** See Part 1 for full story notes and disclaimer.
PART 22 NOTES: And we've finally come to the end. Thank you all so much for the wonderful comments throughout the posting of this story. It's been almost two years since I saw the first scene pop into my head, literally out of nowhere, and I'm both saddened and contented to see it completed. I hope this part is a fitting conclusion to what has come before. Warm and grateful thanks to Lynette for all of her time, advice and friendship. She never lets me down, even when we disagree on a plot point. Any remaining mistakes are mine alone as I tend to fiddle up until the very last second. Bad habit, that. (vbg) As always, any and all feedback is appreciated.
Face carefully blank, Bobby rested one hand on Sam's arm, the other on Dean's where it lay lifeless across his stomach. "Whether you can accept it or not doesn't make the possibility any less true." As gentle as their friend was, his brother's face still blanched, hand tightening into a fist, but he didn't, or couldn't, say anything in response.
Dean scanned his brother's face, his unusually hooded eyes, and wondered what he'd done to deserve to see the day he put that expression on Sam's face. Guilt aside, he was still trapped outside of his body and if Bobby was right the only thing getting him back inside was himself. "Great, Dean. You're screwed, you know that?"
MARCUS SILAS'S HOUSE, TURKEY HILL, KENTUCKY
Tuesday, 12:21 am
Dean stared into Bobby's eyes, a wave of lightheadedness washing over him.
If Bobby was right, and he usually was, Dean had to want to get back into his body. He had to want it with every cell and every thought. He had to give up the tiny thought of rest and not fighting, had to embrace everything that had happened to him - the good, the bad, even the nightmarish. He wasn't sure he could do that. He'd spent his life shoving things down, bottling them up, keeping them so far from his conscious thoughts he truly didn't think he could dredge them back up. But maybe he didn't have to. Maybe all it would take would be to just accept them?
"It can't be that easy." Although 'easy' wasn't exactly the term he'd use if pressed. Torturous and next to impossible came to mind much more clearly. He lay back down, lining up limbs as he'd done the first time. He looked from his brother to Bobby and back, lingering for just a second or two on the lines that hadn't been present a year and a half ago. Then he let his eyes slide closed.
He had no idea what he had to do to accept that hidden thought buried inside. Hell, he didn't even know how he could be held responsible for an idea never even floated let alone really thought. But apparently demon spells didn't care about little technicalities like that. They went by the strictest letter of the law. He'd have to remember that in the future.
So exactly what would happen if his body died? His spirit would move on, presumably, and Sam would give him a hunter's funeral. There would be no more getting tossed across rooms, no more digging up graves in the middle of the night during some of the worst conditions in the U.S., no more wounds bleeding all over his Impala waiting to be stitched up by him or his brother, no more driving all over hell's half acre on flimsy clues ferreted out from local newspapers, no more almost getting turned into a vampire or werewolf because the damn things were so freaking fast, no more... Just no more. Now that he started listing the pros off he was finding a hell of a lot more than he'd ever thought possible. And now that he thought about it, the idea of giving it all up and letting someone else carry the burden of saving the world was starting to sound pretty appealing.
But what about Sam? What about Bobby? He figured Bobby would be fine. He'd grieve, he'd have a few drinks in Dean's honor and then he'd move on with his life. And Sam? Dean knew his brother would take it harder than their friend, but Sam was strong. Sam was so much stronger than Dean. His little brother had found the strength to leave the family, leave the hunt and go after the life he'd dreamed of for so long. Sam had thrived without him around, he could do it again. He would do it again. As much as he disliked the thought, Dean couldn't deny its truth.
Yet even as the scales tipped wildly in favor of letting go, his chest, incorporeal as it was, tightened sharply. Bobby would move on and Sam would thrive, but something inside Dean didn't want them to have to. He'd learned how to fight from his dad - how to fight for the family, how to fight to save lives, how to fight to stay one step ahead of the authorities. But most of all he'd learned how to fight to stay alive. He couldn't kill the bad things if he was dead, no matter how much it might be nice to finally have some peace.
His life was the fight, the struggle to keep others safe, to keep his little brother safe.
He couldn't simply give up. He didn't know how.
And that was all there was to it.
Weight filled his chest, spread to his gut and down his legs. His head sank into the dirt, shoulders and arms pressing him down. His eyes flew open, lungs gasping with a sudden lack of air.
He'd remember to tell his brother later that shouting into the ear of a recently dispossessed spirit did nothing to keep a headache at bay, but at the moment he was too happy to see, to feel, to have weight once again. "Hey, Sammy." He sounded like ass. He sounded like worse than ass. But at least he was making audible sound again.
"Dean, you're awake." And his brother had become a master of understatement while he'd been gone. "It worked. Breaking the spell worked."
"Yeah, Sammy, it did. You did good." He pushed himself up onto his elbows, winced, then continued with the motion until he was sitting, muscles aching with a deep throb. "You, too, Bobby." Giving them their moment of victory before reaming them by demanding to know what the hell they'd been doing working with a demon wasn't easy, but he never had a chance to start on the second part.
Still kneeling at his side, Sam crushed him into his chest, arms wrapping tight around his back. Dean froze for a split second before tentatively returning the hug, his abused body protesting the constriction. It wasn't often they even touched aside from shoves and slaps on the back, let alone full on embraced. He figured the occasion merited a temporary suspension of the normal rules. After patting at his brother's back awkwardly, Dean managed to pull away a fraction of an inch only to feel Sam's arms tighten. His eyebrows rose at the gesture. They were now well past the realm of chick flick and into disturbingly uncomfortable. Eyes flicking over to meet Bobby's, only one thing came to mind. "Bobby?"
Apparently, the other man hadn't lost his ability to interpret Dean's every expression. "Four days, Dean."
"Just give me a minute, okay?" Sam asked quietly, voice only audible because it was right next to Dean's ear. "I just need a minute."
Dean relaxed, his own eyes closing. Sam's sudden need to use him as a woobie made instant sense. If his brother needed to hold onto him for a little while to reassure himself Dean was really there, well, Dean could deal with it. Just this once.
He heard Bobby turn away, presumably to gather the miscellaneous paraphernalia they'd used to get into Silas's house and to destroy the spell, giving them the illusion of privacy. Dean appreciated the consideration, but wasn't so naive to think this moment wouldn't be used for leverage at some later date. It's what friends were for in their world.
By the time Sam was ready to let go, Bobby had the backpacks loaded and was holding the flashlights thankfully out of their faces. Sam held him by the shoulders and smiled, teeth gleaming in the bright light. "Let's get out of here. I've had more than enough of Better Homes and Gardens eighteen hundreds style to last two lifetimes."
He nodded and started dragging himself to his feet, inch by pain filled inch, when a thought hit home. "We can't leave yet."
"Matt's still here." Well, his physical body was, anyway. He couldn't be sure about his spirit, but he wasn't about to take the chance.
"Who's Matt?" Sam asked, scanning the room as if he expected another person to simply appear out of thin air. "And why do we care?"
Bobby, however, had already gotten there. "Matt. Matthew Turner. What do you mean he's still here? He died a hundred and fifty years ago."
"Yeah, he did. When Silas killed him and used him to activate the spell in the first place." He pointed at the dirt at his feet, hand shaking ever so slightly. "He's buried right there. His spirit's been trapped here ever since. We need to find a shovel and put him to rest by burning this entire house of horrors to the ground." He must have sounded as if he meant it because neither man uttered a single question.
"This was a farm once," Bobby said. "There should be a couple of shovels hidden around here somewhere."
"I'll see if there's any salt in the kitchen and maybe something we can use for accelerant." Sam gave him a tight lipped smile before following Bobby's bouncing flashlight up the stairs.
A long breath eased from his chest, loosening the ball of lead sitting there slightly. "Matt, if you're listening, just sit back. We'll have you out of here in no time." At least Silas was burning and screaming in hell where he belonged. No one else would die by his hand or magic in his desire to cheat death. Dean hoped the witch was getting the extra special treatment from the denizens of the pit. For all of his scheming he still ended up right where he should have gone way back in 1855. Dean smiled, feeling more than a little petty and not caring in the slightest. Silas should have just up and died. It would have been easier on him in the long run.
He stared down at the rough circle of darkened dirt, colored with his blood, with Bobby's blood. His smile disappeared abruptly. He owed Bobby more than he could ever repay him, but that wouldn't stop him from trying anyway. Dean didn't know how and he didn't know exactly what, but he was going to find something. The thumping of feet on the stairs yanked his head up away from the stained dirt.
"I have salt and I have lamp oil." Sam sounded as if he'd sprinted all over the house in order to find them. Then again, as fast as he'd gotten back he just might have. Dean had a feeling it might take his brother a few days to trust he wasn't going to up and disappear on him.
"Maybe we should thank Silas for not upgrading to electricity all those years ago." He ignored the piece of rope Sam sent flying his way as it bounced harmlessly off his chest. His brother continued opening the smallish burlap bag of salt without looking up. "It's kind of appropriate we're using his own supplies to torch his house."
Sam set the bag against one of the walls and leaned the ceramic jug next to it. "Ironic as well. I don't think he ever thought far enough ahead to worry about it."
"No, the cocky son of a bitch just never thought he'd ever get caught."
"All right, boys," Bobby interrupted them as he reentered the room. "Let's get to digging." He held three oddly shaped shovels, one almost spade-like, the other two more like flat steel plates attached to wooden sticks. Rust spotted all of them and Dean saw a quarter sized hole in one. He grabbed a stick at random, quite sure he'd never take modern engineering for granted again.
It didn't take long for the three of them to dig down far enough to start seeing the telltale signs of a human corpse. Silas had abandoned the traditional six feet under for a much easier on the back two feet. Tiny scraps of cloth started to litter the clods and soon actual bones became visible.
"He didn't even use a pine box."
Dean would have found something to say to comfort his brother if he wasn't so enraged himself. Matt being denied a hunter's funeral was bad enough. His body tossed inside an empty hole dug in the ground without so much as a protective covering was something entirely different. Why he'd been expecting anything else from the witch, he had no idea, but there it was. His own sense of basic decency reared its head at the sight. He hoped the bastard earned himself a few extra rounds of torment for that one.
"Put all the bones in here," Bobby said, expression somber as he held out the emptied back pack. "We'll take him outside and do it proper, away from this place."
If Bobby had ever done anything to piss Dean off in his life, that single bit of consideration canceled it out, as well as anything the other man might think about doing in the future. "Thanks." He turned away before he could see the look on Sam's face. He was feeling rough enough as it was, he didn't need his brother rubbing away at the thin spots unconsciously.
"How do you know Turner's here?" Sam asked, carefully sifting through the dirt with his hands and extracting another rib from the thick brown mess.
"I got a nice long chat with him over the past few days." He added a wrist and finger bone to the growing pile. "It was educational to say the least."
"You'll have to tell me about it one day."
"Maybe." Thankfully, Sam didn't ask him to clarify because he had no idea how he would have answered. Something about his time with Matt made him want to keep it to himself, no matter how idiotic it sounded in his head.
They worked in a silence Dean was loathe to interrupt with one of his normal gravity breaking comments until Bobby stood, stretching his back with a loud snap. "If there are any more bones in there, Turner had a few extra he never told anyone about."
Gritting his teeth against the urge to tell Bobby the murdered hunter had a first name, Dean used his shovel to push himself to his feet. "I'll take it," he said, holding out his hand for the pack. The two femurs caused a lopsided bulge in one of the upper corners of the zipper, but it slipped over his shoulder all the same. The bag was much heavier than a set of human bones warranted and Dean refused to allow his brain to dwell on the possible connotations. This was a job. One with a personal element, but at the end of the day he was putting a spirit to a well deserved rest. Anything else would have to wait until later. He watched, silent, as Sam poured a layer of salt across the shallow grave and over the dark patches of dirt to its side. It wouldn't be necessary with Matt out of the hole, but Dean appreciated the gesture nonetheless.
"By the way," he said, eyes straying to the iron stake sticking out over the main doors. "What were you two doing working with a demon? I thought I'd made it clear we don't trust demons."
"Be thankful we did listen to her," Bobby returned. And if he was just a little defensive Dean was still too appreciative to be breathing to call him on it. "I'd never even heard of half of the things she had us do."
"Not to mention the pure power she used to bust open the spell guarding the stairs. Neither of us could have done that even if we had known what to do."
"Relax, Sam." His brother was tripping over himself to explain. It wasn't a pretty sight. "I'm not going to tear you a new one for saving my ass. At least not right now. Maybe later. When I have time to think about it." He added a grin he didn't really feel for Sam's sake and continued out of the door. At the end of the day, a demon was a demon was still a demon. "Where do you think, Bobby?"
The other man's flashlight made a circuit of the clearing before landing on a spot about fifty feet away from the porch. "That looks good to me. Sam, see if you can find some downed limbs. I'll gather the kindling."
Dean didn't have to ask what his portion of the job entailed as the other two men walked into the wood line. He set the back pack on the ground and headed back into the house, jug of oil in one hand, bag of salt and flashlight in the other. The smooth floor of the entry flickered in the bright white beam as he stepped across the threshold. He glanced to his right and frowned. Silas had candles burning the last Dean had seen. A quick excursion into the room explained the lack of candlelight. The candles had been blown out of their holders, probably in the two blasts of the spell breaking, and lay abandoned on their sides on the floor, wax pooling underneath each wick.
He returned to the entry, glancing up at the chandelier with a frown. Those candles were still in place, but knocked askew and leaning out at angles that defied gravity. Putting them out of his mind, he began pouring oil, his lips lifting with the splatter of every drop. The salt quickly followed, more for good measure than anything else. The spell was already toast. This was simply a matter of finishing the job. He smiled down at the shimmering design on the immaculate hardwood and felt warmth spread throughout his chest. Yep, definitely what was needed.
Taking the remaining oil and salt back out to Matt's patiently waiting bones and the pile of wood already forming a small, oblong pyramid, Dean's smile melted off his face. If he had known their time together was going to end so abruptly he would have asked if Matt had any last requests or if there was anything Dean could do for him other than to burn him into ashes. It was the only remaining course of action he could see and he would have liked the other hunter's advice. Kneeling with the bag tilted to catch the most light, he wished the stars felt like giving out just a little more illumination, what with the moon barely giving out any of its own, so he could turn off the flashlight. It seemed just slightly disrespectful to use artificial light, but there was little he could do about it. Sliding the zipper open, he stared down at the yellowed bones, chest back to its uncomfortable tightness. He reached for the collar of his shirt once again only to remember he was still wearing the uber-preppy clothes Silas had been dressed in. "Sam had better have some jeans stashed away for me or there goes his get out of jail free card." Angling the flashlight against the pack to free both hands, he reached for the sliced up cloth covering his chest before he could second guess the idea. One quick pull had the ragged edges separated and the smooth skin of his chest revealed.
The mark was gone, truly gone. Not even a trace of an outline remained where it had been. His breath exploded out of his lungs, his eyes closing for a long moment. At least he wouldn't have to carry that particular reminder around for the rest of his life. A quick examination of his hands showed only the faintest of pink lines remaining down the center of his palms. At the rate the wounds seemed to be healing, they'd be gone before dawn. "And not a moment too soon," he said aloud.
"Silas bust your body upside the head a few times when we weren't looking?" Bobby asked, expression carefully void of the humor filling his voice as he walked up to the wood pile. "Or did you take up talking to yourself since Sam wasn't around to soak up your melodious tones?"
Taking up the flashlight once again, Dean stood, keeping his grin in check with an effort. "Ha ha. You're a real comedian. Maybe you should quit hunting and hit Vegas. I hear they're always looking for new talent." He could tell Bobby was just as pleased as he was to be back on their normal footing. He nodded at the pile of small branches and sticks Bobby had dumped onto the growing stack at his feet. "I see the wilds of Kentucky were no match for your skills."
"I am an excellent hunter, if you'll remember. Now help Sam carry those logs he found. He'll poke out an eye before he gets over here."
The crotchety order brought a smile he couldn't resist to his face. "We can't have that now, can we? He's a bad enough shot using both eyes." Sam was actually a very good shot, which Dean well knew. His brother had just never managed to beat him. The fact was extremely helpful when he ran out of fodder to tease him with. "Give me a couple of those," he said as he met up with Sam as he cleared the trees.
"Take the top three. They're a little awkward." If Sam was admitting even that, they had to be more than simply awkward. His arms were so long little had been a challenge for him to carry in years. "Is the house ready?"
"Just waiting to light it up." And he'd rarely said a statement with more truth. Joining Bobby once again, he nodded at the formation of wood the other man had created with the larger branches. "I want to start the house first." Two sets of eyes burned holes into the side of his head when he didn't look away from the building. "Just in case Matt's still around and can see it."
Five long seconds later, the sound of wood brushing against wood started again. Bobby nodded as he dug a book of matches out of his pocket. That Bobby had them tucked away on his person was unexpected, but not necessarily shocking. Dean caught the book without thought before it could bounce off his chest. "No problem. You and Sam get it started. I'll finish up here."
Grateful for the other man's silent understanding, he shoved his brother's shoulder to get him moving. "Come on, Sam. Let's start us a fire."
"Gladly," Sam said, voice not quite as steady as Dean thought he'd wanted it to be. They paused at the doorway, double doors still hanging cockeyed. "Anything you want to say?"
Dean ripped the book in half and lit one of the pieces with a quick jerk. "Marcus Silas, I hope you're watching this from hell, because hearing it from a demon would just be rubbing salt in the wound. Sam?"
"Nope. I'm good."
He shrugged, took one last look at the arch on the far side of the entry and tossed the flame into the oil. It erupted with an audible whoosh, the design he'd drawn with atavistic glee suddenly visible. He smiled again, a petty thrill filling him. More than appropriate.
"Dean," his brother said in that tone he used when he thought Dean had done something completely childish. "I can't believe you did that."
"I can't believe you didn't think I wouldn't." He stared down at the giant burning smiley face and watched it lose shape as the fire started to spread across the floor. Without the protective spell to keep it together, the house was going to go up like so much dried kindling. "Sayonara, house. I'm sure you'll have the decency to continue burning without my supervision." Then he walked away, down the steps and back to what really mattered.
Bobby had the miniature pyre waiting as they walked up, the bones laid carefully over the top of the wood, a light sprinkling of salt glinting in the light of fire and flashlight. Picking up the sternum out of the pile, Dean ran his finger along the smooth, clean surface. The mark wasn't present, if it ever had been. He didn't know if breaking the spell had removed it and he probably never would. Seeing the empty bone was enough for him. "Rest well, Matt. You've earned it."
Neither man so much as made a sound at his uncharacteristic sentimentality. He stood and another quick motion had the second half of the book flaring to life. He dropped the matches into the pile, watching as it sputtered then caught. The three men stepped back as the flame grew hotter, higher, the heat coming off the house behind them warming their backs.
Movement on the other side of the pyre caught his eye and he frowned, body tightening instinctively. A man stood opposite them, out of the circle of light and hard to see with the fire destroying Dean's night vision. He glanced to his right and left, but Sam and Bobby were still watching Matt's bones burn. Dean squinted through the glare, his eyes adjusting slowly. The man was tall and lean with long dark hair running over both shoulders. His skin gleamed darkly in the flickering light, the whites of his eyes barely cutting through. A heavy circular amulet hung around his neck, framed by a vest worn open over his chest. The man returned Dean's glare, not smiling, not frowning, merely a meeting between equals. Dean wasn't sure where the thought came from, but it felt right, true. A second figure appeared next to the first, not walking, just appearing, and this one he did know. "Matt," he whispered, not positive the sound actually made it past his throat.
The long dead hunter placed a hand on the other man's shoulder and smiled, teeth a flash of white in the darkness.
The taller man's identity snapped into focus as if there was a neon sign flashing above his head. White Claw, the brother Matt had written about with such worry and affection, the brother he'd spoken about with care and sadness, the brother who had apparently waited for him all these years.
Warmth that had nothing to do with the fire filled his chest and gut, his eyes burning harshly as he stared over the dancing flames at the reunion. White Claw nodded once to Dean, a tiny trace of a smile lifting the corners of his mouth. Then the two spirits turned as one, as if they'd choreographed it ahead of time, and faded away between one step and the next.
Dean stared at the spot for a long moment, feeling lighter than he had since his dad had died. "It's okay, guys." Their heads swiveled to stare at him and he smiled. "We can go now. Matt's been released."
It was a testament to their faith in him when Bobby picked up the back pack without question, gripping one of the flashlights in his other hand. "Come on then. It's a long hike back."
"Wait a second," Sam said, one hand on Dean's arm stopping his progress. "This is yours." Tugging at a black cord around his neck, Sam brought the familiar amulet out from under his shirt and over his head in one smooth motion.
Dean took it with a sense of coming home. It settled around his neck easily, despite the yuppie clothes. "Thanks."
"Your other things are at Bobby's. I just thought-" he cut himself off with a shrug, smile embarrassed.
"Thanks," Dean repeated quietly. His brother's thoughtfulness was a trait he knew he'd never be able to emulate. It was a gift only Sam seemed to have in the family.
"All right." Nodding sharply, Bobby smiled broadly, eyes flashing from Sam to Dean. "Now we can hike out of here."
He made it all the way around the pyre before Bobby's words sank in. "I'm sorry. My ears must have been affected by the whole possession deal. Did you say hike? Where's my car?"
The other two men just kept walking. "It's at the end of the hike."
"And just how far is this hike going to be, Sam? I'm not exactly dressed for a stroll."
"You don't want to know, Dean. Trust me."
He stopped, flabbergasted they'd failed to mention the looming pedestrian travel when he still had a house full of clothes, and shoes, to choose from. "Just wait until you get possessed by a body stealing ghost. Don't bother asking me for help. You're on your own," he called at their backs, pretty sure he should be pissed at both of them at the moment. The sound of Sam's laughter floated back to him, Bobby's quieter chuckle only slightly less welcome.
"Hurry up, Dean," his brother said, spinning around to wave him on. "It's dark in these here woods. You'll get lost and I don't want to have to hunt you down again."
Letting his gaze trail back over the brightly burning pyre, he let the unfamiliar and vaguely uncomfortable feeling of contentment fill him. "Yeah," he answered his brother, turning to start after them again. "I'm right behind you."