In the relative calm that settled after the traumatic episode, Sam and Bobby both took the opportunity to change into dry clothes, neither of them wanting to spend a moment longer than absolutely necessary out of the sight of the spooked Winchester.
Bobby's first job after refreshing himself and checking on Tom who had been largely forgotten in the earlier furore, was to head out into the kitchen to prepare some soup. Standing over the stove, he was lost in a haze of tomato soup scented steam when Sam ambled out to join him.
"Dean needs a drink," he announced economically, clutching an empty glass.
"Okay," Bobby nodded.
Sam filled the glass and walked back past Bobby. He stopped in his tracks.
"What the hell are you doing?"
Bobby looked up from the tiny yellow jar he was holding; "I'm jus' mixing a little mustard in the soup."
Sam cocked an eyebrow; "why?"
Bobby took a deep breath; "you gotta admit Sam, something's not right with Dean out there, an' I jus' wanna check – satisfy myself, y'know?"
Sam nodded, not really knowing at all.
"Faeries hate mustard seed, it repels the hell outta them," explained Bobby; "it's one of the few things all the lore books seem to agree on, so If any of those freaky little bastards are possessing or controlling him we'll soon know."
He mixed a spoonful of mustard into the simmering soup.
It seemed like a sound plan; Sam nodded his agreement.
"It's what they do," Bobby snorted; "they mess with people's minds, the evil little scumbags. If it's not some kind of faerie possession, we can probably safely assume it's good old-fashioned post-traumatic stress. God alone knows what that boy went through."
Both men stood for a moment and watched the hypnotic bubbling of the red liquid in the pan.
"He okay?" grunted Bobby.
Sam shrugged; "he's calmed down, still not sayin' much though."
Bobby carefully poured the soup out into a three faded blue bowls, and handed one on a tray to Sam, together with a crusty bread roll; "c'mon, Sam - keep your fingers crossed."
Bobby followed Sam into the room with the two other bowls, but his eyes remained only on Dean.
Sam sat himself beside Dean and carefully handed him the tray containing the glass of water together with the bowl and bread.
Dean looked up at him; "thanks," he muttered.
Sam noticed his eyes drift out of focus, and a skitter of alarm tickled up his spine; "you okay?"
"Yeah," Dean responded with a sigh, "jus' can' see it very well."
"That'll be the dehydration," Bobby jumped in before Sam had a chance to panic, "that'll work itself out as you get more fluids down ya."
Dean lifted the spoon to his mouth, hesitating nervously as the two men stared intently at him.
"Startin' with that soup," Bobby continued bluntly.
Dean obediently spooned the soup into his mouth; unaware that Sam and Bobby were both holding their breath as he did so.
"S'good," he concluded, the tip of his tongue sweeping a stray scarlet drop from his lower lip, "real tasty, thanks."
He ate enthusiastically, as both Sam and Bobby let out unified sighs of relief before starting their own meals.
Later that night, Bobby had gone to bed after once again checking on Tom. He had left the brothers downstairs; Dean sprawled out, asleep face-down on the couch, Sam reclined in an armchair across the room.
The light on the landing had barely been switched off before Sam was dragging cushions and stray bedlinen across the room to settle himself on the floor beside the couch.
He lay on his back, listening to Dean's soft breaths muffled by the pillow into which his face was buried, the creaking springs as his weight shifted on the couch, then the thing that Sam was waiting for; a whisper.
Sam smiled; "what?"
"Thanks? What for?"
"Thanks for not giving up on me."
The words turned Sam's blood to ice; "why would we do that?"
There was a brief silence before Dean continued; "because I'd given up on me. Thought I'd never see you again."
Sam shuddered at the emptiness in Dean's voice; "nah," he replied, injecting a levity into voice that wasn't there; "it'd take more than some stupidass smurf to come between us."
Dean huffed bitterly, "yeah;" he whispered unconvincingly.
Sam, against his better judgement, reached out to take Dean's hand which was conveniently hanging off the side of the couch.
"Dude, these little bastards they, they mess with your mind," Sam reassured, "Bobby said that; they toy with you and drive you nuts. It's how they get their stupid vindictive faerie kicks."
He rubbed his thumb across the back of Dean's hand; "well, they messed with the wrong humans this time, huh?"
Dean didn't respond.
"You're safe now, back with us."
"Yeah," Dean's response was barely a whisper as he slowly withdrew his arm folding it back up under his chest.
Sam settled back as a brief silence fell across the room.
"Wanna talk about it?" he asked cautiously.
Dean gave a deep swallow; "you ok?" The classic Dean Winchester subject change.
Sam sighed, the therapy he was desperate to give would have to wait a bit longer; "I am now we've got you back."
Dean heaved himself up, amidst a symphony of creaking, groaning springs, so he was resting on his side rather than his front. "She … it … she said you were 'distracted'. I was scared they'd hurt you."
Typical Dean. He was lost in some nightmarish faerie dreamworld, and he was scared someone had hurt his brother.
Sam leaned up on his elbow, echoing Dean's change in position, and took a deep breath.
"They sent a changeling," he began; "damn thing looked just like you Dean, in every minute detail. It had the tattoo, an' your freckles an' scars, even the tiny ones, in all the right places."
"Lucky changeling," interrupted Dean dryly.
Sam felt his lips curl into a smile; "the only thing that wasn't right was that it was stone cold and pale green."
Dean hesitated …
Through the darkness Sam could see Dean's nose wrinkle in disgust.
"Took us ages to realise it wasn't actually you with something awful done to you."
"How'd you find out?"
"Tom," began Sam, "Bobby was with Tom when I first called, and the changeling bonded with him; told him everything."
Dean looked almost indignant; "why Tom? Why not you?"
"Tom's a first born son;" Sam explained simply; "the only humans faeries can interact with. Bobby and me aren't."
Dean nodded; "that'd explain why they fixated on me then."
Sam warmed to his theme; "Tom was fantastic Dean, you should have seen him; he put the changeling completely at ease then it decided it wanted to help us and get revenge on the sonsofbitches that took you."
"Revenge for making him a changeling?"
"Kinda," Sam replied, "that and revenge for slaughtering his entire race except him."
"He came from a race of faeries called the Drow, fairly harmless ones by the sound of it," Sam explained; "he was their king or prince or somethin' and after they slaughtered his entire race including his wife an' children they kept him alive and in slavery to humiliate and degrade him."
Dean thought for a moment; "that was the little black dude?"
"That's right," Sam smiled, "you saw him? So did we, he did something weird with a broken mirror so we could see his real face."
Listening silently, Dean nodded slowly.
"Then he said he wanted to help you because he'd have to die to help you and he wanted to die; but he wanted his death to do some good, you know, to be honourable. So by releasing you he would upset those bastards that took you and killed all the other Drows;" Sam shook his head sadly, "no wonder he wanted revenge, they murdered his kids, man."
Sam looked up at Dean; "I'm telling' you dude; he damn near broke my heart when he was tellin' us his story an' especially after I was just about ready to kill him the night before if that's what it took to get you back."
Another silence descended for a few moments.
"Anyway, dude, that's why Tom's asleep in your bed. Lloth had to take some of his life force to have the strength to make the trip back to their world and send you back here."
Dean thought for a moment; "Lloth?"
"The little black dude," confirmed Sam.
"Oh;" Dean hesitated, "will Tom be okay?"
"I guess so," Sam responded, "Lloth said he would sleep for a day and a night. If that's true he should wake up tomorrow afternoon."
Dean's eyes narrowed; "can you trust him?"
Sam shrugged; "Lloth? It was a question of having to, Dean, we had no other choice;" Sam explained; "but he kept his word when he said he would help you."
For the first time, a flicker of a smile crossed Dean's face, "he did more than that, dude; he got his revenge in style," he replied.
Dean shifted with a grunt to lean closer to Sam; "he stabbed himself with a bit of the broken mirror, and before he sent me back, he stabbed her …" Dean hesitated uneasily; "… them. He said the only thing pure and powerful enough to kill them is the blood of a willing sacrifice," he added with satisfaction; "and it sure as hell was."
Sam felt tears pricking the back of his eyes. Poor Lloth; poor, wretched, lonely, grief-stricken Lloth. Sam hoped so much he was at peace now.
Dean shifted back down onto the couch with a yawn, and settled back down, grimacing at the discomfort of the wound down his back.
A moment later the stray arm dropped limply back off the couch to the floor.
Sam smiled inwardly as he answered the unspoken invitation, and gently grasped the hand.
"Gon' grow ovaries one day …" Dean murmured, making no attempt to dislodge Sam's comforting touch, as a fog of sleep began to descend.
"You know, Dean, when you're ready …"
Dean cut him off mid sentence. "I know, thanks Sammy."
Sam lay awake, watching Dean settling and his body gradually relaxing as sleep claimed him.
Early morning sunlight filtered hazily through threadbare green curtains as Bobby trudged, yawning into the living room.
He scratched his head under his cap, stopping and glancing over the back of the couch.
He smiled broadly as Dean stirred woozily, rubbing weary eyes with backs of his hands.
"Hey son," he announced his presence with a gentle tap of the hand against Dean's upturned elbow.
"Bobby!" Dean flinched at the touch.
"How ya doin', boy?"
"Okay I think …" Dean replied hoarsely.
"Yeah, I can see you clearly now."
"Well I can see you clearly, an' ya look like crap!"
Dean smiled crookedly, "thanks, back at you, Methuselah."
Under normal circumstances, such cheek would have been rewarded with a hearty slap upside the head. Bobby simply smiled, encouraged by the brief flash of spirit, daring to believe that Dean might have turned a corner.
They both looked down at Sam, still lost in a deep sleep. Dean looked up at Bobby; "I'm guessin' he didn't get much sleep?"
"None at all," remarked Bobby, "none at all;" he shook his head regretfully at the memory before snapping back into the present. He patted Dean's shoulder; "I'm cookin' breakfast – wan't some?"
Dean rubbed his tired eyes again; "yeah gonna go an' have a shower first."
"Okay," Bobby smiled warmly at the younger man; "egg on toast okay?"
Dean stared at him; "no bacon?"
Bobby's eyes narrowed dangerously. "No, princess, no bacon," he snorted; "too salty, ya can have some tomorrow when yer got y'fluid intake back to normal."
Dean grumbled ingraciously, but conceded grudgingly that the older man was talking sense.
He slid clumsily off the couch wincing with every movement, careful to try to step over his sleeping brother, resolutely determined not to wake him and hobbled rubber-legged out of the room.
"Need a hand?" Bobby asked quietly.
"No – I got it."
Bobby smiled, knowing when to back off; "okay son, take it easy on the stairs."
Bobby wasn't stupid. He knew that within moments of Dean's departure Sam would be awake looking for his brother, and sure enough, when Sam woke blearily sitting up with a stretch, a steaming mug of coffee appeared in front of him.
Sam took the drink; "thanks Bobby."
He looked over the top of the mug at the empty, rumpled bedclothes on the couch.
"Upstairs havin' a shower," Bobby's voice drifted through from the kitchen.
Sam sat up, alertness snapping into him; "you let him go upstairs alone to have a shower?"
Bobby appeared from the kitchen, loaf of bread in hand, and let out a long sigh; "Sam, he's not going to drown in the shower pan in four inches of water."
"Sam," Bobby began calmly, "I know ya worried about him; hell, we all are; but if he's to get over this, he needs time alone to work through it as much as time around people who care about him."
Sam opened his mouth to argue, but Bobby cut him off.
"Now stop ya frettin', and come an' help me with breakfast."
Sam knew that tone, he knew the conversartion was over. He also knew Bobby was right.
The voice of reason had spoken again, and Sam followed it meekly into the kitchen with a wry shake of the head.
Both men busied themselves listening to the morning radio show as they prepared breakfast.
A breakfast which ended up scattered all across the kitchen floor as a horrific cry echoed from the bathroom.