Disclaimer: Don't own them – just borrowing them for a while.
Summary: Tag to Born Under a Bad Sign – what happens when Sam must save Dean, because there is no such thing as a simple bullet wound.
Rated T for swearing.
a/n – I loved Born Under a Bad Sign, and undoubtedly felt gypped that we didn't get another three hours after the boys left Bobby's. And I couldn't get the whole thing out of my head. I mean, seriously, there was a bullet wound to contend with. :-) Not to mention the emotional angst that needed to be explored.
I've never written a tag before. I've never written anything this short before (and it's probably long for a tag), so I'm a little nervous about it. But I suppose there's a first time for everything.
GS – It's mind boggling how quickly that which we never had can become that which we can't live without.
Suzi – my SMT sister – thanks for the feedback - so glad we ran into each other in this realm.
Step one you say we need to talk
He walks you say sit down it's just a talk
He smiles politely back at you
You stare politely right on through
Some sort of window to your right
As he goes left and you stay right
Between the lines of fear and blame
And you begin to wonder why you came
Where did I go wrong, I lost a friend
Somewhere along in the bitterness
And I would have stayed up with you all night
Had I known how to save a life
How to Save a Life
Dean looked at Sam, asleep in the passenger seat, and couldn't help the chill that ran through his body. When was it going to stop? Would it ever stop? Would the fear and worry and panic of losing Sammy ever go away? If they annihilated every demon on the planet could they avoid spending a lifetime looking over their shoulders? Could they lead normal lives?
And if that time did come to pass, would he know what to do with normal? Sammy would. Sammy craved normal. Longed for the day he could get up in the morning, kiss his wife goodbye and head to work. For the time when he could pay for dinner with a credit card in his own name, stop living out of a duffel bag, have a white picket fence to protect his home.
Dean gripped the steering wheel of the only home he could remember, and forced himself to stop thinking. To stop the feeling of dread that was pushing up from deep within his belly and into his chest, forcing his breath to catch in his throat. The pain in his shoulder registered the instant he stopped focusing on Sam, and he noticed with a sick satisfaction that he would rather feel the pulsating stabs than any emotion. Because emotion was going to get him killed. And then who would save Sammy?
He had been driving for over two hours, because he didn't know how else to put distance between his past and his future besides pressing on the accelerator. Because he knew the minute he stopped he would have to face his battered body. The arm that rested limply at his side. The hand that had gone numb before they left Bobby's. The throbbing headache that was beginning to blur his vision.
It wasn't until the road began to come in and out of focus that he decided to look for a motel. If he was alone he would push himself to keep driving. To stay cocooned inside his car, the only thing he loved that had never turned against him. He knew that wasn't fair; both Sam and his dad had been possessed by demons when they'd lashed out at him. But it was hard to ignore the hands, the faces, the voices when he was being tortured, shot and beaten by what appeared to be the only people he ever really loved. Ever trusted.
Dean pulled into the motel parking lot and hesitated before opening the car door, unable to gauge the state of his body, to determine whether he could stay on his feet long enough to get them a room. He glanced at Sam, still sleeping, and decided he had no choice but to go it alone. He never told Bobby he'd been shot, and he didn't think Sam remembered. Telling him now would only freak him out more than he already was.
Clenching his jaw against the movement, Dean reached over with his right hand and pushed the door open, pausing long enough to let the throbbing in his shoulder ease, to clear the spots dancing in his eyes. It took him several long minutes to walk the twenty steps to the front counter of the motel office, and by the time he got there he was in a cold sweat, grateful he had something to lean on to keep from falling over.
"Can I help you?" The elderly woman behind the counter was watching an infomercial, the only programming available at six in the morning, and spoke to Dean without looking at him.
"I need a room," Dean managed. "Two beds."
At the sound of his voice the woman looked up, surprise clouding her face. Dean's voice was rough and thick, and he sounded like a man three times his age. He tried to cover the black eye and swollen lip with a hand to his face, but he could tell she hadn't missed any of it. In the end he didn't care, and figured she had seen her share of beaten up drunks.
"Cash or credit?" she asked.
"Cash. How much?" Dean could barely lift his head to make eye contact.
"Fifty-nine dollars. Includes tax. Check out's at noon."
Dean looked at his watch. No way was he checking out in a few hours. "Two nights," he said.
It took an enormous amount of energy to take his wallet out of his pocket, and after handing the woman the money, Dean couldn't be bothered to put it back. He scribbled something on the registration form, took the key and turned to leave when the clerk tried to stop him.
"Excuse me, Mr…Starsky," she called out.
Dean turned around, aware that he was using precious energy every time he moved.
"Do you need anything?"
Dean cocked his head, not quite sure what she meant, too tired to open his mouth and ask.
The woman hesitated. "Aspirin?" she began. "A doctor? An ambulance?"
I must look as bad as I feel, Dean thought, trying to offer the woman his best attempt at a smile. "Thanks," he said. "But I'm okay. Just been driving a while."
He was sure she didn't believe him, but Dean didn't care. Truth was, he didn't believe himself either.
Dean drove the car right up to their room and realized when he got there that he had been functioning purely on adrenaline. The minute he allowed himself to stop, he found it almost impossible to move forward, so intense was the throbbing inside his shoulder. There was no way Sam wouldn't notice how much pain he was in, so he decided on the next best thing. He would leave Sam in the car, the door to the room ajar, until he had a chance to assess the damage, to take care of himself without involving his brother.
By the time he made it into the bathroom with the first aid kit, Dean was shaking, his breath shallow as he took off his jacket. When he pulled on the collar of the t-shirt it was impossible to miss the blood drenching the bandage, and it dawned on him that there had been no stitches, nothing other than a piece of gauze to close the hole the bullet had left behind. Not that he would have stuck around for stitches, even if Jo had known what to do, not when Sam was out there, possessed. Alone.
The pain radiated from his shoulder all the way down his arm, and it felt like electrical current was shooting into his hand, which was almost impossible to move. He found the painkillers Jo gave him in his jacket pocket, desperate to take half a dozen of them, but couldn't get the top off, so useless was his left hand. Taking the t-shirt off was out of the question. The slightest movement felt bone jarring and he was certain the minute he moved his arm in any direction he would pass out. He wasn't sure what was keeping him conscious now, other than a stubborn streak he'd inherited from his father.
Dean looked at his reflection in the mirror, disgusted with his body's inability to follow his brain's instructions, and for a moment of disassociation felt sorry for the man that stared back. There was black and blue surrounding an eye, and a swollen lip that was cracked, and when he looked closely he could see eyes that showed fear. Revolted by the image that showed only weakness, Dean backed out of the bathroom and into the room, pulling the covers back from the nearest bed and crawling in. He was shivering, and he wondered if Sammy was warm before the pain and exhaustion kept him from having another thought.
Sam woke with a start, the realization that they weren't moving registering before he opened his eyes. "Dean?" It was automatic, he didn't need to look. Dean was always there. "What the hell –" Sam quickly got his bearings and made his way to the open door, his instincts on high alert as he scanned the room before turning on the light. Dean was sound asleep on the bed furthest from the door, on his back, facing the opposite wall, and Sam turned off the light, not wanting to wake him.
He must be pissed at me, Sam thought, making his way into the bathroom. As if I had any control over what happened.
The first aid kit in the sink was the first thing Sam noticed, but a quick search of its contents and the trashcan didn't give him any indication that it had been used. Had he not been so tired he might have questioned why it was there in the first place, but he barely had the energy to pick up Dean's jacket off the floor before brushing his teeth and climbing into bed.
"Why didn't you kill me? You had a dozen chances."
"Nah, that would have been too easy. What's the fun in that? See, this was a test. I wanted to see if I could push you far enough to waste Sam. I should have known you wouldn't have the sac. Anyway, fun's over now."
Well, I hope you got your kicks. Because you're gonna pay hell for this. I'm gonna make sure of that."
"How? You can't hurt me. Not without hurting your little brother. See, I think you're gonna die, Dean. You and every other hunter I can find. One look at Sam's dewy sensitive eyes, they'll let him right in the door."
Sam tossed and turned, deep inside his head. Unable to wake up. Unable to stop the visions and the words that spilled forward.
"By the way, I saw your dad there. He says howdy. All that I had to hold onto is that I would climb out one day and that I was gonna torture you, nice and slow, like pulling the wings off an insect. But whatever I do to you, it's nothing compared to what you do to yourself, is it? I can see it in your eyes, Dean. You're worthless. You couldn't save your dad, and deep down you know that you can't save your brother. They'd have been better off without you."
Sam bolted upright, his hands on his head as the pain receded, as his breathing slowed, as the room came back into focus.
Was that real? Did I shoot him?
Sam looked over at Dean, he was in the same position he was in when he walked into the room.
How long ago was that? No. Can't be. I didn't. I couldn't. Oh God, please tell me I didn't.
Sam closed his eyes, the memory of Dean against the wall vivid as he punched him again and again. And then he grabbed his shoulder, and he pressed his thumb into it, and Dean grabbed his wrist, tried to stop him. Sam opened his eyes, wide, panicked, as he ran to the bathroom and grabbed Dean' jacket. He ran his hands through the fabric, frantic, until he found it. A small hole on the left shoulder. Sam turned the jacket around.
Oh God. No hole. No exit wound. Is there a bullet lodged in Dean's shoulder?
Sam forced himself back into the room, the bile rising in his throat as he contemplated his actions, the demon's actions. The light from the bathroom illuminated the room just enough that he could make out Dean's sleeping form. As he got closer he could see a clear sheen of sweat on his battered face, his lips parted as he breathed heavily, painfully. Sam carefully pulled back the covers and placed a hand on his brother's arm, desperate to connect, to feel anything besides the cold that was seeping into every pore. He was still, unable to move, his brother's unnatural warmth only adding to the anxiety clutching at his heart, until Dean stirred.
Dean's eyes fluttered open, disoriented and confused as he took in his surroundings. Without warning, he backed away suddenly, the hunter's instinct never far from the surface, and Sam could tell that the sharp intake of breath, the clenched jaw, the eyes shut tightly as he pressed his head against the pillow was the only way Dean could keep himself from screaming.
"It's okay," Sam soothed, his hands in mid air, unsure where he could touch his brother that would offer comfort and not more pain. "It's just me. You're okay."
Sam watched helplessly as Dean struggled to catch his breath, to come back to him. When he finally did he just stared at Sam through glassy eyes that begged for an explanation. For an understanding of all that had passed and of all that was yet to come.
Sam had nothing. No details. No denial. Only the sobering truth that was tearing him apart. "So," he whispered. "I…shot you."
A flicker of recognition crossed Dean's face and he closed his eyes against the memory. "Something like that," he replied, his voice foreign to Sam's ears. "But it wasn't you," he quickly added, his concern for Sam once again overriding his own pain.
"Why didn't you say anything?"
Dean didn't answer him and Sam kept talking.
"Is the bullet still in there?"
"No, Jo got it out."
Sam winced at the image and Dean tried to smile, to offer his brother a consolation of sorts.
"It wasn't so bad. I got half a bottle of whiskey in exchange."
"Dean–" Sam placed his hand gently on Dean's wrist, an attempt to ground himself. To gain the strength his brother always provided. "You're pretty warm, which could mean there's an infection. I need to take a look at it."
"I can't move it."
"My arm. I can't move it."
Sam didn't like the heaviness in Dean's voice, the way his breath caught after every few words. And he knew he had to look at the shoulder, make a quick assessment. Decide whether he could take care of it or if he had to get Dean to a hospital.
"I have to take a look at it."
"I can't move it!"
The tone in his voice surprised Sam and he pulled back, giving his brother the space to get it together. It only took Dean a moment to get himself under control, but by that point Sam's fear had gotten the best of him.
"Maybe we should get you to a hospital."
"No hospital," Dean said, his eyes blinking furiously as he tried to stay awake.
"You're not making this very easy," Sam muttered, trying hard to stay calm.
"It's a bullet wound, Sam," Dean breathed. "Hospitals have to report bullet wounds to the police."
Sam nodded, as if Dean was paying attention to him. "Right," he said. "But we won't use your name. They'll never know it's you."
"Can't take the chance."
"Then you have to let me look at it," Sam said, his voice broaching no argument. "I'm going to get the scissors and cut the t-shirt off. That way you don't have to move your arm."
Sam rubbed his hands through his hair as he walked back into the bathroom, in search of the first aid kit. He should have known something was wrong when he first saw it in the sink, and he berated himself for being so slow on the uptake.
He turned on the lamp by Dean's bed and watched as his brother squinted away from the light. "Sorry, man, but I've got to see what I'm doing here."
Dean didn't answer him, instead he turned his face away from Sam when he felt the scissors against his stomach.
"Besides the fact that you can't move your arm," Sam began, "does it hurt anywhere else?" Sam was surprised when Dean turned to face him. And even more surprised when his brother was forthcoming with information.
"The back of my hand is numb," Dean volunteered. "And it's hard to move my wrist."
Sam had the t-shirt off and was wincing at the sight of the blood soaked bandage. "Did I, um, did you tear the stitches?" he asked, finding it hard to look at the blood.
"There were no stitches."
"No time," Dean sighed.
Dean was listless, his voice breathless and sleepy, and Sam could tell he was losing him, and for an instant he wished his brother would pass out. It would certainly make the next few minutes easier. But Dean was stubborn, and every time his eyes closed he opened them with force, denying himself the reprieve he so badly needed.
Sam ignored the screaming in his ears, the voice that was telling him to get his brother to a doctor, and carefully removed the bandages. He was surprised to see how small the bullet wound was, and that the skin around it was already starting to seal itself shut. What didn't surprise him were the early signs of infection, since a Winchester injury without a complication wouldn't fit the pattern of despair their lives had taken over the last few months. The red and puffy wound, the creamy, greenish pus oozing out of it, only confirmed his belief that they were cursed.
"Damn it," Sam said, unable to hide the disappointment from his voice.
"That sounds promising," Dean offered, the sound of his hollow voice betraying the levity of his words.
"Infection's already setting in," Sam said, biting his nails as he thought about their options, and the fact that Dean's mug was plastered all over the FBI database. Sam looked at the wound closely, something about it and Dean's symptoms not making any sense. "Dean, what happens when you try and move your arm?" he asked.
"It hurts." And the sarcasm was hard to deny.
"No shit," Sam said, trying to keep calm. "Where exactly does it hurt?
"Okay, you're not helping here," Sam argued, attempting to keep the exasperation out of his voice and failing.
"What's your point, Sam?" Dean's voice matched his own irritation.
"I get that the wound is painful, but what you're describing, the inability to move your arm, the numbness in your hand, there must be damage inside causing those symptoms."
"What's your point, Sam?" Dean repeated.
"I don't know," Sam admitted, rubbing his eyes in the hopes of bringing clarity to the situation. "But I think that because the bullet didn't come out the other side, it means something inside your shoulder stopped it. Might have been damaged by it."
Sam ignored the fact that his brother didn't want to hear any of it and moved his fingers gently around Dean's shoulder, careful to avoid the wound itself. He stopped when he felt a bump right above the shoulder socket. Pressing softly against it only served to elicit Dean's wrath.
"Son of a bitch!" Dean yelled, his right fist pressing against the bed as he took in quick bursts of air. "What the hell, Sam?" he managed through clenched teeth.
"Sorry," Sam said, more worried than before. He looked at Dean's shoulder again, at the position of the bullet hole. "Bone," he said, thinking out loud. "What else could stop a bullet? I bet you that's it. It must have hit the bone. And the damage is causing this bump on your shoulder. Maybe you broke something."
"Thank you, Doogie, for the diagnosis." Dean shivered, physically unable to match the lightness he was trying to achieve. And Sam pulled the covers up to his chest, a hand immediately on Dean's forehead.
"I think you're hotter than you were five minutes ago," Sam said absently, searching for the thermometer in the first aid kit.
Dean didn't have the energy to argue, and said nothing while Sam took his temperature, the ear thermometer startling him when it beeped.
"102.6," Sam volunteered. "You need to take something to bring that down."
"In my jacket pocket," Dean said, sounding weaker with every word. "Pills. Give me those."
Sam went and got the pills Dean wanted, reading the label on his way back.
"This is Jo's prescription," Sam said.
Sam ignored the wheezing in Dean's voice as he read the label. "Tylenol with codeine," he said. "Take one every four hours."
"Give me three."
"I don't think so."
"I'm bigger than she is."
"Just give me something," Dean sighed.
Sam found the honesty, the admission that Dean couldn't cope on his own, more troublesome than anything else.
Sitting up to take the two pills left Dean weaker than before, and Sam couldn't help but hover, a hand on his mouth as he watched his brother fight the pain, and the exhaustion that came with it.
Sam was fairly certain that an infection wasn't the only thing causing his brother so much pain, but at the moment he had no idea what it was. Or what to do about it.
"Why don't you try and get some sleep," Sam suggested. "I'm going to clean the wound with a little water and cover it back up for the time being. We're out of just about everything in the first aid kit, so I need to make a supply run before I can really clean it out."
"Can't wait," Dean mused.
"I know," Sam said from the bathroom, waiting for the water to run warm before soaking a washcloth. By the time he made it back in the room Dean was barely awake, his eyes fluttering helplessly as he fought the effect of the painkillers.
"Give it up," Sam said under his breath, hoping Dean was out before he did anything to the shoulder. But Dean refused to fall asleep until Sam was done, making the simple procedure of wiping the wound and bandaging it torture for both of them.
A million scenarios swam in Sam's head as he watched Dean sleep. He was certain he should take his brother to the hospital. The shoulder needed to be x-rayed, so it could be treated properly, and the wound had to be cleaned, thoroughly, while the area was numb, and not in a motel room under a fifty watt bulb. He needed antibiotics for the infection. And that bump on the shoulder that was so painful? What the hell was that?
Sam ran his hand through his hair again, resting it on the back of his neck as he pondered their options. Reluctantly, he admitted to himself that Dean was right. Taking him to the hospital with a bullet wound would bring the cops in, and they couldn't take that chance. But if he messed up, if he missed something while taking care of his brother on his own, he might never recover the use of his arm. And if he couldn't treat the infection before it got worse, he could die.
The irony of the situation didn't escape Sam. His brother had spent his life fighting evil, protecting the innocent from their worst nightmares. In a family business that took no prisoners, that left no time for a real life, for connections and friends, for all the things Dean so deserved. And this is how the world paid him back. By making him a wanted man, unable to get the medical care he so desperately needed so that he could survive and continue to protect the same bastards that were making his life hell.
"Great," Sam muttered. "Now what?" He couldn't even drag Dean back to Bobby's, not with a slew of vigilant hunters looking for the slightest clue to avenge a friend's untimely death. Besides, they couldn't do that to Bobby. It seemed that every time they got near the guy they wreaked havoc.
Sam took the laptop out of his duffel and turned it on, determined to figure out how to help his brother without killing him in the process.
Dean woke slowly, a full bladder his only conscious thought as he opened his eyes. The events of the previous day tumbled out at warp speed, and he clutched his left arm when he remembered falling in the water, his lungs craving oxygen, his body resisting the water's pull.
A quick scan of the room and he knew he was alone, but he called out to Sam anyway, hoping he was only imagining the emptiness he felt all around him.
"Sammy," he tried again, his shaky voice unfamiliar. Using his right hand for support, Dean tried to sit up, and that's when he noticed his cell phone on the bed beside him, a note underneath it.
Went to get supplies. Be back soon. Call if you need anything.
Dean opened his phone and called Sam, buying into the irrational thought that he didn't want his brother out of his sight.
"Dean? You okay?"
"I'm fine," Dean said, his voice low. "Where are you?"
"On my way back. I'll be there in five minutes."
"Okay." Dean shut the phone and closed his eyes, the relief obvious as he relaxed against the bed, his hands shaking as he put the phone down.
Get yourself together, he told himself. You can't save Sam if you can't save yourself. Dean hated being injured, sick. Anything other than on top of his game was a luxury he couldn't afford. With that in mind he forced himself to sit up, but the attempt was thwarted by an excruciating burst of fire that began in his shoulder and worked its way down his arm and into his hand.
"Fuck!" Dean shouted, out loud, to himself, to the walls, to anyone that dared listen. To the planetary alignment that prevented the Winchesters from catching a break.
He gave himself a minute, ignoring the rush of color that blurred his vision, the nagging feeling that he should wait for Sam, and tried again. And despite the sweat that ran down his face and the ragged breath he couldn't control, he succeeded, and found himself sitting on the bed, his feet firmly planted on the floor.
Without pausing to catch his breath and with his left arm held tightly against his body, Dean pushed himself off the bed with the strength of his right hand, swaying slightly when he was finally standing. He knew better than to head for the bathroom, because his body was giving him every indication that he had no business standing up, that he should be on his back, preferably unconscious. But his bladder was telling him otherwise, and the stubborn streak that got him into trouble on a regular basis refused to let him down.
Taking tentative steps, Dean made his way to the bathroom, feeling every joint in his body rebel as he pushed beyond his limit. By the time he reached the toilet his whole body was shaking, and his left arm was throbbing mercilessly. When he was done he leaned against the wall, eyes closed to keep the room from spinning, to keep himself from falling over. And that's when he knew he would never get out of there on his own, and he gave up fighting the urge to stay standing.
"Dean?" Sam looked around the small room, the panic instant. "Dean!"
Pushing against the bathroom door was met with resistance, and Sam pressed harder, until he had moved Dean's legs out of the way.
"Jesus Christ, Dean, what the hell are you doing?" Sam kneeled by his brother, not sure if he was conscious, feeling for a pulse, relieved when Dean tried to shove him away.
"Had to take a leak," he said heavily.
"And you couldn't wait?" Sam was trying to get him up, avoiding his left arm as much as he could.
Dean didn't answer, just grunted with the effort to stand up, to lean heavily against Sam as he dragged him back to bed.
"Stay there," Sam said when he had finally managed to get Dean on the bed.
"Whatever." Dean was shivering.
"Here, take these." Sam handed him two pills and a glass of water.
"What are they?" Dean asked, the pills already in his mouth.
"Antibiotics. Hopefully they'll be strong enough to fight the infection."
"Where'd you get them?"
"I went to a clinic," Sam said as he emptied the bag he'd brought with him. "Had them check out the burn on my arm."
"I'm fine," Sam said, distracted as he sorted the supplies he'd bought at the drugstore. "I just figured once they saw it they'd give me some more painkillers and the antibiotics you needed."
"You should take them," Dean said, the breathiness in his voice betraying the effort he was putting into the conversation.
Sam stopped what he was doing and looked at his brother, resisting the urge to pick up the phone and call an ambulance. Dean was burning up and the fresh bandage he'd placed on his shoulder a few hours earlier was already wet with a combination of pus and blood. He wasn't looking forward to what was coming.
"I don't need them," Sam said gently, aware that Dean's main concern was always his safety. His protection. "They changed the dressing, put gunk on it, and said it should heal pretty quickly. On top of that I will have a demonic scar to always remember Meg by."
"Some chicks have a way of getting under your skin," Dean offered, coughing when he tried to laugh, his body shaking from the cold.
"I know you want to lie down," Sam said apologetically, but I need you to sit while I clean out the wound."
"I'm fine," Dean managed, the look on his face telling a different story.
Sam took the blanket from his bed and gently draped it around Dean's shoulders before turning up the heater in the room to full power. Then went back to organizing everything he needed to get started. Over the years he had realized that certain things were easier to do if he didn't give them too much thought. If he followed the steps without thinking ahead, without imagining the consequences. The prospect of cleaning out an infected bullet wound on his brother's shoulder, while he was already weak with pain and fever, fell under this category. And he knew that if he allowed himself to think about it, he would lose his nerve.
"So," Sam said, trying to prepare Dean for what was coming. "I found this website that's got step by step instructions on how to clean an infected wound if you're stranded in the wilderness."
"I hate camping," Dean mumbled.
"Yeah, I know. Me too." Sam filled a large plastic container with water and put it in the microwave, setting the timer for five minutes, hoping that would be enough time for the water to boil.
"Anyway," Sam continued. "I have to soak the wound in really hot water first, but that should help lessen the pain once I get started…"
"Sam," Dean interrupted. "I don't care…I mean…" Dean was having a hard time stringing together a sentence, and it occurred to Sam that he looked worse than he had only minutes before.
"Hey, what's the matter? You okay?" Sam was kneeling before him, a hand on Dean's lap.
"Yeah," Dean nodded. "Just tired." Dean closed his eyes and swayed to the side, opening them the instant he felt Sam's hand on his shoulder.
"You're really hot," Sam said, reaching for the thermometer and placing it in Dean's ear. "I'm thinking maybe you should eat something." Sam ignored the grimace on Dean's face at the mention of food. "The antibiotics said take with food."
The thermometer beeped and Sam looked at it, not happy with the reading.
"What's it say?" Dean asked.
"Not my worst," Dean mused. "But not bad."
"Come on," Sam said, working hard to keep the casual banter up. Everything about his brother told him that he was getting worse, and that he needed to hurry. "Help me get you up against the headboard."
With a great deal of effort Dean eased himself back, his breath catching whenever he moved his shoulder.
"Here, take these," Sam said, handing him two more painkillers. Dean could barely get the pills in his mouth and Sam had to hold the glass of water to his lips. "Okay, I'm almost done. You stay right there."
"Hurry, I've got a hot date in an hour."
Sam laid out what he needed, according to the website's instructions, on his bed, within easy reach. He then brought the only chair in the room as close to Dean as possible, so he could reach his brother's shoulder easily without moving the bed. He pulled back the curtains, to let more light into the room and began working with the boiling water.
"What're you doin'?" Dean slurred.
"I'm making a saline solution. Apparently salt added to the hot water helps fight infection."
"Eighth wonder of the world, salt."
Sam couldn't help but smile. Even delirious and semi conscious Dean was still cracking jokes. And he was fairly certain he was doing it for him.
Sam put the solution in the microwave for another couple of minutes and went to wash his hands. When he was done, he placed the hot water on the nightstand, next to his laptop, the instructions from the wilderness website already on the screen. He put on a cheap pair of magnifying glasses he bought at the drugstore and sat down, facing his brother.
"You trying to scare me?" Dean asked, blinking the sleep away.
Dean nodded, but his eyes betrayed him, and Sam had to look away to keep himself focused. Once again refusing to think ahead, Sam took off the bandage and sucked in his breath, an automatic reaction to the sight of the red and puffy wound, to the angry streaks that looked considerably worse than they had just a couple of hours before. He ignored the fear that was working itself into his chest and worked quickly, glancing at the instructions on the website before starting.
Step 1: Soak the wound in the disinfectant solution for about five minutes to soften the skin around the opening. Use water as hot as the injured person can tolerate. Repeat two more times, reheating the solution as necessary.
Sam soaked a washcloth in the solution, the hot water scalding his hands as he worked.
"All right, Dean," he said, preparing himself as much as his brother for what was coming. "This is going to be hot." Sam could see Dean's body tense at the words, and he wasted no time placing the hot cloth against the wound.
Dean gasped, his breath coming in short bursts, but to his credit he stayed remarkably still. Sam held the cloth in place with his left hand, his right hand behind Dean's neck as he vainly tried to massage some of the tension from his brother's body. He wanted to say something, to offer words of comfort, to soothe, but came up empty handed.
They sat in the same position for the full five minutes. Dean in too much pain to talk, Sam too scared and angry to attempt opening his mouth. When the time was up Sam left the cloth in place and reheated the solution, doing the same thing again, two more times, before moving on.
Step 2: Sterilize a pair of tweezers by rinsing with the 1/2 liter of disinfectant solution you set aside earlier.
Sam placed a new pair of tweezers in the solution and soaked them for a minute, checking on Dean while he waited.
"How you holding up?" he asked, knowing the answer wouldn't match the truth.
"Florence didn't have a laptop with instructions."
"Florence lived in the 1800s."
"Feels like the 1800s."
Sam had no rebuttal. Nothing to deny the painful reminder that his brother deserved modern medicine. He quietly took the tweezers out of the solution and looked back at the screen.
Step 3: Pry the edges of the wound open using the sterilized tweezers.
"This might hurt," Sam offered.
"You gonna pluck my eyebrows?"
He's doing this for my sake, Sam thought, appreciating his brother more with every passing second.
Sam took the tweezers and pried open the wound, grateful the hot water had softened the skin that had already started to meld. Still, he felt helpless when Dean fisted his right hand into the mattress, his breath ragged.
Step 4: Drain the pus from the wound, wiping the pus away with cotton swabs and sterile gauze.
Sam watched in horror as pus and blood oozed from Dean's shoulder onto his chest. The sight of it making him gag. He ignored the urge to throw up and focused on his brother. On the one person on the planet he couldn't live without.
"Deep breath, Dean. Come on. You're going to hyperventilate." Dean grunted his response and Sam probed a little deeper, until the pus and the blood stopped coming.
Sam glanced at the next step on the computer screen and hastily decided he needed to distract his brother. "Did you know that Florence Nightingale was called the Lady of the Lamp?"
"What the…fuck?" Dean was drenched in sweat, shivering from a fever that was raging through his body.
"I guess she carried this Turkish lamp wherever she went." Sam was still on Step 4, wiping the pus away, dreading what was coming.
Dean turned and glared, his eyes a combination of pain, exhaustion and something else Sam couldn't make out. Annoyance?
"How the hell…do you know…crap like that?"
Step 5: Probe deeper pockets of the wound to see if pus is concealed there as well - this will be painful. Assume there are other pockets if you find one, and drain all pockets.
"Sorry, Dean." Sam used his thumb and index finger to hold open the wound as far as it would go, while his other hand held the tweezers as they went in deeper. Until Dean cried out in pain, freezing Sam in his tracks.
"I'm sorry, man," Sam begged. "I've got to do this." Sam went back to work, finding more pockets of pus as he searched further inside the wound, certain he was causing more damage, and had most likely hit a nerve.
Dean grabbed Sam's wrist with his right hand and slammed his head against the headboard several times, his breathing painful and sharp, his legs shaking uncontrollably, and Sam immediately recognized the early signs of shock.
Sam threw the tweezers in the disinfecting liquid and grabbed the pillows off his bed, gently placing them underneath Dean's legs, talking and soothing his brother as he went.
"Hey, come on," he said, purposely keeping his voice low. "I need you to focus. That's right, look at me." Sam placed a hand on Dean's chest, not sure if it was the warmth or the pace of his brother's heart that scared him more.
The rapid breaths gave way to wheezing, and the shaking slowed to an occasional shudder as Dean leaned his head back, his glassy stare unfocused, his face pale and damp.
"Yeah?" Sam's hand was still on Dean's chest.
"Dean, there's nothing to apologize for."
"Jo said…don't be a baby."
Dean faced Sam, and the abject misery swimming in his eyes was hard to miss.
"Just like Dad."
It was ten year-old Dean that Sam heard, and he was certain his brother was delirious.
And he couldn't help the anger that filled him, or his surprise at how quickly his father could do that to him. There were times when he was young that Sam believed his father could only say a few phrases when speaking to Dean. "Take care of Sammy" and "Don't be a baby" would forever be at the top of that list.
"You're not," Sam said, angry that he even had to acknowledge something so ridiculous.
"Right," Dean slurred, fighting to stay conscious.
Sam wanted to pursue the conversation, to build more of a case against his dad. To continue adding to the wall of protection that he needed when missing his father was more than he could bear. But at the same time he realized that Dean needed the opposite. His wall was too big, too strong, and it was killing him. Remembering the harshness of his father would only serve to put a stake through Dean's heart, and Sam couldn't sit by and watch that happen.
"Dean, Dad was proud of you." Sam said, sounding more like a parent than a younger brother.
"He said that…too." Dean said, his voice breathless and measured, his eyes blinking quickly as he fought his body's desire to give up.
"He did?" Sam wished he could have left the surprise out of his voice. But it didn't matter, because Dean was out, his head resting against the headboard, his body winning the fight.
Sam took a deep breath and went back to work, not sure how long he had before his brother woke up, certain he couldn't go on if Dean was conscious. He continued to probe inside the wound, until he hit something hard centimeters from the surface and assumed it was bone. Further probing caused Dean's arm to shake with the force of a muscle spasm, and he lost his place.
Just as well, Sam thought, wishing he had Superman's x-ray vision. He hadn't seen enough to confirm anything, but Sam was pretty sure the bullet had been stopped by the bone, causing damage he had yet to figure out. And maybe never would.
Sam wiped the rest of the blood and pus from Dean's shoulder and looked at his computer screen.
Step 6: Soak the drained wound in a fresh batch of disinfectant solution for 20 to 30 minutes, replacing the cold washcloth with a hot one every five minutes.
Sam boiled more saline solution and once again took his place by his brother's side. Dean was restless and he squirmed every time the hot cloth was pressed against his skin, but Sam was thankful that his eyes were closed, because he had noticed earlier that he was having a hard time looking his brother in the eye.
He had spent the last few hours ignoring the nagging thought that he was to blame for his brother's pain. For the new torture Dean could now add to the long list of injustices that framed his life. But with nothing to do besides tend to his brother, it was impossible to ignore the voice inside his head that told him this was his fault. He didn't know how, and he wasn't sure what he could have done to prevent Meg from possessing him, but he was certain he should have seen it coming. Dean had told him on the plane, when they were looking for the possessed passenger, demons look for a chink in the armor, some kind of emotional distress. And God knows he'd been living in fear.
The more he thought about it the more he was convinced it was just a matter of time before he killed his brother. Either directly, with his own hands, or indirectly, because Dean was prepared to die to save him. Had told him as much. "If it's the last thing I do, I'm going to save you."
Dean groaned softly, his lips parted, words ready that never came, and Sam looked back at the computer screen.
Step 7: Dry the wound with sterile gauze.
Sam dried the wound gently, could still see red streaks pointing towards Dean's heart, and he summoned a prayer inside his head. Maybe his brother didn't believe. But he had to believe. He had to believe that someone was watching. If not all the time, at least some of the time. Because he couldn't lose his brother without losing himself, and he couldn't give up the fight. Not now.
Step 8: Spread antibiotic ointment on sterile gauze using cotton swabs and place the gauze inside the wound to keep the wound from closing. Do not allow the edges of the wound to reseal while there are signs of infection.
Sam was placing the treated gauze inside the wound when Dean began shivering, his lower lip trembling as he sucked in a breath.
"Shh, it's okay. I'm almost done."
"Sam?" His voice was low, his eyes closed against the pain, and Sam knew he was lost, his name like an amulet Dean wore for protection. So even when he couldn't see him, when he was disoriented and groggy and scared, Dean called to him, and waited for deliverance.
"I'm right here," Sam whispered, gently pushing the treated gauze into the wound.
Dean moved his head in the direction of Sam's voice, but he kept his eyes closed, and Sam wondered if it was by choice or against his will. Either way he was grateful to be spared the agony he knew was there.
Step 9: Dress and bandage the wound.
By the time he was done Dean had once again fallen into a fitful sleep and Sam took the opportunity to clean up, to wash his hands, and to take his brother's temperature. Dean's fever was up, and Sam tried to tell himself it was a reaction to the pain and not an out of control infection. As carefully as he could, he lowered his brother onto the bed and began to rub a wet washcloth on his chest in an attempt to bring down the fever. Dean shivered against the cold and Sam couldn't help the guarded feeling that told him it was going to be a long day.
"Nobody's dying tonight. Not us. Not that family. Nobody."
Dean groaned and rolled his head to the side. His breath deep and labored.
"Listen, tough guy, we're not good to anybody dead."
Sam gently wiped his brother's face with another washcloth, desperately trying to make the fever break.
"Boy, you and Dad are a lot more alike than I thought, you know that. You both can't wait to sacrifice yourself for this thing. But you know what? I'm gonna be the one to bury you."
Dean sighed loudly, his eyes darting frantically underneath the lids, running in place.
"Killing that guy, killing Meg – I didn't hesitate. I didn't even flinch. For you or Dad, the things I'm willing to do or kill, it just, uh, scares me sometimes."
Sam placed a hand on his forehead and tried to calm him.
"I never should've come back, Sam. It wasn't natural. And now look what's come of it. I was dead. I shoulda stayed dead."
Unintelligible noise came from Dean's mouth, the sound loathing and fear and despair would make if they could.
"When you were trapping that demon, you weren't, I mean, it was all a trick, right? You never considered actually making that deal, right?"
Sam was trying to soothe him with words he knew weren't reaching him, so he spoke louder, hoping sheer volume would work instead.
"Dean, I'm sick. It's over for me. It doesn't have to be for you."
"No, you can keep going."
"Who says I want to?"
"I'm tired, Sam. I'm tired of this job. This life. This weight on my shoulders, man, I'm tired of it."
Dean's breathing was fast and uneven, his chest rising with the effort.
"There's no higher power, there's no God. There's just chaos and violence. Random unpredictable evil that comes out of nowhere and rips you to shreds."
Sam shook him, his hands trembling as he tried to bring his brother back. As he tried to get him away from the images he knew were fighting for attention inside his head.
"I can't. I'd rather die."
Dean gasped, as if he was just pulled from a riptide that was dragging him out to sea. And he coughed as his lungs fought for air, as his body rebelled against the haze and the pain. And Sam held him steady.
"Hey, it's okay. It was just a dream."
Dean blinked back the effects of the dream, searching Sam's face until he recognized it. Until he remembered where he was. He tried to push back the images, but the throbbing in his shoulder was incessant, and he didn't have the strength to clear his head, or to ignore the realization that his life was on a downward spiral. That in the course of several months he'd gone from defying death to waiting for it, expecting it, almost willing it if it would bring back his father. If it would save Sam.
"That's it, just slow down. You're okay." Sam had a hand on his chest, his eyes wide as he searched his brother for damage. "You okay?" he asked when Dean's breaths were long and wide, when his eyes had focused, no longer darting back and forth.
"What time is it?" Dean asked, unable to raise his voice above a whisper.
"In the morning?" Dean was looking beyond Sam, to the drawn curtains.
"Have I been asleep –" he stopped. He vaguely remembered being awake. Sam hovering. Hot, wet towels on his shoulder.
"On and off," Sam offered, watching his brother try to make sense of the last two days.
Dean pushed the covers off with his good hand, suddenly so hot he couldn't stand anything on him. "Hot," he volunteered when Sam wouldn't stop staring.
"I suppose that's a good sign," Sam said, leaning forward and pressing the back of his hand against Dean's forehead.
Dean wanted to push him away, to tell him he was fine, to stop worrying. But he didn't have the strength. Barely had it in him to keep his eyes open.
Sam had the thermometer in his ear again, and Dean couldn't fight that either, didn't have the energy to tell Sam to leave him alone. To get in his own bed and go to sleep because he looked like hell.
"Have you slept?" Dean asked.
The thermometer beeped and Dean turned his head, watching Sam as he studied it, his expression unreadable.
"Am I going to live?" It was a joke, but the inflection was wrong, off in another part of his brain, and Dean regretted it the minute he said it, because Sam was staring at him, blinking back what looked like tears.
Sam pinched his nose and blinked several times, the moment gone as quickly as it came. "Your fever's broken," he offered. "101.2."
Dean forced a smile.
"You okay?" Sam asked.
Maybe it didn't look like a smile. Maybe it came across the way he felt.
"How's your shoulder?"
"Fine," he lied.
"Good. Maybe you can start the physical therapy. You know, move it back and forth –" Sam reached for Dean's arm and Dean shrunk back, away from him, grimacing with the effort.
"I thought so."
"That's just cruel."
"I did some more research," Sam said, pouring Dean a glass of water. "And I might have figured out what's wrong with your shoulder."
"Bullet hole's not enough for you?"
"That bump on your shoulder is right above the bone, Dean. Right above the joint. I think you have a proximal humerus fracture."
"What?" Dean really didn't want to hear this. "What are you, a doctor now?"
"The symptoms fit."
Dean closed his eyes, the information making him more tired than he already was.
But there was no stopping Sam, and he continued. "Numbness in the back of the hand and inability to move your wrist are typical symptoms."
"Uh-huh." Dean tried to move his wrist, without letting on that he was paying attention, and found that he couldn't.
"It also means," Sam continued. "That the radial nerve is probably damaged."
"What?" Dean didn't like the sound of that. Broken bones he could deal with. Nerves he wasn't so sure. "You have no idea what you're talking about," he said, trying to convince himself as much as Sam.
"You're right," Sam agreed. "But it's a good guess. I even found a case study of someone with a bullet wound that had the same type of fracture."
"I think you need to lay off the Internet."
"I think we need to consider the possibility that you have a fracture."
"Then what?" Dean was too tired to argue and regretted going along with the conversation.
"For starters, it should be x-rayed."
"Not gonna happen."
Sam ignored him and continued. "Depending on the fracture it could be treated with a sling for a few weeks or could need surgery."
Dean didn't bother responding. What could he say to that?
But Sam was on a roll, and couldn't stop himself. "If it's bad enough to need surgery, and you don't have it done, the bone will never set right. And if the nerve damage is bad you could lose the use of your arm."
"Okay, thank you," Dean said, rubbing the side of his head. It was more information than he could process, certainly more than he wanted to hear, and he wished Sam would go away.
But Sam couldn't give it up. "Dean, you really need to be seen by a doctor."
"Sam, for the last time, no doctor." Dean's shoulder was throbbing again, and all he wanted was a handful of painkillers and to be left alone.
"Look, it's hunting season. We could say it was a hunting accident."
"Oh come on, this isn't CSI. We're in some podunk town in the middle of nowhere."
Why, why, why can't he just go away? Dean felt nauseous, the pain in his shoulder shooting into his fingers, and Sam was pushing every button. Didn't he understand that he couldn't risk getting arrested? How was he going to save him if he was behind bars?
"How are you going to save me with a useless arm?"
"Shoulda thought about that before you shot me." Dean's arm twitched and he drew in a breath, closing his eyes against the pain, against his stupidity, against the hurt he had just inflicted. But it was too late.
"You're right," Sam said, his voice low and controlled. No emotion attached to it.
Dean waited, unable to get the apology out above the pounding in his head. He pushed the nausea back as he tried to clear his thoughts. As he tried to figure out why he'd just said that, why he had allowed Sam to push him into something so vile and reprehensible that he couldn't even face him. He knew the longer he stayed there, unable to look at him, unable to say anything, the harder it would be to make amends. But he was certain that if he looked at Sam, if he forced the apology he owed his brother, he would break down. Because the last couple of days had brought up every feeling of loss and dread he'd been pushing away for months, and he couldn't remember a time when he had felt so lost, so scared, so out of control.
He could feel nothing but cold, and the same feelings of despair he had felt when he fell into the water. When he thought he might die before he could save Sam. He was drowning – in his own guilt, in physical pain, in the psychological torment of being made his brother's keeper when he was barely old enough to speak up, to rebel, to know any better.
And in that moment he would rather Sam thought he was an asshole than weak. Because there could be no weakness, no fear, no going back and asking for a different hand. Not when he needed Sam to believe that he could save him. When he needed to believe it himself.
He heard Sam push his chair back and move away from him, and still he kept his eyes closed. Until he heard the door and then his eyes flew open, the fear of losing Sam so close to the surface.
Sam turned and Dean saw no anger, no sadness, nothing that revealed how his brother was feeling, what he was thinking.
"I need some air," Sam said, his voice devoid of feeling as well. "Your cell phone's on the nightstand. Call if you need anything."
Dean watched him walk out the door, the apology, the request for him to stay, on the tip of his tongue. And then he was drowning again, and when he tried to breathe he found that he couldn't. There was no air, only water, and it filled his lungs and it burned, and it made him gag, and the harder he tried to breathe the more it hurt. Until he was full, and he couldn't keep it in, and he had to let it out before it killed him.
He barely managed to roll onto his side, his injured shoulder slamming into the nightstand, before he suffocated in his own grief. Before he choked on his every weakness, on every ounce of fear, on the pain that followed him wherever he went. It was too much, too heavy, his body unable to sustain it any longer. And it spewed forth all over the floor, the bed, his arm. And he didn't notice. Didn't care. Because he had just enough energy, just enough strength, to stay conscious until he was empty.
Sam finished his beer and looked at his watch. He had only been gone half an hour but it felt like days, and he was anxious to get back. He knew Dean didn't mean it, regretted it the instant he had said it. But still Sam had felt the blow. The sting as it pierced his heart and shook his body. They were words similar to the ones he had been saying to himself over and over during the last two days. In between wondering if Dean was going to survive, if he would ever trust him again.
For weeks Sam had wondered what would happen if and when he went dark side. Had worried that Dean would be the first casualty. How could he not be? He was the first line of defense. The first person Sam would turn to in good times and in bad. He would reap the rewards if things went well, suffer if they didn't. It was inevitable. Unless he left. If he disappeared Dean would be out of harm's way.
Sam shook his head to clear it. If he left Dean would destroy himself looking for him. If he stayed he would destroy himself trying to save him. Sam left a tip on the counter and walked out the door. Back to the car. Back to the motel. Back into the only life he knew.
The stench of the vomit was the first thing Dean noticed when he came to, quickly followed by the raw feeling in his throat and the pulsing in his arm. It was hard to avoid the mess he'd made, or the thought that Sam was going to be pissed, as he stared at the floor, his head partially hanging off the bed.
Dean moved his head, wincing at the pain the simple movement caused. How long had he been out? How long had Sam been gone?
He couldn't help the groan as he pushed himself off his arm and onto his back. Or the spots that danced in his eyes as the room began to spin. And he cursed himself again for succumbing to pain. For being weak when there was no time.
When he could finally see without the double vision he focused on the glass of water on the nightstand, and suddenly nothing else mattered. Without giving it a second thought he reached for the glass with his right hand and quickly brought it to his lips. Half the water made it into his mouth, while the other half made it down his chin and onto his neck and chest. Out of frustration and anger he flung the glass, but he had no strength and it barely made it to the end of the bed, its short trajectory mocking him. It was just one more thing for Sam to question when he came back.
If he came back.
Dean leaned against the pillow and faced the wall, unable to stare at the door. To wait and wonder any longer, his thoughts torturing him. The pain in his shoulder had reached his entire body, and he was in agony, but it wasn't until he heard the key in the lock, until he knew that Sam had come back, that he could let go.
Sam took two steps inside the room and stopped, the smell of the vomit instantly reaching him. "Dean?" When Dean didn't respond he was by his side instantly.
"Oh God, Dean." Sam carefully avoided the mess on the floor and reached across the bed to his brother, placing a hand on his forehead and holding it in place while he looked around the room.
"What the hell did you do?" Sam moved his hand down to Dean's neck, to feel his pulse, and he noticed Dean was wet, the sheets were wet, there was vomit on the bed, down the side, Dean's body resting on parts of it, and it was all Sam could do to keep himself from gagging.
"Fuck!" Sam shouted to no one in particular. The bandage on Dean's shoulder was bloody, and there were traces of blood on the edge of the nightstand, where Dean must have hit his shoulder when he was trying to avoid throwing up all over himself. Sam closed his eyes and took in a shuddering breath. Dean could have choked on his own vomit, pulled a Jimi Hendrix while he was out feeling sorry for himself.
Sam forced himself to assess the damage quickly. Dean was breathing in short bursts, an indication that he was more asleep than unconscious, so he was feeling pain, but his pulse was steady, and he didn't seem to be in any immediate danger. So Sam set about cleaning the mess, hoping he could find something to get rid of the horrible smell that kept making him choke.
It was almost three by the time he was finished, and although he wanted to crawl into bed, throw the covers over his head and pretend he didn't have a care in the world, Sam could no longer ignore the bloody bandage on Dean's shoulder. Working on autopilot he boiled more water and prepared the saline solution, removing the bandage when he was ready.
Sam wiped the blood gently, and sighed in relief when he realized the red streaks were gone. The area around the wound was still warm and puffy, but not nearly as bad as it was, and there was no pus on the treated gauze he had left in there a couple of hours before. Sam soaked a washcloth in the boiling water and pressed it against Dean's shoulder, cringing when Dean gasped.
"Shh, it's okay. It'll just feel hot for a minute." Sam had lost track of how many times he had done this, but every time Dean had felt it. Every time he had squirmed against the pain. "Almost done," he whispered, hoping his voice would lull Dean back to sleep.
Sam watched as his brother steadied himself against the pain, as he pressed his right hand into the bed, his eyes closed as he fought to stay in control. And then he saw it. A single tear rolled down Dean's cheek, and Sam stopped it, kept it from disappearing into oblivion, let it soak into his own skin.
Dean opened his eyes and blinked, forcing Sam to look at him.
"Shh. Go back to sleep."
"Don't want to," Dean whispered, his voice betraying his words.
"Well you should."
"Didn't mean – "
So that's what this was about. Even semi-conscious Dean could keep score. Always knew who was up, who was down. "Don't worry about it," Sam offered.
"Didn't mean it."
"I'm just glad–" Dean stopped to take a shaky breath. "You can't aim worth…shit."
"Right," Sam laughed. "Because you can, barf boy."
"Payback's a…bitch," Dean said, his eyes closing.
Sam kept the washcloth against Dean's skin a little longer than he needed to, unable to let go of the connection, until he was certain Dean was asleep. By the time he was done bandaging the shoulder again he could barely keep his eyes open, and he vaguely remembered climbing into bed.
Dean woke with the sunlight filtering through the window, to Sam's profile as he leaned across the table, staring at his computer screen. And he shook his head when Sam turned to face him. It was as if his psychic abilities had been cranked up to their maximum setting, and Dean felt like he was on the highest frequency. For days he hadn't been able to move, blink, sigh or breathe without Sam knowing about it.
"How are you feeling?"
"Maybe you should have a sign made," Dean mused. "Save yourself the breath."
"Are you hungry?"
Dean made a face.
"You have to eat eventually."
"I have to get out of this bed." Dean looked around the room. "Wasn't I on that bed?"
"Don't you remember anything? I had you switch so I could change those putrid sheets."
"Have you slept at all? You look like shit." Dean was trying to sit up, still only using his right hand for support.
Sam was by his side instantly. "Here, let me help." But Dean pushed him away.
"It's been three days," Dean complained. "I should be able to sit up on my own."
"Four," Sam said.
Dean looked at Sam, hard pressed to hide the shock. Four days. Might as well have been four years. Four minutes. Because he could barely remember any of it.
"I did some more research on the humerus fracture," Sam was saying, and Dean couldn't hear him above the pounding in his ears. He had managed to pull himself up into a sitting position and had swung his legs to the side of the bed. He was trying to decide what to do with himself when he realized Sam was still talking to him.
"I still think that's what you have, but the swelling on your shoulder's gone down, so you may just need to wear a sling for a few weeks."
Dean was pushing himself off the bed with his right hand, ignoring Sam.
"What are you doing?"
"Let me help you."
"I got it." He didn't, not really, but he was damned if he wasn't going to get there on his own.
Sam watched his brother struggle to stand up, he watched him sway, and he stood still, ready to catch him.
But Dean was stubborn if nothing else, and he made it to the bathroom and back to the bed in one piece. It took him almost 10 minutes, and he was drenched in sweat when he was done, but he did it on his own. He looked up and saw Sam staring at him.
"You ready for a couple of painkillers?"
Dean nodded, gratefully taking the two pills and the glass of water from Sam.
"No sling," he said after he set the glass down on the nightstand.
"No sling. They're a hassle."
Sam stared at him for a long time, frozen in place, and Dean couldn't help but notice the dark circles under his eyes, the way his lip twitched as he tried to formulate his thoughts. He was about to say something to break the ice when Sam came unglued.
"I don't believe this. I cannot fucking believe this," Sam shouted, and he moved away from Dean, walking the length of the room until he was by the door, his fist slamming into it.
"Hey." But it was low, not really intended for Sam. More of a grounding for Dean as he searched his brother for answers.
"Four days. Four fucking, unbelievable days I've spent wondering if you were going to live or die." Sam was rambling, shouting, and Dean tried to take it all in.
"Four days. Your blood on my hands. Literally. Figuratively. Hell, any way you look at it. Your blood. Again. Not mine. Yours."
"Sam." But Sam didn't hear him.
"Four days. And every fucking waking minute I knew you should be in a hospital. And I figured I was killing you. Because sometimes. Sometimes you sounded like you were dying." Sam stopped, and Dean saw him reaching deep, sorting through the memories. And he saw the exhaustion and the pain of the last few days. And he tried to stop him.
"Sam." But Sam didn't hear him.
"Sometimes you just shook. And whatever I did made it worse. And then I would just stare. And you would stare back – but you weren't there. Not really." Sam was pacing back and forth, his hands moving wildly in front of him as he spoke.
"And sometimes I would pray. Four days. And I needed someone to listen. But all I heard was you, there is no God. But you needed someone. And I was killing you. Because you couldn't breathe. Couldn't get enough air. And you were cold. So cold. And the room was sweltering. And you were shaking."
"Sam." But Sam didn't hear him.
"And you talked. And you choked. And you were so hot. And you made no sense. And then you did. But you never made it easier. Of course you won't wear a fucking sling. Because you have a fucking death wish. I have to save Sammy. I have to save Sammy. If it's the last thing I do. God fucking damn it!"
Sam punched the door again and kept pacing. Kept talking. His eyes focused far away.
"And then you talked to Dad." Sam's voice slowed, and Dean had to strain to catch what he was saying.
"And you wanted to know why he did it. Why he traded his life for yours. And you were mad at him. And you yelled at him." Sam was back to shouting, and Dean recoiled from the anger that was directed at him.
"And you practically jumped off the bed you were so pissed and mad and angry. And I didn't know what to do. So I held you. And you cried. Goddamn it you cried. And then you stopped. And you changed. And you were different. But the same. So hot. You were so hot. And you said, I have to save Sammy. I have to save Sammy. If it's the last thing I do." Sam took a shuddering breath.
"Sam." And Sam looked at his brother. And his eyes were wet. And Dean held his breath.
"Who is going to hold me when you die trying to save me?"
Dean had no reply. Only the beating in his chest he was certain could be heard for miles.
Sam stood still, for several minutes, until Dean managed to stand and push him into the chair he had kept by his bedside. Dean sat on the bed across from him, his right hand on Sam's lap, summoning a god, any god, to give him the wisdom to say the right thing. But his mind was blank. All he could see was Sam's pain, and the exhaustion that forced his body to sag, and when he looked in his eyes, he realized they mirrored his own.
Sam broke the spell, stronger right then in so many more ways than Dean. "Why is it different?" he asked.
"Why is it okay for you to give up your life for mine, but it's not okay for Dad to give up his life for yours?"
And Dean was still at a loss. His ready made answers no longer making any sense.
"I get that you need to protect me," Sam continued. "Feel compelled by some honor code instilled in your DNA. And I appreciate it. I really do. But you don't seem to get that you're all I have left."
"I get that."
It was a challenge, and Dean couldn't look him in the eye.
"I know you think that I could go back to school. Start over. But I promise you, if you die saving me you will have failed."
Dean clutched his injured arm, an automatic response to the sucker punch he felt in his gut.
"So I'll wear the sling," he finally offered.
"That's a start," Sam said as he ran a hand across his face.
Dean looked at his brother, surprised and shocked and pleased to have discovered another layer. Sam was stronger than he gave him credit for, and maybe he wouldn't have to die to save him. Maybe he could get by a little beat up, a little bloody, a little bruised. He would have to get used to the idea. Because the other plan, the one where he died a martyr saving the Winchester legacy, had been around for so long it was ingrained. But if Sam had other layers, maybe he did too.
So what did you think? Please review and send me your comments. I would really appreciate them.