Author's note: A massive thank you to everyone who simply took the time to read the story so far, reviewed, or sent me a PM. I tried to reply to everyone, but if your review was anonymous or I missed you, please know that I read every review and have cherished each one of them. This fandom is so supportive and inspiring – just fantastic really!
With regards to the following chapter, I'd like to thank Google for the medical information, and apologise to any readers who actually have hard earned medical knowledge and find my attempts a little disturbing.
He sat slumped in the cracked vinyl chair, exhaustion marring his face. His hands gripped his knees firmly as he struggled to curb his mounting impatience.
Every time the automatic doors swished open, he raised his head, a look of hope plastered across his face, only to face disappointment again and again.
There was no news on his brother.
He'd been delegated to the dim family waiting room outside the operating theatre three hours ago - for a surgery that was expected to take two.
No dog-eared magazines could distract him from the wait. None of the faded wall posters could hold his attention for more than a minute. He knew – he'd tried.
He was here, alone, and it was all his fault.
His mind traced and retraced the day's events, trying to identify that moment in time when it had all gone wrong. Tried to analyze his actions and words; trying to work out what he could have done differently. What he should have done.
Even at the time, he knew deep down inside that he shouldn't have sent Sam out to get the food. In the middle of a friggin' storm no less.
There was no excuse for what had happened after.
He'd spent more time looking over the car than he had his own brother, more worried about the damage to metal than to flesh and bone. He'd barely spared more than a cursory glance at Sam when he'd returned to the motel, his attention distracted by things that just didn't really matter.
He'd made so many mistakes, and all he could do now was hope that Sam didn't pay too dearly for them – that he'd come out of the surgery okay.
Hospital trips weren't usually like this, not for Sam. Oh, they were often rushed and he always felt a twinge of fear just by stepping through the hospital doors, but he usually had some idea of what was happening, of what to expect. The straight forward setting of a broken bone or the application of a neat row of sutures were Sam's usual reasons for needing hospital care. But nothing like this. He was unprepared, and if there was one thing he prided himself on, it was always being prepared.
Sam had been whisked away by the medical staff so quickly. He wondered if it had anything to do with how ridiculous he must have looked trying to drag his gigantic semi-conscious brother into the hospital. He hoped that was the case, and not that Sam's condition warranted jumping the line and needing priority care.
A couple of cracked ribs and internal bleeding had been identified by the doctors and as soon as all the forms were signed, Sam had been taken away for emergency surgery – two hour surgery.
That had been three hours ago.
A gentle hand on his shoulder jerked Dean to his feet.
"Sam's out of surgery." The doctor paused as Dean pushed aside his exhaustion and focused on his words.
Dean glanced at his watch, surprised to see how much time had passed. "So he's okay?"
The doctor took a deep breath and tried to push aside his weariness. "Take a seat," he indicated the chair Dean had just vacated and pulled across another one to sit near Dean.
Waiting until he was sure he had Dean's full attention the doctor took a moment to compose his thoughts.
"Sam?" Dean prompted with trepidation, trying to hold everything together as he waited for an answer.
"As we discussed before the surgery, Sam had a massive hemorrhage into his abdominal cavity. He was very lucky that you brought him in when you did – or things may have not gone so well." The doctor saw Dean's face pale at his words. "As our initial scans indicated, your brother's spleen was bleeding profusely and was the cause of most of his symptoms. Sam has been fortunate; we managed to stop the bleeding without having to remove his spleen."
Dean could feel a little of the guilt lift off his shoulders as he let hope take it's place. "So he's gonna be okay?"
"I won't lie to you; he's still got some way to go. Having to go back and remove the spleen can't be completely ruled out yet, although it's not our preferred option - complete spleen removal does create the future risk of a lowered capacity to fight infection and its better to avoid this course of action if at all possible. However, if Sam starts bleeding again it may be our only option." The doctor explained patiently and gave Dean a moment to let his words sink in before making his final points. "Sam also has a couple of cracked ribs and extensive bruising around his abdominal and lower chest regions. You need to understand that Sam still has a long recovery period in front of him. While the success rate with the type of repair to the spleen that Sam received is quite high, there's always the risk of further bleeding and infection. We will of course be closely monitoring him for any signs of this."
"Can I see him now?" Dean had listened to the doctor, but words weren't really enough, only seeing his brother could give him the reassurance he craved.
"He's in recovery now, but you'll be able to see him as soon as he's taken down to Intensive Care." The doctor saw a frown mar Dean's face.
"Intensive Care?" Dean repeated, realization hitting him about how sick Sam must still be even after the surgery.
"In Intensive Care we'll be able to closely monitor Sam during the initial recovery period, but later he should be able to be moved onto one of the wards." The doctor explained. "I'll have someone come and tell you when Sam's ready to be transferred to ICU."
Rising to his feet the doctor gave Dean a reassuring smile. "Sam's young and fit; I'm quietly confident that he'll make a full recovery."
"Yeah. Thanks." Dean tried to grasp onto the doctor's confidence, desperately needing to believe that Sam would be okay.
Dean sat in the hard chair pushed into the cramped space next to Sam's bed in intensive Care. He might have just exchanged one hard chair for another, but at least now he had Sam well within his sights. For that he'd endure whatever was asked of him.
Sam had been barely coherent beyond a few moans since he'd been wheeled into the tight space. He was pale and still, connected to a monitor to measure his heart rate, blood pressure and oxygen saturation. Dean had asked the nurse explain the various machines to him and now he couldn't help but keep glancing at the ever changing numbers, making sure that they didn't move in the wrong direction.
The oxygen mask strapped to Sam's face was almost a relief after observing many of the other patients attached to ventilators. He wasn't sure he could bear to see Sam with a breathing tube down his throat. That would mean that he wasn't breathing on his own and he needed to know that Sam was breathing, that his heart was beating.
Even when the curtain was pulled around the bed to give Sam a little privacy during his examinations, Dean refused to move. Sam didn't have anything that he hadn't seen before, and really, Sam's modesty wasn't even near the top of his priority list right now. The staff grew resigned to working around him and answering his incessant questions. If they felt a little put out, he didn't care. He had more important things to worry about than their inconvenience.
Twenty-four hours later and Dean was trying to make himself comfortable in yet another inadequate hospital chair. Sam had finally been 'released' from the Intensive Care Unit and moved onto one of the wards.
Sam was still connected to various monitors, but his most recent scan had confirmed that they'd been no further internal bleeding. The doctor was 'cautiously optimistic' and whilst that wasn't good enough for Dean, he was willing to hold on to that at this time. It was better than the alternatives.
He was struggling against exhaustion and lack of sleep, but the knowledge that Sam had finally been deemed stable enough to leave Intensive Care was more than welcome. Now maybe he'd be able to close his eyes for more than a few minutes at a time, so than when Sam became a little more coherent, he'd be alert enough to function properly.
Rubbing the sleep out of his eyes, Dean stretched cramped muscles as he came slowly awake. He looked across to Sam's bed, his eyes meeting the direct gaze of his brother.
"Hey." Sam whispered; his throat dry and voice hoarse.
"You're awake!" Dean leant over and pressed the call button on the wall. "How're you feeling? Any pain? Need anything? I called the nurse, she should be coming -."
"No, I'm fine Dean." Sam croaked. His head felt fuzzy and his limbs heavy. A dull ache pulsed through his body and he felt almost disconnected from his surroundings.
"Seriously, you might have to work a little harder to get me to believe that." Dean ran a hand through his hair as he fought to contain his emotions. "Dammit Sam, you scared the shit outta me."
"I know. I'm sorry. I didn't…" Sam stopped, looking towards the door as a middle-aged nurse entered.
"He's awake." Dean stated as soon as she entered.
"Yes, I can see that." The nurse smiled as she retrieved Sam's chart and moved to stand beside the bed. "Its good to see you properly awake Sam. How are you feeling?"
"Okay." Sam answered as he watched her check the monitors.
"And what about pain?" She asked, watching him closely.
"It's okay." Sam replied, already starting to feel sleepy again.
"That's good. You have any pain; you just let me know okay?" When Sam gave a slight nod in reply, she continued. "Now, I just need you to lie still while I take your temperature and blood pressure, can you do that?"
"Yeah." Sam felt like a small child being mothered, but he was too tired to complain.
He felt the nurse guide the thermometer into his ear and hold it in place. Keeping his eyes open was just too hard, so Sam let them close as he listened to the nurse's voice explaining what she was doing. Sleep claimed him again before the thermometer was withdrawn.
It felt like the longest couple of days of Dean's life. Hours dragged by as he watched Sam sleep, watched the monitors, watched the slow movement of the intravenous line as it fed vital fluids and medications to Sam's body. Sam woke for short periods of time, just long enough to break the monotony that was coming close to driving him insane.
After Sam drifted off to sleep again, mid-sentence, Dean made his way out of the hospital room. He needed real coffee and the chance to stretch his legs and get a few breaths of fresh air not contaminated with the tang of antiseptic.
More than a dozen missed calls on his cell prompted him to contact Bobby, realizing they'd failed to meet up as arranged with the other hunter. After giving Bobby a run down of the last few days' events, Bobby somehow managed to wrangle a promise out of him to take Sam up to his place to recover once he was discharged. Exactly how Bobby had managed that he wasn't sure. God, he must be more tired than he thought. With a weary shake of his head he slipped the phone back into his pocket.
After purchasing a burger and a large coffee to go, Dean made his way back to Sam's hospital room. He wanted to be there when Sam woke up again.
The following day the doctor stood at the end of Sam's bed, arms folded across his chest as he looked at Sam.
"Not before the end of the week." The doctor stated adamantly.
"But I…" Sam started to argue, looking toward Dean for support.
"Hey, don't look at me. I agree with the Doc. If he says you should stay 'til the end of the week, then you're staying 'til the end of the week." Dean folded his arms across his chest, standing in solidarity with the doctor.
"I can rest up just as well some place else …Dean, didn't you say we were going to be staying with Bobby for a while? I can rest up just as well there." Sam pleaded, just drawing the line short of actually begging.
"At least two more days Sam, unless you want to run the risk of ending up right back here?" The doctor continued, not waiting for an answer. "I still want to run a couple of tests and another scan before you're discharged, just to make sure that there's no further bleeding and that everything's as it should be."
It was a conspiracy, Sam thought, as he looked at the two men standing at the foot of the bed, effectively blocking his escape. He knew, without Dean's assistance, he had no chance of an early discharge.
"At least get me some decent coffee" Sam acquiesced, realizing he wouldn't be winning this battle.
"We'll see." Dean answered, having no intention of going against the doctor's orders.
Two days later the doctor glanced up from Sam's chart. "The good news is that the latest scan showed no signs of any further abdominal bleeding."
"So I'm good to go?" Sam asked.
"If I say 'no' is it going to make any difference?" The doctor asked with weary resignation, knowing what the answer was going to be.
"No." Sam answered without pause, anticipating finally getting out of the hospital.
"Where's your brother?" The absence of Dean in the room was a first for the doctor.
Sam smiled. "I asked him to get me my clothes. You know, I really don't want to leave wearing this." He indicated the thin cotton hospital gown.
Dean strode into the room just in time to catch the tail end of the conversation. "Oh, I don't know Sam. I'm sure there are a couple of nurses who wouldn't mind the view on your way out."
"Please tell me you brought my clothes." Sam looked with hope at the bag Dean was carrying.
"Least you could do is give the nurses a show on your way out you ungrateful bastard." Dean joked as he pulled Sam's clothes out of the bag.
The doctor gave a small laugh as he listened to the brotherly exchange. "Now Sam, I know I said you could finally leave this wonderful establishment today, but before you do, we need to discuss a couple of things."
"Yeah, okay, anything, just as long as I'm free to leave." Sam held his clothes in his lap as he gave the doctor his full attention. He felt Dean place a hand on his shoulder as he too waited to hear what the doctor had to say.
"Sam, you need to remember that your spleen will take a number of weeks to heal and it'll take time for your body to fully recover. During this period of healing it's critical that your abdominal area is not traumatized in any way." The doctor addressed both brothers.
"I'll make sure he gets plenty of rest." Dean spoke without hesitation.
The doctor looked at Dean. "I'm sure you will, but it's more than just making sure he rests." He spoke directly to Sam. "You'll need to adhere to strict activity restrictions including, no lifting, no running; basically, no strenuous activities of any type. I'll make sure a list of restricted activities is included with the discharge papers."
"Won't let him lift anything heavier than a pencil." Dean responded.
"Yeah, no problem." Sam only had to think about how exhausting it was to walk across the room to the bathroom to know that a ban on running wasn't going to be an issue.
"Well Sam, you take care. Any problems, any at all, don't hesitate to come back in." The doctor walked towards the door, stopping just outside to glance back at one of his favorite patients. Looking at Dean standing by his brother's side, he felt sure that Sam would have someone to make sure that he received more than satisfactory post-hospital care. He turned to walk down the corridor, but paused for a moment to listen to the banter that started up again.
"Hey Sam, think that list includes no sex?" Dean asked in mock seriousness.
"I don't know Dean." Sam replied, keeping his face blank.
"Suppose it depends on whether you plan on being strenuous or not." Dean tried to look deep in thought but a slight smile betrayed him.
"Whatever Dean. You planning on helping me here or what?" Sam swung his legs over the side of the bed. He wanted to get dressed and out of the hospital before the doctor changed his mind.
As the banter continued, the doctor walked away with a smile on his face.
Welcome sunlight greeted them as the walked out of the hospital's main doors. "Least the storm's gone." Sam looked up at the cloudless sky, more than happy just to be outside again.
Guilt washed over Dean in waves as he remembered the storm he'd sent Sam out in. Even though he knew Sam didn't blame him for the accident, it didn't matter, he had more than enough blame for himself. Pushing his feeling aside for the moment, he kept close to Sam's side as he slowly steered his brother towards the parked Impala.
As they neared the car, Sam came to a complete stop. "The damage, you didn't get it fixed."
Dean glanced at the car. "It can wait." He dismissed its importance.
Dean prodded Sam to keep moving towards the Impala, barely sparing the damage another glance. Unlocking the passenger side door, he helped ease Sam into the seat before gently closing the door. "One thing at a time," he murmured, moving towards the driver's side.
After a week confined to a bed, the short walk to the car had left Sam feeling a little shaky. A bit ironic really, he thought. He'd spent a week of wanting to get out of bed only to get out and want nothing more than to climb back in.
"We heading to Bobby's?" Sam asked; trying to calculate how many hours the drive would take. He didn't want to have to admit it to Dean, but he wasn't sure he was feeling up to any more than an hour or two in the car.
"Today; a motel. We'll head to Bobby's tomorrow after you've had a chance to rest up a bit." When he saw the look of relief on Sam's face, Dean knew he had made the right decision.
Sam was frustrated. The next day they didn't hit the road until mid morning. Everything seemed to take him twice as long, from showering and dressing, to eating the small breakfast Dean fetched for him. By the time he settled into the Impala he was already tired again, despite having spent days doing little more than sleeping.
A couple of hours later he came to the realisation that pain pills could only do so much, despite their strength. His cracked ribs let themselves be felt with every breath in and out. He'd tried to hold himself still to minimise the pain, but the rest of his body was starting to cramp up.
He stretched out his aching body, desperately seeking the extra leg room that just wasn't there. Even thoughhey'd only been driving for a couple of hours, it felt like days. He rubbed his aching side, kneading the tense muscles but being careful to avoid the row of still healing stitches nestled just below his rid cage. With a little luck, the sutures should be able to come out in a few days time. He knew the scar was healing nicely, the itchy skin was a sure sign that the wound was healing and he struggled not to itch or scratch at the bandaged site.
"Side bothering you?" Dean asked, observing Sam's actions out of the corner of his eye.
"Damn stitches are itchy." Sam hedged around the question.
"Well leave them alone or they'll take longer to heal." Dean glanced at his brother.
"I am." Sam grumbled.
"Sam, I can see you scratching from here." Dean contradicted the blatant lie.
Sam dropped his hand away from his injured side with an irritated sigh.
"How much longer?" He asked, wondering when Dean intended to stop for the day.
Dean took his eyes off the road for a moment to look at his brother more closely. "You okay?"
"Just tired…" He flexed his toes and shifted in his seat as he tried to find a more comfortable position inside the cramped confines of the Impala. He leaned back, closed his eyes and willed his body to relax. He could do this.
"I'll pull in at the next town."Dean scanned for a road sign, hoping there'd be a turn-off soon.
Sam didn't complain.
Sam opened his eyes but didn't move when Dean parked the car at the cheap motel fifteen minutes later. The place had the run-down air about it that was typical of the majority of places that they stayed in. At least this place made no pretensions about what it was providing though, just 'clean rooms – reasonable rates'. Clean would make a nice change, anything extra was a bonus.
Dean took off to the front desk, returning a couple of minutes later with the room key in hand. He slowly climbed out of the car, careful not to jar his still healing body. He was cautious as he placed weight on his legs, trying not to favour his uninjured side too much. A day in the car seemed to have only aggravated his injuries, and he now felt stiff and sore. With determination not to give in to the pain, he stood and flexed his body, trying to shake out the stiffness, biting back a grimace as he felt the pull of the stitches on his torn skin.
He followed his brother into the motel room, surprised that the place really did live up to its advertising. In contrast to the building's outside appearance, the room smelled fresh and the linen looked clean and crisp. He sunk down gratefully onto one of the beds and stretched his weary body. It had been a long few hours of driving, and the feeling of unconfined movement was a blessing.
Dean watched his brother's movements, picking up on the pain he was trying to hide. Not for the first time, he wondered whether they should have stayed at the motel near the hospital and allowed Sam to rest for a few more days before starting the drive to Bobby's.
The long scar near Sam's upper abdomen from the surgery following his run in with the car had required numerous stitches and the doctor's parting speech was imprinted on his memory. There was no way they'd be taking on a new job until Sam was completely back on his feet, despite Sam's assurances that he was already starting to feel better. No, Sam was just going to have to suck it up and rest until his body determined that he was one hundred percent fit again.
Before heading out this morning, he'd thought Sam was looking a little better, but maybe they'd spent too long driving today. His brother looked washed out and pale, exhaustion and pain obviously playing a part as Sam moved straight to the bed to lie down.
It took them a further two days to reach Bobby's, Dean not driving for more than a couple of hours each day. Sam wasn't sure whether to be frustrated or grateful.
After assuring Bobby that he wasn't knocking on death's door, Sam made his way to the couch, lying back into the dusty cushions, relishing the feeling of being able to stretch out a little.
Dean stood beside the couch and looked down at his brother. "Take off you shirt."
"What?" Sam groaned. Dean had been hovering around him for days and he'd been privately hoping that with Bobby to talk to, Dean would give him a little alone time.
"I wanna check your stitches." Dean hovered at the edge of the couch, ready to help Sam if needed.
"But I just…" Sam stuttered in frustration as he fought the urge to snap at his brother. He'd just settled down and really couldn't summon the energy to move again, regardless of what Dean wanted.
"Now Sam! Then you can take a shower and I'll see if Bobby will make us something to eat." Dean said, hoping to sweeten the deal.
Sam shimmied out of his shirt under the watchful eye of his brother. He lay back on the couch, his body tense and rigid as Dean crouched down before pulling aside the bandage adhered to Sam's side, revealing the bruised and swollen injury site.
"Man, you're gonna have a cool scar." Dean stated as his fingers probed the area around the sutures.
Sam flinched away from his brother's touch. "God Dean stop being a sadistic prick; that hurts."
"Stop being such a friggin' girl Sam, I'm barely touching it." Dean continued to run his fingers along the length of Sam's cracked ribs, making sure they hadn't sustained any further injury after the days travel.
"You done? Cause I'm sure I can find a sharp knife round here somewhere if you want to probe a little deeper." Sam clenched his teeth, his bruised flesh still tender to the touch.
"Suck it up and quit complaining." Dean carefully pulled away the complete bandage, starting to feel satisfied with how Sam was healing.
"It's fine Dean. Really. You can leave it alone now." Sam pushed Dean's hands away.
"Yeah, doc did a good job, doesn't look infected. I'll bandage it back up after you've showered." Dean stood up, offering his hand to help Sam.
"Can't friggin' wait." Sam muttered, grasping Dean's hand.
"You're a whiny little bitch when you're hurt Sam, I ever tell you that?" Dean asked.
"We'll see how you like it next time the tables are turned." Sam retorted as he stepped away from his brother.
"Yeah, I'd take it like a man, that's what I'd do." Dean replied without hesitation.
"Yeah, well this whiny little bitch is gonna take a shower." Sam headed towards the bathroom, realising that he'd get no peace until he'd done what Dean wanted.
"Don't you dare use all the hot water." Dean shouted at his retreating back.
"Wouldn't dream of it." Sam let the unseen smile spread across his face.
"Sam good?" Bobby asked as Dean joined him in the kitchen.
God, Dean needed to believe he was going to be. "Yeah."
"Now, 'bout that car of yours?" Bobby had been glad to have seen that most of the damage could be fixed with a little time and sweat.
Dean rubbed his temple with his fingers. "Christ Bobby, I came so close, too goddamn close, to losing everything."
Bobby laid a hand on Dean's shoulder. "Listen to me; that boy, you can't watch him every minute of the day. Surely he don't blame you for what happened, so don't you go blaming yourself."
Dean looked at Bobby. "You don't get it. I dropped the ball on this one Bobby and Sam paid the price."
"You Winchester's sure do like to carry a weight around on your shoulders. You don't let it go, one day that weight will bury you." Bobby gave Dean's shoulder a gentle squeeze.
Author's Note: I know I'm always promising sequels that I never seem to write, but I realize I left this story open for one. I've already got a few ideas, because somehow I don't think Sam could go more than a few weeks sticking to doctor's orders.
Reviews are love.