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Chapter 3: This Street
This life holds its secrets like a sea shell holds the sea,
soft and distant calling like a fading memory
This life has its victories but its defeats tear so viciously
This life holds its secrets like the sea. -- Cowboy Junkies
Dean stands beside the ambulance, helpless, while everyone moves around him. He's the quiet eye in the stormofparamedics and flashing lights. The police arrive but Dean won't talk to them, he won't talk to anyone but the red-haired girl: there's a bunch of people working on Sam, but she's the only one who'll look him in the eye. They work with a kind of urgent detachment that would impress him if he weren't scared shitless.
The EMTs talk to each other in what might as well be code–tachypnea, decreased breath sounds, respiratory arrest, BP's dropping–and he feels lost. He understands enough to know that Sam's in trouble. When the red-haired girl--Lindsey--tilts Sam's head and puts a tube down his throat, Dean has to look away.
He tries to lever himself inside the ambulance with Sam, but Lindsey tells him there's no room. Sam's strapped to a gurney and hooked up to machines (there's so much blood) and he looks dead (he's not though, he's not) and two techs are already crammed in the back with him. One monitors Sam's pulse, the other holds some kind of hand pump over Sam's mouth and squeezes the bag at steady rhythm.
Dean stares at the tech's hands in fascination because those hands are the only things keeping Sam alive. Lindsey pulls Dean away from the ambulance and gives him a look that says, stop this shit right now. She says calmly, "If you want Sam to make it to the hospital alive, give us room to work."
Dean nods. He'll give them all the space in the world if it means Sam will be okay.
He follows the ambulance in the Impala and runs two red lights in the process. He's not letting it (Sammy) out of his sight. He'd like to see a cop just try to give him a ticket. His knuckles are white on the wheel and his knee bounces a nervous rhythm the whole way. Cars scatter at the sound of the siren; a parting of the steel sea.
After all, that's how it should be. His brother is smarter than all of them. Hell, Sam's pinky is smarter than most other people. Sam needs to live so he can make fun of the way Dean says providence instead of provenance. He needs to live because he's Geek Boy and he calls Dean on his shit. He needs to live because he's all the family Dean's got. He needs to live.
Watch out for Sammy.
Only he didn't. And now Sammy's hurt (not dying though, no).
Dean's fist comes down hard on the dashboard and he's so pissed, he doesn't even apologize. He parks at a half-assed angle in the lot designated for the Emergency Room. He can still see the ambulance and they're unloading Sam. He hovers near the doors, impotent with rage and worry while they wheel Sam in like he's room service. The muscles in Dean's jaw work, and he can actually see red. Only it's not from his anger, it's the trail of blood drops Sam leaves on the tiled floor like a fucked up version of Hansel and Gretel.
A couple of doctors meet up with Lindsey and her partner and Sam is steered through a pair of swinging doors. Dean tries to follow but a nurse materializes at Dean's elbow with a fake smile and a bitchy voice. She tries to guide Dean back toward the waiting room, but he raises holy hell at the thought of leaving Sam.
At least until a surgeon sticks his head out the door and reminds Dean they're trying to save Sam's life. And it would be a lot easier to save Sam if he'd stop screaming and go sit in the waiting room.
So Dean goes. Nurse Bitchface gives him a bunch of forms to fill out, and even better, the cops are waiting for him.
Officer Petrie is a tall balding dude in his forties. Officer Kellog's young and has that freshly scrubbed look that reminds him a little of Sam. Dean sinks into a chair and leans his head against the wall.
Officer Petrie makes I'm sorry noises with his mouth and Kellog sits next to Dean taking notes. Dean spins a pretty decent yarn about how he and Sam heard screaming from the Townsend house and went to investigate.
"And you said Mr. Townsend stabbed your cousin?" Kellog asks.
Dean nods. "He hit me in the head with his cane. Knocked me out. Tied me up." Dean rubs his face ruefully, pouring on the aww shucks, I'm a good guy in a bad situation. "He hit pretty hard for an old guy."
"How did Sam end up in the basement?" Petrie wants to know.
"I don't know. I was out of it for a while. I think Townsend dragged Sammy down. He had that girl down there and Sam wanted to save her--"
Kellog jumps in. "Olivia Davis."
"Yeah." Dean's shoulders slump. "We couldn't save her," he finishes softly. He eyeballs the desk where Nurse Bitchface is sitting. "Can this wait? What else do you guys need?"
Kellog and Petrie share a look. "Preliminary results indicate Mr. Townsend died from a heart attack."
Dean's jaw clenches. The bastard got off easy. If he had the time and energy he'd love to bring the fucker back from the dead just to kill him again. The cops ask a few more questions. Dean continues his line of bullshit until Petrie says, "We also found what look like several graves in the back of the basement, behind the cage."
Dean's eyes snap back to the officer. Hello, Lisa Halverson. "Really." He wants to be surprised. But he's not.
Kellog nods. "It looks like Mr. Townsend has been doing this for quite some time. We found some...mementos in one of the bedrooms."
A fresh wave of rage rolls over Dean. He wonders if part of Sam would have ended up on a shelf if things had gone differently. He ejects the thought from his head, because otherwise, he's going to start hitting things.
Kellog flips his notebook shut and gives Dean a sympathetic look. "That's all for now. Where can we reach you if we have more questions?"
Dean shrugs as if it's obvious. "I'll be right here."
He's on the beach again.
Sam can see a small group of women nearby. Blond hair blows in the gentle breeze and his heart leaps. It's Jess. And maybe…Mom? Jess waves and Sam laughs. He runs toward them, bare feet against white sand.
Dean scribbles a bunch of lies on the various hospital forms. He uses the same name he gave the cops: Dan A. Schulps. Bitchface gives him another plastic smile when hands off the forms. He gives one back, but she still won't tell him jack shit about Sam.
Dean paces the length of the waiting room. There are three other people in the room: an elderly woman fussing with a tank of oxygen, and a weary looking woman with a little boy. The boy is red-faced and crying and he sounds the way Dean feels. Dean walks past the desk, around the fish tank, and back to the bank of chairs. He walks around his self-made track counting the number of circuits, but he's the only thing moving. Time stands still.
Eventually he drops back into a chair, his head in his hands. Please let Sam be okay. Let him live. Dean snorts into his hands, eyes wet. What in God's name was his father thinking? There's no way he can kill Sam. Ever. Even if Sammy does go Dark Side (and he won't, Dean'll save him, he will) and eats babies for breakfast and kills kittens for lunch, Dean won't kill him. It's not in him. Even if Sam begs, Dean won't. Can't. There's just no way. Without Sam to watch out for, what else is there? They're a set. A matched pair. Sam and Dean. Dean and Sam. One without the other just doesn't make sense.
Dad's death was horrible. Is horrible. Will continue to be horrible. But losing Sam? Dean doesn't want to consider it. Not even the possibility.
He remembers the sound of the explosion, wood raining down on him, Gordon's soft, Just wait. And there was a moment of pain and terror so great Dean thought his heart would just stop right then and there. But Sam's voice broke the spell. Everything was okay.
Dean runs both hands through his hair, waiting. He waits to hear Sam's voice again.
A surgeon finally comes to see Dean around eleven. He's still in scrubs and blood (Sam's blood) stains the sleeves. Dean jumps to his feet and rubs nervous hands on the thighs of his jeans. The doctor extends a hand. He looks tired and serious and Dean's stomach clenches because he can't tell what the doctor's expression means. "Hi there. I'm Dr. Shaefer Truman."
Dean grasps his hand, shakes once. "Dan Schulps."
Dr. Truman nods. "You're Sam's cousin?"
Dean keeps his gaze steady. "Yeah." He pauses, then adds, "I'm his only family."
Dr. Truman offers a weary smile. "Sam's going to be okay. When he came in he was in respiratory distress and in shock. He was intubated and we found unilateral absence of breath sounds. Those three things combined--the respiratory distress, shock, and absence of breath sounds--indicated tension pneumothorax. A CT scan and chest x-ray confirmed it."
Dean swallows, his mouth dry. "That's what? A collapsed lung?"
"Basically, yes. When Sam was stabbed, the knife punctured his lung. That caused the pleural space–the area between the skin and lungs–to fill with air. The more air that fills the space, the more pressure is put on the heart to keep working. We inserted a needle between the ribs to release the trapped air."
Dean feels a steady pounding in his head. He puts a hand behind him, feeling for the chair. "But...he's okay?"
"He will be. Right now he's resting in post-op. I sewed up the stab wound and everything went smoothly. Your cousin is lucky. There's no damage to the internal organs."
Dean's eyes narrow. Lucky? "Except for his lung."
Truman nods. "Yes, except for his lung. He has a chest tube in to help inflate the lung. It should take a few days."
Dean sinks into the chair. "A few days?"
Truman nods again. Dean thinks he's starting to look like a bobble head. "I'll have Amy come get you in a few minutes once Sam's situated. There's an orthopedist with him now, checking his hand." He turns, throws in a final nod, and stalks away.
Dean watches his back until the elevator doors close.
He's sitting cross-legged on the sand.
The waves are a liquid metronome, rolling in, rolling out. They sit around him in a circle: his mother, Jess, Ava, and Olivia. The sky is crayon blue and the clouds are wisps of cotton. Sam closes his eyes, feels the sun against his face. He feels Jess' hand, her fingers interlock with his. He can feel her breath on his face when she leans over and asks, "Why did you let me die?"
Dean is sprawled into the chair in the corner of Sam's room. It's not that bad, really. The chair is oversized and reclines. He's got the chair tilted back, fingers tapping a nervous rhythm on his leg. Sam's nurse is a pretty blond number named Lori and Dean pours on the charm like salt on a sill. She's married, but she likes to flirt and that means Dean can spend the rest of the night in Sam's little cubicle. Jackpot.
He's tired but he can't sleep because Sam still looks half dead and oh yeah, there's a fucking tube coming out of his chest. There's a small forest of monitors around Sam's bed and Dean watches them. Lori explained that Sam's oxygen rate should ideally stay at about ninety percent saturation.
So far the numbers are cooperating and Dean's not too freaked out. Sam's got a little clip on the end of his finger that measures his oxygen saturation. It makes him look like friggin' E.T.
Sam's right hand is back in a cast. He has what the orthopedist calls a comminuted fracture–when there are at least three bone fragments. Sam has eight bone fragments. The orthopedist repositioned the bone fragments in Sam's hand and inserted screws to hold them in place. It sounds painful and Dean can't imagine having pieces of metal in his hand. The only good thing about this whole effed-up situation is he can ask Sam what it's like to finally get screwed.
Mary offers Sam a tender smile and pats his knee. "I love you, sweetie." Her smile fades. "But it's your fault I died."
Jess tucks a strand of hair behind one ear and bites her bottom lip. She withdraws her hand from Sam's. "Why didn't you didn't warn me, Sam?"
Ava shakes her head, folds her arms. "I saved your life. Why didn't you try to save mine?"
Olivia draws her knees up and clasps her hands around them. She rests her chin on her knees, watching the seagulls dive.
Sam looks from face to face for some sign small of forgiveness or acceptance, but all he finds is reproach, regret, anger, loss. He wants to say he's sorry but he can't speak. There aren't enough words in the world to tell these women how sorry he is.
Dean's just about asleep when a noise pulls him awake. Sam's moving on the bed. Not thrashing exactly, but close, and his face is contorted with pain. Dean has visions of Sam tangling up the IV and the pulse oximeter wire and quickly moves to Sam's side. "Sam?"
Sam's chest hitches; he's gasping for breath.
Sam's on his knees in the water. They're gathered around him, hands on his back and neck, forcing him down. Mary's hand is on his head, her fingers stroking his hair. "Your father entrusted Dean with an important job, Sam. Do you understand that? He has to save you."
Ava says, "He can try."
"Is he strong enough?" Jess wonders.
"It's too late," Olivia whispers.
"And if he can't save you, Sam, then you have to die."
Sam's face is wet with salt water. His eyes sting, but not from the salt. "Mom. Please. I'm sorry." Mary studies her son's face with a look of infinite sadness. "I'm sorry too," she says. "Dean can't save you." And she holds his head beneath the water.
Dean's eyes snap to the machines and before his brain can make sense of the numbers an alarm goes off. Dean stands by the bed, paralyzed. Sam's oxygen saturation is at 84. Another machine starts to warble in protest and Dean's paralysis breaks. He bolts to the door but Lori is already there. She slips past Dean and checks the seal on Sam's chest tube, fiddles with the machines.
Dean wants her to turn off the alarms and say everything's fine, but she doesn't.
"What's wrong?" Dean demands. Come on, Sam.
Sam's stats continue to drop and Lori picks up the phone and presses a button. Within seconds another woman wearing scrubs rushes into the room. "What?"
"Dyspnea," Lori says and then, "I increased his oxygen. Should I administer Albuterol?"
"What's that?" Dean wants to know. Neither woman pays him the slightest attention. He's frustrated, but he knows it's more important they help Sam.
The doctor nods. "2.5 mg with 3 cc saline."
Lori administers the medication through Sam's IV and within a few minutes there's noticeable improvement in Sam's breathing. "Dyspnea is when you can't catch your breath," she explains to Dean. "Sort of like if you've been exercising a lot. Sometimes people with chest injuries have a hard time breathing." She pats Dean's arm. "But we've fixed the problem, and the more Sam's lung reinflates, the less chance there is of another episode."
Dean pulls the chair next to Sam's bed while Lori updates his chart. He puts a hand on Sam's. "Quit that not-breathing thing," he says, almost keeping his voice steady. "You almost gave me heart attack. We can't both be stuck in this place."
Water pours into Sam's throat and it burns. His chest is being crushed under the weight of the ocean. Under the weight of guilt. He can't breathe.
He. Can't. Breathe.
He senses movement. Just barely. Someone (Dean) has his hand. Someone (Dean) is pulling him back to shore. Back to the world. Back to life.
Back to Dean.
Lori is taking Sam's temperature when he grips Dean's hand. His eyes open and he jerks, immediately fighting the breathing tube. He rolls his head, neck muscles bulging, and looks at Dean with wild eyes.
"Sam, it's okay," Dean says, not really knowing if it is or not. He flashes Lori a look that says, help him, dammit! He puts a hand on each side of Sam's head. "Look at me. Sam. Look. At me."
Sam stops struggling and focuses on Dean. Their eyes lock and Dean reads the fear and confusion. The pain. He runs a hand through Sam's too-long hair. "You're okay. You're gonna be okay." Dean's not sure if he's trying to convince Sam or himself. Probably both.
Lori removes the breathing tube and Sam gags. He's pale and sweaty and looks generally like crap. Dean keeps his hands on Sam's head, grounding him. "D...ean." Sam's voice is a choked whisper.
"I'm here, dude. I'm not going anywhere." Dean grins and blinks watering eyes. And neither are you.
Sam feigns sleep. He's out of the ICU now and in his own room. He's sick of the nurses' prodding. His head hurts. His chest hurts. His hand hurts. He's exhausted, but he's not eager to sleep (to dream). He thinks he's doing a pretty good job on the whole faking thing until he feels Dean poke his arm. "Dude. I know you're awake."
Sam sighs and cracks his eyes open. "Yeah. I guess I am."
"How are you feeling?"
Sam avoids Dean's face. "I've felt better."
"You've looked better too." Dean squinches his face in disgust and lowers his voice as if imparting some great--but distasteful--secret. "You've got a freakin' tube in your chest."
Sam glances down at his chest with wide eyes and makes a big production of being shocked. "Oh my God!" Then he rolls his eyes and regards Dean with a look that clearly says, You? Are so lame.
Dean snorts. "Seriously, I might like one of those things if I could get one that pumped in coffee."
Sam's voice is long suffering. "This isn't pumping coffee into me, Dean."
Dean smirks. "No kidding. The doctor said you were so full of hot air this was the one way to get rid of it."
Sam closes his eyes again. "Don't you have somewhere you need to be?"
The silence falls fast and heavy between them. Dean scratches his head. Starts tapping his foot. Whistles a few measures of For Whom the Bell Tolls.
Dean's foot pauses. "What?"
"You don't remember?"
Sam can hear the frown in Dean's voice. "I remember we got the demon out, but after that...only bits and pieces."
"Lisa Halverson made a guest appearance and took care of things."
Sam considers the information. Then asks, "And Olivia? She's dead?"
"Sam..." Dean's voice holds a warning.
Dean exhales heavily. "Yes."
Sam's jaw clenches. He remembers her wide, staring eyes, but maybe, just maybe...no. There are no maybes. She's dead.
"It's not your fault."
Sam stares up at the ceiling, silent. But he's fucking screaming in his head. The dream comes back to him, hands on his face and neck. Pushing. Holding him down. And no wonder. It's his fault. Olivia is dead because of him. They're all dead because of him.
"Dude, I'm going to get that tattooed on your arm. Save myself a lot of time and energy if I don't have to tell you it every five minutes."
Sam continues his silence and Dean starts the tapping back up. "Do you remember what you said back in the basement? Before the paramedics came?" He asks suddenly.
Sam keeps his face neutral. "No. What?"
"You said I was the best big brother in the whole world."
Sam can't stop the way his mouth quirks into a half smile. "Really."
Dean shrugs. "It's true of course, but I was a little surprised to hear you actually admit it."
"I'm surprised you heard it too, since I didn't say anything like that."
"How do you know? You said you only remember bits and pieces."
"You were really out of it," Dean reminds him.
Sam's smile falters and he studies his cast with intense interest. He says softly, "I remember one thing I said."
Dean hesitates. "What?"
Sam's eyes shine with tears. "You could have let me die. I wouldn't have been mad."
Dean's face hardens. "Sam," he growls, "I am not having this conversation."
"Fine. I am."
"Then you'll be talking to yourself because there are a lot of nurses around here I haven't even begun to hit on." Dean stands and makes his way to the door. He stops, his back to Sam.
Sam wishes he could make his brother understand. Letting him die isn't the same as wanting him to die. "It could have solved a lot of problems, that's all," he says, his voice ragged. "The Demon wouldn't be able to get to me. You...wouldn't have the responsibility..."
"Aww, shut it, Sam." Dean turns back to Sam, his face flushed with anger. "My job is to keep you safe. Not let you die."
"I don't care what Dad said." Dean's voice is harsher than he intends. He makes an effort to stay calm. "It'll never come to that."
The pain in Sam's eyes makes Dean feel useless. "You don't know that."
Dean nods his head a few times. "Yeah, I do know. I can...I can feel it."
Sam's smile doesn't reach his eyes. "What? Now you have the shining?"
"No. I just have...faith."
Sam's eyebrows disappear into his bangs. He's clearly skeptical. "In what?"
Dean shrugs. "In you." Their eyes meet. And Sam can see it, plain as day. Dean's trust. His faith. Sam can feel it.
And Dean walks out the door.
Sam listens to Dean's footsteps move down the hall and he rubs his eyes. Dean has faith in him? So did Jess. Look where that got her.
He's afraid of Dean's faith. Afraid he'll let him down. And he can't stand that. The stakes are too high. How can Dean have faith in him when he doesn't have faith in himself?
He hates lying here, helpless and hooked up to machines. He can almost feel The Demon getting closer and he wants to take action. Research. Fight. Plan. Do something (anything) besides feel depressed and guilty and scared.
He wants to find an answer. Solve the puzzle of kids like him and Scott and Ava. Max and Andy and Anson. Because as much as Dean wants to save him, Sam wants to save Dean more.
Dean stares blankly at the vending machine. He has his choice of crap coffee, crap coffee, crap coffee, and crap hot chocolate. He sticks a few coins in the slot and picks crap coffee number three.
Sam's driving him crazy. What a dumbass. You could have let me die. There's about the same chance of him letting Sam die as there is of him sprouting wings. Or listening to Sarah McLachlan.
Dean takes the long way back to Sam's room so he can pass the nurses station. Bitchface is there and Dean winks at her. Her mouth drops open in shock and Dean snorts out a laugh.
He knows Sam's just scared. Freaked out by the whole I-have-plans-for-you thing and the hey-I-might-have-to-kill-you if those plans come to fruition. Dean shakes his head. He should have told Sam the truth a long time ago. He should have done it differently. Actually, he should have done a lot of things differently. But he'll make it up to Sam. And he'll keep him safe. That's a promise.
Dean's still holding the untouched coffee when he enters Sam's room. "Jeez, this stuff is hotter than lava," he complains, and sets the cup on a rolling table. That's when he sees they're not alone.
Sam's eyes are red and wounded, focused on the far side of the room. Kathryn Davis is standing there, leaning against the radiator, arms folded across her chest.
Her eyes are just as red as Sam's. Her hair is greasy and unkempt and she flicks a bleary look at Dean. "Agent Ulrich," she says.
Dean licks his lips. "Uh, yeah, about that..."
"I know you're not FBI agents." Dean risks a quick look at Sam and Sam nods, resigned. "I don't really care who you are," she continues. "You found my daughter." Her face contorts into a look of such rage and bitterness Dean takes an automatic step backwards. "Next door to my house." Her mouth trembles and she sniffs deeply. And then the rage is gone, swallowed back inside and pulled down deep; the familiar blankness slips over her features.
"I'm sorry I didn't bring her--bring her back to you," Sam says, his voice breaking.
Kathryn regards Sam with empty eyes. "You did bring her back." Her mouth curves slightly. "At least we know what happened to her. And I'm grateful for that. So thank you."
"Mrs. Davis--" Sam tries, but she cuts him off.
"Kathryn," she corrects. "Mrs. Davis makes me sound old." She shrugs. "But I guess...I am old. I feel old." She adjusts her purse over her shoulder and drifts to the door.
"Kathryn," Sam says, "I'm so sorry."
Kathryn looks from Sam to Dean and back to Sam. "Me too."
Sam is quiet after Kathryn leaves. Dean sits by the bed, half-heartedly working on a cross-word puzzle when he's not casting side-long looks at Sam.
"I know you feel guilty because you're a freak and all, but we did the best we could for Olivia," Dean finally says, tossing the puzzle onto the edge of Sam's bed. "You did the best you could."
Sam's adam's apple bobs and blinks a few times, but he still works the silence.
"And you had no reason to think Ava was in danger," Dean continues. "So stop beating yourself up." Dean leans back in the chair and frowns at Sam. "Are you even listening to me or am I just talking to myself, here?"
Sam's face is pinched with misery, but he nods.
"Good. Because I have three words. Ready?" Dean counts off on his fingers, "Charley, Lori, and Sarah. We saved those girls. And we've saved a lot more people. I know you think we're a little low in the saving people column, I get that. But we're doing okay. We're trying. And that's...that matters, Sam." He throws a half-smile Sam's way. "It matters a hell of a lot."
Sam wipes at his face and nods again. He tries to smile back. "You're right. It does matter," he says thickly.
Dean pats Sam's shoulder. "Now are you gonna cry like a girl again? Cuz I'm gonna have to ask the nurse for extra kleenex."
Sam flips Dean the bird but his eyes say thank you.
Sam's chest tube is removed on day three of his hospital stay. His lung looks good, the wound is healing, the main concern now is his hand. The orthopedist returns and talks about physical therapy but Sam merely nods and makes the appropriate mouth noises. He and Dean will be long gone before his cast comes off. He'll have to make time for P.T. on the road.
Dean tosses a stress ball at Sam's head and tells him not to worry about it.
Sam glares and throws the ball back. It bounces off Dean's forehead and smacks into the wall. The look on Dean's face is murderous and Sam laughs. It's honest and real and sounds a little like music; Dean's face relaxes into annoyance.
Dean turns the chair around and straddles it, squeezing the ball in one hand. "You know, maybe we don't have to get you P.T. on the fly," he says. "Maybe we can settle down for a while."
Sam's mouth twitches. "Uh-huh. And where do you want to settle down? A Las Vegas strip club?"
Dean strokes his chin thoughtfully. "Not where I was going, but not a bad idea. Not at all, Sam." He points a finger at Sam, then taps his head. "Now you're using your head for something besides a punching bag."
Sam's eyes roll. "You were saying?"
Dean puts on his serious face, takes a deep breath. "Okay, just hear me out. Please."
Sam's forehead wrinkles. A warning bell goes off in Sam's head. "Okay."
Dean squirms in the chair like a kid stuck inside at recess. "I was thinking...that maybe...you might want to go back to school."
Sam's face says what? before his mouth does. He looks at Dean, then around the room as if maybe there's a hidden camera somewhere. "What are you talking about?"
Dean rolls the ball between his hands. "I know you wanted to go back to school. Maybe this is your chance, you know? We can lie low." Dean tips his head at Sam's expression. "I can come with you. Not to school," he adds quickly, "but I can hang out in Palo Alto. We can share an apartment, hunt things around the area, you know? And you can still be Lawyer Boy."
Dean's voice is casual but Sam can see the pleading in his eyes. He doesn't know what to say. Because this is what he wanted for so long. To go back to school, back to the normal, back to where he felt safe. How many times has he daydreamed about something like this? And never in his wildest dreams did he imagine Dean offering to make it come true.
Sam's throat is tight. His smile is tighter. "Dean, you have no idea how much that means to me. How much..." he takes a deep breath, struggles to get himself under control. "That you would...would encourage me to go back to college. That you would go with me."
Dean is uncomfortable but forges on. "So you'll go?"
Sam twists one end of the sheet into a point. Untwists it. He turns to Dean and offers a cheerless smile. "No."
Dean rolls his eyes and looks up at the ceiling in a why me? gesture. "What? Why? I thought you wanted normal. This is your chance to be Joe College. Apple pie and picket fences, here we come."
Sam shakes his head and reaches out to touch Dean's arm. "Dean. I appreciate the offer, I really do. But...I'm not that guy anymore. I'm not the guy who wants to go back to Stanford and be a lawyer. I'm not sure I ever was that guy. I think...I think I just wanted to be that guy." He lifts a shoulder in a half shrug. "Besides, after everything in Baltimore, I'm not sure I could even–"
Dean dismisses Sam's concern with a wave of his hand. "Forget that. I'll help you straighten things out. Diana will help you straighten things out, I know it."
"That's not the point," Sam says gently. "This is my normal now," he waves a hand vaguely around the room. "Hunting. You're my normal. I don't need anything else." And it doesn't hurt to admit. Not the way he thought it would. It feels right (normal) being with Dean. There's nowhere he'd rather be.
Stanford was a beautiful dream while it lasted, but the time for dreams is over. He's okay with that. He has more important things to do than dream. He has to save people (Dean). He has to. Destiny's eye is on him, and it's like looking down the barrel of gun.
Dean blinks back tears. "Sam. Please."
"Dude, you'd die of boredom in the first ten minutes," Sam says with a hint of amusement.
"It's not about me," Dean grits, "it's about you. Keeping you safe."
"What makes you think I'd be safe at Stanford?" Sam asks. "Because Jessica wasn't." He pinches the bridge of his nose, tries to rub away the beginning of a headache. "I don't think I'm safe anywhere, Dean. Not really. I know that's not what you want to hear. But it's the truth."
"You're safe with me," Dean replies stubbornly.
"And that's where I feel safest," Sam agrees. "I'm thankful for that." He pauses. "For you." He pats Dean's arm. "Even if you are the biggest jerk I know."
Dean huffs and rests his head on the railing of Sam's bed in defeat. "You. Are such. A stubborn ass."
Sam laughs. "I learned from the best."
In another day Sam is up and walking around. He's not ready for a marathon, but he's not tripping over his feet, either.
"Anything?" Dean asks.
Sam checks his voice mail and sighs, dejected. "No."
Dean considers saying I'm sure she'll turn up, or she's probably just lying low cuz she's scared, but he doesn't. He's tired of lying.
Sam drops the cell phone into his duffle along with the stress ball and a few first aid supplies he's appropriated from the hospital. Gauze, band-aids, ointment. Anything that might come in useful.
He pulls the broken starfish out of his pocket and studies it.
"What's that?" Dean asks, grabbing his bag from a chair. He looks closer, then scowls. "That's the starfish? And they gave it to you? That's just wrong."
Sam returns it to his pocket. "I asked for it."
Dean's lip curls and he makes a face. "Why?"
"There's someplace I need to take it."
"To the nearest garbage can?"
Sam's look says shut it, dude. "No, to the ocean."
Dean stops, bag dangling from his arm. "The ocean? As in, a big blue body of water?"
Dean elbows Sam toward the door and they peer down the hallway. All clear. Dean doesn't reply until they're in the elevator. "You really want to drive all the way to the Pacific–"
"–Atlantic Ocean so you can toss a broken starfish that was surgically removed from your hand into the water?"
Sam considers. "Sounds about right."
Dean punches the button marked first floor. "So I take it this is some sort of bullshit that makes you feel better about Olivia?"
"I love it when you show your sensitive side," Sam snarks.
Dean snaps his fingers and grins. "Oh dude, chicks in bikinis. Sweet."
It's fifteen hours to Virginia Beach. Sam sleeps most of the way and Dean alternates between Zeppelin and Sabbath on the drive. They arrive after nightfall and the beach is mostly deserted.
Neither of them cares about the Boardwalk and Dean just follows Sam's lead.
They end up standing by a rocky outcropping, watching the waves. It's the same roar Sam heard when he put a shell to his ear as a kid. It's the same sound Olivia heard in her room while she dreamed of a future. It's the same sound he heard in his dream.
Sam can still feel the touch of phantom hands. Dean can't save you. Maybe not.But maybe he can save Dean.
Sam squints out at the ocean, looking for Jess or Mom, but there's no one. Just him and Dean.
Sam's got the starfish in one trembling hand. "I still miss her Dean," he admits, voice low. It's always easier to admit the truth in the dark.
Dean looks at his brother, steps closer. He knows he's not talking about Olivia. "I know." He rests an arm on Sam's shoulder. He likes it here. The cool sand beneath his feet, the wind on his face.
Sam bends his arm back and then throws. The starfish arcs up and out and he thinks, shooting star, and then it's gone, sinking into black water. He lowers himself gingerly to the ground and sits cross-legged on the sand. Dean sits beside him.
They watch the waves pound the shoreline.
Sam closes his eyes, listening for the sound of forgiveness.