filtered in through random cracks in the car, offering just enough light that she could see the silhouette of the wizard standing across the car from her, looking as though he were speaking with someone.
Brenna took a breath and slowly rolled her fingers tight against her fists. She had lost the discipline to focus her power long ago—now she knew she could be its victim along with the wizard. It no longer mattered. For several months, she'd held on to the illusion of the possibility of love, though outwardly she denied it. Inside, she always hoped. The wizard's spell had erased that hope.
So she would erase him.
"What are you doing?" Adoamros turned to face her.
She couldn't see his expression, but she could make out his form. Pulling everything, every hideous image of blood and death, every scream of pain, every plea for mercy, every year upon year of unnatural life, every moment of imagined physical connection with the brother he'd lost so long ago, every dark shadow and glimmer of light she had seen inside his mind to the surface of her own, Brenna cried out.
Her body bucked and she felt something inside of her give way as a force filled the empty rail car, shaking the sliding doors and flinging them from their clasps, propelling them outward into the scorching countryside.
"What. Are. You. Doing!?"
Brenna screamed, falling to her knees, but unwilling to give in, wanting to overwhelm the wizard with the same force as she'd obliterated the doors. Wanting to kill.
The echoing blast of power from the wizard sent her tumbling to the ground, slamming her against the back of the rail car and driving the air from her lungs. Dimly through ringing ears, she heard the raspy, reptilian sound of the wizard muttering. It sounded like a spell, but she didn't know enough of such things to identify it.
She coughed helplessly, unable to defend herself when he crossed the car and grabbed the front of her torn shirt, ripping it further and exposing her bra and bruised ribs. She weakly beat away his hands, but the blast of energy that had driven the doors from the car had sapped her strength completely.
Adoamros closed his fingers around her neck, causing her to instinctively clasp his wrist in defense. As he pulled her up from the ground, she fell into him, unable to shield herself, unable to save herself. As if slipping through a tunnel, Brenna jerked and flinched as the truth of the wizard's life played out for her through his eyes in a kaleidoscope of colors.
A young man with blue eyes wearing an olive green Army uniform stepped in close, his lips soft, his skin cool. The image shifted and the eyes she was looking through saw the same young man bruised and pale—death haunting the edges of his expression. She traveled with Adam Carter through the tunnels of the abandoned mine, she felt his sorrow, his utter loneliness, his complete despair. She saw the dagger, she watched him learn, she felt the strange mixture of disgust, horror, and pleasure as he killed his first victim.
She felt his heat, the heat of his need, the heat of his anger. The heat permeated his being, drifted into the world, oppressed the town until his anger was satiated, until his need was satisfied. She felt him lose his humanity as easily as if he shrugged free of a cloak. She watched the diamond blade separate skin, break apart connections, shatter life, and she felt him delight in it.
When Adoamros released her, Brenna fell to the ground gasping, choking, weakly pressing a shaking hand to her throat.
"You think you can kill me? Me? I am forever!"
Brenna lifted her eyes, knowing they were wide, predatory, unnatural. "You are nothing," she rasped. She pushed herself slowly to her knees, never taking her eyes from him. "You get off on a borrowed power."
"That's not true," Adoamros stated flatly, leaning close. "The power is mine. Mine! Lane showed me, he gave it to me, so that I can return him—"
"Lane is dead, you freak."
"He speaks to me." Adoamros straightened, stepping back from Brenna. "He is my soul mate."
"He doesn't speak to you. He probably pities you."
The crack of his fist across her cheekbone wasn't a surprise, but it hurt like hell. Brenna's vision swam and her eyes watered as she slowly brought her head back up to look at the wizard with contempt.
"Feel like a big man now?"
"You live for one purpose: to replace the two I lost."
"Bite me," she spat. "All I wanted to do is get you away from them."
"They are still dead," Adoamros smiled wickedly. "You efforts didn't save them."
Brenna swallowed the sudden rush of bile and clenched her teeth as she said, "If they died, then they did so with their souls intact. You didn't win."
Adoamros looked out through the open rail car, the hot wind buffeting his hair and mustache, pressing his clothes tight against his skin. Brenna looked away, not wanting the image of the mousey wizard to replace her memory of Dean.
"If you don't release your power, the town will burn."
"Oh, please," Brenna used the wall of the rail car to pull herself to her feet. "We've gone from killing soul mates to burning down a town? A little big for your britches, aren't you?"
"You feel that heat? You feel it out there?"
Brenna swallowed, keeping her face carefully blank.
"It will only increase until a sacrifice is made."
"Or you die."
Adoamros stepped up to her, his fisted fingers exposing how badly he wanted to touch her, the fear at the back of his eyes exposing his respect for her power. Brenna stared back at him, feeling her strength start to return. She didn't even see him pull the knife.
The sudden, unexpected slice on her shoulder caused her to cry out, then grip the wound, warm blood spilling over her fingers and dripping to the floor. Her surprise and pain shifted quickly to triumph and satisfaction as she watched the wizard's face crumple with disbelief.
"Looks like Lane isn't such a great divining rod these days," she gasped.
"You were there; you absorbed the spell."
"Why do you bleed?!"
She watched as the wizard's sanity slipped off the precipice she herself had been perching on moments ago.
"Because," she stepped forward, "not everyone has a soul mate."
"No… no it's not possible."
"Maybe…" she swallowed, hating herself for even thinking these words, "maybe you killed mine… too quickly."
"I will fix this… I will fix this…"
The wild look in the wizard's eyes sent a shiver of worried apprehension down Brenna's spine. She darted a look out of the train car as she felt the motion below her feet begin to slow. Taking a breath, she tried to calculate how quickly she would have to move to get past the wizard and out through the door without breaking her neck.
"I will fix this," Adoamros continued to repeat, then to her surprise reached out, grabbed her wrist, spun her around and pressed her forcefully against the wall.
"No," she whispered, closing her eyes tight, working to block the images that swamped her brain from his touch. "No no no no no…"
She pictured Declan, she pictured their home, the bar and the garage. She thought of the cars Declan had stored there so long ago. She pictured Dean rebuilding the Grand National for her as he healed from the banshee's attack. She felt Adoamros tying her wrists together, tightly. She felt a gag pressed into her mouth and tied behind her head. She felt his hand on her arm, pulling her from the wall, thrusting her to the open door of the rail car.
Mentally tracing the line of the Grand National, picturing dirty, jean-clad legs sticking out from under the belly of the beast, she was able to keep the horror of his touch at bay.
When he pushed her from the moving train, her mind was reaching down to pull Dean out from beneath the car. When her body crashed with bone-snapping impact against the unforgiving ground, she was grinning back into Dean's grease-smeared face, pulling a socket wrench from his hand in exchange for a shop towel.
When darkness took her mercifully into its embrace, she was falling gratefully into Dean's waiting arms.
It was the only word that floated clearly to the surface, shining in large black letters on the white movie screen in his mind. He wondered how he could be so cold and so hot at the same time. His body shivered mercilessly, giving his tired, aching muscles little relief; the air around him, however, felt as if the universe had opened Hell, baking his overtaxed lungs and searing his dry throat.
He felt hands on him, tugging him, lifting him. He knew that he should climb out of the hollow he hid inside, step away from the comfort of the gray, offer help to whoever was trying so hard to relocate him, but he could do no more than breathe. And even that was becoming a chore.
"…have to walk…get some help…"
He heard his brother's voice coming from very far away, drifting and rolling as if they bobbed together on water, cast away by fate, left alone together to survive the sacrifice of another life. He wanted to reach out, to grab hold of Sam. But he could only breathe.
Sam was calling him.
The voice was young, fearful, needy. He should reassure him that it would be okay, that everything was going to be fine, that he wasn't going anywhere, that they would find a way out of this. But he couldn't stop shaking, he couldn't turn away from the gray, and the black was whispering to him with seductive promises of peace, safety, solace.
"…right back…be long…"
Once more he felt himself shifted, moved, his head falling back and being caught in the grip of his brother's large hands, the coarse material of a blanket wrapped tightly around him, helping to soothe the shaking despite the intense heat. He felt fingers flit across his forehead, pressure on his shoulder as words were whispered from familiar lips, but then lost in a miasma of nausea, pain, and weakness.
He was aware of the stirring of air, the feel of it slipping over his exposed skin and dry lips. He was aware of the rattle of metal on metal. He was aware of the absence of all other sound. He was aware that he was alone.
He wanted to wake up, to open his eyes, to look around and to head down the same road as Sam, fighting the good fight, staying the course. He pushed through the cloudy thickness of the gray that boxed him in, pressing around him with such weight that it was nearly impossible to pull in air. He was breathing in the gray.
His thoughts started to snap, spark, jumping from the logical need to climb back to awareness then slipping back to memory and making recollection tangible and real. He was sitting on the floor of the hidden room in the storage unit, his mother's tiny ring on his finger, his hands full of a lost childhood. He was confessing his fear of Hell to the one person who should never see him afraid.
He was yelling at a mirrored image of himself, spitting venom and pain in his own face. He was losing himself in the tender flesh of a stranger while Sam waited for him. He was standing on a gravel road, tasting the cold lips of a demon. He was yelling at Bobby, wanting him gone. He was kneeling in the mud, the weight of his dead brother in his arms. He was gripping his head with pain from a vision. He was catching Sam as he was overwhelmed by a vision.
He was sitting on the hood of his car, baring his soul to satiate the demands of his brother. He was hitting Sam. He was hitting the Impala. He was watching his father burn. He was listening to the tone of a still heart monitor. He was lying shocked and shaken in a hospital bed, looking into the liquid eyes of the one person he needed most in the world, listening to a vow of sacrifice, and feeling his world shatter.
"No," Dean gasped, jerking harshly, his eyes snapping open.
His lungs searched vainly for breath and he looked around, panicked to realize that he was lying outside of the elevator shaft of the abandoned mine. Alone.
"Sam?" he called, his voice so ravaged by the night that it came out as a breathy gasp. "Sammy?"
His vision doubled, then swam and he dropped his head back fighting back the nausea that threatened to rid him of any liquid left in his body.
He didn't leave you, Dean. He'll be back. He didn't leave. His inner voice reprimanded the fear his weakened system taunted him with.
You took care of me, you took care of Sammy…
Dean brought his head up, looking around once more, his father's voice so clear his addled brain expected him to be standing in front of him, glowing with tears of relief and sorrow tracking his rugged cheeks.
"Get a grip, Dean." He coughed, rolling with effort to his knees, reaching up with a staggered grip to the side of the elevator shaft and using it to pull himself to his feet.
The blanket slipped, and he almost let it fall, until another shudder coursed through him and he instead drew it tighter around his sweaty body. Swallowing, he looked around again, the morning sun already giving the air a shimmering, metallic quality. He saw a dusty, gravel-strewn road stretching out before him, and clear indentations of Sam's footprints.
"On my way, Sammy."
As he staggered forward, resolutely planting one foot before the other, he thought of his father's sacrifice. He thought of his own. How there had never been a choice in his mind once the idea occurred to him. Then he thought of Sam, and he stumbled.
Sam shouldn't have to sacrifice anything and yet… yet he might be the one to sacrifice the most. If they couldn't find a way out of this deal—a way that didn't result in Sam's demise—Dean was suddenly afraid he'd be damning his brother to a fate worse than death. A fate he, himself hadn't been able to handle. Life without his brother.
Dean's stomach rolled sickeningly in his stomach as he thought about the what if. What if they failed, if they didn't keep him from the pit? He was going to have to convince Sam that he could stand on his own.
Because the sacrifice was only as noble as the person saved.
"Sorry, Dad," he whispered dryly, his thoughts bowing his shoulders.
Another trip and he went to his knees. Pushing himself awkwardly upward, he took two more steps and staggered once more, this time unable to catch himself. He was barely able to thrust out his hands to halt his falling body when he met the ground with the side of his face.
Coughing weakly, he blinked through dust covered lashes, seeing his father, crouched in the dust, as real as the heat around him, fingers laced and hanging loose between bent knees. Dean squinted, bringing his head up, the light of the dangerous sun shimmering the image of John before him.
I am so proud of you…
The roar of the truck erased the image of John and Dean blinked as Sam barreled from the still-moving vehicle to hit the ground in a sprint, closing the distance between them.
Dean rolled limply with the force of Sam's hands. "Hey, Sammy."
"What the hell were you… I left you back at the… I was only going for… I found Virgil and he—"
"Good to see you, man," Dean interrupted, choking on the dust coating his face.
Sam sniffed and wiped some of the grime away. "Good to see you, too."
"Jesus H. Christ," Virgil whispered as he joined them. "What the hell happened to you, Dean?"
Dean didn't answer. He couldn't. He could only watch his brother. He could only breathe.
"He needs blood, Virge," Sam answered, staring down at Dean.
"This is all his?" Virgil squeaked.
"Help me get him up," Sam commanded.
Dean felt more hands on him, cradling him, lifting him, bearing him across the dirt road and into the back of Virgil's pick-up.
"Took Griffin to the hospital," Virgil was saying as he and Sam lay Dean down on a pallet that had obviously been used not too long before. "It's small, but they have an ER and some blood."
"We can't—" Sam started.
"Go to a hospital, yeah, I was afraid you were going to say that," Virgil grabbed Dean's wrist and Dean slid his eyes sluggishly to the medic's face.
"Hey, yourself, you crazy bastard," Virgil grumbled, laying Dean's arm across his bare belly and lifting his eye lid. "Your pulse is racing, you're dehydrated, you've got more blood outside than in… this is what you get for being a hero?"
"Can you help us?" Sam asked slumping down beside Dean, his knee at Dean's shoulder, his back against the truck bed.
"Dean? You know your blood type?"
"A positive," the brothers answered together.
"I can give him my blood," Sam offered.
"You are out on your feet, Sam," Virgil shook his head. "No. I think I can get some. Griffin has the same blood type."
Dean frowned. "No… way you're… gonna—"
"Don't worry," Virgil held up a hand. "It's not Griffin's blood. And quit trying to be a smart ass. You need to save your strength."
Dean blinked his eyes, heavy with exhaustion, and pulled the corner of his mouth up in a weak smile of thanks.
"Where's Brenna?" Virgil asked.
When neither brother responded, Dean heard the horror in Virgil's voice as he said, "He didn't…"
"She's alive," Sam said. "Or was the last time we saw her."
"She's… 'live," Dean slurred, unable to keep his eyes open. "Gonna… find 'er."
"Where?" Virgil asked, desperate.
"Virge, please, just… help us," Sam replied, his voice losing strength almost as rapidly as Dean's. "We'll find Brenna. Dean promised. And he never goes back on his word."
"Damn… straight," Dean whispered. He worked to keep close, to stay aware, but the voices were tunneling into echoes, only those of his own memories staying audible.
I know how dead you are inside. How worthless you feel. I know how you look into a mirror and hate what you see…
You took care of Sammy, you took care of me, you did that…
My father was an obsessed bastard! All that crap he dumped on me about protecting Sam, that was his crap!
You have to save him, Dean. If you don't save him, you'll have to kill him.
You can't escape me Dean. You're gonna die. And this is what you're gonna become.
I am so proud of you.
He felt his brother's hand in his, gripping tightly, holding on.
"Look a little better."
"Feel a little better."
"Well, you got about four bags of blood in you now."
"Wow. I have no idea what that means."
"According to Sinatra, the fact that you were breathing at all was nothing short of a miracle."
"Told you I was Batman."
Sam shook his head at his brother's tired grin, pulling the needle from Dean's arm and pressing a cotton ball and band-aide over the puncture hole.
"You're a mess, man," he commented, looking at Dean's blood-covered body. "You have like one tiny square of clean skin."
Sam heard the worry and awareness filter through Dean's voice.
"And where the hell are we?"
"It's been almost twelve hours—"
"And we're at Virgil and Brenna's hotel."
"Twelve hours!" Dean tried to sit up, collapsing back onto his elbow and closing his eyes. "Whoa…"
"Take it easy, man," Sam admonished. "You may have blood in you now, but you need to—"
"What about you?" Dean suddenly looked over, reaching with a still-trembling hand to press his fingertips on Sam's borrowed white T-shirt.
"Virge stitched me up," Sam informed him. "Seem to be doing okay. Still hurts, but… not bleeding."
"He took care of me, Dean."
Dean fell back onto his pillow. "Twelve hours, Sam."
"It's still hot as hell out there."
Dean frowned at him. "So?"
"So," Sam stood up from his perch at the edge of the bed, wrapped the tubing from the blood bag and throwing it into the plastic biohazard container that Virgil had provided. "He still has her, and she's still alive. Otherwise… it would be cooling down by now."
"Oh," Dean nodded.
"Hey there," Virgil said from the doorway to the adjoining room. "You look better."
Dean tried to roll to his side, and Sam reached out gripping his shoulder and helping him swing his legs over the side of the bed to sit in a semi-slumped position.
"Thanks to you," Dean finally replied.
His color had drained with the change in position and his breathing was shallow. Sam watched him closely, not wanting a repeat of the limp, almost lifeless form he and Virgil had carried into the room this morning.
"Gotta tell you," Virgil said, clearing his throat nervously, "I wasn't sure if fluid and blood would do the trick. Blood loss can mess you up in ways… well, we have no idea what else is going wrong inside of you."
Sam frowned as Dean dropped his head, his knuckles turning white as he gripped the edge of the bed.
"Organ failure, heart damage," Virgil continued. "I mean, we basically put a piece of gum in the hole on a dam, here, buddy."
"I'm okay," Dean said, his voice low, thready.
"Dean," Sam hedged, knowing his brother's resistance to even the insinuation of weakness.
"Sam, I said I'm okay," Dean brought his head up, his eyes hot and aware.
Sam swallowed, looking away, frustration building low in his gut.
"So," Dean said, looking over at Virgil. "Do I want to know how you got all this?"
Virgil looked down, pulling his red baseball hat from his head and scratching his forehead. He shoved the hat back on and looked up. "Your friend in the sheriff's department had something to do with it."
"My friend in the—"
"Calhoun," Sam supplied. "When we told him that it was Carter, the M.E., that was killing everyone and that you were hurt, he said you were the coolest FBI Agent he'd ever met and he practically fell all over himself helping Virge get what he needed."
"Coolest Agent, huh?" Dean grinned.
"Don't let it go to your head, brother," Sam stood.
"Well, he got you the blood and the fluid and the antibiotics and stuff for Sam…" Virgil said. "He wasn't really hip to the idea that Carter was immortal, though."
"Thanks, man," Dean said softly. "This is the second time we'd have been dead without you."
"Don't think I'm forgetting that, either," Virgil said.
"How's Griffin?" Dean asked.
"A stubborn ass," Virgil replied grimly. "Bled nearly dry, but it's going to take some kind of supernatural force of nature to take that guy out."
Sam exchanged a look with his brother. In their lives, such a statement wasn't taken lightly.
"We need to get you cleaned up," Sam said.
"Hate to say it, but," Dean ran his hand across his bare belly. "I'm kinda outta clothes."
"I got some you can borrow," Virgil offered. "Got some food, too." He turned and headed back into the other hotel room.
Sam stepped over to Dean, holding out a hand. "C'mon, Batman."
"I can shower by myself, man."
Dean frowned. "Hell, yeah."
"Okay then." Sam stepped back, watching as Dean pushed himself to a trembling stance, carefully straightening his shoulders, then offering his brother a sunny grin.
Two steps from the bed, Dean's knees buckled.
Sam caught him, one hand on Dean's bent elbow, the other around his brother's waist.
"Okay, the room tilted," Dean said quietly. "That was not my fault."
Getting Dean into the bathroom, Sam helped him rest on the closed toilet lid and turned on the hot water. Dean stripped out of his bloody jeans, setting the contents of his pockets on the counter, including, Sam saw, a small silver necklace. Dean threw the ruined clothes into a pile in the corner. Sam grabbed a trash can from the bedroom and flipped it upside down on the shower floor, laying a thick towel across it to make a bench for Dean.
"Where's my gun?"
"Did you know it was empty?"
"Yes. Where is it?"
"Under your pillow."
Dean tossed a grateful look at Sam, then reached out to grab his brother's arm, needing the balance. "This sucks—"
"—out loud, yeah, believe me. No picnic here."
Dean stepped into the shower and Sam helped him sit. The water beat down on the crown of Dean's head, sluicing his beard-stubbled cheeks and slipping the dried, crusted blood from his skin, turning the shower floor pink.
"Your back hurt?"
"Not so much."
"These sores are healing up."
Dean's voice faded and Sam scrambled to find something safe to stand on with his next topic.
"So where are the bullets?" Sam asked, turning to rest his back against the cool tile of the bathroom wall, staring straight ahead to offer Dean some privacy, while staying close.
"Virge has them—no wait, Griffin has them."
"Do I even want to know?"
"Hey, he started it," Dean said squirting shampoo on his head and slowly rubbing away the sweat, dirt, and blood. "I was just looking for information."
"Yeah, I can guess how you asked questions," Sam shook his head. "Who broke it up?"
Sam stared at his own reflection in the mirror across from him, seeing angles and shadows that hadn't been there two days ago, seeing knowledge and regret in eyes too old for his face.
"Virge," Dean said, lifting his face to the stream of water and letting it beat on his closed eyes. "Y'know, I'm starting to really like that guy."
"You do know when this is over… someone's gonna have to walk away."
"Yeah, I know," Dean said, softly rubbing the soap on his belly and legs, trying to free himself of the remnants of blood. "Sam, those cuts… they left scars."
"I know," Sam said, dropping his eyes.
"Scars from a knife that never even touched me… We have weird lives, man."
"You remember what happened to cause all your scars?" Dean asked, the childlike curiosity in his voice giving it back some of the strength the wounds had sapped.
"Yeah, you?" Sam handed Dean a towel when he heard the water shut off.
Sam shook his head as Dean wrapped the towel around his waist. "Think all those scars count for something?"
"Hell, yeah, they do." Dean shot him an unreadable look.
Sam nodded as Dean moved slowly past him, catching his brother's mumbled, "They'd better…"
They headed out to the outer room and Dean started to change into the clothes Virgil left on the foot of the bed. They were about one size too large, but with some creative rolling he was able to make them fit. He sat heavily on the bed and Sam handed him his empty 1911, then a sandwich.
"God, I'm starving," Dean said around a mouthful of food.
"Dean, I've been thinking," Sam started, handing Dean another sandwich as Virgil entered the room, leaning against the opened doorway that separated the spaces.
"Well, that's never a good thing," Dean commented, the food and shower having aided what the blood and fluids started. Sam saw color returning to his brother's pale face, the tremble of his hands beginning to steady.
"I think Virge and I should go after Brenna."
Dean stopped chewing, looked at Virgil, who looked back. When he slid his gaze back to Sam, he'd started chewing again, and his eyes had gone dead, empty of anything save purpose.
"With me, you mean."
"Instead of you."
"No fuckin' way, Sam." Dean's voice was flat, allowing no room for argument.
"Dean, c'mon, man, you can barely walk, and—"
"I promised her." Dean set the end of the sandwich down, then stood.
Sam saw that he looked solid, steady; part of him hoped for the best, but logic told him that it was just for show. The Dean Winchester Superhero show. Epic hero overcomes odds to save girl… "I know, Dean. I know you did, but maybe this is one promise you don't keep."
Dean shook his head, picking up his gun as if he needed to have it for balance. "You're unbelievable."
"What?" Sam frowned, not liking the closed look on his brother's drawn face.
"I heard you, Sam. In that truck. I heard you say that I never go back on my word, and now you're saying I do just that."
"Gimme a break, man," Sam stepped forward. "We're not talking about honor or duty here. We're talking about you not being able to deal with losing someone you love."
Dean frowned, squaring off with his brother, all semblance of weakness gone as he pointed the empty gun at the floor. "And your point is what? I need to just… let it go?"
"Yes!" Sam bellowed. "Yes, Goddammit! You let it go! You don't give everything and get nothing back!"
"What the hell are you talking about, Sam?"
"I'm talking about this fuckin' family's need to sacrifice themselves!" Sam bellowed, feeling his control slip, his eyes hot and his fists coiled. His pulse, so sluggish hours ago, pounded in his temple as he stared at his brother, barely aware of Virgil's presence in the room with them. "Mom, Dad, you… it's enough, man!"
"He's gonna kill her, Sam."
"She made that choice, Dean."
Dean's chin shook, his eyes leaden with helpless rage. "I'm not letting her pay for it."
"Just like you didn't let me, that it?"
"This has nothing to do with you!" Dean took a step forward, throwing his empty gun on the bed.
Sam saw Virgil flinch, but ignored him. "It has everything to do with me. I'm the reason we're here, remember? I'm the reason we even needed to be here!"
"Sam, I told you—"
Sam pushed Dean's shoulder, testing him, wanting to see him fall, wanting to be able to say See? You can't do it all. Dean took a step back, but stayed firm.
"I don't give a damn what you told me, Dean. You never gave me a choice. You never let me sacrifice for you. You take it all, you take it in, and you're going to go to Hell protecting me." Sam blinked, his jaw flexing, his eyes filling as his voice rasped, "And I hate you for that."
Dean swallowed, pulling in a breath. Sam worked to still his angry tears, unable to take his eyes from his brother's face as Dean looked down, then wiped a trembling hand across his mouth.
"How did we get here?" Dean asked softly. His eyes bore in to the floor, his body looking spare, yet powerful, in the borrowed clothes. "Why is it that everything comes back to this?"
"Because you didn't walk away, Dean," Sam replied in a choked voice. "Because you couldn't let me die."
Dean looked up. "No." He shook his head and the tears in his eyes clawed at Sam's heart. "No, I couldn't, Sammy. Y'know, it didn't even matter why… some demon's plan, some dude you couldn't kill. We all made our choices," Dean looked at Virgil, then back at Sam, "but it doesn't mean we have to die because of them."
Sam sniffed, looking down. He didn't want Brenna to die. But he didn't want to lose Dean, either.
"Promise me something," Sam said softly. When Dean didn't answer, he looked up. Dean watched him, his eyes liquid. "Promise me that you won't save her at the cost of your own life."
Dean blinked. "I'm not going to let her die, Sam."
"Promise me, Dean."
They stood, quietly regarding each other, accusations and requests hanging between them like cobwebs. When the sound of heartbeats became the only thing filling the silence of the room, Virgil cleared his throat.
"Turns out, I'm pretty good in a fight," he said, drawing the brother's eyes. "And if it helps, I been watching out for Brenna awhile now. I don't intend on letting that wizard cut her up like he done you two."
Sam looked down, taking a steadying breath. "So, we're all going?"
"We're all going," Dean replied, sitting down to tug on his dirty, blood-splattered boots.
Sam nodded, feeling the unresolved issues settle in between them. He ran a hand through his hair and picked up Dean's gun. "We don't know where to go."
"I know someone who does," Dean replied, holding out his hand for his gun. "And he's got something of mine."
It was a ten minute ride in Virgil's truck to pick up the Impala. Sam thought his brother actually looked relaxed as he slid behind the wheel, the leather of the seats and the steering wheel too hot for comfort, even at night. They followed Virgil to the hospital and waited in the shadows as the former paramedic slipped in to check on Griffin.
"Son. Of. A. Bitch." Dean bit the words off at the edges when Virgil returned, reporting what Sam had feared. Griffin was gone. "They say where he went?"
"They didn't even know he'd left."
"He was okay to walk?" Dean asked, incredulous.
"Told you he was a stubborn bastard," Virgil shrugged.
"We got a few of those around here," Sam muttered.
Dean shot him a look. "Don't need any comments from the peanut gallery."
"Now what?" Virgil grumbled, pulling off his hat in the familiar nervous gesture Sam had grown accustomed to.
"I got an idea," Sam revealed.
It wasn't so much the pain as it was the disorienting darkness, the smell of decay, the shifting colors as what looked like stained glass reflected candlelight. Brenna rolled to her side, unable to stifle the whimper of pain as her bruised body protested. She couldn't tell if anything was broken; she just knew she hurt from the inside out, and that her mind was crumpling inward like the edges of waxed paper in an oven.
Hands stroked her cheek, running down the length of her throat, over her breast and flattened on her bare belly. She tried to pull away, but she was blocked by something hard and cold. She wanted to look around, to discern where Adoamros had taken her, but his touch sent her reeling into darkness and she lost control.
"Here I am," he whispered, "the mate for your wayward soul."
"No," Brenna whimpered. She wanted light. She wanted air. She wanted to feel Dean's strong arms. She wanted to hear Virgil's smoky voice.
"Oh, yes," the wizard crooned. "I see it clearly now. All the souls before, all the years of searching, have led me to you, the soul with no match, the one with power to complete my journey."
Brenna pulled as far away from his hand as she could, shuddering with revulsion as she felt him stroke the inside of her thigh, tug on the button of her jeans. Her eyes were so wide they ached, the visions his touch assaulted her with left her shaking, but it was all a repeat of the same story of incest, blood, death.
"When they find me, you're gonna wish you died with your brother, you freak."
"No one is going to find you," the wizard murmured, changing his mind and stroking the skin along her ribs. "You have no match; no one is going to care."
Brenna felt the sob at the back of her throat, choking on it as she swallowed. "That's… not true."
The wizard ran his index finger across her jaw line. "Isn't it?"
She felt his fingers in her hair, roughly pulling her head up. His lips pressed close to her ear. "Mother, father, dead. Poor little girl had to see, had to watch."
Brenna gritted her teeth, sickened that he had seen into her as she had seen into him. She closed her eyes as his thumb traced her full lips, trying to keep safe the most precious of her memories.
"Grandad slain by a wraith, tsk tsk," Adoamros flattened his hand on her throat and Brenna turned her head away, rolling her skull against the hard surface she'd pressed herself back against. "And now, you have a love that you deny, and a love that you are kept from."
Brenna groaned as his fingers dug into the flesh of her shoulder. Without warning, the stroking ended and he jerked her forward, face to face, eye to eye. The candles around them shot flames higher as her panic soared and she saw that she was in what looked like a crypt, stained glass windows flanking a small metal door, cobwebs and vines filling the corners of the room. The darkness beyond the windows revealed only the dead of night.
"Where are we?"
"We are with him. With Lane."
"Oh, God," Brenna groaned. "You really are a sick bastard."
"He's shown me what you need to see," Adoamros whispered, his stale breath ghosting her face and causing her to gag, "and how to show it to you."
"What—" Brenna said, but wasn't able to finish her question as reality caved in and was replaced by images from her dreams.
People tied to posts, cut, bleeding, crying out for each other. She gasped as the images slid and shifted and she was seeing Sam stagger forward, falling to his knees as a knife was plunged into his back. Trying to recoil, she saw Dean sprawled on the floor, chest ripped and bloody, eyes destroyed. Crying out she saw Virgil fall to a crumpled heap, a slashed, bloody wound across his belly.
"NO!" Brenna screamed, the denial curling up from her gut, offering her strength from a source she had yet to tap.
She pushed violently away from Adoamros, kicking out viciously when he reached for her again. She saw the flash of the diamond-bladed knife and rolled away, coming face to face with the opened coffin and drawn, rotted skin framing the graying bones of what could only be Lane Carter. She screeched, pushing back, then turned around quickly, circling opposite Adoamros as he held the knife at the ready.
"All you have to do is release it, offer it up, and you will be spared the pain of the blade."
"Go to Hell."
Adoamros straightened, tilting his head slightly, then shrugged in a completely incongruous motion of acceptance. "You first," he said, rushing Brenna.
She ducked her head, absorbing the impact, and rotated, barreling them both to the floor. The contact with the ground loosened the wizard's grip and the knife tumbled free. In that instant, Brenna's decision was made.
She scrambled forward, reaching for the knife.
"You guys sure like out-of-the-way places," Virgil commented from the back seat of the Impala as they turned down the rutted road toward the rail car.
"Yeah, well, you guys took the last of the hotel rooms," Sam said. "Didn't leave us much choice."
"Even if one of us is the coolest FBI Agent ever," Dean remarked.
Virgil chuckled and Sam rolled his eyes.
"You see what I see?"
Sam leaned forward, peering through the starlit, moonless night at the large, black truck parked just to the side of the rail car. "Isn't that—"
"Son of a bitch," Dean growled.
"Yeah, that's who I thought it was," Sam nodded, sitting back.
Dean stopped the Impala and got out, forced to grab the door for a moment to steady himself before moving forward. He caught Sam's worried eye and shook his head once. Let it go. They marched up to the door, Dean in the lead, and thrust open the cracked entrance.
"Well, hey, there!" Dean greeted loudly and way too cheerily.
Griffin turned, casually, having no doubt heard their approach, holding a knife in one hand, a stack of papers in the other. "Took you guys long enough."
"Oh, so sorry," Dean commented dryly, ignoring Griffin's weapon and reaching out to grab the papers from his hands. He shoved them in Sam's direction. "Would have been here sooner, but then I would have missed the Blood Loss and Freaky Wizard Show."
"Glad to see you made it out," Griffin said, spinning the knife and shoving it back into its sheath at his side. "Where's the chick?"
Dean thrust out a hand, anticipating Virgil's forward movement.
"He's got her, no thanks to you!" Virgil spat.
Griffin lifted his hands, a placid expression on his swarthy face. "Hey, man, I got nothing to do with it."
"Forget it," Dean waved a hand at him. "You still want your revenge? Help us figure out where he is."
"I know where he is," Griffin revealed.
"What!" Virgil exclaimed. "How the hell—"
"How isn't exactly important," Griffin crossed his hands over his chest.
Dean lifted a brow. "Really?"
Griffin nodded. "I'd say what's more important is that we talk about that knife."
"What knife?" Virgil asked.
"The Kestrel," Griffin pulled out his Silver Stag, turning in the weak lamplight of the room. "See, I had no idea what the knife was when I decided to go after this wizard. I just wanted him dead." Griffin looked at Dean, flipping the knife around and casually taunting Dean with the hilt. "But now, after listening to that red-head, and hanging out with you guys, I think I've changed my mind."
"You bastard," Virgil growled as Dean deftly took the Stag from Griffin, automatically hefting it and finding the balance. "You know that knife may be the only thing that can save him."
Dean spun the knife casually in his grip, eyes on Griffin. I know your game, and I can play it better.
Griffin shrugged. "Always good to have an ace in the hole," he said. "You want to know where the wizard is… I want the knife."
"Uh, guys?" Sam spoke up from where he'd been bent over the box of papers from John's storage unit, the pages Dean had taken from Griffin spread out before him.
"What is it?" Dean asked.
"Well, remember how I said that you had to own the knife to harness its power?" Sam straightened, looking at his brother, papers clasped in both hands.
"Yeah," Dean nodded, encouraging Sam to continue.
"I missed something," Sam said, eyes darting between Dean, Virgil, and Griffin. "You, uh… you have to kill the previous owner. And if you try to use the knife without killing him… it'll, uh… turn on you. It'll kill you."
Griffin guffawed. "Oh, this just gets better and better."
"I'm not kidding, man," Sam said holding out the paper for Griffin to see. "Look."
"It's in Latin," Griffin pointed out.
"Seriously," Virgil shook his head. "You all should take a crash course in dead languages."
"It says only through blood will ownership bequeath, the bloodless hand a soul demands, from this life—"
"—to the next," Dean finished.
"Yeah," Sam looked at him. "How'd you know that?"
"It's on the blade of the knife, right?" Dean continued.
"Saw it on the picture before," Dean said, lifting his brow. "Can't say I don't do my homework."
"So, wait, let me get this straight," Virgil spoke up. "You have to kill the owner of the knife, but… you can't use the knife to do that?"
Sam nodded. "Right. You use the knife at all while it belongs to someone else, it'll turn on you."
"Like… magically?" Virgil frowned. "Is that even possible?"
"You're kidding, right?" Griffin scoffed. "You're totally fine saving your girl from an immortal wizard, but the idea of a magical knife just doesn't jive with you."
"Ease up, Mr. Bad Ass." Dean shifted so that he was slightly in front of Virgil, then stabbed the Silver Stag into the countertop.
"Hey! Watchit!" Griffin said, reaching for his knife.
"Just remember who hauled your sorry ass out of that mine," Dean snapped, his eyes flinty. "You'd be dead if it weren't for this guy."
Dean turned, moving toward Sam. "You find something else?"
"What is it, man?"
Sam chewed his bottom lip, holding up a picture of Dean at about fifteen, leg in a cast, sitting on the trunk of the Impala, showing off the carved end of a crutch he'd fashioned into a wooden knife. "Remember this?"
"Heh," Dean nodded. "Yeah. I fell down some stairs running out of a building. We went to Pastor Jim's. I couldn't watch you laid up, and Dad, well…"
"Yeah," Sam nodded. "You remember what Dad went after?"
Dean frowned, searching his memory, feeling the same weight at the back of his head that had troubled him when he'd first seen the picture of the Kestrel Dagger. "No, but, y'know what I do remember is him coming back and he was talking to someone on the phone—another hunter—and he was trying to talk them out of looking for something. I remember he said something about killing a human."
Sam nodded. "I remember that too, 'cause we got a lecture from Pastor Jim."
Dean's smile caught on nostalgic, tipping into bitter. "Yeah. Jim and his lectures."
"You think Dad was talking about this knife?" Sam asked.
"I never really gave it much thought before," Dean looked back at the picture.
"You notice how there's not much in here after that time? All the pictures, the notes, the spells… they're all from when we were kids. His actual journal starts up in detail after this."
Dean nodded. "I did notice that, actually."
"So what are we saying here?" Griffin broke in, boredom clear in his voice. "Your daddy knew about the knife and didn't tell you so we have to have a moment of silence?"
Sam shot a look at Dean and Dean felt his jaw harden in response to the anger in his little brother's eyes.
"We're talking about killing a human," Dean said. "A batshit crazy human, but… a human. We could… bind his powers or-"
"A human who tried to kill you two and took your girl," Griffin interrupted. "A human who has used magic to live longer than he should… not to mention at least twelve other victims, if not more."
"Yeah, but," Virgil cleared his throat, "isn't that something we turn into the cops? I mean, is it really up to us to play God?"
Dean and Sam stared at each other, silent. Griffin turned on the former paramedic.
"Hell, yes it's up to us!" His bellow shook the interior of the rail car. "When it comes to this shit, we're judge and Goddamn jury! We say what's right and wrong!"
"That so?" Virgil replied, refusing to give ground to Griffin's tirade. "Doesn't make you much different than him, then does it?"
"Sam…" Dean said in soft contrast to the argument behind them. "This knife… maybe it's not the way."
"Dean, no," Sam backed up, shaking his head. "No, you can't give up on me now."
"I'm not giving up, man," Dean dropped the picture back into the box. "I'm just saying… maybe we look for some other way to break the deal. We have some time."
"What do you think I've been doing all this time, Dean?" Sam yelled, lifting his hands in a helpless gesture. "I have been looking for other ways. Any other way!"
"So we keep looking!"
"Meanwhile," Griffin broke in, "clock's ticking."
"Shut up!" The brother's yelled at him in unison.
"I hate to, but," Virgil spoke up, "I gotta agree with Griffin."
Sam turned to Virgil. "You want Brenna back. I get that. But I'm not going to back away from killing some wizard who used to be human or hand over the only lead I've found in months that might save my brother to some… some two-bit whore of a hunter."
"Hey!" Griffin protested.
"Sam," Dean reached for Sam's arm, but Sam jerked it away from his grasp.
"No! No, Dean. It's not… it's not fair," he finished weakly. "It's just not fucking fair."
"You're right," Dean said softly. "And… I'm sorry, man, I am. But this time… we gotta do the right thing."
"How do you even know what that is anymore?" Sam asked.
The three men regarded him silently. Dean looked away, unable to find the words Sam needed. With a defeated sigh of resignation, Sam headed for the boxes, grabbing up several papers and stuffing them in his jeans pocket.
"C'mon," Sam said quietly.
"We in agreement? No knife?" Dean asked, a gentle hand on Sam's arm. "Just get Brenna, bind the wizard's powers, and go?"
Sam simply looked at him, a struggle for acceptance clear in his hazel eyes. "Let's load this stuff into the car. We're not coming back here again."
Dean watched him carefully for a moment, then nodded, gathering up their clothes bag while Virgil took the weapons and Sam the grenade boxes. Griffin waggled his knife free, then headed out behind them.
"Hey, Winchester!" Griffin called.
Sam and Dean paused and turned in unison. Griffin held out the clip to Dean's .45.
"Here," he said, tossing it Dean's way. Dean caught it against his chest. "I suppose I owe you." He tapped his leg.
"Virgil's the one that saved you, man," Dean reminded him.
"Yeah, well," Griffin shrugged, heading to his truck.
"Unfreakinbelievable," Sam muttered. "You saved his life and he's still gonna go for the knife. He doesn't even want it for what it can do!"
"Let it go, Sam." Dean said tiredly. "There's no use throwing logic at a mercenary."
Virgil, Sam, and Dean piled into the Impala, following Griffin's black truck out of town and along a deserted highway illuminated only by starlight. Dean thought back to Sam's observance of the contents in the boxes from the storage unit. Could Dad really have known about the Kestrel? He knew about Ruby's knife… why did he keep that stuff from us?
A glance at his brother showed Dean that Sam was deep in troubled thoughts; his jaw was tight, the muscle working over time, and his hands were rubbing nervously along the seam of his jeans. Dean returned his attention to the taillights from Griffin's truck, following him through the dark to an unknown destination. As Griffin slowed, Dean realized where they'd arrived.
"You gotta be kidding me," he muttered.
"A cemetery?" Virgil wondered aloud. "Why would he—"
"His brother," Sam and Dean replied together.
"I should've figured that one out," Sam sighed.
"Don't take this the wrong way," Dean said, parking next to Griffin's truck, "but I'm kinda glad you couldn't anticipate the mind of a lunatic."
Sam grinned slightly as Virgil got out of the car. Dean opened his door, but paused when he felt Sam's hand on his arm. He looked down at the hand, then up at Sam, questions pulling his eyebrow up.
"You okay to do this, Dean? I mean really?"
"I'm fine, Sam."
"You're really sure? I mean, Sinatra seemed pretty worried, and it's not like we're doctors or anything..."
"Dude, I'm not going to keel over."
"Okay." Sam's voice was hesitant and he didn't let go of Dean's arm.
"What is it?" Dean frowned.
Sam looked down, rubbing at the worn spot on the passenger door that he'd softened with years of worry. "I, uh…"
Sam looked up, and Dean saw the same conviction and promise in his brother's eyes that had been shining there the night they opened—and closed—the Devil's Gate. The night Sam had declared maybe it's time I save your ass for a change.
"I don't hate you, Dean."
Dean grinned, feeling it meet and soften his eyes. "I know. Bitch."
Sam grinned back. "Jerk."
"You ladies gonna join us or what?" Griffin called softly.
The brother's stepped out into the heat of the night, gathering salt, guns, lighter fluid, matches and Dean's knife from the trunk. Virgil watched, silent questions in his eyes. Griffin impatiently spun his Silver Stag in his hand.
"Lost my thrower in the cave," Dean confessed as they followed Griffin toward one of the two monolithic-looking crypts.
"Me too," Sam said.
"I really liked that thrower," Dean complained.
"Yeah," Sam swallowed, his shoulder next to Dean's as they watched Griffin ease the lock on the door under the large cement letters reading Carter. "Me too."
Griffin opened the door and the previously-muted sounds of a fight for life rolled over the foursome. The hunters and Virgil ran through the door and skidded to a halt as the unbelievable sight of a bruised, bloody Brenna, shirt torn open, hair tangled, eyes wild, fighting off the small but unnaturally powerful wizard.
Dean gaped for a moment as Brenna used her body as a weapon, slammed the wizard to the floor. The Kestrel Dagger slid free of his grip and Brenna dove, her hand inches from the grip.
"Brenna, no!" Dean cried, just as her fingers closed around the hilt of the knife.
a/n: No music in this chapter, but the situations didn't really call for it. There is more in the chapter to come and in the epilogue. I hope you're all enjoying and that you stay tuned for what's to come. As I told Sojourner, I got teary when I finished the outline for Chapter 6, so I hope it works for you.
Also, in the next few days, check out my LiveJournal page for updates on the upcoming KazCon '09, To Hell And Back. It will be held in Lawrence, KS, August 6th-9th, and more information can be found at kazcon .us (remember to remove the extra spaces). Hope to see you there!