After his nap, which had been surprisingly peaceful, Dean decided it was time he contributed to the hunt. Joe wasn't going to let him anywhere near work for the rest of the day, so he figured it would be a good time to check out the Pub. It was nearing lunch time anyway, so he slipped past Rita without much trouble.
The inside of the Pub was, thankfully, almost empty. There were a few people having lunch, but he was careful to note that no one had alcohol sitting in front of them. He noted the pool table at the back of the room, but dismissed it. Given his current condition, he didn't think his hands were steady enough to pull off a hustle. Besides, it usually worked better when it was the two of them.
He took a seat at the table and picked up the menu. He wasn't really hungry, but ordering a beer would have put him a little out of place. He cringed at the country coming softly from the speakers, but resigned himself to the fact that there was no way around it.
A lean man with short, black hair stood behind the bar. He looked more the business type than he did the usual bartender, but it wasn't off turning. He wore jeans and a dress shirt, but had a bar rag over his shoulder. It was an unusual image, but nothing alarming.
"What can I get you?"
Dean turned his gaze to the waitress, and was surprised to find a rather plain looking woman standing beside him. She wasn't obese, but she definitely had a few extra pounds on her. Her jeans were ratty and torn, while her simple pink t-shirt appeared to be uniform, though it was missing a logo. She waved her pencil at him, encouraging him to speak, and he realized he'd been staring at her. A name tag announced her as Lily.
"Sorry," he said, turning back to the menu. "I'll just have some toast." He noticed that what she wrote down seemed a lot longer than the word 'toast' should have been. "And a cola."
"Sure thing." She turned without another word.
Dean continued his observations, noting that everyone in the pub had glanced over at him at least once, leaning forward to whisper. It was then he realized that in a place like this, his collapse would be practically front page news.
He was getting a little frustrated with it and was about to leave when the door opened. Two men came in, their heads close together in conversation. As he recognized them, his mood went further downhill. They spotted him, and made their way to his table, looking as surprised to see him as he was to see them.
"Dean, what the hell are you doing here?" Sam demanded, knowing his brother was supposed to be tucked away in bed under the watchful eye of their adopted grandmother.
Dean turned his glare on the second man. "I could ask you the same thing. Was it really necessary to call Bobby in?" he growled. Especially since he had specifically told Sam not to.
Bobby knew the boy well enough not to take offense. "Actually, I came on my own. I've got some information that might help. I met up with Sam at the Bed."
Lily came by to take their orders, then left them to themselves. Dean leaned forward. "So what's this information?"
"There was another death. In Rapid City, same MO," Bobby announced.
Dean frowned. "So our witch isn't here anymore? She's moved on? That doesn't make sense. Killers don't generally tend to like leaving their hunting grounds."
Sam cleared his throat. "Actually, it might be because of us." And then he relayed everything he had learned over the past few days, something he hadn't had a chance to do with Dean yet. He stopped when Lily deposited their drinks, then finished his thoughts. "If Collins knew we were Hunters, then it's fair someone else might, too. We might have spooked her with our being here."
Bobby nodded. "It's been known to happen before, and you boys have earned quite a reputation in the supernatural world, on both sides. She might have recognized you."
Dean shook his head. "I don't think so. I mean, why would a couple of Hunters ghosting into town be enough to spook a witch? Dude, she boils the blood of her victims! Why not just mark us as targets?"
A cleared throat announced the presence of their waitress, holding Bobby's steak and Sam's chef's salad. She grabbed another plate from the table behind her and deposited it in front of Dean.
Looking down at what was clearly a clubhouse, Dean frowned. Lily seemed to stare him down, daring him to admit in front of the others that he hadn't ordered a decent meal. "Rita said," was her only explanation. Sighing his defeat, Dean waved her away.
Bobby hadn't missed a thing. Sam had filled him in on what had been happening with his brother on the way in, and had also mentioned how overprotective the older woman who owned the Bed seemed to be of him. He knew Dean would find it damned annoying, but he couldn't help the amusement it brought. Still, he had enough self-preservation not to mention it.
"Dean, you're pretty good at finding patterns. Have you noticed anything?" Bobby asked. Pretty good was a bit of an understatement. Dean Winchester could do amazing things with numbers, and seemed to have a natural knack for putting together pieces that wouldn't normally fit. His outside the box thinking had been the basis of many of John's hunts. They made a good team, these boys. As long as Sam could dig up all the information, Dean could put it all together amazingly quickly, often times with stunning results.
Dean blushed. "Actually, Sam's got the lead on this one. I was a little indisposed," he admitted, choosing to focus on taking a bite of his clubhouse. He had to admit, it was good.
"But you're sure you're dealing with a witch?"
Dean nodded. "Hundred percent. Nothing else adds up." What he wasn't so sure of, was that they were only dealing with one. Something like this was either a very powerful and old witch, or a coven.
Sam shook his head. "I can't even put together a list of suspects, except to say that everyone in this town is a suspect. It's proving to be difficult to narrow it down."
"Yeah, but now we've got the tool we need," Dean announced. Both men looked at him questioningly. "We just have to find out who went to Rapid City last night. For once, this small town crap is going to work in our favor."
"So where do we start?" Sam asked.
"This Rita woman seems to have the dirt on everyone. Do you think you could find out from her?" Bobby put in.
Dean grimaced. He didn't relish actually having to sit down and talk to her. She was too perceptive, and frankly, almost every conversation involved having to discuss his health problems. He was sure that his toast order was going to get back to her, and earn him a lecture to boot.
Sam chuckled at his brother’s sour expression, and decided to let him off the hook. "I'll see what I can find out tomorrow while Dean's at work."
Bobby frowned. "At work? I didn't think this would take going under cover."
Dean cleared his throat. "It doesn't. It takes money, and for that I had to get a job. Don't look so shocked, old man, it's not the first honest days work I've done."
Bobby chuckled and went back to his meal. They ate in silence, each lost in their own thoughts. Lily cleared their plates and they left. Standing outside the Bed, Bobby said good bye now that he had passed along his information. To be honest, he had wanted to see how Dean was doing for himself, and couldn't have anticipated the brothers being apart. He'd developed an elaborate plan to separate them long enough to get the story from Sam, but had been surprised when it wasn't needed. That, alone, told him all he needed to know.
Both boys watched their old friend drive away. Sam wished he could have stayed, but knew that Bobby was working non-stop to try and figure out what was happening with his brother. Glancing at the man, he wished they could have stayed at Bobby's. A part of him even wished their father was still alive to tell him what to do. He wouldn't have let Dean starve himself to death. He would have found out what this was by now, and a way to stop it.
"Stop it," Dean ordered suddenly.
"Staring at me like I'm gonna disappear any minute. I'm fine. Why'd you do it, Sammy? Why'd you call Bobby?"
Sam frowned at the tone of anger in Dean's voice. "I swear, I didn't. He surprised me too."
Dean sighed and ran a hand through his short spikes. "So, has he found anything?"
"The death in Rapid City-" Sam stopped when he realized that wasn't what his brother was talking about. He shook his head. "No, Dean. He hasn't found anything yet. What's happening to you, it's like nothing we've seen before. We don't exactly have a lot to work with," Sam hinted.
"I've told you what I know," Dean insisted.
"That's just it, Dean, I don't think you have," Sam growled in frustration.
"I haven't had a trance in two days. Maybe it's gone," Dean answered curtly.
"Or maybe you've just moved beyond that stage. Dean," Sam hesitated, hating to ask but knowing he had no choice. "It's not medical, is it? I mean, it's definitely supernatural?"
Dean frowned. That thought hadn't honestly occurred to him. Still, there was no sense in worrying about it. Either way, as things stood, there was nothing to be done, and they had a hunt to focus on. "You go speak to everyone you've met since we got here. Ask them about Rapid City. I'm going to head over to Joe's, see if he knows anything."
"Sam, we've done this," Dean warned. Sam immediately backed off. He'd only heard that tone directed at him a rare few times in their lives, but it pushing it never boded well.
Dean watched his younger sibling leave in the rental truck, his shoulders tense and worried. He wished there was something he could do to help, but there wasn't. "This is for your own good, Sammy," he whispered, and was immediately thrown back to the first time he had uttered those hated words.
"But Dean! I wanna know where you're going tonight!" Sam whined, following his older brother around as he packed an overnight bag. "And I don't wanna stay with Bobby."
Dean looked at his brother, feeling horrible that he couldn't reassure him that it was just a night out with some friends. The truth was, their father had called him in on a hunt he was doing as back up. Had, in fact, demanded both his boys join him.
But Sam was too young to come, too young to see what was really out there. Knowing it and doing some research was one thing, training for it was different, but to actually see them in action? To see how dangerous what they did was? It was too soon. He would accept the consequences of showing up by himself as they came. He refused to place Sammy in that kind of situation. He wasn't ready.
"You like staying here. There's lots of books and Bobby doesn't make you go to bed early," Dean teased, trying to lighten the mood.
Sam quieted. "You're going Hunting with Dad, aren't you?"
Dean sighed. He could never lie to his brother, so he resorted to age old tactics. Avoid the subject. "And what about that paper you have due tomorrow? You've worked hard on it."
But this time Sam sensed something was off. Dean was tense, as if he was itching for action. He only ever got that way before a date, a brawl, or a Hunt. And since Sam knew that his brother didn't have any current romantic affairs, and they weren't in a bar, that left the third option. The only other time he saw Dean like this was when their Dad was in danger. His face paled at the thought.
"Is Dad okay?" Sam panicked. Dean did everything he could to hide the reality of their lifestyle from him, but he wasn't blind. He'd seen both his father and his brother laid up by injuries more than once.
Knowing there was no way around it, Dean grasped Sam's shoulders and looked him straight in the eye. "Dad is fine, Sammy, I promise you. Okay? I'm just going out for the night. I should be back tomorrow afternoon."
Sam frowned. "Why can't you just tell me?"
Because, Dean answered in his mind, Dad calling for back up means he can't handle it alone. And that means there's a chance we might not come out of it alive, and I can't stand the thought of you having to watch a loved one die or be hurt.
Aloud, he answered, "Because it's really nothing to worry about."
Furious, Sam violently pushed his brothers hands off of him. "You're treating me like a kid, Dean. Just like Dad does. I'm not stupid! I know what goes on out there!" He stopped, reading the truth in Dean's posture. "He called for both of us, didn't he? You're protecting me!" The last was shot out in a vicious accusation.
"Listen to me, Sammy. Yes, okay? Dad called for us. He needs back up on a Hunt. And no, you're not coming. You're not ready to see. Patching us up, that's different. But that feeling of actually watching someone you love being hurt by some evil thing, there's nothing like it, Sammy. It's the worst feeling you'll ever have. And someday, you will have it. I can't protect you from that. But I can delay it," Dean insisted. "I know you think you're ready, and maybe you are, but I'm not. So you're staying here. It's for your own good, trust me."
He left without another word, leaving a stunned little brother sitting on the bed. He never saw the tears, never saw Bobby standing outside the door, listening. He dropped the duffel bag of weapons into the backseat and sped off.
Sam leaned his forehead against the steering wheel in defeat. He'd talked to everyone they knew, and even some he didn't, but no one had been to Rapid City last night. Fred Collins had actually had a mild panic attack at the very thought of returning to the source of his most gruesome nightmares.
Every lead they'd had was now at a dead end. Starting the truck, he headed back to the Bed, looking forward to another home cooked meal. He hoped Dean had had better luck with Joe. It sucked when they had to start over again. This case was proving to be a little more challenging than he'd thought, and despite his intentions, it wasn't leaving him a lot of research time.
There was no progress being made in either case, and Dean was getting worse. Even more frustrating was his older siblings insistence on protecting him from what was happening. Was it possible it was medical? Was that why Dean had avoided the line of questioning earlier today?
His heart sped up as he parked in front of the Bed and noticed Dr. Brown's car was there. He ran inside, a part of him hoping with everything he had that Brown was there for the pie. But there was no one in the dining room, so he raced upstairs to their room.
Rita and Dr. Brown were both standing in the room, talking. Dean was sitting in a chair, completely motionless, his hands gripping the arm rests of the chairs so hard he had white knuckles. His lips moved silently, as though he were speaking to someone, but his eyes were blank.
"What happened?" Sam demanded, immediately rushing over to kneel in front of his brother, knowing even as he did so that there was nothing he could do. Dean was deep in his trance. "How long has he been like this?"
"Lily came out for her break just after you boys left the Pub and found him unconscious on the ground at the door here. He woke up just as we were getting up here, but then went into this state," Rita quickly explained. "We sat him in the chair, since he was having trouble breathing lying down, but he hasn't moved since."
"Son, has this happened before?" Dr. Brown asked.
Sam chewed his bottom lip. "Dr. Brown, have you ever seen anything like this before?"
Brown frowned. "Nothing like this. It's possible he's having petit mal seizures, but it's almost unheard of for patients to lose consciousness, especially before it happens. Has his behavior changed?"
Sam swallowed. "A little."
"It's possible we might be looking at a brain tumor of some sort, or an arterial blockage. But there are a hundred different things it could be. He needs to be in a hospital, son," Brown suggested gently, somehow instinctively knowing that it wasn't going to be taken well. "I need to run some tests."
Sam closed his eyes, hating the decision he was about to make. "It won't do any good. As soon as he comes around, he'll sign himself out. I appreciate your help, Dr. Brown, but there's nothing you can do for him."
"Sam, I strongly advise-"
"Sam, you should-"
"Please," Sam interrupted both of them, who had spoken at the same time. "Please, just leave. I appreciate your help, but he'll be fine. He's always fine."
Both hesitated, but went at a glare from him. Once they were gone, he turned back to his brother. "Dean, please. I'm scared," he whispered. "What if they're right, and this isn't something we can handle on our own? Please, I need you to tell me what to do."
Tears gathered in his eyes when his brother didn't respond. He choked back a sob, but continued talking, hoping it would somehow help. "I remember you told me once that the worst thing I would ever feel was watching someone I loved get hurt. You were right, Dean, and I'm not sure how much longer I can do this. Knowing you made that deal was bad enough, but this- I've never been so scared in my life, Dean. I need you now, I need you to come back to me."
He sniffled, and tried to smile. "Do you remember that time Dad went out to hunt the poltergeist in New York? He took Bobby with him and it was just the two of us. Everything was going great until I got sick. You took care of me. I swear, you didn't sleep for a week because every time I woke up, you were there, talking to me, calming me. I was feverish for most of it, and I don't remember a lot, but I do remember that you were always there."
"You have to let me take care of you, Dean, just this once," Sam begged. "Please come back. Tell me what's happening."
He talked for what felt like hours, remembering the good times they'd had, the funny, and the sad. Anything to try and connect with his brother. Nothing worked. Those greens remained blank, the death grip on the chair never changing. He ignored the knock on the door that could only have been Rita.
Sam didn't know when he'd fallen asleep, but he when he woke, his head was on Dean's lap, and his body was stiff. Glancing out the window, he noticed it was dark. Almost afraid of what he might find, he finally looked up at his brother, who had his head down.
"Dean?" Sam cried out, filled with hope. He put a hand to the back of Dean's neck, and was surprised by the raging heat he felt. "Dean, please."
"Sammy?" Dean did his best to lift his head, but found it was harder than it ever had been before. His whole body felt weighed down with lead. He could feel his muscles shake at the effort.
"Yeah, yeah, I'm here. Can you get up?" He'd seen Dean injured often enough to know that his brother was feeling weak, that he couldn't really do much on his own yet. Sam was hesitant to help him lie down after what Brown had said about his breathing, but it was obvious he didn't have much of a choice as he watched Dean struggle.
Dean tried to force his body to obey his command to stand, but he couldn't. Every beat of his heart came with a throb in his head. It was uncomfortably hot in the room, and his skin felt like it was crawling with insects. It was harder still to keep coherent thoughts together. Everything seemed to slip through, like he could reach but couldn't quite catch it.
"It's okay," Sam soothed. "I'll help you up. Let's get you on the bed." He gently helped his brother lie down on his side on the bed. Dean's eyes were glazed with fever, but they were focused. "Can you breathe okay?"
Dean nodded, closing his eyes. Sam could see the tell-tale lines in the corners of his eyes that always told him Dean was in pain, even if he wouldn't say anything. He immediately went across the hall to the bathroom and gathered a bowl of water and a cloth. Grateful that Rita was asleep, he slipped back into their room, locking the door.
Sitting on the bed next to his brother, Sam carefully dipped and wrung out the cloth, placing it on Dean's forehead. Taking advantage of his bewildered state, Sam leaned low to whisper, "Dean, tell me what happened. What did you see?"
He felt Dean tense, trying to and move away from him, but the small single bed didn't allow him much room for his escape. "Please, Dean, tell me?" Sam begged.
"Flashes," Dean murmured, giving a sigh of appreciation as Sam dipped the cloth again.
Dean screwed his eyes shut even tighter, and Sam wondered if he was fighting the headache he obviously had, or himself. "Don't know," Dean ground out.
His breathing hitched, and Sam realized that Dean was determined to protect him from this. Chewing his lip, Sam knew that if he continued to push, he would eventually get the answers he needed, but it would put Dean in further distress. Not trusting what that could do to his brother's delicate condition, he made the decision to let it go.
"Shhh, Dean. I won't ask. I just need you to relax," Sam soothed gently, reinforcing it with a grip on Dean's shoulder. His brother was rarely ill, but he knew that touch had always helped center Dean when he was feverish.
He kept up the contact and quiet murmuring until he was sure Dean had fallen asleep. Then he settled in for a long night of vigilance. He would call Bobby in the morning and tell him what happened. He couldn't do this alone anymore.
The cry that pierced the room shocked Sam out of his thoughts. Shit, was Dean having another nightmare? No, there was pain in that cry. Dean was trying to curl in on himself, covering his abdomen. Another scream had Sam up and moving, trying to force his brother to lie on his back.
"Dean! Come on!" Sam shouted, trying to get through to him. He crinkled his nose as the smell of burning flesh rushed in with his next breath. Beyond the sounds of Dean's next scream, he could hear sizzling. "What the hell?" Sam demanded, fighting back his gag reflex and putting all his strength into rolling his brother.
Once he'd succeeded, he pushed up Dean's shirt, and swore. There was a symbol that had been somehow branded into Dean's chest, right above his heart. Holding his brother's shoulders down with one arm, it took a minute for Sam to realize that something had changed.
Dean wasn't breathing.