A/N: Just so no one gets a shock at the end, I will tell you now that this is the last chapter of this story. Thank you all, as always, for your thoughtful and inspiring comments. You all motivate me so much. There is more planned in this 'verse, but I have a few other fic obligations I must fulfill first.

Merisha, sugarpie honey bunch, I hope this lived up to your hopes and dreams!


Sam finally manages to sleep for about an hour, between five o'clock and six, but he wakes with his heart jack-hammering in his chest, body drenched in sweat from a nightmare he can't remember. Dean is still asleep on the next bed, upright against the headboard, arms crossed over his chest and a frown creasing his forehead, as if he's dreaming about something that involves a great deal of concentration.

Sam moves quietly to the bathroom to get a glass of water, takes a spoonful of Pepto Bismol and hesitates over the bottle of Dean's painkillers. His ribs hurt like a bitch, but he doesn't know if it's a good idea to take the meds on an empty stomach, since he's really not in the mood for more vomiting. But the pain is bad, limiting his breath and making him feel even more tense and anxious than he already is, so he stands over the sink and tips out a couple pills, has to concentrate to keep his shaking hands from spilling them all over.

He'd thought, stupidly, that all it would take was sleep. Thought he'd close his eyes wanting a drink, and wake up the next morning free and clear. But apparently it doesn't work like that. The want is still there, just as strong, just as insidiously insistent, and he's still trembling, body racked with chills even while he feels sweat bead on his forehead. His head is pounding.

He takes a shower, doesn't have the energy to do much more than run a bar of soap over his body and blob shampoo on his hair, lets the hot water take care of the rest. He's not sure how long he stands under the spray, but he turns it off when it starts running cold, wraps himself carefully in a towel and dresses quietly, comes out of the bathroom to find Dean still asleep.

The shower helps, a little.

The light helps, too, an early morning glow filtering through the cheap white curtains, and he goes to open the windows, stares out at the parking lot. It's still overcast, but the cloud cover isn't as thick, and the sun burns through, bright and warm.

He hears a noise from behind him, half-groan half-yawn, and he turns to see Dean blinking over at him, eyes startling green above the dark smudges of fatigue.

"Hey," Dean says, his voice rough and graveled with sleep. "You get any rest?"

"A little," Sam says.

"How you feelin'?"


Dean nods sympathetically, pushes himself up a little on the bed, and Sam can see his jaw clench down hard, can hear the noisy intake of breath through his nose.

Sam starts to ask if he's okay, then bites his tongue instead and heads into the bathroom for the Vicodin and a glass of water, snags the Actiq and puts it on the table next to his brother, hands him the water.

"Thanks," Dean says, swallows his pills and unwraps an Actiq, tucks it into his cheek and reaches down to peel off the wet, melted icepack from his knee. It's still badly swollen, and bruises are already yellowing around the kneecap.

"Fuck," Sam breathes. "What did you do?"

"Banged it," Dean says glumly. "Twisted it. Was mean to it."

"You better keep up with the ice," Sam says, heads over to the first aid kit and fishes out their last few icepacks, hands one to Dean and then settles himself on the foot of Dean's bed to press the other to his ribs, very, very gently, because even the lightest pressure hurts. At the touch of the cold pack, his body convulses ever-so-slightly, a tremor running from the top of his head to the tips of his toes, and he almost drops the icepack.

"How're the ribs?" Dean asks, but Sam knows that's not all he's asking about.

"Hurts," he answers, runs the back of his hand across his damp forehead.

Dean makes a sad noise, twirls the Actiq in his mouth, checks his watch.

"It's seven oh five. We should pack our shit up and head out to the orchard."

"Yeah," Sam says. "How are we gonna know which tree to burn?"

"I'm pretty sure I know where it is," Dean says. "When I was, you know, coming to get you, I heard the sheriff holler for someone to cover the tree, and some guy ran in front of this big 'ol gnarly thing. I'm thinking that must be it."

Sam shifts the icepack higher up his ribcage, tries to fight back another shudder, stomach cramping painfully. Dean watches but doesn't say anything, just spits the Actiq into the garbage can and moves his legs over the side of the bed, grabbing for his cane.

He gets to his feet all right, but then tries to test his weight on his bad knee and goes pale, drops back onto the bed.


"It's fine," Dean says, almost to himself, leaning over to where his brace sits by the side of his bed. "It was fine last night, just stiffened up while I was sleeping. Just need this."

Sam watches as he straps the brace on and then locks it, keeping his knee straight, leverages himself to his feet again and takes a clumsy, hopping step that has Sam wincing.

"Dude, I don't think you should be walking on that knee," Sam says, rising. "Sit down."

"I'm good," Dean says breezily, waves him off and attempts another hop-like movement that sends his free hand arcing through the air in search of something to hold onto. Sam steps forward quickly and Dean latches onto his arm, sways for a moment.

"Goddammit," he says. "Motherfucker."

"Sit down," Sam repeats, and Dean swears again.

"We have to pack this shit up and trek into a fucking orchard and burn a tree," Dean snaps. "I can't sit down."

"Dean," Sam says, patience suddenly gone. "I can't pack up if you're hanging on my arm like a fucking leech, so either you sit down of your own free will, or I knock you on your ass."

Dean drops Sam's arm like he's been burned, and Sam pushes a trembling hand through his hair, closes his eyes and tries to get back some control. "Sorry, I didn't mean – I just want to get this done. Okay?"

"Yeah," Dean says blankly. "But your ribs, dude, you can't—"

"We're mostly packed anyway, just gotta bring the stuff out to the car," Sam says.

"I don't know if you should be doing too much lifting," Dean says. "Why don't you just make sure the stuff's packed, and I'll take the duffels outside when you're done."

Sam is too tired and sick-feeling to tell if that makes sense, and his headache pounds behind his eyes, stomach surging. He's having a lot of trouble thinking his way through this shit, and he closes his eyes, hears Dean huff a sigh and ease himself back down onto the bed. He pats the side of Sam's knee a moment later.

"Sammy," he says, his voice gentle but firm. "Pack your things, and I'll take them outside."

"Okay," Sam says. "Okay. Hang on."

Then he goes into the bathroom and throws up.


Dean ends up doing most of the packing, hops awkwardly around the motel while Sam retches in the bathroom. His knee throbs steadily and he has to stop and rest a couple times, muttering pointless curses that even he doesn't really listen to. He only has one cigarette left, and he smokes it leaning on the wall just outside the room, the door flung wide open so he can hear Sam if he calls.

Sam doesn't call, just emerges eventually, grey-faced, his hair plastered to his forehead, one arm wrapped around his torso, all their toiletries packed away in the little green bag, which he holds out to Dean like it's the only thing he knows how to give.

Dean drapes himself with the duffles, and they make their slow way out to the car. When Dean props his cane on the trunk to start loading, his hand creaks as he releases it and he realizes how tight he was gripping. Jesus, he really is an old man.

"I'll drive," he says, because no way is he letting Sam get behind the wheel like this, confused and tense and shaking, and Sam just nods, climbs in and puts his head against the window, face tight with pain. Dean reaches across his brother's knees and gropes in the glove compartment for his nicorette, pops a piece into his mouth. He throws the car into reverse and wishes there were some kind of alcoholette gum that Sam could chew, something that tasted like gummi worms and sunshine instead of actual human shit, like his gum, which doesn't really do much besides take the barest edge off. But at least it does that.

"What are we going to do with Meg's body?" Sam asks as the Impala hits the highway.

"We should burn it," Dean says after a moment, slides an apologetic glance at his brother. "It's not your fault, Sammy. You know that, right? Demons are rough riders, that girl didn't stand a chance."

"Don't talk to me like I'm five," Sam snaps. "We're talking about a girl, not a fucking pet goldfish."

That doesn't make a whole lot of sense, but Dean tightens his jaw and doesn't say anything, just chomps down hard on his gum and concentrates on the road and not reacting to Sam's tone. Because Meg wasn't Sam's fault, and neither is the fact that he's being kind of a bitch.

They come up to the orchard around eight o'clock, and Dean thinks it's unfair that such a fucked-up place should be so beautiful, because the sun hovers just at the treeline and casts a rosy, shimmering glow over the dew-covered branches, limns them in gold, the fresh green of the leaves sparkling against the deep brown of the branches.

Dean feels uncomfortable, looking at that and knowing that they're about to destroy it. Wishes, for a moment, that the responsibility didn't fall on them.

He pulls the car up by the side of the road, about where he remembers the old tree to be, and he and Sam both extract themselves carefully from their seats, moving slow and hesitant. It would be funny if it didn't hurt so damn much.

Sam has two damp patches on the thighs of his jeans from where his hands had been resting, and his face is mushroom-sallow, glistening with sweat despite the chill in the air. He looks agitated and unwell.

"Okay," Sam says, licks his lips and folds his sweatshirt over his fist, scrubs at his face. "Tell me how to get there."

"Wait, you're not going without —"

"You're kidding, right?" Sam says, shakes his head in disbelief. "You're not coming, Dean. I am not about to haul you halfway across the orchard just so you can satisfy some messed-up idea about protecting me from a tree."

Okay, that was uncalled for. But Dean isn't really in any shape to be trekking around a field, and Sam's in no shape to be helping him, so.

"Fine," Dean says. "But listen, you're not burning the body without me, you hear?"

"What? Fine."

"You got your gun?"

"Yes, I have my gun."

"Take the sawed-off, too."

"Jesus," Sam mutters, but he stalks around to the back and gets the sawed-off.

"All right," Dean says, explains to Sam where he thought he saw the tree. "If you're not sure, burn it anyway," Dean advises. "Throw a little salt on there, and bring the propane, because it's been wet lately, so the wood might—"

"Dean, give it a rest!" Sam explodes. "I know how to light a fucking fire."

"I'm only—"

"Just shut up for one second, god, shut up," Sam says, squeezes his eyes closed and massages his temples with one huge hand, and Dean shuts up. They stand in silence, Sam breathing harshly through his nose, eyes still screwed shut, and then he lowers his hand, shakes himself, and says, "I'll be back." He sets off through the trees without another word.

Dean stares after him for a long moment, then goes back into the car and rifles through the ashtray to see if there are any half-smoked butts he could maybe do something about. He finds nothing, is left with ash all over his fingers and the crushing feeling that he is the lamest person on the planet.

He gets out of the car again, hobbles around to the hood and sits down, taps his bad foot on the wet pavement and tips his head back, gazes up at the mostly-blue sky. The air is chilly and very damp and makes him all too aware of the places in his body where bones have knit together imperfectly. He rubs his pounding knee, wonders if maybe he should get Sam to a doctor, check out those ribs, ask a couple questions about quitting drinking, like Should he really be puking so much? Not that he has anything left to throw up. They haven't eaten since yesterday morning.

Dean's stomach grumbles loudly at that realization, and he grimaces. They'll stop and get something after they get the fuck out of here, which, please god, let that be soon. He doesn't know where the fuck they're gonna go, but anywhere that's not Indiana sounds perfect to him.

His phone rings, startling him, and he glances at the display before answering.

"What's up? You lost?"

"The body's gone," Sam says.


"The body. Meg's body. There is no body."

"Wait, why are you – I told you not to—"

"Jesus, Dean, I was already out here, so I went over and – but she's not here, there are just ropes. And an earring, she was wearing earrings, and one of them, I've got one of them in my hand, and it's – I —" Sam breaks off, his anxiety palpable through the phone line. He sounds young, helpless, and Dean sits up straighter on the hood of the car.

"Sam," he says. "Sam, chill out man, okay? Chill out and tell me something: Did you burn the tree?"

"What? I – yes, I burned the tree, Dean, but—"

"Okay. Then get out of there right now."


"Sam," Dean barks. Sam hates taking orders, hates it, but Dean has a feeling that it's exactly what he needs. "Get out right now."

There's a moment of silence until Sam says, "Okay," and Dean lets his breath out in a whoosh of relief.

"Come back to the car," he directs.


Dean hangs up, pushes himself to his feet and takes a few hopping steps towards the orchard, but quickly realizes the futility of it and sinks back down onto the Impala, gives himself about five seconds to have a mental mini-tantrum of frustration, then locks his jaw and waits for Sam.

Sam emerges just a few minutes later, even sweatier and shakier than he was when he went in, and Dean beckons him over impatiently, grabs his elbow before he can start blabbering the way Dean knows he's gonna.

"Listen," Dean says. "Whatever happened to the body, to the girl, there is nothing we can do, okay? Either someone from the town came to get the two people who got hooked by Freakshow last night, or – if that's not it, then christ, I don't wanna know. But whatever happened, it means someone's been hanging around, and we need to book it. Now."

"We can't just leave her, Dean, she – it's not – fuck, I don't—"

"The tree is burned, right?" Dean says. "You sure it's the right one?"

"Yeah," Sam says, "yeah, I'm sure, it was old, and there were – there was the tattoo—"

"All right," Dean says. "Okay. Get in the car."

Sam's arm trembles under Dean's grip, and Dean gets to his feet, pushes Sam gently towards the passenger seat. "Go."

Sam obeys, and Dean climbs in as soon as Sam's door slams.

"What if she wasn't dead," Sam says as Dean settles himself into the seat, "what if she was hurt, and she – what if the demon came back? What if—"

"She was dead," Dean says grimly. "I'm sorry, man, she was dead. I don't know what happened to the body, but I do know that we can't stick around to find out. It's not your fault, dude. But we gotta go."

Sam fumbles one shaking hand against the window, trying to get it open, his other arm bracing his ribs. "God," he says, closes his eyes briefly. "God, I need… I need…"

He trails off, and jesus, Dean doesn't want to hear this, really doesn't, but he says, "Dude. You can say it. Just… you can say it."

"I need a drink," Sam says, tilts his head forward so Dean can't see his eyes under his bangs, "I need a drink, I need – I don't care, I really need something, Dean, it's—this is not a good time to—"

Dean just nods, guns the car away from the orchard and keeps nodding.

"I'm sorry," Sam says, "I'm sorry, I'm sorry."

"You don't have to be sorry," Dean says, flicks the turn signal.

"Can we – can we –"

"It's your call, Sam," Dean says. "I'm not tellin' you what to do, okay? If you want, we'll pull over as soon as we're out of the dry county, and you can get something. I'm not gonna like it, but I'm not gonna tell you what to do."

Silence, but for the rumble of the engine and the strains of a guitar over the lowered radio. Dean holds his breath, prays he's doing this right.

"Stop," Sam says finally, voice barely audible. "Stop, I need to stop somewhere."

"All right," Dean says, but his heart drops so far he's surprised it doesn't pop out his ass, and his mouth goes dry. He fucked up. He did it all wrong. Oh, jesus, what was he thinking?

They drive without speaking, Sam breathing shallowly in the passenger seat and Dean doing his best not to flip his shit, thinking fuck it, maybe he'll get a drink, too, even though it's only, what, nine o'clock in the morning? If you can't beat 'em, join 'em, right? Christ, he needs a cigarette.

"Wait," Sam says suddenly. "Don't."

Dean feels his pulse quicken with irrational hope. "Don't what?"

"Don't stop," Sam says, looks like it's killing him to say it. "We don't need to stop, I don't wanna stop. I just – goddammit, why is this so hard?"

It's probably the wrong reaction to the pain in Sam's voice, but Dean can feel himself break out into a huge fucking grin, and he lets Sam see it, because yes, Sam said No! Dean's willing to bet that no D.A.R.E. officer has ever been as thrilled as he feels right now.

"It's the ethanol," Dean says in answer to Sam's (probably rhetorical) question, mostly to keep himself from saying something like, Good boy, Sammy! "It's – the chemical binds to your neuron receptors or whatever, and sedates you, and when you stop it, you're – the opposite of sedated. Neuronically. I think."

"Christ," Sam says, chokes out a laugh. "That doesn't sound very scientific, Dean."

"I skimmed the article," Dean admits.

Sam grinds the heels of his hands into his eye sockets, swallows hard. "You're not—god, I feel like I'm sixteen again—but—don't tell Dad about this, okay?"

"All right," Dean says. "C'mon, when've I ever told on you, huh? We gotta call him, though. Let him know about Meg."

"Yeah," Sam says, is quiet for a moment. Then, "Dean, where are we even going right now? Do we have – a job, or – a plan?"

Dean's pretty sure he knows where he's taking them, but he glances up at the highway signs anyway, does a quick perusal of the mental map he's got in his head. He's pointed the car towards South Dakota.

"We're headin' up to Bobby's."


"We need some downtime," Dean says firmly. "Need a place where we can relax, heal up." Where you can dry out in peace. "My knee, dude, my knee is fucked. And your ribs are fucked. And—"

"Everything's fucked."

"Right. There's a demon out there who, for some fucked-up reason, knows all about us. Which is – yeah. So. We need some time. Do a little digging, figure out what's goin' on, give the Impala a tune-up... maybe play some mini-golf."

Sam grins and snorts, then instantly clutches at his ribs with a wince, but Dean doesn't regret making him laugh.

"You should probably call Bobby and tell him this plan," Sam says.

"Point," Dean agrees.

"He might not want us dropping in."

"He won't mind," Dean says with conviction. "He's been after us to visit for a while, anyway. I mean, who wouldn't want us, right? I'll help him fix up a couple junkers, cook him dinner, and you can talk to him about Victorian literature, or whatever the hell it is you talk about…"

That gets another, gentler snort, and Dean spares a glance at Sam, curled protectively around his broken ribs, a tremor evident in his shoulders, and Dean swallows, thinks about how he used to tie Sam's shoes and feed him mashed bananas, kind of can't believe that this is the same kid. Except he can, because when Sam is unhappy his face melts from twenty-two to five, and Sammy trying to keep it together with a skinned knee looks a hell of a lot like Sam trying to keep it together with the fucking shakes.

"We're out of Burkitsville," Sam says suddenly, gestures to the sign that's already in the distance by the time Dean glances up.

"Excellent," Dean says with feeling. The whole fucked-up scarecrow case has left a bad taste in his mouth, demon notwithstanding, and he's happy to see the end of it.

He takes the first exit he can find for a gas station, and Sam frowns, picks his head up from where it's pressed against the cool glass of the window.

"What're you doing?"

"I need cigarettes," Dean says. "And we need to eat something."

Sam groans. "If I eat it's just gonna come straight back up."

"I'll pick up a coupla barf bags, too," Dean says, pulls up by the Qwik-E-Mart in front of the pumps. "You wanna wait in the car?"

"Dean, can you even – can you get around right now? On that knee?"

"Yeah," Dean says, with bluffed confidence. "It's feeling better than it was this morning."

It's not as stiff, so he's kind of telling the truth, but it still hurts like a bitch, and Dean locks the brace before he gets out of the car, takes it slow heading into the store. He buys two bottles of yellow Gatorade, a cup of coffee, three packs of cigarettes, a Hot 'n Ready breakfast sandwich for himself, and a can of chicken noodle soup for Sam, which he has the guy behind the counter heat up and put into a to-go cup for coffee.

Dean lights a cigarette as soon as he's out of the store, takes a moment to appreciate it, and then goes over to hand Sam the Gatorade and the soup through the open window, smiles approvingly when Sam cracks a bottle of the Gatorade and takes a long sip.

"I'm gonna finish this and call Bobby," Dean says, gestures to his cigarette and then to the benches in front of the store. "You wanna come out?"

"No," Sam says. "I'm just gonna stay in here."

As Dean could have predicted, Bobby pretends to grump about the prospect of putting them up for a week, bitches about Dean's smoking and Sam's eating habits and expresses dry surprise that Dean even had the courtesy to call before he showed, but Dean can hear the concern under Bobby's acerbic words.

"Last time you used the words a little banged-up, you'd been in and out of surgery for four months," Bobby says. "Please tell me this ain't that bad."

"No surgery here," Dean promises. "Sam's got a couple busted ribs, and my leg's been givin' me trouble, that's all." He'll explain about the demon when they get there. And he doesn't see any need to mention Sam's… stuff.

"Well," Bobby says. "I expect you to earn your keep. Got a whole junkyard full of engines just waitin' for you. Not to mention silverware needs polishin', floors need moppin', socks need darnin'…"

"Sam'll love that," Dean says. "Natural born wife, that kid." He grins while Bobby laughs, and adds, "Hey, we're in Indiana, so we'll probably be there in about ten hours, give or take."

"Good," Bobby says gruffly. "Be good to see you boys. Drive careful."

"We will, Bobby. Thanks."

Bobby hangs up, and Dean lights another cigarette, smokes and watches Sam dozing in the car, head pillowed on one arm, face finally somewhat relaxed, and Dean eats his breakfast sandwich mechanically and drinks his coffee and stubs out his cigarette and leverages himself to his feet, moves slow across the pavement.

He would've liked to have shown up at Bobby's in a better state than last time, and if it weren't for his fucking knee, he would be. But as it is, he feels like he hasn't made any progress since when he limped into Bobby's house all those months ago, fresh out of the hospital, and the way he's going to limp in tonight. He's going backwards instead of getting better, and Dean wonders if maybe it's time to listen to doctor's orders and take it easy for a while.

Sam stirs and grumbles when Dean climbs back into the car, and Dean feels bad for waking him. He needs sleep. But Sam sits up, wincing, scrubs a hand through his hair.

"Eat your soup," Dean says, gesturing to where the cup sits steaming between Sam's legs, and Sam takes a dutiful sip.

"You need me to drive?" Sam asks, and Dean shakes his head.

"I'm good, dude," he says. "Get some rest."

"The sun's too bright," Sam grumbles, but he's nodding off again about fifteen minutes after they get back on the freeway, like Dean knew he would. Sam's always slept better in the car than anywhere else, even when he was a colicky baby who wouldn't quit screaming.

Sam sleeps in fits and starts throughout the drive, sleeping for fifteen minutes and waking for an hour, then repeating the pattern. He never seems to completely settle, and sometimes Dean thinks it's nightmares that wake him, though Dean's afraid to ask. They stop once a few hours outside of Burkitsville so Sam can dry-heave out the open door of the car into a soybean field on the side of the highway, but other than that, Sam seems okay, is twitchy and shaky, but doesn't mention wanting a drink again, doesn't snap too much at Dean or freak out like he had in the orchard. They talk some, but Sam's distracted, loses his train of thought too easily, so eventually they lapse into a comfortable silence.

Dean, for his part, relaxes into the rhythm of the road, smokes out the open window and listens to an old Jimi Hendrix tape, quietly to spare Sam's head, and he wonders how he could ever give this up. The only time he's truly comfortable, the only time he doesn't feel that constant gnaw of anxiety and claustrophobia, is when he's driving. From somewhere to somewhere, in between it all. Real mobility, not the pseudo half-assed crap he has to deal with every day. Nothing to do except keep his eyes on the road.

He doesn't know how he could ever give this up.


Bobby's dogs come running out to greet them as the roll up his long driveway, past heaps of beat-up, useless cars, glinting in the late evening light like the discarded husks of huge beetles.

Sam stands by guiltily as he watches Dean load himself up with the bags, but as much as he wants to help, the idea of the duffle straps going across his chest is enough to make him want to throw up again.

He can grab his brother's elbow, though, as Dean stumbles over the uneven ground – he can do that, and he can hold onto it as he helps Dean up the stairs, Dean grumbling and pretending to shrug him off even he leans into Sam's hand.

Sam had felt all right, for a few hours there, in the car, but now that he's up and standing he can feel the fretfulness creep back, and his ribs hurt so bad that it's a concentrated effort to keep his face in a pleasant expression as Dean knocks on the door.

Bobby comes to the door almost immediately, tugging his baseball cap down over his eyes to hide his smile as Dean grins and says, "Hey, Bobby."

"Hey yourself," Bobby says. "Get inside."

Bobby gives Sam a gentle pat on the back as he passes, and Sam wonders suddenly how much Dean told him.

Bobby's eyes track Dean's progress as he heads into the kitchen and dumps their duffles on the floor by a muddy pile of shoes. Sam watches, too, feels worry creep up in his throat to see how slow Dean moves, and he wonders if he can get Bobby to convince Dean to see a doctor.

"Thanks for puttin' us up," Dean says, leaning on the stove. "It's good to see you, Bobby."

"You boys thirsty?" Bobby asks, heads for the fridge. "I've got a couple beers with your names on them."

Sam freezes, and he sees Dean go rigid. For a few, tension-filled seconds, with Bobby looking his confusion back and forth between the two of them, Sam thinks he's going to have to accept, his whole brain screaming at him to say Yes and take the fucking beer, get a little relief, make his hands quit shaking and get his brain on straight, and he wants to, god, he wants to so bad, but –

"Uh, how about straight-up holy water, hold the beer?" Sam manages, and he swears his brother's shoulders drop four inches.

"Me too," Dean says quickly. "Meds, you know."

Bobby quirks an eyebrow, but puts back one of the bottles he was taking out, hefts the other one. "I'll drink this," he says, "since I already opened it to put the damn holy water in there."

Sam and Dean down their shots of holy water without a splutter or a hiss, so Bobby claps them both on the back and ushers them into the living room, sits them down on the couch, and Sam does what he can to tell Bobby about Meg.

Bobby whistles when Sam is done, leans back in his armchair.

"Well, shit," he says.

Sam fervently agrees.

Bobby sighs, glances over at his huge bookcases, filled with old, cracked spines. "Looks like we got some research to do."


They don't find anything that night, though Sam hadn't thought they would, and Bobby cooks them a huge, slightly mishmash dinner, bacon and eggs and pasta and a bowl of wilted lettuce that Bobby refers to as a salad, and Sam manages to get down some pasta with butter before the nausea kicks in and he stops, folds his shaking hands under the table and tries to breathe through it.

"You feelin' all right?" Bobby asks, laying down his knife. "You haven't looked so good since you walked in here, no offense, and usually I'm fightin' to keep my dishes from disappearing into that black hole you call a stomach."

"I think I'm coming down with the flu," Sam says, which is kind of how he feels, so it's not a complete lie.

"Just don't sneeze on me," Bobby grumbles, but after dinner he makes Sam drink some sort of pungent tea, tells him it's good for the stomach.

Dean's dosed himself heavily with painkillers and has been staying seated as much as possible, but when he does get up, Bobby and Sam both watch him with eagle eyes, and it's nice to have Bobby there to shoulder some of the worry.

"His leg always this bad?" Bobby asks as he's washing up, Sam at the table waiting for his painkillers to kick in, Dean outside having a smoke. "He told me it'd gotten better."

"He fucked up his knee yesterday," Sam says, feels a flash of fury, though at whom, he's not quite sure. "I mean, I think it has gotten better, a little – sometimes it's all right. Sometimes it's not. He – he won't stay the fuck off it, won't let it heal. So it just keeps getting worse."

Bobby shakes his head, lips tightening. "Idjit."

"Tell me about it," Sam mutters.

Dean shows his stubbornness that night, when Bobby and Sam try and get him to sleep on the couch to spare him the trek up the steep stairs, and he refuses, claiming that the couch is gonna mess with his knee even worse than the stairs, and he'd rather sleep in a real bed.

Sam knows his brother just wants to keep an eye on him, but it pisses him off, and he blows upstairs without offering to help Dean up them, opting instead to stomp around the room they're sharing and haphazardly unpack the duffles Bobby'd carried up for them. He undresses and lies down on his bed, fists clenching and unclenching, teeth grinding.

If he could throw a tantrum right now, he probably would, he thinks, and it's really fucking hard to forget that downstairs Bobby's got a fridge full of beer and a cabinet full of liquor. That's the reason why Dean wants to stay in the room with him, he knows, and he's not sure if he's angry because his brother's an overprotective asshole who doesn't trust him, or if angry because Dean's going to make it a lot harder to sneak downstairs for a drink if he needs to.

His irritation subsides a little, though, when Dean appears in the doorway, his breathing harsh and a fine mist of sweat dewing his face.

"Those stairs're killer," Dean comments, limps over to his bed and frowns at the place where Sam's dirty socks have accidentally landed on his pillow.

"Sorry," Sam says, and Dean chucks the socks at his face then lowers himself down with a groan. He must have changed downstairs, because he's barefoot, wearing his boxers and the worn t-shirt he uses for pajamas. He leans down and starts unstrapping his brace, ripping Velcro, unscrewing things Sam doesn't understand.

"How you doin'?" Dean asks. "You feelin' any better?"

"Maybe a little," Sam lies.

"I'm sorry," Dean says after a moment. "I forgot about Bobby's beer thing. And I forgot there'd be… so much, here."

"It's okay," Sam says, hopes he's telling the truth.

Dean yawns, blinks, his eyes bloodshot and his face drained. He looks completely exhausted. "Hey, you remember the last time we slept in this room?"

"Yeah," Sam says, half-smiles. "Dad was in Minnesota, looking for a… werewolf?"

"Yeah," Dean says. "You were what, eight? And you would not shut the fuck up and let me sleep. Bobby had to keep banging on the door to try and get you quiet."

Sam remembers that. "So you decided you were going to outtalk me – you just babbled nonsense for like, the whole night."

"Shitty plan, though, 'cause you loved it. You ate it up. I couldn't speak the next day, I was so hoarse," Dean says. "I swear to god, Sam, I have never met a kid that jabbers as much as you did."

"You've never met another kid," Sam points out.

"Yeah, well, you were enough, lemme tell you." Dean yawns, starts shifting so he can pull the covers over his body, gets a pillow under his knee and eases himself down. "I can still outtalk you," Dean says, and there's a hint of threat in it.

"I know," Sam says.

"I've gotta get some sleep," Dean says, and his eyes are already drifting closed. "But you – wake me up if you need anything. I don't care, Sam, okay? Just wake me up."

"You want me to turn off the light?"

"Whatever," Dean says. "Wake me up."

"I will," Sam promises, climbing to his feet and crossing the room, flicking the light switch.

He makes his way back to his own bed, climbs under the covers, tucks his trembling hands into his armpits and tries to ignore the way his stomach's cramping up on him. He's wiped out, but doesn't think he'll be able to sleep, not with his heart beating like this, his head still aching. Not with a booze-filled kitchen just below him. God, it would be so easy, so, so easy and so good, to go downstairs and—

"Sam," Dean's voice comes from the darkness. "You're – I'm – I'm proud of you, dude. Seriously. I – you're a good kid."

"'M not a kid," Sam protests, knowing he should feel patronized, but he can't help but smile a little at Dean's words. Even when they're both toothless and grey-haired, Dean's gonna think of him as a kid, probably gonna treat him like a kid. Is going to boss him around and bitch at him and try to protect him at the stupidest, most inconvenient times.

And even as Sam rolls his eyes into the dark, the thought soothes him, tamps down something in his chest, something jagged and ugly.

He thinks maybe he will be able to sleep, after all.