Thank you yet again to my excellent, hard-working, faithful editor, XParrotX. -KHK
In Umbra Mortis
K Hanna Korossy
With Dean safe, the last of Sam's adrenaline-fueled energy bottomed out. He dropped onto his rear, about the only place that didn't hurt. Then he was blinking up at ceiling tiles, wondering how that had happened.
Predictably, a hand was soon pressing against his chest, over his heart. He tilted his head to look at his brother, who looked pale and blurry. Sick?
Dean's eyes flicked to his, away again.
Sam was about to ask him something, when his brother pressed down on Sam's leaking gut.
The pain roared away everything else.
"Mmm." He felt heavy. Floaty. How could he feel both?
"Mr. Samuels, can you open your eyes for me?"
Samuels. Sam. That was him. The female voice went with the unfamiliar touch on his shoulder, the delicate skim of his exposed wrist. Dean was many things, even gentle when the occasion called for it, but he wasn't delicate.
Sam sighed, stopping his drift and prying crusty eyes open. It was actually…less hard than he'd expected. "Yeah?" He blinked. Nice-looking middle-aged lady in a white coat and a bruise on her cheek. "Hi?"
She smiled at him. "Hi. How are you feeling?"
Good question. He ran through his usual diagnostics, memories flashing back of werewolves, getting shot, Dean worried sick, pain. His hand ghosted down his stomach. "Uh, okay? I was—"
"Shot, I know. Your brother said he removed the bullet, and the damage was actually pretty superficial, but you lost a lot of blood."
His eyes drifted up to the half-empty bag of blood by the side of his bed. That explained why he felt more nausea than pain now. Sam closed his eyes. He opened his mouth to answer, but a raspy voice to his left interrupted him.
Dean. Sam's found his mouth turning up, even as he kept an eye on the doc.
"He was lucky," the doc said with zero irony. She refocused on Sam, patting his shoulder. "If we were a fully stocked hospital, I'd keep you for observation, but we're just an Urgent Care. You're lucky we had blood on hand at all. After we get your blood pressure steady, I'm going to give you some antibiotics and painkillers and then you can go, all right?" She gave him a stern look. "If you rest. No more…" Something flickered across her face. "…hunting."
She knew. Sam had a sudden idea where the bruise on her face came from. "Yes, ma'am," was all he said.
"Oh, he's gonna take it easy, all right. I'll tie him to the bed if I have to."
Sam rolled his eyes, and the doctor smiled at him.
He turned his head to follow her as she skirted the end of his bed and went around to Dean…who was sitting on the edge of a cot next to Sam, an IV of his own trailing to the stand beside him. Sam frowned as the doctor checked the clear bag, then took Dean's vitals.
Sam swallowed to wet his dry mouth. "Did Corbin…?"
"M'fine," Dean said, waving a hand dismissively. "Doc's just being careful. Busted a coupla ribs out there."
Sam saw the doc and Dean exchange a glance. The way Dean's hand was trembling a little even as he clutched it around his thigh. How he repeatedly swallowed, like he was nauseated, too.
You didn't get an IV for broken ribs. Or nausea. And it definitely took more to give Dean the shakes.
The doc finished up her check and disconnected the IV. She taped a square of gauze on Dean's arm and nodded. "You can get those clean clothes now for the two of you."
"Yeah, okay." Dean's eyes bounced over to Sam, restless. "Don't go anywhere."
"Ha, ha," Sam said dryly.
Dean's walk was off, too. Guarding his hurt side, sure, but there was an unsteadiness to his steps that notched Sam's worry even higher. Especially because he knew Dean was trying to hide it and failing.
As soon as the door closed behind Dean, he turned to the doc. Who was already looking at him.
She hesitated. "Normally, I'm not supposed to give out this information without a patient's permission. But…nothing's been really normal today. And he needs someone to keep an eye on him."
Sam pressed a hand against his side and shoved up a little, biting back a hiss. There was the pain. He couldn't care less. "What happened?"
"He, uh…" The doctor's eyes darted around the room. "I don't even know, exactly. I don't think he was trying to kill himself, but what he said…" She shook her head and looked at Sam. "Your brother took an overdose of phenobarbital and morphine. He briefly went into cardiac arrest—he's lucky we were able to revive him."
Sam was silent with shock. Overdose? Dean knew his meds better than most paramedics: he wouldn't take a handful of pills without knowing what he was doing. But…suicide? Even if he'd thought Sam was dead…
Dead and…in the Empty. Billie. Sam closed his eyes and shook his head. Dean and his deals…
"I'm sorry." The doctor touched his arm again. "He was really distraught about losing you, but I hadn't thought…I mean, he asked Michelle to get me to 'bring him back'. I still don't know why…"
"I do," Sam said quietly. He opened his eyes, gave her a thin smile. "He wasn't trying to kill himself, I promise. He's just an idiot." He forced his jaw to unclench. "What do I need to look out for?"
Dean had talked to the widow, to Sam's relief, and then they hit the road. Dean announcing he was fine, that he'd known Sam hadn't been dead, anyway.
He'd been so intent on keeping an eye on his brother, but Sam was embarrassed to realize he'd slipped into a doze—they hadn't even left the park yet—when Dean barked a curse. The Impala's screeching stop flung Sam back into wakefulness and pain. He groaned before he could stop himself, pressing the heel of his hand against his side. He'd still been flying high on meds when he'd limped out to the car, but his body was starting to remember a hole had been blasted into it.
"Sorry, sorry." Dean's hand was belatedly splayed against Sam's chest, soccer-mom style, and he was frowning at Sam. "You okay?"
"I was," Sam said pointedly, taking a careful breath. Okay, better. Superficial: right. "What's wrong?"
Dean's face tightened in frustration. "I forgot about the other wolves still out there. Son of a bitch—we need to go back."
Sam shook his head, shutting his eyes when it made the scenery swim. "They're dead."
A beat. "Come again?"
"The woman and the bouncer from the bar," Sam said tiredly. He and Dean still hadn't really had time to catch up. "They were the pack leaders. They showed up at the cabin—they're dead."
"You wanna explain that to me?" Dean said in his careful, I'm-not-friggin'-mad voice.
Sam opened his eyes and nodded at the windshield. "Keep driving."
The line between Dean's eyes deepened, but they started moving again.
Sam talked. He didn't remember all the details, didn't know the timing exactly. But he told Dean the basics: waking up, hearing the weres' car coming, hiding in the cellar and taking out the two wolves one at a time as they came down. The important points. He left out the part about falling down the steps, and all the blood and fear. Or knowing when he woke up alone, no note or lamp or first aid supplies, that Dean had only left him because he was sure Sam was dead.
Dean processed the story a moment, then gave a low whistle as he shook his head. "Dude, I knew you were a badass, but seriously? You tell that one at a hunter's bar and you'll never have to pay for a drink again."
Sam snorted softly at that, but the praise felt good. No matter how experienced a hunter he became, inside him was still a little brother who soaked up his big brother's admiration. He shook off the fading nightmare and turned to Dean. "What about you? What happened after you guys got to the Urgent Care?"
"Uh, you mean after the cop tasered me and dragged me in as a reward for saving those two?"
Sam blinked. He hadn't heard this part of the story. And tasers were a bitch.
Dean waxed on about the idiocy of law enforcement—even though said cop had, apparently, found out the hard way about Corbin—and doctors. How they'd kept stopping him as he'd tried to get back to Sam. Because he knew Sam wasn't dead.
Nothing about drugs, or being revived. Nothing about the fact Dean would die before he'd leave his injured, defenseless brother behind. Nothing except his shifting eyes and the tremors he couldn't hide no matter how hard he clutched the steering wheel and his whole green-tinged pale look that kept getting worse.
When Sam saw the next sign for a motel, a dilapidated motor court, he just said quietly, "Pull off."
Dean started to argue, looked at Sam's face, and shut his mouth. He pulled off.
Dean went in to get the key. Sam didn't argue. His body ached, slow waves of nausea and thick pain roiled through his gut, and all he wanted to do was sleep and forget. But he watched as Dean collected the key, almost stumbling coming out the door, then drove them four whole parking spaces over. He watched as Dean paused at the trunk, gathering his strength, before collecting their duffels, and the way he paused again before going into the room, swallowing a few times like he was trying to decide if he was going to throw up. He watched as Dean pointed him at the chair by the door, then proceeded to shove the end of the closest bed with his knee.
Sam frowned, confused, but held his tongue.
The bed tilted halfway in toward the room, Dean shuffled around to the other one and angled it in the other way. When he was done, the corners of the two beds were touching.
"Just wanna make sure you keep breathing," Dean muttered as he ducked away from Sam's gaze, into the bathroom.
Sam hobbled over to the far bed and eased down, head at the foot. If Dean slept the same way, they would be close enough to touch. Which suited Sam just fine. The doctor's instructions—and Sam felt a little guilty he'd never gotten her name—were still fresh in his mind.
She'd gotten Dean to vomit what was left of the pills, at least after she'd made sure Sam wasn't dying. Made him take activated charcoal to deal with anything remaining in his stomach, and given him a second dose of Naloxone—Narcan—when the first one started wearing off. Sam had done his own research, knew Dean might need more, and he had three more doses in his pocket. But it had been over an hour, and while Dean was clearly queasy and shaky, he didn't look in danger of crashing. No more than whiplashing from werewolf attack and shock to near death and back left you, anyway.
Having Dean within arm's length that night was the bare minimum, as far as Sam was concerned.
They should probably eat something first, though. With a groan, he dug out his phone and started looking.
Dean had perfect timing. Just as he was coming out of the bathroom, flushed and damp but a little steadier, there was a knock at the door. He threw Sam a questioning look, and when he got a nod in return, reached for his wallet as he went to answer.
Soup. And fresh rolls. And a slice of still-warm apple pie, because Dean rarely couldn't keep pie down. He didn't fuss at the light fare, though, just gave Sam a look and dug in.
Sam didn't even bother changing. It was all he could do to finish eating before he dropped back down on the bed. He watched Dean putter a little, putting leftovers away, salting the doorways, checking a final time on the car. It was like thousands of drowsy nights during their childhood, Sam sleepily watching his brother get ready for bed.
"You want me to take a look at your bandage?" Dean asked as he tugged Sam's boots off. Sam had kinda forgotten about those.
Dean tossed the two blankets from the closet over him, and turned off the light. It was still afternoon outside, and dusty sunlight edged the blinds, draping the room in twilight. With a long sigh, Dean finally got horizontal, shuffling around until he found a position that didn't hurt his ribs. Unsurprisingly, it was facing Sam, less than a foot away, nose-to-nose.
Sam's huffed laugh opened his brother's eyes. "Why didn't you just ask for a king?" They'd shared beds before plenty.
"Din' wanna risk elbowing your stitches."
Of course. It was always about Sam. Everything from motel rooms to life-and-death choices, for Dean it was always about Sam. When he'd been younger, Sam had chafed at having a second dad, at Dean following orders to look after your brother, at not trusting and experience had set him straight. It was part of who Dean was, the part he didn't know how to be without. And Sam wasn't hypocrite enough anymore to claim he didn't get it. "I'm okay, man," was all he needed to say.
Dean's eyes gleamed in the dark. "I know. I know you are. I just… You'd think I've done this so many times, it would get easier."
"Watching your brother die? Trust me, I did…what, over a hundred times just at the Mystery Spot? It doesn't get easier."
Dean nodded slowly, not even for trying words.
They were both exhausted, beat up, and just coming back to life. They needed at least twelve hours of sleep, should've been dead to the world as soon as they hit the pillows. But Sam could tell his brother was awake as he was, running those last twenty-four through his brain, looking for how he should've done things different, how near the miss had been, how he'd failed his brother.
"Did you see Billie?" Sam finally asked.
There were several long beats. At least Dean gave him credit by not denying it. He sighed out long and low. "So much for patient confidentiality."
Sam waited, undiverted.
"Yes," Dean said. "Okay, yes, I saw her. She said you weren't dead."
Sam arched an eyebrow in the dark. He didn't bother to say Dean had claimed he knew that; the fact of his killing himself to talk to Billie made that pretty pointless. "That all she said?"
Another pause. "And that she's not gonna deal. Once we're dead, we stay dead."
Sam's turn to sigh. "Yeah, I kinda figured that."
A truck rumbled down the highway outside. A raven cawed after it.
"Dude, just say it," Dean finally muttered, an arm over his eyes.
"What?" Sam asked innocently.
"I know you're gonna tear me a new one for talking to Billie, so just…get it over with."
"What, for taking a lethal dose of meds without a doctor present just so you could 'talk to Billie'—to a reaper—to ask her to take you instead of me? Is that what you're waiting for me to chew you out about, man?" Sam asked mildly. He himself was staring at the ceiling, and a water stain that was shaped like…France? Alaska?
"Well, when you put it that way…" Dean said dryly.
"Okay, fine." Sam turned toward his brother. "It was stupid, and I'm not exactly thrilled that my idiot brother almost got himself kicked into the Empty before I could get to him."
"Gee, don't hold back, Sam."
"But." Sam took a breath. "I probably would've done the same thing."
He heard Dean suck in air.
"I mean, not with the pills—that was just reckless, dude." Which, truth be told, Sam also understood. "But a summoning or something and trying to make a deal? Yeah. I get it."
He'd convinced himself for a while that he didn't. In his righteous anger after Gadreel, after how Dean tricked him and Kevin's resulting death, Sam had consoled himself that he was more mature, more independent, more respectful of Dean's wishes, that he'd let the dead stay dead and wouldn't do anything foolish if Dean died. Which had lasted until Dean had died and it'd been ground into Sam's face with what a self-deluded liar he was.
"I left you there, man." Dean's voice was unexpectedly ragged. "I was sure you were dead, but that's no… I'm sorry, Sammy."
He finally reached out, grabbing his brother's shoulder. "You did the right thing, Dean. If you need me to say it, I will, I forgive you, but I don't think you did anything that needs forgiving. It was a crap situation with crap choices, man. We did the best we could."
He squeezed harder. "Corbin was gone before we got there. We just didn't know it. You, his wife, none of us saw it."
Dean took a few unsteady breaths. Then he patted Sam's hand a couple of times, which was Sam's sign to let go. It was up to Dean now: enough absolution that he could back off the cliff of despair, but the rest of the regrets and horrors would be stuffed down, repressed more than dealt with. It was how he kept going. It would have to do.
"G'night, dude," Sam said quietly, and waited for Dean's echo. And the slowing breathing, the eventual unclenching of the hand Sam was pretty sure his brother didn't realize was fisting Sam's blanket.
Sam's own hand drifted down to the thick layer of bandage over his gut. The throbbing was settling down now that he was still and horizontal, just little pokes of pain when he breathed or shifted. The agony after the shooting, the hike, the cabin, seemed like an unreal nightmare in comparison.
Except he was pretty sure the part that followed hadn't been a dream. The warmth, the light. Billie's voice? And then a jolt of life, of healing, and he was awake, gasping. Fresh blood spilling over his fingers, but the deepest pain gone, the cavity under his fingers a shallow pit.
Dean could tell a dead person from a live one at ten paces. Sam knew that, even if his brother had convinced himself he'd made a mistake.
But Dean had enough to deal with from this hunt; Sam would carry that secret alone.
Turning gingerly onto his side so he could hear his brother breathe, Sam closed his eyes and slept.
Just want to give a shout-out to the story my dear friend JennK528 wrote years ago, "Dean and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Week," which did the bad luck idea so much better than the recent ep "Heroes' Journey." It's on this site: go check it out!