A/N: I know ... it been forever and a day since I updated this story and quite frankly I wasn't even sure if I was ever going to get back into it. But after a few nudgings from some of you wonderful reviewers out there, I got the ball rolling on this again. I'm hoping that one or two more chapters should wrap this baby up. Thanks again for reading and I promise not to take so long with the next update. Again, there is no beta for this, so all mistakes are mine.
P.S.: There's medical stuff in this chapter that I am completely unqualified to write about and many liberties (most of them completely made-up) were taken in the writing of this.
"What?" Dean asked, his voice reflecting his rising anxiety. "What is it?"
"Oh..." The doctor turned and looked up at dean from his seat in front of the computer screen as if he just remembered that he was in the room with him. "Uh...come take a look."
Dean shifted over to stand behind the doctor and bent down to look at the image on the screen. He had no idea what he was looking at, but it was pretty disturbing to know that he was looking at his little brother's innards.
The doctor pointed to a dot on the screen. "Looks like your brother has a near total occlusion here in his right pulmonary artery...there's hardly any blood flow into his lung."
Dean felt sick to his stomach. "But you can fix it, right?"
"We got to get him up to surgery right away, but hopefully we can remove it with the catheter."
"Then what are you waiting for?" Dean asked tightly.
"Hold on." The doctor lifted a finger to Dean as he grabbed the nearby phone. Dean felt like snapping that condescending finger off, but knew that wouldn't be good to do that to the doctor that was about to operate on his brother. However, he let his irritation show brightly on his face.
"This is Dr. Berkowitz, I need the cath lab ready … I'm bringing a patient up with a P.E. ... ten minutes? Good. Thanks."
The doctor turned back to Dean. "We're going to take your brother up to surgery now and you can see him on his way up, but you won't be able to stay in the catheter lab with him."
Dean swallowed the lump in his throat and nodded. He headed out of the tiny computer room and came out just as Sam was being wheeled away from the scanner. He went directly towards his brother whose face was now a disturbing shade of deathly grey even with the oxygen mask covering most it.
Sam's eyes were closed, but when Dean touched his hand, his eyelids fluttered open weakly. "Dean …"
"Hey, Sammy." Dean tried to plaster on a smile of confidence - he wouldn't be helping Sam much if he showed just how really scared he was. "The doctors need to take you upstairs to get you fixed up."
Sam closed his eyes again and nodded tiredly. Dean could see the effort it took for Sam to get a breath in, yet still it was worrying to have his normally talkative little brother so quiet. Dean stayed with Sam while his bed was wheeled to the next floor, keeping his hand firmly gripped on Sam's cold fingers. The procession stopped briefly before a set of double doors and Dean knew he wasn't going to be allowed to go any further.
He squeezed Sam's fingers and felt Sam return it with unexpected strength while his eyes opened once again, a single tear forming in the corner of his right eye and dripping lazily down to the pillow. "Dean …" He rasped. "Tell Dad … tell him …" Sam couldn't get enough air in to finish, but Dean knew what he was trying to say.
Dean ruffled his shaggy hair. "Hey … none of that crap, bitch. You can tell him yourself when you're done in there, got it?"
Through the mask on Sam's face, Dean could see a ghost of grin quirked up around the corners of his mouth.
"Fine … jerk."
And that was that. Sam was taken away again, and Dean was left standing there staring at the door as it swung back and forth.
Sam felt Dean's hand slip from his fingers as he was taken away from him and whisked down a long hallway.
Things blurred in and out and time seemed to jump randomly. One second he was in the hall and the next he was on a surgical table with masked doctors and nurses hovering over him. The doctor spoke to him, but his words didn't hold Sam's attention as he drifted, too tired to even nod his head he was asked how he was doing.
The tightness in Sam's chest was getting worse; a vice grip around his lungs that he couldn't shake off and breathing was becoming more and more of a chore. Fear gripped him almost as tightly and trying to control it when he couldn't take a deep inhale, sent his head into a spiral. The doctor explained that he wasn't going to be knocked out for this, but he almost wished he could be then at least if he died, he'd never see it coming. He's just slip away in his sleep, and for someone who grew up with the chance of his life coming to a violent and bloody end with every hunt he and his family went on, that actually sounded pretty good.
And how screwed up was that? He was eighteen years old and thinking about how nice it would be if he could die now on this table rather than later on in some kind of bloody heap.
Sam tried to keep his eyes closed through the procedure, but a sudden stabbing pain clutched his chest and his eyes flew open when he realized that no matter what he did, no air was getting into his body. He couldn't breathe at all. His eyes flew open and his hand scrabbled for the sheet beneath him. In his greying vision, dark spots floated over him and he knew this was it ... was going to die. The doctor was starting to bark orders, none of which registered with Sam as everything went dark.
This was taking too long.
John glanced at the clock again and swore seeing that the minute hand hadn't moved despite the fact that it felt like an hour since he looked up at it.
Dean paced back and forth, sipping on his fourth cup of coffee. Seeing his oldest son's agitation made John want to switch Dean to decaf.
Where was that doctor? Shouldn't they have been done by now? Had something gone wrong?
John couldn't focus on one question long enough as his mind swirled a mixture of worry with guilt. They wouldn't even be here if John hadn't lost control, if he hadn't hit Sam, making him take off into those damned woods all by himself. He had to swallow hard in order to open up his tightening throat.
Dean suddenly stopped pacing and John looked up.
"Mr. Winchester?" The doctor spoke as he approached.
John was on his feet immediately. "How is he?"
"Well … why don't you have a seat?"
Shit. It was never good when someone told you to have a seat. Well, damn that – he'd stay on his feet.
"Doctor, just tell me how my son is." John demanded, "… please." He added when the younger man gave him a taken aback look.
"Well … the procedure went well. We managed to remove the clots that were occluding your son's lungs—"
John knew there was a 'but' coming.
"But … there was a complication during the catheterization and Sam went into respiratory arrest …"
Dean was suddenly by his side, his face pasty white. "What? But he's okay, right?"
"We had to intubate him and we have him on a respirator for now … I have to warn you though, Sam's right lung was severely deprived of oxygen and there is the possibility that there was cell necrosis."
"Necrosis? What does that mean?" Dean demanded to know.
"It means that part of Sam's lungs may have died and there may be permanent damage. I don't want to alarm you and we won't know that for certain until we can run more tests, but I would like to keep him on the vent for at least 48 hours to allow his lungs a chance to recover. Hopefully that will minimize any possible damage."
"Can we see him?" John asked, beating Dean to the question.
The doctor nodded. "Once we have him settled in the ICU, I'll have a nurse will take you to him."
The doctor beat a hasty retreat after that, perhaps sensing the darkening mood of the room and not wanting to get caught in the circle of emotions radiating off of the two men.
Two days later
Dean scrubbed a bone-weary hand across his stubbly face then glanced across the room where his father had finally succumbed to a fitful sleep within the arms of the chairs.
His sight returned once again to Sam, who lay as motionless as ever, still heavily sedated with the ventilator doing the work of breathing for him. It was hauntingly quiet in the room with only the swoosh and hiss of the vent echoing off the walls.
He leaned forward a little closer to his brother and started to speak softly to him in order not to wake his father from his much-needed rest. "Hey, Bro … The nurse was just here. She says they're gonna start weaning you off of this contraption and as long as you cooperate and keep breathing on your own they're gonna let you start to wake up too. So … " Dean swallowed and tried to keep the tone of his voice light without allowing it to crack, "you better do it …'cause …ya know … it's kinda boring talking to you when you don't have much to say back. "
There was a rustling coming from the chair Dad slept in, "Dean? You say the nurse was here? Why didn't you wake me up?"
Somehow Dad had slept through the nurse's visit, but had heard the soft one-sided conversation Dean had just had with his brother. He cleared his throat, feeling somewhat self-conscious.
"You needed the sleep, Dad."
"Could say the same about you, son." John said as he yawned then stretched. "How is he?"
"The same." Dean responded.
The rest of the day Dean kept a close watch on Sam while the vent was slowly taken off for periods at a time until finally the decision was made to remove the tube in his throat and allow Sam to breath completely on his own. It was an immense relief to see that tube gone and to be able to look on Sam's face without anything obstructing it besides the nasal cannula.
Sam was still pretty out of it thanks to the sedation, but inch by inch he worked his way back to the land of the living and by that evening, he was starting to stir.
"D'n?" Sam rasped, his voice raw, weak and tired, but Dean didn't think he had ever heard such a welcome sound.
Three weeks later
"You ready?" Dean asked.
"God, yes." Sam grinned.
"Good. Let's blow this popsicle stand, shall we?"
Sam couldn't say that he had ever been happier to leave a place than he was now - he was so sick of being stuck in this damn place, of tests, IV's, of his brother looking like death warmed-over because he wasn't taking care of himself. But, Sam was better now, his infection had cleared and he hadn't had a fever in over a week and his lungs had escaped any permanent damage thanks to the embolism. His leg still looked like hamburger, but that too was healing and he'd be starting physical therapy tomorrow to help it grow stronger and his doctors were optimistic that he'd be walking again and should have full range of motion again one day.
He still would be on heparin for quite a while to prevent any more blood clots, but all in all, this was the best he had felt in weeks and he was more than elated to be going home … or at least what could be called 'home' for now.
"Where's Dad?" He asked.
"Pulling the car around." Dean replied grabbing the crutches next to the door while a nurse began to push Sam's wheelchair down the long hallway towards the exit.
Sam nodded and glanced over at his brother. He had a smile fixed on his face and it lightened Sam's heart even more than leaving the hospital. Dean had aged far too quickly these last few weeks and it was nice to see him relax, even just a little bit. But, he hated the fact that he had been the cause of Dean's distress, and guilt once again grabbed him.
Once out to the curb, Sam took in the sight of the long, black car idling on the asphalt and breathed a sigh of contentment. Even before reaching the house that their father had found for them to live in, he felt like he was at home.
Dean helped ease Sam into the backseat so he could stretch his injured leg out. "You okay?"
"I'm fine." Sam tried not to grimace. Any movement of his leg still brought pain, but it was manageable.
"'kay." Dean gave him a quick grin then shut the door behind him before hopping into the passenger side seat.
Sam saw his father's eyes in the rearview mirror and he swore he could almost see a smile in them.
The trip to the house as uneventful, but being free of the hospital grounds and feeling the rumble of the engine beneath him, left Sam feeling a sense of peace and he was soon transported into the arms of Morpheus, dozing until the car came to a final stop.
Sam opened his eyes and looked out the window, a sigh escaping his lips at the sight of the old, clapboard house that greeted him. The word 'house' may not have come first to Sam's mind looking at the place - 'Shack' was more like it, but Dean had explained that while the place was pretty crappy, it was free. In other words, they were squatting.
"Hey Cinderella … your coach has arrived at the palace. You ready for the ball?" Dean announced as he twisted his head around to look at Sam.
"Shaddup." Sam groaned with a yawn.
"C'mon. Let's get you inside."
Six weeks later
Dean would have liked have said that everything was rainbows and butterflies in the Winchester family once Sam was out of the hospital, but that was not the case.
Yes, Sam was better and he was walking now with the use of a cane, but his brother was sullen and brooding lately and Dean had yet to get him to tell him why. Dad wasn't any different than Sam, but Dean reasoned that some of that was due to the fact that they had been stuck in this town and he hadn't been on a hunt since Sam was injured and was going a little stir crazy.
His dad had actually taken on a few odd jobs here and there to earn some cash while Sam continued his PT, but Dean felt his father's desire to get back to hunting and back to what's normal for them. Sam however, clearly did not look forward to getting back in the game and they closer he got to the end of his physical therapy sessions at the rehab center, the more distant he became and that was starting to lead to tension in the little house they shared.
There were plenty feelings of guilt and anger still over what happened to go around, but both Sam and Dad stubbornly refused to address those issues, choosing instead to let their fear and remorse simmer under the surface until the pressure built. And like two volcanoes, when the pressure got to be too much, they both blew their tops and oftentimes Dean was caught between the explosions, not daring to take sides.
Sometimes though, he just wanted to tie them both up to a chair and lock them in a room until they actually talked to each other.
Things became decidedly worse the day Dad came home saying he had received a call from Caleb about a possible demon that he suspected was hiding out in Wisconsin. Caleb couldn't take it on since he was on the hunt for a shifter down in Boston, but wanted to know if John was up for the hunt now that Sam was out of the hospital.
"I told Caleb I would go." Dad informed them, already packing his bags. "It shouldn't take long … maybe a week. Dean … you'll have to stay here with Sam and make sure he makes it to his PT appointments."
Dean wasn't too pleased with this turn of events, but Sam was even more unnerved than he was.
"You can't be serious … you're gonna go and take on a demon by yourself?" Sam asked.
"I've done it before, Sam."
"What about back-up?"
"Look … there's a good chance that if I catch this thing I can get some intel on the thing that killed your mother. I can't pass that up."
"And what if you get hurt?" Sam was on his feet, hobbling from the couch where he had been sitting. "There's got to be someone else that can do this or who can at least help you. What about Pastor Jim or Bobby?"
Dean could almost hear Dad's teeth grinding in irritation. "Drop it, Sam. I'm going and that's final. You and Dean are to stay here and you're going to work on getting that leg back into fighting shape so that when I get back you can start training again."
Sam's jaw dropped even as anger flashed in his eyes. "You're kidding me, right? You want me to start training again? Why? What's the point, it'll be months before I can hunt again."
At this point, Dean was on the edge of siding with Sam. His brother was still on blood thinners and any small injury could lead to uncontrollable bleeding.
"I'm not talking about hand-to-hand combat training here, Sam. We're still going to need you on the research end of things and doing a little target practice and Latin studies won't hurt. I just don't want you to get off your game too much, that's all. Now I'm going. I'll call you both when I get there."
Sam was still simmering with anger even after Dad left, slamming the door behind him.
"He'll be fine, Sammy." Dean tried to reassure him, certain that most of the anger Sam directed towards their father was caused more by concern than anything else. Dean was worried too about Dad going after a demon on his own, but when John Winchester laid down the law and gave orders, Dean found it almost impossible to question him.
"Don't call me 'Sammy'." Sam shot back.
"Geez, what bug crawled up ass and died, Sammy?" Dean himself was getting irritated now. "Why do you have to go and antagonize him all of the time, huh? And what's with you lately anyway? You're even bitchier than normal."
"I don't want to talk about it, Dean."
Sam grabbed the cane leaning up against the couch and started limping away, turning his back on his brother and leaving the room.
Dean wasn't going to let this go – not this time. He followed after Sam to the bedroom and found his little brother sitting on the bed, looking forlornly out the window. He sighed heavily and Sam turned at the sound, "What?" He asked, testy.
"C'mon … you gonna tell me what's been going on in that ginormous brain of yours? I get the feeling this isn't just about Dad taking off. You've been brooding more than usual and I want to know why. "
"Not now, Dean."
"Talk to me, Sam." Dean insisted, "Dad's not here, so if this about him -"
Sam looked down at his hands. "It's nothing." He muttered.
"That's a load of bullshit if I ever heard it." Dean softened his tone minutely, hoping to pry a little further into Sam's shell. "C'mon, something's eating at you."
Sam seemed to contemplate whether or not to open up to Dean, then looked back out the window. However, he started to speak, keeping his gaze firmly planted on the outside world. "You remember that letter I got – the one from Stanford?"
Dean felt his stomach twist. He had been hoping that Sam had seen reason and realized that college was an impossible pipe-dream. "Yeah … " he replied weakly.
"I missed the first semester ..."
"Hey man … s'no big deal, right? You weren't seriously thinking about going anyway, were you?"
At that, Sam turned his head towards Dean, his eyes taking on a wounded expression that sent daggers into Dean's chest. "Yeah … I was." He told Dean point-blank without anything to cushion the blow.
"Sam …" Dean dragged his name out. "C'mon … we need you here, with me and Dad."
"No, you don't." Sam shook his head. "You and Dad … you're the hunters in this family. I'm not. You know it ... Dad knows it –"
"That's not true –" Dean tried to counter, but Sam cut him off and his next proclamation slammed Dean hard in his gut.
"Yes it is … and that's not all … I don't want to be a hunter, Dean. I never did - " Sam's voice ratcheted up in intensity, "I'm sick and tired of chasing our tails all over the country for something we'll probably never find and I'm tired of being afraid all of the time, of worrying about whether the next hunt will get us all killed –"
"Sam, stop." Dean tried to end Sam's sudden diarreah of the mouth, but his brother was on a roll.
"There's more … you wanted to know what's bugging me, well here it is:" Sam reached down and pulled his duffel out from under the bed then opened it up, pulling out a much-handled envelope. He held it reverently for a moment before passing it off to Dean, "Read it." He insisted.
Dean reluctantly took hold of it and pulled the sheet of paper within it out, unfolding it before he started to read:
Dear Mr. Winchester,
Due to your extenuating circumstances, it is the determination of the financial aid office and the Stanford scholarship award board to extend the acceptance date of your scholarship to no later than 15 January, 2002 …
Dean would have kept reading, but Sam continued to speak, "I uh … I called them and let them know that I was still interested in attending, but that I was injured and needed more time. They're still offering me the scholarship – full tuition, plus books, and room and board – all I have to pay for is food."
"No, Sam … you can't ...But ..." Dean had a hard time stringing his frenzied thoughts into spoken words, "This is only a few weeks away."
"I know, but it's just college, Dean and this is what I want … what I've always wanted." Sam threw him one of the most heart-wrenching, kicked puppy looks he had ever seen. "I was hoping you would be a little more supportive." Sam hung his head and let his voice drop. "Guess I was wrong."
"Awww Dammit, Sammy … " Dean felt his throat constrict, "you know how Dad is gonna react to this. What am I supposed to tell him, huh? I mean … you almost died just a couple of months ago … you know he just wants to keep you safe and the only way to do that is for you to stay with us –"
"Safe? You call chasing after demons, werewolves and poltergeists 'safe'? I wouldn't have gotten hurt in the first place if we hadn't been out on that damned hunt. I'm only going to college, something normal people do and I won't be anywhere near anything supernatural … I'll be studying for God's sake. There's little chance I'm going to get mauled by anything between my dorm room and classes."
"So that's what this is really about, isn't it? You got hurt and now you're too scared to get back into the hunt–"
"Screw you, Dean." Sam voice jumped an octave and about 4000 decibels. "Maybe I am scared – but not just for myself, you jackass. I'm scared for you and for Dad too. This isn't any kind of life for anyone to lead and Dad's obsessive need for revenge isn't worth you or him getting killed. "
Now Dean was just pissed. "We don't hunt for kicks and you know it, Sam. We help people -"
"I know … but it's going to be the end of you someday and I don't think I can watch that happen. I can't do this anymore, Dean ... I just can't." Sam set a determined glare on Dean that reminded him a little too much of their father. "I'm going and that's all there is to it."
Two days later
Balsam Lake, Misconsin
The demon that wore the pretty blond woman's body sneered at John, showing off a row of bloody teeth. Tied to a chair and under the power of the devil's trap above, it wasn't going anywhere and it knew it, but that still didn't stop it from taunting John with lies.
"Go ahead and do it, Johnny. You can exorcize me if you want, but it's not going to change anything."
"You're lying." John replied flatly, betraying none of the frightening emotions welling up inside of him.
"Am I?" It smiled smugly. John smashed it across the mouth again, hoping to wipe that grin off. It only had the opposite effect. "You wanted to know why yellow eyes killed your pretty little wife, didn't you? But you just don't like hearing the truth because it isn't what you wanted to hear. Well the truth hurts, Johnny."
John unscrewed the flask of holy water in his hand and approached slowly. "You better stop lying and give me the real deal or I'm gonna take my time before I send you back to Hell." He jiggled the bottle.
"Fine … have it your way." He glowered then pulled the demon's hair back pouring the sanctified water down its gullet. "Choke on this, bitch."
The demon roared and screamed as the water burned down its throat and steam billowed from its mouth. Somewhere deep down inside, John all at once felt a mixture of glee and repulsion for his actions.
He stopped when he had emptied half of the flask then recapped it. "You ready to stop lying yet?"
Head hanging, the demon panted and growled. It then lifted its head and began chuckling in a way that raised John's hackles. "I'm not lying. You should have let Sammy die out in those woods, Johnny - we got big plans for him -" It smiled gleefully, "Big plans."
"What plans?" John demanded, raising the flask again.
The demon spit out a mouthful of blood on John's shoe. "Trust me, John … you don't want to know."