Spoilers: Season 2, set after 2.15, Tall Tales and before 2.16, Roadkill. Anything prior to the first appearance of that darn Trickster is fair game.
Summary: The trickster left the brothers in need of a clean hunt. An explosion turns a routine spirit hunt into anything but clean. Dean must deal with the ramifications, while Sam tries to finish the job and help his brother pick up the pieces.
a/n: So, as some of you know, I had a bit of a parent fiasco in that my dear father deleted about 18 pages of my first draft when he visited for Mo Chuisle's 2nd birthday. A few late nights later, and the story has been resurrected; I sincerely hope you enjoy this next part and I will do my best to lessen the wait between chapters in the future. *translation: keep father away from computer*
Losing an illusion makes you wiser than finding a truth.
There was no fire. No heat. No pain.
He'd been convinced something had hit him, had slammed him forward, rolling him through a punch of air so violently that his eyes had fallen from his face and his ears had slid down the sides of his head.
He was sure the taste in his mouth had been the coppery texture of blood.
But the air around him was crisp, clean.
He felt its breath catch on the rough stubble framing his jaw. Felt it caress his lips and burn his wide eyes. Around him leaves were just beginning to tumble from trees that had turned autumn's hues of red and gold. And the liquid sliding down his throat was the rich malt flavor of his favorite beer. Blinking down, he saw his own arms braced on the worn wood of a split-rail fence, a sweating brown bottle clutched in his hand.
He knew this place. He knew this moment.
He was standing in the heartbeat of time between celebrating survival of a debilitating demonic virus and the confession that destroyed his life. The confession that stemmed from a moment of weakness so vivid he could still feel the hollow sensation in his chest as he exhaled. Still feel the odd mix of liberation and capture as the words tired of this job were caught in the net of his brother's memory.
Sam, please, man. Hey, please. Just give me some time. Give me some time to think, okay? I’m begging you here. Please, please…
He remembered saying those words, remembered how Sam had flinched, how he'd looked at him with a glimpse of fear lingering at the edges of his eyes. Dean pushed away from the fence and turned to his right, knowing Sam would be standing there.
Sam faced the river, his hips pressed against the split-rail fence, his fingers laced behind his head as the muscle in his jaw bounced. Dean knew he was processing, trying to assimilate the fact that not only had his father said he might have to be killed, but that his brother was the one who may have to execute him.
He swallowed, the bitter aftertaste of truth chasing the flavor of the beer.
Dean frowned when his brother didn't turn. He knew he'd spoken, had felt his lips part, his tongue hit the backs of his teeth as his mouth formed the shape of his brother's name.
But he'd heard nothing.
The silence pressed in around him, weighing him down with absurdity. He tried to take a step forward, to reach out to Sam, but found the sky suddenly too heavy, the world holding tightly to the heels of his boots.
Sam? Hey, man, look at me, okay? I think… Sam, something's… something's wrong…
The wet bottle of beer slid from Dean's frozen fingers and hit the earth, amber liquid splashing up from the mouth and splattering the base of his jeans. He licked his lips, feeling the softness of the skin under the texture of his tongue. He felt his heart pick up speed, pounding at the base of his throat, sending flashes of light behind his eyes.
Dropping his arms to his sides in a slow sweep of motion, Sam turned, his chin lowered, his eyes up. Dean felt a chill ripple across his skin as he met his brother's gaze. There was no heat, no heart in Sam's eyes. They were empty, hollow, echoing the vacuum of space that pressed painfully down around Dean's ears.
What— Dean tried, but the pressure was suddenly too intense, too sharp for him to even complete the plea for comprehension. He gasped, pulling in air in an attempt to alleviate the heavy feeling in his ears.
Sam's eyes turned yellow.
And Dean stopped breathing.
The yellow was hard, cold, and frighteningly familiar.
Mask all that nasty pain… Mask the truth…
Dean shook his head, trying to banish the memory of his father's voice wrapping around a devil's words. The world spun dizzily; he wanted to take a step back. He wanted to push Sam away. He couldn't move. The air pressed tighter, climbing into his ears, squeezing his head so that he groaned from the pain of it.
Sam stepped toward him, his yellow eyes growing, stretching, covering half of his face. Dean opened his mouth, searching for a way to release the pressure building behind his eyes.
What the hell? He demanded angrily, his words falling from his lips into a vacuum of silence.
Sam moved closer. His normally innocent smile spreading into an insane grin until the edges of his lips met the creases of his ears.
I'm dreaming… this is a dream… this isn't real…Dean dared to shake his head once more.
It was wrong, all of it. Just wrong. Sam's eyes flashed at him, blinding him and searing heat through his pupils. He tried to cry out, tried to back away. He was denied reprieve.
And the pressure built.
Get the fuck away from me, he demanded in a silent, empty voice. Just… just get away!
Sam closed the gap between them, his chest against Dean's, his legs against Dean's, his hands like ice on either side of Dean's face. The hard, yellow eyes spread until they were all Dean could see. The cold touch of Sam's hands changed, spread, grew until Dean felt talons digging into his temples, an oily slick of feathers brushing across his eyes.
Dean tried to resist, wanted to move away, wanted to demand his brother return.
But the silence weighed too much.
Fear had a taste.
It lingered in the back of Sam's throat like cheap beer, coating his tongue and making speech difficult. It clung to the soft insides of his lips so that each time he answered a question—yes, that hurts…no, I can't feel that…I don't know the last time I had a Tetanus shot…no, I'm not allergic to anything—he tasted the sticky, metallic flavor of fear.
He felt as if he'd been sucking on a nickel.
The noise of the ER buzzed around him; machines beeping, voices calling out orders and instructions, calming, encouraging, cursing. From the moment he'd opened his eyes on the stretcher in the back of the ambulance, strangers staring down at him with a caring, unfamiliar gaze, he'd been listening for Dean. Searching for him with a secret sense that he had unconsciously employed since a time before memory.
He was still reaching into nothing, the void around him that should be filled by Dean, as he sat on the ER bed, pastel-striped curtains pushed aside to reveal to him the organized chaos that was the emergency unit, back bowed with worry, uncertainty, and…fear.
He pulled his lips against his teeth at the memory of times without Dean. Times he was left behind to wait and wonder. Times he struck out on his own in rebellion. Times they were wrenched apart. Times Dean walked away.
Dean was here, though. Sam had seen his brother's profile as he'd twisted on the gurney to look over his shoulder, caught the sight of the silver-ring adorned right hand resting on Dean's chest as his bed was wheeled into the ER, shoved into the closest alcove to the door, a clear blue oxygen bag fitting securely over his mouth and nose and being pumped by a strong-armed blonde nurse.
"This is a pretty deep wound," the physician's assistant commented as he pulled the last shards of wood from Sam's palm. "You're going to need stitches."
"Okay," Sam replied, distracted, eyes skimming the far end of the open ER for signs of movement from Dean's curtain. Somewhere to his left a baby cried and a woman hushed it with unintelligible, soothing words of assurance.
The bed beneath him was raised high enough that the PA could treat him while standing and Sam's long legs barely brushed the floor with the tips of his scuffed, worn boots. He pressed his toes into the linoleum floor, tightening the muscles in his back as the scent of antiseptic and sterile packaging wafted through the small alcove.
"You saved his life, you know," the black man continued, resting Sam's numb hand on a tray and covering it with a blue suture sheet.
Sam slid his eyes to the man's face, absorbing his features for the first time. He remembered being told the man's name while a team of people in multi-colored scrubs took his vitals. It had bounced off his ears and evaporated into nothing as the world continued to turn and noise intensified and lights blinked on and off and air brushed his skin and Sam sat in the middle of it.
"George Cooper," the PA clarified. "Could have been so much worse if you two hadn't come by. We all like George around here."
"Oh, yeah," Sam swallowed, movement across the room catching his eye.
"This might feel a bit cold," the man warned as he lifted a clear plastic bottle with a bent straw at the mouth, pausing for a second to allow Sam to prepare, then squirted the saline mixture into the open wound at the base of Sam's palm.
"Ah, God," Sam hissed, flinching as the PA held his hand still, letting the solution clean out the residual wood particles. The icy water filled the hollow of his hand and drove misery to his bones, etching its way up his arm and settling into his shoulder.
"Sorry," the man said sincerely. "You two are heroes, you know?"
Sam tightened his jaw, his teeth grinding, letting his breath out slowly through his nose. "Thanks," he managed, knowing instinctively that he should have denied the accolade.
Dean would have. He'd gone back into that house, parting the almost-visible gas fumes with his stubborn body in search of an innocent, unthinking, unwavering. Sam cursed him silently, wanting to yell at his brother for his stupidity. Wanting to push him and shake him and demand that he not be so stupid. Wanting to know who he thought he was. Wanting to know if he ever paused to friggin' think.
Wanting to just see him, dammit.
"Bet you're used to that in your line of work, though," the man continued, having cleaned Sam's wound and moved on to stitching up the torn, puckered skin.
His comment startled Sam, drawing his attention from the powder-blue curtain revealing nothing but feet hustling around a hospital bed.
"What?" Sam asked, baffled as to how this man knew about the lives they'd saved.
The nurse looked up. "Well, you know… as FBI agents."
Sam closed his eyes. "Right."
The EMTs had arrived to find them broken and bleeding in the rubble of the house, their only identification that of FBI Agents Bachman and Turner.
Minutes ticked by. Sam felt his body tightening, the need to curl in on himself, to protect, to hide, warring with the need to move, to search, to see Dean. If their situations were reversed, Dean would have forced himself into that curtained area, hand bleeding, telling them they could damn well sew him up after they took care of Sam.
So, why am I just sitting here? Move, dammit. Do something. Move!
"You're all set," the PA proclaimed.
Sam jumped at the sudden sound of the man's voice, having felt nothing of the stitches. He opened his heavy eyes and watched the man shift back slightly and remove the suture drape from Sam's arm. He gently set a thick gauze pad over the wound, then secured it with long strips of medical tape.
"This could seep a little, which is normal. But if you see any red lines, or swelling—"
"I got it," Sam nodded, cradling his wounded hand against his chest.
"We'll give you a script for some pain meds," the PA said, clearing away the wound-cleaning paraphernalia.
"Thanks," Sam nodded, watching as someone swished their way free of the curtained area around Dean. "Hey, uh, can I go see my bro—partner, now?"
The PA looked over to the curtain Sam had been watching intently since they wheeled him into the ER, Dean silent and still on the gurney behind him.
Sam shivered, the memory of the noise and light as the paramedics pulled him from the broken, twisted Impala, unable to reach his brother, his father, unable to see them, hear them, touch them.
The moment the black man stepped free of the curtain, Sam was on his feet, balancing himself against the wall with his good hand. His black tie had been removed, his white button-up shirt untucked and unbuttoned to the middle of his chest, exposing a smoke-stained T-shirt. He'd lost his overcoat at the house and his suit jacket had met the same demise as his tie.
Knowing he looked like a frat boy after a drunken toga party, Sam moved free of the alcove and into the noise of the ER. He ignored the motion around him, focused on the last place he'd seen his brother, determined to get to him before his hollow legs gave in and he ended up on his back.
Sam paused just outside the curtain shielding his brother as the last two nurses stepped clear, pulling the blue material shut behind them. He slid into the room on the opposite end of the curtain, drawing a breath as he saw Dean for the first time since cradling his bloody, limp body in his arms amidst the destruction of George Cooper's house.
"Oh," he exhaled, unable to utter more. He took a step forward, his eyes sliding down Dean's still form, pulling in the sight of him.
A pulse oximeter was attached to Dean's index finger, a line of saline inserted through an IV into his arm. Slim wires attached to electrodes were fastened to his chest under a hospital gown, which was unsnapped at the shoulder revealing his collar bone and sternum.
Sam stepped closer to the bed, his numb hand brushing against the sheets, dragging forward with his motion, and resting on Dean's arm. His brother's face was a mess of swollen bruises and thin slices in the skin. Blood had been cleaned away from his features, but was still apparent in his hair where it matted the short, brown spikes into deep red clumps.
"Man, Dean…" Sam managed around the lump in his throat.
Days of annoyance, irritation at habits, frustration with the repetition of their lives faded away as his gut flinched at the sight of his brother's wounds. At his brother's stillness.
"Can I help you?"
Sam jerked, spinning around and thrust a hand out toward the bed to balance himself.
"Easy," a dark-haired woman in blue scrubs stepped forward quickly, placing a cool, soft hand on his elbow. "You okay?"
"Yeah, just…" Sam swallowed, licking his lips. The taste was back. He suddenly wanted a drink. Badly. "Tough seeing him like this."
The woman's brown eyes softened as she shifted her gaze between Sam and Dean. "You're his…" She regarded a chart that had been left on the tray at the foot of Dean's bed. "Partner?"
Sam looked down. Truth or cover?
"What's your name?" She asked, her voice softer and more inviting as she ducked her chin to catch his eyes. He saw minute folds around her eyes, a journal of her life leaving evidence of care on her face.
"Sam, I'm Doctor Wilde. I'll be taking care of your—"
"Brother," Sam whispered. "He's my brother."
Dr. Wilde settled back into her heels, crossing her hands in front of her at the wrists. "I see."
Sam swallowed, feeling an over-abundance of wetness at the back of his throat, amplifying the metallic taste. He leaned a hip against Dean's bed, resting his arm against his brother's, feeling the warmth there, the soft hairs on Dean's arm brushing the back of his hand.
"You're not actually FBI, are you," Dr. Wilde asked.
"We read about George in the paper," Sam explained, staying as close to the truth as he dared. "Went to…" he shrugged, "check it out."
She lifted an eyebrow, the soft, loose skin around her eyes stretching up with the motion. "And you figured impersonating FBI agents would get you in the door?"
Sam shrugged, silent.
Dr. Wilde sighed, regarding Dean's chart once more. "Hate to break it to you, kid, but you didn't have to try that hard. George'll talk to anyone about Camilla, God love him."
Dean shifted slightly on the bed, pulling Sam's attention to him immediately. A frown tugged at Dean's lips, drawing a line between his brows and puckering the butterfly bandages holding the skin by his eye together.
"Doc," Sam said, his voice rough with tension and worry. "What about my brother?"
Dr. Wilde's sigh was weighted and Sam felt a chill shimmy across his shoulders, settling into his lower back. He suddenly wanted to stop listening. He wanted the sound in the ER behind them to drown out the doctor's next words. He refused to hear if or maybe or not long…
There simply wasn't a possibility that Dean wasn't going to be okay.
"He was extremely lucky. Aside from the bruising and superficial lacerations, he has a severe concussion," the doctor began. "We will have to do a CT scan to know the full extent, but from what I can tell, he's going to have a pretty massive headache when he wakes up."
When…she said when…not if…when…
Sam nodded, wrapping his fingers tightly around Dean's wrist to anchor himself and warm his chilled body.
"He could suffer some minor complications—we won't know until he wakes up."
"What kind of…complications?" Sam looked over at her.
She lifted a shoulder. "Short-term memory loss, perseverating—"
"Per-what?" Sam frowned, shaking his head once with confusion.
"Repeating the same question over and over as if he didn't hear the answer."
Sam nodded. "He does that anyway," he said softly, a ghost of a smile teasing his lips.
Dr. Wilde smiled softly. "Brothers are interesting creatures."
"He's had concussions before," Sam said, rolling his neck, wanting to sit down, wanting to close his eyes. "We know the drill."
"Honestly, it's not the concussion I'm most concerned about," Dr. Wilde informed him.
Sam looked over quickly, watching as the light seemed to shimmer around her as his eyes blurred. "What do you mean?"
"The explosion ruptured his eardrums," Dr. Wilde said. "A ruptured eardrum will eventually heal on its own, but in the meantime, there can be loss of hearing from complete to simply a hollow, tinny effect."
"Loss of… of hearing?" Sam repeated, leaning heavily against Dean's bed. "For how long?"
Shrugging, the doctor replied, "It's really hard to say. The most important thing is to keep the ears free from infection so the drum has a chance to heal. Take it very easy until hearing returns."
"And… does it ever," Sam blinked slowly. "Ever not return?"
"There have been some limited cases where something as traumatic as what your brother survived permanently deafened the individual," Dr. Wilde nodded, "but I wouldn't worry about that until I had to, Sam."
You wouldn't worry, Sam thought, looking down at his brother's bruised face, because you don't know my brother.
Hunting was Dean's life. It moved him through the dark, anchored him, gave him a reason.
I think he wants us to pick up where he left off…saving people, hunting things.
The eagerness in Dean's voice had been palpable. This life… this life was all his brother had. And if that was affected…if that went away…
I'm tired, Sam… tired of this job…this life… this weight on my shoulders, man, I'm tired of it.
With Dean's confession whispering to him, confusing him, Sam stared unblinking on Dean's closed eyes, the feel of his brother's body heavy in his arms shifting like a memory across his muscles. He ignored the sharp eyes of Dr. Wilde as they scraped across his profile, searching the recesses of his mind for a way to balance Dean if he woke up into a world of silence.
A shriek echoed from the waiting room, let loose into the ER as a man in a white lab coat stepped through the wide entry doors.
Sam's gut pulled at the sound. It was grief wrapped in denial surrounded by disbelief. It was seeing his father lying silent and still on a hospital room floor. It was Jessica pinned to the ceiling, bleeding, burning. It was paddles slapped against his brother's bare chest, his body bucking under the current.
He turned, legs trembling, and watched as Dr. Wilde rotated, swiping the curtain away and heading in the direction of the sound.
"Easy, honey," a man's low voice crooned down the hallway. Sam stepped to the end of Dean's bed, curiosity pulling him toward the commotion. "Easy. I’m here."
"George?" It was Wren, Sam realized. Wren who'd cried out, who'd been left alone in the dark, nothing but the noise of the ER to settle her.
"That's right, honey. I'm here." George's voice was cotton-soft and flowed through the air like syrup, a balm that comforted the terrified girl and at the same time, pushed Sam back into the brightly-lit alcove that shielded his brother from the chaos.
Leaning his head against the wall and closing his eyes briefly, Sam absorbed the sounds around him, picturing Wren alone and waiting. Beeps and whistles like Morse code bounced from various machines. Low murmurs followed harsh cries of pain. The baby was crying again, a crash of fear that hollowed Sam's heart and tightened his belly.
And then, like the fabric of sound itself was being stretched over a pillow of needles, Sam heard his name.
His name in Dean's pain-saturated voice.
"Sam… something's… something's wrong…"
Sam pulled his head away from the wall, blinking rapidly as his weary eyes watered in the recycled air of the ER. He turned to face Dean, registering the blood-shot green eyes, the folds dancing across his forehead that telegraphed pain, the tightness of his lips, the jump of muscle in his jaw.
Swallowing hard, Sam stepped forward. "Dean?"
Dean reached up with a trembling hand and rubbed clumsily at the scruff on his cheeks. As Sam watched, he slid his hand up to press the palm into the bridge of his nose.
"Jesus Christ," Dean groaned, his eyes closing beneath his hand. "What the hell…"
Sam bumped the edge of the bed slightly with his hip. "Dean? You hear me, man?"
Dean didn't move. His hand stayed pressed tightly to his forehead as if removal of that support would allow his head to roll free of his shoulders and come to rest in the corner of the room. Sam took a breath, then reached up to gently wrap his long fingers around Dean's wrist.
Dean flinched, blinking rapidly up at Sam's eyes. "Shit, man, I didn't—"
—hear you… Sam watched the words form and die in Dean's eyes. Watched the confusion wash in and over his brother like a wave. And he held on for the ride.
The pattern of light behind his closed eyes formed the shape of a crescent moon.
He was offered one beat of time to register that image before pain obliterated everything else, pulling the sides of his head together to meet in the center of his brain, then blowing his skull outward until he was sure his skin wouldn't be elastic enough to hold everything inside.
He tried to think, tried to stay very still until he knew where his brother was, until he knew what kind of trouble they were in. But the heat of the pain, the white-fire intensity shook his resolve.
"Sam… something's… something's wrong…"
Bile built at the back of his throat, fought off valiantly by an iron will and complete distaste for the vulnerability that came with getting sick. He blinked blurry eyes, the glaring overhead light shooting spikes through his pupils to the back of his head to mingle with the chaos already making itself home between his ears.
Reaching up, Dean tried to press the pain back, holding his head still with the palm of his hand, pulling air in through his nose, letting it leak out through parted lips, feeling it dry the dampness on the soft skin there.
Where the hell was Sam? He'd seen Sam. He was sure of it. He'd been standing at the foot of… where was he? In bed?
"Jesus Christ," Dean groaned, closing his eyes against the light. "What the hell…"
Searching the bleary flashes of memory that sliced the backs of his eyes like straight razors, Dean saw his hands on the steering wheel of the Impala… saw Sam's questioning eyes as he sat in the passenger seat, looking comfortable and at home dressed in a black suit and overcoat… saw his hands move to the keys and…
Had they been in an accident?
Fingers closed over his wrist, pulling his hand gently from his head and slamming his heart against the base of his throat in a startled reaction.
Dean flinched, blinking rapidly up at Sam's eyes. "Shit, man, I didn't—"
Sam was watching him, hazel eyes heavy with exhaustion, worry, fear, and unshed tears. Dean blinked again, carefully sliding his eyes from Sam's face and around his immediate environment. White walls. Narrow bed. Rough sheets shot through with bleach, antiseptic and alcohol smells lingering at the back of his nose. Hospital. ER.
In that moment, it occurred to him that not only had he not heard Sam approach, he hadn't heard anything.
No other voices, no machines, not even the sound of his own voice.
"What the hell…"
Sam tugged at his wrist, forcing Dean to look over. His brother was speaking, full lips moving rapidly with explanation, sound no doubt tumbling free and mixing with the background noise of the hospital Dean was all-too aware he should be hearing.
"What?" Dean asked helplessly, not registering anything Sam was telling him, feeling panic mix with pain as he pulled his hand free, pressing it deep into the hard mattress beneath him.
Sam stepped back, his lips pressing flat, his unbandaged hand parting his hair in four furrows. Dean's eyes fell to Sam's other hand, noting the thick white bandaged taped across his palm. His face pulled together in a frown of lost memory.
When had Sam hurt his hand? Why were they in the hospital? Where were his clothes? Why couldn't he hear anything? And, please God, someone tell him why his head hurt so fucking much.
It was only when he found himself reaching up with a trembling hand to run fingers across his dry lips that he realized he'd asked those questions aloud, his head spinning from confusion, pain, and disorientation at the world of silence around him. Closing his eyes against the tight spin of the room, Dean tried to breathe through the panic at not even hearing his own heartbeat.
Sam's warm fingers closed over his bare shoulder, and Dean opened his eyes. A small, white notepad rested in his lap, Sam's block-like handwriting scrawled across it.
"FBI alias. Ghost of dead wife. House exploded. Concussion. Ruptured eardrums."
"Ruptured eardrums?" Dean repeated, pulling back as Sam flinched away at the sound. Swallowing, Dean attempted to lower his voice, curling in as a wave of pain compressed his spine. "Sam?"
Sam squeezed his shoulder, lips moving in meaningless motion as he no doubt attempted to reassure his brother.
Pulling his legs up, Dean braced his elbow on his tented knee, pressing his palm once more against the bridge of his nose. His body began to beat in a soft symphony of pain, bruises and stretched muscle happy to make themselves known as he sat powerless to silence them.
"Sonuvabitch," he muttered. "What happened, Sam?"
Sam grabbed the notepad and Dean waited until a new message was thrust under his nose.
"Yeah, you said the house exploded. What house?"
Dean waited, pressing his free hand against his side and breathing shallowly as the ribs across his back whimpered.
"Ghost?" he read.
The memory of a record store, a newspaper, and Sam's earnest eyes flashed like strobe lights across his vision. He swallowed.
"I don't… hell I can't hear a thing…"
Sam watched him for a minute, then wrote something else, handing the pad of paper back to Dean.
"Not permanent? How the hell do you know that?"
In that moment, the curtains at the end of the brightly lit, silent alcove parted and a slim, dark-haired woman stepped through. Dean bit the inside of his cheek as he lifted his head, fighting back the sudden groan of pain that fought its way to the top of his throat. The woman looked at Dean, her lips parting in what he perceived as a greeting. When he simply continued to watch her, his fingers pressed tightly to his forehead and temple, she turned to Sam.
Watching his brother talk to this woman, unable to comprehend their words, unable to hear their meaning, was like sinking slowly to the bottom of a very deep, very murky lake. His eyes darted helplessly between the profiles, his lungs burning as he unconsciously held his breath, straining to hear something beyond the hiss of static that was beginning to overwhelm him.
They jumped in surprised, turning to him in unison.
"Somebody better start talking to me right the hell now," Dean demanded, eyes hot and chest tight. He pushed himself higher in the bed, the loose hospital gown falling from his other shoulder, exposing his chest and the electrodes attached there.
He zeroed in on Sam's face, watching as his brother licked his lips, feeling Sam prepare to deliver bad news.
"Is my car okay?" Dean asked, feeling his stomach turn to ice. "Sam…"
Sam nodded quickly and vigorously, tapping the air with his fingertips in an effort to calm him.
A slice on his forehead throbbed once, harshly, and Dean reached up, pressing the flat of his hand against his eyebrow.
"Last thing I remember…" he started, balance spinning with vertigo as he felt his lips form words, felt the air move up through his throat, over his tongue, felt the meaning in his mind. "…we were in the motel room… no, no, wait, we were in the Impala and…"
He stared hard at Sam.
"Are you okay?"
Sam nodded, tucking his bandaged hand into the small of his own back, trying to hide it from Dean. He flipped the notepad back over to the first message, pointing at it and jutting his chin out, eyes pleading Dean to understand.
"House exploded…" Dean said. "Were there… birds?"
Sam's head bounced back, his eyebrows darting together as he said No… Dean recognized the word as he watched Sam's mouth. Then Sam blinked and grabbed the pad back.
"Wind chimes?" Dean read.
"Huh," Dean dropped his head back against the pillow. "Coulda sworn I saw… birds."
Sam tapped his bared shoulder and Dean lifted his head. Pointing to the dark-haired woman, Sam wrote Doctor Wilde on the pad. Dean watched her carefully, unsure how far to extend his trust by sight alone.
There were so many things he could hear in a person's voice. He heard under the words behind the projected meaning. He heard what they wanted to say, what they wanted him to hear. He heard fear, suspicion, trust, need.
With a sick feeling sitting heavy in his gut, he realized he could see none of that.
Dr. Wilde smiled softly at him and extended a hand, speaking to him as he grasped the thin, soft appendage in a firm grip. She continued to speak to him, her eyes darting between him and Sam, providing the information Dean thirsted for, but was denied. Sam nodded sagely; Dean saw his brother absorbing her words with the smallest shift of his stance—his hands relaxing on his hips, his chin dipping, his blink slow.
When the doctor finished her monologue, she smiled again at Dean, patted his leg, wrote something on a piece of paper, then handed it to Sam. With a last, almost sympathetic look at Sam, she stepped back through the curtain and out of Dean's sight. Dean turned his attention back to Sam, waiting.
Sam looked down at him, eyes darting in thought.
"Spill it, Sam."
Sam began speaking, too rapidly, too anxiously.
"Dude, stop! Just… stop!"
The pressure pushing out the edges of his skull had faded for a moment, but alone once more with his brother, the shock of silence succumbed to the pain and he covered his right eye with the palm of his hand, searching for some kind of solace.
He tossed the pad at Sam. "Tell me what's going on," Dean ordered, feeling the words butt up against his lips with hard edges of frustration.
A few seconds ticked by and Sam dropped the pad back into Dean's lap.
Wants to do tests. Stay overnight.
"We need to get out of here," Dean whispered. Or at least he hoped he whispered. He pushed the air through his mouth with less force. "We can't stay, Sam…"
He recognized his brother's reassuring grip on his chilled skin and kept his eyes closed. Need for oblivion warred with desire for action and he felt the odd sensation of floating once more. The notepad dropped in his lap and he read car still at Cooper's.
Instantly worried, Dean looked up. "Is my car okay?"
Sam's eye roll told him that he had nothing to worry about, but he didn't take a breath until Sam nodded.
Sam said something, eyes intense and lips moving rapidly. Dean clenched his teeth. Pain doubled the level of frustration and he pushed Sam's hand way from his shoulder. Shrugging the lopsided hospital gown back up onto his shoulder, Dean shoved the covers away and slid one leg at a time over the edge of the bed.
Sam stepped in front of him, immediately gripping his shoulders. Dean sensed Sam's voice, guessed at the words, though the white noise of speaker feedback was the only non-sound he detected.
"Get the hell out of my way," Dean growled, pushing weakly at Sam's arm, strength leaking from him as if someone had punctured his side. "I'm not staying."
He stood, legs trembling beneath him, the skin on his chest resisting the movement as the monitor probes pulled. The IV tubing was long, and offered no resistance as Dean pushed again at Sam, effectively backing his brother up a step.
A silent war commenced. Sam's fingers twisted in Dean's loose hospital gown, pulling it free from his shoulder, his face knotting up in an expression of hurt and anger. Dean watched his brother speak and suffocated in the vacuum pressing around him, frustration building parallel with pain. His back screamed, his legs ached, his head… God his head was two seconds from splitting open and spilling his secrets.
"Get away from me, Sam," he tried, knowing even without being able to hear himself that his voice trembled. He felt it shimmy across his tongue, vibrate in his throat.
Sam gripped him harder, pulling him forward, nearly shaking him. Twisting his arms across his brother's, Dean looked up, seeing with guilt and surprise the tears balanced on the edges of his brother's lashes, tumbling wet trails down Sam's cheeks as he blinked. Pulling air in through his nose to steady himself, Dean saw Sam's lips tighten, words spitting from him in a torrent of verbal pain.
…think you were doing…
Dean blinked. Sam shook him, but he kept his eyes pinned to his brother's mouth. Meaning began to sneak into the silence. If he could just hold on… Dean tightened his fingers on Sam's arm.
The world turned gray.
Images flashed before his eyes like torn pieces of a photograph, blurred and hurried, silent and dizzying. Walking toward a house, drawing his gun, seeing a man face-down on the floor… yellow eyes… oily wings… Dad… burning… Sam… burning…
Thrusting his hands forward instinctively, Dean felt himself cry out in protest, searching for balance, for strength. His legs surrendered to the abuse, disappearing beneath him. Arms wrapped around him. The smell of the hospital faded away and was instantly replaced by the ashy smell of old fire, the musky smell of sweat.
His face pressed against something solid, something soft. His brother's scent slammed him back through years of memory.
The gray turned to black.
It's that weird hour of the morning when the world holds its breath waiting for the sun to roll over the edge of the earth when we pull onto Pastor Jim's gravel drive. I hear the small stones crunch under the heavy wheels of Dad's black Impala. He has instinctively turned down the music, Zeppelin having faded to the Stones several miles back.
Sam's head is heavy on my leg. He's sleeping soundly for the first time in weeks, the movement of the car lulling him like nothing else I've tried. I hear Dad pull in a heavy breath and wait. I know his sounds. I know he wants to say something, to order me, instruct me…reassure me in the only way he knows how.
Jim Murphy appears in the frame of the screen door and I see Dad's shoulders stiffen in the seat in front of me. I don't know what has happened between these two; eventually, Dad manages to drive wedges between himself and all of his friends. The only thing that saves him, I think, is that he picks good people. They won't let him go.
Pastor Jim swings the screen door open, taking a step onto the cement landing, his longish, graying hair stirring in the morning breeze. I watch silently, waiting. Jim is wearing faded, torn jeans, an unbuttoned red and black flannel shirt over a white T-shirt, steel-toed work boots, and yet he still looks like a preacher.
I see God around him. And I look away.
"Wake him up," Dad orders.
"He's fine," I reply rebelliously. I want Sam to sleep. I want more quiet. I want a little bit longer to be just me. Just Dean Winchester, riding in the car, listening to music.
Not the protector, not the big brother, not the responsible one.
"Dean," Dad warns.
Sighing, I grip Sam's shoulder, shaking him gently. He mumbles incoherently and rubs his face against my thigh. I wrinkle my nose in a bit of disgust and shake him harder. Dad shuts off the car, stepping out into the gray light of morning. The familiar creak of the door pulls Sam the rest of the way to consciousness.
He rolls over, eyes bleary, confused, pupils large with the cobwebs of sleep. I watch his face, waiting. I've watched him so many times. Mostly when he's not aware of it. I've watched him study, train, talk to strangers at school. I've watched him fight with Dad. I've watched him sleep.
Part of me never wants to stop watching him, and part of me never wants to see him again. Because the more I see Sam… the less I see me.
"What's goin' on?" he mumbles, rubbing at his gritty eyes with a grimy hand.
It's been awhile since we've showered. I notice the musky scent of our bodies in the contrast of the fresh morning air from the opened door.
"We're at Jim's," I say.
"Pastor Jim's?" Sam yawns, apparently comfortable to continue to lie against my leg.
"You know another Jim?" I shove gently at his shoulders, but with enough force to tell him to get the hell up.
"Jeeze, grouch," he says, sitting up and slouching against the seat. "Who pissed in your Wheaties this morning?"
At that, my stomach growls, and I'm acutely reminded that in the last twelve hours, the only one of us who has eaten or slept is Sam.
"Shut up and go get our stuff out of the trunk."
"Hey, you can't tell me what to do."
"I just did," I snap, swinging the door open and stepping out.
Jim and Dad are still talking, verbally circling each other like two alpha male wolves—Dad with his hands on his hips, his chin dropped, but his eyes up, looking like he could tear Jim's arm off and beat him with it without hesitation. Jim stands at ease, arms crossed behind his back, legs spread, his military background having not gone rogue like my father's.
But even with the peaceful stance, there is danger around Jim. It's in the lines that frame his eyes. In the set of his mouth. It's in the smell of him. He is too calm. He's always watching. He sees too much.
"Dean," Dad calls and I step forward, having known my summons was coming. "You and Sam are going to stay here for a bit."
"Yes sir," I reply, as if I weren't the one to suggest this in the first place.
"You watch out for your brother," Dad says, finally turning to face me.
Years fall away from Sam's voice as he asks for explanation and reassurance in that one word.
"I gotta head out, Sammy," Dad says, sounding careful. I hear the false smile in his voice, and look up at Jim. He is watching me.
"For how long?"
"Not sure yet."
I keep my eyes on Jim, my back to my family, swallowing, breathing.
"I wanna go with you," Sam declares.
"Not this time, kiddo."
Dad sighs and I feel my eyes burning.
"You listen to your brother, okay?"
"Sam, I have to go."
The door shuts and the meaty sound of the Chevy engine fills the pearly morning. I turn at that and meet my father's eyes through the glass. He nods once and I see the corners of his mouth tick up in a rare, genuine smile. I nod back and lift my hand. He twists around to look over the back seat, slowly reversing down the gravel drive.
I know he'll see it then. The arrow. The evidence of the reality of our life. I left it on the seat for him. A reminder that I saw more than he realized. I saw what was under that water. I know what Sam's nightmares hold.
"Dean?" Jim's voice is so different from Dad's. Gentle, heavy. But full of judgment.
"Gimme a minute," I reply, stepping toward Sam.
"Fuck him," Sam growls when I rest my hand on his shoulder.
"Yeah?" I reply.
"He wants to just leave us whenever he feels like it? Well, fuck him," Sam repeats, and I hear his lips tremble. It's tough to fall asleep in safety and wake up without balance.
"Sammy," I say gently, and to my surprise, he turns toward me, burying his face in my chest. He's still small enough to hide against me. He's still small enough that I can stand between him and everything else.
"I hate him," Sam mumbles through hot tears into my chest.
"No, you don't," I say, wrapping one arm around his shoulders and holding the other out as a warning to Jim to just stay back.
"Yes, I do," Sam says. "I hate everybody."
I lift an eyebrow at that, unable to mask my amusement at his decree while he's buried against me. "Even me?"
Sam sniffs and backs away. "Well… maybe not you."
I look at his eyes. An old man inside of a little boy. He wipes his face with the back of his hand, staring at me. Waiting for something.
"I know, Sam," I whisper.
Sam stares at me longer, realization rising in his eyes, echoing the growing light of day. "You saw it?"
"Why didn't you say anything?"
"I just did."
"He didn't need to know," I say. It's my only explanation for the secret.
Sam was mine; I was the one who'd seen the true form of the ala beneath the waves. I was the one who'd kept Sam from its wing-tipped clutches. I was the one who'd held on, waiting for Dad to kill it, waiting for Dad to pull us out.
"He didn't need to know, Sam."
Sam sniffs again, staring at me with those searching eyes. "Yeah, okay," he says softly. "Okay, Dean."
"You boys hungry?" Jim asks quietly from behind us. My stomach growls loudly in response.
"Come on up to the house, then," Jim says, and I hear the screen door bang behind him.
I grab my duffel and turn, knowing Sam will follow. Stepping into Pastor Jim's house feels like slipping under water. I want to hold my breath and have to force myself to exhale. But I know that it's here Sam can beat his nightmare. It's here that he can make it end.
Because it's here that mine began.
wwwContinue to read Part 2B here: http://gaelicspirit.livejournal.com/15774.html