This story, it still exists! It's been a lonnnngggg time, so I'd like to remind whoever's interested that there's a big recap of the fic in Chapter 4.

PART SIX

This time a month (but also a lifetime) ago, Sam would just be getting off his shift in the legal office at Stanford. He'd be putting his notebooks back in his backpack, filing all his folders, shutting down his computer and going home and making love to his girlfriend.

Then they'd have dinner with their friends. She'd drink cran and vodka, a whiskey sour if she were feeling feisty. He'd have beer, always something so dark he'd practically have to chew it. Anything else would give him flashbacks of his brother, smiling with beer froth smeared across his bluish lips.

Sam and his friends would use words like phallocentric in long, pretentious speeches.

And he and Jess would go home and fuck again. Afterward, content, Sam's muscles would melt into the mattress.

He'd fall asleep.

He'd wake to Jess humming. She liked to sit at her vanity in the mornings and pluck her eyebrows. Naked.

It's called tweezing, she'd say. You tweeze your eyebrows. You pluck a chicken.

Those were the days.

These days Sam wakes to the sounds of Dean vomiting in the shower. Coughing in a stream just as endless as the water, coughing without a break, coughing until what's inside comes out.

Today he wakes before Dean, though, so there's nothing like that. Just wheezing. Even with the oxygen, Dean struggles for air in his sleep in a way most people would find unbearable, in a way that looks and sounds like pure suffering. Dean's sleep-relaxed face is the only indication that it isn't.

Sam watches him for a moment. Dean's hugging a corner of the blanket to his chest like a teddy bear. There's a wrinkle at his brow that suggests pain, or maybe a fretful dream. The oxygen cannula has left a pink imprint on his cheek.

"How the hell do you sleep so soundly?" Sam says aloud.

Dean sleeps on. Sam thinks about waking him but he looks exhausted even in slumber.

Instead he wanders downstairs. Bobby is nowhere to be found so Sam rummages around in the fridge and freezer, finds a mountain of food he doesn't have the energy to cook. He finds Dean's jacket -still crumpled into the corner of Bobby's sofa- and fishes the car keys out of the pocket and goes for a drive, which turns into picking up food and coffee.

When he returns with a stack of Styrofoam containers, Dean's eyes are open and the TV is on, but other than that he hasn't moved. Even the feeding tube is still snaking out from beneath the blankets.

Acting sluggish only means one thing.

"Not feeling well, huh?" Sam says.

Dean rubs at one eye and shakes his head. "No."

Sam sets the food down on the table. He stretches out on his side of bed and laces his hands over his stomach. "What's wrong?"

"I dunno," Dean says, "I think I might have cystic fibrosis."

"Funny."

Dean stares at the TV.

Sam licks his lips. "Dean...?"

"Didn't we talk about this?"

"I'm not nagging. I just want to know what's wrong."

"I don't have a specific complaint." Dean shrugs. "Just don't feel good."

Sam tries to distract himself with food. He takes two bites, chews, swallows. Puts another bite in his mouth. Chews it for a second or two. He pretends to watch TV while he monitors Dean's breathing. He's not having any trouble; at least no more trouble than usual. But the way he swallows, pauses at the beginning of each exhale-that tells Sam his brother's hurting somewhere.

The TV. Sam forces himself to watch it. A talk show with some no-name host, evidence that Dean's not really watching it either.

"Something hurt?" Sam tries to make it casual by shoving more food in his mouth.

Dean gives him a sideways glance. "Everything."

"Everything, huh."

"Yes."

"Your entire body hurts. Absolutely everywhere."

"Shut the fuck up, Sam."

"That must be really unpleasant."

"Fuck off."

"You hungry?"

"Huh?"

"I said are you hungry." Sam holds out the container of food. "Want this?"

"To puke in, maybe."

"You gonna puke?"

"No. Yeah." Dean pauses, writhes. "Christ, my stomach."

Sam nods. He chews and swallows what's in his mouth and puts his food on his nightstand. He goes down the hall and rummages under the sink, unearths the basin Bobby's always kept in there.

When he returns, Dean sits up, gingerly, presses his hand to his stomach and closes his eyes and swallows hard. "I hate puking up shit I didn't even eat."

"You've sure been puking a lot lately." It just slips out before Sam can stop himself. Force of habit.

Dean scowls into the puke basin. "Yeah. It's the damnest thing. It's almost like I have a disease that fucks up my digestive system or something. A real mystery."

"You know what I meant."

"I wonder what a doctor would say!"

"Okay, Dean. I get it."

Dean opens his mouth and vomit comes out instead of words. Sam slides his hand across the small of his brother's back.

"I get it," he forces himself to say. "It happens. It happens."

OOOO

It's a marathon bout of puking, followed by relentless dry heaves, which tends to make Dean grumpy. He banishes Sam from the room.

Sam finds Bobby downstairs in the kitchen.

"...realize that, Dan," he's saying into the phone, "but this is a matter of easy way or hard way. Yeah. Yeah. I know. But we're talking about- I wouldn't underestimate- well I warned you. I sure as shit warned you. Yep. You too." Bobby slams the phone on the hook on the wall, shaking his head. "Stubborn bastard," he says, and turns to Sam.

"Morning. Or afternoon, should I say. Sit down." He gestures at the kitchen table.

Sam sits, yawns, digs some crap out of the corner of his eye. "Morning."

"Can you eat regular, boy?"

"Who was that on the phone?"

"A stubborn old bastard, that's who. Now what're you able to eat?"

"Don't bother, I can just pour a bowl of cereal or-"

"-Sammy. I asked what you're able to eat."

Sam can see it now, just how ill he's been, how sick he still is, right there in Bobby's expression.

He has a flash of memory, somewhere around the age of reason, Bobby nursing him through a nasty bout of flu. Am I like Dean now? he'd asked. Bobby had surprised him by laughing until his face turned bright red.

"My stomach's fine," Sam answers, "But I just ate. Went out and got something."

Bobby nods. "Well. I'm makin' eggs." He pours a cup of coffee, sets it in front of Sam and starts pulling stuff out of the fridge. "Promised your brother I'd keep you in bed at least a coupla days. Drink that and then back upstairs with ya."

"Dean's-"

"-you let Dean worry about himself."

"Yes, sir."

Bobby studies him. "I'll make sure he does what he needs to."

Sam's grateful. He takes a scalding swig of coffee and nods.

"He still asleep?"

"Nope. Puking his guts out."

"Don't surprise me. Boy hates that pump." He starts whisking the eggs. After a beat, he says, "It's real good to see you boys again. Your daddy... well. Your daddy said he thought maybe your brother was comin' near the end."

Sam snorts. It was hard not to be a little bitter. "Oh he was. He pretty much dove right off the end."

Bobby doesn't comment. He pours milk into the eggs. "Your Daddy called, told me Dean was real sick." He stops to clear this throat, a little painfully. "He said he didn't think I'd make it over to Boise in time to say goodbye. Said he'd call me when Dean was gone. Then I didn't hear a thing till Dean called me hisself damn near a month later."

Sam opens his mouth to say something but the words get trapped behind a hot lump of guilt. Bobby had cared for them like his own. Like family. He still did. But he wasn't family enough, apparently, to visit Dean on his deathbed. He wasn't family enough for Sam to keep in touch.

"Bobby, I. I am so sorry."

"You don't need to apologize," Bobby says. He keeps his eyes on the pan of eggs. "Open that drawer underneath you."

Sam does, and finds two inhalers, still in their foil packaging. "I don't wanna use any more of Dean's medication."

"Well you're gonna. I've gotta whole mess of them set to expire before he'll ever get to them anyway. I also got a spell you can do that'll help, too. It calls for a shitload of saffron, but I'm sure we can wrestle some up from somewhere. I'll go into town tomorrow."

"Thanks, Bobby," is all Sam replies. Performing a spell isn't something he's ready to think about quite yet.

Bobby dumps the scrambled eggs on a plate. "I'm gonna eat these in the shop. Get back on up to bed."

He leaves Sam alone in the kitchen. Sam thinks about following him, refusing to lie down, insisting on being of use, but he finds that he's exhausted again. He puffs the blue inhaler for instant relief, then takes two puffs of the orange one. To delay the inevitable he rinses Bobby's pan, then washes it, dries it, puts it in the drawer beneath the stove.

Dean is sleeping soundly when he returns to their room. The puke basin is on the floor, a fresh puddle inside. Sam takes it to the bathroom and flushes it, watches the water swirl and tries not to worry about the implications. Was Dean too sick to clean up after himself? In too much pain?

No. He just knew Sam would come back, eventually, and take care of it.

Sam finds that his irritation doesn't last long, that his body is simply too tired to hold onto any strong emotions for very long. It drains out of him like liquid. He crawls into bed beside Dean and goes back to sleep.

OOOO

John's sleeping off a bender, or a bullet in the ass, maybe, or both. Bobby hears it in his voice, his gravely swollen "yeahmmm?"

"Got your boys with me," Bobby says.

John groans, yawns, rustles the phone around a little. "Both of 'em?"

"Yep."

"How the hell... Sammy left school?"

"He left school."

"Why?"

"You'll have to ask him."

John huffs. "And Dean?"

"They've both been better."

There's a pause. "What happened?"

"I'll let them tell you. When you get here."

"Bobby, goddamn it, quit talkin' to me like I'm some kinda deadbeat. I just saw Dean not six weeks ago."

"But from what I hear, he ain't seen you."

John makes an exasperated noise that makes the line crackle. "Bobby. If my boys are sick or hurt, I'll get on the road right now. But if they're safe..."

"If they're safe what?"

"I need you to help me out here, Bobby. I know you know where it is."

"That's another thing you can ask your sons. If it weren't for Dean, you wouldn't even know the goddamn gun existed."

More silence. Bobby imagines that John is probably rubbing at his temples in frustration, and good. Serves the bastard right.

"I can't let Dean hunt," John says. "He ain't healthy enough anymore and you know it. Last time he damn near didn't make it."

Bobby wishes he could jump through phone, put his hands around John's neck and squeeze. "Maybe it ain't about hunting. Maybe he just don't know another way to get your attention. Lord knows being your son never did the trick."

"Christ, Bobby. Just another month or so."

"I was changing Sammy's shitty diaper first time I heard you say that."

Silence on John's end, but Bobby can hear him fuming.

Bobby closes his eyes and takes a breath. He's gonna get hung up on if he doesn't soften things up. "John. You know as well as I do that he's already on borrowed time. Dean's a grown man. He know he ain't well, he knows the risks, and he wants to hunt."

"I can't allow it."

"Maybe it ain't your decision anymore."

"Bobby-"

"Look, John. I'm beggin' you... take a week off. Come see Sam. How long's it been?"

"Sam doesn't want to see me."

"You're his father. 'Course he wants to see you."

There's a pause on the other end of the line. "He tell you that?"

"He don't need to tell me that. The boy just left everything to be with his brother. He had a life out there at Stanford, and now he'd don't. And he's been sick, and drivin' hisself nuts worrying over Dean. He could use someone around."

John snorts. "And you think he needs me around."

"You're his daddy."

Another sigh. It's a long time before John says anything else, but Bobby waits patiently on the line. When he speaks again, his voice is low and weak.

"You say he's been sick? With what?"

"I'll let him tell you that."

John's voice returns full force. "Goddamn it, Bobby. Always fucking meddling."

"-you're goddamn right I'm meddling," Bobby says. "We were a family once, John. You're goddamn right I'm meddling."

This time the silence drags on so long Bobby wonders if the line went dead. But then John says, his voice calm again, "Bobby?"

"Yeah."

"I can be there in two days. Two days, alright? Just... tell me where I can find the Colt."'

"You're a bastard."

"Bobby. Tell me."

"I tell you and you'll come see your boys, is that what you're sellin' me?"

"I'll come see 'em. I promise."

So that's how it's gonna be.

"Daniel Elkins, you stubborn son of a bitch," Bobby says, and hangs up.

OOOO

Sam dreams that Dean dying.

His mouth is a lake of blood, spilling over his lips, down his neck. His chest jerks with feeble nothing-breaths, his face his blue except for blood-shot eyes. His hands are two claws, one at his throat and one as his chest. His skin crawls tight along his ribs, interrupted only by the feeding tube snaking out of his belly, once an innocuous medical necessity, now a horrific tentacle with a mouth suctioned to his abdomen, sucking out Dean's life.

Splitting pain slices its way through Sam's head, so harshly he has to close this eyes against bubbling nausea, turn his back on his dying brother to bury his face in his hands.

That same white light flashes, signaling the beginning of a vision, but there's no change of scenery this time. Just Em, her face inches from his. The freckles on her face stand out like red pepper flakes. Her red hair is a mane around her head.

"Don't do this, Sam," she says.

"You're gonna heal my brother," Sam says to her.

He reaches out blindly and finds Dean's arm, gnarled like a tree branch. He grabs for Em without touching her. He grabs her and squeezes.

"Don't do this Sam," she says, "Don't do this."

"Heal my brother," Sam repeats. "Heal him."

"Don't do this Sam. Don't do this. Don't do this Sam. Sam don't-"

"SAM. Sammy! Jesus Christ."

Dean's voice.

Sam opens his eyes and sits straight up in bed.

Bobby's house, Dean's room, the bed they're sharing. He's slick with sweat. His grip on Dean's arm is so forceful that Dean's fingers are puffy and red.

"Sammy," Dean's saying, "you're fine. Let go. Let go of me."

"Shit," Sam breathes, freeing his brother. "Shit. What happened?"

"A nightmare." Dean reaches for him and Sam recoils. He can't help but look at the button on his brother's belly and see it like in the dream, the tube sucking instead of feeding.

Dean sees him staring at it. "What?"

"I... nothing."

"Did it happen again? Sam look at me. Did Em give you another... vision, or whatever?"

Sam looks at Dean. Something is different about his face but Sam can't put his finger on what. They breathe and blink at one another.

"Tell me what you saw," Dean says.

"I didn't see anything, I just... you were... it was just some weird nightmare, I g-" Sam stops.

Dean has an odd look on his face.

"What's wrong?" Sam asks.

Dean takes a breath. Blinks rapidly.

"Dean?"

"I'm fine. I'm. I'm good."

"Christ."

They sit for a moment. It's nearly 10 a.m., according to Sam's watch. Outside the sun bounces blindingly off the old cars, the air around them undulating with heat. Despite the purifier and a small fan on Dean's night table, the room is suffocatingly hot and dry.

"You sure you're okay?" Dean says.

Sam nods. "Yeah. Yeah. I'm fine."

"Let's track down Bobby, huh?"

"Yeah."

Silently they dress and make their way downstairs and out the front door. The outside air is even hotter, even more stifling. The change stops Dean in his tracks. He sputters, holds tight to the porch railing, coughs short, dry, suppressed coughs into the back of his hand.

"You sure you're okay?"

Dean swallows. "Off day, I guess. But I'll be fine."

They have a deal, Sam reminds himself, and presses his lips together. Dean was honest. So Sam will keep his mouth shut.

They find Bobby out in the garage under the hood of an old pickup. Dean takes two beers out of the shop fridge and hands one to Sam. Beer sounds awful but Sam takes it anyway, pops the lid on the opener nailed to the wall and forces himself to take a swig.

"Boys," Bobby glances up from his work. "How'd ya sleep?"

"Fine," they say in unison.

Bobby regards them suspiciously at first, but shrugs it away. He wipes his face with a hanky out of his back pocket.

"Let's hear it, Bobby," Dean says. "Did you find it?"

Bobby nods. "Your gun is in the hands of a man named Daniel Elkins. Really ornery son-of-a-bitch. I'll tell you one thing, you ain't getting that Colt without a fight."

"Where's he live?" Dean asks.

Sam opens his mouth to protest, but Bobby beats him to it.

"Now hold on," he says, "You boys are gonna stay here for a while. Rest up."

"Bobby-"

"Tomorrow."

"But it's-"

"Tomorrow, Dean. I'll tell you where he lives tomorrow."

There will be hell to pay for arguing, that much is clear. Dean practically stamps his foot, but he doesn't retort.

Sam tries to change the subject. "You need any help in here?"

"Nope. Be in in a minute. Got some ribs that need to get in the oven if we want 'em for dinner tonight, though, if either of you are feelin' up to it."

The idea of cooking makes Sam so tired he wants to lay down right there the shop floor. But Dean takes a mighty swig of his beer and nods. "We'll get started."

Back in the kitchen, Sam's irritation starts to fester. Dean doesn't even mention clearing his chest. He doesn't take a step toward the fridge with the antibiotics, though he hasn't been on any for weeks and it's dangerous. He whistles as he rummages in Bobby's cupboards for a roasting pan like he's the healthiest person alive.

Sam tries to swallow it back. This is the whole problem, isn't it? Dean's obviously feeling well today. He should just let Dean feel well. But his brain tortures him with flashes of his nightmare- the blood overtaking Dean's mouth, spilling over his chin. The tube spasming in his abdomen. And then Dean in that hospital bed, the fan blowing into his fluttering eyes...

There's a plastic bag on the table. Sam paws through it to distract himself. Bobby's never been one to tell them to keep out of things. Inside is a package of big catheter tip syringes.

"What are these for?" Sam holds them up.

Dean is dousing the ribs in sauce. He turns and looks, pats his stomach where the g-tube is. "To clean this."

"I see," Sam says meaningfully. "You should show me how to do it."

Maybe the conversation will jog his brother's memory, remind him he has treatments to do.

Dean shrugs. "Just gotta push warm water through the tube." He brings a dab of the rib sauce to his mouth. "Ugh. Old man's losing his taste buds. Hey, go to the pantry, see if he has any honey."

It's more than Sam can take. "You ready for PT after this?"

"Sure thing," Dean says, but his shoulders stiffen, and he bows his head in that put-upon way. It makes Sam feel bad, then angry.

He is so tired of feeling like a bully all the time.

He goes and digs through the pantry until he finds a old jar of honey shaped like a bear. It looks circa 1950, but it'll do. He brings it back into the kitchen.

Dean has put the ribs in the oven and he's sitting at the kitchen counter, one of the big syringes in one hand, an economy-sized bottle of enzymes in the other.

"Sam," he says. "We need to talk."

Sam takes a seat at the table. "What's up?"

"I wasn't sure at first, and I didn't know how to tell you, but... something's happened."

"Happened?"

"Promise me you won't freak out."

"How can I promise that?" Sam's voice raises against his will. "Tell me what's wrong."

Dean shrinks away from him. "Sammy. Don't. Please."

Sam forces his voice down a few decibels. "I'm calm, okay? I'm calm. Just tell me."

"I feel... I feel well. I don't..."

"You feel...?"

"I mean- listen." Dean forces a cough. It's dry. Completely dry. Like a normal person choking on a cracker. "I mean. I feel healthy."

Healthy. Sam can barely wrap his brain around the word. Maybe he's misunderstood. "I'm glad you're having a good day, Dean, but-"

"No. Not like a good day. Like... healthy. I feel healthy." Moisture stands in Dean's eyes, gathers in his bottom lashes. "I feel like... I feel like it's gone."

"You feel like what's gone?"

Dean throws his hands in the air. "Everything. All of it. The CF."

"You mean like when Em-"

"No. No, this is totally different. All she could ever do was give me a little relief. This isn't relief, this is like... I feel cured, Sammy." Dean seems stunned by the feel of the phrase on his lips. He mouths it silently to himself. He looks just as terrified as Sam feels.

"I feel cured," he repeats.

Blood rushes to Sam's head. He grips the edge of the dining room table to stay upright because the room seems to spin. He discovers that he feels nauseous, that something is pressing into the back of his throat.

"You feel cured," he croaks. "How... how."

"I don't know." Dean covers his mouth. "Fuck, Sam. Fuck. I don't know."

"Maybe it's," Sam begins, but he has no words to finish the sentence. There's no denying that Dean looks different. His face is pink. The oxygen-deprived tinge to his lips has vanished. He breathes with the same ease as anyone. Better than Sam. So maybe it's what? Maybe it's just wishful thinking? A miracle?

Not a miracle. Maybe the exact opposite.

Sam recalls what he said to Em in his dream: You will heal my brother.

"How long have you. Dean. How long have you been feeling... this way?"

"Since this morning. Your nightmare woke me up, and-" Dean's eyes go wide. "Oh fuck. You think...?"

"She... she did it somehow. Through me." The hair stands up on Sam's arms. Next to him, Dean's hands are trembling, his enzyme pills rattling in his grip.

"My stomach was killing me," Dean says. "Finally managed to sleep through it, and then I woke up to you trying to take my arm off. And it didn't hurt anymore."

"Maybe it just went away."

Dean shakes his head. "I always have pain somewhere, Sam. Always. I don't remember the last time I didn't hurt somewhere. But now, it's like, it's like being numb or something. And I can breathe, I feel like I have four lungs-"

"Dean, please," Sam says.

He needs Dean to shut up, he needs moment to think. Inside he feels absolutely sick, a wholly unbearable mixture of joy and fear, dread and hope.

"So maybe... maybe this is a good thing then," he ventures, "I mean. You're healed. You... you're healed."

Sam tries a smile on for size, beams it at his brother, hoping maybe, just maybe it'll be returned. Dean tries and doesn't quite make it. His head falls into his hands.

"Fuck me. I never wanted to feel like this again."

Instinctively Sam scoots his chair closer, and touches his knee to Dean's. "Feel what? What's wrong?"

Dean bats Sam away. "Nothing's wrong, that's the whole problem. You remember when I was a little kid? Dad found that healer? That stupid fucking hippy?"

"Of course."

"Well. I never really knew what 'bad' felt like until I knew what it was like to feel 'good.'"

"But this could be permanent, Dean. You said-"

"-No." Dean shakes his head. "It's not permanent, Sammy. It never is."

"Maybe this time is different," Sam says, clinging to hope.

But he remembers Em's warning, when they had first met, a warning that had once made no sense to him. A warning his brain replays for him in vivid detail, a warning that tells him deep down that Dean is right:

Sometimes relief hurts just as badly. Maybe worse. Do you understand?

:::

To be continued.