Hit Me With Your Best Shot
Summary: A much deserved night out bonding doesn't end the way the Winchester brothers planned. Set after WIAWSNB.
Part 2 of 2
Dean didn't know anything about restoring circulation and comminuted fractures but he did know that six hours was a long time to have someone under general anesthesia.
He paced and he'd pouted and he'd demanded but none of the staff seemed to know what was going on. Dean was on the verge of breaking into the surgical suite when a weary woman in scrubs made her way over to him.
"Mr. Winters? I'm Dr. Blue. I apologize for the wait but the surgery was complicated and we didn't want to rush. We were able to restore the circulation as well as clean up the fractures and insert some rods and pins to stabilize the bones. We can go into that in further detail at a later time. I suspect that you're eager to see your brother so if you'll come with me, I'll take you back to recovery," the doctor said, smiling for the first time since entering the room.
Dean felt like a deflated balloon. He should be elated but he'd done so much worrying and wasted untold energy on speculation that he was almost faint.
Sam was okay.
Or was he? As he walked into the room he took in the reclining fragile body, so pale even against the while sheets. Dean could see bruises forming on the left side of Sam's face and they were peeping out from under the gown on Sam's chest.
Dean kept his eyes averted from Sam's arm. It was enough to know he'd come through the surgery. He'd deal with the arm later.
He had been running on pure adrenaline for the last eight hours, ever since the hit-and-run, and found his energy seriously lagging. He stifled a yawn, and then another. He almost missed the slight sigh Sam emitted.
But Dean was still tuned into Sam's frequency and gazed at the pale face with rapt attention. His brother crinkled his brow before rolling his head toward Dean on the pillow.
"Sam?" Dean called out quietly. He was rewarded when two hazel eyes blinked open and stared at him blearily.
A nurse appeared at Sam's side and quickly took some vitals, scribbling on a clipboard. She went to a tray table and approached Dean with a cup in her hand. "These are ice chips. Let's start with these first. Then we'll move on to water," she explained, handing him a Styrofoam cup and a spoon.
When Dean turned his attention back to Sam, his brother was staring intently at him. Lines bracketed the sides of Sam's mouth, testament to the pain he was suffering.
Dean dipped the spoon into the cup and ladled some ice chips. He deposited them gently on Sam's full, lower lip. Sam sucked them greedily, relief evident in his eyes.
Sam shifted a little and gasped in pain, his right hand on course to clutch at his injured arm. Dean quickly intervened, clasping Sam's hand in his own. Closing his eyes, Sam swallowed audibly.
The nurse's scrubs made a swishing noise as she entered the room again. She added something to the IV line and immediately the frown on Sam's face began to fade.
Dean hadn't realized how on edge he was until Sam began to relax. He still couldn't make himself look at Sam's arm but he was grateful his brother was resting peacefully.
Stretching his legs out in front of him, Dean tried to relax. He knew his brother's recovery was going to take time so he needed to pace himself.
He tipped his head back and closed his eyes but he didn't relinquish his hold on Sam.
Dean couldn't get the picture of how relaxed and happy Sam had seemed while they were at the bar. He hadn't known this side of Sam, not since before Sam's teenage years, and Dean wondered if that was the Sam at Stanford, the one that Rebecca had so clearly loved and missed.
Sam had been released from recovery and was now settled in a private room on the orthopedic wing.
A different nurse, Marge, had taken charge of Sam and was now coaxing him into a sitting position.
Dean saw the tightness around his brother's eyes and decided it was time to intervene. "Look, can't you just let him rest for a while? He's clearly not up to this," Dean tried to reason with Marge, who he secretly thought of as "Marge, The Sarge."
"I know you don't want to see your brother in any discomfort but he needs to get up and move around now. He needs to clear his lungs after being under the anesthesia for so long. You're really not helping, dear. Why don't you step into the hall?" Marge suggested. She said it in a sweet voice but Dean understood the message – shut up or get out of the room.
Dean sighed and stepped back. The staff was doing a good job of controlling Sam's pain and it was amazing that he was awake and able to sit up at this point. He'd even smiled at Dean once or twice. Or tried to anyway--that was what Dean assumed those awkward grimaces in his direction were all about. But he held his body stiffly and his brain was still a little foggy. Dean intended to stay close in case Sam needed something.
Marge fluffed another pillow and deposited it behind Sam's back. She adjusted the immobilizer and other apparatus on Sam's arm so that he would be as comfortable as possible in his current state.
Dean saw Marge tenderly push a stray hair out of Sam's eyes before turning away and heading out the door. "I'll be back every fifteen minutes to check on you, but don't hesitate to activate the call light if you need something before then, okay?" she said, smiling sweetly at Sam before frowning at Dean.
Marge exited the door with one, final look of disapproval, leaving Dean to wonder what he had done wrong. Sam tended to bring out the maternal side in females whereas Dean received either stern warnings (ala Missouri) or come hither looks (hello, Missy).
Finally alone with his brother, Dean perched on the edge of Sam's bed, next to his right leg. He reached out and rested his hand on Sam's leg.
He couldn't help himself. He needed to maintain contact with his brother. He'd come really close to losing him and until that memory faded a little, he planned on sticking to Sam's side.
The Winchesters would never have a completely normal life but maybe they could have more like this evening. Before the Jetta had rammed into his brother. Dean wanted the chance to really get to know Sam again, not just the person he thought his brother was.
Sam shifted and sighed, calling Dean's mind back to the here and now. "Dean, I'm fine. You can stop worrying now," Sam said, quiet resolve in his voice.
Dean quit frowning and looked up at Sam. His brother's eyes weren't clear yet, but he was giving Dean a searching look. At least his color was better and his confusion seemed to be lifting.
"Sam, I'm your older brother, it's my job to worry," Dean replied, softening the statement with a smile. He wished he could tease and be playful, but his heart just wasn't in it.
He was beginning to believe that Sam would be okay, but he'd just about suffered heart failure when he'd seen the car clip Sam. He didn't want to smother Sam so he would try to chill out.
With every moment that Sam was upright and awake, Dean inched a little closer to the hard won serenity he'd found recently. There may have been many mysteries between them, but when push came to shove, they always knew that the other would be there--family feuds, time at college, djinns--they were there when it mattered...they could figure out the rest later.
Sam didn't know how long he'd been sitting up but he was starting to tire. A cough suddenly burst from his lips, taking both him and Dean by surprise.
"Sorry," he murmured, as Dean held a cup of water with a straw to his lips.
The cool water soothed his parched throat but the tickle lingered. Sam ignored the inconvenience and focused his attention back on Dean.
Dean had looked like crap when Sam had woken up and noticed his surroundings. His big brother worried too much about him. After all, it wasn't Dean's fault he'd stepped into the path of a speeding car.
Sam was doing his best to show Dean he was on the mend. It looked like his over protective brother could do with some rest and he knew Dean wouldn't leave his side until he was sure Sam was okay. He needed to redouble his efforts and prove to Dean he could take care of himself.
His thoughts were interrupted by a deep ache in his chest. The tickle had abated but in its place was a disturbing numbness.
Sam closed his eyes and inhaled deeply.
He couldn't draw in enough air.
He could feel his heart pounding, the pulse thumping in his temple, as he struggled in vain to pull oxygen into his lungs.
Sam could hear Dean's voice in the distance but was so caught up in the battle for air he couldn't respond. Eyes still closed, he threw his right hand blindly out and was relieved when he caught Dean's arm.
He reached upward, squeezing Dean's hand. His attempts to breath cancelled out all sounds in the room.
He was suffocating.
Dean was beginning to relax incrementally. Sam had told him to stop worrying, that he was fine and Sam didn't lie. Well, Sam did lie on occasion but at least he knows Sam well enough to know that his little brother wasn't lying about feeling better. The tension between Dean's shoulder blades began to ease.
Sam had even given him the look, the one where it seemed like his little brother was delving into his soul. It was such a Sammy thing to do that the fluttering in Dean's stomach had faded.
Once "Marge, The Sarge" made an appearance, Dean thought he'd mosey on down to the cafeteria for five minutes and grab some coffee and maybe a sandwich.
Sam coughed which made them both jump. Dean reached over and grabbed the ice water Marge had left on the tray table. He slid the straw between Sam's lips and watched his brother carefully while he took a sip. Sam gave him a look of gratitude as he pulled the straw away. And that solidified Dean's reasons for sticking to Sam's side – his brother needed him.
Dean took his eyes off of Sam for just a moment and glanced at his watch, certain that Marge would come gliding in any moment now. He wondered if Sam could maybe have a cup of coffee. He'd have to ask Marge.
When his eyes returned to Sam, his heart rate kicked into high gear. Something was wrong. Sam's eyes were closed and he seemed to be struggling for air.
"Sammy, can you hear me?" Dean called out, panic making his voice strident.
Sam flung his right hand out, connecting with Dean's arm, and he caught Sam's hand deftly in his own. Sam weakly squeezed his hand.
Sam's lips were parted, his nostrils flared, as he noisily inhaled.
Dean snatched up the call light with his other hand and depressed the button. Dean could barely think. Sam needed help. Now!
Marge entered the room, a smile on her lips, and asked, "What can I do for you, sweetie?" Her smile slid off of her face as she took in the scene before her.
Dean was standing at the head of the bed, his hands at Sam's back, supporting him as he gasped for air. "Something's wrong. He's not breathing right!" Dean snapped, panic clouding his brain.
Sliding back a step, Dean moved farther out of the way but didn't remove his arms from Sam's back as Marge assessed Sam's condition.
Marge took in Sam's cyanotic lips and shortness of breath and sprang into action. "Sam, honey, can you take a deep breath for me?" she asked in a patient, gentle voice.
Dean felt better with the nurse in the room but when Sam didn't comply with Marge's request to take a deep breath, he knew his brother was in bad shape.
Marge frowned before snagging the stethoscope out of her scrub pocket and sticking it under the front of Sam's gown. "Sam, I need you to take a deep breath!" Marge tried to reach Sam with a more commanding voice but the results were the same.
The nurse listened to the breath sounds and apparently not liking what she'd heard, Marge ran into the hallway. "Call a code! Respiratory distress!"
Dean was pushed firmly back away from Sam and instantly mourned the lack of contact with his brother. He heard a commotion in the hallway and realized it was the staff mobilizing to come to Sam's aid.
Marge didn't miss a beat as she put her fingers against Sam's good wrist and began timing his pulse. Next she inflated the blood pressure cuff left on Sam's right arm.
A cart and team of four people spilled into the room.
Marge let out the blood pressure cuff. She then reached out and touched Sam's forehead before turning away to give report to the newly arrived staff.
"He's dyspneac and cyanotic with tachycardia along with an elevated temperature and his blood pressure is dropping," Marge stated. "He's unable to clear the secretions himself."
Her demeanor was professional but Dean noticed a slight crack in her voice. It did nothing to allay his fears.
Marge slid out of the teams' way and gravitated toward Dean while the staff went to work. She skillfully herded him to the other side of the room where their presence would be less noticeable. Dean was no stranger to hospital theatrics and knew by all rights he should have been kicked out of the room. Not that he had any plans on leaving.
His scattered thinking switched tracks as a tall, gangly man wearing a white lab coat moved into position near the head of Sam's bed. "Postoperative atelectasis…we'll need to confirm with an x-ray but first let's clear his air passage. Let's shift him flat. Suction?"
Dean's view of Sam was obscured by the staff crowded into the room. He wanted to bodily remove the people blocking him from seeing Sam but knew they were there to help his brother. Someone gripped his arm and out of the corner of his eye Dean recognized Marge.
"You know we really shouldn't be here."
Dean ignored Marge. They'd have to call security if they wanted him to leave the room. And then they'd better bring their best because Dean had no intentions of leaving his little brother now.
"They think he has atelectasis, a sudden obstruction of the bronchus…they're trying to clear his airway," Marge said, her voice a notch above a whisper. She wasn't any more inclined to leave the room than Dean and he was grateful for her presence. The two of them might have tussled over what was best for his brother but he didn't doubt she had Sam's best interests at heart.
"O2 sats are bottoming out," a woman next to the man wielding a suction device stated.
"Damn, let's intubate him now. We need to see exactly what we're dealing with but this kid doesn't have time for us to figure it out now," the man barked in frustration.
Dean shifted to the side, dragging Marge with him, in an attempt to secure a view of his brother. Sam was flat on his back, mouth held open by the doctor who was inserting some sort of lighted device in his brother's mouth. Dean couldn't tell if Sam was conscious or not. His brother just lay there limply as the staff posed him this way and that.
"He's using a laryngoscope to see where to place the tracheal tube," Marge whispered. She was no longer holding Dean's arm in a death grip. Her whole attention was focused on Sam as was Dean's. "The tube's in…it looks good," Marge announced.
"Okay, we have a patent airway. Let's hook up the portable ventilator and get this kid to x-ray," the doctor announced.
One of the staff released the brakes on Sam's bed and he was wheeled out the door. Dean and Marge flattened themselves against the wall to make room.
Dean had a brief of glimpse of his brother, eyelashes resting against pale cheeks, a tube emerging obscenely from his mouth, wires and tubes connecting haphazardly to poles and machines, as the bed was shuffled out the door.
Feeling light headed, Dean leaned back against the wall. A soft voice and firm hand guided him to a chair, "Put your head down between your legs, honey. That's it. Take a deep breath," Marge encouraged.
The accident had been horrific, the damage to Sam's arm grotesque, but Dean had seen with his own eyes that Sam was rebounding after the surgery. He'd gotten his hopes up, believed that Sam would be okay, and now his brother needed the help of a machine to breathe.
Sam had convinced him that not giving in to the djinn had been the right thing to do. Suddenly he wasn't so sure. In Dean's dream, Sam had been alive and happy with Jess. And safe. Dean had made the decision to come back to his Sam and now he wasn't even sure if Sam would be okay. He never had the chance to make it right with dream Sam and now Dean worried he'd lose the opportunity to get to know his Sam again.
Sam heard a swish and a thump that corresponded to the pain exploding in his chest.
Dean! He had to tell Dean not to give up. His brother was angry after the death of their father but Sam had to find a way to reach him.
Sam fought the rhythm of his breathing. He needed to get up and find Dean. His brother had a wild gleam in his eye lately and Sam didn't want him to do something stupid. Like throw his life away just to spite the last actions of John Winchester.
He thrashed against the bindings holding him still. A machine was wailing in distress next to him but couldn't force his eyes open.
Hands held him down and then his resistance melted away. He knew that feeling. He'd been drugged.
Dean had been left cooling his heels down by the nurse's station. The staff looked at him with pity as they swished to and from the counter and he wanted to rail at them. Winchesters didn't need their pity.
No, Winchesters needed to be out there, doing what they do best – fighting evil. Instead the two remaining Winchesters were stuck inside this hospital, one brother fighting for his life as the other fought to hold on to his sanity.
He couldn't go on without his brother. It was as simple as that.
Finally Dean was summoned to the ICU. He tried to prepare himself for what he'd find but reality was worse than his imagination.
Sam was still wired up to all sorts of machines, the most imposing being the ventilator forcing air into and then out of Sam's body.
"We were able to clear the mucous out of Sam's lungs. He's been fighting against the ventilator so he's heavily sedated. Unfortunately he's exhausted himself in the process. As soon as he's built up some strength, we'll be able to wean him off of it. Do you have any questions?" the doctor asked Dean. The same doctor who had intubated Sam ten hours ago.
Dean was at the end of his endurance. He wanted to know if Sam would be okay. If he'd still have the use of his left arm. If he'd stay with Dean. But he couldn't give voice to his questions and merely shook his head no.
Staff floated in and out of the cubicle but Dean didn't pay them any attention. He settled down on Sam's right side, what he thought of as his good side, and watched Sam twitch and flinch.
The doctor had said Sam was heavily sedated so Dean wasn't expecting Sam to wake up.
One moment Sam's eyes were rapidly jumping behind his closed lids, and the next they had snapped open and were staring in blind panic at Dean.
Mindful of the IV snaking out of the back of his hand, Dean grasped it gently between his own.
"Sam. It's okay. You had a little set back but it's going to be okay," Dean said, stroking Sam's hand in time to the ventilator.
Sam's eyes were cloudy and confused. He moved his head infinitesimally before his lashes dropped back onto ashen cheeks.
Dean was stunned by the depth of Sam's anxiety. Defeat was radiating in waves from his little brother.
"Sam, listen to me. You have to relax. You're wearing yourself out," Dean pleaded, desperate to get through to his sibling.
How could he get to know the adult version of his brother if Sam quit fighting? Sam had managed to pull Dean back from the brink when the djinn had smashed his resolve. Dean needed to find a way to return the favor.
Sam continued to buck and jerk and Dean couldn't watch anymore. "Sam! Simmer down!" Dean said, imitating John Winchester's brusque military cadence.
His brother's eyes fluttered open and he looked at Dean, really looked at him. Dean smoothed the damp hair back from Sam's forehead, the gesture at odds with his harsh directive.
Sam sunk deeper into his pillow, his eyes open just a skosh, and lightly returned pressure with his right hand.
Dean lowered his head for a moment, resting it on Sam's bed. He couldn't take more much of this roller coaster ride.
Sam was sick. So bad off he could die. And Dean was helpless to save him. He knew his little brother wouldn't give up on him but the longer he sat there, the more he worried.
His little brother couldn't die. Not now. Not ever. There was still so much Dean didn't know about his brother. Sure, he knew the basics, but there was still so much of Sam that was a mystery. Like how his brother kept his optimism in the face of all of the bizarre shit they faced. He was wandering into that touchy-feely territory now. Sam would get a kick out of that. He wanted Sam to wake up. To just…breathe.
It felt like something, or someone, was sitting on his chest.
Sam summoned the energy to crack his eyes open. There, on his right. Dean.
At least his brother wasn't sitting on him.
No, Dean was sitting right next to him and even with his blurry vision, Sam could see that his brother wasn't doing well. Head tipped back as snores emerged softly from his mouth, stubble on his face, bags under his eyes…Dean looked as though he'd gone on a bender.
And really, that's how Sam felt, too. His head ached, his mouth was dry, his stomach iffy. But Sam knew he hadn't been drinking. Well he had, but that was before he'd been hit by the car.
He remembered sitting up in his hospital bed, trying to convince Dean that he was feeling better, that his brother could quit worrying.
And then Sam couldn't catch his breath.
So much for not worrying his brother.
Dean didn't need to be worrying about him. Not now. His brother needed to take care of himself.
Actually Sam wanted to take care of his brother. Just this once. The djinn had messed with his brother's head, made him doubt himself.
But Sam couldn't even talk. Didn't even have the energy to pick up his head.
He listened to the equipment beeping softly as he felt pressure on his chest.
A ventilator. Hell, he couldn't even breathe for himself. How could he take care of Dean if he couldn't breathe?
Dean was cautiously optimistic that Sam was on the mend this time. He'd been successfully weaned off of the ventilator and the nurses were talking about moving him back to the orthopedic wing.
But Dean had been down this road before and was afraid to get his hopes up too high.
Sam was currently propped up on pillows, his damaged arm resting on some sort of shelf, and he could barely hold his eyes open. When his eyes did manage to stay open, his brother was spacey and lethargic which didn't inspire confidence.
Dean kept up a steady flow of conversation but so far he hadn't elicited a response out of his brother. He tended to focus his attention on Sam's eyes because his little brother looked like hell. He'd lost weight he could ill afford to lose and his skin hung on him.
He wanted nothing more than to grab Sammy up and run for the hills. In fact, as soon as Sam was discharged from ICU, Dean thought he just might try it. He could take better care of his brother than these strangers.
He was shaken out of his reverie when Sam whispered his name. "Dean, you can't give up,"
Sam's voice was husky from disuse and the tube that had resided in his throat for too long. But he sounded lucid.
Dean stood up and perched on Sam's bed.
Maybe Sam's eyes were a little clearer.
And his color was better.
"I wasn't planning on it," Dean responded.
It was a lie. When Sam had been on the ventilator, Dean had found himself wishing for the djinn's alternate world. A place where Sam was healthy and safe.
But Sam was made of sterner stuff and wasn't going to allow Dean to slide back into depression.
His little brother massaged his left shoulder gingerly. It was the first spontaneous movement Sam had made in a day and Dean found himself pleased at the turn of events.
"Do you think we could get out of here soon?" Sam asked, his voice plaintive.
Dean wanted nothing more than to comply with Sam's request but he didn't want a repeat performance of Sam's stunning respiratory crash. After all, his duty as Sam's older brother was to protect him.
"Soon," Dean agreed. He didn't want to crush the small spark in Sam. And as much as he wanted to spirit his baby brother away and take care of him, he thought Sam could use a few days of Marge therapy.
"Hey, did you get my jacket?" Sam asked. He was far more lucid than Dean had given him credit for.
Dean hadn't given a single thought to the beige jacket which was Sam's constant companion. "Um, actually, no. I've been a bit busy," Dean replied.
Sam look crushed. "Dude, that's my lucky jacket," Sam pouted.
"Lucky jacket?! That jacket nearly cost you your life," Dean responded, mystified by his little brother. Maybe Sam wasn't quite as with it as he thought.
A slow smile spread across Sam's face, a dimple winking for a moment. "I'm still alive, so yeah, it's lucky to me," Sam answered.
Dean did a double take before laughter burst from his lips. It felt good to laugh. He knew it was from relief, but it felt good nonetheless.
He may never completely understand his little brother, but Dean knew Sam loved him. His little brother had stood by him patiently while he'd grieved the death of John Winchester. He wouldn't let Dean lose hope when the djinn had made him doubt reality. And Sam had kept him on the right path in between those two events, even when he felt like throwing in the towel.
Now it was Dean's chance to return the favor. Sam's arm would need daily exercise and it would be painful. Dean would make sure that he took care of the arm as well as the rest of his body. Both brothers tended to push themselves but Sam seemed more fragile, more vulnerable. Dean would make sure he slowed down and would nurse him back to health. He couldn't lose Sam. Not now that they were back together, fighting evil.
They were more than a hunting team…they were brothers. And brothers looked after each other.
But it was more than that. Maybe he could take this time to get to know his brother better. Not Sammy, the chubby kid who was Dean's constant shadow. Not dour Sam, the teenager who had tried to out stubborn and out argue John Winchester. But the Sam who had spent four years away from his family and then weathered untold amounts of grief while still maintaining there was good in the world. That it was all worth it.
Someone who spent a night off in a bar, keeping his older brother company. Tapping his foot to music while getting buzzed. Smiling at strangers. Smiling at Dean.
That was who Dean wanted to spend some time with. Not just a hunting partner. Not just a brother. But his friend.
A/N: Much thanks to the incomparable Faye Dartmouth. I think I wrote this as a distraction when she was in the midst of moving into a new house. Now she's got other, more important things going on in her life and I thought this might be a good time to drag this one out again. A celebration of sorts. Of course I begged her to do the beta. So much for the story being a "free" gift.
Also thanks to the ultra creative Gidgetgal9 who gave the fic a final once over and helped with title and summary duties.
I wouldn't get anything written without the help of these two very talented ladies.
Thanks for reading!