Sam waited impatiently outside Dean's ICU room, pacing in the hallway but never moving more than five steps away from the door. After two more days on the ventilator, Dr. Su and the respiratory therapists were with Dean now and were optimistic that today would be the day it could be removed, and Dean would breathe on his own.
Over these last two days, Dr. Su had repeatedly assured Sam that the anti-toxin had done its job and his brother was making a remarkable recovery. Considering the serious nature of botulism, Dr. Su was ecstatic at his progress. Despite her continued reassurances, however, Sam wouldn't be happy until he saw it for himself.
What the hell's taking so long?
Sam pivoted and retraced his five steps, nervously chewing on his thumbnail.
"I figured I'd find you out here worrying."
He spun around at the sound of Delilah Monnick's voice.
"Here, hun, I brought you this," she handed him a cup of steaming coffee, "it's decaf, but I thought you might need it anyway."
Taking the cup, Sam murmured a "thank you" and took a sip, grimacing slightly at its bitter tang.
The nurse eyed him up and down, noting his pallor and general weariness. "I bet you haven't gotten much in the way of rest, have you?"
"Sure, after I was discharged, I went back to our motel room for awhile."
Seeing straight through his bluff, she answered, "Where you brooded about your brother. Just as you've done every moment you've been planted here at his bedside."
Though the situation didn't warrant it, Sam oddly felt like a child caught with his hand in a cookie jar. He shifted from foot to foot. "He . . . uh . . . he's all I got left."
"Sam, my boy, I know that. Sensed it from the very beginning. There's just something about the two of you. But you still need to take care of yourself."
The younger Winchester felt himself blush a little under her scrutiny and ran a hand through his unwashed shaggy brown hair and over the stubble on his cheeks and chin.
"Okay—enough with the lecturing. I know you'll do what you need to do. Now, listen, I want you to take this," Delilah handed him a piece of paper with her name and number printed on it in precise black lettering. "You keep that. And if you and you brother ever need me for anything—and I do mean anything—call. You'd be very surprised at how resourceful I can be."
Sam stared at the paper a second before shoving it in his pocket. Just then the door to Dean's room opened drawing Sam's attention. He watched as the respiratory therapists left the room, followed by Dr. Su. The doctor's eyes automatically roamed the hall, and when she spied him, she smiled.
He hurried toward her.
"Well?" he queried, his eyes fill of hope.
"You're brother is a remarkable man. He's breathing on his own. Not only that, he's already chomping at the bit to get out of that bed. I had to practically threaten him to keep him where he's at."
Sam gusted out a huge sigh of relief and broke into a heartfelt grin, revealing the cavernous dimples on each side of his mouth.
"That sounds just like him. Can I go in?" he asked, pointing at the door.
"Yes, of course. We'll be moving him to a regular room shortly, I think."
"How much longer will he need to be in the hospital?"
Dr. Su cocked her head to the side and tapped a finger on her chin. "At the rate he's recovering, I'd say he'll be out of here in a couple more days. Barring any unforeseen issues, of course."
Sam nodded before turning and pushing his way into Dean's room. Grabbing his customary chair from the corner, he approached the bed quietly, studying his brother as he went.
"It's rude to stare, you know," rasped Dean without opening his eyes.
The younger man jumped at the sound of Dean's gravelly whisper. "How'd you know I was staring?"
"Sammy," croaked Dean, "I could feel those eyes burning a hole in me the second you walked into the room." As he spoke, he rolled his head toward Sam and opened bleary eyes.
Dropping into the chair, Sam asked, "How ya feeling?" The words were inadequate and silly but it was the best he could do.
Dean swallowed and frowned. "Tired. Throat hurts like a sonuvabitch."
"That's from the tube."
"Yeah, yeah—I know."
"Want some water?"
Sam poured a little water into a blue plastic cup, added a straw, and held it out for Dean to drink, steadying the straw between two fingers.
After a few sips, the older Winchester turned his head and coughed a little to clear his throat. "So tell me, when do I get rid of this?" he carefully wiggled his arm sporting the IV, then he suddenly flinched and peeked under the covers. "More importantly, when do I get rid of THAT?"
Sam shrugged. "Uh . . . I dunno."
"Well, it better be damn soon," muttered Dean, "or I'll rip it out myself."
It was Sam's turn to flinch. He resisted the instinctual urge to cross his legs at the painful image Dean's words evoked. He was grateful Dean's next words nudged the image from his mind.
"What the hell happened anyway?"
"We both got food poisoning, remember?"
"Hell, yeah, I remember puking my guts out. What happened after we got here?" Dean waved his hand around referring to the hospital as a whole.
Leaning forward, Sam said, "We both got food poisoning from that chicken salad we ate. But you . . . well, you got botulism from the potato salad."
"You gotta be freakin' kidding me! Who gets botulism anymore?"
"The doctor said something about potatoes, tin foil, and improper handling. I dunno. I was more worried about how sick you were. But you were lucky."
Dean eyed his brother. "Lucky? Doesn't feel like it."
"Four other people got it, Dean. Two of them died."
He stared at his little brother with dismay, a chill racing down his back.
The brothers sat quietly for a few minutes until Sam noticed Dean's eyelids beginning to drift closed.
"Hey, the doctor said they'd be moving you to a regular room soon. I'm gonna go catch some sleep, grab a shower, and come back later, okay?"
"Might wanna eat something too," mumbled Dean, "you look like a damn skeleton. A Sasquatch skeleton."
Sam rolled his eyes and thought about making a smart ass comeback but realized Dean was already asleep. Staring at his brother, Sam mouthed a quick prayer of thanks before turning and leaving the room, yawning on his way out the door.
It was evening before Sam returned to the hospital. He'd slept the afternoon away before showering and picking up a bite to eat—chicken soup and a cheddar roll—at a little café a few blocks away from the hospital. He had to admit he felt better now that he was clean, rested, and had a full stomach. At the main information desk, Sam asked if his brother was now in a regular room. Upon being told that he had indeed been moved, Sam asked for directions and quickly headed for that floor.
Finding Room 3-307K, he paused for just a second before pushing the door open and walking into the room. He found Dean awake and staring disinterestedly at the wall-mounted TV. At his entrance, his brother looked over and half smiled.
" 'Bout time you got your ass back here, geek boy. TV sucks around here. All I seem to get is PBS." That last part wasn't quite true, but Dean refused to admit that at the moment he preferred Sam's company over anything found on television.
Sam eased down on the edge of the other, unoccupied, bed. "I see they haven't gotten rid of your IV yet. Did they get rid of—"
Dean scowled. "Don't even go there. All they did was laugh at me when I told 'em I wanted it gone or I'd take it out myself. I swear one of them even snorted!"
Biting back a grin, Sam let his brother grumble for a few seconds.
"They're not doing it just to torture you, you know."
Dean rolled his eyes.
Finally, they drifted into a conversation about what might need to be restocked in their arsenal since their last hunt. Five minutes into the conversation, the door to Dean's room blasted open and in unison the brothers looked over, hunters' instincts still in place. A formidable looking woman in gray forged into the room, a deep scowl firmly in place on her pinched face. Dean's first thought was look up the term battle ax in the dictionary and you'd find a picture of this woman.
She marched between the two beds. She pointed a long, crooked finger at Dean. "You, Mr. Stunning. I'll be back in five minutes to give you a sponge bath." Then she pointed that same finger at Sam and ordered, "You. Out. If you're here when I get back, I just might figure out a way to give you one too." Spinning on her sensible orthopedic shoe heel, she started to walk away. "Oh, and don't even think about making a run for it," she called over her shoulder, "I can move a lot faster than you can right now."
The second she was out of the room, Dean threw back the covers on his bed.
"Where do you think you're going?" asked Sam.
"Anywhere but here, little brother."
"Dean, you have to stay!"
"Like hell I do. Sammy, did you see her name tag?"
"It said 'A. Helbringer'. What is it with the people in this damn hospital? Uh uh. I'm outta here. C'mon, help me up."
"No. No way. We'd never make it in time, and you heard her—if I'm here when she gets back—" Sam shuddered and headed for the door. "I'll be back . . . uh . . . later."
"SAM! Get back here! I swear if you don't get back here, I'm gonna . . . Damn it, Sam! Do not . . . do not LEAVE me here with that woman!"
The door closed muffling Dean's aggravated pleading. Hurrying down the hall, Sam pushed his fingers in his jeans pocket and pulled out some money. Even though he couldn't help but chuckle at Dean's current predicament, Sam decided that at the very least he owed his brother a milkshake for this one.