Chapter 24: Done!
Author's Note :
This is the final chapter, so one last chance for me to say thank you to everyone who has stuck with it thus far, an even bigger thank you to everyone who has reviewed and to those who reviewed more than once (or even frequently/every chapter) I love you loads and hope you like this ending. Anyone got any spare plot bunnies lying around… my fingers are itching but my brain's dead now…
Dean is sitting in Dr Barker's office, he's looking round as he remembers how he felt the first time he was here. Things have changed. Thankfully.
The Doctor comes in behind him. "Right, so I've got all the paperwork here and everything's ready to go."
"Surely you're not wanting to stay, are you?"
"No! No, of course not, it's just..."
"You've got used to being here?"
"I guess. It's more... just knowing... if something happens there's someone there, I guess."
"Dean, it's been eight weeks since your last migraine attack and since we operated everything has been fine. It's been even longer since your last seizure."
Dean recognizes the doctor's 'reassuring' voice, it's one he's heard a lot over the last few months and one he's come to rely on almost as much as he relies on Jordan and Sam. It's one of the things that has kept him believing that this end would come eventually, even when it wasn't in sight. It doesn't take away his anxiety though, knowing how rapidly his condition deteriorated last time, how he had no idea that he wasn't 'just' having headaches again, that the pain actually meant something, it's left him with a lingering fear that it could happen again, that one day he could be out there and then he could just keel over. "Supposing something like that happens again?"
"There were warning signs... we didn't know what they meant last time, we do now, you had an increasing number of migraines leading up to the critical one... if you have any come back and we'll check everything's okay. Any kind of persistent headaches or even if there's something that makes you think something's not right, come back and we'll check. Don't worry though, hopefully, it'll never happen again. Why don't we have a quick run-down of all the things that were discussed when you first arrived? Let's see how we're doing now," Dr Barker flicks through Dean's file and retrieves a piece of paper with a list on it. "Right here we are… The vertigo and dizziness, how is that now?"
"You mean like when I stand up?"
"Mostly gone, sometimes I have it a bit when I get up in the morning or after I've been asleep and sometimes when I'm tired."
The doctor nods, "That's a big improvement on every time you stood up."
"Yeah, and I can bend down and come up again now, so long as I don't rush it."
"Good. How are the motor skills?"
"Um, well, down in the gym, I feel more balanced and co-coordinated. It's getting easier to pick stuff up and I don't knock half as much over, which is good because I was getting sick of having to get changed every time I ate or drank anything because I spilt so much," he smiles sheepishly.
"Well that will help with the laundry bill! What about... erm... let's see. reading... memory... things like that?"
"Reading... dunno... not so good, I guess. Memory probably a bit better than it was."
"You want to know the results of the assessments we did earlier this week?" When Dean shrugs noncommittally, the doctor smiles, he's come to recognize that Dean seems to always expect criticism rather than praise. Doctor Barker has got used to it and is also relieved that very rarely has he had to offer the young man anything remotely resembling negative criticism, but in fact has been amazed at how diligent he has been with all the rehabilitation opportunities he has been offered and how much he has persevered to overcome the hurdles he has faced. "It was good news," he says and sees Dean's eyes come up to look at him, even as he continues to sit chewing nervously on his lip. "Okay, way back when we first met, your visual memory for words was really poor, you were having to work out virtually everything, to be honest pretty much like someone learning to read. It seemed that you remembered a few small words and the only word with more than 4 letters that you recognised was Winchester, which made sense - it's your surname. Then it seemed that what was really happening was you were reasoning rather than reading... it's long, it begins with W, must be 'Winchester'." He sees Dean flush with embarrassment. "No, don't be embarrassed."
"It's a pretty stupid thing to do."
"Not in the least. We worked your name, Sam's, Jordan's into loads of the material we gave you to see if it made a difference to your comprehension of what you were reading, if it made it easier for you to remember what was happening. It also showed that you could still reason things out, even if you came up with the wrong answer, the reasoning was sound."
"Did putting our names in help?"
"Not significantly at first, although after the first operation, you did seem to make more sense of things when you had a familiar face to put to a character in a story. Now, however, your reading accuracy is generally about 80, your self-correction of errors is about 50. Those are both huge improvements. You can now read about a side of paper and then talk and answer questions on it all. When you started you could only remember information for a sentence or two and if you finished and we asked you what the whole thing had been about, you could only give the sketchiest of detail."
"I still find..." he sighs. "I still find I can only read if it's completely quiet and if nothing else is happening. I used to read in diners and in the car if Sam was driving, I'd never manage that now."
"Maybe or maybe it's just 'not yet'. Just because you're leaving doesn't mean you're going to stop improving. It could be that as you continue to practise, things continue to improve."
"Sam brought in some maps the other day..." Dean's voice is quiet, sad almost.
"They made no sense to me at all, just random lines and words and numbers. I couldn't ... It was just a big jumble... I couldn't remember how to get the information from it."
"That's because a map is just lines, words and numbers - you don't read it like you read a book."
"I could barely make out anything on the page with all the different colours and the words were different sizes. We travel for a living, I can't drive anymore. If I can't drive and I can't read the map, what do I do?"
"You've been 5 months without a seizure. Five months. If you continue to be seizure free, you'll be amazed how quickly you can start looking into getting your driver's license back. Given that your seizures were caused by a head trauma, you may well have to re-take your test as opposed to having it re-instated but even so, you're well on the way there already. With regard to the maps, Sam will have to plan the routes for now and give you a list of the information he'll need while he's driving. You've already said you can't read as well with a distraction so you might find even following that difficult at first."
He sees Dean's eyes downcast. "Dean, you want to read maps? Do it... practise it... You have a list of all the exercises and everything, the strategies you've got to keep practising. Just because you're not doing rehab here doesn't mean to say you don't do it out there on your own, with Sam and Jordan. Add map reading to the list. Just because we're letting you go doesn't mean we think you've done all you can... it means we think you can do the rest without us. So maps... you sit down with a map - start with the simple ones - I don't know, we've got plenty of sparsely populated states with deserts and only a few roads and towns. Practise reading just the towns' names, then try finding just the road numbers. When you can do that pick two towns fairly close on the map and try to work out which roads go between them. I believe you'll do it."
"Yeah I do. I do because there isn't anything that we've asked you to do that once you've put your heart into it, you haven't done. There isn't anything that you've tried, found too hard and given up on."
"I get frustrated."
"I've never had a patient who didn't, but I have had plenty who gave up, got angry and never overcame the difficulty. Not you though, you get frustrated, then angry and then you push yourself even harder to overcome whatever it is."
Dr Barker's eyebrows shoot up in surprise, "What for?"
"The frustration, anger... how rude I've been, lashing out, throwing things. I'm sorry... I..."
"Hey listen. We understand. We appreciate how hard it is to go through something like this. We all understand it's frustrating for anyone to have to re-learn things they know they used to be able to do. I also recognise how often you've managed to not lash out."
"Sometimes... sometimes I just find it so hard and I don't know, I hate myself once it's out and I can't take it back. The thought of what I've said or done, I just feel revolted by it."
"Sam... I mean Jordan too, but Sam most of all. The things I've said, the way I've treated him and I expect him to come back for more... It's not right... it's not fair on him."
"You know why Sam gets the worst?" Dean shakes his head. "Because he's your brother, because you're close and a few tempers along the way won't change that. He comes back because he knows how much you need him, how hard you're trying to get better and he wants to be there for you. And in the meantime, he pushes you. He pushes you constantly to improve, work harder, try something more. He wants to encourage you, but instead he doesn't let you be satisfied with one thing before he wants you to tackle the next thing. You push to improve and then he won't let you rest and consolidate. He means well but sometimes you need him to take a step back. Would you agree?"
"I guess, but it's no excuse for me to..."
"What I would suggest for both of you is that first you agree on a sign or a saying, something that you do when you know you can't take much more, something for when you feel you're losing control and Sam has to agree to accept it without question. Once you've given the sign, everything stops, be it an activity or a conversation, it doesn't matter, it stops and you walk away from it." Dean looks at him in surprise. "You walk away and you let out the anger slowly on your own, by walking, breathing, talking to yourself, it doesn't matter. You find a safe way to vent those feelings. Sam doesn't get to say, 'Just one more,' 'Just listen,' or 'Just try...' He has to stop when you say. Then when you are calm and ready, you go back and you start over where you left off... calmly. Whether it's minutes, hours or days later, you try again, when you are ready."
"We could try it."
"You could; talk about with Jordan as well, he'll be easier to convince I think. But Sam... If you can train him into accepting it, things will be fine." Dr Barker smiles. "You know sometimes it's Sam's own fault when you've lashed out. I've heard you tell him to back off before and he doesn't, he means well but he has to accept that you can't keep going without a break, without just stopping and coming back to it. Everything can be tried again later. That is what your Sam needs to learn for both of your sakes."
"I guess that's us then..."
"Dean, you'll be back in three months, agreed?"
"Yeah, I'll be back in three months."
"And in the meantime, any worries, call or come back. We're here if you need anything. Any migraines or seizures, come straight back and we'll help. You're not on your own, just because we're letting you go."
"Thank you," Dean shakes the doctor's hand and the two men head for the door.
Outside Sam is waiting, nervously fidgeting. He relaxes as he sees the two men approach chatting and smiling. For the first time since the attack, Sam can look at his brother and see Dean, not just some damaged remnant of what his brother used to be. He watches his brother walk smoothly, normally towards him, all of the hesitancy gone. He sees as Dean chats freely, talks properly, not monosyllabic replies or half sentences that barely make sense. Dean looks and acts like Dean and for that Sam is grateful. He knows Dean hasn't fully recovered, may never fully recover but Dean has a life, can function. Dean is no longer living in fear of living, of trying to do anything and everything, knowing he's going to fail or his body is going to let him down. In private, Dean is persistent and determined to conquer his problems, in public, he's still wary, still tries to avoid doing things if he thinks people might look at him askance.
Until the last few days, he's refused to eat in public. Sam couldn't work it out. He's past the stage of knocking things over; he can manage the cutlery, so why still refuse to eat in a diner. Three days ago, Sam walked in to see Dean and Jordan reading menus for local places and to hear Jordan saying, "It's no big deal, we can work it. Listen if the three of us are there, Sam and I can let you know what there is, no one needs to know you find it hard."
"Find what hard?" he'd asked as he entered the room, seen as embarrassment had flooded into Dean's cheeks. "Dean?"
Jordan had answered, "I was just saying to Deano here that it doesn't matter if he needs a bit longer to read the menu if we eat out, we can make sure he gets the time. I said we can even read it to him quietly; no one else would need to notice. We don't always need to eat here."
Sam had been stunned, it was so obvious, so clear and yet it had never occurred to him that that might be why Dean wouldn't 'do' diners, instead of still eating at the motel.
Sam's grateful that Jordan has stuck around, because in the same way that Dean used to be stubborn and would barge forward forcing situations when they were on jobs, Jordan has that same quality but he uses it on Dean. He doesn't sit back and try to protect him from delicate questions or try to work out the right way to ask the question like Sam does, he blurts it out, lays it out on the table in front of Dean and waits for an answer. He doesn't always get one and he does frequently get a mouthful of abuse for his effort, but Sam is amazed how often it does work and he does get an answer. Sam realizes that the same question he's been trying to work out how to ask Dean, Jordan has asked and got enough of an answer that the two of them are sat here trying to fix the problem by practicing reading menus. There are things Dean will never admit to Jordan, but Sam is pretty sure that some of the things Dean has said to him, some of the concerns he's confessed to, actually stem from questions Jordan has posed. Dean seems to have recognized that the questions Jordan asks come from both of them, it's just he's better at getting them out there first. Sam also figures it doesn't really matter which of them finds out the answer, because between the three of them they've been able to rebuild a livable life. Gordon Walker is a distant memory and his attack on Dean is a fading issue, because Dean has turned it all around, Dean has made sure it wasn't the end.
He's been out of hospital for a month now, but still returns daily for rehab sessions. Now they're leaving. They'll be back in three months for a week so Dr Barker can see how Dean's getting on, but things are looking good.
"So, it's farewell and we'll see you both soon."
"Thanks again." Sam watches as his brother looks genuinely relaxed, genuinely okay.
"Yeah, like Dean said, thanks," he adds before turning to walk back to the car beside Dean. "So everything okay?" he asks indicating the folder Dean has in his hand.
"What's in there?"
"Phone numbers if something happens and we need to get in touch, medical information in case something goes wrong and I end up admitted somewhere else, but most of it is a bunch more rehab ideas for me to work on."
"You okay with us moving on?"
"Dean, we can stay here if you'd prefer."
"Nah, I'm good. Jordan's coming right?"
"Yeah, he's coming. Actually he said something about you owing him a plug for the Chevelle and he wasn't going to go until he got it. Is that right? What do you owe him a plug for?"
"No, I've got to clean his spark plugs."
"Spark plugs. Sam, if you listen you can hear the Chevelle is misfiring."
"Back firing, I haven't heard it backfiring."
"I said misfiring, not backfiring. Look, don't worry, Sammy, it'll be fine."
"Can you...?" Sam waves his hands vaguely.
"What conduct an orchestra? Probably not, but then I didn't know how to do that before, so I'm not too worried about it." Sam frowned at Dean's attempt at humour. "Keep Jay's old girl running, hopefully."
"Dean, in honesty..."
"I don't know what misfiring is... or backfiring really..."
"You do surprise me. Backfiring, well that's a problem in the intake manifold. Misfiring means the spark plugs need cleaning. It's all under the hood. I guess you need to know what you're listening for."
"You can do it? I mean do you need me to help?"
Sam watches as his brother chokes back a laugh before turning to look at him with his eyes smiling even as he tries to keep his face straight. "I'll tell Jay you offered, it won't worry him at all that you don't know the difference between misfire and backfire when I get you to help." Sam looks horrified. "Look, Sam, thanks you know, but I can probably manage and if I can't I'll get Jordan to help."
"Does he know what to do?"
"Yeah, Sammy, he does. Don't worry."
"So if he knows, why do you have to fix it?"
"I owe him."
"You owe him? What for? Have you and him been betting on board games again?"
"Nah, it goes back a way. Something happened when he first got the car. It's my way of making up for it." They've reached the parking lot, where Jordan's Chevelle is parked next to the Impala.
Jordan is leant back against his car, eyes closed relishing the warmth of the sun. He opens his eyes as the Winchesters approach. "Hey dudes, we ready to hit the road?"
"Yep, ready to go."
"Sam, you give him the message?''
Dean smiles at Sam, "Yeah, he gave me the message, apparently your old girl has a problem with her manifold intake."
"What? No! Sam, what exactly did you say to him?"
Sam looks away flushing with embarrassment and Dean smirks. "It's alright Jay, I've got it despite our Sammy's confusion. Little hiccup over the words misfire and backfire."
"God, Sam! You really are a piece of work you know that! We should definitely go to Bobby's and not leave until Sammy here has a rudimentary understanding of a car - does he even know how to put gas in or change a tire?"
"Yes, I do. I'm not absolutely incompetent." He heads determinedly for the driver's side of the Impala, ignoring the grins on the other two men's faces. He unlocks the door, realising it actually feels good to have reached this point; the point where Jordan and Dean are teasing him. It feels right, it feels good, it feels... normal.
"So where next guys?" asks Jordan as he opens the door to the Chevelle.
"Dunno," Dean shrugs, "Sam?"
"Just hit the road and head for Route 66, I know you two would love to cover it in your 'classic cars'."
"Sounds good. How about we head that way? We could stop in about an hour for lunch? See if we can't find somewhere then?"
With that the two muscle cars roar to life and with their full complement of passengers hit the road, heading out into the distance together.
Well, I'm kind of sad that's all over, I've enjoyed writing this story (does that make me a little sick with all that Hurt!Dean??) but like I said earlier… thanks for reading. Best wishes to you all. xx