Title:As He Breaks
Summary:Sam ran to Dean and screamed for help, screamed and cried right from the deepest parts of him, as if those who could hear could fix everything of his brother, body and soul. Tag to the irresistible 4.16.
First off, lots of thanks to all who read and especially all who reviewed Steps Behind. I truly appreciate that you went along with me on that one... it was hard to write but as always, you fired me up and it somehow reached "The End," haha :)
I previewed several fics-in-progress in my standard author's Afterword of that story, but man... I saw On the Head of a Pin and was so bowled over I could not help but write about it. So all projects have been at a standstill since, and I figured I might as well just get this out of my system and then move on to my planned projects Open, Shut and Heaven and Earth :)
Anyway, I hope this fic turns out to be worth temporarily setting the other projects aside for. More than anything though, I hope it's worthy of the mind-blowing episode it tags to. Let me know what you think if you can; c&c's are always welcome, and encouraging! :)
Without further ado, As He Breaks.
As He Breaks
There was a time in Sam's life when he would walk into a room and the first thing he would see was his older brother.
Dean Winchester prided himself with being smooth, discreet, but he was far more helplessly noticeable than he himself probably knew. Some people had this... this light that had a room almost freezing, just arrested by their very entrance. Dean was not like that. He had far more character than blinding white; he was shadows, facets and planes and contours. He was far more engaging than arresting, less of a spectacle and more of a mystery. A room did not stand still whenever he entered, it came alive. It wasn't light, what he had. It was a black hole, sucking in the energy of the room, making things move faster around it. Kinetic.
Even unconscious, there was something very captivating about Dean. Maybe because the stillness was such a contrast to his usual self. Or maybe that was just Sam being the starry-eyed kid brother, attention always helplessly ensnared by the older one.
Anywhere they were, Sam would spot Dean right off the bat – awake or not – and just blindly come running toward him. Sam had gone into basements, ignoring rawhead dangers he just somehow assumed were probably already taken care of, and run in blind toward the sight of his brother's unconscious form. He'd gone into warehouses, not thinking of anything about the job or djinns-at-large, the world converging around the sight of his older brother strung up by the wrists. He'd turned his back on a demonic adversary in Cold Oak upon the realization that his brother had found him, and then summarily got himself killed.
These hunter's memories were just a slice of the time in Sam's life when Dean was in a room and he paid attention to absolutely nothing else but his older brother. When he was a little kid, it was Dean picking him up from school, standing a head taller than everyone else. Or at graduation in a theater-full of people, his older brother watching him with that slick little grin, like he knew damn well Sam's achievements had a lot to do with him. Dean was the face in a sea of faces. Even in quiet nights in the motel rooms that passed for their transient homes, it felt different whenever Dean was awake, even if he wasn't really doing anything.
It was the thing that was most changed about his brother since he came back from Hell. Gone was that absorbing presence.
Acid-trip personality had turned into dull, tarnished, damaged black and white. His eyes were clouded, distant and weary, his face drawn, his shoulders slumped in constant, unrelenting burden. Swagger had turned to trudging, humor was an ill-fitting mask, and the guise of strength was a parody of its old version, the ill-thought-of b-movie sequel to the classic great.
And so it was that it was Dean on the ground in that dank warehouse who had captured Sam's attention last. Demon first, then angel and then Dean. If there was anyone else in that damn room aside from those three, Sam might have spotted them before he spotted Dean.
He had stormed in there initially intending a rescue/intervention. Sam had instead, promptly dispatched the demon first, looked triumphantly at an injured angel second, and then finally, finally, turned to his unconscious, dying brother lying on the ground last.
He always used to see Dean first, before anything else in a room. Always. Even at the threat of danger and death, it had always been Dean in a room first... but times have changed, apparently, painfully. Dean had changed, become faded, less noticeable. Sam had changed too, became blinded by his anger and fear, became less attentive. One faded, the other blind, and so they both maximized the distance that now spanned between them.
"Dean!" he exclaimed, skidding to his knees next to his brother's unmoving form. Dean was lying on his side on the floor, where the most intricate devil's trap Sam had ever seen in his life was scrawled, and, he noted quickly, damaged. He assessed the situation even as he berated himself for paying attention to anything other than his brother.
Dean looked severely beaten, his face a mess of blood and swelling and discoloration. Sam pressed fingers to his brother's throat and felt a sickening sort of give to the skin, like something was broken inside. He gulped and swallowed down cold, deep panic, finding marginal relief in the thready pulse beneath the hotly swollen, bruised flesh.
"Dean," he said, urgently, hand against his brother's cold, cold cheek, "Dean, hey."
He gently lifted his brother's eyelids and noted a concussion from the irregular pupils, and the far more fearful, tiny splotches of red on the whites of his brother's eyes, and around his eyelids.
The story rapidly unfolding in Sam's mind was becoming darker and darker and darker. The desire to throttle Alistair for what he had done to Dean was overpowering, rage hot and invigorating as it coursed through veins, even as he grounded himself with Dean and now and help and anger and madness later. There would be time for vengeance later. Dean would die if he waited any longer.
Sam pressed a hand against Dean's chest and felt the brutally constrained rise and fall of it, just dead air going nowhere. He leaned against his brother's face, felt rattling, profoundly inadequate air brush from his brother's mouth against his ear like strength-less, meaningless whispers.
Sam's eyes whirred around the room. Could he call an ambulance to a torture chamber with a body in the corner? The answer was decidedly no. Could he get Dean to a hospital himself? He looked down at his crumpled brother, at his bruised, swollen, and - Sam knew - collapsing throat, and the answer was an even more resounding no!
Still, he leaned against Dean's ear and promised, "I'm here, Dean. If you can hear me, I'm right here, I got you, man. I got you, I'll take care of this, and you're gonna be fine."
Because what was one more bold-faced lie?
He's been living one and liberally showering his older brother with them. What was one more, especially if this was the most important?
"You're gonna be fine," Sam resolved, rising up darkly from his crouch and stalking for the still-stunned, bloodied Castiel.
"Heal him," Sam demanded, "He's dying, Castiel. Heal him."
The angel had a heavy, bewildered look settling a film over his normally-sharp eyes. The clueless-ness was enraging Sam all the more. Think about your faith and your god and my sins later, you bastard. Take care of my brother first...
"Castiel," Sam said darkly, picking up the angel by the collar of that immortal trench coat and lifting him partway off his feet, "Heal h--"
And with the sound of flapping wings and a cool brush of air, Sam suddenly found himself standing on the rotunda of a hospital emergency room, clenched hands angel-free, his brother lying on the ground a step away, unmoved and exactly as Sam had found him.
He ran for Dean and screamed for help, screamed and cried right from the deepest parts of him, as if those who could hear could fix everything of Dean, body and soul.
The world had never been this noisy, and yet Heaven had never been so silent.
In his unseen form, Castiel watched as Sam Winchester screamed as if tomorrow would not come without it, all his strength and aggression and anger and pain shaking the air, the sound trembling in the atmosphere, attempting to shake the numb world. There was a pause after his scream and he gathered his breath, tears leaking from his eyes in fear and frustration.
He looked like a lost child.
Was this the man Dean could see, whenever he looked at his brother? Little orphan, as if Dean wasn't one himself. As if Sam didn't tower above them all, as if Sam did not have the power to change the fate of the world. As if he hadn't just killed a demon with his mind, as if he hadn't just looked at Castiel in naked defiance, daring him to say it's wrong, aching for an argument, taunting...
"Goddamnitt," Sam sobbed as his hands flailed, not knowing where to go, not wanting to cause his brother more harm. His limbs looked over-long, now. Over-long and useless, shaking and uncertain, as if he hadn't just raised them in complete control and command, clenching his fists in uncompromising, unchallenged power against a demon of the highest order.
Sam gathered another breath to scream, halted when white-clad figures came rushing from the double doors of the hospital emergency room, bearing clattering equipment, feet pounding toward the brothers on the ground. They pried Sam from Dean and converged around the injured man, their words clipped and precise, the syllables alien and quick, like snapping fingers.
Sam was swaying on his feet, a hand pressed to his mouth. He was shaking and deathly afraid as he stared at his brother's too-still form and the strangers' hands working on his body, efficient, adroit, but undeniably cold hands. Memories of days as dark as this, of his brother lying as still as this, streaked across Sam's despairing gaze. This was not their first time here, would not be their last.
Helplessly, Castiel looked up to the quiet night heavens and closed his eyes.
What should I do, he asked, What should I do?
Sam was crying softly, almost absently. The doctors were talking, the machines were whirring, and somewhere in the distance, Castiel could hear the dull sounds of cars and traffic. But Dean stayed still and quiet, and heaven did too.
What should I do...?
Castiel did not know if he was supposed to step in, and if so, to what extent. He was as frozen by indecision now as he had been, watching Sam kill Alistair. It was hard to know these things, lately. Hard to know anything of anything, lately.
"What the hell happened to this kid," one of the orderlies muttered, and Castiel opened his eyes to look at them again because it was like a kick in the stomach. Hell happened to Dean, and though he did not look it, Heaven did too. Talk about a man getting crushed.
They secured Dean's head and bruised neck and all else that was broken in there. They placed a mask over his mouth in an attempt to move air in him, but the ways have shut, and nothing was going anywhere. A few eyes have strayed Sam's oblivious way, as if they had written off any possibility that the crying man would be spared more grief, as if they had already decided Dean would die.
Castiel detested these looks with a fiery passion.
The feeling filled him with fear – fear that he should feel so strongly – and also, strangely enough, relief and resolve. As if suddenly, the decisions were easier.
Heaven was silent, but Castiel's heart was not, and this same heart was given him by his Father. Making a quick decision, he raised up his hand, and imagined the breath of life, gentle, like a mother's kiss awakening a child, hiss past the tightness of Dean Winchester's throat. Just enough, just enough to help him fight. Just enough to help him fight, give him time, and give Castiel too, the time to decide how much of a hand he should have in all of this.
"I hear breath sounds," someone said, bewildered, "We have to intubate, but there's definitely something..."
"Let's get him inside," someone else said, and Dean was lifted to a gurney and carried into the building. They moved like a precise little parade, white insects in clean, crisp movements bearing away their prize.
Sam followed numbly, his large strides eating up the road so much that the quick half-jogs of the men and women trying to keep his brother alive was but a purposeful walk to him.
Castiel, still unseen, trailed after Sam. When the medical personnel blocked Sam's way into the innermost sanctums of this place - the areas that housed the fiercer battles of life and death – the younger Winchester looked both crushed and enraged. Sam vacillated between standing down and letting the people do their jobs, and his desire to either call his brother back from near-death or simply be next to him should the final curtain call of Dean Winchester be this day.
Sam let hope and logic win. He stayed back, looking forlorn as his brother was taken away. Castiel stood beside him for a long, thoughtful moment.
I will watch him where you cannot, Castiel found himself promising with a decisive nod, stepping away from Sam and forward into the doors where Dean had been taken.
They got to him in the nick of time.
It always scared Sam, that thin line between making it and not making it, all based on chance. If he'd gone for a rest stop on the way to the warehouse, Dean would be dead. If he had asked Alistair one more question, or indulged in hurting him for one more second. If he hadn't demanded Castiel to help them when he did...
The litany of injuries and how close he had come to losing his brother again made his knees weak. Just when he thought he was finally strong enough to fight the apocalypse, this had to happen. It was humbling, how he could take on the world and still be brought to his knees by his love for his brother, who was all that he had left, even if, he realized now, he forgot that sometimes.
The beating had been bad, and Sam imagined all the strength of a vindictive demon suddenly set free like Alastair, pounding into his brother's head again, and again, and again. He'd been on the vindictive end of that sick dance before, fists against defenseless face, over and over, and nothing but his brother's weakening hands pawing at him, clutching at his sleeve, wordlessly begging for reprieve.
The resulting concussion was severe, and already-disrupted brain functions had gone haywire at the oxygen deprivation from the strangulation. The force of the hold against Dean's neck obscured respiration for the dangerously lengthy duration of the hold, and well afterwards when swelling and congestion virtually shut down his airways even after he had been set free.
He had stopped breathing, they said, and so Sam felt dizzied and airless too. Dean's heart, impossibly strained (if they only knew) had stopped too, and so Sam's also felt stunned and still. It was by pure miracle, they said (if they only knew there was no such thing), that they got both things going again and even then, there was no promise of survival or, in survival, complete recovery.
They intubated Dean to help him breathe, the battle for freeing his airways still at a dangerous toss-up. They took him away for an eternity of hours, stabilizing him and then whisking him away for tests and scans, checking damages to his neck, checking the placement of the tubes, and god, even checking his head because the doctors were afraid the concussion and the oxygen deprivation had knocked something loose in there.
When the doctor told Sam that they won't 'know his true condition until he wakes up,' he prayed for the first time in a long, long time, that the man wouldn't follow it up with 'If he wakes up' because Sam could have sworn, fists would have been swinging and teeth flying in that goddamn room--
The doctor did not say it.
He saved himself further aggravation when he led Sam into Dean's room.
His brother was more or less propped up to a sitting position to help him breathe. There was that saying, about someone looking like a puppet with the strings cut? He looked like that, all loose, useless limbs and a slumped posture. And his strings weren't just cut. He looked so battered that someone must have murdered the puppet-master too, 'cos the puppet was never coming alive again. He looked like a wreck; he looked vandalized, things just shoved into him. There was that detested tube running into his mouth, looking intrusive because it was kept in position by a cloth that wound around his face, and his teeth were lightly clamped over it, keeping his mouth open in a kind of lazy, unnatural snarl. There were the lines on his arms, the leads on his head.
Sam sighed as if he could sigh away his troubles.
"Dean," he murmured, and for the first time in a long time, the world narrowed to nothing but Dean. No demons, no vengeance, no rage, no fear, no brokenness, no apocalypse. Just his brother. Just him and his brother in here.
He sank to a sick-green seat by his brothers bed, heavily. It felt too far, so he dragged it forward. He sat back for a second before deciding it still felt like he was too far and so he dragged it forward, toward Dean some more. And then once more over, and once more after that. Even when his knees were already pressing painfully against the side of the bed, and his hand was warm against his brother's icy, still forearm, it still felt too far.
It will always be too far, until Dean wakes up and settles those eyes on Sam.
Castiel kept his unseen form as he stood by the door to Dean's room.
He wasn't certain why... there was something gnawing at his insides, something that burned. There was shame, which made the idea of facing Sam after what had happened to Dean on Castiel's watch while doing the work of God, unbearable. There was guilt, that he had been unable to do more to prevent Alistair's abuse. There was confusion, because he did not know what to say to apologize, or to make amends, or what. to. do. now.
And so he stood there, watching one brother unconscious and the other standing watch, because he suspected the answer lay in that room, somehow.
The past was a merciless ghost, and the helpless thought skirted in Sam's weary mind, hours into settling on the seat next to Dean's bed.
Dean is weak, his mind teased, as if he was giving the thought a shot. This is precisely what he was talking about, right? Dean's weakness? And now here they were, halfway to death again, weren't they? He was right, when he said Dean was weak.
He tried to kill the thought, guiltily. And not very successfully.
He's not weak, Sam amended and searched for a better term, came up with a semantic solution, He's just weaker than he used to be.
"That's fair, isn't it?" he murmured at his brother, "'Sides, man. You came from hell. You can't expect to be the same."
Although Sam did, for a time, expect his brother to come out swinging, didn't he? There was that kid brother's delusion again, that Dean can make everything right, including Sam's failures. Dean can make everything right. But he couldn't, he didn't, and Sam felt a very human disappointment in that, a disappointment that found voice in resentment.
"But you're not weak," Sam said, softly, "You've made love with an angel, danced with reapers and you're a bat outta hell, big brother. You're a fricking rockstar, aren't you, Dean? So you'll be okay. You'll be okay..."
You have to be okay.
'Cos you're strong.
Weaker, but still strong.
Weaker than me, Sam thought, But still strong.
Power was a dangerously transformative thing, and Sam could again feel it churning hungrily inside his body. Pounding, ferocious life-blood... almost absently, he toyed with the idea of forcing Dean awake.
Can I will you awake?
He stared at his brother's face, and gulped nervously when he felt Dean's eyes tremble by the force of his power.
Dean's eyes opened, but stared back at him, mockingly empty.
Sam caught himself, took a deep, shaky breath. He let his brother go, and the eyes slid shut. Manipulating Dean felt wrong. And dirty. Sam wasn't sure if it was because it was ineffective, or if it was because Dean was vulnerable and weaker and it was just plain unfair.
When he called Dean weak under the spell of a siren a couple of weeks back, it hadn't been the first time, he remembered suddenly. Over ten years ago, Dean had gotten badly hurt on a hunt, had them laid up in an okay-town for rehab on his back on one of the Winchester's longer stretches of semi-normalcy...
"Heya there Sammy," the cheery afternoon nurse at the eighth floor greeted him, when he walked up to the desk. He felt his face flush a little.
"It's Sam," he mumbled, not looking directly at her. Dean had teased him the night before that Andie was the only one who never got the surly, precocious kid's correction, and that was because she was tall and blond and Sammy was just getting rid of his girls-are-icky stage.
"Yeah?" she said, light eyes crinkling, "You grow up overnight or something? You never used to mind before."
"Um," he said, changing the subject quickly, "How's Dean today?"
Her eyes softened, "Not so good, sweetie. But I'm sure he'll be happy to see you."
Sam frowned, "He was okay yesterday."
"The doctors decided to begin weaning him off the heavy drugs today," she told him softly, moving around the desk to stand beside him, "From here on out, there are going to be good days and there are going to be bad ones, and he just has to ride 'em out."
"You couldn't give him anything at all?"
"Nothing like the stuff he used to have," she said, "The doctors don't want him to become dependent on the heavy medication, Sammy. We have to be cautious about things like that."
Sam glanced in the direction of his older brother's room, "Isn't it too soon?"
She pursed her lips, and shrugged, "Your brother's tough."
"He's not superman," Sam pointed out, "How bad is it?"
"We couldn't even get him up and around for therapy today," she replied, "So now he's not only hurting he's also bored, and you know how your brother gets when he's bored."
Hell yeah, Sam thought with a sigh.
She suddenly brightened, saying, "But he'll be much better now that you're here."
He looked up at her skeptically. Man, she was tall. Her eyes were shining, and her wavy blond hair was gold like nothing else in the world. She smelled delightfully like soap and water. He wanted to believe her because she was so earnest and sure, and she looked like an angel (and like mom, from the pictures...); but even at the tender age of twelve, he found her optimism uncharacteristic of the human race and inappropriate for survival.
"Yeah..." he said, noncommittally. He scowled when she patted his head. He's not that short, damn it, and he wanted her to marry him, not treat him like a lost kid.
"Where's your dad?" she asked, craning her head to look around.
"Somewhere around here," he lied breezily, ducking away from her hand. He didn't know where his father was. He just came from school and hitched a ride to the hospital from one of those impressionable, well-meaning parents who bought the standard set of lies about relatives in hospitals.
"Thanks for the head's up," he said, hoisting his school bag up more securely along his shoulder, making ready to get the hell away from her.
"Oh, hey Sammy?" she called out.
He turned back toward her miserably. Were blonds a little bit slow on the uptake? Even his older brother could never grasp that it was Sam now.
"I think your clothes are on backwards," she said.
"It's um," he said flippantly, "It's something I'm doing for school."
"Okay," she said, again with that blinding smile. He ducked away from the glare of the sun of that, and then scurried away to his brother's room.
" " "
His older brother's face was turned toward the windows with his eyes closed, and he did not acknowledge Sam's entrance at all, but the last few weeks of being cooped up in this miserable situation had Sam seeing this same scene again and again, enough so that he could easily tell that Dean was actually wide-awake. His heavy breathing was practically contrived in an effort to relax, and the white-knuckled grip on the blankets over his chest were clear indications that he was in pain.
Sam put down his battered, army-issue hand-me-down rucksack on the floor by one of the two stiff-backed seats in the private room, giving his older brother the time to put himself together.
"Hey, Sammy," finally came the quiet mutter, dry lips barely moving. Dean opened his eyes, but moved nothing else.
"Hey Dean," Sam greeted, dragging his seat to his brother's line of vision. He knew this mode; this was Dean after finding the position that hurt the least, and he was determined to stay still and milk it for all it was worth.
"Your clothes are on backwards," Dean commented, brows rising, and the simple movement had him wincing, and closing his eyes back up again.
"I told you yesterday," Sam said, "It's 'Opposite Day' today. You forgot?"
Dean clenched his eyes shut tight, then blinked them open, "I remember, I'm sorry. You look like a doofus. It's distracting."
Sam smiled wanly, "You have your clothes on backwards."
"I do?" Dean asked, mildly bothered, "Shit. The nurse who helped change my clothes has some issues 'cos her daughter--"
"No," Sam corrected, not needing to hear the rest of the story about Dean and some woman's daughter because it was almost always the same sordid tale, "It's 'Opposite Day.' My clothes are on the right way, you have your clothes on backwards."
Dean's eyes narrowed to slits. "Stop screwing with my head, injured here. And you still look like an idiot."
"Thanks, Dean," Sam said, brightly, pretending to be obtuse.
"I hate you."
"I hate you too!" Sam said, enthusiastically, meaning 'I love you' instead. Funny, how much easier it was to say the opposite of things.
"Sam, stop it."
"They said it's supposed to improve my vocabulary," Sam explained quickly, "If you think of antonyms and consciously pick your words. Frankly, I think it's juvenile. But our teacher's pissed at the quality of the work she's been seeing lately, so she said she'll treat us like a bunch of kids 'til we're better. Anyway, deal with it and help me out, will you? I'm supposed to stick with it for the rest of the day and write a journal."
"Homework," Dean scowled, "Ick. Now I have a few choice vocabulary words for that--"
"You have homework too," Sam said, cutting him off, "I got it from that girl."
"You'd have to elaborate on that," Dean said with a smirk.
"Chelsea," Sam said, "The one with the glasses. The one who follows you around. And don't make faces, Dean. She was nice enough to help me out."
"I've been out of school more than in, lately," Dean said, wistfully, "I don't think I even wanna bother with homework. I think this year's a lost cause for me."
Sam didn't bother to dispute that because he was thinking the same thing and his older brother was no fool. He just pursed his lips, and decided to be annoyed with his father for their lifestyle instead.
"I've never not-made it before," Dean said, looking disarmed and sad, "I always made it somehow."
"Well you have nothing to be ashamed of," Sam said, "Your grades are good, Dean. God knows how... it's just... if we weren't hunting and if you didn't get so badly hurt..."
"Are we gonna get into this now?" Dean groaned, "What we're doing, Sam, someone needs to do it, or else people get hurt. Or they die, simple as that. If someone had been around for our family... then maybe mom would be alive right now."
Sam bit back his tongue. Dean talking about their mom usually meant he was half-insane with the pain. Sure enough, the white-knuckled grip on the sheets tightened all the more, making Dean's arms tremble. He clenched his eyes shut again, and tears absently leaked from them. He pressed his face against the pillow, and bit back a quiet moan. His hair glistened with sweat in the light of the late afternoon sun seeping from the blinds in the windows, and his face turned three shades impossibly paler.
"I'm gonna be sick," he choked out eyes snapping open in a panic as he smothered his coughing by pressing his lips together tight, not wanting to make a mess of himself. He grunted as he scrambled for a handhold on the railings of his bed, attempting to sit up. But his body was far from ready; he cried out in pain when the movement jostled his injuries, and he sank back almost limply, disoriented, eyes dimming. He turned to his side, and started to throw up in earnest.
Sam shot to his feet and grabbed a trash can, shoving it by Dean's face. His brother hung his head over the pale green plastic monstrosity, shaking as he retched into the can. Sam winced as he kept on going, getting rid of air and water and acrid medicine. The room started to smell sickly-bitter, and as Dean's sickness turned to dry heaves, Sam angled to sit beside him, and pressed at his shoulder to lay him flat.
"No," Dean groaned, still wanting to be ill on the trash can.
"Nothing's coming out, Dean," Sam said quietly, "You might as well just settle down."
Dean coughed and covered his mouth, grunted but complied. He laid flat on his back, just trying to breathe, head turned up to the ceiling. His chest rose and fell, shallow and desperately fast.
Sam placed the trash can down on the ground but otherwise remained where he sat on the bed by Dean's arm, a comforting hand on his trembling brother's shoulder. Dean's body shook with tremors of pain and shock, but he turned a weary gaze toward Sam.
The dimples on Sam's cheeks winked at Dean as he smiled a little. A sound by the door had Sam's head shooting up to find Andie, her pretty lips pursed in disapproval. She looked at Dean, measuring.
"I'm calling Doctor Niles," she announced, before turning on her white flat shoes. Sam found even her hushed, efficient movements graceful.
Dean chuckled breathlessly beneath him, "Oh, Sammy. Aim for the stars, why don't you."
His face reddened. "You're a jerk."
"Thanks, Sammy!" Dean said, drowsy-brightly.
"It's 'Opposite Day,'" Dean reminded him with a gasp, the cheekiness persisting despite his pain now that he thought of something irresistibly clever to piss Sam off with, "Have you forgotten?"
"I hate you."
"I hate you too," Dean said, meaning 'I love you' instead. Sam caught the nuance and softened. Why was it easier to say the opposite of things?
"You know who else I hate?" Sam asked, "I hate dad."
Dean blinked at him, eyes hazy but struggling for clarity, trying to gage if Sam was saying he loved their dad, or if Sam was saying he actually, really hated him and 'Opposite Day' was the only time he could expressly say so.
"I hate him too," Dean said, experimentally, meaning without a doubt that he loved his father.
Andie came back with Dean's primary doctor, cutting off the exchange. He took one look at Dean, uncoiled an oxygen mask hanging over his head and placed it on his face, and drew out a syringe.
"Looks like we jumped the gun a little on this, buddy," Niles said, as he injected the painkillers into one of the ports of Dean's IV's. "This should help you out a little, and we can figure out how to make changes on our target timelines, all right?"
"All right," Dean murmured, eyelids turning heavy as the drugs started to do their magic. He must have really looked like shit, for them to put him back on the excellent stuff.
He let his eyes slip close, and heard the nurse and the doctor walk out of the room. He felt Sam's weight lift from the bed, and the absence of Sam's warming presence discomfited him enough such that he opened his eyes back up again, only to find his kid brother going for the blinds and shutting them. And then Sam walked to the light switch to turn off the lights.
"No," Dean said softly, licking at his lips and not liking how small his voice sounded, "Sammy. Keep it on. You..." he drawled, trying to put his clouded wits together, "You're gonna wreck your eyes if you study and read in the dark."
"I won't, I'll just sit here," Sam lied.
"So that's an 'I will' on 'Opposite Day' right?" Dean asked, wryly, "Come on. We both know you're gonna sit there and work so just keep it on."
"But it'll help you rest," Sam pointed out, not bothering to correct Dean.
"With this shit in me," Dean insisted, randomly motioning for the IV hanging over his head, "I can sleep through the apocalypse, man. Leave the light on, you need to do your homework."
Sam did as he was told, and then walked back to the bed. He sat back down next to Dean's arm.
"You feeling better?" he asked, quietly.
"Yeah," Dean said, chuckling sleepily, "Your brother's a total lightweight, huh? Total lame-ass, gotta be tanked up on this shit just to get two thoughts together."
"Yeah," Sam agreed, but only in words, "You're weak, man."
Dean stared at him, fought off the drug-induced sleep as his eyes started to drift close again, looking like he was wondering if Sam meant it. Being called weak was, of all things, his weakness.
"You're the weakest guy I know," Sam went on, "And the single, absolute worst big brother in the world."
Dean's lips curved into a sleepy smile then, knowing for sure now that Sam was just getting into 'Opposite Day' again. He was the best big brother in the world and they both knew it, so that must have meant the weak-thing meant the opposite too.
"I hate you, Sammy."
"I hate you more, Dean."
I can sleep through the apocalypse, Dean had joked back then, Sam remembered.
"'S that what you're doing?" Sam asked him, quietly, "Huh, Dean? 's that what you're doing right now? 'Cos that's a cool plan. I would do that if I could."
Sam lost time on that seat and in his memories. He didn't know how long he's been sitting there before Dean's doctor came back, looking grave and weary and very much like a messenger about to get shot.
"Doc?" Sam pressed.
"Well he's a fighter, I'll tell you that," the man hesitated.
Sam pursed his lips and curbed his annoyance. Damn right, he's a fighter. This is not news to me. But he's not superman, is he? Will he win? Will he live? Will he wake up? Will he come back to me...?
"We're not seeing the improvements we're hoping for," the doctor admitted, "And he's running a fever now too. Since you're the one who brought him in, I know I don't have to tell you the damage is extensive. Strangulation... is one of the more complex traumatic injuries, you see. There are a lot of avenues for delayed death and your brother--"
Is well on his way down several of them.
"Don't say it," Sam snapped, darkly, dangerously. Anyone with half a brain could sense that something had changed, and charged the very air in that room just by his venom.
But the doctor had been at this game a long time too. He was as much a medical professional as Sam was a dangerous hunter.
"It doesn't make it any less true," he finished, quietly, "I'm sorry. At this point, all I could advise you to do is talk to him, let him know you're here. And then you can just hope, and wait."
Little orphan, Castiel had thought, when he was looking at Sam hours ago.
He hadn't always been on the Winchester detail, but he knew enough about them to know that even at his father's death, Sam never looked quite this lost. Dean was his father and mother and greatest friend. His loss would be – had already been – insurmountable for Sam. When Dean died, there had been hell below and hell above, each place manned by one brother. And they both came out of that debacle dented.
Sam sat by his brother's bed, as Castiel watched. He was looking at the machines, and then earnestly at Dean's face.
Castiel could no longer postpone the inevitable. He let himself be seen, and the astute hunter caught him half a beat later. Castiel stepped away from the door out of some absurd notion of not wanting to disturb Dean as he rested.
Sam stalked out of his older brother's room in pursuit, towered over Castiel, and demanded, simply: Get in there and Miracle. Now.
Castiel heard himself making excuses, voicing his doubts and apprehensions, as Sam sputtered through blind, breathless rage, barely restrained, simmering to the surface. The orphan was smothered dead on the hospital corridor. Sam was all strength and rage and coiled muscle now, ready to spring and start throwing punches.
They both knew there was more of this job to be done, but Sam did not care, not at present. The moment he realized Castiel would be useless to his current occupation – the care of his brother – he had simply turned his back on the angel and walked away.
Loosely, Castiel remembered that it was how Sam had been the first time he was confronted by his brother's mortality. The weary doctor had said "We can't work miracles. I really am sorry," and Sam had pushed past him and gone then too. Those who could not help him save Dean deserved not another second of his time.
Castiel watched him walk away, mind racing. Not wanting to leave, and yet knowing he had to get to the bottom of all this.
"I killed Alistair," Sam confessed, quietly, experimentally, absurdly wondering if that would be the thing to wake up his brother.
"I drink demon blood regularly," he added, in a burst of equally-absurd enthusiasm. Both statements did not have the desired effect, and Dean remained stubbornly unconscious.
He sighed, sinking into the damned uncomfortable seat.
"Hate this damn chair," he muttered, "Always hate the seats by your bed, man, and believe me, I've had many."
He chewed on his lip, thoughtfully, "I've had lumpy couches, broken cots. I've tried sleeping on wooden bench seats, I've sat on examiner's stools and old ones with the stuffing sticking out, and new ones that sank on my ass, and high ones and low ones."
Sam chuckled as he went on, "We've had rooms with just one seat that dad and I would always squabble over, or take turns sitting on. We'd bet on who you'd wake up for. We'd fight on what 'waking up' really means – eyes open? Or muttering about chicks from TV reruns? We also bet on whether or not the first words out of your mouth would be 'How's dad?' or 'Where's Sammy?' or 'When do I get out?' or 'Did we get it?' Dad knew right away not to make that bet anymore. He won just once, and that was only because he beat me to saying you'd say 'Where's Sammy?' before anything else."
Sam closed his eyes. What would his father do, if he were here?
"There was one good chair, though," he said, "It was that long hospital stretch in...'95? Oh, crap. No, not that one, I was too young. Hm. '01. I was gonna graduate from high school. Life was shitty, the least we could have had was a decent chair. Remember that one, Dean?"
"Heya there Sammy," the cheery afternoon nurse at the eighth floor greeted him, when he walked up to the desk. He felt his face flush a little.
"It's Sam," he mumbled, not looking directly at her. She was a cute brunette, which meant that she must have hung around Dean a lot. Calling him 'Sammy' was an affliction that the nurses who spent the most time with his brother all managed to catch and couldn't get rid of. Dean was like spreading the damn plague. At least it wasn't an STD.
"How's Dean today?" he asked.
"Not so good, Sammy," she answered, "But I'm sure he'll be happy to see you."
Sam sighed, ran his hands over his hair, worried and frustrated. "What the hell is going on with him? He's supposed to be getting better already."
"The pain management system isn't working," she said, "So they're trying some new things, makes him nauseous. But you go on ahead and see him, sweetie."
Sam headed on purposefully toward his older brother's room, to find Dean lying curled on his side, one hand curved over his eyes to shield them. Sam set his backpack down on the floor as quietly as he could, and then waited to be acknowledged, sitting on the battered but comfortable leather seat by his brother's bed.
"Heya Sammy," Dean muttered, not bothering to move.
"What doesn't hurt?" Sam asked him, quietly.
"Weirdly enough," Dean sighed, "Only my head hurts."
"Yeah?" Sam asked, surprised. He and his dad called 911 for Dean after a bad fall during a hunt. He had broken an arm, a couple of ribs, got a mild concussion for his trouble. What the doctors had been worried about, though, was a bad fracture to his leg and damage to his back, which had been as-severely injured a couple of years ago. He's been in the hospital for weeks, trying to find decent pain management and to get his limbs properly moving again.
"Not concussion-related or anything, right?" Sam asked, "We got over that weeks ago."
"Yup," Dean affirmed, "It's just the new meds. Makes me all loopy."
"Why'd they switch you?" Sam asked.
"'Cos the old ones weren't working."
"They worked for awhile," Sam pointed out.
"Somebody mentioned something about tolerance," Dean snapped, "Geez, Sam. I don't know, all right? Did I get an MD we all forgot about?"
"Sorry," Sam said, shrugging sheepishly, "I'm worried, 's all."
"Well that's not an excuse to be talking like an idiot," Dean hissed. He finally lifted his hand from his eyes, and squinted at his brother, "You're not sitting around in class just worrying about me, are you?"
Sam snickered at him, "All day, man."
Sam grinned at his older brother, "I'm doing okay in class."
"You like this school, right?" Dean asked, "One of the best ones you've ever had, right? Good programs and everything?"
"Yeah," Sam asked, "Why?"
"Just making sure."
"Making sure of what?"
"Nothing," Dean said quickly.
"You're right, the drugs are making you loopy," Sam said.
"But it's a good school," Dean said, distractedly.
"One of the best," Sam affirmed, "Dean. What?"
"I mean," the older Winchester hesitated, "If you're gonna be stuck here, then I guess I was kinda hoping... you know. That it wouldn't be so bad. That it could be a good thing."
Sam frowned, and narrowed his eyes in thought, "It's a great school, Dean. Don't worry about me."
"Graduation's in about a month or two, right?" Dean asked.
"Yeah," Sam said, scowling, "But dad wants out of here as soon as you're good to go. I'm starting to wonder if I'll ever finish high school."
"You will," Dean said, "And you'll finish here, Sam, mark my word."
"And then after that I'm free."
"Free from us," Dean said.
Sam hissed at him to be quiet, and, paranoid, looked to the door as if their father was to materialize any moment.
"Relax, man," Dean said with a grunt as he adjusted his weight on the bed, "He passed by here earlier, said he was headed out to a paid gig one state over. I think I'm bankrupting us."
"Don't worry about that," Sam soothed, "I'm getting a part-time job up at--"
"No," Dean said quickly, "You work on graduating, Sammy. Dad'll make it right, I swear. And I'll make up for it when I get outta here. But you're almost done, dude. Just... do what you do."
"'Cos you want me gone, huh?" Sam teased.
"You know I don't," Dean said, dead-serious because he was on drugs and it was probably the only time he could let some things out.
"But your head's not in this anymore," Dean went on, quietly, "Might just get you killed. And I can't stand it, you know that too, you and the old man yelling up a storm all the time. Or... or you blaming him for everything bad that happens to us--"
"Sure you do," Dean said, "We aren't supposed to be hunting, this isn't normal, blah, blah, blah. It's damn fair of you to say all this, but it's damned right of him to be doing what he does too. You're both right, so you should just both do whatever the hell you want to, before one of you gets killed distracted on a job, or you end up killing each other. 'Sides... I'm gonna say this just 'cos it needs saying, Sammy. You can only blame the old man for so much. At some point, you being stuck somewhere stops being his fault and starts becoming yours. You wanna go, you got things to do? You oughta."
Sam looked at him for a long moment, before flatly deciding, "You're mad at me."
"I'm not mad, man," Dean said, "I've just... I've just got nothing else to do all day but think. And this is what comes out. I hate thinking."
Sam smiled a little, just as Dean intended for him to.
"Listen, Sammy," Dean said, "I want you around. But if that's gonna get you killed, then I want you outta here more, you get that?"
"I get it," Sam said.
Dean stared at him, before becoming convinced, "Good." He shifted again, and placed his hand back over his face.
"I'm gonna hunt up your doctor," Sam announced, rising from the chair, "Find out what's going on with the meds situation."
"Sam, don't--" Dean said.
"I'll just be gone a minute," Sam called back as he jogged away, as unstoppable and relentless as always.
"I never brought it up," Sam said, "But you know what your doctor told me? He said that your pain thing back then was either psychological, or you were faking it, but that they couldn't do much but take you on your word and to experiment with different stuff anyway, which was why you kept getting the headaches and the nausea. I thought I was going to punch him in the head, you know, just take him down, for saying that crap about you. But turned out he meant well. He showed me some records. You kept saying that the expensive stuff wasn't working, kept steering them toward the cheap stuff. But you failed the blind testing and your stated preferences weren't matching the physiological evidence.
"After that," Sam sighed, "He also said that there was some indication of delaying on your part, like you were trying to keep from getting better. And that you kept asking them about timelines. I only guessed later that you really did get my back, didn't you? Kept us there long enough for me to finish high school?
"I never told you that I knew," Sam said, "You never told me you did that. Probably the first big secret we kept from each other, huh? And not the last one, unfortunately. The best one, though, I think. The nicest one. Wish we'd have more secrets like that."
Sam sighed again, "Hey. Dean. Wake up, man. I never got to thank you for that. I'm not even sure why. When graduation day finally came, I remember you hobbled your way in. I saw you right off the bat. In the middle of that crowd, I knew right away you were there. And then you went from invalid to itching to leave that town right after that. I think dad figured out you were faking too, but he didn't call you out on it either. I'm not really sure, but now I think it's 'cos he wanted to give me the chance to finish too, but needed an excuse to keep us in that town without having to make the choice to set hunting aside himself. I don't know.
"That was crazy," Sam said, "You don't mess around with your body like that. But whoever could stop you, huh? Anyway, that's why you should wake up, now. You don't have to take care of me, or anything else anymore. I got us, now. It's my turn to help you out now. All you gotta do is wake up, Dean. I'll take care of everything else."
To be continued...
In the next chapter, we'll see Dean awake, and his perspective will be joining those of Sam's and Castiel's. Hope to catch you on that one!