Both men thundered frantically up the stairs towards the bathroom. Sam was the first to reach the door, roaring his frustration on finding it locked.
"Dean…" he shouted over the muffled hiss of the shower. Furiously rattling the handle and receiving no response, he glanced across at Bobby who stood grey faced and panting next to him.
Sam rattled the handle again, kicking the door in his desperation.
"Sorry Bobby," he muttered, knowing what had to be done; Bobby nodded, unhesitant.
Sam flung his whole weight behind his shoulder against the door and it burst free of the frame, scattering whirling splinters across the steam-filled room.
Both men dashed into the room, clambering over the splintered wreckage of the door, Sam's head whipping from side to side as he scanned the room.
He eventually threw back the shower curtain, peering through the streaming shower to see Dean, burrowed into the corner of the stall, cowering and clearly insensible with a terror that Sam couldn't even imagine, his arms flailing helplessly before him fending off something unspeakable.
There was nothing there.
Oblivious to the water that was still pouring down over him, Dean's mouth yawned a silent cry, punctuated by choking, spluttering pleas … "no … please …"
Sam reached in and turned off the shower and stepping into the stall, crouched down into the cramped space next to his brother.
"Dean," he whispered softly, daring to reach out and touch his brother's shoulder.
Dean let out a yelp and burrowed lower and further into the corner than a man of his size should ever have been able to.
His saucer-wide, glazed eyes fixed unblinking onto a spot somewhere above Sam's head.
"Dean!" Sam raised his voice, trying hard not to sound angry or threatening.
He looked back up at Bobby who stood leaning weakly on the shower wall looking crushed.
"Dean, it's me; it's your Sammy," Sam tried to reach Dean; to pull him out from within the quaking shell in the corner. When no response was forthcoming, he tried again; "look at me dude, you're hallucinating or having some kind of flashback."
He reached over and tried to pull Dean in close beside him; startled when Dean resisted, fighting furiously against him with a hoarse cry of fear.
Dean's world was blinding light.
The tall, sharp-faced being that loomed over him, shaded into silhoutte by the burning incandescence surrounding it glared at him through the palest ice-green eyes; inky black pupils narrowed to sharp, menacing slits.
The broad spread of it's weathered grey antlers rose from it's high silver hairline, hanging with aging ribbons of shrivelled velvet; their long narrow tines spreading almost the width of the stall in which Dean was trapped.
"My daughter is dead because of her misplaced love for you; and now my people fade and die – their hearts are broken by the loss of their princess."
"She didn't love me," cried Dean in horror; "she abused me – she RAPED me …" he sobbed furiously.
Long, apple-green fingers emerged from an over-long linen sleeve and reached out to touch the cowering figure beneath them.
"I am not so delicate as my people; and I will not embrace my end until you pay for the grievous injury you have done to me," a terrible sneer spread across thin, grey lips; "I will have my sport and you will beg for death before the end."
Dean shook his head frantically; "please don't take me back … oh, God please not that …"
The creature lowered it's face towards Dean, he could feel it's cold, musty breath on his face; "I would not soil my world again with your foul human stink," it hissed; "look well on my face; the next time you see it, the last thing you see will be my satisfaction as the light fades from your eyes."
The terrible face began to fade into the blinding light; the rest of the figure's long crooked body fading with it.
Already soaked by kneeling in the shallow shower pan under a constant drip of warm water, Sam had finally managed to overpower Dean, pulling the frantic man into a close hug, away from whatever it was that was tormenting him.
As far as Sam and Bobby could see, it was fresh air.
Ignoring Dean's frantic squirming, Sam wasn't letting go this time. He could feel Dean's heart pounding like a jackhammer against him as he whispered soothing reassurances as gently as he could to try to calm his terrified brother.
"Dean, c'mon man you're scaring me here; please Dean, talk to me."
Bobby reached across and handed Sam a large towel; "cover him up, son," he instructed Sam quietly.
Bobby's heart was breaking as he watched the terrible spectacle unfold before him; the usually brave, bombproof Dean Winchester squatting soaked and naked on the wet shower floor, rigid as a board, trembling violently in his brother's arms, his face frozen into a rictus of wide-eyed terror as he stared at the empty spot above his face. All Bobby could think of doing was to try to afford Dean whatever shred of dignity he could.
"Bobby what's happening?" Sam looked almost as terror-struck as Dean, as he clung grimly to his bucking, gasping brother; he looked up at Bobby through pleading eyes.
"He's having some kind of hallucination, or flashback or - or some sorta waking nightmare;" Bobby croaked, trying his damndest to hold it together; God, someone had to, "I wish Tom were here," he muttered, "he'd know what to do."
Sam hugged Dean as tight as he dared; "Dean, listen to me man; there's nothing there, it's all in your mind …"
Feeling Dean's struggles falter, he took the opportunity and gently lifted Dean's chin, trying to look straight into his eyes; "look Dean, it's me; there's nothing there. I promise."
The two men's eyes latched onto each other, and Sam couldn't hide his relief when Dean's eyes gradually refocussed.
"Yeah," Sam almost wept with joy; "it's me Dean, you're safe and home with me and Bobby." He hesitated trying hard to compose himself; "look here we are, sitting in the shower, soaking wet again."
Dean looked up at Sam's face, "he's g-gonna kill me;" his whispering voice trembling so much, the words were barely coherent; "they want to t-torture me ... he said I would beg for death."
Sam held tight, daring to rub a hand up and down Dean's spine; "shhhh, hey bro', c'mon it was just a dream, a hallucination. No-one wants to kill you or hurt you."
"Don't wanna go back to that place …"
Sam continued to ghost a palm over the towel wrapped round Dean's back; "s'okay bro' no-one's takin' you anywhere; you're stayin' right here with me an' Bobby," he looked up at the older man who quickly and slyly wiped his eyes; "isn't that right Bobby?"
"Sure is," Bobby cleared his throat and smiled weakly.
Dean burrowed against Sam, his trembling hands fisting absently around the towel's frayed edge. Sam closed his eyes, daring to believe that Dean might be calming slightly.
"That's right, see?" soothed Sam. He didn't care right now that he sounded like a mother calming a spooked toddler; Dean could tease him for it later if he was so inclined.
Feeling Dean's rigid muscles start to relax beneath the towel, Sam allowed himself to relax slightly, he rested his chin on Dean's crown, still muttering and stroking Dean's back as he held him; doing everything in his power to reassure Dean without question that he was safe.
Behind him he could hear Bobby muttering. "Holy crap, what the hell did those bastards do to him?"
Some hours had passed and an air of nervous calm had settled across the house.
Bobby had busied himself cleaning the remains of breakfast off the kitchen floor, fixing the bathroom door, making drinks and now, out of chores to keep his mind off the matter in hand, he sat fidgeting miserably in his armchair; brooding, as he knew Sam would be, over what they had heard Dean say during and after his 'episode'.
The brothers sat on the couch, Dean pressed so close against his brother's side that another two inches to the left and he would have been sitting in Sam's lap. They all focussed silently on the crackling images of a game which no-one gave a damn about flickering through the ancient TV set's poor reception.
All three men were grateful for the diversion when Tom pushed the door open and walked, stiff-legged, into the room.
"Hey guys," Tom announced himself blearily.
Seeing that Sam was about to stand to give Tom his seat, Bobby saved him the trouble. Dean needed his brother close beside him right now; "hey Tom, how ya doing?"
Tom yawned, and coiled into a slow stretch; "surprisingly good," he smiled, "I tell ya – I would pay for some shut-eye like that every once in a while."
"That's great," Sam smiled craning his neck to look over the back of the couch; "great to see you up and about Tom."
Tom's eyes lit up when he saw Dean; "looks like Lloth was as good as his word," he observed; a mood of reflective sadness settled on his face as he thought of the little Drow.
"Yeah," Dean smiled shakily, "really appreciate your help Tom; Sam explained how you took a hit for me, I owe you one."
Tom smiled, "nah you don't buddy," but the smile faded when he caught the haunted emptiness behind the familiar face.
He turned to Bobby and his eyes asked the question.
"Hey Tom," Bobby walked over to his old friend, "glad you're up, I was jus' gonna make some chow – could use a hand."
Tom nodded smartly and followed Bobby into the kitchen.
Sam watched them go, then turned his attention back to Dean who sat gnawing his thumbnail, staring vacantly at the screen which was now showing little more than snow.
He wasn't surprised when he saw the kitchen door close quietly.
Bobby had barely closed the door before Tom spoke up; "what's wrong?" he asked.
A shrug. "Wish I knew," sighed Bobby.
"I think he must be suffering from some kind of post-traumatic-stress, Tom," Bobby began; "I don't know much about that kinda stuff, but I know he's not the same man as the one who was taken."
Tom thought for a moment; "he didn't look right sitting in there with Sam;" he pondered for a moment, then a look of alarm crossed his sleep-muzzed face, "you don't suppose – you know?"
Tom's voice faded, unsure how to phrase what he was asking.
Bobby saved him the trouble.
"Don' think so," Bobby confirmed, "I think he's all Dean; I did a couple of checks; not that there's much lore on this kinda stuff, but I've got no reason to believe the thing that came back is anything other than De … my boy."
Tom's face softened into sadness. "You don't think Lloth double crossed us?"
Bobby shook his head. "Not if what Dean tells us is true;" he sighed, "poor little guy stabbed himself with a shard of the mirror then used it to kill the much more powerful faerie that was holding Dean."
Tom's eyes widened in horror.
"Blood of a willing sacrifice," Bobby explained; "apparently, it's the only thing pure and powerful enough to kill them."
"Shit;" Tom doubled over like someone had punched him in the gut; "poor little guy."
Bobby nodded, "I don't think there's any doubt that our buddy Lloth did his bit."
He pulled a couple of pans out of the cupboard and set them on the stove; then turned to Tom, lowering his voice. "Dean would kill me if he knew I was tellin' ya this; but he had a full blown panic attack while we were patchin' him up yesterday."
Tom reflected that his old friend looked visibly shaken; "ain't never seen that;" Bobby sighed, "that boy's as reckless as hell. I've seen him sit through far worse without so much as a blink."
"Is he badly injured?"
"Three massive gashes down his back, that's all we managed to treat; he's got some kind of animal bites and scratches all over his chest – won't let us near them though."
Tom chewed his lip in thought.
"But that's not the worst of it," Bobby continued, "he just went into meltdown this morning, in the shower – some kind of flashback or hallucination. Seriously, I'm surprised it didn't wake you, he was screaming bloody murder about being raped and being killed."
Tom's jaw dropped; "raped?"
Bobby shrugged; "that's what he was cryin' out." He gave up trying to strike a match with his shaking hands, and slammed the box on the table; "what's wrong with him Tom, what's the matter with my boy?"
Tom reached out and placed a hand on his old friend's shoulder; "we'll fix this, Bobby, right?"
Bobby took a deep breath to compose himself; "the lore says a load about these damn things messin' with your mind, tormentin' people into madness." He looked up at Tom, "what if that's what they did? what if he's losin' his mind?"
He picked up the matches and tried to strike one again. Succeeding, he lit the stove; "he's been skittish ever since he got back, but we figured it was because he was pretty weak through dehydration at first. I'm tellin' you, Tom, it's got worse as time's gone on."
"I don't know what to do - I don't wanna scare Sam, he's a born worrier that one."
"We can be there for him, help him whenever he needs it;" Tom reassured calmly, "I often used to get involved in counselling trauma victims; it was years ago, but I can still help."
"Thanks Tom," Bobby looked away from Tom, and studied his feet for a moment; "what if he never gets over this, Tom? what if he just gets more and more scared?"
He looked up at Tom's brown eyes, now wide awake.
"Tom, don't tell Sam, whatever you do ..."
He hesitated for a moment, taking a deep breath.
"... but I'm scared to hell."