The Heart of the Matter
"Sam," he heard his name as if from a great distance and tried to open his eyes. He heard Dean. His brother would fix this. His brother always took care of him. If only he could tell Dean he was okay then maybe they'd take this tube out of his throat. But he couldn't talk with the tube taped down to his mouth. He couldn't even summon the strength to open his eyes. A tear leaked out of the corner of an eye as he strained in vain to let Dean know he was awake.
"Oh, Sammy," his brother whispered brokenly. He felt his left hand picked up and held gently in his brother's grasp. It was the first time since he'd woken up that he felt like someone cared if he lived or died. The staff seemed angry at him, very cold and impersonal. He couldn't blame them. They thought he did this to himself. Even if he could talk, they'd never believe what happened. He didn't believe what happened and he'd been there for at last some of it.
Meg, as he continued to think of the female demon, had started out slowly. Malt liquor beer and cigarettes were her training wheels. She moved on to bar hopping and slamming shots. Before long she had worked up to cocaine, pills and more alcohol. Her fantastic binge had culminated in killing a fellow hunter, terrorizing Jo and shooting Dean before heading off to finish Bobby. He remembered snippets of events but for the most part it was hazy.
Sam tried to focus but his concentration was starting to fade. He had heard some nurses talking about blood tests, and heart attacks and detoxing but it seemed strange that they were talking about him. He could count on one hand the numbers of times he had been drunk and he'd never tried other drugs. But that was before Meg got her hands on him. Just the thought of Meg's possession made him want to vomit. He weakly moaned.
A feeling of intense powerlessness shivered through his frame. He couldn't control his body, hooked up to a ventilator and drained of energy, and it reminded him further of the time he had endured with Meg.
"Shhh, it's okay. Everything's going to be okay," Dean's voice soothed next to his ear. And he believed it. His big brother would find a way to make it better. He had faith. He just wished he was more deserving.
Dean watched his brother for any sign of wakefulness or distress.
The ventilator whooshed and swooshed and Sam's chest gentle rose and fell in rhythm.
Ventilators were serious business. There were lots of ways to downplay a fracture or concussion but intubation? That meant Sam was dependent on a machine to take care of him and that was Dean's job. He didn't trust a machine to protect Sam like he could.
Not that he'd done such a hot job of it this time.
His thoughts strayed to Sam's disappearance. At first he'd been pissed off, thinking that Sam had ditched him for some imagined slight. When Sam didn't contact him and he couldn't raise him on the phone, Dean knew he was in serious trouble. He'd accused his brother of being selfish time and time again but there was no way Sam would drop off the face of the earth without a word to Dean. Not now. Not since their dad had died.
Dean's hand strayed to a lock of hair that was hanging in his brother's face. He smoothed it the side and attempted to tuck it behind Sam's ears. If his little brother opened his eyes, Dean wanted to be the first thing Sammy saw. To know he watching out for him.
Dean's finger brushed what felt like a scab on Sam's ear and he found it disconcerting. He pushed Sam's hair gently to the side to expose the skin and saw dried blood. Leaning down, he saw two holes in Sam's ear. Sam didn't have an earring but that's what it looked like. Then again Sam didn't have a tattoo but sure as hell he'd had one on his forearm before Bobby had burned it off.
Earring, tattoo, smokes, drinking, cocaine…and now heart attack. Meg had a lot to account for when next they met. He'd make sure of it.
But first he needed to get Sam healthy. He continued to fiddle with Sam's hair, needing something to occupy his hands, as he watched his brother's chest gently move up and down.
Sam hurt all over. His head, his arm, his chest…even his ear hurt.
He wanted to open his eyes but he couldn't marshal enough energy. But despite the pain he felt a certain amount of peace.
He wasn't alone. Someone was sitting with him. Dean was here with him.
A strange sensation tickled his ear. Dean was smoothing his hair down. He knew this should amuse him somehow, his big, macho brother touching his hair.
He wasn't amused. He was relaxed. Safe. Cared for. He hadn't felt like this since he'd lost his sanctuary. His Jess.
For the first time in days, maybe weeks, Sam felt himself relaxing, basking in the comfort his brother offered him. He didn't know how, but somehow he felt like it might be okay.
Sam was resting comfortably, weaned off the ventilator, and Dean was anxiously waiting for him to wake up. He bounced his leg up and down impatiently as he sat next to his brother's bed.
Dr. Rao had talked to Dean while Sam was being settled in his room. The doctor had placed a long, narrow tube into a blood vessel in Sam's leg and guided it to his heart to check for possible coronary artery disease or muscle damage.
It was conclusive. The MI had caused pericarditis, an inflammation of the thin membrane surrounding the heart. Fortunately, Sam's heart was otherwise healthy and the condition would be treated by analgesics and anti inflammatory drugs. In a week or so he would be completely recovered from the pericarditis.
The long term prognosis was excellent. Dr. Rao was recommending the use of a daily anticoagulant such as aspirin. He also said his cousin would benefit from cardiac rehab but it was paramount to get him into an inpatient drug and alcohol rehab program otherwise he feared Jamie wouldn't be so lucky next time. Once this issue was addressed, and if his patient led a healthy lifestyle, he'd live a long life.
Dean vowed he would make sure his brother lived the healthiest of lives from this moment forward.
Sam was damned lucky that Meg hadn't killed him as Dean believed that had been her ultimate goal. And since she hadn't succeeded this time he felt certain she'd be back for another round. For some reason, she was no longer with her daddy demon's program and had gone rogue. Sam's life would be at risk until he could settle the score with Meg. Things seemed hopeless. When he'd first become aware of Sam's visions in Michigan, he'd promised Sam that everything would be okay and he'd failed him miserably.
Dean willed his brother to wake up. He needed to see for himself that Sam would be okay.
Sam was propped up against some pillows and for the first time since his collapse his color looked normal. No more blue lips or fingernails. There were shadows beneath his eyes and his lips were cracked and sore but Sam's heart would be okay. Dean needed it to keep beating.
Dean watched as his brother shifted on the bed. His face scrunched up as he struggled to open his eyes. Finally two, large, sad eyes peaked at him from beneath shaggy bangs.
"Hey sleeping beauty, it's about time," Dean teased his brother.
Sam didn't say anything at first.
He rubbed his eyes and then his chest.
"When can we leave?" his little brother asked groggily.
"Whoa. Slow down. You just woke up," Dean said as he grabbed a pitcher of water and poured a glass. He snagged a straw from the tray table and held it up wordlessly to Sam's mouth.
Sam sipped a little and then closed his eyes. When he opened them he looked closely at Dean. He surprised his brother with his next words, "How's your shoulder? Are you doing okay?"
"Screw my shoulder! Jesus, Sammy, you had a freakin' heart attack!" Dean exploded. All of the waiting and worrying had finally caught up with him and he couldn't keep from speaking sharply to his brother. But he took no satisfaction in seeing his brother jump or in watching him turn his head aside as if in shame.
A nurse bustled in to take Sam's vitals and the moment stretched on in silence between the brothers. Dean wanted to apologize for snapping at Sam but his brother wouldn't meet his eyes.
It wasn't Sam's fault he hadn't kept his promise. He hadn't prevented Meg from stealing him away. How could he save Sam from the yellow eyed demon if he couldn't save him from Meg-induced heart attacks?
Sam tried to pay attention as the social worker droned on about his options. Dean sat quietly in the corner and wasn't making a sound. His whole attention was focused on the social worker.
First she pelted him with literature on how to recognize a heart attack. Classical symptoms of acute myocardial infarction included chest pain, shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting, palpitations, sweating, and anxiety or a feeling of impending doom. Sam had these symptoms etched into his brain. He'd experienced each and every one of them before ending up in the hospital.
Next came the pamphlets on alcohol and drug treatments. His face burned red. He couldn't look at the social worker. He couldn't look at his brother. He was so ashamed. How could he let Meg get the jump on him like that? And how could he have allowed himself, Meg or no Meg, to shoot Dean and beat on him?
Possession. It was such a tidy explanation. But he wasn't buying it. Their dad had been able to break through. Sam was obviously weak. The weak link in the Winchester family. Dean didn't deserve to have such a poor excuse for a brother. How could he SAVE Dean when he couldn't stop himself?
Sam let his attention wander. If he was really interested in doing right by Dean, he would leave him. But he was too weak because the mere thought of that had him breaking out in a sweat.
Dean rolled his head across his shoulders. He needed to relax. He needed patience.
He tamped down, unsuccessfully, on his growing concern.
Sam was sitting on his bed, eyes downcast, rubbing his chest again. Every once in a while he would take his half closed fist and rub it lightly back and forth over his heart. He'd been doing it on and off since Dean had spirited him out of the hospital a week ago; Sam didn't need rehab for a non existent drug problem and he could see to his brother.
The first time he'd witnessed Sam rubbing his chest he had wanted to bundle his brother into the Impala and whisk him to the nearest ER. He still felt the same way. The only thing that prevented him from actually doing this was Sam.
Sam kept insisting that he was okay and that the only way Dean could take him to a hospital would be to hog tie him. Dean could have arranged that but instead settled on trying to figure out what was triggering the rub. The gesture sometimes happened out of the blue but at the moment Dean could probably pinpoint what had set his brother off.
It had started innocently enough. If he steered Sam toward a salad instead of a burger, he got flipped off. If he reminded Sam to take the 81 mg aspirin daily, his brother sighed deeply. He insisted on stopping every couple of hours while on the road so that Sam could stretch his legs to prevent a blood clot from forming (he'd found that out while surfing the net for information on heart attack survivors) and an eye roll was the thanks he received.
But Sam had really blown a gasket when someone had jostled him outside of a gas station and Dean had pummeled the poor man's face before he knew what hit him.
"What the hell is wrong with you? He just bumped into me?!" Sam had huffed from the passenger seat as they quickly pulled out into traffic.
"He shouldn't have touched you," Dean had said with an implacable air. He couldn't tell friend from enemy these days so if some idiot was falling into his brother he had to suspect the worse case scenario. And any one who messed with Sam was going down. There would be no more possessions on his watch.
The brothers rode in silence. Dean couldn't make himself feel bad about protecting his brother but he wanted to make peace. He just didn't want to say the wrong thing.
Sam sat rigidly in the passenger seat, eyes fixed straight ahead, arms crossed over his chest.
Dean finally pulled over and they settled into yet another anonymous motel room with a minimum of fuss.
He could see Sam stewing on his own bed, rubbing his chest, stubbornly remaining silent. Dean puttered around, checking weapons and the first aid kit. The distraction worked for a while but eventually he ran out of things to do and sank down onto his bed.
He could feel the heat of Sam's gaze on him and finally looked up, figuring he'd find his brother glaring at him. Instead he found a look of inexplicable hurt. Sam broke eye contact quickly and stared down at his hands.
"I'm sorry you think I overreacted. But I have to do what I think is best to protect you," Dean said in explanation. He normally wouldn't try to justify himself but he wanted to make the look of pain disappear from Sam's face.
"Dean…I don't think this is going to work," Sam said after another long, uncomfortable silence. He fidgeted on his bed before peering at Dean through his bangs.
"What are you talking about?" Dean said. He was trying to dial back the sense of unease that was filtering through him. What wouldn't work?
"You don't trust me. Hell, I'm not sure I trust myself," Sam said. He stood up and restlessly moved around the room. Dean tried to catch his eye but Sam seemed to look everywhere but at Dean.
"Dude, I trust you with my life. You know that," Dean said. He ran a hand impatiently through his hair. He wanted to shake Sam but didn't want him to clam up. He didn't think he was going to like what his brother had to say but they needed to deal with whatever was going on. Come hell or high water.
"I think I should leave. I think we'd both better off if I just disappeared," Sam blurted out. He looked into Dean's face with such sorrow it was hard to breathe.
He flinched at Sam's words and tried to draw a breath. He was doing everything he could to keep Sam safe. And now his brother wanted to leave him. Again. Or did he? "Is that what you want?" Dean asked.
"It's not about what I want. You're all that I have left. I can't be responsible for your death. You'd be better off away from me," Sam answered. He finally looked Dean in the eye while he was talking but then his gaze slid away.
"Is this about you being possessed? Because that's not your fault. You weren't in control," Dean stated. He wanted to bang his head against the wall. He was frustrated because his brother seemed to be slipping away.
Sam paced over to his bed and sat down so he was facing Dean. "Control? That's the point, Dean. I've completely lost control. And I can't take the chance that you'll be hurt or worse just because you're with me. Or by me," Sam said. He didn't even make a pretense of looking at Dean anymore. Instead he rubbed first his burned off tattoo and then his chest again.
"Sam, please," words failed Dean for a moment. He wanted to tell Sam how scared he had been when he'd collapsed and how he should have known that something was wrong. How he'd failed Sam, again. He had promised to keep Sam from going darkside and Meg had gotten to him despite Dean's vigilance. Yet Sam was concerned about hurting Dean.
Dean reached across to grasp Sam's hands firmly. To stop the ceaseless rubbing motion. Before he could say anything, words were suddenly spilling out of his brother's mouth. "I just…I should have fought her harder. Dad managed to," Sam admitted, his voice cracking with distress. "How can I stop the Demon when I can't even stop Meg?"
"Did you ever think that maybe the tattoo not only kept Meg locked into your body in case of an exorcism but kept you from throwing her out?" Dean asked.
He released Sam's hands and stood up only to sit next to his brother. "You need to quit beating yourself up about it," Dean insisted. His hand found its way to the back of Sam's neck and cupped it lightly.
Dean thought for a moment that Sam was finally going to let all of his emotions out but instead he seemed to swallow it back He breathed deeply in and out a few times, as if grappling with something, and then turned and looked at Dean in the eye. "I just feel like I'm a burden to you. And I need to be your partner, carry my own weight," Sam said.
Dean was lightheaded with relief. Sam didn't want to leave him. He'd been heartbroken when Sam had left for Stanford. And the stakes were even higher now. Something was going down with the yellow eyed demon and his brother was at the heart of it. But he needed Sam as much as his brother needed him.
"Well, that weight is substantial," Dean finally said, tongue in cheek. "But we're in this together."
Sam closed his eyes and inhaled deeply. Tears were close to the surface but he was fighting them off.
A lop-sided smile won out over the tears and Sam slugged him in the thigh; he relished the pain. Things were evening out. Maybe getting back to normal. Winchester normal.
"Two against the world," Sam echoed. For the first time since Meg had hijacked Sam's body and taken it out for a wild time, Dean watched his brother's dimple appear.
Dean couldn't help but smile back. They would find a way to beat the yellow eyed demon and all of the other demonettes. But he liked their chances better when they were together.
A/N: Thank you for reading my tag to Born Under a Bad Sign. I'd like to thank those people who left me a review but who I can't contact directly: LadyFFVic, bb1128, Spuffyshipper, SciFi Girl, tamara, shelby02, WaterBottlesRule and Megan – you really made my day!
I'd also like to thank Faye Dartmouth for all of her time and patience. She had a lot on her plate personally these last couple of weeks but still made time to pretty up my efforts.