Sam was sure Dean didn’t need to be going out right now. He should have been at home in bed, drugged up, and comfortable. But just seeing how Dean changed when he stepped into the bar was enough to put any and all of his doubts to rest. Dean needed stimulus. Dean needed other people. Dean needed environments like this.
“Heya, Riley,” Dean grinned as he eased himself into the booth.
She grabbed his arm and he allowed her to help him. Sam wanted to raise an eyebrow but he didn’t dare alter his expression. It was weird Dean would let someone do that for him. Which spoke volumes about Dean and Riley’s relationship.
“Hey, stud. How you been?” she popped her hip and leaned against the chair back.
“I’ve had better days, I’ll tell you that.”
“Want me to bring you some steak?” she offered, face in a comically adorable frown.
“God, yes,” Dean smiled up at her.
For a moment they laughed, and then Dean must have seen past her to the bottles on the wall behind the bar because his face changed. He swallowed thickly and looked shaken. Riley flicked a glance to Sam and moved directly into Dean’s line of vision.
“Don’t thank me just yet, it’s lean with steamed vegetables and mashed potato. Little brother’s orders.”
A statement like that usually would have made Dean pissed. But she said it in a way that was provoking, playful, and flirtatious. Dean was a goner.
He feigned annoyance, “Yeah, well, I’m only going along with it ‘cause I like my liver where it is.”
Riley leaned over and rubbed a hand across the back of his shoulders, “I’ll go and get chef to put it on for you. Do you want some water?”
“Yes, please,” Sam answered.
Riley nodded, “What’ll you have, Sam?”
“Chicken Caesar, thanks,” he smiled.
Dean rolled his eyes.
Riley laughed and Sam saw Dean relax even further.
“Kay, be right back,” she smirked.
Dean drummed his fingers against the table.
“So, Sammy… spoken to Bobby lately?”
Sam studied his brother for a moment. His eyes showed guilt, along with a bit of sorrow, contradicting the flippant way in which he asked the question.
“Yeah, I called him this morning. He’s doing good.”
Dean pursed his lips and nodded.
“See, he didn’t answer when I called…” Dean left the statement hanging in the air, tangible in its grief.
“He’s been on the road a lot. I’m sure he was just driving at the time.”
Dean nodded, but his teeth were clenched and he looked out the window to his right.
Riley came back at that time with a bottle of water and two glasses.
“Do you need anything else, honey?” she asked, assessing Dean.
Dean smiled but it didn’t reach his eyes, and Sam realized just how tired his brother looked.
“I’m good, sweetheart.”
“Okay,” she chirped and left again. Sam watched how Dean leaned forward to check out her ass.
“Don’t even think about it, dude.”
Dean smirked, “I can look.”
“How’s things going with her?” Sam quirked an eyebrow.
“What do you mean?”
“You know what I mean,” Sam grinned, trying not to make his brother feel cornered.
“We’re not shopping for curtains if that’s what you mean.”
“What?” Dean shrugged, “We have fun, Sam. That’s it. You know what our life’s like. You know we can’t get too tied down.”
Sam played with the napkin in front of him, “Why not?”
Dean narrowed his gaze, “Sammy, Sammy, Sammy.”
“You got something you need to tell me?”
“What? No. I was just saying, why can’t we? I mean, now’s as good a time as any.”
Dean’s face went a little red and Sam wished he hadn’t said anything at all.
There was an awkward silence as Sam tried to figure out what to say to fix the damage he’d done, but Dean coughed and gave them both a welcome distraction. Sam poured him a drink as the fit failed to control itself.
“Shit,” Dean cursed, in between coughs.
His hand was shaking as he lifted the glass to his lips. He leaned back in the seat and tilted his head back, taking controlled breaths.
“I’m so sick of being sick,” he said with a thick sniff.
Sam refrained from lecturing him on why he was still sick and just tried for an empathetic approach.
“I know, dude.”
Dean sniffed again, “God, I gotta sneeze.”
Sam handed him a napkin, “Brace on the table, man. Be careful.”
Dean put a hand against the table and the other wrapped the napkin around his nose.
He jerked forward with a sneeze, paused, then sneezed a second time.
“Your back all right?”
Dean sniffled and relaxed, “Relatively.”
“Just let me know when you’ve had enough and we’ll head home.”
Dean just nodded, rubbing his fingers over his forehead.
“How’re your ribs?” Dean asked, trying to deflect.
“They’re okay,” Sam shrugged, thinking better of lying to his brother, “Hurts a little when I bend.”
“I’ll bet. You should have some painkillers tonight.”
Dean sipped his water again and looked in the direction of the bar. Sam didn’t know whether he was looking for Riley or looking longingly at the alcohol on the back wall. It probably wasn’t a good idea to bring his brother here.
“So, you think you’ll be okay for rehab tomorrow?” Sam changed the subject, trying to keep his brother engaged in conversation.
Dean cleared his throat, “Sure.”
Riley came back over with their meals and set them down in front of them.
“Here you go, boys.”
Dean crinkled his nose.
“What?” Sam said, smiling.
Riley laughed, “It’s a vegetable. It’s supposed to be green.”
Dean’s face crinkled up even more and he poked his food with a fork.
“Dean, just eat it please. It’s good for you.”
Riley laughed again and left them to it.
Sam tried to keep things light, to keep talking to distract his brother, and for a time it seemed to work. Dean seemed relaxed and settled, but Dean tired easily these days, and Sam could see the telltale flush of pink of his cheeks, broadcasting his high temperature. He was coughing on and off too, sometimes trying to muffle it in the middle of a conversation, sometimes having to take full minutes out to control himself. He ate all of his meal though, and that was a good sign. But he was glancing towards the bar more and more, fidgeting with anything he could get his hands on to occupy himself, and Sam knew that this was hard for Dean, very hard.
Dean licked his lips and brought a shaky hand to his mouth.
“You okay?” Sam asked.
Dean’s eyes flitted around, “I, uh, I think we should go.”
“Okay,” Sam said calmly, starting to stand up, “You feeling alright?”
“No, I… no.”
Sam rounded the table and helped his brother stand, handing him his crutches.
“I gotta see Riley. Meet you outside?”
Dean looked shaken, but he nodded and headed towards the door.
Sam went up to the bar and nodded at Riley. She glanced around him like she was looking for Dean and then came over.
“Everything alright?” she asked.
“Nah, I think… I think it was too much bringing him here. I’ll just grab my cheque and get him home.”
“Sure, Sam. Be right back.”
Riley turned, her long ponytail swishing behind her.
Dean stepped outside into the cool air and took a breath in, looking up towards the sky. He had never realized what alcohol was to him. He’d never realized just how much he depended on it, just how much he needed it, just how much he wanted it. Until right now. In that moment when he’d sat with his brother in the bar, with a glass of water in his hand, he’d realized something.
He was an alcoholic.
His hands shook as he tried to hold the crutches steady, and his chest moved up and down rapidly, his heart pounding, and a lump in his throat. He’d wanted a drink so badly. Even then, waiting for Sam to come outside, he was trying to think of a way to get back in there and down some whiskey without him knowing. But he was sure the whole staff knew not to serve him.
He’d started to freak out, feeling like he was suffocating in there. He could smell it. He could see people sloshing glasses and bottles about, spilling liquid on the floor, on the bar. And, my god, he’d lick it off the floor if that was the only way he was going to get it.
“You okay?” Sam appeared beside him, probably knowing better than to touch him.
“Let’s go,” he said, sniffing thickly.
He just wanted to get away.
Dean screamed and screamed. He’d already screamed himself hoarse. Sam had spoken to both neighbours already. And for the first few hours the noise had been pretty disturbing, but now Dean’s voice was pretty well gone, still he tried anyway.
Sam sat next to him on the bed, holding Dean’s arms down by his side as he struggled against him.
“Dean! Wake up! Dean, come on.”
It was the same thing he’d been saying the whole time, trying to hold his brother still, trying to get him to wake up.
“Noooooo!” Dean’s voice was raw and breathy, painful sounding.
His throat was hurting before he went to bed. It would be agony when he woke up.
“Dean, please. Settle down. It’s okay…”
It was no use. Sam was talking to himself.
Sam himself was sweating. It’d been close to three hours he’d been trying to get any sense out of Dean. Short of throwing a bucket of water on him, he had no ideas left.
A banging came on the door.
Sam turned from his brother, it was Bobby.
“I’ll be right back, Dean.”
Sam hurried down the hall in bare feet and flung the front door open.
“Need some help?” Bobby said with a weary smile.
Sam could have collapsed right there, but Dean screamed again.
Bobby came in and shut the door behind himself. He put a hand on Sam’s shoulder and squeezed, looking him in the eye.
“Come on, son.”
Dean was panting, his breathing out of control. His lungs crackled with the remnants of pneumonia. And he kept screaming.
Bobby wet a towel and came back, wiping over Dean’s face.
“Dean, please, wake up,” Sam was still holding him down against the bed, because the way Dean was thrashing he was going to injure himself even more.
“Dean, son. Listen to me. You’re dreaming. You need to calm down, boy,” Bobby said firmly.
For a second Dean still struggled, and then he started to slow.
“Dean! You’re okay… you’re safe. Open your eyes, Dean,” Sam kept talking.
Both of them did, and eventually, Dean stopped.
He didn’t open his eyes though, he just stilled, stopped screaming. His head lolled to the side and he tried to catch his breath. Bobby wiped the sweat away from where it was pooling in the curves of his neck.
“Bobby…” Dean’s voice was weak and rough, and his eyes still weren’t open.
Bobby stopped, “It’s me, son.”
Dean kept his eyes closed but reached a hand out until he found Bobby’s arm and wrapped his fingers around the flannel of Bobby’s shirt.
Eventually Dean started to go lax.
“Dean, open your mouth. I gotta give you pills.”
Sam and Bobby rolled Dean to one side and tilted his head up. Sam slipped a small pill in his mouth and then the rim on the water glass. Dean choked a little and Bobby rubbed his back.
“Swallow, boy. It’s alright…”
Sam did the same thing again with two more pills and then let Dean roll back onto his back.
“What you give him?”
Sam rubbed his face with both hands, “Valium… and some Tylenol for the fever.”
“Okay, good job, son. Now go and get some sleep.”
“No, it’s okay,” Sam propped himself up, elbows on knees, “I’m good. I’ll stay.”
“Bull,” Bobby announced, “You’re dead on your feet. Get some sleep. I’m watching him.”
Sam dragged himself to his feet, sucking in a breath as he felt his ribs shift.
“Ribs still bothering you?” Bobby asked, noticing straight away.
“It takes a long time for ribs to heal, Sam. You gotta take it easy.”
Sam closed his eyes and sighed, “Take it easy,” he repeated.
“Sam… I’m sorry I took that hunt.”
Sam turned to face him, “Don’t apologise for that. Someone’s gotta pick up our slack.”
“I’m going to bed.”
Bobby nodded, “Get some rest.”
“Wake me up if he… If anything happens.”
Sam took another look at his brother, who seemed to finally have his breathing under control and looked peaceful at last. He nodded towards Bobby and then went down the hall to his room. He shut the door and started taking his shirt off. His body ached and protested the movement. He moaned a little as he got free from the fabric and stared at his chest in the mirror. The bruises were turning a harsh yellow. He ran a hand across his chest before climbing into bed with no shirt on, sprawling out on his back because it was the only way he could get comfortable. As an afterthought he realized he probably should have taken some painkillers but he was too tired to get up, and the sound of silence, finally, was beautiful. He closed his eyes and let himself fall asleep.