You Always Gotta Pull the Bullet Out
"You know there's a lot of jokes I could be making right now about the way you're sitting," Dean smirks, eyeing Sam in the passenger seat, hunched over and cradling his wrist. "I was going to start with the limp wrist ones but I thought those might be too easy—"
"Dean," Sam mutters, and it's the first word he's said for almost fifty miles. He doesn't add anything else, not a snarky retort or an exasperated complaint, just gives this stuttering little sigh and that's what catches Dean's attention.
"Sammy?" he asks, looking at him in earnest now. "You doing alright?"
Sam snorts at the question, and Dean doesn't know if it's because a hundred miles back Dean was the one crying and confessing he didn't think he should be alive, or because Sam is very clearly not alright.
"Is it your wrist?" Dean asks, which is almost as dumb as asking if Sam's alright. He sinks his foot on the gas pedal closer to the floor, not even watching the speedometer. "Let me see it."
"No, keep your eyes on the road." Sam pulls back as though he expects Dean to reach out and yank on his broken wrist, which, okay, Dean isn't that much of a dick, then hisses in pain. "We're… we're going to the hospital, aren't we?"
Dean tries not to flinch at all the things wrong with that question, the hesitant tone of Sammy's voice, the way Dean wants to vomit at the word hospital, or the fact that Sam even has to ask.
"Yeah," Dean says, and it's gruff and a little belligerent but it's the best he can do. "We should be coming up on the city in the next ten minutes or so."
"Okay," Sam replies, short and clipped, and Dean remembers his brother hates hospitals almost as much as he does.
It takes them half an hour to get to the hospital, and Dean spends the whole time wishing the stupid zombie chick had never been brought back from the dead in the first place and Sammy wasn't such a damn breakable kid, and why couldn't it have been a nice gunshot or knife wound, something they could treat in the safety of the motel room? Not a fucking wrist which went under the category of Serious Injuries and Serious Injuries always got immediate trips to hospitals, stupid fucking hospitals that needed ID and credit card information and asked so many goddamn questions.
It feels wrong to park the Impala in the hospital parking lot, like Dean's allowing her to be contaminated or something, regardless of the many hours she's spent parked there in the past, but he ignores the feeling and gets out and is around the car and on the way to the main door before he realizes Sammy isn't following.
He looks back and discovers Sam's not even out of the car yet, he's struggling with his seatbelt or the door and cursing fast and low under his breath like he only does when he's really agitated with something. Dean strides back over to him and goddamn he hates hospitals and does Sam really have to go make it worse by being such a total spaz?— then he yanks the door open and gets a good look at his little brother.
Sam's face is pinched and scrunched looking, kinda like the expression he always got when his was little right before he burst into tears. He's cradling his wrist against his body and even in the dim hospital parking lot lighting Dean can tell it's twice its normal size and sporting a bruise so thick and black it looks like the world's ugliest leather bracelet.
"Shit, Sam," Dean breathes, then puts a hand on his arm and gently— god, Dean could very happily never hear the noise Sam makes when he stands ever again— really fucking gently helps him out of the car and into the hospital.
They sit in the waiting room for another half an hour while the nurses and doctors do god-knows-what and Sam sits there with a broken wrist and sweat on his face and his skin looking fucking grey, and Dean tries to breathe through his mouth and not think about the last time he was in the hospital or any time he was in the hospital because they've all been extremely fucking awful except for that once, when Dad called him into the room and he clamored up on the bed right next to Mom and she said, all tired and happy and gorgeous, "This is your little brother, Dean. Say hi to Sam."
The nurse calls the name Dean told them at the front desk and he actually has to poke Sam to remind him to respond and that's when he knows he's really hurting, because Sammy's the best with the names and all the other tiny little details during things like this. Dean hopes Sam can remember their cover story as he's shuffled off for x-rays, though he figures there's not too much Sam can do to screw up, I slipped and fell which isn't even too far from the truth for them, if you replace 'slipped' with 'faced off against an evil zombie bitch' and 'fell' with 'got my ass thrown to the ground like I was a sack of potatoes.'
The clock in the waiting room is loud. Really loud. Who decided it would be a good idea to make a clock in the hospital this fricken loud, when there's like sick people and stuff who maybe would like a bit of quiet while they sit there and be sick? Christ. Dean feels like he is coming out of his skin.
You always gotta pull the bullet out, John Winchester would say as he wiped his child's blood off his hands, ready to start stitching or taping or offering a straight pull of whiskey. Or set the bone, or clean the cut. Don't matter the wound, it has to get worse before it can get better.
Well Dad, Dean thinks, clenching his hands together, head bowed towards the floor where he sees the speckles in the cheap linoleum as blood spots, I'm kinda thinking it got stuck at worse.
The fluorescent lights are buzzing, almost louder than the clock. Dean feels a bead of sweat drip down his neck even though he's cold, he's fucking freezing, Jesus, are they trying to kill the sicker patients in here by leaving the heat off and hoping they'll get pneumonia or something? Sam and Dean both had that once when they were little, and John had propped them up on pillows and pillows and bought them soup and let they watch whatever they wanted on TV, because he hated hospitals as much as they did.
And he'd died in one. John Winchester had not died on a hunt or at a motel or in his car, he had died in a fucking hospital because of Dean and since then things had gotten so much worse and it didn't look like they were getting better anytime soon and now Sammy was in there and his skin had been grey and it wasn't even the worse Dean had seen him looking in the past few weeks—
The tone suggests the doctor's been saying his name for several moments now and Dean jerks, startled and hating that he was startled.
"It's about your brother." The doctor's nametag reads Dr. Theodore Brant, and he's shorter than Dean which makes Dean feel better, but he's got this pursed little expression on his face that Dean already wants to smack off.
"How's he doing?" Dean asks, doing his best not to shift into looming hunter mode.
"He has a comminuted fracture in his wrist," the doctor says, then explains as if Dean doesn't know exactly what that means and has experienced it first-hand more than once. "The bone has been broken into several pieces."
"Does he need surgery?" Dean demands immediately, because that happened last time when it was Dad's tibia and he was in the hospital for a week and Dean almost called Sam at Stanford about five times every day.
"Fortunately, no, we were able to set the bone through closed reduction," Dr. Theodore replies, and Dean breathes easier for a moment. "He'll have to wear a cast for at least six weeks, and have several follow-up appointments."
"Okay," Dean says, thinking there's no way any of those appointments are going to be with Dr. Theodore Brant, who is shifting and squinting at Dean which means he's got more to say. Dean is sure he doesn't want to hear it. "So… we done here?"
Dr. Theodore Brant shifts again and Dean doesn't even bother to stop his hands from curling into fists now. "Mr. Livingston, your brother's X-rays showed a lot of past fractures…"
And there it is, yet another reason Dean has always hated hospitals. X-rays have always been dangerous for them with the amount of ghostly scars that show up on their bones. All it takes is for one bleeding heart doctor like Theodore here to think he knows what's best and before you know it Child Protection Services show up and Dad's eyes go cold and Sammy tries to make himself as small as possible and Dean feels like his insides are eating themselves.
But he and Sam are both over eighteen now so it's none of this doctor's damn business what went on in their past.
"Listen, Teddy, have you taken a good look at my brother?" Dean asks, flashing a smile that's every bit as smug and biting as his voice. "The kid's a genetic freak of nature, it's a miracle when he gets through a day without tripping on those overgrown limbs."
Dr. Theodore Brant sighs deeply as if Dean is this inevitable problem that he doesn't want to handle. "The thing is, Mr. Livingston," he continues wearily and Jesus, if he finds it this annoying being a doctor maybe he should look for a different job. Like insurance salesmen. Or marketing representative. Teddy looks like he would find himself at home in a cubicle, sighing at all his coworkers. "Your brother was just as recalcitrant when it came to answering questions about his medical history, so we were unable to administer him any pain medication."
The first thing Dean thinks is Good for you, Sammy and the second is Recalcitrant, really? This guy's a total douche. Then the rest of what Theodore said sinks in.
"You haven't given him any pain medication?" Dean growls, not caring that half the patients and nurses in the room jump at the sound. "You reset the separate pieces of his bone but didn't given him any meds?" Sam's tough and he can handle a lot of pain but that's the fucking point of hospitals, they make it so you don't have to handle it. "Why the hell not?"
"Mr. Livingston," Theodore says again, and Dean is two seconds away from grabbing him by the shirt and slugging him in the jaw and shouting The name's Winchester, bitch, now give my brother some fucking drugs! "How long has your brother been having these migraines?"
And fuck if that doesn't catch Dean completely off guard. He blinks twice and he knows it's already too much of a delay when he asks with carefully crafted ignorance, "What migraines?"
The doctor gives another sigh like Dean is making this difficult out of spite. Which he's not. Entirely. "After we set your brother's bone he complained of intense pain in his head and had what I'd cautiously classify as a tonic seizure. Now, I didn't feel comfortable giving him medication when—"
"Let me see him." Dean's voice is low and deadly now. Dr. Theodore takes a tiny step back then puts his hands up in what is clearly a defensive gesture though he tries to pass it off as merely placating.
"Mr. Livingston, I—"
"Let me see him," Dean repeats and this time Theodore doesn't argue. It's only when they get to room 217 and Dean shoves the door open with his left hand that he realizes his right is beneath his jacket, curled firmly around his gun.
Sam is sitting on the examination chair, the miserable hunch of his shoulders almost comical paired with his five-mile long limbs, and he looks up with surprise at Dean's sudden entrance.
"Now, if you'd like—" Theodore has followed him but Dean turns around the shuts the door right in his stupid face, pouring all the scorn he can muster into a "Thanks, Teddy, you've been a great help."
He turns back to Sam and Christ, the kid looks awful. His face is flushed now instead of grey and his hair is stuck to his forehead with sweat. He's shaking slightly and unevenly, muscles twitching beneath his skin, and Dean spots a tiny bit of blood at the corner of his mouth from where he must have bitten his lip or cheek in pain.
"Hey, Sammy," he says conversationally as though he doesn't want to pull out his gun and start firing until someone fixes this, fixes his brother. "How's it going? Heard they refused to dope you up."
Sam lets out a sort of snuffle that maybe was supposed to be a laugh. "Yeah, well I didn't feel like participating in the caring and sharing part of the appointment. They reset my wrist, though. Now I just have to wait for them to put on the cast."
He tries to smile at Dean like that's good thing, like he doesn't look like he's about to go into a fucking coma.
"Right." Dean keeps his conversational tone, though the urge to shoot something is stronger than ever. "So what was your vision about?"
Sam blinks and Dean doesn't know if it's funny or really fucking pathetic that this is nearly an exact repeat of his conversation with Theodore. "What—"
"Come on, Sam." Dean drops the act, crossing his arms over his chest and fixing Sam with a steady look. "Even if Doctor Dick hadn't told me about it, you look like you've gone several rounds with a tequila bottle. And lost all of them. As usual."
Sam blinks again at the half-insult, half-accusation; Dean's default way of expressing concern. His hands twitch like he wants to run them through his hair, but with his wrist still huge and dark and undoubtedly throbbing in his lap he doesn't move.
"It… it wasn't much of a vision," Sam admits, staring at his knees like he's just noticed they exist.
"So what, it was like the CliffsNotes version? Just some dude's foot or hair or something?" Dean's anxiety makes him impatient; he hates fucking hospitals and he hates when Sammy has these visions and he just wants to go to a motel and fall asleep in front of the TV with Sam complaining about the noise but eventually breathing easy next to him.
"It wasn't anything," Sam says, quiet and hurting. "It didn't come through."
"It didn't come through?" Dean realizes he's almost yelling and he thinks he should stop because he doesn't want any of the hospital staff breaking down the door and he definitely doesn't want Doctor Theodore Brant to come back, and he's a little afraid that his yelling is the cause of that tiny crease between Sam's eyebrows. "So now you're a television with shitty reception?"
"I don't know, Dean." The words come out on a sigh and the crease deepens and Dean feels like he's been punched in the gut. "They're never that clear."
"Doctor Theodore said you had a seizure." Dean is quiet now, nearly whispering the words as if that will make them less awful, less true.
Sam shrugs, hissing as the movement irritates his wrist. "It was the same as always."
"Oh, great, so every time you've had a vision before this you were having a fucking seizure?"
"I don't know, Dean!" Now Sam's the one yelling, and glaring from beneath his bangs. "Does it matter? I can't stop them, I can't control them, and I definitely didn't ask for them!"
He draws a deep breath, then another as if the first didn't quite work. His face is scrunching up again and he's shaking, really shaking now. Dean takes a step forward and Sam kind of rolls his eyes at him and Jesus, there are tears there, Sammy's got tears in his eyes and Dean hates this, he hates all of this and he shouldn't even be alive but he is and he doesn't know what to do.
Sam shoots out his uninjured hand and grabs Dean's shoulder, sinking his fingers in almost like he's trying to burrow them under Dean's skin, and it hurts, it really hurts but Dean leans into it because it's real and he's here and he can feel every shudder of Sam's body like tremors of an earthquake. Sam holds onto Dean like he's the only thing keeping him from splitting open, and Dean just stands there and breathes because he's pretty sure he's the one who's already been broken apart.
"Okay, Sammy," he says after a several long moments of staying still and letting Sam squeeze the hell out of his shoulder. "Okay. I'm going to find someone to finish fixing up your wrist, then we're getting out of here, alright?"
Sam tightens his grip for a moment and Dean almost winces at the pain, then he lets go and practically slumps sideways, looking beaten and exhausted.
"I hope it's not Theodore," Sam mutters, eyes drooping like he's about to pass out. "I kinda wanted to punch that guy in the face."
Dean laughs, the sound bright and sudden in the small room.
"Me too, Sammy," he says.
Dean expects Sam to sleep during the car ride to the motel, but he doesn't. Though they got some pain medication in him at last— after Dean stole it from the supply closest while he was in there with the pretty nurse from the front desk cause Jesus did it seem to take a long time to get a cast on a wrist and he was feeling a little wired and really bored— Sam's posture is still on its 'in pain' setting and he's hunched against the door of the Impala, long frame folded ridiculously in on itself. His injured wrist is cradled in his lap, and he's absently stroking the white plaster of the cast with his other hand.
"Remember when we got these as kids?" he murmurs, and Dean is glad of the excuse to look at him and stop pretending he hasn't been doing that since they left the hospital. Sam's voice is slurred and he looks like he's drifting on the edge of consciousness. "Show up at school and everyone would want to sign them. Then we'd move a week later and I'd read off all the names and I couldn't remember who any of them were."
Dean can't tell if Sam's remembering a specific incident or just remembering in general. Dean had gone to school sporting his fair share of casts, and he hadn't really minded once he'd figured out that girls loved signing them as much as anyone, and they'd press up all close and draw little hearts with their names and some of the bolder ones might even include a phone number. But Sammy didn't sound like it was a good memory for him, he sounded wistful and a little sad, so Dean says with warmth and just enough of a sneer,
"You always wanted to draw stupid pictures on my casts."
"They were good pictures!" Sam protests, and Dean has to laugh at the petulant tone of his voice because it's like they're kids again, and that aches a little but almost in a good way.
"Dude, they had smiley faces in them."
Sam huffs and Dean can tell without even looking that he's pouting and yep, he's definitely ten years old again. "Well you always tried to draw penises on mine."
Dean smirks, proud of his younger self. "Damn straight."
After Dean checks them in to the motel he comes back to help Sammy from the car. He's struggling again but now it's from tiredness and the meds rather than the pain. As Sam stumbles toward the door of their room, mumbling quietly to himself, Dean wonders if he should have been quite so enthusiastic with the morphine.
It doesn't matter once they get into the room and Sam immediately flops down on one of the beds, limbs sprawling like the freakish ten-thousand-foot Sasquatch he is, and begins snoring softly.
Dean dumps his gear on the other bed and rummages around in his duffel for a moment before moving back to Sam. He tugs off Sam's boots and tosses them on the floor, then tries to coax him out of his jacket and higher up on the bed so his head's actually resting on a pillow instead of hanging off the mattress.
"Dean," Sam mumbles, and Dean instantly backs off, worried he jostled his wrist. But Sam doesn't even open his eyes, just sort of wrinkles his nose and turns on his side, cast stuck out at an awkward angle. "Thank you." His uninjured hand fumbles for a moment before it finds Dean's knee, not exactly holding but resting, warm and solid.
"Sure thing, Sammy," Dean whispers back, then sinks down on the edge of the mattress, careful not to dislodge his brother's touch. He sits for a moment, watching Sam's chest rise and fall. He shouldn't be alive, he knows. His life carries the heavy weight of wrong now, not to mention the knowledge that John Winchester should be alive but isn't. Yet if John were alive he wouldn't be here right now.
Dean hates the thought the second it enters his head, because Dad did the best he could with what they had and he took care of his sons, Jesus, every breath Dean has taken since that awful day in the hospital is proof of that, but looking after Sammy is Dean's job, has always been Dean's job. And he shouldn't be here right now, but as Sam twitches in his sleep and his drug-congester snores flutter the curls crushed under his cheek, there's a tiny part of Dean that's kinda glad he is.
Reaching out, he brushes Sam's hair back from his forehead, relieved to feel no trace of a fever. Then he picks up the Sharpie he pulled from his duffel bag and very carefully and with great attention to detail, draws a giant penis that covers the entire underside of Sam's cast.
When he's done he signs it, and then just for good measure, adds a smiley face