The air was chilly. At a distance, the lone man standing above the recent grave might’ve looked like a statue on his own, if not for the occasional wisps of white breath that escaped his mouth.
Michael had come to say goodbye to Karen Hobbs. A proper one, this time. Without anger, without a sense of vengeance cursing through his veins. Those had only gotten him possessed and almost killed.
She’d not been the love of his life, but they had definitely been close, more so than with any of the others. There could have been a future for the two of them; there should’ve been a future for her. For all of them.
But not any more.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered. Even after all that had happened, he wasn’t certain what he was sorry for. I’m sorry I survived; I’m sorry I wasn’t there for you; I’m sorry there are evil things in this Earth and you found out about it in the worst possible way.
He slowly knelt on the damp ground. Karen had been a free spirit, bringing with her a touch of freshness wherever she went. Michael had loved that about her above all else.
He placed the small bouquet of wildflowers to lean against the headstone. The chaos of cheery colors suited her. “I should have been there for you.” He choked back a sob. “I should have known.”
The sound of someone clearing their throat had Michael scrambling to his feet. Swiping stubborn tears away, he spun too quickly and nearly fell back. Dean stood leaning against a tree and Sam surged carefully toward him, grabbing his forearm and keeping him from landing on his ass.
“Sorry, didn’t mean to startle you,” Sam said patting the air between them with his free hand. “You good?”
“I—” Michael nodded and slowly pulled his arm away. “I’m good. It’s alright.” He looked from Sam over to Dean, then back again. “Guess I’m still a bit jumpy.”
Sam offered an understanding smile. “After what you’ve been through, being possessed and…” he looked around them, “well, everything; a bit jumpy is to be expected. It gets better, trust me.”
Grateful for the understanding, Michael nodded and looked over at Dean. His face looked ashen, eyes hollowed.
Three days before, Michael had seen Dean toying with the beginnings of a hypovolemic shock, only barely escaping death. Now, he still looked the part.
Those three days, like those leading up to his arrival to the island and subsequent discovery of the ritual site, were still too fresh in Michael’s mind. Every day had been a fight for life, for control, to beat back the frustration when he’d been unable to do more than watch, like some voyeuristic passenger with a front row seat into the macabre.
When Sam had started the exorcism, Michael had felt each word like it was a living thing, hitting his flesh, stinging his soul until the demon was gone and he was left alone, skin on fire, like he’d been rubbed raw.
After that, to actually have been able to do something, to stop being the passive part in his own story, had felt better than years of therapy. Unfortunately for Dean, what Michael had found himself doing was struggling to keep him alive.
Michael couldn’t remember everything that had happened after being possessed, but he did remember the speedboat that Martin had kept hidden to escape the island once he and his brothers had recovered their own human bodies. In the end, it was Martin’s boat that saved Dean’s life.
If they had been stuck in the island, waiting for the friend Sam assured Michael was on his way, their friend would’ve arrived in time for one more funeral.
The trip from the island to New York City, though short, had felt a day’s long. And yet, Michael could only recall flashes and glimpses of him and Sam, struggling to fashion bandages from their own clothing, using small pieces of wood to turn tight tourniquets around each of Dean’s arm, cleaning the bleeding wounds as best as they could in those guerrilla like conditions. And through it all the muffled moans of pain that Dean tried to hide from them without much success, the growing pallor of his skin, the stink of fear in the air as Michael and Sam sweated their worry of failure.
There’d been an argument (one of many) over whether or not to go to the nearest hospital, one that, and in the end, Michael had been forced to concur with the Winchesters. The sight of slashed wrists would create more questions than answers, more problems than solutions.
There was a particularly thick book that Michael’d had to memorize for one of his medical emergency classes. In all of its sixty plus chapters, there hadn’t been a single one that talked about how to treat severe blood loss and deep lacerations with nothing but a couple of sewing needles, some dental floss, an over the counter Foley kit –Michael only wanted the catheter, really, but the sight if it was enough to make Dean lose two more shades of color- and a fortunately blood-compatible brother.
After that, Dean had been insistent that he’d spend the rest of his convalescence in a hotel room and while Sam seemed hesitant, he’d eventually agreed. Michael had argued otherwise, one more battle that he lost, but only because the Winchesters had allowed him to come with them. Just as long as he was allowed to camp out on a rollaway bed and keep a close eye on Dean’s recovery for any signs of infection, Michael could deal with tossing out the window all that he’d learned in med school about proper patient care.
Now, three days since they’d barely escaped with their lives and merely one since Michael had left their motel room, he couldn’t believe what he was seeing. It was too soon for Dean to be up and about.
“You’re unbelievable, you know that?” Michael asked rhetorically, shaking his head.
“See?” Dean looked knowingly at Sam then back at Michael. “That’s what I keep telling him.” His smile looked weak and exhausted but Michael found it also disarming and far healthier than just twenty-four hours earlier. “I am unbelievable.”
Sam looked back at his brother. “I don’t think he meant that in a good way, Dean.”
“Yeah well…” Dean pulled a small pouch from his pocket. “We had something for you, thought you might want it.”
“And,” Sam took the pouch from Dean and looked at Michael, “since we were about to leave town, didn’t find you at your apartment, we sorta thought you might have come here, so…”
Michael looked at the proffered object a second. “What is it?”
“We found the bodies of your friends, in the island and…” Sam faltered and didn’t seem to know how to put it.
“We had to burn them,” Dean interjected. “It’s what you do with bodies of people who were violently killed. Kinda keeps them from becoming what we hunt.”
Michael looked at the pouch. “And this is...”
Sam took over. “That’s some of the ashes. The only part we could be sure was that it was in fact your friends. As for…”
Michael got the gist. For reasons he didn’t really wanted to find out, there had been no way to tell who was who. He felt his stomach roll at the thought but took the pouch from Sam, reverent and grateful nonetheless. “Thank you,” he said voice little more than a whisper.
“Um,” Sam began again. “Do you want us to…”
“No,” Michael said staring at the pouch. “Stay. You’re the reason I even have a little bit of my friends now. The only reason I know what happened to them.” The reason why I’m me again.
Sam stepped back and Michael turned back to face his friend’s grave.
Kneeling once more on the cool ground, he loosened the tie-string enough to widen the opening. He passed his free hand over the engraved ridges of her name, eyes closed a moment, then turned the pouch on its side and let the ashes fall. The fine dust sprinkled to the grass below, some of it carried in the Spring breeze.
It was a full minute before he rose from his position and turned to face the Winchesters. Sam placed a hand under Dean’s arm and helped him move carefully away from the tree.
“A weeks’ bed rest would do you a world of good, you know,” Michael chided and eyed Dean up and down. “You look like—”
Dean’s face tensed. “If you say warmed shit—”
“He’d be painfully accurate,“ Sam cut in, as he squeezed Dean’s arm. “Don’t worry. I’m doing all the driving. All he’ll be doing is resting, until I get us to our friend’s in North Dakota. Motels get expensive.”
Michael nodded reluctantly and walked along side Dean and Sam as they headed to where their cars were parked, not ten yards away. They fell into a comfortable silence, Dean’s more an attempt to focus on staying upright long enough to reach the car, no doubt.
“So what’s next for you?” Sam asked, helping to lean his brother against the Impala. “You still thinking of taking some time off?
Michael nodded. “Just for the rest of this semester. My heart’s just not in it right now. My Mom’s friggin’ beside herself at the prospect of me coming home for a while. I think she put my race car sheets back on my bed,” he said with a grimace.
“It’s a, what, ten hour drive?” Dean asked.
Michael looked down at the keys in his hands. “If I go in one shot, but I’ve got some stops to make along the way.” He looked knowingly at the Winchesters, clutching the still mostly full ashes’ bag in his hand.
“You’re going to do it? Stop and see all the family members of your friends?”
It was something they’d talked about in the wee hours of the night while Dean had slept. Occasionally, the hunter even made it through the night without waking up to nightmares. Michael hadn’t asked about those. It wasn’t his business. What he had heard of the conversations between Martin and Dean was enough to give him a few nightmares of his own.
“Yeah,” Michael said with a sigh. “I just want to see where they’re all buried. See their families. Tell them… I have no idea what I’ll tell them, just that their son or daughter was a good friend with bright futures.” He laughed mirthlessly. “God that sounds corny.”
“Nah,” Sam offered. “It sounds like you connecting with your friends through the ones who’d raised them. And that’s a lot considering what you’ve been through. Most would walk away and never want to look back.”
Michael nodded and looked at Sam. “Believe me, I thought about—hey!” he barked. One of Dean’s hands had inched under the cuff of his jacket, scratching at the skin below his palm. “None of that, man.” Sam reached over and flicked Dean’s hand off the bandages and Dean huffed, annoyed. “It’s bad enough you’re out of bed, but you rip those stitches open and you’ll end up in the hospital for sure this time.”
“I know, but can’t help it,” he whined. “They itch!”
“Wow, you fight demons, ghosts and monsters, but you’re letting a few stitches best you?” Michael teased.
“He won’t do it again,” Sam assured, unaffected at Dean’s mutinous glare.
Michael stepped up on the curb. “Just get him off his feet and keep him off,” he said before looking at Dean. “The fact that you’re both about to hit the road…” he shook his head. “Gotta admit, I’m not too thrilled.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Dean held out his hand and Michael shook it. “I’ve had worse.”
“Yeah, somehow that doesn’t help.” Michael turned and shook Sam’s hand next. “Make him take care of himself?”
“Right,” Sam cast a side-long glance at Dean. “Thanks. For saving his life.”
Michael grinned. “It’s kinda my future job, remember?” Then his face took on a more serious tone. “Besides, that goes both ways; in addition to being alive, I have closure. I just wish I could offer that much to my friends’ parents.”
Once inside the Impala, Dean got comfortable. It was a hard enough task that made him take a while to realize that they still hadn’t moved.
Sam sat behind the wheel, hand on the key in the ignition, mouth pressed in a tight line, shoulders bunched.
Here we go. “What?” Dean asked, annoyed at the stillness, the silence.
“You ever going to tell me how you figured out it was a demon even though he did his damnedest to hide from us?” Sam finally looked at Dean.
“Told you, it was a hunch.”
“Right. A hunch drove you to make a devil’s trap.”
“You were all gung hoe on the whole angry spirit thing, despite my hunch. So I acted alone. It was a precaution. Can we just go now?”
Sam didn’t nod, he just looked resigned. He turned and started the car. “Your meds are in the glove box. I’ll wake you when it’s time to take them.”
Dean sighed in his seat, wanting to disappear inside the upholstery. His wrists were pounding at the rhythm of his heart, making his fingers feel like swollen balloons at the tip of his hands. The road looked impossibly long. “We good?” he asked over the deafening sound of Sam’s pout. Because, damn! he needed something to be good after having had his nerves exposed raw by Martin.
“Yeah, Dean,” Sam whispered, his focus on the road. “We're good.”
The sound of Led Zeppelin filed the car, as much as to kill the silence as a peace offering. Dean willed himself to relax, allowing visions of blood and pain to be replaced by the blurry images of trees passing by.
“You know,” Sam said hours later, like their conversation had ended just then. “Anytime you wanna tell me who Alastair is, we’re good on that too, okay?”
It was meant as support, Dean told his speeding heart.
It was meant as honest concern.
But still his heart beat erratically, still his brow filled with sweat and his mouth with bile. Sam had heard.
Dean opened the glove compartment, looking blindly at the orange pill bottles there. He opened one at random and dry-swallowed four pills.
He was seriously overdue for some good luck. Four pills of whatever the hell he’d taken would certainly be enough to knock him out until they reached Bobby’s.