A/N: I'm so sorry that this took much longer to update than I promised. I have been really busy and I kept tweaking this story, even up to the very minute that I am trying to post this, meaning right now. I figured I better post it before I go crazy. I want to thank everyone again for the amazing reviews. I am floored! It was so cool to see people who started reading this story 4 years ago come back and stay with it. I also want to say thank-you for the pms I got wondering where this was. Also, apologies to the people who reviewed that I couldn't personally respond to. Thank-you again!
Now here, finally, is the conclusion to the story. It's been a ride but thanks for being there.
Dean stood there in complete shock. How could this happen? He had chosen the one moment to completely flake out, the moment Sam needed him the most. Sam was his brother and he couldn't even be there in his darkest moment. Sam was there for total strangers and now might very well be losing his life. He cursed himself for his behavior.
Finally, he rushed past Maggie and into the room. He was not leaving his brother now. A team was surrounding Sam's bed, and they pumped on his bruised chest painfully. They had removed the vent and were pumping air through the hole in Sam's neck.
Dean looked on helplessly. It was over. Sam had tried he really had. He had made it through Christmas for him. If this was it, he had to let him go. He had even woken up for him but he couldn't allow himself to think that his last memory of Sam would be soundless tears and the mute, yet deafening, words, "You were right."
He watched as his brother was injected with epinephrine and as he was shocked again and again with the defibrillator. There was a litany of medical jargon being thrown around but he was oblivious to all of it. He didn't even register Maggie standing next to him and attempting to remove him from the room. All he could hear was the long beep that meant Sam's heart wasn't beating.
Finally he heard it, ever so faint but then increasing in intensity, beeping.
"Is he alive?"
Dr. Walton looked over at him, noticing him there for the first time apparently. He looked haggard and worn, sweating, and Dean thought he saw something else in his face right before he nodded, releasing the weight of the world off Dean's shoulders. It was relief.
Despite the words he had exchanged with him before, he respected him. Maybe Sam had truly influenced him, but he believed he actually cared if his brother made it or not.
"Thank-you," Dean said simply. Thank-you."
Dr. Walton blamed Sam's crashing on a number of factors including his pneumonia, and a sudden lack of oxygen due to the deep congestion in his lungs. Sam's hypoxia had caused his heart to stop. He decided to try Sam on a new antibiotic and ordered Sam be placed on humidified treatments through the ventilator attached to his trach. It involved humidified air and medication to be delivered to Sam to try to break up some of his lung congestion.
Sam remained mostly unconscious and even more incoherent than the Christmas morning when he had awakened for the first time. He had opened his eyes a few times but only long enough to give a somewhat bleary eyed, confused stare and drift back into oblivion. Dean wondered deep down if it was intentional and Sam was trying to escape the prison that was now his body. He couldn't communicate, or really move with all the plaster he was sporting. What bothered him most was that he couldn't quite read Sam when he awoke. He had met his eyes at times but he didn't give anything away.
He couldn't help but jump each and every time the alarm sounded because Sam's Sats had fallen again due to another mucus plug.
It was just before New Year's though when Sam finally turned a corner.
"I have good news for you this morning," Maggie declared. "Sam's fever has broken. His lungs sound much better now too."
"Really?" Dean asked.
"Well the congestion isn't as bad. Sam might require more suctioning but this points to the infection clearing."
"More suctioning?" Dean grimaced.
"Well it's a good thing that the secretions come out to keep Sam breathing well."
Dean heard a slight rustling sound and looked over at Sam on the bed. He was moving ever so slightly and scrunching his face again. He smacked his lips as if he had a sour taste in his mouth.
"Sammy?" Dean questioned, walking over to the bed. He was unsure how he'd wake up this time and if he'd be aware of what was going on.
Sam slowly cracked open his eyes and this time Dean knew that he was awake for real. Sam's eyes no longer contained the glaze of fever and they were clear. He could tell just what Sam was feeling. There was no panic, only the look of satisfaction that his brother was there.
"I'll go get Dr. Walton," Maggie said, apparently not wanting to interfere with the moment.
"Sam, you can't talk right now," Dean said, tentatively, not certain how he should explain Sam's injuries to him. He wasn't sure how much Sam even remembered about the last few days or if he remembered him explaining to him that he couldn't speak.
Sam looked at him expectantly as he wasn't sure how to respond either.
"You can't talk but you can nod though, right?" Dean asked, nodding profusely. He felt somewhat stupid and looked like a bobble head doll but it was all he had. "Do you remember what happened?" He asked, nervously.
Sam nodded, a flicker of sadness crossing his face. He turned his head away from Dean into the pillow.
"Be careful Sam. That tube is helping you breathe. You don't want it to come loose," Dean scolded. "The guys who did this to you messed up your trachea so you've been on a vent for almost a week. You've been pretty out of it. You understand?"
Sam didn't respond but kept his head turned away. Dean got the message that Sam just didn't want to talk about it.
Dr. Walton interrupted Dean's prodding by walking in the door wanting to examine Sam.
"Son, the police officers are outside. They'd like to speak to you," He added.
"I'll be right back Sammy, okay?"
Sam answered this time and nodded yes.
The same two officers that had been there the night Sam was attacked were back.
"We got them," they said, the minute Dean walked out of the room.
"You did?" Dean asked. For just a moment, he felt rage fill his abdomen and burn for a moment until he reined it in. He was going to focus on the good, like Sammy.
"Yeah. A good samaritan called the police when he spotted a van lingering outside an apartment complex. They had just broken into a place and stolen some Christmas gifts. Resident had just arrived home and they were about to make another attack. Luckily the person kept a safe distance and called it in. No one was hurt."
Another person looking out for other people, like Sammy, Dean thought warmly, comforted in knowing that there were others out there.
"Good news is that hopefully your brother won't even have to testify. We have tons of stolen goods as well as an eyewitness account."
"That's good," Dean said, sincerely, knowing that Sam would not be able to testify anyway.
"Not to mention all the colorful evidence your brother left on the guys."
"Evidence?" Dean asked, confused.
"Yeah, your brother didn't go down without a fight. A couple of the guys still have some nasty bruising on their faces."
Dean couldn't hold back the small smile that spread across his face.
"Well we don't want to keep you. Is your brother doing better?"
"Yeah he is. I think we're both going to be okay," Dean answered.
"One more thing," the officer began. "You know that guy? Jason Riggs? The one you wanted us to find for you."
"Did you find him?" Dean asked.
"Well kind of. Apparently the real Jason Riggs is dead. He was a homeless Vietnam vet that was murdered when he intervened on a mugging. He saved the lady's life but lost his own. Must be a case of mistaken identity or maybe this guy is using his buddy's name. It happens a lot around here."
Maybe you should listen to your brother. Sam's in good hands Dean.
The words echoed in Dean's head.
"Yeah that must be it," Dean said, lying. He knew exactly what happened. There was no way Jason could have known all that info. He had never even told him Sam was his brother or given him their names. It all made sense.
"Dean?" Dr. Walton said, exiting the room as the officers walked off.
"How's Sam?" Dean asked.
"He's doing amazingly well. Honestly if you had asked me a few days ago if Sam was going to make it, I would have been doubtful but I think there is every reason to believe Sam will make a complete recovery. He still has a road ahead of him but he's taken the first steps. I'll be back to check on him later."
"Thank-you doctor," Dean replied.
"I have to tell you," Dr. Walton began sheepishly, looking unsure if he should reveal this to Dean but thinking better of it. "I'm going to be retiring soon and lately I haven't seen too many happy endings. I feel like I should thank Sam for giving me something too."
Dean smiled at the doctor as he walked off. Sam would probably laugh at him for this but he savored in the warm feeling the doctor's words gave him for a moment before returning to Sam's room.
Dean's sense of relief continued when Dr. Walton removed the chest tube because he felt Sam's lungs were showing signs of healing. However, he wanted Sam on the vent awhile longer to ensure a better, smoother transition and that Sam's lungs healed completely. Sam was also still having some difficulty breathing on his own. The adjustment was difficult for Sam though as he struggled to let the machines truly do the breathing for him. Sam still showed signs of panic every time he needed to be suctioned too.
"Can I do it?" Dean blurted out when Maggie walked in to help Sam. She had unhooked the vent and a scared looking Sam was anxiously staring back at him.
"Do you want to learn?" Maggie asked somewhat surprised.
"Yeah, save you the trouble," Dean said. He really wanted to know so he could help Sam as quickly as possible and avoid having to look into his brother's frightened eyes. He also wanted to redeem himself for the episode he had when he had to run out of the room before.
"Sure," Maggie smiled. "I think Sam would appreciate it too," she said, practically reading his mind.
Maggie walked over to Sam and explained how she had unhooked the machine. This was the part Dean hated the most as Sam soundlessly gasped for air.
He put his hand on Sam's own to soothe him. "You're fine. Just 30 seconds, okay?" Dean offered.
"Now take this," Maggie said, handing him the tube. "And thread it right here."
Dean shakily did as he was told, threading the tube through the opening in Sam's neck. He heard the usual slurping sound so he knew he must be doing it correctly. Despite the noise, he looked down at Sam to see complete trust staring him back in the face, giving him the confidence he needed to finish the steps.
"Great job!" Maggie praised him. "You are an old pro at this."
Dean carefully hooked everything back up and watched as Sam settled down.
"You feel better now?" Dean asked.
Getting used to the silence was difficult for Dean. He felt he was rambling on and on at times while Sam looked on. He did his best to include Sam in the conversations but sometimes yes and no questions went only so far. He hadn't brought up the subject of what happened that night since Sam woke up.
Even though he felt he was finally being the person he needed to be for Sam, he couldn't help but feel powerless to get through the emotional wall he had put up. Sam seemed to be in as good spirits as he could be and Dean didn't want to bring up anything that would come back to haunt his brother.
Suddenly, Dean knew just the right words to say. Dean wasn't sure where the memory had come from but he began to tell Sam.
"When you were just a baby Sam, Mom would read me this story called The Velveteen Rabbit. You know that story?"
"Of course you do, Geekboy."
A smile tugged at the corner of Sam's lips.
Mom got me this book for Christmas, Sam and I kept asking her to read it to me. You were there the first time she read it, in mom's stomach, but then you were there too to in person to hear it after you were born. I think she wanted to get an early start on turning us into little nerds. She was powerless with me, but it clearly worked on you," Dean said, with a wink. "Anyway, I remember the first time she read it, I was sad." He looked over at Sam to gauge his reaction.
"Don't laugh Sam. I want to hear you talking again, just not cheap jabs about Dean and the cute little bunny."
Sam rolled his eyes slightly and mouthed the words "okay." Then Sam's expression darkened and he looked like he was struggling to breathe.
The alarms began sounding in the room again and Dean worked quickly. He unhooked the vent, grabbing the thin tube to suction Sam's trach. Sam reached out one hand to grip Dean's arm.
"Don't worry Sam. I got you."
Dean could see that Sam trusted him and he just needed the contact. He reached out and grabbed Sam's hand in his own as he snaked the tube through the opening to suction the trach. Dean then reattached the vent.
"Finish the story," Sam mouthed, apparently feeling better.
"I was upset because the kid got sick and had to burn his toys. I asked mom why something so sad had to happen. Then she asked me what happened after that. The bunny comes alive, I told her. You see, she said, something good comes out of something bad. She was right, too, Sam. Even though she didn't make it through that fire, you did. Even though mom was gone, I still had you.
Sam looked at Dean, contemplating it as he if he knew what Dean was getting at but Dean couldn't be sure if Sam bought into it.
On New Year's Eve, Dean got his second wish. Sam wasn't requiring the frequent suctioning anymore and Dr. Walton agreed that Sam seemed strong enough to be removed from the vent.
"Are you ready Sam?" Dr. Walton asked as he put his hand on the vent. "I'm going to turn the machine off and you need to take a moment to adjust."
He slowly turned off the machine and Sam looked around searchingly.
"Sam you okay?" Dean asked.
Sam was quiet but he looked afraid.
"Maybe you should turn it back on Doc," Dean said, nervously.
"No, no it's okay. It's been a week and Sam just needs a moment."
Try to cough Sam.
Sam opened his mouth and a strangled sound came out, not sounding so much as a cough but a squeaking sound.
"That's good Sam." He listened to Sam's lungs and then affixed a nasal cannula under Sam's nose to help him with breathing. I am going to keep the stoma or trachea opening there for now," Dr. Walton continued just for the time being."
"You mean you are leaving this hole in his neck?" Dean asked, incredulously.
"Just temporarily, to make sure there are no further complications. Sam will be okay. You can talk to Sam if you block the hole and whisper. Do you want to try?"
Sam tentatively lifted one of his hands, the one that was more mobile, and pressed a finger against the hole.
"De…Dean," he said in a breathy whisper.
It was hoarse and grainy but it was the most beautiful word Dean had ever heard. He grinned from ear to ear.
"Just a few more hours to midnight Boys. I'll leave you to celebrate," Dr. Walton said, cheerfully.
Sam breathlessly whispering his name was Dean's first New Year's gift, Sam wishing him Happy New Year was his second.
Dean had made it through his first obstacle with learning how to suction Sam's trach and soon it was time for his second. Dr. Walton wanted Sam to try to eat solid foods. Dean couldn't understand at first how it would be possible without Sam choking to death but he was reassured it would be okay.
First, he suctioned Sam's tracheotomy to make sure it was clear before feeding him. Then he slowly fed him his meal. He eyed Sam closely as he chewed and swallowed making sure there weren't any signs of distress. Sam seemed just as worried as he did but he met his eyes letting him know he was okay. Then Dean ensured that Sam stayed hydrated since the doctor reminded them that the more liquids Sam consumed, the less likely he would have mucus plugs.
Taking care of Sam's suctioning and feeding became routine for Dean. He even learned how to give him nebulizer treatments. One day, while feeding Sam, Dean had been terrified when he noticed a pinkish liquid coming out of Sam's trach. He tried to hide his panic from Sam but he knew it had to be blood.
"Sam's not getting enough moist air," Dr. Walton explained, calmly, trying to allay his concern. Then he explained the remedy.
The nebulizer treatments supplemented that. Dean affixed a specialized mask over Sam's trach opening and warm, humidified air was delivered to Sam. Dean couldn't help but throw in a few Darth Vadar jokes each time he gave Sam a treatment.
"Luke I am your father," Dean deadpanned, while Sam looked on in both annoyance and amusement.
Dean no longer felt the fear and repulsion he did before. He wasn't sure if it was because it was Sam or maybe something had changed within himself.
Even with his voice somewhat restored, Sam became selectively mute whenever Dean broached the subject of the attack. Dean knew they needed to talk about it. However, it was hard to find the right time since Sam was feeling better and he didn't want to bring him down.
"What about those kids?" Sam whispered to deflect Dean's attention. He was becoming an expert on noticing when Dean was going to bring it up.
"The kids who got their toys stolen. Those toys from the Salvation Army were meant to be Christmas gifts. Did they replace them?"
"I expect they used them for evidence" Dean replied logically.
"Then you need to go get something."
"Sam, Christmas is over. It's January 4."
"Dean, I'll never forget when I didn't get what I wanted for Christmas. I don't want those kids to have that same memory. Please."
Sam's mention of that Christmas when he did not receive his gift was all it took and Dean found his way over to the toy store buying action figures and Barbie dolls. He left them behind the door of the place where Sam was attacked, avoiding being too close to the spot where his brother had almost died.
When he arrived back at the hospital, Sam was smiling at him suspiciously and he had no clue what was going on until Sam pointed at his neck. The trach was gone. In its place was just a bandage.
"Doc says my voice will get stronger. Now I have one more favor to ask you."
Dean had never in a million years pictured Sam's ordeal ending like this. He certainly never saw himself dressed like this. Maggie and her big mouth just had to tell Sam about the hospitalized kids missing out on Santa on Christmas Day. Even though the hospital had almost completely undecked the halls Sam had insisted on helping out. So now here they were with him dressed as Santa in a suit that God Knows how many people had worn with a beard that probably was infested with spiders. He had to admit that Sam looked way goofier in the elf hat. Of course to add to the complete and sheer utter humiliation, he had been shamed by being forced to decorate Sam's wheelchair with jingle bells.
Sam had done his part to make himself look less scary since with all the casts, Dean reminded him, he resembled a mummy. He tried to cover it up by getting a couple red and green colored casts. Dean knew he'd be sure to throw that up to Sam. Later.
Maggie and a few of the other nurses had decorated one of the playrooms again and there was a tree and some lights hung on the walls.
"Who are you?" A little boy with a patch over his eye asked when they arrived in the room.
"You sure aren't Santa," one pouty girl proclaimed, interrupting Dean.
"That's because I'm Dean Claus, Santa's much more handsome younger brother," Dean said with a wink.
"We talked about this Sam," Dean whispered. "There's no way I can be mistaken for a fat guy who is hundreds of years old."
"Who's that?" She asked pointing at Sam.
"That's Sasquatch, my elf."
Sam rolled his eyes but looked amused at the same time.
"What happened to him?" Another child piped up.
"Ever hear of that song, "Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer?" True story and what they didn't tell you is that it happened twice. It happened to Sasquatch."
Before they knew it, they had all broken into song and were singing choruses of "Sasquatch Got Run Over By A Reindeer" while they passed out presents.
"Dean I think your heart grew two sizes these past few days," Sam said when he returned to his room.
"Sam, I'm not the Grinch okay? And I'm going to prove it to you right now. Here you go Sam," Dean said, handing Sam a small wrapped package after Sam was settled in his bed.
"A Christmas present."
"Christmas is over Dean."
"Screw the logistics Sam and just open it."
Sam smirked as he unwrapped the paper.
"A Thundercats figure!" He exclaimed once he had the paper off.
"You're not the only one who knows his way around EBay, Geekboy," Dean said, smiling. "Sorry Santa was a little delayed in getting that to you.
"Thank you Dean. This means a lot."
"Now before you think you can change the topic again and have us out caroling for those less fortunate, we need to talk. Not to mention I think people will thank me because have you heard the sound of your voice lately? Nails on a chalkboard is an understatement."
"I'm glad you have the ability to interrupt me again, but not now. You remember the night you woke up here, that first night?"
Sam looked sheepish.
"You remember what you were trying to say?"
"I was trying to tell you that you were—"
"Right?" Dean finished for him. "No Sam. I'm not sure I can explain it but something happened in that alley. That homeless guy you gave money to, he returned the favor in ways you can't even imagine. What he did was unexplainable, a miracle."
Dean didn't need to go into details. Sam just understood.
"I was really scared," Sam said, honestly. "I couldn't breathe in that alley and I wasn't sure how to tell you. Then waking up here and not being able to talk was pretty bad too."
Dean listened intently, realizing the gravity of what they had experienced.
"I mean, Dean, I should apologize. I was trusting and look at what happened," Sam continued.
"Yeah look at what happened? Look at all the good that happened. A bunch of evil bastards finally got caught, and kids got their presents, and you made a bunch of snot nosed brats in this place have a great Christmas. There is good in this world Sammy. There's you."
Sam got quiet and Dean thought he saw something glistening in the corner of Sam's eye but he didn't want to embarrass him.
"And there's you too, Dean," Sam managed to say after clearing his throat. "I can't thank you enough for taking care of me the way you did. Who do you think helps me keep the faith?"
Dean felt a sudden burst of water in his own eyes but he blinked it away.
"Thanks Sammy," Dean began. "Besides it was no different than cleaning up after your stinky butt when you were a baby. They didn't call you loaded diaper for nothing," Dean finished, wanting to break up the moment with a little levity.
Sam laughed, louder and stronger than Dean had heard it in awhile. It was amazing to see his brother like that, breathing on his own, unassisted by anything, a glow almost surrounding him.
"I'm serious, Sam. You were armed and dangerous."
"Dude, my ribs are still healing," Sam said, clutching his side. Sam continued to laugh, but then stopped.
Merry Christmas Dean," he said sincerely.
"Happy New Year Sam."
Dean still knew that his dad had left him with a secret to tell Sam. He was also aware that love couldn't always save the people you loved most. They still didn't have a mother or a father, but for now focusing on the good he had here and now, a Christmas and New Year spent with his speaking, breathing brother was enough.
As he left Sam's room to refill his water pitcher, he looked down the hallway and he swore he caught a glimpse of camouflage and a scruffy bearded face.
"Thank-you," he mouthed as the figure disappeared.
Paper angles you're in my thoughts and prayers
No matter where you are right now remember God's right there
He's asking all of us to help take care
Of his paper angels everywhere~ Jimmy Wayne, "Paper Angels"
End Notes: I really hope you liked it and I hope some of you found that ending somewhat surprising. I have to give a shoutout to sentarla who totally guessed the ending way back when this was originally posted. I hope if you did know how this would end, it didn't ruin it for you.
I know Christmas is over but I want to suggest that people please consider adopting a Paper Angel next year through The Salvation Army. It's a great program where you select an angel and buy the toy that's on the list for an underprivileged child. I have been doing this for the past few years and it's extremely rewarding.
Thanks for listening and reading!