For my little Sam Greek chorus
K Hanna Korossy
Hospitals made for good shopping. Well, when Sam wasn't leaking half the blood in his body and groaning in pain or unconscious, anyway. Dean even appreciated the occasional visit to stock up. Hitting the average pharmacy was fine for bandages and antiseptic, but the heavy-duty pain meds or antibiotics? Dean grinned, tongue tucked between his teeth, as the lock clicked open on the medicine cabinet. Score!
Footsteps approached. With a muttered curse, Dean quickly pushed the door almost shut and spun away, back to his dozing brother's side. The picture of innocence as the doctor pushed the curtain aside and strode in.
"Uh." Dean's hand strayed to the back of his head. "He's kinda sacked out right now." He glanced pointedly at Sam, who looked like a six-foot-four version of his five-year-old self, curled on his side, bangs in his face, mouth slightly ajar. His hand, the reason they were there, was tucked close to his chest. All that was missing was his thumb in his mouth.
The doctor's bland blue eyes barely paused on Sam, then moved on to Dean. "And you are…?"
Assessing him and finding him wanting, and Dean would've bristled if not for the fact that this was Sammy's doctor and not a good person to rile. "His brother."
"So, you're familiar with his medical history then?"
Dean grinned. "I was responsible for most of his medical history."
Doc stared at him, unamused.
Dean's joke died a quick, painful death, and he squirmed a little. "Yeah, I know his history. Why?"
"I was wondering if you could tell me about this." The doctor glided past him, sending Dean bobbing back in his wake, toward a panel set up on the wall. X-ray viewer; Dean had seen them before, most recently within the last month when he'd first brought Sam in to get his hand fixed up. Before his brother had decided to use his cast as a battering ram. All right, so it had only been through a car window, and it did end up saving a girl's life, but it had still managed to mess something up again. Sam would be hearing about this one.
The doc absently shoved the medicine cabinet's ajar door shut as he passed it, and Dean winced. So much for free meds this trip. Then quickly put on his yeah, I'm totally not bored face as the doctor snapped the viewing light on and stuck up an X-ray on it. And, well, it was Sam's, so that by default did interest Dean. He stepped closer, peering at the image.
"This here." The doctor's finger traced a path on the X-ray.
Dean looked even closer. "Uh, his hand?"
The doctor gave an annoyed sigh, and if Dean didn't hate the guy already, he did now. Probably the kind who got his kicks patronizing anyone who didn't look like they'd gone to medical school. Dean would've liked to have introduced him to a ghost, see how high-and-mighty he felt then, but fantasies could wait. The doc was talking again. "This old break here, in the metacarpal. Do you know when this happened and how?"
Okay, so now that the guy mentioned it, Dean could sort of see it. There was a thin line that was a little brighter white than the rest of the bone. Dean studied it, brows drawing together. A break in Sam's hand? "How old are we talking about, like in the last five years?" Sam had mentioned a sprained ankle and a bloody nose at Stanford, but nothing about a broken hand.
"Has he broken a lot of bones?" the doctor asked dryly.
You have no idea… "No, I mean, he was at school for three years. I don't know—" It took one glance back at the man's face for Dean to stop explaining. The sarcastic tone had just registered, as had the smug look. The jerk was enjoying Dean's bewilderment. His jaw set. "Why?"
A white eyebrow arched. "There's some calcification there, as if the bone wasn't set properly. And my guess is it was further back than five years." Condescension had changed to mild suspicion, as if he half expected Dean to be responsible for the break, bad jokes aside.
The emotion bled out of Dean's face. "You an orthopedist?"
The blue eyes tightened fractionally. "I'm the ER supervisor."
"I wanna speak to your ortho guy," Dean said with flat politeness, then smiled just as sincerely. "Please."
The doc glared at him a moment, but Dean knew his patient rights as well his legal ones, and he glared right back. Finally, the doc left with a huff.
He'd probably forget to call in the specialist for a couple of hours, and Dean would go find a nurse in a minute to remedy that. At least Sam was still deeply under the effects of whatever they'd given him to relax. Forgetting all about his plans for the medicine cabinet, Dean pressed two fingers under his brother's jaw to check his pulse, then absently carded his hand up through the tousled hair, resting it on the crown of Sam's head while leaning closer to the X-ray. There was the white line, all right.
"You been keeping secrets again from me, Sammy?" he murmured.
Sam slept on, oblivious.
It was actually days later before Dean really felt like he got his brother back, Sam loopy and distracted by the meds in the interval. They'd managed to complete a case despite that, more by necessity and dumb luck than any desire on their part to get back on the road. But they'd rescued Jo, saved another girl who was also about to become maggot-fodder in the sewers of Philadelphia, and trapped a homicidal ghost that wouldn't be taking new victims anytime soon. Sam had even played a part, although he'd been practically sleepwalking through the whole thing, much to Dean's sympathy and amusement.
But he was finally weaned off the hard stuff and no longer looked at Dean like he was speaking another language, nor walked as if it took real effort not to faceplant on the sidewalk. Still looked tired all the time and didn't eat enough and had a tendency to zone out on weird tangents, but that was pretty much business as usual.
Which meant he was fair game for an ambush. Or, as Sam called it, talking.
"Hey." A nudge accompanied the neutral word, breaking Sam's attention from the pair of black labs they were watching run through the park. The diner was only two blocks from their motel, not worth the gas or effort to drive, and the early spring air was pleasant. The way Sam was always drawn to dogs, Dean wondered sometimes if his brother would've had one if he had a home. Which was another reason to divert his attention.
Clear hazel eyes turned curiously back toward him. "Yeah?"
"So, uh." And this wasn't as easy as he'd expected it to be somehow. Dean cleared his throat, and that tiny line appeared between Sam's eyes. Great, now he was on his guard. Well, Dean had always been best at straightforward. "How'd you break your hand at school?" He forced a smile he didn't really feel. "I mean, tell me it was, like, doing something crazy with Jessica, or getting drunk at some party." Dean flinched. "It better not be something like you were trying to lift a small-country-sized book in the library."
The groove in Sam's brow deepened. "I didn't break my hand at school." He shook his head, looking puzzled. "Just sprained my ankle—you know that."
"Yeah, well, the doctor said you had an old break there, and I'm pretty sure I would've remembered you getting that when we were together, so…"
"So you think I, what, went hunting at school without you and got hurt and didn't tell you?" Sam's voice teetered between annoyed and amused. "Dude, I hate to burst your bubble, but the most dangerous thing I did at Stanford was play soccer on the mall, which was how I sprained my ankle. A busted hand—a busted right hand—would've been hell at school—I think I'd remember…"
Dean's eyes darted to his face as Sam trailed off. Just in time to realize that his brother had, in fact, just remembered.
Which eased the injury inside him a little. Clearly this wasn't some big drama Sam had left out on purpose; maybe it had some stupid explanation they'd both laugh over. Dean waited expectantly.
But Sam had fallen silent, hands dug deep into his pockets, eyes on the sidewalk now.
"Yeah, and…," Dean prompted. "You remember…"
"I didn't break my hand at school," Sam repeated stubbornly.
Disappointment clamored through Dean. Sam kept pushing him to talk, but break into one of his precious secrets and suddenly the rules changed. Dean had kinda thought they were past this. He'd hoped Sam was past this.
He tried hard not to think of his own secret, courtesy of Dad.
"So, you wanna explain how your hand got broken sometime between now and when you were born?"
"It didn't break at school, and it didn't break before, right? I mean, like you said, you would've remembered, right? So I guess the doctor was wrong."
Dean's mouth turned down. "I saw it, too, genius. Little white line going right through your metal-carpool."
Sam's face twitched. "You mean 'metacarpal'?"
"Dude, how do you even know these things?"
Sam shook his head, humor bleeding out of his eyes as they strayed back to the ground, shoulders a little hunched. Drop it spelled out loud and clear.
Dean never had been good at spelling. "So, that's it? You're not gonna tell me? I mean, it's not like I ever have to haul your bleeding ass into the hospital and reel off your medical history or anything, right?" And that was totally resentment in his voice, not hurt feelings, because that would just be incredibly lame.
Sam flinched. "Dean…"
Dean cursed, anger loose and prowling now. The little hypocrite, always so sure Dean wouldn't understand, when he understood more than he'd ever wanted to. He swung around with a growl to trap Sam against a backwall of honeysuckle bushes. "Who're you trying to protect, Sam, huh? Why don't you think about—"
He froze, mouth still open.
Sam's face flushed red, but his eyes were full of misery, not anger. "You, all right? I'm trying to protect you."
"From…?" Dean cleared his throat. "What're you talking about? Protect me from what?"
Sam's eyes cut back and forth, then seemed to find what he was looking for as he stomped forward and dropped onto the edge of the curb. The street was a small one, bare of early afternoon traffic, and the scent of honeysuckle was strong in the air. It was as private as they were going to get out there.
Sam's chest was rising and falling quickly, like it was hard to breathe. Dean settled slowly, hesitantly next to him, but he left a minimum of space between their knees and hips. Not crowding; supporting. And from the way Sam sagged, denim brushing denim, he got it. Dean hooked his arms over his knees, hands clasped, and waited.
"You were at Pastor Jim's," Sam began softly.
Which narrowed it down a lot already. Sam had usually been with him when they were at Jim's. All except… Dean straightened. Except the time he'd been recovering from serious surgery, a ruptured spleen and liver and a badly dislocated elbow from a creature that could have easily swept the Olympics in weightlifting, and had chosen to use its strength instead to slam Dean to the ground. Violently. He hadn't even remembered anything after that until he woke up at Jim's three days later.
And Sam had gone off with Dad on another hunt…
"We went to Oklahoma," Sam seemed to read his mind, which Dean was half-convinced he could do. "Dad was hunting what turned out to be a Shunka Warak'in that was taking toddlers and babies. I'd just turned fifteen, so I guess he thought it was time I got my feet wet."
They'd been raised like warriors, but Sam hadn't actually hunted all that much until his mid-teens. And even then, John had been careful to pair him with Dean, to make sure he was support, not lead, and protected. Always protected. Dean had assumed—no, he'd expected—Dad to take that role with Sam when Dean wasn't there.
Sam shrugged. "There was a fight, and the thing grabbed my jeans leg and tried to drag me off. Dad shot it and killed it, but not before I landed on my hand, hard. It just went…numb."
Dean sat in silence, gaze heavy on the asphalt in front of him, trying not to think where this was going, or to imagine Sam nearly getting dragged off by an overgrown wolf while Dean was laid up halfway across the country.
Sam took a breath. "I told Dad I thought something was wrong with it and he looked at it, but it wasn't that swollen and I could move it even though it hurt, so he just told me to ice it and it would be fine."
Dean winced into himself. How could you, Dad? He'd been asking himself that question for the last two-plus months, and now it echoed in his head. I counted on you—you said we had to look after him. How could you? Out loud, he just asked gruffly, "Did you know?"
"That it was broken?" Sam huffed. "I wasn't sure, but yeah, I guessed. It was hard to write for weeks. But next time I tried to mention it, Dad told me to quit complaining, and…eventually it got better."
The bone did, anyway. Dean's chest hurt. He couldn't remember any of this, and that somehow seemed a betrayal, too, even if he knew he'd been pretty distracted with his own injuries at the time. The one thing he'd always thought he'd gotten right, the one thing he could be proud of, was Sam. If he'd messed up that responsibility, too… "Why didn't you tell me?" he asked, choking on the words.
There was a lengthy pause. Sam's long legs pulled up until his heels pressed against the curb, like he was protecting himself. "I knew you were tired of me complaining about Dad, us butting heads. Guess I figured…" His voice fell to a whisper. "I didn't think you'd believe me."
He couldn't sit there anymore. Dean shot to his feet and started walking.
"Dean—" Sam called after him, sounding worried and small.
"Just…gimme an hour," Dean croaked half over one shoulder, and kept going. Almost running. Thoughts bouncing around his head with every step.
He's just trying to protect us, Sam.
Good little soldier.
I know his history.
…as if the bone didn't set properly.
Didn't think you'd believe me.
He brushed wetness from his eyes and kept walking.
It was more like two hours before Dean finally found himself in front of their motel door again, hand rubbing against his jeans leg, lip chewed ragged. He finally shook his head and reached for the knob before he could chicken out.
Sam was sitting on the bed nearer to the door, Dean's bed, head sunk down between his shoulder blades and hands intertwined despite his half-cast, as if he'd been praying. His head shot up at Dean's entrance, his eyes as red and tired as Dean's felt, but relief leaped into them at the sight of his brother. Dean's guilt pressed a little harder.
He stopped just inside the closed door, gaze trailing over the room. Which was neat enough to make him wonder if Sam hadn't gotten out a ruler to square off the laptop on the table, their duffels by the dresser, their shaving kits just visible side-by-side in the bathroom. Dean exploded messily when he was stressed. Sam tended to go a little OCD.
Sam cleared his throat, drawing Dean's attention back. "So…"
"So," Dean conceded. Then sighed. "I'm not a girl, Sam."
Sam's face screwed up. "O…kay, I'm glad we cleared that up, but—"
"I don't need to be protected," Dean finished impatiently.
Sam's expression shifted, that same understanding look he'd been wearing since Dad died. "You're still my brother, Dean."
"Your older brother. And that means—"
"What?" Sam shot to his feet. "That I should just let you take care of me and never return the favor? Huh? Even after everything—"
"—means that," Dean calmly continued, "you should've told me about your hand, Sammy."
Sam stared at him.
Dean stared back, defiant. "I would've believed you."
Sam blinked. Then he deflated, looking momentarily like a teenager again, unsure and struggling to find his way. "I know that now," he said quietly.
Dean nodded, feeling some of the knots in his stomach loosen. He tiredly pulled his jacket off.
"I just…" Sam faltered into silence. "I didn't want to put this on you right now, dude. I know things have been…" Unbearable. Dean heard him swallow. "And it's not like it matters anymore, right?"
He does what he does for a reason.
How could you, Dad?
He squinted up at Sam, seeing the man his brother had become, broad shoulders unbent under the weight that threatened to crush Dean, the compassion, not condescension, in his eyes. Dean opened his mouth to say it didn't—hey, it was ten years of old news, after all—but…he couldn't lie.
He didn't need to. Sam's expression softened with regret. "I'm sorry."
Dean's mouth ticked up a little. "Yeah. Me, too."
A few silent beats passed. Sam looked down, shifting his weight from one foot to the other.
And Dean found an honest truth inside himself. "Hey." He smiled a little when Sam looked up. "You ever try to keep something like this from me again, Sam, and I swear to God…" He trailed off, shaking his head, leaving the threat hanging.
The corner of Sam's mouth jumped gamely, relief in his eyes. "You'll what? Break my other hand?"
"Not that it takes that much—dude, a Warak'in? They're just, like, overgrown coyotes. And a zombie girl? I thought I taught you—" Dean suddenly heard himself and clamped his mouth shut.
Sam's gaze was warm with wryness now. Can't take that one back, dude.
Shut up. Dad hadn't been perfect, but he'd been Dad. He'd been the real parent, not Dean. And his being gone was still terrible.
And Sam was still standing there, not going anywhere.
"I need some beer," Dean announced, and shrugged his jacket back on, turning and opening the door.
"I'll join you." Fingers gripped the edge of the wood just above his, curling past the white cast on his hand. Broken but strong.
Maybe Dean was a little bit of a girl, too.
He made a face at his brother. "Only one for you—you just got off your meds."
And neither of them even winced.