A/N - This fic involves the tarot. I can't link
picture of the cards to this fic, but if you'd like links to see the
cards, comment or send me a private message and I'll get them to you.
People don't come to me to hear the truth; they come to hear good news.
The words she had tossed so casually at the Winchester boys as they sat in her foyer months before haunted Missouri now, because she wanted desperately to hear good news, and she knew wasn't coming. She knew the truth all too well.
A vague but exponentially increasing sense of foreboding had been troubling her for days sharpened to a brilliant, terrifying clarity in a nightmare like none she had ever experienced before or ever would again. She sat bolt-upright, quaking in her bed, trying to ease her labored breathing and calm her racing heart; praying with all her might that her vision would prove to be untrue. But the subsequent phone call from Bobby confirmed all of her worst fears and led her here, to this hospital.
They wouldn't let her see them; not yet. As a friend of the family she was insignificant in the eyes of those attending to the Winchesters; and there were many of them. Doctors, nurses, orderlies, specialists in constant motion in and out of the rooms; they spoke in shorthand, dismissive of her presence because a mere by-stander couldn't understand their code. They couldn't know she didn't need to understand their words; she knew the truth and there was nowhere to hide from it.
They were dying.
John and Dean – they were dying, and there was nothing any of the doctors could do.
There was a reason Missouri avoided hospitals. Hospitals were cauldrons of seething emotions and thoughts where people didn't employ their usual restraint. Most people, without knowing it or understanding why, had an instinct to shield their thoughts from others; people naturally held them close, which was why Missouri needed to be in a person's presence in order to read his or her thoughts. And, even then, for a casual reading, Missouri could only see what was on the surface. The same did not hold true in a hospital – people faced with their own mortality or the injury of a loved one; people celebrating the birth of a new life; people charged with ensuring the survival of the broken and bleeding bodies in their hands did not hold their thoughts close. They transmitted them in loud bursts. It was why Missouri knew more than she wanted.
The doctor attending to the eldest Winchester was, like John, a veteran at his profession. His thinking was orderly and straightforward. John's injuries were grievous because he'd been sitting, unbelted, in the passenger side of the car. He absorbed the direct impact of the truck that had hit them. In short, his body was broken beyond repair and it was a miracle that he'd survived long enough to get to the hospital. Missouri didn't understand the litany of broken bones the doctor was listing in his head, but his thinking was clear – there was no hope. He'd already moved beyond thoughts of treatment and was seeking out a way to contact family not realizing the whole family was already there.
The doctor attending Dean was younger and far more idealistic than his grizzled counterpart; yet his progressive loss of hope was simple for Missouri to read. Dean had not been as badly broken by the impact of the truck as John, because he'd been seated on the far side of the car behind Sam. What concerned the doctor most was the massive amount of internal injuries Dean had sustained. And though he hadn't voiced it aloud to his colleagues, the doctor was disturbed and intrigued that the injuries Dean presented were not consistent with the accident. But the circular pattern of the doctor's thoughts constantly drew him away from wondering how the injuries occurred and instead focused on how to fix them. And he kept circling back to this – there was no way to fix them.
If it had just been Dean's heart that was shredded and bleeding, there might have been a chance. If it had just been his lungs that were pierced and torn, they might have been able to attempt to mend them. But everything in his chest had been ripped and slashed; there was nothing left to salvage. Missouri grieved for the young doctor as he gave the order for Dean to be placed on a heart and lung machine with the full knowledge that Dean would never draw breath on his own again. She grieved for Dean even more.
Amidst the swirling, organized chaos of the bustling hospital staff and the far less organized, intrusive chaos of the many minds around her Missouri waited. Eventually her presence was noted by an empathetic nurse who allowed her to go in and sit with Sam. His injuries were bad, but his vital signs were stable. Of the Winchesters, he was the only one who was expected to survive the night. He was the only one who was expected to survive at all.
When she entered the room where Sam was sleeping, the first thing Missouri noticed was how quiet it was. The silence that surrounded Sam disturbed Missouri. After the unrelenting noise that had been assaulting her mind for the past several hours, she would have thought she'd appreciate some silence. But this was unnatural. Even with him this heavily medicated, she should've been able to sense something that was Sam, but there was nothing there. It frightened her more completely than the detailed understanding of John and Dean's injuries.
"Oh, honey." Missouri didn't even realize she'd spoken aloud as she approached Sam's bed and took up his hand in her own. It was a dangerous move on her part, but she was frantic to feel a response, from him and was willing to risk an overload to get it. But there was nothing. Not a shred of the bright and shinning mind of the young man she'd met so briefly just a few months before.
"Oh, honey." she whispered again as she bent her head with grief over their clasped hands. She had grieved for John and Dean; now she grieved for Sam. She didn't know how the doctors had missed it; didn't know why their instruments and tests couldn't see. Sam wouldn't survive this night any more than his father or brother would. By morning there would be nothing of their family left.
Missouri took up residence in a chair near Sam's bed. She dragged it forward so she could maintain physical contact with him, although she knew it was pointless. It might not mean anything to Sam, but it made her feel better. She didn't speak to him as one might to a patient in a hospital, with false reassurances of hope and platitudes about his own health. They'd all been through too much for her to avoid the truth now. So she maintained her vigil in silence until she could tolerate the silence no longer.
It was so strange; never before in her life had Missouri been in the presence of another being without feeling something from them. Even an infant, unable to direct thoughts into words, gave off a sense of life – some kind of emotion. From Sam there was nothing. It didn't make sense. Unlike Dean, he was breathing on his own. All the machines that were hooked up to monitor his life signs indicated steady, regulated breathing and heart beat. No one had indicated that there'd been a serious brain injury. He did have a concussion due to the impact, but, from what Missouri picked up from the doctors, it was not a major concern. So, why this mental silence?
Missouri shifted uneasily in her chair. It dawned on her that what bothered her more than the silence was the not knowing. Whether she wanted to or not, Missouri had always been aware of what was going on around her. It was something she'd gotten used to; a constant in her life. This not knowing about Sam was driving her to distraction. But she thought she might have a way to shed some light on the situation.
Reaching into the voluminous bag on the floor next to her chair, Missouri dug around until her fingers found purchase on a small, purple silk bag nestled within. Drawing the smaller bag out of the larger one, Missouri pulled the tray table closer to where she was seated, removing a well-worn deck of Tarot cards from the silk bag. She hadn't used them in a long time - the necessity of using them to channel her readings was long past - but she kept them with her anyway, just in case.
With the ease of long practice, she began to shuffle the deck. Missouri's eyelids floated at half mast as she shuffled, occasionally pausing to reach out again for Sam's hand, connecting him with her thoughts and the cards. She didn't know how much time she had – how much time any of them had – so she did a down-and-dirty spread, just three cards: past, present, future. The three cards lay face-down on the tray table before her, and Missouri hesitated. She was looking for good news and was more than a little frightened of what she might learn instead. But the need to know outweighed her fear, and she flipped the first card representing the Past.
Missouri smiled. The first card was the Eight of Pentacles, and was titled "Learning". It showed a young boy hard at work in a wood shop. The boy was surrounded by what were presumably the tools of his father's trade, applying the skills he'd been taught to follow in his father's footsteps. Though John Winchester dealt in guns and rock salt, the meaning behind the card was clear. And Missouri knew enough about Sam to know that, willing or unwilling, his time of apprenticeship was over.
With slight trepidation, Missouri flipped the second card – the Present. Not surprising to the psychic, Sam's Present card was a Major Arcana, The Magician. Of course…the Magician. Missouri's words from times past once again echoed in her head, "That boy has such powerful abilities..." Tears sprang unbidden to her eyes as she examined the image. A man was positioned behind a table or alter, on which were placed all of his objects of power. Everything about the man represented balance: light and dark, man and beast, a merging of the four elements. This is what Sam was – everything he had the potential to be - right now.
Missouri's heart skipped a beat as she glanced down at the green and white patterned whorls on the back of the last card, but it was too late to turn back now. She flipped the card and it was not an image she was expecting. It wasn't another Major Arcana; instead, the card representing Sam's Future was the Four of Swords. Missouri pondered the image before her. Her knowledge of the card's meaning – rest, seclusion, convalescence, meditation – conflicted with the image portrayed on it; a solitary tomb, with the image of a young man laid to rest with his sword and shield, engraved in effigy on the top. The image frightened Missouri; she wasn't willing to accept what it foretold. She tried to focus on the meanings behind the card – certainly he would need rest and a time to convalesce. That must be what this card predicted. It had to be. It was what she wanted it to be.
A disturbance from the hallway got Missouri's attention. It was Dean's doctor moving with great speed back toward Dean's room. That, in itself, wasn't unusual - Dean's doctor seemed to have an ever-present aura of urgency about him. What caught Missouri's attention was his whirling thoughts - repetition of "…that just can't be…" and "…it's impossible…". But she didn't have time to investigate because, at just that moment, Sam's heart gave out.
The shrill blaring of the alarm accompanying the droning flat line tone on the monitor snapped Missouri out of her meditation. Only a few moments passed before Sam's room was filled with activity. Missouri was quickly and efficiently shunted aside, though she was never directly instructed to leave the room. She tried to convince herself that the card that foretold Sam's future did not necessarily indicate his immediate future - that the solitary tomb could be a reflection of some far distant time - but in the silence of her heart Missouri knew that wasn't true.
She watched with wide eyes as the doctors and nurses swarmed around Sam – the cacophony of their thoughts was an assault on her senses after her time spent with Sam - and she was overwhelmed. The medical staff brought equipment and drugs and machinery to get Sam's heart going again, but they had no time to use it: for no reason at all, no discernable medical reason, Sam's heart started beating again.
There was a frozen moment of shock, as everyone in the room paused to listen to the slow but steady beeps issuing from the heart monitor. One of the doctors stood like an angel of mercy, hovering over Sam's bed with the defibrillator paddles at the ready, but all the machines hooked to the youngest Winchester indicated the paddles unnecessary. He looked with some confusion at the doctor on the other side of the bed. It almost made Missouri laugh out loud when she heard both men's thoughts echo with "What the fuck?"
If they had asked, Missouri could have told them that the reason Sam's heart started beating was that Sam had returned. The presence that had been missing in the room before, had now returned, though it was a bare shadow of its former self. Sam's spirit was weak and dim, but it was enough to keep him going for now. Missouri released a deep breath she hadn't realized she'd been holding.
Then she was very politely but firmly instructed to leave. The same nurse, who'd taken pity on her before, took her in hand again but instead of leaving her seated in the waiting room, the nurse led her to John's room. Missouri could easily pick up on the kind woman's thoughts – she wanted to give Missouri, who seemed to be the only friend this family had, a chance to say good-bye.
Missouri stepped softly into John's room and immediately knew something was wrong. That can't be right.
She stopped, caught halfway between the door and the bed, cocked her head and listened. She could feel John's presence like a flickering candle; it was faint, but trying to hold steady. But the stronger presence in the room, the one she knew didn't belong as soon as she walked in, was Sam's. Her understanding took her breath away.
Missouri completed her approach to the bed. She twitched the blankets aside and reached out to grasp John's left foot. Now she could strongly sense John, sense Sam and understood what Sam was doing. Missouri's free hand flew to her mouth to cover a sob as she stood with her eyes closed and listened to the communion between father and son.
Find the demon, track it down. Stop it from destroying any more families.
Over and over, Sam repeated the litany to John while he poured his power into his father's broken body, John didn't need much convincing. Missouri could actually feel the moment when the eldest Winchester made the decision to hold onto his life. The flickering presence became a steady flame. The flame grew stronger and stronger with Sam's assistance.
John was going to live; Sam made sure of that.
Again she recalled how she had once stated to John, "That boy has such powerful abilities." At that time, she did not realize the staggering depth of the power at Sam's disposal and she was certain that Sam was ignorant of his potential as well. Until tonight. Until it was life or death. Tonight it would be life and death.
The image of The Magician floated before Missouri's closed eyes. He had done it. Sam had found the key he needed to unlock all of the power at his disposal. He was totally balanced, fully in control – wielding the power he had with precision and finesse until he ran out.
"Ma'am? Excuse me, ma'am?" An insistent voice interrupted Missouri's thoughts. "I don't mean to disturb you, ma'am…but we need to run some tests." Missouri cleared her vision and looked at the somewhat distracted nurse who had entered the room. Two orderlies were wrestling with a portable x-ray machine in the doorway, and John's doctor stood just outside the door glaring at the chart in his hand. All of them were easy to read – John Winchester was rapidly healing, and they couldn't figure it out.
"Sure thing, honey." Missouri answered. "I'll get right out of your way."
Missouri side-stepped the bulky machinery and the equally bulky orderlies to enter the hallway. She didn't bother to interrupt the doctor who was now muttering in anger at the papers in his hand. She could clearly hear his frustration and confusion – you wouldn't have to be psychic to pick up on that. "Broken bones don't just heal themselves," he argued with himself. He was right, of course, bones don't heal themselves. But he wasn't the type of person who'd be willing to hear the truth, so she let it go.
The kind nurse who'd brought her in to see John appeared again at Missouri's elbow. Missouri knew where they'd be going next and her pace quickened as she walked with her escort down the hall to see Dean.
The atmosphere of Dean's room was decidedly different from John's. Sam was a much greater presence, and Missouri could hardly sense Dean at all. Sam was moving, and urgent, and desperate - because it didn't matter how much power Sam had at his disposal - Dean wasn't listening.
In John's room Sam was focused – they had similar goals, a similar mission. Once Sam lured John back, close enough to remind John of his mission, it was easy enough to get him to accept a return to life. John understood one thing – his body would be healed and he could take up his pursuit once again. He accepted that, and let Sam pour his power into him.
John didn't understand what Dean knew instinctively - accepting Sam's gift meant accepting Sam's death. John always had his mission; Dean always had Sam.
Death was not an option.
Or, in Dean's mind, Sam's death was not an option.
It made Missouri want to weep. Dean was too far gone to understand; not allowing Sam to heal him made no difference. Sam was past the point of no return. The die had been cast and, whether or not Dean chose to accept what Sam offered, it wouldn't change the outcome. Sam had made his choice: he chose to risk everything he had in order to save everything he had. And, now it was being wasted, because Dean wouldn't let him in.
Missouri was bereft and uncertain what to do. Sam's anguish that Dean remained so far away was palpable but, underlying that was Dean's faint but stubborn refusal to allow Sam to trade his life for Dean's.
Sam's force behind the plea aimed at Missouri staggered her. She would have fallen if not for the supportive hand of Dean's doctor at her elbow. She took a deep, gasping breath to steady herself.
"Are you all right?" the doctor asked with some concern.
She simply nodded. He didn't seem convinced, but his focus quickly shifted from her to Dean. He still had a hand on her elbow, and his thoughts were easy to read. Unlike John's doctor, who was angered by the unexplained recovery of his patient, Dean's doctor had an edge of wonder to his thoughts. He was on the verge of believing he was going to witness a miracle, but hadn't quite convinced himself that it could be true. He was extremely intuitive, this doctor, and Missouri realized he must have some level of untrained empathic abilities. Even he could sense the struggle between the brothers and, though not knowing the specifics, he wasn't sure which would win.
"What do you think it would take?" Missouri asked, following the doctor's train of thought. "What would it take to get him to choose life?"
The doctor never took his eyes off of Dean. "Maybe he just needs to know that it's the right choice."
Missouri's face lit in a grin. She patted the hand at her elbow, indicating the desire for release. "I'll be right back, honey. You make sure when I come back, you let me in."
The doctor looked at Missouri like he was seeing her for the first time. A grin ghosted across his face as well. "I will."
Missouri quickly made her way back to the room where she left her tarot cards. In truth, she couldn't call it "Sam's room", because Sam had never really taken up residence there. His body was there, but it was mostly an empty shell. He'd only allowed the barest whisper of himself to remain - just enough to keep his body alive, while he gave what he could to his father and brother. Missouri couldn't help but glance at the body on the bed. He looked so peaceful, in spite of the bruising and bandages. She walked to the side of the bed and leaned over to place a kiss on his forehead. "Oh baby," she whispered, "I'll try to help you. I'll do my best."
Straightening up, Missouri gathered up the cards that had been knocked aside when the staff had rushed to resuscitate Sam. With easy familiarity she quickly gathered, sorted and organized the deck. She started reshuffling even before she crossed the threshold of Sam's room and entered the hallway. Making her way quickly back to Dean's room, she entered with a purpose, and was stopped in her tracks when she recognized another familiar presence.
If she was right, it meant that Sam's time was very short.
Missouri wasted no time. She dragged the tray table right up to the bed, and indicated that the doctor should put the bed rail down. She sat down on the bed so she could be in contact with Dean while she shuffled the cards. In her mind she posed a question, "How can I let him know it's the right choice? How can I make him believe he needs to live?"
With one last flourish, Missouri settled the deck on the table and placed three cards face down on its surface – Past, Present, Future.
She turned the first card over – the Past. It was the 10 of Cups. The picture of the smiling family – father, mother and two children made her heart ache. The card represented home, joy, and familial bliss – contentment of the heart. It was the foundation of Dean's life, and something he'd only had for four short years. Yet he carried the memory with him, and it shaped everything he'd done since then.
Missouri flipped the second card – the Present – and, like the Magician in Sam's spread, this card indicated the immediate present. It confirmed for her the new and growing presence she felt in the room. The card was the Queen of Pentacles representing a warm, generous woman with the seeker's best interest at heart.
She'd given all she had and more to protect her sons, and now she was ready to welcome one home. Missouri prayed with all her might that Mary wasn't there to welcome them both. But the spread, as it had fallen so far, gave Missouri pause. She'd been thinking of Dean's path, but Sam was a much larger presence in the room. The Past and Present cards could both easily apply to Sam as much as Dean.
Missouri flipped the final card – the Future. The World. She gave a choked cry that was half-laugh, half-sob. That was it, a confirmation of what waited for Dean if he could accept what Sam had to offer. The card represented completion; the end of a way of life; success; a new beginning; hope for the future; triumph in the end - the breadth of possibility.
"Oh, honey!" Missouri reflectively reached out with her right hand to take Dean's hand in her own, even as she wiped the tears away with her left. She leaned in closer to the still figure on the bed. "Listen to your brother, baby. Let him help you. It's gonna be okay."
Sam, who had held himself slightly apart from Dean as Missouri worked, surged forward again. What passed between Sam and Dean then was deeper than Missouri could go without invitation. It took the space of a few heart beats for Missouri, but she wondered later, how much time had passed in the moment of unity the brothers shared. It was brilliant and intense, and Dean's answer was given in the deep and gasping breath he took out of time with the machines that were breathing for him.
"Oh my God!" Dean's doctor moved forward then, examining the mixed messages being given by the different machines. But that deep breath of Dean's was all Missouri needed to know; it was done.
The presence that was Sam continued to pour into Dean. Missouri stood as a silent witness. She didn't rush back to Sam's room – his passing would be from here, and he wouldn't be alone. The power that had awed Missouri when she'd first met Sam was nearly spent now, but the light of his soul was just as bright as ever. She could feel his satisfaction; he was happy with his choice, and confident that Dean would, in the end, be able to live with his choice as well.
In the end, it was quiet once again. Missouri gathered up her cards and said aloud to Sam and Mary before they were gone, "Don't be strangers".