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15 September 2013 @ 09:05 pm
jai guru deva om: come together (chapter 4)  

Brad reached out, fisting Dean's collar as the hunter teetered and clutched his ribs.


A/N: Thank you to my kick-ass betas, Tifaching, NongPradu and Emmessann for making this story much, much better. Thanks also go out to Ginger, Deb, Sue, Amanda, and Penny who read the story and also made significant contributions. You're all amazing women! Thanks!

Jai Guru Deva Om

Chapter Four
Come Together

**ॐ**
Brad reached out, fisting Dean's collar as the hunter teetered and clutched his ribs. Jason took hold of his shoulder as well, steadying him.

"Whoa," Brad said, twisting the shirt and navigating him up. "Hey, you okay, Dean?" Dean got his center and levered himself against the car door, trying to pass it off as being nothing more than car-cramped.

"Yeah, m'good. Been sitting too long, that's all," he managed, backing out from under Brad's helping hand and conspicuously stretching his legs. He pressed the lock and closed the door of the Impala, giving her a fond pat. "You sure she'll be safe here?"

Brad looked at the car and nodded. "It'll be fine. This is a dead-end. See? The road stops over there by the riverbank—that tree line right there. Not very many people come out this way. We're pretty secluded, and we're not going to be gone too long. You don't have to worry. C'mon," he said, turning and pointing toward the gate. "You're going to love that aerie."

"You should see this place in winter when the salmon are running," Gypsy said as they walked. Dean fell behind, the landscape spinning and warping as he forced air in and out of his shocked and withered lungs. "The sky is full of eagles. I counted over one hundred separate birds in one afternoon last January. It's one of the most amazing things you've ever seen."

Dean nodded, trying to pay attention to her despite feeling very winded and short of breath. He snatched breaks, slowing his pace and lifting his binoculars, pretending to scan the sky for birds.

"This place is cool. We don't have anything like it where I'm from," he wheezed. He cleared his throat and coughed, setting off a sharp pain in his ribs.

"Yeah, I saw your plates," Jason commented. "You're a long way from Kansas. What brought you up here?" The trio jaunted on, and Dean strove to match their gait. It was hard going and Dean forgot to listen to his question. Jason finally asked again. "What brought you up here?"

"Oh," Dean said, stopping again, looking over the grounds from outside the fence. The sun was beginning to dip its toes into the trees that bordered the complex. He continued taking in the sights until he could speak. "I was trying to find odd jobs. Thought of goin' to Alaska to see what's what up there. Stopped here t'look around. S'pretty."

"Do you have asthma, Dean?" Brad asked. "We can slow down if you like."

Dean tried to scoff, but he found no air. He took another moment and put a hand to his chest. "No, no," he rasped at length. "Sorry. Just getting' over a bad chest cold. M'good, though."

"Oh, those suck," Gypsy said. "We'll take it slow then. We're not in any hurry." The Jedis stood, giving Dean a moment to catch his breath. When they resumed walking again, they let Dean set the pace.

Brad continued to talk about the eagle population until they stopped in front of the gate and hailed another Jedi who'd remained behind in the guard-shack when they came to talk to Dean.

"Tim," Brad called out the tall, rail-thin Jedi. "Hey, this is Dean. He's gonna join us for breakfast. You mind holding the fort while we show him around?" Tim held his hand out for Dean to take.

"Not at all. Take your time. Heya Dean, glad to meet you," Tim said, a genuine smile lighting his face as he opened the gate. "I'll be here when you guys get done. Just come on back when you're ready and I'll see that you get to your car safe and sound."

"Thanks," Dean said, glancing up at the wrought iron gate. There was an intricate inscription woven into the iron bars of the arch. You Are Home, it said. Dean rolled his eyes when he spotted a No Trespassing sign on the gate itself, and he smirked at the irony. Noticing the gate's sophisticated locking mechanism and keypad, he glanced over at Jason.

"You afraid that deer will outsmart a padlock?" he asked, raising his eyebrow at the Jedis. Tim laughed dismissively.

"We've had some vandalism on the property," Tim explained. "Locals used to drive their ATVs up here. Caused a lot of damage to the orchard and our gardens. The land is our livelihood, so we're a bit protective. This is a great area to live, but some of the natives aren't quite as friendly as you'd think—especially toward anyone they see as different."

"How different are you?" Dean asked.

Brad shrugged. "Well, you know…we live and work on this land. We openly share the fruits of our labor equally with all those who live here. Every person is viewed as inherently important, significant, needed and loved." He gave Dean a penetrating glance. "We're a family. A lot of people don't like that. It threatens their worldview. Still, we wish no harm to anyone. We want to be able to plant our crops and live our lives in peace, so we have locks on the gates to ensure that we have it."

"Huh." Dean listened to the young man speak, surprised and moved by his sincerity. The kid was full of shit no doubt, but it was plain that he believed it. It could be that whatever was going on here, maybe these people weren't even aware of it. He'd made sure to memorize the color of each person's eyes. Jason's were pale blue. Brad's were hazel. Gypsy's were already a dark brown, as were Tim's. He filed the information away and Dean smiled coolly, nodding.

"I hear ya," he said.

Dean and the Jedis passed through the gate, and Tim locked it behind them. "You guys have a good breakfast. See you later," he called.

As soon as they began walking, the pain and shortness of breath returned. Dean tried to ignore the deep burn as he looked around, making mental notes as they made their way into the compound. People were dotting the fields in the distance, crouched in work or doing odd jobs. No one else was on the road. He could hear someone speaking over a PA system in the distance, near the knot of buildings and inhabited areas. It was too far off to make anything out, though. Jason stopped and nodded to Brad.

"Gypsy and I are gonna run on ahead and make sure Maureen gets breakfast started. Brad, why don't you show him around the place and meet us back at the mess hall in about half an hour? Then, after breakfast we can hike up to the aerie. Sound good?"

"Suits me," Brad nodded. "You okay with that, Dean?"

Dean smiled and nodded; though, he was sure he wouldn't make it far if he tried to hike anywhere. One quick look at the place and he'd make some excuse to leave. He nodded again, trying to conserve his breath for more important things. Gypsy and Jason took that for an okay and jogged off, leaving Brad and Dean strolling along the well-tended cobblestone road toward the cottages.

Dean turned, studying the high gate and fencing. "The gates may keep people out, but doesn't it also keep people in?" he asked, breathless.

Brad chuckled. "No, of course not. We don't force anyone to stay here, Dean. People are free to come and go as they wish. You don't have to live on the grounds to be a part of the group, though I haven't met anyone who has chosen to live elsewhere. There is no coercion at all. We can leave. In fact, we often go out into the community." Brad squinted his eyes. "So what about you? You're from Kansas, right? You got family there?"

Dean shook his head. "Not anymore, no."

"Not anymore?" Brad raised an eyebrow. "Are they up here, then?"

"My dad is on the road a lot. Work. My brother goes to Stanford."

"No kidding?" Brad blew out, impressed. "That's a great school. You and your dad must be proud."

"I am," Dean said darkly. He could feel Brad's eyes all over him as he took another swipe at some rivulets of sweat dripping from his temple.

"So you're on your own then? That must be tough," Brad mused.

Dean didn't answer. He shrugged and avoided eye contact. "So what's the deal with you? We're you born here? Do your parents live here, too?"

Brad watched him a beat. "No, not at all. I was a Sociology grad student at U-Dub. I was doing my thesis on cults if you can believe it." Dean raised his eyebrows and stumbled on a jutting cobble. Brad gripped him. Dean couldn't help but hiss as he whisked air in and out of lungs that could not handle the demand.

"Dean, man…are you sure you're okay? That is one hell of a cold." Brad reached toward the arm Dean had wrapped protectively around his abdomen.

"M'fine!" Dean said, stepping away, trying to keep the young man at arm's length without being aggressive. "Let's go," he said, walking on, slow and tentative. "You were telling me about coming here."

"Uh," Brad said frowning. "Yeah, right. I had heard about a new group up this way and wanted to study them over the winter break. I used to be extremely ego-driven when it came to school. So instead of spending the holidays with my parents, I drove up here and, well, I'm still here—happily so." He pointed toward the cottages as they approached.

"So they sucked you in, eh?" Dean asked with an airless laugh.

"Not at all, man," Brad laughed along with Dean. "It wasn't what I thought. It's not a cult. See, cults fundamentally seek to control and oppress the individual. This place frees you—it opens the mind and teaches you how to let go. It's like an anti-cult in that respect. It's honest work with honest human interactions. That's something that's hard to come by on the outside. There are no games here—no fine print or backdoors. Being part of The Kindred offers a level of freedom that I never knew was possible. I mean, you just can't understand how materialistic and ambitious and competitive I used to be. I was a walking, talking ego, nothing more. This place has tamed that lion; it's brought me nothing but peace and joy."

"Uh huh," Dean said. "So your parents are okay with you leaving school like that?"

Brad's smile dulled. "Well, let's say they're not happy and leave it at that. But that little family drama has nothing to do with me coming here. That's a whole side dish of fucked-up. Bottom line, if I decide to go back to school, there's nothing stopping me. I simply don't feel the need right now. I've found something more fulfilling."

"What? Picking potatoes and carrots?" Dean asked with a skeptical puff of his cheek.

Brad's lips tightened. "Well, Dean, it sure beats what's out there, isn't it? The world is nuts, man. It's out of control. There are people flying planes into skyscrapers—we're on the brink of war. What if the enemy has nukes? What then? Millions will die. And for what? Do you know? Because I'm stumped."

Dean had to admit he didn't quite get humans or their wars either, but he also knew that Brad didn't have a clue where the real threat lay. However, he nodded, playing along with him. "Yeah, it's nuts."

Brad went on passionately. "So I don't mind picking potatoes and carrots. It's more honest than anything else I've ever done. It's more real. And I'm working with people who've become like family to me. A real family, not the twisted caricature that mine tried to sell to me and to the world—all show and no depth. I'm not saying my parents are bad people, not at all, but it was completely jacked, man. My dad is the CEO of an international cargo shipping company based in Seattle. He wanted me to get a Business degree. I wanted to be a Sociologist. You can imagine his disappointment."

"Wanted you to go into the family business, eh?" Dean said.

"Yeah. Man, I did everything I could to earn his approval. Everything. I went to a good school, got good grades—dated nice girls." He shook his head, disgusted. "It was never enough. It was his way or the highway."

"That sucks," Dean said as he looked around.

"Yeah it does. I spent years knocking my head against a wall trying to earn his respect. I'd have done anything for my parents, but…" he faltered and swallowed, squinting at the sun still low on the eastern horizon. "I was always a disappointment to them." He shrugged. "Anyway, I'm proud of this path that I've chosen. It's my path to choose, finally. I'm free."

"Okay," Dean said with a hard edge. "So you're free. Does that mean you have to cut them out of your life entirely? How good can any spiritual path be that keeps you from your own family?"

"No, I need distance from my family for the time being, otherwise they'll just try and draw me back into their world. I can't take that chance. Besides, what kind of loving family would try to own me? What kind of loving family would try to hold me back?" Brad asked in return. "I lived my whole life nearly killing myself to meet expectations that were suddenly amended with addendums by my parents the moment I drew close—withholding their praise and support until I achieved what they wanted for me. Trying hard, being obedient, toeing the line got me nowhere. Fuck it, you know? I never knew how alone and lost I was until I came here. I have a higher purpose, now. I'm no longer alone. I'm no longer lost. Who doesn't want that?"

Dean shifted uncomfortably. "It sounds too good to be true," he retorted.

"It isn't," Brad said, emphatic. "It's real, and it's here."

As they made their way past the cottages, the PA system fell silent. They still hadn't come close enough for Dean to catch anything. Despite their slow pace, he had to stop again to catch his breath. The pain in the right side of his chest was getting worse, and Dean wasn't sure how much longer he'd be able to keep walking.

"I mean, what do you want out of life, Dean?" Brad asked, stopping alongside him. Dean thought about hunting with his Dad and Sam and then shook his head. He ignored the question and pointed to one of the cottages.

"You guys live in these freakin' doll houses?" he asked.

Brad laughed him off. "Yep, they're small, but we don't spend much time in them other than to sleep. And, I guess that's another thing with us, we're not addicted to ownership like the rest of Western culture. We've adopted a bit of a Thoreauean attitude in that respect."

Dean counted about 30 cottages all told. "You can't get too many people into those shoeboxes. How many of you live here?"

"We have about 55 people on the grounds, but we're growing. We house two people per cottage. If more people join us, we can always build more cottages. We can put one up in a few hours working as a team."

Dean noticed the mansion on the hill. "Right. So what's that? That doesn't seem very humble to me."

"That's just our…I dunno how to explain it. That place is like our headquarters."

"Don't tell me. Your leader lives there, right?" he smirked, barely disguising his contempt for their leader's lavish home. He had to remind himself to appear interested, but the pain and struggle to breathe took its toll on his mood and his patience.

"Mmm," Brad hedged. "He sleeps there, yes, but it's not his house, if that's what you're implying. He doesn't own it. We are all welcome in that house."

"I see," Dean rolled his eyes. "So what's that guy's deal? Is he like your minister or something?"

Brad's face smoothed out as he smiled. "Father is our teacher, yes."

"Father? Seriously?"

"It's a term of respect," Brad explained with a shrug as they began walking again. "He's not so much our leader as he is our guide. He teaches that the path to enlightenment is a four-fold process of letting go. It's not easy, but once you are on The Path things become clearer. Father's been where we are; he knows what it's like, and he knows the way out of our ego-driven perceptions. He's the most spiritually advanced soul I've ever known. We all admire him. We trust him. He's not above us, just a little bit ahead, that's all." Dean said nothing.

Brad pointed to the center of the compound where the larger buildings were. "Over there is our community center—where we do most of our living and soul-work." He studied Dean's face. "But I think we better get you sitting down, man. You look exhausted. Come on, I'm sure Jason and Gypsy have gotten Maureen working on those pancakes. If they can't make you feel any better, nothing can."

"What's that?" Dean stopped, looking at a strange, heavy trapdoor nestled within the concrete lip of what appeared to be an underground bunker or shelter of some kind. There was a keypad lock attached to it.

"Ah," Brad said. "That's one of our meditation rooms, believe it or not. We call it The Kiln. It's underground to keep the temperature regulated and the place soundproof. Part of our discipline requires inner reflection from time to time. We can't achieve a deeper self-examination when we are bombarded non-stop with outside stimuli, so we have this place as a quiet retreat to turn to when we need it. Come on," Brad steered Dean away. "Let's get you off your feet."

Dean offered no argument. He was getting close to the sit-down-or-fall-down point, and he needed clarity in order to figure out his next move. There seemed to be no threat of imminent danger, but he didn't want to push it, either. He eyed Brad up and down as they walked.

"So what's with the Jedi getup?" he asked. Brad threw his head back at that and laughed.

"That is exactly what I thought the first time I saw the people here," he hooted. "God's honest truth, Dean." He laughed until he wiped a tear away. "Yeah, okay, you got me there. These aren't the most stylish clothes, that's for sure. We wear them as a matter of efficiency. Easier to launder everything together. We also do it as a way to build a sense of community and belonging, I suppose. Mostly though, we do it to simplify our lives. We don't believe in indulging our egos. Uniform wear is a way of freeing us…a way to help us let go of our vanity and selfishness. We were never meant to be separate and alone, Dean. This is fundamental to Father's teachings."

"Well, whatever floats your boat, man," Dean said. "But this ain't much of a selling point for me, I gotta tell you that much."

**ॐ**

"It is so nice to meet you, Dean," Maureen said as she drew him into the dining hall. She enveloped him in a warm embrace, catching Dean off guard. He winced against the pain in his ribs, but he didn't fight her, either. She broke the hug and extended a graceful hand to him. Dean studied her as she shook his hand. He guessed her to be in her late forties, perhaps, but beauty still kissed her smooth skin. He figured her for a real knockout in her prime. Even her age-lines served to accentuate her symmetrical features. She wore her ash-blonde hair in a ponytail that spilled over her shoulder.

"You feel warm, Dean. Are you running a fever?" she asked, concerned. She reached out her hand to touch his forehead, but Dean moved away from her.

"Naw," he said. "Been walking with Brad. I'm getting over a cold. It's nothing."

Maureen took the hint and backed off, pointing to a bank of tables. "Well come on in and get yourself something to eat. I hear Brad has been talking up my pancakes. He's been a fan since day one. Come on, sit down and eat up."

Dean approached the table set for four with serving plates piled high with pancakes, bacon and biscuits. A carafe of steaming coffee on the side, along with syrup and a cold pitcher of orange juice completed the setting. Dean's stomach lurched, queasy and empty at the same time. The burning sensation in his chest had not gone away even though he was no longer walking. Mei had told him not to eat any solid food for another week yet. Bacon and pancakes as his first real meal seemed too ambitious, even for him. "Uh," he hesitated. "I hope you all are hungry, too. That's a lot of food." Brad put his hand on Dean's shoulder guiding him to the table.

"Sit down," he coaxed. "Let's enjoy Maureen's pancakes before we head up to show you the aerie if you're still up to it. I'm serious; it's an incredible sight." Brad watched as Dean shuffled toward the table, holding his arm against his ribs to protect them. "And if you're not up for the hike today, you'll just have to come back and see us again when you're feeling better."

Maureen began serving everyone, placing several pancakes on Dean's plate. He stared at them, torn between fear and desire. "Dean, come on…you'll hurt my feelings," she laughed, watching him. Dean took a small bite.

"They're wonderful," he said, suppressing a wince as he swallowed.

"Jason and Gypsy tell me you've come all the way from Kansas. I'm a Topeka girl, myself," Maureen went on as she poured them all some coffee. "Sadly, my parents died when I was a young teen, and I moved here to live with my aunt and uncle."

"I'm sorry to hear that," Dean said, pushing the pancakes around on his plate. He took a tentative sip of the coffee, which seemed to go down much easier, hot and strong and better than anything he'd tasted in a week.

"It's all right. It was a long time ago. So, what brought you all the way up to The Fourth Corner?" Maureen asked, sitting down next to them and pouring herself a cup of coffee as well.

"Hunting…for work." He shrugged. "So Brad was telling me about this place," he said, steering the conversation away from himself. "How long have you all been here?"

Maureen grabbed the coffee pot again and topped off his cup. "I've been here since the late 80's. My husband Jonathan and I came here when the river-farm was just starting out, so I guess I'm the senior member here. Jason's been with us for less than a month. Brad's been with us since winter. Gypsy came here, when was it? Late last fall?" she turned to the girl.

Gypsy nodded. "October," she clarified.

"So is Gypsy your real name?" Dean asked.

The young woman chuckled. "No. It's Georgia. But I left home when I was fifteen. My parents were extremely abusive—alcoholics, the both of them. I ran away…moved around a lot. I even lived out of my car at one point. When I met Father, he looked right into my soul and saw my past. He said I'd been a lost gypsy. It's now a badge of pride: the gypsy who no longer roves. The name stuck," she explained with a playful quirk of her cheek. "Anyway, Andrew came here in August, and I followed two months later."

"Who's Andrew?" Dean asked, picking at a piece of pancake. His stomach was already starting to cramp, adding to the nightmare tightening in his chest.

"Andrew is my fiancé," Gypsy said. "I met him when I was waiting tables in town."

Maureen nodded and poked her. "You were unstoppable," she said with a fond smile. "You were hell bent on getting him out of here. How long did you camp outside those gates?" Gypsy's face went red and she laughed, embarrassed.

"Gosh, don't remind me, Maureen. I was nothing but my own ego back then," she admitted.

"What do you mean?" Dean asked biting into a small piece of bacon, hoping it would be easier than the pancakes. It wasn't. He set the rest of the piece down and grabbed at his middle.

"You all right?" Gypsy asked.

"Yeah. Go on," he deflected.

Gypsy shook her head. "Andrew is an electrician. Father hired him to do some work at the house. It didn't take long for him to see how great it was here, and he joined pretty quickly. I was naturally suspicious—materialistic and lost, and I was pissed that Andrew was involved with this place. I couldn't have been more self-driven and closed to Father's message. I tried to convince Andrew to leave," she said, and the others nodded in understanding. "I even tried to trick him to come out—tried to force him to leave, as if this place was nothing but a cult." Her voice broke with shame. Jason reached out and stroked her shoulder. Gypsy brushed her fingers across his, acknowledging his support. "He begged me to spend a couple of days here with an open mind and see what it was truly like. I agreed, mostly to prove how wrong and sick this place was, and…" Her face lit up with a narcotic smile. "And the rest is history. I'm home. I was so wrong."

Dean lifted his glass of orange juice, looking over it at Gypsy. "You sure you didn't drink the Kool-Aid, too, maybe?" He set the glass down without swallowing any. Gypsy shrugged.

Brad cleared his throat and broke in. "I can understand that mode of thinking, Dean. It's not unhealthy to question, but it is, I think, counterproductive to have such a closed mind." He lifted his glass and took a sip of his orange juice. "This place may not be for everyone, but it is not a modern manifestation of our tribal impulses, either. I think any person who has doubts should at least meet Father and hear him speak before jumping to conclusions."

"Right," Gypsy agreed. "I put Andrew and me through a lot of needless stress because I couldn't get past my own hang-ups. And yet, with all of that, I have found complete acceptance and forgiveness here. I didn't know how alone and lost I was until Father opened my eyes. He really taught me to let go."

Maureen reached out and smoothed the girl's hair and then turned to Dean. "We're not trying to sell you anything, Dean. It's perfectly acceptable to us if this place is not for you or for anyone else," the older woman said. "We all have our paths in life. This is ours, and we wouldn't change that now for the world. We're connected and part of something great, thanks to Father."

"So when did this Father dude become your leader? Has he been here since you first got here, Maureen?" Dean asked.

"Oh no," Maureen said. "Father came to be with us less than two years ago. Before that, we were just a commune of farmers. Heck, we used to stage music concerts in the orchard, bringing in local bands during the summer to help support our very small group. No, most of what you see now is all new. Father showed up here the spring before last looking for work. I felt sorry for him, so I offered him a job. It didn't take us long to realize how much we had to learn from him."

"Huh, so lemme get this straight. Some stranger shows up on your doorstep out of the blue, and you make him your leader? Isn't that a little odd?"

"Maybe—to the unopened eye," Maureen said. "But you, too, have shown up on our doorstep out of the blue. Are you suggesting that you have so little worth that we should turn you away? Should we not take whatever teaching you have to offer? We are all teachers in our own way, Dean. Every last one of us."

Dean didn't know quite how to answer that. He expected something different from these people, more pressure maybe. They completely believed what they were saying. He wasn't sure what kind of spirit or creature could dupe people on this level. These people were fucking goofy, sure, but he didn't see any sign of outright coercion. It was hard to concentrate with his lungs refusing to work. He'd have to do a lot more research when he got back to the motel. He put his fork down, unable to ignore the pain in his chest and stomach. He was nauseous, and he took several shallow breaths to try and settle things. After a moment, he focused on Jason. As bad as he was feeling, he couldn't resist digging deeper.

"And what about you, Jason? Were you alone and lost, too?" Dean was surprised to see a twinge of pain in Jason's expression. The man didn't say anything for a moment.

"Sometimes you don't realize how lost you are," he said. "Sometimes it takes finding your true path to realize how empty your life was before."

Dean folded his arms in front of him. "That a fact? So how empty was your life?" he asked, barely able to mask his anger.

Jason gave him a pained look. "I had everything…and nothing. I was at the top of my game professionally, but something was missing. I tried to talk to my wife about it, tried to get both of us to cut back our hours at work, but she wouldn't hear of it. So, after a while I stopped trying. I lost myself in my job, became smug and cocky, thought I had the world all figured out." He set his fork down and eyed his half-eaten pancakes with a blank expression. "I was worse than Gypsy by far. I didn't come here to pull someone out. I came here with conscious intent to destroy the place. I was a reporter who believed The Kindred to be another Jonestown in the making. No. It's worse than that, even. I didn't just believe it, I wanted it to be another Jonestown. Another Jonestown or Waco would have been a huge career boost for me," he said, giving his bacon an aimless poke, guilt and remorse watering his blue eyes. "I learned the truth about Father as soon as I arrived and became an Initiate on my first night with The Kindred. After a couple of weeks I was promoted from Initiate to a Disciple. I've been learning to let go of my old life since then. Letting go of work and my career is easy. I still have an attachment to my wife that I am trying to come to terms with."

"Your wife?" Dean said, sitting up straighter, watching the man. "So you left your wife to come here?"

Jason swallowed thickly. "I love my wife more than anything," he said. "As soon as I became a Disciple I went to her and tried to convince her to come and join me. But she's…" He sighed. "She's willful. She doesn't understand. Her ego is very strong at the moment. Very strong," he said, wounded. He searched each face in turn. "I have hope, though. Being able to share this place with her would mean everything to me." Gypsy and Maureen reached out to him, gripping his hand, stroking his arm.

Dean shook his head, attempting to hide his disgust. "But if it comes right down to it, you'll choose this place over your wife?"

"I hope it doesn't come to that," Jason said, his eyes exposing a profound internal struggle. "I…I want to be with her. I do. I'm trying to let go of my own ego in this and allow what is meant to be to simply be. I'm trying. It's a hard road." Maureen caressed him and shushed him, offering him wordless encouragement.

Dean could feel sweat started to bead on his forehead. He pushed his plate away and tried to find a position to ease the pain. Maureen looked at him.

"Not hungry, Dean? Or did the pancakes not live up to all the hype?" she asked casting a worried eye at him.

"Sorry," he said with a frail breath. His entire torso was on fire: stomach, ribs and lungs all fighting for attention. "I think that cold is still hanging on. I don't quite have my appetite back." Maureen gave him a sympathetic pat.

"No worries," she began clearing his plate away. "Now what about you, Dean? We've told you all about ourselves. What kind of work are you looking for?"

"Uh," he said. "I'm a mechanic. I came up here to check things out. Wanted to see the mountains."

"You have any family up here?"

"Dean's on his own. His brother's attending Stanford," Brad said. The others raised their eyebrows, impressed. "What did you say your father does?"

"Sales," Dean said. "He's on the road a lot."

"Wow, Dean, you and your dad must be very proud of your brother," Maureen said. "No girlfriend or wife?"

"Uh, no," he said.

"Must get lonely being all alone," Jason said.

Dean gripped his churning stomach. "I get by all right," he said.

"Yeah, but there's a lot more to life than just getting by, don't you think?" Gypsy asked.

"I dunno," Dean shrugged, distracted. He didn't say anything else. Brad watched him closely.

"Sorry man, we don't mean to make you feel uncomfortable. We're passionate, that's all," he said.

"It's no big deal," Dean said with a forced smile. He knew he had to get out of there and back to the motel as fast as he could. Something was wrong, and he didn't know how much longer he could keep his shit together physically. Whatever this place was, whoever or whatever this Father creature was, it all needed to wait a couple more days. He was not ready to be out here. He shouldn't have eaten anything, it only made everything worse—far worse, and pain now radiated into his neck and back. A small whimper made it past his lips and all eyes were on him instantly. He gripped the table with white knuckles.

"Dean? What's wrong?" Maureen said standing up and supporting him.

"N—nothing," Dean said breathlessly. "I think I need to head back to my car. I need to go."

"Oh," Brad said, seeming disappointed. "Sure. Come on. We'll walk you there."

As Dean went to get up a bizarre rush of air flew from his lungs and gusted past his lips. It felt wrong, and when he went to fill his lungs back up nothing happened on his right side. He couldn't get the lung to expand. Discomfort became agony and he released a taut, airless gasp, suddenly doubling over. The surprised Jedis gathered around, creating a lattice of ready hands helping him to the floor.

"Dean," Brad said, easing him down. "Dude, talk to me. What's wrong?"

Dean tried to get words out, but he had no breath to support them. His chest tightened and tingled. All he could think about was Mei's angry warning that his lungs could collapse if he didn't take his recovery seriously. He continued to try and snatch air into his lungs, but they were nothing more than windless sails that refused to respond; he worked his mouth like a landed fish, gulping and gasping for air but getting precious little for the effort.

"That's it. Lay him down," Maureen ordered, her fingers flying to undo the first few buttons of his jacket and shirt, checking to see what, if anything, was restricting his airway. She quirked an eyebrow as she reached into his pocket and lifted out Dean's colt. They all stared at it in shock.

"What the hell?" Brad said as Dean tried to reach out and take it back. Maureen waffled with the gun for a moment, confused and disturbed, eyeing Dean with newfound suspicion and hurt. She shook her head and set the gun to the side, focusing her attention on the pale man before her.

She felt his forehead. "He's got a fever." She bent in close to him. "Do you have some kind of medical condition, Dean?"

Lehhmme up, he mouthed the words, struggling to remain conscious, pawing at their hands in blind panic. Lehmme go!

"We're just trying to help you, Dean," Brad tried to reassure the stricken man. He turned to the others. "Should we call an ambulance or something?"

"We should call on Father," Maureen said. "He can help."

"We can't, Maureen," Brad said, lowering his voice as if he was in danger of being overheard. "Father hasn't even let us know if he's worthy or not yet."

"His lips are turning blue," Gypsy said. "Is he having a heart attack? We have to do something. We need to get him some help."

Jason leaned in, checking Dean's fingers and lips. "He's hypoxic," he said. "I'm not an expert, but I was married to one. He's not getting enough oxygen." The man unbuttoned Dean's shirt the rest of the way, and all four of them gasped at the yellowing bruises and incisions. "He's freshly post-op," Jason said. "Maybe he's having some kind of complication or something. Do you think?" He turned to Dean and spoke in a loud voice. "Can you tell us what surgery you had, Dean?"

Dean tried to focus, but he only caught bits and pieces of words. Maureen bent in and asked him something, but he couldn't hear past the hollow cowbells ringing in his ears. She repeated her question again, something about an operation and if he'd had one recently. He couldn't remember. Haloes and starbursts surrounded everyone, and the room began to pixel and tessellate.

Brad seemed upset about something and pushed Dean's head back in an uncomfortable angle, pulling on his stitches. He'd have groaned if he had the ability.

"Father! Help him!" a distressed voice shouted as the older woman with the pony tail pushed her way back into his field of vision, moving her lips feverishly. Suddenly she stiffened, her back arching and her head falling backwards. When she lifted her head again, her entire demeanor shifted. She relaxed and settled, looking down at Dean. There was an iridescent flash in her pupils, and he found himself staring at the kindest brown eyes he'd ever seen in his life.

Everything stood still as those eyes swept over him. The woman smiled and caressed his cheek. Dean stopped struggling when she put a hand to his chest. Wherever her light fingers roamed, his body tingled and surged with energy and heat. The woman said something to the others and they also put their hands on Dean, chanting something in unison. The brown-eyed woman nodded at them as her features began to twist and morph, the font of her face becoming masculine but no less beautiful—perhaps even more so. The other three were enraptured, and when she reached out a hand toward them, they touched her with awe. Gypsy leaned in and placed a reverent, chaste kiss on the woman's hand.

"You've done well," the words reverberated. Dean could barely recognize the voice, distorted and warped by his suffocating brain or by something else, perhaps, he could no longer tell. The woman's brown-eyes fell on him again, contemplating him; her fingers read him, caressing him. After a moment, she spoke again. The tinny words sounded as though they were stuck in an echo chamber. "He is worthy, my children," she intoned. "He is so very, very worthy. Let us make him well so that he can begin his journey."

All four hazy figures gathered around and laid their hands on Dean. He felt a searing, electric pulse ripple through him, like a flame-thrower igniting from within. His lungs suddenly expanded, and he gasped and gulped air like a drowning man breaching the surface of a lake. The sudden inrush of oxygen wasn't enough to clear his head, however. The room continued to spin wildly, and his mind detached and darkened as the fire spread throughout his body, licking every cell. The last thing he saw was those beautiful brown eyes swirling like chocolate galaxies, watching over him, protecting him. The chanted words crackled like cedar in a comforting fireplace, penetrating his mind more than his ears, soothing and quieting all of his fears and worries.

"You are worthy, Dean. You are loved. Just let go."

And he did.

Go to Chapter 5

 
 
 
i dream of colors that have never been seenetoile444 on September 16th, 2013 02:07 am (UTC)
Oh that was so good. What have you gotten yourself into Dean? This writing is very good and I like your pacing. I also can picture it in my head. I look forward to trying to figure it out.
sharlot1926sharlot1926 on September 16th, 2013 03:27 am (UTC)
Thanks so much, etoile!

Yikes, Dean certainly is in the soup, now--for sure. But who doesn't like soupy!Dean, amirite or amirite? ;)

Thanks you also for your kind, KIND words. I had really great betas who helped me stay on track with the pacing and really helped me tighten things up. I do tend to be a little over-indulgent if left to my own devices. Heh.

Kat
aerynsun5: Despairing!Deanaerynsun5 on September 16th, 2013 01:18 pm (UTC)
Ooo, so good! Dean, you dumbass!
sharlot1926sharlot1926 on September 16th, 2013 08:37 pm (UTC)
LOL, yeah, he's not exactly thinking this through. We know he has this protective instinct, but right now he needs to just hunker down, make some calls to Bobby and other hunters and get himself well. But then again...this is Dean we're talking about. So...

:)

Thanks so much for the comment!

Kat
gluisa88gluisa88 on September 16th, 2013 01:24 pm (UTC)
Yikes! Poor Dean!

Looking forward to seeing how he gets himself out of this one!
sharlot1926sharlot1926 on September 16th, 2013 08:38 pm (UTC)
Heya gluisa! Yikes is right. We'll have to see how he worms his way out of this...but I think I'll bat him around and play with him some more before that happens. ;)

Thanks for the comment, hon! Take care!

Kat
jpgr: SPN Dean readingjpgr on September 16th, 2013 03:14 pm (UTC)
Just checking in. :) I love seeing everyone's reactions to something I've already read (except the last 2)! It is an intense ride, people!
sharlot1926sharlot1926 on September 16th, 2013 08:40 pm (UTC)
Heya Deb :) Have you not seen chapter 13? If not, I'll send it to you. I'm still fudging around with the final chapter. I promise it'll be done this week.

Big squishy hugs to you, lady!

Kat
jpgr: SPN Dean shrug anijpgr on September 16th, 2013 10:39 pm (UTC)
Nope. I checked the file and I only have up to 12. (I did mention that I gave the story its own file, yeah?) I didn't say anything earlier in case you were busy with it. Whenever you get the chance. Love this fic!
sharlot1926sharlot1926 on September 16th, 2013 11:44 pm (UTC)
D'oh! I just sent it to you. :)
arliss: car mountainsarliss on September 16th, 2013 04:52 pm (UTC)
And of course I'm going, "No, that's wrong, the commune is on Ba-- Oh." Of course, there could be more than one, I'm sure.

Oh, Dean, Dean, Dean, look what you've gotten yourself into now. We haven't run across this sort of critter in canon, have we? Interesting development. I love the story, and am delighting in your writing style, and can't wait to find out what happens next! (And I want to find that aerie!)
sharlot1926sharlot1926 on September 16th, 2013 08:50 pm (UTC)
Hah! Is there one on Bakerview or something? There are probably a few communes in the county. And to be honest...I kind of fudged with the exact location...because I couldn't quite remember where The River Farm is. For some reason, I think it was somewhere around Deming, but I can't remember for sure. I think it's still around. I did a search for them on the web and they still seem to be going (if maybe a smaller group these days). Oh lord, I hope they never read this story. LOL. Then again, they might find it amusing. Hah. Anyway...I remember going to their concerts they used to hold in the 90's. Tee!

Dean is certainly in the thick of it now. Geez. And no, we have not run across this creature in canon. It is a legitimate folklore critter, but I've somewhat mangled and molded it to suit my own devious purposes. It'll be a while before we find out exactly what it is.

I want to find that aerie, too! :P

Thanks for the comment, arliss. You put a smile on my face.

Kat
inanna_maat: Matadorinanna_maat on September 16th, 2013 05:45 pm (UTC)
oh-oh!!! this is amazing!!!! Dean is the best subject for a Cult...
sharlot1926sharlot1926 on September 16th, 2013 08:54 pm (UTC)
Howdy inanna_maat,

I always love stories with the "family" theme...and Dean's aching need for it. I thought it would be fun to have a cult fill that void for him. Poor guy...he just wants to run with his pack so badly...and I can't help but wonder how Dean was able to get through the Standford Years. I'm thinking they were very bumpy...

Thanks so much for your comment! Glad you're enjoying the story!

Kat
lidia1991_anlidia1991_an on September 16th, 2013 05:51 pm (UTC)

Amazing!

Poor Dean!
sharlot1926sharlot1926 on September 16th, 2013 08:55 pm (UTC)
Heyas lidia!

Yay, I'm so glad you're enjoying the story. Dean needs a big-ol' hug, I'm thinking. And I'm thinking it's not gonna get much better for...oh...about 10 more chapters. ;)

Thanks for your encouragement!

Kat
iontasiontas on September 17th, 2013 12:18 am (UTC)
Yikes! Oh, Dean! Now what? I can't wait for the next update.
sharlot1926sharlot1926 on September 17th, 2013 12:33 am (UTC)
Now the fun begins..../twitches ebil mustache! ;)

Kat
mdlawmdlaw on September 17th, 2013 01:31 am (UTC)
Oh no!!!!! m. : O
sharlot1926sharlot1926 on September 17th, 2013 02:23 am (UTC)
Ohhhhhhhhhhhh YES! /laughs maniacally!

;)

Thanks for the comment, hon! I appreciate it!

Kat
deangirl1deangirl1 on September 17th, 2013 02:08 pm (UTC)
Oh dear... that CAN'T be good... Hopefully, Bobby is on the way...
sharlot1926sharlot1926 on September 17th, 2013 05:13 pm (UTC)
It's definitely not optimum...I can tell you that! Could pose a few problems, I'm thinking...you know...like ina life-altering, free-will compromising kind 'a way! :) Dean's probably not going to have much fun, but I had a blast writing his woe. Heh!

Thanks for the comment, sweets!

Kat
stazzijenstazzijen on September 27th, 2013 07:04 am (UTC)
Hi Sharlot,

Been away for a while and just catching up with you. so excited to see all the chapters now ahead of me.

I'm intrigued to find out what's going on here. I love that there appears to be something not quite right with these people yet they seem so nice so far anyway. Can understand why Dean would not want to leave.

Your writing is so expressive.

Love all the Dean whumpage.

Off to the next chapter now.

Jen


sharlot1926sharlot1926 on September 27th, 2013 01:36 pm (UTC)
Well howdy there, Jen! Welcome back.

They do seem innocuous, don't they? They're pretty straight forward and honest. You have to wonder then, maybe how deluded THEY are or if they even know how off the rails they may have gone.

Thanks for the comment!

/hugs

Kat
JJ1564jj1564 on October 12th, 2013 08:29 am (UTC)
Oh my, this is making me tense! Dean's struggle just to keep walking, talking and focused was heroic but idiotic! Now he's healed I think he's out of the frying pan and into the fire!
sharlot1926sharlot1926 on October 12th, 2013 02:33 pm (UTC)
Out of the frying pan indeed! This can't lead to any good...it just can't.... /gulp!

Thanks, jj!

Kat
dljensengirl88dljensengirl88 on October 20th, 2013 05:14 pm (UTC)
I am loving this. Exploiting Dean's fear of being alone and making me feel so worried for him, so fantastic. Dying to keep going but my phone needs charging and I need food. ;-) I suspect I will be checking out your other work when I get through this. Great angst, great detail, great way to set these folk up in a way that makes me like them and fear them at the same time. Really like Mei. Hope she comes back.
sharlot1926sharlot1926 on October 20th, 2013 08:01 pm (UTC)
Hiyas jlgensengirl! Thanks so much for the comment. Oh yes, this particular fiend is looking for someone JUST like Dean, here...someone who is in need of family...someone who is loyal. It's not going to be an easy hunt AT ALL.

Aw, thanks for your kind words for Mei! No worries...we haven't seen the last of her. :)

Thanks again!

Kat