Chapter 10. Welcome home
Chapter 10. Welcome home
Flying over the steps in groups of three, Dean ran down the stairs. In the landing of the first floor hall the hunter stopped and pivoted 360 degrees in an attempt to locate Jennifer. Not immediately seeing her, he hoped that at least the echo of her previous cry would magically guide him to the rescue.
"Jennifer?" Dean called out.
When she didn't respond, the hunter hesitated. Would she be in the living room or the kitchen? And why the hell was it suddenly so dark? Dean blinked and narrowed his eyes to try to pierce the gloom. His own mind seemed to be betraying him, and he advanced blindly through the hall with no real destination in mind other than anywhere that would break him away from his stupor.
The mental call escaped his mind before he could control it, and Dean clenched his fists as he chastised his unruly thoughts. He was afraid of getting an answer but at the same time yearning for confirmation that his mother was there, somewhere, watching him. When the familiar scent of roses wrapped him in a warm embrace, Dean gulped and followed it towards the kitchen. He recognized perfectly that he was feeling Mary's presence all over the place, and he was feeling it with such a painful intensity that he thought he would suffocate under its weight. As soon as he went through the kitchen door though, his attention was drawn to Jennifer's limp, unconscious body, which was lying prone on the floor.
"Oh, God!" Dean exclaimed.
He rushed to Jennifer's side and kneeled to check for her pulse. It was there and strong but impossibly fast.
"No, no, no, no, c'mon," Dean mumbled as he patted her cheek. "Wake up."
Jennifer didn't respond, but he could see her eyes moving rapidly under her closed lids. His thoughts spinning, Dean ran a nervous hand through his hair. He needed to take her outside and call an ambulance because, judging by the soft spasms that were shaking her body, she was on the verge of seizing or possibly going into shock. Making a quick decision, Dean passed an arm below her shoulders and another under her knees to carry her out of the house. But when he lifted her and headed to the hall, he found himself facing Mary who was staring at him from the door.
Dean stared back at his mother's ghost, in shock as her familiar voice knocked the wind out of him. He hadn't expected to see her like this. Even the previous day, when he had found her in Jennifer's room, what Dean had really seen was his mother standing in his parent's old room, and in some twisted way that had made sense. A disturbing kind of sense, but sense nonetheless. But now, no illusion of the past was backing her image up. She was there, real and solid right in front of him, not quite alive but moving in his own world.
Without tearing his eyes from Mary, Dean eased Jennifer to the floor and reached out blindly for his gun. With the weapon in his hand, the young man focused on the smooth, metallic surface beneath his fingertips to help him keep his grip on reality as he slowly stood up and positioned himself between the two women.
"What have you done to her?" Dean rasped.
His throat was completely dry, and he swallowed to give some moisture to his vocal chords. Mary cocked her head slightly to the side and her blond hair fell off her shoulder in a waving cascade. As she stepped forwards, Dean took a tense, automatic step back and aimed the gun at her.
"D-Don't come any closer," he ordered.
Mary eyed the gun and then looked sadly at her son. A single glance from her was enough to make Dean feel smaller than he ever had before. The gun wavered in his hand, and he could only hope that the spirit wouldn't push him to the point where he'd have to discover whether he was able to pull the trigger or not.
"Why is she more important to you than I am?"
"She's not," Dean said, trying very hard to ignore the fact that he was having a conversation with his very dead mother.
"Because I can't let you hurt her. She's innocent."
"And I wasn't?", Mary's voice broke and bright tears began to roll down her cheeks.
His mother's crying shattered Dean's defenses, and he felt tears of his own welling in his eyes. His vision blurred, and his voice escaped him until the most he was able to utter was a crushed moan.
"Yes, you were," he said.
Mary sobbed and advanced. When Dean recoiled, his heels found Jennifer's body and he knew he wouldn't be able to withdraw any further.
"No," the hunter sniffled. "I mean it, don't come any closer."
Mary scowled at Dean, and distress deformed her features.
"I was a good mother, Dean. I could be again," she affirmed in a needy tone.
Dean's stomach churned as he realized that he and only he was causing his mother's distress.
"It doesn't work like that."
"Because it's…It's wrong."
"Is it? Is it that terrible that I want my family back?"
"This is not your family."
"It could be. It could all be like it was before. Richie and Sari, they could be my little children. I'd take good care of them."
"They need their mother."
"And you? Don't you need your mother too?"
Dean opened his mouth to respond, and his lips trembled. Then, as Mary made another step towards him, a wave of vertigo overcame him and the dizzying sensation of losing consciousness crept up his body as it had the day before. Behind him, Jennifer whimpered softly, almost as if she sensed the supernatural presence and was trying to react against it even while she was unconscious.
"Mom, please," Dean choked. "You're hurting me."
"I would never hurt you."
"You're not yourself."
Mary stopped dead in her tracks, almost as if she was really taking in his son's paleness for the first time and becoming aware that she was provoking his pain. Hurt and remorse twisted her expression, and her eyes welled with tears once more. For a split second, Dean knew it was his mother, the same Mary he had known and loved, who was looking at him through the tears. And that knowledge was even harder to stand.
"I just wish I could hug you," she cried.
Dean felt like he was about to give in, but at that moment Mary vanished before his eyes.
This time the voice that sounded inside his head was devoid of any humanity.
"I want my house back!"
Jennifer moaned, and Dean swirled around to point the gun into the emptiness around them. Even though his eyes nervously scanned every inch of the room, he couldn't find his mother's spirit anywhere, and helplessness paralyzed him in a grip more deadly than fear.
"You'll be okay," Dean said, nervously fingering the gun trigger.
Jennifer hadn't regained consciousness, and Dean was aware that rather than reassuring her, he was reassuring only himself, but he couldn't stop whispering encouraging words into the air. His muscles were so taut that his arms didn't register the weight of the weapon, and the hunter clasped and unclasped it compulsively, just to make sure it was still in his hands.
"You'll be okay."
As seconds passed by, he sounded less convinced. As much as he hated to admit it, he was scared, especially since Sam should have finished the ritual by now. He should be here.
"Hurry up, Sam," he mumbled under his breath, as he crouched to shield Jennifer's body with his own. "Hurry up."
Sam ran to Sari's room, the room that had once been his and headed directly to its Southern wall. He held his breath and tried to shut himself off from the evil energy that floated around, but he seemed to have no control over his senses now that his psychic flood-gates were open. The air, full of supernatural presence, crackled and made the hunter's skin tingle and turn into goose-flesh. As he wrestled clumsily with the sachet lace, he seriously considered the idea of tearing it open with his teeth if the damn knot kept refusing to be untied. Unfortunately, his hands were shaking, and that wasn't exactly helping him in his personal fight to open the little packet. Sam lost his nerve and pulled his jackknife out of his pocket to cut the linen.
"Shit," he grunted when the blade reached through the sachet to the tender skin between his middle and ring fingers.
Ignoring the drop of blood oozing from the cut, Sam kneeled and arranged the leaves of houseleek and juniper in the pattern that Missouri had instructed them to. He was focusing so hard on remembering Dean's movements in the three previous rooms that his eyes narrowed to slits. When he finished, he fumbled for the bottle of holy water and poured it over the herbs. Some drops spilled over his own hands and mixed with his blood before landing on the exorcising pattern. A sharp throb began to hammer his skull, and Sam grimaced. He held his breath to keep a groan from forming in his throat but couldn't help the pained tears that sprouted in his eyes.
"Dean," Sam hissed between clenched teeth, the name now more of a heartening word than an actual call to him.
Dean needed him now; he had entrusted Sam with a job and that job was to finish the ritual. His brother's name gave him the courage to overcome the pain and start reciting the Latin prayer.
The hunter kept his eyes closed in order to save his strength and recited the prayer by heart. As the words flooded unstoppably in an angered torrent, the pressure inside his head became almost unbearable. Sam slumped forward and rested his forehead against the wall. His sight blurred into white, and his consciousness wavered excruciatingly like a giant EMF detector that couldn't be switched off.
So are you coming for me now?
He kept reciting anyhow, oblivious to the lamp cord behind him that was unplugging itself and crawling towards him. Then, just before Sam could finish the prayer, the cord wrapped around his neck and threw him backwards to the floor.
Jennifer stirred, and Dean risked a glance towards her to notice the erratic rise and fall of her chest. The spasms had subsided, but in return her pulse was fainter, and she looked so pale that during the short intervals between inhalations and exhalations, she already seemed dead.
"I'll be a mom again," Mary's voice hissed.
Suddenly, Jennifer's breath hitched, making Dean jump.
"No, Mom, don't! You can't have her!" Dean cried into the void. "Don't you understand?"
"I'll be a person again…"
"No, it won't work! You'll kill her! Just like you killed Marcia!"
The air stilled, a brief pause, before the halting cry of Mary's voice rang out.
"I don't want to be alone anymore!"
Dean's heart almost stopped as his mother's cry echoed the words spoken by the vision of the child he had seen. The child he had been.
"I'm sorry," he croaked, "But you can't come back, Mom. You can't come back."
"I won't be alone anymore."
Jennifer's body jolted as she took a loud intake of air.
"Mom!" Dean yelled.
Jennifer's back arched, and her eyes popped open. She convulsed, and her arms flailed spasmodically.
"No!" Dean shouted again, tightening his grip on the gun, but still feeling useless with no target to aim at. "Sam! For Christ's sake, SAM!"
He took Jennifer's shaking body in his arms and garbled the first protection spell that came across his mind. The woman went limp against his chest, and her breath was reduced to frantic inhalations that were very much like Dean's. He felt himself slowly falling into despair and desperately fought against the descent.
"I won't let you have her," Dean grunted.
"You can't stop me."
Dean pursed his lips tightly and set his jaw stubbornly. Yes, he could. He only had to keep the spirit away long enough for Sam to...
Jesus Christ, where was Sam?
"You can't protect them both," Mary's voice came again, as if she had just read his thoughts.
The older hunter felt a rush of adrenaline shake his insides and his body jolted as it readied itself to jump towards the door and run to Sam. But in the last second he realized what going to his brother would take, and Dean's heart sank in his chest as he froze with Jennifer still in his arms.
"No…" he said, shaking his head in disbelief.
"You'll have to choose."
"No," Dean muttered again.
He held Jennifer's body tighter and rocked with her.
Dean shut his eyes and squeezed Jennifer's back. This couldn't be happening, not like this. Not like this.
Dean released Jennifer and eased her body to the floor.
"I'm so sorry, Jennifer."
Clenching his fists, Dean stood up and glared at the door.
"You're doing the right thing, baby."
"I know," he muttered.
Dean turned around abruptly and reached over the kitchen counter for a glass salt shaker. In a split second he smashed it against the wall and the salt, along with Dean's blood covered Jennifer's body in a protective shower. After that he threw himself towards the kitchen door and upstairs to get his brother.
"Sam!" Dean called out as he ran towards Sari's room.
The absence of answer fuelled his anxiousness and quickened his pace. The room's door was half closed, but Dean unceremoniously kicked it open. It took less than a second for him to set his eyes on Sam. His little brother was sprawled on the floor tossing around in agony with his hands clasped around his neck. At first, Dean was too stunned to understand what was happening or why Sam was losing the battle for air. Then, he noticed the cord that was strangling him.
"Sammy, no!" Dean cried.
The older Winchester stooped next to Sam, who still fought desperately to loosen the cord between gasps, and snapped away his little brother's weakened hands to grab the cord himself. Pulling with all his might and groaning with the effort, Dean still failed to loosen the choking grip even an inch.
"Son of a bitch!" Dean roared.
Sam's frantic eyes focused on his brother's for a terrible moment, and they watered as his chest moved spasmodically in a grotesque parody of breath. Dean released a feral growl and pulled harder.
"Mom, no! Let him go!"
Sam moaned and tried to grab the cord too, but as the lack of oxygen squeezed the life out of him, his tossing grew weaker and his lips started turning blue.
"Mom, he's your son!"
Dean furiously blinked tears away and ground his teeth. His arms felt heavy and the cord was making his hands raw, but he resolutely buried his fingers in Sam's throat to get a better hold of the cord. The younger hunter whimpered in pain.
"C'mon!" Dean huffed.
Sam's feeble lament broke into a panting sob when Dean pulled again, but the cord didn't give. Dean used all his weight as a counterbalance to yank it, but his effort was fruitless. Trying to tear it apart obtained the same empty results it would have if the cord had been made of steel. Dean felt hope vanishing as fast as Sam's life was slipping away between his fingers.
"He's my brother…"
Sam's hands rested on his brother's wrists and squeezed them softly. His eyes were becoming glassy, but when Dean finally met his brother's gaze, he found them intent and extremely lucid beneath the tears.
"No," Dean said, shaking his head. "Don't you dare look good-bye to me, you moron."
Sam's brow furrowed a little. He blinked and the tears that were pooled in his eyes fell and rolled down his temples. Horrified, Dean saw that no fresh tears replaced them. Sam's eyes became blank and fixed as he parted his lips and made a final gasp for air.
"No!" Dean begged.
The older Winchester gripped the cord harder and pulled for all he was worth.
"Mommy, please. Don't take him. I'll stay. I'll stay, but please let him go!"
The cord gave way with a sudden snap, and Dean fell backwards between Sam's legs.
"Sam!" Dean cried.
The older hunter hauled Sam's limp body into a sitting position and unwrapped the cord from his brother's neck. His hands seemed made of jell-o as he fumbled with the cable, and his heart pounded impossibly hard against his ribs. As soon as the cord loosened, Sam slumped backwards again, but Dean grabbed him in time and pulled him against his chest.
"C'mon, Sammy," Dean whispered. "I got you."
Dean rubbed his brother's back, but the younger hunter didn't react. Panicking, Dean patted Sam's back harder. He ended up pounding Sam's back with his fists, but the hollow thuds against his baby brother's body were the only vibration animating Sam's chest, and they sounded so much like drumming on an empty shell that Dean's stomach clenched.
"Sammy, breathe, NOW!"
Suddenly the younger hunter took a sharp intake of air. With that, Dean discovered that his heart could indeed beat harder than he had thought possible.
"That's my boy," Dean encouraged Sam with a cracking voice.
His whole body shaking, Sam struggled for breath, but each mouthful of air he managed to take was more ragged than the previous one. A violent shudder took over his body, and Sam started to cough so hard that he practically stopped getting any air at all. He panicked and tried to jerk away, but Dean tightened his hold on him and kept him still.
"Easy now," Dean hushed into Sam's hair. "Breathe slowly, kiddo."
Dean felt his little brother's trembling hands fisting the back of his shirt and little by little, Sam's coughing subsided as he gasped against Dean's shoulder. His labored breath gradually turned into a soft panting that matched the rhythm in which Dean was stroking his back. Up and down, in and out. Up and down, in and out…
"That's it," Dean said, sighing in relief.
After a beat, he briefly squeezed the back of Sam's neck and pulled away just enough to see Sam's face. The younger brother's lips had regained their, color and Sam's skin was getting there, but his eyes were still closed.
"Hey," Dean coaxed. "Talk to me."
Sam's eyes fluttered open, but it took him a couple of seconds to focus on his surroundings. When he finally did, his expression became cryptic.
"Sam, please, say something," Dean insisted, and his tone made it clear that his brother's behavior was scaring the crap out of him.
Sam locked eyes with Dean and blinked a couple of times before he spoke.
"Amen," he murmured to close the ritual.
Taken aback, Dean frowned and eyed his brother carefully.
Sam gave a smile as his only response. It was a fragile, tired smile, but one that was full of the characteristic candidness that Sam demonstrated when he was really satisfied with himself and was looking to Dean in search of approval. When Dean understood, he couldn't help but smile back at his baby brother's goofy grin. Despite the weakness of that beloved smile, it had remained unaltered through the years and was now beaming on Sam's clammy face like a beacon in the dark.
Dean doubted he had ever been so close to telling Sam that he loved him as he was now.
"Good job, Sam."
Sam's smile got as wide as it was going to get, and then his jaw relaxed, and he looked down. Dean patted his brother's back and gave his shoulder a strong squeeze.
"Dude," Sam said with raspy voice. "You're hugging me."
Dean snorted and let go of Sam.
"Nah, you're dreaming, Sammy."
His little brother released Dean's shirt and let his hands gently drop off of his brother's back. The truth was that Dean hadn't realized how tightly Sam was clinging onto his clothes until now that he had all of the fabric back. If he had realized, he'd have probably thought of a better retort to shut up his pain of a little brother who he had definitely not been hugging.
"Whatever," Dean huffed.
Sam reached for the marks on his neck that were left by the cord and winced.
"You okay?" Dean immediately asked.
"Yeah. Help me up."
Dean stood and helped Sam to his feet. The latter swallowed painfully and leaned a hand on the wall for support.
"Can you breathe?"
"I'm fine," Sam said, nodding. "W-Where's Jennifer?"
"Downstairs. C'mon, we have to take her out of here."
"Is she alright?"
"Should be. Can you walk?"
"I said I'm fine," Sam said, and confirmed his statement by stepping away from the wall. "Let's go."
When Sam and Dean got back to the kitchen, Jennifer was unconscious in the same position Dean had left her. There was salt on and around her, along with tiny pieces of shattered glass from the salt shaker that Dean had smashed. Sam took in the scene and glanced at Dean questioningly, but when the older hunter averted his gaze, Sam decided that any explanation could wait until later. Both brothers went up to Jennifer's side, but Sam made way for Dean unconsciously, since the older Winchester was in better position to take the woman on his shoulders.
"Take her," Dean said tensely. "I'll cover you."
Sam frowned slightly, if only for a second, and Dean read the hesitation in his brother's eyes as he glared intently at him. Dean kept his composure and didn't allow himself to fidget under the scrutiny.
"Are you hurt?"
"We don't have time for this."
"You're bleeding," Sam said, nodding towards Dean's hands.
"It's just a cut. Sammy, c'mon! You said you were fine, can you carry her or not?"
Sam puffed out an exasperated breath of air, and Dean felt guilty.
"Of course I can," Sam grunted, exactly as Dean knew he would.
Sam passed Jennifer's right arm over his shoulders and positioned his left arm waist high under her back and his right arm under her knees before rising with her in his arms. He swayed slightly once he regained a vertical position, and Dean placed one hand on his back.
"C'mon," Dean whispered. He kept his hand between his brother's shoulders until they were out of the kitchen and then, when he was sure Sam wouldn't stumble, he pushed him gently down the hall. "Go."
It all happened in slow motion. Suddenly his voice was thick, and Dean could only trust that Sam wouldn't notice, or at least that he would be too busy with Jennifer to bother turning around and facing him on his way to the front door. He was grateful when Sam didn't turn, although when his little brother made it to the garden, a part of Dean wished that Sam would notice that he had slowed down and wasn't following him through the door.
"Careful about what you wish for," he thought, his throat constricting when Sam did turn around to stare at him wide-eyed from outside.
And he wished that instead of voicing his name in such a forsaken tone, Sam had simply called him "jerk," so that he could "bitch" him back and trust that his geek brother would get the subtext.
"Do it," Dean murmured. "Do it now."
Sam's cry was muffled when an extraordinary pulse of energy slammed the front door closed.
"I've missed you, son," a different voice called him from the inside of the house.
Feeling suddenly lightheaded, Dean shut his eyes, but his lips curved to form a sad smile. When the young man brought himself to turn around, he found Mary standing behind him, more beautiful than ever and with her arms opened lovingly towards her son.
"Yeah, I've missed you too."
Dean advanced towards her.
"Welcome home, baby. Welcome home"
Cliffie? Me? Nah…
Alright, sorry. Don't hate me!