Behind the Red Door
Sam could feel the weakness seeping into his body as he lay prone. He opened his eyes, but all he could see was milky shadows as they flitted around him. He could smell the sterile antiseptic of a hospital mixed with the sweet lavender of a woman. The blankets were pulled sharply up around his shoulders, and he lolled his head towards the darkest shadow in the room.
"Who are you?" His voice was dry and paper thin, like unearthed, thousand-year old parchment.
"I'm your nurse, Katie. Don't you remember, Mr. Winchester?"
Sam could feel his brows scrunch up over his eyes as he mulled over her words. He didn't specifically remember Katie, but there had been a lot of Katies over the years. However, the title - nurse - he understood. He understood hospitals.
"Has my brother been by?"
"I haven't seen him, sir." She gave his bed one last tuck, before he heard her soft footsteps recede into the hall.
"Are you giving all the pretty nurses a hard time, Sammy?"
"Dean?" Sam couldn't hear his brother approach, but he could feel his presence as he settled near the bed. His brother sounded young and full of life. Some of the tension that had been building in the pit of his stomach dissolved. Sam may be laid up in the hospital, but at least Dean was all right.
"'Course it's me, Sam. Who were you expecting? Santa Clause?"
"Maybe the boogeyman." Sam smiled and the shadow in his peripheral hovered closer.
"Awww, Sammy. You should know by now, I would never let anything get you."
"Yah." Sam's relieved smile faded, and he shifted nervously in the bed. "Dean, man, I can't see."
Something cool passed over his forehead and Sam leaned into the touch, knowing it was his brother's hand.
"I know, but you are going to be fixed up real soon. 20/20 vision."
"When are we getting out of here?" Sam knew that he sounded a bit petulant, but he always hated hospitals. Nothing good ever came of them.
"Soon. Real soon, little brother. Hey, remember that time when you were eight and you decided that you wanted to be a real honest to goodness cowboy."
Sam smiled in response to the laughter in his brother's voice. He remembered the specific incident his brother was talking about. They had just finished watching John Wayne in Cowboys, and Sam had decided that he wanted to go on a real cattle drive. Of course, to do that he needed a horse….
"Come on, Dean. I bet if we both ask him, he won't say no."
"Dude, there is no way that Dad is going to let you have a horse."
They were cleaning up their room that they shared, in the two bedroom shack they were living in on the outside of a small town in Kentucky. Dean had scrapped together enough money to take Sam to the theater that was showing a string of old John Wayne movies, and now he had gotten the idea that he wanted a big ol' buckskin of his very own.
"Why not?" Sam whined, throwing a bundle of dirty clothes into the back of the closet they shared. Laundry was something they only indulged in when their clothes got too stinky for even them to handle or they got sent home from school with a note.
"Where are we going to put a horse, Sam? They're huge, with huge teeth. The ones on TV are trained, but real ones bite, you know." Sam knew that Dean didn't really like horses that much. According to his brother they were too big, with big round hooves that could kick their way through a man's chest.
"They do not. You're just a scaredy cat." Sam snarled, uncaring if he had just committed the most cardinal of brotherly sins.
"I am not!" Dean shot back, clearly offended.
"Are too. You're scared of horses, and you're scared of Dad."
"Yah, well if you're so brave, then you ask him for a horse." Dean stomped out of the room and Sam didn't see his brother again, until dinner.
Sam had never been shy about asking for something that he wanted. It wasn't that he was spoiled, because he rarely received what he asked for, but to his way of thinking, if you never tried then you would never succeed. Sam wasn't all that surprised when Dad shot him down while barely blinking an eye. He was surprised when Dean didn't intervene on his behalf when Dad became angry enough to spit at Sam's persistence. He got sent to bed without supper and without doing his homework.
Sam didn't speak to Dean for three whole days. In the world of brothers, that was a lifetime. But Sam felt betrayed at Dean's supposed defection, and at eight he didn't really know how to admit he was wrong. He knew that there was no way for Dad to give him a horse, but that didn't lesson the want for one.
Finally, Dean came home after school and took him aside, convincing Sam to take a walk with him to the farm a few miles down the dirt road.
They walked silently under the hot baking sun, neither looking at the other. When they arrived, Sam lifted his head from the monotonous sight of his feet tromping through the dust to see a herd of sleek horses on the other side of a post fence. A smile broke out on his face , like the sun peeking out from behind a batch of gray clouds.
Instantly, the motor mouth that had been on pause for three days revved up as he started asking his brother all kinds of questions about horses that Dean couldn't answer, but he knew who could. He led Sam up to the barn where Mr. Conroy was waiting for them, a bright blue halter and lead in his hands.
"Hello there, boys." He directed his greeting towards, Dean before scanning down to look Sam in the eye. "You must be Sam?"
"I understand that you are here for horse lessons?"
Sam's small face brightened and he glanced up at his brother for confirmation. Dean looked down at him with serious eyes, and nodded that it was true.
"Yes, sir!" Sam bubbled, and the older man smiled.
"Great. Over there in that stall is Sally. Why don't you go make her acquaintance?"
Sam sped off to a nearby stall, leaving Dean behind with Mr. Conroy. He was still close enough to hear them speak, but he was too enthralled with his new best friend Sally to really pay attention.
"So the deal is that you come by here after school every day, and one day every other weekend to shovel out the stalls and do whatever else needs doing, and I'll give your brother lessons."
"Yes, sir." Dean shoved his hands in his pockets, wearily eyeing the horse that was nuzzling his brother.
"That's quiet the commitment you're willing to make on your little brother's behalf."
"He's worth it."
Mr. Conroy looked at the young boy and nodded sagely. "Maybe we can work out some other arrangement, Dean."
Sam watched as Dean glanced at him, a little bit of fear tingeing his features, but Sam couldn't understand why. Finally, Dean nodded slowly, and let Mr. Conway lead him towards the tack room.
Sam noticed right away that the door was red. He hadn't remembered it being red before. It was bright, and kinda shiny, like it was calling to him. He thought maybe he should walk up to it, but Sally whickered at him softly, nudging him on the cheek.
Sam was jerked out of his memories by the sound of a soft feminine voice. He tried to remember if he had ever thanked Dean for what he had done for him, but the memory was already fading away, leaving behind a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach.
"Yes?" The weakness seemed to be spreading through his body. His voice sounded too old to be his own, and for some reason that made him incredibly sad.
"It's time to eat."
Sam could hear the clatter of a plastic tray being set down on the table beside him. He struggled to pull himself upright, but his arms didn't have the strength.
"Here, let me help you."
The nurse came closer, and the scent of lavender filled the air. He could hear the whirl of the automated bed as she raised the back into a sitting position before she fitted the pillows behind him. She slid the table in front of him, and handed him a plastic spoon, making sure that he gripped the food tray with his free hand.
"Can you do it or do you need help?"
Sam felt mortification burn through his bones and he shrugged her away.
"I can do it," he snapped.
"Now, Sammy don't be pissy to the pretty nurse. She's just trying to be nice."
Sam shifted his head towards the sound of Dean's voice, but all he could see was the play of shadow and light behind a white film.
"Well, if you need me, Mr. Winchester, just press the call button."
She left the room, leaving Sam alone with his brother.
Dean let out a low whistle as she left, and Sam could feel him shift closer.
"Man, you never had any charm when it came to the ladies. If it was me in here, I would have her give me a sponge bath."
Sam didn't have to see to know the leer that was spread across Dean's features. His brother's insatiable appetites were one of the many things that made Dean who he was.
"That's because you have the morals of an alley cat."
Dean chuckled in agreement, because really, there was no denying it.
"Yah, well, Sam, you're a prude. Always have been, always will be."
Sam could feel a heavy weight settle beside him as Dean sat near his hip.
"Are too. Remember that time I tried to take you out to get laid and you totally puked all over my shoes?"
"Dude, I was sixteen and it was the first time I had ever been to a bar to drink. Besides, that's not what I remember. I seem to recall you ending up in the hospital with a broken jaw and three cracked ribs."
Sam was disgusted, but that didn't stop the memory from forming out of a misty haze.
"Come on, Sam, one more drink, little brother."
Sam was listing a little bit on his bar stool as he stared at a point dead center on his brother's forehead. He knew that if he took his eyes off that little patch of skin, the stool would buck him off right on to the sawdust covered floor.
He reached out an unsteady hand, wrapping his fingers around the sweating neck of a beer and tipped the rest of the contents down his throat. He swayed dangerously in his seat as he did so, and Dean reached out to steady him with a strong grip on his jacket.
"Woah, there, Geek Boy. Try not to embarrass us both."
"Shhut up, 'Ean." Sam swayed again, and focused his blurry eyes on the prettiest girl he had ever seen. Her hair was the prettiest color of yellow ever, and her face was the prettiest kinda swirl of peach, and her legs seemed pretty long…
Sam's forehead hit the table with a resounding thunk. He heard Dean's wince of sympathy and a shuffle of sound as he moved around to his side.
"Come on, little brother. Time to go."
"Aww, Dean, but that girl is real pretty." Sam held onto his brother's arm. He instinctively knew that the floor was out to get him. Somehow he managed to motion over to the girl at the far end of the room. Dean had promised Sam his first beer and first girl that night. Sam had agreed to the alcohol, but he had squirmed at the mention of a girl. Now eight beers later, and a couple shots of Jack, he wasn't all that opposed to the idea.
He watched as Dean glanced over to the girl he indicated. His brother's face sort of flittered between disgust and amusement.
"Wha?" Sam asked as they stumbled closer to the door.
"You have some piss poor taste in women, Sammy. But drunk will do that to you."
"Whadya mean? She's real pretty."
About this time, Sam noticed that the door they were moving closer to was the brightest color red he had ever seen. It sort of reminded him of newly spilt blood. The kind right from an artery, not the sluggish kind that's been sitting on the floor for a couple of hours.
"Sam, that's a dude pretending to be a chick. And not very well, I might add."
"You're being mean ta me. I'm tellin' Dad."
"Wow, you are wasted."
They moved closer to the door, and suddenly Sam felt real nervous. He didn't remember the door being red before.
Sam opened his mouth to protest again, but instead a flood of vomit sprayed over Dean's brand new steel-toed boots.
"Christ, Sammy. You are such a bitch."
From Sam's bent over position he could see the corner where the dude/chick sat ensconced on a stool. A group of men moved away from her and started towards them, clearly upset that he had been staring at their girlfriend. It seemed that even dude/chicks could have boyfriends. They probably all met in prison, he thought as Dean stepped in front of him and darkened his view.
"Mr. Winchester, you didn't eat your dinner."
The soft-voiced nurse was back again.
"I wasn't hungry."
She moved closer, and the smell of lavender penetrated his senses. He was suddenly reminded of his mother. He didn't remember her of course, but Dean used to tell him stories about her. He told Sam that she always smelled like lavender from the water she would put in the laundry. Maybe that was why Dean hadn't liked washing clothes so much. He never could get them to smell the way their mother had.
"Have you seen my brother?"
"No, Mr. Winchester. Would you like me to help you eat?"
"No," Sam replied mutinously, before giving way. "No, I'm just tired. Could you help me to lie back?"
"Of course," she murmured softly.
She eased the bed back and plumped the pillows behind his head. Sam caught her wrist as she withdrew and she inhaled sharply. Although he was blind, his senses hadn't completely deserted him. He could still feel the air move around him, feel the whisper of sound over his skin, just like his Dad had taught him too.
"If you see my brother, could you tell him that I want to leave? I'll check myself out AMA if I have to."
"I don't think that's a good idea, Mr. Winchester." She pulled her wrist away, and settled the blankets around him.
"Please, if you see him."
"I'll tell him to come see you."
"Get some rest, Mr. Winchester."
Sam heard her footsteps fade in the hall and he settled back against the pillows. He really was tired, more so than he ever remembered being in his life. He knew that he must be facing a window, because the light beneath the milky sheen was the brightest it had ever been. A shadow intruded on the light and Sam felt something ease in his chest.
"Dude, you have got to use a little charm on the nurse. I'm telling you, she's smoking hot. Way hotter than that dude at the bar."
Sam sighed deeply, before giving Dean his trademark reply. "Shut up, Dean."
Dean chuckled, and brushed his hand through Sam's wispy hair.
"You always were such a little bitch."
"Yah, well you always were a jerk."
"Well, I have to do my duty as big brother, you know."
Sam leaned back into the pillows, suddenly sad and so very tired.
"Do you ever wish things could have been different? That we could have been different?
"What do you mean, Sammy?"
"You were always sacrificing yourself for me," Sam said softly in the direction of the shadow. He could feel something warm and wet drip down his face, but he ignored it. "Do you think if things had been different, that you wouldn't have done that?"
There was a pause in the room then the shadow moved closer. Sam felt Dean wipe the tear from his cheek, his hand cool next to Sam's flushed face.
"Hey, remember that time I died?"
"You never died," Sam spat back, suddenly uncomfortable.
"Sure, I did."
"No. You didn't," Sam replied forcefully. "I saved you."
"Yah, Sam. You saved me."
Dean's voice faded away, and the light gave way to shadows. Sam looked around him as the memory formed out of the depths of his mind.
"Dean! Oh, God, Dean!"
Sam knelt on the floor, his knees in a pool in a cold, dark blood. He held Dean's torn body to his chest, his cheeks wet with tears as he tried to wipe the dried blood from his brother's face. The blood was crusty and stained into Dean's skin. It refused to be cleaned away, and it only smeared further with every swipe of Sam's hand. Finally he gave up and he buried his face in Dean's throat as the sobs wracked his body.
"Dean, why did you run away? Why did you go?"
The hotel room was in shambles. The bedding was shredded and strewn across the floor. The walls were scarred with claw marks, and the curtains were torn from the rod. Paw marks, steeped with blood, surrounded Dean's ripped body. The hollow of Dean's chest was torn wide open, a gaping red wound that revealed his brother's heart. No organs were missing, but Sam knew that Dean's soul had been dragged from his body and swallowed down by the Hell Hounds sent to collect.
"I could have helped you. I could have saved you."
Dean had disappeared weeks before. Always staying one step ahead of his brother, as he raced towards his death. Dean had refused to let Sam help him. He had refused to let Sam be there when it happened. Even in the end Dean was protecting him---sacrificing everything for him.
"Dean, why did you leave me?" Sam wailed as he rocked Dean in his arms.
Dean's body was stiff and cold, and he didn't quite fit right in Sam's lap. Sam didn't care as he pulled him closer. All he wanted was for his big brother to be there with him. To open his eyes and call Sam a wussy for being a girl---to pull himself up off the ground, wipe away the blood and show Sam that there were no wounds, that it was just a great big tasteless joke. He wanted anything else but for his brother to be laying dead and rotting, with a milky film covering his eyes.
"I'm going to save you, Dean. If it's the last thing I do, I'm going to save you."
Sam pressed his forehead to Dean's, ignoring the cold, clammy feel to his skin. He vowed over and over to save his brother, until the promise nestled its way down deep into his heart where it could never be rooted up.
Sam looked up, noticing for the first time, a shiny red door. Reason told Sam that it should lead to the bathroom, but instinct told him otherwise. He pressed one last, tear-soaked kiss to Dean's forehead, and pulled himself off the ground. His jeans were stained dark with blood and they felt tacky against his skin. He ignored it all as he approached the door.
At first he felt fear. Trepidation, strong and powerful gripped him around the chest until he could barely breathe. He looked back at his brother, twisted and broken on the floor, and knew that he wasn't his brother anymore. If he wanted to see Dean again, he would have to pass through the door and onto the other side.
As he neared, it glowed brighter with a white light that spilled out from beneath the frame. The edges beamed golden, with a starburst of light. He reached out a steady hand and grasped the warm brass knob, pulling it open. The bright light flooded the room, blinding him a moment, before a shadow darkened the light.
"Dude, it's about time. I've been waiting for freaking eternity."
"Dean," Sam breathed and embraced his brother, pressing his nose into his shoulder like he did when he was five and was scared of the dark.
Dean didn't push him away and call him a girl. Instead he wrapped his arms around his shoulders and cooed to Sam like he used to all those years ago.
"It's all right now, Sammy. Everything is just the way it should be."
Dean moved to stand beside Sam, taking his arm and leading him deeper into the light.
"You're not in Hell?" Sam whispered, almost afraid to say the words out loud.
"No, Sammy. You saved me remember? A couple years ago. That ritual in Tampa that transferred souls across boundaries?"
Sam nodded, because he did remember. Decades of searching and he finally found a transference spell. He had never been certain if it worked or not, until now. Heavy stuff, transferring souls from one plane of existence to another, especially something as demanding as moving them from Hell to Heaven.
"Yah, the most effed up stuff happens in Florida, doesn't it, little brother?"
Dean chuckled, and Sam joined him.
"Yah, Dean, it really does."
They draped their arms over their shoulders, and patted each other's backs. Dean pulled Sam to a stop, turning to face him. He smiled, his green eyes dancing with happiness and something inside of Sam lit up like a bonfire. Dean placed a hand squarely in the center of Sam's chest, grinned at him mischievously and pushed hard. Sam fell back with an incredulous look on his face, and Dean laughed loudly.
"Race you to Mom and Dad."
Dean shouted gleefully, before taking off full tilt down the bright tunnel. Sam growled in response and righted himself before chasing after his brother. Their laughter echoed down the tunnel as they raced each other. The deeper they spiraled, the smaller Sam felt until he saw his brother turn and wave, his young boyish face peeking out from behind a mop of blonde hair.
They spilled out of the tunnel and into the yard of their house in Lawrence. Mom was waiting beside the flower bed, elbow deep in dirt as she planted bulbs for the coming spring. Dad was beneath the old oak tree raking the never-ending supply of leaves. From the porch a golden retriever barked before joining the boys in their game of chase as they raced around the yard, weaving in and out of their parents.
The sun glowed brightly in the autumn sky even as the fall chill began to nip at the tips of their ears. Finally, the Winchesters had come home to stay in the winter of their lives, so they could enjoy the spring.
Katie pulled the blanket up over Mr. Winchester's head, grinning at the peaceful smile that creased his old, wrinkled face. Nancy, the head nurse, walked in with the gurney they would use to transport him to the morgue.
"Did his brother ever come?" Katie asked. She was new to the nursing home. She had only started a few months earlier and she had taken a real shine to Mr. Winchester. He never had any visitors, and as far as she knew his stay was paid for by the state. He had no living relatives, so she had been relieved to hear that he had a brother.
"Brother? Mr. Winchester doesn't have a brother."
Katie frowned and looked back at the lump beneath the covers.
"But he kept asking for his brother."
"I see." Nancy looked at her sadly before turning away.
Nancy turned back and began to efficiently prep the bed so they could transfer him to the gurney.
"Mr. Winchester's brother died nearly fifty years ago in some sort of war."
"Oh." Katie swallowed hard, tears forming in her yes. Nancy moved closer, rubbing a comforting hand down the young girl's back. Losing a patient was always hard the first couple of times. The nurses thought of the elderly in their care as members of their own family. Especially when it became clear that they had no one to claim them.
"It happens from time to time. As their time nears, their mind wanders and they can't tell the difference between the past and the present. He's in a better place now."
"I hope so," Katie replied softly. "What do you suppose heaven is like?"
Nancy shrugged, and together they lifted the sheet with Mr. Winchester's body on it. They swung it over to the gurney, folding his arms respectfully over his chest.
"I guess Heaven would be different for everyone, but I definitely think that your family is there, waiting for you."
Katie looked down at Mr. Winchester's happy face, before picking up the sheet that had fallen loose during the move.
"I think so too." She smiled, placing the sheet over him, before rolling him out the door.