Title: 3 AM
Author: Still Waters
Disclaimer: I do not own Supernatural. Just playing, with love and respect to those who brought these characters to life.
Summary: While dealing with a panicking Dean and a seizing Sam, Bobby remembers a similar incident from the brothers' childhood – and is left with a disturbing revelation.
Notes: This piece was inspired by Bobby and Dean's final conversation in 3x04 (Sin City), and is set two months after that episode. I've always loved the depth in that scene – the way Dean stands so close to Bobby, the almost childlike way he asks if something's wrong with Sam, and the way they both know they're lying to each other, giving the other what he needs to hear, but doing it anyway. I wanted to expand on everything running just under the surface. I also began to consider Sam's supernaturally-induced seizures in season four and beyond, and wondered – what if seemingly innocuous seizures started before the demon blood and Sam's return from hell? Putting that together with the 3x04 scene and a hinted reference to season six, this piece was born. As always, I hope I did the characters justice. Thank you for reading and thank you to those reviewers I am unable to respond to personally via private message. I truly appreciate your support.
Dean: "Back in Wyoming, uh, there was this moment. Yellow eyes said something to me."
Bobby: "What'd he say?"
Dean: "That maybe when Sam came back from…wherever….that maybe he came back different."
Bobby: "Different how?"
Dean: "I don't know. Whatever it was, it didn't sound good. You think…think something's wrong with m'brother?"
Bobby: "Nah. Demons lie. I'm sure Sam's okay."
Dean: "Yeah. Yeah, me too."
~ 3x04, Sin City
2 months later
Bobby was used to the phone ringing at all hours – the supernatural didn't exactly have a curfew, and with hunters spread throughout different time zones, he had stopped looking at the clock when picking up. Didn't really matter whether it was dark enough to be late night or early morning – it wasn't going to change how or if he answered.
"Yeah," he stifled a groan, flipping the phone open by feel alone.
The older hunter was instantly awake, eyes flying open as he bolted upright and sought the time. "Dean?" he asked, heart pounding over sudden, churning nausea.
"Bobby, it's Sam," Dean choked.
Well, that much was obvious. Dean's 'barely holding it together' panic voice was in full swing and it was 0300 – never a time for good news calls, especially with someone who didn't have much left to lose.
Bobby's brain caught up to the horrific implications of that thought. Oh, no. Did the deal fail? Was Sam killed on another hunt? As far as Bobby knew, there hadn't been a provision that something else couldn't take Sam out. Dammit, Dean had less than a year before he went downstairs anyway – no way he'd survive losing Sam again. And how cruel would the world have to be to do this? To throw Dean into an even worse punishment ahead of schedule, because actual hell would be kinder than the real hell of living without Sam. Of living with his failure. Again.
The dull thudding sound behind Dean's unsteady breathing brought Bobby back to focus. Answers first. "Dean, what's going on?"
"I don't….something's wrong." Dean's voice shook with the fractured thought, the phone crackling as if he had physically shuddered.
Dammit, of course something was wrong.
And what the hell was that noise?
"Dean, I need you to focus," Bobby insisted. First things first. "Where are you? You boys somewhere safe?"
Dean was silent. The phone crackled again around a stifled gasp as the banging changed cadence.
"Dean!" Bobby barked, already on his feet and dressing.
"Yeah," Dean pulled himself together, voice still strained, but focused. "Yeah. State Street Motel, Owatonna, Minnesota."
"Good," Bobby said, shifting the phone against his shoulder as he laced up his boots. "Now, what the hell is that banging?"
A hint of the earlier distance crept back in. "It's the bed. Headboard keeps hitting the wall."
Bobby frowned. Any other day, Dean would be the one making that happen….or if he wasn't, he'd be bursting with crude jokes about whoever was. Not getting an answer to that discrepancy, Bobby changed tactics. One question, simple and to the point. Like talking to a child. Or a man in shock.
"Dean, why is the bed hitting the wall?" Bobby asked patiently as he grabbed the packed bag he kept in the closet.
"'Cause Sam's…." Dean swallowed thickly, then audibly shifted back into focus. "Bobby, I think he's having some kind of seizure."
Bobby swapped the phone to his left hand, the bag in his right as he headed downstairs to the library, simultaneously running through a mental list of books to grab. "Okay, he's on the bed right now?" Bobby confirmed.
"Yeah. I moved him to the middle when it started so he won't roll off."
"Good," Bobby affirmed. "You put extra padding around his head?"
"Yeah – lined the headboard with pillows and the other blankets," Dean said, starting to calm with the simple task of directed response.
"Good. How's he breathin'?"
"Kinda grunting," Dean shifted the phone closer to Sam so Bobby could hear, "but airway's clear, color's okay. I tried to put him on his side, but he's too stiff."
"Okay, you're doing great, son," Bobby praised, reaching for a first aid binder an old army medic buddy of his kept updated. Double-checking that he had scrawled the phone number in there, Bobby continued, "Just keep watchin' his breathin' and make sure he doesn't hurt himself."
"Got it," Dean said, the phone crackling again as the bed impacted sheetrock.
"How long's the fit been goin' on?" Bobby asked.
"Uh…" the phone shifted as Dean glanced down. "Minute and a half."
"Okay," Bobby hoisted the bag over his shoulder, adjusted the books in the crook of his arm, and grabbed his keys. "If it doesn't stop within ten minutes, you call 911 and get him to a hospital, understand?"
"If it doesn't stop within ten minutes, call 911," Dean repeated dutifully through a lifetime of military training.
"Good," Bobby pulled the door closed, crossed the yard to his truck, and tossed everything in the passenger seat. Moving around to the driver's side, he pulled himself behind the wheel with a grunt, the old door creaking shut behind him. "Now tell me exactly what happened."
"On the way back from the cemetery, he got that look he gets before a vision hits – you know, like his head's about to explode. I got him back to the room, gave him some Advil, and got him in bed. Twenty minutes later, his whole body starts twitching, he's breathing in these sort of gasping grunts, and his eyes are moving all over the place. So I used the blanket to pull him to the middle of the bed, grabbed all the pillows and extra blankets to protect his head," Bobby could hear Dean wince as the bed shifted again, "tried to get him on his side, and called you." He finished in a rush of breath, before pausing as if just hearing the engine in the background. "Bobby, are you drivin'?" he asked.
"'Course I am," Bobby retorted, as if the very question was ridiculous. "I'm on my way."
Dean paused, unsure. "Bobby, it's three in the morning and it's at least a…." Sam moaned in the background and Dean dropped the phone as Bobby heard the bed dip and Dean's soft, nervous, "Easy, Sammy. It's okay. I gotcha, I gotcha."
Bobby waited until Dean's breathing signaled he was back on the phone. "Yeah, 'cause I'm gonna leave the two of you like that alone," Bobby snorted. "I'll be there in three hours, so take care of your brother, and keep talkin' to me, got it?"
Dean's breath transitioned into chastised relief. "Yes sir," he sighed, the mocking tone overridden by sincere gratitude.
"Smartass," Bobby shot back with a smirk. "How's he doin'?" he moved back to Sam.
"No change – his face is all squinty though, like he's in pain and I can't…" Sam vocalized again, a low, deep sound, half-sob, half-moan. "Shit," Dean swore around another round of banging. "Easy, Sam. I'm here. I'm right here. You're gonna be fine….just…." he stiffened with another cry. "C'mon Sammy, snap out of it….you're freaking me out here, man. C'mon, easy…"
Bobby swallowed hard, double-checked the speedometer, and nudged the gas pedal another fraction. "Dean?" he asked quietly.
"Yeah," Dean paused, tried to hide a sniffle. "Yeah, I'm here. I think it's slowing down. The shaking's not so bad now."
Bobby glanced at the clock. Good – they were already at seven minutes. Good," he sighed aloud. He could hear Dean watching Sam, fighting the urge to stand and pace, not moving because it would take him too far from his brother.
"Bobby, what…" Dean's voice muffled as he scrubbed a hand across his face. "How do I…." he tried again. "The nightmares and not sleeping after Jess, the migraines and psychic crap and…." He swallowed around words he still couldn't say – Sam dying – "was bad enough, but this? I don't…."
Bobby heard it all in the anguished drop to silence. I don't know what to do. I don't know why this is happening. I don't know how I can leave him now.
Dammit – why'd they have to be three hours away?
"Dean," he finally said, "does he…."
The phone dropped again as, with a final grunt, the silence expanded, the banging fading to a chilling echo under Dean's terrified, "Sam?" The scratch of blankets against the phone as Dean shifted on the bed. "Sammy?" A half-sigh, half-sob, as he picked up the phone again. "It stopped," he reported shakily. "But now he won't wake up."
Bobby cursed the distance as his mind filled a clear image of Dean's face through the raw, panicked words. "It's okay, boy – that's normal after a fit. Wears 'em out, remember?" He heard Dean nod, dragging knowledge through the molasses of fear.
"Yeah," Dean's voice gathered some confidence as he dug into training. "Yeah. Post….ishal?" he searched for the term.
"Postictal," Bobby supplied from the medical binder open to seizure management next to him.
"Ictal, right," Dean repeated. The phone crackled for a moment, Dean's breath heavy, before he spoke again, letting out a long sigh. "Okay, got him on his side. Breathin' and pulse are steady, mouth's clear." He blew out another breath. "Dammit Bobby, what the hell is goin' on? Psychic visions and demonic plans weren't enough? I can't…." I can't keep watching him suffer. I can't protect him from something like this. I can't go to hell knowing he's not safe. He struggled to pull himself together. "Could all the headaches have…I don't know, messed up his brain somehow? Is this just gonna happen now?"
And if it is, who's gonna take care of him in a year?
Bobby took a steadying breath, glancing at the upcoming street sign. "Dean, was Sam feelin' sick before the headache?"
Dean thought for a moment. "We both had bad burgers last week, but that was over in like twenty-four hours. He's been kinda stiff the last day or two, like when he has a flu brewing, but he did get thrown into a wall pretty hard the other day too. He wouldn't let me check his temp, so I waited until he was asleep and used that ear one you gave us. Pissed him off and got myself thrown on the floor, but it was just a low grade, 99.9. Crushed some Tylenol in his breakfast yesterday morning just in case."
Bobby could hear the faint smirk along with the shrug. He shook his head fondly as he processed Dean's answer. "He runnin' a fever now?" he asked.
He could feel Dean's frown. "He's a little warm, but probably no more than yesterday. You want me to check?"
"Okay," Dean drew out, obviously wondering where Bobby was going with the request. "But if this wakes him up and I end up on the floor again, I'm blamin' you."
"You do that," Bobby chuckled, listening as Dean crossed the room and retrieved the thermometer, then softly explained to Sam what he was about to do.
"101," Dean reported, after the tinny mechanical beep, frown deepening. "He doesn't feel that warm."
Bobby considered the response as he changed lanes as the first exit approached. "Probably couldn't hurt to cool him down a bit – you know, just some cool cloths until he's awake enough for more meds."
He heard Dean's brows tighten. "Ice him down for 101?" Dean repeated disbelievingly. "Bobby, what's goin' on? He's had fevers a lot higher than this without havin' a friggin' seizure. Hell, he usually doesn't even start looking sick until it's over 102. What aren't you telling me?" his voice darkened.
Bobby sighed heavily as he reluctantly recalled, "This ain't the first fit Sam's had."
Dean went silent. "Uh, yeah it is," he countered, the inflection a combination of offended and 'dude, you're an idiot.' He paused before amending, "Unless this is another Stanford thing he hasn't told me about, in which case I'll kick his ass later. But if it is….why would you know?"
"No, it ain't," Bobby corrected Dean's first statement. "And it's not a 'Stanford thing' – it happened two months after the fire." John had always called it 'the fire.' Couldn't bear to attach Mary's name and fate to that nightmare.
He could feel Dean's scowl. "So…when he was eight months old," Dean clarified. He heard Dean's head cant, irritated. "Bobby, I was pretty much raising that kid at that point. I think I'd remember something like him having a damn seizure."
Bobby rolled his eyes, flashed his lights at some moron who thought parking lights were sufficient for pitch black highway driving, then steadied his breath. Last thing he needed was Dean putting another perceived failure on himself. "You don't remember it because you were sick too, ya idjit," he insisted, infusing the retort with as much fondness as he could.
That stopped Dean. "What?" he stammered.
Bobby shifted lanes as an eighteen wheeler blew by on his left. "You both caught some bug – like a real bad flu – fever, throwing up, the works." He proceeded to fill Dean in on the details – about John calling him at 0300 in a rare panic, both his boys with stubborn fevers, Dean dehydrated and unconscious on one side of the bed, infant Sam seizing on the other, desperate for answers – a raw, recent widower alone with two sick children, the only things he had left, and no experience with what to do. About how Bobby got John on the phone with Pastor Jim for support while Bobby called Mac, an old medic buddy for advice, and how Mac talked John through basic first aid before heading out to meet Bobby and Jim who were already on their way to the dingy Nebraskan motel, where both Sam and Dean ended up with IV fluids and several days of supportive care. "Mac figured it was a nasty viral infection – the kind of stuff kids just pick up sometimes. You were both fine after a couple days' rest, fluids, and Tylenol. Sam ended up havin' one more fit after we got there – temp was 101 after we got him cooled down and quiet enough to check. Mac said some kids are just susceptible to fever fits, and even though his fever wasn't that high, it might have spiked higher before he started seizin'." Bobby shrugged. "Either way, it didn't happen again and you both bounced right back to normal."
Dean was silent for a long moment, obviously distressed at the lack of memory. "Dad never told me about that," he said softly.
"Yeah, well, your daddy was pretty worried – probably not somethin' he wanted to remember," Bobby offered, recalling the barely hidden terror in John's eyes, that he might lose all he had left of Mary. All he had left at all.
Dean was quiet again before a small, wavering voice asked, "Bobby….did I get him sick?"
Bobby struggled to keep his voice even as Dean went back to his four year old self, how he may have failed in protecting Sam by spreading a contagious illness completely out of his control. "According to your Dad, you both started with the fever on the same exact day," Bobby said. Hardly a surprise with those two. "So, no – you didn't get your brother sick – just suffered right along with him."
A point Dean seemed totally okay with as he let out a breath of relief – still upset that he hadn't been able to help his Dad and take care of Sam, but able to breathe again knowing he hadn't caused him harm. "So, you think what just happened is the same thing? That maybe his fever spiked before we could notice and he started seizing?"
Bobby shrugged as he changed lanes again. "I don't know. Maybe. From what I've read, adults don't usually have those kinds of fits unless they're fryin', but maybe Sam's just more susceptible since that one when he was little, and with the stress of everything that's happened recently…." Another set of points Bobby refused to name in deference to Dean, "…it just pushed it over the edge. Y'know, lowered his defenses enough that the fever didn't have to be that bad to start a fit."
They were quiet as they both considered Bobby's words. But both felt the desperation there. The fear. And for all his self-deprecation, Dean was a smart kid.
"Bobby…" he started slowly, knowing Bobby was thinking the same thing. "…it's too close. I mean, two months after Yellow Eyes gets into Sam's nursery, and now two months after he says Sam might have come back different? He's never had a seizure any other time," Dean said desperately.
And suddenly, it was the street in Elizabethville all over again. Dean barely holding it together, a child making a truthful observation while desperately hoping the adult would disprove it.
"You think something's wrong with m'brother?"
"Nah. Demons lie. I'm sure Sam's okay."
"Yeah. Yeah, me too."
A mutual lie, known yet needed.
Bobby could picture the same lowered, shifting eyes, the same minute tremble in Dean's lower lip as it all came out. "Bobby, did I do this?"
If Bobby wasn't so desperate to get to those boys' side, he would have jerked the truck to the shoulder to rail at the injustice of the world, a world that put that tone in Dean's voice. The same tone as when he had asked if something was wrong with Sam in Ohio; that implied that it wasn't going to hell that terrified him, but the possibility of having made a deal that harmed his brother; the thought that Yellow Eyes was right and he would be leaving a damaged Sam alone without anyone to watch over him. That maybe, in saving Sam, Dean had just continued a long line of Winchester mistakes and that what was dead really should stay dead. That by virtue of both of them being alive, nothing could ever really be right again.
There was only one way Bobby could answer all that.
"No," he stated firmly, taking the phone off speaker so his voice would be as clear as possible. Because that was the answer to what really mattered. No, Dean hadn't done something to hurt his brother. No, he hadn't failed Sam. No, there was no way in hell was Sam ever going to be alone if Dean's deal wasn't broken, not so long as Bobby drew breath. But most of all – no, this wasn't his fault. "No," Bobby repeated. "Whatever this is, it is not your fault, Dean. It was that yellow-eyed sonuvabitch. And we'll figure it out."
Dean composed himself on the other end. "Yeah," he responded, and it was the same half-laugh, half-relief, the same tremor from a trembling lip and child-like hope from two months ago when Bobby had said everything was fine. But then Dean's voice changed, strengthening as Bobby's words sunk in.
We'll figure it out.
How many times had Sam and Dean said that to each other? In those words was a promise – that no matter how bad things were, how freaked they were….that they would tackle whatever it was together. To whatever end.
"Yeah," Dean said again, this time with a hint of long-forgotten conviction.
"Okay," Bobby agreed, letting out a silent breath. "Now, you two all right?"
A loaded question, but Dean got the meaning. "Yeah – just waiting for Sleeping Beauty to wake up."
"Good," Bobby snorted. "I'm less than three hours out. I'll call when I'm closin' in, but if anything changes, you call me, got it?"
"Got it," Dean affirmed.
"All right – and remember, you ain't no prince, so no tryin' to speed up the process before I get there," Bobby deadpanned.
"Arghhhh," Dean cut off the connection with a garbled mix of disgust and much-needed laughter.
Bobby flipped the phone closed with a grin and continued into the darkness of impending morning.
Despite his phone call five minutes before pulling into the parking lot, Bobby wasn't surprised to have a gun barrel greet him at the door – one quickly lowered as Dean ushered him in with a relieved, "hey, Bobby."
Bobby stepped into the room with a nod, eyes ghosting over Sam's still form on the far bed as he waited for Dean to lock up and lead the way. "How you boys holdin' up?" Bobby asked.
"He's out – hasn't so much as twitched…which, I mean, is a good thing, that part, but you know…" Dean stumbled, running a hand through his hair, face pinched as the words got away from him. "I cooled him down like you said, just in case," he nodded toward the pile of damp washcloths on the bedside table. "Temp's down to 99."
Bobby followed Dean to the bed and got a closer look at Sam. He was pale, but breathing deep and regular, face unlined in unconsciousness. All in all, looking a lot better than his brother. "All right, why don't you try and grab some sleep. I'll keep an eye on Sam," Bobby said.
Dean shook his head as emphatically as a completely exhausted man could. "Not until he wakes up," he insisted.
"Dean…." Bobby sighed, even as he knew this would happen.
"Bobby…" Dean swallowed roughly. "I gotta know he's okay."
Of course he did.
But Bobby was well-versed in Winchester protocol….and knew how to bargain. "All right," he acquiesced, understanding. "Tell you what – why don't you bunk with Sam and I'll keep watch from your bed. That way, you're right there when he wakes up lookin' for ya and if, for some reason, the planets fall out of line or somethin' and you don't wake up, I'll be right here to see that you do."
Dean frowned, even as it was exactly what he would've done had he been alone. "Bobby, you just drove over…."
Bobby cut him off with a look. "Gettin' your brother through a fit trumps drivin' across state lines," he insisted. "Go lie down," he pointed next to Sam.
"Yessir," Dean mumbled sheepishly as he stretched out alongside Sam, adjusting his position until he was in satisfactory contact. "Thanks Bobby," he sighed softly.
"Good night, Dean," Bobby acknowledged the gratitude quietly. He listened as Dean's breathing fell into Sam's rhythm and settled in to watch over his boys.
An hour later, Sam sucked in a shuddering breath and immediately attempted to push himself upright. Bobby hadn't even opened his mouth before Dean flipped over to face Sam's back, putting one hand on his brother's arm. "Sam?" he asked, voice rough with exhaustion, but completely focused.
Sam tried to sit up again.
"Whoa, easy Sam," Dean pushed him down gently. "Slow down – you've been out for awhile."
Sam stiffened under Dean's hand and struggled to move.
"Dude," Dean sat up and maintained pressure. "Sam, c'mon man, relax," his voice tightened with Sam's continued movement. He glanced up at Bobby nervously.
"I don't think he's really awake yet, Dean," Bobby nodded at Sam's face.
"D'n?" Sam suddenly slurred as if picking up the word he was looking for from Bobby's statement.
"Yeah, Sam, right here," Dean squeezed his arm. "You waking up now?"
Sam's brow furrowed. "D'n?" he repeated, left arm flailing clumsily underneath him.
Panic flared in Dean's eyes as he vaulted over Sam, grabbing his brother's left hand, and kneeling at the side of the bed so he was in Sam's line of sight. He squeezed Sam's hand between both of his own. "Right here, Sammy," he repeated. "Right in front of ya. I gotcha."
Sam's face crumpled in confusion as he lightly shifted his hand in Dean's grasp. "Why'zt d'rk?" he frowned around the slurred words.
Dean stiffened and Bobby felt the fear radiating off him as early morning light streamed around the old curtains. "Dean," Bobby said softly.
Dean turned around, eyes wide with worry.
Bobby nodded at Sam's face as he tapped his own eyes.
Dean turned back slowly, shoulders dipping briefly before glancing back at Bobby, face a mixture of relief and increased concern. He turned back to Sam and squeezed his hand again. "That'd be 'cause your eyes are still closed, Sam."
Dean freed up one hand and tapped the corner of Sam's right eye. "Gotta open your eyes, genius," he attempted to stuff the panic behind shaky teasing.
Sam's face scrunched in concentration for several seconds before his eyes opened halfway.
Dean watched him squint, while his peripheral vision caught Bobby getting up and walking around to perch at the end of Sam's bed where he had both boys' faces in sight.
"Can you see me now?" Dean joked, laughter far from his eyes.
Sam groaned and screwed his eyes shut as a shudder went through him, before forcing them midway again, muddy irises drifting in Dean's general direction.
Dean considered the silence for a moment. "Sam, where's it hurt?" he asked, taking in every one of Sam's nonverbal pain cues.
Sam didn't even seem to hear the question. "D'n? Wh'r…" Shaky eyes bounced off the room.
Dean swallowed, eyes darting toward Bobby in a clear 'I'm totally freaked out but now is not the time to lose it' look. "We're good, Sam. We're in Owatonna. Bobby's here too and you're okay. Just gotta wake up a little more, that's all."
Sam grimaced, moving his left arm as if he didn't feel Dean's grasp. "D'n?" he repeated. "'M…." his frown deepened as he shakily tracked the room for a second time. He tried to sit up, falling back with a groan, eyes sliding shut. "Wh'r…"
Dean's panic shot up to fifteen. Bobby's chest clenched as he leaned forward, waiting for Dean's cue that he was needed. Dean rubbed Sam's hand briskly, then gently laid it back on the bed as he shifted both hands to the sides of Sam's face. "Sam," he said firmly, as close to a command voice as he could get while still being gentle. "Open your eyes, Sam."
Sam complied slowly, blinking a few times before fixing a questionable focus on Dean's familiar green. Suddenly, his face smoothed ever so slightly, as a hint of understanding came through the confusion. "D'n," he sighed, the name still slurred, but not a question. A clumsy arm came up and latched onto Dean's forearm. Panic of Sam's own flared just under the muddled surface as he started to repeat, "Wh-" He cut himself off, visibly struggling to focus as he squeezed Dean's arm in an attempt to ground himself before the weakened limb fell heavily to the mattress. "T'rd," he sighed thickly.
Dean closed shining eyes as he shifted his right hand to run through Sam's hair, then lightly down the side of his face, before cupping his jaw again. He looked up at Bobby, clear anguish at knowing what he needed to say mixed with fear - fear that telling Sam to rest could lead to him waking up the same way next time…or worse. Bobby just nodded gently, acknowledging and supporting, keeping his own voice silent so as not to throw Sam off.
"S'okay, Sammy," Dean choked, trying to steady himself so as not to subconsciously worry Sam with his tone. "Go back to sleep. Bobby and I are right here."
Sam squinted at Dean even as his eyes were closing. "B't…" he mumbled, somehow still sensing his brother's underlying fear.
Dean smiled sadly. "No 'buts,'" he insisted. "You've been sick and you need your rest. I'll be right here. Close your eyes."
Sam was already out.
Dean was silent for a long moment, rubbing his thumbs lightly over Sam's jaw before he stood slowly, knees cracking in protest, and leaned over Sam to lightly rest his forehead against his brother's – the toddler leaning over the lowered crib rail to say good night to his baby brother. Then he stepped away, headed for the window, where he bent his right arm against the wall next to the line of sunshine coming in around the tattered curtain and laid his forehead against it, as if needing to soak in some form of light while surrounded by such immeasurable darkness.
Bobby watched silently, waiting for Dean to speak. Nearly three minutes passed, the sound of Dean's harsh attempts at control a syncopated counterpart to Sam's deep breathing. "Bobby," he finally croaked, the broken syllables a tapestry of grief, fear, and uncertainty. Of a preemptive loss and shattered guilt that nearly broke Bobby as well.
Neither of them were the chick flick, touchy-feely type, but sometimes, when the one person who grounded you couldn't be there, someone else needed to step in with that assurance. Bobby stood up, crossed the room, and silently placed a hand on Dean's shoulder, squeezing lightly, a tactile reminder that he wasn't alone, that the world wasn't all darkness and horror. He felt a shudder run through Dean at the contact, the brief fight not to submit to it…and the moment that fight was lost as Dean stifled a sob, bringing his left hand up to swipe at his eyes. "I can't…" he choked on another surge of grief, before a tremor-laden breath. "What am I gonna do Bobby?" And there was the child again, six feet of experienced hunter whittled down to a toddler's desperate question. He lifted his head, turning into Bobby's touch, as Bobby adjusted his hand with the movement to maintain contact. Raw green eyes, red with the memory of Sam's blood, of his own impending flames, with smoldering anger at the unfairness of it all, met Bobby's, the tears silently breaking free. "What'm I supposed to do?" he pleaded.
Every paternal instinct Bobby had developed in years of knowing those boys surged as he pulled Dean into a tight embrace – a potentially embarrassing, but mutually desperate need. Dean stiffened initially, the natural instinct to hide that painful storm of emotion surging even as it threatened to consume him until, finally, he let go, accepting Bobby's presence, allowing the older hunter to absorb the silent flood. When Dean finally pulled away, swiping at raw eyes, he kept close, just as he had done in his uncertainty in Elizabethville. He looked over Bobby's shoulder at Sam, shoulders hitching again as he repeated, "What'm I gonna do?"
Bobby grasped his right arm lightly and guided Dean to the kitchenette, sitting him down at the small table so that he was facing Sam. Stagnant coffee splashed into a chipped mug, followed by the clink of ceramic on a microwave tray. Dean looked up at him, bewildered, as the timer beeped.
"Right now, you're gonna sit and drink this," Bobby insisted, retrieving the warmed liquid and adding a generous shot of whiskey from his flask. He put the mug in front of Dean, pulled the other chair over to Dean's left, and sat down so he wouldn't be blocking his view of Sam. "C'mon now, drink," Bobby pushed, nodding at the mug.
Dean startled back to focus and took a drink, eyes widening over the lip of the mug as he noted the amount of Bobby's added ingredient.
"Couldn't think of a more appropriate time," Bobby explained, raising the flask briefly before taking a straight shot himself.
Dean snorted back a laugh. "Yeah," he agreed, wrapping his hands around the mug and throwing back another swallow. He focused on the drink in silence for a few moments, reassembling his thoughts. Once warm and medicated, he pulled his eyes from Sam and looked back at Bobby. "Bobby, what the hell is goin' on? I mean, that's way more than post-ish…ict….whatever," he threw his hands up, gesturing at Sam.
"I don't know, Dean – people can be pretty out of it after a fit," Bobby reminded him.
"Bobby, Sam's been less out of it when he's bleeding out," Dean countered. "I get that a seizure might make him tired…maybe a little confused…but he was completely disoriented….and near the end, he knew and was tryin' to fight it," Dean swallowed, recalling how Sam's fear had increased his own. "Don't tell me that doesn't seem weird to you."
"Just the fit alone is weird," Bobby admitted.
No more hopeful lies.
Dean scrubbed his hands down his face and when he looked back up, the grieving brother was wiped away, revealing the angry, revenge-focused hunter – Dean at his most dangerous. "What did that yellow-eyed sonuvabitch do to my brother?" he growled.
"I wish I knew," Bobby's tone was rough with an equally vengeful promise of support. "But we'll figure it out. Right now, we let Sam rest and wait for the next time he wakes up. Like anything, he might be clearer the second time 'round." Bobby watched Dean nod slowly, recalling injuries and illnesses past.
"Bobby, he was slurring bad," Dean said, nervously. "I mean, like beyond concussion or 'half a dozen beers' level bad. What if he had a stroke or something? I mean, we have no idea what went on in that freaky brain of his," he blew out a shaky breath.
"Damn - that's what I forgot," Bobby snapped his fingers.
Dean's brow furrowed. "What?"
"To pack the CAT scan on my way out," Bobby retorted, pleased to see Dean snort back a laugh with the normalcy of sarcasm. "Now, what d'you say we stop speculating and start doin' some research, so when he does wake up again, we've got somethin' to go with."
Dean nodded gratefully, grimaced with the last swallow of coffee and stood up for a refill. He held the pot up in Bobby's direction.
"No thanks," Bobby shook his head, raising the flask in a mock toast. "Gonna be a purist today," he grinned.
Dean chuckled as he crossed the room and pulled the laptop from Sam's bag, before grabbing the journal from his own. Shifting both under his right arm, he leaned over Sam, skimming his left hand lightly over Sam's forehead, chest, and wrist, checking vitals. With a satisfied nod, he headed back to the table, depositing the journal and laptop around Bobby's growing spread of literature. Grabbing the freshly steaming mug from the microwave with a hiss, Dean sat back down and flipped open the laptop as Bobby reached over and refortified his coffee before taking another drink himself. "Ready?" Bobby asked.
"Yeah," Dean's voice was steady – the focused hunter. "What've you got?"
Bobby pushed over the first aid binder and they got to work.
Three hours later, Dean glanced up from the laptop just as Sam groaned and began to try and push himself up on shaking limbs.
"Sam?" Dean rubbed at weary eyes as he jumped to his feet, rushing to the bed.
Sam cringed at the quick movement to his left as Dean came to a sudden stop and knelt down to be at Sam's eye level again. He moaned as he continued trying to sit up.
"Easy, Sam – one thing at a time. Try openin' your eyes first, okay?" Dean squeezed Sam's left forearm, holding him from trying to push up again.
Sam's eyes squinted tighter before, with a seemingly herculean effort, he dragged them open, blinking sluggishly as muddied hazel attempted to focus on the blur in front of him. "D'n?" he slurred.
Bobby saw Dean tense at the unwelcome repeat. "Yeah, Sammy, right here," Dean forced his voice steady, patting Sam's arm again for direction.
Sam's face scrunched as he willed his eyes into focus, Dean's image slowly clearing. "D-" he swallowed thickly and Dean immediately recognized the action as classic Sam hangover behavior – attempting to unstick an impossibly dry tongue. Hope surged.
"You with me, kiddo?" Dean asked, voice breathy.
Sam groaned as he nodded, swallowing shakily in another recognizable indicator of nausea, before bringing only slightly hazy eyes back to Dean. "Yeah," his voice broke as he attempted to wet his mouth. "Yeah," he repeated, a little stronger, that one non-slurred word releasing a flood of tension from Dean's rigid frame as he finally allowed himself to breathe.
Sam tried to sit up again and immediately stopped as his vision grayed.
"Whoa, Sam, just…take it easy, okay man? Please?" Dean pleaded, guiding Sam's head back to the pillow.
Sam focused on his breathing as the nausea flared and his head pounded mercilessly. Something about Dean's words, that tone, stuck in Sam's scrambled head….until it all came together in one adrenaline-fueled rush. Dean's face when it first came into focus, his words and the latent panic underneath…it was Dean after Sam woke up from Cold Oak with a new scar and no memory of what had led to the deal that now haunted them both. A Dean who had just been completely lost and freaked out – a brother on an edge Sam knew only too well. His eyes flew open and took in the whole room, recognizing that it was now daylight and that Bobby was standing quietly nearby. Panic surged as he reached desperately for Dean's shirt. "Dean, what'd you do? What happened? Why's Bobby here? Are you okay?" Sam stumbled over the rapid questions in a breathless rush.
"Whoa, Speedy Gonzalez, one thing at a time," Dean reached up and reassuringly squeezed the hand Sam had twisted into his shirt. "And thanks for the vote of confidence," he rolled his eyes at Sam's initial question, even as he knew he really couldn't blame Sam for that line of thought.
"Dean…" Sam's eyes narrowed, his grip tightening.
Dean sighed. "Okay," he acquiesced. "I didn't do anything – no new deals or anything to worry about, all right? Your headache turned into a full freaking seizure. I called Bobby for help and he came out here," Dean explained.
Sam frowned. "A seizure?" he asked, bewildered.
"Yeah, tell me about it," Dean mirrored the feeling.
The frown deepened. "You didn't answer my last question," Sam pressed.
Dean rolled his eyes – trust a freshly conscious Sam to still put that omission together. "You mean the 'am I okay' one?" he pretended to clarify. "Dude, you went from a pre-vision type migraine to a full-on seizure – of course I wasn't okay! Why do you think Bobby's here?" he exclaimed, running a hand through his hair as he fought to steady his breathing.
Sam looked past Dean briefly and met Bobby's eyes in silent thanks. Bobby nodded - a quiet 'you're welcome.'
Dean sighed. "Sorry," he grimaced.
Sam uncurled the fist he had wound in Dean's shirt and patted his brother's chest lightly. "Hey, I've been there too, man," he offered quietly, memories of finding an electrocuted Dean warring with the fresh rawness of discovering demonic deals.
Dean nodded. "Yeah," he sighed, ducking his eyes and bringing them back up to accept Sam's understanding, a silent broadcast through eyes more familiar than his own. He held the connection, Sam reading Dean's tacit response - 'but you're okay now, so I am too.'
Sam nodded at the silent answer he needed to hear and moved on. He glanced back at Bobby – that wasn't a short trip and with Dean's level of panic, Sam had to have been down for awhile. "How long was I out?" he asked, squinting around the headache as he shifted his eyes back to Dean.
Dean noted the signs of pain with a frown. "Seizure lasted about eight minutes. You were out for around three hours, woke up once completely out of it, then out again for another three hours before waking up just now."
Sam's eyes widened. "Man, I know I hit that wall hard the other day, but I thought we ruled concussion out," he thought aloud.
Dean cocked his head – with the fever and demonic connections, he honestly hadn't even considered sequelae from that event. "We did," he recalled, reaching back and pulling his bag over to grab a flashlight. "Although, doesn't hurt to check again," he tested Sam's pupils.
"Yeah, doesn't hurt you," Sam grumbled, screwing his eyes shut with a moan after the light's invasion.
"Well, that's what you get for makin' me think your brain's gonna swell out your ears," Dean chided, tossing the flashlight in the direction of his bag.
"Jerk," Sam groaned, trying to blink the room back into focus.
"Bitch," Dean returned, eyes narrowing at the tension in Sam's face. "How you doin'?" he asked quietly, immediately reprioritizing Sam's obvious headache.
"Like I got hit by a….moon," Sam grasped for a suitable metaphor.
Dean's lips twitched. "You sure it wasn't a space station?" he grinned.
Sam rolled his eyes, stiffening with the movement. "You tell me, Obi-Wan," he choked out around careful breaths.
Dean's face immediately lost all humor at Sam's distress. He noted the reappearance of the shaky swallowing. "You gonna puke?" he asked matter-of-factly.
"Maybe," Sam admitted.
Bobby was already grabbing a wastebasket as Dean stood, placing one arm behind Sam's head and shoulders, the other under his knees. "Okay, Sam, I know this is gonna suck, but let's get you sitting up just in case, okay?"
Sam nodded slowly.
"Okay, on three – one, two…three," Dean swung Sam's legs over the side of the bed, guiding his upper body into position. Sam paled, retching just in time for Bobby to thrust the wastebasket in front of him. Dean grabbed hold of the pail with one hand, the other remaining on Sam's leg for contact as he shifted on his knees to Sam's left. After a few final dry heaves, Sam quieted, breathing raggedly.
"You okay?" Dean asked, moving the hand up to rub Sam's back lightly.
Sam shot him a miserable look.
Dean cringed. "Yeah, sorry," he sighed. "You done puking?" he clarified.
"I think so," Sam groaned.
Bobby took the basket silently as Dean took in the pained lines of Sam's face. "It hurt anywhere else besides your head?" Dean asked.
"Head mostly," Sam swallowed with a grimace. "Everything else is kind of aching though."
'Yeah, well eight minutes of spasms'll do that to you,' Dean thought to himself. "Think you can handle some meds?" he asked aloud.
Sam nodded gingerly.
Dean stood up and headed to the bathroom, where Bobby put down the wastebasket he was washing out to pass Dean the first aid kit. Dean nodded gratefully as he detoured to the kitchenette for a bottle of water and a plastic cup. "Advil or Excedrin?" he asked Sam. They had some stronger stuff, but until they were sure Sam could consistently wake up coherent, Dean wanted to avoid narcotics.
Sam judged the headache for a moment before deciding, "Excedrin." Dean shook out two tablets, Sam's usual vision-migraine dose, and handed over the water. "Rinse first," he encouraged as Sam gratefully took a mouthful of water, rinsed the taste of emesis from his mouth, and spit into the cup Dean held.
"Thanks," Sam sighed.
"No problem," Dean replied, handing over the meds, watching Sam toss them back with a grimace. "You okay sitting up, or you wanna lie back down?" Dean asked.
"I'll stay here," Sam closed his eyes wearily. "Just in case those come back up," he motioned at the pill bottle.
"Good call," Dean nodded, stifling a groan as he shifted on his knees.
"Dude, there's plenty of room up here," Sam gestured at the bed as he cracked one eye open with a 'you're a dumbass' glare at the sound of Dean's cartilage crunching against the carpet.
"I won't make you puke again?" Dean asked, concerned.
Sam smiled softly at Dean's thoughtfulness. "Unless you were planning to jump all over the bed, I think I'm good."
Dean stood, knees popping loudly, and gently lowered himself on his brother's right side – taking his natural place between Sam, the windows, and the door. He watched as some of the pained tension melted from Sam's body with the familiar presence.
Bobby came out of the bathroom, mouthed a 'be right back' to Dean upon seeing the two boys sitting together, and headed out the door.
The brothers sat in comfortable silence as the meds began to work. After about fifteen minutes, Sam sighed, his jaw loosening noticeably.
"Getting better?" Dean asked gently.
"Yeah, thanks," Sam let out a slow breath. He glanced over at Dean. "Sorry for freaking you out," he apologized.
"Yeah, 'cause you had so much control over what happened," Dean snorted even as his eyes accepted the meaning, the understanding of what it felt like to be on the other side.
Sam straightened a fraction with the unspoken absolution. "What do you think caused it?" he asked, eyes straying toward the books spread over the table.
Dean shrugged. "Best we could come up with was the fever."
Sam frowned. "I had a fever?"
"Apparently," Dean said. "Remember the night before last, you had a low grade temp?"
Sam's eyes narrowed. "You mean, when you woke me up by shoving the thermometer in my ear?" he recalled icily.
"Hey, you were acting all 'I'm about to get the flu' achy and bitched about being fine when I asked to check," Dean said defensively. "Besides, I already paid for it when you threw me on my ass." He paused. "Nice move, by the way," he couldn't help the pride.
Sam cringed. "Yeah, sorry about that," he offered guiltily, even as Dean waved it off. "But you gave me Tylenol with breakfast, so that should've held it back," Sam continued.
Dean's eyes widened.
Sam grinned, a combination of victory and mischief. "C'mon man, you really thought I wouldn't notice?" he gave Dean a look.
Dean sighed, chagrined. "Guess I figured you'd bust me on it," he said honestly.
"Yeah, well, sometimes you don't deserve being called out. You were right," Sam replied, just as honestly. "We were heading out on a job – I needed to be at my best."
Dean swallowed at that devoted trust, the part of Sam that still believed his big brother knew what was best and, sometimes, still let him do it.
"Anyway," Sam cleared his throat, rotating his neck cautiously as the meds continued to work. "How high was the fever?"
"101 when I checked after the seizure," Dean said.
Sam frowned. "That's not high enough to cause a febrile seizure, especially in an adult," he insisted.
"Yeah, that's what I thought too," Dean agreed. "But Bobby said you had two seizures with the same temp when you were eight months old, so…"
"I did?" Sam interrupted. "You never told me that."
"That's 'cause I just found out myself," Dean explained. "Apparently we were both sick, and I was so dehydrated that I don't remember anything."
Sam's face twisted in thought. "So how did Bobby…"
"Dad called him and Bobby, Pastor Jim, and a medic buddy of Bobby's came out to the motel and helped Dad take care of us," Dean filled in.
"Huh," Sam mused.
"Yeah," Dean agreed.
"But I've had higher fevers than that before without a problem," Sam pushed, working the information over in his head.
"I know," Dean nodded. "It's weird. Bobby thinks maybe you're just prone to them during periods of major stress…." He trailed off as they both silently struggled with everything that implied.
Sam hunched back in on himself in a move that had nothing to do with physical pain. He glanced at the table again. It was an awful lot of books just to understand normal seizure activity. "Dean, what else?" he asked quietly, not needing to specify.
Dean sighed. "Nothing we could prove."
Sam looked at him expectantly as the sound of Bobby's truck returning filtered through the thin door.
"I'll fill you in on everything we considered after you're back on your feet. Deal?" Dean asked, eyes desperate. Sam looked at him closely, judging the words – but read the sincerity in Dean's face as his brother silently projected that he wasn't about to hide anything from Sam again – that, after Dad's words and almost losing Sam to Gordon, he wasn't about to risk secrets that could drive them apart. Not now.
"Deal," Sam nodded, meeting Dean's eyes with tacit understanding of that unspoken history.
Dean let out a relieved breath as Bobby knocked and stuck his head in. "Hey Sam, think your stomach can handle breakfast?" the older hunter asked.
Sam performed a quick self-assessment – headache nearly gone, stomach actually settled and hungry. "Yeah," he replied. "I'm good."
"Good," Bobby nodded, pleased as he edged around the door with a bag of food. "Didn't wanna bring anything in if your stomach was still rollin'."
"Thanks Bobby," Sam smiled sincerely.
"No problem – sure as hell have been there myself," Bobby cringed at some personal memory as he set the bag on the kitchen counter and began clearing the books and laptop off the table.
Dean glanced back at Sam. "Gotta use the bathroom first?"
Sam softened at Dean's perceptiveness, resolving to double his efforts in finding Dean a way out of that damn deal – because, as selfish as it may have sounded at the moment, Sam was not going to let hell take this away from him. "Yeah," he nodded.
"Need a hand?" Dean asked softly.
"Maybe just to the door?" Sam asked honestly, realizing he still felt pretty weak.
The bed rocked against the wall as Dean pulled Sam to his feet, tightening his grip at his brother's initial sway. "Okay?" Dean asked, holding Sam steady as he got his bearings.
"Yeah," Sam nodded, letting Dean take some of his weight as he guided him to the bathroom, promising to report if he was gonna pass out and fall on his face at any point while alone.
Dean let go reluctantly, lingering at the shut door for a moment before heading over to help Bobby. "Geez Bobby, you went all out," he whistled as Bobby arranged pancakes, eggs, bacon, toast, and pastries on the small table.
"Yeah, well, how often do we all get to sit down together?" Bobby asked, eyes sober as he arranged cups of juice and coffee.
Dean swallowed roughly.
Bobby hesitated a moment as he opened packages of plastic utensils. "Dean, I know we didn't find much to support it, but are you gonna tell Sam…." He trailed off, remembering Dean's plea for Bobby not to tell Sam about the deal. The deal that Sam found out about anyway because he was a smart kid…..and knew his brother.
A brief wave of nausea passed over Dean's face before he nodded. "I told him I would," he said to Bobby. "He already suspects something else could be up….and after he took off when I told him what Dad told me not to….I've got less than a year left, Bobby. I am not losing anymore time with that kid," Dean swore.
"I know," Bobby said quietly.
Dean took another shaky breath, working to reestablish some level of control as he headed for the bed to busy his hands with putting the first aid kit back together. "You still alive in there, Sam?" he called out as the toilet flushed.
Bobby could practically hear Sam rolling his eyes as the sink turned on. "Dude, you really think this bathroom is big enough for someone else to be movin' around in here?" Sam retorted.
"Touché," Dean flopped on the bed, organizing the meds until the bathroom door opened and he jumped up to meet Sam, who was dutifully holding onto the sink, waiting for Dean's support.
The headboard bounced off the wall as Dean got up, the sound mixing with the echo of dull pounding just behind a panicked voice.
A sound Bobby just couldn't shake.
"All right, c'mon Sasquatch," Dean's voice filtered back into the present as Bobby watched him take some of a still shaky Sam's weight and guide him to the table.
"Wow, Bobby, this is great," Sam grinned as Dean hooked a chair closer, eyeing the spread.
Bobby looked into two sets of equally grateful eyes and his heart swelled for those boys, who had become more than family. "Well, dig in," he said.
Sam and Dean lifted Styrofoam cups of orange juice in quiet routine. Bobby raised his as well and they made a silent toast – to being together, being alive, to people and memories hidden within their own hearts. Their cups met with a muted slosh of liquid before the scrape of utensils on carryout containers filled the room, Sam and Dean falling into their usual teasing routine amidst the normalcy of a meal.
But Bobby couldn't shake the dull echo of wood hitting plaster with Sam's seizure, the simultaneously desperate, ominous sound of something trying to punch through an inherently weak, breakable barrier. He couldn't understand why, with everything that had happened in the last several hours, with Sam seizing, Dean's emotional rollercoaster, and the threat of hell still hanging over all of them…that it was the sound of a wall being hit that he couldn't let go of.
Bobby was a hunter – he didn't believe in coincidence….nor did he hold much stock in predictive clairvoyance. Yet here he was, sitting across the table from one boy who had psychic death premonitions and another whose sole vision led to the discovery of his demonically kidnapped brother's whereabouts. So, something had to give – stagnant hunters unable to adapt weren't hunters for long. Therefore, Bobby had to figure that while he may not have known exactly what, that it could still very well mean something.
The memory intensified as he caught a glimpse of the wall behind a laughing Sam's face….and in that strange, heightened connection, Bobby suddenly shuddered.
Because he didn't know what it meant - now…
….but he had an unsettling feeling that one day he would.
That the three of them would.
And that the revelation would haunt them all.