Title: Talk Me Down

Summary: If he was the one I called last night, I might already be dead. I can't put that together with this guy who was on my right side all these years. He can't possibly be the same guy. Sam had just left for Stanford and cut off his ties, and Dean is running himself to the ground.

Quick Note: Thanks to all who read and lots of love especially to all who reviewed From Perdition: Sushi Chi, jjackles, Kansas42, apieceofcake, nannon, Jas-TheMaddTexan, tomash, deangirl1, Tatsumaki-sama, finajk, Mandy, and:

Phoebe: haha, I know bad habit with the previews thing, but I am still keeping in mind what I owe everyone and hopefully they'll be coming out, little by little, haha. Thanks for the patience and the always-constructive comments, you're the best!

MKofGod: don't worry about going theological, haha... I think I'm exactly the same way this season. I am especially impressed by your commentary on the worthiness of being used. That's really, really insightful and intriguing for me.

Twinchy: thank you so much for the encouraging comment. I do try my best portraying Castiel, he's so fascinating, and I'm grateful the effort comes through and is appreciated :)

For all those interested, Underworld is making tons of headway after I read how people reacted to From Perdition, so you might see the mass of it really, really soon. I just get scared because I structured it like a movie in my head, so it's a little more indulgent and I'm scared of losing readers at the start. But anyway, we'll just have to see, I guess, haha! Really, really, really soon it should be posted :)

Anyway, c&c's on this new fic are always welcome. Without further ado, the first of two chapters of Talk Me Down:

Talk Me Down

Chapter 1

In their line of work, they didn't get thanked very often.

So it was more than strange that John should be getting two free beers in two different hunter-frequented bars in two different middle-of-nowheres in two different states from two different strangers who have said that it was the least they could do for Dean Winchester's father.

"What?" he had asked, both times too, blankly. The first guy said something about a burning orphanage and a vengeful spirit. 18 kids, out without a scratch, of the physical sort or otherwise, all of them convinced that it had somehow just been an adventure. The other guy said something about a cursed small town that had staved off a seasonal, lethal dust storm for the first time since the depression of the 1930's after a '67 Impala rolled into the now-former-hell-hole.

He thanked the men for the brew but cautiously did not drink their salute. His fellow-hunters had snorted at him, hardly offended. His brows furrowed. Hunters knew other hunters, it was a small world. He had tried to keep his sons from knowing the extremely dangerous ones, had tried to keep them within the circles of the more level-headed guys, but apparently, that didn't keep the rest of the hunting community from knowing about the Winchesters, most especially the flashiest one.

He was proud as hell of Dean saving lives like that, he was hardly a cold man. But damned if he wasn't irritated too. He had last seen his son several weeks ago and then sent him after a shape-shifter in Boston and a big cat in Jersey, not the jobs these hunters were talking about.

What the hell were they talking about?

He drew out his cellphone, and Dean picked up at the first ring. Almost always at the first ring with Dean, whenever John came calling. John could never figure out how Dean could do that.

"Dad, you okay?" also, as per usual, the first question out of Dean's rapid-fire pie-hole, always beating John to the punch, yakking even just as John was gathering the breath to speak.

"Fine," John replied tersely, "Where the hell are you? Did you finish the jobs in Jersey and Boston?"

"You know I have, dad," Dean said simply, "I went the moment you told me to. It's all done and shit. How's your gig going?"

His gig was scenting Mary's killer, the very reason he had assigned Dean to some other job on the opposite side of the country in the first place. He could not have any of his sons near the thing that had killed their mother, it set him off in a bad way, and he would never tell them that most of the time that he left them behind was in going after it. But the trail had gone cold again, again, again, always turning cold on him.

"I'm done," he said instead, "What the hell is this I hear about you and an orphanage and the goddamn dust bowl?"

"I'm sorry," came the quick, unthinking and ultimately desperate apology, and John couldn't help but think that Dean never used to sound so jittery.

"I ran into several jobs along the road," Dean said after a breath, "No biggie. Handled and done and all. Are you pissed? I thought you'd want me to. I was gonna call, but I figured, I was already there, it couldn't wait, I might as well just..."

John frowned, letting him ramble on. Did that kid get his head scrambled? It was hard to tell irregular behavior from Dean, lately. Hard to be sure about what he had in that head of he his, not since Sam left for Stanford the way he did, back turned, ultimatum spat at, a sense of unquestionable finality. Dean had gone from rakish to apologetic, and from strategic cool to caffeinated workaholic.

"Is this about giving me another job?" Dean went on, and John couldn't ignore the odd sound of despairing hope in his tone, "'Cos I'm good to go, dad. I said I was done, right? I said that? The stuff's taken care of, you can send me to Alaska or wherever the hell you like. Are you pissed?"

"I'm not pissed," John said, pressing at the bridge of his nose.

God, what a pain.

It was so hard, so damn hard to have to deal with all this now. Coming after another failed hunt for his wife's killer to Dean and his neuroses, and all its accompanying memories of Sam leaving them. After Sam left, damned if it didn't seem as if Dean had gone and left too. He was as reliable on the job as always, but the rest of the time... hours spent in the car, downtime at a motel... he was hesitant, a little bit dulled, a whole lot tarnished, and that was a constant reminder that this was all probably John's fault. Having Dean and his quiet suffering around him made John feel like an ugly-assed son-of-a-bitch looking at a mirror all day, being reminded that he was a monster. Or a terrible father. Whatever, same thing.

Not that Dean was ever openly needy. If only he was, just so's they could get all this out of the way. But he did his job in that painfully focused way, looked at his dad like he was gonna go away in Dean's sleep, and when the call came through with possible signs of the demon that had killed Mary, it was like he couldn't get away from Dean fast enough.

I'm sorry, I'm sorry, he had thought, but that was as far as it went. There was a small part of him that tried to stay, but he was more tired than he was sorry. Tired of having to deal with Dean being dented like that. Tired of having to deal with all of this being his goddamn fault. He knew that Dean could live with his father being like that, he had, after all, lived with John and his flaws all his young life. What the hell was new.

Actually, scratch that. What was new was that now, Sam wasn't around to be a distraction to Dean. He had once thought it was just Dean who had that curbing effect on Sam; keep him in line, keep him focused. But seeing Dean now... he was floundering a little, like he was just a little bit adrift.

Either way, John gave him a job, he took it like he always did, they split up when John said he had to take care of another somewhere else, and left.

"So you're giving me another job?" Dean pressed.

"Not yet," John growled, "Just wanted to know what the hell you've been doing. I heard some stuff here and there. You did good, Dean."

"Yeah, you think so?" and John could hear Dean smiling even from just the damn phone. Was he so easy to please? The damn kid's breaking his heart over and over.

"Yeah," John winced.

"Hey dad, you wanna meet up?" Dean asked, "It being that we're both done and all."

Hell no.

"I have to tie up some loose ends out here," John lied, "I'll ring you as soon as I can. But I think I have something for you. Gimme a few minutes, I'll call you back."


He hung up on Dean thoughtfully, and dialed an old friend's number.

"Hey, Bobby?"

"How 'ya doin' John?" came the semi-jovial reply. He had a feeling his old friend didn't know what to do with him half the time.

"What?" John asked.

"Whadja mean what?" Bobby snapped, "You called, didn't cha?"

John sighed. "Yeah, I need a favor."

"Don't you always," Bobby said, barking out a laugh, "What can I do for you?"

"You got a job I can send Dean out on?" John asked, "Something simple, he doesn't have his head on straight."

"It's never simple," Bobby grunted, "And you're never supposed to go on a hunt like that. You know this."

"I can't bring him where I'm going," John lied, "And I don't want him running off, finding worse trouble on his own. You know he can."

"Just have Sam sit on him."

"Sam's gone," John said, after a long moment of silence.

"What?! Why didn't you--"

"Not dead, Singer," John snapped, "College. Stanford, free ride. A coupe of weeks back."

"Yeah?" came the impressed reply, and John could actually imagine the grin on his old friend widen, and then fade, "I'm bettin' Dean's proud as a new momma and as blind-mad at him as you are for him leavin.'"

"Dean's not mad, no, just..." John thought, "Just... he's off his game. I don't want him getting hurt."

"Send him over," Bobby said, "Babysitting, just like old times. I like having your boy around anyway. Does it have to be hunting? I'm detailing a new piece, John, I can even pay the kid. Dean's patient with cars, got good hands on a machine."

"Yeah that'll be great," John said, hesitating, "We could use the money too. Thanks."

"Don't mention it."

The Winchester boys made a perfect fit for keeping company with a gruff, lonely junkman, he tended to think. Not for the reasons Dean might once have thought, though. Dean, angsty teenager at the time (hanging around Sam back when Sam was, in turn, hanging around amateur, perennially-angry high school poets) had sad-laughingly once told him, in one of those other times that John Winchester had left his boys at the Singer junkyard to go gallivanting off on his own somewhere when they were younger, that one man's trash was another man's treasure.

"Ain't that right, Bobby?" Dean had asked, and his eyes were crinkled laughing but veiled and watery-lonely.

It was the first time Bobby had been tempted to shoot John, and it hadn't been the last time. But how could you shoot a guy who somehow turned up kids like this? Dean with his spirit and Sam... Sam up in Stanford, ha!

What had he said, back then? He couldn't remember much of it, probably nothing decent, or even vaguely comforting.

"Your dad's got a lot on his plate, Dean. You're the only part of his life that isn't junk, I think."

Dean had just snorted, shrugged, and then raided his refrigerator.

The Winchesters made good company for a guy like Bobby because he was just as lonely. A bunch of kids looking for a father is bound to find a man looking for a family. Dean raiding his refrigerator, helping him out at the yard... that was what family was all about. He considered it a privileged, borrowed position that John could let him into their lives like that.

He stocked up his fridge and his cupboards. Dean Winchester was coming over, and in another life, he had probably been a tornado hitting a grocery store.

When he heard the rumbling Impala drive up toward the house, Bobby drew out a cool beer, sank a quarter of it into his stomach, then filled up the space with holy water. And then he opened the door, and waited for the kid to step out of his gleaming black car.

Dean was as compact and lethal-looking as always, bulky in his dark clothes, jewels from his hand glinting with the sun now and again as he moved them, checking his cellphone for a call or a message before pocketing it and smiling at Bobby as he walked forward.

Dean had a small and always slightly shy grin on his face whenever he met up with the older hunter, and Bobby imagined it must have mirrored his look too. The grin was rakish, because Dean had always been a smart-ass, but the shyness was the inborn hesitation Dean always had about his welcome.

"Heya Bobby," Dean said, offering the older hunter his hand to shake. They clasped hands warmly, and Bobby offered him the brew.

"I was looking forward to this," Dean said, his grin widening, his shoulders relaxing, "Diluted with holy water and all. It's its own distinct flavor, always reminds me of you."

"Can't be too careful," Bobby said, slapping him on the back in their usual rough affection, except this time, he caught Dean at an off-blow, making him stumble forward.

"Hey!" Dean complained, good-naturedly.

Bobby chuckled, but frowned a little in thought too. He practically felt the kid's bones through his jacket, and the imbalance was unexpected. Dean led the way inside the house, and Bobby closed the door behind him. He turned to face Dean, who had taken a good long sip from the bottle and looked around with a wistful expression on his young face.

His features were more angular than when they last saw each other, Bobby noted, and he wondered if it was Dean thinning or if Dean was just chiseling with age. He had been a goofy-looking kid, and his eyes still tended to go wide like they would pop off his head, but he was a handsome devil all grown-up like this too.

"Like what you see?" Dean asked him with a smirk.

"I look at you sometimes and think John can't possibly be your daddy," Bobby said.

Dean laughed, and looked around the house again, "Everything's the same. Even you."

"You were last here, what," Bobby asked, "A year? Two ago?"

"Something like that," Dean said, eyes dimming in memory, "I kept stumbling on all your books, just lying around. And Sam's damn legs, I kept stumbling on those, all stretched out on that floor there, he was reading everything and didn't care about anything else."

Bobby looked at him carefully, and suspected the weight-loss might be Sam-related after all. And out of the sun from outside, Dean looked pale too. Eyes drawn, a little sunk, like they tended to when he got ill or weary, instances which Bobby had unfortunately seen more one time too many. Maybe Dean was both. John had been right, his head wasn't all where the rest of him was.

"You hungry?" Bobby asked. He asked just because he couldn't bring himself to say anything else, but the lunch had been ready hours ago, painstakingly prepared even though he knew his customer was never a particularly discriminate one, "I can whip up something."

"Nah," Dean said, "I had something to eat on the way here. I can never wait when I'm hungry, you know that."

"Well good," Bobby lied, only because he suspected he was being lied to too, "'Cos I ain't giving you a thing until you get some work done outside."

Dean had no problems with that.

He was dust and hands and knees on the yard minutes into settling his duffel down in Bobby's living room. They talked shop, traded trumped-up hunter stories, like hunters sometimes did, even the best ones. A deceptively-busted-looking radio was playing Three Dog Night, "Stuck in the middle with you...", as they worked. It was easy to lose track of time, especially two hunters accustomed to working together, and to working in the dark. Bobby had finally drawn the line when Dean returned from a bathroom break with a night lamp, determined to keep at it.

"It'll still be there tomorrow," Bobby said easily, "It's dinnertime."

Dean left with him, reluctantly glancing behind him at the half-done job. "I can keep going," he said, "Dad said it's good if I earn here, but we might hook up in a bit, you know. He might have a job lined up. Better to finish sooner, and--"

"You used to like my food, boy," Bobby said indignantly, "What the hell?"

"I still do, man," Dean said, still glancing at the car, "It's just..." he hesitated, "Yeah, I guess it's a good idea."

They walked to the kitchen together, and Bobby would have just re-heated their uneaten lunch and served that, but Dean was looking so antsy on the cluttered dining table that Bobby gave him a knife and vegetables and the two of them started cooking together. It was as easy as a hunt with Dean; they somehow always had enough elbow room to maneuver around each other.

Dean was good with knives and the vegetable chopping was rhythmic and precise, its dull sound joining that sharp, low-quality register of the old TV set in the living room, showing reruns of a quiz show they both knew most of the answers to.

"Hey Bobby, is your set haunted?" Dean asked him, "It's like a death echo of a TV show, man. Anyone actually still runs that shit, or is this like a Frequency moment?"

"A what?"

"You know that movie?" Dean asked, tossing the chopped vegetables into a pot, "Guy buys a radio and gets to call his dad, who's long-dead. I was so confused. Your TV's stuck in the 80's, man. You gotta get your EMF meter or something, and talk that TV show into following the light."

"Smart-ass," Bobby said.

Dean chuckled, and coughed lightly into his sleeve. He lifted his head and wasn't surprised to find Bobby frowning at him.

"I didn't cough into the food," he said, defensively, clearing his throat, "I swear! I saw on TV that this is how chefs do it, you know. Into your sleeve, not your hand."

"That's not it, you idjit," Bobby snapped, "You sick?"

"Nah," Dean said at once, making Bobby roll back his eyes, pointedly and wordlessly showing how typical he found that response.

"Seriously," Dean insisted, "I just worked two cases with too much damn smoke and too much damn dust. Fucking headache, man. Fires and vengeful spirits, not cool. And then there was this place, it was like being back in the depression. Fricking dust bowl. I found dust in all the holes and cracks you're not supposed to find dust--"

"Keep it to yourself," Bobby grumbled, looking appropriately disgusted. Dean just grinned at him.

"Seriously though, I'm good," Dean said, putting the pot on the stove, clapping his hands and rubbing them together earnestly, "What else, what else?"

Dean finished in two frenzied days' work that would have been done by more men in more time. Bobby thought he could keep the kid a week at least, but the work was clean, impeccable, careful, downright inarguable. When John had once said that Dean was his perfect soldier, he could have just as easily said that he was the perfect mechanic too. Hell, John could have said perfect cook, because Dean took to that task every night with gusto also, even if he barely ate anything that he made.

The kid was bursting out of his skin, Bobby reflected, darkly. Dean was cheery, sure, made the usual wise-ass remarks, made Bobby laugh more times than he had in the last few months put together. But his eyes dulled sometimes, looking at Bobby's books and the corner he said Sam once sat on with legs outstretched, and he kept sleeping on a thin blanket in the living room floor, skipping the empty sofa he had always yielded to Sam when they were younger and stayed over.

"I'm used to it," he had grunted that first morning, when Bobby woke up to find the uncanny sight.

He doesn't talk about Sam leaving, or Stanford or the entire West Coast, for that matter. The one time Bobby brought it up, Dean had joked and cleverly skipped the answer. Bobby made a note to keep his questions to himself next time and thought they were good, but he woke the next morning to find that Dean had worked all night and the restoration was almost done, like he was just dying to get out of there, away from more prying questions of stupid old junkmen who didn't know any better.

"I got another truck coming in a couple days," Bobby lied, when he sensed that Dean was trying to say goodbye to him over breakfast, "I could really use your help."

Dean arched an eyebrow at him, and looked as if he was going to call him out on it, but he bit his tongue and spared the both of them the embarrassment.

"Yeah?" he said instead, stretching his arms over his head. He yawned, and it ended in another light cough.

"That doesn't seem to be letting up," Bobby said, pretending to be distracted by the newspaper he was reading, knowing too much fuss usually sent the kid crawling up the damn walls.

"Fricking dust bowl," Dean muttered, shaking his head, reaching for a glass of water. The two of them have this conversation once a day it seemed, "I'm not sick."

"I'm just saying," Bobby said, "That hunt was what, a week ago?"

"I told you I still keep finding dust in holes and cracks," Dean told him with a mischievous smirk.

"Yeah, yeah, so you did."

Dean tapped his spoon and fork together, shook his leg anxiously, "So what, that job coming up in a couple of days, you said? How long? Two? Three days?"

As soon as I call in a favor somewhere, yeah...

"You in a rush?" Bobby asked.

"Dad might want me somewhere," Dean said.

"If he wanted you somewhere," Bobby said, "You couldn't stop him from dragging your ass there even if you tried. When'd yer daddy ever been bashful, huh? You sit tight here, keep an old man company, he'll holler when he wants to."

"I guess," Dean said, not looking entirely sold on the idea. He tapped his utensils against his plate, before catching himself and putting them down.

"I think I'll wash the dishes," he declared.

"You do that," Bobby encouraged, looking up from the daily, and finding that there was still a good amount of food on the table.

"You eat like a girl now," Bobby commented, trying not to sound too worried.

"You kidding?" Dean asked, as he put the used plates together, "I ate most of it."

"You gotta eat, Dean," Bobby looked at him pointedly and said nothing else about it. By the way Dean evaded the look, he knew he didn't have to.

"I said I'm fine," he mumbled and walked to the sink, and started washing the dishes, his back turned to his host, not seeing Bobby's worry, the creases forming on his forehead.

"I got a thought," Bobby said, "Seeing as we're both havin' a ball here, I'm gonna up and call yer daddy, have him join us. Is that stellar or what? I think I can afford to feed the two of you since you started eating for half a person."

The water splashed on, but the movement of Dean's hands stilled, and the squeak of the sponge and towels against the plates stopped with them.

"You sick of me now too?"

The delivery was pitch-perfect, a disgustingly perfect, well-practiced joke. But Dean's hands didn't start moving, and his shoulders were stooped, and he wouldn't look Bobby's way, and damned if it wasn't an honest-to-goodness question.

The newspapers rustled as Bobby decisively put them down. "Dean, I'm gonna say this 'cos it needs sayin--"

"It was just a joke," Dean told him, turning this time, smiling, but they crinkled and hid his eyes, "I know you're crazy about me." He turned back to the plates, saying, "Bobby, geez, take it easy. Relax."

Dean decided to leave while the welcome mat was still more-or-less rolled out.

He snatched up a hard-core cup of coffee and then flew off in his car.

A scant couple of hours after driving away from the Singer yard in the dead of the night, the dull headache he's been nursing for the last few days made him pull the car up to the first motel he could find when the lights started to explode from behind his eyes, like blinking, drifting after-images that blocked his vision in random spots. He didn't want to have to kill someone on the road, or end up wrapped around a tree. Or worse, surviving, and having to call up his father to say he had wrecked the car.

The light-flashes were obscuring corners of his vision, narrowing his sight. He kept bumping into things, like the ledges of the door to the motel office, or a potted plant on the desk that he almost didn't get to catch in a save after he knocked it out.

He wasn't unfamiliar with the pain, he's had bad headaches before, everyone in the modern world must have had it before, and twice or thrice as often than the usual if you're a Winchester. Once more because they were overworked and occasionally overwhelmed. Twice more because they were unlucky. Or maybe the caffeine he had was just crashing. Or he thinks he may have forgotten to eat again. Or something. Anything. Whatever. He just wanted it out, and he needed to stop somewhere until he could see straight.

He paid upfront for a room for three days, christening his most recently-acquired fraudulent credit card. He needed the time to feel better, and to look for another job anyway. The lady at the desk had looked at him with bleak judgment, probably pissed about the door and the plant, or had him written-off as a drunk. He didn't have the energy to blame her.

He left his car where he parked it by the office; more trouble moving it around in the small space in his current state anyway. He left his things. His mind had narrowed to the singular thought of a mattress on his back. That was it, that was the world, bed on his back, narrow as his tunneling vision.

He moved slow, head low, not wanting to make any sudden movement that would aggravate the persistent ache in his head. He didn't turn on the lights in the room, and he locked the door behind him carefully, before sitting on the bed. He closed his eyes and leaned against the headboard, trying to regulate his breathing.

The lights were still dancing beneath his closed lids, even in the dark of the room, and inanely, he wondered where the hell they were coming from. He shifted and grunted, uncomfortable. All sound suddenly died in his right ear, before turning into a low, incessant ring that seemed as if it was coming from underwater. He pressed a hand against his ear, and tilted sideways on the bed with a miserable groan.

Fucking migraine, he thought miserably, feeling his stomach churn, and his mouth water. He groaned, and shifted again, wishing he could cut off his own head, if only for just a couple of hours.

The lights started to pound, and no longer were they gently drifting flashes, like jellyfish on water, but they began a dull, throbbing beat that felt like it was coming from the right side of the back of his neck, beating outward and wider, expanding up to his head. It was like standing in front of a speaker, back when he had that rare chance to go to some lame high school dance in a nameless hick-town and the committee didn't have enough money to rent a decent sound system. The food sucked, the music was worse, for god's sake there was no liquor, and the only thing that made it worth going to was the chick in his arm and the bleachers at the back. Unfortunately, migraines didn't come with either.

He coughed the stupid cough that's been bothering him for days, and his stomach heaved, probably thinking it's been invited to join his head and his lungs in the party that was his misery. He closed his mouth and swallowed thickly. No use throwing up anyway, there was nothing in there. He had tried to eat back at Bobby's place, but lately, he just hadn't been all that hungry.

He grabbed the edges of the headboard and pulled himself up. The flaky wood shook with his weight, but thankfully held. Groaning, he practically tore off his jacket, and dumped his weapons and cellphone on the drawer of the night stand, save for his favorite knife, shoved gracelessly beneath his pillow. Leaving his supplies might not have been a wise idea since he would kill for a painkiller at that moment, but getting up and moving any further was just... so... distinctly unappealing...

He sank against the bed again and ran headlong into the dark, willing it to take him.

He woke to the ringing of his cell phone, and couldn't, for the first time in a long time, bring himself to care enough to get up and pick it up. The room was glowing with morning light that seeped from the thin curtains of the single window, but otherwise everything was the same, even the pain in his head which had not let up at all, spreading from the right side of his head to just engulf the entirety of him.

His stomach clenched and he gagged, but he somehow managed to keep his non-existent lunch. Or whatever the hell his last meal had been. It was the extent of his targeted achievement for the day.

He groaned and shifted, letting the sounds of his misery rule the room, and it magnified his loneliness, because there was no one to hide them from, no one to smother it for. Sam was gone and dad had left him too. When Sam left, it was like dad left also.

He shot up from bed.

Maybe the call was from Sam! Dean's left him a couple of messages after all, just wanting to see if he was all right. Or catch up. Or just remind Sam he's got a brother somewhere. Or remind himself he still had a brother. Whatever.

The room tilted and shifted in protest, but he groped for his cell phone on the night table and saw Bobby's name. He put the ringing on silent and set it back down. The sound settled. His stomach didn't.

He run-staggered to the bathroom, skinned and bruised his knees on the tile, and heaved and coughed out his prayers to the porcelain gods.

Acid burned his throat, worked its way up and out of him, the only things he had inside to come out. The taste was foul, the smell unbearable, and yet he could do nothing but let them take him. His stomach clenched and clenched painfully. Tears leaked from his eyes, and his nose ran. He panicked at the morbid thought that perhaps he was being turned inside-out.

He sank on his rump when the spell ended, and he leaned heavily against the tile walls, breathing harsh. Taut muscles were spasming now, and he found himself distracted by his arms and legs, shaking, jerking like a fish out of water on its last moments of life. He felt cold and shock-y, and he just sat there, exhausted like he's never been exhausted before. He felt like a used-up old oil rag, lying there. Used up, like he just ran out, and was promptly and thoughtlessly discarded.

"Bobby, take it easy," John had said to his rambling old friend over the phone, and damned if it didn't make him speak louder and faster.


And a notch more.

"I don't understand what you're sayin,'" John growled at him, "Slow the hell down."

"I should have fiddled with his goddamn car!"

"Whose?!" John asked.

"Your bullheaded idiot son!" Bobby retorted, catching a breath, "I'm sorry, John. I kept him put at my place a good two days, but then he took off in the night, scrawled some chicken-scratch note with a piss-poor excuse, like I'm a ditchable prom date."

"What'd it say?"

"He's diving headfirst into another job," Bobby replied, "Call him, will you? He won't pick up."

"I will," John said, "Anything else I should know?"

A thoughtful pause, the kind that makes a father's blood turn cold.


"I mean he's all right," Bobby replied, cautiously, "For now. But he's tiring quick, John, burning at both ends. Your kid doesn't stop moving, barely sleeps, doesn't eat, and I think he's coming down with something. You gotta pull the breaks."

"Yeah," John winced, running a weary hand over his face, "Yeah."

"You gotta talk to him, John," Bobby said, "This ain't goin' away, and you're the only one who can."

Dean woke up like that, cold on colder tile, and hours must have passed because the morning light was gone. The light was gone, but his fucking headache was still there.

The pain was bad, deep-seated bad like he's never had it before, and he knew a thing or two about headaches. There was the sharp, biting kind, the one you got with broken skin and lots of blood. There was the dull one that went with mild concussions, registered low, manageable. There was the one that came from hangovers, his favorite one, the one always accompanied by mild regret and weightless promise of I'll never drink again.

This one... this one was different. It was a soundless boom, just throbbing and wide and very, very deeply inside him, expanding outward, like it was fighting to get out. He felt like his head was getting bigger and bigger, like his brain was going to start seeping out his eyes and nostrils. He banged his head against the tile, willing to change the pain into something more familiar and manageable, or at least wishing it would knock him out.

It didn't. He tried again, and again after that. No change.

He pounded his fist against the floor, frustrated. Did it again, was sure he did it harder except he felt no pain, only cold and tingling, and he looked at his hand, wondering it was still there.

The coldness and the tingling started to move upward, from fists, crawling up his arms. From his toes, crawling up his legs. Like drunken ice ants crawling.


Never mind.

He blinked, and tried to calm his harsh breaths. His lips felt two sizes too big, numb and shaking. His head was killing him, but it was the only place in his body that was remotely warm by now, that and whatever his tears passed by on the way to the floor. It's never, ever been this bad before, and he was shit-scared. His head's been miserably screwed for about twenty-four hours now.

Maybe I should call someone, he thought, experimentally.

The idea tasted foul, foul as the acid that was burning its way up from his stomach again.

"God," he sobbed as he pushed himself off the wall, and it was the only way he could find strength enough to propel his way back to the toilet. He lost all that he had left to lose, which was nothing much really, just air and bile and the last of his strength, pride and courage. Some blood too. Maybe it was because of the acid burning his throat, maybe he had finally broken up something in his gut.

He sank to his side on the cold floor, hands pressed against his head, and he was so sure it was the only thing keeping it from exploding, he was so sure. He tried to stand, but just sank back again. Nothing was working right.

I gotta get up, he told himself, I think I really gotta call someone.

He couldn't get up, and lying there, he thought maybe it was just as well. He couldn't imagine what he'd say to the only people he would call for something like this anyway. Dad, I'm in this place and I'm really sick, can you come get me? It sounded lame. Dad would tell Dean to do what he would do: suck it up. Bobby? He wouldn't call Bobby. He's imposed on the man enough, after all, and then ditched him to boot, only to inconvenience him further by getting his ass out here. Dean didn't have that kind of cheek on him. And Sam? Yeah right. Total write-off. Bastard hasn't picked up in weeks, he wasn't gonna start now.

His heart pounded in his chest, matched the pounding in his head, and his throat felt like it was closing. He gasped, just trying to breathe, just trying to stay alive, because he wondered if he was dying.

Don't get overly dramatic, he scolded himself. He was in pain, it was just a headache, and that he could always handle.

His stomach clenched tightly, begging to disagree. It felt like a kick and the pain just bent and folded him, making him cry out, and he suddenly felt bloated and full and sick.

He scrambled back up, and got rid of more acid and more courage and more pride and more control, all down the toilet and god, yes he thought he had every right to panic now. Drama went with dying, that was just how things went, and he swore to himself that if he could get up to his phone, he was definitely calling someone because he wasn't going to die like this. It was pathetic and gross, and worse, the people he loved would be wondering why he decided to suffer it alone rather than tell them anything.

He sucked on ragged, fortifying breaths, and launched himself from the bathroom, landing on the edge of his bed. Thank god the room was small, and he could crawl to the night table from here.

Trembling hands made a grab for the phone. More missed calls from Bobby. And oh god he was in so much trouble, his father too. He winced. Great. Just great. So. Who to call?

The room was spinning, and his stomach was a tight mess. Spots were dancing in his vision, and he knew that if he lost it now, with his room paid for for the next few days, there was a chance that all anyone's ever gonna find of Dean Winchester is a rotting corpse.

Dad, he decided.

But it'll freak him out and he can't do anything about it from where he is, Dean reasoned to himself.

He dialed 911 instead, and then laid back down, clutched his head to keep it from exploding, and waited.