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Breathe

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“I’m going to get some supplies” were the last words to register in Dean’s mind.

He’s leaving me.  He’s making an excuse and he’s leaving me.

He realized he was shaking again, and felt a detached sense of irritation at that evidence of his weakness.  So what if his father left him?  He should.  He should go find Sam.  That was what mattered: Sam.

He was aware of the door closing and an engine starting up just outside.   Not the Impala , he observed.  He’s taking his own truck.

Leaving the Impala, because he’s leaving me .

He swayed, weakness and nausea rocking him.  He closed his eyes, fighting for equilibrium, and found himself on his knees between the two beds.

He’ll come back, he promised himself, though he didn’t believe it.

He turned to rest his forehead against his bed.   Dad’s , he corrected, but the reason he’d stopped between the two, driven his father away with his shameful inability to make such a simple decision, was that he’d been sleeping in that one.  His father had been away, and Dean always placed himself between the outside world and his little brother.

Always.

So when John told him to lie down, he’d had to figure out which choice would piss his father off the least.  Would choosing the bed by the door seem defiant, as if Dean was challenging  his father’s authority?  Would taking Sammy’s bed be disrespectful, because that left John with the one Dean had soiled with whatever dirt, sweat, saliva, and whatever had rubbed off of his skin and clothes while he slept?  

Plus Dean was maybe, just a little bit superstitious, and taking Sammy’s bed had felt...wrong.  Like he was already assuming that Sammy wasn’t coming back.

There were so many rules, and every time Dean thought he knew them all, he ended up doing something wrong.

So he continued to kneel, forehead against the sheet, breathing in the familiar mix of deodorant, after shave, and gun oil that had transferred from his own body to these sheets.

He dozed.

A rude pounding on the door obliterated the peaceful fog that had cradled him, and he gasped as the unexpected rush of adrenaline jolted through his torso, pain erupting from his fractured ribs.

“Dean, you in there?  It’s Bobby!  Open up, ya idjit!”

“Bobby?”  Dean’s voice was faint and unrecognizable, even to his own ears.

He braced a palm on each bed and attempted to lever himself to a standing position.  

“C’mon Dean!  I think I got a lead on Sammy!”  The wood vibrated beneath the older hunter’s fist twice more.  “Better not be on the shitter,” came a quieter but clearly audible growl. “Feel like a sittin’ duck out here.”

Dean failed to suppress a moan as contused muscles were forced to obey his demand to rise.  A sensation akin to that of a thousand near-simultaneous bee stings made him wonder how long his body weight had been resting on his lower legs.

“Fuck.”  He wasn’t sure he could walk on feet numbed by a prolonged interruption in blood flow.

“Singer!  What are you doin’ here?”  John Winchester’s voice reverberated through the old door.

He came back.

Relief, sorrow, guilt, fear, and joy broke over Dean in a dizzying wave, and he closed his eyes tightly against all of it.

“Hey, Winchester,” and in his mind Dean could see the two veteran hunters slapping one another on the shoulder in a restrained display of brotherhood.  “Dean called me, wondering if I’d seen Sam.  Figured I’d stop by, see if I could  help.”

The voices carried through the thin wood as if it was nonexistent.

“That’s mighty kind of ya, Bobby.  I was just gonna drop in at the police station and check on a few things.  Lemme just get Dean settled real quick and you can join me.”

“Sure.  Lemme get those bags from ya so you can unlock the door.  Been poundin’ on it half the damn’ day, and that idjit son of yours ain’t answered.  He okay?”

Dean’s mind kicked into overdrive.   Gotta cover up .  Lying under blankets or wrapping a towel around his waist would’ve been enough under normal circumstances, but he didn’t want Bobby to see that he’d been whipped like little fucking child.  

The bruises on his face, those didn’t bother him. It’d piss Bobby off--always did when John left marks, whether during training or in discipline--but at least that was the type of bludgeoning an adult earned.  

The kind of beating you gave someone you at least respected.

“He’s fine, but I gotta make sure he’s decent before you come in.  He’s been alone for a few days, no tellin’ what he’s used to doing with his down time.”

Dean moved stiffly to the foot of the bed, face contorting as he leaned down to snag his open duffle bag.  

Fractured ribs, man.  Worst fuckin’ injury there is.  Core muscles responsible for posture and breathing attach to each one, so everything hurts.  Laughing, crying, just breathing .  Sitting, lying, standing...but the worst is bending, either toward the injury, where each jagged end tunnels through previously shredded muscle to accommodate the movement, or away, where developing scar tissue is brutalized as the area stretches.

But there was movement at the door, and even if Bobby stayed out, Dean would be visible as it opened--

Any physician that had seen Dean’s  injuries would have sworn that no one in that condition could move as quickly as the young man did, but by the time the door opened, he’d managed to force his mutilated torso into a t-shirt before dropping into a seated position to tug blessedly loose sweatpants up over his hips.

John cracked the door open just enough to stick his head in, body imposed between Bobby’s keen eyes and whatever potential horror waited in that cursed motel room.

Dean saw the look of disbelief turn to relief, then confused suspicion as his eyes washed over Dean, then quickly scanned the room.  “Dean?”

“Hey, Dad,” and he raised a hand the way he always had.  “You came back.”  He cringed on the words, but John didn’t appear to notice.

“How...Are you alone?”

Now it was Dean’s turn to be confused, an emotion that quickly turned to shame.   “You put some skank-ass whore, a slut with no standards, above your own brother?”  He lowered his head.  “Yeah.  I didn’t....there’s no chic here.”

“That’s not--”

“Hey, Dean, ya decent?” Bobby’s voice cut in, and John’s puzzled scowled turned to one of irritation.

Dean glanced at  his father.  Their eyes met, and Dean dropped his, chest tightening at the anger he read.

“Yeah, he’s decent,” John answered for his son, moving in to the room without inviting the older hunter to follow.

Which Bobby did anyway, a paper bag balanced on one arm.  “How ya holdin’ up, kid?”  He dumped the sac on the table carelessly, then slanted his eyes at John.  “Hope ya didn’ have eggs in here.”

John snorted.  

Dean took advantage of Bobby’s distracted attention to force himself to get to his feet and start moving toward the bathroom.

“I gotta hit the shower--”

But Bobby caught him, pulling the younger man in for a brief but tight hug.  Misinterpreting the tense shoulders, he thumped a closed palm against the boy’s back.  “We’ll get ‘im back, Dean.  Don’t you worry.”  The words were gruff and low, for Dean and Dean alone.

The kindness was like gasoline on the embers of Dean’s shame.  He dropped  his head, tears pearling in his lashes. “Good to see you, Bobby.”

In his desperation to escape the searing affection of the grizzled old hunter, Dean turned too quickly, stumbling over his own feet and the edge of the bed.

Bobby reacted instinctively, gripping Dean’s upper arm to balance him.

“What the hell?”  Dean heard the man mutter.  He conducted a mental scrutiny of everything Bobby could have seen, heard, or felt in the seconds leading up to that remark.

His shirt was sticking to his back in places.  His thin, white shirt.

Fuck .

“It’s nothin’, Bobby.  I need a shower.”  He tugged his arm away gently, and focused on keeping his movements as smooth and loose as possible until he succeeded in achieving the sanctuary of the motel’s out-dated bathroom.  

He nearly fell into the room, kicking the door shut with his heel before catching the edge of the sink with his palms.  He allowed his head to hang, feeling his pulse beat in one swollen eye, feeling scabs tear across his upper back as his shoulders hunched until the blades were almost touching.

“What the hell happened to him ?”  

Bobby’s voice carried too clearly through the door, and Dean shifted his weight to free his right arm long enough to get water running in the sink.

Either John didn’t answer or his voice was too low for Dean to hear.

Bobby’s was loud, strong, and indignant.  “Did you do that to him?”

Dean cringed, and that hateful shaking began once more.

“Sweet Mother of God, Winchester!  Pile a’ blankets over vomit, blood on the floor and the wall...What the fuck did you do?”

This wasn’t the first time Bobby had walked into a situation like this.  

<< John had just enough time to whip the rough sheet over Dean’s sobbing form before the door burst open.

“Just what the hell do you think you’re doing, Winchester?”

“My job as a father, Singer!” >>

Dean was certain that Bobby’s hunter instincts had kicked in, and the man who had been his surrogate father for more years than he could count had added things up.

Please, Bobby.  Don’t. ”  But his voice was a whisper so quiet that it didn’t even reach his own ears.

A low rumble marked John’s response, followed by Bobby’s increasingly angry retort.  “‘On Dean’s watch’?  Are you fucking kidding me, Winchester?  Sam is seventeen years old.  He doesn’t need a goddamned babysitter, and Dean has a right to some sort of life of his own!”

“Dean knows that Sam is his responsibility, especially when I’m not around!”  

Dean couldn’t tell if his father had moved closer to the bathroom, or his rising temper was illustrated in his voice.  Neither bode well, and Dean moved from the sink to kneel before the toilet, stomach rolling ominously.

“What the fuck is wrong with you, Winchester?  I’ve never agreed with the burden you placed on Dean, making a kid be a parent to another kid, but for Christ’ sake--”

“Don’t you fucking tell me how to raise my own fucking kids!”

Dean’s abdomen contracted violently and agony locked his diaphragm as his fractured ribs insisted that all motion stop now.

“Not what you said all those times you dropped them off over the past decade-and-a-half!”  

“Bullshit!  We’ve had this conversation before!  I know what I’m doing!”

“Do you really?”  Bobby’s voice was poisonous with sarcasm and condescension.  “Because that boy in there is one of the best I’ve ever known.  He’s a good hunter, tough as hell, smart, and loyal to a fault.  And you just keep pushing, keep demanding more, and he tries so hard to please you, and then you do this ?”

Dean reached to flush the toilet, desperate to drown out the voices.

The liquid cacophony ended, allowing Bobby’s voice to assert itself once more.  “And I can guaran-damn-tee that you convinced him that he deserved it.  You fucking asshole.”

“He god-damned well did deserve it, Bobby!  It’s Sam.  Fucking Sam !  Mary died tried to protect him, and I…”

Dean rested his sweaty forehead on the cool edge of the commode, face running hot with tears.

“And you don’t think she would have done the same for Dean?”  The eldest hunter’s voice was softer, but still laced with ire.

“Losing Sam….It’s like I’m losing Mary all over again.”

The wounded tone was one Dean rarely heard, and combined guilt and shame threatened to choke him.

“Jesus, John.  Don’t you think I know that?  But do you ever, even for a minute, stop to think about what all of this is like for Dean?  She was his mother , Sam is his brother , and you--you’re his drill sergeant, his fucking idol, and by God, John, you’re tearing this kid apart!”

Dean’s shoulders heaved with the sobs he fought to control, and this agony, hearing his thoughts voiced and validated by Bobby, this was so much worse than his father’s belt  had been.

John’s voice was reduced to a low rumble.

“So are you telling me that Dean is expendable?  Is that how it is for you, Winchester?”  Bobby’s indignation had found fuel, and his voice rose once more.

Dean crawled to the bathtub, cranking both taps up until they were fully open, the resultant stream nearly deafening.  He closed the drain, turbulence adding to the din.

“Then you need to stop treating him like he is.  That boy--no, that man --he’s on edge.  I can feel it.  Worse yet, I’ve seen it the way he hunts, taking unnecessary risks, always ready to sacrifice himself for any one or any thing .  He ain’t just your equal, John, he’s better than you, and he’s the only who don’t know it.”

No .  “No,” Dean grunted, and it felt like his chest was being shredded from the inside.  “It’s not true.”

“You worry so fucking much about losing Sam.  You gotta start thinking about where you’ll be when you lose Dean, because that’s the path you’re on right now.”

A door slammed, and the deafening wail of his dying soul was the only sound Dean heard.