Dean rests and mends thanks to (and sometimes in spite of) his devoted family ...
Sam drained his coffee, "hey on the subject of evil stuff, where's the ring? You haven't still got it hanging round your neck, have you?"
Bobby huffed a quiet laugh, "no, it's locked in a curse box in the panic room until I can figure out what to do with it."
"What d'y mean?" Sam frowned, "I remember you said you can't destroy the ring or burn the remains; can't you just bury it or drop it in the sea somewhere?"
Bobby shrugged, "maybe, but … I dunno Sam; I want to look into this more before I do anything; I don't wanna get this wrong;" he hesitated, "but I can't concentrate on doin' that and worryin' about Princess Fairycakes up there, so the spirit of Number Fifty can wait a couple more days before I toast his ass."
Sam smiled, "but before I do anything," Bobby announced, getting up from the table, "I'm going to make some oatmeal for him so that we can start getting those antibiotics into him."
"And the shot," added Sam.
"Uh, yeah, you can do that," Bobby muttered, "I ain't going anywhere near your brother with anything pointy." He pushed the syringe toward Sam; "anyway, you're the one that stitches him up, you've done it before."
Sam pushed the syringe back to Bobby, "Yeah, that's exactly why I don't wanna do it now; he raises unco-operative to an art-form!""
Bobby grinned, "coward" he laughed.
The two men quietly entered the bedroom, and glanced towards the bed. The lump under the bedclothes stirred briefly with a breathy sigh.
Bobby stepped across the room and pulled the curtains as Sam crouched beside the bed and gently folded the bedclothes back so he could at least see his brother's face.
"Morning sunshine," he beamed as Dean's eyes woozily flickered open and looked up at him with unfocussed confusion.
"mmmmm … wha …?"
The eyes closed again, and Dean burrowed back down into the bed. "hmmm … g'way…"
Bobby chuckled under his breath, "oh, charming."
Sam softly squeezed Dean's shoulder; "c'mon dude, just need you to eat something and take some medicine, then you can sleep all you want."
Dean sniffed, wrinkling his nose as the delicious smell of the honey-sweetened oatmeal wafted across the room, and his eyes fluttered open again, this time focussing on Sam.
"Breakfast, dude," Sam smiled. He placed a glass of orange juice on the nightstand, and took the seat next to the bed, resting the tray on his lap. "Bobby's 'friend' got you some antibiotics."
Dean yawned, squirming as he tried to stretch, but thought better of it. "Friend?" he wearily looked up to Bobby, "din't know y'had any friends…" he mumbled thickly, rubbing his eyes, and shuffling stiffly to try to upright himself.
Bobby stood, hands on hips, frowning in mock outrage. "You sure you wanna talk that way to someone who's about to stick a needle in your arm?"
Dean stopped squirming and froze, mid yawn. "What?"
"Tetanus shot, bro;" Sam smiled apologetically, "sorry!"
Dean scowled. "Your friend get that too?"
"Yup" Bobby nodded, smiling broadly.
"Your friend sucks;" Dean snorted, shuffling back down and clumsily shrugging the bedclothes back over his head.
Sam spluttered with laughter; "told you;" he mouthed to Bobby.
Bobby carefully lifted the bedclothes, trying hard not to laugh; "no shot, no breakfast, Cinderella."
There was a sigh as Dean peered sourly from under the blanket up at Bobby, "bite me," came a sulky voice
Bobby smiled and in one swift movement, pulled back the bedclothes, swabbed a spot on Dean's bicep with an antiseptic wipe then slid the needle smoothly and swiftly under the skin.
Dean buried his face in the pillow and Sam heard a muffled oath.
"All done," Bobby grinned, swabbing the bleeding pinprick, "wan' a lollipop?"
"Butcher;" snorted Dean ingraciously.
"How you feeling today, dude?" Sam asked, the concern obvious in his voice.
"What apart from the stabbed arm?"
"Uh, yeah, apart from that." Sam rolled his eyes, lifting his hand to Dean's forehead;
"Better now." Dean replied, barely above a whisper; trying and failing to swat Sam's hand away. "Hurt all over," he thought for a moment; "arms an' back n' ribs hur' like a bitch; can hardly move, but 'least hands don' hurt no more."
"You're still a bit warm, bro'," Sam smiled, "an' wheezy."
"M'not wheezy," Dean wheezed petulantly.
"We've got you some Tylenol, that'll help," Sam continued, regardless; "but we need to take care, I read somewhere that rib injuries can lead to serious lung problems if they're not looked after."
Sam settled in next to Dean, helping him to prop himself up, leaning against Sam to keep pressure off his back, and wincing as his battered body protested against every movement.
"Hands'r better; can feed myself now S'mmy;" Dean stiffly reached out for the spoon. Sam hesitated, but handed it over, then watched in dismay as the spoon toppled out of Dean's limp fingers.
Dean looked up at Sam, devastated; "thought m'hands were better S'mmy." His voice sounded so crushed, it broke Sam's heart.
"They are, dude," Sam smiled sadly, "they're just not quite right yet." He squeezed Dean's shoulder, "look, we'll get some breakfast into you, then you can have another sleep, and when you wake up, we'll get straight to work on strengthening your hands up. How's that?"
Dean sighed, "not hungry."
Sam frowned, "don't start that again: you're only 'not hungry' because you can't feed yourself."
Bobby strolled over to the bed, "hold ya hands out, son;"
Dean did as Bobby asked, watching intently as Bobby laid a folded cloth across his outstretched hands and placed the bowl of oatmeal in them. "There, you can at least hold the bowl; so you're contributin'."
Dean looked down at the bowl, then up at Bobby, "see, ya couldn't do that yesterday; and sometime soon you'll be able to hold the spoon to eat it."
Dean gave a small smile; "hey, Bobby, you're not bad for a decrepit ol' relic."
Bobby folded his arms, glaring at the bedridden figure; "boy, you're not too sick for me to shove your face in it!"
Dean began to visibly tire after finishing off the oatmeal and the orange juice. He placidly swallowed the antibiotics and the Tylenol without argument.
Exhausted though he was, he begged Sam to shave him; "don' wanna end up looking like Bobby…"
Sam relished the exercise of helping Dean shave, removing Dean's T shirt and taking the opportunity to help Dean cool off. He smiled as Dean insisted on holding the bowl of water. It was only when Sam had finished, he noticed more bruising around Dean's jawline which had previously been covered up by the stubble; someone's hand had gripped his face hard enough to leave it heavily bruised, and more than once by the look of it. Sam's anger briefly rose, but subsided just as quickly as he felt his clean shaven brother wearily sinking into him. Sam carefully took the bowl of foamy water out of his hands, and placed it on the nightstand before Dean dozed off completely and tipped it in his lap.
As Sam worked, Bobby changed the dressings on Dean's wrists and back, working swiftly and gently, peering over Dean's shoulder and nodding his approval of their condition to a relieved Sam.
Eventually, Sam found himself sitting on the bed, his brother fast asleep and only remaining upright by virtue of his chin resting on Sam's shoulder.
Together, Sam and Bobby worked him into a clean T shirt and lowered him back into the bed, arranging him into a comfortable position, pulling the blankets back over him.
"Well, he's settled for a while," smiled Bobby, as both men stood and stared down at the sleeping figure.
"Yeah," Sam replied quietly without taking his eyes away from his brother's bruised face.
"D'y want some breakfast Sam, c'mon, I'll make bacon sandwiches." Bobby whispered so as not to wake Dean.
Sam turned, "thanks Bobby; I think I'll just stay with him for a while if you don't mind."
Bobby nodded with a smile, "I'll bring 'em up for ya, son." He patted Sam on the shoulder as he left.
It was on the third day that Dean seemed to come back to himself; it was the day that he stood on his own two feet.
He had done little more than sleep for the first three days. His periods of wakefulness had increased as time went on but he was too immobile and in too much pain to do much more than lie and talk to Sam, and tease Bobby.
His first nights had been plagued with nightmares, but Sam had nursed him through them admirably, barely leaving his side to make sure that he never woke up alone.
The antibiotics worked their magic and the creeping early signs of an infection which had worried Sam and Bobby so much in the early hours began to ease, calming Dean's elevated temperature; much to both the brothers' relief.
"Dude, it's normal – so will you stop feelin' up my forehead now?"
Dean's breathing remained an issue due to the extensive rib strains he had suffered and Sam's constant clucking and fussing drove him to the brink; "you can develop serious lung problems from chest injuries if they're not looked after Dean."
"Yes, dude; I heard you the first thirty times you told me!"
Sam was a constant presence at Dean's side – even when he wasn't wanted. He made sure Dean kept warm, took his medication, drunk warm drinks, ate good food, sat up as much as possible, did exercises to strengthen his hands, remembered to breathe deeply even when it hurt (because you can develop serious lung problems from chest injuries if they're not looked after) and generally lavished stiflingly devoted care on his beleaguered brother to the point that Bobby had to step in and threaten to lock him in the barn if he didn't give the poor guy a break.
Proof of Dean's continuing improvement, if it were needed, came on the third day when after a morning's begging, pleading and sulking, Sam relented, and helped Dean to swing his legs over the side of the bed, and stand on his two feet.
If the legs were willing, the blood pressure decided to spoil the party and Dean swayed, drifting slightly cross-eyed and sunk back onto his backside on the bed.
An hour later, another attempt saw a woozy Dean take several faltering steps along the length of the bed, clinging to his brother's arm, and third and final attempt saw wobbly legs carry him in a relatively straight line all the way along the landing to the bathroom, grinning like a Cheshire cat at his new found freedom.
Sam's latest battle had begun.
The following morning, Sam wandered into the bedroom carrying an armful of clean laundry and stopped dead in his tracks at the sight in front of him.
Resplendent in T shirt and boxers, Dean was standing, leaning heavily on the end of the bed, his legs trembling like a pair of pipe-cleaners in a breeze.
Sam dropped the laundry in a heap on the bed.
"What the hell are you doing, man?"
"Got bored wanted to look out the window," Dean replied shakily.
Sam rushed over, taking Dean round the waist, and guided him over to the window, so he was close enough to look out.
"Why didn't you wait for me?"
"You were busy doin' laundry or embroidery or whatever it is that women do."
Sam grinned, "jerk."
Dean's face lit up. "There's my baby"
"Yeah, she's down there waiting for you; Bobby's taking real good care of her."
"What's that silver pile of crap behind her?"
"Oh yeah, that's the rental car I got – the Impala was too noticeable, I wanted to keep out of sight while we were looking for you."
Dean grinned, "Yeah – everyone looks at my baby!"
His nose wrinkled in disgust as he stared at the poor, uninspiring silver rental which seemed to wither under his disapproving glare. "Freakin' thing, I'm surprised they didn't pay you for takin' it off their hands."
He turned back to Sam; "speaking of Bobby, where is the ol' goat?"
"He's downstairs," Sam replied, "same place he's been for the last two days; in his study buried under fifty thousand books trying to figure out what to do with the spirit."
Dean tried unsuccessfully to stifle a shiver.
"C'mon Dean, you're getting cold, you need to go back to bed." Sam tightened his grip around Dean's waist, and tried to pull him away from the window.
Dean shook his head; "wanna go down and see Bobby."
Sam hesitated; "Dean you only got up on your feet for the first time in a week yesterday; you're not up to managing the stairs yet, dude."
"Please Sammy," Dean pleaded, "I'm going freakin' stir crazy in this room, I gotta get out and about."
"Dean, maybe tomorrow," Sam replied firmly.
Sam shook his head, "Dean, put the big eyes away, you know they don't work on me."
"Please Sammy …" the desperation was pitiful.
It was the pout that finished Sam off.
"Oh, I hate you …" he gave in.
Guiding Dean back to the bed, Sam encouraged him to sit down; "well, put some pants on first, and put my hoodie on so you don't get cold."
He helped Dean dress; "Jeez Dean, your feet are freezing, put your thick socks on; put your fleece shirt on under my hoodie so you stay warm …"
Sam stood back and looked at Dean; sweatpants, thick socks, t-shirt, fleece overshirt, hoodie. He tried hard not to laugh.
His brother looked like he had suddenly gained thirty pounds.
Dean sighed. "Well, at least if I fall down the stairs I'll have plenty of padding."
Sam helped Dean cautiously down the stairs one by one; there was no doubt Dean was getting more sure of foot; occasional woozy spells had him taking the odd sideways step, but otherwise the general direction was forward.
Together, the brothers walked into Bobby's study.
"Look who's up and about." Sam announced cheerfully.
Bobby looked up from behind a pile of books and choked into his coffee. "Jeez, it's Mister Stay Puft!"
Dean smirked; "bite me!"
He sat, trying his hardest to ignore Sam fiddling and fussing and making sure he was comfortable, straightening his hoodie and tucking cushions down his sides. Dean peered over Sam's shoulders, rolling his eyes at Bobby who was struggling not to laugh.
"Hey auntie;" Dean sighed, "if you tuck me in any further, I'm gonna fall through the back of the chair!"
Sam huffed, scraping a hand through his hair, "I just wanna make sure you can sit up comfortably, you can develop serious lung problems from chest injuries if they're not looked after."
Bobby spluttered with laughter, closing the topmost book on the dusty pile on his desk and Dean's head dropped to his chest. "shoot me now;" he pleaded.
Sam threw Dean a bitchface; "I suppose you'll want coffee now?"
"Am I allowed?" Dean replied in mock excitement, "all I've been allowed so far is fortified milkshakes and orange juice."
"Yep, you're allowed." Sam replied, the abuse completely washing over him.
"Would I be pushing my luck if I asked for a beer?"
"Oh, yes!" stated Sam economically as he walked out of the room towards the kitchen, watched with amusement by two pairs of eyes.
Bobby got up and quietly closed the door behind Sam.
"Drivin' you mad yet?" He smiled, gesturing with his head towards the direction of the kitchen.
"Oh God yes," Dean gasped, "But it's okay; he really suffered when I went missing, least I can do is let him get it out of his system. This is the way he deals with it; I swear my brother should have been my sister!
Bobby smiled fondly. "Real good to see you up and about son."
"Good to be up and about." Dean returned Bobby's warm smile.
Bobby's eyes dropped to the floor and for a few moments, an awkward silence settled between the two men.
"Dean, I'm …"
Dean cut him off. "Don't, Bobby."
"No, kid, hear me out." Bobby insisted, "I'm sorry you had to go through what you went though on my account kid, I feel terrible about it."
"Well don't" Dean replied quietly, "it wasn't your fault that I got hurt. Shit happens in this job and it wouldn't occur to me to blame you for any of it. I can't even begin to think where me and Sam would have ended up if it wasn't for you Bobby."
"Yeah but …"
"But nothing Bobby; you're family." Dean looked quietly at his hands resting in his lap. "Sam told me everything; I know I'm not the only one who took one for the team in this whole sorry business."
Bobby took up the story; "Sam was distraught, totally beside himself when you went missing; he moved heaven and earth trying to find you."
"Yeah, I know," Dean sighed, "well, you'd have to be unstable to drive around in that crappy car," he smiled sadly, " but you know what I'm talking about."
"He told me how you squared up to them." Dean looked straight into the older man's eyes; "you had a gun at your head Bobby; how did you know they wouldn't shoot you?"
Bobby looked shifty.
"To be honest, son; I didn't; I was just banking on their cruel streak coming to the fore." Bobby replied without a hint of drama, "I figured they'd want to finish me off in a much more 'entertaining' way."
Bobby nodded, "that's why I prepared the false ring stunt."
Dean shook his head with a smile; "no wonder you're such a good poker player, you crazy old sonofabitch."
Bobby smiled, "back at ya, Cinderella!"
Sam walked back into the room, laden down with a tray of coffee cups and cookies, forcing the door open with his elbow, to find Bobby and Dean grinning stupidly at each other.
He stared, shaking his head with a smile; "Did I miss something?"
Sated by a Bobby-special roast chicken dinner, the three men sat in contented conviviality. Sam and Bobby talked, nursing their beers and casting occasional amused glances toward the soft snores rising from the third armchair.
"So, what have you found out about the spirit?" Sam asked quietly, so as not to disturb his sleeping brother.
"Lots and nothing," Bobby replied cryptically with a shrug, "one thing I am sure of though," he added "is that the thing is not evil; it's tortured."
Sam cocked his head; "tortured?"
"Yeah; usually a tortured spirit doesn't mean to be evil or dangerous, but it's controlled by some kind of spell or enchantment - usually a damned dark and evil one."
Squinting at the label on his beer bottle as the letters began to blur, Sam hiccupped. "The binding spell the hunter put on it?" he asked.
"No," Bobby shook his head. "That was only done about a hundred years ago;" he took a sip of beer, "that all seems pretty shady, I can't find any history on it at all."
Sam frowned, "weird."
"I've got a few London contacts doing some groundwork for me, but there's more than one enchantment at work here." He scratched his head, "I mean, have you ever heard of thousands of spirits coalesced into one entity?"
Sam puffed out his cheeks and drained his bottle. "No, new one on me." he mumbled quietly.
They both turned as a particularly long snore stuttered into a snort when Dean shifted in the seat and scratched his nose.
"Why didn't it happen around any of the other plague pits in London? Bobby asked rhetorically.
Sam shook his head in response.
"Speaking to people in the know back in London, it seems the most likely explanation is a witch."
"Damn witches," grunted Sam, "they're a pain in our asses wherever they are!"
Both men turned as Dean sighed, "figgin' wishes …" he murmured into his shoulder.
Bobby rolled his eyes and smiled, shaking his head. "A witch who lived around the time of the Black Death." He continued, "It seems she had a major grudge against the parish elders because they had hung her husband."
Sam nodded slowly, "understandable," he muttered, "what'd he do?"
"Damned if I know," replied Bobby with a shrug, "in those days you could get ya neck stretched for any stupid damn thing;" he passed Sam another beer, "but, whatever it was, she wanted to take her revenge on the parish."
"She cast a damned wicked spell which bound all the plague dead of the parish in to one terrible tortured entity." Bobby took a long drag on his bottle, "thousands of souls, condemned to dying a terrible lingering death day after day, century after century."
Sam shuddered at the thought; "Bitch."
"Their suffering and misery is so intense, so indescribable that anyone who witnesses it is scared to death."
Sam shook his head; "I heard that awful wail; I'll never forget that horrible sound as long as I live."
"Neither will I," Bobby replied thoughtfully.
"Don't know what spell she used but I'm guessing it's real old dark magic, possibly druidic;" Bobby stifled a yawn, "it would also explain why the hunter used a druidic binding spell; because he didn't want to cause any clash with the witch's spell."
Sam sipped his beer, his eyes flicking across to Dean, whose mouth was hanging open limply; amplifying his snores.
"Jeez Sam," grinned Bobby, "can't we put a muzzle on him?"
"The thing is," Bobby continued, "I told ya I can't destroy the ring; that would release the spirit and evil or not, it's too friggin' dangerous to do that."
"I can't burn the remains because they're all buried fifty feet under one of the busiest districts of London…"
He shrugged, "so what do I do?"
"I don't know." Sam sighed.
"I can secrete the ring somewhere safe; bury it deep down somewhere remote maybe," Bobby began, "but do I condemn those poor bastards to an eternity of agony?"
"What else can we do?" Sam asked quietly.
"There's also another thing I have to bear in mind."
Sam stared at Bobby over his beer bottle, "what?"
"Most enchantments, even the real old ones fade with time," Bobby replied solemnly; "the efficacy of any spell erodes over time. Even if I hide this ring miles underground this thing is gonna get loose. Probably not in our lifetime, maybe not for centuries; but mark me - it will get out."
"What's the answer?"
Bobby put his bottle on the floor beside his chair, "Tortured spirits can be healed."
"How?" asked Sam.
"It depends on the circumstances; on what spell was cast." Bobby took his cap off and yawned lavishly; "but that's a job for tomorrow; I'm calling it a night – I'm beat."
They both turned to look at the sleeping figure slumped in the armchair beside Sam; his head flopped to one side, mouth hanging open, a small wet patch forming on his shoulder.
Sam knelt down beside him and gently squeezed his arm, "hey dude;" he coaxed softly.
Dean jerked awake; "gnnuh! coffee please ..."
Sam grinned, "oh, no coffee for you, bro. You're ready for bed!"
Dean squirmed in the armchair, rubbing his eyes, "Don' wanna go to bed, "m'not tired"
"Why are your eyes closed then, dude?" Sam smiled with a shake of the head.
"M'eyelashes are heavy."
Bobby rose stiffly; "idjit" he muttered.
Sam wrapped strong arms round his protesting brother's body, and helped him up out of the chair. "C'mon, dude, bed." Guided by Sam, Dean stumbled blearily across the room, kicking over Bobby's half emptied bottle. "sorr' Bobby … getya paws off S'my, no' tired …"
Sam looked back at Bobby with a grin, "Yeah, yeah, whatever Dean; get your ass up the stairs."
"I c'n get up the stairs … ooof!"
Sam held on tight as his brother stumbled, almost faceplanting up the stairs.
"Dean, d'you want me to carry you?"
Dean turned and glared, as much as his tired, heavy lidded eyes would allow, but it was all the incentive Dean needed to make it up the stairs without further incident.
Sam helped Dean out of his clothes, and into a fresh T-shirt; supporting him as he laid back, asleep almost as he touched the pillow. "G'night, dude;" he smiled, rearranging the bedclothes.
Once he was content that Dean was settled, he took a seat beside the bed and sat back, watching his sleeping brother, waiting for nightmares.
Half an hour passed, and Sam shifted in the seat. Skirting the edge of sleep, he stifled a long yawn; he watched as Dean fidgeted briefly, giving a short sigh before settling.
"Sam?" Dean whispered
Sam jerked into wakefulness and leaned towards the bed, "what's up, dude?"
Dean sighed, "go to bed, bitch."
Sam woke, blinking into the bright daylight streaming through the window. It had been an undisturbed night, no pain, no nightmares; one more step on the path to full recovery. Sam smiled.
He rose and pulled on his jeans, glancing at the sprawled figure in the other bed, before making his way downstairs.
Opening the kitchen door, he was confronted with the sight of Bobby buried under a pile of books at the kitchen table. The older man looked up, "hey Sam!"
"Jeez Bobby, do you ever sleep?"
Bobby smiled, "When I've nothin' better to do."
Bobby pointed to the counter; "coffee's just brewed, want anything for Sleepin' Beauty?"
Sam smiled, "nah, he's dead to the world upstairs." He poured a mug of coffee and sat down opposite Bobby.
That was when he noticed the curse box on the table.
Bobby shrugged, "nothin' yet. I'm gonna take a look at the ring to see if I can find out more about the hunters enchantment."
Sam took a sip of coffee, shuddering as the caffeine assaulted his system; "how?"
"There might be some kind of mark or sigil that I never noticed before to indicate what type of enchantment he used to bind the spirit;" he closed he book he had been browsing; "that might give us more of an idea about the original enchantment."
Bobby drained his coffee mug. "until I know what I'm working with I won't know if or how we can heal the spirit and get this case wrapped up."
Sam sighed, shaking his head; "poor, pathetic bastards."
They both turned sharply on hearing the kitchen door swing open with a creak.
Bobby smiled; "speaking of pathetic bastards…"
Dean wandered stiff-legged into the room. Sleep-muzzed, he stood in the doorway, blinking vacantly and scratching his tousled head.
It took Sam a moment to realise his brother was bare-legged in his boxers, his sweatpants folded over his arm.
"Couldn't bend down far enough to put my sweatpants on, Sammy."
Bobby shook his head, "Sam, for God's sake cover him up; then go an' make some breakfast." He smiled, "idjits!"
Sam worked Dean into his sweats; "better get you dressed, dude; you're gonna put Bobby off his eggs an' bacon."
Bobby turned his attention back to his books; "I'll have my eggs over easy," he grunted, irritably shifting his mountain of books and papers looking for the key to the curse box which he eventually found under a paperweight.
"He'll have his eggs over easy," repeated Dean, peering over Sam's shoulder.
"Yeah, I heard him, dude;" sighed Sam, cracking an egg into the pan, "why don't you go an' …"
He was cut off by a hoarse cry as Bobby opened the curse box and recoiled backwards as a howling pall of fetid brown mist spewed up out of it.
Bobby recoiled as the creeping effluvium loomed over him, the foul stench of death and putrefaction pervading the air. The brothers spun round, the box of eggs in Sam's hand smashing to the floor as he saw what had happened.
"Bobby!" he cried, stumbling backward with a shocked gasp and dropping to his knees. He scrambled backwards, as far into the corner of the room as he could fit, cowering helplessly against the wall.
Dean stood in stupefied horror as the brown miasma grew and thickened, boiling and swirling, filling the room with it's doleful, terrifying moan. He tried to dash across the room towards Sam, but his bare foot slipped in the mess left by the smashed eggs and he crumpled to the ground, letting loose a gasping grunt of winded pain.
He hauled himself breathlessly to his hands and knees and tried to crawl over to his brother. Sam cowered pitifully in the corner of the room staring at Dean with pebble-wide glazed eyes. Glancing across the room he saw Bobby, mute with terror, shrunk in horror into a gap beside the kitchen counter, cringing behind his outstretched hands. "Bobby," he cried, "hang in there…" He knew the older man's heart wouldn't take this sort of punishment, he knew he had to get them both out of there.
Dean watched as the fetid mist swirled, solidifying into an oozing column of vaporous mud and drifting across the room, it hovered between him and Sam.
Clutching his chest and retching against the foul odour, Dean crawled under the table, slipping in the detritus of the wrecked eggs and the spirit's dripping fluids. "Bobby; Sam!" he barked breathlessly, trying to reach the two men on the opposite sides of the room, but everywhere he crawled, stumbled or leaned, the spirit was there, blocking his path, surrounding him.
It was focussing on him.
Then a curious thought struck him, as he managed to reach out and grasp Sam's shaking ice-cold hand.
He wasn't afraid of it.
He was afraid, sure; afraid of the unspeakable suffering of the two men who were cowering beneath the horror of this hideous travesty of nature, afraid of the two most important people in his life facing a terrible death. He was repulsed by this awful thing, retching and heaving with every breath that carried that foul stench, but he wasn't afraid of it …
As if the spirit had realised Dean's thoughts; it reared up at him, boiling and pulsating; the keening, melancholy howl becoming louder and more terrible. Dean watched in horror as it increased in size, almost filling the room, then it engulfed him.
Dean had recoiled as the thing came towards him; throwing his arms over his face he tumbled to the floor, eyes tightly closed, as the greasy brown fog closed around him.
He opened his eyes slowly, blinking in disorientated confusion and tried to take stock of his situation.
He was still lying curled up on the floor, his arms around his face, but he was lying on cobbles. Cold, damp mud coated cobbles. As well as mud, there were lots of other unsavoury substances in the mix that he didn't necessarily want to dwell upon considering he was sprawled out in only a T-shirt and sweatpants, looking around him he could see traces of straw and food detritus and … oh great … horse dung.
He shakily propped himself up on his elbows, and looked around him. He was in a street; he was quite sure of that. A very old, very poorly maintained street. Around him, the brown miasma still floated, hanging like brown, oily smoke on a still day. Looking up, he could see houses; tall narrow crooked houses, disappearing into the far distance, leaning haphazardly against each other in the cramped street like drunks at a party. They undulated and swirled with the mist; tinted the same depressing shade of brown; as if he were seeing this whole world through a sepia picture.
He blinked, swallowing back a nausea as the swaying vista around him ebbed and rocked making him feel slightly seasick, and all around him that smell, that stench of filth and death.
It was then he realised that he could see beyond the street, through it; almost as if the things he could see around him weren't quite opaque; like he was looking at the world beyond through a goldfish bowl.
He rubbed his head in confusion; disorientated, he rose on paper-weak wobbly legs and squinted at the world beyond.
It was Bobby's kitchen.
Sam; Bobby. He had to get to them; this thing that had him was lethal. They could be lying there choking their very last heart-stopping gasps even as he stood here with his thumb up his ass wondering what to do.
Suddenly he heard a sound behind him and spun round. There stood a woman; she was carrying a tiny child.
Dean paled when he saw her; she was barefoot in fetid rags, her skin, darkened with haemorrhagic bleeding, was lacerated with weeping lesions. Her thin, matted hair hung around her skeletal shoulders as she gazed up at him with sunken, fever glazed eyes.
The child she carried was in no better shape; too weak to cry, the tiny girl lay motionless in her mother's arms, thick dark blood oozing from her nailless fingertips.
There was a sense of transparency about both figures, although they looked more solid than the floating, undulating world around them.
Dean could see more people appearing behind her, emerging softly from the mist; first a handful, then dozens, filling the cramped length of the murky street, each as diseased, and ruined as this poor woman who gazed up at him from a face so ravaged, so destroyed, it was barely a face.
He stood, staring in wide-eyed horror at the woman and her child. His mouth worked silently as he looked over the top of her head to the putrefying masses around her. His heart pounded violently against his chest stealing the air from his lungs as his knees began to buckle; he stumbled forward and the woman reached out to steady him. He recoiled from her gaunt, ulcerated hand.
"Sam, where's Sam? Got to get to him and Bobby," Dean whispered frantically through his disorientation, "got to help them."
Sam cried out, insensible with horror, as he tried hard to regain some co-ordination to crawl towards Bobby on the other side of the room He could hear the older man's hoarse, terrified moans, becoming quieter and more breathless. Sam could feel his heart pounding, thrumming so fast he couldn't count the beats. He'd been scared before but this, this was unnatural; this was beyond anything he'd ever experienced. Raw, visceral terror. His eyes blurred with tears as he scrambled along the wall, trying to find his way to Bobby.
Bobby was barely conscious, crouched in paralysed fear between the kitchen counter and the oven, Sam hesitantly reached out and grabbed his shaking hand. Bobby stared pebble-eyed at the spirit and made no sign that he knew Sam was there.
Sam crouched down next to Bobby and prepared to die, his last coherent thought was Dean; the spirit had him.
The woman looked up at Dean; her rheumy eyes drifting in and out of focus.
"Please help us, you are our only hope. You are the only one who can give the charm of healing."
Dean recoiled, shaking his head; "why me? What can I do? tell me what I have to do, what I have to say."
"You have suffered as we have suffered; at the hands of the same blood."
Dean stumbled backwards again, almost losing his footing over a loose cobble. "I don't know how I can help you," he croaked weakly, coughing as he suppressed a gag at the stench of the poor woman's festering sores . "I don't know what to do, I can't help you - I'm sorry;" he repeated, "let me go, please; I need to help my brother."
"So many afraid of us, of our disease; devastated, souls so ruined, so consumed with pestilence and darkness, we kill all who look upon us even though we have no wish to harm. We suffer the loneliness of the despised, the abandoned." She took a hesitant step towards Dean.
This time he didn't recoil, or give ground. He looked up, swallowing deeply; "I'm not afraid of you."
The woman's gaze softened; her blood-streaked face lifted slightly into a smile.
He could see beneath the blackened swelling around her face, the weeping lesions, the toothless rotting mouth. Beneath it all was a slender, high-cheeked, grey-eyed woman.
Buoyed by her smile he reciprocated. "I'm not afraid of you; you're beautiful."
Taking a deep breath he reached up hesitantly and touched the side of her face. She leaned into the soft touch, closing her eyes in sheer joy, she gave a soft sigh. As Dean withdrew his hand, he saw the woman's skin had cleared beneath his hand.
He gasped at the realisation; he didn't have to know the charm; He WAS the charm.
"He reached up urgently for the woman's dying child. She handed the girl to him, and he cradled the tiny emaciated body against his chest, stroking her head.
He felt the child shift in his arms; and his heart swelled as she turned to look at him, through clear, healthy brown eyes.
Sam gripped Bobby's wrist as hard as he could, relishing the feel of the older man's pulse; his guarantee that Bobby was still alive.
He waited. Why wasn't he dead?
In fact, he wasn't sure if it was his imagination, hallucinations brought on by the ordeal, or whether it was real, but he wasn't really even afraid any more.
He sat up, feeling the pounding of his heart gradually slowing to a bearable level. He looked up at the spirit in confusion.
It was then he felt Bobby shift; and the older man's wet eyes opened, blinking vacantly as if in shock.
"Bobby, thank God; Sam sighed.
Bobby looked back at Sam. "It's got Dean," he whispered. Sam nodded, "I know."
They both stared at the entity as the thick brown mass simmered and whorled around the middle of the kitchen.
"Something's changed;" muttered Bobby, wiping his eyes; "listen."
Sam listened. "that moan;" he muttered, not taking his eyes off the entity, "it's changed, it's not that terrible dismal howl any more, it's more like … like …"
"A sigh," Bobby interjected.
Both men clung to each other, listening intently to the comforting sound.
Dean was breathless with delight as the fresh faced woman in front of him turned and hugged the walking cadavers behind her. "You're all beautiful. You're all good people." he shouted over the thrum of voices, excited shouts, and laughter.
He watched with joy as the hundreds of spirits lifted their healed faces to the sky, and the brown fug lifted, fading away into a brilliant light, taking with it the crooked houses, the cobbled street and finally, one by one the spirits. Last to go was the woman and her child. She took Dean's hand and smiled; a smile of pure love from a flawless face. "Thank you my friend; our suffering is over we can go now to a better place."
She looked down at the little girl who held her hand and smiled as she faded from Dean's vision. He blinked against a swirling eddy of dust as the light overtook him.
And then all was darkness.
Sam and Bobby watched in mesmerized fascination as the thick, oozing mist dissipated; through the fading haze they could see Dean's motionless outline becoming more and more manifest; it was only as the haze eventually vanished that he crumpled bonelessly to the floor with a choking grunt.
Shaking themselves out of their stupor, Sam and Bobby dashed over to the sprawled body.
"Dude; hey, dude, can you hear me?" Sam knelt over his brother, "It's me, Sammy."
Gently patting the side of Dean's slack jaw, Sam smiled in relief as he sighed heavily, Legs shifting slowly as his eyelids fluttered open.
"Yeah dude, it's me, an' Bobby's here too," Sam slid a hand under Dean's neck to help him sit up.
"Hey princess," Bobby smiled, squeezing Dean's shoulder.
Dean stared wordlessly at the two faces above him, eyes completely blank; "y-you're not dead?"
"Uh no," Sam smiled, "we're alive an' kicking thankfully," he glanced across to Bobby and for the first time noticed the broad streaks of grey in the older man's hair and beard; an indicator of the ordeal they had both suffered. His hand instinctively travelled towards his own fringe, fingers nervously threading through the unruly hair.
He hesitated, "what happened dude? Are you okay?"
Dean blinked hard, "they're all gone Sammy. It's all over."
Sam Looked back at Bobby, his face a mixture of confusion, fear and joy at having his brother back; he turned back to Dean, " How?"
"I healed them." Dean said matter-of-factly.
"How'd you manage that, son?" Bobby asked gently.
"Don' know – I just did." Dean looked from Bobby to Sam, he could see they both wanted answers and he had none to give; "they said something about me suffering the way they had suffered with the same blood or somethin'." He shrugged, "don' know."
"Well, what'd ya do, kid?" Bobby coaxed gently.
Dean shifted uncomfortably, and began to rub his still-aching shoulders. "I jus' told them I wasn't afraid of them and tol' them they were good people an' then they got better." He muttered blankly, "then a bright light came down over them and they just vanished. Gone to the better place they should have gone all those hundreds of years ago, I guess."
He hesitated, and a soft smile spread across his face; "that's when the mist went an' I came back here."
He looked up at the two bemused men.
"That's why we stopped bein' afraid," added Bobby with a heavy sigh; "jeez boy, you done your stuff just in time, I tell ya; that was close – My poor ticker ain't gonna forget that for a long time!"
"You should have seen them;" Dean said sadly, "they were so broken, so bitter and afraid, so infected; in so much pain. Dying over and over again," he looked up, eyes swimming with tears; "all they wanted was to be released; they didn't want to hurt anyone, they were just spirits of ordinary people – guys like us, little children, moms; good harmless people." He swallowed hard before attempting to continue, "they were just walking, suffering corpses."
Sam smiled, "but not any more dude; they're free now, and that's all thanks to you." Dean wiped his eyes, "yeah" he sighed with a watery smile; scanning the kitchen looking at the mess of smashed eggs smeared across the floor.
He looked up at Bobby, "was that breakfast?"
Later that afternoon, the brothers sat recovering from the morning's traumas, sprawled out on the couch, Dean revelled in the first beer Sam had allowed him since the rescue. It had been a hard fought victory; exhausted from all the pleading and sulking, Dean was determined to enjoy the fruits of his labours.
Sam stared idly at some crappy daytime tv show, sipping his beer and trying hard to ignore the sideways glances that kept coming from his brother.
Eventually he couldn't take it any longer. "OK, out with it" he snapped.
Dean grinned. "Nice highlights, dude."
Sam scowled; "make the most of it smartass, as soon as we leave here the first thing I'm doing is buying a bottle of dye."
Over the following two days Dean's recovery progressed smoothly and without incident.
Much to his delight, he regained full use of his hands, and the agonizing stiffness in his shoulders and ribs continued to ease. Even Sam began to back off to give his recovering brother the increasing independence he craved; although old habits died hard …
"Hey, you're back's healing up good bro'."
"Sam, I swear if you look through that shower curtain one more time I'm gonna start swingin!"
Sam knew that there would be work left to do. There were other scars that would take far longer to heal than the ones on his back. It had became painfully clear that Dean had developed a deep aversion to having his eyes covered or his vision obscured in any way after Sam ended up spending a good few minutes calming his brother when the towel slipped down over his face while Sam was helping him dry off after a shower.
Would that have repercussions for going into dark, unlit places as their job often demanded? They would have to wait and see. They would deal with it together as they always did.
Bobby had left the brothers to their own devices, spending the bulk of his time ensconsed in his study with his books, one ear grafted to the phone.
It was on the third morning that he emerged hollow-eyed from the room, stretching and blinking, and strolled into the lounge to find Sam in full bitchface mode with Dean settled on the coach grinning evilly.
Dean looked up; "see Sammy, the grey stuff suits Bobby 'cos he's old anyway."
Bobby reached down and cuffed Dean across the back of the head. "I might be old, but I've discovered what was so special about your smug ass that you healed the spirit." He folded his arms; "Dy wanna hear it, or ya gonna sit there making smart comments?"
Sam snorted; "yeah, c'mon Bobby; it'll make a change to hear someone talkin' sense." He turned and glared at Dean.
Dean grinned back at his brother, "yeah, me an' the bride of Frankenstein here are all ears."
Bobby sighed and sat down. "Well, it's been a friggin' marathon, "but with a few good London contacts who know their way around the territory, we've managed to piece it all together."
"Now, Dean, did you say that the spirits said something about suffering from the same blood?"
"Yeah," Dean replied, "I didn't get what that means;" he thought for a moment, "it don't mean I've got the plague does it?"
Bobby shook his head; "moron!"
"I think they mean you suffered 'at the hands of the same blood'." He corrected.
He was met with two blank faces.
"We think that means that the hunter who bound the spirit to the ring and ferret man hunter that locked you up were both part of the same bloodline as the witch who cursed those poor sonsofbitches originally".
He paused to see if he was making any inroads into his audience, and continued; "it seems witchcraft ran in the family until around the time of the witch hunts throughout Europe in the 16th century. Then they changed sides to save their skins and became hunters. Not very popular with both sides though, as you can imagine; the practitioners of dark magic despised them – saw them as traitors and other hunters never really trusted or accepted them." He scratched his head, "it seems that this is one family that can boast an impressive body count throughout the centuries!"
Dean nodded thoughtfully, "that would explain how the hunter who bound the spirit a hundred years ago knew the original witch's spell so well".
Bobby nodded in agreement, "yeah, and it seems he bound another spell into the ring too. One that I missed…"
The brothers glanced at each other, then back to Bobby.
"The spell said that if ever a member of the bloodline should be harmed or killed by a supernatural force or another hunter, the spirit would be released; free of the ring and free of the house."
Bobby shrugged, "a sort of insurance, I suppose;" he grunted, "other hunters knew the spirit's reputation and would never take the risk of having it roaming free."
Of course, I didn't know this, so when I wasted ferret man, shortly afterwards the spell kicked in – thankfully after I'd got it in the curse box."
Bobby smiled; "you both know the rest."
He looked at Dean, "so you suffered at the hands of the same bloodline as those poor bastards; that was their redemption. You could empathise with them, and that made you the key to freeing and healing their spirits."
Dean looked up at Bobby; "it's an insult to say that I suffered the same as them. What I went through is nothing; can't even begin to compare with what they suffered for centuries and centuries."
Bobby smiled; "kid, you know as well as I do; magic doesn't work in shades of grey. You suffered, they suffered. That's all."
Sam spoke up, "anyway, what does it matter? You saved them, you healed the spirit; it's all over. No-one else is going to get hurt and it's all because of you."
Dean sighed, "Yeah, but …"
"But nuthin', boy," snapped Bobby, "you did this, an' it was all down to you defyin' those two sonsofbitches, so quit whining, an' take some friggin' credit for once!"
Sam looked at his brother; "better do as he says, dude; Bobby's far more scary than that spirit."
Dean smiled wickedly, "yeah, specially with the highlights."
It was a week before Sam and Bobby deemed that Dean was well enough to hit the road, and parting, although never easy, was harder than usual on this occasion.
The three men stood in the yard, Dean leaning against his baby's gleaming black hood.
"Right, Bobby, me and Cruella are hitting the road," he smiled, offering Bobby his hand; Bobby took the offered hand and pulled Dean into a hug. "Look after yourself son;" he whispered, "you take care of that back, ya hear?"
Dean grinned, "you got it Bobby, an' thanks for everything."
"It's me who should thank you," smiled Bobby.
Dean frowned, "don' start that again, otherwise I'm gonna hurl!"
Bobby leaned across and hugged Sam tightly as Dean stood, looking on awkwardly and fidgeting. He looked at his watch; "hey you two; are you done yet, or do I need to get myself measured up for a bridesmaids dress?"
Bobby grinned, slapping Sam on the back, "go on, get outta here ya pair o' idjits."
Dean slipped behind the wheel and slammed the door as Sam climbed in beside him; he fired up the engine and the Impala gave a roar of delight at his touch.
Finally, they pulled away, leaving Bobby standing on the doorstep smiling sadly as he watched his family leave.
They had been driving for several hours, passing through a number of small, forgettable towns despite Sam's pleas to stop; Dean was enjoying the feeling of his baby's wheel beneath his fingers and the wind in his hair far too much.
They eventually stopped when, and only when, Dean felt hungry enough to consider doing so; and as they explored the dismal little town they had arrived in Sam spied a drug store, disappearing inside before Dean had a chance to protest.
Dean leaned idly against a derelict outbuilding outside the drug store, and tucked into a bag of candy. He smiled to himself, there was no way on Earth he was going to accompany a man looking for hair dye into a store. Relaxing and chomping noisily on his candy, he watched the world go by; enjoying his new found freedom after the stifling confinement of the last few days.
Tipping the last few sweets into his mouth, he screwed the bag into a ball and began scanning the street for a trashcan.
All the sights and sounds of the busy street washed over him; a hubbub of white noise against a backdrop of shop-frontages, cars and crowds; he regarded the throngs of people walking by with glazed detachment until two people caught his eye.
A tall, elegantly dressed woman walked past, her stylish sandy hair brushing the collar of her crisp black jacket; the curves of her fitted jeans and heeled boots drawing Dean's admiring attention. She led a little blonde girl by the hand; trotting happily alongside her mother, the pretty little thing tightly hugged a toy dog and gazed curiously up at Dean with big brown eyes. He smiled down at her, with a little wave, as they passed.
The woman turned; a warm smile playing on her high-cheeked face. He looked into her grey eyes, and his heart froze.
Stunned, he stood unblinking as he watched the pair walk past and shook his head in confusion as he dwelt on that face. No, it can't be … It must be all those friggin' painkillers Sam's been shoving down me. He watched the two figures walk away. Until the woman turned again and looked back at him with a beckoning smile.
Against his better judgement, he began to follow them through the busy main street; threading his way through the crowds, never losing sight of them. He watched intently as the woman led the little girl into a side road.
"Hey?" He called, trying to keep his voice light so as not to scare the woman or her daughter. When she stopped and turned to face him, Dean instantly saw there was no fear in her grey eyes, just an affectionate warmth.
Dean approached them slowly. "A-are you …?"
The woman smiled, and looked deep into Dean's eyes; "thank you, my beloved friend." She reached up gently laid a palm against the side of Dean's face. Gradually, her striking grey eyes drifted from his, fixing on a spot somewhere behind him.
He turned to look, but there was nothing to see; puzzled, he turned back, but the woman and her child were gone.
Now he really was bewildered; was he seeing things or was that really the woman from within the spirit?
He shrugged to himself, and decided to head back towards the drug store; Sam must have chosen which shade of friggin' black or brown or whatever he wanted to be by now.
As he walked back towards the main street, he could hear a commotion, and turning into main street, he saw a crowd of people around the spot where he had just been standing. As he approached them, Sam burst from the crowd and dashed towards him, his face a wide-eyed mask of panic.
He ran up to Dean and pulled him into a hug, "Dean, thank God, I thought I'd lost you again."
Dean squirmed out of the hug; "okay, calm down dude, I only went for a wander," he gasped. God, this day was getting weirder by the minute.
"No," Sam gulped frantically, pointing back up the street. "Right where I left you standing; look, a storm drain collapsed, the whole side of the building collapsed into it." The both stared at the half buried pile of rubble, a haze of thick, choking dust floating around it. "You would have been right there - where it came down.""Dean," he choked, "I thought you were under that lot; you would have been dead for sure."
Dean stared open mouthed at the pile of rubble, the flurry of activity around it, the wailing sirens, the milling crowds. He turned back to Sam, wide eyed and speechless. Sam gently shook his shoulder; "hey, what's wrong dude, you look like you've seen a ghost."
Snapping back into alertness, Dean gathered his wits and smiled back at his brother; "seen one, saved by one…"
Sam frowned, "Uh?"
Dean chuckled, looking back towards the little side road; "never mind," he grinned, slapping Sam hard on the back.
"C'mon bitch, I'm hungry, I want that burger you promised me."