Ease His Pain
(written for a commentfic celebration on LJ in the ohsam community, for the prompt: 'Sam has a leg injury'. Set in season 5.)
An old man, well-dressed, sits primly on a battered set of empty bleachers in the middle of a corn field. There's no reason for it to be there, but he doesn't seem surprised. It's not the right season for corn, either, but he knows that doesn't matter here.
Maybe, he muses, Heaven is simply a kaleidoscope of moments that make your heart swell, or soothe your soul. He is blessed, he knows, to have so many different things in his life that bring him joy or peace. For Archibald Graham, every day in Heaven is different than the last.
Sometimes, he wakes up and finds his beloved Alecia snuggled close in his arms, while the morning sun creeps through the window and casts its soft glow over her. It's January 1916 again, and he hugs her closer, wants to protect her from the chill Minnesota winter hovering outside their cocoon of blankets. Wants to protect her from anything that might ever make her sad or afraid. She nestles closer, still asleep. They are young and completely besotted with each other, and it feels like they have their whole lives ahead of them. This is Heaven.
Other times, Moonlight Graham opens his eyes to find himself basking in the late afternoon sun in the middle of right field. It's the bottom of the eighth, and the Giants have such a ridiculous lead that the benchwarmers finally have a chance to show what they're made of, what they have to offer. Graham is tall and strong and he knows if he gets a chance at the plate, he'll connect with the sweet spot of the bat and the ball will rip right past Brooklyn's infielders. He can already feel himself racing down the baseline, the quick snag of his metal cleats on the bag at first base, and then he is turning the corner, confident in his speed to turn it into a double. Yes - he can't wait for the ninth inning and his turn at bat. The anticipation gives him goose bumps. This is Heaven, too.
Not today, though. Today he is 'Doc' Graham. No longer relishing the vigor of youth, but contented in the fact that he has served his community well. He has devoted his life to medicine - has healed and counseled and helped where he was sorely needed, and there is a deep satisfaction in that. Knowing that your life had purpose, and others had a better life because of you.
He sits tall on the metal bleachers, hands loose around the handle of his cane, and waits to see what today will bring. It's quiet. There's a pint-size dugout just a few feet away, and all around there is nothing but corn - high as elephant's eye, as the song goes. Alecia does love musicals, he thinks fondly.
But Alecia isn't here right now. Moonlight Graham recognizes the field of corn. He knows that beyond the field there's a big league baseball diamond. And lights! Imagine that - lights for playing at night! And beyond that, a farmhouse full of faith and love. But here in this oasis in the corn patch, this deserted concession stand and wobbly bleachers and Little League dugout with peeling green paint - this is something new.
The wind stirs, and the stalks rustle like a secret being whispered. He waits. He's an old man; patience comes easily to him now. And in a moment, someone emerges hesitantly from the maze.
The man is young. Tall and broad-shouldered, and Doc can't help but think what a fine ball player he might make. Except for the crutches, and the painstaking way he limps forward.
A recent injury, Doc thinks. He can see the concentration etched in the stranger's face as he struggles to maneuver through the cornfield, leaning on the crutches with his weight on his left leg, flinching whenever his right foot catches on the ground. He's wearing a jacket and jeans and there's no cast - it's not just a simple broken leg. Doc doesn't detect any bulky bandages under the denim. Maybe not too recent, he decides. The man moves with a weariness of living with pain every waking minute, day after day, and having that pain rob him of healing sleep, too.
He's sweating from the effort this short journey takes. As he draws closer, Doc watches a series of reactions flit across the man's face - wariness sliding into stunned bewilderment, and then a guilty flash of relief at seeing a place to sit down. Doc shuffles aside to make room for the visitor to join him.
The young man reaches the bleachers, turns and leans back, and that's all it takes to rest his haunches on the top row - he's even taller than Doc realized. The stranger swings the gimpy leg over the lower seats, stretches it out, and then he bends his other knee and settles his foot on the plank in front of him. He's twisting to prop the crutches along the side of the bleachers when Doc speaks.
"Folks 'round here call me Doc Graham," he says amiably.
"Sam Winchester." Sam holds out his hand, and Graham shakes it warmly. The newcomer's grip is strong, but there's a tremor that gives away the effort it's taking to pretend he's not in serious pain. Doc can read the strained lines in Sam's face like his Alecia can read music. He knows.
As if he senses he's being judged, Sam lets go of Doc's hand and looks around. "What is this place?"
Doc smiles, remembering the story Shoeless Joe Jackson had told him when he first walked into this very cornfield. Joe said he'd asked the man who owned the place if this was heaven. "No," Ray Kinsella had said, amused. "It's Iowa."
"I'm not exactly sure," Graham answers honestly. "Maybe - maybe this place is whatever you want it to be. Is this... does it feel familiar to you?"
Sam looks around, a little furrow in his brow. Then slowly, something close to a look of wonder washes over his face. Eyes that had been narrowed with pain open a little wider. "Dean, my brother, he played Little League one summer. In Indiana, I think," he says. "I went to every game, and sat on bleachers just like these." He shifts uncomfortably on the narrow aluminum seats with a rueful chuckle. "They're smaller than I remember."
Doc leans back on his elbows. "I can almost smell the hot dogs from the concession stands," he says, inhaling deeply. "A good memory for you, then?"
"Oh, yeah. Dean was - he was amazing to watch. He just had all the tools for baseball, you know?" Sam curls over his leg, starts to knead a cramp. "He was quick and strong; he had a great eye and anticipation and concentration. Dad trained that into him." Sam's voice gets a little shaky and he stops a moment to breathe through the pain. When he's got it under control, he continues, like the distraction of talking helps. "Dean played mostly shortstop. Even though he was only eleven that summer, he made the twelve-year-old All-Star team." Sam huffs with pride and shakes his head a little at the memory. "Man, I loved hearing everyone cheer when he made a great play. Knowing it was my brother they were cheering for."
Doc Graham nods. Dean is clearly the older brother, and Doc had a big brother he worshipped once, too. David died in France in the Battle of Belleau Wood in World War I, but sometimes Heaven is playing catch with David again on a summer morning in the fields of the old winery behind the farmhouse where they grew up.
Doc understands why this might be a day in Heaven for Sam. "How old were you?" he asks.
Sam is still clenching his bad leg just above the knee, and he answers through gritted teeth. "I remember Dean had a game on my seventh birthday. In 1990. The coach took everyone out for pizza after their win, but Dean couldn't go. Because of me."
Doc has seen that look before, muscle twitching in the jaw as pain medications wear off. He wants to help. But first, one thing puzzles him. "What made that summer so special? Didn't you play baseball when you got bigger?" Doc looks him up and down. "You sure look to me like you'd have been a pretty good athlete. You must've had a summer when the cheers were for you."
Sam shrugs. "I played soccer, not baseball," he admits. "But that summer when I was seven - that was special. Everything was so simple then. Uncomplicated. I didn't find out until a year or two later..." He stops.
"Didn't find out what, Sam?"
Sam glances at Doc from the corner of his eye, then looks away again, lips tight. He doesn't answer.
Doc had spent most of his long career working with schoolchildren. He'd seen lots of sniffles and chickenpox, but occasionally there were children who lived in daily fear, who tried so hard to keep it locked inside where no one else would know. He senses something like that in Sam. Or at least in Sam's childhood. Adult Sam is more of an enigma. But one thing is clear. This was a time Sam remembers with unbridled happiness.
Doc rises to his feet, sure of his purpose here now. "I can take you there, if you like."
"What do you mean?" Sam looks up, and for a moment, something like hope is shining in his eyes, before it's shuttered, and suspicion and doubt take its place.
"Through these rows of corn." Doc gestures. "I can take you to back to 1990, Sam. Back to that summer in Indiana. And the years will melt away like snow on a spring day, and son - you can be seven again. Remember the feel of the sun on the back of your neck, warm like the palm of your father's hand? Remember waking up in the morning with more energy than you knew what to do with, wondering if you'd gotten taller over night?"
Sam stares at him, his eyes suddenly glistening.
"No more pain, Sam," Doc says quietly. "And no more fear."
"This. It's all real?" Sam whispers. "Are you - are you an angel?"
Doc smiles, shaking his head. "I don't know if angels are real or not. I'm just a guide, Sam. Sometimes when someone finds their way here, there's still a choice to be made. When I first came here, I had to make a hard choice, too. So I'm good at listening, if you want to talk about it before you decide."
"I don't have to go with you?"
"No. Not unless you want to. But why are you here, then, if you don't want to be?"
"It was Dean's idea. We weren't even in Iowa. He just said he had a feeling. Go the distance, he said. I didn't know what that meant-" Sam's hands are shaking as he fumbles a small bottle of pills out of his jacket pocket, pries the lid off and dry-swallows a couple tablets. The bottle slips from his fingers and falls between the bleachers to the gravel below. "God. I can't even... No wonder he wants to get rid of me."
"Your brother?" Doc asks, encouraging Sam to explain.
Sam rolls his eyes, muttering, "I can't believe I'm telling you this. But I can't believe this place really exists either." He shakes his head, like he's trying to convince himself. "Fever's probably back. This is all just another hallucination..."
But he does explain. He tells Doc an incredible story of monsters and demons and restless spirits. And Doc doesn't doubt him. After all, he'd been a restless spirit once himself.
Sam tells him about hunting dark things, and of being hunted by Lucifer. Always on the run. But he can't run now. His leg is ruined, and the surgeon said he would never walk right again, much less run. He can't back up his brother any more. He's a liability.
And the pain, they'd told him, wasn't going to get better.
Archibald Graham isn't called Doc for nothing. He has an M.D. and over fifty years experience treating illness and injury. So he can't help but wonder what caused Sam's injury, if it was one of the supernatural things the brothers hunt or something more mundane. But he looks closely at Sam and he doesn't ask. Sam's mouth is shut tight and he's breathing hard through his nose, and Doc lets him have the respite.
"Are you ready to come with me now?" he asks when Sam's breathing evens out. Daylight is fading. It's time.
Doc nods. "Safe from Lucifer. Freedom from pain. Just comfort and peace."
Sam twists around, reaches for his crutches. He bites his lip, and then asks, "If Dean was still here..."
"He is here, Sam."
"He is?" Sam looks around the field, sees nothing but corn.
"Not here," Doc clarifies. He closes his eyes for a moment, and then blinks them open. "He's sitting in the middle of the bleachers at the baseball diamond in front of the farm house. Staring into left field."
"Is he -" Sam looks embarrassed to ask the question."Is there a game playing?"
Doc smiles. "Not even a practice."
"Then why hasn't he gone?"
Before Doc can answer, Sam shoves himself off the aluminum stands and pulls the crutches under his arms. "Could... could Dean come? Could you take him, too?"
"I'm sorry, Sam. Only one admission per ticket."
"What if - could he use my ticket? Dean's the one who's earned some peace. Not me. Could he -" Sam swallows. "Could he take my place?"
Doc just shakes his head. "I don't understand it all myself. But I think if Dean didn't leave the sidelines, if he didn't cross that line, it's because he isn't ready. He still has some purpose that he's not willing to let go."
"Then why is he still here?"
"He's waiting for you to move on, Sam. He won't leave you. But he'll know when you're gone. He'll feel it. And then he'll go."
Sam falters. His breath catches, and his hands clench the crossbars of the crutches so tightly Doc thinks he might snap the wood. Then Sam straightens and starts to limp toward the opening in the maze where he'd first emerged.
Doc leans on his own cane and steps toward the dugout. "It's this way, Sam."
"I'm not coming with you," Sam twists to look back at Doc. "I appreciate the offer. Really, I do. But -"
"You're going back to your brother."
Doc had a dog once that was hit by a car. Her eyes had been filled with so much pain, like Sam's are, that Doc had to put her out of her misery. But he doesn't ask Sam about the lifetime of chronic pain that lies ahead. He knows the answer to that. Instead, he asks, "What about - being a liability to Dean?"
Sam shrugs guiltily. "A year ago," he says, "I - I made some mistakes. I wasn't thinking straight. And I thought Dean wasn't strong enough. Now -" He gazes over the top of the cornstalks, like if he stares hard enough he could make out the chain link backstop behind home plate. That's where he's heading. Home. "Now," he continues, "I gotta believe that Dean will find a way. He always finds a way. To save me. To save everyone but himself." Sam lifts his chin. "I believe in him. But I'm not gonna let him face this alone."
"All right." Doc changes directions and comes up alongside of Sam, and the two of them start making their halting way toward the edge of the cornfield.
"You know what happened here, Sam, the day I made my choice?" Doc asks casually, like he's just passing the time.
Sam shakes his head, tightlipped again as he swings his bad leg through the crutches, but he glances at Doc, inviting him to share the story.
"A man named Ray Kinsella built this baseball diamond," Doc Graham tells him. "He didn't even know why. He just felt the pull of it, like a current in the ocean, and heard it whispered on the wind. 'Ease his pain.'"
"So - because of this voice - he built this ballpark. And in doing so, he brought peace to Shoeless Joe Jackson. To me. And to many other souls who were searching for something they'd lost. But do you know why the voice spoke to Ray Kinsella?
Sam shakes his head, looking down. Intent on picking a path that won't cause him to stumble as the growing dusk makes it more of a challenge.
"Because of his father. John."
Sam flinches. He takes his eyes off the ground for just a moment, and his crutch catches on a gopher hole. His weight comes down on his bad leg, and he bites out a four-letter word that Doc never heard when he started his medical practice in the small town of Chisholm, Minnesota, one hundred years before.
Doc is a tolerant soul; he doesn't comment on it. "John Kinsella. Ray's dad," he elaborates, while Sam shudders, breathing hard, and tries to gather himself.
"Ray's memories of his dad were all bitter ones," Doc continues. "When John was worn down by the sacrifices of his life. What he longed for - what they both longed for - was one more chance. Just to have a simple game of catch. Father and son, nothing more than that." They start walking forward again. "Feeling the thud of the ball land in your glove like unspoken words of praise. Tossing the ball back and watching it travel true through the air, welcomed home."
Sam stops. "I wish Dean could have that. Just one day off, from - from everything." His voice sounds rough, and somehow Doc doesn't think it's his leg this time.
"You know," Sam adds. "He never said, but I could tell. He always wished Dad could have come to one of his games."
Doc smiles, and his eyes twinkle with a sudden inspiration. "I think there's enough magic out there in the moonlight to make this dream come true."
The lights around the ballpark suddenly flash on with an audible snap. They are almost out of the cornfield, and Sam stops at the edge.
"You can do that? Give Dean a game of catch with -" his voice catches. "With Dad?"
There's a well-worn baseball glove lying just beyond them in the outfield dirt. Doc steps forward, bends to pick it up and turns back to Sam. "I'm just a guide, Sam. I'm sorry." He looks across the field toward Dean, who has seen something from his perch on the bleachers and starts to climb down. "Besides," Doc tells Sam. "I think we both know who Dean wants another chance with."
Doc holds out the mitt, but Sam is frozen.
"I can't -" He looks both miserable and angry as he lets go of one crutch to wave dismissively at his bad leg.
"Sam." Doc steps forward, and stills Sam's hand with his own. "I'm not just a guide, and an ex-ball player," he reminds him gently. "I'm a doctor, too."
He kneels in the dust, one hand on his cane, and sets down the glove. Then he lays his hand on Sam's right leg just above the knee and closes his eyes. When he opens them, he sees Sam is trembling. Sam's face is pale, his eyes wide. He's standing straight and tall, not hunched over his crutches, and when he puts his weight on the wounded leg, there's no sign of pain.
"Sam?" Dean's shout comes from the vicinity of second base as he breaks into a jog.
"What did you...? How?" Sam sputters and falls silent. For a moment, he seems frozen in disbelief, and then his face brightens in awe, like a four-year-old who's just been handed a puppy. He bounces lightly on both feet, bends his knees, and when he straightens, Doc discovers he has a smile that carves deep dimples in his cheeks and makes his eyes bright.
"To be honest? I don't know how it works." Doc climbs awkwardly to his feet, and Sam extends a hand to help him. "I wasn't sure it would. But there's a magic energy in this place, for those who believe."
He holds out the leather baseball mitt again, and this time Sam takes it. "I can't even say if what I did will last beyond the limits of the baseball field," Doc tells him. "I hope it does, Sam."
"Well-" Sam sets his crutches to the side and lets them drop where the grass meets the dirt on the warning track. "If it doesn't stick, I guess I better get in a game of catch, first." He is smiling when he looks back at Doc and shakes his hand warmly. "I can't tell you..." He tries to find the words and finally shrugs. "Just. Thank you."
Doc turns back to the cornfield. "I'd best be getting home," he says, lifting one hand in farewell. "Or Alecia will think I've got a girlfriend." He grins impishly and then disappears in the stalks of corn. As darkness creeps in, everything begins to look like an old photograph, images fading away. Sound fades, too. He hears a murmured conversation behind him, but he can't make out what is said.
The last thing he hears is the thwock of the ball hitting the pocket of a baseball glove: once, and then again. Settling into a back-and-forth rhythm. Like a conversation: a confession, an apology, a promise. Without words. And then the laughter of two young men enjoying a simple hour without cares, before they take up their burdens again.