Dean stomped after Sam, shaking off the ringing in his left ear and biting back nineteen different expletives. Sam knew it, too. He had to know Dean was pissed off, because the God-damned yeti wouldn't turn around and kept at least ten feet between them as they worked their way back to the Impala.
But Sam kept tripping on rocks and tombstones and shit. Dean pushed to a quick jog and caught up with him, slamming a hand down on his shoulder and spinning him 'round.
"Dude. Seriously. I can not fucking hear out of my left ear now. What the fuck?"
"I think you need one more 'fuck' in there—"
"What? Okay, sorry. I didn't see you."
Dean rolled his eyes towards Heaven for the strength not to bloody his brother's nose. "I was right there. I told you where the fucking ghost was; I fucking pointed at the fucker!"
Sam turned back around and kept heading for the car. He caught his toe on a bump in the earth and quickly righted himself. "We need to get you a thesaurus…"
"What?" Dean barked.
Dean stared after him. It was a full moon, plenty well-lit for guys accustomed to night work. Some of his ire leeched away as observations started lining up. Sam, spilling his beer last night. Sam, looking at the laptop from an odd angle. Sam, grabbing Dean's boots instead of his own this morning, by mistake.
"Hey." He loped to catch up again.
Sam slid his hand across the trunk until it connected with an edge; they'd left it ajar and he shoved open the boot, throwing his duffle and sawed-off inside. "Yeah?"
"How many fingers am I holding up?" Dean leaned across the roof of the car and presented his middle digit.
At first, Sam scowled at the apparent nonsense, then tilted his head and looked at Dean from the corner of his eye. "Two."
"For real, man?"
Sam slammed the trunk and huffed noncommittally.
They were almost twenty minutes down the road before Sam squinted over at Dean, realizing they weren't heading back to the motel. "We went the wrong way."
"Huh. That so?"
Sam looked out the window into the dark, drumming fingers on his knee. "Yeah. I know my sense of direction won't win me any prizes but this isn't right."
Dean rolled his shoulder and mumbled, "Damned skippy, this ain't right."
"So where're we going?"
"California. I've been dyin' to meet Kim Kardashian, see if her ass is as amazing as everyone says—"
"Okay, fine. County General." He wasn't going to argue this with Sam. Neither of them enjoyed trips to the sick house but if Sammy was going to play the stoic card, he didn't get a say in the matter.
The Impala made a left into a brightly lit parking lot and rumbled by the emergency entrance. Eventually it settled into a spot between a rusty pick-up and an orange Honda barely big enough to be considered a real car.
Sam glared in Dean's direction and wedged his knees against the dash. "No one got hurt, right?"
"How long've you been having issues with your eyes, huh?" Dean waved his fingers in vague circles around his face.
"I dunno; a few days?"
"And you were gonna tell me this…when?"
"Dean. I just thought it'd go away, a side effect of that stupid migraine I had on Tuesday."
"Dude, really?" Dean shoved open his door and got out. Sam did the same, which was a good thing because dragging his stubborn ass out of the car would've given Dean his own headache, possibly a hernia. "You know this could be something serious. Like a detached placenta." He rounded the Impala and took Sam by the elbow.
"Nah, Samantha. In your case, placenta."
"Funny." Sam tried to pull his arm away but Dean was having none of it.
The emergency room was relatively empty, given the ridiculous hour. Dean had to tackle the paperwork and Sam showed his appreciation by promptly falling asleep on his shoulder. That enormous damned noggin weighed at least twenty pounds, and Dean kept nudging him away because the pressure made writing tricky and Dean's handwriting was bad enough as it was. And Sam kept flopping back against him, snoring.
Sometime around 3:00 a.m., they were summoned back to a curtained room and a nurse performed obligatory measurements such as temperature, blood pressure, pulse, all that fun stuff. Normal, across the board.
Dean busied himself with the controls on the bed, in part to annoy Sam and partly to give his nervous hands something to do. To his observation, there was no reason Sam should be having vision issues. He hadn't been clocked in the head recently, no high fevers, just that damned migraine but he got those all the time. They were practically routine. This left only hidden ailments and those were never pretty: tumors, aneurisms, mysterious Third-World diseases you got from eating human brains…
Finally, the doctor ambled in. His long sandy hair, shot with gray, was caught in a ponytail, and he wore Birkenstocks and granny glasses. Dean would put money on the likelihood the guy had a beanbag chair in his office and rolling papers in his pocket.
"Dr. Feelgood's on call tonight…"Dean leaned over and whispered in Sam's ear.
"Mr. Bond?" The doctor flipped pages on a clipboard and scanned the information. "Sam Bond?"
"I'm gonna kill you," Sam whispered back.
He took Sam's hand and pumped it amiably. "I'm Dr. Zablocki. Like souvlaki, but different." He snorted at his own joke, which was met with dull stares, and adjusted his glasses. "Right. So, Mr. Bond. Talk to me. Having problems with your eyes? Tell me what's goin' down?"
Sam squirmed and the bed creaked. "Well, I had a headache a few days ago, and then I started seeing spots—"
"Floaters? Or flashes of light?"
"Floaters, I guess? And then, um, things started to dim. But only in sections. I can still see…" he canted his head, looking not unlike a certain, bird-ish angel they used to know "…around the edges."
The doctor grunted and pulled a penlight from his pocket. "Make yourself useful, Mr. Bond's friend, and hit that switch over there."
Dean almost snapped "brother," but bit his tongue and flipped off the lights in their cubicle. It threw the area into gloom, just barely bright enough to watch the goings-on. The doctor flashed a beam into each of Sam's eyes in turn, prodded at the sides of his neck, grilled him with a mumble of further questions, and then gestured for Dean to turn the lights back on.
"Well, fellas, I've got good news and bad news. Whadya want first?"
"The bad," Dean snapped, at the very same instance Sam said, "The good." Sam gave Dean the stink-eye and Dean, in a fit of generosity, backed down.
"I didn't find anything. The lenses look good, no signs of glaucoma or cataracts, nothing scratched or detaching. Which means we're gonna have to dig a little deeper." Dr. Zablocki pulled out a small pad of paper from the pocket of his labcoat and scribbled instructions. "I'm referring you to a neurologist. You'll need an MRI, Mr. Bond. Had one of those before?"
Sam just shook his head and lost a little color. Okay, a lot of color.
Dean felt his own belly curdle with worry. God-damned unseen damage. He far preferred the visible spectrum, kinda like the things they hunted. If you could see it, you could shoot it. If you could shoot it? It could die. But if you couldn't see it…
The doctor's voice oozed sympathy. "It's not that big a deal. Noisy and a little bit of a squeeze, but I'm sure you'll survive." He slapped the referral into Sam's palm. "Call for the procedure tomorrow. But if it gets worse all of a sudden, or you start feeling pain, come back in straight away, you got me?"
Sam gave another wan nod.
"Hang in there, Mr. Bond. We'll figure this out." The doctor patted Sam's shoulder and turned to leave. "Oh, and Mr. Bond?"
"Say hi to Pussy Galore for me, will ya?" And then he disappeared through the thin curtain.
Sam audibly gritted his teeth. "I am so going to kill you, Dean."
Of course Sam would be one of the less than 5% who had an adverse reaction to the contrast agent they pumped into him for the MRI. He spent the fifteen minutes before the procedure dumping bile into a nearby trashcan, but swore he felt considerably better afterwards. Dean didn't believe him for one red second.
Left to his own devices in the waiting room, Dean had made paper airplanes out of every subscription card in the magazine rack, but managed to charm a smile out of the prune-faced receptionist. Forty long minutes later, a nurse guided Sam back into the waiting room. It would take somewhere in the neighborhood of two days for the scan to be read, she told them, at which point the office would call Sam and report their findings.
The ride back to the motel was a prickly one. They were still no closer to an explanation for Sam's predicament and he'd already knocked his melon on the door frame twice, trying to get into the car. A crown of bruises was starting to form across his forehead and he was getting visibly pissy about it. He was scowling so hard, it would've frightened small children.
"We should get you some sunglasses, you know," Dean said conversationally.
"Oh, come on. Ray Charles? Stevie Wonder? All the cool blind guys wear sunglasses."
Sam didn't think it was funny, apparently. He ground his jaw and fumbled a hand across the dash until it connected with the stereo. So much for trying to lighten the mood. Dean shut his yap and suffered Sam's silent angst and bad song choices until he spotted a place to have an early dinner. Food always made things better, even mysterious bouts of blindness. It was written somewhere; had to be.
"You hungry? I'm hungry."
Sam curled his lip and sighed. "Oh, sure, what the hell. If I hurl again, though, it's all on you."
Yep, probably will be. Dean kept that little gem to himself.
The Grandville Dinor—spelled with an 'o' for no discernable reason and if Sam could read the sign, he'd certainly have asked—was a charming mix of small-town greasy spoon and dive bar. Dean kept two hands on Sam's elbows and steered him around chipped Formica tables to a window booth. Maybe it was a good thing Sam couldn't see the neon signs and dusty Christmas lights all over the place.
"Welcome to the Dinor, boys. I'm Gert. I'll be takin' care of you today." The server, a homely woman with short iron-colored hair, a tired voice and breasts that hovered somewhere around her waist, slid two paper placemats and silverware rolls in front of them. "Can I get you something to drink while you look at the menus? Coffee? Soda? A beer? Got Miller on draft."
"A Miller would be awesome, Gert. Sammy?"
Gert cocked a brow at Sam's surly reply and clucked her tongue before heading off.
"Dude, do not piss off the waitress. You don't know what she'll do to our food." Dean heaved a sigh, plucked a menu from the end of the table and began reciting the dinner specials.
Sam just stared down at his hands, clenched together into white-knuckled knots. When Dean paused for a response, all he received was a mumbled "This sucks."
And it did, no one could argue that point. None of the so-called medical professionals would offer any sort of explanation: "Until we know more, we can't tell you anything. I'm sorry." Yeah, they're sorry? As much as he hated it, Dean's thoughts kept wandering to the worst possible scenario: The Big C. He was pretty damned certain Sam went there too.
Gert dropped off their drinks and Dean ordered a Blue Plate Special for the both of them—chicken and dumplings, baby carrots, homemade rolls and a dinner salad. Certainly, Sam would find something he liked in all that.
"Your water's at two o'clock," Dean said.
Sam coasted his hand towards it cautiously, fingers bumping the sweating glass without knocking it over. Thank God for small favors; Dean didn't particularly want a lapful of cold. It was so fucking weird the way Sam didn't quite look at anything. Now that he knew his brother was blind as the proverbial bat, Dean noticed how Sam's eyes hovered on some empty middle ground, or slightly up and off at the distance, how they didn't dart over the room as they usually did, observing everything.
What if…what if this wasn't gonna go away? What if Sam never—
NO. No, that wasn't happening. If modern medicine couldn't solve this stupid problem, there were chits to be called in. People—in the loosest sense of the word—who could perform miracles. For a price. But miracles, nonetheless. There were still options—
"Wh–what?" No way Sam could hear was he was thinking.
"Stop playing with your silverware. It's annoying."
Dean slid his hand off the table.
"Thank you," Sam said primly and picked up his glass. The paper placemat stuck to the bottom, but Sam didn't have a clue. It would've been funny under different circumstances.
They switched motel rooms to an efficiency so they'd have a kitchenette, and paid for two weeks in advance. It was optimism; if they paid for more time, they'd either be wasting their money or cursing themselves into needing it.
Sam took the bed closest to the bathroom and Dean became mindful of leaving his shit lying around, especially after an unattended pair of jeans nearly cost Sam his left eye. Even though he wasn't using the eye at the moment, he would need it later when this flukey episode sorted out its dumb-ass self. Sam sported a serious shiner as a blatant reminder.
Three days passed before the neurologist's assistant called with a perfunctory apology and an uncompassionate answer.
Optic neuritis. An inflammation of the optic nerve. Cause, unknown. Treatment, none. Vision often returned to normal within two to three weeks. Could be an indication of a viral or bacterial infection, multiple sclerosis or other autoimmune diseases, such as lupus.
"But what if my vision doesn't return to normal?"
"Let's cross that bridge when, and if, we come to it, Mr. Bond."
"But…what should I do?"
"Give it time."
"Yes. Give it time."
For the record, being drunk and blind at the same time was a very bad idea.
Almost two weeks in, Sam caught wind of a case.
After he'd repeatedly crashed around the whole stinkin' room, Dean insisted Sam quit pacing. One leg was always bouncing with unspendable energy though, to the point Dean had him sit on the end of the bed and used him as a Magic Fingers.
Between games of dominoes and whining about not being able to shave, Sam busied himself with channel surfing, listening to the news and radio almost constantly. And he swore there was something to the murder of a local man; he had this sneaking suspicion. The man's wife reported he'd been acting strangely, that he'd been seeing things, lights in the woods off Route 64, and heard screams like a dying animal. And then he'd been found dead at Mile Marker 19, his rifle lying by his side, unfired.
A quick stop at the local morgue, under the guise of Dean Kardashian (no relation), and they had proof enough: there were conspicuous bits…missing. The heart and eyes. The M.E. suspected the eyes were the work of crows, but the heart? That was just plain weird. Dean agreed.
When Dean decided to pay a visit to the crime scene that night, Sam wouldn't be left behind. And no amount of arguing could trump those ridiculous wounded-orphan eyes. Even blind, Sam could work it, though at the time Sam didn't realize Dean had moved to the other side of the room.
"You will stay in the car, Sam."
"And if you see—hear—anything fucked up, you're calling 9-1-1, right?"
"I PROMISE. What the hell else can I do?"
Dean settled into a disgruntled silence as the Impala pulled off the road at Mile Marker 19. The yellow crime-scene tape was already trampled into the ground, probably by the local news. Clearly, the cops were done with it.
He'd been following a game trail roughly thirty feet when he noticed the eerie stillness. Unnatural, one might say. No lightning bugs, no crickets, no nightbirds, none of the expected summer company. He slipped the silver-loaded Smith & Wesson from its holster; missing hearts could pretty much guarantee some sort of shifter.
A twig snapped and he froze.
Dean slowly pivoted, scanning the inky woods. The moon was fat and bright but it didn't cut the dense underbrush. He mentally kicked himself for not having his flashlight out. The peculiar stink of metal and musk hit his nose.
Then he saw the eyes.
They flashed green-gold in the moonlight, weaving in and out of shadow like coins through a magician's fingers. A half-voiced gurgle became a growl and careful footfalls circled around him, never holding still long enough to allow a clean shot.
The thing was smart, human smart, predator smart. Dean readied to pull the trigger, but the beast knew the score. It kept moving and snarling soft promises of terror, making Dean's palms sweat.
"Come on come on, where are you, you son of a bitch?" Dean hissed.
Ask a stupid question…
The werewolf launched from Dean's far left side, a wall of mangy fur cutting the foliage so fast, all Dean saw was the rapid approach of black and the ivory stab of teeth. He whirled and leveled the gun but a massive, taloned paw ripped the weapon from his grip and dislocated his shoulder, all in one powerful swipe.
Pain tore through his arm, dropping Dean to the soft, mossy floor. Good thing, too, because when the shot flared over his head, he could almost feel the heat from the bullet singe his hair.
The werewolf screamed. It fell, leaden, to the ground and gave a great spasm. Red coughed from its maw and then, it stilled. In a weird shimmer, the fur fell away revealing a bloodied, naked man.
Someone whispered his name, very close by.
"D–Dean? Oh my God, Dean?
Dean rolled over, cradling his throbbing arm.
A very tall figure, backlit by the moon, hovered over him.
"For fuck's sake, Sam, what…how…?"
"I didn't hit you, did I?" Sam's voice was quivering.
"No, thank God. Not sure how you managed, but you didn't."
Sam wilted, stumbled forward as he tucked the gun at the small of his back and fell to his knees. His hands flew around until they landed on Dean. "I heard it," he said, pulling Dean to his feet. "Just aimed at the 'mad dog' sound."
"Shoulder!" Dean winced, after a stab of agony. "You heard it?"
Sam was taking small, uncertain steps, falling back to let Dean lead the way but keeping a finger hooked through a beltloop, for guidance. "Hellen Keller, eat your heart out," he said, and Dean heard the grin in his voice.
Gert greeted them with fretful eyes the next morning, whistling at Dean's arm in the make-shift sling and Sam's latest shiner.
"You two in Fight Club or what?" She gawked.
"Rule #1, Gert, you don't talk about Fight Club. Two coffees, if ya please." Dean settled uncomfortably into the booth, annoyed that he'd be doing everything—yes, even that—off-handed for a while.
"You got it, bruiser."
Gert sashayed off, and Dean glared at Sam with fresh warning. Last night, a Percocet prevented the conversation that was now fixing to happen. "Okay, lemme make this official: don't you ever pull a dumb-ass stunt like that again. Am I clear?"
Sam slung an arm over the back of the booth and rolled his eyes. Apparently he didn't need his sight to display bitchiness. "If I hadn't, you'd be werewolf kibble right about now. So shut it."
"You shut it."
"No, you shut it."
Gert returned with their coffees and readied a tiny pad of paper for their order. "Know what you want, boys?"
"Short stack, bacon, two eggs over-easy and a small orange juice," Dean said, his ire temporarily thwarted by the promise of vittles.
"And you, Stretch?"
Sam gestured loosely at the dry-erase board by the front door. "I think I'll have the Daily Special. But wheat toast instead of an English muffin. Thanks."
"You got it." And off she went again, rubber soles squeaking.
Dean pushed the condiment caddy to the middle of the table. "You want sugar in your coffee?"
"Nah, I'm good."
"The cream's at eleven…o'clock…wait a minute…"
Sam hoisted his brows, forehead creasing. "Hmm?"
"How did you know…the daily…?"
"Holy. Shit." Sam blinked, and a huge toothy grin broke across his face.