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It's Always Darkest Before The Dawn – Part Two

"Son of a bitch. Sam, are you sure?" Dean rubbed at his mouth with the back of his hand and glanced over at Sam for a second time. Sam was chewing on his bottom lip, the way he always did when he wore his Dean, this is bad face. A look which Dean hated each and every time he saw it and silently prayed he'd never have to see again.

"Dean, he used my head for batting practice. I remember pain in the dream and I had a killer headache when I woke up but you heard the doctor, it's not like I have any physical injuries." Sam's hands had risen to his head, running through his hair following the contours of his scalp, probing for any lumps. Finding nothing, his hands fell uselessly into his lap.

"Sam?" Dean said suddenly and Sam's head turned, sightless eyes directed somewhere over Dean's left shoulder. "If this is something supernatural, the hospital isn't going to be able to do shit, dude. We need to get you out of here—before they try whisking you off for medical research or something." Dean didn't add the part about how he was also worried the doctors would want to start examining Sam for possible mental health problems and fought back the image of his kid brother locked away in a padded cell somewhere.

Research. That one word provoked terrible feelings of hopelessness in Sam's mind. I'm not going to be able to do research, let alone watch my brother's back on a hunt. How the hell am I going to help him get out of his deal?

Dean watched his brother's facade crumble, momentary fear quickly giving way to hopelessness. "Sam. Hey, we'll find a way to help you man. Winchesters find a way."

Like I'll find a way to get you out of your deal right, Dean? I'm not going to be able to find my way out of this room unless someone holds my hand. Being a Winchester used to mean everything to Sam. The name had always instilled in him a feeling of pride, worth, belonging. As a child, Sam had always believed that as long as Dad and Dean were around, as a Winchester family unit, they were unbeatable. But Dad had died at the hands of the Yellow Eyed Demon and Dean was living out the last few months of his own death sentence now too. Being a Winchester didn't save Dad and it was starting to feel like it wasn't going to save Dean either. Being a Winchester didn't make Sam feel safe anymore, just cursed.

"Maybe I should stay—let the doctors run a few more tests?" Sam couldn't see Dean's expression but could imagine the glower Dean's face was doing right now. "You should go after Bela. Track down the colt; leave me here for a few days. I'll be alright Dean; I'm probably in the best place for me right now."

"What? Are you kidding me, leave you here? No way. No goddamn way, Sammy." Sam was right; he didn't need his sight back to recognize that Dean was getting angry. 'Angry Dean' usually came out to play whenever 'scared Dean' was threatening to make an appearance.

"Dean..." Sam knew that he was beginning to sound whiny, but he really did feel ill and miserable. The darkness was starting to feel claustrophobic, pressing in on Sam at all sides. In truth Sam didn't want Dean to leave him, Dean's voice, Dean's very presence was keeping Sam from breaking down altogether but he couldn't stand the thought of being a dependent burden on his brother either.

"Sam stop— I'm taking you out of here and we're gonna find a cure."

Sam smiled weakly, thanking God for 'determined Dean'. There was something about Dean's stubborn resolve which Sam couldn't help but find infectious, giving him a glimmer of hope when all he had wanted to do was admit defeat. "Dr. Burns is going to be pissed."

"Yeah, yeah, we'll worry about that later."

-0-

Dean drove, every now and then stealing the occasional glance over at his brother. Sam was sitting silent in the car, looking down at his hands twining in his lap. Only he wasn't really looking at his hands because Sam couldn't see anything. Christ, Sammy is blind now.

Dean couldn't even begin to imagine how hard that must be for the kid, not only being blind but not knowing if it was permanent. Supernatural blindness wasn't exactly something you could look up in a medical journal, in amongst all the advice on how best to stitch up a zombie bite or what poultice would work wonders on burns caused by a short-tempered fire spirit. There were no hard and fast rules, not where the supernatural is concerned. Sam could be stuck like this, forever...oh, shut up damn it! Dean smacked the heel of his hand against the side of his head with a dull thud, trying to smack away the negative thoughts which were claiming supremacy in his brain.

"Dean?" Sam had turned his head towards his brother but was busily grinding his knuckles roughly into his eye sockets, as though rubbing them bloody would make his vision come back.

"Yeah, I'm okay. Hey, hey—stop doing that, you're making them sore." Dean Winchester; cool as ice older brother and unsurpassed mother hen. Dean watched as Sam's fists moved away from his face. Sam blinked once and frowned. "Want to listen to some music Sammy?" It's not like the kid can play 'I Spy' to pass the time now is it. "You can choose the sounds dude." Dean offered temptingly.

Sam turned his head away and briefly Dean thought his magical comforting big brother skills had failed him. "Led Zeppelin," came the softly muttered response from the seat next to him.

Led Zeppelin? See, I knew he liked my cassette tapes, Dean smirked to himself. Not a top favourite. Not right up there with AC/DC's 'Back in Black' or the beyond amazing Metallica's 'The Black Album' but if Sam wanted Led Zeppelin then Led Zeppelin it would be. Dean pretty much bit his tongue in two to stop himself when he nearly asked Sam to dig the tape out from the box stored under his seat.

Sam to his credit, being the ever observant little brother that he was, seemed to sense Dean's dilemma and quickly bent over, rummaging under his seat before pulling out the box of tapes. He held out the box to Dean and Dean swiftly found what he was looking for. Shoving the tape into the stereo, the belting sounds of the opening track "Black Dog" soon filled the car.

A few seconds into the song and Sam was smiling, a small smile but still a smile and it warmed Dean's heart. Although he'd never admit to anything quite as soppy as that. "See, things are looking up already." Dean chirped as Sam huffed doubtfully. "Hey Sammy, remember that ugly ass black dog we hunted with Dad in West Virginia? If I remember rightly, didn't it pee on Dad's trouser leg?"

Sam's eyebrows rose and his smile widened. Everything's going to be just fine Sammy, you'll see. Yeah, "you'll see" alright.

-0-

For awhile Dean fed one tape after another into the stereo, moving from ZZ Top right through the entire Metallica back catalogue to Blue Oyster Cult's 'Mirrors'. A steady stream of one song after another, comforting enough that Sam eventually allowed himself to be lulled into a deep sleep.

Dean watched his brother fondly and swiped at his own tired eyes. They hadn't discussed where they were heading, Dean had purely satisfied his own need to just get in the car and drive—but this time he couldn't escape the thing that was hurting his brother. Maybe if we can find a motel, we can start doing some research...or at least I can.

Dean drove for another hour before finally pulling off the road at the Kingsley Inn, Fort Maidson, Iowa. Sam woke up in a dismal mood once he realized his vision had still not returned, grumpily batting Dean's hand away which scrabbled to try and help him climb out of the car. "Sam, you're going to face plant if you don't let me help you." Dean groaned frustrated by his brother's despondent attitude.

"Fine but let me take your arm instead of you yanking me all over the place." Sam reached out a hand and gripped Dean's elbow tightly as his brother carefully guided him out of the car and into their motel room.

"Okay you know the motel room drill Sam. Two queen sized beds against the left hand wall. One armchair at twelve o'clock and there's a desk at eight o'clock. The bathroom is towards the back and...hey, Sammy? That's the closet dude but if you want to take a leak in there go right ahead." Dean watched with forced patience. Fighting the urge to rush forward and grab Sam's arm every time his brother stumbled but eventually a gloomy faced Sam found his way successfully to the bathroom, closing the door and locking it behind him.

"Dean, I'm okay—I can manage." Sam muttered from beyond the thin door. Huh. The kid could still sense when Dean was in hovering mode.

"Alright but don't come crying to me if you end up washing your hands in the toilet bowl." Dean took a couple of steps away from the closed bathroom door and sat on the edge of one of the beds. If I hear anything which even remotely sounds like Sam in trouble, then I'm kicking the door in.

Dean was unashamedly relieved when his brother emerged some twenty minutes later, unscathed, with a towel around his waist and his hair dripping wet.

-0-

Sam yelped as the cold wet cloth hit his face with a satisfying slap. "Jeez, a little warning wouldn't go amiss next time Dean."

"Sorry. My bad." Dean grinned and glanced down at his brother who was laid out flat on his bed. The damp facecloth now resting across his eyes.

"Dean, it smells terrible. What did you say is on it again?"

"A little ground down Skunks Cabbage, Blessed Thistle and Angelica Root."

"Well, it really stinks."

"Quit bitchin'—give it time to work."

"Dean?

"Give it time Sammy."

"Dean!"

"What already?"

"It's starting to sting."

Dean frowned and promptly yanked the cloth away. He didn't need to ask to know that their latest attempt hadn't been successful.

So far, nothing had been successful. Not the holy water he'd used to sluice out Sam's eyeballs until his rims were red raw. Not the rituals Dean had chanted, one hand hovering over Sam's head. Not the Latin or Hebrew texts. Not even the Samburu tribal healing dance he'd thrown in for good measure. And Dean was feeling somewhat guilty for being relieved Sam couldn't see to witness him dancing that funky little number across the motel room floor.

Sam was still blind and sooner or later Dean knew he'd have to face up to the fact that his brother wasn't getting better. If anything Sam was starting to look worse. As time passed his brother's face was growing paler, bleached of colour and he was shaky on his feet. He was clearly in pain. Sam hadn't admitted that much but Dean could still see the way Sam was biting down on the inside of his cheek as he tried to hide it. Sometimes Dean really hated the way they had been raised as stoic 'suck it up' Winchesters.

"It's still early days yet Sammy. We'll figure it out." Dean forced himself to smile, even though Sam couldn't see to appreciate it. "Let's get some sleep for now okay?"

Sam just looked aching grateful that the experimenting was over and nodded.

-0-

When Sam woke up it was dark. This was not all that surprising considering that pretty much summed up the extent of Sam's world now. The all encompassing crushing darkness. He smacked his dry lips together and yawned loudly. There was a warm patch on his cheek which Sam vaguely wondered whether or not had been caused by a beam of sunlight streaming in through the motel room window or possibly from where he'd had his face pressed against his pillow. It could be two o' clock in the morning or two o' clock in the afternoon. Sam had no way to tell.

"Dean?" He whispered. "Dean, what time is it?" Crap, if it was two o' clock in the morning Dean was going to kick his ass. Sam pulled himself up into a sitting position. "Dean?" He tried again, a little louder now although he knew that Dean wasn't a heavy sleeper and usually woke up in a snap if he thought something was wrong. But there was still no answer.

Sam felt panic begin to bubble in his chest. Something was wrong. Where the hell was Dean? Dean wouldn't leave him. Something must have happened to his brother and Sam had been too damn useless to stop it.

"DEAN?" Sam threw back the bedclothes and stumbled up out of bed. He stuck out his arms, groping wildly in the darkness as he edged his way hesitantly across the room. But he had underestimated how light-headed he was and as Sam's knee hit against a hard object he felt himself topple forwards. His hands shot out instinctively and his head connected with something unforgiving on the way down as he landed in a heap on the carpet. Groaning loudly and rubbing at the rapidly forming lump on his forehead, Sam struggling to sit up. There was sticky wetness on his hands and he was pretty sure he'd split his head open like a melon, especially if the sharp spiking pain was anything to go by. Great, just perfect.

Sam's head shot up as he heard the motel room open and at a loss at what else to do, he raised his fists and tried to appear intimidating. He had been a skinny kid and his growth spurt at age fourteen had made him an even skinnier teenager but his return to hunting after leaving Stanford had agreed with Sam physically, even if it hadn't agreed with him mentally. And he'd grown into a muscular young man complete with a well toned six pack to prove it. So Sam could pull off intimidating, even though all intimidating six foot four of him was sitting on the floor in his pyjamas, bleeding like a stuck pig.

"Christ, Sammy."

Sam let out a long breath. Dean. He felt strong hands grip him under his armpits and hoist him upwards. "You know if you hate the decor in this room that much, you really don't need to head butt the wallpaper to prove it man." Gentle fingers ghosted over Sam's aching forehead and pressed a bandanna to the shallow cut above his eyebrow.

"I can't see the decor Dean." Sam groaned as the same fingers moved then to squeeze his shoulder ruefully. "Where'd you go to anyway?" Sam asked trying to soften his tone, after all none of this was Dean's fault and putting the guilt trip on his brother wasn't playing fair.

"I stepped outside to call Bobby; I didn't want to wake you yet."

Sam couldn't prevent the hopeful look which flashed across his face. "Can Bobby help?"

"He's going to try; he said we need to get our backsides over to his place pronto. He was a touch irritable seeing as we hadn't called him sooner— you know Bobby."

Sam's nose crinkled as it picked up on something. "I—I can smell donuts."

"I'm totally hiring you out as a human blood hound." Dean smirked as he opened the paper bag he was carrying and shoved a still warm jelly donut into Sam's hand.

Sam sniffed the air again as he bit into the donut with enthusiasm. "Coffee?"

"No coffee." Dean replied as Sam's smile dropped. "One girly frothy decaf latte with hazelnut syrup but no coffee."

"You're a jerk." Sam grumbled as the large styrofoam cup found its way into his hands. He took a sip, trying to ignore the way his stomach had been growling just moments before and yet was now churning uncomfortably as he swallowed down his breakfast.

Dean seemed to notice the sudden shift in Sam's expression. "You okay? You don't look too good."

"A bit queasy but kissing the floor with my face didn't help I suppose."

Dean shuffled his feet suddenly itching to get moving, get Sam fixed and fast. "Bobby will know what to do. The man has a book for every occasion."

"I sure hope so." The half eaten donut was dropped back into the paper bag.

"Yeah, me too Sammy." Me too.

-0-

The drive to Bobby's wasn't a long one but once again Dean found himself filling the empty hours with music. The scenery was nothing more than mile after mile of open farmland, so unless you had an obsession for agriculture or perhaps just a corn crop fetish, there wasn't a whole lot worth looking at. At least, that's what Dean kept telling Sam.

By the time they were nearing Bobby's place, it was pushing towards lunchtime and Dean was feeling hungry. He hadn't had the heart to sit stuffing his face with donuts when Sam had gone a sickly shade of green after only a couple of bites. "Sammy, do you reckon we'll be able to persuade Bobby to make us some of his famous Singer eggs? You know the omelette he makes with all those wild mushrooms?" Dean was nigh on salivating at the thought. Bobby could burn a slice of toast but he had a way with cooking eggs—his favoured no-nonsense fare for the bachelor man—which could draw a food lover like Dean into a near state of utter glee.

Sammy didn't answer and fleetingly Dean thought his brother might be sleeping. "Wakey wakey Sleeping Beauty." Dean said reaching out an arm and prodding Sam lightly on the shoulder. His heart dropped into his boots when instead of waking up, Sam's head simply lolled forward so that his brother slumped lifeless against the passenger side door.

Dean pulled the Impala over to the side of the road with an ear piercing screech of the tires. He was out of the car and running round to the passenger side in an instant. As he opened the passenger side door Sam slid out limply against him and he carefully lowered his brother down onto the flat surface of the gravel highway. Sam was white as a sheet and a thin sheen of perspiration covered his face. Dean reached out a hand and checked Sam's pulse, worried to find it racing beneath his fingertips. Son of a bitch. Sammy.

For several long seconds Dean was conflicted over what to do. If he risked taking his brother to the hospital—with all their expensive intricate medical equipment and God knows how many years of medical training—it could and probably would prove futile. And Dean strongly doubted he could stand by and watch a bunch of haughty doctors in white coats flapping around his brother because Sam needed help and a hospital simply wouldn't cut it this time. At any rate Bobby only lived around another thirty minutes drive away and if Sam's condition did take another nose dive, Dean could always call for an ambulance from there.

Carefully he laid his brother out in the back of the Impala. And with one eye on the road and one eye on the rear-view mirror where he could see his brother sprawled out on the backseat, Dean continued to drive only this time clearly losing his struggle to keep the Impala's speedometer dial below the hundred mark.

-0-

Bobby shoved a strong black coffee into Dean's waiting hands. "Okay so I've done some research on the dream root and it looks like Sam is suffering some form of supernatural induced trauma from the beating he endured in the dream. And well..." Bobby's eyes nervously scanned the floor.

"And?" Dean pressed. He could feel himself growing impatient as he reached over and pressed his hand against Sam's forehead, assessing his brother's temperature and hoping his unconscious brother would find some small comfort in the simple contact.

"And I have a theory."

"Oh, please do tell Bobby because you know nothing delights me more than playing with my brother's life by sharing our best guesses on ways to save him."

"Now listen up smart ass. I understand you're worried about Sam. I'm worried too but this is all we've got to go on right now so listen and listen good." Bobby paused and sucked in a ragged breath. "My theory is that Sam's brain and body are reacting the way they would have had he suffered the head trauma in the real world. And...if I'm right about this, the blindness should be temporary. The kid needs time to heal."

"That's it? We sit around on our pretty derrières keeping our fingers crossed he gets better. What, over time?"

"Well, yes that...and I called in a few favours, managed to get my hands on some linctus which comes from the same plant as the dream root."

"Just do something, please, anything."

Bobby scowled; the kid was really starting to try his patience. As his eyes fell on Sam, out cold on the couch, Bobby's heart softened. Dean was panicked and desperately afraid for his brother's life—and damn if these boys hadn't already had more than enough to cope with throughout the course of their young lives.

Bobby looked up fixing Dean with a determined stare. "I'll do everything I can to help him."

-0-

The long day passed slowly into night. Bobby mixed together a remedy using a cutting from the dream root plant and an assortment of herbs, most of which Dean had never heard of and couldn't even pronounce. Dean supported his brother's head tipping the glass towards Sam's colourless lips as a thin stream of the cloudy concoction trickled into his mouth. The swallow reflex seemed to force the majority of the liquid down successfully and Dean carefully wiped away the few splashes from his brother's chin. "See, you've got me mopping up after you now kiddo." Dean whispered to his brother's sweat-drenched face. Sam's brow crinkled in pain and he slept on.

Seeing Sam in pain never sat well with Dean. It never had, not from the common childhood illnesses which even the Winchesters had been forced to endure to Sam's first broken bone. Looking down at his little brother now was a cruel reminder of how he would be leaving Sam soon. Leaving him in the midst of a near desperate demon war, with easily half of the demons keen to march through hell parading Sam's body impaled on a spike. Dean knew that leaving Sam blind and consequently powerless to defend himself would mean he was as good as serving his brother up to those same demons on a silver platter.

At first Sam didn't seem to be making any improvements. He had shown no sign of waking up and in truth his pulse rate sped up a notch leaving Dean feeling like his composure was ready to shatter but slowly Sam started to regain some colour in his face and for the first time since this whole nightmare began, Dean let himself believe that things might get better, that Sam might get better.

It was almost dawn of the next morning when Sam's fever finally dropped and Sam started to stir. Dean had been keeping constant watch over his brother, moving away only when a firm Bobby forced him into the kitchen to make himself something to eat. But when Sam opened his eyes blinking rapidly, a near exhausted Dean forcing down tiny mouthfuls of a mushroom omelette was the first thing he saw.

"Dean— are you wearing an apron?"

Holy crap. "Sammy? You can see me?" The plate of unfinished omelette ending up shoved to one-side.

"You're fuzzy around the edges but I can see that you're totally working the Martha Stewart look."

Dean's grin was broad and the unexpected happiness so consuming; he almost forgot to come back with something. "Sh—shut up."

"That's original." Sam's eyes ached with a dull throbbing pain which seemed to hack right into his skull, like he had the hangover from hell but having his sight back pushed any thoughts of discomfort aside. "Dean?"

"Yeah?"

"You'll make some lucky guy a fine housewife one of these days."

"SHUT UP."

Sam had always been the sensitive one, despite his Dad's best efforts to the contrary and so it didn't come as that big a surprise to Dean when he found his brother resting in a cane chair on Bobby's porch staring out at the starry night sky. Dean chuckled, his face wearing a lopsided grin as he swallowed the urge to rag his brother about it, but the kid had earned at least one hassle free stargazing session.

"You enjoying the Milky Way there Poindexter?" Okay, so not entirely hassle free.

"It's amazing isn't it?" Sam asked. Oblivious to Dean's gentle sarcasm, he pulled his gaze away from the heavens to glance over at his brother. His eyes were bright and shining and soaking up everything around him as though it were an original van Gogh. Dean felt a lump stick in his throat.

Leaving Sammy would be the hardest thing Dean would ever have to do, the only thing he never wanted to do. But Dean felt some minuscule sense of relief that Sam had a fighting chance again now and besides, his deal wouldn't come due for another few months and where there's a Winchester, Dean knew there was still hope.

-end-

BlueEyedDemonLiz's A/N: I really hope you've enjoyed reading this fic as much as we enjoyed writing it. It's been a fantastic experience to work with another writer, especially someone as talented as Gidgetgal. Hopefully I can twist her arm and convince her to agree to write with me again.