Dean scowled. Pregnant women shouldn't flounce. "Slow down. Liz, I said I'd take my own bath. Sam can nursemaid me into it."
Abby had gone upstairs to take a shower. Liz and Sam were on either side of Dean. She halted their slow progress toward Abby’s bedroom and set a hand on her hip. "Dean, look at your brother."
He did. Sam was in mid-wince with a hand pressed against his ribs.
"Just pullin' you up off the furniture put a strain on him. Now stop being so prickly and lean on me just to the bedroom door then I'll happily leave you to Sam."
Liz kept her word, supporting him down a short hallway to the door of Abby's room. "Abby has the most beautiful bath tub and it's right next to that gorgeous bed of hers. When you get all dozey and relaxed you just dry off and fall straight into bed."
Liz rose up on tip-toes and kissed Dean cheek. Her hard, round belly pressed briefly against his waist. "You're gonna be fine." She smiled at Sam. "You too, little brother."
The boys stood together in the doorway after she left, reluctant to cross the threshold. This was definitely a grown woman's room not the pink shrine upstairs in the loft. A four-poster bed stood against the wall. Every horizontal surface, the carved wood dresser, bedside tables, and bookshelves, held framed photographs. It was a revelation to Dean to realize that after only being here a few days he recognized many of the faces.
"There's Dad again," Dean said. Sam glanced over, but kept them moving toward the big bed.
A huge claw footed tub dominated the other side of the room. It seemed to float on a pool of blue tiles set into the wood floor in front of a large south facing window. The outermost ring of tiles each held a different rune. Dean could only guess at their witchy significance. Copper pipes came straight up out of the floor so the big old fashioned faucet handles were in the middle of one long side of the porcelain tub.
Sam lightly pressed him down to sit on the edge of Abby's bed. "It still freaks me out," he said, "… to think Dad's been coming here for years." Sam lifted the afghans from Dean's shoulders.
Dean felt goose flesh spring up across at the loss of their warmth. "You ever notice that Abby's whole house is one giant scrap book?"
Sam's hands paused over Dean's boot laces. The abrupt change of subject hadn't snagged his attention as much as the weariness in his brother's voice. He reined in his Daddy angst. "Yeah, woman has a camera fetish." Sam pulled off Dean’s boots.
Dean scooted his butt to the edge of the bed and barely managed to stand up. He cursed rudely when Sam reached for the button of his jeans.
"Dean, dude, either I help you with that, or Liz'll be back in here wondering where I am. She'll have you stripped and in that tub in ten seconds flat. Is that what you want?"
Dean glared, but allowed the task to be accomplished. Only the steaming aromas coming from the tub got him through the humiliating process of letting his little brother undress him and wrap a fluffy, yellow towel around his waist.
Sam ran his fingers across the top of the water, "Hmmm, looks like about fifty gallons of hot milk." He took a deep breath. "Smells great. Is that rosemary?"
Dean glanced sideways at the wistful look on his brother's face. "Don't get any ideas; I'm not sharin'. You can go now." Dean flicked his fingers toward the door then leaned a hand lightly on the side of the tub and raised one foot up over the side.
Sam looked at him skeptically. "Don't get the bandages wet."
"I know." Dean sucked air through his teeth as his foot sank into the milky water.
"That towel's gonna have to come off."
"I know! Sam get the hell out of here!"
"Okay, okay!" Sam backed away slowly. He kept his eyes on his brother till Dean had dropped the towel and lowered himself safely into the tub. He closed the door gently then leaned his back against it for a moment listening. "Ah man,” Sam whispered. “This mother hen thing is genetic. We must have gotten it from Mom." He snorted softly. "Sure as hell wasn't Dad." He pushed himself off the door and walked slowly back to the living room, half an ear on the man in the tub still.
Dean let out a heavy sigh when he finally heard the bedroom door click shut. He couldn't sink as far down into the blessedly hot water as he wanted to with his wrists propped up on the sides of the tub, but he scrunched down until the water lapped up over his shoulders. The steam rose into his face so heavily scented he could almost taste it. He laid his head against the rolled edge and closed his eyes.
Random memories from the night skittered across his mind and kept his belly tense. But, each time he inhaled, the herbal scents of the steam filled his head and edged out a little more of the terror. Heat penetrated skin, muscles and deep into bone. He felt his body grow heavy.
Though his eye lashes had weights tied to them, Dean knew that he just wasn't going to be able to enjoy this one hundred percent until he was clean. What he needed was a scrub brush on a nice long stick so he could get his torso free of every last molecule of that bloody…
The smell of blood and sulfurous smoke sucker punched him. His stomach clawed into his throat. He was back on the altar! Not a memory. Real. His skin crawled. The priests' brushes raked him as they painted on the symbols. Dean hunched forward, eyes clinched shut; his arms moving to protect his chest.
Gentle hands closed over his and cut the flashback off like a faucet. He hunched over in the water, breathing in ragged gasps.
"It's okay, Dean. We're all home."
"Abby?" He barely managed to croak her name past the knot in his throat.
Her voice came softly, close to his ear. "Yeah. You're okay. Sit back."
"What the hell? I didn't fall asleep." He shook his head as if to scramble the images in it. "This…this crap was happening in the car, but I thought…I thought the house would stop it, had stopped it."
"It did." Abby pressed her cheek against the side of his sweat slicked face and held it there till his breathing slowed. "Sit back," she whispered.
He started to comply then remembered where he was and in what state. His hands moved of their own volition toward the water. She tightened her grip.
"Wait, wait, you can't get our wrists wet. Don't worry, your modesty's intact". She guided his hands to the sides of the tub. "I can't see a thing through this milky water."
Dean forced his clenched jaws to relax and opened his eyes just enough to check out the surface of the water. After several seconds of trying to penetrate the murk, he decided it was safe enough. Dean allowed a flick of a smirk to tug at his lips at the note of disappointment he'd heard a second ago in Abby's voice. He pulled in a deep breath and leaned back against the tub, his body trembling with adrenalin.
"A flashback's not the same as what you went through outside the gate. There's nothing demonic tainting your system anymore. Lean your head back on this towel." She put a hand on his forehead and gently pushed it back. He looked up to an upside down view of her. Abby's hair was wet. Dark ringlets clung to her neck and lay against the collar of a pale pink robe.
"Doc says you'll have some Post Traumatic Stress Disorder to deal with. I'm gonna wash your hair."
"I'm gonna wash your hair."
"No, no. PTSD; like the guys coming back from Iraq?"
She smoothed back his hair. Dean felt a pang of embarrassment at how grimy it must be, but then Abby poured warm water onto the top of his head. It melted through the grime like Aretha Franklin's voice through a cold heart. He let out a sigh instead of the protest he'd intended. The adrenalin melt away. She worked the water through his hair with one hand and it splatter onto the tile.
"Abby, I'm a hunter. I've dealt with trauma since I was four."
"Uh huh. Ever have your brother kidnapped by a demon, bring him back to life in a blizzard, get tortured, then kicked out of your own body before?"
"Hmmm," he mused, mustering up a frown. "Guess not."
"Well then, that kind of trauma takes some adjusting to even for a hunter. Doc says the symptoms aren't likely to last long."
Dean heard the squeak of a squeeze bottle and a new scent reached his nose; strong, clean lemon. Abby massaged shampoo into his hair with magic fingers that moved in delicious little circles all over his scalp.
"I'll give you three days to stop that," Dean murmured.
Abby pressed her fingertips lightly to his temples and the little circles started again. "You won't necessarily have all the symptoms. Flashbacks get triggered by just about anything; a sound, smell. They're unpredictable."
"Great. Did you go through any of this?"
"Oh yeah. Woke up screaming for a month."
"Don't worry, I was extremely naive at the time. That fiasco was my intro to hunting, remember?"
"And you still wanted to hunt?"
"Yeah, weird, huh?"
Her fingers worked up along his hair line then back over the top of his scalp, her thumbs kneading two spots at the back of his neck. He felt kinks release with almost audible little pops over the rest of his body.
"You might want to talk to Dr. Q at some point."
He shifted in the tub. A few of the kinks knotted back into place. "About what? She a shrink too?"
"No. She's just seen at lot. She'll understand what's going on with you, might have some good advice. I think that's why your dad likes being with her."
They sat in silence. Abby massaged the lemon shampoo into a frothy mound. A dollop of it plopped onto the tile floor. He looked up through slitted eyelids as she reached around him with a white ceramic pitcher; the old fashioned kind with the fat round bottom, and dipped it full of the milky water. With one hand pressed to his forehead Abby poured the water down over his head rinsing away the shampoo and the grime till his scalp tingled and her fingers squeaked against his clean hair.
She continued in the same soft reassuring voice. "Doc says terror overload causes PTSD. It's a defense mechanism. If your emotions didn't shut down while the event’s actually happening, you'd probably get yourself killed."
Abby dipped a fluffly-looking sponge on a stick into the hot water and began to scrub his torso like she had his scalp in little circles.
Dean felt awkward again. The intimacy of the situation was unlike anything he'd experienced before; at once sensual and practical, indulgent and necessary. He listened for any strain in her voice as she continued to relate what Doc had told her. He heard none; saw no timidity in her movements, only gentle thoroughness.
"So all this terror doesn't just go away," Abby continued. "It gets stored in your mind somewhere and once the fight's over and it's safe to feel all of it, it starts to leak out. You get it in small doses that you can deal with one at a time."
The ache in Dean's wrists resting along the sides of the tub subsided to a barely noticeable hum. The rest of his body became one with the hot water, the skin of his chests and abdomen where Abby skimmed the sponge tingled pleasantly. He hissed in a breath when she reached the tender skin at his throat.
"Nah. Scrub it clean."
Abby reached around him; he felt her body press the top of his head as she removed the sponge from the stick and dipped it to the surface of the water to let it fill. She gently tipped his chin up and squeezed the warm water down over his throat. Dean felt her lips brush his forehead.
"Can you lean forward?"
Move? She wanted him to move? Dean felt like he'd soaked up most of the water in the tub like the sponge and weighed three hundred pounds. He wasn't at all sure he could move. Move?
"Sure, no problem."
With supreme effort he managed to lift his head. It felt like a bowling ball on the end of a wet noodle. His abs were completely useless. He had to grip the sides of the tub to pull himself up. Pain lanced up his arms. "Damn it!"
Strong, soft hands on his shoulders helped him sit up. The water sloshed toward his feet in a little wave that lapped the end of the tub. A groan escaped his lips as Abby started her meticulous scrubbing across his back. This was about as close to ecstasy as he was likely to get alone in the tub.
"You know, that's the first time you've lied to me," Abby said.
"What?" He wasn't sure he'd heard her. His focus was drifting lazily between the sponge skimming along his skin and her hand on his shoulder supporting him.
"Nope, no lies except that little white one just now."
He frowned. "Sure I did."
"Sorry to mess with your world view, but no, you haven't."
He frowned some more; tried to send his water logged mind back through the past few days. The sponge was too distracting. He'd never met a women, or anybody for that matter that he didn't lie to about something within the first fifteen minutes of meeting them. False names, occupations, quick talk to smooth the road to whatever he needed on the hunt. Lies came as naturally to him as breathing. "I'll have to work on that."
"You'll never get away with it. Remember, my gift.” Abby’s voice went sing-songy. “I'll always know.”
Dean couldn't see her face, but he could hear her smiling. He sighed. "I'm gifted too, ya know."
"Is that a challenge Mr. Winchester?"
"For you maybe. I'm that good."
He smiled a bleary smile and let his chin droop to his chest.
The last words he heard were, "Dean?" Abby's soft chuckle. "Dean, stay awake while I get Sam." Her lips on his forehead. "I'll just be a sec…"