A/N: Thank you to NongPradu, Beckydaspatz, and Numpty for their beta expertise.
Chapter 20: Gonna Git Through This World
February 18, 2007—Boise City, Oklahoma
Florabel caught only snatches of their conversation. Sam kept himself bent close to Dean, protective and private, talking in a calming, hushed whisper, answering questions and striving, no doubt, to keep his brother on an even keel. Dean's hand flexed into a fist as the whispering became more animated. The heart monitor spiked as Dean fought to rise.
"Sammy, Sammy, just listen to me." Dean's raspy voice grew agitated, stressed.
"Shhhhh. It's all right. Don't move, Dean." Sam shushed him, drawing soothing circles on his brother's chest.
Dean grabbed Sam's shirt, pulling him in and then pressing against him earnestly. "We have to go back. I gotta get her. I can't leave her there!" He licked his bone-dry lips with an equally parched tongue. Sam grabbed a glass of water from the nightstand and helped him drink, cupping Dean's hands as he fisted the glass, gulping the water down.
"We banished the elemental, Dean. There's no way back."
"No, Sammy! No!" Dean struggled to sit up again, sloshing water as he fought to rise. Sam set the glass on the nightstand. "She's all alone. Please help me. We can bring her here. I'm begging you, Sammy. Please!"
"Dean, There's no way back, man."
Dean pushed him away, and as he sat up, he noticed the old woman for the first time. He blew out a puff of air, startled and embarrassed, allowing Sam to guide him back down.
"Who's that?" he whispered, taking in his surroundings. "Dude, where the hell am I?"
Sam ran his hands through his hair, stalling, perhaps trying to buy himself some time. "Uh, this is Mad Dog, Dean. You remember? Gerry told us about the doctor who owned the land where they were building the mall. Doc's been helping us. This is her place."
Dean stole a quick glance at Florabel and then peered at Sam. "I thought Mad Dog was a dude." Sam raised an eyebrow and shrugged. Dean snatched another groggy peek. "Why's she staring at me?"
Before Sam could answer, Florabel took control, walking over and putting her hand on Sam's back. She gave it a pat, silently telling him to move. The young hunter rose and moved away, gripping his nape nervously. Florabel took his place and made deliberate eye-contact with Dean. His discomfort grew palpable, and his eyes wandered everywhere except to her. She took his hand, even though he tried to shrink away from a stranger's touch. Looking at him for a long, penetrating moment, she smiled. At last she spoke.
"I'm starin' at you 'cause you's the most handsomest man I ever did see, Pally." She gripped his hand, sandwiching it between hers, anchoring him as her words and voice penetrated. She studied his face, holding his hand, nodding her confirmation to the question he couldn't quite bring himself to verbalize but that flooded his eyes.
"'Bel," he said at last, his eyes filled with regret and self-reproach.
"'Bout time you woke up. I ain't never met anyone who sleeps so much as you." She patted his hand and reached up to snag a tear as it dripped from her eye. "We been waitin' days."
"No." The heart monitor squealed a warning. "No. Oh God. I left you there. I left you all alone." He turned his head away, tears of shame in his eyes.
"Pally…" He didn't answer. Florabel adjusted the heart monitor, stopping the shrill squeal. "Pally, don't be that a-way. You mind me, now." He flinched at that and met her eye. "Pally, listen to me. I'm all right. You saved me." She snapped her fingers forcing eye-contact when he attempted to shift away. "You saved me, Pally. You killed that monster, and I'm alive because of you. I don't want you to fret no more about it."
His chest heaved and his throat constricted. "Emma." His eyes went wide as he remembered. "Emma."
"I know." Florabel stroked his arm. "I know it hurts. I miss her, too. But you done everything you could to help her."
"My fault." He collapsed against the pillows, overcome with grief and shame. "Left her alone."
"Whoa, no sir. Don't you do that, Pally. You left her to go find me. If'n I hadn't a-run off, Slaid wouldn't 'a got to her. But," she shook his shoulder, "look at me, Pally." He pulled his hand away from his pained eyes and turned toward her. "But Slaid would'a found a way, if not at that moment, then later. Slaid killed Mama. You didn't do nothin' wrong."
"I'm sorry." His voice cracked.
"Ain't nothin' to be sorry about."
"I'm sorry, I couldn't be your papa. I wanted to be. I'm so sorry, Bel." Tears trickled toward his ears and he struggled to master them.
Florabel thumbed his hand, squeezing it. "Weren't meant to be, Pally. It just weren't meant to be."
She ghosted her fingertips against his forehead and cheek. He blinked, slow and drowsy—still concussed and disoriented.
"I'm all right, though. I done grew up, and I became a doctor just like you said I would." His eyes met hers, and she smiled at him. "And I had a baby girl. A beautiful, spirited, gorgeous girl. Feisty little thing. So I had the family you wanted for me."
She searched his exhausted eyes, knowing he ached for the child he'd cradled in his arms by that tree just a couple of days ago, but who now sat before him, stooped and fragile with age.
"I know I ain't that little girl no more, an' I know you miss her. But she's in here." She pointed to her heart. "She's here, Pally, an' we found each other agin. We found each other after all these years. I didn't think I'd ever see you agin in this lifetime. You don't know…" She faltered. "You don't know how much I wanted to see you, to talk to you, and here you are. You're here, and I'll take whatever I can git. You understand me? I'll take this moment and I'll be grateful for right now. To hell with what I did or didn't have. So just you git lots of rest," she said, seeing his eyes dull with sleep.
"Sleep, Pally, and when you git better we'll be able to catch up good and proper." Dean's eyes began to cross as he struggled to keep them open. He gripped her hand a moment, confused.
"No." She smiled at him. "But your concussion is fogging you up a bit. Don't think on it. Just close your eyes and when you wake, I'll be here."
"Good. M'glad you're here." He sighed, gazing at the old woman through eyelashes curled at half-mast. "Jeb, too?"
Florabel stroked his arm. "Naw, Pally, Old Jeb ain't here, but wherever he is, I know he's thinkin' kindly of you."
"He's a cool dude." His eyes closed as sleep stole him away.
"He sure was, Pally. He sure was."
February 20, 2007—Boise City, Oklahoma
Dean slept the better part of two days. The brief times he did wake, he remained disoriented, slow to respond and to understand. At one point he asked Sam how he'd managed to travel all the way back to 1935 to find him. Sam repeated things as often as Dean needed, even when it broke his heart to do so. Twice, he had to tell him Emma was dead, and twice he regretted it. Florabel worried that Dean had a skull fracture, advising them he should be in a hospital, but as the second day wore on, he roused and appeared far more lucid and present—and typically 'Dean'—demanding he be allowed to join the hunt for Slaid's bones.
He squinted, trying to focus on the paper in front of him, snapping the pen down, disgusted with his lingering double-vision and sluggish focus. "This sucks, Bobby. It would be so much faster if you just let me go with you."
"You know the rules, kid. Friends don't let friends hunt concussed. In your case we're likely talkin' about a busted melon. Don't need X-rays to tell us something's cracked in there. You're supposed to be watchin' my ass out there, not fillin' it full of salt because you're too dizzy to shoot straight."
"C'mon, Bobby. I was concussed a lot worse when I turned the bastard into a vengeful spirit." Dean folded his arms. "Bet my aim was fuckin' awesome, too, all things considered."
"Well, you're benched for the time being, just the same. You're still coughin' up black goo, not to mention all the hardware you're attached to." Bobby motioned to the IV and heart monitor. "Hell, you ain't even pissin' vertical yet. No way you're hunting. You stay put for now, Tom Joad."
Dean pulled the covers up around his chest with an indignant huff. "Lame, Bobby. And quit callin' me that!"
Bobby's lips twitched. "You prefer Pa Kettle?"
Dean produced an impressive bitchface of his own. "Not funny."
"It's a little funny. And at least you're well enough to gripe. That's a good sign. Besides, we can't do anything until we find the bones." He bent over the crude map Dean had been trying to draw. Despite his condition, Bobby knew Dean'd be able to supply them with far more accurate information than they'd find on any survey maps. "So," he gave the paper a tap, "you said you were standing about thirty feet from the side of the barn when you shot him?"
Dean gave his grudging attention to the map. "I was here." He blinked, opening his eyes wider, trying to focus as he pointed. "Slaid was no more than thirty feet away, toward the back of the bunkhouse. Florabel says Jeb buried him about ten feet from the south-east corner of the barn."
"That's right." Florabel looked at the map. "I remember he had a terrible time keeping the dirt pile from being carried away when the wind clipped the corner of the barn. He finally had to dig a second hole to git enough dirt to fill up his grave."
"Well, we've dug a couple of test holes and have come up with nothing. Do you know how deep it was?" Ellen asked.
"I don't recall much about that day." Florabel shook her head. "I know it was over Old Jeb's head, because I remember one time thinking he'd left, too, but then I saw dirt come flyin' from the hole. Dunno how tall the man was, everyone was tall to me back then. They still are. I reckon he was a few inches shorter than Pally. So, I guess the hole was standard sized."
Bobby gave his neck a good rub. "All right. We'll try and match that with the current blueprints and see if we can't do another test dig." He cleared his throat, his voice dipping. "We also need to take care of the other one." Dean's eyes narrowed. "We could do that one first and then find Slaid. We know where that one's buried, at least."
"Bobby…" Dean's voice went low and dangerous. "No."
Bobby lifted a brow but kept his timbre gentle. "It has to be done, son. You know that."
"What?" Florabel's asked. "What's goin' on?" Nobody said anything for a moment. "What needs to be done?"
Sam came forward and put his hand on Florabel's shoulder. "There are two vengeful spirits at the site."
She craned her neck to meet his eye. "You mean the other one that connected to the elemental with Slaid?" Sam nodded. "Okay, so's we need to find out who his friend is and then salt an' burn the bastard, right?"
He gripped Florabel's shoulder. "We're pretty sure we know who it is." Sam's eyes flitted to Dean who shifted in the bed.
Florabel blinked at him. "Okay, who is it?" Sam didn't answer, but she read it in his face. She looked at Dean who confirmed it, meeting his devastated eyes before he averted them. "Mama? How do you know it's her?"
"We don't for sure," Bobby admitted. "But after hearing your story. It's the only thing that makes sense. I'm sorry."
Florabel tried to grasp the concept. "Mama's a ghost? She's vengeful?"
"Well, she has an understandable reason to be." Ellen offered her arm as they sat Florabel in the rocking chair.
"But—but…" She shook her head. "You mean she's been there all this time? She didn't go to be with Papa and Henry? Why would she do that?"
"We don't know why some spirits linger and others don't. We do know it's more likely to happen to folks who've had violent deaths," Ellen said. "They have unfinished business, or they're upset their lives were taken. Maybe she thought to stay behind to protect you. Ain't no real way of knowing. But after years of a spirit hangin' on like that, they go crazy from it all. That's when they become dangerous."
Florabel's eyes welled. "But, Mama wouldn't hurt no one. She'd never do that. Not ever."
"She's been controlling the wind demon with Slaid," Bobby said. "And people have been hurt, Florabel. She probably ain't what you remember her to be anymore. Vengeful spirits don't see things the way we do. They're in so much pain they just lash out. They ain't in their right minds."
"What's gonna happen to Mama when you burn her bones?"
"We don't know for certain," Ellen told her. "Some folks think they finally move on to where they should've gone when they died. Some folks think it's death for a ghost. But no one knows for sure."
"No. No! Pally, no." The old woman's eyes filled with desperate tears. "Don't let 'em. Don't let 'em kill Mama. She ain't done nothin' wrong. You cain't. I'm beggin' you, please."
Dean cleared his throat. "We won't touch her." The other hunters gaped at him.
"Dean…" Sam said.
"No." Dean cut him off, his jaw set. "We won't touch her until this is over. You hear me?" His eyes stabbed like jade daggers as he glared at each hunter. "The very least we can do is put Slaid down first. Once he's gone, if she won't move on, if she's really…" He couldn't say it. "Then we'll take care of it. But not before."
Bobby sighed. "All right, Dean. We'll wait. But if she needs to be put down, we're gonna have to do it. From what you tell me, Emma—the real Emma—wouldn't want this. We owe it to her as much as to anyone else. She'd expect no less." Both Dean and Florabel slumped at that, acknowledging the truth in his words. "We won't do nothing until we know for sure." He moved to the door.
Sam rose as well. "I'll go with you and help."
"No need right now, Sam," Ellen said. "We're just gonna do a couple of test-digs and see what we find. If we come up with anything we'll give you a call. Until then, stay put and rest. You're not 100% either."
"Wait, what? What's wrong with Sammy?" Dean sat up.
"It's nothing, Dean." Sam glared at Ellen. "Just a couple of bruised ribs from the Cyclone."
"Broken ribs." Bobby corrected him.
"Whatever. Same difference." Sam rolled his eyes. "They're healing. I'm fine."
"Let me see." Dean pushed the blankets off as a wave of vertigo hit him. He tipped over, nearly spilling from the bed. "Shit."
Sam ran to him, catching him before he dropped. "Dean!"
"I'm good. Dammit. Get off, dude." He shoved Sam's helping hand away.
Sam got him settled against the pillows. "Lie still until it passes, Dean. C'mon, man."
"This blows!" Dean's hands curled into fists as he gulped in air. Gripping his blanket, he yanked it up in frustration. "Can you all just leave me alone?"
Bobby turned to Ellen. "All right. We're heading out. Sam, you stay here with your brother. We'll call if we find anything. Hang in there, son. Things will get better soon."
"Yeah, yeah," Dean said with mopey indifference.
"Okay, let's give Old MacDonald some space. Come on, folks." Bobby ushered them out with a cheeky grin. "Ee-I, Ee-I, Oh. Now, move it."
"Dammit Bobby…" Dean growled. Bobby gave the others a self-satisfactory nod that said my-work-here-is-finished. He closed the door as Dean drifted off.
Dean woke with a start. He rubbed his eyes and looked at the clock, grunting with frustration as he tried to focus.
"It's 10:42pm." Florabel sat in the rocking chair by the bed.
Dean sighed, rubbing his crusty eyes again. "Where's Sam?"
"He left. Bobby called an hour ago an' said they'd found a bone with their test-dig. He ran off to help. Looks like Slaid's gonna git his comeuppance tonight." She snorted. "Couldn't happen to a more deservin' man."
"Shit." Dean sat up with a huff, flinging out his hand to steady himself. "Dammit!" He waited a moment for his vision to clear. "Do you have a cell phone?"
"What would I need one of them for? I'm home most of the time."
"Right." Dean squinted at her. "Do you have any phone?"
"Course I do. I dunno as it'll reach, though. Let me try." Getting up, she left the room and returned, dragging a long cord behind her. She handed the clunky relic to Dean. "Good thing I bought that extra long cord."
"Rotary? Seriously?" Dean studied the antique in his hand.
Florabel shrugged. "It works, don't it?" Dean raised his eyebrows and dialed Sam's number.
"Pick up, dude," he said, nibbling a fingernail. "Come on!" He disconnected and dialed Bobby. He waited a moment and then hung up. He tried Sam one more time. "Sonofabitch." His eyes bounced around the room. "I don't suppose Sam left any clothes for me, did he?"
Florabel shrugged again. "I don't think so."
"I washed your overalls and shirt. What do you want clothes for?"
"Do you have a car, Florabel?" He picked at the tape on his IV.
"Uh, well…yes. What are you doing, Pally? Leave that be."
"They aren't answering their phones. That's bad, Florabel. That's very bad. I need to get over there. Can I borrow your car?" He peeled off the heart-monitor pads, but when he went to get up, he didn't get halfway before he pitched to the side. Florabel steadied him. "Sonofa…"
"Just stay put, Pally. Your brain is still all catawampus."
"I've got to get to Sam, dammit! I have to get there, Florabel. I can't let Slaid…" Their eyes met, and she nodded.
"Okay, Pally. Okay. Hang on a spell an' let me help you. I'll git you there."
"Oh God." When he went to get up, he noticed a slender tube running from underneath the covers. "Please tell me you didn't put that in me."
Florabel chuckled. "I'm a doctor, and I'm damn near eighty years old, Pally. I think I know what a penis looks like, by now."
Dean twitched, humiliated to the core. "Kill me now..."
"Holy shit, Florabel, when did you get this?" Dean pointed to the pristine 1946 Chevy Half Ton Pickup in her garage. He tried not to lean against the old woman as he maneuvered into the garage, but he had to put his hand on her shoulder to steady himself a couple of times.
"I bought it when I got out'a medical school. He was old, but he was in good condition, and he was affordable.
Mm-hmm, this is Buddy. He's been with me fifty-four years. One of the longest relationships of my life."
"You named your truck?"
"Uh, well…," she faltered. "I…every car needs a name." She crossed her arms. "Don't you agree?"
Dean grinned. "Actually, I do."
"Well I don't drive him much no more." She opened the door. Dean swayed and gripped the door handle to right himself. "This ain't a good idea, Pally." Florabel steadied him as much as she could. He towered over her, and if he fell, he'd flatten her. "This just ain't a good idea."
"I'll be fine." He tried to assure her—and himself. "As soon as I sit down I'll be fine." Florabel waited until he settled in the seat before shutting the door and coming around to the driver's side. She stepped onto the running board and climbed into the truck. Sitting, she slothed through her pockets for the keys.
Dean rolled his eyes, ticking with impatience. "C'mon, peddle to the metal, 'Bel." So small, Florabel's head barely rose above the steering wheel. "Wow, before I leave town, remind me to build you a booster seat for this beast. How in the hell are you seeing anything but the dash?"
"I can see fine. Now quit makin' me nervous." She painstakingly belted and situated herself. Putting the key in the ignition, she paused, eying Dean. "Put your seatbelt on, Pally."
"I'm fine." He brushed her off.
"I've seen the results of folks not wearin' their seatbelts far too often. Now, buckle up." Florabel sat back in her seat and stared at him. "Or we ain't a-goin' nowheres."
"Oh for the love of—" He grabbed the seatbelt, latching it and pulling the strap tighter. "When did you add these seatbelts? Forty years ago? Fifty? I don't think they're gonna do us much good if we get in an accident."
With meticulous care, Florabel adjusted the rearview mirror, a small Matchbox Dodge Charger, dangling from it.
Dean pointed to it. "What's this? No fuzzy dice?"
Florabel kissed her finger and then pressed it to the toy car. "That's m'good luck charm. Keeps me safe." Watching the way behind her, she eased the truck out of the garage with exacting care. She turned the truck around with fussy precision and began tootling down the road at a blustery 19 mph.
The muscles in Dean's jaw pulsed, the vein in his forehead throbbing. He cleared his throat. "Um, Florabel? It's after 11:00pm on a weeknight, in a town no bigger than my thumb. Y'wanna pick up the pace there a bit, grandma?"
"Hush, Pally. Don't make fun. It don't hurt to be cautious." Her eyes remained fastidiously fixed on the road ahead. "I ain't never had a speeding ticket in my whole life." Dean released a hissing huffy-puff of air. His right foot pressed into the floorboard. Florabel went on. "I only got pulled over once in all my life, an' that wasn't even my fault. Now hush, I got this."
"Does quick-like-a-fuckin'-jackrabbit have any effect whatsoever, anymore?"
The old woman muttered under her breath, but she accelerated to a decent clip.
Dean fidgeted with worry the rest of the way, which, despite his fear and agitation, did not take long. A few minutes after leaving Florabel's house, they turned into the construction site.
"Over there." He pointed off the road, toward the back of the building. Florabel hadn't yet swerved when they heard several gunshots.
"Hurry." When Dean went to grab his gun, he realized he didn't have it. "Shit!" He rubbed his eyes, trying to clear them as Florabel came to a stop.
"Oh no!" she gasped as Ellen sailed past the windshield, thrown by an unseen force. As she flipped through the air, her sawed-off flew from her hands. "What's happening?"
"Trouble." Dean spied the spirit by the freshly dug grave. Opening the door, he misjudged the distance and spilled out, landing on his knees.
Using the door for support, he rose and took in the scene. Bobby stood, feverishly reloading his salt-gun while calling to Ellen where she lay in a heap a good ten-feet behind them. She groaned and rubbed her head. Deep in the grave, Sam tossed shovelful after shovelful of dirt in a frantic drive to uncover the rest of the bones. Slaid's specter materialized a few paces away from the hole, residual energy from the wind demon coursing up and down his arms.
"Sammy! Look out!" He called to his brother. Florabel stepped around the truck, coming behind Dean to give him what assistance she could.
"Slaid!" Dean spat the name.
The ghost turned and released a bumptious laugh, unconcerned. "Be with you in a moment, Devil Fighter."
He raised his right hand and pointed at Bobby. The gun leapt from the older hunter's hands and went sailing into the prairie grasses. Bobby curled into a protective ball as Slaid sent a blast of energy his way. Bobby's cap flew off as he landed, not far from Ellen.
"Bobby!" Getting no answer, Dean approached Slaid, his hands held up in a placating gesture. "Slaid…" He stole a quick peek at Sam, making eye contact, the younger brother indicating to keep Slaid occupied. "Slaid," Dean said again as he and Florabel crept forward. "Just want to talk to you a moment."
"Ya, talk. No gun this time, Devil Fighter." His mouth creased into a rigid sneer.
"Right," Dean said. "No guns. I just want to talk."
"I see you still have my whore." Slaid cocked his head, pointing at Florabel. Dean froze at that, standing erect. He felt Florabel's hand on him, trying to keep him calm.
"Don't call her that." Dean stepped in front of Florabel, pushing her behind him.
The farmhand shrugged. "Whore, slut, bitch. It's all the same." He looked Florabel up and down. "I can see her. I can see her life—how many times she's been fucked." His eyes fell on Dean. "But I had her first. No matter who she fucks. I had her first."
"So what?" Dean stole another glance at Sam, who was digging like mad, periodically stooping to toss another bone into the pile. Dean's attention snapped back to Slaid, goading him. "She never willingly gave herself to you. Never cared for you. Never wanted you. Never loved you."
Slaid's eyes blazed. "She would have, if you had not turned her from me." His hands flared with electric light.
"No." Dean continued to provoke him, trying to give Sam the last few moments he needed. "Not a chance in hell, pal. You weren't good enough for Florabel or Emma. You were nothing but a batshit, crazy loser."
Through his peripheral vision, he saw Sam jump out of the grave and douse it with lighter fluid. Florabel's breath hitched as she watched Sam strike the match. Her eyes widened in anticipation, tipping off Slaid.
An undulating, adrenaline surge of blue energy pulsed through him. Lifting his hand, a shockwave of power and electricity flew at Sam, dousing the match as it fell and tossing him through the air.
"Sammy!" Dean had no time to react further, because another flick of Slaid's hand had him sailing toward Florabel's truck.
He heard Florabel gasped as he struck the grill and fell to the ground with a grunting thud.
"Oh Pally, no!" She turned to run to him, but Slaid released a thin, veiny strand of energy, freezing her in place. She stumbled to her knees.
"At last, little whore." Slaid grinned. He bent close as she struggled to turn away from his face, her breath smoking a frosty white as she met his eyes, pleading.
"Please, no," she whispered hoarsely. Begging him.
"Slaid!" Dean hissed. He struggled to his feet but soon found himself on the ground again. "Don't you fucking touch her!" Unable to find his balance, he crawled toward them.
Slaid paid no heed to the hunter, his focus bent on the woman before him. "You will learn to love me, little one." A strand of energy leapt from his hand and struck her face. She cried out in pain.
"C'mon you sonofabitch! Too afraid to come get me, huh?" Dean slung insults as he stumbled toward the duo, but Slaid continued to press against Florabel. Small rivulets of electricity rippled over her body as she bucked in pain.
"Get away from her!" Just as Dean grabbed a hold of Florabel's coat, Slaid's back arched as though he'd been struck, and the dead farmhand let go of her. Florabel slumped into Dean's arms, and her eyes went round as they fell to the ground as one.
She patted Dean, indicating she was all right, but Slaid took their attention again. He bellowed in anger and pain as a large filament of white light stabbed him from behind. They followed his surprised glance as he looked back to see what had hit him. And there stood Emma, so clear and unhesitant that only her lucent form told them she wasn't corporeal. In her hands, she toyed with a ball of malleable energy, making to throw it at the farmhand.
"Don't you touch my girl, Slaid." Her voice resonated with hatred.
"You?" Slaid laughed. "You are the quiet one who's haunted my steps all this while?" His lip quirked in a derisive sneer. "I thought it was the little whore I stole from her mother. What was it you called her?" He turned to Florabel. "Lizzy?" The old woman gasped. Slaid's eyes sparkled as he pinched his fingers against his lips like a chef describing a delicacy. "She was so delicious…so beautiful. Too bad she had the good sense to move on, ya?" He inched toward Emma. She flickered and disappeared, reappearing farther away. Slaid, laughed. "Why did you hide? Had I known it was you, we might have been able to play much together. "
"All the more reason to stay hid." The light around her glistened like tears when she moved. "Now you git away from my child, or I'll—"
"What?" Slaid roared with laughter. "I control the Hala. I still have its power." Electricity sparked at his fingertips and ran up his arms. "See? You cannot harm me. Let me bring the little one to us. We can be a family, now. All together. Ya?"
"Never," Emma said. "Not then, not now, not never. Ain't you noticed I learned to control that demon, too? I got as much of its power as you. Probably more, since I didn't spend it tryin' to hurt folks." She made brief eye contact with Dean as he crawled to the side, sidling his way to the grave.
"Let's test it, ya?" Slaid knelt by Florabel. "Come here, little one." Light crackled and pulsed from his splayed hands as he prepared to spend his remaining power on her.
Reaching the grave, Dean growled when he realized he had no matches. He glanced over to Sam who sat up, shaking his foggy head, trying to clear it.
"Sammy." He held out his hand, nodding.
Sam blinked at him and then understood. The young hunter fumbled though his pocket and threw the packet to Dean.
Both the book of matches and Slaid's hands flared at the same time, and both the hunter and the farmhand released their flames simultaneously. Dean watched the arc of the burning matches aimed at the bones and the arc of Slaid's bolt of energy aimed at Florabel. An instant before Slaid's blast hit the old woman, Dean heard the soft whhhump of bones igniting. Slaid peered down in surprise and watched his astral form immolate from his feet up, scorching the bewildered disappointment off his face as flames consumed him. The bolt of energy fizzled out inches away from Florabel.
A thundering calm descended upon the construction site, the silence broken only by the crackle and pop of Slaid's burning bones.
Dean collapsed onto his side.
"Dean!" Sam ran to him. "Hey, hey—stay awake, now." He gathered Dean into his arms. "Jesus Dean. Open your eyes."
Dean blinked at Sam. "He gone?"
Sam huffed. "Uh, yeah. You killed him—again. Y'big damn hero." He shook his head at Dean. Dean gave him a feeble thumbs up and relaxed into his arms, panting in pain.
Over in the taller grasses, Bobby found his feet and hobbled his way to Ellen who lay not far away. He knelt and checked her pulse.
"You better pop a breath-mint before you even think of givin' me mouth-to-mouth, Singer."
"I ain't givin' you mouth-to-mouth, woman. You're fangs are too sharp." He smoothed her hair back with care. "How many fingers?"
"Three." She gave the correct answer. "And that's how much whiskey I want when we get gone. Give me a hand." She reached for Bobby. Limping, they joined the others watching Emma where she stood by Slaid's grave.
Emma approached the brothers and bent down to Dean, her eyes soft and serene.
"Dean, I cain't say I'm sorry enough. I didn't know. I didn't know we flung you through the storm until after it happened. I never meant to hurt no one, you least of all. I was just tryin' to stop Slaid from killin' folks. I think maybe I done more harm than good, though.
"Emma—" As she drew near, his breath misted with cold despite the warmth in her eyes. "I'm sorry."
She regarded him with her characteristic kindness. "For what, Dean? You done nothin' to be sorry for."
"I couldn't…" He faltered. "I should have saved you."
Emma shook her head. "You was busy savin' my baby girl. You know I'd have it no other way. You couldn't 'a stopped Slaid that day." Dean cast his eyes down, too ashamed to face her. Emma merely knelt further, drawing his attention away from the ground.
"I always knew you was a good man, Dean." She pulled back, getting a full view of him. "But now I can see you so much clearer than I ever could. You got a soul-shine that's bigger an' brighter n'the sun, Dean. I ain't never seen something so brilliant before. It's so beautiful an' pure. You done the best you could, an' you saved my baby girl. I cain't ask for more 'n that." Her eyes caressed him.
"Don't be sad. Henry and Red is expectin' me," she said, beaming. "I waited so long." She went to touch his face but stopped just short. "Thank you, Dean, for everything."
He couldn't answer, too overwhelmed. Unconsciousness tugged at him, his strength and resolve to resist all but gone. He gave her a slow nod, wilting against Sam.
"You rest up, Dean. The world needs you fit an' strong."
"Sam…" Emma smiled at him. "He was lost without you. I'm so glad you found each other agin. Keep him safe."
Sam swallowed and nodded. "I will."
She gave Dean one last soft glance before turning to Florabel as the old woman rose to her feet.
Emma's blue eyes became deep wells of love and loss as she approached her daughter. "Baby girl."
As Florabel said the word, Dean watched seventy-two years melt away, and he saw a vulnerable little girl standing before her mother.
"Mama. You ain't vengeful no more?"
Emma smiled. "I weren't vengeful toward no one but Slaid. When he killed me, he passed some of the demon power to me. I don't even think he ever knew he done that. I couldn't let him hurt you. Then when you left, I stayed to make sure he didn't hurt no one else. I was afraid you'd come back. I had to make sure you was safe. I had to. So I took that power he gave to me, and I used it to hide and to try and stop the demon when he summoned it."
"I'm sorry for what I said that last day, Mama. I never wanted…" Her lips quivered and tears spilled down her cheeks. "I never wanted those words to be our last. I'm—I'm so ashamed, Mama. So ashamed."
"Baby girl…" Emma's eyes filled as well. "You think I held on to them words? They was left right there on the floor that day. I never took 'em with me. But I got every 'I love you', you ever said, and all your little jokes and your silly ways right here." She pointed to her heart.
She stood back and took a long look at her daughter. "You growed up so beautiful, Florabel. I always knew you would. Look at you. I'm burstin' with pride. I can see your life and all the good you done, and even the hurts you took on. My baby girl." A silent conversation passed between the two women. Emma stirred, lifting her hand. She couldn't help but try and reach out to her child. Her eyes pooled with sadness when the hand passed through Florabel, making no contact. "I'm sorry for your sufferings, for what Slaid done to you, and for everything else that ever hurt you. I wish I could 'a been there for you, and…" She paused as though reading her daughter's thoughts. "My granddaughter?"
"Yes, Mama. I had a little girl. I named her Emeline after you." Florabel broke down in spite of her best effort. "You should see how beautiful she is, Mama. You'd be so proud."
"I am. I'm proud of both of you." With weary eyes, Emma looked at the others gathering around and sighed. "I think I'm ready to go, now." She turned to Florabel again. "Don't cry, baby girl. I'm so happy to be free." She tilted her face to the stars. "Me and Papa and Henry will be waitin', whenever you git here."
"I don't think I'll be too much longer, Mama." Florabel's words were wet with tears.
"Maybe not. But you ain't done just yet." As Emma blew a kiss to her daughter her chest exploded into a starburst of light. Despite its beauty, the bystanders shielded their eyes. When they opened them, Emma was gone.
And Florabel Livingston stood, small and fragile, amidst the prairie grasses and wept without reserve.
To Be Continued…