Episode Two: Overhaul

By BurstynOut & Tracer

Part One

 

Sam grimaced as the junked Impala plummeted across another gaping pot hole. Back roads were never his idea of a fun drive, but maneuvering across them in a severely damaged bucket of rust care of Possessed People of America was just asking for trouble.

Well, Sam blamed the wreck on the vision and the fact that he'd been half out of his mind with worry over Dean; Dean blamed Sam. No big surprise there. The younger brother had expected a fair amount of ribbing for the event that had transpired and left his brother’s baby trashed. And he’d gotten more than he would’ve liked in the first forty minutes of their drive away from the hospital entrance.

What he hadn’t expected was Dean’s shift from merely being protective of the remnant of a former classic to showing full-blown obsessive interest in every single movement Sam made in or around the general vicinity of the Impala. Every touch of the dash, hood, or door was meticulously studied. Nothing went unnoticed, and god forbid the younger even attempt to merge or switch lanes without signaling, because Dean was barely letting him slide on legal traffic maneuvers, illegal ones would likely get him thrown out of the car. It didn't matter in the least that the blinker was on the fritz anyway or that it was pretty unlikely that anyone would be able to tell the difference even if the car did get hit again.

The whole situation was incredibly annoying and made Sam feel like he was four years old again. But he was trapped. It was Dean’s idea of payback, and he deserved every minute of it. Deep down he believed it, but that didn’t mean he agreed with the method of torture. Given a choice, he would have preferred loud, obnoxious singing and head banging. Of course, those were not even options at this point. Not with Dean and the car both broken.

Sam knew that the car was an extension of Dean. It defined his older brother in the same way the faded leather jacket he donned every morning defined him. It was a vivid representation of its owner and exuded an essence that could only be described as Dean. So, in a way, his brother was protecting himself and not just a mangled piece of metal and iron. Ironic, because Dean rarely thought to protect himself, at least not the parts that Sam could see. The rest, well, Dean protected those too well, and Sam had only learned to see those once he'd recognized the walls built around them, the walls that were now cracked and weathered to the point of imminent collapse.

The irony lay in that the midnight classic was now damaged, a shard of its former glory, and while the possibility of repair hung in the air, the process would prove to be slow and daunting. Tragedy’s sting leaves nasty scars, not unlike the crumpled hood of the car, and it sickened Sam to think that even if the classic could be returned to a state of renewed brilliance, the former luster would never be restored. It amazed him though, that even in the darkest times, Dean’s reflection radiated from the chipping black exterior, as though the reflection itself was the last light of a fading hope to simply survive another day.

Sam stole another glance in his brother’s general direction, trying to make it look like as though he wasn’t. His chest tightened, the constriction nearly cutting off his airway, as he took in Dean’s state. The elder was huddled against the passenger door, body angled against it in what had to be the most uncomfortable position known to man. His right arm was positioned awkwardly behind him and Sam doubted there was any circulation left in the appendage. Dean’s chin rested against his chest, and his head lay against his shoulder, eyes shut as though in sleep, but Sam knew otherwise.

He recognized that look. It was the same clamped shut expression that creased Dean’s eyes when the elder was either concentrating or mentally talking himself through something. Sam deducted it was the latter, simply because he could hear Dean’s labored breathing echo through the car, rumbling over Metallica’s rendition of “Turn the Page”.

Sam initially figured the position was helping to ease the tightness in Dean’s torso and relieve a bit of the strain that sitting upright and rigid in the leather interior would more than likely cause. The beaded sheen of sweat on his brother’s forehead, however, told a different story, and the guilt Sam had entertained all those hours ago over kicking Dean out of the driver’s seat abated.

Dean had made a valiant effort though--a stupid idiotic move, but a noble gamble all the same. Sam had been slightly stunned when his older brother had snatched the keys, clearly having every intention of driving all the way to Bobby’s from the hospital on his own volition. It was all a mask. Just like the Demon had said, and the phrase ran its course repeatedly as the drive wore on. Mask all that nasty pain. Mask the truth.

That had become all the more obvious as the miles had built up though, and the pain meds flowing through Dean’s system had finally started laying hold on him. Sam had allowed Dean to keep his ‘I’m perfectly fine’ mask in place throughout the entire nerve wracking experience of watching his strong hands shake through the task of trying to steady the steering wheel, through watching the growing stain of sweat drench every inch of his dark tee, and through hearing the short, pained hitches in his breath. But when the car had started swerving and the words had begun slurring, Sam hadn't been able to refrain from yelling. It must’ve been the meds because Dean had actually resigned, clearly defeated with far too little effort on Sam's part.

The younger brother drew in a sharp breath and snapped his attention back to the road when the car dipped deep into another asphalt trap, gritting his teeth and scrunching his eyes when the inevitable scrape of the car’s undercarriage against the old road rasped in his ears. With a tight ‘I swear I didn’t do it on purpose, please don’t kill me’ smile, Sam shot a sideways glance at his older brother and let out a nervous laugh as he waited for what he knew was to come.

“Ten bucks says we lost something.” Sam rolled his eyes at the remark, catching sight of Dean lifting his head and lolling it towards him out the corner of his eye.

“Shut up.”

“Don’t have to.” Dean taunted, tone thick as he straightened up in the seat, and Sam tried his best to ignore the wincing sound that met in his ears.

“Yeah, well, you might want to.” Sam threatened, his brown eyes meeting Dean’s glazed jade ones for a brief moment before turning back to the road. His older brother was definitely not all there.

“Whatcha gonna do if I don’t?” Dean challenged, “Destroy my car again?”

“Now, there’s a thought.” Sam quipped, his face pensive as though he really was contemplating the suggestion. “Although, I think this time I’ll go for more of a side impact.”

“Not funny, dude.” Dean muttered, shifting to rest his head against the cracked window pane.

“I thought it was.” Sam smiled, although it didn’t meet his eyes.

“You would.” Dean replied. Sam snuck a sideways glance again and frowned at Dean’s rigid posture against the passenger door and the slow, steady blinking of his eyes.

“Shouldn’t you be sleeping right now? The doctors said that stuff should knock you out for hours, and you need the rest,” Sam chided, tightening his grip on the shaking steering wheel and steadying it to the left. Damn alignment.

“So do you, raccoon eyes,” Dean shot back, waving a flimsy hand in front of his face.

“Raccoon eyes?” Sam repeated disbelievingly, “I don’t have raccoon eyes.”

“And you wonder why the girls always come to me. When are you gonna learn that this,” Dean teased, spreading his arms out stiffly, his head drooping slightly, “is what the ladies want. Not some nerdy giant with black eyes.”

“So they like 'em short,” Sam countered, his eyes flickering mischievously.

“Ouch,” Dean slurred to the Impala’s roof, resting his head against the back of the seat. “You’re lucky I’m drugged up, else I’d hurt you for that one.”

“I’m sure you would, Dean,” Sam placated, his white teeth peeking out from behind his lips.

“Oh, you know I would. Kick your ass to the next town.” Dean rambled, rolling his head along the leather bench, his eyes unfocused but still locked onto the upholstered roof.

“Dude,” Sam laughed, “go to sleep.”

“Well, I would if someone was a better driver,” Dean stated, his hazy eyes glancing pointedly at Sam.

“It’s kind of hard seeing as I have to keep the wheel turned to the left just to make this thing go straight,” Sam defended, letting out a deep sigh.

“You know, most people would be able to see a massive tree right in front of them,” Dean continued smugly, completely ignoring Sam's defense and taking extreme enjoyment in the way his kid brother squirmed in the driver’s seat at his remark.

“That tree saved your life, and don’t you forget it.” Sam watched Dean slump down a bit, as if mulling over his statement, and for a minute he let his mind imagine his older brother’s eyes had finally slid shut.

“You’re right, Sammy.” Dean conceded, his tone oddly detached, and Sam was beginning to wonder just how big of a dosage Dean had swallowed.

“I am?” Sam asked, feigning surprise, a part of him feeling guilty for egging his chemically altered brother on.

“Uh huh. I think I’m gonna become a evniro—envi—uh…” Dean mumbled, his face scrunched and his right hand spread widely over it which of course, was an apparent sign of deep thinking.

“Environmentalist.” The younger offered, biting his lip to stop himself from laughing openly.

“Yeah. That.” Dean smiled lazily, dropping his hand with a smack against his leg.

“Dude, I hate to say it, but I don’t think they’d take you.” Sam joked, chuckling under his breath.

“Oh, they’d take me alright,” Dean refuted defiantly, his tone almost bordering firm.

“You think so, huh?” Sam pressed, knowing he was taking advantage of Dean’s current situation. It wasn’t like he was leaving him in a seedy bar for the taking, and driving these roads were boring enough as it is.

“Yep. I have per-son-al-ity.” Dean answered, annunciating and slurring every syllable of the word.

“You don’t say.” Sam breathed mockingly, not failing to note how his brother’s form had gone heavy and completely slack against the seat. The younger mentally reminded himself to read the prescription again, because whatever the doctors had given Dean would probably come in handy later on down the hunting road.

“I do say,” Dean countered, mimicking his younger brother’s tone.

“Well, then, I guess they’d have no choice but to accept you.”

“Damn right.” Dean agreed, somehow managing to propel his body into a forward lean. He took to swatting at the shoebox containing his favorite plastic cassette, although his hands seemed to be having a hard time actually grabbing onto it.

“Need a hand there, bro?” Sam offered, stopping his laughter and quickly clearing his throat. Even high on meds, the pain of movement still laced Dean's face, and Sam silently berated himself for forgetting exactly why it was that Dean was high in the first place.

“Yeah, make it stop moving.” Dean blinked in confusion and continued reaching for the box, but Sam’s long arm stilled his pawing and slowly pushed him back into the seat.

“Let me get it okay?” Sam instructed gently, one eye half way watching the road and the other searching his brother for any sign he might need to pull the car over for Dean. Wrecking the car had earned him enough grief, but letting Dean puke in it would make him a dead man walking.

“Okay.” Dean complied easily, his clouded eyes roaming Sam's face, and the younger briefly wished they would clear and offer a window into his brother's thoughts. Of course, they couldn't, but Sam could hope anyway.

“Here.” Sam grunted, trying to keep his head above dash level and still watch the road as he reached to the floor for the box. He snapped up quickly once his hand encased the familiar cardboard and handed the treasure to Dean.

“What you wanna hear?” Dean asked, his voice bouncing like the voices of those freaky actors in musicals before they started into their huge number.

“You’re asking me?” Sam questioned in disbelief. He couldn’t help feeling slightly honored at the suggestion.

“Yee-ahhhh.” Dean muttered, dragging the word thoughtfully as he nodded his head and squinted. “Good point. I’ll pick.”

“That’s harsh, dude.” Sam stated seriously, "That really hurts."

"Truth hurts." Dean replied off-handedly, distracted by the assortment of classic rock.

"Yeah, it does." Sam murmured, momentarily forgetting his brother was operating on a "higher" mental plain and let his mind wander back to that horrifying night.

Dean had never really been open with him. And that hurt at times, but the pain of revelation had been magnified ten-fold when it had been spun from the mouth of their loathed enemy, and enemy wearing their father's face. Demons lie. Sam knew that, but all lies, at least the good ones, stem from truth.

The terrifying and gut wrenching insight into his brother's mind and emotions had been revealed in the worst of ways. Although Sam had tried, at first, to chalk it all up to lies created for the purpose of inflicting pain, he couldn’t deny that he'd seen the panic and anguish rise, uninhibited, to morph his brother's features and reduce him to nothing more than a shroud of a man begging for his life.

It was a sight he’d never seen before, and never wanted to witness again. His Dean was strong, always okay and able to take on anything. That Dean had been an emotional wreck, full of hurt and rejection. The problem now was that his Dean was becoming that Dean. Sam could just sense it. While he could blame the meds for making Dean loopy and out of his mind, his mental state had already obviously been debatable before the demonic encounter. There was still something missing.

Silence drifted its way back into the car, and Sam let the steady thump of tires on the road and the erratic clunking of the engine soothe his thoughts. His temporary haven was disturbed by the smacking of plastic cases as Dean's fingers fought with each one, opening and closing them repeatedly before setting them back in the box. The racket was worse than that of a two-year old who'd recently discovered the world of pots and pans.

"You uh...got one yet, Dean?" Sam inquired through gritted teeth. While the sound was thoroughly entertaining his brother, it was grating on Sam's nerves worse than having the pulsating rhythm of Black Sabbath vibrating through his skull during one of his more debilitating migraines.

"This one. No, wait...this one." Sam glanced at the selection and groaned audibly when he saw AC/DC's Back in Black album in Dean's hand.

"Dean, how about something else? We listened to that one already, remember?"

"So?"

"Fine." Sam huffed, hitting the eject button and hurling the Metallica tape in Dean's general direction before snatching Dean's new selection from his hand and placing it in the deck.

“Quit acting like you hate them. I hear you singing it in the shower.” The last part of the statement was muffled by a loud yawn and Sam really didn’t think he wanted to know what Dean had said, so he chose wisely to simply ignore it.

“You tired?” Sam pressed, ducking down in the seat to catch a glimpse of the mud- crusted road sign and thanking every deity with the reputation of being good that Bobby’s house was less than ten miles away.

“No.” Dean objected quietly, blinking his eyes rapidly to ward off the beckoning sleep.

“You look tired.”

“You look dorky.”

“Nice, Dean. Good one.” Sam retorted sarcastically, rolling his eyes.

“I thought so.” Dean returned, his mouth attempting an exhausted smile.

“You do know that you’re gonna have to take more of those pills right? And when you do, they’ll probably knock you on your ass,” Sam reminded, in the all-knowing tone Dean loathed.

“Well, you won’t be driving then,” Dean sallied back smugly, turning to look out the window. “There it is. On the…right.”

“Right, I see it.” Sam lowered his foot a little more on the accelerator and smiled widely in relief when he turned the Impala off the worn down asphalt onto the gravel road. The rusted archway declared the entrance to Bobby’s shop and home.

 

Bobby’s Home


Sam eased the car up next to the beat up old Ford that sat eroding on the side of the house but then thought better of it and pulled up to the front of the porch, leaving only a few feet to cover between the car and the door as opposed to the good couple yards the former spot would’ve left.

He honestly didn’t know if Dean would be able to stumble even that far, because those meds had left the elder incapacitated for the most part, and Dean was never one to just accept help without a fight. So, Sam was pretty sure that if he even looked like he was going to aid his brother’s trek he would end up in worse condition than the patient.

Shifting into Park, Sam rested back in the seat and took a deep breath before turning his attention on whatever had locked Dean’s. His older brother stared without wavering out the passenger window. A small smile graced Sam’s face when he caught sight of Bobby, his faded jeans and tee covered with mud and grease, sporting his favorite camouflage cap and standing on full alert, rifle held loosely by his side, the barrel aiming sure for the Impala. His face bore the same calculating, suspicious glare he’d had all those weeks ago when he’d helped them with Meg. It warmed considerably the moment Sam exited the car, the worn lines on Bobby's face crinkling as he offered a welcoming smile.

“Hey, Bobby.” Sam greeted, fiddling with the keys as he circled back to the trunk.

“Nice to see you boys, again. Would’ve liked to see that stubborn ass of a daddy you got too, but time’s for everything.” Bobby returned, setting the rifle to rest against the door jamb before coming down from the porch to help Sam with the bags.

“Well, he probably still thinks you’d shoot him.” Sam quipped, lugging his timeworn duffle out of the trunk and dropping it to the ground heavily.

“And he’d be right too,” Bobby shot back, laughing along side Sam. “A round of buck shot might teach that man a thing or two.”

“You gonna join us, Dean?” Sam inquired expectantly to his brother’s still slumped form in the passenger seat. He silently hoped Dean hadn’t just decided to take him up on his “go to sleep" advice. Dean was a bitch to carry.

The younger could tell his loud tone startled his brother and smiled shakily at the elder’s jumpy response. The expression faded quickly into one of concern though when he watched Dean’s slow, hunched exit from the car. Everything in him screamed for him to steady his brother’s steps as he saw Dean stagger towards the trunk, a new mask quickly slamming into place at his little brother’s suggestion that he wasn’t up to the challenge.

“Whoa, Dean.” Bobby reacted instantaneously, taking Dean’s arm when the sandy-haired boy swayed precariously, and Sam didn’t doubt the seasoned hunter had picked up on his own apprehension. “What the hell they got you on?”

“I don’t know,” Dean shrugged with a smirk on his face. One look into his unclear green made Bobby smirk as well.

“I do, and it’s got to be the strongest stuff I’ve ever seen,” Sam muttered, sounding more than appreciative of that fact.

“Well, that’s the best kind, ain’t it, son?” Bobby asked, patting Dean’s shoulder.

“Yep. Best kind,” the stoned Winchester repeated, stretching out a hand and motioning for Sam to hand him a bag.

“Uh…Dean, why don’t you come inside with me and leave those bags to your little brother. That’s what he’s for, right?” Bobby hinted, shooting Sam a hard look when the younger snorted at his manipulative suggestion.

“Yeah, but he’s not as strong as me.” Dean argued, reaching down to grab the duffle from the ground, only to almost end up lying next to it, his fall only prevented by Bobby’s strong arms.

“Of course you are.” Bobby concurred, ignoring Sam’s astonished and somewhat offended ‘But I’m taller’ remark, “I got some questions about that poltergeist you and your Daddy took care of in Mississippi, ‘cause I think there’s a similar one happening over near Jackson.”

“Sam won’t know about that.” Dean reasoned foggily, alternating his attention from Bobby to his brother, clearly torn by the decision he was going to have to make, even though it would seem a minor one.

“Right, ‘cause he wasn’t there, see? That’s why I’m asking you.” Bobby coaxed, slowly placing a hand on Dean’s back, watching the boy’s response carefully before starting to usher him into the house.

“You gonna be okay, Sammy?” Dean questioned, and if Sam didn’t know better he’d say his brother sounded almost panicked.

“I’ll be fine Dean,” Sam assured, shouldering two of the bags and grabbing the other ones in his hands.

“Okay.” Dean mumbled, craning his neck over his shoulder and holding his brother’s gaze until Bobby led him completely out of eye sight.

Twenty minutes later found Sam with a horribly sore back and aching arms and Dean settled in a beat-up old chair watching Bobby with unfixed eyes. The older man rambled on about the effects of the poltergeist and flipped through another one of his ancient texts. The image vaguely resembled many that had taken place when Sam and Dean were kids, and Sam could remember many a time when their father had cracked open a book of rituals or demons and they’d sat side by side thumbing through it. It had been those times when the youngest Winchester had almost felt normal, aside from the fact that he'd been learning about terrestrial demons as opposed to the Whos of Whoville.

“You guys getting somewhere?” Sam interrupted, placing his nervous hands in his pockets and leaning against the article-laden walls.

“Yeah.” Dean breathed, continuing to turn the pages idly.

“Good. Uh…Bobby, I went ahead and dumped the bags and gear in the back room, is that okay?” Sam questioned hopefully. There was no way he was moving that stuff again.

“Oh yeah. That’s good. I got the side room fixed up real nice for y'all. Went out an’ bought a second bed and everything,” Bobby stated proudly, and Sam couldn’t help but think he’d have been a cool dad minus the proverbial hunting expeditions.

“Great ‘cause I’m exhausted, how about you Dean?” Sam wandered over to where his brother was sitting, not failing to notice how the elder’s movements had nearly ceased completely.

“No,” Dean whispered, raising his head and meeting Sam’s eyes. The fading, residual effect of the pills could no longer cover the pained lines across his brother’s face, and Sam had to use every method imaginable to stay rooted in his spot instead of sprinting back into the other room and ripping apart the bags until he found Dean’s source of relief.

“But you gotta be hungry, right?” Bobby interjected, giving Sam a knowing glance and Dean a sympathetic one. “I can have some dinner made in less than thirty minutes thanks to Stouffer’s.”

“Sounds great, Bobby. Thanks,” Sam replied gratefully, although tightly, and watched Dean nod tentatively in the affirmative.

“Not a problem. Anything for John’s boys.” Bobby nodded his head and then retreated into the kitchen. The sound of the freezer door slamming and the clatter of frozen entrees met the brother’s ears moments later.

“Alright, Dean,” Sam started, breaking the silence, “How about we move this stuff over to the couch and you can fill me in?”

“I’m fine here, Sam.” Dean grumbled, giving Sam an irritated glance.

“I know, I just thought that--”

“Well, stop thinking. I’m fine.” Dean snapped heatedly.

“Alright. I’ll go see if Bobby needs any help then,” Sam muttered dejectedly and wished more than ever that the pills weren’t losing their hold so quickly. A loopy Dean he could deal with, but a hurt, bitter Dean was going to prove the challenge of a lifetime.

A scant hour later, and Sam's feet were as heavy as his satisfyingly full stomach. Even the contented drowsiness of a starch-heavy meal couldn't dull the apprehension that pulsed through him as he approached the door to the back bedroom. Had they been able to assure the doctors that they'd remain under medical supervision, they wouldn't have had to sign Dean out against medical advice. He was glad to have his brother out of the hospital, but he understood all too well that medical professionals were invaluable when it came to carrying out such tasks as the ones they’d been ordered to complete if Dean was to recover fully. Since they had agreed to go that route, however, Sam was now the closest thing to a medical professional on hand, and the job was all his. Joy of joys.

He rubbed his hand through his too long hair in an attempt to dissipate some of the nervous energy that tingled in his scalp and placed an expression on his face that he hoped looked understanding and helpful, not totally freaked out. In times like these, he was appreciative of the plays he'd done in high school, whether that made him a drama geek or not.

Sam felt rather than saw Dean look away as he entered the room. The meds had pretty much relinquished any control they'd had over his brother's pain, and Sam knew that Dean would fight tooth and nail to keep it under control by sheer force of will if that would just let him maintain a shred of pride. That there was any pride left to maintain was questionable at best, but if there was a chance it existed, then Sam would do his best to honor it.

Dean sat on the corner of the twin bed Bobby had made up for him, the bed closest to the bathroom, not the door or the window. He was wearing a white wife beater and grey sweatpants, his idea of workout gear, though the proposed activity would hardly have constituted a workout just a month or so ago. The shirt had been sliced halfway down the back because it was too tight-fitting for Dean to get over his head with his limited mobility, and slicing it down the front would have defeated the purpose of wearing one at all. They'd have to buy new t-shirts once Dean was better.

"So, you ready for this?" Sam asked, noting the beaded perspiration on his brother's forehead. Even changing clothes appeared to be a daunting task. "And did you take the muscle relaxer, cuz this is gonna be a real bitch without it?"

"It's not gonna be a bitch, Sam," Dean asserted weakly. "We're gonna skip it."

"Nuh-uh," Sam argued, vehemently shaking his shaggy head. "You agreed that if I helped you sign out of the hospital early you'd keep up with the therapy and that you'd let me help you."

"And I will," Dean said, "just not tonight."

The pitch of his voice rose to something that disturbingly resembled whining. It could've been funny, but it wasn't. The fact that this was the best front Dean could present was so not funny that Sam couldn’t even look him in the eye as he crossed the room, coming to stand in front of his brother, refusing to honor the last comment with a response. He held out his hands, palms up, and assumed a slightly spread, bent-kneed stance.

"C'mon, let's just get this over with, huh? I'm not any happier about it than you are," he assuaged. "Let's start with shoulder stretches."

Dean reached out reluctantly as though summoning the constitution to comply, but as soon as his own clammy palms brushed Sam's, he drew them back and shook his head defiantly.

"Not tonight, Sam," Dean asserted once more. He lifted his eyes stubbornly, and Sam noted that they were pain-bright and tired-looking. "It's been a long day. . ."

"Yeah, a long day spent hunched over in the car, Dean," Sam conceded, "all the more reason why we can't skip the stretches. You're not going to heal if you can't breathe, and you won't be able to breathe if your chest muscles mend together in giant knots."

Dean kept his hands in his lap, and looked pointedly at the floor on the far side of the bed. "I know that, and I said I'd do the friggin' stretches. Just lay off!" He breathed out loudly, an exhalation that was somewhere between a sigh and a shouted whisper.

"I know this is painful," Sam acknowledged, "but it's not going to get better on its own."

Dean blatantly ignored him.

"Okay, so this is about me, isn't it?" Sam asked. It was a rhetorical question. Dean had insisted that Sam make himself scarce during every therapy session that he'd undergone at the hospital. The therapist had warned Sam that he would balk when he'd gone to see her about continuing Dean's exercise regimen outside of the hospital. "I thought that might be an issue, and so did your therapist," he said, going to his duffel bag and rifling through it.

After a few seconds of frustrated plundering, Sam pulled out several pamphlets and books and tossed them on the bed beside Dean. He watched guardedly as his older brother turned his head just enough to take in the titles through his peripheral vision, then turned away crisply as Dean's eyes shot up at him accusingly.

"Yoga?!! You gotta be kidding me, dude!" Dean shouted. "No friggin' way. I may not be up to snuff right now, but I'm not some girlie boy who does yoga!!"

"It's not girlie, Dean!" Sam argued rubbing the back of his neck distractedly. "Men practice yoga in lots of cultures all over the world. In most countries, it's regarded as a martial art form, and you can do the stretches yourself, so you can have all the privacy you want if you insist on not having me around. But FYI, this stuff really works. Downward facing dog can be modified to use a wall, and it stretches and opens the entire upper body. Triangle pose has been proven to open up the chest and increase lung volume and circulation. Plus, it's been proven to release endorphins that dull pain."

"And how the hell do you know all this?" Dean asked, his eyes squinting suspiciously.

Sam turned away, but not before Dean caught the flash of awkwardness he recognized as Sam's 'trying to make up a viable lie and failing miserably' look.

"Jess was into it. . ." the younger brother finally admitted tiredly.

"So why is it, little brother, that every time you try to convince me something isn't girlie, you use an argument you learned from a girl?" Dean snapped.

Sam met his brother's gaze slowly, his dark eyes sinking tiredly into his skull. "Look, I was just suggesting a couple of stretches, not telling you to take up wind relieving poses, sun salutations, and meditation."

Dean's mouth opened, a snarky protest already in mind, then snapped shut again as a more urgent realization played into mind. "Dude, wind relieving poses?" His face scrunched up in mock distaste and faint amusement. "Please tell me that's not what it sounds like."

Sam grinned broadly. "Yup. It's exactly what it sounds like."

"You slept with a girl who broke wind in unison with a room full of people in leotards?" Dean asked incredulously. "And you were afraid to tell her that ghosts are real? Bro, I think the ghosts would've run screaming from that scene," he laughed weakly, absently putting a hand over his chest to keep his ribs from moving too much.

Sam laughed, raising his eyebrows and shaking his head. "Say what you want, but she was wicked flexible," he retorted, eyes twinkling with lewd insinuation.

"Ooh," Dean exclaimed, face pinching comically. "So not goin' there."

Sam's face softened noticeably, becoming more serious. "And you're not goin' there anytime soon if you keep skipping out on your therapy. You do what you want. You're a big boy. I'm getting ready for bed," he dismissed and moved into the bathroom. "Yell if you need anything," he offered before shutting the door.

Dean looked at the stack of information beside him and thumbed through it noncommittally.

When Sam emerged from the bathroom twenty minutes later, he said nothing to suggest that he'd inadvertently walked in on his brother actually heeding his advice. Dean didn't startle or jump as the door hit the wall with a thump, proclaiming with no uncertainty that Sam had entered. Sam knew that Dean doing nothing to hide his actions was the closest the older brother would come to asking for help.

Wordlessly, Sam moved across the room to where Dean had his hands pressed into the wall, legs braced several feet behind him, head hanging down between his arms. The sound of Dean's hitched breathing drowned out the creaking of Sam's feet across the ancient hardwood floor.

Sam place his hand flat on Dean's back, directly between his shoulder blades, recognizing the modified downward dog facing pose that he'd suggested earlier. He pressed slightly, instructing without demanding, until he felt his brother's back straighten from its nearly perpetually hunched posture. "Just breathe," he whispered, and when Dean did, the muscles lengthened beneath Sam's large hand.

After several long minutes spent holding the stretch, Dean walked his feet forward and stood slowly. He didn't speak but turned his head and met Sam's gaze head on. It was all the thanks Sam wanted or needed.

Sam went to bed and waited for Dean to finish cleaning up and settle in himself.

Dean shuffled to his bed glad that the silent treaty they'd reached seemed to still be in effect as he climbed beneath the covers. If Sam had asked him right then whether he'd taken all his meds, including the painkiller that was sure to knock him out, he might've felt obligated to answer truthfully. He hadn't. And though his body screamed in agony, he couldn't.

* * * *

Pain flares mercilessly in his chest, refusing to abate. The pulsating beat thumps against the flesh and bone that keeps it captive. Radiating darkness surrounds him, enveloping him and swallowing each breath he takes in time to the throbbing cadence.

A command reaches his ears and panic courses through his body as the utterance demands his compliance to the simple act. He won't. He can't. And the soul that wields the voice knows this.

Crushing. Flesh shifts and bones groan beneath the invisible force that is wielded against them. A hollow cry burns through his chest and rends itself to the shadow land. It is all that is needed, all his tormentor awaits.

A surge of red and a waft of copper flood his senses, and he is propelled from black to sharpest light. Restless churning quakes the confines of his stomach, stirring, convulsing, and threatening violent exodus. Orbs of deep brown and the face that holds them are all he sees, the tainted words all he hears.

"You know, you fight and you fight for this family, but the truth is they don't need you."

'You're not him. You're not him,' his mind screams, and he stares hard into the eyes that hold the beast's taunt. They should be the sickest yellow. They should bear a sinister flicker within their evil stare. He knows this, and yet he sees they are brown; the deepest, richest, most familiar brown.

"You're pathetic, useless."

"I'm sorry. God, I'm sorry. Please stop." He's begging. He can feel the shredding of skin, the ripping of sinew, and the rich dampness that spills from his battered body. Darkness creeps into the corners of his sight. One last plea pours from his thick, stained lips--it is all he has.

"Dad, please. . ."

A guttural scream. He hears it, but it is not his own, and it fades, vanishing behind the deep whisper that drums in his ears

"I'm not your father. You are not my son."

* * * *

Dean's eyes flashed open seconds before his straining lungs managed to catch enough breath to make a sound, but it was long enough for his mouth to clamp shut over the scream that threatened to erupt. Biting his lip desperately, Dean pressed the heels of his hands as deep into his eye sockets as he could and willed the images behind them to dissipate. He was unwilling to trust himself to breathe without screaming until the last flicker of the nightmare was snubbed into nothingness.

As the last demonic picture faded to black, and the final hateful whisper disappeared in the sound of his brother's soft snoring, Dean let the spent breath escape in a whoosh that puffed the sweat-soaked sheet tenting beneath his chin. He shoved the sheet down and willed cooler room air to flood over him. He seriously contemplated making his way to the bathroom to take some of the meds he'd skipped earlier. If omitting them hadn't prevented the nightmares, maybe taking a few more than the recommended dosage. . .

He rolled over painfully, turned his eyes to the far wall, and set about the task of counting and classifying every last knot that painted the slats of cedar paneling.


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