Dean's jaws ached from clenching his teeth so hard. While Abby drove and Sam dozed, Dean fought sleep.
The demon greeted him, every time his eyelids drooped closed. His father and Vetis changed places as torturer in bizarre, twisted flashbacks. He drowned, and choked and burned over and over in jumbled, fast forward nightmares.
We're safe, we're safe, we're safe. His silent mantra slowed his heart each time he woke then exhaustion would pull him into the nightmare again.
Dean clung desperately to the promise of reaching Abby’s house, sanctuary from the nightmares that gibbered and shrieked in his head. By the time they pulled up to the curb, he was clinging to control by his fingernails. He tried to open the door, winced and let out a frustrated growl.
"I got it," Sam said quietly and reached across to push it open.
Dean swung his legs out. Stubbornness got him to his feet and he started limping across the street before Abby and Sam could get to his side.
"Y'all get in here before me and the baby freeze to death!"
Dean looked up from his determined trudge. New snow draped the garden like a clean white sheet. Liz stood at Abby's gate wrapped in a purple shawl. She clucked and fussed at them as they walked, commenting on everything from the state of their hair to the injustice of the weather. Dean found her chatter a welcome distraction from the renewing clamor of Vetis's voice in his skull. He gave her a reproachful look when they made it to the curb and she suddenly grew quiet.
Liz opened the gate wide. Abby slipped in first.
Dean stepped into Abby's garden eagerly.
A ripping sensation like duct tape pulled off his insides started in his gut and tore up behind his eyeballs.
"Oh God. Sam!" Sam caught him as his knees gave out. Sweat broke out all over Dean’s body. Vetis's voice raged.
"Sam, take him back!" Abby ordered. "Get him out of the garden."
"What's happening?" Sam dragged Dean back to the curb. Abby followed them out.
Liz worriedly closed the gate. "Dang it. Abby, can you take your wards down?"
"No. That's not possible." She turned to Dean. "He's in your head, isn't he?"
Dean managed a nod. Desperation clogged his throat. "Abby, you're house isn't gonna let me in is it?" Sam's arm tightened around him.
"No, Dean." Abby cupped his tormented face in both hands and brought her eyes level with his. "That's not it at all. It won't let Vetis in."
Dean frowned at her, confused.
"You're tainted. This happened to me too, all those years ago. But, much, much less intensely." She pressed her lips together. "I'm so sorry. You have to go through this one last trial. The wards won't allow any trace of the demonic to pass. They're going to clean it out of you."
"Feels like they're using a rusty wire brush."
"Abby, is there some other way?" Sam asked tightly.
Her hands slid from Dean's cheeks to rest on his shoulders. "No. It's the way the wards work. They're old and very powerful.” Abby took him by the elbows. "Don't fight them. They aren't harming you. They're just cleaning the wounds Vetis left. Unfortunately, they weren't designed to be gentle about it."
Dean searched her face looking for a loophole; some way around this. He saw none; just resolve and sympathy. One more trial. Liz’s expression was a twin to Abby's. He felt the solid warmth of Sam at his back. One more.
Dean set his teeth and walked back through the gate.
Knowing what to expect didn't make it any easier. Abby and Sam stayed at his elbows. Liz walked backwards, coaxing him on. Each of Abby's wards had its own method. The ripping sensation gave way to a burning fever that flashed through him and turned his skin bright red. The fever broke into a drenching sweat which segued into something like soul cramps. When the cramps stopped, Dean was left with the weird, but comforting sense that his soul had snapped back into its proper shape again. The last thing that struck him was an explosive, cleansing sneeze that pushed Liz against the front door and left Dean face-down in her belly.
"Sorry, kid," Dean said, then, "Sam, pull me up."
Six hands gently pulled and pushed him upright. Dean checked himself over. Other than soreness in every muscle and the now familiar throbbing in both wrists, he felt…fantastically clean. At least on the inside. Dean smiled tiredly.
Sam grinned. Abby and Liz gave each other a high five.
Abby and Sam flopped into chairs after gently settling Dean onto the couch. The smell of something edible wafted through the room. A fire crackled in the hearth. Liz whisked the parka off Dean's shoulders and replaced it with several soft, knitted afghans. He hoped they were washable. He felt at least an inch of grime and worse coating every inch of his skin.
"Ahhh Liz, what are you cooking?" Sam asked.
"I'm starving!" Abby said sounding surprised.
"It’s chicken soup. What about you, Dean?" Liz asked.
"No thanks, Liz. Not yet." He didn't think he could hold a spoon, let alone a bowl of soup and didn't relish the idea of being fed like an infant. What he really wanted was a shower, but the thought of standing up long enough to scrub away the grime made him bite back a frustrated moan.
Liz put steaming mugs of chicken soup into Abby and Sam's hands. She pressed Abby down when a knock came to the door. "It's gotta be Doc. I'll get it."
Before Liz got to the door a man poked his head in. "Knock, knock."
Dr. Hanson was younger than Dean had expected of someone still willing to make house calls. His neatly trimmed hair was salted with grey. He reminded Dean of Atticus Finch. He set an honest-to-God, old fashioned leather doctor's bag down on the coffee table.
"Three patients I see," he said sweeping a level gaze over each of them. He offered Sam his hand as he introduced himself. "I'm Jack Hanson."
"Sam Winchester. Thanks for coming so quickly."
"Not a problem," Doc said pleasantly
When Dr. Hanson turned to Dean, the man's bright, penetrating eyes made him feel like an x-ray machine wouldn't be necessary for this exam.
"And you must be Dean. We can forgo the handshake."
"I'd appreciate that. Thanks for comin'."
"You'll just have two patients, Doc," Abby said as Doc began laying out his supplies. "I'm all right. Just the usual scratches and bruises."
"I'm all right too," Sam added started to move off the couch.
"Sam," Dean laid the back of one bandaged wrist on his brother's knee.
Sam sat back down reluctantly, his hand straying to the three parallel scratches on his cheek. "Dean's first."
"Oh yes, I'd say so," Doc agreed. Pushing the coffee table full of supplies back a bit, Doc knelt in front of Dean, rolled up his sleeves and donned latex gloves. "You look like you had the closest encounter with the demon."
Dean raised one eyebrow at Abby. She smiled and shrugged. He should have expected it. Of course Doc was in the loop. "Yeah, you could say that."
Dean braced himself as the doctor unwrapped his wrists, but Doc's hands were deft and gentle. In less than ten minutes he had the long, shallow wounds cleaned and re-bandaged.
Doc propped his hands on his knees and fixed everyone with a direct Atticus Finch look. "Now, I'd like the three of you to busy yourselves in the kitchen. Dean and I are going to have a private conversation."
Eyebrows rose all around. Sam looked as if he might rebel, but Abby went behind the couch and tugged him up by his collar. "Sure, we'll make some tea.”
As the others disappeared through the kitchen door, Doc said. "Lets have a look at your torso, son."
Dean nodded his permission. Doc's deft, probing touches were feather light, but Dean's whole body was tender as hell.
"Dean, I need to know the particulars about the ritual. It's not idle curiosity. The more I know, the better I'll treat your injuries both physical and psychic."
Dean shifted uncomfortably on the couch. "Psychic? You're not a regular doctor are you?"
Doc gave him a little smile. "Not just a regular doctor, no. Nothing seems to be broken. Not any more anyway." He wrapped the blankets back around Dean’s shoulders.
His heart thudding against his chest, Dean rolled his shoulders a bit under the blankets. "What do you need to know?"
Doc got out a pad and pencil. "Tell me everything you remember from the first physical contact."
Doc's questions were concise, his voice detached. The few places where Dean had to stop, Doc waited patiently then prompted him to go on without a drop of sympathy or pity in his voice. He took copious notes.
When at last they both fell silent, Dean let out a shaky sigh. No more than thirty seconds passed before Sam, Abby and Liz returned cautiously to the living room. Dean knew from the stricken looks on their faces that they'd heard every word of the "private conversation". Ah hell!
"Abby, these are prescriptions for antibiotics and pain medication,” Doc said handing Abby several slips of paper. “Don't fill them unless the teas don't seem to be handling the pain or Dean develops a fever." He tore off another sheet from a larger pad. "This is the regimen I'd like Dean to follow over the next week. Take a look. Let me know if you need any of the ingredients for the bath."
Liz read over Abby's shoulder. "She’s got everything. I'll get it ready right now.”
Dean put up a hand. "Now wait just a minute, Liz. I can take my own damned bath."
"I'm just gettin' it ready for you, Dean. Doc's got some particular instruction that's all. I won't be the one in there with you."
Doc smiled at the grim look on Dean’s face then turned to Sam. "Sam, why don't you help your brother get ready then you're my next patient."
Dean smirked to see Sam squirm a little under Doc’s penetrating gaze. He hadn't taken a real, sit-down bath in years. Gallons and gallons of hot water soaking off the crud and he wouldn't have to stand up to do it. Sweet. He'd just have to make sure Liz wasn't within scrubbing distance.