Disclaimer: Supernatural belongs to Kripke and co. No copyright infringement intended.
Note #1: I'm so very sorry this took so long. I hope that you are still interested in reading it.
Note #2: Thanks to everyone who has left comments. They are very much appreciated.
Note #3: Some swearing in this one. Beware.
John pushed open the door to Dean's room, and slipped in on silent feet. Stealth was a product of his military training and it was times like these he put it to good use. Dean's room was extremely quiet. Not even the machines surrounding his son made any noise. Not one beep. Even their digital displays were dimmed. It was a haven for migraine sufferers.
John didn't want to disturb the peace, but he needed to see Dean, needed to make sure he was okay. The doctor's talk of tumors and hypertension—which in John's head flashed like a neon sign, stroke, stroke, stroke—had scared him. Worse, it make him feel helpless. This was something he couldn't salt and burn.
Hesitantly, he grasped the rail keeping Dean from tumbling out of bed and leaned forward.
Dean's eyes were open.
John almost jerked back in surprise. He knew that the migraine medication flowing through Dean's IV was supposed to make him drowsy. Dean should be asleep.
″Is the pain worse, Dean?″ John barely gave the mouthed words any sound. ″Do I need to get the doctor?″
Dean blinked a few times, but the clouded confusion in his eyes didn't go away.
″You wondering what's happening?″ John asked gently.
″Ummm...″ Dean mumbled.
″You're in the hospital and will probably be here for a few days. You've finally stopped vomiting. You have two IVs. One to help with the migraine and nausea. The other is to rehydrate you. You also have a nasal cannula. The high level of O2 is supposed to help with the headache.″
″N—no,″ Dean finally managed to say.
John frowned at him. ″What the hell do you mean 'no'?″
Dean shuddered, a whimper escaping him.
″Sorry, son, sorry,″ John whispered. He hadn't meant to raise his voice. It hadn't been that much louder, but it had been enough to hurt Dean. That couldn't happen again. ″Look, Dean, just relax as much as you can. You need to follow the doctor's orders. You'll be fine.″
″No, Dad,″ Dean said, voice rusty. ″N—not that.″
″What? I don't understand.″ John shook his head. ″Doesn't matter. Just rest, son.″
Dean's arm trembled as he lifted his hand. He touched John's wrist before the strength left him and his arm fell back to the bed. ″Boy. Help him.″ Dean took a couple of deep breaths. ″Boy.″
John frowned. ″What boy, Dean? What are you talking about?″
″Boy,″ Dean repeated, fingers twitching as if he wanted to reach out to John again, but couldn't muster the strength. ″Lisle. A—asking...l—looking for his mother.″
″What are you--″ John broke off, thinking. ″The ghost, Dean? Is that what you're talking about?″
″Yeah.″ John could barely hear him.
His son was worried about a ghost? What the hell?
″Don't worry about it, Dean,″ John said. ″It'll get taken care of.″
Dean's eyes fell shut and he moaned.
″Dean?″ John leaned over him, anxious. ″Dean? What is it? You gonna be sick?″ Please, John thought. No more vomiting. Please. He can't take it anymore. He just can't.
″Wants his mom,″ Dean's voice was practically gone. ″Mom.″
John's heart clenched. ″Dean.″ He very carefully laid his hand on top of Dean's, squeezing his fingers gently. I wish she was here, too, buddy. ″Get some sleep, Dean. I'll take care of it. You just get better. Okay, son? Just rest.″
John wasn't sure how long he stood there, watching Dean sleep, before a nurse entered the room and asked him to leave.
″How is he?″ Bobby asked when John entered the waiting the room that had become their temporary home.
John rubbed the back of his neck. ″If it weren't for all the fucking tubes sticking out of him, he'd look like he was just resting.″ His shoulders slumped. ″Actually, Bobby, he's just so still. And when he talked to me, it was like he could barely get the words out.″
Bobby got to his feet. ″He talked to you? Damn, John, that's actually good news!″
″Yeah, I guess so,″ John said. ″I think he was doing too much too soon.″
″Yeah, that sounds familiar,″ Bobby grumbled. ″What did he say?″
John snorted and shook his head. ″He was worried.″
Bobby frowned. ″About what? Sam?″
″That would have made sense,″ John said. ″But, no, not Sam. Dean was worried about the ghost out at the old Lisle Farm.″
″Are you talking about the fucking hunt?″ Bobby stared at him. ″What the hell?″
John chuckled tiredly. ″That's what I said. But then Dean told me that the ghost was a boy looking for his mother.″
Bobby took his cap off and rubbed at his scalp. ″Aw, hell.″
″Pretty much,″ John agreed. He hesitated. ″Maybe I should go back out there and take care of it.″
Bobby grabbed him roughly by the collar. ″Don't you even think about leavin' this hospital, John Winchester. Your boy needs you.″
″He needs me to take care of the ghost,″ John argued. ″He practically begged me to go back and take care of it. If he'd had the strength, he probably would have tried getting out of bed to do it himself.″
″I can believe that,″ Bobby muttered. ″Listen, John, I know how you hate waitin'. I know that you want to be out doin' something, but you have to stay here.″ He shook John. ″This is where you need to be.″
John pulled away from Bobby's grasp and nodded. ″I know. It's just....″
″We're gonna have to ride this out, John,″ Bobby said quietly. ″We'll get through this and get Dean home.″
John took a deep breath and let it out slowly. ″You're right, Bobby. Dean needs me here.″
″Damn straight,″ Bobby said. ″I'll make a few calls and pass along the information. There are other hunters out there. One of them can deal with the problem.″
″Yeah.″ John nodded. ″Do that. This way I'll have something to tell Dean when he asks about it.″
″I'm on it,″ Bobby said, turning to leave. He'd take care of business outside. He paused and looked back at John. ″Hey, you think I could see Dean the next time he's allowed visitors?″
John looked surprised, but then a small smile graced his stubble-covered features. ″Sure. No doubt Dean would like a visit from his uncle.″
″His favorite uncle,″ Bobby said, pleased.
″His only uncle.″ John shot back.
Then they both laughed and it felt good.
The hours dragged on, but the only way John had any way of knowing that was to look at his watch from time to time. The waiting room didn't have windows.
He and Bobby had taken to playing cards to pass the time. It was either that or drink weak coffee and eat stale donuts. Just thinking about it made John grimace.
The monotony would have gotten to him if not for the periodic visits to Dean he'd been allowed. He and Bobby took turns. And even though Dean slept most of time, it was good to see him. It made their stay in the waiting room more tolerable. But then John knew that he would wait as long as it took for his boy to get better.
It was close to evening and John was contemplating a trip to the cafeteria for a dinner he wasn't really up to eating. Bobby was visiting with Dean at the moment and John figured he'd wait for his friend before deciding.
John picked up the deck of cards and started an unenthusiastic game of Solitaire. A few minutes went by and he tossed the cards down. He rubbed at his eyes, feeling older than his years, tired beyond belief.
This was how Dr. Taylor found him when he entered the room. ″Mr. Winchester?″ he said, looking at him with concern. ″Perhaps you should go home and get some rest.″
″I'm not leaving without my son,″ John growled at him, getting to his feet.
The doctor nodded, the look on his face one of understanding. ″Mr. Winchester, you aren't the first parent to want to move into the hospital to be with their child. However, you have to realize that once visiting hours are over for the evening, you won't be able to see Dean. It would be best for him if you got some sleep.″
″Dr. Taylor, with all due respect, you can't force me to leave.″
″I know that, too,″ Dr. Taylor agreed. ″But I have some news that might change your mind.″
″You're going to release him?″ John asked hopefully.
″Not tonight,″ Taylor said. ″but in the morning. His blood pressure is back to normal without the aid of medication. Mr. Winchester, the good news is that Dean is only suffering from a migraine coupled with a slight concussion. The bad news is that he is a chronic migraine sufferer. I'll have some prescriptions that you should get filled. He should have the meds with him at all times and he should check in with his doctor regularly.″
As news went, thought John, it wasn't particularly good at all, but it was better than some of the alternatives that the doctor had mentioned. He still shuddered at the thought of tumor and hypertension. ″Right, doctor. I'll make sure that Dean keeps up with his medication.″
″He won't have to take the pills all of the time,″ Taylor informed him. ″It's only when he feels a migraine coming on. He just needs to make sure that he keeps the scrips filled.″
John nodded. ″Don't worry,″ he said grimly. ″He will.″
″Good,″ Taylor said. ″So, knowing that Dean will be okay, do you think you'll be able to head home for some rest?″
″I'll think about,″ John lied.
″Good enough,″ Taylor answered. ″If you have any questions, let me know.″
They shook hands and the doctor departed.
John couldn't wait to share the good news with Bobby. Dean was going home.
Dean looked down at his plate of salmon and broccoli. Apparently, these were foods that helped to fight migraines. It looked like his near future was going to be devoid of cheeseburgers. Vegetables and fish. This sucked out loud.
″Something wrong with your lunch, Dean?″ His father asked, a note of challenge in his voice.
Dean glanced up to find both Bobby and his father staring at him. Very calmly, although he felt like giving flying fish a whole new meaning, Dean speared a piece of broccoli. He chewed and managed to swallow it without choking on the noxious taste. He took a second piece and hoped that would satisfy his audience.
Neither John's intense stare nor Bobby's frown went away.
Dean almost wiped his mouth with the sleeve of his shirt. Just in time, he grabbed his napkin. A perpetual grease monkey, Bobby was a stickler for table manners. Dean had really never understood that.
There was at least half a fish left, but Dean was okay with that. He'd eaten more than he had at dinner last night and breakfast this morning combined. He hoped it was enough to satisfy his father. Dean dreaded what he was going to say. There was no way he could eat anymore, not unless he wanted to see it reappear. His stomach just couldn't handle any more.
Since Dean had been released from the hospital, John had practically been counting the number of bites he'd taken.
On the other hand, it was Bobby who was timing his naps. Not that Dean felt he needed naps. His father, however, thought differently and you just didn't argue with John Winchester. He had scheduled Dean's naps like he used to schedule his training sessions. Dean vowed to never allow his headaches to get this bad again. That, or hide them better. He'd actually gotten pretty good at that. It had helped that his father and brother had spent so much time arguing that they often overlooked him. That had been okay with Dean. He didn't like being fussed over.
Apparently, those days were over.
"That all you're going to eat?" John asked gruffly.
Dean glanced at the fish and limp broccoli. His stomach dived and rolled then flipped for good measure. He swallowed hard and tried to answer the question in a tone as even as possible. "Yeah. I'm done." He turned to Bobby. "Thanks for lunch." He hadn't realized the man could cook let alone prepare fish.
Bobby grunted, but didn't say anything. The volume of worry in his eyes was louder than any words could have been.
Dean wanted to sink into the floor. He hated seeing that look on Bobby's face, knowing he was the cause. No one was supposed to worry about him. Not Dean.
"Have you taken your pills?" John asked.
Dean looked over at his father. The pills were something else he hated, but there was no way to avoid taking them. John had been watching him like a hawk and that wasn't going to change anytime soon. "No. I'm only supposed to take them if I need them." It didn't hurt to try.
"Go on. Get both pills and take them."
"Dad, I don't need them." Dean wanted to pat himself on the back at how steady his voice had been.
"Does your head still hurt?" John's stare was like being under a microscope, seeing all that Dean was trying to hide.
Dean didn't answer right away, trying to find the words that would satisfy his father. "Not really." Okay, not his best effort.
John crossed his arms over his chest. "That's not an answer."
Dean ran his thumb over the smooth wood of the dining room table. "It doesn't hurt as much as it did a couple of days ago. Pain's almost gone."
"Right, so you need to take your meds." John rose from the table.
"Stomach's feelin' out of sorts, too, I'll bet," Bobby said, leaning back in his chair.
Dean shot him a betrayed look, but Bobby's gaze never wavered.
John snorted. "It's a sure thing." He put two pill bottles on the table. "Take one of each and then go park yourself on the couch."
Dean looked from one to the other, wanting to protest. In the end, he didn't. On this point, he was outmatched. Probably always would be. "Yes, sir," he replied dutifully if somewhat sullenly. He downed the anti-emetic pill and followed it with another for the pain in his head.
"Get some sleep, Dean," Bobby said.
Dean nodded and slipped out of the room.
Sleep was the last thing he wanted. He was so damn tired of sleeping.
As Dean lay down on the couch, he had to finally admit to himself that it was his own damn fault. He'd tried so very hard to ignore the empty spot next to him. In all practical aspects, he was a team of one now and it hurt—hurt like he was missing a limb. If he bottled up all the hurt and packed it away then the pain couldn't touch him. It had worked for him in the past. He thought it would work for him now.
He'd been wrong. In a bad way.
The pressure had started small, almost unnoticeable. But then, the pain in his head had grown steadily, ambushing him. He had had a hard time swallowing. Each time his throat had worked, tiny spasms of pain shot up the sides of his neck, ending in tiny throbbing points behind his ears. What food he had managed to swallow had ended up a hard lump in his stomach.
Dean had ignored it; had ignored everything. If he ignored it, it would disappear. If he kept everything together, nice and tight, he'd be okay.
Dean hadn't counted on the ghost.
The walk up the stairs, the search of the hallway, opening the first bedroom door, had all been routine. The ethereal boy standing in front of the hallway window had almost taken him by surprise. The ghost, probably no more than eight or nine years-old, had focused on Dean with an intensity that had sent a shiver up his spine. The little hand had reached out to him and the little boy had moaned, ″Where's mommy? Why isn't she here? Can you tell me where she is?″
Dean had stared at him, his feet rooted to the spot. In his mind, he was picturing a scene similar to this one. Only it was Sammy standing in front of him, Sammy asking him about mom. Dean had swallowed painfully, his head pounding.
The boy, in true ghost fashion, had gone from standing in front of the window to standing directly in front of Dean. He had lifted his hand again and Dean had felt the air cool, as if he'd stepped into a freezer.
Instinct had taken over and he had raised his shotgun. His finger had been on the trigger when the muscles in his neck had spasmed and a sharp pain had rocketed through his head. Only training and pure Dean Winchester determination had allowed him to keep ahold of his gun. It had trembled in his grasp.
The boy in front of him had wavered and Dean had blinked.
Suddenly, he he had been knocked off his feet, sailing through the air. His back had impacted hard against the wall and he'd fallen. He'd managed to get off a shot, but the damage had been had felt like thousands of fire-tipped arrows, danced across his skin, penetrating deep into his muscles. There had been too much pain to even gather enough air to shout.
When Dean had been able to manage more than shallow pants, it was to become aware of his father leaning over him, shouting in his face.
"—Dean! Dean, answer me! Dean!"
Dean had always known his purpose in life. It was to take care of his family…even if his family didn't really need him. It had felt all wrong to Dean, to be staring up into his father's worried face.
So Dean had done what he'd done a hundred times before. He'd sat up and smiled.
It hadn't mattered that his vision was graying out around the edges. Hadn't mattered that his skull was shrinking, pushing on his brain so that it felt like it was oozing out his ears.
It hadn't mattered. Never did.
Dean remembered getting down the stairs and into the car. He could even recall walking into the motel room and collapsing on the bed. There was even a nasty memory of him throwing up. Again.
After that, nothing until waking up in the hospital and realizing he was screwed.
Dean closed his eyes, wondering when his father would stop looking at him as if he were going to break.
John and Bobby hadn't moved from their spots at the kitchen table. The moment Dean had left, silence had descended. Neither man seemed bothered by it. Solitude was a way of life for them and while comforting might be the wrong word, they were content.
Finally, Bobby spoke. ″The Lisle problem's been taken care of.″
John looked up from his contemplation of the dregs of his coffee. ″Yeah? What happened?″
″It may have been called the Lisle farm,″ Bobby said, leaning back in his chair. ″But it hasn't really been the Lisle's place all that long. Before that, the farm belonged to the Carter-Brooks family for generations.″
John stood up to refill his coffee. ″I don't remember coming across that info when we did our research.″
Bobby scowled at him. ″Ya didn't go back far enough, you idgit. Neither one of you was ready for a hunt.″
John's grip on the handle of his mug tightened. He restrained the urge to throw it at Bobby. ″I think you've already made your point clear, Bobby. Why don't you just tell me what happened with the Carter-Brooks farm.″
″Don't really know what it's gonna take to get through that thick skull of yours, do I?″ Bobby muttered.
Bobby!″ John barked at him, giving in and slamming his mug onto the table. The hot coffee sloshed over the sides of the cup, scalding him. He gritted his teeth and ignored the pain. He probably deserved it.
Other than a knowing glance, Bobby didn't comment. He moved on. ″'Bout forty years ago, the youngest Carter-Brooks, Nathan, was visitin' grandparents in another state when he was hit by a drunk driver. Little boy didn't make it.″
″Boy's been looking for his mother ever since,″ John said, feeling the weight of his words in the very marrow of his bones.
″Yeah,″ Bobby confirmed, voice subdued. ″The little boy was cremated.″
John frowned. ″We knew no one had died at the house, but that's where the ghost was manifesting. What kept him there?″
Bobby let out a sigh. ″You were right to search the place, John. If things hadn't...gone south you probably would have figured it out eventually. Mongoose had to toss the place pretty good before--″
″You sent Mongoose?″ John asked incredulously. ″A taxidermist?″
″Everyone has to have a hobby,″ Bobby said, somewhat blandly.
″Yeah,″ John agreed, ″but that guy is practically channeling Norman Bates.″
Bobby rolled his eyes. ″He was the only one available and he got the job done. I don't see the problem here. 'Sides, I'm sure there are people out there wonderin' if you're playin' with a full deck.″
″Bobby,″ John growled. The man could get to him like no other. ″Just tell me what the hell he found.″
″Teeth,″ Bobby answered, smug smile in place. ″He found baby teeth on the top shelf of the closet in the master bedroom. They were stored in a tiny toy treasure chest and it was pushed all the way to the back. Took some doing, but he got rid of 'em.″
″Baby teeth.″ John let the melancholy he normally kept locked down tight wash over him. Every parent kept them as tiny momentos of childhood. He, himself, kept Dean's and Sam's stored in a safe place. John was just lucky that the teeth weren't all that he had of his sons. ″I'll have to tell Dean.″
″Yeah.″ Bobby nodded. ″It's already been taken care of so he doesn't have to go back out there.″
″Thanks for that, Bobby,″ John said quietly. Dean hadn't mentioned the boy since the hospital, but it was only a matter of time. And John knew Dean wasn't ready for a hunt. Not by a long shot.
The muffled sound of a ringing phone reached his ears. John pulled out his cellphone. It was silent. He slipped his hand into his other pocket and took out Dean's phone and glanced at the display. Sure enough, there was an incoming call.
John let it ring.
″You gonna answer that?″ Bobby asked.
The phone stopped ringing.
″Guess not,″ John answered.
″Who--″Bobby started to ask.
The phone started ringing again.
John and Bobby stared at each other.
Bobby frowned and glanced at the phone John still held. ″Never took you for a coward, Winchester,″ he growled.
John wanted to argue, to refute Bobby's claim, but he couldn't. Instead, glowering defiantly at Bobby, he stabbed the 'talk' button. ″Winchester.″
Silence. Then, ″Why are you answering Dean's phone?″
″Hello to you, too, son,″ John answered, trying to keep his tone even.
More silence. ″Why are you answering Dean's phone, Dad?″ Sam repeated.
Sam would ask questions until he had answers. Sometimes it was a useful gift; most times it was annoying. Like now. ″I'm answering it, Sam, because he can't.″
″How bad?″ Sam sounded brittle. John heard him take a deep breath. ″How bad? Damn it, Dad, what happened?″
″What's the big deal?″ John asked, irritably. It seemed to be his default setting when dealing with his youngest. ″He's asleep.″
What followed was a silence so unsettling that John had to look at the display to make sure that the call hadn't been dropped. When he saw that they were still connected, trepidation tripped across his nerves.
Those words might as well have been bullets for all the damage they had done. Dean didn't take naps. Sam knew that as well as he did. John braced himself, and waited for Sam's return volley.
His son didn't disappoint.
″Damn it, Dad,″ Sam choked out in a horrified whisper. ″What happened? What did you do?″
John wished he'd made something up, but Sam had always had the knack for seeing through his bullshit. And if even though he wasn't sure how things could get any worse, a lie might have complicated the situation further. Sam had always been an over achiever. He tried to cover up his failing attempts to keep control of the conversation with a blustered, ″Watch your language, Sam.″
There was a pause and the tension ratcheted up a notch.
″To hell with that, Dad.″ Each of Sam's words were slow and deliberate, barbed with a stinger to pierce the heart. ″What the fuck did you do?″
John stood abruptly, the words having done their job, setting off a fireworks display of guilt. ″I didn't do anything!″ It came out defensive. He was vibrating with rage, mainly at himself. He was mad at Sam, too, for provoking him, for reminding him what a bad father he was being. God, why hadn't he been able to see how much Dean was hurting? Why the hell couldn't he communicate with Sam without wanting to destroy things with his bare hands?
There was a snort of disbelief. ″Yeah, you didn't anything. Dean's just sleeping in the middle of the fucking day!″ A heavy sigh followed, tinged with hurt and disappointment. ″Tell me something, Dad.″ Sam's voice went quiet, heavy with sadness. ″Would you tell me if he was hurt? If my brother was in the fucking hospital, would you call and tell me?″
John gripped the back of his chair, knuckles growing white, the guilt flaring hotter and brighter. ″Dean is fine, Sam,″ he said, sidestepping the question. His breathing settled and he continued. ″You know your brother. It's all or nothing with him.″ John took up the reins of control again. ″Last night, it was all.″ He let the words sink in, hoping to get his meaning across without having to outright lie. ″He's sleeping it off.″
″A—a hangover?″ Sam sounded deflated.
″He's had a hard time,″ John said. No need to lie now. ″Tell me, Sam, did you say anything to him on your drive to California?″
″What do you mean?″ Sam sounded defensive.
″Spit it out, Sam.″ John gritted out. ″What did you tell your brother when you left him?″
There was a sharp intake of breath on the other end of the line and John realized the shoe was on the other foot now. Funny how he felt no satisfaction in causing his son to feel guilty. It actually caused him pain, knowing that in a way he was hurting Sam. Still, he had to know.
When Sam spoke, his words were full of emotion. ″I asked him to stay, Dad.″ There was a snuffling noise. ″I asked him to stay with me and he said no. You happy now? He said you needed him. Made it sound as if I didn't.″ Another sniffle. ″And then...then he drove away. Fuck,″ Sam whispered.
John dropped into his chair, stunned. He hadn't expected that and it shamed him. It had been easier to be angry at Sam for abandoning them. Much harder to admit that Sam might miss his family, that he cared. ″Sam,″ he started to say, voice trembling slightly.
There was a sound indicating a disconnected call. John stared at it in disbelief. Sam hadn't even given him a chance to reach out.
Startled, John turned to Bobby. ″He hung up.″ John knew he sounded numb, but didn't care. He just couldn't seem to do right by his boys. He ached for Mary to be there by his side, to tell him what to do. ″We're so messed up, Bobby.″
″It'll turn out all right,″ Bobby said gruffly.
John snorted, and spoke in a tone of self-loathing. ″One son curses at me and then hangs up on me. The other hides his pain, driving himself to be sick, and I treat him like he's invisible. Fuck, Bobby, I don't deserve for it to be all right.″
″I don't know about that, John,″ Bobby said. ″But if you don't try to make things better, you'll lose them both for good.″
John's head snapped up at that.
Bobby continued. ″I never knew a Winchester to quit, is all.″
A small smile cracked the tension that had cemented his face into hard, unforgiving lines. ″Guess you're right about that.″
″No guessin' about it,″ Bobby said and stood. ″Now, how 'bout somethin' stronger?″
John nodded his head, wearily. The road ahead seemed interminably long and filled with potholes, but he'd manage. He always did. And maybe this time he could make some repairs along the way. ″Beer sounds good right about now.″
Bobby was just reaching for the handle of the refrigerator door when his house phone rang. He changed direction and picked up the phone. ″Hello.″ Bobby looked at John, frowning. ″Hey, Sam, how ya doin', kid?″ A pause. ″Uh, yeah, I talked to Dean a couple of hours ago.″ The frown deepened and he continued to stare at John. ″Nope, they aren't on a hunt.″ Another pause. ″He's fine, Sam. What makes you think he isn't?″ He glared at John.
John rolled his eyes and set his jaw.
″Naw, kid, your brother's okay. Maybe you should try calling him again later.″ Bobby nodded. ″Yeah, Sam,″ he said quietly. ″If anything happens, I'll keep you posted. You take care now.″ Bobby hung up the phone.
″I can't believe he called you,″ John burst out.
″He just wanted to make sure his brother was okay,″ Bobby argued.
″What,″ John said hotly. ″He needed a second opinion? I told him Dean was fine.″
Bobby squared his shoulders. ″And obviously he didn't believe you.″
John's shoulders slumped. ″Fuck.″
″Sounds about right,″ Bobby said. ″Looks like you have a lot of patchin' up to do.″
″You don't know that half of it,″ John muttered.
″Just so you know, John,″ Bobby said, tone taking on a gravity that surprised him. ″From here on out if something happens that I think Sam needs to know, I'm going to call him. I told him I would and damned if I'm going to make that a lie.″
″Bobby,″ John growled at him.
A muffled ringing interrupted their conversation and John let out a sigh. He was afraid to answer it, but he reached into his pocket and pulled out his cellphone anyway. The number on the display had him visibly relaxing. There would be no angry son on the other end of this call. ″Winchester,″ he said, after connecting. ″Yeah, that's me. How can I help you?″ He spared Bobby a glance before heading out the backdoor, his voice fading as it slammed shut behind him.
If John had looked back, he would have seen Bobby staring after him, shaking his head.
″Where's mommy? Why isn't she here? Can you tell me where she is?″ The boy's image flickered in and out like a poorly connected lightbulb. The image changed. ″Where's mommy, Dean? Why isn't she here? Where is she?″
″It's okay, Sammy.″ Dean reached out to lay a hand on his little brother's shoulder.
Sam flickered once, twice, then was gone.
″Sammy!″ Dean called, panicked. ″Sam! No, come back, Sam! Come back. Sammy!″
The sound of his own shouting startled Dean awake and he sat up, arms flailing. He teetered for a moment and then gravity took hold and he tumbled off the couch, narrowly missing hitting his head on the coffee table. He lay on the floor panting, hand fumbling before his fingers caught on the table leg. Dean grabbed onto it, feeling the smoothness of the wood cool against his palm. He kept his grip on it nice and tight as he tried to control his breathing, trying to will away the pain that flared up in his head, eating at his brain.
″Dean? Dean, you okay?″ Muttered cursing. ″Come on.″ Hands reached around him and started to tug him upward.
He groaned and managed to grip the table leg with his other hand. It was the only thing keeping him from tilting and whirling as the room spun around him. ″No,″ he mumbled as the hands grew more insistent. He blinked the haze out of his eyes as he felt the table rock.
″Dean, come on, let's get you back on the sofa.″ Bobby's soft tone finally penetrated. ″Let go now. Come on.″
Dean shuddered and let his hands fall away. He wanted to help Bobby, he really did, but he just didn't seem to have the energy. The older man grunted and pulled Dean up off the floor and settled him back onto the couch.
A moment or two, maybe more, passed before Dean's thundering heartbeat slowed. The pain in his head still thumped against his temple, but he had been dealing with that for days now. He could handle it.
″Here,″ Bobby said. ″Drink this.″
Carefully, Dean sat up. When everything appeared to stay stationery and his stomach remained where it was supposed to, he took the glass of water from Bobby. He drank, letting the water wash down his throat, suddenly realizing how thirsty he was.
″Take it easy,″ Bobby murmured. ″There's plenty more where that came from.″
″Thanks,″ Dean said.
″Listen, I can't give you any pills right now. You just took some a little over an hour ago,″ Bobby said.
″That's okay.″ Dean waved that away. ″It's not so bad.″
Bobby shot him a skeptical look.
″Really, Bobby.″ Dean tried to reassure him, not sure if he was succeeding. ″I'm okay.″
″You just keep restin',″ Bobby said. ″I'm going to get you some more water.″
Dean looked over the back of the couch, watching as Bobby walked away. He noticed that Bobby had set up a card table. There were a few guns sitting on it, one that had been disassembled.
Standing up, Dean made his way around the couch. Maybe he could convince Bobby to let him help clean the weapons. It was one of those activities that Dean found relaxing. He was sure it would make him feel better.
″What are you doin' off the couch, boy?″ Bobby asked, returning from the kitchen.
Dean took the second glass of water and drank deeply. He really was very thirsty. It had always been a weird side effect to the migraines. ″I was hoping you'd let me help you clean the guns.″
″Are you out of your mind?″ Bobby bellowed.
Dean winced. It hadn't been particularly loud, but it was piercing. ″Trust me, Bobby, it'll actually help.″
Bobby looked at him incredulously. ″How do you figure?″
Dean opened his mouth to explain, but his father chose that moment to enter the room.
″What's going on here?″ John asked, dropping his duffel to the floor. He looked from Bobby to Dean.
Dean eyed the bag on the floor. He knew what that meant. ″You found a hunt?″
John narrowed his eyes at him and Dean realized somewhat belatedly that he had totally ignored his father's question. He waited for the reprimand and was surprised when it didn't come.
″Yeah,″ John answered. ″I found a hunt.″
Dean couldn't help it, he smiled. ″Just give me a few minutes, Dad, and I'll be packed and ready to go.″
″Now just a minute,″ Bobby sputtered.
Dean turned to him, embarrassed. ″Sorry, Bobby, I forgot,″ he said. ″Thanks for letting us crash here for a few days.″
″Dean,″ John said.
Dean turned to him. ″I'll be right back.″
″John Winchester,″ Bobby roared. ″If you think I'm letting take that boy on a hunt, you have another thing coming.″
″Bobby,″ Dean said, looking back at him. He froze, staring at the long barrel of a shotgun. A shotgun that happened to be pointed at his father. Without thought, he moved in front of it, hands up in supplication. ″Hey, Bobby, it's okay. No need to point that thing at anyone.″
″Dean,″ John said again. This time, iron seemed to infuse the name.
There were hands on his shoulders, strong and implacable. He was moved out of range of the gun and he found himself staring into his father's stern countenance.
″Son,″ his father rumbled. ″Don't you ever get between me and a weapon.″
Dean looked from the gun that Bobby hadn't lowered to his father. ″But, Dad--″
The grip on his shoulders became painful. ″Do I make myself clear?″
Dean swallowed. ″Yes, sir.″
His father lessened his grip, but didn't move his hands.
John looked over at Bobby. ″You can put the gun down, Bobby. I happen to agree with you. Dean's staying put.″
″What?″ Dean asked. ″Why? I'm fine, Dad. I can hunt. I can watch your back.″
″I know you can,″ John said quietly. ″But you're not ready to go back into the field yet, son.″
″I'm ready,″ Dean protested, desperate. ″Come on, Dad, you have to let me go with you. Please.″
″No, Dean.″ And there was no arguing with that voice. ″I need for you to stay here. Rest. This job won't take long. I'll be back soon. Then we'll get back on the road.″
″But, Dad, I want to go with you. You need me.″ Dean gave it one last effort. What his father said made sense, but he couldn't help feeling as if his family was disintegrating. He had this irrational fear that they wanted to leave him behind and never come back. ″Please, Dad.″
″You're staying here, Dean,″ John said. ″That's an order.″
Dean dropped his gaze to the floor. ″Yes, sir.″
John squeezed his shoulder. ″I'll be back before you know it, son. Then it'll be you, me, and the Impala. Okay?″
Dean lifted his eyes to his father's. ″You'll come back for me?″
″Of course, I will,″ John said. ″I need my wingman, don't I?″
Dean wanted to point out that if his father could go solo on one job then he could probably handle others alone as well, but he didn't want to sabotage his own hope. ″Okay, I'll stay,″ he said as if he'd had a choice all along. ″Maybe I can help Bobby with some oil changes, a few tune ups.″
″Rest, Dean, nothing else,″ John said firmly. ″Promise me.″
″Fine.″ Dean sighed, knowing there was no way to win this. ″I promise.″
″I promise, too,″ Bobby said. He had put down the shotgun and had been watching them from his spot at the table. ″Don't worry, John, I'll see to it that he takes it easy.″
Yeah, Dean thought. Not winning anything anytime soon. Migraines were a pain in the ass.
″Thanks, Bobby,″ John said. He lifted his bag onto his shoulder and looked at Dean. ″I'll be back in a few days.″
″Okay,″ Dean said. He wanted to tell his dad to be careful, but it had never been like that between them. Instead, all he could do was watch his father walk out the door and hope that he would walk back through it again soon.
″So,″ Bobby said. ″You gonna help me with this or not?″ He gestured to the guns scattered on the table.
Dean stared at the closed door for a moment longer before turning to Bobby. ″You think he'll be back, Bobby?″
″You're father ain't no angel, that's for damn sure,″ Bobby said. ″But one thing you gotta say about John Winchester, he never breaks a promise. He'll be back, Dean.″
Dean nodded, the hope glowing a little dimmer. He couldn't bear telling Bobby that John had been the only one not to make a promise.
Bobby probably knew that anyway.