I've recently been having a little sort out of all my fics over on FF.net, and I found this little nugget from long ago which I don't believe has ever made it over here.
This story, Dry, was my first attempt at a multi-chapter h/c case fic, and introduced my OMC, Tom Matthews who was later seen in 'Hair of the Dog' which did make it over to this neck of the woods.
So here goes, for your delectation, I present scared Dean; scared, tummy rubbing Sam and awesome Bobby.
Word Count: approx 10,000
The boys investigate a series of mysterious deaths in a small midwest town, but Dean's desire to avenge the victims lands him in dire straights.
Disclaimer: I own nothing of any interest.
The sleepy midwest town of Devonwood was suffering as it had never suffered before. Tragedy had touched the town and was showing no sign of going anywhere soon; the Townsfolk had seen dead newborns, children going to sleep, never to wake up, and the mysterious deaths of young, healthy people, including a newly-wed bride for whom the vow, 'until death do us part' had taken on a tragic and appallingly premature meaning.
Eleven deaths in the last six months. All under twenty-one, and all in apparently perfect health up until the moment of their death. Autopsy results revealed no patterns, talking about heart failure, chronic dehydration, brain haemorrhage; some had just dropped dead where they stood, others lingered for a couple of days. It didn't matter; the end result was the same; a town's heart was broken.
Eleven. Out of a population of just over a thousand.
Those odds were just skewed enough to attract the attention of two young guys who had turned up in town about a week ago in a black Chevy Impala. They wore cheap, poorly cut suits, and asked odd questions, but there was something about their genuine, easy manner that people liked. They both looked way too young to be feds, but with this sort of shit going on, the townsfolk were prepared to accept help from whichever quarter it might come.
The Winchesters quickly realised they had a witch on their hands, a freakin, nasty one at that. They found hex bags turning up in nurseries, playgrounds and even under the altar of the church where the ill-fated newly-weds had said their vows.
A wilted bud that had fallen from the bride's bouquet as she had sunk to the flagstones lay abandoned under the altar next to the concealed curse.
Sam picked it up and rolled it between his fingers, touched by the little yellow symbol of joy and purity laying next to such dark evil. He gently put it in his shirt pocket, close to his heart.
Dean, for his part, hated witches. He didn't know why especially, they were normally no more or less evil than most of the other supernatural freaks he and Sam had to deal with, but he hated witches in the same way some people hate spiders more than any other animal; but a witch that hurt and killed children? The young? The defenceless? Her card was marked. The bitch was his; he would make her suffer; and what's more he would enjoy it.
This job had affected them both. Any job that involved the suffering of decent, good people was distressing to them, but it was the painting on the fridge door in the Campbell household that tipped the scales. The one that six year old Rebecca had done for her Mommy the evening before she was found cold and dead in her bed the following morning.
Dean had had to leave the room.
Sam had managed to hold it together; just. That night, he had lain awake in the lumpy motel bed, images of the red and blue dribbles of paint swirling in his mind. He could hear occasional sniffs and spasmodic swallows coming from the bed beside him.
He got up and went to sit on Dean's bed, needing the closeness as much as his brother did. Dean didn't stop him or tell him to get lost as he otherwise might, but silently shifted over to make space for Sam to sit. He kept his back to Sam, no need for Sam to see his tears.
Sam was still there as the Sun filtered through the frayed net curtain, sitting close to his brother, his leg pressed against Dean's warm back. Not a word was spoken but their silence and touch gave them both strength.
Investigations led to boys to the house of Miss Mary Harper, a local school teacher, fellow of the local archaeological and historical society, pillar of the community and all round good egg.
With links to all the families of the deceased, it appeared that her motive was a long standing blood feud, going back to times before the families involved had even left Europe to emigrate to the new world. Her means was the archaeological and historical society, enabling her to map the lineage of every family in the town.
Her modus operandii was to hurt the descendents of those who hurt her bloodline all those centuries ago in the most painful way possible; by taking their youngest and brightest. Their future.
The Winchesters made an unannounced visit to the respectable Miss Harper's basement that afternoon. The visit revealed, as Dean put it, "some seriously dark shit". Bottled blood, animal parts, effigies and pictures of the deceased, and incantations and symbols which the boys recognised as 'dark, evil and freakin' dangerous' told them all they needed to know.
They lay in wait for their quarry, and watched her from behind a partly closed larder door as she walked up the garden path. Dean was adamant she was his; Sam was NOT to touch her. Sam was in charge of the incantation that would make sure that once she was dead, the bitch stayed dead.
Sam had opened his mouth to argue, he was concerned that Dean was too emotionally involved. He knew his brother's emotions ran deep, and it wouldn't be the first time they had impaired his judgement, but he knew it was a lost argument. Dean needed to do this for those little children, for that blushing bride, for those bereaved families, For himself.
However, Sam refused to promise that he wouldn't wade in if Dean got into trouble, despite Dean's vocal and colourful protestations.
The key turned in the lock and Miss Harper stepped into her kitchen. She had a bag of groceries - a move the Winchesters had banked on as they had watched her movements and ascertained that she visited the store on her way home every evening; with this in mind, they secreted themselves into her larder.
She removed her coat, and sighed, rolling her neck and shoulders. Two pairs of eyes, one vivid green, the other velvety hazel, both blazing with hatred, watched her through the crack in the door.
When it happened, it happened quickly. She strolled across to the larder, and opened the door.
Dean pounced like a caged panther, pushing Sam aside into a pile of canned fruit. He knocked her through the kitchen table which smashed, scattering splinters and chair legs over the room and knelt over her, pinning her to the floor, hand over her mouth to stop her spewing any curses or incantations as he fumbled into the back of his waistband for his knife.
As if to prove she was no ordinary little old lady, her unnatural strength almost managed to tip Dean, 180 pounds of solid muscle, over, but he clung hard, bracing his legs against the floor. She lashed out with a hand she had managed to slip loose and caught Dean square across the cheek-bone, opening a thin gash and spraying scarlet drops across the bridge of his nose,
"Freakin' BITCH" he snarled, pressing his hand harder against her face, dodging her flailing arms, and shook his head to clear his vision. It took just that moment of distraction for her to tip him over.
Sam gasped and moved to run towards them.
"NO", Dean barked, rolling onto his belly.
Dean and Mary Harper both scrambled to their feet, screaming obscenities at each other. She picked up a chair leg which she swung furiously, catching Dean hard across the chest, knocking the wind out of him. He doubled over with a breathy roar, stumbling backwards, crashing into the wall.
Sam lurched towards him, but Dean pushed him away, drunk with rage.
Dropping down onto his haunches, Dean drew his knife from his waistband, and watched her every move.. She loomed over him, bloody and rabid with fury, her trembling finger pointing accusingly at him.
Closer, closer …
"you dare to think that you can stop me, you reptile" she shrieked.
Closer and closer she moved in, her lips silently mouthing, no doubt, some vile incantation.
Sam knew what Dean was doing and watched, wide-eyed, barely able to breathe.
Closer and closer, she leaned into Dean as he crouched, panting, against the wall, his knife in his hand behind his back.
Dean could feel her fetid breath on his face, see her watery blue eyes boring into his. The deep green flashed with fury.
Her cold, calloused hand encircled his neck in a strangling motion. He cringed against the repellent touch. Then he moved …
The knife drove into her chest with such force, his fist followed it halfway in. There was a choking, flooded scream as the blade exited her back.
Dean pushed harder – his whole hand buried in the wet cavity of her chest. "Take it bitch; that's for Rebecca Campbell!" he roared.
Sam dashed out to Dean's side, almost sobbing out the incantation, Mary Harper screamed and writhed on the blade, almost ripping Dean's shoulder out of it's socket as she did, the words were killing her as surely as the blade.
"Burn in hell, you freakin' evil skank" Dean snarled, nose to nose with the twitching, grey face.
He twisted the knife just to ensure maximum damage, ignoring hot, black blood which trickled down his forearm.
Mary Harper raised a trembling finger to touch Dean's heaving chest, yawning a silent gasping scream before the life finally left her body.
"D-dry" she croaked wetly through the blood and foam on her lips.
The body went limp and Dean sagged under the weight. He let it drop to the floor and then kicked it away like a piece of garbage.
Dean dropped to his knees beside the bloody corpse, panting hard. He pressed his blood-slicked arm across his chest and winced.
Sam clambered over the wreckage of the table and squatted down next to his brother."How ya doin' dude?" he asked, his hand reached up to touch the gash on Dean's cheek which had bled profusely down his face.
Dean swatted his hand away, "fan-frickin'-tastic" he replied gruffly between laboured breaths.
"We should clean up here" suggested Sam absently.
Dean nodded, leaning heavily on Sam as he rose to stand on trembling legs. Sam rose with him, arm across his back and guided him over to the sink where they rinsed the blood from Dean's arms and face.
Dean patted his face dry with a towel, and looked up at Sam."Burn the friggin' hole down" he grunted, stumbling stiffly back over the wreckage of the table towards the door. "With her in it" he added, gesturing with his thumb.
Sam looked at his brother as if he had lost his mind.
"What?" asked Dean, "You want the law to find that?" His breath caught and he flinched as he raised his arm to point at the body. "Do you want them to find all that shit down in the basement? For those people in the town to find out their babies were killed by a curse?" He breathed heavily for a moment. "Seriously, dude, we can't risk anyone else getting their hands on all that friggin' evil witch crap down there – the best thing we can do is burn it".
Sam hated it when his brother's wild impulsiveness made sense.
"There's no other houses nearby, no danger to anyone" Dean added, "let's do it and get out of here, I seriously need a shower dude … witches and all their stinkin' bodily fluids. Ugh!".
The Winchesters eased themselves into the Impala which they had secreted behind a nearby copse, and put the plume of smoke rising from the house behind them. Dean slumped grumpily in the passenger seat, "I think the bitch broke my ribs" he grunted, his right arm cradling his side.
It was late in the evening by the time they rolled into a motel that looked moderately less flea-bitten than any that they had passed before, Sam parked up and went alone to check in; they both agreed that Dean, with his pained stoop and blood crusted face, would be unlikely endear them to any receptionist.
They settled into their room, the mud-inspired décor doing little to lift their mood, and set about patching themselves up. Sam cleaned up Dean's face, nagging as Dean flinched and pulled away from the cool cloth. Once clean, Sam announced that it wasn't as bad as it looked and wouldn't need to be stitched, so Dean didn't have to worry about his perfectly pretty face being disfigured and could still go to the ball!
"Bite me!" grunted Dean.
"It looks like someone already did", grinned Sam.
Sam sat Dean on the bed and helped him remove first his overshirt, then his T shirt, pulling it over his head allowing for the limited movement of Dean's right arm. A cursory examination proved what they both suspected. A vivid purple bruise was already blossoming across the front of Dean's chest, and one of the ribs under the bruise creaked under Sam's touch. Dean's face crumpled with pain as Sam lifted his hand.
"Newsflash - broken rib dude" announced Sam. Dean looked up at his brother; "you don't say" he hissed.
Ignoring his brother's sarcasm, Sam poured himself a tall glass of water and took a long swig; Dean stretched out his hand towards Sam, silently asking to share.
Sam handed the half-drunk glass to his brother and stood, hands in the small of his back, arching into a massive, satisfying stretch. He stepped over to his duffel bag, his body crying out for a shower; but his head jerked round when he heard an agonised cry behind him, and a smash as the glass fell to the floor.
His brother was kneeling on the floor, clawing at his throat, wide eyed with pain. "Burning …" he squealed hoarsely as unswallowed water trickled out of his gaping mouth, "burns …"
Sam was at his side in an instant; "Dean" he gasped, "what is it, are you choking?" he yelled frantically, gripping his convulsing brother's shoulders.
Dean stared up at him through a mist of tears; he shook his head stiffly, the power of speech seemingly beyond him.
They sat, clutching each other for what seemed like the longest time, but was, in actual fact, probably only a minute or two. Dean's pain seemed to be subsiding and Sam watched, stroking his heaving back, as his breathing began to even out.
"What was all that about?" Sam asked gently, an edge of concern in his voice, when he felt Dean had calmed down enough to speak. With the pain eased, Dean's rib decided to make it's presence felt, and he doubled over, clutching his side.
"Dunno" Dean grunted through clenched teeth, "what was in that water?" he gasped, "it was like freakin' acid".
Sam's hand froze on Dean's back, "There was nothing wrong with it Dean" he replied, "I drunk half the glass before I gave it to you." They both looked at each other, the confusion in their expressions clear.
"But, I couldn't get it down" whispered Dean, looking at Sam with huge wet eyes, "it burned like hell as soon as it touched my mouth – my throat closed up."
"Perhaps you're comin' down with something," Sam reached over Dean and switched the table lamp on, "open up" he ordered.
He pushed Dean gently into the lamp's light, and tipped his head back. Dean opened his mouth wide and Sam peered in. Dean's mouth looked pink and damp and healthy; no sign of any burning or damage.
"It doesn't look burnt" said Sam, puzzled,
"It doesn't feel burnt or sore now" added Dean, "no sign that anythin' was ever wrong."
Sam scraped his fingers through his unruly hair and shrugged. "Perhaps there was some dishwasher chemical or somethin' like that in the glass that hadn't dissolved when I first drunk out of it?" Sam was utterly stumped. Dean shrugged; he wasn't convinced by the theory and, in truth, neither was Sam.
"I know," said Sam, "there's a couple of bottles of Gatorade in the Impala, I'll go and get those in for tonight, we'll stick to that in case the water is dodgy here." Sam patted Dean's shoulder and gently pulled himself away from his brother's grip.
Dean's eyes followed Sam as he walked across the room and opened the door. "I'm just goin' to the car, I won't be long," Sam tried to reassure his brother; he enunciated the words slowly and clearly as though he was talking to a child. At any other time, Dean would have enunciated a response along the lines of "I'm not a friggin' halfwit, Sammy" or some other flowery variation of this sentiment, on this occasion, however, he simply nodded obediently.
In Sam's absence, Dean shuffled up onto the bed from the spot where he had sunk to the floor, clutching his ribs miserably as he moved. His mind drifted back to the terrible events of this morning.
Suddenly icy cold tendrils of dread skittered across the pit his stomach.
Sam shut the door behind him, ignoring Dean's twitch at the sudden noise. There were bottles of orange Gatorade in his fists. He crossed the room and sat on the bed next to Dean, offering one of the bottles to him.
Dean looked at the bottle nervously then he lifted his gaze to Sam. He slowly shook his head.
"How about if I drink first?" Sam cracked the lid off his bottle and took a long swig.
They stared at each other in silence.
"It's good," Sam announced and offered the bottle across to Dean who took it slowly, his hand trembling as he lifted the bottle to his lips and took the smallest of sips.
There was a brief moment as Dean sat staring tight-lipped at Sam, until the orange liquid exploded from his mouth propelled by a terrifying cry of pain. Sam, for want of knowing what else to do, grabbed him and pulled him in tight, forgetting all about his brother's damaged rib.
Again, the pain subsided after a minute or two, and Dean was left shuddering and wheezing in Sam's arms.
"Jeez, man - what's wrong with you" whispered Sam, stroking his brother's hair.
"Don' know." Dean was gnawing his thumbnail; officially sign #1 on the 'Top Signs That Show Your Big Brother Is Scared Out Of His Wits' Manual For Devoted Little Brothers.
Sam released his grip and gently pushed his brother upright. "Right, we're going to the hospital" he said sharply.
Dean nodded emptily, staring into his lap, clearly distracted. Sam gripped his shoulders. "DEAN" he gave him a gentle shake.
Dean looked up at Sam, his eyes glazed with fear . "Oh God …" he whispered.
"What? WHAT?" Sam gripped Dean's shoulders tighter, "c'mon dude, you're scaring the hell outa me - what?"
Dean suddenly blinked hard, and swallowed; seemingly making a conscious effort to compose himself. He saw the tears pooling in Sam's eyes and knew he needed to try to pull himself together.
He took a breath as deep as his protesting rib would allow and wiped his hand across his face.
"The witch" he announced shakily, "just before she died, she said something to me. I didn't take any notice, it was so random, so pointless, it didn't even register on my mind. I thought it was just some death babbling or something …"
"What did she say Dean?" Sam asked, a cold knot of fear tightening in his chest.
Dean's breath shuddered as he continued, "she said, 'dry' Sam, just 'dry'".
Sam stared at his brother. There was a long silence between them.
Dean closed his eyes and tear slipped down his cheek, "it's a curse Sam, I get it now, it's a curse." He took a deep breath.
"Sammy, I can't drink."
The words struck Sam like a freight train. Can't drink? That means Dean would get dehydrated, like seriously dehydrated - he could die.
Sam's mind drifted back; dehydration had been a favourite subject of his father's. John always ensured the boys drunk regularly, sometime forcing them to drink, even if they didn't want to. "Never let yourselves get dehydrated; it ain't pleasant". It was one piece of his father's advice that Sam had actually taken on board, and would never be caught without a bottle of water in the Impala or in his duffel.
Dean, on the other hand was as laissez-faire about this as he was about most other aspects of his health. He teased Sam mercilessly about carrying his girly bottle of water around; it didn't stop him from grabbing a handy swig when he fancied it though.
Dean would be far more likely to top up his tanks with coffee or a bottle of Becks, which, as any responsible adult knows, was as good as no good at all when it came to 'hydration and all that other wussy health-freak stuff.'
Sam paced the room, his trademark nervous scrape of the hair going into overdrive. He remembered his 'rule of threes'; the human body can survive three minutes without air, three days without water and three weeks without food.
He turned to Dean. His brother was sitting forlornly on the bed, fingers feverishly picking at the embroidery on the bedcover; fidgety fingers, sign 2 in the 'Top Signs to Show Your Big Brother Is Scared Out Of Hits Wits' Manual. He looked across at Sam.
"When did you last drink anything Dean?" Sam asked.
"I dunno" said Dean, "I don't keep a diary". He seemed to ponder for a moment. "I think I had a coffee before we iced the skank this afternoon" he added nervously.
Sam took a deep breath to try to slow his hearbeat, fear gripped his whole body – he could only guess at how Dean must be feeling. "How ya feeling, dude?" he asked.
"O-okay I guess" whispered Dean; then he reconsidered. "Really thirsty."
Sam wheeled round, "hey," he shouted, "can you eat?"
Dean looked at him incredulously.
"Yeah, why not, I could just go a quarter-pounder with everything on it!" he snapped angrily.
"No, dude," the sarcasm totally lost on Sam, "I mean fruit, it's full of juice!"
Dean's eyebrows lifted. Little brother really did use his massive noggin sometimes, he felt a twinge of hope in his belly.
"I mean" gasped Sam, it's not ideal, but it will buy you time until we can sort this out." He was rummaging frantically in his bag; "I've got a tangerine in here somewhere" he muttered, evacuating socks and toiletries all over the bedroom floor. Dean cringed at the thought of eating something that had shared the same living space as Sam's dirty socks.
Sam eventually found it, and presented the small orange blob to Dean as if it was some kind of precious jewel. "It's a bit bruised, but, if you can eat this, I'll go out and stock up".
He peeled the tangerine and broke off a small segment, passing it to Dean.
Not a regular fruit eater, Dean eyed it suspiciously before popping it in his mouth and chewing.
The cool juice felt like nectar in his parched mouth, he even managed a ghost of a smile for Sam.
Until he tried to swallow.
The juice and pulp poured out of his gaping mouth as the fire erupted in his throat again.
After a couple of minutes, he wiped the tears of pain away and realised that Sam was holding him tight; and that the wet droplets on his jeans weren't all his own tears.
Dean felt himself being gently shaken awake.
He didn't remember Sam's panic stricken phone call to Bobby, and he didn't remember drifting into a fretful sleep on top of the bed.
Sam remembered everything. He was about as far away from being able to sleep as he had ever been. He had spoken to Bobby for over an hour, explaining the situation, describing the incantations and sigils that they had found at the Witch's lair and ultimately had begged Bobby for his help.
Bobby's return phone call a few hours later had at least offered a crumb of comfort.
He had come across something like this many years ago, and needed to read up on the details, but he had a Doctor friend who ran an 'off the books' clinic looking after hunters. It was two hundred miles away, so they'd 'better get their asses on the road soon as possible'.
Dean's head swam and his throat burned. The thirst was beyond anything he had ever experienced. He looked up at Sam who was gabbling words. Words which made no sense, something about the Impala and hurrying?
Dean heard the word 'Doctor' as Sam knelt at his feet doing his boots up; 'Doctor' … did that mean he was going to feel better soon?
Sam slid his arm around Dean's back and helped him to his feet, swallowing down a wave of concern at Dean's flushed, parchment-dry face.
Dean looked across at Sam; "feel sick, thirsty … legs hur'n."
"I know, dude", Sam replied, "Bobby's on the case, and we're going for a drive to see someone who might be able to make you feel better".
Sam drove as fast as he felt he could without drawing attention to them. Dean sat absently in the passenger seat with an arm still cradling his broken rib. He was picking with unco-ordinated fingers at the seams on his jeans, muttering unintelligibly to himself, but throughout the journey Sam could hear the repeated words, "drink; thirsty". The fear in the whispered words all but broke Sam's heart.
When they reached the Doctor's small isolated clinic, he was waiting at the gate for them.
Tom Matthews was plump, short and had dark brown eyes which spoke a thousand words; Sam liked him and trusted him immediately.
"Bobby told me about the curse, "he said matter-of-factly as if he was discussing someone's run-of-the-mill sinus infection. "The thing is," he continued, "if this is the same crap that killed those people in Devonwood, then conventional medicine isn't going to help" he waited for the words to sink in. "We're gonna be reliant on what Bobby can come up with. He's gonna meet us here as soon as he's got a result."
"There must be something you can do" whispered Sam weakly, holding tight onto his trembling brother.
"We'll take a look at him first" smiled Tom.
Dean had become noticeably less lucid during the drive, and had not spoken a word in the last hour, but as they gently lifted him out of the Impala to his feet, remembering to take care of his battered ribs, his words turned Sam's blood to ice.
"Sam, I can't see you."
They gently lowered Dean onto the couch. "drink … please, drink" he whimpered hoarsely.
"Hey, buddy" smiled Tom, "we're gonna see what we can do for you."
Tom turned to Sam, "What colour is his urine?" he asked bluntly.
Sam's eyes widened. "'S'cuse me?
Tom was about to reply when they heard Dean's voice behind them; "Sammy, I jus' heard someone askin' about my piss; am I delirious already?"
Sam couldn't help but smile and patted his brother's back, holding him in something resembling a sitting position, "don't think so, dude" he answered softly.
Tom shook his head smiling, "the colour of urine is a good indicator to how far dehydrated the individual is; the darker it is, the more severe the dehydration."
Dean's eyes were closed, he had clearly exited the conversation.
"Sorry," replied Sam, "we're close, but we don't share those kind of details with each other".
"S'okay" smiled Tom, "I think I've got a pretty good indication of where he is already". He had his hand on Dean's forehead, "hot and dry" he muttered to no-one in particular as he picked up Dean's wrist to measure his pulse.
Sam could feel his brother trembling hard beneath his hands, his chest throbbing as his heart raced and his panting breaths struggled to keep up with it.
"Dean", Tom was leaning in close to speak, "I'm going to slip my hand under your T shirt to listen to your chest with my stethoscope, is that ok?"
Dean opened heavy lidded, glassy eyes, "cn'I get a drink then?" he whispered.
"Soon, we hope", Tom patted his shoulder as Sam pulled him in closer.
Tom lifted Dean's shirt and placed the stethoscope on his chest, listening intently as Sam stoked his brother's hair. "thirsty …" Dean whispered, "Shhhhh," Sam replied softly, "the Doctor can't hear if you're talking."
"Will he gimme drink then?" Dean pleaded as Sam pulled him in tighter. "Why can't I see you?" the hoarse voice was thick with fear, "S'mmy, I wanna see you".
"That's the dehydration" stated Tom, "not uncommon, and completely reversible once we get some fluids into him."
"This looks nasty" he took a close look at the bruise on Dean's chest, gently palpitating the area, Dean flinched violently as the rib flexed under Tom's gentle fingers.
He looked up at Sam, "broken rib" he stated, then looked back down at the bruise; "but you knew that already".
"Well, we can definitely say he's crossed the line from mild dehydration to severe dehydration", Tom folded his stethoscope up and put it in a drawer. "I'm going to get him on an IV straight away".
"How do we know the curse won't stop the IV from working, the same as when he drinks?" asked Sam, still stroking his brother's hair.
"We don't" stated Tom. Sam liked this guy, he didn't bullshit. "If this is the Devonwood curse, then you saw for yourself that conventional medicine doesn't touch it, but until we try we won't find out."
They gently laid Dean out on the couch, Sam pressed his hand flat against Dean's heaving chest to brace his rib. Dean moaned softly as his head spun at the movement and his rib protested despite their efforts to protect it.
His glassy eyes peered upwards to a point where he could sense Sam's presence. "Feel sick … Sammy, legs hur' so much..." His speech was becoming unintelligible as his tongue stuck to his palate, "thirty – so thirty".
"Hey," Sam swallowed back tears as he leaned in close. Behind him Tom prepared the IV line. "We're gonna try to give you a drink now," he stroked Dean's face, "but he's gonna hafta put a needle in your arm to do it, an' I know what a great big hero you are about that sorta stuff, so I'm gonna be right here with you." Dean's vacant eyes scanned the room, "thirty …" he whispered.
Tom came and stood by the couch, wheeling an IV stand with him. A bag of fluid was hanging from it; beautiful, life-giving fluid.
"You may want to keep him distracted" muttered Tom quietly, "this ain't gonna be easy or pleasant."
Sam felt his stomach flip-flop; he took a deep breath and continued stroking Dean's face. On his brother's right side, Tom, gripping Dean's wrist, went to work trying to slip the IV cannula into his patient's withered veins.
"Hey, Dean," Sam felt his brother flinch, "you are so gonna owe me a beer when this is all over", he gripped his brother hard as Dean cried out and almost slid off the couch.
"Hold him still" came a stern voice from the other side of the couch.
Sam gripped Dean across his heaving shoulders, "you gotta keep still, dude."
"Hur's." Dean's barely audible voice tore Sam into pieces, "hur's …" he grunted again, his back arching against the couch, "no …" Dean's hands fisted and clawed at thin air, "Sam, no, no!" he croaked between panting breaths, bucking against the couch again, "hur's …"
"We're there!" yelled Tom, He sounded almost as relieved as Sam. "I'm in!"
He taped the cannula in place, and hooked up the IV bag.
"Right, now we wait".
Sam's eyes flickered open. He blinked a few times before realisation sunk in; he was slumped uncomfortably in a tatty old armchair with stuffing escaping from the side. Bleary eyes scanned the room, and he saw Tom Matthews standing at the end of the couch holding Dean's leg with the foot braced against his chest.
"Mmmm … wha – why'd ya let me sleep?" mumbled Sam blearily, rubbing his eyes.
"Because you were dead on your feet" replied Tom, casually massaging Dean's calf, "I wouldn't be much of a Doctor if I didn't let you rest when you needed it!"
"How's he doin'?" asked Sam
"Not great" replied Tom, "gettin' cramps in his legs and stomach, but nothin' unexpected given his condition."
"Why's it so cold in here?" Sam suddenly realised there was a cool chill across his back, and he shuddered against it.
"I've had to open all the windows" replied Tom, "He's really hot, but he can't sweat, so I need to reduce his temperature any way I can."
Sam suddenly became aware that his brother had been stripped down to his boxers; Tom had thoughtfully tossed a thin white sheet across his hips. Tom's stethoscope was back out of the drawer and dangling round his neck. He had obviously had cause for concern while Sam was busy sleeping. Sam inwardly swore at himself for not being a part of it.
He stepped over to the couch and took his brother's hand. Dean shifted, "'at you, S'mmy?"
"Yeah, it's me bro'" Sam squeezed the hand, trying to ignore how oddly dry it felt. He lightened his voice, "how ya doin'?"
"m'good" lied Dean, unfocussed, unseeing eyes gazing in the general direction of the voice. No need to worry Sam any more than he was already worried.
"You're a crappy liar!" replied Sam, stroking the back of the hand with his thumb, "You know that, don't ya!"
Dean managed a tiny smile, his paper-dry tongue running over his chapped lips. "Still thirty" he whispered breathlessly, "jus' wanna drink … please …"
Tom quietly passed Sam a cup containing some ice cubes. "Just slide them across his lips when he complains about being thirsty – it won't be enough for him to drink, it will just moisten his lips and tongue – it'll make him a bit more comfortable."
"At least he's more lucid" he continued, watching Sam dab the ice across his brother's lips and the tip of Dean's tongue chasing the trail of moisture. "that's a good sign – means his brain's not bein' affected by toxins in the system – that means we're not looking at permanent organ damage just yet".
"The IV's workin' then?" Sam asked cautiously, dropping the ice cube back into the cup, hardly daring to believe that the news could be that good.
"The curse is fighting it, every drop he takes in is a battle." Tom sighed, pointing to a viciously dark bruise around the site of the IV; the sight of it made Sam gag.
"We haven't even got half a bag into him; it seems to have stabilised him just a little bit, but it's nowhere near enough, he should be well on the way through his second bag by now if everything was working as it should."
"But nearly half a bag is good right?" asked Sam.
"Better than nothin'" replied Tom, "but not enough; all it's doin' is slowing the deterioration"
Sam looked crushed.
Tom released Dean's leg. Resting it down on the couch, he pulled the sheet down to cover his bare legs. Under any other circumstances, Sam mused, it would have looked vaguely comical to see his brother laying there with his bare feet poking out of the end of the bed.
Sam felt Dean's grip tighten in his hand and looked down to see a grimace of pain on his brother's face.
"What's wrong?" he bent down to speak softly in Dean's ear.
"S'mach – hur's" Dean managed to croak between clenched teeth.
"Stomach cramp" repeated Tom, "he's been getting them on and off for a couple of hours now". Sam looked down at Dean, clutching his hand and feeling utterly helpless.
"Just rub his stomach" said Tom,gently, "circles, like this", he placed his hand on Dean's trembling stomach and began to massage gently, moving the heel of his hand in a slow, firm circle between Dean's navel and his solar plexus. "Mind his rib though" warned Tom.
He lifted his hand and gestured for Sam to do the same.
Sam began to massage as Tom had shown him and could feel the muscles beneath his hand gradually relaxing. He was aware that he could feel Dean's whole torso pulsing with the rapid beating of his heart.
"mmm … s'nice" Dean's whisper was barely audible.
Sam placed his other hand over the top of Dean's head. If Dean couldn't see him, Sam was going to make damn sure he could feel him.
Sam sat beside his brother still absently rubbing his stomach, although the cramp had long since passed; he watched the IV, he had seen only a single drop snake it's way lazily down the tube in all the time he was watching it.
"I had a long conversation with Bobby while you were asleep" Tom piped up, bringing a steaming cup of coffee to Sam.
Sam's eyes thanked Tom for the coffee, "What'd he say?" he asked, hoping against hope that the conversation may have contained some good news.
"He knows this curse" said Tom economically. "He dealt with it before, nasty bastard it is too; old, real old – it's the same curse that killed all those folks at Devonwood."
Sam looked up at him.
"If that's the case, why is the IV working?" asked Sam, removing his hand from Dean's stomach to lift his coffee cup. Dean gave a quiet moan of disappointment at the breaking of the touch.
"It's hardly working," replied Tom, "not enough to make him better, not even enough to keep him alive for too long." He rubbed a hand over Dean's forehead again.
"Temperature's up again".
He bent down to reach into a bowl on the floor that Sam hadn't noticed, and moved to sit at Dean's head.
He spoke as he pressed a cold, damp cloth against Dean's flushed face.
"Bobby has a number of theories" he began, "he thinks that your brother's amulet or tattoo, or a combination of both may have weakened the curse just a little bit, allowing the IV to fight it's way though".
"He can't drink at all though" replied Sam, "not even a drop."
"That's the main impact of the curse, that's what it was created to do to people," Tom muttered, thoughtfully, "might it be that because the curse is so old, it doesn't have such a strong effect on the fact that now, hundreds of years later, we are able to introduce fluid directly into a patient's veins?"
They both looked down as a long groan came from the couch and Dean threw an arm over his ear.
"Quit talkin' about veins 'n' shit!" he mumbled.
Sam looked across at the Doctor with a wry smile; "sorry, he's really squeamish about stuff like that!"
"It was strong enough to finish off those poor devils in Devonwood, despite all the medical intervention, but with Dean's talismans, perhaps that's made a tiny chink in it's armour?" He shrugged, "just a theory; I don't know squat about this sort of stuff, I leave all that to you guys – I just mend the damage it does."
They looked down at Dean, fidgeting weakly on the couch, "at least, I try to" he corrected himself.
Sam drained his coffee cup.
He felt intolerably guilty for drinking. He was sitting here enjoying a coffee while his brother was fading away with thirst. Sam almost felt like joining Dean in his suffering, but then his common sense kicked in; Bobby would probably need help but Dad used to say that being dehydrated reduces your brain power and scrambles your thought processes. No, he needed to be on top of his game right now. He was drinking this for Dean, not for himself.
Tom was hovering over Dean, listening to his pulsing chest again: Sam's hand remained steadfastly clamped to the top of his head, long fingers kneading their way through Dean's short, thick hair; his free hand flitting between massaging his brother's stomach and ghosting the ice across his parched lips.
The IV continued it's interminably slow drip, around half of the bag had gone in now, but the curse was fighting every drop, and the gruesome bruise spreading across the inside of Dean's elbow, the site of the battle, was more than Sam could bear to look at.
But Tom had done what he could. Dean was stable, and Tom had almost certainly bought him a few hours; Sam would be forever grateful for that.
He was lost in his thoughts when his phone rang.
Sam snatched it out of his pocket; Bobby's number was flashing on the screen.
"Bobby!" Sam shouted down the phone.
"Sam, I know what this is an' I know how to fix it." Sam's heart was pounding - there was something wrong with Bobby's gruff tone.
"It'll only take you two or three hours to get here, won' it?"
"That's the thing" Bobby sighed. "To make this damn thing work, I've gotta go back and do some rootin' around in Devonwood first …"
Sam's heart stood still.
"Bobby?," he almost sobbed; he was shaking so hard he could hardly hold the phone.
"The thing is Sam, this sonovabitch curse is old, real freakin' old and it's full on bitchfaced evil".
Sam could see Dean shivering on the couch beside him, chest heaving grotesquely as he panted for breath. They didn't have time for this shit …
"Get to the point Bobby" snapped Sam.
"It goes way, way back Sam, back before the New World was even thought of, back before King Arthur, back before Christ even. The curse is Celtic and the sting in the tail is that it used the peoples' beliefs against them'.
Dean's dry lips opened and his parched tongue ran across them.
"BOBBY" Sam shouted; "Dean doesn't have that sort of time".
"The incantation has to be read over something belonging to the first victim which then has to be burned to destroy the curse. Who was the first victim?"
Sam thought hard, "Uh – the Bride I think" he hesitated, "yeah, definitely, Jenny, Jenny something-or-other, the Bride".
"I need to go back to Devonwood and find something belonging to Jenny and bring it back here before we can do this."
Sam slumped into his chair, the walls of his chest were closing in on him; he couldn't breathe. This couldn't be happening …
"That's the twist. In those days people were buried with all their possessions to give them a comfortable afterlife, and so by the time the local druid or whoever had identified the curse, the first victim was long since buried with all his worldly goods"
Bobby continued, "to dig up his grave would have jeopardised his spirit's place in the afterlife, and so the witch could go on cursin' folk and wipe out the whole village if she wanted to."
Sam looked at Tom; Tom saw the tears on his face and did him the favour of looking away to tend to his patient.
Sam took a deep breath to try to compose himself. "Bobby, please go quick – don't think he's got much time before we get to the point where we can't help him".
You don't have to tell me, son, I'm on my way now". Sam heard the crack in Bobby's voice.
"Thanks for trying Bobby" he whispered, and flipped the phone closed, bowing his head in defeated despair.
"Bad news?" Sam turned at Tom's question. "Bobby's gonna be a good day or two yet," he replied shakily.
Tom said nothing, but the look in his eyes as he turned back to his patient was all Sam needed to know.
He felt like he was going to be sick; he was exhausted, hungry, unshaven, hadn't changed his filthy clothes for nearly two days, and now Dean was going to die.
Sam wanted to follow him into oblivion.
He felt faint as his heart raced, and pressed his hand against his chest to try to calm himself.
Then he felt it; a small, dishevelled lump in his shirt pocket.
He pulled it out with shaking fingers, it was withered and sickly, just like his brother, but he had taken it from the cursed church as the symbol of hope and joy it had once been.
Now it would be again.
He leaned over Dean, "hang in there bro', he gasped, "we can fix this now!" He patted the side of Dean's face.
Tom stared Sam; he stared at the shrivelled object clutched in Sam's hand; he stared at Dean completely unaware of everything going on around him.
Fumbling with the phone in his excitement, Sam made three abortive attempts before he was able to press the right buttons to raise Bobby.
"I'VE GOT IT" he screamed, "I've got it"
"Jeez, boy, whadya tryin' to do, deafen me? Got what?"
"Something belonging to Jenny! I just remembered, I picked up a stray bud from her bouquet in the church".
The silence on the other end of the phone spoke volumes. "I'm turnin' round – be with ya in a coupl'a hours." A pause followed, then, "Hey Sam?"
"What made ya pick up a flower from a Bride's bouquet in the first place?"
Sam thought for a moment.
"I dunno" he smiled, "I guess Dean's right – I guess I am just a hopeless sap!"
He clicked the phone closed and stepped over to sit beside Dean. "Hang in there dude" he whispered, stroking Dean's forehead, "Bobby's on his way; he's bringing you that drink!"
A ghost of a smile crossed Dean's face.
As good as his word, Bobby's truck screeched to a halt in front of the clinic two hours later.
He burst through the door, not concerning himself with the usual social niceties beyond a perfunctory nod. "Where is he?"
Tom led Bobby into the back room where his patient lay on the couch, motionless apart from the ever-present pulsing of his chest, hooked up to a limp IV bag which had all but stopped functioning under the restraint of the curse, it's merciless grip increasing as Dean grew weaker. Bobby looked across at Sam, slumped in a chair beside his brother, clutching his hand. He looked utterly spent.
"Don't worry Son, this sonofabitch has reached the end of the road" he snorted. "Where is it?"
Sam's free hand was resting on his thigh, balled into a fist. He lifted his hand and slowly uncurled his fingers. There, nestling in the safety of his massive hand was the tiny, withered bud.
He held his hand out wordlessly to Bobby.
Bobby took the bud and went to work. Within minutes, an intricate pentacle was chalked on the floor at the head of the couch; it was set about with candles, dried holly and the bones of some long-dead small animal. Bobby finished by sprinkling a halo of salt around Dean's head.
Sam watched, still gripping his brother's hand, as Bobby placed the bud in the middle of the pentacle and knelt, placing his hand on Dean's head.
Tom watched from the other side of the room having withdrawn to a discreet distance where he could keep out of the way while the hunters did their work, but could keep a professional eye on his patient.
Bobby began to read from a ragged old book. It was a language Sam wasn't familiar with, certainly not Latin; possibly some sort of Gaelic maybe? Bobby did say the curse was ancient Celtic.
Dean began to tremble as Bobby's incantations grew faster and more aggressive, the trembling turned to full-scale shaking; so intense that Bobby could barely maintain his grip on Dean's head.
Tom continued to watch. Every fibre of his professional being screamed at him to stop this, but he had trusted Bobby with his life in the past, and against his better judgement, trusted him with the life of his patient too.
Dean's shaking became so intense, Sam was becoming nervous the couch might collapse, when suddenly Dean arched violently – his mouth yawning a silent cry.
Tom and Sam watched fascinated as a small wisp of vapour curled upwards from Dean's gaping mouth. It looked like a warm breath against a winter's chill. It lingered for a moment and then dissipated.
Dean slumped bonelessly back onto the couch and was immediately smothered by concerned hands, feeling his pulse, probing his broken rib, gently lifting his eyelids to examine his eyes.
No-one noticed Bobby pick up the bud, toss it into Tom's sink, douse it with lighter fuel and ignite it; but they all noticed the screaming purple flame which erupted as a result.
"What the hell was that?" gasped Sam.
"That was ya curse" panted Bobby, leaning heavily against the wall. "Bastard's gone", he added with satisfaction.
For the first time since he entered the room, he approached the couch, and the prone figure stretched out on it. Patting Dean's shoulder, he whispered, "up to you now, son."
Around half an hour had passed, and Sam had not torn his eyes from his brother's trembling form. "Why isn't he better?" He whispered forlornly, looking up at Tom and Bobby.
"He's a very sick man," Tom replied, "curse or no curse; he's still got to recover from what it did to him."
Sam stroked his brother's head. "C'mon man, you've gotta get better now, the curse has gone." He swallowed hard, "please …"
He was distracted by Tom's voice. "Well, I know there's no immediate change, but look at this … he is one thirsty guy!"
They both looked up to see the IV bag hanging empty, greedily drained of every drop of fluid in it.
Sam's eyes lit up, "The IV's working now?"
"Absolutely pouring into him" smiled Tom, hooking a new bag onto the stand. "He's on the way!"
Sam didn't know whether to laugh or cry; so he did both, watching his brother sleep, and watching the wonderful lifegiving fluid drip, drip, drip into his brother's parched body.
The dreamy rhythm of the drip lulled him into a sleep, his head resting on his crossed arms, on the couch against Dean's shoulder.
Sam had no idea how long he had been asleep before he opened his eyes. He blinked blearily and as his vision cleared, the first sight he saw was his brother's face; wide-eyed, looking right at him.
"You look like shit!" Dean smiled mischeviously.
"Oh, that's charming, I …" Sam's voice tailed off. "You can see?"
"Oh yeah, I can see!" replied Dean, "an' your face ain't a pretty sight right now!"
Sam leapt to his feet and smothered his brother is a crushing hug.
"Hmmmff, ffnammy … cn't breathe!"
Sam let go, "sorry, dude!" he grinned, "it's just, well, let's say I'm pleased to see you well and leave it at that!"
Dean lifted his head up and winced, "damn – forgot about the friggin' rib!" he gasped, "hey, who's a man gotta punch to get a drink around here?"
Sam shook his head, smiling. Yep, his charming, tactful, diplomatic brother was back.
Sam walked to the door and called through to Tom and Bobby in the kitchen. "Hey, he's asking for a drink, can he have anything?"
"There goes our peace and quiet!" grunted Bobby, winking at Tom. Tom grinned and handed Sam a bottle of Gatorade. "Give him this, it will top up the IV, replace his salts and minerals and stuff".
"Thanks Tom", Sam took the bottle.
"And don't let him drink it all at once, unless you wanna be seeing it again!"
"You got it!" grinned Sam.
Propping Dean up on some pillows, Sam cracked the top off the bottle. "Here y'go dude!" Sam handed over the bottle.
Dean took it gratefully and lifted it to his dry lips. He took a swig and they both held their breath; Sam saw his brother's throat convulse as he swallowed, and they both smiled broadly from sheer relief.
Dean sucked greedily on the bottle, his eyes closed in pure, unbridled pleasure.
"Oh, dear God" he gasped, between swallows, "Dear God in his Heaven with all his little angels and cherubs and whoever else he has up there with him … that is so friggin' good."
He gulped down more of the drink, his eyes almost rolling back into his head, soft, breathy moans of bliss escaping his mouth around the neck of the bottle.
"Um, dude," Sam shifted awkwardly, "it's not that I'm not glad you're drinking again, but, um – the noises? – kinda making me feel uncomfortable!"
Dean lowered his hand to his lap.
"I don't care," he gasped softly, catching his breath. "this is better than sex; better than Angelina Jolie …"
"Better than Peanut M&M's?" Sam tried to shift the focus of this conversation which was making him break out into a cold sweat.
"Better than peanut M&M's during sex with Angelina Jolie," Dean replied wickedly.
Sam grimaced at the image.
Dean was up and about by the following evening; tired, extremely sore-armed, but otherwise seemingly unharmed by his ordeal.
Bobby had headed home, earlier that day, thanking Tom for his help, wishing Sam well, and telling Dean to be more friggin' careful in future, ya idjit!
The following morning, it was time for the Winchesters to take their leave.
Tom was sorry to see them go, "Hope I'll see you both again soon – although not in a professional sense, of course!" he joked.
They thanked him profusely, and he saw them to the door.
Dean's eyes lit up when he saw the Impala.
"Hey, Baby!" he crooned softly, running his hand over the glossy paintwork, stroking and patting the contours of the car's bodywork.
Sam looked at Tom. "Ya got anything in your medicine cabinet for a pervy car fetish?"
"Nah!" replied Tom, with a grin, "beyond my help!"
They both laughed out loud, and Dean pointedly ignored them.
Sam pointed the Impala east and reflected over the last three days as the Highway rolled by and Dean dozed in the passenger seat.
He sighed, he felt like he had aged ten years.
He was scared by how quickly the whole saga had deteriorated and how close he had come to losing his brother.
He wondered how he would ever be able to thank Tom and Bobby for their help.
And he couldn't even imagine how he would be able to explain to Dean that he owed his life to one tiny, lonely little rosebud.
Heck, Winchester life was weird!