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Bobby Singer prided himself on being a smart man. A quick study, too. From textbook knowledge to so-called street smarts, Bobby had the intelligence to outthink most men (and supernatural entities) and the common sense to know how to do it with an ounce of grace (least when they deserved it, anyhow). He could speak five languages with fluency, two of which were mostly extinct, and he knew enough to pick up the gist in at least four more. He could name ancient demons and recite most pagan customs right down to the bloody sacrifices.

So why he couldn’t make his computer work was really beyond him.

Scowling, he squinted at the thing, wondering if his old eyes were keeping something from him. It had never been this hard before, and, yes, Bobby had had a computer since they became common place back in the 90s. He’d been a little behind the curve with that one, but once he caught wind of the number of ancient references and texts available on that damned internet, he’d been hard pressed not to give in to the inevitable pull of progress.

And he’d had that same damn machine for the last ten years until the Winchester brothers had to come and screw it all up to hell.

Damn kids had tricked him. They’d suggested fried chicken for dinner, made him go get it, and then abducted his old computer while he was gone. They’d even had coupons for the whole ordeal, so he knew they’d been planning it. When he got back, there was this sleek little laptop in its place. The old one was just gone. Not a trace of it, and Bobby had scoured every inch of his property looking for it.

Dean had been far too amused to do anything but sit back and laugh at him from time to time. Sam wasn’t much better, putzing around and showing Bobby how to hook things up and get things going. The kid had offered a step-by-step tutorial, but Bobby had been so pissed off about it all that he’d rejected the offer.

Perhaps that had been a bit hasty. He hadn’t figured out how to send an email since the two yahoos left. It probably didn’t help that Dean had left six porn sites bookmarked in his favorites list. Who the hell really paid for a subscription to Busty Asian Beauties anyway?

Between Sam’s anally retentive ways and Dean’s insatiable skin kinks, it was a damn near wonder those two boys ever got anything done.

Grousing, he picked up the mouse, trying to see if it was even working. The thing had a little red light that seemed to blink every now and then, which Bobby couldn’t figure if that was a good or bad thing. The damn piece of junk didn’t even have a cord.

Frustrated, he slammed it down, moving it roughly on the desk, trying to get the little arrow to do something.

He was just about to chuck the thing at the screen when his phone rang.

Almost grateful for the reprieve, it took Bobby all of a second to realize which phone was ringing. Having multiple lines was a bit of a safety thing for him, his way to keep the various contacts and layers of his life separate and adequately protected. The frequency of calls varied from line to line, and he was familiar with each ring tone before even taking a gander to see which one was live.

This wasn’t the normal line, the one he used for carry out and actual salvage business. This wasn’t even the hunters line, which he gave out as a general reference amongst the hunting community. This wasn’t even any of his special contact lines--the FBI, the NSA, local police. He had to change those often these days with the rate the boys tended to burn through his forged contacts.

No, this wasn’t any of those. This was the restricted line. He only gave that number out to the blessed few he called friends. Rufus had the number. Ellen did, too. So did the boys.

But this was in case of emergencies--exclusively. He gave out the number with the terse warning that they’d better be bleeding or dead if they called it. Bobby had gotten no more than four calls on it in his entire life.

His heart stuttered a moment in his chest, and he swallowed reflexively. His technological woes seemed distant now, and he wiped his sweaty palms on his jeans as he stood. Stiffly, he walked over to the kitchen, bypassing the familiar mess of marked phones. The small black one on the end was dusty and faded, almost vibrating with the ringing.

Willing his hand to steady, Bobby answered it. “Hello?”

There was silence on the other end. Then, breathing. Steady and thick.

Bobby wet his lips, keeping himself calm. With effort, his voice remained even. “Hello?”

The breathing paused again, lingering in stillness for an inhuman moment.

His hackles raised, his senses on full alert. “Who the hell is this?” he demanded.

Bobby,” the voice on the other end finally replied. It was deep and rough, but almost sickly sweet. Like water rushing over gravel. “Is that any way to talk to an old friend?

It was a voice he knew, one that he’d worked with for years. One that he’d kicked off his property with a shotgun in his hand. “John?”

“So you do remember,” John replied, almost sounding amused.

From where Bobby was standing, though, this wasn’t funny at all. He’d seen John in Wyoming--black eyes and all. Hell, he’d seen his old friend sidle up with the demon that had terrorized his family for a lifetime. The one that had killed his wife. His beloved Mary. The one who had killed his son.

And he’d seen that damn surveillance tape. He was still beating himself up about not going with the boys to White Sulfur Springs. Their account left out some of the details of that case and the hunt that had followed it, but John’s not so idle threats, and the attempt on Sam’s life, had been pretty persuasive. Bobby might recognize the voice, but this was no old friend.

A wave of disgust washed over him, his jaw tightening. “You’ve got some nerve,” Bobby spat. “Whatever you are.”

“You’re wasting time,” John told him, his voice free from malice.

“What are you up to now Still killing night watchmen? Or maybe trying to raise demonic armies? Or are you just screwing with your kids’ heads for kicks?”

And which answer would you prefer?

Bobby’s anger flared. “You son of a bitch--”

Bobby,” the voice cut him off, stern and to the point. And...something more. A little raw. A little desperate. “You’re wasting their time.”

The inflection was not lost on Bobby. His anger simmered, replaced by a growing dread. “What are you talking about?”

My boys,” John said. He took a deep and steady breath. “My boys need you.

The statement was simple enough, but vague as hell. There were a million worst case scenarios spinning through Bobby’s head, each one more devastatingly painful than the last. He never should have let them go alone. He never should have let them hunt John without backup. When they couldn’t pull the trigger, he would have. He would have.

Would haves, could haves, should haves. None of them made a lick of difference. He had to deal with the here and now. “What have you done to them?”

It wasn’t me--

The protest was not what Bobby wanted to hear. “Liar,” he snarled.

You can call me names, or you can help them.”

There were no threats. There was no mocking. Which made Bobby think that maybe--just maybe--there was something to this.

A trap, perhaps.

The truth, possibly.

Could he afford to be wrong about either?

It was a deep conflict, leaving him stuck between justice and protection. He could be the smart hunter and hang up now, leave John to make the next move in whatever agenda he was pushing. Or he could rush in, play the white knight, and save the boys from whatever trouble had befallen them--whether from John or something else, Bobby wasn’t sure, and, in the end, he wasn’t sure it mattered.

The chance that the boys were hurt, that they needed help, wasn’t something he could risk. They were just too damn important.

The fatherly instinct he refused to admit he had won out. His anger broke entirely and the questions came uncensored. “What’s wrong with them? Where are they? Where are you?”

Fargo, Georgia,” John said, and Bobby couldn’t tell if he’d imagined the hint of relief in John’s voice. “Just across the state line from Florida. You have to hurry.

“But where in Fargo?” Bobby asked, pressing for more. “What happened?”

Nothing I can’t make right,” John said. “But I need your help. You have to take care of my boys. Bobby. Please.

The request was plaintive, emphatic. If this was a con, it was a pretty damn good one.

But Bobby couldn’t help it. He just couldn’t. He could still remember John’s face the first time he showed up on Bobby’s doorstep all those years ago, those two damn rug rats in tow. They’d all been younger then, but John’s face had been just as tired and grizzled as ever.

If he was honest, Bobby knew he’d been whipped since then. One look from John’s deep, sad eyes, one glimpse at those two boys holding onto each other like they were all the other had--and Bobby had never even had a chance.

Resigned, Bobby picked up a piece of paper and a pencil. “I need a location, John,” he said, voice tight and even. He had his priorities. The boys came first. Always.

Fargo, Georgia,” John repeated. “The hospital.

Bobby’s panic sprang to life, questions coming to his tongue. But before he could ask anything, before he could utter another word, the line went dead, the dial tone resounding heavily in Bobby’s ears.


Fargo Medical Center was clean and quiet. The walls were a sunny yellow and the open waiting room was vacant except for a young couple talking quietly in the corner.

Three days of driving--no sleep, no eating. Bobby had stopped for coffee and the bathroom, and that’d been it--John’s worried, ominous voice pushing him on, going well past his limits.

Take care of my boys.

Funny, after all the worst case scenarios he’d imagined, after all the worries he’d entertained, he was almost too damned afraid to find out the truth.

Keeping his focus, Bobby went straight to the admit desk. The young receptionist looked up, a smile on her face by default, but Bobby could see the question in her eyes as she looked at him.

After three days on the road, Bobby figured he wasn’t the picture of fresh and clean. But Bobby wasn’t a vain man under the best of circumstances, and he sure as hell didn’t give a damn what he looked like in times like these.

“I’m here looking for--” His voice cut off abruptly, realizing he had no idea what names to give. The boys weren’t stupid. He knew they had fake insurance for times like these, but Bobby wasn’t up to date on their aliases. Saying the wrong thing could tip people off, get the boys into more trouble than they already clearly were.

Something dawned in the young woman’s eyes, and she nodded. “Oh, Mr. Singer,” she said, giving him an earnest nod. “We’ve been waiting for you.”

Bobby had been prepared for a lot of things, a lot of awful things, and that hadn’t even remotely been on his radar. He froze, his instincts flaring in uncertain defense, but he forced himself to play it cool. “You have?” he asked, with an air of caution coloring his otherwise easy tone.

She nodded readily. “Oh, yes,” she said. “We were told to expect your arrival. We received all the paperwork a few days ago.”

“Paperwork?” Bobby asked.

“Yes,” she said. “We do appreciate how promptly it was forwarded to us. But the nurse can tell you more about that.” She paused, leaning back, looking a nurse who was filing something behind her. “Wendy, this is Bobby Singer--”

The nurse turned, eyes wide. “Oh!” she said. She was a small thing, no more than five foot two. Her hair was long and brown, pulled back into an easy ponytail. Her gaze flitted over Bobby. “He’s here?”

“Yes,” the receptionist said. “Can you take him to his nephews and get him caught up on their condition? Dr. Cameron said to notify her immediately when he arrived.”

The word nephews caught Bobby off guard. He’d played uncle Bobby before, but the fact that John had upgraded him to family in this whole mess...? Was certainly something to consider.

Bobby smiled, feeling both sheepish and wary. Not that he didn’t appreciate how easy they were making this for him, but Bobby was of the mind that if something seemed too good to be true, it usually was.

Just what kind of strings had John pulled down here anyway? The boys had already told Bobby their father had picked up some rather impressive demonic tricks during his time away, but his old friend’s newfound powers of persuasion and control were impressive. Hospitals were always the biggest danger to the itinerant hunter, and somehow John had set this up for the boys to be safe and for Bobby to have total access.

Bobby was waiting for the catch, and he probably would have bolted, but the nurse was walking around the desk, pulling lightly on his arm. “Fortunately the paperwork is already completed, so we don’t need to worry about that,” she was saying.

Nodding, Bobby pretended like he knew what she was talking about. “How long have they been here?”

“Sam and Dean have been checked in for nearly a week,” she said.

“If you don’t mind me asking, how did they get here again? The details were, uh, a little sketchy.”

She nodded, unsurprised. “They were dropped off outside,” she said. She gave a shrug. “Kind of hard to believe, as bad off as they were. Someone took the time to get them here but didn’t want to get them inside.”

Bobby frowned, keeping step with Wendy. “Then how did all the paperwork get in order so quickly?”

Wendy looked at him, a smile of bemused confusion on her face. “The information came straight from hospital administration. We were supposed to give Sam and Dean Magruder top notch care. Their father apparently has very good connections.”

There was the nugget of truth in the mess of lies. Just what connections John had fabricated, Bobby wasn’t sure of--for that matter, he wasn’t sure he wanted to know. He just had to hope that no one had died for this.

And Bobby had to remind himself why he was here. Whatever John had done, he’d done it presumably for the boys.

Swallowing, Bobby focused his thoughts soberly. “How are they?”

Wendy’s smile faltered and she looked ahead again. “The doctor will update you on their condition when she arrives.”

It was the first evasive answer he’d gotten since his warm reception in Georgia. That wasn’t good. Bobby nodded somberly.

Wendy turned them down a corridor and she paused outside a room, looking Bobby squarely in the face. Her youthfulness faded for a moment, and the nurse in her took over. “Now, I’m going to take you inside to see Dean first. He’s been upgraded from the intensive care unit just this morning, so he’s on the road to improvement, but I must warn you, he’s still very ill. Normal visiting hours are limited, but for you we’ve been told to make an exception, so you may stay as long as you like, but please be mindful of the machines. They’re there to help Dean.”

Bobby had been in his share of hospitals before, so he had some idea what she was talking about, but it still didn’t make it any easier to hear.

“Are you ready?”

Bobby had just driven three days straight to get here, to do just this--but was he ready?

Hell, probably not, but what else was he going to do?

With a sigh, he nodded.

Wendy gave him a small, sympathetic smile. She opened the door, nodding him inside. “Dean’s unconscious, but feel free to talk to him. I’ll be back in just a minute with the doctor.”

Inside, the room was the same sunny yellow, but the blinds were drawn, keeping the room dim. The room was mostly nondescript, with the typical hospital amenities: a pair of chairs, a small table, an unused water pitcher.

And Dean.

He’d seen Dean in the hospital before, after the car accident. It’d been pretty hard then, but with Sam the wreck he had been, Bobby’s attentions had been duly divided. This time, it was just him and Dean. Bobby, who was standing on pure adrenaline and caffeine alone and Dean, who looked half dead in the hospital bed.

It was like a sucker punch, only worse. It left him unable to breathe and scrambling to make sense of it all.

Because Dean--

Well, Dean looked bad. Dean looked more than bad. He looked--

There weren’t any words for it, and it was all Bobby could do to keep himself from throwing up.

The kid was covered in cuts. Every inch of exposed skin seemed to be affected, crisscrossed with scabbing wounds and still healing abrasions. There were several bandages, one on his neck, a pair around his wrists, and a bulky stabilizer strapped to one knee. The gown was settled unevenly over Dean’s torso, which clearly covering a myriad of other bandages and injuries.

Dean’s face was marred with more angry slashes, both eyes bruised and swollen. There was a row of stitches across his forehead, and a fading cut on his chapped lips.

Dean was hooked up to a number of IVs and monitors, some of which Bobby recognized, but his brain was too overloaded to process at the moment.

No wonder John hadn’t told him the details on the phone. No wonder the staff had been so eager to get some family here.

Dean had been tortured.

It was a hard conclusion to accept, but there was no two ways about it. Bobby knew his stuff, and he’d seen enough tortured bodies to know the signs. The cuts enough were a dead giveaway. They were precise and planned, executed over the body again and again--and again. Not life threatening in and of themselves, but designed to be painful--damn near overwhelming--enough to break even the most hardened hunter.

Which also explained the bandages around the wrists. Dean would never take that kind of thing lying down--not unless he was forced to. As for the rest of the injuries, Bobby could only speculate, but he wasn’t sure he actually wanted to know the truth.

The truth of it was sickening, and Bobby had to swallow hard, standing stiffly to keep himself from falling over.

In all of his days as a hunter--all the awful things he’d seen, the things he’d endured--

This was one of the worst. Maybe the worst, at least since...

He didn’t let himself finish that thought. He still didn’t think about the reasons he got into this, not that thinking about why he was in this damn hospital room was actually any easier.

Why would someone do this? Why didn’t John stop it? Not that there weren’t creatures and demons out there who would like to see Dean dead, but this?

Bobby’s stomach turned when he remembered that Dean was the one who was better off. He couldn’t even imagine what Sam looked like.

The door opened behind him, and Bobby turned, almost grateful for the distraction. The woman who entered was about his age, with graying blonde hair and smile lines around her eyes.

The smile she gave Bobby, however, was not a happy one. Professional and polite, as perfunctory as the hand she extended. “Mr. Singer,” she said. “My name is Dr. Cameron. I’m glad you were able to make it. You had to drive quite a ways to get here.”

Bobby gave a small grunt, his weariness making him immune to the common pleasantries. “I hadn’t been told how bad the boys were,” he said. “I would have come quicker if I’d known.”

Her smiled turned a little grim. “I don’t suppose you know what happened to them.”

That certainly wasn’t a good start to this conversation. Bobby’s lips flattened. “I was hoping you could tell me.”

She sighed, moving past Bobby a little ways and looking at Dean. “We don’t know the details. Whoever dropped them off didn’t stick around to ask questions, and neither of them have been awake to tell us what happened. The injuries aren’t consistent with any typical accident that I’m familiar with.” She hesitated, glancing back at Bobby. “If I didn’t know any better, I would say this damage was done intentionally.”

“Damn right,” Bobby said, letting his gaze pass over Dean’s prone form again. It didn’t get any easier to see, no matter how often he saw it “And you got no leads as to who did this to them?”

She gave a small shrug. “I’ve reported it to the police and they’ve done some investigation, but we can’t find any traces of anything to go off of. We don’t even know what they were doing in town.”

Bobby had some ideas about what they were doing in town, and those weren’t answers he was ready to give.

And all of that was beside the point. All the doctor was telling him was what she didn’t know. Bobby didn’t drive all the way from South Dakota to hear about the lingering mysteries. He came to find out what was wrong with Sam and Dean. Plain and simple. As far as he was concerned, they’d figure the rest out later. “So you don’t know who brought them in and you don’t know what happened to them. What exactly is it that you can tell me?”

The edge in his voice was not lost on the doctor.

“Well, I can tell you that Dean is in serious but stable condition. Most of the injuries that are visible are superficial--painful but not life threatening. However, whoever was wielding the knife did make a few deeper incisions that we had to stitch, including one that perforated the abdominal wall. Fortunately, it was a small perforation, which is the only reason he survived long enough to get to the hospital at all.”

Bobby’s eyes went back to Dean, jaw clenched as he took it in. Demanding answers was pretty easy; hearing them was another task entirely, one that he was pretty sure he was almost too old to handle.

“While the punctures were cause for concern, the real danger came from the blunt force trauma. I can’t say how it happened, but Dean has sustained some severe to moderate internal injuries, the least of which is a moderate concussion.”

“The most of which being what?” Bobby prompted.

Dr. Cameron sighed a little, looking at Bobby tiredly. “Mostly bruising and small bleeds that corrected themselves a few days after being put on anti-coagulants. But his spleen sustained a substantial bleed that required surgery. We did save it, but the strain on his system was substantial. We also had to operate on his knee to reverse some ligament damage that was done--nothing life threatening, but it could prove debilitating if not properly cared for. We kept him intubated under sedation for several days before we felt like his body would be able to handle waking up.”

Bobby’s ears perked up at that. “He’s waking up?”

She nodded, turning her eyes toward Dean again. “His level of consciousness has been steadily rising since sometime yesterday. We were able to remove his breathing tube just this morning and his vitals have managed to hold steady.”

If that was the case, Bobby was loathe to think about how Dean had looked before.

“All in all, Dean is headed in the right direction,” Dr. Cameron said.

Bobby blinked, trying to convince himself that all of this was still real. After that long list, after seeing Dean, he needed to hear it for sure. Maybe that way he’d believe it. “He’s going to be okay?”

The doctor’s expression became guarded. “He’s headed in the right direction,” she clarified. “Please, understand, Mr. Singer, your nephew is very ill right now. The blood loss alone has been difficult for us to compensate for, and with the numerous open wounds and the surgery, he is battling off a low grade infection. He is showing marked signs of improvement, but his recovery will still be long and complicated. His knee alone will require extensive physical therapy to get back on track. It’s been a long road so far, and I’m very pleased with Dean’s progress, but his journey is nowhere near over yet.”

Bobby tended to give doctors their due. He knew enough about first aid to know that he didn’t know nearly enough to make a difference when it mattered. Those who knew how to fix and mend the body had a truly precious gift and talent, and he didn’t doubt that this one knew what she was talking about.

But when Bobby looked at Dean, it was none of that even remotely mattered.

Because Dean didn’t just look hurt, and he certainly didn’t look like he was headed in the right direction. Dean’s color was inhumanly pale, with dark circles smudged under his eyes. The lifeless body looked broken, a mere ghost of the man Bobby had grown to care about.

Dean didn’t look like he was headed in the right direction, no matter how much Bobby wanted to believe it. In his line of work, seeing was believing, and right then, Bobby didn’t know what to believe.

He just knew what he saw.

Dean Winchester, not just brought to his knees, but to the very brink of death. And why? Was the culprit still out there? Was John responsible? What had happened?

“Mr. Singer,” the doctor said, interrupting his thoughts. “I’m sure this is very hard for you, and you’re welcome to spend as much time here as you need before we go see Sam.”

Bobby’s attention caught on that, his head jerking from Dean to the doctor. “I can see Sam?”

This time, the doctor couldn’t even manage a smile. “Perhaps it would be best--”

Bobby shook his head. “I need to see him.”

There was a hint of protest on Dr. Cameron’s face, but she collected a breath and blew it out. She nodded, resigned. “Very well,” she said. “Follow me.”

With one last glance at Dean, Bobby followed her into the hall.


The reality of the situation was pretty clear to him, especially in the hall. It was hard to miss the wide eyed looks he got or the sorrowful smiles. Not that it surprised him--those boys were charmers by nature--and apparently they didn’t even need to be awake to captivate the opposite sex with their wiles.

Or perhaps two tortured young men who were dropped off anonymously at a small hospital in the middle of nowhere was enough to pull at anyone’s heartstrings. It was a pretty sad story, when Bobby thought about it like that.

It was kind of terrifying when he thought about it from his perspective.

It had to be something damn clever to catch the boys off their guard--and not just one, but both of them. Of course, he couldn’t say for sure if Sam was tortured in the same way. Maybe Sam had been injured in the rescue attempt.

Dr. Cameron moved at a quick pace, purposefully ignoring the curious glances from the rest of the staff. Bobby had to think she was out of her league with this kind of trauma, but she did a good job of hiding it.

“Now, when we see Sam, you’re going to see much of the same kind of injuries,” she told him.

Bobby had to frown. So much for his botched rescue theory.

“Sam’s injuries, however, proved to be more complicated. We’ve had a much harder time stabilizing him, even after surgery. His vitals just aren’t staying in a place where we’re happy, and the infection is stronger in his case. He’s been warding off a small case of pneumonia for the last day or so, and we’ve had to keep him intubated and in the the intensive care unit as a precaution.”

It was medical posturing of the most obtuse kind. She was preparing him for the worst, as if he hadn’t already seen it with Dean.

A ghost would never get this kind of leg up on them--it just wasn’t possible. A wraith would be tricky enough, but they didn’t go for the blood as much as they did the brains. Most straight up monsters lacked the precision for this kind of thing, and vampires and werewolves would never have this much restraint--the boys would have been dead long before reaching this state.

Which meant--

Hell, Bobby knew what it meant. He’d guessed what it meant the moment he’d heard from John. His old friend wasn’t exactly keeping the best of company these days and those black eyes made it pretty clear where John’s allegiances were.


Some demon had gotten the boys, which was why John had been able to find them and why he’d said he’d take care of it.

The doctor pulled to a sudden stop in front of him, and Bobby had to scramble to keep from bowling over her.

Dr. Cameron was looking at the floor, taking deep breaths. When she looked at Bobby again, her smile was more guarded than apologetic. “Are you sure you’re up for this? Perhaps you’d like some time with Dean first?”

Bobby couldn’t contain his annoyance. “I need to see him.”

She nodded, clearly expecting that answer. She pushed the door open, holding it behind her for Bobby to clear it. “We have Sam listed under critical condition, though he has shown some signs of stabilizing in the last hour or so, which is something to remember.”

Bobby nodded but his mind completely forgot why the moment he saw Sam.

Dean had been bad--there was no way of softening that--but Sam--

Sam just looked dead.

The collection of cuts was very similar, but Sam’s seemed to be healing slower. Where Dean had been pale, Sam was simply colorless. Dean had been still, but Sam was utterly lifeless. The long, limp limbs were arranged carefully by his sides, skewed only by the brace on Sam’s shoulder.

Sam’s hair fell away from his face, revealing the same bruises and cuts as Dean had, only Sam’s row of stitches was tucked tightly against his hairline. His normally tan features looked sallow and sunken, and the kid’s complexion looked worse with the growth of stubble on his boyish face.

The tube was the major difference. Snaking up from Sam’s mouth, the tube was taped down hastily. The noise of its steady hiss filled the room, obscuring the fact that Sam was alive at all.

“As you can see,” Dr. Cameron was saying, “Sam suffered a similar array of cuts and bruises, though one slice did nick a lung, which we repaired with the use of a chest tube. The internal injuries were more pervasive in Sam, and we had to do more work to control the bleeds. We tied off several in his stomach but couldn’t correct one in his liver. Fortunately, we only had to remove a small portion.”

Bobby almost balked at that. Fortunately.

The doctor continued. “He suffered a mild concussion as well, along with the same peculiar burn to the foot. One major difference that we’ve had to keep an eye on was the serious blow he endured to his neck. We were almost unable to get a tube down his throat at all when he first got here, but the swelling does seem to be receding. We’ll have to see if there was damage done to his vocal cords once he’s properly extubated and awake.”

This time, Bobby almost laughed. “Is there something positive to cling to in all of that, doc?”

Her brow furrowed. “I’m sorry, I don’t understand.”

Bobby shook his head, his eyes not leaving Sam. “You just told me all the reasons why this kid should be dead. How the hell is he even still alive?”

Her mask of professionalism faltered for a moment, and she shook her head right back at him. “Honestly, Mr. Singer, I don’t know. The blood loss alone should have killed him. How either Sam or Dean managed to survive a trip to the hospital is beyond me. Their injuries--they’re the worst I’ve ever seen. These two--they must have some kind of angel looking out for them to bring them this far.”

Bobby’s jaw worked, his eyes narrowing. The boys had an angel, for all the good he’d been. No, the boys’ saving grace hadn’t been heavenly sent--

It’d been straight from Hell itself.

Bobby couldn’t be sure what John was capable of--he wasn’t even sure exactly what John was--but the doctor was right. There was no way Sam and Dean should have been alive; Bobby didn’t have to be a doctor to know that.

So why hadn’t John saved them sooner? Why had John just left them here? Why had John called Bobby here to watch them suffer? To watch them die?

It was almost too much. Just too damn much. This wasn’t in Bobby’s job description. This was above and beyond the call of duty. Part of him--a large part--wanted to bolt. Wanted to drive all the way back to South Dakota and forget he’d ever met someone named Winchester.

But how could he? How could he leave them like this? Hurting. Vulnerable.

Bobby couldn’t even be sure if whatever did this was still after them or not.

He had to stay. He didn’t have a choice.

But he wouldn’t do it for John. Whether or not he had saved the boys, John still hadn’t earned his trust.

He would do it for the Sam and Dean.

After everything they’d been through--everything they’d survived--Bobby had to do this for them. He had to give them another shot.

“Would you like a moment?” Dr. Cameron asked.

Bobby nodded woodenly.

She hesitated a moment. “Just page a nurse if you need anything.”

Bobby didn’t even look at her as the door closed quietly behind her.

He just looked at Sam.

Looked at that boy.

He thought about seeing him dead, thought about seeing Dean grieve, thought about the hole that had been ripped in him seeing them like that.

He couldn’t feel that way again.

With a gruff sigh, he sniffled, willing himself to keep the tears at bay. “Well,” he said to Sam. “Looks like we’ve got quite a wait here, don’t we?”

Sam didn’t respond--hell, Sam didn’t even remotely flicker--but Bobby nodded in reply anyway, settling into the chair next to the bed.

“Your brother’s on the mend, you know,” he said. “So you’d better hurry up and get your act together before he beats you out of this joint, you hear?”

A friendly, optimistic threat. As shoddy and fake as a Hollywood vampire.

But John had called him, and this was all Bobby had to offer.

Eyes lingering on Sam, remembering Dean, he could only hope it was enough


Two days.

Stuck in a hospital bed, surrounded by pale yellow walls, listening to Bobby yap by his bedside. The two worst days of his life.

And that was including the torture. At least with Alastair’s altar he’d had death to look forward to. This was just unending, pervasive nothingness. There was nothing to do but to sit there and feel the weakness of his body, remembering how much he’d failed.

Blinking weary eyes, he looked at the pale yellow walls and tried to accept that this hell wasn’t going anywhere. Alastair’s games had been varied and unexpected. This was torture by monotony. Where the world stood still so long that Dean could only know of his own existence by the painful passing of each breath in and out of his battered body.

He let his gaze fall on Bobby, who was leaned back in the chair, looking at the TV. There was a basketball game on, something in college. Dean didn’t recognize the teams. “Can you believe that shot?” Bobby asked. “He was a mile off.”

Dean’s eyes meandered to the screen before looking off at the wall again. Bobby’s persistent attempts to strike up a conversation were annoying, but it was better than having the damned doctor around.

The lady had poked and prodded for what seemed like hours, and Dean had just had to sit there and endure it. As if he hadn’t been through enough torture lately.

But, hey, he was housebroken now. He answered all her damned questions, performed all her stupid requests, and nodded readily at the offer of more pain medication. Anything to be left the hell alone. Even the pretty little nurse who smiled at him when she injected the stuff into his IV could get lost. After all, what was the point of that? What was the point of anything?

He’d spent most of his life avoiding that question, hiding from it with a well crafted bravado and a damn near impenetrable facade. Happy-go-lucky Dean Winchester. Never say die. If we stick together, we can do anything.

Lies. Maybe he’d always known they were lies, on some level anyway, but part of him believed them. Part of him had always had to believe them. For his sake. For Sam’s. For his family.

But all of those lies. All of his efforts to keep them together, to keep them safe--what good did it really do him in the end?

After all, there he was in a plain hospital room with nothing but the pitying glances and awkward small talk.

Bobby squawked again. “That wasn’t no foul,” he said, turning to Dean. “Did you see that?”

Dean didn’t. He didn’t even bother responding, but just looked away.

Foul or fair, winners or losers, banking it off the backboard or sinking the three--none of it mattered to Dean. He couldn’t even see why they mattered to anyone. All he could see was his own failure. His own pathetic, miserable failure.

Alastair’s methods were painfully clear, and the conclusion was sickeningly true: none of it would do him any good. He was a failure. He always had been, he always would be, and his snark and his charm and his lies wouldn’t get him anywhere.

He’d lost his mother. He’d lost his father. He’d lost his brother. Hell, the only reason he had Sam back at all was because of Azazel’s master plan. Without that, Sam would still be gone, nothing more than ashes, and Dean would be left with nothing but an annoying angel yapping in his ear whenever it was divinely convenient.

He could still lose his brother now.

Bobby didn’t say that out loud, but his expression said enough. Part of Dean wanted to ask, but he remembered lying there helpless as Sam had been tortured, as he’d been ripped open and flayed, and Dean hadn’t been able to do anything. Stone altars or hospital beds, Dean Winchester was still one poor excuse for a big brother.

He let his eyes rest on Bobby again. The older man had been there for the better part of two days, just sitting there. Dean didn’t even know how Bobby had gotten here. Dean certainly hadn’t asked for him, and since Sam was still apparently unconscious, his kid brother hadn’t called him up either. They didn’t carry real contact information on them, so Bobby’s presence was entirely a mystery--and a damn frustrating one that wouldn’t leave him alone at that.

But, then again, there was a lot about what had happened that wasn’t clear to Dean. He certainly wasn’t going to forget Alastair any time soon, or the information he’d wrenched from him. But the lingering question--the one Dean still resented--was how he was alive at all.

He’d remembered Alastair’s mercy; he’d wanted it. And he hadn’t resisted.

Things were fuzzy after that, but he’d been so sure. He’d been so close.

“Dean,” Bobby interrupted. The game was off, and the older hunter was looking at him carefully. “Are you listening to me?”

Dean’s mind zoned away from the wistful snippet of memory. “Did someone win the game?” he asked tersely.

Bobby’s eyes narrowed. “Half time.”

Dean made a small sound of acknowledgment.

“We can turn it back on,” Bobby offered.

Dean shrugged, letting his head roll back on his pillow, his eyes on the ceiling.

“Dean?” Bobby asked again.

Dean ignored him. He had nothing to say, and even less that Bobby would want to hear.

Bobby’s face puckered. “I know it’s hard right now, but it’s going to get better,” he said. “The doctor is real impressed with your progress.”

Dean lifted his head wearily, letting his eyes drift to the wall, following a crack in the plaster around the window.

“Said we’d probably get to go see Sam sometime,” Bobby continued. “He’s showing some signs of improvement, and the doctor thinks you’re up to a small trip.”

Dean just shrugged again.

Bobby’s brow furrowed, a frown tugging at his lips. “Doesn’t that sound good?”

Dean just shook his head a little. “Whatever.”

Bobby stared at him, mouth hanging open for a moment. “Whatever?”

Dean wasn’t sure what the other man expected from him.

“He’s your brother,” Bobby reiterated, as if Dean could ever forget. “Don’t you want to see him?”

Dean’s melancholy broke toward bitterness. He laughed humorlessly; Bobby didn’t get it. “What difference would it make?”

Over the last few days, Bobby had kept himself remarkably composed. Dean had seen the effort the older man made to keep an even keel, to be friendly and upbeat even when it went against his nature. But the carefully donned facade cracked, Bobby’s face twisting into a tired display of frustration and surprise. “What difference would it make? He’s your brother. He needs you. That boy is still fighting for his life, and no one has ever been able to talk him into anything better than you have. You can help him turn around, Dean. I know you can.”

Dean shook his head. “I can’t do anything,” he said flatly. “I’ve got nothing Sam needs. Nothing that will make a difference. It’s out of my hands.”

It came out harsher than Dean intended. He didn’t want to hurt Bobby’s feelings, and he certainly didn’t want Sam to die. The fact that his brother was suffering--was hurt and alone--was almost more numbing than his injuries.

But the fact was that it didn’t make a difference what Dean did. He had taken up the mantle of being his brother’s protector when he was no more than four years old and it had taken his entire life to realize that he had never been up to that challenge. He should have known when Sam figured out the truth when he was eight. He should have put it together when Sam left, alone and dejected, for Stanford when he was eighteen. He should have known when he’d watch Sam get murdered no more than ten feet in front of him.

Dean couldn’t save Sam. He had one job, and he had screwed it up. It wasn’t his any more.

Bobby’s mouth closed, his expression almost pained. “I know that demon tortured you, son,” Bobby started.

Dean flinched. They hadn’t talked about what happened. Bobby hadn’t asked any questions and Dean hadn’t provided any answers.

“And whatever happened to you there, it isn’t on your head,” Bobby continued. “But it’s over now. It’s over and Sam needs you.

They were the right buttons to push, and everything in Dean ached to live up to them. To try.

But he couldn’t.

Stony face, he stared at the wall, willing himself not to blink.

Bobby sighed. “Fine,” he said, standing from his seat. “But I’m going to go see your brother.”

Dean remained stiff, listening as Bobby’s feet thumped heavily across the floor. It wasn’t until the door closed that Dean curled up on his side, buried his face in his pillow and cried.


It had already been a week.

Dean had been awake for the better part of five days now, though Bobby hardly counted it as an improvement overall. The older boy was surly and withdrawn, and Bobby was at his wits end trying to deal with him.

Sam had finally turned a corner, as well. The youngest Winchester had been extubated and moved from the ICU two days ago. With a reduced level of sedation, the boy had slowly been coming to, but it hadn’t been until last night that the kid was fully aware of his surroundings.

After worrying all week whether Sam would survive at all, seeing the boy blink dazedly up at him had been about the best damn thing ever. It wasn’t much, but Bobby needed his small victories. Or he’d be just as bad off as the pair of them.

Though, moving on from those victories was going to prove more of a challenge.

With both the boys out of imminent physical danger, Bobby had tried to get more of the story out of them. The story, however, was splotchy at best. Dean had been frank about how they’d been caught--he told Bobby about the duppy, and how they’d thought everything was clear when the demon had snuck up on them.

Dean’s rendition mostly ended there. He simply told Bobby that his name had been Alastair and he’d been a mean son of a bitch.

Bobby hadn’t really had the heart to ask questions.

Fortunately, Sam was more forthcoming. He’d filled in the blanks about Alastair’s motives, about his connection to John. And he’d explained the torture, in rough terms anyway. He’d concluded his version with the psychedelic dream trip and then simply said he didn’t remember anything after that.

Neither boy had any memory of John being there, though their black eyed father had clearly been a topic of conversation.

They deserved to know, Bobby figured, that John had been the one to call him in--that John had saved them--but as he watched them struggle with their slow recovery, he just wasn’t sure how they’d take it. If he had thought it’d bring them any solace, it would be the first thing out of his mouth. But the boys were different now--quiet and withdrawn--and Bobby was unsure if mentioning anything more about their experience would really be a good idea.

Dean was sour--bitter and closed off. He didn’t object to things he was supposed to do, he just didn’t do them. He responded to simple questions with monosyllabic answers and merely cursed when the answers were more than he wanted to give.

Sam was a blank slate. The younger Winchester obeyed orders, did whatever he was told with as much energy as he could muster. He was wide eyed and compliant, but hardly the bright-eyed, eager boy Bobby remembered. In so many ways, it was almost harder to watch Sam than Dean.

More than that, the kid still looked horrifically bad, his complexion still pallid and drawn. He moved with halted motions, as if even the meager act of breathing hurt him. And that had been before the physical therapy had started.

Dean had been at his for days, and had reduced his first physical trainer to tears until they reassigned him to someone new. Bobby had purposefully been there when Sam got back from his first session, just to be sure that making therapists feel miserable wasn’t going to be a Winchester family trait.

Sam’s therapist wasn’t crying, but the young man didn’t look overly encouraged either as he helped maneuver Sam back onto the bed.

Sam’s face was pinched, his eyes wet with unshed tears.

“You need to make sure you’re communicating with me about your limits,” the young man was saying. “We’re still feeling out what your body is capable of, and to do that, I need to know how you’re feeling.”

Sam smiled wanly. “It wasn’t so bad,” he rasped, both from exhaustion and his still healing throat.

The physical therapist rolled his eyes. “You passed out on me,” he said plainly.

Bobby sat up straight. “He what?”

The PT looked at Bobby apologetically. “We were doing a test of motion, trying to see how far Sam’s shoulder was capable of moving. He was supposed to tell me to stop. With the amount of damage done to it, it’s hard for me to guess where the limits are. When he collapsed from the pain, I got a pretty good idea.”

Sam had the decency to look sheepish as Bobby turned a glare his way.

Sam’s half hearted grin took the anger right out of Bobby. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I just didn’t realize how bad it hurt, I guess.”

The young man didn’t look totally convinced. “We’ll try to take it easier tomorrow, alright?”

Sam offered him a meek smile that didn’t reach his eyes. “Thank you.”

The physical therapist nodded. “Get some rest, Sam,” he said as he headed out the door. He paused, glancing regretfully at Bobby, before ducking his head and leaving altogether.

Everyone knew it just as well as Bobby did: these boys were healing physically as best as one could expect, but emotionally--well, emotionally they just weren’t even close.

Clearing his throat, Bobby turned his attention back to Sam. The boy was no longer panting, but was sitting guardedly on the bed, his eyes darting uncertainly around the room. Without being able to shower fully, Sam’s appearance was unusually disheveled, leaving the brown hair stringy on his head and bangs falling wildly into his eyes.

“So, kind of a rough first day back among the living,” Bobby said finally.

Sam’s eyes flickered up toward Bobby’s, just for a moment. Then, he looked at his hands. He nodded readily. “I’ll get better,” he said, almost as though he were making a promise.

Bobby winced a little. “You’re doing just fine, son,” he said. “You just woke up not that long ago. No one expects you to get it all right in a day.”

Sam’s head bobbed a little, but he didn’t look up. “When will they let me see Dean?” he asked, his voice small.

That was a good sign--the first reassuring thing he’d heard the entire week he’d been here. “Soon, I’d guess. I’ll talk to the doc and tell her you’re interested. She’ll be glad to hear that.” He paused, shaking his head a bit. “If only that damn hard headed brother of yours could show the same initiative.”

Sam’s head jerked up, eyes huge. He shook his head. “No, I didn’t mean--Dean’s fine. He doesn’t have to see me. I just thought--I mean. Never mind.” He looked down, jaw tight. “Just never mind.”

The comment had been off the cuff, and Bobby was taken aback by Sam’s strong reaction. “What are you talking about?” he asked.

Sam seemed to tremble, glancing at Bobby furtively from behind his bangs. “I don’t know what I’m talking about.” He swallowed, wincing as he did. “Dean, I mean. I shouldn’t have--you don’t understand. He--what happened--Alastair tortured him. I shouldn’t have--” Sam’s voice choked off, his shoulders now trembling visibly.

It was damn near impossible to watch Sam backtracking like that. Apologizing, trying to rectify some wrong that hadn’t been committed. It had been Bobby’s comment, not Sam’s, and yet there the kid was, beating himself up over it.

Though, Bobby really should have seen it coming. Skittish as Sam was these days, the boy almost bent over backwards to appease anything and everyone. Any negative comment would send the boy into as much of a frenzy as his still healing body could muster.

Worse, the boy was still working himself up.

“Sam, relax,” Bobby said, trying to keep his voice gentle. “It’s not a big deal. You’ve both been through a lot.”

Sam’s breathing hitched, and he looked up at Bobby, a tear streaking down his face. “You didn’t see it, Bobby. What Alastair did to Dean. The cuts. The shock. Everything--”

It was a facet of the torture Bobby hadn’t let himself consider. Not just what each boy endured for themselves, but what they were forced to witness on one another.

Bobby wet his lips a little, trying to smile, keep his voice even. “I know,” he said gently. “It’s okay. We don’t need to think about it any more right now. Maybe we should just get some rest.”

Sam nodded a little, though his face was still miserable. Bobby saw another tear sneak out from his eye before he turned his gaze down again.

The doctor had said Sam would likely be emotionally off balance. Bobby just hadn’t realized how far off balance that would be. Angry and obedient was one thing--crying was entirely another. Bobby felt like he’d just kicked a puppy, and he suddenly wished he’d stuck it out with Dean’s cruel invectives.

This wasn’t working. Not that Bobby wasn’t grateful for the hospital, but this wasn’t everything the boys needed. He could see it plainly now, how naive it was to think that their time here could fix things. That they could mend and go on their way like nothing happened.

Take care of my boys.

He knew now what John meant. He knew it in Dean’s defensive indifference. He knew it in Sam’s terrified acquiescence. Bobby couldn’t do much, but he could do the one thing that mattered.

Watching Sam’s down turned face, remembering Dean’s distant stare, Bobby knew what he had to do. It wouldn’t be easy, but in the end, it was the only thing he could do that would make any difference. He had to take the boys home.

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