Summary: Set early in Season 2, following John Winchester's death, the brother's are at Bobby's and all is not well.

Disclaimer: I'm just playing with the characters.

Notes: I must thank Supernaturaldh for waving her magic wand over this. This started out as a short story for Maxandkiz, but I added a little sequel and then another - and well, here are the first 3 parts.

1. One More Bump in the Road

The yard was still and quiet, the rusting car bodies Bobby was collecting standing like monuments as they rose up from the dusty earth, sending lengthy shadows across the ground. Sam rested against the shell of an ancient vehicle, hearing the metal groan under his added weight. It offered a solid support to his exhausted body and he leant into the sun warmed metal with weary resignation.

He was tired. Tired of trying; tired of the lies and the pretence. Tired of pushing on, like their dad's death had just been one more bump in the road, something they could leave behind, forgotten.

They needed a break. At first, getting straight back into hunting had seemed like the best way to move forward, but even then he knew it was only a temporary solution to cover the emotional cracks that threatened to tear them apart. The grief and pain weren't going away, not even lessening - the task of hunting that they used as an escape to mask their feelings failing dismally. He could still feel the devastation, the nearly overwhelming grief, and every time he looked at his brother he could see the gut wrenching anguish in Dean's eyes that his older brother tried so hard to hide.

He ran a trembling finger over the slowly healing scars across his face, a stark reminder of all that they'd been through. His whole being felt as though it had been used as a giant punching bag, covered in cuts and bruises he didn't even remember getting. His body urged him to slow down and rest, but he'd been ignoring his body's signals and pushing on for days now.

He spat blood stained sputum onto the dry dirt, blinking his eyes against the spinning horizon as he willed the world to still. His traitorous body was ignoring his mind's commands, nausea rising up to join the dizziness.

He swallowed convulsively until he felt sure his recently digested lunch would stay where it belonged and not make a sudden reappearance. As his vision tilted and dimmed, he let his back slide down the discolored hunk of metal, keeping himself steady until he reached the ground, legs splayed out in front of him and hands resting on the dry dirt.

The doctor's words flashed through his memory, educated and astute, pleading with him to see sense even as he raised the pen and signed himself out of the hospital against medical advice. It was a decision he refused to second-guess, as all the family he possessed had been worse off than him, laid up in hospital beds of their own, defenseless. This time it was his responsibility to take care of them. Deep down, he knew Dean was right, that his efforts were "too little too late," but he had to try. He owed them that much.

He closed his eyes and let his head lower down towards the ground, guilt and regret plaguing his subconscious as his mind refused to rest.

-o-

Shadows flickered through his closed eyelids as the clouds moved across the sky. The silence was absolute, and for a moment, he pretended it was peaceful here, on the dirt, nestled between the rusting carcasses of long discarded cars. But real life had a way of intruding and he knew his small slice of serenity was nothing more than an illusion brought about by wishful thinking.

Pushing himself back to his feet took more effort than he cared to admit. The dizziness made an unexpected return and he was forced to grip the side of the car until he found his equilibrium. Only when he was sure his legs were once again steady, did he push off, eyes cast downwards as he weaved between the rows of stacked car bodies, seeking his escape.

"Sam?" Bobby yelled; the sound loud and crisp as it reverberated around the yard.

Pausing, Sam raised his head in the direction of the call. "Yeah, I'm coming," he shouted in reply, hoping the quiver in his voice did not survive the distance.

Taking a steadying breath, he forced his legs to move again. His breath came in shallow pants now, his lungs torturing him for not heeding their warning to slow down. To stop. He was no stranger to pain, so he pushed forward regardless, one foot in front of the other as he headed towards the house with grim determination. The last thing he needed was for Bobby, or Dean, to come searching for him, to start asking questions, to look too closely.

He didn't want to be that extra weight added to Dean's shoulders. His brother was broken, slowly self-destructing before his very eyes. Dean deserved the opportunity to grieve and heal without having Sam adding to his burdens.

-o-

2. Dip and Fall

The air felt stifling hot, without even a hint of a breeze to break the oppressive heat. Sweat beaded across Sam's forehead before trailing down his face, soaking into the soft cotton of his shirt. Using the palm of his hand, he wiped away the sheen of moisture decorating his forehead and brushed damp tendrils of hair off his face.

He crept slowly around the side of the house, taking a few deep measured breaths to compose himself as he approached the porch. Pausing for a moment at the base of the steps, he placed a trembling hand on the worn timber banister, steadying himself before pushing upwards.

He wanted to slink inside, unseen and unstopped, the effort of keeping his mask of normalcy in place tiring in itself. But his heart sank as he saw the framed silhouette of Bobby just inside the front door, any hopes he had of a covert entry quickly shot down. Whatever he was needed for, he hoped it could wait.

-o-

Bobby narrowed his eyes as he watched the youngest Winchester approach. It hadn't escaped his notice that Sam was moving more slowly than usual, his feet almost dragging along the ground as he walked. He recognized the signs of grief, knew it took time to deal with loss, but Sam's pallor and apparent exhaustion were starting to ring warning bells in his mind. Warnings he could no longer ignore.

Usually he'd be happy to step aside; knowing Dean would be there, standing steadfast and protective by Sam's side, but lately Dean seemed oblivious to anything but his own grief and misery. In a perfect world, he'd want for nothing more than to give Dean the time he needed. Time to grieve, to adjust, to remember what he had left, but maybe time was something they just didn't have.

Sam seemed to be fading right before their eyes and Dean was just standing by and letting it happen, not even raising a hand to stop his brother's downward spiral.

Like wading through knee deep mud, Bobby could feel the tension between the brothers, the way they trod wearily around each other, personal space now wide and growing wider. He hadn't missed the new bruise on the side of Sam's face, a direct result of meeting with Dean's fist. Instead of growing closer together in their shared grief, finding comfort in each other, Dean was pushing Sam away, retreating inwardly, oblivious to Sam's plight.

-o-

Sam cringed under the hunter's close scrutiny. "You need something Bobby?" He asked, holding the gaze of the older man.

"Was hoping you could give me a hand moving a couple of bookcases," Bobby replied, his eyes never leaving Sam's pale face. "But it can wait," he tacked on, deciding Sam looked as though he'd just run a marathon, ready to topple over where he stood.

Sam ran his fingers through his hair, brushing back the damp strands that seemed determined to fall across his eyes. "Yeah, okay," he responded, lowering his gaze, not keen to put up an argument even though he was certain it was what Bobby expected. He was in no doubt that this was some sort of test, Bobby's way of seeking answers without coming straight out and asking.

Usually he'd try to put on more of a front, but he was just so tired, his focus now less on concealment and more on escape. He just wanted to get away as quickly as possible. He wanted a soft bed and a dark room and the time to enjoy both.

With his eyes trained on the floor, Sam moved to step around Bobby, keen to dodge the close inspection.

As Sam turned to leave, Bobby reached out a hand to stop him, gripping the younger man's shoulder in a firm clasp. "You okay Sam?"

Sam swallowed, hating to lie to the other man. "I'm fine Bobby."

"Fine my ass," Bobby muttered under his breath, reluctantly releasing his grip on the young man wavering on his feet before him. "No shame in admitting you're hurting boy, or asking for help."

"I said I'm fine Bobby." Sam spared a quick glance at the other man, hoping he'd take the hint and let the subject drop. "Just a bit tired is all."

"You're as stubborn as your old man."

Sam cringed at the reminder of his loss as memories of his father flashed before his eyes. He rubbed the palm of his hand across his forehead, trying to banish the images from his mind. Just for a little while, he wanted to forget.

Sam stumbled in his haste to get away, his lanky body crashing against the wall before he managed to find his footing and right himself again. Leaning one arm against the marked plaster, he blinked rapidly to try and clear his tunneling vision, realizing the mistake he'd just made in trying to move too quickly.

"Christ Sam." Bobby grabbed a handful of Sam's shirt, trying to steady him.

"I'm fine," Sam repeated his over-used mantra, but his words were delivered with a slight tremor, soft and unconvincing.

With a quick jerk, Sam pulled free, taking a step backwards to try and put some personal space between himself and Bobby.

"Sam?" Bobby questioned with concern, restraining himself from reaching out to Sam again.

"Please Bobby, I'm fine." Sam raised beseeching eyes to the other man, hoping Bobby would let the incident go. "I'll be in my room if you need a hand with anything," he stated, before turning away.

Bobby watched him walk away.

The boys were the closest things Bobby had to sons. The closest thing left he had to family. The rift between the boy's had widened too far, and the way he saw it, it was time he took matters into his own hands. He'd lost his family once, and there was no way in hell he was standing by and letting it happen again.

Turning on his heels, he headed out into the yard, in search of Dean.

-o-

3. Tipping Over

Sam only made it halfway up the staircase before he had to stop. Despite what he'd told Bobby, things weren't alright. He wasn't fine. Not even close.

He glanced up to the landing at the top of the stairs, wondering why it suddenly appeared so far away. The distance seemed insurmountable, one he had no hope of accomplishing with the stairs wavering before his tired eyes. With a weary sigh he sank down and lent his head against the railing, tried to catch his breath, allowing his body a moment to rest.

He lost track of how much time he sat there, his breath catching in his throat and starving his lungs of oxygen. As the minutes ticked by, reaching his bed seemed to be more of a pipe dream than a realistic goal. He needed to face facts. He wasn't going to be able to make it to the top of the stairs; at least, not unaided.

He regretted giving Bobby the brush off, belatedly realizing that he really did need help, and pretending otherwise was getting him nowhere fast. Maybe he could coax the older man into giving him a lift into town so he could pay a quick visit to the local clinic and get a check-up. Something didn't feel right, and the dizziness and breathlessness were starting to scare him.

But he didn't want Dean to see him like this; didn't want Dean to worry. That was the last thing his brother needed right now. As it was, he was surprised Dean hadn't already snapped; his emotions were pulled so taut since their dad's death, Dean was scarcely holding on, struggling just to get through one day at a time. He had to be strong and give his brother the time he needed, not add to his worries and make things worse.

But he couldn't move.

And he couldn't sit on the stairs all day.

"Bobby," he called, scrunching his eyes at the raspy sound of his voice.

He waited, listening for a reply. Listening for the sound of boots treading on worn timber boards.

But only silence greeted him.

-o-

Sam wasn't sure how long he sat there waiting, breathing shallowly as he listened for someone to return to the house, for the sound of footsteps, anything.

Finally he heard boots pounding up the front stairs and onto the porch, the slamming of the front door announcing entry.

Sam felt his heart hit the floor as he struggled to his feet, suddenly unsure what he would say to his brother. As much as he loved Dean, he couldn't lay any more on his shoulders. As much as he needed help, he was reluctant for his brother to find him sitting uselessly on the stairs, one more family member needing to be carried. He wasn't sure how much more Dean could take until he broke, but he didn't want to be that final nail in the coffin.

One hand gripping the banister, he looked down, feeling as if he'd been given a reprieve as Bobby strode into the room. "Hey Bobby."

Bobby's eyes scanned Sam from head to foot, assessing, as he walked towards the stairs. "God knows I'm not his keeper, but I can't seem to find that damn brother of yours anywhere. God only knows where he's high-tailed it off to…" Bobby paused as he got a closer look at Sam. "Damn it boy, any reason you're hanging out on the stairs swaying like a tree?" Bobby lunged up towards Sam as he saw the younger man stumble.

Sam gripped the banister a little tighter, trying to stand steady, even as Bobby placed a supporting hand on his arm.

"I ah…" Sam muttered, feeling his body sway into Bobby's.

"Up or down Sam?"

Sam looked at the stairs going in both directions, his body making the decision for him. "Down."

He left his pride on the stairs as he let Bobby guide him down, his focus now on just getting there in one piece.

When they reached the bottom, he could only feel relief as Bobby maintained his firm hold, sure now that it was the only thing keeping him from falling.

"Damn it Sam, you can't keep going on like this. Ignoring it ain't gonna make it go away."

"I was thinking of going into town," Sam announced, the words stuttering in his throat as he leaned heavily on Bobby and tried to catch his breath.

"Smartest thing you've said all day." Bobby muttered, hooking his shoulder under Sam's arm and taking some extra weight. "There's a good doc at the clinic, other side of town."

The walk to the truck was slow and laborious, Sam needing to stop a few times as his vision wavered between light and dark, the ground threatening to rise up and meet him. As he settled in the front seat and the door slammed shut behind him, he closed his eyes for a moment and concentrated on drawing air into his lungs. He felt like he'd just run a marathon, and any doubt he'd had about asking Bobby for assistance flew right out the window.

"Dean!" Sam heard Bobby holler.

Sam blinked his eyes back open. "Bobby, no," he beseeched, leaning out the window towards the older man.

Bobby gave Sam a quick glance before striding around to the driver's side of the truck. "Damn it Sam, Dean needs to know."

"Please Bobby."

With a heavy sigh, Bobby ran a hand through his hair as his eyes made a final scan of the dusty car yard, desperate for any sign of the eldest Winchester boy. When a gust of wind was his only reply, he hauled himself into the truck and started the engine.

This self-sacrificing crap the Winchester's had going – it was something he just didn't understand.

To be continued...

-o-

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