Food For Thought Chapter 2

Introducing Anthony Stewart Head, whom my rather weird and wonderful imagination brought in to play Dr Paul Lewis.

And yes, he's playing it sort of Rupert Giles style. Sad I know.


Dean spent the next few hours trying to focus on some boring sitcoms on the TV, got up and paced for a while, watched Sam's fevered struggles in despair, and also made a few more calls to his father, his messages alternating between heart breaking begs and pleas, all the way up to the downright threatening. But the very worst part was trying to shut out those delirious cries for help.

Somewhere along the way he must have left a message stating where they were and the name of the motel, because in the early hours of the morning Dean woke up startled at the loud knocking. He stared at Sam for a long moment and he could swear his brother had shrunk in size even further, his cheekbones more pronounced, and the bonds at his wrists had loosened.

Hating himself all the more for it, Dean reached over and gently tightened the makeshift restraints though he doubted Sam had much strength left to fight him. On auto pilot by now, weariness eating at him, Dean grabbed his gun and strode to the door.

The knocking came again, louder and more impatient this time.

"Dean? It's me! Open up!" An equally impatient voice announced.

Dean drew a breath, tentatively opened the door and stepped back. John Winchester stood in the doorway, frowning deeply, rain water dripping off his nose. Dean blinked. When did it start raining?

"What's wrong with Sam?" The deep, calm tones snapped Dean out of his tired trance.

Scrubbing a hand over his face, Dean stared up into his father's expressive brown eyes. "Long story."

John strode over to Sam, taking in the disturbing sight of his youngest son trussed to the bed. He gently pressed the palm of his hand to Sam's cheek and smiled tenderly when Sam slowly opened his eyes and stared up at him, face twisted with fear and pain.

"Dad?" He whispered weakly.

"Yeah, it's me son. We're gonna sort this out, me and Dean, so I don't want you worryin' kiddo." John stroked his hair, and Sam slowly closed his eyes. "You just get some sleep. We'll talk when ya feelin' better."

He turned to his oldest son, noting with some concern the exhaustion etched on his face.

"Sit down." He ordered. Dean obeyed immediately as John headed over to the coffee machine on the breakfast bar. As soon as John thrust a hot steaming mug into Dean's hands, he sat down on the edge of Sam's bed. "Tell me..."


John leaned over Sam, studying his face and wondering where the hell he'd gone wrong.

"Dad, I'm sorry. This is my fault." Dean sounded utterly miserable, and John sighed. Dean as usual felt responsible, and John really needed to put him right on that but they didn't have the time.

"Getcha things together." John replied gruffly then started untying Sam's wrists, his youngest son barely flinching at the contact. Time was running out and John was fighting panic every second.

"Dad, what are you doing?" Dean tried to keep calm but Sam seemed to be disappearing right in front of him. And that was a ridiculous notion; Sam wasn't a ghost, though he sure was starting to look like one with his face white as a sheet, eyes glassy and distant.

John hooked one arm under Sam's denim clad knees, the other under his back and lifted him up, cradling the kid to his chest. He'd been expecting to be almost floored by his son's bulk but to his shock and fear Sam had lost a frightening amount of weight, and it was easier than it should have been to carry him out to the Impala.

"Your brother needs medical help while we find a way to break the curse. They can figure out what's happening to his body, monitor him, give him pain relief..." John threw Dean a worried glance "...give him breathing support if it goes too far. Get the door."

Dean nodded and obeyed before he grabbed their duffle bags from the room and loaded them into the trunk. Sliding into the rear passenger seat he held out his arms. "Give 'im here Dad."

And John did just that, hiding a brief smile; Dean hadn't even thought about who was driving, choosing to keep his brother warm and calm rather than being in control of his precious car.

As John started the engine, Dean tugged Sam closer when he started to shiver. A hand covering Sam's forehead told Dean that the fever was back in full force, but this time the bastard had brought some friends along. He caught his Dad's eye in the review mirror and an unspoken message of reassurance passed between them.

They'd break the curse and Sam would be fine.

He had to be.


Dr Lewis stared through the observation window of Sam Winchester's room and frowned.

How the hell do I tell them? How the hell do I explain what's going on when I'm not even sure I understand?

Sam had been admitted to the ICU three hours ago, and in spite of everything that was being done for him he was still deteriorating. Paul Lewis had been in this job for nearly twenty years and he'd never seen a case like it. He placed the boy on a high protein/carbohydrate nasal feed, vitamins and fluids through an IV port in his arm and neck, and when his sats started to plummet had him on oxygen therapy. But he just wasn't responding.

What was truly shocking was the fact he was still conscious, even asking for his brother and father. But Paul had kept the family out of the way until now for Sam's sake – they were panicking enough as it was - so he could run a barrage of tests. The results weren't encouraging.

Turning slowly, one hand raised and rubbing his tired eyes under the tiny spectacles, the doctor faced the kid's small but extremely worried and angry family.

"Well?" The father stepped forward, almost threatening. "What's happening to 'im?"

"Please Mr Winchester, take a seat." Paul raised his eyebrows, dipped his head and indicated a chair on the other side of the desk. He got the distinct impression his upper class English accent wasn't earning him any brownie points, but at least the invitation was sullenly accepted. Though Dean remained by the window, watching over his brother, Paul was certain his ears were well and truly open.

"I can't explain why but your son's metabolic rate has increased dramatically since he was brought here." Paul kept his eyes steadily on John but sensed when Dean shifted slightly to stare at him. "Exponentially with each hour that's passed in fact. What it means is his caloric intake needs be much higher to match, but I don't think that's going to work."

Now he really had Dean's attention. "Why? Can't you just keep him on the IV and all that shit until we find a way to help him?" Paul had no idea why that statement sounded weird but it did. Of course, he couldn't have known that whilst he was examining their youngest, the father and brother were busy doing research of their own.

"We'll keep him on it, but it won't sustain him for long; his metabolism is increasing all the time. If he were to keep eating high calorie content food, non-stop, twentyfour-seven, it still wouldn't be enough." Paul sighed in quiet frustration. "He's dangerously malnourished as it is, having lost about twenty pounds in weight in the last two hours alone."

John stared at him in disbelief. "Are you saying that my son is literally starving to death?"

Paul took off his glasses to give them a quick buffing on his shirt and replaced them again as he replied quietly. "I'm afraid so."

Dean felt cold hearing that out loud. He'd suspected it for a while now but to have it confirmed...come on Sammy fight this!

Paul noticed Dean growing pale and smiled sadly. "I've put a respirator on standby."

Dean now stared at him, eyes hard with fear. "What are you sayin'?"

"If this continues your brother will grow too weak to breathe on his own. Without help I'd give him another hour at most." Meeting John's ferocious gaze he continued. "I'm sorry. We're doing everything we can for him, but I'm afraid it might not be enough. We'll try to keep him as comfortable as possible, but you'd best prepare yourselves for the worst."

John leapt to his feet and Dean let out an angry growl. "Don't you dare say that!"

Paul stood and moved over to Dean, staring determinedly into his eyes. "I'm not giving up on him Dean, none of my staff here will let him go without a fight. But he's soon going to be burning an average of five thousand calories an hour and I've no idea how to deal with that. Frankly, your brother shouldn't even be alive given his greatly accelerated heart rate." He paused before adding "that's called hope. Stubborn little sod that he is."

Dean gazed back silently for a long moment, then hung his head and nodded. "Thank you. For ya know...tryin'." He muttered tiredly.

Paul reached out and tentatively squeezed Dean's shoulder. "In the meantime, I'm going to try everything I can think of to slow his metabolism down and protect his heart. Buy Sam more time while we figure this out." Opening the door to Sam's room he added. "Go on, go and sit with him. He's been asking for you."

With a quick polite smile at John, Dr Lewis left and Dean didn't hesitate. Before John could blink Dean was pulling up an easy chair to Sam's bedside.

John felt torn between spending as much time with his sons as he could and trawling the internet for answers. Eventually he came to a difficult decision and set up Sam's laptop in front of the observation window in Paul's office; he didn't want to be too far from his boys should they need him, but equally he didn't want to intrude.

Instinct told him Dean needed some time alone with Sam.


"Hey buddy, you still awake?" Dean grinned down at his little brother. It was an effort not to stare; Sam seemed too fragile, features almost skeletal, his once strong jaw line now looked as though it would break if Dean so much as touched it.

Tired blue green eyes cracked open just above the oxygen mask, followed by a small smile. "Yeah. Can't seem to sleep." Sam croaked out.

Dean reached out and stroked Sam's damp hair; his face and neck was pouring with sweat as his body burned fuel like a space shuttle. "You in any pain kiddo?" He asked softly.

Sam gave a slight shake of the head. "Nah. Got me on some real happy juice. Don't even feel hungry anymore." He chuckled lightly. "Guess we'll be goin' back to that diner when this is all over."

Laughing a little in turn Dean leaned over him. "Damn straight we are. And we'll take Dad with us; he'll love those pancakes!" Sam's thinking of the future; it's not much but it's something.

Turning his head a little more towards his older brother, Sam regarded him. " ok Dean?"

Resisting the urge to frown when he noticed Sam's voice already becoming breathless, Dean carried on grinning broadly. "You know me Sammy, I'm always ok. It's in the Big Brother job description."

The brothers fell silent for a few minutes until Sam spoke up again.

"Hey...D...Dean...could you a f...favour?" Sam was starting to struggle, and Dean heard the wheezing as his brother tried his hardest to draw air in.

This is happening too damn fast!

Silently congratulating himself on maintaining the smile, which now felt frozen to his face, Dean nodded. "'Course I will Sammy."

Gasping a little as he tried to get the words out, Sam reached out a thin arm and pointed at something on the nightstand. "Pass me...pad and...pen..."

Ok, now the smile slipped and the frown came out to play. "Sure. What for?" As if he didn't know.

Sam somehow managed to smirk. "M'not stu...stupid. N...not long...and won't...breathe." He blinked slowly. "Gonna ha...have tube in m'thr...throat." He was reduced to whispers by the end of the sentence, and the pulse oximeter let out a high pitched whine as his blood oxygen saturation bottomed out, and he gradually stopped breathing altogether.

"Sammy!" Dean was frantically stabbing at the call button as Sam stared at him, lips turning blue. "Sam no! Come on you have to breathe...Sam!"

Sam looked frightened as his body jerked a little. He hadn't given up, was still fighting to pull oxygen into his lungs, and reached out a shaky hand to his brother who immediately grabbed it up in a tight hold.

Dr Lewis arrived in record time and wheeled over the respirator.

"Hold still Sam," Paul gently tilted Sam's head back. "Try to relax and don't move."

Sam was quickly intubated, his chest giving a sudden heave as oxygen was mechanically forced into his body. Dean stroked his scalp and Sam stared up at him with badly frightened eyes. Feeling Paul's consoling grip on his shoulder, Dean nodded sadly and pushed the pen into Sam's hand.

"We'll figure it out Sam. Dad and I aint lettin' you go so easy."

Sam blinked again and gave his brother's hand a weak squeeze, then used his other to start scribbling on the notepad, and Dean glanced down to see what he'd written.

Where is Dad?

"He's in the doctor's office Sam. Dad's using your laptop to find an answer." Dean watched as Sam continued scribbling away.

Just be sure to tell him the porn cookies are all yours, and nothing to do with me.

Dean laughed softly. "Hey bustyasianbeauties was my birthday gift to you! Ya ungrateful little shit!"

Sam tried to smirk around the black ET tube holder wedged firmly in his mouth, but the straps that wound round the back of his head holding it in place were too tight, and it came off as a grimace. Dean managed to get the general idea though and grinned back.

Funny how it's you that spends so much time on it. Aren't there other websites you could look at?

"Sure there are." The grin turned dirty. " nakedenglishroses is great. All the babes wear football scarves...and nothin' else!"

Another attempted smirk, then a serious glint came into Sam's eyes. More scritching on the pad as he wrote something else.

I'm sorry Dean. I tried not to stare at her, but she got inside my head and wouldn't let go.

"It's ok Sam. Not your fault." Dean leaned forward again, this time one arm rested lightly on Sam's pillow above his head, almost enclosing his little brother in a loose embrace. "Can you remember if she said anything to you?"

No. All I remember is the light. He paused then carried on, handwriting growing shaky and hard to read. Was she wearing any jewellery? A pendant or amulet?

Dean frowned. "No. Not that I..." He stopped, his eyes going wide. "Oh shit!"

Sam stared up at him, eyes wide.

Dean what's wrong?

"Shit! That's why the curse is getting out of hand dude!" Dean looked immediately remorseful. "I was so worried about you I didn't go back to salt and burn the bitch. Sammy I'm so sorry kiddo!" Before he got the chance to say anything else a voice bellowed out behind him.

"You did what?!" Dean turned to find his very angry father standing in the doorway to Paul's office.

"Dad..." Dean met his father's gaze and didn't back down, but the past was coming back to haunt him. I've let them down before...

"Have you learned nothing Dean? You never leave the body intact. You salt, you burn," John yelled out, "you don't leave evidence and you don't give the damn thing a chance to come back and cause more havoc!"

"I know," Dean's gaze hardened. "I screwed up. I get that. But Sam was real sick and I didn't know how bad it was. He needed to get to a hospital..."

"He wouldn't have needed to go anywhere if you'd just gotten rid of her damn body!" John lowered his voice when he saw Sam flinch, but that didn't stop the row that followed.

Sam watched as John and Dean went toe to toe, and started frantically scribbling again. When he finished he reached out and weakly grabbed onto Dean's Tee-shirt, giving it a feeble yank. But his Dad and brother took no notice and carried on arguing, and Sam was worried it would get physical. It was time to take drastic action.

Feeling sick at what he was about to do, Sam lifted a shaky hand to his mouth and started trying to work the endotracheal tube free. Moving it provoked the desired response, and Sam started choking and gagging. He hoped to God this would soon get their attention because once again he couldn't breathe.

Fortunately both John and Dean heard the terrible noises and immediately Sam felt himself surrounded, his arms pinned to the bed, and Dr Lewis appeared in his line of sight. The doctor looked somewhat pissed and Sam would've tried a sheepish grin, but he was pretty sure it would look more like a wince.

"What in the name of all that's holy were you trying to do, you silly boy! You could've damaged your vocal cords!" Paul worked the tube gently back into position and Sam found himself breathing again, albeit artificially. Dr Lewis tapped his arm sternly. "Do that again and I'll have you put in restraints!"

Even if he'd been able to argue, Sam was just too tired and drained, but he held out the pad to Dean who took it just as Paul left the room shaking his head in bewilderment, muttering about more scans to check the tube was in its proper place.

Once he read Sam's notes Dean passed it on to his father, who glanced from one son to the other before taking a good look.

Did if ever occur to you that it was all part of the same curse? That the witch didn't just zap me, but Dean also? The previous victims came in pairs, so why not us? Seems kinda weird that Dean would forget something so important, and I didn't even think of it until he mentioned it just now. Now stop fighting for fuck sake and go burn that bitch in case Dean gets sick too!

After a pause his Dad admitted with a small guilt-ridden smile "You're right Sam," John turned to his oldest son, "Dean..."

"S'ok Dad." Dean said graciously. "You weren't to know. And if our roles had been reversed then I would've balled you out too." He offered up a sudden cheeky grin.

"Oh you would huh?" John grinned then clapped him affectionately on the back. "Come on kid. Let's do as he says."

But Dean refused to budge and stubbornly folded his arms. "Nuh uh. I'm not leaving Sam on his own. You can handle this one right?"

Sam's eyes clouded with concern and he picked up the pen once more, not knowing how much longer his strength would last.

John dropped his gaze from Dean's and nodded. "You're right. Sam shouldn't be left on his own. I got this." And made a move to leave.

Dean started when he felt something hit his arm and he glanced down. Sam was staring at him in something akin to desperation and holding out the pad again, his hand trembling with the effort.

"Take it easy Sam." Dean read the note, then slowly laid the pad back down. His eyes stung with moisture as he took in Sam's frightened expression. "Ok kiddo. I'll go help Dad, make sure he doesn't get cursed too, but you stay awake and keep fighting. You hear me Sam? I don't want to come back here only to find that you've..." Dean stopped and tried it another way, "to find that it's all been for nothin'."

He took in Sam's tired and sunken face, the shadows under his eyes and the pale, translucent flesh. "You better still be here when I get back Sam. I mean it."

The room fell silent except for the scritch-scratch of Sam writing another message, but this time it was short and to the point.

I will. I promise.

John leaned over his youngest and pressed a small kiss to the side of his head, surprising the hell out of both Sam and Dean. Their father wasn't usually one to give over to such displays of affection.

"We'll be back before you know it son. Stay strong." John smiled down at Sam before glancing at Dean. "Let's go."

Dean gave Sam one last grin. His little brother raised a weary hand and extended his middle finger, quite clearly stating get the fuck outta here.


Dean drummed nervous fingers on the steering wheel. He really hadn't wanted to leave his brother, but had no choice. The worst part was how long it would take to get there and back; the last time he and Sam completed the one way journey it had taken around two hours, not including Sam's first stint in hospital. Not this time though. Dean was determined to cut the journey time down by half if at all possible.

His father remained quiet. John, in spite of the calm attitude felt terrified. His youngest son, Mary's last gift to him, was dying and he desperately wanted to be by his side. Truth be told he had little faith they'd be able to stop this in time, but there was no way on God's green Earth he was telling Dean that; things were going to get tough enough.


Sam stared up at the ceiling, his thoughts frantic and coming apart at the seams. Shivers continued to attack his body, his throat was already sore from the vent, and his skin felt cold from perspiration soaking the bed sheets. Nurses had been in to change the bedding, but it soon became saturated again as his body carried on burning like a forest fire out of control. Dr Lewis had been by to check on him a few times, his brow furrowed in concern and sympathy, soft words of reassurance that actually helped. Sam kinda liked the guy; he was genuine and didn't give in to panic easily, though Sam could guess what his family thought of him. Geek would be the first word out of Dean's mouth if asked, and God only knew what his father would say. But Sam sensed a quiet strength in the doctor that he couldn't help admire.

Fear wasn't an issue, at least not for his own life. Would Dad stay with Dean? Would he stick around long enough to make sure Dean was ok? Or would he take off after the thing that killed their mother and Jess, leaving his brother to pick up the pieces? God he hoped not. Dean was more vulnerable than he let on and Sam worried he would go into self-destruct mode once he was gone.

Sam had wanted to go out fighting but this wasn't quite what he had in mind. Starving to death? Jeeze! He would've chuckled at that if he'd been able to. But at the end of the day, did it really matter? He would finally get to see Jess, the woman he'd wanted to spend the rest of his life with, and that didn't make this ok. But it was a start.

His father and brother wouldn't get there in time, he was fairly convinced of that. But he held on. Whilst some semblance of consciousness remained Sam penned his last message to his loved ones.


"Well, that was an anticlimax." Dean muttered as he and his father watched the gypsy's corpse burn. The scent of scorched flesh set Dean's stomach rolling and by the look on John's face he guessed his father wasn't feeling much better about it.

"What would you prefer? An all out slugging match with her ghost?" John started edging round the cave, spraying kerosene over her possessions. There wasn't much, in fact it was rather sad just how little she'd owned. A few dog-eared books, a clay pipe now yellowed with age and use, the bones of what might once have been her pet cat, and a few miscellaneous pots and pans, blackened and charred by years of cooking over an open fire.

John finally shook the last of the kerosene over the skulls piled up at the entrance to the cave then sprayed some over the ones decorating the roof.

In all honesty Dean had been expecting trouble when they arrived, even hoped for it. The bitch was slowly killing his little brother and he really wanted, needed, to let out some aggression. So if the gypsy had attacked him, giving him the opportunity for some gratuitous violence then he'd have been more than happy. But her spirit hadn't the courtesy to even show up so far. Dean shrugged at his father. Clearly the evil old hag was satisfied her work in life was done and felt no need to carry whatever grudge she'd held into the afterlife.

John dropped the jerry can and reached into his pocket for a box of matches. He struck one quickly but a sudden gust of wind blew out the flame and the smell of ozone filled the cave.

Dean glanced around, eyes squinting into the gloom. She was still here, he could feel it.

"Dean, she's protecting the skulls. That's what's keeping her here!" John struck another match, but this time a loud, eerie animal-like howl broke out and John was thrown violently into the cave-wall. Groaning in pain, John staggered to his feet just as Dean sailed by him and right out the cave, landing with a thud on the woodland floor.

"Dad here!" Dean took out his Zippo and threw it to his father, then scrambled to his feet just as John whirled round, drew back his hand and flung the lighter into the pile of skulls. The kerosene caught instantly and spread, following the trail of fuel inside the cave and up the walls. John ducked and ran just as a large green flame shot out, nearly scorching him.

When he reached his son the two of them watched the skulls cracking in the intense heat, heard the wails of the dead gypsy, and finally bore witness to the many lost souls as they slowly emerged from their prison. Shimmering blue blobs milled around like marsh gas, confused and troubled and on spotting the Winchesters floated towards them, seeking answers.

John and Dean exchanged glances. This was certainly unexpected. These were the victims of the witch's curse; had become trapped here by their own bones and now that they were released from captivity they hovered about uncertainly. Several gratefully reached out to John and Dean, lightly brushing their faces with spectral hands, but some were scared, and others were angry.

"Are we gonna need a banishing ritual?" Dean asked in a low voice.

John just watched for a long moment before answering. "I don't think so. See?" He pointed to the centre of the swirling mass. "They're leaving now. It just took them a while to figure it out."

Dean nodded. The dense, deep blue was slowly fading as the spirits dissipated; it was quite beautiful to watch in its own way, the colours reminding him of the sea in Finding Nemo. He heard his father mutter "Rest in peace" and turned to face him.

"You think they will? Given how they all died?"

"That's a door I've never opened, and we'll all get our chance to find out one day." John let out a soft laugh. "Death is the only guarantee in life."

"Yuh, well," Dean looked back at the cave one last time. "Let's just hope Sam hasn't..." He couldn't finish that sentence and just trudged back through the trees not even waiting for his father.

John sighed and followed on.

They hit the road soon after. The atmosphere was heavy and uncomfortable, both Winchester men deeply immersed in their own thoughts and worries. Sam, of course being the main subject. John lost count of the number of times he'd reached for his cell phone to call Sam's doctor, only holding off when he reminded himself that Paul promised to call if there was any change. He was also pretty certain that Dean was fighting the same battle, his death-like grip on the steering wheel a clear indication of the tremendous self-control he owned. That there was no word of Sam had to be a good thing; he was still alive, and maybe he was even improving and breathing on his own again now that Dean and John had finished off

As far as Dean was concerned the journey was taking too long, but he still would've thought it if he'd been piloting a Typhoon Eurofighter across the skies right now. Any distance between Dean and his little brother was too far and Dean put his foot down, the Impala eating up the miles with a angry growl. Out the corner of his eye his saw his father wince as they sped passed a cop car, but the law was already dealing with another miscreant and hadn't noticed; a drunk driver, judging by the rather comical attempt to walk in a straight line. But Dean paid no heed. If he had to outrun the entire state's law enforcement to get to Sam then so be it. Ironically, the closer they got to the hospital as time swept by, the more agitated and nervous he became. He just couldn't explain it. A nasty feeling was growing, one that wouldn't abate no matter what he told himself, no matter what reassurances his father provided.

Dean couldn't shake the notion they were too late, that the damage had been done.


Abandoning the Impala at the first parking space they could find, both men raced inside, through the reception area, and pell-mell up to the Intensive Care Unit. They didn't even stop to wait for the lift, choosing the stairwell instead when the display showed the lift to be on the top floor. Bounding up two or three steps at a time, John and Dean remained silent. Not a word was needed in their ascent and they crashed through the double doors, frightening the life out of the ward clerk; she dropped her carefully rearranged files all over the floor, and opened her mouth to yell at them but they were already passing through, swiftly making their way to Sam's room. Swearing and muttering under her breath, the clerk gathered up the files and started sorting them back into order.

Dr Lewis was perched on the edge of Sam's bed, hunched over a clipboard when Dean and John showed up, barely out of breath. He slowly got to his feet and Dean could tell by the doctor's tired slumped shoulders the news wasn't good.

John's eyes swivelled to his youngest boy, his heart sinking. Sam had lost even more weight in the few hours they'd been gone. To say that he now looked impossibly thin was an understatement; Sam vaguely resembled pictures often seen on the front of Oxfam shops. The blood pressure cuff, now a permanent fixture round his upper arm was hitched tightly but it made the limb seem impossibly thin, and the respirator in his mouth simply dwarfed Sam's face.

"Sammy?" Dean whispered fearfully as he stepped closer, but there was no response. The form in the bed didn't even look like his brother anymore. He glanced up at Dr Lewis, eyes resigned. "There's no way to help him is there?"

Paul stared at the floor for a moment. But the Winchester's deserved better than that and he raised his gaze to Dean's. "I'm afraid not," he answered softly, regretfully. "Your brother slipped into a coma a few minutes ago. I'm so very sorry." Paul picked up a note pad from the nightstand and handed it to Dean. "Sam left this for you." He nodded at John before leaving the room to give them some time alone with Sam.

Dean sank down into a seat, whilst John took the doctor's place on Sam's bed. He watched as Dean's eyes scanned the words, saw him take them in, process them, and knew what was coming.

Dean slammed out of his seat and paced to the window, thumping his fist on the glass with such force that John winced. Lucky that sucker's reinforced! He reached out, picked up the fallen note pad and read his youngest son's last words.


Ironic huh? You're the big eater and I'm the one who gets a food curse. Bet that extra cookie doesn't seem so great now!

If it's any consolation, I'm meant it when I said I wasn't in any pain. Paul Lewis saw to that; he's been great and he's done the best he can, so don't give him a hard time.

I owe you so much, Dean. I'd go into detail but my hand kinda hurts and I don't think I have much time. I'm only sorry we didn't stay in contact when I went to Stanford; we wasted so much precious time and I didn't want to make the same mistake with you and Dad as I made with Jess. I wanted the chance to say good bye, but I can't so this will have to be the next best thing.

Dad, I'm sorry we never got along and that I was such a disappointment. I only hope that by joining Dean back on the hunt I've gone some way to making it up to you, even if it was only for a little while. I get it now. I finally understand.

Look out for each other, and when you catch up with the son of a bitch that killed Mom and Jess, give him hell from me.

Remember that I love you both, and please don't blame yourselves for any of this.


The hand writing was hard to read at times, a testament to just how weak Sam had become, and John's eyes burned with tears.

"Aw Sammy." John raised a hand to Sam's cheek, gently tracing a circular pattern with his thumb. Sam's skin felt like hot, dry parchment to his touch, as though it would fall to dust any moment. "You were never a disappointment, my baby son..." He squeezed his eyes shut and let the tears go, pressing his head against Sam's chest.

Dean swung round on hearing that, but his anger died as soon as it had arisen at the sight of his family in so much pain, so broken. He dearly felt like punching the window again, but this time with enough force to break it, break his hand, his arm, his very soul.

He wanted to roar with anger, felt the urge to jump in the car and drive, drive to the very end of the world, off a steep cliff, anything to lose the pain, drown out the sound of his own heart breaking.

But a young Sam was smiling at him across the years, the little brother he taught to tie his shoe laces, the Sam he played pranks on, the young Sammy he read stories to every night. The kid brother that had once worshipped the very ground he walked on.

I can't let him go, not like this.

Dean slowly moved to the bed; taking in Sam's closed eyes, bloodless lips and frail body. As his father shifted round to the chair by the bed, Dean took his place.

"Sammy," Dean leaned down, voice low, mouth pushed right up against Sam's ear. "I know you can hear me. The curse is over. It's time to start fighting again." One hand was stroking his brother's damp unruly hair; the other had a firm grip on Sam's hand. "It's time to come back now, ya hear?"

Anyone glancing into the room might have got the wrong idea, but John knew what this was. This was big brother keeping hold of sick little brother, protecting him and guiding him home.



Someone shook his shoulder.


Dean gradually came awake and rolled his head, trying to work out the kinks in his neck. Blinking and sucking in a breath he glanced up at Paul. "Sammy ok?"

Paul raised his eyebrows in amazement. "You could say that, yes." He nodded a few times. "One might also say that he's very much improved." He leaned back so Dean could see his brother.

Sam was smiling at him sleepily. "Hey." He croaked out. "I was wonderin' when you'd wake up." He frowned at the expression on his brother's face. "Y'alright Dean?"

Dean just continued staring at him in shock for a moment longer, before he suddenly snapped out of his daze, got up and perched back on the edge of the bed. "How ya feelin dude?" He asked gently.

"Tired. Like I've been running a marathon with no finish line." Sam sighed. "How bad did it get?"

"Bad enough." Dean shook his head and smirked. "You look like shit."

Sam nodded sarcastically "Yeah, and you look like you've been to a health spa." He grinned suddenly, "I'm starving what's for breakfast?" And that very nearly earned him a pillow in the face.

Paul chuckled. "I'll leave you to it, but I'll be back later to change your IV bag and run an ECG." At Dean's worried glance he added "just to be on the safe side. His heart took quite a pounding."

Smiling at his own little joke, the doctor left the room leaving the boys in a comfortable silence. Sam wrinkled his nose, the nasal tube irritating him a little, whilst his big brother ran a critical gaze over him. He could almost feel Dean cataloguing how thin he looked, how pale, deciding whether or not he was actually improving, and finished up with a hand squeezing Sam's arm.

Nothing needed to be said because Sam could see it all there in front of him, how scared Dean had been, the toll the last few days had taken on him, the exhaustion lurking in his eyes. 

Sam was fairly sure the lines bracketing Dean's mouth hadn't been there last time he looked, and the weary slump to his shoulders spoke volumes.

"Dean," Sam whispered gently. "Go get some sleep ok? I'll still be here when you get back."

Before Dean could reply to the contrary a low chuckle from the doorway grabbed their attention. John stood holding the usual Styrofoam coffee cups, watching his boys with affection.

"I made that suggestion a few times, even turned it into an order and still the stubborn little shit wouldn't leave." He moved into the room, placed the coffee on the nightstand, then leaned down and gently grasped the nape of Sam's neck, searching his eyes for any signs of discomfort. "You ok son?"

Sam grinned up at his father. "I will be as soon as I get outta this place." He turned to Dean. "Seriously, the next time you sleep go use a proper bed. You always snore when you sleep sitting up."

Dean snorted. "Quit gangin' up on me. And you aint leavin' here 'til Paul's given you the all clear." He raised a finger when Sam was about to protest. "Don't even think about it! Even Dad agrees with me on this one! And if I have to tie you to the bed again I won't hesitate! Believe ME!"

John smothered a laugh when Sam flushed a deep red at the reminder.

"Yeeaahh." He spoke slowly. "I was kinda out of it huh?"

Dean glared at him. "Kinda? Kinda? You were about to chug a bottle of bleach Sam! I think that qualifies as more than just Kinda!"

"Ok, so I was totally gone."

"It was like you were stoned, Sammy."

"It's Sam, jerk."

"You'll always be Sammy to me. Bitch."

Their father shook his head laughing and wandered out of the room, intent on seeking Sam's doctor.


He never told his sons exactly how he'd dealt with the issue of health insurance, but seeing how they left via the tradesmen's entrance it was a safe bet it hadn't been entirely legal.

John followed the boys in his truck but he could still see how exhausted Sam was, slumped down in the passenger seat of the Impala. He noticed how his oldest son occasionally glanced over at his brother, and although he couldn't make out the expression on Dean's face he felt certain it was a mask of concern.

The journey gave John some time to reflect on a few things. Paul had been reassuring in his final but thorough assessment of Sam. After a few days, the kid was already filling out, losing that dreadful skeletal appearance and his once dull eyes were sparkling again. The doctor had expressed how amazed he was at the speed of Sam's recovery, and John had to admit that it raised a few eyebrows. In fact, less than twenty four hours after the salt and burn Sam had shown marked improvement, breathing without the respirator and showing signs of waking up. Of course as Dean had slept through that part it had come as a shock. The last time Dean had seen him before falling into an exhausted sleep, his younger brother had been at death's door.

John planned on having breakfast with his sons before heading out on his own, though he knew it would be met with opposition. He was still hot on the trail of his wife's killer and this episode with his boys had been a serious setback. Not that he regretted being with them and even wished he could stick around until Sam was fully recovered, but time was marching on.

As promised Dean had taken his family back to the diner, and much to his relief Donna was working shift, her eyes lighting up when she saw them.

"Well, how ya feelin'? It's great to have you back!" Donna ushered the three men to a window seat and handed them each a menu. She paused in confusion when Sam politely refused, and Dean gave him an odd look.

"You ok Sam?"

Sam sighed. "Stop asking me that. I'm fine!" He grinned up at Donna. "I already know what I want. Pancakes!"

"Comin' right up hon." The kindly waitress took John and Dean's order, winked at the oldest Winchester and sashayed away.

"I think you made an impression Dad." Dean announced sharing a smug grin with his brother. John turned a becoming shade of pink and cleared his throat, preparing a hasty change of subject, but Dean wasn't about to let him off so easy. "Seriously! Think of the free meals, beer..." the grin turned dirty "the regualr se- hey!" He rubbed his leg glaring at Sam. "What the hell was that for?"

"Are you tryin' to creep me out?" Sam grimaced and shuddered. "I really don't need that in my head!"

"Well said Sam." John grinned. "I think you've been through enough trauma of late."

The conversation remained light hearted throughout the meal, with Dean and John keeping a subtle eye on Sam. He seemed to be eating ok and Dean was relieved he no longer made a desperate grab for his food, instead chewing each mouthful with genuine enjoyment. Sam hadn't come out of the curse entirely free from consequence, however. If he went more than a couple hours without food he grew shaky and tired, and in one extreme case just before they left the hospital he'd nearly passed out. Dean had remedied that with a bag of M&Ms he had hidden in the trunk of the Impala, much to John's amusement.

Dr Lewis had assured them that this would likely resolve itself in a few days though they were to bring Sam straight back if it went on for longer. In the meantime he ordered strict rest. Other than that Sam was back to his usual self, and there'd even been at least one minor argument with his father along the way, satisfying Dean that things were definitely getting back to normal.

Unfortunately, as their meal come to an end, John knew that what he said next might well invite a more serious one.

"What you boys got for ya next hunt?" John leaned back in his seat watching carefully.

Sam's head shot up, eyes flashing with anger and disappointment. "What? But're coming with us, right? I mean, we've been searching for you all this time. You can't go now; we're in this together." But he'd seen the look on his father's face and when he glanced at Dean he saw the same. "You knew didn't you?" Sam's expression turned accusing to match his tone. "You knew he had no intention of staying with us!"

"Sammy..." Dean sighed.

"No! We've every right to be a part of this hunt..." Sam began.

"Yeah ya do, Sam." John spoke softly. "But not yet ok? I just want you guys to stay safe for now."


"I promise I'll come for you both when the time is right. But right now you're still recovering, and you're still too angry about your girlfriend's death. That'll cloud your judgment and get you killed." John smiled in a manner that could only be described as sympathetic. "Believe me son, I know. If it hadn't been for Pastor Jim and Bobby Singer talkin' me down, I'd have been pushin' daisies long ago. So please, just trust me on this." He stared in earnest at both his sons, silently pleading with them to understand.

Sam stared down at the table cloth in deep thought, a finger idly tracing the patterns and John wondered if he would answer.

"Ok." Sam finally muttered softly. "I'll go along with this for now. But the first lead you get..."

"I'll send for you." John smiled, finally able to relax a little and feeling almost no guilt whatsoever. He'd lied to his sons before to protect them, and he'd do it again in a heartbeat.


After the goodbyes and the usual "stay safe boys", Dean and Sam stood in the parking lot of the diner as their father drove away. Dean couldn't help but cast surreptitious glances at his younger brother, still not fully trusting that he was ok.

"Dean, stop it." Sam turned to him, fighting a small grin. "I'm fine."

"What?" Dean asked with a pretty good imitation of innocence, which worked on anyone that wasn't Sam. Sam just gave him a knowing look and the boys climbed into the Impala, preparing for another long journey.

"So, where to now?" The question was casual but Dean heard the weariness in Sam's voice and came to a decision.

"Nearest motel and bar." He grinned at Sam. "I need to hustle some pool and..." Dean sniffed and grimaced "you need a shower bitch."

"Right backatcha jerk." Sam replied fondly, for once in a while grateful beyond words his big brother could read him so well.

He knew Dean would drive him crazy for the next few days until he was fully back on his feet, but in a weird and comforting way Sam also knew it would keep him sane.

Settling down in the front passenger seat, his long legs twisted into the most comfortable position he could find, Sam soon fell asleep. Dean glanced over at him for a moment; he was still a little pale and too thin, but Dean was determined that would change.

"A few days of rest Sammy." He said softly, his mouth curling up into an affectionate smile. "That's what the doctor ordered."

The End.


Author's notes:

I thought about breaking this up into two chapters due to length, but changed my mind. That would've been too cruel even by my standards.

Hoped you enjoyed it, the ending not too disappointing for you, and that my penchant for angst has been fully justified.

Many thanks for your wonderful reviews so far and I hope that I've managed to reply to you all. If not then I offer my apologies.

Kind regards,

PS. I'm heading off to Los Angeles in September to visit my sister and I have a couple of questions:

Buffalo wings: I have images of hairy cows soaring through the skies, but I'm sure that's not right. Someone care to enlighten me?

Also, a question regarding Mystery Spot:

The diner's special was Pig in a Poke. What the hell is that when it's at home? I did hazard a guess, but if I'm right then all I can say is that's just fucking immoral!