Riley helped get Dean into the passenger seat then turned sharply to Sam, “I’ll be talking to you later.”
“Riley, I –“
“Hey,” she stopped him, eyes wide, “You can justify why you skipped out on work and your brother later. Just take him home.”
Sam swallowed, clenching his jaw. He looked down, about to say something, when Riley cut him off.
“He was really worried about you.”
Sam didn’t say anything. He had nothing to say. He had no reasonable explanation as to why he’d left work for hours and not been contactable.
“I’ll call you later.”
Sam hadn’t even got himself together enough to say thank you. He just responded to Dean’s sharp tap on the window, telling him to hurry the heck up, and rounded the car to slide into the driver’s seat.
“Sam,” Dean said, his gruff voice sounding weak, “Just drive.”
Sam didn’t speak again until he’d pulled out onto the road.
“Do you want to tell me what the hell happened?”
Dean stiffened, then huffed, “Funny, I was about to ask the same question.”
“Look, man. I’m sorry. I went on my lunch break and I… I fell asleep in the car.”
Dean looked at him, eyebrows raised, “You fell asleep?”
Sam sighed, “I didn’t mean to, alright? I just was resting my eyes and… I didn’t even hear the phone ringing.”
“You not getting enough sleep or something?” Dean asked, voice strained, breathing laboured.
Sam could tell Dean was pissed at him, stemming from the worry he’d held for his little brother his entire life. He knew it was a weak excuse, and it was a lie, all he could come up with on the drive over. But there was more in Dean’s question. He could sense the guilt pouring off his brother. Sam hadn’t been getting enough sleep, because he was working almost constantly, staying up with Dean, helping him get through the day, driving him to appointments, sneaking out with Ruby to exorcise demons and drink her blood, training for when he inevitably left his brother to pursue Lilith. He could feel his own guilt creeping up his neck, flushing his skin. He’d never intended to do this but Ruby was right. Lilith had done this to Dean, all of it. And he needed to make it right. He needed to get revenge. He needed Lilith’s head on a plate.
“Light’s red!” Dean practically shouted.
Sam slammed on the breaks, the heavy car fishtailing slightly. Dean was thrown forward a little, one hand on the dashboard, bracing him back in the seat.
“Ah! Son of a…”
“You alright, Dean? God, I’m sorry.”
Dean tipped his head back, eyes closed. He was breathing carefully, controlled, lips tight.
Dean held up a hand, telling him stop, give me a minute, I can’t answer right now.
The light turned green and Sam eased the car back in motion, glancing sidelong at his brother, whose breaths were quickening exponentially.
Dean’s hands were in tight fists now, one still pressing into the dashboard.
“You gotta calm down, man.”
Dean’s body was rigid. He was in a lot of pain, a lot, and he was having a panic attack because of it.
“Why don’t you… learn to… drive?”
Sam laughed despite himself and reached one hand out to his brother’s shoulder. Dean still hadn’t opened his eyes.
Dean’s breathing wasn’t slowing, it set him off coughing and he curled forward, head on the dash this time.
“Relax those muscles, dude,” Sam’s hand ghosted up and down his hunched back, feeling the dampness and tension, “Slow it down.”
“I know, but you’re freaking out. Just relax a little, it’s okay.”
Dean sighed, but slowly Sam felt at least some of the tension drain out of him.
“They give you painkillers in there?”
Dean nodded almost unperceivably, “Wearing off.”
“Okay, we’ll have some more when we get home.”
“You gonna lean back?”
Dean tensed a little again, “No.”
“Just… watch the road.”
Sam swallowed, tensing his jaw, his lips tightening. He was trying to do the right thing, but he just kept making everything worse.
When they got home Dean uncurled from his position against the dash and hoisted himself out of the car on his own. Sam made it round to his side but he brushed him off, staggering ahead without his crutches until he found the handrail to climb the stairs to the porch.
Dean waited until Sam unlocked the front door and then pushed through first, heading into the kitchen.
Bobby was sitting at the table and looked quizzically between the two boys, the tension so tangible it could be cut with a knife.
“Boys,” he said in a way of greeting, “Somethin’ I missed?”
“I just picked Dean up from the hospital,” Sam explained simply.
Bobby kept his expression fairly blank, although it was clear it was a surprise to him.
“I’m fine,” Dean grunted, rummaging in the kitchen draw for his pills, “Sleeping beauty here on the other hand…”
“What’s going on with you two?” Bobby asked, standing.
Sam was still standing by the front door, like a deer caught in the headlights, “It’s nothing, I, uh –“
“He fell asleep, missed work, and wouldn’t answer his phone. That’s not nothing!”
“Dean, calm down,” Sam said softly, avoiding Bobby’s shocked glare.
“Don’t tell me to calm down,” Dean tried shaking some pills out on his hand, ended up upending the bottle, pills scattering everywhere. He tried to bend, dropped the bottle and leaned back against the wall, legs shaking beneath him.
Bobby was across the room faster than Sam was, getting Dean’s arm over his shoulders, “Take it easy, boy.”
“I need two,” Dean slammed his eyes shut, looking queasy.
Sam stood on, feeling helpless.
“Sam, grab me some pills, would ya?” Bobby ordered.
Sam stooped to the kitchen floor, grabbing a couple of pills and handing them to his trembling brother. Dean tipped them into his mouth and swallowed them dry, grimacing.
“Why don’t we get you horizontal?” Bobby suggested.
Dean was tight, unmoving. Sam could tell whatever he’d done to his back had seized him up where he was standing, barely under his own power. Sam was hit with another pang of guilt at knowing his careless driving had caused at least some of it.
“Hang on,” Dean grinded out through clenched teeth.
“Can’t stand here all day,” Bobby muttered, adjusting his hold on Dean.
The movement, however subtle, made Dean’s hand grip into Bobby’s shoulder tightly and he sucked in a short sharp breath.
Sam watched Dean weaken and it looked like he was about to hurl.
“And we’re walking,” Bobby ordered, pulling Dean with him gently. He knew what would inevitably happen if they continued to stand.
Sam saw them struggling and went to Dean’s left side, getting under his arm. It must have been the height difference, the fact that Sam was a few inches taller, and that Dean had had shoulder surgery only a few months ago, but again, in trying to do the right thing, Sam had made it worse.
“Shoulder! Shoulder!” Dean hissed, pressing more weight into Bobby, trying to escape his brother.
For a moment Sam felt like a little kid. The way Dean and Bobby had snapped at him reminded him of their dad, and life on the road before he’d left for Stanford. Before his desire to leave his family had overtaken him, he’d just wanted to do everything he could to make his dad proud. Dean was constantly proud of him, he knew that… dad was a different story. Everything with dad he felt like he had to earn, whereas Dean gave it to him freely. Right now though, Dean had never reminded him more of their father.
It only took a moment for Sam to check himself and get into brother mode. He got ahead of Dean and Bobby, which wasn’t hard, and pulled back the covers on Dean’s bed, plugging in and turning on the heat pad.
Bobby sat Dean down on the edge of the bed.
“Here, lie back, man,” Sam offered.
“I need, uh,” Dean panted, “I can’t be less than 45 degrees,” he indicated with his hand, gesturing to the pillows.
Sam and Bobby shared a glance, “Why not?” Sam asked first.
“I got, uh,” he made a swirling motion around his chest.
Bobby straightened, “Dean, why don’t you tell us why you were at the hospital?”
Dean cleared his throat, “Pleural effusion.”
“What the heck is that?” Sam asked.
“I dunno, Sam. Google it,” Dean moaned, “Basically my lungs hate me.”
“Well is it bad?”
“It can be but it’s not,” Dean snapped.
“Well,” Sam tried to wrap his head around it, and why his brother was being so blasé about the whole thing, “What do we have to do? Could it get worse?”
Dean pulled a pill bottle out of his pocket, “Well, it could but, look, I got more pills. So, we can add that to the two thousand other ones I’m taking.”
Dean paled, other hand gripping the mattress as the task of sitting on the edge of his bed began to wear on him, the brief conversation leaving him out of breath.
“Alright, well, we’ll add it to the list,” Bobby said, stooping to grab Dean’s legs and help him get them up on the bed, “Meanwhile, you need to lie down before you pass out.”
Dean swallowed, and Sam noted that his lips were losing colour too. Bobby wasn’t far wrong.
Sam had stacked the pillows up so Dean wasn’t less than 45 degrees as he’d said. He was going to take Dean up on his offer and Google it though.
It took both Sam and Bobby to help Dean shuffle back onto the bed. Dean gripped their arms and arced his back up in pain.
“God,” he winced through clenched teeth.
“It’s alright. We got ya,” Sam muttered, as they finally got Dean semi-comfortable against the pillows.
Bobby looked at Sam pointedly, “I’m gonna give you boys a minute,” he said, before leaving the room and pulling the door half shut behind himself.
“Sam, I’m tired.”
Dean had already shut him out before he’d even begun.
“I get it, dude… Are you really doing okay?”
Dean smiled, rubbed a hand across his chest, “I’m… doing the best I can, man.”
“I’m sorry for –“
“Forget it, dude,” Dean breathed, eyes closed and looking thoroughly out of steam. Too exhausted to fight.
Sam wanted to say something like, we’re in this together, Dean, or, we’ll get through it, I’m here for you. Some chick-flick bullshit that Dean probably wouldn’t appreciate. So in the end he said nothing. Sam sighed, about to stand up when Dean’s eyes opened.
“Hey, um…” Dean glanced away, like he was embarrassed, “Can you get me something, you know, to help me sleep?”
Sam kept his expression carefully blank, not giving away how surprised he was by the request.
Dean woke to his phone ringing on the bedside table. It was his familiar rock riff, along with the intrusive rumbling of the vibration against a wooden surface. His body came awake sluggishly, and it was a long ten or so seconds before he could reach out a hand to grab his phone.
“Hello?” His voice was deep, grumbling low in his chest, causing him a stab of pain.
“Dean! It’s Katie. Is this a bad time?”
Dean rubbed a hand over his forehead, closing his eyes again and swallowing.
“No... Sorry, I was sleeping.”
“Oh, I’m sorry to wake you up. You can go back to sleep. I’ll talk to you later.”
“Katie, wait,” Dean panted, “You don’t have to go.”
She sighed, breathy and sweet, “How are you?”
Dean swallowed again, mouth dry, “I’m doing okay. How’re you?”
“I’m fine,” she paused, “Dean… I know you weren’t in the best way after our date… I feel like I pushed too hard. I just wanted to apologise.”
Dean’s breath quickened and he had to stifle a painful cough. She hadn’t pushed all that hard. He wouldn’t put that on her. A light breeze was all it took these days to set him off. It may have been her questions yesterday that caused him to get a taxi to the nearest open bar, or it may have just been the fact that he was on his own for once, his brother not breathing down his neck. He’d wanted a drink ever since he’d been told he couldn’t have one. Even before that. He couldn’t remember a time in his life when he hadn’t wanted a drink. And since he pulled his body through the dirt, out of his grave, the desire had been crippling.
“Dean, you okay?”
“Yeah –“ Dean struggled to control his disobedient lungs, “It’s not your fault. You don’t have to apologise.”
“No, I… I realize there’re things you can’t talk about, things you don’t want to talk about, and I don’t hold it against you. I just wanted to understand.”
“I know,” Dean grumbled, anxiety creeping up his chest.
“I hoped you’d maybe want to, hang out again?” She asked, uncertainly, “I don’t have anything on tomorrow and my parents are in Florida for the weekend. You could come over in the morning and I could cook you pancakes for breakfast.”
There was so much joy and hope in her voice that Dean couldn't possibly say no, especially when pancakes were involved.
“With bacon?” he asked.
She laughed, “With bacon.”
“Then I’m in.”
Sam was sitting at the breakfast bar, clicking away through WebMD on his computer, listening to Bobby do laundry. When he looked up from his computer the gruff, older hunter was standing in front of him with a stern expression. He stared at him before placing a motel room key down on the counter in front of him.
“Found that in your jeans pocket.”
Sam’s eyes widened, “Bobby, I –“
“You and I need to have a talk, son.”