When It Counted Most
Based on this prompt by whitereflectionfor the ohsam community's h/c comment fic meme on LiveJournal: Sam develops chronic muscle spasms around/near that scar on his back.
Set in Season 3, after "Bedtime Stories." Warning for strong language!
At first, he thought he could hide it. After all, it wasn't like it was a serious problem, if it even was a problem at all, and regardless, they had much bigger fish to fry right now.
And maybe "problem" was the wrong word, even. More like an annoyance.
Albeit a persistent one.
Besides, even if it kind of sucked while it was actually happening, there was nothing actually wrong with him.
Well, he thought not.
But inevitably, Dean disagreed.
It was despite all his best efforts that Dean found out at all. Needless to say, he freaked out, which is exactly what Sam didn't want to happen. Besides, Sam reasoned, if the crossroads demon had done a slightly sloppy job patching him up after bringing him back, how was that Dean's fault, or his problem?
But when he got hit hard from behind by an angry spirit during what was supposed to have been a simple salt-and-burn—out in an overgrown family graveyard behind an old farmhouse—and he didn't get back up, it wasn't exactly easy to hide anymore.
He'd been just about to douse the 150-year-old remains in lighter fluid when the bastard found them: the vengeful spirit of one Mr. Jonah McAllister, who'd been murdering adventurous teens who had come to explore his dilapidated, boarded-up house since at least the 1960's. Damn spirits always seemed to know when somebody wanted to torch their remains, and old McAllister came up behind him and hit him hard. When little white lights began to pop around the edges of his vision, coupled with the now-familiar sensation of all the muscles in the center of his back being pulled taut and then snapped hard like so many rubber bands, it took all his presence of mind not to fall forward into the open grave. He sank to his knees and then slumped sideways, eyes watering.
No, no, come on, dammit…I didn't need this…not tonight…
And he'd been having a good day today, too. It'd only happened once tonight, and not that badly, either, when he'd been shoveling grave dirt. It'd been easy enough to hide; he was pretty sure Dean didn't notice him wince.
Vaguely he heard Dean, who hadn't been standing close enough to catch him when he went down, yelling his name, panicked. A second later, with a deafening bang, a salt round went off. If he'd been able to look up, he knew McAllister's ghost would have vanished thanks to Dean, but his eyes were squeezed shut and frankly, he wasn't sure which way was up right now.
Get up, said the little part of his brain not overwhelmed by pain. Come on, you gotta have Dean's back here, get up get up get UP—
And he tried, he really did. But the second he tried to sit up, another ripping, sickening wave of pain radiated from the spot on his back and he fell back, involuntarily crying out.
Well, so much for Dean not finding out, he thought, dazed. He figured he ought to say something to communicate he wasn't dead or something before Dean had a heart attack, or let himself get whumped by McAllister. He wasn't sure how he managed it, but he ground out a gravelly "'M good," and gave a fairly pathetic one-handed thumbs-up from where he was lying. Another wave of pain slammed into him at the small movement, and he let his arm fall.
A second later, he heard scuffling in the dry grass, followed by a muffled curse and two more salt rounds. And suddenly Dean was bending over him, offering him a hand.
But Sam just blinked at his outstretched hand, unable to move.
"Sammy? Shit…"Worry flashed in Dean's eyes, but he glanced around instinctively for any signs of McAllister, and didn't dare crouch down next to Sam for fear of getting shoved into the grave himself. "Are you hurt?"
"N-nah, 's okay," he managed through gritted teeth. "Jus' get the—" Rather pathetically, he wiggled the bottle of lighter fluid that was still clutched in one hand.
"Yeah." Dean nodded and bent down to grab it.
Sam closed his eyes again and focused on lying still—he hadn't realized that he'd been shuddering—and just breathing until it passed. It wasn't much use, as he still felt like his back was being ripped in half. But in under a minute, he heard the telltale whoosh of a body igniting, followed by the screech of a departing spirit, and then Dean was there again, lightly shaking his shoulder.
"Sam, hey, talk to me, what's wrong?" He looked terrified, and Sam distantly felt a twinge of guilt. What Dean must've thought of, seeing him go down like that so soon after Cold Oak…
But right this very second—ow, fuck it, oww—he was just glad Dean was here and McAllister was toast.
"Gah…" he muttered unintelligently in response. Why was it this bad? It'd never been this bad before.
"Where're you hurt?" Dean pressed.
"Back," he grunted. He didn't have the energy to lie right now.
"Your back? How?"
And despite himself, Sam let out a breathy laugh at the question, feeling oddly giddy. "'S difficult…to explain."
"Explain? What do you mean explain?" Dean's brow knit in confusion. "Sam, what's wrong?"
"Yeah, alright, genius. Why does your back hurt?"
"T-tell you later…" He looked straight up—should everything be spinning like this? He shut his eyes again.
Dean shook him a little harder and Sam gasped at the shock waves this sent rippling through him. "No, Sammy, how 'bout you tell me now. Don't fall asleep."
"B-but…didn't hit m'head."
"Don't care. You got broken ribs?"
"Then what?" He sounded frantic, exasperated.
Sam said nothing.
"Sam, you gotta friggin' work with me here. What happened?"
"Bullshit. Can you turn over for me?" he asked.
"Yes. Come on, buddy—"
And with that, Sam felt himself being flipped over onto his stomach. He couldn't stifle a yelp. Knowing that Dean wasn't going to find a damn thing that was actually wrong with him, he buried his face in his crossed arms and tried not to look like too much of a wuss while he felt his back being gently prodded all over. It was a little better now, the worst of the feeling ebbing away and just leaving him sore. But somehow that only made things worse, because now he felt like a big liar saying there was anything wrong in the first place and sending Dean unnecessarily into full on panic mode.
Making up his mind, he took a deep breath to steel himself before half pushing himself up on wobbling arms. "'M good, Dean. It's ok—"
But Dean pushed him back down with one hand. "Yeah, okay, easy there tiger." And it was pathetic how easy it was for him to do that—Sam flopped bonelessly back down into the dirt. "Let's just make sure, alright?"
A moment passed in silence. "Hm," Dean said at last. "Sammy, I'm not sure what's…wait." Sam felt Dean's fingers ghost over the spot where he knew there was a thick, angry-looking scar in the center of his back. "Here?" he asked. "Is this what's hurtin'?" And he sounded positively thrilled about it, Sam thought.
"Yeah," Sam said reluctantly, biting his lip against the intense throbbing in his back, his gaze focused intently on a patch of dry grass inches from his eye. Even if he could have looked at Dean he wouldn't. This wasn't a conversation he felt like having right now.
The light changed; Dean must've grabbed for the flashlight he'd dropped when he'd gone for his gun to get a better look at Sam. "Hurting how?" He sounded urgent.
"It's not stupid."
"Try me. You gotta talk to me, Sam. Please."
"Jus' the muscles, okay?" Sam growled.
"Muscles," Dean repeated. Sam could hear the barely masked relief in his voice. "Alright. Okay. Muscles we can deal with. So what, like muscle spasms?"
"Yeah, I guess…"
"You guess? Well what's it feel like?"
The rubber band analogy was lame, but Sam couldn't think of anything better right now. "Kinda like…kinda like a bunch of big snapping rubber bands."
It was saying something that Dean didn't make fun of him for that description. "How bad?"
"I told you I'm okay now—"
"Bad," he conceded. As long as they had to have this talk, he may as well not sugar coat it. Dean would just wheedle it out of him anyways; he'd seen it happen this time. And on second thought, maybe that wasn't so terrible as he thought; as long as Dean knew he wasn't in any sort of dire mortal danger, he didn't have to hide it anymore.
Damn, he wanted nothing more than to curl up on the ground and sleep for a week right now…
"So, in here?" Dean's fingers traced a broad area around the scar.
"But nowhere else."
"Yeah." Which wasn't exactly 100% the truth, but Dean didn't need to know about that right this very second.
"Okay…" Dean didn't quite sound like he believed him, but bless him, he let it go.
…Well, sort of.
"So how long's this been going on for?"
Ah, the dreaded question. Sam stayed silent, trying to think of the most delicate way to put Ever since I got stabbed to death.
"Here," Dean shrugged off his jacket, wadded it up, and helped Sam place it under his head. "So awhile then, huh?"
"Uh-huh." He realized that Dean wasn't mad, not really. Just worried. He did owe him an explanation at some point. But did it have to be now?
"We're gonna talk about this later, okay?" His voice was stern, but he squeezed Sam's shoulder.
Sam nodded into the jacket. He probably would be in for it later but for right now, well, gift horse and all. And besides, Dean was, in general, totally awesome when it counted most.
Sam heard Dean settle down next to him. "Well, we got a minute to chill. Gotta make sure McAllister here burns up nice and crispy before we go." That was one of the cardinal rules of salt-and-burns they'd learned over the years—make sure the remains are completely torched before you take off, and just because it looks like the bastard passed on doesn't always mean that it did. Not that it had ever happened to them, except during one particularly obnoxious hunt out in Nevada about a year ago, but still. Usually this was the boring part, because depending on how thoroughly you doused it or how dry the weather was, these things could burn forever and the smoke smelled bad. But for Sam, tonight it was nothing short of a blessing. He had his hands fisted in the dry October grass, listening to the popping of the flames and the leaves of the surrounding oak grove rustling in the chilly breeze and breathing in cold air and smoke and lighter fluid and dead leaves and Dean's jacket. Lying there, these things grounded him, taking his mind off pain that was quickly, blissfully fading into the background. Dean's hand was solid and reassuring resting on his shoulder.
It didn't take a ton of time; super old remains never did. Sam suspected that Dean sat there with him for longer than it took the flames to get the job done. Eventually, though, Dean shook Sam's arm to rouse him, stood up and switched the flashlight back on. "Hey, you think you can get to the car?"
"Yeah." Sam took the hand that Dean offered and allowed himself to be halfway-hauled to his feet, dismayed to find that his legs felt like jell-o. Regardless, he was pretty proud of his progress—he made it about halfway to the car without incident and without faceplanting, though admittedly with a steadying hand from Dean on his shoulder.
…But only halfway. They were barely past the grove of trees and not even in sight of the gravel road when a sharp pain—but this time, the other kind, the one he'd been sincerely hoping not to have to mention to Dean at least until a little while later—slammed into him like a brick wall, with an intensity he'd not yet encountered or expected. He stopped and stiffened, his knees threatening to buckle under him, and involuntarily sucked in a shuddering gasp.
And there was no freaking way Dean didn't notice it.
It figured that that's what he got for lying, didn't it.
This particular pain had happened before, a few times over the summer. The last time it had happened, he'd spent a good hour puking his guts out in a motel bathroom while Dean was out at the store. The feeling, as best as Sam could describe it, also originated from the scar , but it went all the way through him, making everything ache and burn and contract as though a dull ice pick was being shoved forcibly through his back and through to his midriff. It hurt like hell, but it had only happened a few times, maybe three in all, and as far as he knew, there was really nothing to indicate that it was a legitimate health concern. He looked it up, and the best he could figure was that it was more of the same thing that was happening on his back happening on the inside—muscle spasms, but this time, smooth internal muscles, protesting to having once had a knife slid through them. Nothing he figured he needed to mention to Dean. And seeing as it hadn't happened since August, he'd begun to wonder, apart from the occasional dull ache, if this particular issue had resolved itself. Dean wasn't going to spend his last year on earth fretting over something as ridiculous and petty as residual muscle spasms from an injury that, thanks to him, wasn't even there anymore. Not if Sam could help it.
But apparently it hadn't resolved itself—why the hell was it hurting so bad?—and now it looked like couldn't help it anymore.
Sam wrapped a protective arm around his middle, trying really hard not to double over for fear of setting off his back again.
"I'm okay," he said through gritted teeth, and tried to appear as such, but it was difficult to remain upright, even when Dean wrapped an arm around his shoulders to help him stay on his feet.
"Sam, why are you holding your stomach? What's wrong?" Yet more panic laced his voice. Shit.
"Look, it's really okay. Just more of the muscle spasm stuff, is all," Sam said breathlessly, staring at the ground. Don't throw up, don't throw up, DO NOT throw up…
"On the inside?" Dean's brows shot up.
"Damn it." He ran his free hand through his hair. "You're sure?"
"Yeah. I looked it up."
"You looked it up. So, what, you're saying this has happened before?" he asked, incredulous.
"Uh, yeah, couple times…Let's just go, okay?"
"Hell no. Sit down." He sounded somewhere between petrified and furious.
"No," Sam muttered. "Come on, it's cold. Let's just get in the car." Upright or lying down, it was going to hurt like a bitch either way, so he may as well take advantage of the fact that he was still standing and get this over with. He tried to take a step forward, but Dean stayed where he was.
"Not 'till we know you're okay," was the defiant answer.
Sam rolled his eyes. "Dean, 'm fine."
"You're not f—" Dean started, but Sam cut him off.
"I'm fine, but even if I wasn't, what're you planning on doing about it all the way out here? No cell reception 'till we hit the highway." He hated pulling the protect-your-little-brother card on Dean, especially in light of recent events. As if Dean hadn't already given enough. But all the same, he wanted nothing so badly as the interior of the Impala right this very second.
"Fine," Dean growled. Fine, but you better freaking be okay.
Sam wasn't quite sure how, but with a lot more effort on both his and Dean's part to prevent the whole faceplanting thing, they made it to the car, pulled over by the side of the empty road. There was not a thing in sight but empty fields, a few trees and a barn and farmhouse or two in the far distance. But to Sam, it was the most beautiful sight in the world.
Three minutes later saw Sam lying in the backseat with a pillow retrieved from the trunk under his head, staring up and out the window at the stars while Dean was doing at least twenty over the speed limit. The spot of the haunting had been about forty miles outside the town where they'd booked their room, the only place for miles around with any motels, restaurants, or library. All the teens who'd died had been kids from these types of remote farms.
Stupid inconvenient Midwest.
Dean spent most of the ride back to town talking at Sam, telling some story Sam had heard already a billion times before about the night Dad had bought Dean his first beer, the tactic Dean had always employed to direct Sam's thoughts elsewhere when he was hurt or sick. Sam, on the other hand, spent most of the ride barely able to listen to Dean's words, desperately trying not to make any noise or writhe around the backseat despite the sensation of his guts burning or the blinding throb his back gave whenever Dean hit a bump or rut in the road. Whenever he did slip up and make a sound, he could see Dean looking at him in the mirror, could practically feel the concern radiating from him.
Sam vaguely wondered if Dean would be nearly so gracious about the whole situation if he did what his stomach was threatening to do—empty itself all over his Baby's interior.
And actually, yeah, he probably would be as gracious. That too was saying something.
They were driving into the town when the worst of it was over. Relieved, Sam let out a long breath before trying to prop himself up on an elbow.
Dean glanced in the mirror. "Hey, stay down, dude." Sam didn't bother arguing and slumped over onto the seat. "You better now?"
"Yeah." Sam stared up at the fluorescent-lit buildings and street lamps, looming upside-down over him. But at the sight, something occurred to him. "Hey Dean?"
"Did we miss our exit?"
"'Cause I'm taking you to the hospital, that's why."
"What?" Sam spluttered. "No! Why?" He propped himself up again.
"Stay down, Sam," Dean barked.
Sam ignored him, and despite the instant vertigo it caused, he sat all the way up. "No," he repeated. "You're not taking me to the hospital."
"Yes, I am," Dean said tightly.
"And tell them what, Dean?" Sam asked, exasperated. "The truth?"
"I dunno, we'll make something up, okay? But we're going."
Sam pushed himself up straighter in the seat. "Look, I'm not a healthcare professional or anything, Dean, but don't you think that if we get the scar looked at and describe the problem that we're gonna get a couple questions about how the hell I'm not dead right now?" As awful as the scar still looked, there was no way they weren't going to see, clear as day, that by all rights his spine should be severed. "And besides, you remember my physical a couple months ago?" Dean had made him get one shortly after Cold Oak, probably to make sure he really was in no immediate danger of dropping dead anytime soon.
"Yeah, what about it?"
The nurse was staring at me completely freaked out, like I had—I dunno, stigmata or something."
"So, you can forget about taking me to the hospital!"
"Dude, it's not like we're under oath to answer all their questions. Let 'em think whatever the hell they want, let 'em think you're fucking Emily Rose for all I care," Dean snapped. "They're getting paid to keep their cakeholes shut and help you, no matter what. So yeah, we're going."
Sam let his head fall back on the seat and shut his eyes, agitated.
But as soon as the sign for the hospital came into view, Sam had an idea. He was playing the unfair card again, he knew, but at this point he couldn't bring himself to care very much. "Dean, if there really is something wrong, like our kind of wrong, and we can't tell them the truth anyway, how are they gonna help me?"
Silence. In the rearview mirror, Sam could only see Dean's eyes, but they were glaring at him. Sam met his gaze steadily. Because even if that was a low blow, he was right. And truth be told, it would be kinda nice to find somebody who could really help if he was wrong about being fine.
Not that he was wrong or anything…
Dean kept right on with the death glare until they reached the hospital exit. Sam looked at the green road sign and held his breath. He was hurting again and didn't know how much longer he was going to manage to sit up, but he figured now probably wouldn't be the best time to mention it.
But they passed the exit, and Dean finally looked away. "Fine." Sam let out his breath and was just about to thank him when the car suddenly veered sharply to the right. Sam's stomach lurched.
"Dean, what the—"
Dean had made a hairpin turn into an old alley between two buildings. He barely stopped the car before putting it in park, and Sam was thrown slightly forward on the seat.
Dean wheeled around to face him, livid. "Fine. You don't wanna go? I'm sayin' fine. Have it your way. I won't make you. But I swear to God, Sam, if you so much as wince from here on out, I will drag your ass to that hospital so fast—"
"Bobby," Sam interrupted, trying as inconspicuously as he could to shift in the seat to relieve his back.
Thinking on his feet and knowing just how likely it was that Dean would make good on his threat, Sam explained rapidly: "Listen, if it makes you feel better, you can call Bobby, see if he knows a doctor who runs in the same circles as us. That way we won't have to make shit up."
"Sound good?" Sam asked.
A pause, and then Dean's shoulders slumped. "Yeah," he said tiredly. "Okay."
To be continued…