Disclaimer: I don't own Supernatural and, after Comic Con '09, I suspect it's in the right hands.
A/N: Finally, the last chapter! Thanks so much everyone for sticking with me, and I'm so sorry about the super-late update. This was my first straight-up whump fic and, I gotta say, it's been a pleasure!
Now to get to work on that other mountain of fanfiction I've been neglecting.
In response to the beginning bits: They're times others have suffered Hunter's Fatigue and Dean's cared for them. This time I'm putting it in italics.
Bobby Singer did not 'get sick'. He occasionally felt a little under the weather, but was otherwise healthy as a horse. At least, before his wife died and the occult had become a major part of his life. Then he spent half his time half dead with guilt and fear and frustration damming up inside of him. The feelings gave way to sickness, and the sickness gave way to more guilt.
Eventually, Bobby diagnosed it as a sort of Post-Traumatic Stress. Not quite a disorder, but the weight of too much responsibility and too many horrible nightmares crowding up inside of the head. Hunter's Fatigue, he'd heard it called. Like Battle Fatigue, but how many war vets flinched at a drop in room temperature?
Knowing what it was helped. Didn't make it any more pleasant, but it helped to identify exactly what it was that had him praying to a porcelain god for days on end.
After a nasty hunt with a werewolf, Bobby collapsed at home and, for the first time since he'd started the business, someone was there to look after him. Not call to check up on him, not send a 'Get Well Soon' card, but a genuine, caring voice that talked to him, made food when he just couldn't drag himself out of bed, kept him company and helped to chase away the nightmares. It was a fluke, really, that Dean was there at all. His hunt had finished early, and he was just waiting for his dad to meet up with him. At any other time in his life, he probably wouldn't have been so quick to play the role of the mother hen, but Sam heading off to college had sparked something in the boy.
Bobby didn't much mention it when all was said and done; a gruff "Thanks" and a couple of beers over football was about all they needed. But Bobby couldn't help looking at the boy differently after that.
Dean blinked, eyes widening as he took in his surroundings. Salmon-pink wallpaper shone through the haze. It looked familiar. Like a place he'd stayed once, when he'd been on a job alone. Yeah, he remembered; the blood from that damned fugly wouldn't wash off his hands. He remembered scrubbing until his palms and knuckles were as pink as the wallpaper, unable to wipe its face from his memory. Wasn't it just his luck that it had worn the face of a fourteen year old boy? He knew it was a fake; just an act to throw hunters off. But the only thought that went through his head was "He was just a boy. Still a kid."
He'd turned his back on that town pretty quick, just tucked his tail between his legs and hurried back to his dad as fast as he could. So why was he back?
Dean shifted, and became very acutely aware that he was waist high in chilly water, wearing nothing but his rattiest pair of boxers. Shit, what was going on? Dimly, he struggled to remember how exactly he'd come to be in this current situation.
There'd been a witch... and then the hotel room. Sam talking him into taking some sleeping pills; an old Winchester trick for getting a little sleep when your sick father/son/brother wouldn't settle down. Which meant Sam had to be somewhere nearby.
Pushing himself up with shaking arms, Dean tried to peer through the thin crack in the door. There was a flash of movement, the soft murmur of a familiar voice, but that was it.
"Sam?" Dean rasped, gasping as a sudden pain slammed into his chest. He choked, struggling to draw in air even as a sharp discomfort wormed its way up his esophagus.
"Dean?" Sam called. Dean might have responded, might have asked what the hell was happening to him, but the discomfort became unbearable and he dissolved into a violent fit of ragged, breathless coughing.
A warm, dry hand pressed against his back, followed by another on his chest, pushing him up straight as he struggled to hack a lung out. Sam's face swam before him, lips moving, but the only sound Dean heard was a soft ringing growing steadily louder. Black spots swam before his vision, dimming his view of his brother. He gagged, desperately trying to draw in a breath...
But he couldn't. To breathe, you needed lungs.
And Alastair was holding his, playing with them as the blood dripped down his fingers.
"You know, Dean," Alastair crooned, crushing the lung between his fingers. "I remember being just like you, once." He dropped the lung, and Dean choked, blood running down his chin. "I fought and I screamed, but for all the pain and anguish I went through, I liked it."
He brought a knife up, toying with Dean's earlobe.
"Even as they tortured me, I couldn't help being fascinated. Oh, I had so many ideas and I couldn't wait to get off the rack and try a few out myself."
He pressed the knife into Dean's flesh, digging into the bone of his cheek and dragging it down to his lip. Dean struggled, tried to scream, but fire ate at him from the inside. He heaved, mouth open, straining to breahe or scream or die-
With a sickening lurch, he flew out of the hot, smoggy pit and into a chilly room. Fresh air filled his lungs and he gasped, hands bunching in a thin cotton shirt.
"Hold on, Dean," Sam urged.
And then Dean was falling. He wheezed, burning images of hell flashing through his mind, but he landed not on chains or corpses but the soft comforter covering a motel mattress. Sam wasted no time stuffing his duffel and grabbing Dean's.
A door slammed, and Dean was alone in the room. A clock ticked loudly in the corner, reminding him painfully of each second he came closer to death. Each diminishing moment drawing him closer to the moment when he would screw up again, step on the wrong toes, and buy himself a one-way ticket back to the pit.
He slumped back on the pillows, drawing in shallow gasps of air, his heart throbbing in time with the clock. Smoke crept into the room, covering the musty motel scent. It seeped into his nose, filled his lungs-
"Dean, hey, come on man," Sam urged, shaking his shoulder.
He was pulled to his feet, something thin and warm thrown over his shoulders. He swayed, leaning against Sam as they stumbled out of the motel room and into the muggy, humid air outside. Dean coughed, his chest rattling, but managed to catch his breath. The smoke was clearing for the moment, anyway.
"Almost there, Dean," Sam promised. "Just hang in there, all right?"
Dean blinked, conscious of the car door opening a moment before he was shoved inside.
He slumped against the seat, gasping shallowly for air, clutching the thin blanket even tighter around himself. Sweat rolled down his face, but he shivered nonetheless. It wasn't an unfamiliar feeling.
Sam muttered frantically, trying to soothe Dean even as he turned buckled himself in.
The engine roared to life, and a thrill of fear ran up Dean's spine. Noises, gutteral screams and whines and growls, like nothing he'd ever heard in his life before hell. And he'd seen them. God, he'd seen the things that made those noises.
"Dean! Shit, man, calm down, you're not getting any air!"
What did it matter? He'd die, and he'd be born again. Like magic. Yeah, cause all magic came from demons and hell, right? Even the things that seemed so good and wonderful were really echoes of evil.
Claws ripped at his torso, digging into the his innards and shredding them. He choked, his airways locking before he could cough up any blood. His bones shook, shattering one by one inside his meat.
Fire burned through his chest, darkness clouding his mind. And, for the first time, that was all there was. Darkness. No pain, no sounds or lights or smells. It was... nice wasn't quite the way to describe it. No, 'nice' was flirting with a busty waitress, having a beer with Sam or Dad or Bobby. The darkness was... contentment. And he was satisfied to float along, not having to feel anything.
It lasted forever, and then suddenly it was over.
Cold air rushed into his lungs, inflating his chest like a balloon, burning and aching until he thought he would pop. Then, the air rushed out.
Dean scrambled, reached for the darkness again, but another lungful of cold air grounded him in that place.
"Does your brother have any allergies to antibiotics?"
Crisp linen pressed against his back, or he lay upon it. Lights blazed above him. Another rush of air filled his lungs.
He wheezed, another set of coughs tearing at his throat.
"My my, Dean, you sure do make a ruckus when I leave those vocal chords in, don't you?" A stab of pain pierced his heart. "Well, let's see what we can do with that."
Smoke whirled around him and he trembled; naked, strung up, held in place by a dozen jagged hooks on the rack. Alastair circled him, baring his ugly maw to reveal what weren't quite teeth, in what wasn't quite a grin.
"Heaven's little helper-boy, are you? What did you ever do to get the big guy's attention?"
He slammed the hilt of a knife into Dean's side. Dean choked, but something filled his mouth, smothering his ability to cry out.
"Don't fight the tube," a firm voice ordered. "It's there to help you."
The hilt of the knife slammed into his side again, this time dredging up blood. Dean let out a strangled yelp, jerking against the hooks, his skin burning in the ashy fires of hell.
Muffled voices reached his ears, swiftly drowned as Alastair laughed.
The hilt hit him a third time, finally breaking through his skin and digging into the muscle beneath it.
"Looks like we finally hit the jackpot!" Alastair crowed, setting the knife aside. Let's see what we have, shall we?"
Dean gasped as Alastair reached into the hold in his side, wriggling his fingers until he found something.
"Let's start with the lungs," Alastair suggested, gripping one tight and ripping it out. Dean choked and gagged, tears running down his face as he tried to scream. Alastair reached in again, this time wrapping his fingers, no, his claws around a kidney.
"No screams, Dean? I hope you're not getting bored," he remarked, yanking the kidney out and ripping it in two. "Although we've been playing this game an awful lot lately, haven't we?"
He traced one claw in the crook of Dean's elbow, right along the pale blue lines of his veins. Dean's eyes widened and he tried to jerk away, but Alastair plunged his fingers in, seizing a vein and tearing it out. Dean shrieked around the obstruction in his mouth.
"Shit, get me a sedative!" a voice ordered.
"Dean, please, man, calm down."
"Dean," a new, familiar voice rumbled. "Listen, son, whatever's goin' on in that head of yours, you can beat it. You're stronger than this."
"There's the Dean I know," Alastair said proudly, running his knife through the groove of skin where Dean's vein had once been. "You always had the very best sort of scream. Of course, it must get tiresome after a while."
Alastair dug in with the knife, grinning as Dean cried out, ripping out another vein.
"You could be the best, Dean," he went on. "I see a little of myself in you, and let me tell you, I've had so much fun tearing and ripping."
He stabbed the knife into Dean's bicep, dragging it down. "I mean, we could start now if you like."
No. No... I do that and I'll become just like him. I'll become one of those things...
"I'm waiting for an answer, Dean."
Alastair set in on the other arm, and Dean grit his teeth around the thing in his mouth, panting even as it filled his remaining lung with air, keeping him alive so he could feel every cut.
"It feels nice," Alastair promised. "All that pain you're feeling? It just goes away. Leaves you and goes right into them. Gives you a little bit of that power back. Usually takes a person a lot longer to get good at it, but... well, you've been on this rack a lot longer than them. You've got a little more pain to give out, don't you?"
Alastair tossed the knife away, spreading his bloody hands wide.
"What do you say, Dean? Stop all this nasty, stinking pain. Give it a go. It'll be fun."
"Come on, Dean, you can fight this!" Sammy's voice echoed through his head.
Alastair bared his ugly maw in a smirk. Tears welled up in Dean's eyes.
I'm sorry, Sammy. Dad. I'm so sorry.
With a gurgled choke, he dropped his head in a jerky nod. Alastair laughed.
One by one, the jagged hooks ripped through Dean's flesh until, unsupported for the first time in decades, he fell. Ash and smoke and fire flew past him, clogging up his eyes, his ears, his nose until, at last, he landed in a broken heap atop a writhing mass of hopeless corpses. Each one stared at him, their eyes glassy, their faces torn into something barely human.
"They didn't get the special treatment you did, Dean," Alastair explained. "So we let them lay there until we need a little practice. Get up, Dean."
Trembling, Dean pushed himself up, his legs unsteady upon the mound of flesh. His body was whole again, and he could clearly see Alastair holding out what looked like an ice pick.
"Go ahead, Dean," he encouraged. "Take it."
Dean swallowed back bile and took the pick in his hand. Through the smog, a figure materialized, bound by the same jagged hooks that had held Dean captive for thirty years.
"Put it right through his belly button," Alastair instructed. "Go on. You know how it's done."
Hands shaking, Dean eased closer to the figure, clutching the ice pick in one white-knuckled fist. It all seemed so different now. Insignificant, really. Just a few pokes, a few prods. Enough to get this man screaming, and maybe the pain would really go away.
"You can fight it, Dean."
"We're here, man, you gotta pull through this."
"Come on back to us, son."
"Don't do this, Dean."
The words filtered through the smoke, familiar voices from God knew where. Dean blinked, his vision swimming.
The man in the hooks groaned and lifted his head.
"Dean," John Winchester moaned, his eyes wide and full of tears. "Don't do this. Don't become one of them."
Dean't heart throbbed.
He can't see...
Something snapped inside of him. Why was he still cowering with fear? It wasn't like he was on that rack anymore. He was whole, standing on his own two feet, weapon in hand.
He had some of his old power back, and he'd be damned if he was going to let it go.
With a yell, he whirled around and plunged the pick into Alastair's chest, eyes blazing. Alastair growled, throwing him back against the mound of corpses.
"Looks like I need to teach you a few more lessons, Dean," the demon hissed.
The corpses wailed, reaching out and grabbing him, pinning him in place. Alastair dragged the ice pick from his chest, hissing and spitting like a snake as he raised the pick above his head.
Dean strained against the corpses and managed to free his legs, kicking out at Alastair with all his might. It wasn't much, but the demon stumbled.
Awed, the corpses released him and Dean stumbled to his feet.
"You can stick it where the sun shines, assface!" Dean roared, swinging out at Alastair. "Because I will never become a filthy thing like you!"
Alastair staggered back and, before he could get his bearings, Dean was on him like a madman. For every cut Alastair had given him, he returned a punch. For every snide comment, every promise to end the pain, every laugh at another man's misery, Dean laid in on his face.
Alastair shrieked and writhed beneath him but, as the beating continued, his struggles weakened. At last, the demon went limp beneath his hands. He wasn't dead; you couldn't die once you were in hell. But he sure was going to be out of the picture for a while.
Dean grunted and clambered to his feet.
"Hope that was fun for you," he spat. Spots danced before his vision and he swayed on his feet before blacking out at last.
He hated hospitals, if for no reason other than the incessant beep of the heart monitor. He was usually in bad enough shape to need one, and the beep itself was a good thing, but damned if it didn't rob him of what little sleep he managed to achieve.
Dean blinked the room coming into sharp focus, and tried to take a deep breath. But he couldn't. Something was blocking his throat.
Panic gripped his chest and he coughed, trying to get it out.
"Dean, Dean! Hey, don't fight the ventilator," Sam ordered, slamming one hand on the call button while the other gripped Dean's shoulder. "Come on, man, calm down. You're safe."
Before Dean could decide for himself just how safe he was, a curly haired nurse hurried into the room.
"Finally," she remarked, taking his hand. "You gave your family quite a scare. Now, I just need you to relax while I get that tube out of you, okay?"
She beamed down at him, and Dean couldn't help doing as she said. Sam gripped his arm as she did her nursely things, dragging the tube out of his throat (and he damn near thought he was gonna throw up, but apparently there wasn't anything in his stomach to throw up) and slipping a breathing cannula under his nose.
"There you go, Mr. Hayes," she said cheerfully. "Now you just take it easy, and let me know if you need anything, okay?"
Well, I could use your number.
But Dean only smiled and nodded as she left the room. Sam gave him an incredulous look.
"Dude," he bitched. "You've been conscious for, like, five minutes and you're already trying to pick up chicks?"
"What c'n I say?" Dean rasped. "She's a r'l pearl, that'n."
"I take it that means someone's feeling better, huh?"
Dean smirked, relaxing into his pillow. At that moment, Bobby appeared in the doorway, a cup of coffee clutched in each hand.
"Jesus Christ, Dean," he cried, slamming the cups down on the bedside table. "Took you long enough!"
Dean shrugged and smiled sheepishly.
"Just had s'm business to take care of down under," he slurred. "Nothin' big."
"My foot," Bobby grumbled, but he smiled anyway "Glad to see you back among the living."
"Thanks, Bobby," Dean sighed.
The other hunters settled into their chairs. Sam flipped on the television, managing to find a marathon of "The Cosby Show". Two episodes in, and right before one of Bill's punchlines, something popped into Dean's head.
"When you threw me in the tub... didn't you say you were gonna call an ambulance."
"So why didn't you?"
"You were pretty bad off," he explained. "I had to act fast. We didn't have time to wait."
"Yeah? And what if I went into respiratory distress right there in the car, huh?"
"I'd have had it covered."
"You sure?" Dean pushed. "Cause from what I gather I was pretty touch-and-go, even with your so-called 'care'."
Sam opened his mouth to respond, but thought better of it. He rolled his eyes and slumped back in his chair.
"Jerk," he muttered.
"Bitch." Dean smirked.
"Idjits," Bobby mumbled, grabbing the remote and turning the volume up.
Dean drifted off to sleep with a smile on his face. For the first time in a long time, he knew his dreams would hold nothing to fear.
Thank you all so much!