K Hanna Korossy
He wouldn't have reacted to the name, wouldn't have even realized it was him they were talking to if the voice hadn't been so close. Sam dragged his head up out of his hands to look at the nurse leaning in the doorway. An automatic glance over at Dean, who was still asleep, and Sam looked back at her again, blinked. "Yes?"
"Could I talk to you for a minute?"
It took real effort to lift himself up out of the chair. His limbs felt heavy, his head thick. Grief lay over him like a blanket, dragging at him, but it hadn't sunk into him yet, not through the exhausted shock he was pretty sure he was in. The nurse probably thought so, too, the way she looked at him.
Out in the hallway, she turned to him. "I'm sorry to bother you, but there are a few things that need to be taken care of related to your father. We'll try to make it quick."
Sam had frozen at the mention of Dad, and looked back at Dean's room. Other times, he would have been pulling strength from his brother, but Dean had none to spare now. "I don't…I need to be with him when he wakes up," he murmured.
"It'll be fast," the nurse said. "And some of it can wait. We just have a few questions."
He reluctantly let himself be drawn down the hall, until first Dean was out of sight, then his door. Sam's chest tightened, his eyes blurring as a clipboard was stuck in front of him. He didn't want to be alone any more than Dean did.
Not that his brother had said as much. They'd stood in that doorway staring at their father's body until Sam realized Dean was starting to slide down the doorjamb, limbs trembling with strain and emotion. It had given him something to do at least, coaxing Dean away from the door and limping slowly down the hallway together back to his room in utter silence. Sam was practically carrying his big brother by the time they reached the bed, and his own bruised body protested as he'd lifted and laid Dean down. Eyes large with disbelief and denial had met his own probably similarly overwhelmed ones, and his murmured "Dean," had been met by an equally subdued, "Sammy." I know…I know. Dean hadn't said another word as he'd squeezed his eyes shut and sought relief in sleep. Nor as his hand gripped Sam's with bruising strength he shouldn't have been capable of until he drifted off, and Sam held on just as hard until long after. It was the only admission of need Dean would make. There would be mourning later, but not right now. It was just too much.
There were forms acknowledging their father was deceased, that the hospital wasn't liable, and that they didn't want an autopsy if at all possible. The lawyer in Sam that wanted to read every document fell silent before the grieving son, and he could have signed away his soul before he was done and not have known it. The nurse explained each one as he scrawled something illegible on the bottom of each, and Sam's mouth dipped at each mention of "Elroy McGillicuddy." It was funny and sad and somehow painful that no one even knew who his father really was. What he'd given his life for.
How his father had died was…not something he could think about right now, however, and Sam shied away from the soft whisper of suspicion. He was dead and Dean was not, and that was about all the reality Sam could stand just then. He just signed the papers, and pretended not to notice how his hand shook.
The hospital wanted instructions about the…body. Sam's eyes filled again. He still had to call Bobby and make some arrangements of his own. But with the simple excuse of religious requirements, state law would allow them to claim John themselves, and Sam signed papers for that, too. The three of them had talked once, a rare honest, unheated discussion years before in a motel room somewhere outside Augusta, about what their wishes were if one of them died. Sam had wanted to be buried in Kansas, and Dean had said the same. Sam still suspected it was because his brother didn't want to be parted from him in death any more than he had in life, although he'd never said it. But John had had a different request, and Sam would obey him without question in death as he'd often balked in life.
The documents were finally whisked away, and a rolled paper bag and envelope reached out to him instead. "…father's personal effects," were all Sam heard, and he received the packages numbly. He asked if he could go back to Dean now, and turned away before he was even sure he got an answer. Sam had reached his limits and needed his brother.
Dean was still asleep, which was both a relief and disappointment. Sam stood next to the bed for long minutes, just watching him breathe, the twitch of a finger or an eye. Dean needed the rest, but he looked less peaceful now than when he'd been dying, as if the fracture of their family had broken him in a way the wreck hadn't. He seemed fragile and withdrawn and everything he usually wasn't, and when Sam slid his hand under his brother's, it was as much to give comfort as it was to take. Dean's hand squeezed back, as if even in sleep he knew he needed and was needed.
They were orphans now, had only each other. Sam's mind stuttered over the concept like a skipping record needle. It didn't seem possible. But the packages were heavy in his hand.
Drawing a shuddering breath, Sam leaned over and whispered in his brother's ear, then eased his hand free. He couldn't bear to sit on the other side of the bed where he couldn't see Dean's face, so Sam pulled the chair around to this side. He dropped into it like gravity had been turned up.
It took him a while before he could bring himself to open the packages.
The paper bag contained their father's clothes, and Sam's gaze grew watery as he took in the flannel and worn denim. He buried his face in the shirt like he had in his father's shoulder. The lingering sulfur odor was unable to eclipse the smells of his childhood: gun oil, blood, his dad's aftershave, and the lost familiarity of it made his chest tight. The leather jacket had been left behind at the cabin and Dean might want it, but the rest Sam didn't think either of them could stand to keep, let alone wear. But that could wait, and he gently folded the clothes back inside the bag and set it aside.
The envelope was thin; his father had not had much. His wallet came first, and Sam rubbed a thumb over the leather, tracing a faint semi-circle of teethmarks from one time a teenage Dean had bitten down on it while their father set a broken bone. Sam had hated the sight of it after that, but as a young child, he'd been fascinated by the mysterious wallet: the pictures inside, the different IDs. He'd spent hours spreading the contents on a motel bed and examining each item with great seriousness, anticipating when he would have a similar collection. By the time he did, he hadn't wanted it, and Sam's face creased with fresh regret.
He opened the wallet, flipped through the contents. But he wasn't ready to look at the pictures, didn't care about the fake cards, and winced at the scraps of paper scribbled with spells and icons for emergencies. Sam was about to close the wallet when he noticed the folded, faded construction paper peeking out from behind the few bills inside. A lump rose in Sam's throat. He didn't pull the paper out, didn't want to see which of a hundred cards he and Dean had lovingly made over the years for their father John had kept, but Sam knew it was something of theirs and that it had mattered, and that was enough. He silently shut the wallet again and set it aside.
The pocket knife was next, clean but clearly well-used, the polish worn off the wooden handle. That one held few good memories, utilized mostly for cutting out embedded debris from wounds and slicing through bonds and, in one or two acts of desperation, killing things. It represented the horrors of what they did, and Sam had never asked for nor been allowed to play with it. Still, Dean might want that, too, and Sam set it aside carefully.
There was a silver flask the hospital had probably thought contained alcohol but Sam knew better. A small twist of herbs and silver for protection, for all the good it had done. A worn handkerchief Sam knew was for wounds, not colds. Tools of the trade.
Finally, only two items were left in the envelope. Sam's hands were trembling again as he pulled out their father's wedding ring, staring at the plain silver band. John had never taken that off, not in almost twenty-three years of being a widower. Not when they were up against something that was attracted to metal, not when it reflected moonlight and threatened to give them away, not when it snagged on a berserker's claw and almost got him killed. Sam turned it carefully and watched the light glint off the dull metal.
"He never took it off."
Dean's whisper didn't surprise Sam as much as it should have. Some part of him had probably registered the change in his brother's breathing, or maybe it was just right he should be awake for this. Sam nodded silently, not looking up. Reaching out the ring after a moment and feeling Dean's fingers, no steadier than his own, claim it. He probably would never see it again, Dean tucking it away as he did all his hurts and sorrows, but that was fine with Sam. For all that he had been his father's son, Dean was the one who'd owned a piece of John that Sam would never understand.
He dipped into the envelope one last time, pulling out a clinking pair of dog tags on a chain, another source of childhood fascination. Sam coiled the chain in his palm and brushed his fingers over the raised name and serial number he knew by heart. Blood crusted the etchings now and flaked off on his fingers, and he stared at the flecks of maroon.
"Keep them." Dean's voice was even more hushed, like any more volume would crack it.
Sam did glance up at that, saw the pained shine in his brother's eyes. "Dean."
"He loved you, Sam. He'd want you to have them."
His eyes stung, filling with sorrow, and Sam swallowed. He didn't want this inadequate remnant of their father, but if Dean wished it, Sam would take the tags, find them a suitable resting place. He slid them into his shirt pocket and refilled the envelope with the items he'd taken out before, feeling Dean's eyes follow each one. The wallet at the end lingered in his grasp a moment, until he heard Dean drag in a breath. Sam dropped that in, too, and set the envelope down. His eyes returned to Dean.
His brother looked beyond tired, like he was just pretending at living. His gaze hovered somewhere past Sam, still wet, but he wasn't giving in to tears like Sam had several times already since that morning. It wasn't his way, and Sam found he had room to hurt for his brother, too.
"We need to find out if they'll let us take him."
Sam inhaled. "I already made the arrangements."
"Good. Good." A long beat, the two of them sharing the same silence and air and probably the same thoughts. "His truck's probably still in Lincoln."
Sam had forgotten about that, but he nodded heavily. "I'll ask Bobby…"
More silence. Dad is dead. What they weren't saying seemed to make everything else inconsequential.
Sam blinked, remembering this numbness from a year before, grief waiting just beyond. "Dean…" he finally murmured once more.
"Not now, Sammy." A flat plea.
But it wasn't a no, and Sam could live with that. He nodded. Hesitated. Wasn't sure how it would be received, but he needed the contact, the comfort, so badly, he finally he leaned forward until his forehead rested against Dean's temple, his arm over the curve of his brother's shoulder and back. Sucking in ragged breaths of air.
Or maybe that was Dean.
But he wasn't pushed away. Wasn't comforted or patted or whispered to like after Jess, because Sam knew without doubt that Dean was hurting even worse than he was and was struggling just to keep himself from breaking, let alone Sam. But he allowed Sam to take what he needed. And when one hand slowly lifted and settled on Sam's head, sinking heavily into his hair, he thought maybe this was a little bit what Dean needed, too.
The dog tags were crushed against his breast, Dean's face against his own, and it finally hit Sam what he'd won and and what he'd lost that day.
Both Winchester boys grieved, but only one cried.