Sam leans against the hood of the Impala and watches the LifeLion helicopter lift off. Dean's being transferred to a bigger, more prestigious teaching hospital for surgery. The doctors claim that he had a good night, that breathing unassisted is an encouraging sign, that his GCS score keeps improving, that his age and previous good health make his outlook better than most. But Sam looked up Dean's condition on the Internet, found out exactly what kind of long-term effects Dean might suffer: anything from fatigue and migraines to epilepsy, cognitive impairment and even another goddamn aneurysm. He looked at statistics and didn't like what he saw. Dean needs another miracle and Sam has no idea how he's going to make that happen.
"You about ready to head out, Sam?" asks Bobby from behind him.
Sam stands up. "Yeah."
"You sure you're okay to drive? No offense, kid, but you look done in."
"Dean'll freak if the car's not there when he wakes up," Sam replies.
"Dean'll freak more if you fall asleep at the wheel and wreck her," counters Bobby.
"It's an hour drive, I'll be fine." Sam pulls open the driver's-side door. "See you there."
The section of I-81 that stretches across Schuylkill County is as boring as they come. Aside from the shifts in elevation, nothing much changes for a good 40 miles. He's well into Lebanon County before the traffic starts to pick up and signs of civilization appear. He finds the hospital in Hershey easily enough and waits in the parking lot for Bobby to catch up.
An orderly takes them to the waiting room in Neurosurgery. It's a big, bright room with real couches and armchairs and a large, state-of-the-art coffeemaker. Dean's surgery is going to take the whole afternoon and the better part of the evening, so Bobby puts on a pot of coffee and they settle in to wait.
The room is silent for a long time. Finally Bobby speaks up. "It's not your fault, Sam."
"Yes, it is." Sam leans forward, clasps his hands and stares at the floor. "I thought he was just being an asshole. I should have known." He swallows hard and shakes his head. "I wasn't thinking. I was too busy being pissed at him. If I'd just figured it out sooner--"
"Sam." Bobby stands in front of him and tips his chin up, forcing him to meet Bobby's eyes. "Blamin' yourself ain't gonna help him any. You're no good to anyone if you let this thing keep eatin' at ya till you're sick too."
"It's what I deserve," mutters Sam, pulling away. "He's saved my ass more times than I can count, and the one time he needed me, I let him down. I fucked up, Bobby. I completely fucked up and now Dean's paying the price." Sam ducks his head so Bobby can't see the tears threatening to spill down his cheeks. "Just like always." He stands up. "I'm going for a walk. I'll be back."
Sam stalks blindly down the hall, not paying attention to anything but his whirlwind thoughts. Near the end of the hall, he bumps into a man in a trenchcoat. "Sorry," he mumbles without slowing down.
As night gives way to morning, Sam dreams.
He dreams that Dean is standing at the top of a hill. No matter how far Sam climbs, he never gets any closer to the top. When he finally falls, it's almost a relief. He wakes up to the sound of his own harsh breathing echoing in his ears.
It doesn't take a genius to figure out what his subconscious is trying to tell him. He yawns, lifts his head from where it's currently lying on Dean's bed, and tells his subconscious to go fuck itself. Dean will come back to him. He will.
He turns the bedside lamp to its lowest setting and looks at Dean. They had to shave his head for the surgery, but he's swathed in so many bandages that it's hardly noticeable. He's still pale, freckles standing out bright against his chalky skin. The lines of the oxygen cannula stretch across his cheeks, leaving thin shadows. His GCS score is good, the surgical sites show signs of healing--he's doing well. He should wake up anytime.
But he hasn't.
"Come on, Dean," he says quietly. He takes Dean's limp hand in his, gives it a gentle squeeze. "I'm holding your hand, dude. In public. When a hot nurse could walk in any time and see." He leans in. "Total chick-flick moment. You gonna just lie there and take it?"
Sam yawns again, rubs his aching neck, and goes back to sleep with Dean's hand still in his.
His next dream is jumbled, confusing, surreal; when he wakes up, all he can remember are the wings. Delicate, iridescent wings, seemingly too fragile to support any living creature.
He opens his eyes, but the blinding white light forces him to slam them shut again. He must have slept longer than he thought if the sun has already risen. There's a rush of warm air, a soft rustling sound, and then a light touch on Sam's forehead. As he slips into darkness, he feels strangely at peace.
"It is done. The timeline has been restored."
"And the one responsible?"
"He has been...dispatched."
"Hey, man, how're you feeling?"
"Same as the last time you asked me that," Dean replies, rolling his eyes. "Thirsty, kinda stoned and dying for decent food."
Sam can't keep the grin off his face as he pours water into a paper cup. Dean takes it gratefully, his hand steadier than it's been the last two times he woke up. He finishes the water and hands the empty cup to Sam. "Did you get the paperwork?"
Sam sighs. "I still think this is a bad idea."
"Dude, come on. I'm goin' nuts here. You know how much I hate hospitals." He motions for Sam to give him more water.
"You almost died, Dean. You had a ruptured aneurysm, for fuck's sake. There's a hole in your skull. You're still on narcotics. For once in your goddamn life, can't you just suck it up and do what they tell you?"
Dean sags against the pillow. "All right, Sammy. If it's freaking you out that much, I'll stay." He drains the cup of water and sets it on the bedside table. "But you're getting me a fucking cheeseburger."
Sam grins. "Deal."