This was written for the Dean focused H/C fic and art challenge at the hoodie_time. This particular promp was by i_speak_tongue, which you can find here.
This story is set somewhere in the last half of season 6. Sam has his soul back, the wall is well in place and Castiel (even though he's not in this story) is still acting all mysterious.
As always, my deepest thank you goes to jackfan2, without whom this story would have been a huge pile of snot. All remaining mucus is my fault ;)
They didn't even have a name for it. That's how fucked up the thing they were hunting was.
'Monster' was kind of a generic term, but it fit surprisingly well considering it had four heads, all snake-like. Only, instead of single rows of fangs, it had multiple sets of razor sharp teeth. Tree wigs formed a sort of body that didn't so much slither or move as it did jump and hop space to space.
Oh, and it liked to eat people's faces.
With all the new monsters popping up in the wake of Eve's return, there was no research that could help them, no one they could ask how to get ride of it. All they had to go on was the fact that the victims had all been found in the same stretch of woods and that, according to the coroner's report, all of them had 'high levels of endorphins in the blood stream'. And of course, their faces were missing, nothing but giant teeth marks left behind.
Which was the same as saying that they'd all died bloody, but happy.
Trying not to assume that the culprit was a murderous clown –more for Sam's sake than anything else- they had decided to stock up on everything and just wing it.
As soon as he'd laid eyes on the thing, Dean had dubbed it as an Evil-Ent, because he was a closet Lord of the Rings geek at heart and the thing kind of looked like a walking tree. A walking tree with more teeth than a shark, but still...
After that, he promptly decided that the way to kill the monster was to Mount Doom the snot of it.
Fire hadn't work though.
Neither had chopping off its several heads. While it had seemed like a good idea at the time, the end result had more heads growing in their place.
By the time the brothers realized they had to go Hydra-style on the creep, they were both a little worse for wear. Sam had already been banged against a tree five times, Dean about half that and between them, their bruises were beginning to collect bruises of their own. Both were more than ready to see that monster just end.
They had worked out a system pretty fast. Sam would use a sharp blade to cut off a head and Dean would follow swiftly, lighter fluid and an improvised torch to burn the stumped neck. Once cauterized, it seemed to stop the sprouting of new heads.
They were down to the last head when Sam was thrown by the convulsing body of the beast. He slammed hard against a half hacked down tree trunk, hit his head wrong and this time, failed to get back up.
"SAM!" Dean yelled, his voice faltering as he struggled to catch his breath. The sight of his brother, who lay sprawled on the forest floor, blood oozing from the side of his head didn't help matters, but there was a larger reason. Exhaustion.
Things had not been easy for them lately.
There was no time to check on Sam or wonder about how shitty their lives had been of late. Each head had taken less than a minute before two more grew in its place, as far as they had managed to time it. And with the last head contorting on the ground, kicking up angry clouds of dust and dry leaves, that gave Dean about thirty seconds to burn the stub of the fallen head and end the monster once and for all.
Dean armed himself with his bottle of lighter fluid and his torch like a knight with a sharp lance facing a dragon. "Come on, you piece of shit!" he blared, even though, technically, the thing had no ears left. If it had any, to start with.
The twiggy neck of the monster was squirming and writhing all over the place, black blood gushing from the severed stump and sprinkling everything around in dark ink.
Dean jumped and rolled, wriggling his way out of the dying beast's struggles, each movement bringing him closer to his goal. When the severed stump was within reach, he poured the remaining liquid out of the bottle and, after pausing only long enough to allow for it to soak through, touched the tip of the torch over it.
It caught on fire immediately, a blue-greenish flame that smelled of burned metal.
Mesmerized by the flames and the fleeting sense of 'it's over', Dean failed to see one of the heads, moving dangerously close to his leg.
The feeling of sharp teeth sinking into his skin was too excruciating and sudden for Dean to register as a bite. He screamed, the sound echoing under the canopy of trees and masking the dying wails of the monster that had no name.
Dean sunk to the ground at the same time the body of the beast lost all energy and motion and slumped next to him.
The way it ignited from inside out in a powerful blue flame was almost beautiful. It was the last thing Dean saw before everything faded away.
"You imagined it," Jill pointed out for the second time in less than one minute.
Anna rolled her eyes. "For the last time, I did not imagine it," she whispered back tersely, gaze locked on the forest ahead of them.
"Well, I didn't hear a thing, and pretty soon we'll be too far to find our way back and we'll be lost and I'll hate you, and all of that because you thought you heard something and had to go play knight in shiny armor... again! Just like that time when you thought th—"
Anna gave her friend a look, poignant enough for Jill to realize that she was whining nonstop. Jill closed her mouth with an audible snap.
"I didn't imagine it. It was a scream, and it came from somewhere around here," she said, eyes once more scanning the woods for any movement. Every tree was beginning to look the same, every bush and mound of ferns like copies of themselves. "Besides, Gabe put on so much aftershave this morning that there is no way we won't be able to find camp again," she added with a smirk.
City girls the both of them, born and raised amongst the concrete forest, neither could claim to be at ease in the real thing.
The trekking through the woods had been their boss's idea, a group bonding exercise, he'd call it. Take the whole gang for a weekend camping in the woods, teach them the skills of teamwork through tracking of buck feces and getting stung by a million bugs. Going was optional; disappointing the boss and his idiot ideas was not.
Anna drew to a sudden stop and Jill shrieked when she collided with her. "What the hell, Anna-"
"There!" Anna squeaked, finally spotting something other than trees and overgrown ferns. "I see a hand, near that tree trunk!"
Jill squinted at it. "That's not a hand," she concluded, certainty in her words. "That's like... a hairless squirrel's ass or something."
Anna rolled her eyes. "It is a hand. Come on, you wuss."
"Wait!" Jill's hand stopped her, spinning her around to meet her gaze. Anna's eyes, however, remained stubbornly fixed on the spot. "Are you insane? What if it's a dead body or something?"
Anna pulled her arm away, looking between her friend and the mysterious hand on the ground. "Dead bodies don't scream," she said, her decision made long before she had even spotted anything. The fact that there was actually something there, only gave her resolve more strength. "That person might still be alive and we're the only ones around who can help."
Jill bit into her lip, her eyes looking scared and edgy. Her whole body was tense, ready to bolt. Deep down though, past all of her caution and fear, she knew that they couldn't just walk away now that they'd come this far.
Wiping the pooling sweat off her forehead, Jill gave her friend a faint nod and both carefully made their way forward.
As soon as they were within five feet of the hand, they could see what had been hidden by the large tree trunk. The hand was attached to a giant. Or at least that was what it looked like at first glance.
It was a young guy, possibly mid twenties, shaggy hair and the longest pair of legs Anna had seen in a long time.
"Is he alive?" Jill asked, coming closer once she realized that the man's eyes were closed. There was a nasty looking cut on the right side of his head that had caked his ear in a thick, bloody paste.
Anna tilted her head, changing the angle in hopes that a different view might provide an answer to that. "I don't know," she concluded. The few wisps of grass near his face were moving, but it could be just the wind. "I think he's breathing."
"Shouldn't we... check his pulse or something?"
Anna twisted her nose left and right. She'd never done that in her life and the only thing she knew about checking vital signs was from an old ER episode that she'd seen like two ages ago.
Crouching down, she tentatively reached one hand toward the man's neck and pressed two fingers to feel for his pulse. The skin was warm to the touch, but she couldn't tell if that was because of the sun beating down on the man's skin or because he was actually alive.
From what she remembered, the pulse point was somewhere near the front of the throat. Or was it on the side?
Feeling nothing under her digit, Anna pressed harder.
The body under her touch rebelled, coughing and flailing arms catching her by surprise. Anna screamed, backing hurriedly away, only to fall on her ass.
"Oh, God! Oh, God! Oh, God!" Jill kept on saying, like a broken record, seemingly undecided between bolting or going to her friend's aid. She grabbed a fallen tree branch from the ground and was ready to smack the man when Anna's out stretched hand stopped her.
Quickly recovering from the scare, Anna realized two things: the man was obviously alive, so she didn't needed to go look for a pulse again; and there was a pair of almost feline, blue-green eyes looking at her in confusion. "Hello?" she tried, her trembling voice betraying her cool stance. "Are... are you feeling okay?"
Cat-eyes blinked a couple of times, eyes roving around like loose marbles. When he looked up and sunlight hit him square on, the man scrunched his nose and moaned. His arm flew up, covering his face in a protective way.
"We should probably call someone," Jill, more composed, offered as she pulled her cell phone out. The branch, however, was still clutched in her other hand.
Anna opened her mouth to agree when the man grabbed her wrist. She gave a startled yelp and froze; fear rounding her eyes and stealing her voice as she gazed at the massive paw clutching her arm.
With a sudden sense of danger, Anna realized how big the hand holding hers was, how easy it would be for those fingers to crush hers. Jill had been right... this had been a really bad id—
"Dean?" the man whispered, almost like a prayer. The feline eyes managed to focus on hers for a few seconds before glazing over and darting around. "Did you get it?" he mumbled, before his eyes drifting close once more.
Anna looked up at her friend, the same confusion that she felt splattered over Jill's face. Was his name Dean? Was he mistaking her with this 'Dean' person? And get what, exactly?
"Oh, God!" Jill said again, more surprise than fear this time as she looked a distance away. "There's another one."
Anna looked up and followed Jill's gaze. In seconds she saw exactly what her friend was talking about; a second body lay less than ten feet from them, but neither had seen it at first because it was covered in some kind of grey dirt that mingled effortlessly with the dark green background.
Making sure that the first man was stable enough to at least continue to breathe on his own, Anna grabbed Jill's hand and together they moved to the second one.
Ash. The grey dirt was ash, nasty smelling one at that. The man's face and hair were so heavily covered in the stuff that, at first glance, Anna thought him to be an elderly person. The strong hands and the lack of wrinkles, however, gave him away as about the same age as the other guy.
What were these two men doing in the middle of nowhere, and how the hell had they been injured?
Anna sniffed the air. "Huh," she murmured and looked around. "That's weird... it smells like—" Her gaze once again fell on the ash-covered man.
"Really?" Jill huffed. "You mean there's something not weird about all of this?"
"I don't see anything burned," Anna muttered out loud, wondering from where all those ashes had come. It didn't even smell of burned wood. More like metal... maybe they'd crashed in a small airplane?
"And we're not looking for it either," Jill said, taking out her cell. "I'm calling 911... which we should've done ages ago."
Mentally pushing Jill's phone conversation to the background, Anna looked at the second body more closely, uncertain whether she should touch it or not. There was blood pooling near the man's left foot and his right hand was twitching, like it had a mind of its own.
"Yes, two guys, unconscious in the middle of the woods," Jill said again. "No, I don't know what happened to them, we just found them like that." From the growing exasperation in her voice, the person on the other end of the line wasn't taking her all that serious. "Do I sound like that's a dreamy hallucination for me?" Jill shrieked, kicking out a fern to vent her growing frustration.
The ash-covered body once again drew Anna's attention and she stared hard at his unconscious form. The twitching that had been restrained to the guy's hand seemed to be spreading to the rest of him like an earthquake. "Hey, Jill... I think he's having a seizure, or something," Anna said quietly, her voice breaking with emotion. They were way over their heads with that whole situation.
After a few seconds, there were few doubts in her mind about the ash-covered man's condition. The seizure seemed to escalate. In seconds his whole body began shaking. And then he was bending at the back, head and heels pressing against the ground like he was trying to impersonate a human bridge, joints popping and stretching in a way that made her wish there was something she could do to stop it. It looked way too painful for a body to do voluntarily.
As sudden as it had begun, it stopped. His body sagged against the grass-covered ground like a sack of potatoes, puffs of dirt and ash flying from under him. A deadly lack of motion that seemed to suck in all the noises of the forest followed.
"Help is one the way," Jill announced, breaking the silence with a flip of her cell phone. "He still alive?"
Anna looked down, unable to tell one way or the other. She opened the water bottle that Gabe had insisted everyone carry around, pulled the red scarf she'd been wearing from around her neck, and dabbed one end of it in the lukewarm liquid.
"I- I don't know," she answered and knelt down near the man's face. She felt Jill's worried gaze on her back but felt compelled to do more despite her friend's objections and proceeded to clean as much of the ash as she could.
Jill didn't comment, and Anna was relieved; she didn't want to argue with her anymore. She was worried, Anna got that but it bothered her that, on top of everything else this guy had so obviously gone through, that ash-stuff coated every inch of exposed skin and he was undoubtedly breathing that crap in. Whatever that was.
"I really don't think you should touch him that much," Jill warned. "Lord knows what he might have... you might catch something."
Anna was only half listening. Jill was right, of course, but the damage was already done. Besides, it was just ash.
"Well, well..." she murmured as her wet cloth revealed the features underneath. "Aren't you a pretty one." Running the wet cloth along the bridge of his nose she froze. His eyes rolled beneath closed lids and Anna sucked in a breath. Not wanting to scare him, she and withdrew her hand and waited, anxious to see those lids roll open and let her know that he was okay. The stranger's eyes, however, remained shut.
His lips parted, a sigh escaping his mouth. Anna could've sworn it was a sigh of relief. She kept on cleaning his face.
It was a good thing the 911 phone operator hadn't seen the men they were about to rescue, or Jill would never have been able to convince them that the call was for real.
After all, how many people can claim to have found two prince charmings, sleeping in the forest?
There was some sort of unauthorized construction work being done inside Sam's head and the jackhammer was being particularly offensive.
"Arrrgh... please stop that," Sam mumbled as he opened his eyes. Everything around him was pale green, a stark contrast with the violent greens and browns of his previous location. A nurse stood at the bottom of his bed, hand poised over a little IPad where he'd been taking notes, staring at him. "Hospital, hum?" Sam concluded.
The nurse's face dissolved into a warm smile. "Glad to see you awake and aware of your surroundings. How're you feeling?"
Sam swallowed, trying to take stock of what was wrong with him. It had to be something serious for Dean to have brought him to— "Where's my brother? Is he okay?"
"Ah... we had been wondering if you two weren't related," the nurse let out before quickly clamming up. "I'll go see if your doctor's around. He can answer all of your questions. It'll be just a minute, okay?"
It was less of a question and more of a statement as any protest Sam might have voiced died as he watched the backside of the nurse shrinking in the distance. Alone in the room, he briefly entertained the idea of getting up and just looking for Dean himself, but the room was moving far too much for his taste. Besides, he realized as he shifted on the mattress, Sam was pretty sure that he was wearing one of those backless gowns that would do nothing for his dignity and claims of sanity if he chose to take a walk in that.
Gingerly exploring his face with the tip of his fingers, Sam stumbled across the fresh bandage on the right side of his head. He remembered being with Dean in the woods and the two of them fighting that nasty Hydra-like monster. Either they'd lost or Sam hadn't been awake for the ending, because he had no idea if they'd managed to kill it or not.
The gaping spots in his memory only made Sam's worry about Dean's absence escalate. Dignity be damned, he was about to push his covers away and feel his way around like a blind man in search of his brother when a woman about Dean's age came in.
"I wouldn't do that if I were you, Mr. Shatner" she advised, sternly looking over the rim of her black-framed glasses. "Your concussion is mild at this point. Upgrading it to severe by taking another fall would be counterproductive, wouldn't you say?"
Sam would've given her the stinky-eye, if scrunching his eyes wasn't so painful at the moment. "My brother... he was the one who brought me in?"
It was a foolish hopeful question, at best. For one, there had been the nurse's comment that had told Sam that these people didn't have much information about the two of them; and then there was the fact that Dean was not by his side when he woke up. Nothing short of a grave injury or death would stop his brother from standing vigil at Sam's side.
"Your brother, yes, nurse Adams told me of the blood connection," she said, clicking on a file in an IPad similar to what Sam had seen before. "The gentleman brought in with you was identified as Mr. Nimoy?" she worded it as a question, looking back at Sam.
"Mom remarried before I was born," he explained without missing a beat.
"And you both work for the US Fish and Wildlife Service, is that right?"
Sam nodded, remembering their cover for this case. The more she asked and the less he knew about Dean's condition, the faster Sam's heartbeat increased. The doctor must've realized that as well, because she cast a guilty look at Sam's heart monitor and pulled a chair to sit by his bed.
"I'll level with you, Mr. Shatner," she started, closing the file and looking him straight in the eyes. She looked tired. "When you and your brother were found by those two campers, Mr. Nimoy was covered in an unknown substance resembling ash. The campers witnessed him having a seizure and the responding medical team reported two more on the way here. We were hoping you could shed some light over what you two were doing in that place."
"Oh, God," Sam whispered, bile rising to his mouth as he pictured his brother convulsing. It was a scary image. "We... we were just tracking down some beavers. There wasn't anyt— God! What's wrong with Dean?"
The doctor sighed. It was a sound that Sam hated in medical professionals. It was the sound of defeat, the sound of 'your brother's heart is damaged and there is nothing we can do about it'.
"That's what we're trying to determine," the doctor went on. "So far, we have reasons to believe that it's neurological in nature and possibly contagious."
Sam frowned. That was seriously far from what he was expecting. "What?"
"One of the women who found you also had a seizure shortly after coming in contact with your brother. A few hours after that, she presented with neurological compromise signs very similar to your brother's. We're keeping them both in quarantine. Whatever this thing is, it moves fast. And by fast, I mean in a matter of hours."
Sam licked his lips, his mouth suddenly feeling as dry as the desert. Quarantine? "What do you think is wrong with him?"
"We're still running tests, but perhaps you can be of some help. Have you noticed any personality changes in your brother in the last few days? Fever? Drowsiness or confusion?"
Sam shook his head. Dean had been feeling tired of late, they both had. Life of late had been one continuous hunt, for months now, and the lack of proper sleep, the bad food, the drinking, and all the worrying about Sam's memories of Hell...
"What about headaches? Complaining about stiff joints? Neck?"
"No," Sam told her. "He was feeling fine last I saw him... why all the questions? What do you think he has?" And why was she asking him those questions instead of Dean? "Is he unconscious?"
"He was disoriented and agitated when he woke up earlier, so we gave him a mild sedative. As for his condition, we'll know more once his MRI comes back and we perform a lumbar puncture, but for now, I'm leaning towards encephalitis, possibly meningoencephalitis," she said, giving the facts straight. "We've notified the CDC and sent them a sample of the substance we found covering your brother. They're sending someone later today. I'm sure they will be able to tell you more then."
Sam had to blink. What?
They had just been hunting a weird monster in the forest, one that had turned into ash once it had died, or so Sam could imagine from what the doctor had told him. And now all of a sudden Dean was contagious enough to need the presence of the Center of Disease Control?
"Can... can I see him?" Sam managed to voice before she was gone.
"No. Authorized personal only, I'm afraid," she said, sounding truly sorry about that. "From what we can tell, you and that second camper were extremely lucky to have not been infected by this thing. Last time something like this broke out, more than fifty people died. We're taking no risks."
No risks, his ass.
They had it all wrong, Sam was sure of that. There was no way Dean had been nursing a brain infection without Sam noticing something wrong.
There had to be something in the monster's remains that had caused Dean's seizures and remaining symptoms. But of course, Dean couldn't tell them that, because no one would believe him. Even if he were awake enough to speak for himself.
Sam had to bust him out before people from the CDC arrived, it was as simple as that. Once they were in charge, CDC protocol would be put in place and they would seal off the hospital, or at least the area where Dean was being kept. Once that happened, there would be no way Sam could get his brother out of there.
They would poke him and prod him and make all the wrong assumptions and Dean would freak out on them. Best-case scenario, he would end up in a psych yard. Sam did not wanted to think of what the worst scenario would be.
First step though, Sam figured as he rose from his bed and felt a slight breeze on his back side, was finding some clothes.
He'd been abducted by aliens.
That was the only reasonable explanation for the white, plastic suits surrounding Dean at the present time. An entire race of humanoid condoms. With WWII gas masks hanging from their chins. It was like his worst nightmare coming true. "G'off me!"
"Mr. Nimoy, you need to calm down," a disembodied voice told him from inside one of the white globs.
The voice was human. Sort of. Still, Dean could detect the distinct frustration in the words even though the Darth Vader distortion of the man's words. He was pretty sure aliens didn't have 'frustration' listed on their acceptable emotions' list.
Not really a fan of the idea of being sedated, Dean stopped struggling and, instead, turned his attention to ascertaining just where the hell he was. Moving his head, however, proved to be a monumentally horrible idea; spasms of agony shot up and down his spine and across his chest. An undignified yelp escaped his lips and Dean pressed his teeth hard against soft flesh, trying to trap any further sound inside his mouth.
When the pain finally subsided, he decided against trying that stunt again. Carefully, Dean opened his eyes one at a time, opting for a more static assessment of his surroundings as he kept his head still and allowed his eyes to roam about the room. It was a hospital room of some sort, only different; it was made of glass.
Aside from the condom people, it was filled with all sorts of medical crap. Numerous machines, whose purpose he had no clue on, surrounded his bed. The air smelled of nothing, and yet the distinct feeling of hospital still permeated everything.
The image of a space ship and an alien probing table came unbidden to his mind. Dean squashed it down. No more X-Files for him.
"'M sick?" Dean asked, confused. His eyes stung, like there was a match lit behind his eyeballs, slowly burning all wetness away. He either had a fever or someone had rubbed sand in them when he wasn't looking.
The last thing Dean could remember was killing the evil-Ent in the forest and watching it turn into dust. The thing had bitten him and—"Where's Sam? Where's my brother?"
Two white blobs exchanged a long look, probably communicating on a different channel that kept Dean out of the conversation. "Your brother is fine," one of the blobs said. "A mild concussion. His doctor should release him later today."
"Can I go too?" Dean asked hopefully. It felt like he'd been run over by a freight train a handful of times, but that was something he could deal with away from a hospital and the fake medical insurances that he and Sam were currently using. "I'm feeling much better," he lied though his teeth. He might've even smiled, to compose the picture of miraculously healed patient, but his face felt like it was made of plastic and Dean couldn't really tell if the end result had been a smile or a snarl.
The condom-person nearest to him sat by his side and lowered his head to Dean's level. This close, Dean could see the little transparent visor covering a man's face. He had kind brown eyes. It was good to confirm that his skin wasn't green.
"You are currently in an isolation unit because we suspect you have a very serious, very contagious condition," the man said, talking placidly and earnestly. "I know that this condition makes it hard for you to completely understand what I'm saying, but you need to try and remain calm, okay? We still need to run a few more tests to be absolutely certain about what we're dealing here and then we'll see about making you all better."
Dean was pretty sure his mouth had dropped to the vicinity of his ankles. What? "What?" Dean all but shouted. His voice sounded wonky to his ears. "Screw that! I feel fine!" he finished and decided to prove just that by getting up from the lumpy bed. The small nuisance of an IV line pulling back at his hand was quickly solved with a sharp pull and suddenly, he could feel cold floor under his bare feet.
For half a second, as he took two confident steps forward, solid ground under his feet, Dean felt awesome. He felt validated, proving to everyone that he was, in fact, fine.
And then the rest of his body caught up with Dean's actions.
Everything was a contradiction, specifically aimed at making him as miserable as possible. His legs felt numb as ice, while his left ankle was on fire; his arms were made of soggy sponge while his head seemed filled with lead. Everything hurt, even though he couldn't actually feel most of his body.
Despite being aware that the whole room was boringly white, Dean was seeing sparkles of color everywhere. Bursts of light and shade, of red and purple all around him. A "Shit," escaped his lips as Dean felt himself going down, dead weight like the floor was a magnet and the lead in his head was deadly attracted to it.
He fully expected to lose conscious before hitting the ground, but instead, his senses refused to take a leave of absence. The spinning lights and colors were making him dizzy and despite knowing better than that, Dean could swear that the floor was undulating, like it was the frigging high sea.
Bile rose fast to his mouth, exploding from his lips before Dean could stop it.
Dean was distantly aware of the indignity of lying there, with his ass and legs barren and soaking in the coldness of the floor as his gown scrunched up, while the condom-people around him called for help to get him back on the bed. His vomit was a yellow mass, sitting flax in front of his nose, moving slowly, like it was trying to get back in.
At some level, Dean was questioning why the hell he felt so weak and battered. Sure, the monster had thrown him and Sam around for a bit, but that was nothing new. And the pain in his ankle had to be from the bite... there had been a bite at some point, right?
The feeling of weightlessness as he was lifted from the floor and on to the bed was nauseating and disturbing, but the touch of soft sheets on his exposed skin was welcomed. Maybe he could postpone his escape for just a few more moments, catch his breath...
"Mr. Nimoy," an annoyed voice pulled Dean away from the oblivion at hand. More than the name that wasn't his, it was the pinch in his hand as a new IV line was inserted that made Dean pop his eyes open. A wet cloth was pressed against his face, cleaning the sticky wetness he could feel there. "I understand that you're confused and probably a little scared," the man said, his tone softening as he spoke. "Right now, the only thing I can assure you is that we're doing everything in our power to make you better. But you have to help us a little, okay? We can't risk any more sedation; so, no more stunts, or we will strap you to the bed. Do you understand that?"
The man was a paradox of caring –bordering on condescension actually-, and heavy-duty bondage. Dean wanted to punch the guy in the face for talking to him like he was a frigging baby. Besides, Dean wasn't scared. He'd faced monsters; he'd been to Hell and been at the mercy of the worst kind of demons. Waking up in pain, surrounded by strangers and being told that he was the second coming of the black plague? It hardly registered in Dean's 'freaking out' meter.
Now, if he could just convince them to let him go... Sam was the one with the puppy dog eyes thingy that could make people bent to his will. Dean, unfortunately, lacked the skill. "No puppy dog eyes," he whispered, eliciting a couple of confused looks from the condom people.
As if they had any clue...
"...lumbar puncture, but we need your cooperation," the man inside the white suit went on. In the midst of his internal monologue, the only words that truly registered in Dean's mind were 'lumbar' and 'puncture'.
"Now, I won't lie to you, the procedure is a bit uncomfortable," the doctor continued. "But it is absolutely necessary that we get a measurement of how this unknown entity is affecting your brain."
Dean's headache was getting worse. The 'unknown entity' part had almost made him laugh, as he remembered the stringy, multiple snake-headed 'entity' that he and Sam had killed. "Is my brother okay? Is Sam here?"
The condom-people exchanged another look and Dean could almost feel pity in the air. Had he asked that before?
"We need to proceed. Now."
They weren't talking to him anymore, apparently having decided that his contribution to the matter was overrated. They just started moving around his bed, pulling and prodding things that Dean would rather leave un-prodded and before he could get his wits enough to say anything else, Dean found himself on his side, knees tucked in and head pushed down to meet them. It was almost pleasant, close to a fetal position, if it weren't for the unfamiliar hands holding him down and stopping him from uncurling.
"Wha... what t'hell are you doing?"
"Deep breaths, Mr. Nimoy," was his only answer as something cold was swabbed across his lower back, quickly followed by a small pinch "This will all be over in a second. Just remember, deep breaths."
Alastair was the only demon in Hell with access to electricity. While the rest of the pit lay in the gloom or depended on fires to illuminate the place, Alastair had lamps and electric wiring.
"Keep breathing, Mr. Nimoy. Nice and slow."
One day, when he was feeling particularly artistic, he had stripped an electric wire, cut Dean's stomach, pulled out his guts and patiently fed the wire inside. When he flipped the switch and lit it, it was almost pretty the way the pale stretch of intestine started to glow like a Christmas decoration.
"Deep breaths... you're doing fine. Almost done now."
The feeling of electricity spearing and cutting him in half was about the same Dean was currently experiencing. A hot knife, burrowing itself deeper and deeper inside of him, until Dean was sure the tip would scratch his skull. "Arrrgh! God... stop, please stop!"
There was a clattering sound at the back of the room, large metal pieces being introduced to the pristine floor, making everyone jerked at the sounds, including the person currently stabbing him in the back. Someone mumbled an apology somewhere in the room but Dean didn't really hear it, he was too busy drowning in the whoosh of blood filling his ears and the screams trapped inside his throat.
The hands restraining him in that awkward position pulled away and Dean realized it was over. The pain was still there. He could still feel the needle inside his spine. His throat felt blocked, filled with cement...
"Deep breaths," the voice continued, soothing and instructional, like Dean would forget the frigging basics or something. "We're done."
And like those two words were a blessing of sorts, Dean finally felt himself slipping away. It should have been restful, it should have been peaceful, but the only thing he was aware of was that he couldn't stop himself from being pulled under and that he was in the hands of these people and there was something wrong with him. It didn't feel like falling asleep at all; it felt like he was falling into a deep hole in the ground.
The one honest complaint that Sam had about his height was the fact that it made it all the more difficult to find clothes his size.
It was a fools dream to expect to find his jeans and shirt lying around but he'd looked nonetheless, until he remembered the conversation with the doctor earlier. Quarantine, she'd said, and an 'unknown substance'. It seemed like a fair bet that every piece of clothing that either he or Dean had been wearing at the time had long been burned away.
It was a wonder that no one noticed the six foot four man, wearing a hospital blue gown and with a white sheet wrapped around his waist, making his stealthy way out of a room. But then again, Sam figured that everyone was busy working around the commotion and the grave pine that had descended over the place with Dean's condition.
People seemed more concerned about whether to make their early escape before the CDC placed them in some sort of lockdown too. Or, they were playing it safe, waiting for their expert opinion on whether it was safe to leave or not. Either way, unless an alarm was ringing, no one seemed to be paying attention to much of anything else.
Didn't matter to Sam. In fact, he preferred the underlying panic. In the chaos he moved about virtually unnoticed and in no time at all, managed to find the staff locker room. After that, it was pure damn luck that he found a set of blue scrubs that covered most of his legs, even if his ankles were in the wind.
In relative terms, finding where they had stashed Dean wasn't all that hard either. It was like the center of a black hole, and every single able body in the place seemed to be sucked into it.
The room reminded Sam of a fish tank; in the center of a much larger room stood another room with glass walls, like an oversized Christmas' decoration. Inside the glass walled room, several members of the hospital staff milled round, all of them clad in white protection suits, complete with boots and thick looking gloves. And in the middle of the room, surrounded by more machines than Sam felt comfortable with, was a bed.
Even though he could barely see it from the outside, Sam knew that was where he'd find Dean.
A wave of dizziness overpowered him and Sam swayed on his feet. Images of a crystal cage with floor made of fire and despair replaced the isolation unit and for a few frightening seconds Sam wasn't really sure where he was.
"Hey, pal, you alright?"
There was a hand on his shoulder and Sam all but jumped away from it. When the world around regained focus, there was an orderly standing in front of him, eyes scrutinizing him in obvious concern. He could still smell the blood in the air.
"Yeah," Sam mumbled, eyes working hard to blink away the visual of fire licking the walls of the hospital. "Yeah, I'm fine... tough day, that's all."
The guy looked him over, eyes pausing on the bandage on Sam's head for a few seconds. Sam straightened and offered what he hoped was a confident and cool exterior, as far from 'escaping patient' as he could.
The guy, however, seemed more worried about what was happening in the 'fish-tank', his worry for Sam's condition merely cursory.
"You're new here, right?" the man concluded. "Shitty day to start, if you ask me," he added with a nod towards the glass compartment before sauntering away.
Breathing a sigh of relief, Sam took a look around, trying to weigh his options.
It would be impossible to just walk into that room and whisk Dean away. There were too many people around him, too many people outside paying attention to him, too much security making sure that Dean stayed where he was and didn't contaminated the whole building.
And that was with just the hospital staff. Once the CDC arrived, there was a pretty high and terrifying chance that they might take Dean away to one of their facilities and Sam would be even more hard pressed to get him out.
"Cass... if you're listening," Sam whispered, hoping that the angel answered his call and came to their aid. "We could really, really use a hand here."
Sam held his breath, searching for that familiar shift in the air that he had learned to associate with the angel.
Castiel, however, didn't show. Those days, the angel almost never did.
After watching the goings-on both inside and outside the containment room, Sam figured that what he really needed was a diversion. Something that would take some of the attention away from that room, long enough for Sam to wheel Dean away. Or, if not by him, then perhaps a good reason to get Dean wheeled out of that room.
He could pull the fire alarm, Sam pondered. However, the idea of causing a panic and endangering other patients didn't set well in Sam's stomach.
It was fairly safe to assume that the room Dean was in was completely isolated from everything else. Isolated air circuit, isolated power lines, isolated fire alarms and safety measures.
His mind made up, Sam set off in search of a white protection suit for himself an a spare one to carry.
If his plan was going to work, he needed to arrange for his distraction from within.
The suits, much like the scrubs Sam had already 'liberated' from the men's locker room, were unguarded and apparently available to any who needed to be inside the isolation unit.
Which meant that Sam needed to make himself useful inside.
Time oozed by as Sam waited for his opportunity, his headache growing like a giant weed inside his skull. The white, ceiling lights, reflecting off every surface he rested his eyes on, weren't helping one bit either.
Every couple of minutes, he could manage a glimpse of his brother and every time that happened he felt more and more discouraged. Dean looked like a bug under a microscope with a bunch of anonymous and faceless people working around him, taking measurements, filling some vials with stuff coming out of Dean, emptying others into tubes going into Dean.
From the lack of protest that Sam could see coming from his brother, Sam was pretty sure that Dean was either unconscious or sedated. Neither option left him breathing any easier.
Sam's chance to enter the room arrived in the form of a red headed aid carrying a sealed, blue tray. She looked nervous, eyes shifting from the package in her hands to the circus set up inside the isolation unit.
"I was just on my way inside," Sam offered on a hunch. "Want me to take that?"
The grateful look that melted the woman's face with relief told Sam that he'd made the right call.
"Would you mind?" she asked shyly. "I... it's just that they have no idea what this is and my kid has no one else—"
Realization dawned and her mouth snapped shut mid sentence. Her face flushed with embarrassment, tinges of red spreading over her cheeks to match her hair as the idea of asking a stranger to risk his life in her place registered.
"Like I said," Sam added with a kind smile, "I was already on my way in."
"Thank you," she offered with a smile of her own, handing Sam her charge. "I owe you a big one."
Sam smiled back, more out of politeness than sincerity. His mind was already on the next step of his plan. When he actually looked at the parcel in his hands and read its label, Sam almost dropped the thing to the floor. A lumbar puncture kit.
The level of fucked-up of the situation actually made Sam's legs tremble. His way to get Dean out of this mess was to deliver the means to cause him more needless pain.
Sam walked into the changing area with the sealed tray like he was carrying a live bomb. His skin crawled just from touching it.
Once he was anonymously clad in white, just like everybody else, Sam stepped into the decontamination section and, finally, into the room where they were keeping his brother.
Dean's voice was the first thing that registered with Sam as soon as he was inside. The taint of panic and fear in his brother's tone was almost impossible for a stranger to catch, yet Sam recognized it with ease.
"Good, we were wondering when that would get here," a woman's voice sounded inside Sam's head and he nearly jumped. It took him a couple of seconds to realize that the white figure standing in front of him with her gloved hand extended was the person who had spoken. "We're trying to take advantage of the patient's momentary lucidity. I doubt it will last."
Sam saw himself hand over the tray to the woman, his attention on Dean's vehement questions about Sam's well being.
He couldn't distract himself with his brother's discomfort though. Sam needed to find the nearest smoke detector and somehow trigger it without the rest of the people in that room realizing it.
Dean's presence, however, was a hard thing to ignore, especially when he got up and tried to make a run for it; a short lived escape attempt that ended quickly and noisily a mere two inches from his own bed. Sam bit his lip, hands clasping into fists; it was all he could do to stop himself from running to his brother's side, help him up, and guide him back to the bed.
It was hard to be a Winchester and accept help from strangers, particularly when they were hurt. Grizzly bears, Bobby had once called them, letting no one near unless they recognized the 'smell' as one of their own.
If, however, Dean took one look at him and acknowledged Sam's presence in the room, all would be lost. So Sam remained as far away as he could.
Tearing his gaze away from the drama unfolding just inches from him, Sam's eyes locked with the brown plastic bottle labeled as Diethyl Ether and he had to force himself not to smile. Perfect.
With everyone busy around Dean's bed, so Sam had no problem relocating the bottle from its current, cooled place, to stand directly next to the lit light-box currently displaying Dean's decorated ribcage. The thing was already warm. It shouldn't take much longer for it to do its thing.
With nothing to do while he waited for his diversion to happen, Sam couldn't help but to check on his brother. What he saw made him wish he hadn't.
The doctors and nurses around Dean's bed were turning him on his side and balling him up in what looked like an impossible angle. The position left Dean's naked back exposed and curled. The outline of his spine was easily visible as the skin stretched taught over pointy vertebra bones. Dean had been losing weight, Sam realized.
Which of course, given the amount of crap that had been flying their way, wasn't all that earth shattering to Sam. For all the show that Dean put up about his cheeseburgers and his love of pie, lately he'd been eating less and it was no small wonder; his stomach was too filled with angst and worry to allow for actual food to get inside.
"Arrrgh! God... stop, please stop!"
The words sounded tore from Dean's lips and Sam startled. His heartstrings pulled, urging him forward, driving him to answer the pleading in his brother voice, while his mind told him to back away, that he couldn't, that he had to stay put.
Lost in his internal battle, Sam hadn't realized he'd actually moved back, until his back bumped against something solid. Unbalanced, Sam reached back with his hand; his fingers brushed against something that was less stable than he was. Sam turned just in time to see the metal tray head to the floor. It clashed noisily against the hard surface with a sound of thunder, then wobbled a few seconds before clattering to a halt.
Every eye in the room was on him now and, for a few heart-stopping seconds, Sam was sure that he'd messed it all up.
Sam mumbled an embarrassed 'Sorry' that no one heard because Dean was suddenly moaning in pain, wriggling on the bed. In that instance, they all seemed to forget about the clumsy guy by the counter and went back to taking care of their patient.
Sam sagged on the spot, feeling oddly grateful for once that their number one concern was Dean. If only he was actually sick with something that they could treat, Sam knew Dean would be in the right hands.
Sam was about to run out of excuses to justify his presence in the room when the overheated ether made its existence noted. While the sound of the cap exploding off the bottle was small in comparison with the clattering metallic tray, once the ignited fumes escaped and the blare of the smoke detector took over, everyone started moving.
A faint, moist fog immediately began to fall from over the room's ceiling, dropping visibility was almost to zero in just a few seconds. White smoke and white suits, it was hard to tell one person from the other.
Sam stayed calm and took control. In the barely controlled panic of having to vacate the isolation room and get their patient to safety, when someone suggested that they dressed the patient in one of the Hazmat suits and just roll him out, everyone else agreed.
Hoping no one would question why he already had an extra suit inside the room, Sam stepped forward. "You," he said to the tallest guy he could see around. "Give me a hand putting this on him, will you?"
The tall man, looking longingly at the promise of getting out of that room, slumped his shoulders and nodded.
Getting Dean inside that plastic suit was about as easy as getting a wet noodle to stand up straight. Sam was sweating buckets in the privacy of his Hazmat suit and from what he could see of the other guy's red face, he wasn't alone.
Finally, after what had felt like an eternity but couldn't have been more than a minute, Dean was dressed. Just as Sam was about to press the helmet over his brother's head, he found a set of bright green eyes, glazed and feverish staring back at him.
"S'mmy," Dean slurred.
Sam swallowed hard. Out of his periphery, he could see the tall guy staring questioningly at him; he'd heard it too. "He's delirious," Sam said quickly before looking down at Dean. "Sir, we have to get you out of here. Just stay quiet," he emphasized the last two words, hoping Dean wasn't too far gone to get the jist.
Dean nodded, or Sam thought he did. It was more of a swivel and a tilt, but Sam couldn't wait. He pressed the helmet on him and they were finally ready to roll.
"God. Feel like shit, Sammy..." Okay, so Sam had been a little too optimistic.
Sam looked hesitantly over at his 'helper', grateful that the guy was now more focused on leaving than listening and Sam sighed with relief. "Hang on Dean," Sam leaned down and whispered, though he knew Dean couldn't hear him through the helmet. "Almost done, bro."
By the time they were done, it was only the three of them left in the room; Sam, the tall guy who'd helped him get Dean suited up, and a very wobbly Dean. Everyone else had left, though mostly so as not to be in the way. Outside, Sam could see the anxious faces of those watching, worrying for the safety of the two employees still inside.
Maybe, when this was all over, this guy would get a commendation or something. The thought made Sam feel less guilty as he walked by the tall guy and pulled his oxygen tube out. "Let's roll this bed out," Sam said. He figured it would take about a minute for the oxygen supply inside the suit to thin out and eventually end, about thirty seconds more for the guy to keel over. It should give them enough time to get the bed out of the room and away from most people's view.
With everyone clad in the same white, amorphous suits, no one noticed when the tall guy fell on the bed he was pushing and replaced Dean as the patient.
The hard part, Sam soon found out, was keeping Dean up as they made their escape on foot. He was mostly unconscious; feet dragging on the floor as Sam all but carried him away. "Dude... people are starting to stare at us."
Once they were a relatively safe distance away, Sam had stopped long enough to remove both of their helmets. Not surprisingly, Dean's head was drenched in sweat, but so was Sam's and while he would've loved nothing more than to remove the rest of the plastic suits, he knew there wasn't enough time. It would only be a matter of minutes before someone realized that their highly contagious patient had been 'misplaced'.
Besides, Sam was pretty sure that Dean's bare ass under that Hazmat suit would call more attention to them than they needed.
Even removing just the helmets had been a mistake, one Sam realized all too soon. One look at Dean's half opened eyes, slack face, and the fact that Sam was dragging him along, drew overtly concerned glances in the hospital corridor.
"Hey, man... what happened to him?" someone asked for what felt like the fifth time in a row.
"Ether bottle blew up in one of the Iso-rooms, bunch of people inhaled a little too much of it," Sam was quick to supply, adding a good roll of his eyes to complement the boredom in his voice. "He just needs to walk it off."
Sam looked down in alarm, confirming that Dean was, in fact, starting to come around again. Fortunately for them, however, the guy who had been so interested in what had happened to them lost his interest once he saw Dean more alert.
"Yeah, it's me, Dean," Sam whispered, rekindling their slow trudge towards the exit door. "Just a few more steps and we're out of here, okay?"
Dean's head rolled against Sam's shoulder, its weight apparently too much to actually lift it. "Where's 'here', Sammy?"
Maybe they had sedated him for the test, Sam told himself. That was what was making Dean so out of it. It had to be. Even though Sam had heard them say that they couldn't risk more sedation. "Just a few more steps and I'll tell you everything, okay?"
Another nod, followed by a full body shiver and a whimper. "My back really hurts," Dean let out, a confession uttered in a small voice, almost as if he was certain that Sam wouldn't hear it.
Sam didn't need to hear it though, because the second after those words were out of Dean's mouth, his legs folded and what little strength he'd used to keep himself up straight, disappeared altogether. It was enough to almost send them both crashing to the floor.
Sam stumbled against the wall, shoulder currently not keeping his brother up, jarring against concrete in a bruising way.
The exit door, with its bright red sign above, was like the light at the end of the tunnel. If Sam could make it just that far, everything would be okay after that.
Only, it probably wouldn't, a part of him felt the need to point out. Dean was sick, and Sam was possibly making things worse by moving him and forcing him to walk and that was not even taking into account the off chance that the doctors were actually right and Dean was contagious. If so, Sam had just ensured both their deaths, along with a few hundred more as they moved out the door.
Outside, the sun was bright -too bright- as Sam passed the threshold. He gasped as the light attacked his head with sharp, vicious knife jabs, as he moved forward blindly.
They needed a car and go... somewhere else that wasn't here.
Sam would've run his hand through his hair if he didn't have both hands filled with a sagging brother.
A car. Any car, since theirs was probably still parked near the woods, where they'd left it.
That was it. He would drive to Bobby's –unless his failing eye sight managed to send them both crashing into a light post on the way there- and Bobby would know what to do. He always did.
Bobby woke up swearing.
Well, technically, he woke up with the sound of something crashing loudly in his junkyard, but the 'son of a bitch' was loud and clear in his head even before he was upright.
Finding himself a gun and some shoes –in that order- Bobby opened his front door slowly and carefully.
There were a lot of ugly things bumping around in the night these days, more than usual. And there was no guarantee that the bumping hadn't been literal this time around.
The smell of burned oil was heavy in the air and there was a wisp of smoke coming from near the front gate.
Bobby moved in the direction of the smell, cursing whomever was making him walk around in his underwear at that hour of the night, freezing his balls off. He thumbed back both triggers on the fully loaded shotgun ready and set to blow the first thing he saw moving funny.
When he laid eyes on the unfamiliar vehicle, smashed against the metal of the gate to his yard, –the same gate he never bothered closing, so it had taken some skill to wrap the car around it like it was- Bobby felt nothing but annoyance at the prospect of not seeing his bed for a couple more hours. And a smidge of concern for whomever was behind the wheel of that mess.
Once he took a good look at the two bodies inside, all thoughts of going to bed were forgotten. The 'smidge of concern', grew well over 'a lot' and straight up to 'heart clenching' as he recognized the bloodied occupants.
"Dammit, boys," Bobby whispered, one hand clutching the bent door.
The softly spoken words were enough to rouse at least one of the car's occupants; sitting behind the steering wheel, Sam turned and opened his one eye, bloody teeth winking back at the old hunter as he grinned. "Ah… we made it…"
Of course, wherever Sam was, it was a fairly sure bet that Dean was close by. Bobby leaned lower and tilted his head to look across the leather bench seat to the other side of the car.
Sure enough, he found Dean, slumped to one side, head leaning against the passenger side door, completely out to the world. While the interior was mostly dark, lit only by silvery moonlight, Bobby could see the faint sheen of sweat covering the boy's face. The fact that they were both dressed in Hazmat suits was a little bit of detail that Bobby wasn't even going to touch, for now.
"What the hell happened to you two?" Bobby asked. He leaned back to get a look at the door, hoping it wasn't so smashed up that it wouldn't open. Dragging either of the boys out of such a bent up wreck would not be fun.
"Made the turn too soon," Sam answered sheepishly, giving the bent gates a side look. "Or too slow... really depends on the point of view..."
"I meant before," Bobby clarified because Sam sounded like he needed all the clarification that Bobby could get him. "Anything broken?" he asked, tugging open the door and breathing an internal sigh of relief. Rather than wondering where they'd gotten the old beater of a car, Bobby was curious to know what cosmic event had made Dean leave his Impala behind.
"Shit…" Sam hissed suddenly, as if he'd just remembered. "Dean's sick." He looked worriedly across to the passenger side, his one good eye locked on his slouching brother. "Didn't know where else to go…," his head swiveled wobbly to look at Bobby. "Sorry."
Bobby shook his head. "Idjit." Sam knew better than that. He had no idea if Sam was apologizing for the bent gate or the fact that he'd come to Bobby for help, but both foolish ideas told Bobby that Dean wasn't the only one in trouble. "Let's get you two inside, and then you can tell me all about the latest mess you boys got yourselves into."
Dean had woken briefly as they carried him to the upstairs bedroom, but he was too confuse and weak to be of any help. Legs still unable to carry his weight, dragged uselessly behind him, long limbs becoming more hindrance than help until Sam had just grabbed them and lifted Dean all together. Bobby tried to offer some help, but he was pretty sure Sam wasn't even listening. Mostly, Bobby made sure that every time Sam's course tilted too much in one direction, he nudged him in the opposite one before the two of them tumbled down the stairs in a ball of broken limbs. Picking any of the Winchesters up off the floor was not something the older man was looking forward to.
Once the older Winchester was properly placed on the fresh made bed, and the younger one had a bag of frozen pees held against his swollen-shut eye, Bobby set about examining Dean. Sam's voice was quiet as he sat back, watching and recounting the events of the last few days.
The bandage around Dean's ankle revealed a nasty bite wound that had already been neatly sutured, but other than the fresh gauze on the small of his back, Bobby couldn't find anything that could explain Dean's condition.
Bobby didn't have a name for the monster they'd killed either. "There really is no text book for this one, Sam," the older man found himself forced to point out. "If this is some sort of poison, or part of the thing's defense mechanism... I guess we have to wait and see what's what."
Which, given the fact that, whatever it was, mimicked a brain infection in perfection, Bobby wasn't all that comfortable doing.
Didn't mean that there wasn't anything that Bobby could do for the Winchesters though.
Sam looked like shit. There were dark smudges of bruising blue under his eyes and his hair was pointing in every direction thanks to the constant worry and frustration that left him running his fingers through it. "So, there's nothing we can do?"
Bobby scratched his beard. Telling an exhausted Sam that the only thing that they could do was wait and pray that the effects would wear off on their own was the same as making sure that the boy didn't get any rest for the duration of the ordeal.
One sick Winchester at the time, that had always been Bobby's motto. "You tried calling that angel buddy of yours, right?" he asked, knowing from the hard look that overtook Sam's eyes, that Castiel hadn't been of any help. "There's a couple of books downstairs about mythical creatures and cross-breading. We can try those." Or at least use them to pretend like they were doing something more than wait for Dean to either get better or die.
Unwilling to leave Dean alone for any length of time, they brought the books they needed up to Dean's room and settled in for the long haul. During the research, the unspoken rule was that, whether it was for coffee or potty breaks, one of them would always stay with Dean. Should the worst happen...
Dean shivered in his bed, fever steadily rising as the night grew darker; his arms kept twitching, like inanimate objects pulled by invisible strings. Sam kept looking at him, anxious, biting his nails as he waited for the twitching to turn into a full on seizure.
It never happened. Despite it all, and as far as Bobby could tell, Dean wasn't actually getting any worse. Which was something.
The book he'd picked up wasn't all that pointless, Bobby discovered. Allied with what Sam had told him about the monster's victims and its similarities with a couple of other monsters that they did had a name for, it had given him some ideas about what was going on with Dean.
Bobby's ability to focus on the material, however, was severely hampered. It was, he discovered, rather impossible to keep any sort of decent train of thought going while he kept the eye-straining gymnastics going. Keeping one eye on Dean, the other on the open book in front of him and another on Sam was tiring and time consuming. Also, the way it was going, Bobby was sure he was going to pull something.
Those boys... it was like the pain of one would reflect itself in the other. Dean would shift under his pile of blankets and Sam would moan in response; Sam's face would scrunch up in pain and Dean's breath would hitch. It was disquieting to see.
Dean was sweating out whatever he'd been dosed with when that monster had died, mumbling in his sleep, fighting invisible monsters; Sam's expression, when he thought Bobby wasn't looking, was pained, like he had the mother of all headaches.
Bobby had few certainties about what was wrong with Dean, but he sure as hell knew what was going on with Sam. That boy had a concussion.
Sam had chosen to omit that little tidbit of information in his tale, but Bobby wasn't stupid and certainly not born yesterday. He could see the signs, the way Sam kept rubbing the side of his head, the squinting of his eyes as he forced himself to read printed letters that were probably so unfocused that they might as well be pictures. Crashing the car into Bobby's gate probably hadn't helped either.
After two hours of struggling against the inevitable, Sam's stubbornness was finally beaten. Somewhere about the fiftieth nod, his head made its final descent and came to rest gently on top of the book he'd been squinting at through one eye. The hand that had been rubbing fiercely at his forehead, flopped lax to land softly on Dean's bed. He was snoring within two seconds flat.
Bobby sighed and got up to stretch his legs. Finally. At least one of them should get some rest.
Rustling from the bed pulled Bobby away from his musings. He turned and watched as the covers shifted, then a hand shoved them aside and Dean's face appeared. His hair was plastered to his forehead.
Bobby was already moving toward him but Dean got no further than his upper back up when he whimpered and sagged back against the mattress.
"Just what do you think you're doing?" Bobby whispered, foolishly hoping that Sam would sleep through it.
Dean's eyes, shadow-rimmed and sunken, were all but black as he settled his gaze on Bobby. The kid looked like crap; if it weren't for the feverish, flushed cheeks, he'd have no color at all. "Bobby!" Dean let out, sounding honestly and pleasantly surprised. "What are you doing here?"
"I live here," Bobby said quietly, pulling the covers back up. He tossed a quick look over his shoulder at Sam, confirming he was still asleep before turning back to Dean. "How're you feeling, kiddo?"
Dean blinked slowly, like the motion in his eyes would somehow fix the confusion in his head. His gaze kept veering to different points of the dark room, following some moving speck that no one else could see.
If he didn't know better, Bobby would say that Dean was high. He took advantage of the moment to put the back of his hand over Dean's forehead. Dean flinched away, but not before Bobby noticing the warmth there.
High and hot as hell.
"I was surrounded by condom people, Bobby," Dean confided, sounding disgusted with the memory. "They said I was sick— Oh, Sammy's here too!" he added, conversation changing topic at breakneck speed as his eyes landed on his sleeping brother.
Bobby grabbed his hand before Dean could touch his brother to wake him up. "Let him sleep. You should do the same."
Dean paused, chided kid sulking because he wasn't allowed to wake his playmate. His eyes blinked, slower and slower each time and Bobby waited for him to fall back to sleep.
"My legs aren't there," Dean let out, fully awake and scaring the crap out of Bobby. Eyebrows furrowed, pain lines that Bobby hadn't noticed before, lined Dean's eyes. "Do you know where I left them?"
Bobby felt his heart hammering against the walls of his chest. He had noticed the numb, clumsy way Dean's legs had been moving when they had tried to walk him to bed. At the time, he hadn't thought much of it, but when he caught sight of the bandage at the bottom of Dean's spine...
"You're legs are right where they belong, kiddo," Bobby assured him, his hand pressing against the hunter's chest to keeping him lying down. "Just rest, and we'll talk in the morning, okay?"
Dean, however, was having none of that. "No, no... I need to find my legs, or else someone might grab them and take them," he said, distress apparent in his raising his voice.
"What's he talking about?" Sam's voice, heavy with sleep, asked.
Bobby took a deep breath, wondering if it would be too conspicuous of him to run away and hide himself in the panic room downstairs. Never before had the name seemed more fitting.
It physically hurt him to see those boys in pain, especially when there was nothing that he could do for them but be there. "Dean can't feel his legs," Bobby ended up telling Sam.
All remains of sleep just vanished from Sam's face. "Does that mean he's getting worse? Is this because of the monster's venom?"
Bobby wanted to say yes, give Sam some rest and avoid the guilt feast that would be, honestly, misplaced. He couldn't make himself lie to Sam, though. "I don't think so. If paralyzing its victims was a part of the monster's strategy, to keep them from running as it ate their faces, Dean would've felt it sooner. Not this late in the game. Besides, you said the reports mentioned some sort of euphoric state when they died?"
Sam nodded, finger scratching at the dried blood in his face.
"No one gets euphoric over being paralyzed," Bobby said somberly. "Trust me on that, boy."
"Why isn't anyone moving to find my legs?" Dean complained from the bed, oblivious to their discussion, angry that no one was doing anything to help him. Exhaustion, however, was already working steadily to once again overwhelm him, and his complaints were only halfhearted and spoken with closed eyes. "The puppies will chew them..."
Sam and Bobby exchanged a look. Puppies?
"I think the monster's venom acts like some sort of recreational drug, making people trip the bejesus out of their heads," Bobby mused, looking at Dean, curled up and shivering on the bed. "Which is why they didn't run away, why they were 'happy' when their heads were chewed off and why Dean's... like this."
In fact, the connection was so obvious that, if Sam's brains weren't all scrambled from his concussion, Bobby was pretty sure the kid would've thought of that sooner.
"But he says he can't move his legs," Sam insisted, the five minutes of sleep having done nothing to ease the signs of headache from between his eyes or the tiredness in his face.
"I'm sure it's just temporary," Bobby let out, his eyes refusing to meet Sam's. Not because he believed that it was a permanent condition –God, he hoped not!- but because he knew that Sam, being the smart kid that he was, would put two and two together as soon as he did a little bit of research.
Sam nodded again, distracted as he tried to gauge how high Dean's temperature was. He froze when the implied meaning of Bobby's words registered. "You think this is because of something they did to him at the hospital? That they screwed up and now Dean can't walk?"
Bobby scratched his beard, biting his tongue to stop himself from saying. There was no need, in the end. He could see the dots already connecting inside Sam's brain.
"Right before I grabbed Dean they did one last test," Sam went on, his voice thin as he recalled the events at the hospital. "They stuck a needle in Dean's spine. A big frigging needle. He was... it hurt him— I—"
Sam changed color so fast and to such a zombie-shade of grey that Bobby wondered if he was actually going to be sick. "You're not really supposed to move after something like that," Bobby supplied, voicing what Sam was clearly thinking but unable to say. "Friend of mine had one done to him. Guy was laid down on his back for half a day."
"And I forced Dean to walk almost immediately after," Sam said in a faint whisper. His eyes traveled down, to where Dean's legs were hidden beneath the covers, like he could actually see the damage he'd caused.
"It ain't like you had a choice, boy," Bobby said, knowing that for all the brains, Sam sometimes missed the obvious. In fact, that seemed to be a genetic Winchester handicap. "If you hadn't moved when ya did, your brother would be trapped inside some fancy lab, being pocked and probed, looking for a disease that ain't there."
"That we think ain't there," Sam amended, his face still too pale while his bottom lip was being steadily worked out into ground meat.
"Well, Dean seems to be resting for now," the older man pointed out, noticing the steady rise and fall of the sleeping Winchester. "Why don't you get some rest as well and I'll call you if anything changes?"
Sam's eyes remained alert and vigilant the rest of the night, despite Bobby's insistence and building crankiness.
Predictably, when the sun finally rose, there wasn't a single body inside the house that wasn't on the verge of exhaustion.
Dean, despite having his eyes closed, wasn't exactly resting peacefully either. He tossed and mumbled, and whimpered on the bed as the fever and the monster's venom worked through his body.
"Maybe we should take him back to the hospital," Sam let out. In the light of the day, Dean looked like a two weeks' corpse. The bruising from where the monster had banged them both against the trees was beginning to gain some lovely shades of purple black.
If Bobby were a betting man, he would say that Sam and Dean probably had a couple of matching bruises. "Ya think they'll react any different this time around?" he asked.
Sam sighed. There were really no guarantees on that and he knew it. People usually assumed that the most obvious answer was the right one. And really, who could blame them for that? Still, it was the biggest downside of doing what they did, something that Sam had learned at a very young age.
Showing up for school with a black eye was quickly interpreted as having an abusive father, not as a result of an overly defensive ghost that decided to send people flying left and right to stop them from digging its bones.
Finding someone covered in blood, standing over a decapitated body, was usually seen as murder; vampires, shapeshifters and werewolves were not the first options that popped in to people's minds.
And to an outsider, Dean's current condition looked like many things –dangerous, contagious things- but the doctors' diagnostic would never even consider mystical creatures.
All they would see were deep bruises, fever and Dean's mental confusion.
"No..." Sam said with a defeated sigh. "From what the doctor told me, Dean's symptoms mimic a damn serious condition, a highly contagious condition. They'll do exactly the same as before."
"I'm like that 'Outbreak' monkey," Dean whispered. "Just as cute, only, you know, slightly less furry."
Sam exchanged a look with Bobby, neither all that sure that they should see Dean's coherent speech as a good sign.
"Or maybe I am," Dean added, one hand moving to feel his face, searching for ape hair, apparently, and finding a two days old beard. "What's with the bug-eyed expressions?" he asked looking quietly from one to the other.
"How're you feeling?" Bobby asked, because it was clear that Sam was only capable of two things at the moment; staring and feeling guilty.
Dean placed his hands on the side of the bed, a well-practiced gesture to sit up. "Motherfucker!" he hissed, arms trembling as he pushed up, hands immediately going to his legs, easing the cramping. "I feel like I was hit by a frigging airplane. Can barely move my neck—" Seeing the grim looks that would not leave Bobby or Sam's face, Dean paused. "Was I hit by a frigging airplane?"
"Dean, I'm—" Sam started, his eyes filling with tears.
Dean was immediately on high alert. "What's wrong? Did you remember anything from Hell? Did the wall break? Are you okay, Sammy?"
Before Sam could voice any answer, Dean was pushing the covers back and jumping to his feet. Bobby and Sam gasped, watching in silent fascination as he wobbled for a few seconds, cursed under his breath, but stayed on his feet.
The gigantic smile that spread over Sam's face was, as far as Dean was concerned, disproportional to the desperate look of thirty seconds before. And the scary part was that Bobby wasn't all that far behind.
Dean sat back on the bed, more of a controlled fall than a conscious choice. "You two are acting like loons. Did I died or something?"
"What's the last thing you remember?" Bobby asked.
Dean looked around the room, taking in the piles of books, the crumpled but not slept on second bed, the stink of sickness and the exhausted looks on both Sam and Bobby. He knew he was missing something, but Dean was almost afraid to find out what it was. "Evil Ents, I guess," he answered after a bit, surprised to find that his memory was filled with nonsense images of alien abductions and a disturbingly high number of black voids. "Um, Sam was down, I burned the last neck of the thing and it all went up in flames, this bluish, kind of gassy, smelly flame... and that's about it."
"And how're your legs feeling?"
Dean's eyebrow rose. That was definitely a question that had nothing to do with nameless monsters. Or aliens. "I'm just sore," he said, dismissing the numbness and the bone-deep throbbing. "Now, would someone tell me what the hell is going on in here?"
Dean wanted to check on the two women who had rescued them from the woods. Especially the one he'd screwed up.
Sam had assured him that the one who had been admitted at the same time as them, had already been discharged; that she was okay, that he had checked all of that over the phone while Dean was recovering. No need to take unnecessary risks by going there personally.
Dean would have none of that. He wanted to see it with his own eyes, even if it was from a distance.
In Dean's book, it was okay to call Sam a dumbass for feeling guilt over the whole misadventure with the spinal tap and consequent temporary paralysis mishap –a part of the story that Dean was only too happy not remembering-, because it was something that Sam could not have predicted or even avoided. What seemed to escape his notice was that Dean was being equally dumbass about feeling guilty over having made the woman who'd found them -Anna- sick.
So, dumbass and dumbass, there they were, 'stalking' the poor woman to make sure that she was truly all right.
They had tracked her down to her job, some big, home appliances store downtown.
In between pretending to be looking for a fridge and tasting at least three different coffees from coffee machines on display, a couple of alarming details had started to stand out with the woman they were checking on.
For one, she was working with gloves on. In a store that, at best, had the AC set to 'sauna' temperatures.
And then, there was all the twitching and jerking.
"What t'hell?" Dean whispered, exchanging a sour look with his brother. "I thought you'd said she wasn't sick."
"She's not," Sam pointed out, his voice stressing out the nonsense of the whole situation. "I mean, she wasn't. They discharged her with a clean bill. Besides, you know she wasn't really sick, it was the monster's... goo, that made her sick. Maybe this is how she's always been," Sam added. Deep down, he knew that wasn't true. He had a faint memory of waking up in the woods, of seeing Anna staring down at him with kind eyes. There had been nothing twitchy about her then.
Dean raised an eyebrow, easily catching Sam's bull, before his eyes flickered back towards the woman with the gloved hands. The client, to whom she was explaining the twenty different programs in a particular washing machine, touched her arm by accident and the woman freaked out, jumping backwards and smashing her back against one of the washers.
The client, embarrassed by her overreaction, scattered away, pretending to have had nothing to do with it.
"Poor thing," a male voice remarked from behind them. Sam and Dean turned to find a barely five feet man, shaking his head. The ID tag on his chest identified him as floor manager 'Todd'. "She used to be such a lively person, always with a smile on her face and helping people. Now, you can't even ask her the time of the day without making her jumpy like that. Honestly, she's scaring the customers away."
The notion that her job was dependent of her not scaring people away was heavily implied in the man's tone.
"Do you know what happened?" Sam asked, playing into the man's clear desire to gossip.
"She almost died, a couple of weeks ago," the man said, grave tone conveying the seriousness of the matter, as if the 'died' part wasn't enough to make it obvious. "Some brain disease... seriously contagious stuff, I've heard tell. I think it cooked her brain, or something."
"Yeah... or something," Dean snarled, clearly having heard enough already.
Sam tugged on his brother's sleeve, pulling him away before he did something that they would all regret, especially the little man. Dean allowed himself to be pulled towards the door a couple of steps before he jerked his arm free and stalked in the woman's direction.
"Dean?" Sam let out, surprised and completely clueless about his brother's intentions. "T'hell do you think you're doing? Dean?"
But he was all but talking to himself. And the two other customers giving him odd looks over a row of microwave ovens.
"Excuse me, ma'am? Anna?"
Predictably, the woman jumped, startled both by Dean's sudden appearance at her side and the hand he rested on her shoulder.
From the way her skin went from pale to translucent, Dean figured that she remembered him. "You don't have to be afraid. I just wanna talk," he hurried to say, voice low and appeasing, trying to avoid having everyone on the store staring at them.
"Don't touch me," Anna hissed, making Dean feel like the scum of the earth. "And how the hell do you know my name?"
"Asked the hospital's staff," Dean said sheepishly. "Told them I needed to know the name of the woman who saved both mine and my brother's lives. So I could say thanks."
The woman blushed, even if the anger never left her eyes. She looked from Dean to Sam, from Sam to the ceiling. Only when her eyes shifted back to him did Dean realized that they were flooded with tears. "How are you even alive?" she blurted out. "They said you were contagious, that you gave it to me. That— that you'd escaped the hospital and a bunch of people would get sick and die and all because I was stupid enough to go chasing some str—"
Dean's hands found their way to her shoulders, trapping the woman in his grasp and shocking her into silence. The body under his touch was shivering, vibrating like a bag filled with angry bees and Dean couldn't help but to feel guilty for having put that woman in such a situation.
"They were wrong," he simply said, eyes trapping her attention as much as his hands were trapping her body. "They were wrong about it being deadly and they were certainly wrong about it being contagious. They over reacted to something with a perfectly natural explanation."
Anna shook her head in denial, but Dean couldn't help but notice that she had stopped struggling and hadn't called for help. "What explanation?"
Dean blinked. The words 'natural explanation' had just left his mouth in an effort to calm her, but now he was at a loss on what 'natural' part could there be to a monster that should not exist, having contaminated them both with the supernatural equivalent of an LSD overdose.
"Well," Dean fumbled a moment. A quick glance back at Sam told him there'd be no help from him. "You see, it's kinda embarrassing. I—"
"Embarrassing?" Anna squinted angry, suspicious eyes at him. "We nearly die and that's all you've got to say is, 'it's kinda embarrassing?"
Dean bit his lip, looking around for inspiration for the story he needed to come up with in the next thirty seconds. The florescent light above them flickered a couple of times before settling back on its abrasive white lightness. "I'm epileptic," Dean said slowly, testing the words in his mouth. "Have been since I was a teen. Hadn't had an episode in years, though."
Sam, quietly listening to Dean's tale, raised an eyebrow. Part of him looked curious to see where his brother was going with that, another part of him seemed resigned to the fact that they would both end up in jail before Dean finished spinning his lie.
"I'm sure the doctors would've been able to see the difference between epilepsy and everything else that happened," Anna pointed out. "Plus, last I heard, epilepsy is not contagious... I had a seizure too, in case they haven't told you."
Dean exchanged a look with his brother. No, 'they' hadn't told him that part, just that Anna had been admitted with symptoms similar to his. "Anyone can have a seizure, especially if they don't hydrate properly," Dean ventured, parroting some lecture a high school gym teacher had given him at some point in his life. Given that she had been walking around in the woods, Dean thought that the wild supposition might even stick. "As for the rest of my symptoms... that's the embarrassing part."
The woman raised an eyebrow when Dean beckoned her to move to a more secluded area of the store on the pretext of not wanting to divulge his 'embarrassing' reasons in the middle of everyone. Again, she surprised him by following.
"My brother and me..." Dean started again, eyes downcast as he played his shamed confession. "We were... completely high that night. His girlfriend had dumped him, you see," Dean went on, venturing a look in his brother's direction to gauge his pissiness level. From the frown on Sam's face, he was not finding the 'twist' amusing. "I'd just thought that getting the kid to let go for a few hours would help," Dean added with a properly contrite look. "The docs saw my... altered state for mental confusion and the next thing I know, I'm stuck in some weird room, with people poking needles in me and... and I panicked."
Anna took a step back and for a few seconds, Dean was sure that she was going to slap him. If she did, he hoped that it was because of the 'drugs' part rather than the 'completely bogus story' part.
When she didn't immediately started to scream for the cops, Dean went on. "I guess there was some of it still on our skins, or something... I'm afraid we ended up dosing you as well."
Anna blinked slowly, probably trying to make any sense of what she was hearing.
Poker face on, Dean was silently going over his own story, looking for gaping holes or leaps of logic. If there were any, he hoped none of them would find them any time soon.
"Are you telling me that I experienced the worst week of my entire life because... because of two pot-heads?" Anna finally said, disbelief plastered all over her face.
Sam snorted a laugh, catching Anna's attention. "And what sort of moron allows his epileptic brother to get high in the middle of nowhere?" she went on, her anger shifting course and focusing solely on Sam.
The change was so sharp and fast that Sam did a double take as he realized that, all of a sudden, he was the bad guy.
Inside, Dean was laughing really hard. "We're really sorry for all the trouble we caused you," he managed to say, straight faced. "Especially after what you did for us."
The gentle pat on his hand surprised Dean. He looked down, searching for confirmation and, sure enough, Anna had her gloved hand over his.
"You were trying to do the right thing," she said, "even if you went about it the wrong way. Can't really blame you for that, can I sweetheart?"
"You fed a lot of crap to that poor woman," Sam mumbled as soon as they were out of Anna's earshot.
"I grabbed the monster that the whole contagious thing had created in her head and turned it into a harmless kitten," Dean pointed out, his face grave before he broke into a grin. "I'm awesome."
"You turned it into a kitten high on illegal drugs," Sam clarified. "That's not awesome. That's... that's animal abuse."
Dean laughed. Patted his brother on the shoulder, savoring the simple gesture.
For all of his bad social skills and skittishness, the idea of being afraid to touch others for the rest of his life scared Dean more than he was ready to admit.
For a time, after escaping Hell, Dean couldn't stand to be touched by others. Innocent gestures, common forms of contact, even standing too close to someone, was enough to send him into a cold sweat and visions of blood and death.
Sam and Bobby, blessedly ignorant of that fact, had kept on treating him in the same as always. None of the three men was ever overly tactile, but what little there was, it had helped. The pats in the back, the occasional touch of a hand, the simplicity of hugs and handshakes had helped Dean to overcome his fears, bit by bit.
Castiel, in his odd, oblivious-to-boundaries way, had help as well. Shock therapy, Dean would think of it sometimes, whenever the angel materialized inches away from him, the way he talked right into Dean's face, disrespectful and disregarding all aspects of approved social behavior.
Dean often wondered if the angel didn't actually do it on purpose.
The most Dean remembered from those dark days was the feeling of isolation that came with his self-imposed rule of not being touched or touching others, like he was trapped inside a glass bottle where everyone could see him but no one was allowed inside.
Human skin breathes, someone had once told Dean. He was pretty sure that it breathes human touch. Despite all the rest, Dean was glad he'd pulled Anna away from a life slowly suffocating to death.