Disclaimer: Ownership is a fantasy we have about the corners of our lives that sustain us. The muse belongs to no one but its creator. Which is certainly not me. More's the pity.
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: And we've come to the end. This chapter basically wrote itself, and I hope it doesn't disappoint. I used it as a balm through a bit of a recent rough storm. Those of you who've ever been laid off know what a tumbling ride that can be. I'll have a preview, of sorts, for my next story at the end of this chapter, if you're interested. I'm going to take a quick breath to surface and read a few stories I've been stockpiling, but then, I'll be diving back in and rejoining the fray.
Hope so much that you've enjoyed this journey. Thank you very sincerely for all of your comments. I treasure each one of them. Even those that shake me up a little. We all need our snow globe to be tipped over once in awhile, yeah?
Less than a week to S4 premiere!!
You can't walk down a dirt road without picking up some dust.
- Thru Terry's Eyes
There were some sounds that Sam would never forget.
The rumble of his father's voice. The slow roll of Jessica's laugh. The growl of the Impala's engine. His brother's cry of pain.
The weak light of morning fought to pierce through what he now saw were gathering rain clouds building from the west and tumbling toward the eastern horizon, the blood-red water fading to a muted orange as the rays were filtered. The sea had seemed to calm its tidal rush as soon as Dean emerged, wet, bleeding, shaking and empty-handed, to fall with him to the sandy floor.
Sam had only just felt the warmth of his brother's hand against his aching chest when Dean's body tensed, his hand jerked free and his cry crescendoed quickly to an abbreviated scream.
"Dean?" Sam called hoarsely, instinct erasing knowledge as he rolled to his side, reaching for his brother's now-curved back.
His trembling, sand-coated fingers gently pressed against the valley of Dean's spine, his brother's shirt painted to his skin with salt-water. Dean flinched away with a guttural groan. Sam felt panic slam the base of his throat and propel him to his knees, leaning over Dean.
Hands pressed tightly against his ears, face closed like a fist against intrusion, Dean was holding his body still, his arm, side, and chest muscles standing out in flexed contrast to the normal contours of his body.
"Wha—" Sam started.
"God," Dean whispered. "Stop… Ah, God, Sam… I gotta... make it stop!"
Dean's weak plea ate through Sam's heart like spoken acid, compelling him to lean closer, his hands hovering over Dean's tense shoulders uncertainly, looking for something that he could stop, something that he could control. Something he could end.
"Dean," Sam whispered. "Make what... stop?"
"Fuck," Dean ground out, his teeth audibly clacking against each other as he clenched them. "So fucking loud…"
Noise, Sam realized with dread, looking quickly up and around. They were surrounded by noise. The ocean, the birds, even the slow roll of rocks and shells across the sand as the water tripped back out to the sea had to be reverberating against Dean's raw ears.
When thunder rumbled, low and threatening, across the ceiling of clouds, Dean bucked, sliding his hands to the back of his head and pressing the flesh of his forearms against his ears.
"Son of a bitch," he cursed, biting his lower lip hard enough that Sam saw a fine line of blood run from his mouth to mix with the salt water on his chin.
Sam crawled around his brother's body, kneeling in front of Dean, taking stock for a brief moment. Time was his constant enemy. There was never enough of it, and he was always aware of how swiftly it moved. He'd never be able to out-run it, never be able to catch it, and his pleas for it to slow down were met with disinterested silence.
Sam was acutely aware that Mike lay bleeding back at the house. He pressed a hand to his chest, coughing, feeling a rattle inside like an impending cold, but knew it was only the effects of the siren's cry. The cry his brother had saved him from.
Looking around as Dean's tense body trembled against his bent knees, Sam tried to figure out which way from the sea they had to travel to return to Mike and George's body. He wiped at his wet cheeks with the heel of his hand, removing the remnants of bloody tears.
His mind felt sluggish—thoughts started, then were interrupted, unable to follow through to completion. His eyes burned, a familiar, gritty feeling. He'd felt this hot sting before. Looking in Bloody Mary's mirror. Seeing the true echo of his guilt stare back at him. Facing up to his sin, his mistake, his failure to save someone. To save Jess.
Coughing again, Sam spat a faint, pinkish residue into the sand, rubbing at his wounded chest, looking down at Dean. Dark red splotches of blood peppered Dean's shoulders where the siren's talons had dug in, and the back of his shirt was stained from where his neck wound had opened up.
Taking a soggy, rattling breath, Sam reached carefully for Dean's bruised wrists, vowing when his chilled fingers met his brother's heated skin that he wasn't going to fail this time. He wasn't going to fail like that again. Ever. Not with Dean.
"Hey," he said, softly, aware that the firewall of silence that had been between them for the past few days was crumbling in a painful rush of sound. "Let me help you, Dean."
"Too loud," Dean all-but growled.
Sam nodded, though Dean had yet to open his eyes. "I know," he said. "Let's make it stop together."
At that, Dean cracked one eye slightly, peering at Sam in a confused haze of pain.
They won't get us… we're the good guys. Those words had been hovering on the edge of Sam's memory from the moment he'd wrestled with Dean in the pitch black of the tunnel. Looking at his brother now, his face relaxed into a smile, feeling the truth of those words, though he couldn't pin-point the memory of their origin. They were the good guys.
Hell itself wouldn't be able to keep them for long.
At Sam's nod of encouragement, Dean tentatively reached up a hand, his eyes tightening immediately as the protection of his arms left his ears. Sam gripped his hand at the wrist, pushing to his feet and pulling his brother with him.
Upright, Dean immediately swayed, his legs unable to hold him. Sam felt the weight of his brother shift against him and automatically reached, wrapping his arm around Dean's slim, muscular back.
"I got you," Sam whispered as Dean's head fell loosely against his chest, his hand clumsily reaching for Sam's opposite arm, searching for balance. "I got you big brother."
"Don't… let go," Dean managed in a ragged whisper before his legs disappeared. With a soft uhh of air, Dean went boneless, his eyes falling closed, his lips parting as his jaw went slack. Sam's hands slipped on the blood now slick against Dean's shirt, sliding with a salt-water base against his skin.
Grabbing at Dean's jeans, digging his fingers into the belt loops there, Sam grunted, "Wouldn't dream of it," as he hoisted Dean up against him, frowning at his brother's lax face and closed eyes. "Dean?" Reaching up, he patted Dean's pale cheeks. "Dean? Hey!"
Nothing. Barely a flutter of lashes. Feeling his burning eyes well with the unmistakable sting of tears, Sam pressed his lips tight, stilling the tremble of his chin.
"Aw, c'mon, Dean. She didn't get you." He held Dean's face a moment longer. "Dean! Don't you do this to me. She didn't win!"
He swallowed hard, needing to say it more for himself than his unconscious brother. Sniffing, the rattle in his chest shaking another harsh cough loose, Sam crouched and put his shoulder against Dean's belly, bouncing once to take on his brother's weight.
With a shift to adjust Dean on his shoulder, Sam stood, air puffing roughly out through tight lips, his chest protesting.
"Shit. You're the human compass, Dean," he gasped. "Any idea which way the house is from here?"
Dean was silent and limp over his shoulder.
"Right," Sam nodded. "Okay, so… the tunnel exited there," he looked toward the wooded area where the siren had almost ended his life. A chill swept over him, causing him to shiver and raising gooseflesh on his bare arms.
"S-So… that means I just, uh… I go…" he gripped Dean's legs, "this way."
She'd almost had him, Sam realized as he half-walked, half-stumbled away from the beach toward where he thought the house should be. Not just back in the woods. There, her scream had gripped his heart with a crushing strength, pulling his soul through his eyes and leaving a bloody trail in its wake. But she'd never really had him.
At the beach, though, he'd wanted her. He'd seen innocence in her eyes, felt need on her lips, tasted desire on her tongue and he'd wanted her. Thinking of it even now had his belly stirring with a familiar heat that crept lower, making the already difficult task of walking even harder. She'd almost had him, then. Willingly.
"Focus, Sam," he scolded himself. Dean was dead weight in his arms, his blood soaking through Sam's clothes. Mike was wounded back at the house. George was…
"God, Dean," Sam said, just to have a focal point for his wayward thoughts. "She killed George. The only one who'd really cared for her. And… I think she made him kill Camilla… even though… uh—" He tripped, going to one knee, Dean sliding part-way off his shoulder.
"Sorry," Sam panted, looking for something in Dean's face that would offer the reassurance that he was still close, awareness hovering just under the comfort of oblivion.
Nothing. Dean's breathing remained shallow, his head tipping back as his neck lacked support.
"Dammit," Sam cursed, drawing Dean back up on his shoulder and grunting as he pushed once more to his feet.
His body hurt. His chest protested every breath as if Wren had poured a bag of marbles inside his lungs, letting them bruise him from the inside out as they vibrated with the power of her cry.
Focus, Sam, he tried again. The toes of his boots dragged in the sand as he plodded forward, Dean's body growing heavier, Sam's guilt growing stronger.
I was the one that got us into this mess… the one that insisted on this hunt… the one that should have been in the house… the one that got seduced by a goddamned siren…
He stumbled again, his heart beating a pattern of regret: my fault, my fault, my fault.
Dean groaned slightly, and Sam felt the sound through his back, a virtual smack against his guilty heart. He could almost hear Dean's voice in his head, Would you stop?! Jesus Christ, Sam! You gonna apologize when the world ends, too?
"I can't… I can't stop, Dean," Sam answered the drill sergeant in his head. "I screwed up."
Then think about something else until this is over and I can kick your ass.
"What else?" Sam swallowed the volume of his question, sweat from his efforts coating his upper lip, even while the cold weight of his brother's wet body soaked through his clothes, chilling him. "Think about what else, Dean?"
And the memory hit him like a wave.
Are you humming… Metallica?!
It calms me down.
His mind was blank. He could no more find the words to a Metallica song than he could play Rachmaninoff on the harmonica.
"Baby did a bad, bad thing…" Sam panted, wanting so badly to close his eyes, his thirst driving him forward. "Baby did a bad, bad thing."
The song made him think of Jessica. Of her sexy backside clothed only in short, white briefs, her back covered by a barely-there tank top. Of her long blond curls smelling faintly like amber. Of her full lips against his.
His heart pounded once, hard, and he gripped Dean's legs harder, pausing to look around. Working to focus. Nothing looked familiar. He may as well be in the dark tunnel, dragging Dean back to the house through the dirt that bore witness to untold escapes for freedom.
"Dean…" Sam said, his voice tearing. "I'm sorry."
Dean groaned again and this time Sam felt a subtle shift. He paused his aimless wander, holding his brother, waiting to see if he would come back to him, tell him which way to go, what to do. When no answering snark followed the pained moan, Sam nodded.
"Okay," he whispered. "Okay. It's me. It's up to me. I'm gonna get us out of this, man."
Dean would be counting. Sam had watched him. He counted beats to a song, counted rotations of the wheels, counted lines on the road. He did it without thinking, without fanfare. He just pushed the world away, focused on the problem through repetition.
Sam had tried that calming technique before, to no avail. He just ended up adding a headache to his frustration. Shifting Dean slowly from one shoulder to the other, holding him now with his bandaged hand, Sam moved through the trees, sand having long ago given way to dirt and tufts of grass.
"Take the light, undarken everything around me…Calm the clouds and listen closely, I'm lost without you. Call your name every day when I feel so helpless…I've fallin' down, but I'll rise above this, rise above this…"
Thunder rolled. Sam closed his eyes for a moment, shaking his head against the humor of karma. The first fat drop of rain landed on the tip of his nose and he blew at it, splattering it across his cheeks to join its cohorts as they tripped from the leaden clouds to saturate him and worked to wash the blood on Dean's back away.
If Wren hadn't already been returned to the sea, if she hadn't already revealed her hidden truth, her convenient sight, her unfortunate yearning, Sam might have been inclined to believe Dean's mistaken notion that the ala had returned. This storm was a punishment. The rain fell in blinding sheets, turning the rough ground into puddles of mud and stone, grabbing at his ankles, holding him back, working to pull him down, taunting him with the image of dropping his precious burden.
The crack of lightning shook through Sam like a gunshot, and suddenly he was awake. Mike was back in the shell of a house. Bleeding. Alone with the body of his one-time friend. The body of a broken, confused man, who had only meant to act out of love.
Sam felt anger burble up as he hurried forward. Anger at Wren. Anger at himself.
Anger at the whole fucking world and the constant war that pitted lovers against one another, brothers against evil, fathers against sons, mothers against a force they couldn't begin to defeat.
His anger gave him focus. Direction. Strength.
Lightning crashed once more and Sam saw the outline of the house in the after-image of brilliance on his aching eyes. He blinked rain from his lashes, spitting it from his lips, hoping that Dean wasn't drowning in the deluge as he hung loosely down Sam's back, his face at Sam's waist.
"MIKE!" Sam bellowed, wincing audibly as the air pulled harshly against his congested lungs. "Mike! Answer me!"
The morning thunder was his only response. The clouds had build heavy gray walls around them, mirroring Sam's scowl, throwing the obstacle of darkness in his path and beating thunder against his ears until he wanted to scream in retaliation. Stumbling closer to the house, Sam eased Dean off of his shoulder, grasping his brother's wet, limp body as gravity did its job, leaning him against some debris from the house that basically sheltered him from nothing but the worst of the weather.
Dean's head lolled, the rain sluicing down his face and falling from the tip of his nose and his chin in miniature waterfalls.
"I'll be right back," Sam panted, water splashing from his lips. He tried to calm his racing heart. Dean looked translucent in the gray light of the storm.
Turning, Sam grasped the edge of the broken doorway just as another white-hot flash of lightening blasted through the air, peppering the rain with ozone and causing Sam to blink against the brilliance as he pulled himself into the soggy, destroyed house.
"Mike!" Sam called stepping over the loose boards, feeling oddly light with the absence of Dean's weight. He saw the wounded PA several feet away, lying on his side, very still. "Oh, shit."
Sam skidded to a stop on the wet wood, kneeling next to Mike and gently rolling the older man over into his lap. Though it was nearly impossible to detect his breath, Sam felt a pulse at the base of Mike's throat.
"Okay," he nodded, his hair falling into his eyes, sticking there with the plaster of rain. "Okay, man, you're going home. I promise, you're going home."
Sam fumbled down Mike's side, realizing that the Justin Healer had rigged up a sort of tourniquet around his middle, using the leather belt from his jeans to tie the wadded-up curtain tight against the wound.
"Nice," Sam nodded, pushing his hair from his face. As he gathered Mike against him, he heard something fall from the black man's hand. Reaching across Mike's body, Sam retrieved a cell phone, the numbers 9, 1, and 1 smeared with blood. Relief and worry warred for attention in his heart.
"Saved our asses again," Sam said softly, stuffing Mike's phone into his jeans pocket and looking over his shoulder where he'd left Dean, seeing only the top of his brother's head.
"Gotta get you two outta here," he managed, his cough ragged in the rain. "Some place better protected." He shifted Mike again, trying to lift the solid man with arms made, it seemed, of rubber.
Looking for the easiest path out, Sam's eyes lit on George's body, the old man's crushed chest concave and filling with a small pool of rain. The blood on his face had been washed away, but his destroyed eyes were still open, the rain hitting the unseeing orbs without remorse.
Sam shuddered at the sight.
Buck up, Sam, he chided himself. You have to do this.
It took him a moment of heaving, gasping, and kicking away debris to realize that he was hearing something over the beat of the rain. It was so close it sounded as if it were inside his head. Pausing a moment, his bent body creating a sort of tent over Mike's face as he held the man under his arms, dragging him out of the house, Sam lifted his head, trying to track the sound.
Oh, shit. It's that… song. Their song, he realized suddenly, the shard of fear that had embedded itself in his heart at the sound of Dean's cry of pain back on the beach digging a deeper furrow at the knowledge.
He'd forgotten the spirit. Forgotten the original hunt. Forgotten his job.
Sam lay Mike down, gently turning his face so that the rain ran off his features, then straightened, squaring his shoulders as if facing down an enemy.
"Camilla?" His voice trembled and he had to swallow again to avoid a hacking cough.
The humming stopped. The only sound around him was the rain, its hard tattoo beat against his face with wet splats, dropped on the sodden wood of the ruined house with a slow cadence of defeat, soaked through George Cooper's clothes to run down his hollowed-out chest.
Sam blinked when he realized he could suddenly see George's body, as if light surrounded it.
"It's… it's over," Sam said, eyes darting around the house. "She's gone." He had no time—or strength—to return to the cemetery, dig up Camilla's body, and salt and burn the bones. If it was going to end, it would have to end here. "My brother, uh… sent her away." He wasn't sure if Dean had outright killed Wren… only that he'd returned her to the sea.
A shape started to part the rain, water running from a head and down shoulders as if it struck the invisible form of a woman.
"Holy…" Sam breathed, straining to see more, unsure if he wanted to.
Eyes were next—colorless, but holding a sadness that took Sam's breath away. A hand reached through the water, separating the drops, slowing their descent. Hardly daring to blink, Sam watched as Camilla Cooper's sorrow-filled spirit stepped up to her husband, her lover, her protector, guardian, and killer. Sam watched with awe as an oleander stem and flower materialized from the wet air and was laid on George's broken chest.
Camilla stood, turning to face Sam. He swallowed, feeling peace wash over him so suddenly that he swayed. Lightning sliced the air once more, thunder on its heels, and Sam felt the ground shake with the impact.
Camilla's lips quivered in a small smile, her meaning clear. Now, it's over. Her water-shaped body dissolved into the rain.
In her place, Sam saw the unmistakable gold and orange flames of fire spurting from the interior of the protected section of the house.
He bent again, gathering Mike up, dragging him from the house, ignoring the clunk of the big man's boots as they bounced down what was left of the porch stairs. Sam spared his wounded brother a heart-wrenched glance as he continued across the lawn to the garage, laying Mike down carefully in the protection of the sheltered building.
Stopping only briefly to ensure Mike still had a pulse, Sam ran back into the rain and to Dean. Dimly in the distance, he heard the whine of an ambulance. The kind of siren he wanted to hear at this moment.
"Dean?" Sam breathed as he dropped to a splashing halt next to his brother. He cupped Dean's cheek, tipping his face up. Dean's skin was wet, the heat of it causing Sam to imagine steam rising from Dean's cheeks into the rain. His breathing was erratic, but his pulse was strong.
"Dean? Hey, man… can you… can you open your eyes for me?" He suddenly, desperately, needed to see his brother's eyes. Needed to know that he hadn't moved too slow, taken too long. That he wasn't too late. He hadn't failed…
Hearing the sirens draw closer, Sam sat in the mud next to his brother, pulling him close and wrapping his arms around Dean's shoulders, trying to protect him from the rain. He lacked the strength to do anything else.
"Dean?" he whispered, hearing the child's need for reassurance in his voice. "Dean… please…"
Inside the house, impossibly, the lightning-fueled fire caught and held, eating through the old wood and erasing the stories it held. George Cooper's body lay in the rain, surrounded by his memories, with his sin resting on his chest.
There were some sounds Sam knew he'd never forget. His name in Dean's voice was officially added to that list.
Dean's face was pressed against Sam's chest, the blue and white lights of the approaching ambulance reflecting off his pale skin, his eyes closed against the rain. Sam smoothed his battered hand, bandage all but gone, over Dean's hair, arguing silently that he was not petting him.
"I know," Sam sniffed.
"Yeah, man, it's raining."
"Good," Dean breathed, sagging once more in Sam's arms.
It was only when the paramedics arrived, Sam yelling there's a man in the garage, gunshot, and the house is on fire, that he realized Dean had responded to him without opening his eyes.
Somehow, cotton had gotten into his mouth.
Not only his mouth, but across his eyes, and seemed to be stuffed into his ears as well. His mind was clear, however. Clear up to large hands reaching for Dean, easing the warmth of his brother's body away. Clear up to the feel of cold rainwater splashing against his face as he slipped sideways onto the ground, the embers of the burning house dying in the rain around him.
"I think he's coming around," a soft, female voice said near him. A warm hand touched his, another against his cheeks. A straw was inserted into his mouth and he instinctively drank.
"Take it easy, Sam," a different voice, also female, but more stern spoke from the opposite side. "Your body has been through a great strain. I'm Dr. Wilde; do you remember me?"
"I'll remove the bandages in a minute. Michelle, can you dim the lights?"
Sam tried to open his eyes, realizing that the sensation of cotton was actual—gauze pads had been placed over his tender lids, taped to either side of his face.
"You remember what happened?"
Sam swallowed. He'd lost time… he didn't know where Dean was, if Mike were alive, what had been told to this faceless doctor.
"Where's my brother?" Sam tried again, his voice stronger. He reached up, rubbing at his chest in an automatic gesture.
"Does your chest hurt?"
Why won't you answer me? Sam grit his teeth. "Is he okay?" he returned.
"We'll talk about your brother in a minute. It's you I'm worried about now."
Sam went cold. Avoidance was a tactic he often used when he didn't want to face a truth, or force someone else to face it.
"I need to see Dean."
Sam heard Dr. Wilde sigh. "In a minute, Sam. Let me check your eyes."
Sam felt soft fingers brush at his temple, gently pulling the tape free. As the gauze was removed, he slowly pried his goopy lashes apart, peering at the doctor through blurred vision.
"Can you see me?"
"You're… fuzzy," Sam reached up to wipe at his eyes.
"Wait," Dr. Wilde stopped his hand. "Let me."
She vanished for a moment, then returned with a warm rag, gently wiping at his eyes, clearing the goop from his lashes. The irritating grit that had scraped against his eyes with each blink was gone. But the burn remained. It took Sam a moment to realize this burn was that of tears building at the back of his eyes, looking for an exit.
Sam blinked rapidly, recognizing the serious-eyed, dark-haired doctor with lines of care framing her feminine features.
Nodding sternly, Dr. Wilde pulled a penlight from the pocket of her white coat, then shone it in Sam's eyes, making him wince.
"Not if you keep that light away."
"What about in your chest?"
"It's sore, yeah," Sam rubbed at his chest again, looking around. He wasn't in the ER. Not the one they'd been in after the explosion.
"I'd imagine so," Dr. Wilde put the pen light back in her pocket. "You have something that looks like… pleurisy."
"Fluid in your chest cavity. If I didn't know better—" Dr. Wilde stopped, looking at Sam with narrowed eyes. "Well, I'd think you'd been suffering from pneumonia."
Sam shook his head. "Nope," he cleared his throat. "No pneumonia."
"Well, you're going to need to take it really easy for awhile. And I have some medica—"
"Doc," Sam interrupted her. "Tell me about Dean."
Dr. Wilde sighed, dropping her hands into her coat pockets. "He's resting at the moment."
Sam felt the chill in his gut grow to a ball of ice. "What happened?"
"He apparently awoke in the ambulance and…" When she paused, Sam's imagination filled in the blanks.
"He freaked out?"
She nodded. "He was in a fair bit of pain."
And I wasn't there, Sam berated himself. "How is he now?"
Dr. Wilde licked her lips. "He was sedated before he reached the hospital. My call," she clarified. "He's…" She squared her shoulders, looking directly into Sam's eyes. "He has a fever. The lacerations on his neck—which should have been treated by a doctor," she chided, "have become infected. There are puncture wounds on his shoulders from an unknown weapon. And it looks like he was… chained?"
It took Sam a moment to realize Dr. Wilde's tone was accusatory. He was processing the list of wounds, noting she hadn't mentioned his ears. If he was sedated—
"Wait… are you… what are you asking me?" Sam pushed himself up on the bed.
"Michelle? Can you give us a moment?" Dr. Wilde looked over her shoulder at the young nurse that had been lurking in the shadow. Sam heard the door to his room click shut. Dr. Wilde turned to him, her arms crossed, her face stern. Sam felt an instinctive urge to pull away.
"You left my hospital with an injured hand and a brother in need of care due to impact-related deafness."
Sam looked down at his palm, seeing the butterfly bandages spread across the spaces of his cut where the stitches had once again torn loose.
"You return, and one of my PA's is in critical condition, a man this whole town loved is dead, and your brother is worse."
Sam felt guilt lick the edges of his resentment. He didn't appreciate her unspoken accusation, and felt the anger that had propelled him from the beach—Dean draped over his shoulder—climb his heart to nestle comfortably at the base of his throat, waiting for the right moment to strike.
"What's your point, Doc?"
"What happened, Sam?"
Sam lifted hot eyes to hers. "I want to see my brother."
"Not until I get an explanation."
Sam lifted his eyebrow, his jaw set. He reached for his IV and pulled the port from the catheter tube fixed to the back of his hand.
"Wait! What do you think—"
Pressing down on the tube and stopping the backwash of blood, Sam swung his legs from the side of the bed, noting that his boxers remained intact. He was grateful—hospital gowns always made him feel more naked than if he'd actually been naked.
"You want an explanation?" Sam asked, rounding on the smaller woman, meeting her flashing eyes with his own determination. "I want to see my brother. Who do you think is gonna win this one?"
Dr. Wilde's nostril's flared. "You're going to have to explain this whole thing to more than just me if Mike doesn't make it through surgery," she spat at him, her quick fingers fixing his IV so that it no longer bled.
Sam felt a stab of remorse slice through him like the fine edge of a razor blade. "I know."
Staring at him a moment longer, Dr. Wilde muttered, "Follow me," then turned to storm from the room, her frustrated wrenching of the door marred by the hydraulic catch of the hinges. Sam followed, his long, pale feet making quick slapping sounds on the linoleum and mocking him in the fluorescent light of the hallway.
She led him to a room three doors down from his, pushing open another pressure-released door and stepping inside. Sam pushed past her, noting the empty bed by the door, then stepping up to the second bed, curtained off. The only light was that of the one from over Dean's bed.
Dean lay still, quiet, pale in the dimly lit room. An oxygen cannula was inserted into his nose, an IV attached to the back of his hand. Sam saw a blood pressure cuff wrapped around his bicep, the machine making a semi-grinding noise as it filled the cuff with air, making Sam jump.
"How's, uh… his…" Sam licked his lips, stepping closer. "Do you know if he can hear?"
Dr. Wilde seemed to soften. Sam felt her eyes, but didn't pull his from Dean. It felt as if the moment he looked away, Dean would disappear.
"I don't know yet, Sam."
"Mike got him some…" Sam stopped, afraid that he'd said too much.
"Yeah," Sam whispered.
"He's on some pretty strong ones now. We have to get his fever down. We've cleaned the cuts and treated the wounds, but he was without aid longer than I would have liked."
Sam took another step closer to the bed, his leg brushing against a plastic container hooked discretely below the covers. A catheter, Sam realized. Dean's gonna freakin' love that.
"Talk to me, Sam," Dr. Wilde implored, her voice like the cotton that had wrapped around Sam. "Let me help you."
Sinking one hip onto Dean's bed, Sam felt the heat of his brother's leg through the cool sheets and thin hospital gown.
"You won't believe me," he said, pulling his leg up for balance, resting his forearm on his knee. His fingers dangled just above Dean's wrist; he felt the coarse hairs there and flexed his hand so that he could rest it on Dean's.
"Try me," Dr. Wilde continued, leaning a shoulder against the wall near the head of the bed, her arms crossed, her eyes on Sam.
Sam kept his gaze locked on his brother, memories funneling through him like a freight train. He tried to slow his breathing, aware of the pull and strain on his chest muscles as his heart kicked up speed.
"My brother and I… we have an unusual job," Sam began, watching as a line appeared between Dean's brows. "We… were trying to help George. Mike was… helping us. It just… it all went wrong."
"I'll say," Dr. Wilde commented dryly.
"Wren Demeter," Sam nodded. "The girl that George and Camilla were caring for."
"She… shot Mike. After she, uh, killed George."
"You have proof of this?"
Sam lifted a shoulder. "I have Mike."
The room was silent for a moment.
"What about Dean?"
"He," Sam started, then stopped as a lump of emotion lodged itself above the anger still waiting at the base of his throat. "He saved all of us."
"What made those marks on his arms?"
Sam clenched his jaw, feeling an ache build at the base of his neck. "I can't explain it," he finally said, feeling weariness and worry bow his shoulders. He wanted to close his eyes, opening them only when Dean was okay and they could leave. He just wanted to hide. "I can't, I'm sorry."
Dr. Wilde sighed. "I'll get you transferred to this room," she said finally. "You two are going to be here a little while."
Sam nodded, not paying attention as she left the room, his eyes focused on Dean's face, willing his brother's eyes to open, willing him to snap, lash out, growl, tease, anything. Anything but this silence. Anything but this stillness. He was done with Dean not hearing him, Dean not next to him in a hunt.
He wanted his brother back.
He slumped sideways on Dean's bed, his body too tired to remain upright. Unaware of falling asleep, Sam was startled awake by the unmistakable sound of Dean cursing.
"Get offa me, man!"
Sam sat up, fast, his head swimming. At some point, someone had moved him to the bed next to Dean's. He was disoriented, sweaty, confused. His chest ached and he immediately coughed, hard, clearing his throat.
"Get the fuck, off!"
"Mr. Winchester—Dean—I just need to check your vit—"
"Ah! God, what the hell is that noi—"
"For Christ's sake, stop, man, Jesus, stop talking!"
Sam blinked rapidly, looking over at Dean, registering two things swiftly: there were three other people in the room, and Dean's raspy voice was responding to their words.
"Hey," Sam clamored out of his bed, tripping slightly on the bed linens. "Hey, back away."
"We need to get his vitals," one of the men in the room with a rolling cart filled with instruments tried to explain. "But he won't let us near."
Dean grunted low in his throat, his fingers clumsy as they fumbled for his ears to try to protect them from the noises swimming around the room. Sam realized the TV was on, as was a beeping intercom. Someone must have grabbed the remote in an attempt to quiet Dean.
"Back away," he repeated, keeping his voice low and controlled. "You're hurting him."
"We haven't been able to touch him, yet!" Another nurse protested.
Sam grabbed her generously proportioned shoulder, moving her aside as gently as he could in his haste. He pulled the plug for the remote from the wall, shutting off the beeping and the TV in the process. Dean stilled, panting, his eyes clenched shut. Sam waved the nurses back.
"Hey, man," Sam continued, not yet touching his brother, all too aware that fever made Dean's skin ultra-sensitive to touch. Even the weight of the blankets had to be rubbing against him uncomfortably. "You're okay… you're okay, Dean."
"Sam?" Dean's voice was barely a whisper.
"It's me," Sam nodded, leaning gently against the bed. "Take it easy, okay? Just go slow."
"Aw, fuck, man," Dean breathed. "I can… I can hear… everything."
"I know," Sam said, his voice even softer. Feeling the presence of the other three people in the room, Sam waved them away, hoping they'd get Dr. Wilde without his having to ask. "I know, man. It's okay, though."
"I can't… it's all like… jumbled," Dean said, pulling air in through tightened lips and easing his arms from his head. Sam watched his hands shake as he curled them into fists in his lap. "What—what happened?"
"There's time for that, man. We just need you to get better so we can get the hell out of here."
Dean cracked his eyes open slightly, as if the light above his bed was too harsh. Sam saw the angry red warring with the green of his irises, turning them almost neon with the contrast. "What's wrong with me?"
"You're a big damn hero, that's what's wrong," Sam grinned, sitting carefully on the side of Dean's bed. "You took out a siren."
Dean closed his eyes, dropping his head back. "Stop that clicking, man."
Sam looked around, trying to figure out what Dean heard clicking. The room was practically silent with the people gone, the door closed. All he could hear was the muted sounds of the activity out in the hall.
"Nothing's clicking, Dean."
Dean lifted a brow. "You sure?"
"Freakin' loud," Dean muttered. "A siren, huh?"
"Yeah… I think so."
"She killed George."
Dean didn't respond.
"Mike got shot—don't know how he's doing."
Dean was silent.
"Hush a minute, Sam."
Sam quieted, staring at his brother. The casual observer would see a person, perhaps a little pale, resting his eyes, relaxing.
Sam saw a war.
A war waging inside a man so in tune with himself that failure to control his reaction to pain and confusion was not an option. A war with the desire to curl up and whimper and the need to portray confidence and purpose. Sam watched Dean struggle to find the right mask to secure in place, and ached as each one evaporated in the face of pain.
"You don't have to do this, you know."
"Yes, I do," Dean replied. His jaw muscle bounced, his forehead pulling tight. "I can hear you breathing. Your chest is rattling."
Sam blinked. "Wow."
Dean opened his eyes, meeting Sam's. "You look like shit, man. What happened to your eyes?"
"What do you mean?"
"They're all red."
"Hello, pot, I'm kettle. You're black."
Dean's mouth pulled up in an impression of a smile. It's something, at least, Sam figured.
"Seriously, Sam, you okay?"
"She put a decent whammy on me," Sam replied, rubbing his chest. "But you got to her in time. I'm okay."
"You don't remember?"
Dean frowned, then reached up to rub at the line between his brows, his hospital ID bracelet scratching against the two-day growth of beard trimming his jaw line.
"I remember that damned bird. The ala."
"That was Wren, only she wasn't an ala."
"Yeah," Dean sighed. "I know. It's all mixed up, but… but, somehow, I know."
Sam opened his mouth to say something more, but Dean flinched a second before the room door opened, spilling light and sound into the quiet of the room. Sam turned to see Dr. Wilde step in, closing the door behind her.
"I see you have your hearing back," she said. Sam breathed a silent thank you at her blessedly soft voice.
Dean scowled. "Yeah, well… now it's supersonic."
"That'll pass," she remarked. "Can I check your vitals, or are you going to go, what was it they said? Wolverine on me?"
"What are you laughing at, Sasquatch?" Dean grumbled.
"Nothing," Sam stood, raising his hands in surrender. He watched as Dean complied with Dr. Wilde's soft instructions, then answered her questions, his voice growing increasingly weary as the minutes ticked by.
Minutes… Sam suddenly realized. As Dr. Wilde continued her exam, Sam turned and pulled the battery-powered clock from the wall. He held it up to his ear and sure enough, the second hand clicked as it moved around the face. He pulled the battery out.
"Oh, thank God," Dean breathed.
"Better?" Sam asked.
"Yes," Dean replied. "What the hell was it?"
"You both need rest," Dr. Wilde said, straightening up. "But if you follow my instructions, you should be able to leave in a couple of days. Sam earlier."
"No," the brothers answered in unison.
"I'll stay," Sam said.
"I figured as much," Dr. Wilde turned to leave.
"Doc, wait," Dean caught her. "How's…"
"Mike," Sam supplied.
"Mike, yeah," Dean nodded, rubbing his head as if the memories would resurface with force of will.
"He's holding his own," Dr. Wilde replied. "Not out of the woods yet, but he came through surgery. You can see him tomorrow, if you rest."
She left, and Sam stood at the foot of Dean's bed, holding the clock.
"Look at that," Dean rasped, his eyes half-mast with exhaustion. "You really can stop time. You're like a superhero or something, Sammy."
Sam looked over at his brother, suddenly feeling the rain on his face, the weight of Dean's body over his shoulder, the warm stir in his belly when he thought of Wren, the despair that he'd failed again, failed Dean.
"…sit down, kiddo."
"What?" Sam gasped.
"Sammy, sit down," Dean was leaning forward on his elbow, his body trembling from the effort, his face drawn. "You just went way too white."
"God, Dean," Sam blinked, moving carefully around the bed and sinking down on his own, his legs watery from the effort of holding him upright. "We almost didn't make it."
"Yeah, but," Dean leaned back, his finger sneaking up to press against the base of his ear. "We did."
"'Cause we're the good guys," Sam intoned, his voice almost soundless.
"You bet your ass we are," Dean muttered, his eyes fluttering closed, lashes shadowing bruised cheeks. "Don't… forget that… Sammy."Part 6B Can be found here: http://gaelicspirit.livejournal.com/20976.html