Characters: Dean and Sam, OC
He awoke with a start, unsure how long he’d been out. He had the distinct impression that he’d heard his name… almost whispered, but it had been his name. He sat up stiffly, unfolding his arm from underneath him. His leg had begun to ache and the sun was pouring into the window in dusty beams of light. He rolled his neck, popping the joints and stretching his back. He turned his head and froze when he looked at Dean’s face.
Dean’s eyes were open, on him, watching. Sam’s face relaxed into an immediate smile.
“Hey,” he whispered.
Dean blinked and in his eyes was a look Sam had seen before. It sucked the air from him and left a hollow around his heart. It was a look of unabashed relief at seeing Sam safe. It was a look of complete love for his brother. It was a look of goodbye.
Dean blinked again, a small smile pulling up the corner of his mouth. And then on a brief exhale of air, his eyes slid shut. The shrill cry of the heart monitor drove into Sam’s head like a knife.
“Dean?!” He whipped his head around to the open door. “DOC!”
It was almost as though he materialized next to Dean’s bed. Sam clutched at Dean’s hand, limp in his own, unaware that he was chanting nononononono. Josh was on Doc’s heels and swiftly removed Dean’s hand from his brother's, sliding Sam smoothly out of the way so that he could get on the other side of Dean. Sam held his breath. He would wait until he heard Dean breathe… until his brother was back.
Doc and Josh moved like they were in a dance. Their choreographed movements across Dean’s inert body held Sam’s gaze as he continued to hold his breath, waiting for Dean. Everything they did seemed to happen at once. Doc laid the bed flat and removed the pillows, allowing Dean’s body to slump back on the bed. Josh straightened him carefully, removed the oxygen cannula and replaced it with a mask. Doc began compressions while Josh started flicking switches on a machine Sam hadn’t even seen him bring in with them.
“Charging,” Josh barked.
Doc nodded, but didn’t stop his compressions. Sam started to see tiny black dots at the corners of his eyes. He heard another high-pitched beep and saw Josh lift the paddles from the machine, rubbing them together briskly, then shout “Clear!”
When the electrical charge slammed into Dean, his back arched from the bed and Sam jumped. His hands gripped the arms of the wheelchair, his body tense and leaning forward. The monitor did not cease its incessant scream of denial.
“Again!” Doc barked.
Dean arched up again. Comeoncomeoncomeoncomeon Sam chanted in his head. His lungs begged for the air he denied them. No… Not until Dean was breathing again. As Dean’s back fell flat against the bed the monitor hiccuped. Three pairs of eyes flew to the TV screen, riveted as the monitor hiccuped again, and the ominous single line jumped, then jumped again, and finally began to dart into regular hills and valleys.
Sam pulled in a breath, his head swimming, his vision blurring, his own heart pounding with the relief of finally getting air. He saw Doc’s shoulders sag a bit. Josh adjusted Dean’s oxygen mask, and eased Dean up slightly to make sure their life saving measures hadn’t pulled any of his stitches.
“Damn, kid,” Doc muttered. “Not nice to do that to an old man.”
“He’s stabilizing,” Josh said, checking Dean’s vitals again.
He cast a quick glance over his shoulder at Sam. “Sam?” He immediately moved over to the chair while Doc took over monitoring Dean. “Hey, kid, you okay?”
Sam simply blinked, unable to pull his eyes from Dean’s prone form. He looked… breakable.
“He’s okay, Sam,” Josh said, grabbing Sam’s wrist and then checking his eyes. “You’re awfully pale, kiddo.”
Sam blinked at the name. John used to call him that. A long time ago.
“He’s okay?” Sam’s voice was a weak whisper.
“Well, he’s, uh,” Josh frowned, looking over his shoulder at the bed. “He’s back with us.”
“He say anything, do anything before this happened, Sam?” Doc asked, easing the head of Dean’s bed up slightly, and adjusting a pillow under his left arm to tilt his body off of the most wounded part of his back and elevate his arm.
Sam blinked from Dean’s pale, still face, to Doc’s dark-skinned ruddy complexion. He shook his head. “He just looked at me.”
Doc lifted his eyes, his chin remaining low. “He looked at you.”
Sam nodded. “He looked like… like he was saying goodbye,” there were tears in his voice. He heard them. He couldn’t actually tell if he were crying. He couldn’t really feel anything beyond an odd weightless feeling of relief.
Doc and Josh exchanged a glance. Josh nodded and stepped away from Sam, leaving the room. Doc walked over to Sam and crouched down in front of him so that their eyes were level. Sam was once again reminded of Steven Tyler. With short hair. And glasses.
“Sam, we’re gonna move a bed in here. I want you to rest. Eh – don’t you shake your head at me,” his eyes turned stern and he angled his head to the right. “You aren’t gonna do your brother any good if you pass out on him, get me?”
Sam nodded, looking back up at Dean.
“Sam,” Doc asked. “Your brother…” he sighed, looking down and Sam ducked his head to catch his eyes. “If I thought it would do any good I’d drive him to Walker myself.”
“What are you saying?” Sam said, trying to keep the tremor from his voice.
“We’ve given him blood, antibiotics… we’ve stitched up the holes and cleaned up the bruises… his body has been pushed to the edge. If he’s gonna come back to you, well, it’s up to him.”
Sam looked over at his brother. He’d said it before. He believed it now. “He won’t give up. He doesn’t know how.”
Doc’s generous mouth tipped down into a frown. He patted Sam’s left knee. “Maybe you need to remind him.”
Doc stood up and Sam caught him with a word. “Wait.”
Doc looked down at him, one eyebrow raised in question.
“We – uh…” Sam swallowed. “We can’t really pay you.”
Doc shifted his eyes over to the still form on the bed, the monitor beeping in rhythmic reassurance that Dean was still there. “Well, we’ll worry about that later.” He looked up as Josh and George rolled a bed through the door and began to position it near Dean’s with space enough in the middle for them to get to Dean.
Sam rolled the chair over to the foot of Dean’s bed, looked at Dean’s face. The drastic absence of color, the exhausted bruising under his eyes… he’d seen it before. And he’d seen his brother check himself out of a hospital looking like that. To get back to him. It seemed that was how it always was. Dean struggled to get to him. It’s the plight of family… you’ll go through hell just to see them on the other side…
“Sam,” Josh stepped up beside Sam’s chair as Doc finished settling Dean and left the room. “Visiting hours are over, man.”
Sam shook his head once, trying to ignore the fact that his vision seemed to follow his head motion too slowly. He wasn’t ready. He frowned.
“I’m not ready,” he muttered.
Josh’s large hand was suddenly resting on his forehead, obscuring part of his vision. As Sam sat still, his eyes on his brother, he felt something pressed into his ear, then a quick beep. He heard Josh sigh.
“Remember what I said about that infection and resting?”
“You either get into that bed right now or we’ll have to take you back to the other room,” Josh’s voice was stern.
Sam turned his head slowly, lifting heavy eyes to Josh. Why was he so tired? Hadn’t he just slept?
“What would you do that for?”
“We got more equipment in there, Sam. For when, you know, you crash like your brother just did,” Josh lifted a brow.
“How about you trust me on this kid. You might be able to sit up,” Josh took hold of the wheelchair and turned it from Dean’s bed, steering Sam the few feet over to the other bed where George waited. “You might be able to sass me, but you had a very close call that I don’t think you’re even aware of.”
Sam’s body felt heavy. The ache in his leg had increased and his head hadn’t stopped spinning since he’d held his breath while Dean had been… out. He sighed and let George and Josh maneuver him from the chair back into the bed. Josh elevated his leg with several pillows and drew the blanket up to Sam’s waist, then checked his vitals. He drew some clear liquid into a syringe and injected it into Sam’s IV. Within minutes Sam felt the ache in his leg begin to ease, but the wispy, weightless sensation didn’t go away. If anything… it seemed to increase.
“Abe told me what your brother did, kid,” Josh said.
“What do you mean?”
“I know how much he means to you,” Josh continued. “Just… just make sure you don’t concentrate so hard on getting him back that you lose yourself.”
Sam lifted surprised eyes to Josh’s face. He didn’t know what to say to that. He couldn’t lose himself as long as he had Dean…
Josh stepped back from the bed, his arms crossed over his chest. “Your fever’s back up and your heart rate is a bit fast. George will check your IVs here in a bit. I want you to rest, get me?”
“Sure,” Sam shrugged, his eyes sliding over to Dean’s prone form in the bed next to him.
“No. Seriously. If I come back in here in a bit and you’re not asleep, I’m gonna give you something to help,” Josh threatened. “Get. Me?”
Sam slid his eyes to Josh, glowering. “I get you,” he said, disliking Josh’s tone. He wasn’t four. He was hurting, but he knew his priorities. Just like Dean’s had been last night… yesterday… his whole life. “But if it’s all the same to you, I’m gonna talk to my brother for a bit,” he looked back to Dean. “Try to remind him of a few things.”
Josh sighed and shook his head. “All right, Sam,” he said. “All right.”
Sam shifted slightly in the bed so that his shoulders were turned toward Dean, his head resting on his pillow. He watched Dean’s chest rise and fall in a gentle rhythm. The oxygen mask clouded and cleared. Sam knew it was daylight outside, but he’d lost all sense of time. How long had they been in that forest? How long had his brother not slept? From the moment they hit the cave, with the few exceptions of unconsciousness, Dean had been alert, in motion, thinking, protecting, building, walking, fighting… Seeing him so still felt all levels of wrong.
“Hey, man,” Sam whispered when Josh and George had left the room. He pressed his lips together in a frown. “So, uh, listen… Doc says…” Sam swallowed. Maybe you need to remind him…
How did he do that? How did he remind Dean who he simply was? That he was a constant, unyielding, a force of good in a world of evil… How did he tell his brother that giving up was not an option even when he’d fought so hard, done so much… even when he hurt so badly…
“Dammit, Dean, I just want you back, okay? You didn’t leave me out there in that forest… you can’t leave me now.”
The distance between them was too much. Five feet. If he could have reached out twice as long as his arm he could grab Dean’s arm, his hand, make contact. The drugs Josh gave him left his body feeling numb. All except his chest. There was a heat there, a burning that beat in time to the machine tracking Dean’s heartbeat. He was just too far away…
Sam shifted his eyes to the side. Abe stood in the doorway dressed in yesterday’s clothes, his hands in his jean’s back pockets, his shoulders up in a hesitant question.
“I don’t know what to say to him,” Sam confessed softly.
Abe chewed on the inside of his cheek, tilting his head to the side as he looked at Dean. “Sure you do.”
Sam looked up at Abe, tears glistening in his eyes. “You know I don’t have a memory before I left that doesn’t include him?”
“Before you left him on the highway you mean?”
Sam pulled his eyebrows together. “What highway?”
Abe shrugged, looking over at Dean’s still form. “Someplace in Indiana…something about a pagan god…”
Sam raised his brows and looked from Abe to Dean and back. “He told you about that?”
Abe looked down, his voice soft. “He thought he was talking to…”
Sam looked at Dean. “He told Dad about that?” he whispered, incredulously.
“He, uh, he told me how proud he was of you,” Abe said. Sam’s head jerked up and Abe nodded at the question in his eyes. “He said you weren’t afraid of anything. He, uh, he kinda said it like he was afraid…”
Sam scoffed. “Dean?” he shook his head. “He’s not ---“ something stopped him.
Sam shook his head. “Nothing,” he looked over at Dean. “I guess I just forget sometimes.”
“That he’s not made of steel,” Sam said.
Amherst, MA 1998
“You know it’s raining.”
“Thank you Captain Obvious.”
“Any reason we couldn’t have just gotten a cab?”
“Yeah, about thirty of them,” Dean coughed and hunched lower into his coat.
“Can’t be that expensive,” Sam grumbled.
“Whatever you say, Dude,” Dean shivered once.
“You okay, man?”
“Yes, Sam,” Dean snapped.
“Geeze, just askin’. Don’t have to be so grumpy”
“Not grumpy,” he said and sneezed twice into the crook of his elbow, water splashing off the end of his nose as he shook his head.
“Dude, stop naming dwarfs.”
He shivered and hunched himself closer into his jacket. Sam reached out to steady him when he stumbled over a crack in the sidewalk. He lifted his shoulder to shrug off the touch. Sam rolled his eyes but resisted the urge to simply push him back harder when saw the relief in his eyes as they reached the motel.
“Maybe Dad will be back,” Sam said, hopefully.
“Maybe,” Dean sighed, his hands shaking slightly as he tried to fit the key into the lock with wet hands. He coughed again and Sam watched worriedly as this one shook his entire frame.
The key shook in his hands and Dean growled in frustration. He took a step back and set himself. Sam clued in to what he was about to do a fraction of a second before Dean’s leg came up.
“Whoa, easy!” Sam quickly deflected his brother’s kick, reached over and took the keys from his wet hands, unlocking the motel room door.
For a brief moment both boys held their breath, listening for the sounds of their father. When silence met their ears, they moved inside the room, removing wet clothes as they went.
“Go take a shower, Sammy,” Dean said as he stood near the doorway prying off his dark blue hooded sweatshirt, heavy with rainwater. “It will warm you up. Just don't use all the hot water.”
Sam was freezing from their walk in the rain. But when Dean coughed again, bent over at the waist from the force of the cough, he hesitated. He took a step toward his brother, then stopped when Dean straightened and glared at him.
“Go, Sam,” he growled, his voice rough, his eyes glittering.
Sam turned the water on as hot as he could stand and stood under the spray until he could once again feel his hands and feet. Dad had taken the Impala when he’d left to hunt what he thought was a poltergeist. He didn’t take the boys with him, saying it was a simple job and he’d be back in twenty-four hours. That had been five days ago. Sam hadn’t worried until yesterday when Dean woke up coughing up a lung and Sam had seen him taking Tylenol. If Dean was taking meds, he was feeling lousy.
Sam stepped from the shower, sure that there was hot water left, and wrapped one of the hotel towels around his waist. They had run out of food this morning and decided they needed to make some money since they didn’t know when Dad would be back. Both had fake IDs and even at fifteen, Sam could pass for twenty-one because of his size, and because Dean pulled the attention away from Sam and onto himself with a sly grin, quick-witted remark, or a coy flash of his eyes depending on the audience. They walked the five miles to the closest bar and Dean had made about two hundred dollars hustling pool. It had started raining halfway home.
Sam stepped out into the motel room, leaving the bathroom door open behind him. As he walked to the dresser to get his clothes he eyed Dean. His brother was sitting in one of the straight-backed motel chairs next to the heater wrapped in one of the comforters from the beds. It looked like he was still in his wet jeans and T-shirt. The money he’d acquired was sitting in a soggy roll on the table. The radio on the dresser was on, and Dean was staring at it like he was reading the words to the song.
“And yet I fight, and yet I fight, this battle all alone. No one to cry to. No place to call home.”
“Dean,” Sam called.
Dean jerked in surprise at Sam’s voice and lifted heavy eyes to him.
“’Kay,” Dean said, standing slowly. The coughing fit seized him immediately and he bent at the waist reaching for the back of the chair he had just been sitting on to brace himself.
“You okay?” Sam asked worriedly. He was suddenly unsure what he’d do if Dean were really sick. Dean never got sick; he had been plenty hurt before, but Dad had always been there.
“Fine, man, just a cold,” he answered, dropping the comforter in a heap and heading to the shower.
When the door closed, Sam got dressed slowly, listening. He heard the water turn on, and listened. Dean was noisy. It was just the simple truth. The only time Sam ever saw him quiet was when he was hunting or hurt. Any other time it was almost a sign to Sam that all was right with the world when Dean was humming Metallica or Zeppelin, or pacing around the motel room as he talked, or simply making a reassuring racket. When all he heard coming from the bathroom was the sound of the running water, he knew that Dean’s ‘cold’ was a bit more than he was making it out to be. He set the Tylenol bottle out next to a glass of water, towel-dried his shaggy brown hair, then sat down to wait.
After about fifteen minutes of staring at the bathroom door, he realized that something was wrong. There was no way he’d left Dean that much hot water. He walked up to the door of the bathroom, then hesitated. If nothing was wrong, Dean was going to give him hell for bursting in – and rightly so. But if something was wrong… and he didn’t go in…
“Dean?” he called through the door. No answer. Sam steeled himself and opened the door. The water was running in the shower. Dean was sitting on the floor outside of it propped up against the wall, still in his jeans having only succeeded in removing his T-shirt, holding his head in his hands. His eyes were closed and Sam couldn’t tell if he were even conscious.
“Shit,” Sam muttered and moved forward into the bathroom.
He reached over Dean’s head and turned off the water, which was running cold by that time. He crouched in front of Dean, pressing the back of his hand to Dean’s face. It was hot to the touch.
“Dude, what the hell 'er you doin’?” Dean snapped, lifting his head suddenly and swatting Sam’s hand away.
“I think you passed out, man,” Sam said, sitting back on the floor, watching Dean slowly lift his head and stare a bit dazedly around him.
“No way,” Dean said, rubbing his head with the palm of his hand.
“Okay, maybe you can tell me why we’re on the bathroom floor, then.”
Dean groaned and shivered. He looked over at the shower, now simply dripping intermittent splashes of water into the bottom of the shower.
Sam frowned. “There’s no hot water left, man,” he said softly.
“Why, you use it all, Francis,” Dean said, both hands on his head now, pressing into his forehead as if they were the only thing keeping it from rolling off of his shoulders and out into the main room.
“You did, jerk, when you passed out,” Sam said, standing up.
“Not so loud, Sammy,” Dean moaned.
“Here,” Sam reached down for Dean’s arm. “Let’s get you into bed.”
“That line just sounds wrong coming from you, dude,” Dean mumbled, pushing himself up from the floor with Sam’s help.
“Just shut up and get out of those jeans,” Sam said, then cringed because he could hear the running commentary in Dean’s head.
But Dean said nothing. Once on his feet he shrugged off Sam’s arm and went into the main room. He dry swallowed four Tylenol, then stripped out of his wet clothes and pulled on sweatpants and a T-shirt. He turned to look at Sam.
“We’re gonna have to look for him,” he sighed.
Sam stood at the head of the bed, preparing to help Dean lay down. His head quirked to the side. “What?”
“It’s been five days,” Dean continued. “Five.” He was looking in Sam’s direction, but his gaze didn’t quite reach Sam’s. “He’s not answering his cell. He hasn’t called.”
Dad, Sam realized. He shook his head, “I’m sure he’s fine, Dean.”
At that, Dean’s eyes did meet his, “Oh, yeah? What makes you so sure? You psychic?”
Sam shrugged. “It’s Dad,” he said. “We’d know if something was wrong.”
“He’s never been gone this long,” Dean shook his head. “Not this long – not without word.”
“Dean, man, you’re about to fall over, will you please just lay down for awhile?”
“I’m fine, Sam,” he answered, which Sam knew he could take as either ‘no really, I am fine’ or ‘I’m about two seconds away from falling on my face but I’ll die before I admit it’.
Sam took a step toward Dean and was shocked when his brother backed up a step.
“Don’t, Sam,” he said. His voice was hard.
Sam pulled his eyebrows together, confused. “Dean? What –“
“Just don’t. I can’t… not until…” Dean blinked and Sam watched as he looked toward the door.
Sam shook his head. “Dean, you can’t just…wait… for Dad to come back before you take care of this.”
Dean looked back at Sam, pulled the chair away from the heater and sat down, crossing his arms over his chest. His expression said ‘watch me’; his body language said ‘I hurt’.
Sam set his jaw. “Fine, you want to be a stubborn bastard? Fine!”
Sam sat on the bed across from him, crossing his arms in a reflection of his brother's posture and stared back. “I can do this longer than you, man,” he said, his voice hard. Dean’s eyebrows flickered once, his lips pressing out in an acceptance of the challenge.
Sam often wondered in the coming days how long they would have sat that way, staring each other down, Dean shivering from fevered chills, Sam sturdy in his self-righteousness, if John hadn’t chosen that moment to walk in from the rain. The boys looked up at the door, shock giving way to worry as John stumbled in the doorway, dropping his duffel on the floor and shutting the door behind him so that he had something to lean on.
Sam was the first on his feet. He went to his Dad and helped him sit down in a chair. Dean had started to rise, then apparently thought better of it, sitting back as an attack of shuddering coughs shook him. Sam ignored his bull-headed brother so that he could pay attention to his equally bull-headed but also bleeding father.
“Where?” he asked.
“Right side,” John gasped, allowing Sam to ease his wet jacket from his body and examine the wound that sliced through John’s outer shirts and into his side.
“Doesn’t look that deep,” Sam said. “Take your shirt off and I’ll get the kit.”
Sam watched as John complied, and then looked up at his eldest son. Dean blinked and tried to act as he would any other time his father returned from a hunt they hadn’t been on. He began the staccato duel of sentences that passed for dialogue with them.
“You get it?”
“’Course I got it.”
“Ugly mother, too.”
“It do that to you?”
“Went through a window.”
“Dad,” Sam interrupted. “You ready?”
John nodded and hissed as Sam poured antiseptic over the cut, then with a glance at his Dad to make sure he was set, Sam started to sew. John clenched his jaw and groaned savagely from the pinch of the needle. By the time Sam was done covering the gash with gauze and medical tape, they were both sweating. John lifted grateful eyes to Sam, who nodded in return.
“Dean,” John said, his voice still slightly breathy from the stitches.
“Yeah,” Dean answered, his eyes on his father, and Sam saw him try to hide a shiver.
“You can stand down, now, Son,” John said softly.
Sam’s head snapped up and he gaped at his father. Then he slid his eyes over to Dean and was shocked to see the complete relief settle into his brother’s eyes before he slid bonelessly off of the chair.
“Dean!” Sam moved forward to catch him, but wasn’t in time. Dean landed in a heap on top of the comforter he’d wrapped himself in about an hour before.
John stood gingerly, holding his side. “How long has he been sick?” he asked Sam as he moved over to crouch next to Dean.
“About two days now,” Sam said, watching with fascination as John lay a gentle hand on Dean’s head. “He passed out about an hour before you got home but wouldn’t admit it.”
John’s mouth turned up in a rueful grin. “You can’t always wear the red cape, Dude,” he whispered to Dean. He lifted his dark eyes to Sam. “Help me get him up on the bed, kiddo.”