A Mother's Love
Dean Winchester eased up on the gas pedal allowing the Impala to coast down the steep driveway. With fuel prices the way they were, he had made a few concessions in his driving style. Something he was hoping his brother hadn't noticed. Normally, Sam missed very little, but since he was asleep, Dean felt fairly confident his secret was safe. Neither brother would let an opportunity to tease the other pass.
Stones crunched under the tires as the car rolled up to the railroad tie acting as a barrier to a lush green lawn. Dean braked to a stop and shifted into "park." Turning off the engine, he leaned forward to get a better look at the house looming in front of him.
Three stories high, it was painted a bright yellow with white trim. Rocking chairs lined the large wraparound porch, while flower beds framed the sidewalk leading to the front door and continued around the sides. At the northern edge of the manicured lawn was a copse of trees. Beyond that, Dean assumed, was the Pacific Ocean. The sound of crashing waves was clearly audible. A small sign identified the estate as the Sea to Sea Bed and Breakfast.
Smacking Sam on the shoulder, Dean leaned over and yelled in his brother's ear. "Rise and shine, Sammy."
Sam bolted up, almost hitting his head on the roof. "Very funny," he grumbled, rubbing the sleep from his eyes.
A broad smile on his face, Dean opened his door and climbed out. Stretching from the long drive, he automatically checked his surroundings: how close they were to the other homes, what was across the street, and what was directly behind the house. He listened to the sounds. Often, the first sign of trouble was heralded by a cawing bird, the chatter of squirrels, the increase or absence of bugs.
His inspection complete, Dean walked to the back of the car and unlocked the trunk. He pulled out two duffels, and threw one to Sam before slamming the trunk closed. The yellow and white checked curtains fluttering in the windows making him inexplicably uncomfortable, Dean reluctantly followed his brother down the sidewalk to the front door.
Pressing the door bell, they waited patiently for a response. The house was huge, which meant it could take a while for someone to answer their summons.
"You know, Dean," Sam studied the door in front of him, pointedly keeping his gaze averted, "I'm proud of you for trying to save gas by using gravity."
Dean flushed, not surprised that Sam had caught him. "Not another word or I'll drop more than an apple on your head."
A smile played along Sam's lips. "Hey, I'm paying you a compliment."
"And I'm Brad Pitt."
Heels clicking against a wood floor echoed through the closed door. When it opened, a tall woman in her late thirties or early forties was revealed. An apron covered her yellow and white flowered dress. The colors matched the house so perfectly, Dean thought, if it wasn't for her bright red hair, she would blend into the woodwork and go totally unnoticed.
"May I help you?" she asked.
"I'm Sam Rudhramoorthy and this is my brother Dean. We have reservations."
She pushed the screen door open. "Welcome to Sea to Sea. I'm Cynthia Fuller. My sister, Christine and I own this house."
"Pleased to meet you, Ms. Fuller," Sam courteously greeted her.
Dean tried to keep a respectful smile on his lips. He would take a rude, indifferent night clerk in a seedy motel to the fake charm oozing from their hostess. The look she gave him made it clear she wasn't buying into his act any more than he bought hers. He continued to smile pleasantly as Sam signed the register and provided a credit card to cover their bill. While she didn't appear to approve of Dean, she obviously felt differently about Sam. That didn't surprise Dean. Sam and his puppy dog eyes could soften the hardest heart. Dean was proof. Many times he had experienced his father's wrath because he couldn't refuse Sam.
"If you'll come this way," Cynthia instructed, taking two keys from a slot numbered six, "I'll show you to your room."
On the short walk to the staircase, they passed a living room and a library. Down the hall they saw another doorway, which Cynthia said was the dining room where they would get their breakfast in the morning.
Climbing the stairs to the second floor, Dean saw doors numbered one to four. The unmarked fifth door was open. He glanced inside and saw a sink and toilet, before Cynthia started up the next flight of stairs.
On the third floor, she stopped at a room to the left of the stairs, toward the front of the house. She unlocked the door, and led them inside. Dean cringed when he saw there was only one queen-sized bed. Glancing up at Sam, he could tell by the smirk on his face that he had known they would have to share a bed. The ornate dresser, small table, two plush chairs, sink and thick soft carpet couldn't make up for the sleepless nights Dean would have to endure laying beside his fidgety brother.
"The bathroom is at the end of the hall." Cynthia pointed out the direction. "Clean towels are on the rack by your sink. If there's anything else you need, just ask."
"We will." Sam smiled. "But I'm sure we'll be fine."
Dean waited until she had closed the door behind her before he hoarsely whispered, "Dude, sharing a bed with you is bad enough, but a bathroom with strangers. What were you thinking?"
"That it would be hard to investigate this place staying at a motel," Sam calmly reasoned.
Though he didn't want to, Dean had to admit Sam was right. He still didn't have to like it. "We could've tried."
"Mr. Sutton said his wife's heart attack was caused by something she saw here."
"Which she can't remember," Dean pointed out. "We don't even know for sure this is our kind of gig."
"If nothing happens, we'll move on. This isn't the first time we've checked into something that didn't look like it was up our ally. Remember St. Louis?"
"Yeah but, I didn't have to share a bed with you."
Sam's dimples appeared. "You'll live."
"But I'll be black and blue."
Their stomachs full from a late dinner, Dean drove Sam back to the B&B. As the car rolled to a stop, the headlights illuminated the front of the house. Cynthia's face peeked through the curtains from one of the windows. Her expression sent chills down Dean's spine. The uneasiness he felt was enough to make him reconsider their plan. When Sam opened his door and started to get out, Dean put a hand on his arm to prevent him from exiting the car. "Maybe you should come with me to the pool hall?"
Half in the car, half outside, Sam paused and shook his head. "We discussed this. There's nothing about the house on the internet, which means you need to talk to the locals."
Sam interrupted, "While I check out the house."
"The longer this takes, the longer we have to share a bed."
Even that prospect seemed more desirable to Dean than leaving his brother with a woman he was having a bad feeling about. But with nothing to substantiate his suspicions, he had to unwillingly concede. "Just watch yourself around Cynthia."
"Why?" Puzzlement furrowed Sam's brow. "She seems like a nice, old lady."
Realizing the woman was probably only middle-aged, Dean cautioned, "That's why. I don't think she'll appreciate it if you make her feel like Grandma Moses."
"I wouldn't do that." Sam indignantly slid the rest of the way out of the car.
Dean looked at the house. The face had disappeared. "I'm just saying real people can be more unpredictable than ghosts and demons."
"We found that out in Minnesota," reminded Sam, slamming his door closed.
Dean watched his brother walk up the path, tempted to turn off the engine and follow. But Sam was right. They had a job to do, and it wouldn't get done with him playing nanny.
Turning and laying his right arm on the back of his seat, he backed up the steep driveway and out onto the street. Shifting into drive, he took the quiet lane to the busy main street and headed to the outskirts of town.
He had expected his mood to change when he entered the noisy pool hall, however, if anything, he became more depressed. What was it about Cynthia that bothered him? Sam obviously didn't have the same misgivings.
Slipping onto an empty stool at the bar, Dean ordered a beer. The taste of the familiar brew did nothing to ease his mind. Even the laughter and music seemed loud and hurt his ears. While they could use the funds, he had no interest in hustling a game. Were Sam's psychic abilities rubbing off on him or was he just getting paranoid? The only thing he knew for sure was they couldn't finish this job fast enough to suit him.
Sam waited until the house was quiet before venturing forth with the EMF meter. Walking the length of the third floor, and holding it up to each room, he didn't get so much as a beep out of the instrument.
Descending to the second floor, Sam made his inspection, but the machine remained silent.
Disappointed, Sam slipped it into his pants pocket before moving down to the ground floor. Though it was late there was still a chance he might encounter their hosts or a guest looking for a midnight snack, a book, or watching TV.
He didn't need to see the lights to receive confirmation of electromagnetic energy. Still, he couldn't refrain from peeking into his pocket as he entered the living room. Again, he was annoyed when the box remained dark and mute. Nodding a greeting to the young couple curled up on the couch watching a movie, he exited as quietly as he had entered. He made quick stops in the dining room and kitchen before trying the library. It would be his last chance to find something tonight, since he would be unable to search the sisters' private quarters-at least while they were home.
Either the meter was broken, or there wasn't any EMF activity in this section of the house. With nowhere left to check, Sam decided to see what types of books were available. It could be hours before Dean returned. Reading something that didn't pertain to demons, ghosts, or monsters appealed to him.
Three of the library's walls were lined from floor to ceiling with bookcases. The fourth had a large, stone fireplace bordered by a carved mantel. Framed pictures of various sizes were lined neatly from end to end.
There had been a lack of personal photos in Sam's life. The brief glimpses of a world that had been destroyed for him when he was six months old had always fascinated him. He never tired of looking at family photographs.
Drawn to the display, he studied each picture with an intensity anyone–except Dean–would have found strange. He was particularly captivated by the snapshot of a mother with her young son. He immediately recognized it had been taken in one of the rockers on the front porch. The love in the woman's eyes as she peered down at the boy in her arms took Sam's breath away. Tears welled in his eyes for the life that had been stolen from him.
"That's my younger sister, Cecelia, and her son, Charlie."
Angry at himself for being taken by surprise, Sam quickly brushed a hand across his eyes before turning. The woman in the doorway was not Cynthia as he had first suspected. Her resemblance to the other woman suggested she might be Christine. "I'm sorry if I'm intruding."
"Nonsense, I'm sure Cynthia told you the library is open to all our guests."
"Yes," Sam acknowledged, "she did."
The woman moved closer, offering her hand. "I'm Christine Fuller, the middle sister."
"Sam." He didn't give his last name; she probably already knew it. Or, at least knew the one printed on the credit card.
"Cynthia said we had two handsome young men in room six. I can see she was half right."
Blushing, Sam mumbled, "Thank you."
"Is the other one around?" Christine glanced back out into the hall.
"Dean," Sam hastily supplied, "went to have a drink."
"I've been telling Cynthia we should offer our guests more than blueberry pancakes and muffins, but she refuses to listen."
Glancing at the photo that had captivated him, Sam asked, "How does Cecelia vote?"
"I'm sorry to say she died three years ago, when Charlie was four."
Knowing how a similar loss still affected Dean, Sam said, "My brother was the same age when our mother died. If you would like him to talk to Charlie, I'm sure he wouldn't mind."
"That's very kind of you." Christine picked up the picture Sam had been studying and ran her fingers over the faces under the glass. "But Charlie died a year ago. I tried to be a mother to him, but he never got over losing his mother."
The double tragedy bringing the tears back to his eyes, Sam whispered, "I'm sorry."
Replacing the picture, Christine straightened her shoulders. "I'm afraid I'm being a very poor hostess. Is there anything I can get you? Hot chocolate? Milk?"
"No, thank you." Randomly picking a book from one of the shelves, Sam said, "I think I'll go to my room and read."
"Good night, then."
Sam repeated the sentiment as the woman walked away. From her distracted air, he was sure she hadn't heard him.
Slowly climbing the stairs, he began to think nothing supernatural had caused Mrs. Sutton's heart attack. It was the sadness filling every nook and cranny of the house that had broken her heart.
Still feeling the effects of the drinks he'd had the night before, Dean stretched and reached over to switch on the lamp next to the bed. Though the curtains had been opened, the gray skies provided little illumination. Looking over, he saw the other side of the bed was empty, another indication Sam was up and since he was nowhere in sight, probably in the bathroom.
When Dean had returned to their room after his fruitless quest at the pool hall, he had found Sam sound asleep. The light was still on and there was a book in his hand. Carefully pulling the tome from lax fingers, Dean had looked at the title. O Pioneers! He would have to buy a copy and keep it handy in case Sam had trouble sleeping again. Anything that could make his brother doze with the lights on and remain undisturbed by Dean's noisy entrance was worth having around.
Smiling at the memory, Dean rose to his feet. He yawned and crossed to the window. Though it wasn't raining, he could hear thunder in the distance. The weather was obviously moving in their direction.
Depressed at the thought of spending the day in this house, he turned to pull out some clean clothes.
Standing between him and his bag was a boy of about six or seven. A glow, resembling a flame, surrounded him. It was so bright it made Dean squint. He stared, more shocked and saddened by the boy's mournful face, than frightened by his unexpected appearance.
The doorknob rattled, and the boy vanished.
With his toiletries bag under his arm and one hand rubbing his hair dry with a towel, Sam entered. Kicking the door closed behind him, he said, "I think you might be right about this place, Dean. We're wasting our time."
"I've changed my mind," Dean softly contradicted.
The simple reply told Dean his brother understood something had happened, and he wanted to know what. "I saw a kid, a boy-"
"Yeah." Dean shook his head, before amending, "Well, not exactly. He wasn't transparent. Just kinda glowy, like he was on fire. Burned my eyes to look at him."
"Did he seem angry?"
"He looked like someone just kicked his puppy."
Sam put his case next to his duffle. "How young do you think he was?"
"I don't know. You know me and kids. Maybe six or seven."
Throwing his wet towel over the rack next to the sink, Sam said, "Come with me, I want to show you something."
"Dude, mind if I put some clothes on first?" Dean quickly pulled off the t-shirt he had slept in, and threw on the dirty clothes he had tossed on the floor the night before. As he slipped on his boots and sat down to tie the laces, he asked, "Where are we going?"
"The library downstairs."
"I can see why you want to read a different book, but why do you need me?"
Wishing he'd had time to shower, Dean followed his brother to the first floor and into the library. Sam went directly to the mantel. "Anyone look familiar?"
Dean glanced at the different pictures. He finally picked up the one that had fascinated Sam the night before. "This is the kid."
"That's Charlie. He was Cynthia's and Christine's nephew."
"Was?" Dean jumped on the relevant word in Sam's explanation.
"Charlie died a year ago."
Handing the picture to Sam, Dean sighed and scratched his head. "If Mrs. Sutton saw what I saw, I get why she had a heart attack."
"Here you are, Sam." Christine appeared in the doorway, making them jump. "And you must be Dean. You're missing breakfast."
"Sorry." Sam quickly apologized. "I wanted to show my brother your photo gallery."
"You can do that after breakfast." Christine waved her arms, shooing them down to the dining room.
Dean tried to back away. "I haven't showered yet."
"Nonsense." Christine blocked his way. "You can clean up after you eat. You don't want your food to get cold."
With a wan smile, Dean gave in. He could tell the woman was determined. Even though all he really wanted was the quiet of their room so he and Sam could discuss what they had just learned. Food was the last thing on his mind. His stomach growled, telling him his belly felt differently.
Thunder cracked, echoing loudly in the small bedroom. Sam jumped at the noise. The information on his computer screen had set his nerves on edge. The loud clap had practically pushed him over.
"Find anything?" Dean entered the room and hung his wet towel next to his brother's.
"I think so."
Dean sat on the edge of the bed closest to the table where Sam was working. "Let's hear it."
"Most of the websites say the same thing. The type of apparition you saw is called a Radiant Boy. They're spirits of boys who were murdered by their mothers."
"But you said Charlie's mother died two years before he did."
"That's why this doesn't make sense."
"Maybe he was adopted?"
"It's possible," Sam acknowledged. "That's not information I'm going to find on the internet, which means we need to talk to Cynthia or Christine again."
"Not we." Dean stood up. "You."
"Cynthia thinks I'm the devil incarnate. She wouldn't even pour me a cup of coffee. But she couldn't do enough for you."
"I see your point," conceded Sam. "You could talk to Christine. She brought you blueberry pancakes."
"Yeah," Dean rubbed his stomach and grimaced, "but I wanted eggs."
"You should've said something."
Running a hand through his short hair, Dean reluctantly admitted, "Something about her bothers me. I think I'd have more luck seeing what I can find in the courthouse records than trying to make nice with the evil twins."
"They're not twins."
"All right," Sam unhappily said, resigned to spending the gloomy day in this equally dreary house. "Then you're buying dinner."
Dean stood on the courthouse steps protected from the pouring rain by an overhang. He knew he would have to leave its protection. He had waited, hoping it would stop or at least ease up. But it showed no sign of granting his wish.
This was the kind of storm that made him almost understand the cliché, "raining cats and dogs." At least, as much as anyone understood the bizarre phrase. Once, he had been curious and had looked it up on the internet. It had been no surprise, considering the life he had led, to discover that one theory involved witches and their familiars-cats, with Odin, the god of storms and sailors, whose attendants were dogs and wolves.
Rubbing his stomach, an action he had been doing all day to try to ease the burning inside, Dean sighed and ducked out to look at the sky. Though he was almost blinded by the force and the amount of water striking his face, he saw there was no break in the clouds. No indication the rain would let up. Worried about Sam, alone in that house with Lily Munster and Morticia Addams, Dean realized he would have to make a run for his car.
He turned up the collar of his coat, and unconsciously hunched his shoulders. With a deep breath to fill his lungs, he sprinted to the parking lot. Splashing through deceptively deep puddles, he swore when he felt water squishing in his shoes. In this damp, cool climate it would take days for them to dry.
Once he reached the Impala, he quickly unlocked the door. The screech of the hinges echoing in his ears, his eyes rested on the car seat, making him hesitate. The water saturating his clothes would soak through to the upholstery. Even a towel couldn't protect the leather.
Cold drops dripped off his hair and down his neck. Muttering expletives, he unhappily got in his car.
Dean sat in the car staring at the house lights shining through the darkness and the pouring rain. His clothes were still soaked from his dash from the courthouse to his car. He should have been eager to get inside and change. Instead, he sat, shivering with a burning in his stomach that was making him nauseous.
When his vision blurred and he started feeling dizzy, he realized he couldn't wait any longer. He would be lucky to make it up the three flights of stairs as it was.
He began to worry as he climbed painfully from the car. This didn't feel like the flu or a cold or any of the other numerous diseases he had experienced as a kid. Stumbling down the sidewalk, he ducked his head to protect his face from the torrent of rain. Cold drops struck his neck and ran down his back making him shudder. Using the house key that was on the same ring as his room key, he unlocked the door and entered the bed and breakfast. Dean closed the door behind him, then leaned against it, staring at the steep staircase in dismay. He reached for his cell phone to call Sam for help, but his stubborn pride stayed his hand.
Squaring his shoulders, he concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other and set himself a goal. It helped knowing that when he reached his destination he could collapse on a soft bed. Sam could buy his own dinner. Envisioning his brother's disappointment at the news got Dean up the first flight of stairs. The prospect of Sam easing his discomfort got him up the second set.
He knew he was leaving a soggy trail, but he didn't care. He just hoped his luck would continue and he wouldn't run into any other guests or his hosts. He wasn't in the mood to put up with Cynthia's hostility or Christine's intensity.
When he reached the room he shared with Sam, he tested the doorknob, and was grateful to find it unlocked. He knew he should be angry at his brother for not taking proper precautions, but he was so grateful he decided to let the lapse in safety slide. By now, he was quaking with a violence that would have prevented him from putting the key in the lock.
"Dean, did you…?"
Dean waited just inside the door for the rest of the question, but it didn't come. Suddenly, Sam was beside him, closing the door and leading him to one of the plush chairs.
"You're soaked," Sam unnecessarily pointed out. "Let's get your clothes off."
"Will you still respect me in the morning?"
Sam shook his head at the bad joke and started unbuttoning Dean's shirt. "You have to have respect before you can lose it."
"Come on, Dean, let me get this shirt off," urged Sam, the worry in his voice a sharp contrast to the mocking tone of his earlier statement.
A small attempt at independence was quickly followed by reluctant compliance. Dean simply didn't have the strength to fight. The burning in his stomach had increased. The discomfort, combined with a sharp pain in his head, made it difficult for him to focus on the hunt. That was unacceptable. When Sam popped the snap and pulled down the zipper on his jeans, he put a hand on his brother's shoulder to keep his balance, forcing words out of his raw throat. "Did the…sisters tell you…anything?"
"According to Cynthia, Charlie wasn't adopted. His father, Charles Mathers, died a few months after Charlie was born."
"That's when Cynthia and Christine came here to live, to help Cecelia run the place." Sam lifted one of Dean's legs and then the other to pull off the wet jeans before easing Dean onto the chair.
Despite Sam's caution, the motion was enough to make Dean feel bile rising in his throat. "Sam," he desperately croaked.
Accurately interpreting the distress on his brother's face, Sam grabbed the decorative bowl from the dresser, dumped the potpourri into the trashcan, and thrust it into Dean's hands.
Dean was trembling with such vigor he was afraid he would miss his target. With a gratitude he couldn't express, he felt Sam steady his grip. The smell of vomit wafted up into Dean's nostrils, increasing his distress.
When his stomach was reduced to dry heaves, Sam took the bowl and its foul smelling contents to the sink without a word of complaint. He emptied it and washed it out before returning to Dean's side and quickly divesting him of the remainder of his wet clothes. "Let's get you into bed," suggested Sam.
The solicitous actions nearly brought Dean to tears. Cursing his weakness, both physical and mental, he said, "I don't think . . . I'll be buying . . . you dinner . . . tonight."
"I'll hit you up some other time."
Dean forced a smile. "You can try."
"Here, let me help you to the bed." Sam put his hands under Dean's arms and lifted. Once his brother was on his feet, he shifted his hold, putting an arm around Dean's waist.
It was less than ten steps to their destination, but to Dean it felt like a mile. He knew the only thing keeping him on his feet was Sam's firm grip. Dizziness causing the nausea to return, he wearily leaned against his brother, letting him take his weight.
"I've got you," Sam softly approved.
Dean hadn't needed to hear the encouragement to know Sam would take care of him. His brother had already demonstrated his ability to watch Dean's back. An aptitude Dean found wanting in himself. He felt he let Sam down too many times, resulting in physical as well as mental torment. The most glaring foul up had been his failure to save Jess. The girl might still be alive; Sam might still be safe in school, if Dean had left them alone. He closed his eyes to shut out the light that was causing the pounding in his head to increase. He tried to take care of Sam, but it never seemed to be enough. His stomach threatening again, he groaned, "This sucks."
"You don't have a fever," said Sam, easing Dean down onto the bed. "Why don't you get some sleep? I'm sure you'll feel better in the morning."
"We got a… job to … do."
"And we're at a stand still. It can wait, so sleep."
Since he couldn't even lift his head, Dean knew it was senseless to argue. He just wished he didn't feel they shouldn't be wasting the time.
Sam found himself staring at his brother's pale face more often than his computer screen. It wasn't the first time since Dean had come to get him from Stanford that his brother had been sick, but it had never been this sudden or this serious so quickly. It didn't make sense, which was one of the things that scared Sam.
The other thing was one of the details he had discovered concerning Radiant Boys, a revelation he hadn't disclosed to Dean. Radiant Boys were said to be omens of violent death. Anyone who saw one was in danger of dying, brutally. Sam wasn't sure why he had kept the information from his brother. Dean wasn't the type to believe his number was up because a prophecy said so. In fact, he would be determined to prove it wrong.
It didn't make any sense. Dean was obviously ill, but there was no fever. Unable to sit, watch, and do nothing, Sam rose and crossed to the bed. He laid his palm on Dean's forehead before sliding it down to an ashen cheek. The flesh was only slightly warm, nothing to be concerned about. Yet, he was worried. Very worried.
On a hunch, Sam moved his hand down to Dean's neck, seeking the carotid artery. The rapid pulse intensified his disquiet. He was sorely tempted to wrap Dean in a blanket and take him to the hospital. The only thing stopping him was he knew Dean wouldn't cooperate. They wouldn't make it down the steep stairs to the car.
The muscles beneath Sam's fingers stiffened. Recognizing the onset of a convulsion, Sam quickly grabbed his own pillow and placed it over the end table. When Dean's flopping hand slapped against the soft cushion instead of the hard, unyielding wood, Sam was glad he had taken the precaution. Standing helplessly, watching his brother's body heave uncontrollable was one of the hardest things he had ever had to do. But he knew there was nothing to do besides wait.
When the spasm finally subsided, he gently arranged Dean's limbs to make him more comfortable. The incident ended his indecisiveness.
Grabbing his cell phone, he dialed 911. Quickly and concisely, he described his emergency to the dispatcher.
Once the call was completed, he exited the room, leaving the door slightly open so he could hear if Dean needed him.
He knocked on the door of the room across from theirs, praying the occupants would be in. He sighed with relief when the young woman he had seen watching TV the night before answered. "Please," Sam said, "my brother's sick. I called 911. They're sending an ambulance. Could you go downstairs and send the paramedics up when they arrive?" Sam pointed to his room.
"Of course," the young woman instantly agreed, grabbing her raincoat. "I'll let Cynthia and Christine know what's going on, too."
"Thank you." Sam really didn't care if the two women were told or not. There were no facts to substantiate his theory, but experience told him they were somehow responsible for Dean's illness. "I need to stay with my brother."
His long legs covering the distance to his door, Sam paused in the threshold when he saw a bright light shining through the crack. Knowing there was nothing in the room that could be causing the glow, he carefully angled himself around the jamb until he saw what appeared to be a small boy surrounded by flames. The boy was standing beside the bed. Sam watched as a flaming arm reached out towards Dean.
Sam racked his brain, trying to remember everything he had read about Radiant Boys. He didn't know what to do. A wrong decision could cost Dean his life.
He had just decided to let his presence be known when the boy disappeared. It took Sam's eyes a few seconds to adjust to the dimmer light. There was still a soft incandescence around the edges as he quickly made his way to Dean's side. Bending over, he saw his brother was awake. "Dean, did he hurt you?"
Certain he couldn't have heard the raspy whisper correctly, Sam said, "What?"
"Boy . . . poison."
"Who?" Puzzled, Sam tried for clarification. "Who was poisoned, you or the boy?"
When Dean's eyes closed, only the rapid throbbing pulse under Sam's seeking fingers prevented him from panicking. As long as Dean stayed alive there was hope. Though, knowing his brother had been poisoned made things easier – and harder. He could tell the doctors the cause of the illness so they could start treatment. But he knew different poisons required different handling. Without knowing what toxin had been used, they wouldn't know the effective antidote–if there was an antidote. Sam knew many poisons were fatal; nothing could counteract them.
Noise outside the room drew his attention. Two paramedics entered, carrying a stretcher. They placed it in the narrow space at the end of the bed, then crossed to their patient. Sam studied the tall male and his older female partner. He wouldn't trust his brother to just anyone. Encouraged by what he saw in their eyes, he moved aside to give them room.
"What have we got?" the woman asked, wrapping a blood pressure pad around Dean's upper arm.
"My brother was poisoned," Sam said.
Both medics paused in their duties to stare at Sam.
The tag on his uniform identifying him as Bradford, the man asked, "And you know this how?"
Wishing he was as good at lying as his brother, Sam whispered, "He told me."
The woman, Madison, her patch revealed, probed, "What made him think he was poisoned?"
Deciding they would never believe the source of that particular information, Sam shrugged. "I don't know."
"What are his symptoms?" Bradford pulled out a stethoscope.
Sam ticked off his observations on his fingers. "Dizziness, nausea, vomiting, headache, and convulsions."
"Sounds like digitalis to me," said Madison.
Afraid they would ignore the truth and cost Dean his life, Sam forcefully reiterated, "He was poisoned."
"Do you know what kind of poison was used?"
"It's all right," Bradford soothed. "We'll tell the doctors what you think."
Feeling helpless, Sam watched as the paramedics finished taking Dean's vital signs and transmitted the statistics to the hospital. When they finally transferred Dean to the stretcher, Sam was glad his brother hadn't regained consciousness. Wearing only sweat-soaked boxers, he would have been acutely embarrassed. And an embarrassed Dean could be a combative Dean.
In a daze, Sam rode in the ambulance, never taking his eyes off his brother until they wheeled him away to a cubicle in the Emergency Room. A nurse whisked a reluctant Sam to the admittance desk. Assaulted by the memories of when Dean had been electrocuted and had almost died, Sam's breath caught in his throat.
"Sir, are you all right?"
Gratefully turning his attention to the middle-aged woman behind the desk, Sam nodded. It took a great deal of effort before he was able to answer verbally. "I'm fine."
"I can get someone for you," the woman offered, partially rising from her chair.
Silently admitting that all he needed was to see his brother with color in his cheeks, a grin on his face, and a snarky comment on his lips, Sam tried to shift the scrutiny away from himself. "Are there some forms you want me to fill out?"
The woman settled back in her seat. "This wouldn't be a hospital if there weren't."
Forcing a grin for her benefit, Sam took the clipboard from her hand and crossed to a chair against the wall. It was difficult focusing on the myriad questions, not only because his eyes kept straying to the cubicle where they had taken Dean, but because he had to remember which name they were using.
When he finally finished dotting all the "i's" and crossing all the "t's", Sam relinquished the forms and collapsed back onto his seat. He fingered his cell phone, tempted to take it outside and call their father. But John hadn't responded the last time Sam had called to tell him Dean was dying; there was no reason to believe he would this time. Sam wasn't sure if his father's apparent indifference made him hurt or angry.
After Jess' death, Sam had needed his father more than he had at any other time in his memory. The search for John Winchester had given him a goal, a reason to get up in the morning, a reason to eat, a reason to go on living. It wasn't until Dean had come close to dying that Sam had realized his purpose had changed. He still wanted to find his father, but it was no longer his main focus. Now, the only thing he really needed was his brother–healthy.
Recognizing the bastardized pronunciation of his assumed name, Sam shot to his feet to confront a man in a white lab coat.
"Mr. Rudhramoorthy, I'm Dr. Pole, I'm treating your brother."
"How is he?" Sam felt his heart clench when he realized that was the same question he had asked the doctor after Dean had been electrocuted. He prayed this answer would be different.
"Acting on your belief he was poisoned, we did a gastric lavage. He seems to be improving. The paramedics tell me you don't know what kind of poison he ingested. Do you know how he was poisoned?"
Sam slowly shook his head. "We had breakfast together at the Sea to Sea Bed and Breakfast. I didn't see him again until just before I called 911. If he ate lunch, I don't know where."
Making a note on the chart in his hand, Pole continued, "Did you eat the same foods at breakfast?"
"No, Dean had blueberry pancakes." When Pole's head snapped up, Sam hastily added, "There were others guests who had pancakes."
"I think so." It was Sam's turn to need an explanation. "Does it make a difference?"
"We have Baneberry bushes in this area. Their berries can look like blueberries but they're very poisonous."
"Could they have been used by mistake?"
"Mistake? It's highly unlikely. Everyone who lives around here knows the difference." Crossing to the desk, Pole reached for the phone. "I'll have the sheriff check their kitchen just to be on the safe side."
While the doctor made his call, Sam felt anger creeping through his concern. Had one of the Fuller sisters poisoned Dean? Had Charlie warned Dean because he had been poisoned as well? Dean had practically said as much.
"The sheriff is heading out now," said Pole, returning to Sam's side. "We'll be moving your brother to a room soon. I'll let you know when he's settled."
"Doctor." Hoping he wouldn't sound like a lunatic, Sam asked, "Were you here when Charlie Mathers was brought in last year?"
"I was, but I didn't treat him."
Though polite, there was a note of suspicion in Pole's voice. Ignoring it, Sam pressed, "Do you know what killed him?"
"I only remember he was very ill." The doctor spoke slowly, obviously understanding what Sam was implying. "We'll look into it."
"You might also want to look into," Sam deliberately used the same words and tone the doctor had, "any others death that have occurred to people who have stayed at the bed and breakfast."
"Are you trying to make me believe the Fuller sisters are murderers?"
"Maybe one, maybe both. My brother didn't poison himself."
"It could have been an accident."
"Then other guests would be sick as well. Dean wasn't the only one who had blueberry pancakes this morning."
Pole sighed. "I know Cynthia and Christine, my wife plays bridge with them. I hope you're wrong."
Knowing he wasn't Sam didn't answer. He didn't need a vision to tell him Charlie had been murdered. The boy had told them so himself. Now, they just had to prove it.
Dean lay still, feeling the ache in his muscles, and knowing from experience that even the slightest movement would make them burn with an unbearable pain. The sounds and smells surrounding him were all too familiar. They were the same ones he had awoken to after he had been electrocuted. The memory made his heart beat faster. The frantic beeps of a machine increased in volume.
"Easy, Dean, you're all right."
His brother's calm tone eased Dean's anxiety like nothing else could. Forcing his eyes open, he rested his blurred vision on Sam's tired face.
Easily interpreting the message he read in the green orbs, Sam tugged the blanket up higher onto Dean's chest. "The doctor says you'll be fine."
"He's a liar," croaked Dean.
Forcing a smile, Sam said, "I know you're hurting. That's from the convulsions, among other things."
"Convulsions?" When he saw the sympathy in Sam's gaze, Dean knew he'd been unsuccessful at keeping the fear from his voice.
"Those weren't blueberries in your pancakes. They were Baneberries, which are poisonous."
The desert in his mouth making it difficult to speak, Dean grunted. "Cynthia tried to kill me?"
"Not Cynthia," corrected Sam, retrieving a glass of water. Holding it to Dean's mouth, he gently lifted his brother's head. "Christine."
"Christine!" Dean sputtered, spraying himself and his brother with water. "What did I do to her?"
"It was my fault."
Angered by the sadness on Sam's suddenly pale face, Dean growled, "Right, cause everything's your fault."
"It's true." Sam brushed imaginary dirt from the blanket covering his brother. "When we were looking at those pictures on the fireplace mantel, I told Christine we had lost our mother when you were four. The same age Charlie was when he lost his mother."
Dean stared at his brother in shock. "She tried to kill me because of Mom?"
"I'm really sorry, Dean. If I'd known-"
"How were you supposed to know she's crazy?" Dean shook his head, grimacing at the pain it caused. Sadness filling him, he said, "She killed Charlie, too, didn't she?"
"It looks that way. They're pulling Cecelia's medical records, along with those of anyone else who died while staying at the Sea to Sea, or soon after they left."
"She couldn't have killed everybody who lost their mom. She didn't come after you."
"I only know what the doctor told me," Sam confessed. "I think they're still trying to figure it out. They said Christine wanted to be a mother, but wasn't able to conceive."
"That's what sent her over the edge? What, she never heard of adoption?"
Sam forced a smile. "After Cecelia died, Christine tried to be a mother to Charlie. He, of course, still missed his real mother. Apparently, Christine saw that as rejection."
"Poor kid," Dean whispered, understanding Charlie's pain. The memory of losing his own mother something he would never forget, Dean asked, "Where's Christine now?"
"Getting a psych evaluation."
"Well, that's one test I'm betting she won't pass."
"At least now, Charlie can rest in peace."
Dean hoped so Charlie should spend eternity with his mother, not in the house where he had been murdered with the woman who had ended his mortal life. Dean knew he owed the boy his life. It wasn't Charlie's fault that his supernatural appearances had created victims instead of saving them. For once, Dean's fearlessness had saved his life, instead of putting it in peril.
"You should get some sleep," suggested Sam. "I'm going to get our stuff and move us to a motel."
"Preferably one without any dead people staying in it too."
"I'll see what I can do."
Dean was relieved to hear a lighter note in Sam's tone. He hadn't forgotten that Sam was taking responsibility for the poisoning. He just didn't have the strength to address it–yet. While he avoided examining his own emotions as much as possible, Dean was acutely aware of Sam's. His brother already carried enough guilt to keep ten men in therapy for the rest of their lives. Dean wasn't going to allow him to add to his burden. Unfortunately, it would have to wait until he had more energy.
Sam killed the engine and pulled out the keys. He quickly exited the car, then went to unlocked the door to their room before returning to the Impala and opening the passenger door. He looked around to make sure there was no one in the vicinity before he bent down to offer Dean his assistance. Sam was well aware Dean would have pushed him away if there had been even one person to witness his weakness.
As Dean swung his legs out, Sam laid one arm around his brother's waist and carefully lifted. His other hand cupped the back of Dean's head to protect it from accidental contact with the Impala's frame.
Once Dean was on his feet, Sam shifted his grip until Dean was leaning against him. It was only about twenty steps from the car to the bed closest to the door, but by the time they reached their destination, Sam was supporting most of Dean's weight. He was hard- pressed to hide his anger. It was difficult enough getting Dean to go to a hospital. The only reason he had this time was because he had been unconscious. The least the doctors could have done was to keep Dean until he was fully recovered, despite his brother's insistence that he was perfectly fine. The weakness, the sweat coating his face, and the soft moan as Dean sat on the bed showed Sam his brother was far from well.
"Let's get you out of these clothes and into bed," suggested Sam, pushing Dean's leather coat off his shoulders.
"I'm beginning to wonder about you, Sammy." Dean tried to help, but he was too weak to pull the sleeves off his arms. "You keep trying to get me naked."
Sam wanted to make a snappy remark to keep things light as his brother was obviously attempting to do, but seeing how much weight Dean had lost this last week, combined with the pallid features and feeble movements only made him feel more guilty. "Dean, I'm really sorry-"
"Dude, I don't want to hear it." Dean pushed Sam's hands away with what little strength he could muster. "This wasn't your fault."
Though he badly wanted to believe Dean's statement was true, Sam couldn't. "You remember what I told you? Christine poisoned you because you were the same age Charlie was when he lost his mother. She thought she could ease your pain the same way she did Charlie's."
"I was the one who told her how old you were when Mom died."
"Sam, she's crazy. For all we know, the real reason she poisoned me was because I hadn't taken a shower before sitting down to breakfast, or because I have hazel eyes. Though, I'm still surprised it wasn't Cynthia."
There was no denying that Christine Fuller was insane. There would be no trial; she had already been committed.
His voice growing increasingly raspy, Dean continued, "She's on the hook for at least two other deaths beside Charlie's, possibly even her own sister's. I doubt they all lost their mothers when they were four years old."
The logic of Dean's argument finally penetrated, leaving Sam to sheepishly admit, "I guess maybe I've been over-reacting a little."
"That's an understatement."
The relief he saw wash across Dean's face made Sam feel guilty all over again, this time for worrying his brother. Realizing the emotion was hurting Dean, Sam forced himself to bury it in the same box he had built around his remorse over Jess. He had learned enough in his psychology classes to know his solution wasn't healthy. One day, he would have to open that box and deal with the bottled up pain. That day wasn't today. Today, his only concern was his brother.
Sam tugged off Dean's shoes, then helped ease him back on the pillows. "Lift your hips so I can get these sweatpants off."
Dean complied, but Sam could see it was an effort. Glad he had thought to provide the cotton pants rather than Dean's usual attire of blue jeans, Sam quickly pulled the elastic waistband over the rounded hips. "You can relax."
A soft sigh escaped Dean's lips as he dropped back onto the mattress. "Can I sleep now?"
"After you drink a glass of milk."
"Come on, Sammy," Dean whined.
The quiet plea going in one ear and out the other, Sam crossed to the refrigerator in the small kitchen. One reason he had chosen this motel was for its amenities. Grabbing the gallon of milk he had bought before picking up Dean, he poured a glass, and returned to his brother's side. "Drink."
"I've drunk so much milk this week you won't have to feed me, I'll start meowing."
Unmoved by the complaint, Sam reminded, "You know what the doctor said."
"Milk inhibits poison," Dean mimicked, using the same inflection Pole had used. Sighing in exasperation, his voice returned to normal. "I'm fine, Sam."
Unconvinced, Sam lifted a finger on the bottom of the glass, gently forcing it up so Dean had to swallow the fluid or wear it. "Down the hatch."
"How much longer are you going to make me drink this stuff?" Dean asked, the milk mustache on his upper lip making him look like a petulant little boy.
Sam knew how long he would like to have Dean drink the healing liquid. He also knew Dean would never allow it, so he chose a compromise. "Until you have color in your cheeks again." He held up a hand when Dean started to protest. "And, until you can walk to the bathroom and back without looking like you ran a marathon."
Handing Sam the empty glass, Dean shifted, trying to make himself comfortable. "Then don't waste our money buying any more. I probably won't finish that gallon."
The words had barely left Dean's lips when his eyes closed in obvious exhaustion. He was asleep before Sam could formulate a reply. The tension plaguing him since Dean first took ill, forced Sam to rest his hand on his brother's forehead and cheek, searching for a fever. Though the flesh was cool to the touch, it didn't alleviate Sam's anxiety. He wasn't sure if anything could. After all, as he knew only too well, poisoning didn't always produce a fever.
Pulling the blanket over Dean, Sam reluctantly left his brother's side. Turning on his computer, he found his gaze straying to his sleeping brother. When he felt comfortable leaving Dean alone, Sam wanted to visit Charlie Mathers' grave. He wanted to thank him. It was the least one motherless boy could do for another.