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Wish It All Away

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They found his missing son in a dumpster. Not after having used it to break his fall, not having hidden in it for protection. Just discarded. Thrown out after having been used. Mixed in with yesterday’s trash. His son.

The call had come in from Bobby Singer and John had easily replied that Bobby was full of shit. One truly sick bastard. After that he’d hung up because it wasn’t true. Not his boy. Not Dean.

Bobby had given him a couple minutes, but no more, before calling back. During the second call the man hadn’t tried to convince John that it was true because he didn’t have to. Neither wanted to say or hear it again. John could deny it all he wanted, but he knew if Bobby had made the ID, it was legit. Bobby damn near knew his sons as well as he did.

By some miracle or curse, Dean was still alive. After everything else he’d endured his boy had been dumped, throat slit, left to bleed out alongside molding takeout containers. But his son was a fighter to outdo the best of them.

There was no way for Dean to tell anyone what had happened. Not yet. Maybe not ever. Bobby was already at the hospital with him, keeping guard, but Dean had yet to regain consciousness. He had been in and out of surgery all night.

Apparently the doctors were certain that even if his son was awake, he wouldn’t be able to speak. The damage to his throat, both due to the external gash and the internal swelling of a sickly questionable nature were too severe. Even breathing without machines wasn’t possible. Dean had always hated ventilators.

Even without words, the injuries told the story of what had happened, just not who had done it or why. He didn’t care why. There was no forgivable excuse. The who John would find out. Someone or something had brutally tortured and sexually assaulted his son. Someone was going to be slowly scattered in a thousand pieces.

The only thing harder than receiving the news had been telling Sam. Anyone looking in on their family would assume that Dean was the angry one. His eldest had a tendency to either explode or push things down in a huff, usually both, but then it was over. So much like Mary. Sam on the other hand, didn’t let things go. Not ever. It wasn’t a trait that John was proud of having passed down, but he understood it.

There was only one responsibility of consequence that he’d ever had in this life and that had been to protect his family. He had failed Mary already and now he had failed her all over again by letting their son be brutalized. He’d let Dean be raped. Just allowing himself to think the word cut through him so deeply he knew the wound would never heal.

What had been done to Dean, he could never take back, but he wished like hell that he could have at least spared his youngest from what had been done to his brother. There hadn’t been any way to avoid telling Sam or even easing him into what he would eventually find out on his own. Sam had known before he had even opened his mouth.

He had watched helplessly as his overly expressive son’s features shifted from shock, to denial, to a pained rage that echoed his own and tore at his heart. Despite everything they’d sacrificed, he had still failed to protect his sons.

~~~

Bobby wasn’t the woozy sort. Not by a long shot. In his days, he’d damn near seen it all, but on this day he’d had to make more than one emergency trip to the bathroom. It wasn’t because he’d never seen worse injuries. He made a life of hunting things that left mutilated corpses.

Sure, he’d technically seen worse, but there was no way to take a detached, clinical view to this. No way for him not to imagine the pain filled cries and looks of pure terror on the face of the boy he had watched grow from just a little thing. The closest thing he would ever have to a son.

When he had found that broken body, Bobby hadn’t seen a young man. In his mind he had seen that tiny boy with the eyes of an old man that John had brought to his doorstep so many years ago. The silent kid that had cradled his baby brother with all the care of a new mother while Bobby and John had talked. The unusually tender child that because of what the world had thrown him had been on his way to becoming one of the best damn hunters Bobby had ever crossed paths with.

Dean had never had that blissful innocence of childhood so long as Bobby had known him, not like Sam had. And Sam only had because of Dean. He had himself witnessed how hard Dean had tried to protect that little brother of his from the reality of the world. How a child so young could know that innocence was worth protecting was beyond him. Seeing what had become of that young protector was enough to make even his stomach churn mercilessly.

John’s eldest had been missing for nearly a week. Six and a half days of hell for Dean and the few that had the honor of calling the boy family. If anything, the older Dean got the younger the kid seemed. It was almost as if with Sam getting old enough to stand on his own two feet Dean was able to start letting his guard down just a hair. Then this.

Sam had been the one to call him, barely concealed panic in the kid’s voice and a low tone like John wasn’t far off and the boy didn’t want his father listening in. John was a proud man. Too damn proud to ask for help when they were on off terms, which was every other time they ran into each other. The fact was they had never actually gotten along, but theirs was a tenuous friendship born out of necessity, respect and the fact that he loved John’s boys.

When Sam had called he’d dropped everything. John’s youngest had told him that Dean had disappeared without a word and that just wasn’t Dean. Sam’s older brother might like indulging in frivolous things that he damn well deserved to indulge in, but he had his head on straight and where it mattered, he was likely the most obscenely responsible twenty-three year old boy on the planet.

The Winchesters had been only a couple of states over working a job when Dean had up and vanished. Close enough for Bobby to put an ear to the ground and listen for rumblings. He didn’t like what he’d heard. The rumors had led him to Dean all right, but by that time there wasn’t much left of Dean to find.

Now there was nothing left to do but wait and keep vigil and fight playing that impossible game of ‘what if’. He was keeping watch not just to make sure that there was someone here for Dean on the off chance he was to wake, but because they still didn’t know what had done this. John and Sam were driving through the night to get here and Bobby was going to make damn sure that this broken boy wasn’t left defenseless in the meantime.

~~~

Sam had come within inches of punching his dad and they had exchanged plenty of words that they would both regret tomorrow. They hadn’t been getting along great lately anyway, but after the most painful car ride of his life, there was only one thing he wanted and that was to see Dean. Once they arrived at the hospital Dad had told him to wait in the car. Sure. When hell froze over.

He wasn’t a little kid anymore. He was nineteen years old and there wasn’t a person on the planet that was going to keep him away from his big brother. The only reason Dad had told him to stay in the car was because his dad had to know that once he was in the hospital he was running straight into Dean’s room.

Dad hadn’t really said much about what had happened to Dean, but it was how much he didn’t say that had said everything. It seemed like Dean was always getting hurt. He hated it more than anything, but it was nothing new. That Dad was acting so different now proved this was beyond bad and he wasn’t stupid.

He had plenty of ideas about what type of things Dad would never admit had happened to Dean. What Dad didn’t get was that there was no way it could be worse than what Sam was already imagining. He needed to see his brother.

While he was still a lot leaner than Dad, Sam was taller and starting to fill in. There was no way short of knocking him unconscious that Dad could physically force him to stay behind. While Dad was miffed to no end, Sam could give a crap and walked quickly into the hospital lobby by his father’s side.

They had called ahead to Bobby who was standing by the nurse’s station rubbing the back of his neck when they walked in. The expression of loss on Bobby’s face when he looked to them was enough to make Sam’s long stride falter.

If it even could, his stomach twisted tighter. Terror rushed through him. Dean was dead. No one had said it, but it was the only thought Sam could draw. He even started shaking his head to himself in denial when his dad stepped forward.

“Bobby,” his father addressed curtly. “Dean...?”

“He’s fighting. God help him, he’s fighting, John,” Bobby replied. “I ain’t gonna lie to you, they say it’s grim. Take a damn miracle. Well, they got one. The kid was born Winchester. They ain’t met the likes of your boys before, now have they?”

“No they haven’t,” John agreed solemnly.

The relief hit Sam so hard he was practically shaking. When Bobby’s eyes looked to him, he took it as his opening to move in. Sam couldn’t stop himself from throwing his gangly arms around Bobby. When Dad was worried it was like living with a marble statue. Cold and hard, everything locked away inside.

He knew it was what Dad needed to do, but sometimes it was more than Sam could take. Sam wasn’t one to deal with things alone. He wanted to talk. He wanted to be able to share things and right now, more than anything, he just wanted to share his appreciation for the second father that had saved his brother.

“Thank you, Bobby,” Sam breathed gratefully against Bobby’s shoulder. “Thank you for finding him.”

The older man gripped him tightly in return, patted his back and nodded stiffly to his words. “Don’t thank me yet, kid.”

“He’d be dead if it wasn’t for you,” Sam replied before pulling away.

There was something off in Bobby’s eyes when he looked back at him, but he didn’t question it aloud. There were plenty of things in his own eyes right now that he couldn’t say aloud.

Bobby cleared his throat and nodded to them. “Well, come on, you want to see your boy don’t ya?”

~~~

Dean was in the ICU. To say that visitors were frowned upon there was an understatement. To say that John would shoot any nurse that tried to keep him away from his son was simply a true statement.

It was a small hospital that had room for rule bending, John had assured the staff of that. The doctors had said that they would make a temporary exception for the family. It was a good call. Two Winchesters and Singer were far more than this entire town’s police department, let alone the hospital staff, was capable of stopping. He had no doubt that the lethal look in his eyes had assured them of as much. They suggested he take up a further waver with the administrator in the morning. He full well intended to.

Bobby led them to a bed, but John was still left wondering where his son was. The body in the bed belonged to a harshly pale, bandage bound boy. The dark marring of bruises stood out starkly against the ghostly, swollen skin. This boy was so fragile. So young. So broken.

His son was strength personified. Handsome, and sassy enough to drive him to wits ends at times. Dean was fierce and lethal, but so gentle and one hell of a lady’s man. That was one trait he would proudly take credit for. His son had bright eyes, a boisterous laugh and couldn’t hold still to save his own life. Where was that boy?

Thankfully Bobby had already had a chair beside the bed because his knees had checked out. John tried to keep a semblance of control as he collapsed into the chair. His rough hand ran over the stubble of his cheeks. He was unable to take his eyes from what little he could see of Dean.

So much was hidden beneath medical gauze and the covers. He couldn’t even let himself go there now because what little he could see was too much. Unsteadily he reached out, avoiding the IV tubes that were inserted into his son.

This didn’t even look like a living person before him and he couldn’t really touch Dean to be assured that he was alive because there was nothing left unmarred to touch. Yet he had to feel him, feel the heat radiating from his skin that would assure him that it was not only a machine mechanizing his son’s body. The heat was there, hotter than it should be, but proof of life nonetheless.

~~~

Sam’s chin was trembling. Scratch that. Every muscle in his body was shaking. Silently he bit the inside of his cheek so hard it should hurt, but he couldn’t feel anything. He could have bit a chunk off and not even noticed.

He’d been so wrong. What he’d imagined, it hadn’t been worse than this. He didn’t know a human body could survive this, not even his amazing brother. Even in his grotesque visualizations of Dean dead, it hadn’t looked this bad. It had still looked like Dean lying there.

This didn’t look like Dean and it didn’t make any sense. Sam knew what was out there. He knew the evil in the world, understood killing and torture for information, but hurting someone this senselessly he couldn’t understand. It would be a shock to see someone he’d never met like this, but this was his brother.

It wasn’t until he felt Bobby’s hand on his back that he realized how freely the tears were streaming down his cheeks. He didn’t try to stop them. There was no stopping them and if anything was worth crying over it was this.

Stiffly he stood with Bobby at his side, mind numb as he watched his dad reach out to Dean. Dad’s head was hung low, but it wasn’t low enough to hide from the harsh florescent lights the single track of moisture that slipped down his father’s face. He’d never seen his dad cry. Honestly, he had never thought the man capable of it. It turned out dad was human after all.

His arms folded tightly over his chest. Only then did he realize that Bobby had gone. But all the personal space in the world wasn’t going to fix this. Sam didn’t know what to think. He didn’t know what to do. Never had he felt so helpless or angry. Never had he seen dad so defeated or his usually lively brother so still. All he wanted was for this all to go away.

~~~

Clocks ran backwards in hospitals. It had been a long-standing theory of John’s that he had now confirmed. For the rest of the world the hours passed, but here there was nothing but the stagnant, unnaturally rhythmic, sound of the respirator. The hum of machinery was what was still making a tenuous hold on life possible for his son.

Dean’s only movements were orchestrated by the doctors and nurses monitoring him. Otherwise his son’s body laid motionless on the bed. He couldn’t even pretend that Dean was just sleeping, because his son was never still. His boy had always been active even in his slumber. Even more so since Mary had been killed. He had always avoided considering the connection. Really he had flat out actively denied it to himself, but he knew.

It wasn’t just shifting and jerking. Dean couldn’t stand silence in his sleep anymore than he could during his waking hours. It wasn’t unusual to hear him mumbling or muttering something every now and then. Between the talking and kicking John hadn’t been surprised at how young Sam had demanded his own bed when it was an option.

Sam. He didn’t even know where his youngest was right now. Given what had happened when he’d lost sight of Dean, he should be terrified, but he knew Sam was in good hands. He could curse Bobby until the second coming, but come hell or high water, when it mattered, Bobby was there. John trusted the man with his sons. There was no higher praise. Not that it meant Bobby wasn’t still an infuriating son of a bitch.

Bobby was going to have his head for this, but he couldn’t sit one minute longer. Not doing nothing. Not knowing that the thing that had done this was still out there. When his son woke he was going to be able to look him dead in the eyes and promise Dean that this would never happen again. Not to him, not to anyone. That the monster that had done this, whoever or whatever it was, had been put down.

It wasn’t long after he had silently made that oath that Bobby and Sam slipped back into the ICU. John’s world-weary eyes looked between them, nodding to his son and then settling in on Bobby.

He didn’t even have a chance to open his mouth before Bobby’s expression turned to one of warning. If Bobby thought a look was going to deter him, the man obviously hadn’t heard his ‘conversation’ with the hospital administrator this morning.

“We need to talk. Outside,” John confirmed.

Sam’s wearily slumped form instantly went on edge. What he wouldn’t give for the time when Sam hadn’t been the most perceptive person alive. It had never been easy, or even possible to pull one over on Dean. As far as he could tell, his eldest had been born too smart for his own good.

On the other hand, when Sam was a kid, John and Dean could have a private conversation with Sam in the room just by omitting enough words to leave the meaning vague to someone who wasn’t in on the details. It could be about money, food, housing or most often, the hunt.

Maybe by doing that he had unintentionally honed Sam’s abilities to pick up on the subtlest hints to find the true meaning of a statement. But as a child, his youngest had been naïve, like a kid should be able to be. Like both his sons should have been able to be. A child should never have to worry. Not about anything, but this wasn’t a perfect world. In this world, naïve got you killed.

Sam’s excessively trusting nature had always scared the hell out of him, but it had taken time for him to be able to bring himself to tell his baby boy to be afraid. Dean had taken on that role for his brother as long as he could, but eventually Sam had to be made ready to fight too.

John hated that he’d had to do it. Hated himself more than anything for it. He knew that Mary had wept in heaven on that day and that Sam to this day hated him for it, but his sons would survive. It was his responsibility as a father to see to that.

“I’m going with you,” Sam informed him out of the blue.

John raised his brows to that. If Sam was that readily insistent on leaving his brother’s side Sam must know what he intended to do. There was no returning that innocence he had ripped from Sam and that fact was made painfully clear when he met the eyes of his youngest child, barely a man, and saw the unmistakable lust for blood.

“No.”

The simple answer was firm and definite. Dean would have taken it for gospel because Dean knew there was no room to question. That’s when people died. But Sam, he didn’t care about the cost of a question. He just wanted it his way. Revenge was something they were all owed, but John wasn’t losing both his boys to this.

“I’m not asking,” Sam replied in the same tone John had just used.

John wished he could blame Bobby’s influence for Sam’s exasperating attitude. It was a convenient thought, but deep down he knew that it was yet another unfortunate part of himself that Sam had inherited. Under different circumstances he’d be proud of his boy for standing up for what he believed. Never back down. It was a double-edged sword as far as a lesson for a father to teach his son.

Right now they were both at the end of their ropes. It would be a stalemate if not for the obvious fact Sam didn’t get a choice in this. John didn’t give a damn if the State thought his son was old enough to go to war or elect the next president. Sam was still his son and the call was John’s alone to make.

“And you’re not going. You’re staying right here with Bobby. Is that understood?”

“No.”

John shot a warning glare. When Sam only raised his chin defiantly John rose from his chair and closed the distance between them, stopping mere inches from his disobedient son. Sam loved his big brother more than life itself. John fully realized that and wanted more than anything to take this pain away from him, but he couldn’t take away what was already done. He could only stop it from happening again.

It was harder to carry an intimidating stance when he had to look up, but it was one of his specialties. When he needed them to, his sharpened stares and hardened body language were enough to put the fear of god into most sane humans. Just not his youngest son. Dean nearly always backed down, but Sam knew that despite all his bluster, he would never hurt one of his own boys. Still, even Sam should know better than to push now.

“Excuse you?”

“I said no, sir. I’m coming with you.”

“You sit down in that chair and you stay with your brother.”

“Or what?”

“So help me, Sam...”

“You can’t just go running after this thing halfcocked,” Bobby interrupted. “You don’t even know what the hell it is.”

John’s glare turned on Bobby. The man never had been able to mind his own business and never had known what was good for him. No man with a brain in his head contradicted him in front of his son and no man told him what he could or could not do for his sons.

“You’re the only one that really saw what it did to my son,” John replied in a low voice. “Now look me in the eyes and tell me to drop it.”

The darkening look in Bobby’s eyes told him that it was enough said. Bobby knew that he had to do this and not just for Dean. Nothing touched his family, his son, and just went on existing.

“And if Dean wakes up to find you dead? Just what do you think that’ll do to him?”

“I’m not the one that’s going to die. Protect my sons.”

“You know I will. Just get out of here and do what you gotta, you stupid ass. Your boys will be here. Both of them,” Bobby replied with a poignant look to his youngest. “Come on, Sam. Your brother needs ya.”

~~~

An uncontrollable shiver shook through Dean, rocking the rickety wooden chair he sat in. The room felt like it was spinning, but his bare feet were pressed firmly against the chilly cement floor. He couldn’t remember where his clothes had gone or why he felt so sick. The musky air being heavy with blood, bile and other fluids he refused to acknowledge didn’t help. Knowing the source of the moisture pooled around his feet and soaking into worn finish of the chair was only worse.

His vision was blurred. He kept seeing things that couldn’t be there, but he could force himself to hold focus to the single, bare bulb hanging in the center of the basement. Long, disorienting shadows moved around him as an unseen draft swayed the light’s fixture. His brow furrowed as well as it could against the protests of the tightly pulled skin over his swollen face.

The shifting light illuminated the blood that caked his torn and bruised skin. That blood couldn’t have all come from him. Or maybe it had because he didn’t even recognize his own body. When he found the strength to lift his head enough to see something beyond his carved chest, he saw the short flight of stairs that led to the exit. It was only ten feet away.

He could see that the metal restraints that he felt weren’t really there. Nothing physical was holding him in this chair, but he couldn’t move. He couldn’t stand. Even flexing his fingers was beyond his control. If he couldn’t find the strength to crawl ten damn feet then maybe he didn’t deserve to get out of here.

Either he did it himself or he let this thing have him. No one was coming to save him. He knew that because they’d never find him here. He just wished that Dad and Sam could know that it was okay. It wasn’t their fault. They couldn’t have known. He was the idiot that had walked into the trap. He hoped they never found his body. That they never found out.

What Dean hadn’t seen with his limited field of vision was the silent form approaching from behind. When a hand set firmly on his shoulder he dropped his head back to his chest, his stomach violently churning again.

Deep in the part of his mind that was still his, he fought it. A shattering kick to the ribs, a satisfyingly empty clip in his pistol and a blood smeared silver knife. In every possible way he killed this thing. Again and again he killed it because it was what Dad would have wanted. Dad would have wanted him to be strong, but he wasn’t. In none of his scenarios could he imagine himself surviving, but as long as he took it down with him, as long as it would never hurt anyone else, it was enough. He was too damned tired to fight for himself anymore.

At some point reality had shifted again so that he was lying down without having moved. He was splayed on the floor. No. It wasn’t gritty cement any longer under his back. It was a thin mattress. He was in a bed. The stench of bile was gone, replaced with antiseptics and disinfectants that assaulted his nostrils.

Groggily Dean realized the basement was a drowsy memory and there was something moving inside his airway. A firm grip was holding his jaw open. He began to choke against the manipulation of the endotracheal tube, but quickly the sensation was gone, leaving only the throbbing of his brutally raw throat. The breaths were painful, but they came. Distantly he registered the hand again on his shoulder.

“Nice trick with my dagger,” a sickeningly familiar, deep voice whispered hotly against his ear. “Can’t say that I was expecting you to slit your own throat, but you knew you couldn’t kill me didn’t you?”

More confusion bombarded him as he tried to shove together the pieces that wouldn’t fit. The dagger. He’d grabbed it. At some point he’d held it and in that split second he’d done the only thing that would make it end. He’d let the monster win. But that hadn’t really happened. He hadn’t screwed up that bad.

Like all the ways he’d killed the son of a bitch, it had just been a hopeful thought. The thing was still here and so was he - proof that it hadn’t really happened even though he did remember. It was with him when he was awake and asleep. Conscious or unconscious, it all felt the same. He didn’t know which was which anymore so he remembered a lot of things, all of them contradictory. Only a few of them could have actually happened, but he didn't know which had.

There was an easy chuckle. “If it’s any comfort, you were right. There was no other way out. There was never really one at all.”

Already his mind was racing too fast for complete thoughts to form then he felt the hand leave his shoulder. The thin sheets that covered him were lowered. Cold fingers brushed against his abused skin, slipping down the inside of his thigh, parting his otherwise paralyzed legs. No matter how he strained against his own body his muscles wouldn’t obey. He was trapped inside his own useless body. All around completely useless.

All that registered was pure, instinctual panic. It wasn’t the lack of the ventilator that was denying him air. It was the thing on top of him. Suffocating him with the weight that grinded against his fractured ribs. Pressing down on him, into him, tearing open half mended internal lacerations. The setting might have changed, but everything else was still the same.

~~~

The days continued to pass and Dean still wasn’t getting better. Sam listened distantly, but carefully to every word the doctor said. He cataloged the facts and was already considering the search terms he’d use to look up the information on his still new laptop. Dean had gotten it for him.

His brother hadn’t actually picked out the computer. Dean didn’t even know how to turn it on, but he had hustled the money for it. Sam couldn’t even guess how long Dean must have been secretly saving up to get that much cash together. Dad had been so pissed.

Dad had already outright said no way. They weren’t wasting a credit card on some junk piece of technology they didn’t need. Sam had said he’d get the money himself and Dad had still said no. It was a waste of money no matter how you looked at it.

Dean hadn’t said anything at the time and Sam had just silently fumed about it for months until Dean had popped into the motel room one night and told him to get his ass in gear. He had a graduation present for him. Honestly he had been sure it was strippers and had almost told his brother to go to hell.

But it wasn’t strippers. Dean had taken him for a walk, made stupid wisecracks about how Sam was obviously adopted because he was ten feet too tall and way too smart to be human. Someone that smart needed a way to learn more stuff, Dean had concluded by the time they’d ended up standing out front of a computer store. Sam hadn’t realized where they were until Dean had shoved a wad of hundred dollar bills into his hand with a shrug like it was nothing.

It wasn’t just the money or the fact that his brother had worked so hard for something he didn’t even understand. It was Dad. When Dad had come back a couple of days later from a hunt, he’d gone ballistic at the sight of the computer. Dean had actually gotten up in Dad’s face. His ‘Dad is always right’ brother had totally told Dad off. If Sam wanted a stupid ass computer he damned well deserved one, Dean had said.

His brother had always stood up for him, looked after him and now Sam knew he had to be the one to do that for Dean. If the doctors here couldn’t fix Dean, Sam would find someone who could.

“Can’t say that I get what you’re asking,” Bobby replied to the doctor.

Doctor Kravets had taken Dean away for testing again earlier in the day. He hated having his brother out of his sight right now. Sam actually wished that Dad was here to tell the doctor that Dean couldn’t be alone without his family. When the nurses had brought Dean back he was still unconscious and just looked paler.

“Given the lack of medical records, it is extremely difficult for us to establish how much of what is happening is a complication caused by the current injuries and how much is a longstanding medical issue.” But Bobby had already made up a story to go with the missing records and the doctor seemed to get that pushing wasn’t going to get him a different answer. “By chronic wounds I mean, I’m assuming he’s gotten a cut or a scrape before - has there ever previously been an issue with such injuries healing properly?”

Sam wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry at the doctor’s words. This guy had no idea what his brother considered a little cut or scrape. If his arm got sawed off Dean would probably just sew it back on and say he was good to go. But Sam bit his tongue and let Bobby do the talking.

“Never. The kid heals just fine. If he ain’t now it’s something you’re missing.”

“The extreme psychological stress combined with a physiological stressor that we have yet to identify may account for lack of healing, but it’s going to take additional testing to identify the exact cause.”

“Do what you gotta do. That’s what we’re paying you for.”

“We’re doing everything we can, Mr. Crawford,” the man replied to Bobby, who in their cover story was Dad’s brother. “However, I do need to warn you that when he regains full consciousness, he may wake highly confused or even agitated. Considering the amount of trauma involved, it’s only natural. He may even suffer some amount of memory confusion or full out delusions. Again, that’s all to be expected.”

~~~

“It’s that time again. You’ll be glad to know that the room has been reserved for the hour.”

There was silence as the words were allowed to sink in. Slowly Dean’s blinking eyes acknowledged that the room was different. Not that it mattered. Everything kept changing so fast that he couldn’t keep track. He’d given up on even just trying to figure out when he was awake or not, mostly because it didn’t matter. It was always there.

Still, he’d had a funny dream at some point. Maybe it had been a few minutes ago or a few weeks. It could have been a year ago for all he knew, but it stuck because it was different than the rest. He could move and Sammy and Bobby had been there in the background.

The two of them had just been sitting with him. Then it had come, but Bobby and Sam hadn’t seemed to notice. Or maybe they had talked to it. He didn’t remember. All he really knew was how much it wrenched his gut just thinking of them anywhere near this.

“If your family asks, you’ll be sure to tell them it was a complicated set of X-rays, won’t you?”

His family. No. If they were really here and this was still happening to him then they were in danger too. He wanted to scream how many ways he would kill it if it ever laid a finger on Sammy and he would. Somehow he’d find a way.

“You son of a bitch,” Dean tried to say though it came out a messy slur.

Even if it wasn’t hurting them yet, they’d find out. They’d find out everything. Dad would know he that he hadn’t been strong enough to fight. Sammy would know that he couldn’t protect him. That he couldn’t even protect himself.

“Of course you won’t be telling them anything at all,” it added with a tap to Dean’s bandaged throat.

Breathing hurt, swallowing was still hard and talking just impossible. He wasn’t sure if it was really his throat or just the fact that he couldn’t gather his thoughts enough to string sounds into words. Everything was all muddled up and no one seemed to acknowledge the things he thought he said. Nobody knew or cared what was happening, he wasn’t sure which, but it didn’t matter because either way it was still happening.

“Your daddy said you were a shameful little slut. That’s why he left.” Dean tried to shake his head no, but the thing leaned in and smiled viciously. “You don’t think so?”

Dad had never been here so he couldn’t have left. He wouldn’t have left him even if he’d known. He’d be ashamed of him, sure, but he wouldn’t have...would he?

“It’s true,” it said as it lifted him enough to slip off his hospital gown, leaving him exposed and shivering on the gurney.

He clamped his eyes closed to try to shut it out. His head spun just lying there. Every movement the thing made was too fast to follow, not because it was really moving fast, but just because he couldn’t follow. The position of his legs were being shifted so that they were propped up over the edges of the gurney rails, leaving him spread open as it moved its face down further than Dean could see.

A sharp gasp scraped against his healing throat at the moist heat of a probing tongue rimming him. His head pushed back into the pillow as much as his paralyzed body would allow. Desperately he tried to pretend that it was anything but a tongue pushing into him. For a brief moment it seemed that he got what he’d wanted and that it was gone, but he knew that something worse than the residual burning was coming.

His back arched against the unexpected sensation of a mouth taking him in. This was new and worse than anything else. No matter how frantically he fought against it, he could feel his body responding like the thing wanted him to. If Dad knew he was getting off on a monster.... He wished he hadn’t been too sloppy to screw up his own unintended suicide. Fucking pathetic. If he’d just had the strength to cut a little deeper....

He couldn’t even bite back the whimper that left him when the smooth movements and heat vanished too soon. Here he was lying actually wishing this thing would finish what it had started just to take away the urgent sensation. It was right about him.

“I think I’ve proven my point. We’ll get back to that in a minute.”

It brushed mercilessly against him and gave him a light pat as it laid his legs back onto the mattress. Bastard. The fucking bastard. It felt like his lungs were shutting down again. He panicked, trying to draw in little gasps of what didn’t feel like enough air.

“Your throat’s not ready for all that, kiddo,” it remarked, rubbing soothingly against his chest. He didn’t have a choice but to focus on the massaging hands, using what had sent him into a panic to draw him back down.

When he was breathing again, the hands moved on to remove some of the bandaging from his chest. The thing’s lips didn’t hesitate to latch onto his nipple, suckling open the barely calloused wounds from so many times earlier and resuming the blood flow.

For the briefest moment it lifted it’s head, grinning with his own blood staining its teeth. “You know, that kid brother of yours, not a bad looker himself...”

“No,” he grunted. “Kill you...” he tried to sound out.

“Go ahead and try,” it replied before returning its mouth to his chest.

~~~

What little of his mind Bobby had remaining had just up and left him. He’d thought it had been hard when Dean was still and quiet as death itself, but the boy unconscious was nothing compared to him awake. What he’d been expecting, Bobby didn’t know, but what he found just kept breaking his heart over and over again.

Sure he’d imagined the hurt suffering he’d see in those big eyes. They’d been warned of the panic attacks, the confusion and the fact that Dean wouldn’t be able to talk. But imagining it all and seeing it while being unable to do a damn thing to help, were two brutally different things.

Terror and desperation were written all over the boy’s face. He was trying to tell them something, but what was anyone’s guess. Dean’s eyes pleaded to be understood, but even if whatever he was getting at would make sense, they couldn’t even have him write it out with those broken fingers of his.

And of course there was, Sam. The poor kid looked like he died a little more every time his big brother reached out to him for a relief they couldn’t give him. Bobby was right there with him.

“Just blink once for yes, twice for no. Can you do that?” Sam asked his brother.

Dean’s little brother was dead set on figuring out what Dean was trying to tell them. Bobby reminded him that there probably wasn’t much sense to be made of it, but Sam was as stubborn as his old man and remained insistent on spending every moment Dean was awake trying to talk to his brother. When Dean would fall asleep he’d wake up in cold sweat, barely able to breath and shaking like a leaf.

Right now Dean was trying so hard to communicate with his brother, but he could see the frustration building in the boy. Bobby laid a comforting hand on Dean’s shoulder. The boy flinched at the contact and tried to pull away. With a pained sigh of his own, Bobby reluctantly moved his hand away.

“It’s going to be okay, kid,” he promised. “Ain’t nothing else gonna hurt you.”

~~~

The uncle was intently watching over the younger son. Wise man. Kravets hadn’t lied to the boy on the bed beside him. The other one was appealing too, but he’d made his choice already. He’d finish with this one first, not that this family was making it easy on him.

At least the father was off chasing his own tail and the uncle never left the other boy alone, which meant they always went to eat together. That left Kravets moments to feed himself every time mealtime for the family rolled around. They didn’t eat as often or take as long getting food as he would have hoped, but it was at least something for the times that he couldn’t justify taking the boy out of the private room he had been moved to.

When he’d selected this one he hadn’t known that it was from a family of hunters, not until he had been bombarded by the tough words from the boy bound in his basement. By then it was too late. The risk had already unintentionally been taken. At least it turned out that this one was well worth it. Centuries of preying on humans and never had he fed from a human with a life force such as this. Never had one survived this long.

It occurred to him almost in a reminiscing fashion that the proud boy had never begged. Not once. No matter what was done, this one had never pleaded. The boy had only demanded and threatened, determined to the bitter end. He had screamed when his body couldn’t hold it back. He had cried and yelled and sought escape, but even when the boy had brought the blade to his own throat there had been defiance in his eyes.

Even looking into death the boy had never surrendered. And now, having seen his family again, inside the boy raged. It was intoxicating. As long as the heart beat in this one’s chest there was no better feast to be had.

The boy could fight all he liked on the inside, but on the outside Kravets’ ability to force paralysis kept the boy where he wanted him without making a scene. In the basement he had let the boy fight at times, it amused him to no end how many times he could beat the boy down just to have him limp back to his feet. Knowing the outcome did not seem to faze this one. Perhaps not the most intelligent, but it wasn’t the IQ that he tasted in the blood and energy he drained from his prey.

Unfortunately, here there were painkillers pumping through the boy’s system. The drugs gave a nasty tint to the blood and meant more effort was required to build up sufficient pain endorphins to recover the proper flavor. Despite his efforts, the pesky nurses kept turning the morphine drip back on.

The boy was fragile, body mostly broken, but if he pushed too far, no matter. No one expected the boy to survive anyway. This was all bonus time though he would have to admit that he was still being careful. The longer it lasted the more delicious it became.

He unfastened the tape of one of the finger braces, grasping the tentatively healing digit. With calculated movements he twisted the bones just enough to give a satisfying crack. Abrupt, shallow gasps and thunder of dramatically accelerating heart rate was music to his ears. He had detached the boy from the monitoring equipment for now so that only he would have the pleasure of registering the body’s silent cries.

With a soft smile on his lips, he inhaled the heavy scent of fear. With a practiced hand he casually set the bones of the bent finger once more and replaced the brace. His own fingers rubbed beneath the boy’s sunken eyes, collecting the sweet taste of pain induced tears that pooled there.

Kravets slipped on a pair of disposable gloves. They were an unfortunate barrier, but one that was required for quick cleanup. He watched the darting hurt, hazel eyes with amusement as he rolled up one of the hospital gown’s sleeves. Peeling a large gauze patch up, he revealed a nasty cut and reveled in the slight squirm that the body was capable of even under his control.

The boy knew what was coming. They’d already played this game many times before. The blade of his scalpel sliced lightly along the gash, again breaking the attempts the body was making to heal the wound. One hand held a kidney shaped bowl beneath the arm to collect what blood he couldn’t quickly enough attend to. The other hand rubbed roughly along the gagged edge of the freshly broken skin to maximize the nerve’s reaction.

The hoarse moans and twisted features on the boy let him know that his efforts would be rewarded in this meal. Kravets lapped his tongue over the spilling blood, sucking it straight from the source until he knew he was cutting it close on time. Finally he moved to stop the blood flow. New butterfly bandages and gauze made it look good as new. He’d already ordered another round of blood transfusions for tomorrow.

It wasn’t the blood that he craved, but the life energy the blood pumped through the body it nourished. The more adrenaline, endorphins, pain or extreme emotions that could be worked up prior to feeding, the more delicious the results were. Sexual activity brought it out the strongest, but there wasn’t always time for that and he got bored of always consuming the same thing.

He had just finished cleaning up when the boy’s family walked back into the room. Casually he pulled off his gloves and repositioned the boy making as if he had just finished his exam. His expression was heavy with well feigned concern.

The younger boy looked suspicious and the old man exhausted. Kravets smiled comfortingly and nodded a greeting. He glanced behind him and realized why the younger one looked especially displeased. The pain and terror was still etched into the face of the raggedly breathing boy on the bed.

“There was another panic attack, I’m afraid.”

~~~

The next morning Sam had turned down breakfast. Every time they left Dean seemed worse when they got back. Bobby said it was just his imagination, but Sam wasn’t leaving his brother anymore. Especially not now that Dean had awoke crying again.

No one not directly looking at him would notice. They were silent tears spilling over his brother’s lashes and soaking the patches of gauze taped to his face. A little quiver in his jaw and Dean’s already heavy eyelids squeezed tightly closed.

Unlike with Dad, it was far from the first time Sam had seen his brother cry. Sometimes he hadn’t even known why Dean was crying. His brother always thought he hid it and would never tell him when he saw. Dust in his eyes. Men didn’t cry or some macho bull shit. It didn’t matter because it turned out that knowing why didn’t make it better.

The cuts might not be healing like they should, but the swelling in his brother’s face had gone down. That didn’t help as much as he thought it would. It didn’t make Dean look any more healed. Now it just looked all the more like his brother lying there. He couldn’t any longer pretend that it was someone else this had happened to.

Sam’s slender fingers brushed carefully over Dean’s bruised cheek, wiping away the tear track. With his eyes still closed, Dean winced at the touch, trying to turn his head away. Sam didn’t care if it embarrassed his brother. Dean needed to know that Sam was here and that he wasn’t going to let anyone else hurt him.

They had Dean on the good stuff. He was so in and out of it and usually barely there. Sam couldn’t tell if his brother even knew where he was or who was with him. He prayed that Dean knew they were there for them. He prayed just to be able to hear his obnoxious brother’s usually booming voice again.

At his second brush against Dean’s cheek, his brother’s glazed eyes opened and actually met his. Not looking vaguely pass him, but Dean’s eyes had actually latched onto his gaze and held it tight. The naked desperation that looked back at him was more than he could take.

“Dean?” he asked shakily.

He had tried every way he could think of to talk to Dean, but the problem was that it always came down to a binary code - the fact that Dean could only answer yes or no. That meant the only way Dean could to tell him what he wanted was for Sam to ask the right question and he was pretty sure that he hadn’t found the right one yet.

His brother’s tongue ran uneasily over his chapped, split lips and Dean moved his mouth uncertainly. Sam thought his brother was hallucinating again, but he seemed to actually be trying to say something. He had known all along that there was something that Dean needed to tell him.

“What is it, Dean?” he coaxed once more, trying to keep his voice steady enough to be reassuring.

“Help me.”

The sound didn’t really come out as words so much as a series of ragged exhales. It was like trying to decipher some really vague EVP. You could almost convince yourself that you’d heard anything and maybe you’d really heard nothing at all, but a phrase that simple and familiar Sam could make out just by watching Dean’s lips.

He didn’t even need the words. There was pure panic again in Dean’s eyes. All he wanted was to help Dean, but he didn’t know how he could. There was nothing he could say that he hadn’t already said.

More than that, he was tired of lying to his brother by telling him it was okay. None of this was okay. He didn’t even know if Dad was coming back for them. Is this what Dean had felt like all those times he’d asked where Dad was and Dean had to pretend to know?

He knew Bobby was trying to get a hold of Dad again and it wasn’t like Dad hadn’t disappeared without a word a hundred times before on a hunt. Sam also knew this time Dad wasn’t coming back until it was finished. It was just that now Sam didn’t have Dean to fall back on and it left him feeling as lost as Dean looked.

Sam had been so distracted in his feeling of helplessness that he hadn’t initially followed Dean’s eyes when they’d moved away from him. Finally he looked where Dean was looking and saw Doctor Kravets watching from the doorway. Sam looked between Dean and the doctor. Dean was afraid of the man. Every time Dean had panicked that guy had been there. Sam’s eyes narrowed.

Quickly he stood to put himself between Dean and the man. “He doesn’t want you here,” Sam told the doctor bluntly.

“I’m sorry for that,” the doctor replied with a gentleness that made Sam feel a little guilty. “But I’m afraid if your brother is going to get better, he’s going to have to put up with me a little longer.”

The doctor snapped on a pair of latex gloves and Sam distinctly heard his brother whimper. It was one of the few sounds Dean could make right now. Sam stepped back closer to Dean, hovering protectively beside him.

“We need to do another follow up examination to see how your brother is doing. Son, you’re going to need to step outside for a few minutes.”

Sam looked back to Dean who shook his head as well as he could. Sam crossed his arms over his chest. “No. I’m staying with him.”

“Sam, isn’t it?” Doctor Kravets asked. Sam just nodded in reply. “This is a very intimate examination. I’m sure you don’t want to humiliate your brother.”

“Do whatever you have to, I won’t look. That okay, Dean?”

His brother looked conflicted and more afraid than he’d ever seen him before. Considering their lives that was saying a lot and the expression put Sam all the more on the defensive. After what Sam was pretty sure had happened he couldn’t imagine how scared Dean must be every time these strangers touched him. His brother had already had to suffer alone. He shouldn’t have to anymore.

“I’m sorry, that’s against hospital policy.”

“I don’t care.”

“That apparently runs in the family. I would really hate to have revoke your visiting privileges.”

“Yeah, well, I wouldn’t mind revoking your medical license.”

“Sam, I realize that you’re both scared, but I’m trying to save your brother,” the doctor replied gently with a surprising patience. “I just need five minutes. Please let me do my job so that we can get your brother well again.”

~~~

Bobby was going to throttle John if he didn’t start answering his damn phone. If that son of a bitch even thought about making these boys orphans he would resurrect John’s sorry ass just so he could kill him all over again. Sam and Dean both had lost too much. These kids were stronger than any, but they weren’t ready to stand on their own. Not in the world they had to live in.

Luckily for John, this latest call didn’t go to voice mail. “If you ever go that long without checking in again...”

He was just warming up to a hell of a rant, but John cut him off like he hadn’t even noticed that Bobby had been talking. “It was an alp.”

“An alp...a damn nightmare? I’ve heard murmurings of incubuses, but I ain’t never heard of an alp in these parts. Are you sure about that?”

“Pretty damn sure.”

There were plenty of similarities between an incubus and an alp, plenty of differences too. Alps had a tendency even more towards the vampiric. They fed off life force anyway they could get it – through nightmares, waking terror, sex and blood. And once they picked a victim they stayed with it until the end.

“Hate to rain on your vengeance parade, John, but no alp would’ve just dumped your boy. Even if one had left him for dead, once it realized its mistake it would’ve just picked up his scent again.”

“I know. That’s why I’m calling.”

“Better not be the only reason you’re calling.”

“I don’t have time for this Bobby.”

“You can damn well make time because you’ve got yourself on a wild goose chase. Sam and I have been here with Dean twenty-four seven.”

“Just check his chest.”

“Are you even listening? We haven’t left the hospital. We’d sure as hell notice...”

In an instant the world dropped out from beneath him. The panic in Dean’s eyes. The silent pleas. It wasn’t relief from what had happened that the boy was searching for. It was to be saved from what was happening right here and now right under their oblivious noses. Stupid idiots. This was still happening and they hadn’t even seen it.

He’d been fool enough to buy the doctor’s theory that the boy’s body was just being pushed beyond its limits. The wounds not healing, the blood loss, sleep paralysis, unexplained weakness...everything right down to the damn panic attacks - all classic signs of an alp. They would have seen it all clear as day any other time, but here none of the signs were out of place.

“Damn it all to hell!” Bobby huffed. “You better shake your ass back over here, ‘cause Dean ain’t getting any better. It’s here, John. The monster that did this has been here with your son the whole damn time.”

~~~

Sam had almost understood. Dean wasn’t sure of much right now, but he knew that if he’d pushed, Sam would have understood, would have known that the thing wasn’t really a doctor. He was pretty sure that he was getting it now, that no one else could see the monster he did. Everyone else saw a human. Sam would have seen the truth if he’d asked him to, but he didn’t want his brother to see it. He didn’t want Sam involved.

Already it wanted Sam and if Sam got in its way he knew what it would do. Knew all too well because that’s what he had done. He’d stopped it from taking another victim so instead it had taken him. He wasn’t going to let it take Sammy. He’d tried to tell his little brother that it was okay. He was just scared. That was true. He was scared. Terrified that if he didn’t hold its attention, if he couldn’t stay alive, then it would go for his family next.

It had taken a lot of silent convincing, but finally Sam had reluctantly left him alone with it. Dean had thought they were going to stay in the room, but the thing had caught onto Sam’s suspicion and now they were somewhere else. He couldn’t remember how they had gotten here. He had no idea what part of the hospital here was or if they were even still in the hospital.

The bed was gone and he was back on the floor. The force of the thrusts drove Dean’s body hard against the tile beneath him. His eyes were closed not only to shut out the thing on top of him, suckling him, but mostly because he was too tired to hold them open. He felt what little energy he had left being sucked from him.

It had told him that this was the last time. He wanted that to be true, wanted to disappear now, but he couldn’t let go completely. Sam. If he let go it would be Sammy here beneath it. So he fought even as the pain blurred seamlessly with the pure exhaustion and the sheer over stimulation nearly brought him to a desperately needed numbness. But something that didn’t belong tore away the blanket of numb.

Somewhere a door was slammed open. He could hear Dad’s voice reverberating around him. Angry as hell. Dad knew. Numbness gave way to a deadening dread. He didn’t want Dad here. Not here. Not now. Not until he was dead and not even then.

Dean’s eyes opened as best he could force them to when he suddenly felt the weight being dragged off him. His lungs greedily pulled in as much oxygen as his throat would allow in one gulp. The weird thing was that it almost felt like he could have moved if he wanted to, but he didn’t have the strength.

His wandering eyes tried to lock onto some sort of explanation for the change and for the sounds of struggle that he was hearing. Absently he watched his blood running down a drain in the floor beside him before finding the energy to turn his head. Dean forgot about everything else when he saw Dad and Bobby fighting it.

It was going to kill them. He had to warn them but couldn’t keep his eyes open, let alone open his mouth. As hard as he tried, he barely registered the sounds of the fight or the sheet being wrapped around him. Someone slid their arms beneath him and lifted him from the cold floor. He automatically assumed it was the monster coming to claim him again until he heard the words.

“I got you, Dean.”

His shocked mind finally caught onto the fact that the voice and the long arms that supported him belonged to his baby brother. When had Sammy gotten big enough to carry him? It had to be another dream, but it was finally one he felt safe enough to surrender to.

~~~

John sat at the table in Bobby’s kitchen, hands folded, picking absently at the last bits of the alp’s blood that he hadn’t yet been able to clean from beneath his fingernails. It was generally accepted that you couldn’t kill an alp, but if you broke anything down into enough pieces, eventually there was nothing left.

At least the monster had made its last stand in a large shower stall. It had made clean up a lot easier. That and slipping out of the hospital were the only things that had been easy.

Sam had somehow carried his brother out nearly as soon as he and Bobby had pulled the alp off of Dean. Once he and Bobby had finished he’d found his sons together in the Impala. Dean had been laid out over the back seat, his head propped up on Sam’s lap. One of Sam’s hands had laid protectively on his unconscious brother’s shoulder, the other had clutched a barely concealed pistol.

Their escape had been far from an ideal scenario. The local police would be looking into it, but he could give a damn about the law right now. It was just lucky they had found a service exit and that no one had stopped them on the way out of the hospital. He wouldn’t have had any mercy on anyone who had tried to prevent him from taking his son away from that place - the place he’d left Dean to continue to be tortured.

He was still numb from the scene that was permanently burned into his eyes, heart and soul. There was no forgetting seeing his broken son lying there beneath that thing. To know it had only been one of many times, that he had let his son live that over and over...

“For the last god damned time, John, get your ass in there and go talk to that boy!” Bobby demanded of him. “I’m letting you stay here so you can put your son back together, not so you can sit around and feel sorry for yourself.”

With an agitated sign, John rubbed his eyes. He couldn’t look at Dean. Not without seeing what he had done to his son.

“Dean’s not exactly talking.”

It was an easy excuse to say that talking to Dean wouldn’t help, that they couldn’t really talk now anyway. But it had been days, almost a week now, and every one of them suspected that at this point Dean could talk if he wanted to. It was just that John wasn’t willing to call Dean on it because he wasn’t ready to talk either.

“Do you really think you can pull one over on me? Besides, the kid is talking.” John’s angry eyes took on a hint of question as he tried to figure out what Bobby’s trick was this time. “He spoke to Sam. Didn’t say much, just told him to tell his Dad he was sorry.”

“Sorry for what?” John asked incredulously.

“Go talk to him, John. No way that boy has his head on straight after this.”

John didn’t say another word to Bobby, just pushed himself heavily out of the kitchen chair and stalked quietly towards the bedroom. The door was partially closed, but open enough that he could see inside. He stood back in the hallway, watching his sons.

Sam sat on the edge of the bed fussing over Dean’s bandages while his older son stared blankly towards the far wall. Usually it was Dean pointlessly yammering, a sound he would never again consider an annoyance. He’d give anything to hear that carefree talking again, but for now it was Sam talking to fill the silence for Dean.

He didn’t listen to the words. Instead he just watched the tender way his youngest helped to reposition his big brother. John’s gut twisted at how much pain the simple movement had obviously caused Dean. His son looked too tired to hide the hurt that John would give anything to take onto himself.

John stood silently by while Sam gently helped to support Dean’s head as he held a cup of water for his big brother. Dean didn’t look interested in the water and John was pretty sure that it had been Sam’s idea that Dean needed to drink. He smiled sadly when Dean shook his head and got a chastising look from his brother. A moment later Dean humored Sam by sipping from the glass.

Dean probably didn’t even realize how much he was leaning into Sam’s comforting touch. John couldn’t help the twinge of jealousy in knowing that neither of his sons would ever look that at ease with him, only with each other.

As if to confirm as much Dean suddenly went rigid in his brother’s arms and John realized that it was because his son had just seen him. There was so much tentativeness in the gaze that John didn’t know how to interpret it, but it was the first time his son had looked at him since they’d found him and John wasn’t turning away.

Sam too turned to look over his shoulder, following Dean’s eyes. He couldn’t read Sam’s eyes anymore than he could read Dean’s. He knew Sam was angry, but that seemed to be the new permanent state for his younger boy. Sam didn’t understand why he had been keeping a distance from Dean. He hoped he never did.

“How you doing, kiddo?” John asked Dean as he stepped through the doorway.

It was a stupid question to begin with and Dean flinched at the words. Given everything he’d let happen to his son, it would seem like he should be able to come up with something better to say. He was the father of the two remarkable boys that were watching him warily. He should be able to say something to help them both.

“Sam, go help Bobby with lunch.”

Of all the things to say a curtly spoken order had been the last thing that should have left his mouth. It should have been a request, a question even. Giving orders was a default for his own comfort, but this wasn’t about his comfort.

Sam had been doing his job for weeks. John could damn well swallow his pride enough to show his son some gratitude, but he was still too furious with himself for the words to come out. He sighed angrily. At what point had he let it become so damn awkward to talk to his own sons?

“Sam, please,” he corrected. “Could you give us a couple of minutes?”

His youngest looked at him uneasily and glanced to his brother for confirmation that it would be all right if he left. John had no doubt that if Dean said no Sam would happily tell his father to go to hell. It was probably better for all of them that Dean just gave a stiff nod of confirmation. Reluctantly Sam stood, slowly leaving Dean’s side.

“I’ll just be outside,” Sam assured Dean before disappearing out the door.

John waited for Sam to go then without a word, sat down in the chair beside the bed. He took a long moment to look over his son who was no longer looking at him. Now that the wounds were being left alone and his energy wasn’t being drained, physically Dean was starting to heal. It wasn’t going to be easy. Dean still wouldn’t be eating solid foods for a while and it was showing on his frame. His usually robust son still looked so fragile that John was afraid to touch him.

Bobby and Sam both wanted him to talk to Dean, but he didn’t know what they thought he could say. The thought that ‘sorry’ could begin to touch this was laughable. The monster was dead, it wasn’t happening again, but even that was only cold comfort. There were no words that would fix this because they’d never be enough.

It was instead Dean who spoke with a broken whisper. “I’m sorry, Dad.”

Even if John hadn’t heard the words, the defeated tone alone would have been enough to tear out his heart. He honestly hadn’t believed Bobby. After everything Dean had been forced to live through, John could not accept that his son would feel the need to apologize. Least of all to him.

The raspy voice continued before John could even wrap his mind around the previous words. “I couldn’t stop it...I tried,” Dean was looking down with his jaw tightly clenched. “I know you’re mad.”

John was furious beyond comprehension, but not at Dean. Hearing his son’s words, he forgot everything else. All the pretence, all his self-blame - it was all meaningless. This was his son hurting and blaming himself for that pain. It didn’t matter that nothing John said would make it better. It was his job to try, not only because he was the boy’s father, but because he had brought this on his son. Not just the alp, all of it.

The sickening realization hit him like a ton of bricks. Dean was sorry because that was what he’d mistakenly raised his son to think. Kill the monster and damn all the rest. Even themselves. He’d wanted to prepare his sons to survive and he wanted still to avenge Mary’s death, but in the process he had raised his boy to believe that if he couldn’t stop the monster he was worthless because what else was there? There wasn’t one other damn thing he’d given his son to hold onto aside from Sam and if this thing had taken Sam instead...he didn’t want to think about what Dean would have done.

John swallowed the bile at the back of his throat and forced his voice steady. “You look at me, Dean.” It was a painfully long moment before Dean finally raised his eyes. “Do I look mad?”

He hated himself all the more when he saw the confusion flood Dean’s eyes. His son really believed that he should be angry with him. Dean seemed to consider John’s insistence to the contrary for a moment, but then shook his head.

“You don’t know what I did,” Dean protested, his voice shaky and uncertain.

Dean was right. There was no way that John could fully imagine what that thing had forced his son to do. He knew the horror that he had personally witnessed the alp forcing on his son was only a small part of what had happened. But other than that, Dean hadn’t spoken a word about what had happened. John sincerely doubted his son ever would.

Still, so much of the physical aspect was painfully catalogued on his child’s skin. He would never tell Dean, but when they had brought his son here, he had examined every injury because he’d had to know. It had only made him wish that he could have killed the alp slower.

John also knew what alps did, how deeply they could penetrate a person’s psyche through their nightmares. All the time that monster had been with Dean, there was nowhere his son could have hidden. No escape, not even in sleep. He didn’t know what it was that Dean thought he had done, but there was one thing he was certain of.

“It doesn’t matter what you did, Dean. You survived and that’s all you had to do. Do you hear me, son?” Dean didn’t look like he believed him and that tore at John all the more. He took in a deep breath and shook his head slightly. “I’m so sorry,” he said almost to himself.

It wasn’t just what had happened over the last couple of weeks that he apologizing for. It was everything. He was sitting beside the strongest young man he had ever met. Yet, there was self-loathing in the boy’s eyes and he knew it was him, not the alp, that had put it there. These boys would have been so much better off if Mary had been the one here.

“What? No, Dad. It wasn’t your fault.”

It was the first thing Dean had said with conviction and that hit John hard. No matter what happened, it was always Dean telling him that everything was all right and he just wished for once that his son would let himself hear the same assurance from his father.

John no longer resisted pulling his son carefully into his arms. His boy looked baffled and went rigid at his touch. John almost let him go, but a split second later Dean’s arms reached out for him, clutching him with far more strength than he would have guessed his son currently capable of.

But of course Dean was stronger than he looked and yet, the desperate embrace said everything that Dean never would. It wasn’t an apology or the assurance of physical protection that his son needed.

“Dean, I couldn’t be more proud of you,” he whispered into his boy’s ear.