Summary: A childhood trauma comes back to haunt both Sam and Dean, forcing them to confront their trust issues.
A/N: Happy Birthday to Faye Dartmouth who spoils me shamelessly throughout the year and deserves some pampering. In honor of her special day I hope you enjoy the latest entry in my All Choked Up 'verse—since this story is set in Season One and doesn't pick up where the action left off in the original story, I thought it deserved to be its own one shot instead of a chapter. If I did my job right, you shouldn't have to read the original story although I hope you will anyway. It might take a village to raise a child but it also takes one to help me write fic. Huge thanks and hugs for Bayre, Gidgetgal9 and BlueEyedDemonLiz for all of the help with this story, including beta, summary and title (you rock so hard core in my book, girlfriends).
Trust Me With Your Heart
It's not your lungs this time
But your heart holds your fate
-Bruce Springsteen, For You
It was only the element of surprise that allowed Dean to apply the submissive blood choke at all. Namely, Sam didn't think that Dean would ever choke him out again, not after that fateful day in the basement where he'd 'practiced' on his little brother. That was all the advantage Dean needed.
Dean needed to rein Sam in a little but he'd seriously underestimated his opponent. The only way he could gain the upper hand now, was to, well, gain the upper hand.
Ever since Jessica's death, Sam had driven himself with a single minded intensity that worried Dean to no end. He only ate or slept when his body forced himself to, or more like when Dean forced the issue. Otherwise it was non-stop find Dad, then go after the demon that killed Jess.
Sam was a runaway train and Dean needed to put a stop to him. Sam wanted to pursue a lead on their dad in Colorado. Dean had found a job that would be easy and in the area. That would give his little brother a chance to regroup.
Unwilling to let their course—and possibly Sam's sanity in the face of his relentless pursuit—be decided by rock-paper-scissors, Dean had insisted they spar to determine who picked the next gig. Sam had been out of the game for four years. He should have been weaker, out of practice. Instead he was trouncing Dean's ass, enjoying showing up his big brother.
When Sam whipped Dean around by the arm, again, Dean didn't offer any resistance. Instead Dean twirled past, letting his momentum carry him, until he was standing behind Sam.
The next part Dean absolutely hated—it was like he was violating some unspoken code—but to keep Sam safe, Dean would do anything.
His left arm whipped around Sam's neck, encircling it tightly, shifting minutely until Sam's trachea nestled in the crook of Dean's elbow.
Without wasting any time, Dean's left hand curled further, grasping his own upper right biceps. Sam leaned forward, using his long strong legs to generate torque, and shook. It had absolutely no effect on Dean's grip which remained implacable.
Before he could lose his nerve, Dean placed his right hand on top of Sam's head. He would have preferred placing it behind his little brother's head but with the way Sam was bucking like a wild bronco, he couldn't get the leverage.
Dean knew Sam had no idea what was coming because he didn't change his strategy. He just kept trying to shake Dean off his back. If Sam had just reached back and pinched the nerve in Dean's wrist, the maneuver would have tanked.
But Sam trusted Dean to have his back. Trusted him not to use the much reviled near naked choke hold on him.
And that misplaced trust, when they were sparring over who got to be top dog, was Sam's undoing.
His little brother wasn't ready to lead. He lacked that killer instinct. He kept going off half cocked and he was going to get hurt.
Dean couldn't let that happen.
Squeezing his elbows together, Dean applied pressure to Sam's neck on both sides. It took less than ten seconds before Sam's weight sagged forward, Dean braced for the additional weight.
Lowering Sam carefully to the ground, Dean dropped to his haunches and studied his brother.
Sam looked like he was taking a nap. He was on his right side, left arm curled protectively around his waist, right hand splayed on the ground next his face. The face hiding behind a curtain of almost inky hair. When had Sam's hair gotten so dark? When Sam went to school, his hair had still stubbornly retained some of the lightness that was echoed in Dean's own hair. Now it was a dark, chocolaty brown. Not just Sam's hair had changed, Dean was beginning to realize as they criss-crossed the country again. Dean pushed the soft dark strands aside and waited for Sam's eyes to blink open.
A few seconds later huge blue-green eyes flickered in and out of sight as Sam's eyelids fluttered. Dean stood up and stepped over Sam's recumbent body, spinning and dropping down to his knees so Sam could see him. His right hand exerted just enough pressure on Sam's left shoulder to keep him from rising. "Relax a second. Catch your breath."
Dean watched understanding dawn in those large eyes, the 'what happened' dying on Sam's lips and face simultaneously to be replaced by resignation as he sat up, shrugging away from Dean's touch. Sam's hand floated up to rub his neck, quiet accusation flaring in the mutinous pull of generous lips into a straight line.
Straightening to his full height, Dean stuck out his hand. "Come on, we're burning daylight."
He willed Sam to take his hand. To meet his eyes. To forgive him.
Sam ignored the silent entreaty, rolling smoothly to his feet under his own steam. "Guess we'd better get a move on, then. Boss."
Dean wanted to cringe away from Sam's husky voice.
Instead he pulled himself up straighter and walked toward the Impala, already packed with their gear and gleaming brightly in the sunshine.
He hadn't enjoyed betraying Sam's trust that way, but Dean had to exert his authority and gain the upper hand.
Watching Sam self destruct, throwing himself into harm's way, wasn't an option anymore.
Sam inwardly cursed his own naivety. Never in a million years had he thought Dean would use a choke-hold on him. Not after that whole 'misunderstanding' when Dean had first tried out the move on him.
When Sam's nightmares and phobia of losing his breath had lead to the family splitting up and culminated in his trip to the hospital with a bout of rheumatic fever.
But Dean wasn't the same happy-go-lucky guy big brother from his childhood.
Sam pushed his salad around listlessly with his fork. Dean had insisted they stop for lunch in this backwater town and The Bees Knees had everything his brother looked for in a greasy spoon—surly help, cheap prices and homemade pie. Never mind that the diner's slogan could easily have been would you like some grease with a side of grease followed by some grease to go?
Stabbing a piece of wilted iceberg lettuce, Sam let his frustrations flare. Anything was better than wallowing. Dean had beaten him. It might not have been fair and it sure as hell wasn't square but it was done and over with and the sooner Sam plastered on a happy face and acted normal, the sooner they could get back to their mission.
"You're supposed to eat it, not stare it down." Dean's voice was tinged with amusement but when Sam lifted his face he was met with his brother's concerned eyes.
Sam dropped his fork with a clatter and pushed the plate away. He was angry. Angry with Dean for choking him out—that was one move he'd thought was off limits in their sparring although it had never been voiced so that was stupid thinking on his part—but he was more angry with himself for falling for Dean's trick. His brother had always been smarter and faster and a better shot and everything their dad had ever wanted in a son and Sam had thought that finally, maybe, he could earn a little respect. Be Dean's partner instead of his glorified assistant.
Although deep down Sam knew his brother was just looking out for him. Like he always did. Sam didn't always agree with Dean's methods but he never doubted his brother's heart was in the right place.
The months since Jess's death had been chaotic and they were no closer to finding the demon responsible or for that matter, finding their dad. Now Dean was purposefully making him slow down. It was frustrating and the lack of success drove his blood pressure up and made him irritable.
But irritable was better than depressed.
After the shock of losing Jess had worn off, Sam had been left with darkness and despair. The only way he knew how to fill that emptiness was to gun for her killer with everything he had.
Sam's chest gave a pang at the thought of his sweet, beautiful girlfriend. This was why he didn't like the down time—too much time to think.
The pang shifted to something more tangible, a dull throb, and Sam's hand drifted up to massage the affected area.
"You okay, Sammy?"
Dean's voice was pitched low and soft, like he was interviewing some fragile victim on a case. Sometimes Dean's concern overwhelmed him. Made it hard to draw a breath. His lungs echoed his
thoughts and stuttered. Coughing weakly, Sam braced a hand on the uneven table, rocking it slightly, while his other hand massaged the sharp pain under his breastbone.
When the pain abated, Sam found Dean staring at him intensely, giving Sam that bug-under-the-microscope feeling. When the back of Dean's hand made its way toward Sam's forehead, he jerked
his head away, cracking it against the wall. "Ouch."
Sam's breathing eased, the flare of pain in the back of his head taking priority. Dean's hand dropped but a scowl blossomed over his expressive face. "Are you coming down with something?"
Concern had turned into suspicion on Dean's part and like a blast from the past, Sam knew exactly what his brother was thinking—hell no, there was no way Dean was going to play nursemaid to his sick, whining little brother. That at least was familiar to Sam and some of his tension melted away. His chest twinged again, aborting the beginnings of the smile twitching at his lips. "It's this greasy food I think. Heartburn. We need to pick up some Rolaids or something."
Eyes rolling, Dean took the last bite of his double bacon cheeseburger, tossing a handful of fries into his mouth to chase it down. Food only partially masticated, Dean opened his mouth anyway. "Newsflash, Sam. You ate a salad."
The glimpse of half chewed food in his brother's mouth made Sam's stomach roll. He tapped his index finger on the chipped Formica and dragged it along the scarred surface, lifting it to reveal a streak. "Osmosis."
After finishing his coke with a loud slurp, Dean pushed his cleaned plates away and dragged the deep dish apple pie ala mode over in front of him. Sam didn't want to watch anymore, his stomach threatening revolt, but he wanted to know more about their job. Dean's designated pick. The faster they finished it up, the faster they could hit the road again. He worked hard to keep his voice placid. "So how far are we from your job?"
Dean's head jerked and Sam knew he'd missed his mark. His question had been surly, not serene. "Cool your jets, Sam. We're here. A few miles out on Country F, there's an abandoned farm and there have been reports of witch-lights. We're going to check it out after we get a room in town."
Finally. Some action. "Let me grab the laptop and then hit the local library. I'll see what I can dig up…"
Sam's voice trailed off as Dean shook his finger back in forth in a tisking motion. "No, Sam, you're not. This is my hunt and I'll call the shots. I'm going to finish my pie and then we're going to get a room, settle in. Later tonight when it's dark, we'll head on out and check the property. The lights are only seen Friday nights so we've got a couple of days before the real action starts."
The temptation to bang his forehead into the table and groan was a strong one. Instead Sam settled for crossing his arms and letting his eyes roam the restaurant's interior. His right hand bent at the wrist and his knuckles soothed the area over his heart. He didn't even notice he was making the motion until Dean raised his eyebrows at him.
Definitely under the microscope and chafing at the pins holding him in place.
Dean carefully climbed the rickety porch stairs, Sam at his heels. The moon was almost full which was a help since there were no lights in the vicinity and the dark settled thickly over the farmhouse. They were just there to get the lay of the land and confirm that the place was abandoned. If in two day's time, they found there were witch-lights on the premises, then Dean had a spell all ready to go. This was a simple in and out job but the two days of down time would do his brother some serious good. Maybe lift some of the shadows from both below and within in his eyes.
Dean also hoped that within those two days Sam's attitude would thaw. Not that he blamed his brother. But being cooped up with a cranky Sam was no fun.
Although it could be worse, Sam could be sick.
Like rheumatic fever sick.
The year Dean had turned eighteen had sucked from start to finish, first with their dad making Dean choke-out Sam for a training exercise, followed by the brothers being separated when Sam was sent to Jim's. Then there was the grand finale…an undiagnosed case of strep throat turning into rheumatic fever and a lengthy stay in the hospital for Sam.
It was also the year that Dean found out Sam had entrusted a secret to Jim, and not to him. Dean might have teased Sam but it was his duty as older brother. Sam might have been four years younger, but Dean had always looked on him as his best friend. He'd, mistakenly, thought Sam felt the same way. Sam had explained the reason he had confided in Jim instead of Dean but it still rankled all these years later.
Of course that breach had been topped four years later when Sam had left the family for Stanford. Something about them holding Sam back. What a crock.
Things had changed and now Sam was back in his life. Hunting. The two of them, together. It was a dream come true. At least for Dean. It was hard to tell what Sam thought. The kid no longer spewed every thought that entered his head and when he did confide in Dean, it was about missing Jess.
A bang sounded from the other side of the house and Dean pulled his stray thoughts back and made himself focus on the job at hand. The wind was ratcheting up outside and he was pretty sure a loose shutter was banging against the siding but he needed to bring his best game. He couldn't afford to slack no matter how small a hunt seemed.
Especially not with loose cannon Sam at his side. "I'm gonna check out the kitchen. You take the front of the house. Rendezvous back here by the stairs in five minutes and we'll head up."
He waited for Sam to leave the area, flashlight bobbing, sawn-off filled with rock salt in his hands. Dean slid his own revolver out and made his way toward the back of the first floor, his trusty maglite showing the way.
"Stop right there, mister. Put your gun down nice and easy." The voice barely carried but it was loud enough for Dean to know he was dealing with a woman. Dean had a hunch the body would match the seductive contralto.
Dean did her bidding, setting the gun down at his feet. "Put down the flashlight, too. Now nice and slow, I want you to turn around so I can get a look at ya."
A bright light hit Dean full in the face, blinding him. He tried to squint past the pain but he couldn't see the body in the shadows. Apparently satisfied with what she saw, the woman lowered the light and Dean got his first look at her. The moonlight streaming in the window highlighted full curves encased in tight denim jeans and shirt which left little to the imagination. Then there was the full, dark hair falling in waves around a pale, pretty face. The body definitely matched the voice.
Unfortunately the slim hand held a gun.
"Drop your weapon, ma'am." Sam's voice was deep and calm and Dean breathed a sigh of relief. He hadn't wanted Sam to be caught unaware like Dean had. So much for being a super hunter.
The woman's small shoulders tensed and Dean followed her line of sight. She was staring into a mirror on the side wall and in the dark room it was hard to make out details but the one thing that did stand out was that Sam was holding a shotgun.
The brunette pivoted sharply, flashlight swinging with her, throwing light on the object in her right hand. She dropped to her knee and pointed her gun. A funky looking gun, like something out of a sci-fi movie, clunky and silver with a black plastic looking barrel tip…it was an old school Taser. And Dean could hear it humming. "Sam, drop…!"
A sharp intake of air followed by a two loud thuds echoing through the hallway, rending the air, cutting off Dean's shout.
Dean was already propelling himself forward, colliding with the shapely woman's back. He clawed the Taser out of her hand.
She slithered away from his grasp while he fumbled with the gun.
An overhead light burned brightly, throwing everything into stark relief.
Sam sprawled on the hardwood floor.
Two small dark-like objects embedded in the light cotton t-shirt in his left upper chest near his shoulder.
Limbs twitching sporadically.
The woman was muttering in the background and Dean kept one eye on her while he pulled the electrodes out of Sam; she was without a weapon as far as he could tell but he didn't trust her. She'd shot his brother.
Thank God it had just been a Taser. Dean knew the unconventional weapon could stop a man in his tracks—in fact the bigger the mass, the more affected the body—and he'd now seen a firsthand demonstration. The gun primary functioned by creating neuromuscular incapacitation, interrupting the brain's ability to control the muscles of the body. Dean wished he had more time to examine the weapon, maybe even shoot it, but right now all of his focus was on Sam.
From what he understood about Tasers, once the current stopped flowing, the subject was supposed to regain immediate control of their body.
Sam still wasn't moving.
Fingers sought out the pulse point at Sam's wrist and Dean was relieved to find the pulse strong if a bit fast.
Something soft was thrust in front of Dean. It was a jacket and it smelled heavenly. Fresh. The woman cleared her throat nervously although Dean didn't look at her. "In my defense, he had a gun. You're on my property. But I didn't mean to hurt him, only stop him. You might want to put this under his head…he hit it pretty hard on the paneling on his way down."
Of course. Dean had heard two thuds. First Sam connecting with the wall and then the hardwood floor. So maybe he was looking at a concussion. He leaned over and started to thumb one of Sam's eyelids back to check his pupil but was interrupted when something weakly smacked his arm away. Sam's hand had knocked his arm away. Sam was awake and wincing up at Dean, eyes half hooded against the bright light. "D'n?"
Dean's muscles relaxed and he let his weight settle so his ass hit the floor. He hadn't even realized how uptight he was until Sam opened his eyes. His brother's voice was slurred and disoriented but at least he was conscious.
The back of Sam's head throbbed with each beat of his heart. When he felt light pressure on his eyelid, something forcing it up, he swung out, happy when he connected with the offending object.
Why was he on his back? Where was Dean?
He cracked his eyes open and found his brother hovering over him. He didn't like being in this position. Vulnerable. At Dean's mercy. Had Dean choked him out again? "De'n?"
He flinched at the sound of his voice. Weak. Pathetic.
"Is he okay?" Sam flinched at the sound of another voice but that was enough to snap him back into reality. They'd been investigating the house with the witch-lights and been surprised by a woman with a gun.
Sam pushed up on to his forearms and glanced around, tried to get his bearings. He might be down on the ground but he didn't feel pain other than at the back of his head and if he'd been shot, shock or no shock, he would be feeling something. "Um, what hit me?"
Dean's strong arm levered him up to a sitting position and Sam clenched his eyes shut, waiting for the room to settle. Something kicked in his chest. It didn't really hurt but it was a weird sensation.
Dean's voice was back in his ear, low and steady. Pulling at him. "You back with me, Sammy?"
He found himself lying on his back, something soft cradled under his head, his feet resting on Dean's thighs. Dean who was staring at him like he was a lab specimen again. "I feel weird."
That wasn't what he'd meant to say but it was true. There was a light buzzing in his ears and lethargy coursed through his limbs. Dean smiled, white teeth flashing, hurting Sam's head. "Doesn't surprise me…you are weird."
The words were as forced as his brother's smile. But the buzzing and floaty sensations were abating and Sam felt stronger. Dean must have approved of something he saw when he examined his face because his feet were laid back on the ground and Dean shifted until he was sitting next to Sam. With a deep breath, Dean dragged the worn smile back. "So I'm thinking maybe a trip to the ER."
The word ER would normally rile Sam up but he felt strangely disconnected. The heat of Dean's stare was discomforting and Sam wanted to do something to make him stop. If Dean stared any harder at his face, Sam thought he'd melt under the intensity. His brother was waiting for some sort of response, something to set him at ease. Sam wished he had something pithy and sarcastic but all he could come back with was a soft, "So tell me again what hit me?"
The lines in Dean's face smoothed out marginally and Sam realized if he could see the lines that clearly, Dean was too far into his personal space. "Evangeline tased you. While you were out, I told her we were trying to catch whoever was playing around in here at night. She went to get you some water. You pretty much freaked her out when you swooned at her feet."
Swooned. Very Victorian sounding. It explained how he got to be flat on his back again, but not really why it had happened. Dean interrupted his thoughts. "Your color is a little better. Do you want to try sitting up again?"
Sam's tailbone was sore and sitting up had to be better. He stretched his hands out and Dean grabbed them, tugging him gently until he was upright. His vision grayed momentarily and then returned to normal. His tailbone thanked him for the new position. "That's better thanks."
Dean hovered at his side, ready to catch him if he faltered. Right now he was pleased to have Dean at his side. It made him feel like he was a kid again, and Dean was watching out for him. Cared for and loved, not smothered. Dean's face was still wary but when he smiled this time, his face didn't threaten to crack under the strain. "It's farther than you got last time."
Lips turning upward, Sam returned Dean's smile. "Progress."
Soft footfalls announced the return of the woman. Evangeline. "Here's some cold bottled water."
Sam accepted the drink and the quiet apology in her eyes. She'd surprised two men on her property with guns. He couldn't fault her for defending herself. Although being hit by the Taser really sucked.
His arms felt leaden as he held the bottle up and gulped down some water. Dean plucked the bottle from his hands when he was finished. "Let's try standing. I'd like to get you out to the Impala if you feel up to it."
Not sure if he felt up to it, Sam agreed anyway. He wanted to wipe the look of concern from Dean's face. It was starting to freak him out. "Okay, give me a hand?"
Dean stood up and disappeared from Sam's line of vision. "Let me do the work." Dean slid his hands under Sam's armpits and lifted. The world shifted again and Sam waited for it to stop, grateful for the words of encouragement Dean was murmuring for his benefit. "That's it. Just take some deep breaths. How are you feeling?"
Dizzy. Definitely dizzy. Sam bent over at the waist, resting his palms on his thighs. Dean was right there, curling an arm around his waist, a hand on his shoulder steadying him. "Sammy? Come on, dude, talk to me."
Wings beat in his chest, making it difficult to breathe. "Hard to…breathe…wings…inside…"
The cost of speaking was too great and Sam found himself pulled upright, his face nestled in the crook of Dean's neck. Safety.
Dean had almost passed out himself the first time Sam had sat up only to pitch back into his arms abruptly. His color had been awful, pale washing over what had been tanned skin, brilliant purple shadows shining under his eyes. His closed eyes.
Elevating Sam's feet, Dean had impatiently waited for Sam to stir. It wasn't unheard of for someone to pass out when changing position like that, especially a concussed someone, but it should never happen
Sam's color was no longer ashen but his brother's responses were a little off. He hadn't flipped out at the mention of going to the ER. That was a sure sign that Sam needed to be checked out. Like now.
First baby steps. After Sam drank some water, Dean managed to coax Sam into standing. Sliding his arms beneath Sam's armpits, Dean tugged him to his feet. Once Sam was on his feet Dean stayed close in case another wave of dizziness hit his brother. Sam seemed to be holding his own, adjusting to the change of altitude, and Dean thought maybe a trip to the ER might not be needed after all. If Sam could make it to the Impala without incident, then maybe Dean could monitor him from their motel room. Sam's pupils were equal and reactive to the light and his color had improved.
That small amount of glass half full thinking must have been enough to jinx his contrary brother because Sam choose that moment to lean over, hands on his thighs, breathing audible. Dean wasted no time in throwing an arm around Sam's middle and a hand on his shoulder to steady him. He waited impatiently for Sam to either stand up or indicate what his problem was instead of bending at the waist, silent, leaving Dean in limbo. "Sammy? Come on, dude, talk to me."
Dean's words had been sharper than intended but the previously aborted trip to the ER was back on in Dean's mind and he couldn't get his brother there fast enough. He should have known an easy job
would go pear shaped since he wanted Sam to take it easy—Murphy's Law should have been called Winchester's Law.
Sam's words were breathy and soft and it took Dean a beat to figure out what Sam was talking about. "Hard to…breathe…wings…inside…"
Wings inside? Wings inside of what? Sam's pupils might have been okay but he was speaking nonsense as far as Dean was concerned.
It all clicked into place for Dean as he rubbed the back of Sam's neck, noticing how Sam had a fist pushed against his chest as he worked at sucking in air.
Against his heart.
Full on panic burst through Dean's system, his fight or flight response kicking in with a vengeance. Without thinking he pulled Sam upright and leaned him into his side, tucking him close in an attempt to
keep him safe.
Sam's head nestled onto Dean's collar bone even though Sam was a good three or four inches taller than Dean; at this point Dean realized he was supporting all of the kid's weight. At least he'd thought he
had all of Sam's weight until his brother's legs dropped out from beneath him and Dean's back ached in stunned protest. "Sammy?"
That's when Dean caught sight of them in the hallway mirror. Two guys hugging. Only Dean was struggling to hold his brother up, Sam's head flopping and long limbs straining toward the ground. It was mesmerizing in a dark way.
Sam's hand brushed Dean's thigh as it limply dangled and that urged Dean to action. But Dean didn't know if he should throw the kid over his shoulder and run for the car or call 911. His arm snaked around Sam to anchor him in place and that's when Dean felt it.
Instead of the comforting one-two rhythm of Sam's heart, Dean felt something more ominous—more of a rumble or swish.
Wings inside Sam's chest, flapping.
More like Sam's heart stuttering. Failing.
With a frantic look at Evangeline, who stood at the end of the hallway with her hand over her mouth, Dean shouted, "Call 911!"
Dean knelt down on the hardwood floor, easing Sam down his body until he had his brother sprawled in his lap, cradling his upper body in his arms.
Leaning down, Dean pushed his ear to Sam's chest and instead of the expected lub-dub, he heard something else. Something akin to a gurgle.
Should he put Sam in the recovery position or lay him flat and elevate his feet again? Dean couldn't think straight. At least when Sam was in his arms, he didn't have to guess that Sam was breathing—he could feel his brother's chest constricting and expanding with the effort of each breath.
Balancing Sam so that the top of his head brushed his chin, Dean slid a hand through his dark hair. So what if his body swayed back and forth? He wasn't rocking his little brother, not really.
So intent on the rise and fall of Sam's chest, and the way his substantial weight rested, completely vulnerable, in the protection of Dean's arms, Dean lost track of the time. It could have been five minutes or fifty. He just knew relief when he heard the sirens in the distance, doppling closer.
There was banging and shouting and Evangeline crying followed by a gurney and two burly guys stomping down the hallway. Dean was whispering encouragement onto the top of Sam's head—breathe, damn it, don't give up—and then found himself in a tug of war as one of the guy's tried to pry Sam out of his grip.
Evangeline was carrying on in the background about Tasers and passing out and how she never meant to hurt a soul and Dean did his best to block it out. These were paramedics, here to help his brother, and Dean needed to hand him over.
Dean had never been good at handing Sam over. Not since his baby brother had been placed in his four year old hands while fire raged through their house. Not when Sam had contracted Rheumatic fever and had struggled to assert his independence while Dean tried to keep him healthy. Not when Sam had left for Stanford—left Dean behind—and Dean had cried himself to sleep for weeks. Certainly not when Dean had pulled Sam out of his burning apartment while Jessica combusted on their ceiling.
Dean hadn't gotten Sam back, hunting by his side, only to lose him to some stupid witch-light job while he forced Sam to take it easy. Forced his will on Sam.
After Sam was arranged on the gurney, his shirt was stripped away and a monitor was attached. "Shit, he's all over the place. Grab the defibrillator…we need to try cardio version or we're going to lose him."
Unable to leave Sam's side, Dean fought dizziness as gel was spread on Sam's chest and two pads were placed on his chest. Sam didn't as much as twitch. He just laid there as the pads—metal plates—made contact.
Sam's hands had been so cold when Dean had tugged him upright. Sam should be shoving the metal off his chest, complaining about the cold. Not just flopping there on the gurney.
More terse words were exchanged between the paramedics. Charging. Clear. A Fib. Unstable.
That combination proved to be magic and the paddles were withdrawn, an oxygen mask whipped over Sam's face, blue tinged lips now hidden from Dean's view. Assorted clips and IV's and monitors stuck grotesquely out of Sam's body.
His brother's chest heaved with the effort of breathing and Dean was powerless against the memories assaulting him.
Choking out Sam in the basement of that rental in Iowa. Big eyes disbelieving as they stared back in the mirror. Pleading.
Choking out Sam during their sparring competition, determined to do what was best for Sam even against Sam's wishes. Resignation and mistrust swimming in his brother's eyes this time.
Dean just needed Sam to be okay. He needed to lock away that choke-out move because when it came to Sam, nothing good ever came of it.
Bright lights stabbed Sam's brain as he cracked his eyes open. A stranger hovered over him and Sam tried to jerk away but his body wouldn't obey him.
His whole body was heavy, weighted down.
Bright blue eyes peered down at him. "Relax, Sam. We're on the way to the hospital."
Hospital? Sam didn't want to go to the hospital. Dean wouldn't make him go. Where was his brother? "D'n…"
Alarms sounded in his ear and his thoughts became muzzy. His hand was squeezed and for a moment he thought Dean was there.
But the smells were all wrong. Antiseptic and saline instead of leather and gun powder.
Sam struggled against the weight on his chest.
The brightness overhead faded and Sam was left with gray and then black filling his vision. A roaring in his ears made him think of the surf pounding the shore of the Pacific.
For a moment he thought Jessica was with him.
Dean was a mess. Barely holding it together. Sam had been taken for the catheter procedure and now it was just a waiting game.
Waiting for Sam to come back to him.
Waiting for Sam to explain why he'd ignored his own body's signs, of which the doctor assured him there had been plenty, while they chased after their dad.
Dean had fled the room while Sam had been prepped, the sight of him being cleansed with antiseptic and then shaved on his neck, upper chest and groin area too much for him. He'd barely made it down the tiled hallway before finding a bathroom and unceremoniously purging thick bile into the closest sink.
Embarrassed at his overreaction at seeing Sam like this—of course he'd seen Sam naked before, when you lived like they did it was pretty much inevitable even when you tried to avoid it—Dean had forced his feet to return him to the room. Fortunately Sam was draped in sterile sheets from his neck to his feet and the nurse who had prepped him was totally disregarding Dean's presence, her sole focus on Sam.
Now Dean watched the seconds tick off the clock in the waiting room. He was the only one in the room and that just further reinforced how alone Dean was right now. His dad was who knows where, evading his calls, and his brother on the operating table, getting a catheter rammed into his heart muscle.
Right now, Dean didn't know who to be more upset with—his dad for not being there for him, his brother for not telling him there was a problem even before he was tased, or himself for getting Sammy into this mess.
All his life, all he'd ever wanted was to take care of Sammy and his family. Instead he was stuck in some damn waiting room, waiting for news.
"Excuse me, are you Sam's brother?" Dean's head snapped up as a silver haired man in a white lab coat approached him.
Dean jumped to his feet. His heart fluttered in his chest, excitement and dread warring. "How's Sam? Can I see him?"
The man put his hand out and returned Dean's tense grip without flinching. "I'm Dr. Winslow and I have to say Sam tolerated the procedure fairly well. We located the section of the muscle with the arrhythmia and corrected the misfiring electrical impulses. Sam has had some hard to control bleeding in the inguinal catheter site but that's not uncommon. The intracardiac ultrasound indicated that we left the heart in better shape than we found it. We're going to keep him here for the next day or two to monitor his progress. If everything goes as I suspect it will, you can take Sam home by Saturday. If you'll come with me, I'll take you to him. Any questions?"
Words failed him and a rush of moisture obscured Dean's vision for a moment but he brushed at his eyes impatiently. Sam needed him to be strong. "I just want to see Sam."
Dean wouldn't believe that Sam, who had been gone for more than seven hours, was on the mend until he saw it with his own two eyes.
The doctor led him down a deserted hallway and then into a small glass cubicle, curtained off from prying eyes. "I've scheduled Sam for an ECG and an Echocardiogram sometime tomorrow. Try to keep him quiet and his legs still for the next six hours or so to prevent bleeding. Nurses will be in every fifteen minutes to take Sam's vitals and monitor him. Feel free to stay as long as you like, we allow visitors twenty four-seven in the cardiac unit."
Dean walked in to find a woman bent over Sam's groin, smoothing a small dressing over an insertion site. Dean almost involuntarily apologized for interrupting what looked like an intimate moment but as soon as he laid eyes on Sam's face, his knees sagged, threatening to drop him on his ass.
Sam's skin was tinged with pink instead of blue and best of all, his eyes were open. They were not only open, but they were clear. His voice held that little boy lost note that always got to Dean, even if he'd never admit it. "Dean, what happened?"
The nurse excused herself and Dean hooked a comfortable looking padded chair over next to the side of the bed, dropping wearily into it. "I'll tell you what happened. Your heart went wonky, the doc had to do some catheter thing and you just shaved ten years off my life. What the hell were you thinking?"
Sam's nose crinkled up at Dean's tone and he opened his mouth to respond, only to be overcome with a huge yawn. They both ignored the yawn, Sam firing back with an edge, "Thinking about what? I don't know what you're talking about. The nurse told me they did a procedure for arrhythmia but the last thing I remember, we were at the farmhouse and that chick hit me with the Taser. What the hell did I miss?"
Sam was acting like the injured party but Dean wasn't buying it. He knew Tasers were safe when they were used on healthy people. That meant Sam wasn't healthy, and worse, he'd been hiding it. "I'll tell you what happened, you didn't tell me that you were sick and now look at you. Don't you trust me?"
Dean's voice had risen to an uncomfortable decibel at the same time he'd climbed to his feet. Towering over his brother, he felt a vein in his temple throb. Relief at Sam's improved health was present but anger was the overriding emotion at the moment. He reminded himself that at least Sam wasn't out of breath, which was a far cry from last night. In fact Dean would much rather verbally spar with Sam as opposed to watching him wilt like some delicate flower in the heat.
The same nurse who had just left the cubicle stuck her head back inside, pushing a hank of dark wavy hair behind her ear. Her bright blue eyes dared to twinkle at Dean and he crossed his arms tightly over his chest, scowling at her. His actions had no affect on her as she spoke in a clear, low voice, "Excuse me, I just wanted to let you know that Dr. Winslow is on his way back to talk to you. Do you need anything in the mean time?"
Dean had just talked to the man and couldn't think why he'd be coming back. Unless it was because there was something wrong with Sam after all. His legs shook and he dropped back down into the seat with a huff.
With wide eyes, Sam stared at Dean, peering from beneath greasy, dark bangs. Both brothers ignored the nurse until Sam shifted his eyes to look over Dean's shoulder, shaking his head no at the nurse before resuming the staring contest, staring up at Dean from the slightly raised head of the bed. It was hard for Dean to remain angry with Sam when he looked so earnest.
Steeling his heart against Sam's expressive face, Dean wrapped himself in his anger. All of this could have been avoided, if only Sam trusted him.
Sam was perplexed. Dean was accusing him of doing something, or not doing something, and it was aggravating. Sam couldn't defend his actions if he didn't know why Dean was upset with him.
Dean's face appeared haggard in the fluorescent light and Sam instantly felt guilty. Whatever he'd done, or not done, had taken a toll on his brother. It wasn't just that Sam had ended up in the hospital although that wasn't helping matters; Dean hated being stuck in one place and whenever Sam was hurt or sick, his brother seemed to take it personally.
But this was something more. Dean seemed almost hurt. Sam would gladly apologize if only he could figure out what to apologize for.
Reaching out for Dean's arm, Sam made brief contact before Dean jolted back, stepping out of reach. "What do you mean I don't trust you? I trust you with my life, Dean."
"Don't you get it? I almost lost you, Sam! All because you couldn't bring yourself to tell me something was wrong." A kick to the solar plexus couldn't have left Sam more breathless at the moment. Dean really thought Sam would lie to him about being able to do the job? Dean had accused Sam of being selfish in the past but Sam had really thought they were past that.
Someone cleared his voice and Sam looked up to find a man standing in the doorway. "Hi Sam, I'm Dr. Winslow. Laura said you were awake and maybe had some questions for me. But first let me do a quick examination of you."
Warm, competent hands heated the stethoscope before it was pressed against Sam's skin. After being asked to breathe deeply, breathe normally, lean forward, breathe deeply again, Sam wondered if he'd next be asked to bark like a seal and balance a ball on his nose. "Your heart and lungs sound good. We'll keep the IV in overnight but we should be able to remove it tomorrow. The heart monitors will stay on until you leave us and then we'll fit you with a telemetry monitor for a week or so to make sure your heart is working well after you leave. Right now I have to caution you about not moving around too much for the next six hours…we don't want to see any excessive bleeding so you mind the nurses and you should be fine. So, questions?"
Sam's mind drew a blank. There was so much he wanted to ask, but he didn't know where to start. Dean, however, found his voice quickly. "Sam was suffering from a strep infection, wasn't he? After he had rheumatic fever, the doctors said he'd have to stay on top of that or this kind of thing could happen."
Anger infused hurt colored his brother's voice again. Sam wanted to rebut Dean's words but maybe he had been at fault. Things had been so chaotic since Jess had died. Maybe he'd been sick and hadn't noticed. If that's what had happened, he'd put Dean at risk which was unforgivable. How could he have Dean's back if he was passing out left and right? "Dean, I'm sorry. I would never have put you at risk like that. Not if I'd known there was something wrong. You have to believe me. Please?"
Dean impatiently waved his apology aside, getting to his feet again. His features may as well been carved of granite for all the emotion Dean was displaying now. A change from volatile temper to icy cold demeanor was never a good sign with Dean. His words didn't contract that feeling. "Save it for later, Sam. I want to hear from the doctor why you took a header at my feet and almost died."
Cringing against the pillows, Sam turned his attention back to the doctor. He wanted to make Dean understand that he hadn't meant to put him in danger but he didn't know where to start.
The tension was thick in the room as the doctor scratched his clean shaven chin thoughtfully. "Tell me, Sam, have you been under a lot of stress recently? Your appetite up to snuff? Getting plenty of rest?"
Sam looked down at his hands curled loosely on his stomach. He had been pushing himself pretty hard lately. There were only so many hours in the day and he had to find their dad. He couldn't bring Jess back but he could go after the thing that had killed her.
"Sam's been under a ton of stress these last two months. His girlfriend died recently and our dad is missing." Sam gasped and glanced up, in full disbelief that Dean would tell a stranger about their problems. His brother ignored his look, all of his attention aimed at the doctor. "Is that what caused the strep infection?"
Anger faded from Dean, leaving resignation in its wake. This didn't make sense, at least not to Sam. It wasn't Dean's fault Sam had been going non-stop. In fact Dean was the only bright spot in Sam's life and he didn't know what he'd have done without his brother by his side.
The doctor took Dean's question in stride and shook his head no. "Actually, Sam didn't have an infection, the tests were negative, but we think since his bout of rheumatic fever when he was a teenager that he did suffer from another strep infection which damaged some of his heart muscle. Or maybe the damage was done at the time when the strep went unchecked and he came down with rheumatic fever and it just wasn't detected at the time. In any case, I think the stress exacerbated the arrhythmia and the Taser brought things to a head. Although that's just a guess. The important thing is that we monitor Sam to make sure the problem has resolved."
Silence reigned and the doctor leaned forward, patting Sam on the knee. "I'm sorry for your loss. But it looks like you're in good hands with your brother here. According to Laura, he hasn't left your side except while you had the catheter ablation performed."
The doctor disappeared out the door before Sam had a suitable response. He knew he was lucky to have Dean as a brother. Sam was just sorry that his health issues had almost cost his brother. What if Sam's heart had failed him during one of their recent hunts and he'd left Dean exposed to danger? Failed Dean like he'd failed Jess?
He scrubbed a hand over his face, wishing he could appease Dean's anger, justifiable anger, as easily as he could wipe the moisture from his eyes. "Dean, man, I swear I didn't know I was sick. You have to believe me, I would never jeopardize you that way on purpose. I would have told you if I'd realized there was a problem."
Dean made a motion with a hand as if he were cutting off Sam's apology, pacing relentlessly back and forth in the small cubicle. Watching all that pent up rage, aimed at Sam, made Sam dizzy. Dean's feet suddenly halted. "Just stop, Sam. You didn't jeopardize anything. I'm the one who let you down."
Sinking down the pillow, Sam rubbed lightly at his chest. There was a residual burn there but there was no denying that he felt better. Now he just needed to get through to Dean. Make him understand. "What do you mean, you let me down? God, Dean, I don't know what I would have done without you since…well, since we left Palo Alto. How could my being sick possibly be your fault?"
The mattress shifted and Sam found himself hip to hip with his brother. "I'm supposed to take care of you. Didn't you hear the doctor? I should have made you rest more. Made sure you ate regularly."
Sam slugged Dean in the shoulder. It was a pathetically weak attempt but he was pissed off now. "What am I, two years old? It's not your job to take care of me anymore, it's mine. I know it doesn't seem like it, but I've done a pretty good job since I went to school. Damn it, why aren't you mad at me? You could have gotten hurt, or worse…what if I'd screwed up on the hunt? Let you down?"
A hand slid behind his head and Sam found himself leaning into Dean's shoulder. "Sam, please, it's okay." Calloused fingers brushed moisture from his cheek, moisture Sam hadn't even realized was there. "You're gonna be fine. It's my job to make sure of it. Always has been, always will."
Dean rubbed Sam's back in lazy circles and Sam forgot to be embarrassed at his actions. He let his independence slide for a moment, too. He wasn't in this alone and it felt good to have his big brother at his side.
Sam's head drifted on to Dean's shoulder and he let his eyes droop closed. He'd just rest his eyes for a moment and then he'd shoo Dean out, make him get some sleep before he ended up in the hospital
The weight in Dean's arms was getting heavier and he knew the right thing to do was ease Sam back on to the bed and let him get some rest. The kid had been through a lot in the last twenty-four hours. Make that two months. Check that—his whole life.
But Dean didn't move. He soaked up his brother's presence, grateful that Sam was doing better. That maybe this time Sam's heart was as strong as it was big.
But there was one thing Dean couldn't dismiss. "Sam, you still with me?"
A drowsy nod into his shoulder accompanied by another gigantic yawn was his answer. Dean knew he'd never bring it up if he didn't do it now so he plunged ahead. "Do you really trust me? I mean you didn't tell me about your nightmares when you were fourteen, and you didn't tell me you were leaving for Stanford until you and Dad fought about it. Are we good?"
Dean was embarrassed that he'd said the words aloud. In his head they hadn't sounded nearly as whiny. But he needed to know. Was Sam just with him as a means to an end or did he want to be there, did he trust Dean enough to tell him the truth?
Sam awkwardly patted Dean's shoulder, his motions slow and exaggerated, filled with exhaustion. "I didn't want you to think I was a stupid kid. I didn't want to fight with you. I just wanted you to trust in me."
Dean's arms involuntarily squeezed Sam closer and his brother squeaked out a protest. Sam wanted Dean to trust in him—trust his decisions—and Dean wanted Sam to trust him with the truth. That Sam would share whatever was bothering him and let Dean fix it. Always.
Because for Dean, hunting was a lifestyle but Sammy was his life.
That meant no more choke-outs and no more trying to micromanage Sam's life. Both times choking out had ended in disaster with Sam. The micromanaging hadn't worked out when their dad had tried it and the only thing Dean had to show for it himself was a brother recuperating in the hospital.
Sam was finally asleep, his breathing measured and steady, his head heavy on Dean's shoulder. Dean didn't loosen his grip on his brother. Although eventually he would need to give Sam some space, especially if he didn't want to get ruthlessly ragged on for his girly behavior, he knew in his heart he would never really let Sam go.