A/N: This chapter hasn't been beta'ed either. Sorry, folks. Hope it's okay!

Chapter 2: Scorching Accusations

Shit, this is bad.

It fell considerably lower than 'bleeding to death' on the Winchester Scale of Bad Shit, but it was serious, John knew, hospital serious.

He could practically feel the heat pouring off his oldest son, but the fact that Dean was no longer sweating made it worse, because a tour in Vietnam had taught John well that a man who stopped sweating was a man whose body wasn't cooling him down anymore. The body couldn't take that kind of strain for long, and judging from Dean's state-of-mind, he was already well on his way to full-body shutdown.

Knowing Dean was too agitated and out of it to respond to logic or an order to calm down, John didn't even try, hefting Dean over his shoulder with a grunt as he set off as fast as he could towards the car. It only made things worse, though, as Dean began to struggle in earnest, screaming hoarsely for Sam.

In all honesty, it hurt to hear that kind of raw emotion, that kind of pain and blatant need in his son's voice. And knowing that he couldn't do anything to fix it only made it worse.

Gotta get him cooled down.

When he finally reached the car, he placed Dean on the backseat, wincing as Dean landed a blow to his chest. He didn't acknowledge it otherwise as he peeled Dean's shirt off, paying no heed to Dean's struggle hollering for one of the twins to haul the ice chest over from where it still sat next to the front right tire.

Hopping out of the driver's seat, Braden hauled the cooler over and John kicked it open, jamming Dean's shirt into the melted ice-water inside.

"Get him further inside if you can, Braden—we're gonna have to move fast," he said, ensuring that the shirt was well drenched as Braden moved to comply. A moment later, he lifted the dripping shirt out and moved back toward Dean, who was currently trying to fight off his brother and failing miserably. Shoving Dean back down into a prone position on the seat, he draped the cold shirt over him, even as he pulled Braden to him.

"Listen to me—I need you to do your best to keep him down. Try to settle him and cool him off, understand?"

"Yessir," Braden told him solemnly, glancing at Dean worriedly before settling in behind his brother, wrapping his arms around Dean and pulling him up so that his back rested against his chest, his voice at once soothing as he tried to calm his brother down.

"Sam!" Dean yelled, trying to buck against Braden's hold. "Sammy!

"Hey, Dean, Sam's okay, I swear. Everything's okay—you just need to relax," Braden said in his quiet, even tone.

Aubrey slid into the front seat a split second before John did, the cooler perched on her lap as she slung her seatbelt on. John didn't bother as he wheeled the monstrous car away from the cemetery, roaring towards the hospital as fast as he could.

Sure, he could take care of a lot of shit on his own, but when it came to heatstroke, he knew better. Too much could go wrong.

When organ failure is a concern, it's time to hit the ER.

"Where's Sammy, you son of a bitch!" Dean roared, trying once more to cast off Braden's restraining arms as he fought to sit up and confront John, though how he was gonna do that from the backseat was anyone's guess.

"He's not here, Dean," John said, fighting not to yell. "He's at school, has been for two weeks now—he was never here."

He left us, remember?

But Dean obviously wasn't buying it, and his eyes locked on to John's in the rearview mirror like a heat-seeking missile, the rage masking the confusion he was no doubt feeling.

"No! You took him from me, I know you did!" Dean yelled from the backseat, and in his peripheral vision, John could see Aubrey looking back at him cautiously, trying to gauge his reaction to Dean's shouted accusation.

"It wasn't Daddy's fault," Aubrey tried to tell Dean, but he obviously wasn't listening to her, either, and Braden was struggling to keep Dean in the seat.

"Dad, his breathin's not right—'s too fast."

Fuck," John muttered, pushing the pedal down, the car bucking under them as she gained speed. By the time they pulled in to the emergency drop-off at the hospital fifteen minutes later, Dean's struggles had ceased as the strain his body was under started to catch up to him. Hurling himself out of the car, John threw open the back door, his alarm increasing ten-fold at the sight of his oldest son laying in a semi-conscious heap across the back seat, his lips an alarming shade as he fought to pull in oxygen. "You two run inside and get some help—now!"

The twins flew out of the car, running inside with Aubrey already screaming as John started to haul Dean out of the backseat, the twenty-two-year-old nothing but deadweight in his arms. He headed for the door of the ER, only to sigh in relief at the sight of a doctor and two nurses pushing a gurney towards them.

"What happened?" the doctor demanded as John laid Dean on the gurney and stepped back to let the doctor move closer.

"'s my son—heatstroke, I think. I didn't realize he was gettin' overheated," John told him with a helpless shrug as the doctor pulled the stethoscope from around his neck and listened intently for a moment. "He didn't say anything, and I thought he was okay, but…"

He trailed off as the doctor frowned, not looking at John as he abruptly straightened.

"Let's move him inside," the doctor ordered, he and the two nurses already moving as a third nurse appeared at John's elbow with a clipboard in her hands.

"Sir, if I could just get some information," she requested, her face a picture of sympathy and apology as he hopelessly watched the others push Dean inside.

And then he was gone, swept away in a flurry of white coats and scrub pants while he stood there like a dumbass next to the car.

"Dammit, I should've known somethin' was wrong," he mumbled, dropping his head with a sigh.


Sitting in the ER waiting room only made things worse, John reflected, because it only gave him time, time to think about Dean getting heatstroke on his watch and time to think about everything that had come out as a result of it. And the more he thought, the more he began to question himself.

Is Dean really angry at me for what happened with Sam, or was it just the heat talking? Hell, I know a lot of it was my fault, but...does Dean blame me for what happened?

It was hard to say—Dean was playing things close to his chest these days, at least more than usual. He didn't always display anything remotely emotional or chick-flick-ish, so it wasn't exactly easy to tell how he felt when things got heavy. So whether the twenty-two year old was feeling hurt or angry, John didn't know, but John hadn't pursued the issue, since Dean had continued to follow orders the way he always did.

He just followed 'em a little quieter than usual. Or a lot quieter. Dammit, I should've said something, talked to him or something to make sure he was okay.

It hadn't escaped his notice that Dean had gone silent after Sam had left. But since Dean had otherwise acted like usual, John had just assumed that whatever Dean was feeling wasn't aimed at him. At least he'd assumed that until Dean's hallucination-driven accusations had suggested otherwise. Until his heat-induced outburst, Dean had once again fallen into the well of silence that was his fallback when things got too heavy, and John had a feeling that things weren't gonna be any different once Dean had recovered.

And of course, the one person who's always been able to pull him out of it turned his back on us. On Dean.

It pissed him off, John acknowledged. His oldest son was hurting, and Sam didn't seem to give a damn, hadn't even called his brother to check in or put his mind at ease.

He has to know that Dean's a wreck without him. How can he not know that Dean's hurting? How can he not call?

"Daddy, are you okay?"

John blinked, looking up to find Aubrey staring back at him worriedly.

"Yeah, I'm alright."

"You don't look alright," she told him bluntly, eyeing him critically. "You look like crap warmed over."

No, no hidden meanings or secretive bullshit with this one. It's sort of a fucking relief, honestly.

"Just wishin' I'd noticed Dean was getting overheated before it came to this."

Eh, close enough.

"It wasn't your fault," she told him softly, sliding over to lay her head on his shoulder and hug his arm.

Something tells me Sam wouldn't agree with you, John thought bitterly. He'd say I didn't notice because I was too caught up in my crusade…

Would he be right? Did I miss the signs of Dean getting too hot, of him hurting this bad, because I was paying more attention to the hunt than him?

"We didn't notice either, Daddy."

"But we shouldn't have to," Braden interjected calmly, and John winced inwardly. There'd been no hint of accusation in his voice, just a statement of fact delivered in Braden's usual no-nonsense tone, and there was no way John could deny the truth of his youngest son's words.

"Bray, that's not fair," Aubrey argued, ever her father's staunch defender and ally.

Even when I don't fucking deserve it.

"D's hasn't exactly been straight with us lately," she continued, "'s not like he's been real talkative the past couple of weeks. Even if D had noticed he was gettin' too hot, he wouldn't have said anything. And if D didn't say anything, how was Daddy supposed to know?"

I'm his father—I should have known.

"So, see? It wasn't Daddy's fault," Aubrey concluded, and without looking up from the floor, John knew she had the token Winchester expression of stubbornness on her face.

"No, it wasn't exclusively his fault," Braden clarified. "It was obvious D wasn't talkin'—that's on Dean, although one could argue that he's not really responsible for thay, since that's the coping mechanism he developed when he was small. Regardless, it's a well-known fact in our family that he goes quiet sometimes, and we all have to keep a more watchful eye on him. That's where Dad's culpability comes in."

Even as he marveled at the words coming out of his twelve-year-old's mouth, John winced and steeled himself, because he knew damn good and well that Braden was about to let him have it, in his passive-aggressive, blunt-as-hell way. And Braden didn't pull any punches.

"See, Dad did know that Dean hasn't been talkin', so he should have been keeping a closer eye on him. Or to take it a step further—"

Oh don't take it a step further, John thought, but Braden continued. Of course.

"—Dad shouldn't have let D come on this hunt in the first place. Dean's mind clearly wasn't on the hunt from the start, and Dad's the one who always says that you shouldn't hunt when you're not one hundred percent. And you can't deny that, since we've only heard him bitching it at Sam for the past, like, five years or something. I think we can equally agree that Dean definitely wasn't a hundred percent when he came on this hunt with us."

"Yeah, well…" Aubrey floundered for a moment, and John knew that any argument she was likely to come up with would just be grasping at straws. "D's old enough that he shouldn't have to wait for Daddy to tell him when to not hunt. He should've known he wasn't okay to hunt."

"That's weak, Aubby," Braden retorted calmly. "Dad raised Dean to hunt and to follow orders. If there's a hunt, then Dean's gonna be there, because that's what Dad trained him to do. That's why he keeps going, even when he's hurt—it's ingrained in him. He's never gonna tell Dad he can't hunt."

Damn if he's not right, John realized painfully.

"It's not fair for you to lay everything on Daddy, Bray. Not everything's his fault like Sam says!"

"I didn't say that," Braden pointed out reasonably. "Some of it's Sam's fault, since D wouldn't have gotten that bad if it hadn't been for Sam leaving. Of course, if Dad hadn't yelled at Sam, then maybe Sam wouldn't have left like he did in the first place. Or at the very least, he wouldn't have made it so that Sam couldn't come back. Then we wouldn't be sitting here in the ER, waiting to hear how bad off Dean is."

So we've come full circle, then—it's confirmed. It's my fault. John sighed heavily, dragging his hands down as his face wearily as the two of them continued to talk about him like he wasn't there.

"Nice, Bray," Aubrey said, scowling back at her brother before squeezing John's arm comfortingly, even as Braden shrugged nonchalantly.

"Just tellin' it like it is," he said calmly.

"What, so are you mad at him, then?" Aubrey asked indignantly.

Nevermind that I'm sitting right here, guys. Don't mind me.

"No, but Dad needs to understand, Aubby. 'Cause Dean'll never say anything."

John couldn't say why it hurt so much—Braden wasn't saying anything that he didn't already know, deep down, but hearing one of his children acknowledge it out loud was…painful.

"Daddy did the best he could—he always does!" Aubrey argued vehemently, her hot anger a contrast to Braden's cool indifference.

"Yeah, Dad tries, I know. But sometimes, it's not enough. Not when D's hurtin' and Sam's not here to fix it."

He's right—I should've stepped up and done better when I saw that Dean wasn't dealing with this…But what do I do? Hell, I don't know how to fucking talk to my own children. Mary, I'm sorry. It shouldn't be this way.

He buried his face in his hands, trying to figure out when things had gone so wrong, how he'd let things go so wrong.

Damned if I know. And I don't have a clue how to fix it.

"Mr. Anderson?"

The sound of his latest alias had John lifting his head to see a doctor standing in the door leading back to the ER area. John stood, moving toward the doctor, aware of the twins following behind him.

"How's my boy?"

"He was definitely suffering from heatstroke, and he's dehydrated. Now, we've given him a mild sedative to calm him down, and he's resting now. He's still running a fever, but we're pushing fluids, and getting him cooled down, so his temperature is starting to drop now. We did detect a considerable level of alcohol in his system—"

Ah, shit, Dean. What the hell were you thinking?

"—which is exacerbating the dehydration," the doctor continued, "so we'd like to keep him overnight to ensure that his kidneys are functioning properly and that there's been no serious damage. It might be overly cautious on my part, but I like to be sure."

"But he's gonna be okay?"

"I don't think you have anything to worry about, Mr. Anderson," the doctor told him kindly. "We're gonna get him settled into a room, and then you can go back and sit with him, if you'd like."

"Yeah, that'd be great."

Dean was asleep when John and the twins finally stepped inside his room.

"Dad, I didn't know D was hung-over when we left for the cemetery," Braden told him as he sat down in one of the chairs in the room. "I'd have told you if I knew."

You mean if I'd missed it. Since apparently, I don't notice shit about my kids.

"I know you would have," John said instead, dropping heavily into the other chair in the room and shifting to accommodate Aubrey's weight as she perched on his knee.

"Daddy? D's not doin' so good, is he?"

No. He's not.

"He'll be alright," John murmured, his eyes never leaving his oldest son's still form. Despite the ice packs placed on his body, he still looked considerably flushed and sick.

"I guess we should've noticed he wasn't drinkin' any water," Aubrey mumbled.

"Or that he was drinkin' alcohol instead," Braden interrupted, staring back at Dean with a candid expression.

"Don't be a smart aleck, Bray," Aubrey scolded, giving her twin a dirty look.

"I wasn't," Braden told her calmly. "'s the truth, that's all."

"Alright, you two give it a rest, huh?" John said, his tone more than enough to suggest that the request was more of an order than a request. They fell silent, and without a word, Braden snagged the remote to the TV and turned it on, automatically turning the volume down low.


Two hours later, the twins had grown bored with daytime television—actually, none of John's children had much patience for daytime television—and John finally sent them downstairs to the cafeteria to grab something to eat.

"Sammy?" Dean mumbled sleepily, and John stood, moving closer as he watched Dean struggle to open his eyes.

"Nah, it's me, son," John told him, smoothing Dean's sweat-soaked hair back from his face. Dean jerked away, staring up at John with an accusing look.

"Where's Sammy?"

Shit.

"He's not here, Dean," John said softly.

Judging by the glazed look in Dean's eyes, he wasn't firing on all cylinders, and John couldn't tell if he just couldn't remember where Sam was, or if the boy was still under the delusion that John had hidden Sam away.

"Where 's he?"

"He's in California."

"We're not?"

"No. We're in Mississippi, Dean."

"But…he's supposed to be here," Dean mumbled, staring up at him with hurt, confused eyes.

"I know."

"Go get 'im…please," Dean said, sounding for all the world like the little boy who would plead for his daddy to buy him an ice cream cone, a little boy that had been gone for a very long time.

"I can't, son. He made his choice. He didn't wanna stay."

Dean stared back at him blearily, obviously trying to process his father's words, and John could tell the moment they registered because Dean seemed to sink into his pillow, his expression on that John could only call devastated.

"Dean—"

"Why won't you go get him?"

Because I'm a sonofabitch that doesn't know how to apologize to his own son. Because I made my bed and now I have to lie in it.

"He doesn't want to come back, Dean," John said instead, hating himself for laying all of the blame at Sam's feet, but unable to admit otherwise.

I don't want my son to hate me. Dean's all I've got left of Mary—I can't lose him, too.

Dean look back at him with a look filled with hurt and accusation, and John wasn't too sure that Dean couldn't see right through him. Without a word, Dean heaved a shaky sigh and closed his eyes as John's heart ached.

"Dean…"

I'm sorry.

But the words stuck in his throat, because John knew well enough that an apology, no matter how sincere, didn't mean shit when your heart was breaking.