Notes: Hi Guys ;0) – Here it finally is, the final chapter. And as always thanks for the lovely reviews, fav's and alerts and for sticking with me through this strange tale, I hope you enjoyed it. I'm off to do some lighter more humorous fic's, probably a whole bunch of one shots, although (woe be me) I have a hurt Sammy fic playing out in my mind. I'm going to finish typing them up before I post, because time runs away from me and I hate to keep you waiting LOL ;0) - Also thanks as always to my amazing beta Phoebe who iron's and starches my ramblings, so that you get a nice crispy version of the wrinkled story I send her ;0) – so here goes ... enjoy!
Warning: Mild Language
Voices dancing on the outskirts of my consciousness. I try to concentrate on them as I fight my way through the fogginess of my fevered mind.
"... but you said he was getting better ..."
"Yes I did, but I also said he's fighting the infection and sepsis. I know his condition is still serious, but under the circumstance he's doing better than we expected. We've removed him from the dialysis machine and his body is slowly starting to heal, but it's going to take a while ... we just need to be patient."
"How can you tell me to be patient?"
He's pissed, I know that sound, his voice hissing in agitation.
"My brother is fighting for his life and none of the medications you're giving him are making him any better!"
"Sam, you have to realise that his immune system is completely run down ... shot to hell."
I hear the sharp intake of breath, like someone sucker punched him ... I struggle to open my eyes, not succeeding as my fist scrunches in the sheets anxiously.
"His throat and glands are still swollen, the sooner we can get him to drink something, the better. As you know we're still very worried about pneumonia, and he's too weak to fight something like that off. So we have him on a stronger dose of antibiotics, all we can do now is wait ... and maybe, if you're religious, pray."
I can almost hear Sam nodding his head but I know he's hurting, can sense it ... I've hurt him, failed him too many times ... watched him die just as many ...
"I'm sorry ... I'm sorry doc, it's just ... it's been two days and still no change ..."
"I know son, but we've done everything we can ... it's up to him now."
There's a break of uncomfortable silence and I can feel the thick tension in the air. My hand flexes again ...
"Sam ... you need to calm down ... I think your being upset is upsetting Dean."
Bobby's concerned voice and then a cool hand instantly ghosts across my forehead.
"Dean ... hey bro, can you hear me?"
He grabs my wrist ... I'm suspended by dark chains ... the stabbing pain making my body arch up ... lightning flashes in the dark green clouds ... and I can't stop myself from crying out, before I fall back into unconsciousness.
"Are you sure nothings broken?"
I jump slightly at the question, can't open my eyes, trying to move my mouth to answer is impossible, but thankfully someone else does ... I just don't have the energy ...
"Yes, we did numerous tests, he seems to have extreme sensitivity on both wrists and ankles, also near his right shoulder and waist on his left side. I won't lie to you Sam, it's concerning, we have no idea why he is showing signs of pain in these areas."
I want to tell Sam that's it's just a phantom pain ... a memory of the tortures haunting my restless sleep ... but I'm so tired ... too tired ...
I jerk slightly, waking up again, almost sighing when Sam's hand starts rubbing soothingly on my arm, I concentrate on his warm touch ...
"Try and get some rest kid, you look exhausted. The physiotherapist will only be here in an hour or two for Dean's daily routine. You should maybe try and get some shut-eye before then."
"Thanks doc, I will."
His voice breaks, his hand still resting on mine.
"You've been looking after me my whole life Dean ... it's my turn."
I sink back into exhaustion, listening to the weariness in his voice … knowing he won't sleep.
Harsh breathing and whimpering fills my head ... and I'm surprised to find it's rumbling from deep within my own chest.
"Shhh ... shhh ... you're okay ..."
Hot ... I'm too hot ... suffocating ... I jolt at the shock of feeling a cool cloth wipe across my forehead ...
"It's okay bro ... I'm here ..."
I kick at the sticky sheets clinging to my sweaty body ... god I'm dying ... dead ... alive ... don't know, don't care, just burning up ... head hurts ... another soft whimper slips past my lips ...
"Dean ... easy, take it easy ... you have a fever ... can you try and open your eyes for me?"
I can hear what sounds like relief in his voice.
"Yeah, it's me bro, open your eyes ... I need you to try and drink something ..."
My throat is too dry ... scratchy, feels like sandpaper ... burning so bad every time I inhale ... and I can't swallow ... don't think I remember how. I feel his arm slip under my neck as he carefully lifts me up, it hurts, my body hurts.
"Yes you can ... just open your eyes, I've got you."
I fight my heavy eyelids, and for the first time they actually obey me and open ... I squint, battling to make out his face through my blurry vision.
"That's it, nice and slow … you with me?"
"I know it hurts … I'll ask them to adjust your meds now … just try to take a sip of this first …"
He's holding a plastic cup to my lips, he tilts it slightly and I try to take a sip, but the cool liquid just dribbles down my chin. I close my eyes again and groan or cry, I'm not sure which.
"Please Dean ... this will help soothe and numb the pain a little ... please ... just try again, for me."
It hurts to talk ... hurts to breath ... still can't seem to swallow … but I nod my head, watching tiredly as he brings the cup to my lips again. I close my eyes in anticipation, my face scrunching up in agony as I take a small mouthful of the ginger smelling concoction, it's the first time I've had something to drink since before the battle, and I force myself ... fighting the urge to gag ... trying to get the muscles that are rebelling against me to swallow. I concentrate, my head pounding as I try to breathe through my nose, but I manage to half gulp, half inhale as the heavily medicated liquid goes down my scratchy throat, making me burst into a hacking cough.
Sammy pulls me up, letting my head rest on his shoulder, this feels strangely familiar, as he hits me firmly between the shoulder blades while I continue to struggle to get much needed oxygen into my starving lungs. Every part of me aches and I cling to him weakly.
"Easy, I've got you ..."
I'm exhausted, body trembling with the effort of staying upright so Sammy carefully lowers me back onto the pillow as I manage to gulp in some more deep breaths. My throat still hurts but the liquid seems to have the desired effect and I feel a strange sense of relief as the dryness is suddenly replaced with unbearable thirst.
"... more ..."
I nod slowly as he helps lift me again, supporting my weight before bringing the cup to my mouth, my shaky hands holding the same cup uselessly. I take another small sip, but this time it's a bit easier to swallow and I find myself trying to gulp the cool liquid frantically, Sammy irritatingly managing to prevent me from drinking as fast as I want.
"Easy, easy Dean ... slowly, I don't want you to get sick."
He pulls the cup away and I'm too weak to stop him so I fall back into the cradle of his arm completely drained of energy, staring at him with blank eyes.
I watch tiredly as the nurse moves over to adjust the med's on my IV line before I turn again to watch Sammy's troubled face, I know he's talking to me but it doesn't make much sense, so I just let myself fall back into the warm embrace of painless sleep.
Icepacks? God, I hate icepacks.
My eyes fly open, blinking and shuddering at the chilly sensations sending goose bumps along my skin. I look at Sammy hovering nervously next to my bed, the nurses thankfully removing the offending cool-gel packs instead of packing them on. I can't look them in the eye, feeling my body's tight and shrinking response, those things are cold, damnit.
I mouth the word 'hey' back at him.
"How ya feeling?"
"... with ... my ... hands …"
He chuckles, brushing a loose lock of hair off my forehead. Shit, how long is my hair?
"Seriously bro ... on a scale from 1 to 10 ..."
I hesitate ... Sam's eyes trying to look right through me ...
"... 11 ..."
He smiles again, dark rings like half moons under his eyes.
"That good huh?"
I nod tiredly.
"I know … but it's going to be okay Dean, I promise, you're getting better, your fever broke last night plus the doc's very pleased with your last test results."
"… and I didn't … even study …"
I grin at him tiredly as he settles himself to sit next to me again. He smiles back but he looks like the walking dead, probably hasn't been sleeping knowing him.
"… you … taking care …"
"Yeah, I'm fine, Bobby's running around here somewhere, been on my case about sleeping and eating," I give him what I hope is a warning look and he quickly continues, "… and I am, I promise, just been a little stressed is all."
I'm not entirely convinced he's been looking after himself, but I let it go, feeling the endless tiredness aching in my bones and pulling at my consciousness.
Sam takes my silence as his cue to give me a run down on everything that's been happening. He's talking too fast, a sure fire sign that he's been worried out of his mind, so I let him talk, it helps him release some of that pent up tension, and at the same time, the tone of his voice is soothing to me.
"Bobby's taking care of all the paperwork and hospital bills, with some help from Hal, so we won't need to worry about that, thank god."
I study him. His hair is longer, curling behind his ears where he keeps pushing at the loose tendrils absently. We both seriously need to get our hands on a 24 hour emergency barber.
"Dean, I can't tell you how relieved we were when you woke up and recognised us, especially after not recognizing us that first time, but now you do even if you can't seem to remember anything about what happened since the battle, doc says it's your body's way of coping with the trauma you suffered."
Sam continues chattering for a while, only stopping to breathe when Bobby joins us a few minutes later. Bobby grins happily at me, patting my leg as he sits next to Sam.
"Good to see ya awake son … how ya holding up?"
"… good …"
My words become a lie as I start coughing painfully, my eyes threatening to close again as I fight through the congestion. Sammy quickly reaches over for the cup and gently lifts my head, letting me take a few soothing sips.
"Hey bro, here you go."
He's probably going to nurse me to death … funny how I don't seem to mind anymore. I continue to listen in amusement as Bobby and Sammy both try to out-talk each other, trying to fill in the missing gaps of my memory. All I want to do is sleep, but they look so happy to see me awake, I just can't let them down.
"Ellen's still following up on some leads, but we haven't seen or heard from Ruby, Lilith or the Hunter, it's like they've dropped off the face of the planet."
I watch their mouths moving, rattling off lists of things that just don't seem important to me anymore.
"And I spoke to a friend of a friend and he says that he can get that tattoo of your's fixed, no problem."
I grimace, remembering how unpleasant it was to have the tattoo done the first place. I know Sammy and I were both drunk as skunks, didn't stop it from hurting like a son-of-a-bitch though.
I realise I've missed another section of their chattering as I see Sammy fiddling with something around his neck, his eyes glistening. I watch speechlessly as he takes the amulet off and leans forward to carefully put it over my head, the metal still warm from his own body heat.
"It saved my life Dean … just like you always do …"
I don't know what to say him, there is so much I could ... but I don't have the words. So we all just sit in deafening silence … the socially awkward moment making me squirm uncomfortably, but luckily a nurse walks in again, checking my vitals, blushing as she catches my eye and then leaves again. My smile mirrors the look of relief on Sammy's face. Bobby thankfully breaks the unease.
"Well son, looks like the nurses are falling all over themselves to take care of you."
I take it back, he's doubling the unease. He wiggles his bushy eyebrows at me from beneath his cap.
"Actually heard that they're having a lucky draw to see who gets to be the one to bathe you down."
Sammy, the bastard, joins in on the teasing.
"Yeah, I think it's your hair Dean, it's pretty long dude, I think you're in competition with me now ... long hair really turns the chicks on."
I snort unconvinced, what Sammy knows about romancing the ladies will fill a matchbook, but I still feel the blush rise from my toes right up into my cheeks. Both of them barking out a laugh at my disgusted look. I'm slightly surprised to find that I'm not interested in all the obvious female attention. Guess my libido is as damaged as my soul.
The pain meds start taking effect and before I realise it my eyes are closed, Sammy and Bobby probably thinking I've fallen asleep, but I can hear them discussing the incident at the Devil's Gate, and I try to follow their conversation, picking up here and there on what happened, guilt settling in my gut.
"… something came through the Gate, Bobby … I don't know what it was, but we'll find it, and kill it ... as soon as Dean gets better … and the prophecy be damned, Dean and I are going to fight this thing our way, and if he isn't ready, then I'll do it myself ... I won't let these assholes mess with us anymore, never again!"
His voice is determined but I can't hold on to his words, too tired. I feel the welcoming folds of sleep, but I remember something … need to tell Sammy … it's important … I jerk awake, looking into his concerned face, the words are soft and slurred but he hears me …
"Don't ... leave ..."
"I'm not going anywhere Dean."
Sammy's holding me carefully around the waist with one arm, my own arm draped loosely over his shoulder as we make our way slowly over to the Impala. I'm so hopped up on pain killers I weave slightly, grinning stupidly as we walk through the parking lot. Bobby's gone ahead of us, we'll catch up, but I can't help but blind Sammy with my smile when I see my girls highly polished exterior, knowing Sammy was true to his word. He's been taking good care of her and I almost want to run forward, until my knees nearly buckle under me.
"Easy there tiger ..."
As we get closer I let my hand run lovingly over her shiny black hood, still grinning happily.
"Baby ... god you look ... beautiful. I missed you so much ..."
Sammy chuckles next to me, shaking his head, I look at him hopefully.
"Can I drive?"
He stops, letting his head fall back so that he can look up at the bright blue sky.
"What're you doing?"
"Just checking to see if pigs can fly."
"Funny Sam ... nice to see you found your sense of humour while I was bravely clinging to life back there ...," I sigh dramatically, "… and like a friggin hero mind you."
"Dean, you've been bitching and complaining non-stop for 4 days now, how is that in any way brave or heroic?"
I lift an eyebrow as I contemplate his question.
"Well the nurses all thought I was heroic ... and I have the telephone numbers to prove it."
I pat the top pocket of my jacket, smirking victoriously ... the pocket is empty, threw all the numbers away ... but Sammy doesn't need to know that.
"God Dean ... the more things change, the more they stay the same."
He's smiling happily, which makes me happy in turn, so I don't complain as he manages to get me into the passenger seat, but not before I'm all wrapped up in a huge blanket like a human burrito. Sam positions me as comfortably as possible in the shotgun seat before he rushes over to the driver's side, starting the engine and letting her purr for a few seconds for my benefit. I lean heavily against the passenger door relieved to be anywhere but in that hospital room, those 4 walls were making me stir crazy, been there for 2 months, 15 days and 5 hours exactly, not that I'm counting. We're thankfully finally on our way to Bobby's place so that I can continue my recovery. Sammy wanted us to go to the coast or the Grand Canyon or somewhere for a vacation ... but all I need is my family ... Sammy and Bobby and Ellen ... I'm not ready to face a world that has forsaken me, a world that forgot I even existed while I suffered in hell ... a world I've fought for my whole life ... the price I paid was too high.
Sammy's mother-henning me non-stop as I feared, 'drink this Dean' ... 'don't rush it Dean'... 'listen to the doctor Dean' ... freegin' girl, but apparently I've healed pretty nicely. Stab wound is just a tender scar which chicks would probably dig, and the doc says I'll be good as new in a month or two. Just need to take things easy for a while. No arguments from me though, I'm tired 24/7 lately and almost too weak to take a piss on my own, but I'm managing. I yawn again in emphasis. Only thing that bothers me is the pain, I have a script bottle of extra strong painkillers. They're the only thing that helps with the constant ache in my wrists and ankles, never mind my shoulder and side. I know the pain's not real, but is sure as ... hell? ... nope, sure as tarnation ... feels real enough, plus the nightmares are getting worse ... and the vomiting, and the loss of appetite ... things I haven't shared with Sammy or the doc, things I've learnt to hide, along with everything else. But the meds help ... just hope I can get my hands on more when my stash runs out. I look over at Sammy nervously hoping he doesn't read minds ... don't know what he may have learnt or what new 'powers' he's manifested since I've been away. He seems oblivious though, so I let out a small sigh of relief.
We're both silent, me watching the scenery fly by, Sammy flicking uncertainly through the radio stations, trying to find something he thinks I'd like to listen to. Thirty days ... in hell, Thirty years ... a lifetime ... I've had a lifetime to learn how to hide my feelings ... Sammy can't read me, not like he used to, not anymore ... there's a strange chasm, a rift between us ... I swallow back the heartache … we've lost our bond ... I've changed ...
I look over at him, I knew this was coming.
"Do you ...?" He swallows nervously, his neck twitching as he tries to find the words ... "Do you remember ... what happened ... in hell?"
I smile at him, the most honest look I can muster.
"No ... No Sammy ..." I chuckle to make it more believable, "... lucky for me I guess, I don't think I could handle it ya know ... there's this feeling deep inside me ... and I just have no doubt that whatever happened there was real bad ... but I don't poke at it, to tell ya the truth ... I'm kinda grateful I don't have memories, don't really want to remember ..."
But I do remember. Everything. The minute Sammy gave me Bruno's old manuscript, it all came flooding back. I remember shaking uncontrollably before I collapsed, nearly scaring the shit out of Sammy for the hundredth time. Later, when I read it by myself, I remembered how he saved me, remembered every detail of my torment. That's when I asked my very confused brother if I could keep it, and now I have it safely tucked at the bottom of my duffle bag.
Sammy nods his head vigorously, blinking tears from his eyes, a small relieved smile playing on his lips.
"Yeah, I guess ... it's better that way ... I still can't remember what happened to me when I died ..."
My heart lurches at that memory.
"... probably our minds way of protecting us ... helping us handle things we can't ..."
There's no escape for me ... I remember the torture, pain, despair, heartbreak ... in vivid, painful colours ...
I squint through the headache that's started throbbing behind my eyes, but my gaze remains on Sammy as he tries to keep his focus on the road. He's hurting and he feels guilty at the same time … I smirk, typical Winchester family trait ... but I also still find comfort in the fact that he did try, he did everything he could to save me, bring me back ... and it hurts me more than any torture to see that look of self loathing in his eyes ... I need to break the tension ... need him to think everything is going to be okay ...
"You know, now that you mention it ... I do actually remember something ..."
Sammy's eyes quickly dart to mine in concern, his breath hitching involuntarily as he waits for my next words with nervous trepidation ... knowing him he probably thinks or rather hopes I'm going to go all 'emo' on him ...
"Yeah Dean ... what ... what is it?"
He seems unsure of how to handle the situation, only firming my resolve.
"You know whatever it is bro, I'm here for you, I'll help you through it, no matter what ..."
God, he's still my same 'touchy feely sister' ... I almost snort in amusement, instead I put on my poker face ...
"Shit, Sammy ... I don't know how to ... damn this is just so hard man ... I don't know how to 'share' this with you ... "
He gives me one of his "you're too precious for this world" looks, I bite the inside of my cheek to stop myself from grinning ...
"It's okay Dean ... you can tell me ..."
I give him a tentative smile, looking to the entire world as if I'm digging deep down into my magical rainbow bag of feelings, finding that 'happy place' everyone keeps harping on about, I almost throw up a little in my mouth at the thought.
"Well it's all a bit fuzzy but I sorta remember this one room ... god, it's too awful ..."
He looks at me nervously, not wanting to say anything that might stop me from opening up to him, waiting patiently for me to continue.
"... I saw you there Sammy ... in fact hundreds of you, and I tried, but I couldn't stop it ... it just kept happening over and over again ..."
My voice catches and he reaches out to hold my shoulder in silent support, while also still trying to keep his eyes on the road.
"What was it Dean? Did you see me die over and over again, like what the Trickster did to me back at the Mystery Spot?"
I shake my head sadly.
"No ... it was much worse ..."
His eyebrows raise, probably trying to imagine what could possibly be worse than that.
"God Dean ... I'm so sorry man ... what was it, what happened?"
"You ...," I pause for a second for emphasis, "... you all started moving towards me ... converging," I lift a trembling hand to lay it over my heart, "... and then you hugged me and cried ...," I shiver dramatically, "... over and over again ... it was like the gay version of 'Thelma and Louise' ... god you can't imagine the torture!" I pull in a loud, fake sniff, blinking my eyes coyly at him.
He stares at me for a second in stunned silence, before his hand snakes out to cuff me lightly upside the head. I'm still too weak and slow to get out of his way in time but I grin at him cockily, wiggling my eyebrows before he bursts into laughter, it's the best sound in the world.
I know it's my burden, mine alone. Those bastards broke me, and I have to somehow find the strength to pull myself together again, fix what they shattered, something Sammy must never know.
I listen contentedly to his amusement, his dimples making his whole face light up.
"You know what ... you are still seriously an ass, Dean ... and the world's biggest jerk to boot!"
"And you're still a giant bitch!"
We both continue chuckling, Sammy shaking his head in amusement as he falls into our old routine with familiar ease, while I fall into my role as his big brother with the same ease.
I lean back, just watching my baby brother, knowing how much he risked and sacrificed to bring me back.
… but you can't save me this time Sammy, can't save me from myself, 'cause I also know with a certainty that even if it's the last thing I do, I'll protect you. Protect you from the knowledge that I lost a part of me in Hell, something I'll never get back ... I lost my faith.