Characters: Dean and Sam, OC
He couldn’t seem to stay in one place. Voices followed him… talking about bears and brothers, helicopters and ambulances. When he was younger he’d slide down underneath the water in the bathtub, listening to his father and brother talk, their voices muffed, the differences between them leveled by the calming effect of the water. That is what he heard now, only… instead of warm, comforting water cradling him in safety he was wrapped in a cold blanket of needles. And they were stabbing his back, his arm, his head.
He wanted to go somewhere else. Somewhere quiet. He should have known better. The dark was never quiet. It was louder than the light. It screamed at him, beat on him. And the voices were still there. He was starting to get pissed. He didn’t know who these people were, what they were saying, why they wouldn’t shut up. If they would just leave then maybe he could get rid of the blanket of needles. Maybe he could get warm.
He couldn’t breathe. He tried, but it was as if the water had turned against him, seeping into him instead of flowing around him. Then, like a bright flash in a dark room, he felt something slam into him. It felt like he’d been hit with a baseball bat while running. He wanted to hit back. To grab hold. To stop it. But it came again.
Sam was talking. He could hear his voice. They hadn’t lied to him. He was safe. He was okay. He wanted to call out to him – to reach back, to say he was okay, but then someone pulled the blanket of needles away from him and he could breathe again and it felt so good to just breathe… just lay still and breathe…
The voices came again, but this time they were softer, there were fewer, then there was one. Sam. Sam’s voice… telling him… something. I’m here, Sam. I’m here… He couldn’t quite… his car? Was he talking about the Impala?
“…I remember because you acted so funny, like you were a five year old at Christmas. But for some reason you didn’t want Dad to see how excited you were. He’d been gone for a few days, but he’d left us the car. Caleb drove them on that hunt, and he said that he realized the last time he’d left us without wheels he’d actually put us in more danger. So you got the Impala for a few days, and my life was filled with Zeppelin.
He comes back in this ginormous black truck, tricked out for a hunter. That truck was bad-ass. But it took awhile for it to sink in for me. I mean, I was fifteen. What did I know, right? But I remember you stood so still. Like you’d turned to stone. I don’t know if you were even breathing.
And Dad looked at you. Just looked. He didn’t say anything – he never really does, right? I mean, unless he’s telling you what to do. I don’t think the man knows how to have an actual conversation. Makes me wonder if Mom did all the talking with them. I’ll bet she did. She was probably the noise in the house with them like you are with us…”
You’re rambling, Sam…
“…sorry. I’m rambling. I’m just used to you doing most of the talking for us, Dean. See? That’s why you need to just go on and wake up. Just open your eyes. Tell me to stop talking. ‘Cause I can keep this up all day.”
There was a pause and Dean realized Sam was waiting. Waiting for him to do something. He focused on moving his fingers. He could feel them resting against something soft. He tried to move his toes. He felt the sheet move oh so minutely over the tops of his legs. The blanket of needles was gone, but an ache started to build as he tried to move more of his body. The harder he tried, the closer the ache, the sharper the pain.
“Anyway. He looked at you and you stood there, and I felt like I was interrupting something. It was almost like you two were speaking telepathically. And then he tossed you the keys and you reached up and grabbed them out of the air like you had been expecting it. I think that even then I didn’t realize what had just happened. Not really. Not until Dad says ‘you take care of her, she’ll take care of you’ in that Marine-voice he always used when he wanted to, y’know, make sure we were listening.
Then he just walked inside. And you still just stood there. You didn’t even go over to the car at first. I tried to get your attention, but you didn’t even blink. So I punch you on the shoulder and you turned around, walked away from me, went straight to the car, got in, cranked up Back in Black so friggin’ loud that neighbors looked out of their windows at us. Then you peeled out. I saw your face and, man, I don’t think I have ever seen you that happy. Like. Ever.
So, I went back inside and Dad was standing in that little kitchen, watching you through the window. He wasn’t smiling, not all the way, but he looked happy. He can do that, y’know? Smile at you without actually smiling. I think it throws a lot of people off. I told him that it was pretty cool what he just did. And I’ll never forget this, Dean. He says ‘when you give up everything for your family, you deserve to get something back’.”
I remember I got kinda angry at that. I told him that he needed to tell you that, if that’s what he thinks. And he turns to me with this look on his face… I don’t know, just a look like I was just a kid and would never get it and he says, ‘what do you think I just did, Sammy?’”
Dean felt himself falling. He was so tired. He didn’t want to fall, he didn’t want to go back there, back to the cold. He wanted to stay here. It was warm here. Sam was here. If he could just reach out… if he could just grab hold of Sam, maybe he could stay…
“See, the thing is, I think you need to hear it, Dean. I think that’s what Dad doesn’t realize. He needs to tell you stuff like that. He never says…anything to you. It’s like… like he looks at you like he looks at Caleb, or Pastor Jim. Like a partner. But… you’re his son. And you’re my brother. And you are a fighter. And you are a protector. And you are a wise-ass. And you’re as annoying as hell. But… you’re also a hero, man. And heroes don’t quit.”
Sam’s voice started to waver. Dean felt the water creep up over his ears. Wait… wait…
“…because if you do…taking your car…”
Sam’s voice faded, and the water washed over him again. He let himself fall then. Sinking back into the blackness, seeking solace, seeking relief, finding neither. He waited, hoping… The voices found him again, but this time, they were clearer. Someone, someone not Sam, was saying his name.
He didn’t know that voice, but he’d heard it before. He’d been listening to it underwater.
“Dean, how about you open your eyes for me, Son?”
It wasn’t Dad. That much he knew for sure. And it wasn’t Sam… but it was familiar, comforting almost. It continued.
“I see your hands moving, Dean. Can you open your eyes now?”
His hands were moving? Oh. Yeah, cause he was reaching for Sam. He wanted Sam to know he was okay. He needed Sam to know… Where was Sam? Someone else was talking… they were too far away, he couldn’t hear them…
“What do I think? I think you should bring him over, that’s what I think,” the voice said. “I’m telling you, it will work, just do as he asks and help him, Josh.”
Dean liked that tone. It sounded like Dad. It wasn’t him, but it sounded like him. It was an authoritative, take-no-shit tone that Dean himself had adopted at a young age.
“Hey, man.” Sam. Dean felt the warm comfort swirl around him again, as though he were sitting up out of the water, the voices alternating between muffled and clear. “You’d better open your eyes now, Dean, because I just had to arm wrestle a Native American body builder with a tattoo the size of my head to get over here.”
Funny, Dean though. You’re always so serious, Sam, but that? Was funny.
“Did you see that?” Sam asked. Dean realized that Sam was talking to someone else in the room as he continued. “Did he just… smile?”
The water drifted away and there was light. Soft yellow light, easy light, seductive in its warmth. He wanted to see Sam… he had to tell him something… he had to…
“Sam,” the world was a blur of soft images, of light and dark. His voice sounded odd to his ears – like sandpaper on glass.
Dean blinked and reached up with a clumsy, awkward hand to pull the oxygen mask off of his nose and mouth. His mouth was so dry. He dropped his hand and blinked his heavy eyes again, turning his head to the right when he heard “Hey, hey, Dean… you there? You with me?”
Sammy… “Yeah,” he managed to get out. He blinked his eyes wide, trying to pull his brother into focus. Sam’s head was lower than his, almost level with the bed, and he was sitting slightly sideways. “Why’r you so short, Sam?”
He heard Sam chuckle and felt something on the back of his hand… fingers, a grip. He curled his fingers around Sam’s. The contact seemed to ground him like a lightening rod. Clarity snapped around certain images like static electricity while others remained unfocused. Sam was clear. His grin was clear. Dean blinked again and realized Sam was sitting in a wheelchair next to his bed.
“Y’okay, Sam?” he asked, licking his dry lips.
Dean heard a noise on the other side of the bed – it sounded like a laugh -- but he didn’t look away from Sam. He was waiting for his answer. Sam pressed his lips together.
“I am now,” he whispered. “It’s good to have you back, man,” he continued.
“Did I go somewhere?”
“Very nearly,” said the voice on the other side of the bed.
Dean rolled his head and pulled his eyes to the voice. The man standing there in a red flannel shirt, long dark hair pulled back into a braid, and a silver hoop through one ear was a stranger to Dean. And yet…
“I see you decided to join us, finally,” a third voice, this one at the foot of his bed. Dean shifted his eyes to that man, already tired, ready to sleep again… but he wanted to talk to Sam. He wanted to ask him where—
“Can you tell me how you’re feeling, Dean?”
Dean narrowed his focus, trying to remove the blurred edges around this third man. He blinked hard, licking his lips, and unconsciously tightened his grip on Sam’s fingers. He felt Sam grip back.
“How do you feel?”
How did he feel? He hurt. His arm was aching into his teeth, his back felt like someone had beat him with a rake, and his head… the beating of his heart echoed in his head.
With startling clarity, images began to slam into his head like someone was pulling the lever on a ViewMaster in his brain. He gasped and pulled his head back, trying not to succumb to the vertigo that followed. Two wendigos…Sam falling… setting Sam’s leg… building the travois… the markings on the cave wall… the carnage of the wolf… fighting the second wendigo… that word… hearing it speak… and… someone coming…
“Dean, man,” Sam said, his hand now on Dean’s arm. “What is it?”
Dean lifted shattered hazel eyes to his brother’s face. “We made it, Sam.”
Sam smiled. “Yeah, we did.”
Dean reached up and pulled at the oxygen mask, wanting it off of his face.
“Eh, wait,” said the man at the end of the bed. “Not so fast,” he continued. “You thirsty?”
Dean nodded, then instantly regretted it. He closed his eyes willing the world to settle back into place so that he didn’t fall off the side. The man in the red flannel shirt handed him a plastic cup of water with a straw. Dean tried to grip the cup, but his hand was shaking so badly he couldn’t get the straw to his mouth.
“Here,” Sam said, balancing the cup for him so that he could get some water. When he’d drank his fill, Sam took the cup from him and set it beside the bed. The water helped complete what Sam’s grip had started. He felt more alert, awake. He wanted to talk to Sam.
“Dean,” the man at the end of the bed spoke again. “How do you –“
“Like I hit a wall then wrestled a wendigo,” Dean interrupted, his voice still rough, but now more firm. His eyes were bright and on the man standing at the foot of the bed.
The man lifted an eyebrow. “You know what day it is?”
Dean paused. “Not really.”
“You know where you are?”
Dean blinked. “No, but I could tell you all the words to Sweet Emotion, if that would help.”
Sam chuckled. Dean slid his eyes to Sam, his eyebrows quirking. Sam pressed his lips together in a smile and nodded back at his brother.
“What did I miss?”
“Don’t worry about it, Doc,” said the man in the red flannel shirt, also smiling.
Doc shook his head, then stepped around the bed. He quickly checked Dean’s vitals, then removed the oxygen mask and replaced it with the nasal cannula. He set Dean’s chart behind him, then crossed his arms, looking down at Dean.
“Well, it’s good that you’re awake. Don’t know that this kid brother of yours could take another day watching you sleep,” Doc sighed.
Dean felt Sam’s fingers flex. He carefully moved his hand from Sam’s grip as he looked at Doc, unwilling for it to seem like a movement of separation from Sam, but needing to see if he could balance on his own. Oddly enough, without Sam’s touch his head seemed to swim. He blinked a few more times, trying to focus on what Doc was saying, but the rushing of blood in his ears prevented him from hearing anything else. He could feel his breathing increase, unable to calm himself. He clenched his jaw, angry at his weakness.
Then it all just stopped. Just stopped. His mouth fell open and he breathed in relief. He leaned his head back into the pillow and only then realized that Sam had laid his hand on his arm. God, don’t let go, Sammy…
“…since infection had set in.”
“Sorry, what?” Dean muttered.
“Did you hear any of that, Dean?” Doc asked, peering closely at him.
“Not really,” the sudden clarity that he’d noticed just moments ago was wearing off and utter weariness began to seep in.
“You’ve been out for nearly three days, Dean,” the man in the red flannel shirt said.
At that Dean’s eyebrows went up in a tired imitation of surprise. He looked over at Sam. He could now see that Sam’s right leg was encased in a blue Velcro soft-cast. His brother looked worn, thin, but none of the weariness Dean read on his face and in his body reflected in his eyes. In there Dean only saw relief.
“What about you?” he asked Sam.
“Three pins in my leg, Dude,” Sam said, a sideways grin tugging at his mouth.
“Good thing we don’t fly,” Dean quipped. “You’d be setting off those metal detectors.”
“Yep. Good thing.”
Doc moved away from Dean’s bed, herding the man in the red flannel shirt in front of him.
“Sam,” he said, stepping over to Sam’s chair. “Your brother needs to rest and so do you.”
Sam shook his head once. “I’m good.”
“Sam, you’ll be right over–“
Sam turned and looked at Doc, his voice hard, the hand on Dean’s arm tense. “I said I’m good.”
Dean listened to the authority in Sam’s voice with admiration as he watched the man in the red flannel shirt look at Sam, nod, then usher Doc out of the room in front of him. Dean was glad that they were gone. He knew that they had probably saved his life. Knew he should be grateful… but for the moment he just wanted to be.
“Sam, where’s Dad?”
He shifted carefully on the bed, trying to move the pillow that was at his back lower so that he could see Sam better. He couldn’t move much without pulling at his stitches. And moving his left arm at all, he quickly realized, was not advised.
Sam turned his head very slowly to look at him. Dean blinked at him, waiting. Sam licked his lips and took a breath. If Dean didn’t know better, he would have thought Sam was about to tell him… oh, God, no…
“Sam,” he said in a choked voice. “Did something happen? Where is he?”
“Is he okay?”
Sam sighed, looking down at his hand on Dean’s arm. “As far as I know,” he answered softly.
Dean pulled his eyebrows together in confusion. “What the hell is that supposed to mean.”
Sam looked up and the expression in his eyes jolted Dean. It was as if Sam were suddenly seeing a person where he’d always seen a hero. Dean felt stripped bare, laid open. His mask was gone, his wall transparent. He wanted to look away, but Sam’s eyes held him. He felt a tremble in his chest, a shiver from the inside out.
“Dean, Dad didn’t come.”
“Dad didn’t come for us, man. He was never here.”
Dean pulled his head back into the pillow, an automatic refusal of information, a retreat from the truth. “What are you talking about, Sam. He saved you.”
“You saved me, Dean.”
Dean shook his head. “No… no way, Sam. I couldn’t. I remember that much. I couldn’t… I couldn’t get up even.”
“Yeah, and then Abe found us…”
Dean shifted. “Who the hell is Abe?”
“Abe was just in here, with Doc.”
Something caught in Dean’s chest. A hitch in his breath. A skip of his heart. The man in the red flannel shirt. The familiar voice. The word ‘Son’. Dean pulled his arm away from Sam and again felt the vertigo grab hold without the contact of Sam’s fingers. He ignored it – no, he used it. He allowed the swaying room to give him permission to close his eyes, close out Sam. He tipped his head back against the pillows. The darkness seemed to cancel out the dizziness, and in a few moments he was able to open his eyes.
Sam sat completely still. His face was pale and drawn, his eyes wide, his bottom lip caught in his teeth. Dean had seen this look before – in the forest, when they fought the wendigo. Sam had been in such pain then that Dean had felt it just looking at him. He felt it pour off of him now, just as before, but it came from a different place this time.
“You’re wrong,” Dean said, surprised by the venom he heard in his own voice. It sounded stronger than he felt.
“He was here Sam,” Dean said, his voice rising. The tremble in his chest increased. “I saw him, man, I talked to him, hell I touched him!”
“It was Abe,” Sam repeated.
“Stop saying that,” Dean yelled. “Just stop it, Sam.”
“Why would I lie to you, man?” Sam asked, his voice rising to match Dean’s. “You think I wanted to tell you this? You think I didn’t want it to true?”
Dean clenched his jaw and looked at Sam, deadening his voice, his eyes. “Yeah, Sam, I do.”
“Why?” Sam yelled, his face flinching with emotion. “Why, Dean?”
“So you could live in that fucking world where Dad is the reason for all the bad things that’ve happened to you! ‘Cause it’s easier for you to stay mad at him!” Dean’s jaw was brittle, his eyes hot with anger. The monitor began to increase its rhythm, but neither brother took notice.
The trembling in Dean’s chest blossomed out so that it spread to his hands. He tightened them into fists, but fighting it only made it worse and he saw Sam’s eyes flick from his hands to his face. A softening started to creep into his eyes, but Dean wasn’t finished.
“You want to be mad at him. It’s safe for you—“ Dean continued, his voice raw from emotion and yelling, harsh breaths punctuating every other word.
“That’s not fair,” Sam yelled, watching his brother’s jaw tremble.
“—because then you don’t have to admit what he’s sacrificed for us, for you—“
“You don’t mean this, Dean,” Sam’s voice dropped an octave.
“—what he put himself through to get us to where we are, keep us together as a family, keep us safe—“
“You did that,” Sam’s voice was barely above a whisper, but it stopped Dean.
He lay his head back on the pillow, his body trembling visibly, the heart monitor keeping a double-time rhythm, his eyes fragile in their betrayed anger. “What?”
“You did that, Dean, not Dad,” Sam repeated softly. “In my eyes, it was you. It’s always you.”
“Sam,” Dean breathed out, his voice tight, near breaking. “Please. Did he just leave? Just… tell me…”
Sam’s lips twisted and his eyes flashed bright with instant tears. “I told you, man. He didn’t come. He was never here,” he pressed his lips together, forcing back the emotion. “I called him yesterday when you wouldn’t wake up. He didn’t answer.”
Dean closed his eyes. He was never there. He didn’t come. Dean didn’t know what to do with that. He felt Sam’s fingers brush his arm as he reached out to comfort him, but he pulled his arm away. He didn’t deserve comforting. He’d lost it out there. He’d put Sam’s life in the hands of a stranger.
“Jesus, Sammy,” he breathed, not opening his eyes. “I could have gotten you killed.”
“I screwed up… I could have… ” his voice cracked, and he pressed his lips together as the tremble in his body tried to sneak out as a whimper of defeat.
He heard Sam growl, but it was more a low keen of pain than of anger. He didn’t look at him. He couldn’t. He felt dizzy behind his closed eyes. His chest trembled mightily and he couldn’t pull in a deep enough breath. He had been so sure… it had felt like Dad. And it had felt so good to have him there, to let him lead, to give over the responsibility for just a moment. For that night, Sam’s life wasn’t just in his hands… Dad was there. But none of it had been real. And he could have gotten Sam killed.
“Dean, you did not screw up,” Sam said, his voice tight.
“Just… leave me alone, Sam,” Dean said, his voice dead. He wanted to roll away from the feeling of his brother’s eyes on him. He wanted to curl up into himself, but he hurt… everything ached. He needed to regroup, get a grip, but his balance was off and he was slipping toward an edge that he couldn’t let himself go over. He’d been to that other side. He didn’t like what he saw there.
“I’m not leaving, man,” Sam’s voice was hard, and this time when he reached out for Dean, he didn’t let Dean pull away. His long fingers wrapped around Dean’s forearm, gripping him, holding him the only way Dean would allow.
Dean felt the panic begin to seep away the instant Sam’s hand touched him. He kept his eyes closed, but he heard the rhythm of the heart monitor slow, and he felt his breathing begin to even out. Why did contact with Sam do that to him? Balance him? Bring him back from the darkness? He should be the one doing that for Sam, not the other way around…
“Dean, don’t… Man, don’t shut me out,” Dean heard tears in Sam’s voice and he tightened his jaw. “Not now, not after… after all of this.”
Dean opened his eyes, but didn’t look at Sam. He didn’t move. He barely breathed.
“I thought,” Sam paused. Dean heard him take a breath and felt his fingers tighten on his arm. “I really thought we were going to…” he stopped again, and this time Dean turned his head to look at him.
Sam’s eyes were down, his shoulders trembled. Dean stayed silent, watching Sam gather himself. When his brother lifted his eyes, Dean saw something there that he never thought he’d see in Sam: fear.
“You pushed yourself to the point of death, man. You don’t even know it, do you? You almost died on me, Dean. Again. And I… I can’t… you can’t…”
Sam gripped his right arm with desperate fingers. Dean carefully eased his aching left arm across his body and curled his fingers in Sam’s shirt. Tears glistened in Sam’s eyes but didn’t fall. His throat worked against the emotion, and he pressed lips together, desperate to maintain control.
“You scared me, man,” he confessed.
“It’s okay, Sam,” Dean whispered.
“Dean, you have to understand,” Sam said. “Out there, I needed you. Not Dad.”
Dean let his left arm fall, unable to hold it up. His hand dropped across his chest and he leaned back, looking up at the ceiling. But I did, Sam… I needed him…
“He really didn’t come, huh?”
Sam shook his head. Dean pressed his lips together, holding in the scream of frustrated rage that was suddenly just below the surface. Rage at himself, at his father, at this life, at his weakness, at his own inability to save Sam, at the evil they were constantly at war with… He didn’t realize that he’d stopped breathing until Sam gripped his arm with a worried “Dean?” He filled his lungs.
“Nij,” came a voice from behind them that sounded like the slow creak of a door in desperate need of oil. Dean saw Sam’s head rotate to the sound. “Seyenz.”
Sam’s head whipped back to Dean’s and met his eyes, wide with surprise. “Isn’t that…”
Dean nodded. They peered back at the doorway. Doc stood off to the side, presumably coming to check on the erratic beeping of the heart monitor attached to Dean’s chest. Dean wondered how much of their conversation he’d been a silent witness to. Abe stood next to him, holding the elbow of a stooped man. The face of the third man was weathered and worn, his eyes were milky-white with cataracts, his lips folded in over toothless gums. His hair was white and long, hanging over his bent shoulders and down his curved back.
“Mark,” Abe called. “Get a chair.”
Dean and Sam sat silently, staring. Mark brought a chair, sat it near Sam’s wheelchair.
“Nibi,” the man said to Mark, who left and returned quickly with a glass of water.
“Abe, I told you about him,” Doc was saying. Abe calmly ignored his protest and stepped up next to the chair.
“Dean, Sam,” he nodded at each. “This is Running Horse. He is the tribal shaman.”
“These boys need their rest,” Doc broke in. “Their bodies have –“
Abe turned and looked at Doc over his shoulder, interrupting him. “All due respect, Doc, but there are some things that can’t be healed by your medicine.”
Dean’s eyebrows went up, recognizing the tone. His father’s tone. He looked closely at Abe, at the silver earring… he remembered… walking… following the travois, watching Sam, then blackness… and waking to see a face, dark eyes, black hair and that silver earring. He blinked, carefully rubbing the bandage over the gash on his head with his left hand. He’d known. For an instant that night, he’d known it wasn’t Dad…
“Abe, a shaman? After what these boys have been through?” Doc shook his head.
“Because of what they’ve been through,” Abe answered, turning back to the brothers. “I think there’s something you need to hear.”
Running Horse turned his unseeing eyes toward Doc. “Nagazh.”
With a low murmur of discontent, Doc left the room. Abe rested a hand on Running Horse’s shoulder, whispering, “Migwetch.”
“Abe,” Sam said, staring at the shaman with open curiosity, his fingers still wrapped around Dean’s arm, “no offense, man, but, uh, what does your tribal shaman have to do with Dean and me?”
Abe stood. “Well, for one thing,” he shoved his hands into the back pockets of his jeans. “You killed his brother.”