Salt in the Wound
Dean could feel Sam's eyes on him as he drove back towards the hotel. Sam had been staring at him off and on since they pulled onto the road. Dean was doing his best to ignore him. Eye contact might lead to conversation and that was the last thing he wanted right now. Of course he could almost hear his brother's thoughts—Dean we need to talk about this, you need to understand what happened. He didn't want to talk, so he was ignoring Sam.
To be fair, Sam probably needed to talk. It was how he dealt with things. He talked. He got a little teary, he let everything out and he felt better. Nice if life could be that simple. Talking about this wasn't going to help. What Sam had said, what he had done under the influence of Ellicot …No, Dean ground his teeth together, I am not going to think about it. It's over, it's done, all I want to do is get my chest cleaned up and go to bed.
His chest was a mess. He knew it was bad, he could feel the blood running down his body as he drove. It hurt like hell. The back of his head, where he had hit the floor, was producing a lump the size of a basketball. And his hand hurt from where he had hit Sam.
He pulled into the parking place outside their room. He turned the key off and sat there, looking at the door to the room. Sam's stare on him again. Out of the corner of his eye could see his brother's hand resting on the handle, like Sam wasn't sure if he should get out or stay with him. Get out, Sam. He didn't want Sam to know how badly he was messed up. He didn't really want to know how badly he had been hurt when Sam had shot him.
Sam finally gave up with a loud sigh and got out of the car. Dean could hear him rattling the room key as he walked to the door. When Sam went in the room he left the door standing open. Probably watching me from in the room, Dean thought angrily. Why won't he let this alone? Gritting his teeth he opened the door and tried to stand up as normally as possible. There was no hiding the fact of his wounds, but he could act like Sam hadn't done all that much damage.
Dean walked into the room. Sam was suddenly busy digging through his bag. He must have been watching me get out of the car, checking to see if I'm ok. He was glad he had managed to get to the room without doing something stupid like collapsing in the parking lot. That might have clued Sam to the fact that something could be seriously wrong. And Dean thought there just might be. The ache in his chest felt suspiciously like a broken rib. He'd had enough of them to know, and that wasn't even considering the bloody wound he knew was there. The lump on the back of his head hurt like a mother and his knuckles were swelling—he might have dislocated one when he hit his brother to stop Sam from killing him. When he had hit Sam, hit him hard, hard enough…
He heard Sam mumble something about letting him have the first shower. Quite a concession from his brother. Dean knew he was trying to let him know he was worried. Worried about what had happened—no matter what Dean had said—worried that Dean was hurt. He grunted an acknowledgement, grabbed some clean clothes, using them to conceal the first aid kit he pulled out of his bag, and went into the bathroom. He closed the door. Just great, the lock was broken. He carefully pulled his shirt off. His chest was worse than he thought it would be. The rock salt had done a fair amount of damage and a lot of the salt was still in there, slowly dissolving like little pieces of molten lead. He looked closer, if Sam had been a foot closer, even with the rock salt, he would have killed me.
He wet a hand towel with warm water and pressed it carefully against his chest, hoping it would speed up the dissolution of the salt. He realized as he wrung the towel out that he couldn't really bend the middle finger of his right hand. Yep, dislocated. Just great. He hadn't noticed that back there, back when he'd hit Sam. Right after he had pulled out his .45 and handed it to Sam. When Sam had pulled the trigger again and again. Dean closed his eyes briefly, trying to stop the memory of the hammer striking the empty chamber over and over.
He pulled the towel away and rinsed it. It was soaked with blood. He managed to get a little better look at the wound before the blood started again. Not good, definitely not good. It'll probably leave an ugly scar. He put the towel back against his chest. He was pretty sure he could hear Sam just outside the door, listening, making sure everything was ok. Dean wondered if Sam had been injured by Ellicot, there had been blood running out of his nose when he held the gun on Dean and poured out the venom and anger and hatred, a look of utter loathing on Sam's face.
He pulled the towel away again. He rinsed it and placed it on the back of his head. After a minute he pulled it away. There was a large bloody spot. Just great, bleeding from my head, too. Nice—fun times. He hadn't realized he'd hit the floor quite that hard. Mostly what he remembered was looking up at his brother, holding a gun, preparing to shoot him again, telling him was sick of Dean, telling him he was pathetic.
He rinsed the towel again and put it back on his chest. In the mirror over the sink he could see his hand and the purpling knuckle. Now that he knew it was there he could feel blood trickling down his scalp. His chest ached badly—from when Sam had shot him. His head hurt—from when he had hit the floor after Sam had shot him. His knuckle throbbed from when he'd hit Sam hard enough to put him down for a minute or two.
Those long moments—when Sam had shot him. When he had hit Sam. The sound of hammer striking the empty chamber. The look of hatred, of loathing. Sam saying he was pathetic. Sam saying he was sick of him.
He shut his eyes, trying to block the reflection of his battered body in the mirror. Trying to block the memories of the asylum basement. Hoping to close out the sound of Sam's voice, full of hate, full of rage. The sound of Dean's own voice—Do you hate me that much? He put his head in his hands and felt his knees give way. He slid down the bathroom wall.
How had it come to this? How had he let this happen? How had he let the anger in Sam go unnoticed? How had he let those words—pathetic, sick of him, desperate for approval—build up in Sam? Why, oh, god, why did the words hurt so much? They were words. Just words. They couldn't wound.
"Words hurt, Dean." The memory came unbidden of sixteen year old Sam crying after a fight with their father. "He said I was stupid."
"He said putting your hope in college, in a normal life was stupid."
"Same thing, Dean. He said I was stupid. It hurts."
"It's just a word, Sam. It can't hurt. Bullets hurt, punches hurt, broken bones hurt. Words don't hurt. They can't wound."
"Yes, they can," Sam had whispered with tears in his eyes.
Sam shooting him. The hammer on the chamber. Hitting Sam. Pathetic. Sick. Desperate. Just words, not like the rock salt, not like the knuckle. They were just words, just words.
"What are you doing here?" Sam had asked when Dean had appeared just before summer break during his first year at Stanford. "I told you I was going on vacation with friends."
"You need to come home, Sammy."
"Home to the car? Home to a motel? Home to a crappy diner? Home to the hunt? Which one, Dean?"
"Home to the family, Sam."
"No, Dean. I need to be with friends, college friends, normal friends, for the summer."
"You just don't want to deal with dad."
"That's not true. I want a different life. Why can't you just let me live it? I don't want to spend my summer fighting about my life. The life I chose, Dean, not the one chosen for me."
"No Dean, not this time."
"Sam," Dean was tired of this fight. He was tired of being the one between his father and brother, tired of the two of them using him as a weapon in their fight. He had been doing it since Sam was what? Five? Six? They needed to settle it between themselves and leave him out of it. Sam needed to tell his father how he felt. Unfortunately none of that came out, what came out was "Don't be a coward." As soon as he said it he wished the words away, he was angry, but he hadn't meant to say that.
Sam looked like he had been hit. He had a bludgeoned look on his face. His eyes filled with tears. "What did you say?" Angry, hurt.
"Sam… it's just a word."
"Words hurt, Dean. They leave wounds. Get out. I am not coming home. Don't come back again."
"No, Dean. It's over. Get out." Sam had turned and walked away from him. Dean stood there for a minute, waiting for his brother to come back, but he didn't come. Dean walked to the car. He and Sam would hardly speak for the next two years.
Was that where it started? The hatred? The loathing? The words? The words that were beginning to cause an ache even deeper than bloody wound on his chest, hurting more than his hand, throbbing like his head, over and over. Pathetic, sick, desperate.
He was crying. The tears had started almost unnoticed. He couldn't stop them. He wasn't sobbing, they were just flowing out of him like the blood on his chest, like the blood from his scalp. He thought he heard the door open. He held his breath, holding very still, after a moment he chanced looking up. The door was closed. No Sam. Usually Sam would have come by now. He always had before, but not this time.
Dean had been fourteen. They had been staying in St. George, Utah for almost a month and he had made friends with a stray dog. The dog was kind of mangy, but Dean liked him—he called him Old Dog—and they hung around together most days. One morning he had come out of their room and found Old Dog dead beside the road. He sank down beside the body, crying over the loss. He didn't know how long he had been there when Sam found him. He put his small arm over Dean's shoulders.
"I'm sorry Dean, I liked Old Dog, too." Sam said with tears in his eyes.
"Thanks Sammy, we were friends, you know."
"I know. Do you want to bury him in the vacant lot? I'll help. We can do it together," Even then Sam knew what he needed a lot of the time. They had dug the grave and placed the dog in the ground. Somehow having Sam help had made it a little better.
What had happened to make Sammy hate him? What had he done? How had he let it happen? When had it begun? When had he lost Sam? They had always faced things together. The good and the bad, Sam had always come. No matter what had happened.
They had been hunting, and Dean screwed up. Both his father and Sam had been injured. Dean was waiting in the emergency room. At eighteen he kept his emotions under control more than he had, but it still was all pretty close to the surface. The blood on his brother's face, his father unconscious—it affected him deeply. He was sitting in the waiting room, head in hands, waiting for word. Sam found him. He was aware someone had sat down by him. When the person leaned against him he knew it was Sam. He pulled away.
"I'm sorry, Sammy."
"It wasn't your fault, Dean."
"Yes it was, I let my focus slip and you got hurt."
"Not that bad. And dad will be ok. We'll just wait here, ok?" Sam leaned against Dean, the two of them waiting together, each drawing comfort from the other.
Where was Sam? How can I make it up to him? Dean was aware his jeans had become soaked with blood. Nice. Another pair ruined. Blood was hard to get out. His hand had swollen so that the slight pressure he was exerting on it was excruciating. He didn't move. When had those words built up in his brother? Why did they hurt so much?
I'm probably going into shock. Maybe suffering a little from loss of blood. I wonder how much of me has poured out? I wonder if the blood will stop. If the tears will stop. If the words will stop.
He was not aware of Sam until a cold cloth was placed against the back of his head. "Dean?"
He didn't say anything. He wasn't really sure if he could. He did look over at Sam, kneeling beside him. Sammy looked terrible. He looked like he had been crying.
"Can you stand up?" Sam said gently, keeping his voice carefully neutral.
"Here, I'll help" Sam pulled him slowly to his feet, he led him into the room and sat him on the bed. He took the pillows from his bed and combined them with the ones from Dean's and gently guided Dean down against them. Dean could tell Sam was staring at the bloody wound on his chest. It was spectacular, he had to admit. "Let me finish cleaning that up," Sam said, his voice still gentle, still neutral. Almost completely devoid of emotion.
His brother set to work. He brought another wet towel from the bathroom and laid it on his chest. The salt was almost all gone now. At least that hurt a little less. He watched as Sam went out the door and came back a moment later with the big first aid kit from the trunk of the car. Sam pulled several large sterile pads out. He got out the tape. He was calm, his face still neutral, not reflecting any emotion at all.
Oh, god. He hates me. Pathetic, sick, desperate. The words bounced around Dean's head.
Sam carefully removed the towel and placed the pads over the wounds. "You'll have to hold them while I get the rest of the bandage around you," Sam said in that emotionless voice. Dean put his hand over the pads. Sam stopped. Dean looked at him, his brother was staring at him. His hands were starting to shake. "My god, Dean. What happened to your hand?"
Dean looked down at the hand on his chest. It was purple and black, the middle knuckle swollen. Somehow he had almost blocked that injury out of his head, he hadn't meant to let Sam see that one, considering how it happened. "It's fine."
Shaking hands reached for his hand, he tried to pull it away. Sam grabbed it and gently palpated it. "It's dislocated."
"From when you hit me?" his voice neutral, his hands shaking.
"It has to be fixed."
"It's going to hurt."
"Yeah," Dean leaned his head back, closing his eyes. Sam had his hand. He could feel Sam moving around, trying to figure out how best to fix it. He could feel Sam's hands trembling as he worked. Sam put pressure on the knuckle, testing the extent of the injury. Dean grunted in pain as the joint shifted a little. Sam stopped. "Do it." Sam still sat there, holding the hand, but not doing anything. "Come on."
"I can't," Sam whispered. That voice was anything but neutral. Dean opened his eyes. Tears were running down his brother's face.
"You've fixed dislocated joints before," he said deliberately misinterpreting Sam's words, his reaction.
"I can't…" Sam's hands were shaking violently. "I can't hurt you anymore, Dean. I can't."
"Do it, Sam. It's ok, it has to be done."
"Do it! Get it over with!" Please, just let it be done.
Sam took a deep breath. "Ok, are you ready?" The neutral voice was back. Dean closed his eyes as he felt Sam start to put pressure on the joint. Oh, it hurt. He ground his teeth together to keep from crying out as he felt the joint pop back into place. He let out his breath. Sam was gently wrapping the hand. Dean kept his eyes closed. "Here," Sam said. Something cold was on his hand—a towel full of ice. "I'm going to finish with your chest, ok?" Dean just nodded. He let Sam bandage him, let his brother put a cool cloth on his head. "All finished."
Finished with me Sam? I understand. Suddenly the words came up and out of him, unstoppable "I didn't know you hated me, Sammy." He was in pain and utterly exhausted.
"Dean…You're hurt. I understand. You don't actually believe that."
"You're right, I am pathetic." Going on as if Sam had not spoken.
"I don't blame you for being sick of me—for hating me."
"Dean," When he didn't react, Sam grabbed his arm and shook it. Dean opened his eyes. "You need to listen to me, man. You need to hear me. Those words, what I did, they weren't me. I couldn't control it."
"It had to come from somewhere, Sam. All that anger and hatred. I didn't know…"
"Sure I get angry with you, Dean. You've been angry with me, too. And sure I get annoyed being around you sometimes. It happens. But when he filled me with that poison all the little things—they just grew until it was out of control, until all the little things were one huge thing. I couldn't stop it." Sam was looking at him. He must have seen something in Dean's eyes that showed he still didn't believe. "Do you remember that hunt when I was sixteen? In Montana? I got that tiny cut on the cattle tank and we were laughing about it? Then I ended up almost dying with blood poisoning from that little teeny tiny cut? It was like that Dean, something so small suddenly filled with poison. Suddenly large because of something from the outside. Not from me."
Dean looked up into his eyes, searching for the truth of what he was saying, wanting to believe, but still feeling the depth of the wound the words had caused. "Sam…"
"Oh, god Dean, I'm sorry. I am sorry for what I did, but more sorry for what I said. Words hurt, Dean, and I'm sorry for them. I don't think you are pathetic or anything else. I didn't mean one word of it."
"No, Dean you are going to let me finish this time. You are going to hear me for a change. I didn't mean it. I am sorry I shot you," Sam stopped. Dean looked at his brother, there was a look of horror spreading across Sam's face, his eyes reflecting a sudden awareness of what that meant, tears filled his eyes and his voice came out in a rough whisper. "Oh, god, Dean I shot you…I shot you. Then, I pulled the trigger on the pistol. I said those horrible things," he paused and took a breath. "But Dean, it wasn't me. I don't hate you. I do not hate you. Do you hear me?"
Dean looked at him, letting the words soak in like a salve on the wound. "You don't hate me?"
"Dean, dude, how can you even think that? You're my brother, you're…" Sam stopped, sighing. "I am not getting through to you am I?" He stood up, looking down at Dean.
"Where are you going?" He said, panicked. Even after what Sam said, there was still that seed of doubt.
Sam sighed again and walked around the bed and sat down beside Dean, their shoulders touching, he looked over at him. "Dean, you're my brother. I don't know how I can make this up to you. I can't take back what I said, or what I did, all I can say is I'm sorry. I know it's not much. But I know we can get through this. Together."
Dean finally let himself believe. Finally let Sam's words reach him. Sam was right, they would get through this together. That was what mattered in the end. It was all that had ever mattered, all that ever would. He leaned against Sam "Yeah, Sammy, you're right. Together."