Dead Men Tell No Tales
Disclaimer: Not mine. Never, ever, ever, ever, ever. There. I said it.
Beta'd: By Muffy Morrigan. Thanks for your help with this one girl. If you hadn't been so darn pushy – well, let's just say, you saved me!
Wysawyg is off on holiday and having way more fun than me. Not fair!
Time Line: Between TKAA and BDaBR, Season three.
This chapter is a bit long, but I thought, better long than in two pieces! Hope you agree.
A gust of wind drew Sam's attention farther up the beach and to the spirit gliding towards him across the sand. Collette drew close and Sam could sense the change in her already. Her colorful skirt had faded to grays and whites. Two pale orbs bobbed beside her. "Collette," Sam acknowledged.
"Samuel," her voice was softer too, some of the anger having bled out.
Sam caught sight of Dean standing and walking towards the water in his peripheral vision. "Dean, wait!" he called, but Dean didn't stop.
He started to rise to go after his brother when a cold hand on his injured shoulder stopped him. Sam looked up at Collette and she moved her hand from his shoulder to his cheek. "Dean is performing his role in the ritual, mon ami, as you must."
Sam reluctantly tore his gaze away from his brother and back to Collette. "Actually, I'd like to make a deal."
Collette smiled sadly at Sam and shook her head. "I'm afraid that is not possible."
"Why?" Sam demanded angrily. "All the ritual requires is a willing sacrifice. I'm willing." He glanced in Dean's direction and felt his anxiety notch up a level. His big brother was only fifty feet or so from the water.
"It would not have mattered who was chosen," Collette explained. "But the fact remains that Dean was." Apparently considering the matter closed, Collette drift-walked away from Sam following on Dean's heels towards the ocean.
Sam leapt to his feet and sprinted through the sand. "Hey!" He caught up to Dean and grabbed his brother by the collar. A delicate ocean breeze tickled his hair and a wave crashed on the beach. He wrapped long fingers around Dean's upper arm and held out his other hand palm flat between them and the spirit of the voodoo priestess. "No decision is irreversible. You don't need Dean."
"You don't need Dean either," Collette said quietly, her cold hand grasping Sam's outstretched hand and intertwining their fingers.
Sam shook his head in denial, his words came out choked. "He's my brother," the unspoken love for his brother evident in his tone.
"Of course," Collette said, her lilt softly accenting her speech. "He's your brother and you can't imagine life without him, but you don't need him. You want him to stay. Both of you are capable of surviving without the other."
Sam tugged on his hand, trying to free it from Collette's grip, but the spirit was stronger in death than she had been in life. "You're wrong."
"There is a difference between surviving and living," Collette conceded. "Right now, neither of you are doing either very well."
Sam felt an irrational anger rise in his chest. "You don't know me or Dean," he snarled, yanking his hand free.
"I know he gave his soul so that you might live," Collette fired back. "And you would hurt him by throwing that away."
"I can't let him go to hell for me," Sam said. "I can't. I won't. If he dies now, he's going to hell."
"And if you die to save him from hell now, he still goes to hell later." Collette faded brown eyes sparkled with compassion. "And you would be dead. What would that leave him for his sacrifice?"
"There has to be another way," Sam said, shaking his head in denial. "I need time."
Dean pulled against Sam's grip in an attempt to free himself and walk into the salty waves. The roar of the water crashing into the shore and the mist from the waves hit the brothers in a cold spray. Sam held tight to Dean's arm, unwilling to let his brother go.
"I need more time," Sam repeated. He yelped in pain when Dean switched tactics and pulled hard on his injured shoulder. His fingers went numb when the ball joint bobbled in the socket before settling back in place. Dean slipped easily out of his grasp.
The priestess' cool fingers lightly cupped Sam's face and his resolve momentarily wavered, his eyes locked with hers, and a chill flooded his body. His knees unhinged and impacted the gritty sand. "All the requirements have been fulfilled," she said.
"No," Sam whispered. He searched the dark waters and choppy waves for a sign of his brother. Dean was gone. "No!" the denial wrenched from his throat. Sam was on his feet, running for the ocean.
Collette drifted by him in a cold breeze and the two orbs of light danced in a zigzagging pattern behind her. They whipped around Sam, obscuring his vision before darting ahead and dipping into the ocean.
"Thank you," Collette's soft lilt carried over the water. She waved to Sam and slowly sank into the ocean in the same spot the orbs had disappeared.
Sam's chest heaved with restrained panic and his sharp eyes scanned the sea. "Dean!"
He doubted he would be able to hear anything over the crashing waves, but he strained to listen. There was no response and a part of Sam knew that Dean had to be near death for the blood sacrifice to work its magic. The thought propelled him into action and he ran into the water.
The cold Pacific waters hugged his legs and tried to pull him under. "Dean!" The cresting waves played tricks on his eyes and he saw dark movements on the surface where there were none. "Dean!"
Sam glanced in the direction where Collette had disappeared beneath the murky depths. Hunch and instinct kicked into high gear and he started swimming. He didn't shout for his brother knowing Dean couldn't hear him while he was submerged in the ocean and he needed to save his breath. The salty water attacked him from above as it crashed into him and fought his forward progress.
Desperation drove him to act, but determination kept him from quitting. Tired and near panic, Sam slowed at the spot the spirits had disappeared and dove into the water. By all rights, the ocean current should have swept Dean away from him, or driven him deeper into its depths. In the dark water, Sam was blind. He had no reason to believe he could find Dean like this, but he did.
Sam's lungs tightened and his ears rang. He wouldn't be able to hold his breath much longer. He scissored his legs to increase his speed and slowly started blowing bubbles. When the air ran out, so would he.
He didn't graze the material of Dean's shirt or catch sight of a floating mass in the water, so he couldn't explain how he knew to dive lower, away from precious oxygen. His efforts were rewarded when searching fingers found Dean.
Even as the last of the bubbles left his nose, relief flooded Sam. He snagged the back of Dean's collar and kicked for the surface. He didn't register the extra weight hampering his return trip. Getting Dean out of the water and to the defibrillator were his only thoughts. Just when the need for air reached the point he could no longer fight the instinct to inhale, he broke the surface.
Sam gulped air in hard pants, pulling Dean to the surface and wrapping his weak arm around Dean's chest to keep his head above water. As soon as he could breath without gasping for air like a beached fish, Sam began swimming back to shore with a one-armed, cherry-picking, side-stroke.
His arms felt like heavy, leaden anchors. They pulled him down towards the ocean floor. A small gasp of relief escaped his lips when his toes touched the sandy bottom. Sam crawled onto the beach dragging Dean along with him. He crouched low on the wet sand, clammy cotton hugging his entire body and pulled his brother out of the water a few feet at a time.
He fell to his knees several times, but little by little Sam dragged Dean up the beach until they cleared the high tide markers. Sam released Dean's salt sticky shirt and moved his shaking fingers to Dean's neck.
At first he didn't feel anything, but then a thready, irregular couple of beats followed and then – nothing. "Don't do this to me," Sam begged. "Hold on."
He stood and ran in a slow motion, drunken fashion up the beach. The candle flame was extinguished and he had to search to find his bearings on the early morning beach. Tracing back their footsteps he literally stumbled upon the defibrillator and the duffel. Sand kicked up into his face when Sam slid to a stop on his knees.
Turning his head to the side, Sam spit grit out of his mouth. He dug a shallow hole and buried the candle into the sand, the very last step of the ritual was complete. Pushing himself up to standing, Sam flung the bag over his shoulder and sprinted back down towards the water and his brother.
He panted hard, his heart thumping madly in his chest more from fear than exertion. The dry sand gave easily under his pounding feet and he fought to keep a steady pace. He hit the wet sand and picked up speed using momentum and better traction to his advantage.
Sam narrowly avoided a face-plant into the beach when he collapsed next to Dean. He checked his brother's pulse again as he fought to catch his breath, hoping by some small miracle Dean's pulse would have steadied, his breathing returned.
Hopes dashed when his fingers failed to pick up a trace of life, he reached into the duffel with trembling hands blindly searching for his knife. He felt the familiar shape of his pocket knife and opened it. One smooth, quick motion later and Dean's shirt lay open.
The defibrillator case came next and Sam fumbled with the stubborn latch. He pounded once on the lid in frustration. "Open, damn it!" he shouted. This time the case opened easily and Sam pulled a flashlight out of the duffel and powered on the machine.
"Apply sensor pads," the feminine mechanical voice instructed. Sam ripped off the backing on one pad and placed it on Dean's chest following the onscreen directions. The second pad quickly followed and the defibrillator cheerfully chirped another response.
"Reading cardiac rhythm."
Please, please, please.
He floated, which surprised him. He always assumed the trip to hell would be more of jump out of plane without a parachute. A long, terrifying, high-speed drop with one hell of a hard landing, pun intended. This hypnotic dancing on a gentle breeze thing should have left him confused and apprehensive, but he felt euphoric and free.
Collette appeared, not as the colorful spirit he had seen on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride and not as the pale spirit he saw on the beach. She appeared corporeal, her clothes a brilliant display of color. She danced and laughed as two yellow orbs of light flitted around her.
She caught sight of Dean and waved, her smile genuine and warm. He lifted his arm to return the wave and noted with some amusement that he didn't have one. It was more of a smoky white, arm-shaped mist than it was an appendage.
He sped up to follow Collette, intent on knowing where she was headed. The yellow orbs intensified in brightness, temporarily blinding Dean. When the light faded, two people stood where the balls of swirling particles had hovered; one, a paunchy middle-aged man and the other a rather ordinary looking older woman.
Somehow, Dean knew the man was Charlie and he stopped following for a minute, trying to place who exactly Charlie was and why he knew him. If he hadn't stopped he might not have heard the faint call from the darkness behind him. He didn't have to pause to figure out how he knew that voice. He'd recognize his little brother anywhere.
Dean spun around in a tight circle, unable to resist that particular pleading tone in Sammy's voice. It got him every time, not that he'd ever let his brother know it. He concentrated on the sound, tried to pinpoint where Sam might be hiding and what danger lurked nearby.
Don't leave me.
"Sam, where are you?" he shouted back into the darkness beyond him. He could see faint shadows, but nothing distinct. Sam didn't answer and Dean took off at a trot, the fact that he seemed to have limbs now didn't faze him.
I need more time.
The quality of Sam's voice changed from the pleading, 'Dean fix this' tone to a note of desperation. This moment, this was why he kept trying to push Sam away, to distance himself from his brother. So that when the time came Sam would be ready for it and let him go. He almost turned back to follow Collette until Sam played his ace in the hole.
Dean hung his head and sighed. How they'd made it out of childhood without Sammy owning everything Dean had was a miracle. That particular tone and those exact words never failed to work. Dean guessed it was because Sam was smart enough to only use it when he really, really meant it or Dean was good at hiding how well it worked. Yeah, that had to be it.
Whatever the reason, Dean could no more resist it now than he ever could. "I'm coming, Sam," he said, resigned. He would have to work on preparing Sam for his death later because right now, when he could still respond to Sam, he had to.
"Normal rhythm achieved. Continue to monitor patient."
Sam breathed a sigh of relief. He glanced up and down the beach, amazed they had not been spotted by anyone yet. The early morning sun colored the eastern sky a light pink, barely visible through the palm trees. He could see the dark shadow of the Impala waiting for them in the parking lot and it comforted him just a little.
The pounding ocean waves that seemed like a living, menacing, evil thing when they'd tried to swallow his brother whole, now created a white noise to help soothe his frazzled nerves. Sam gripped Dean's fingers tightly in his own, willing Dean to open his eyes. He didn't care if Dean said anything, if he glared, if he cried, if he woke up possessed or stoned on voodoo tea, as long as he woke up. As long as Dean was alive, Sam could handle everything else.
He tossed everything into the duffel save the defibrillator. He wanted, needed, the added reassurance that Dean's heart was beating regularly instead of the spasmodic, ineffectual quivering it had been doing earlier. He told himself once Dean opened his eyes, he'd unhook the machine and bundle up his brother, get him off the beach. The truth was, however, that if he could figure out how to get Dean to agree to wear it permanently, he would.
It had been close, too damn close. Dean couldn't survive many more like this and Sam knew it would break him along with it. Mom, Jess, Dad had all been hard in their own ways, had changed him or their family, and had tapped at Sam's inner strength. But Dean, Dean would be different. The one constant in his life, the one person that believed in him, the one person he believed in would be gone.
He knew Dean was scared, no matter how cavalier he appeared to be, no matter how hard he pushed, Sam new it was a defensive mechanism. Dean joked off what he could and what he couldn't he denied. They were smack in the middle of some extreme denial at the moment.
Not that Sam could blame him, but he wasn't about to stop fighting just because Dean didn't want to admit that Sam couldn't live with him dead – and that if Dean was being honest with himself, he didn't want to die and go to hell either.
Dean's eyelids fluttered and a low moan escaped dry lips, immediately followed by a coughing fit. He coughed and coughed, spitting foul smelling water onto the ground. "Dean?" Sam asked, after he quieted.
"Yeah, Dean," Sam said, his relief bubbling over into a hint of sobbing laughter. "It's me."
"It over?" A twitch of Dean's fingers and a head bobble threw Sam over the top and he couldn't stop the puff of laughter.
"Yeah, Colette's gone and so is Charlie." In an attempt to ground himself as well as comfort his brother, Sam rubbed the top of Dean's hand with his thumb.
"Might need my hand back," Dean said with wry amusement.
"Maybe later," Sam replied, but despite his words he released his grip on Dean's fingers. He busied himself with removing the pads on Dean's chest instead.
"Ow!" Dean protested. He struggled to a half sitting position, propped on his elbows. Sam promptly shoved him back down to the ground.
"Lie still," Sam commanded.
"What is it?" Dean asked, his voice stronger. He tugged on the line leads attempting to gain a better look at them. Sam gently slapped his hand away.
"Leave them alone and lie still," Sam said, firmly. He removed the second pad and repacked the case.
"When'd you get so bossy?" Dean asked with a smirk.
"About the time you drank the poisoned tea, Socrates." Sam pushed his bangs out of his face and winced when the stitches in his scalp pulled tight. He turned back to look at Dean. "You think you can walk?"
"Been doing it a long time now, I think I can manage," Dean quipped. He narrowed his eyes and jerked his head in the direction of the case. "Seriously, Sam, what is that thing?"
"A defibrillator," he confessed with a mumble.
"You stole a defibrillator?" Dean asked, pride leaking through in his voice. "From a hospital?"
"An ambulance," Sam said with a disapproving frown. He laced an arm through Dean's and helped his brother to a sitting position. "I left a note."
Dean chuckled and quirked an eyebrow in Sam's direction. "A note? You stole an expensive piece of hospital equipment and you left a note?" The chuckle turned into a laugh.
"I told them I'd return it," Sam said in an attempt to defend himself. "Someone might need it and…" he trailed off when Dean's laugh degenerated into full blown case of hysterical laughter. He felt the corners of his lips twitch. "It isn't funny."
"Oh come on, it's a little funny," Dean gasped out between laughing fits. "My brother the I-owe-you-one-defibrillator bandit."
"Shut up," Sam said, hefting Dean to standing. He waited while Dean found his balance before prodding him into movement. "More walking, less talking."
"How about I just owe you one?" Dean suggested.
"Dean, shut up." A damning chuckle slipped past his tongue and he hung his head. He was totally screwed.
Dean only laughed in response and together they stumbled through the loose sand back towards the car. Sam hovered by Dean's elbow the entire way to the Impala. He could only shake his head in mild disbelief when Dean held up a hand in a silent request for the car keys.
"Not gonna happen." Sam grabbed Dean by his upraised arm and effortlessly steered him towards the passenger side.
"Dean, look. We're not having this conversation. Get in the car." By all evidence, Sam had hit the exact commanding tone necessary to force his big brother into compliance before he'd had the chance to think it over too much. Then again, it could just be Dean's brain was sluggish after everything he'd been through the last couple of days because he looked ready to collapse.
Whatever the reason, Dean obediently sat down in the passenger seat and Sam walked around the front of the car to follow suit on the driver's side. He started the car and glanced in Dean's direction before backing out of the parking spot. Dean's face was ashen and his breathing shallow.
"Dean, I'll make this as painless as possible for you, but we need a real hospital – no clinics."
"Sam, I'm fine," Dean insisted.
"You almost died. You stopped breathing and your heart wasn't beating so much as dancing a samba. You probably have salt water in your lungs and…" He stopped short when Dean held up his hand.
"Fine. If it gets you to calm down, I'll go." Sam wanted to protest and defend himself, but he didn't want to risk Dean changing his mind. "And he calls me a mother hen," Dean muttered.
"Good, fine," Sam said, ignoring Dean's mother hen comment. "Yes, it will make me feel better if you get checked out by medical professionals." Dean could complain and make fun of him all he wanted, as long as he got medical attention.
"And you can return that expensive medical equipment, Winona." Sam turned his head to glare at Dean, but his brother's head was again propped on the back of the seat and his eyes were closed.
"Shut up, Dean," Sam said, turning his eyes back to the road. A light chuckle was Dean's only response.
Several minutes passed in silence and then Dean started sniffing the air. He sat up abruptly and furrowed his brow, turning to look accusingly at Sam. "Dude, you stink."
Sam sighed heavily. Apparently, bathing in ocean water with his clothes on hadn't erased all of the night's events from his jeans. "That's because you puked on me," he said, punctuating his statement with another sigh.
Dean nodded and laid his head against the back of the seat once more. "Better than the car," he quipped. Half-drowned or not, possessed, poisoned or nearly dead that statement deserved a flick on the ear. So, Sam gave one to him.
"Ow," Dean protested half-heartedly, but he didn't open his eyes. "Just keep both hands on the wheel and your eyes on the road, Sam."
Fifteen minutes later Sam pulled the Impala to a stop outside the emergency room of the same hospital he had stolen the defibrillator out of the ambulance. One tire sat perched on a concrete border and the car leaned crazily to the side. Two paramedics rushed out the door with a gurney.
"He had an allergic reaction to some tea he drank and wandered out of his condo. I had to fish him out of the ocean and revive him, he wasn't breathing," Sam said, cringing inwardly at the flimsy excuse. Dean always was better at impromptu cover stories.
He heard Dean mildly protesting the gurney, but the hospital staff was efficient and experienced and whisked him inside without delay. Sam couldn't tear his gaze from the door where Dean had disappeared until a light rap on the frame of his rolled down window caught his attention.
"Sir, I need you to move your car," a hospital security guard said. He pointed to his left. "There're a few open spaces in the closest lot. When you get back, just ask the pink ladies where your friend is and they'll tell you."
"He's my brother," Sam corrected, but the security guard had already moved away.
Reluctantly, Sam pulled the car away from the doors, parked it and walked back to the emergency room. In the end, this was better, he could actually go inside and talk to the staff, but an irrational part of him was afraid that unless he kept an eye on Dean at all times that something bad was going to happen to him.
The warmer air of the hospital hit Sam as he walked inside. He looked around for the pink ladies, but in all the confusion of the busy emergency area, he couldn't spot them. Sam felt a light tug on his cold, wet shirt and looked down – way down. An extremely diminutive lady in a pink smock stood beside him.
"What happened to you sweetie?" she asked. Her dark brown eyes reflected concern.
"What? Oh, no, it's my brother," Sam said. "Dean…" Sam wasn't sure what last name Dean would have given the hospital. There was no telling at this point.
"Tall fella, like yourself?" the lady asked, pushing her glasses up her nose. "Soaking wet, nearly drown?"
Sam nodded. "Yeah, that sounds like Dean."
The elderly woman craned her neck and appraised Sam's appearance. "Let's get you some scrubs to wear, sweetie, and then I'll see what I can find out."
"I'm fine, really," Sam said. He glanced about the room hoping to catch sight of his brother. "I just need to find Dean."
"No offense, kiddo," Margaret said, patting Sam on the arm. "But you're not exactly at your dandy finest." She wrinkled her nose and Sam got the hint. He felt the heat crawl up his neck.
"Yeah, okay." Sam followed Margaret to a small closet filled with various linens and hospital garb. She looked from Sam's feet, up to his face and returned to his feet. She began rifling through the closet, checking the sizes on the garments and discarding them one by one.
"Tall drink of water," she mumbled into a stack of clothes. Sam fidgeted from one foot to the other, suddenly very self-conscious in the confined space. She pulled out a pair of green scrub pants and a multi-colored, zigzag patterned shirt and waved them in Sam's face. "Ah-ha, I knew I'd find something for you!"
Sam gave her a half-hearted smile. "Thanks."
"You're welcome," Margaret said, handing the scrubs to Sam. "You change and by the time you're done I'm sure I'll have rounded up some information about your friend."
"Brother." Sam met her gaze and she nodded in understanding.
"Brother Dean," she said. She waggled her finger at him. "Now, don't wander off."
"Wouldn't dream of it," Sam replied. He shut the door and started peeling off his cold, wet clothes.
Dean had allowed them to draw blood and hook him up to countless monitors; he'd tolerated the IV and grudgingly acquiesced to the nasal canula. He'd been more than patient throughout the entire ordeal, but he was done.
"I'm fine. You've done your job, I've been a good little patient, now cut me loose and I'll get out of your hair." The staff ignored him. The nurse continued to bustle about, tweaking the settings on the monitors and adjusting the flow on his IV
"I don't usually allow that until the second date," Dean smirked when the nurse leaned over him. She tossed him a withering look. "Okay, I'm lying," Dean confessed. "It's totally fine on the first date."
Doctor Simon looked up from his chart. "Dean, we're admitting you. I'd like to keep you here for observation overnight. There's always risk involved in near drowning experiences and while you seem to be fine, your O2 levels were a little low."
Dean opened his mouth and Sam's voice over-rode his response. "He'll stay."
The doctor seemed to take Sam's words as the final decision, turning to face him instead. "I have him on a broad spectrum antibiotic drip and oxygen to ease the strain on his lungs."
Sam nodded to the doctor and glanced in his direction. Dean didn't like the pinched expression on his little brother's face or the worry lines that were starting to appear on his forehead. The kid was only twenty-four, he shouldn't look like the weight of the world was resting on his shoulders.
God help him, he had done this, but he couldn't regret it. Sam was alive. It was worth the price. "What about the risks of a secondary drowning?" Sam asked, his eyes had taken on the intense glint they had when he was analyzing a problem.
"That is always a risk factor, but amazingly, his lungs sound clear," Dr. Simon explained. "I'd like him to stay overnight as a precautionary measure. He's a very lucky man."
Sam nodded and looked at Dean for confirmation. "You'll stay?" It was part demand, part question.
Exhaustion tore at Dean's reserves and he did the easiest thing possible. He agreed. "Until tomorrow morning, that's it."
Sam squeezed past the doctor effectively dismissing him. He flopped into the small metal chair beside Dean's bed, knees curling half-way to his chest. "You were lucky to have a defibrillator available." Sam's eyes bugged out of his head and Dean rolled his eyes. Obviously, Sam hadn't been counting on the medical professionals, as he put it, noticing the tell-tale signs of the machine in use.
"I told you it would come in handy after Dad had his heart attack," Dean fabricated with practiced ease.
"Yeah," Sam rasped out. "You were right." Sam's hazel eyes bore into his and Dean knew what his brother wasn't saying. There was a load of guilt bouncing around in Sam's head and more than a little fear – for him.
"Very good thing," Dr. Simon restated. "I'll send one of the nurses by later to get your breakfast order." With those final words, the doctor spun on his heel and left the brothers alone in Dean's room.
"Think we should go?" Sam asked quietly, his fingers finding the edge of Dean's sheet.
"Nah," Dean replied. "He's suspicious, but he doesn't have any evidence." He yawned and patted Sam on the shoulder, not missing the wince of discomfort. "What's wrong with your shoulder?"
"Nothing," Sam said, sticking to the most oft repeated Winchester lie they had. "I'm fine." Dean waited, watching as Sam grew increasingly uncomfortable under his scrutiny. "Popped my shoulder, it's fine."
Sam tightened his grip on the sheet and steadfastly refused to make eye contact with Dean. "Spit it out, Sam."
"You almost died," Sam said, his voice a fraction of its normal volume. "You were possessed by a spirit, drank poisoned tea and drowned. I almost lost you."
Dean sifted through a hundred different responses. Most of them the automatic reflex, reassure Sam responses, but he found the one he needed. "You should have let me go."
Sam stood with enough force to send the folding chair skittering partway across the room. He strode to the doorway and stopped. He spoke with his back still facing Dean. "I can't. You can't ask me to."
"I'm not," Dean said, his tone firm. Sam turned back around and the emotion welling in his eyes nearly undid all of Dean's resolve. "I'm telling you. When the time comes, you have to let me go."
Sam's jaw muscles twitched with the effort of restraint. He walked back over to Dean, slid the chair back over to Dean's bed and took a seat. When he spoke, his voice was low. "It wasn't time."
"But it will be." Dean wasn't about to let it drop. Sam had to understand, he had to adapt to the idea because Dean wasn't going to let him do something stupid and blow the whole deal.
Sam didn't say the words, but Dean could see the truth just as plainly. Sam was working on a way to get Dean out of the deal. One that wouldn't nullify it, just a loophole they could use. As long as Sam didn't confess his actions, Dean could choose to ignore them. "Maybe not," was all Sam said and Dean let the subject drop.
He settled back against the pillows and closed his eyes. There was a moment of peaceful silence and just as he felt his mind drifting off he quipped, "Did you leave a note when you lifted those awesome scrubs and booty-thingies?"
He didn't catch the words, but he heard the grumbled retort before his mind slipped into the waiting oblivion of sleep.
Sam knew the moment Dean caved to the urge to sleep. The crinkles of amusement around his brother's eyes smoothed and the last vestiges of pain slipped off the mask Dean wore on a regular basis these days. Dean was hiding the truth from him, and Sam wanted to slug him for it.
He wasn't a kid any more and while he still needed his big brother, it wasn't to protect him from the hard truth. It was to be his friend and brother; equal partners during a hunt, both at times taking the lead and standing in the line of fire. Dean's natural, protective streak wasn't squelched, but he no longer seemed to feel his first job on the hunt was to watch out for Sam. It was to hunt and watch Sam's back. Sam cherished the subtle difference for the gift it was.
Until Sam's own death had changed it all. Dean had sold his soul for Sam and it had put an odd rift between them that Sam couldn't fully explain. Dean didn't seem to blame Sam for letting his guard down during the fight with Jake, and yet, there were times Dean locked himself away that Sam just didn't understand. Sometimes, Sam wished fervently that Dean had left him dead. He had died without succumbing to the evil his dad had been afraid of and Dean, well, Dean hadn't been slated for hell.
Not that Dean seemed particularly concerned with his own impending death and scheduled trip to hell. Of course, Sam knew that was a lie. But Dean alternatively pulled Sam closer with concerned big brother ease and pushed him away with smart ass deflection. It left Sam questioning how well he really could read his brother, or if Dean did resent him after all.
Sam yawned wide, eyes watering. He propped his elbows on his knees and rested his head in his hands. The sleepless hours of research were catching up to him. He knew he wouldn't be able to hold out much longer. The monitors attached to Dean beeped in syncopated harmony to the pounding in Sam's head. Once again, they'd defied the odds which meant they may have been screwed in the process, but the job got done.
As much as Dean needed sleep, hell as much as Sam needed sleep, he needed to talk more. "Dean?" Nothing. Not a rustle of sheets or a tick of response on Dean's face. "Dean," Sam said, louder this time. Dean slept on, the gentle rise and fall of his chest a quiet reassurance that he was okay. Sam shook his head. "What the hell am I doing?" he muttered. Nothing was so important it couldn't wait for Dean to get some rest.
Sam leaned forward and hooked three fingers on Dean's gown, the other arm serving as a pillow for his head. He'd just rest for awhile and talk to Dean later. That is, if his brother let him talk about anything of consequence. Emotional, soul-bearing talks may have sent Dean running for cover in the past, but these days something as seemingly innocent as a discussion about hunting could shut Dean down. Sam didn't see many of the conversational land mines until it was too late.
He opened his eyes and looked around the small hospital room. Everything was fine, no one was here, Dean was safe. He could sleep.
Sam awoke with a start to the sound of metal scraping metal. He jumped to his feet and stood between Dean and the door. A nurse appeared from behind the curtain, her wide-eyed, open-mouthed stare an indication of how crazy he must look.
"I, I came to check his vitals and deliver lunch," the nurse stammered.
Sam checked his watch. Twelve-thirty, they had slept through breakfast. He stepped to the side and flashed her a smile. She didn't smile in return. She walked by, giving him a wide berth. He caught her name tag on her way past him.
"Jen, do you know where I could get a cup of coffee?" Sam asked. He didn't have any intention of actually leaving Dean until he woke, but it seemed like a decent ice-breaker.
She didn't release her hold on Dean's wrist, but she offered Sam a small smile. "You could take your chances with the cafeteria," Jen suggested. She looked at Sam starting at his booty covered feet and finishing at his psychedelic scrub shirt. Her lips quivered with the effort of restrained laughter. "Or maybe some very sympathetic and caring nurse will take pity on the death of your fashion sense and order you an espresso from the stand at the corner on her break."
"I couldn't ask you to do that," Sam protested. "Cafeteria coffee is fine."
"It's no big deal," Jen insisted, placing a hand on Sam's arm. "I'd be going anyway."
"Thanks." Sam smiled and took a seat in the folding chair.
This time, Jen returned his smile. She sidled between Sam and Dean's bed, dropping a hand on his shoulder on the way out. "I'll be back in thirty. See if you can get him to eat."
"If Dean won't eat, there's definitely something wrong." He lifted the lid on the plate of food on the tray. The plate contained pale fish, overcooked vegetables and runny mashed potatoes. Sam hastily replaced the lid. "Or not."
Jen laughed lightly. "We're more well-known for our medical care than our food," she admitted. "Be back soon."
Sam nodded his head in response to Jen's finger waggle. He twisted on the chair in an attempt to get comfortable. "Are you done being clueless?" Dean rasped.
"How long have you been awake?" Sam asked, his brow creasing in accusation.
"Long enough to realize you seriously need help with women, Sam." Dean opened his eyes a crack, moaned and closed them again.
"You could have said something," Sam said. He stood and closed the blinds, cutting the light in the room by half.
"Thanks," Dean said. He opened his eyes and nodded towards the blinds. "Hey, I wasn't going to salt your game." He cautiously lifted the lid on the plate, grimaced and replaced it. "I can't believe that's the kind of stuff they feed people who are already sick."
"Just eat it," Sam said. His eyes took on a mischievous glint. "And if you finish it all, I'll sneak out and get you a burger for dinner."
Dean glared at Sam's tone, but zeroed in on the bribe. He pointed a finger at Sam. "I'm holding you to that."
Sam laughed. "Done."
Dean lifted the lid again. Sam noticed Dean's hand trembled a little. He took the lid from Dean, but didn't comment. He watched as Dean shoved a forkful of potatoes into his mouth and took note of how pale his big brother was. "Dean?"
Dean looked up at Sam and raised an eyebrow in question. "What?"
"Do you remember what we talked about in Oregon?" Sam asked. "You promised you'd be careful, that you'd give me this year."
"You're holding me responsible for this?" Dean asked, his hackles rising. "I don't remember much of anything after we got on that ride."
"Not that," Sam said. He leaned closer to Dean, placing one hand on the bed. "You aren't responsible for what happened. You were possessed by a spirit and poisoned by a voodoo priestess."
Dean sighed. "Then I'm a little confused here, Sam. Just what exactly are you pissed at me about?" He set his fork down on the table. Dean twisted on the bed to face Sam and propped himself up further on one elbow.
"I, I just want you to care." Sam took a deep breath and ran a hand through his hair in frustration. Now that Dean was awake and talking, Sam didn't know what to say or maybe it was that he didn't know how to say what he wanted.
Dean flopped back against the bed. "You know Sam, I changed my mind. I'm not really hungry. I think I'm going back to sleep. Why don't you leave and grab some shut eye?" Dean gave him an appraising look. "You look like crap."
"Don't," Sam said, his voice barely above a whisper. "Don't do this."
"I'm not doing anything, Sam." Dean lay back down against the pillow. "I'm tired. Almost drowning has a tendency to do that."
Sam felt the hot burn of tears behind his eyes, but he wasn't about to let them appear. He forced them back. "I'll be back later."
Dean nodded his head in reply and turned slightly on his side to place his back to Sam, shutting him out. Sam swallowed convulsively. He placed a hand on Dean's shoulder that elicited no response. Stuffing down his feelings of rejection, Sam quietly left Dean's room.
Dean heard the awkward, stilted conversation outside his door when Jen returned with Sam's coffee. The two of them chatted for a moment before Sam suggested they move down the hall and soon Dean couldn't even hear the familiar low rumble of his little brother's voice.
He sighed and rolled onto his back. He was starving. Cold, over-cooked fish and runny potatoes were better than nothing. He lifted his fork and had just taken a bite when the nurse walked into the room.
"Oh, sorry," Jen apologized. "Sam thought you were sleeping."
"Yeah, I sort of let him think that so he'd leave and get some rest," Dean said, the partial truth slipping easily off his tongue. He took a bite of fish and made a face. "Seriously? You have my real lunch around here somewhere, don't you?"
"I'm afraid not," Jen said, with a small laugh. She fluffed his pillows, checked his IV, the heart monitor, and his oxygen levels. "Maybe you should try to sleep," Jen suggested on her way out the door. "I'd hate for you to choke on that rubber sole."
Dean groaned. "I don't think I'm up to puns yet," he mock protested. He waggled his eyebrows at the brunette. "But for you I'm willing to suffer through it."
Jen turned to face him. She drew the curtain closed, an enigmatic grin plastered on her face. "Get some rest."
The soft squeak of Jen's shoes on tiled floor and Dean was alone again. He shifted on the bed and groaned. He really did ache. His muscles were sore and shaky, his throat dry, and his back was killing him. Whatever had gone on the last twenty-four hours, it had been hell on his body. Suddenly sleep didn't seem like a bad idea.
The only real problem that existed was he couldn't take his mind off his brother or the mysterious missing time from his life. Time was something he could ill afford to lose. He had less than one year. Three hundred and thirty-seven – make that, thirty-six days to do, well, anything.
There were a finite number of times he would be with a woman, drink beer and shoot pool with his brother or listen to his favorite songs. There were only so many evil sons of bitches he could bring down, a limited time to teach Sam how to hunt on his own, and a smattering of opportunities to follow up on all the things on his "before I die" list.
And this weight that had settled on his chest, it grew heavier by the day. Dean didn't know if it was guilt, responsibility, dread or just plain fear, but some days he thought it would crush him. Added to it was the haunted look Sam wore on his face whenever he thought Dean wasn't looking.
Dean's breath hitched. He quickly boxed his fears and shoved them into a corner. The box rattled and shook, the fears inside scratching loudly on the cardboard containing them. He knew he wouldn't be able to keep them at bay for long this time, but it would be enough for now. It would buy him time to fall asleep and hopefully, his emotional strength would return with his physical endurance.
He squeezed his eyes shut and breathed deeply. With time-honed experience he evened out his breathing, relaxed his muscles and shut his mind down. Within the span of a few minutes, the last of Dean's resistance faded, allowing him to easily fall asleep.
He knew without opening his eyes that Sam was there. A quick check of his internal clock assured him that less than two hours had passed. Barely enough time for Sam to shower, change into real clothes and get back, his little brother hadn't slept.
The fingers around his tightened briefly before disappearing; leaving his sweaty hand cool and empty. "Dean?" A hesitant call, barely more than a whisper. God, Sam was killing him.
"I'm awake." No point in lying, Sam knew him as well as he knew Sam. Maybe if he didn't open his eyes he wouldn't have to feel Sam's pain on top of his own. Dean opened his eyes and looked at his brother. Shining from the depths of Sam's hazels was the same grief Dean had felt nearly two months ago. He'd put that look in his brother's eyes.
Sam had dark circles under his red-rimmed eyes and while he may be able to brush it off as lack of sleep, Dean knew better. "I returned the defibrillator," Sam whispered conspiratorially, a small grin teasing his lips. "And the scrubs."
Dean caught the peace offering in the statement. "It's a good thing about the scrubs, now they were scary." Dean mock shuddered. "But, you need to sleep, Sam. We can leave tomorrow."
Sam nodded. "You do too. It's been a rough couple of days." Exhaustion and worry carved deep tracks in Sam's forehead. Sam turned so Dean could only see the profile of his face. He bowed his head and stared at his hands.
"I'm sorry," Dean said. Sam's head snapped up and over to Dean. He could see the unspoken question in his little brother's eyes. "I am sorry."
Sam's chest heaved as he took several deep breaths and emotion flitted across his face before it was gone. A neutral expression took over Sam's features. Dean recognized the new, tougher skin his brother had been trying on for size lately. As much as Dean didn't like to see the tight press of Sam's lips or the guarded look on his face, Sam would need this ability later. "Yeah, me too."
Dean lightly tugged on Sam's shirt sleeve, just enough to remind Sam he was still here. "I do care."
A small smile tugged one corner of Sam's mouth. "Thanks," Sam said, his voice husky.
"So, we're good?" Dean asked, searching Sam's face for the truth.
"We're good." Twin dimples poked Sam's cheeks when a smile ghosted across his face.
The brothers sat in silence for several minutes until Sam reached down for something on the floor. Dean heard the crinkling of paper seconds before the aroma of fresh hamburgers reached his nose. "Gimme," he demanded, reaching for Sam's arm.
Sam easily evaded Dean's grasp. "Only if you agree to let me drive tomorrow."
Dean glared at Sam. He wavered on indecision between the lure of hamburgers and the price of being a passenger in his own car. "Fine," he growled. "But only tomorrow."
"Deal." Sam tossed the bag to Dean.
Dean opened the bag and peered inside the bag, a large fries sat nestled between two cheeseburgers. He pulled out a burger, hastily unwrapped it and dug in greedily. "This is the best burger ever," Dean said between mouthfuls.
Sam chuckled, grabbing the remote from the table. "Everything tastes better when you're hungry." He turned on the television and flipped through the channels. One daytime soap opera after another flashed by until Sam found it. "Hey, Dean, look. Your show's on."
"Whazzat?" He looked up from his attack on the fries to see Oprah interviewing the guy from the 'Independence Day' talking about his new movie. Dean crumpled the burger wrapper and tossed it at Sam's head where it connected with a satisfying smack.
Sam's lips quirked in amusement, but he didn't tear his gaze from the television. "That the best you got?" he goaded.
Dean briefly considered the weapons at his disposal, an empty fry container, a box of tissues, or a plastic cup half full of water. He sighed. "Guess so."
Sam turned to him, his eyes wide with surprise. He puffed a half a laugh and turned back to the television. "You must still be tired." The amusement in Sam's voice had Dean returning the smile.
Sam leaned on Dean's bed, propping his head on his bent arm. "You'd be more comfortable in a bed, Sam." Only concern made it into Dean's voice this time. He wasn't dismissing his little brother from his room again.
"I'm good." Sam blinked heavily and yawned. By the commercial break Sam was asleep.
Dean eased the remote out of Sam's hand and placed it on the table. He pulled one of his pillows out from behind him and tucked it under Sam's drooping head. Sam immediately shifted in the chair and on the bed into a more comfortable position.
Dean scooted down on the bed and flipped on his side. He could see the door, the television and his brother's face from this angle. He allowed himself the luxury of watching Sammy sleep, until the stress lines faded and the frantic eye movements behind closed lids began. He'd lost his brother. For a whole day Sam had been gone, dead.
He ghosted a hand over Sam's hair, but didn't touch. Dean tucked one arm under his head, the other draped across his torso, his hand resting close to Sam. He closed his eyes. Please don't hate me, Sammy. I had to do it. As his mind drifted off to sleep, Dean felt Sam's fingers wrap around his arm and he knew.
AN: Ha! I finished. Wait, no, I'm sorry it took me FIVE months to finish a seven chapter story. Lesson learned. Long shot: okay. Long shot, plus one-shots: okay. Long shot, plus long shot, plus one-shots, plus challenge fics: not so much.
Thank you for sticking with the story and your patience!