There was a warm, soothing feeling about him; a feeling of comforting arms wrapping him in a protective embrace; enveloping him in comfort and reassurance.
Deep in his mind Jimmy could hear a voice, it sounded like his own, but much harsher and so very much stronger. "Jimmy," it sounded a million miles away; "take it, dude; you're not going anywhere, not on my freakin' watch."
Jimmy clung to that voice like a drowning man clings to a lifesaver.
Tom watched Dean closely, the knot of concern tightening hard in his gut with every moment that passed.
The young hunter twitched and fretted as he lay on the couch, his hands fisting and unfisting into the thin padding beneath him. His head rocked jerkily from side to side, eyes moving wildly beneath the closed lids. Quiet grunts and hoarse moans slipped between his open lips in between panting, gasping breaths.
Partly out of professional duty and partly out of a need to be busy, Tom was checking both his charges' vital signs with an almost obsessive regularity. All of his readings seemed to indicate that Dean's robust constitution was working double duty, tearing itself apart to provide what Jimmy's frail and failing body needed. Jimmy, on the other hand, was lying still as a corpse. His deathly pallor reinforcing that image, with only his shallow, laboured breathing giving any clue that there was any life at all. Tom was becoming increasingly agitated as time and again his efforts showed him no sign that Jimmy's condition was improving through this ordeal.
Tom was nervous. No, check that, he was scared half to death. He thought momentarily about pulling the plug. Of washing those ugly sigils away and hoping against hope there was some form of words to stop the process in its tracks. But what would that achieve? Could that make things worse? Like disconnecting someone from their life support? A horrific vision of two identical hunters lying cold and dead before him flashed through his whirling mind. He slumped heavily into his chair and dragged a shaking hand over his face, cursing the day he'd ever decided to take up medicine.
"Dean?" Jimmy could hear his own voice ringing in his ears, weak and breathless; "what's h-happening?"
"Stay with me, dude" the other voice commanded; "stay with me and you'll be okay."
The warmth tightened around Jimmy, blanketing him with strength and energy.
The hollow chasm that had been opening inside his chest felt as if it were filling with something solid and strong; something that had fortified his heart, driving its former feeble pulses into a strident, rhythmic cadence. It gave fire to his blood and steel to his spine.
"Are you doing that?" Jimmy heard himself ask.
"Yeah," the reply sounded suddenly weary, a hoarseness creeping into it. "Those assholes at the lab broke you, I'm fixing you."
Tom was jolted out of his unhappy thoughts by the rattle of the handle on his clinic door. It opened before he even had a chance to stand up out of his seat, and Sam and Bobby came bursting through it, freshly returned from their explorations.
They stopped dead in their tracks, eyes widening with horror.
"Jesus Tom, what the hell happened?" Sam gasped as he dashed across the room. Scanning the two unconscious figures, he dropped to his knees beside the one with the tattoo on his chest.
"It was Jimmy, he took a bad turn," Tom began, rubbing the back of his neck nervously; "he wasn't going to make it before you got back if I didn't do something."
"What was wrong with him?" Bobby asked abruptly.
"I - I don't know," Tom stammered; "he seemed okay and then real suddenly, he complained that he didn't feel well, his nose started bleeding and then he just collapsed. I'd make an educated guess that his heart was failing, but who knows? What did you find out?"
Without taking his eyes from the two casualties, Bobby handed a sheaf of notes and folders to Tom.
"Not as much as we'd like," he sighed; "when we got there, the good news of Jimmy's family reunion had got back to Smith, and the sonofabitch had topped himself." He huffed out a deep, shaky breath; "Sam and I have just grabbed everything we can find; files, notes, tapes, even his computer."
Bobby paused for a moment, glancing between Dean's increasingly still body and the nervously fidgeting figure of Tom beside him. "We picked up some test tubes and petrie dishes as well," he added; "lord alone knows what's in 'em … oh yeah, and we also found …"
"TOM," snapped Sam, cutting Bobby off as he frantically gripped his brother's wrist; "what's happened to Dean? What's all this crap painted over him?"
Tom turned to Sam, the hand holding the papers he was taking from Bobby frozen helplessly mid-grip.
"Jimmy was going to die," Tom began hesitantly; "I had no warning and no idea what was wrong with him; there was nothing I could do. The nearest hospital's at least two hours away and he'd never have lasted the trip; I tried to stabilise him but nothing worked." He paused, catching his breath for a moment; "I just had this thought about some lifesaving incantation I vaguely remembered reading about. I-I mentioned it, kinda thinking aloud, and Dean latched onto it. Then that was it – there was no way he was going to let it go."
Tom glanced between the two faces; Bobby's understanding concern and Sam's tight-lipped anger. "It only works between…"
"Blood relations," interjected Bobby.
Tom nodded mutely.
"Tom … oh hell," Bobby was staring down at the blood glyphs smeared across the chests of the two men lying before them; "s'far as I know, this has only been recorded once before, between father and son hunters - and the father died saving his son."
"I tried talking him out of it, Bobby," Tom pleaded; "but … Dean was adamant."
Bobby nodded sagely; "and when that boy's adamant …" He suddenly looked as grey as Dean.
Dean shivered. The pain that was pounding through him was crushing his heart and lungs. Each breath felt like he was drowning in mud. From a long way away he could hear a voice; faint at first, but growing stronger. "Dean, where are you? I can't hear you, are you alright?"
An overpowering debility was settling over him. His body felt like something apart from him; his bones, his muscles, they counted for nothing; they might as well have been made of fresh air. The feebleness and fatigue that had surrounded him was weighing him down like a boulder buried in his chest.
"Yeah," he heard himself croak, in an attempt to reassure his scared clone; "'m fine."
If only he could remember what was happening. One minute he was standing with Tom in his clinic, the next he was here, floating around in some freakin' nightmare, aching all over and feeling like he was standing on Death's doorstep.
Guess that's what happens when you're not breathing properly; your brain shuts down.
Dean huffed a bitter laugh; would anyone notice?
He just wanted this to be over.
"Hell Tom, why didn't you overrule him?" Sam snapped; "there must have been some other way to treat Jimmy - you're the goddamn doctor."
Tom shuffled back and forth miserably; his watchful eyes flitting between his two patients. He wished he could have been buoyed by the two spots of colour that were suddenly staining Jimmy's previously pallid face, but all he could see was Dean's greying complexion, the deepening shadows beneath his eyes, and the increasing desperation of each laboured breath.
"I had to make a decision, Sam," he sighed;" Jimmy had deteriorated much sooner and way faster than we thought possible. I couldn't find anything specific that was wrong with him; all I knew was he was going to die if I didn't do something immediately."
Sam's glare remained firmly in place, burning into Tom's conscience like two red hot pokers.
"I knew this incantation had risks," Tom continued grimly; "but Dean's strong as a bull and he was …"
"Adamant," Sam spat angrily, pulling himself up to his full height and advancing on Tom; "yeah, so you said." The stricken fury in Sam's eyes inspired genuine fear in the cowering doctor; he suddenly felt a flash of sympathy for the creatures the Winchesters hunted.
Bobby stepped between the two men; "son," he rested a hand on Sam's shoulder; "give Tom a break – there's no-one who understands medicine, conventional and unconventional, better than he does. Besides, you ever tried to talk that dumb stubborn idjit of a brother of yours out of anything?"
Sam wilted slightly at Bobby's words. Pulling in a deep breath to calm his anger he nodded slowly, not quite looking Tom in the eye.
"If Tom hadn't set this up," the older man added; "I could see Dean doing the job himself, with or without Tom's help. At least Tom's here to keep an eye on him."
An awkward silence settled over the three men, which was eventually broken by Bobby.
"I need to go and get the rest of the stuff out of the car," he sighed.
Sam nodded briefly, making no move to leave his station beside Dean.
Turning to leave, Bobby stumbled to a halt, nearly yanking the door off its hinges as Jimmy suddenly, and without warning, sat bolt upright with a breathless gasp, and stared wide-eyed across the room at the three shocked men.
"Jimmy?" he gasped; "y'okay kid?"
Blinking wetly in disoriented confusion, Jimmy looked back up at the older man, and nodded; glancing across at Tom, "what happened, I …"
His words trailed to a halt as his eyes fixed on Dean; grey-faced and unresponsive, as he lay on the couch beside him, his unmoving hand gripped firmly between Sam's clenched fingers.
"D-Dean?" Jimmy gasped.
Dean was utterly, terribly still.