Disclaimer & Warnings - As Part One.
A/N: A huge thank you to everyone for all the wonderful reviews, I really hope I've managed to reply to all of you in person and if not then I just want you to know that I truly am extremely grateful for the feedback.
A/N2: Mammoth thanks (see, you've got a mammoth this time guys!) to Adarachan-67 and TammiTam - I really couldn't have got this done without your combined awesomeness, your patience and support.
The Glass Casket - Part Two
Dean and John carry Sam inside the motel room. Sharing the weight of the tall muscular body between them, they lay him gently down on the soft mattress of his own neatly made bed. They quickly check his pulse and his breathing, both of which seem fine, strong and healthy, except for the fact that Sam isn't waking up.
Dean cajoles, prods and pinches—maybe he feels a little shitty about the pinching but he's growing desperate because Sam doesn't respond, not once. Not even to tell Dean to shove off when Dean whispers into his ear that if he doesn't wake up then he is going to draw a moustache on Sam's face with a Sharpie. Heck, if Sam doesn't open his eyes right this second, he is seriously considering drawing a giant dick on his brother's forehead, too. But Sam can't be listening because he doesn't give Dean his customary dimpled grin or open his eyes and Dean doesn't draw a moustache...or anything else for that matter.
John is unjustly angry with Dean at first, firing furious questions at his eldest, who succeeds in keeping his own temper only by biting down hard on the inside of his cheek and—as he is sitting sentry on the edge of Sam's bed—by keeping one hand resting on his brother's arm. The simple contact is enough to remind him why he needs to keep a level head. Bawling at his dad for having fought with Sam and letting him run off in the first place isn't going to help his brother. And that's what really matters to Dean, helping Sam.
John doesn't wait around to see if Sam will snap out of it. He rummages through the weapons bag and stalks out into the night, carrying a loaded .45 and rough directions to the old woman's isolated house.
By the time three hours have passed and John hasn't returned to the motel or even called, Dean's anxiety is skyrocketing to epic proportions. Surely his dad would have found the old witch by now and if two hundred pounds of storming John Winchester can't convince her to lift the curse then Sam's pretty much screwed.
It's early morning and the sky is shaded with vivid stokes of pink when Dean finally relents to the increasingly pressing urge to empty his bladder. He doesn't want to leave Sam alone, not even for a second, because what if Sam wakes up and Dean isn't there? What if something else happens as part of the damn curse? What if Sam stops breathing? Christ!
Sam is laid on his back with a couple of thick blankets pulled tight across his long frame, his arms laying loose and limp on either side of his body. Dean leans over Sam and puts a hand on his brother's forehead. There's no sign of any fever, but it's a relief that brings Dean little comfort. "Sammy...please wake up."
Dean takes Sam's hand—it's warm, thank God, not cold—and squeezes it. He squeezes hard and then even harder until the knuckles of his own hands turn stark white. He watches Sam's face for any sign of pain reaction, anything at all, but when nothing happens he releases his steel grip and carefully places Sam's hand so that it's resting on his brother's chest.
Sam's features are loose and smooth, peaceful in a way Dean hasn't seen since they were little kids, since before Sam knew the truth about their dad. Dean had badly wanted to see that carefree look back on Sam's face again...but not like this.
"Sammy, I'm going to the bathroom. Okay?" It feels strange speaking to Sam when he knows he won't get an answer, but Dean can't stop himself and wonders if he's even doing it more for his own benefit than Sam's.
Dean didn't get the chance to properly talk things through with his dad. When Sam collapsed their usual calm methodical manner of planning their hunt went out the window. This isn't an ordinary case; this is Sam, their Sam.
The lack of facts, of any kind, means that Dean doesn't even know for certain if Sam is asleep, oblivious to his surroundings. He could be conscious, fully aware but trapped inside his paralyzed body...or trapped in nightmares. Dean quickly begins to realize that if Sam doesn't wake up soon he's going to go crazy thinking about it.
He pulls the blankets higher up Sam's chest before walking into the bathroom, making sure to leave the door open just in case one of the many 'what ifs' tries to creep up on his brother in the short time it takes Dean to piss.
Dean is just zipping up when he hears the motel room door open. He makes a grab for the small .22 his Dad keeps hidden behind the bathroom sink and peers out from behind the door.
There a freakin' maid wheeling a trolley, which clinks with various glass bottles and cleaning equipment as she struggles with it over the doorframe and into the room. She freezes and her mouth drops open as she spots Sam laid out on the bed, "Oh, sir, so sorry to disturb you. I didn't..."
Dean pushes the .22 into the waistband of his jeans and steps out from his hiding place. "It's fine. My brother's sick. He's sleeping...can you come back another time?" Like fucking never.
The young woman is attractive and has a pretty decent rack too—not that Dean notices. Well, of course he notices, but it's an afterthought, a dispassionate addendum, and he has no intention of flirting, current circumstances considered. "I have fresh towels for you." Her voice is accented thick Spanish and more than a little sexy.
"Another time," Dean repeats, no longer even trying to mask his frustration as he shows her the door. As he 'helpfully' shoves her trolley out of the room, he sees the Impala pull into the parking lot.
John looks rough. He's been out all night and as far as Dean can tell, he hasn't had any sleep at all. His face is dirty, dotted with tiny scratches and he's unshaven. His eyes are dark, bruised with shadows and bone-aching weariness.
"Dad? Did you find her?" The underlying question being, did you kill her?
John side-steps Dean and moves into the motel room, he walks over to stand by Sam's bed.
"Dad? Did you?" Dean presses the issue, feeling panic bubble in his chest.
John looks up only when the heat of Dean's gaze burning a hole in his back becomes unbearable. "No," he mumbles, his voice coarse grit like he's been shouting...or screaming. Dean doesn't want to try to guess which. "I found her house, exactly where you told me it would be. But she wasn't there. I saw her in those woods at the back of her place. I tried to follow but I couldn't catch her. Each time I thought I was getting closer, she was further away from me than ever and I was just getting myself deeper into the woods." John stops talking, worries his bottom lip with his teeth and looks at Dean, his face already set in bitter acceptance.
"I don't know how she got past me, Dean. We've been here four months and I had no clue there was a witch living here, in this town. I found her altar in the basement; she was working some dark arts alright." John leans further over the bed and studies Sam's face attentively.
"No change, he hasn't woken up," Dean says, not needing to hear the question when he can already guess what John is thinking. The panic in Dean's chest has settled into the pit of his stomach like a lead weight.
John doesn't speak; instead he continues to stare at Sam. For the first time in a long time he really looks at his son and shit, when did Sam grow up? It doesn't seem that long ago that Sam would hold out his arms, grasping fingers reaching for John's neck, demanding to be held. But since Sam turned thirteen, John hasn't seen much of Sam's face for the curtains of brown hair which his son loves to hide behind. He hadn't noticed that Sam was changing all this while, from being all chubby-arms-and-legs toddler to gangling awkward youth to lean-framed and broad-shouldered man. Maybe somewhere deep inside he simply hadn't wanted to. The soft innocent features of his Sammy have all but faded, leaving a stranger in their wake. All at once, it's overwhelming and John feels his legs go rubbery.
John sighs heavily as he lowers himself into a chair. "Then I'll call everyone I know and we'll fix Sam ourselves."
Dean nods. That sounds like a plan. A crappy, hopeless, clutching-at-straws plan. He digs his fingernails into his palms in an effort to keep himself from crying.
Losing Sammy wouldn't just mean losing the youngest member of their small family. Dean is of no doubt that losing Sammy would destroy his dad and him too.
As Dean watches the soft light of a new day flicker across Sam's lax features, he wonders. If they are the good guys, the heroes, then who is going to come and save them?
Over the next two days, John sticks to his plan and makes calls to everyone he knows. He has to swallow his pride on more than one occasion when he makes contact with hunters he didn't part with on the best of terms (and that applies to the majority of the hunters on John's cell phone) but for his sons, there is nobody he wouldn't eat humble pie for.
Dean isn't surprised when it turns out that Bobby Singer is the one friend of his dad who comes through with the best offers of help.
Dean remembers Bobby from when he and Sam were kids. He remembers spending hours exploring the Singer Salvage Yard with a snot-nose rug rat Sammy in tow while they waited for their dad to finish with whatever it was he and 'Uncle' Bobby did when they got together.
The salvage yard was their playground for the length of their visit, the car graveyard that Dean grew to love. He'd wander around admiring the different cars, undaunted by the fact that most of the vehicles were well beyond repair and little more than scrap metal.
Dean would pick out a favorite—sometimes the burnt-out shell of a Firebird, sometimes a Mustang with its engine eaten away with rust—and take up position in the driver's seat with Sammy in the passenger seat beside him. Sam's short podgy legs would be swinging happily as he made enthusiastic car noises and repeatedly reached across Dean's chest to honk the horn.
Bobby is older than their dad, equally gruff and as hard as nails but more easygoing than John, especially once the brothers figured out that they could wheedle their way into Bobby's heart and get his tough exterior to crack.
Bobby prefers researching to being out in the field; it's not that Bobby is a coward—because Dean had heard plenty of stories from his dad about the hunts Bobby had carried out—but simply because Bobby likes solving puzzles, digging out information in places nobody but he could find it and he's damn good at it too.
Hunting can be messy; there are the usual freaked-out citizens to placate and lies to weave and Bobby feels more comfortable with his books. Anyone who isn't a hunter, anyone who is blind to the truth, makes him edgy.
When John finishes speaking to Bobby on the phone, he ends the call with his spirit feeling lighter than it has in days and with a promise that Bobby will get to Hollandale as soon as possible.
Bobby, true to his word, arrives around lunchtime that same day. When he walks through the motel room door he's carrying a bag of food under his arm; Bobby is shrewd enough to know how little importance both of the older Winchester men would put on eating with Sam in danger.
John looks genuinely pleased to see Bobby and whatever bad feeling might have existed between the two seasoned hunters is quickly shoved under the carpet when they exchange a firm handshake and Bobby hurls the bag of Chinese take-out in Dean's direction.
Dean can barely stomach the smell of the sticky BBQ ribs congealing in the tub in front of him, especially when Sam has been surviving on a few messy mouthfuls of protein shake and the saline IV bags which Dad commandeered.
While John eats, albeit begrudgingly, Bobby sorts through his kit and watches Dean carefully. He's not sure how this is going to pan out and it's not going to be easy asking Dean to relinquish his hold of Sam's hand. Underneath his stubble, Dean is already growing pale from lack of sleep, like his brother; he has clearly lost a little weight. But Dean's fingers remain firmly coiled around Sam's hand, carefully; to avoid catching against the IV port which is surrounded with yellow bruising.
Dean is too preoccupied talking to Sam to notice Bobby's gaze. "Hey, Sammy, do you remember when we went to Pennsylvania hunting a werewolf pack? I think you were maybe nine or ten. Dad had pulled the car over at some gas station for a pit stop. It was so cold, real brass-monkey weather, and you were jogging up and down at the side of the road, trying to keep warm. I said that when you run, you look like a transvestite running away from the cops on Hollywood Boulevard. Just as you threw a humongous snowball, Dad got out the car and you hit him instead. Oh, man, he was so mad, but we couldn't take him seriously because he had all this snow caught in his eyebrows and he cracked up laughing...eventually...after he'd chased us halfway to Ohio."
Bobby stands up, wiping sweaty hands on his jeans—it's now or never—and walks over to stand over Dean. "Dean, I need you and your Dad to leave the room. Just while I complete the ritual."
"What the hell for? No way."
"Dean!" John's voice is hard and firm, "Bobby needs to concentrate and..." If this doesn't work it'd be easier on you if you weren't here to see it.
Bobby sees the desperation on Dean's face and things maybe the kid is right; maybe it is best if he stays by his brother's side. If things don't work out, Dean should have the right to be here. "John. It's okay. Dean can stay, you can both stay. Just try not to get in the way."
The ritual requires blood. Dean grunts at that little eye-opener, but don't they always? It's not hard to believe, considering all Winchester debts seem to be paid in blood...or fire. But Bobby has come prepared; he has a quart of pig's blood, syrupy thick and gross-looking, sloshing around in an old diet soda bottle. Some of the blood is used to draw symbols on the floor, on the bare concrete where they have rolled back the carpet. Bobby uses the rest to draw tiny symbols on Sam's chest.
When the symbols are complete and the room is dimly lit by several strategically-placed candles, John tenderly lifts Sam out of his bed and lays him inside the circle of symbols Bobby has created.
As Bobby starts to perform the ritual Dean lets his eyes wander, first to Bobby, then to his dad. Both of their faces look drawn tight in the flickering candlelight. Bobby's forehead is furrowed in concentration. The ritual isn't a drawn-out affair. Bobby recites the rite word-perfect, and as the ritual comes to an end and silence pervades the room, the eyes of the three men focus on Sam. He is motionless, his pliant limbs laid out in exactly the same position Bobby had put them.
Sam doesn't open his eyes.
John stands up and, in a fit of angry despondency, storms out of the motel room. Dean looks at Bobby, his own desperation beginning to suffocate him. "You tried, Bobby. At least you tried." Dean shrugs and tries not to grimace as he hears the familiar sound of the Impala's engine as his dad drives away.
Bobby helps him get Sam back into bed. Dean re-inserts the IV and goes to make up some more protein shake. He uses one hand to carefully pull Sam's chin down so that Sam's mouth falls open and the other hand to tip the glass towards his brother's lips. Some of the chalky pink liquid spills down the side of Sam's cheek and Dean hastily mops it away with the cuff of his sleeve. "I'm sorry, son," Bobby mutters, his eyes earnestly fixated with the carpet.
"Damn, Bobby, this isn't your fault." It's mine, it's dad's, it's ours. Not yours.
Bobby shuffles his feet, feeling awkward, as though he's intruding somehow. "I'm going to head on home. See if I can't dig out something else we could try. Be sure to tell your daddy to call me…when he gets back."
Dean feels a hand squeeze his shoulder. He hears the motel room door open and then close softly as Bobby leaves the room. Dean seats himself on the chair, which has been permanently situated by Sam's bedside since that first fateful night, and watches the rise and fall of his brother's chest.
He wishes they had taken Sam to a hospital so that he could at least hear the steady beeps of machines reassuring him that Sam is alive. When his brother's chest stills, even for the briefest split-second, Dean feels his own breathing stop as he waits, watches, and only when Sam's chest starts moving again is Dean able to swallow down the bile stinging at the back of his throat.
Unable to fight the pull of sleep any longer, Dean dozes for a short time and it's the sound of his cell phone buzzing on the nightstand that wakes him. He spares a glance at the caller display before punching a button and resting the phone between his ear and shoulder. "She's left town. I've burned her altar, her books, her house. The fire damn near burned down the entire street...is Sammy awake?" John's voice sounds different, broken. Dean's broken hero.
Dean glances over and puts out a hand to shake Sam's shoulder lightly, irrepressible hope clawing at his chest. "No. He's not awake," Dean chokes out. "Dad?"
"There are no clues as to where she's gone, son. No way to track her, I—I don't know."
Dean lets the phone slip from between his fingers. It clatters noisily onto the floor and Dean is grateful for the sound. The motel room is too quiet, the air stagnant. He wants to shout, to scream until the windows blow out, but instead he forces his voice into a whisper. "We'll find her, Sammy."
A sudden spark of light in the room catches Dean's eye and he twists his neck to see a small white orb hovering over by the dresser. The orb flickers crazily for a moment and then, without warning, it vanishes and in its place is the witch.
She scuttles across the room to where Sam lies on the bed. A skeletal-thin hand appears from beneath her tattered robes and begins to caress Sam's hair with almost motherly affection. Dean's emotions rapidly shift from stunned to outraged. He's pulling out his gun even before his brain can process the instruction. "Get away from him, bitch. Why are you here? You weren't happy with fucking up my brother's life so you thought you'd stop by to catch the floor show?"
"I came to give him back."
"Seems like others have big plans for him and they were...let's just say, they were very persuasive."
Dean notices both her wrists are marked with matching rings of purple bruising. Her words are far from comforting but if she's telling the truth about giving Sam back he can't, won't, pull the trigger. If she's messing with him, with Sam, she won't live long enough to regret it.
Her hand rests on Sam's forehead. "He's very weak, but he'll live." She gives Dean a gap-toothed grin and murmurs something. Dean doesn't hear what she says but he watches, slack-jawed, as Sam's head rolls on his pillow.
The old woman instantly forgotten, Dean hurries over to Sam and crouches down on his haunches. "Sam? Come on. Come on back, Sammy." So engrossed is Dean in watching his brother's struggling efforts to rouse that he doesn't notice the old witch slip soundlessly out of the room.
"D—Dean." Forget friggin' choirs of angels; this is better than AC/DC live, better than Louise Marshall making that cute chipmunk noise when they had sex in Dean's senior year, better than anything Dean's ever heard before.
Heavy-lidded, cloudy hazel eyes meet Dean's gaze and Sam's dry, cracked lips part in a smile. Dean, speechless for once, leans down and wraps his brother in a tight hug.
"Dean. You look like you're about to keel over. Get some rest. I'll still be here when you wake up." Not long after waking Sam's eyelids had started to droop again. He's frail, bound to be exhausted, and yet Dean can't deny the way his heart jackhammers in his chest the second Sam's eyes start to drift closed.
"You'd better be, bitch, or I'm keeping my promise about drawing a dick." Dean's mouth twitches as Sam's face scrunches in a baffled expression and his eyebrows shoot up to greet his hairline.
Sam watches silently as Dean settles himself on the other bed, wriggling around until he gets himself comfortable. It isn't long before Dean's breathing relaxes into the steady rhythm of sleep and Sam doesn't take long to follow.
When Sam wakes up he's somewhat surprised to find his nose is squashed against Dean's shoulder. His lifts his head to see his brother stretched out asleep beside him. Dean's hand has Sam's wrist enclosed in a slack grip, fingertips lightly resting against the pulse point there. Sam makes a quick metal note for future teasing purposes, curls himself closer to his brother and settles back into sleep.
It's a few hours later when John finally arrives back at the motel, his clothes reeking with the smell of smoke and his mouth tasting sour from the dirt-cheap whisky he has been drinking. As he pushes the door open the first thing he sees is Sam sitting up in bed—his back propped against several pillows—staring back at him. John does a double-take at the sight, almost tempted to go back outside to the car and sleep off the effects of the booze.
Dean is in the small kitchenette, fixing a huge plateful of sandwiches; his cheery expression is quickly replaced with a guilty one when he notices John standing in the doorway. "I was just gonna call you, Dad. I wanted to get Sam something to eat first; if he gets any skinner we could hang fairy lights and baubles off of him at Christmas time."
"Hey. I'm right here," Sam croaks from the bed, trying to sound insulted but failing.
"Like we hadn't noticed." Dean grins at his dad as he nods his head in Sam's direction. "He never shuts up."
John stumbles over and sits on the edge of Sam's bed, unable to take his eyes off of his youngest. "You're okay?"
"I'm fine. Funnily enough I'm kinda tired, but I'm fine, honest."
"I would never have forgiven myself if…."
"I'm not a child anymore. It was stupid of me to run off like that. It's my fault, not Dean's and not yours."
John pats Sam's leg awkwardly, if this Sam's way of forgiving him, he'll take it. "Son, I've been thinking. If you want to keep taking your class—"
"Dad, it's okay. I got myself kidnapped by a witch and almost ended up with my picture on the side of a milk carton. I think I need the training."
A little later they sit on Sam's bed, sharing the sandwiches, Sam scowling every time Dean brushes crumbs off of his lap onto the sheets.
"The witch...she just, what? Changed her mind?" John asks, licking peanut butter off of his fingers in a way which reminds Sam where Dean got the trait from.
"Guess she realized she hadn't chosen the handsomest Winchester in all the land to play Snow White," Dean says around a mouthful of food, spraying Sam with spittle and a half-masticated soggy piece of bread.
"I don't know, she probably thought you were too busy playing all seven of the dwarves," Sam snorts.
"Oh, hardy har har. Make fun of the height thing while you can, gigantor. Once you're back on your feet I'll owe you an ass whooping in training."
Sam laughs and then his face grows stern, serious. "So, we're really letting her go?"
John raises an eyebrow, "What do you think I train you boys for?" He winks and claps a hand on each of his sons' shoulders. "We've got work to do."
Author's end note: In the next week or so I'm going to start working on another companion piece to 'While You Were Sleeping.' This time focusing on Sam and the poison ivy, as requested by the wonderfully talented kokoda2007.
If my writer's block is feeling particularly forgiving then hopefully it'll be posted soon.