Disclaimer: I still don't own these guys. :(
Summary:Sam's trying to put himself back together after Jessica, but everything inside feels like it's being torn apart.
A/N: Big, big, big thanks to my beta Borgmama1of5 on LJ who put so much into this story and always has such wonderful advice and knowledge about how to turn my ramblings into a better and more coherant story. Thank you so much!
Fables of the Reconstruction
The first rays of morning sunlight slipped in through broken blinds, painting the young man's sleeping face with stripes of yellow and gold. He woke with a start, sticky with sweat and tangled in his sheets. His stomach knotted and twisted around a red-hot knife poisoned with guilt and grief.
On the bed across from him, his brother lay on his stomach, face buried in a pillow, snoring softly and peacefully - something Sam wished he could still do. But for him a peaceful night's sleep had become an alien concept along with hope, with dreams of a future – gone in flames, turned to ash, and then blown away with the wind.
It had been two weeks now. Fourteen long days and sleepless nights since he had last touched her, smelled her hair or held her tight - though agonizingly not the last time he'd ever seen her. She came to him every time he closed his eyes, when sleep finally hunted him down just like it had last night. It was the same every time: her long, curly, blond hair dangling down as she hung suspended above him, eyes wide with terror while her warm, red blood dripped onto his face. And every time she opened her mouth to form one simple word that shattered his heart into a million pieces each and every time he heard it:
He knew what she was asking. It was his fault and she wanted to know why – why he didn't warn her – why he didn't save her – why he hadn't done anything about his dreams – why he didn't believe them even though they were so vividly real –
Though he was fully awake now, her voice still echoed in his ears and the pain in his gut—in his heart—flared violently.
He needed to vomit.
Staggering to the bathroom, he fell to his knees and heaved until nothing but bile was left for him to expel. He laid his head down on the rim of the cool porcelain wishing he could purge the guilt and sorrow as easily as he could his stomach contents, but there was no taking those feelings away –they were no less than what he deserved.
Dean woke to the sound of his brother puking in the bathroom. It wasn't the first time this had happened since Jess – and he figured it wouldn't be the last, either.
Yet his instincts were telling him that there was more to his brother's turmoil than just sadness and the trauma of seeing Jess being burned alive- he could see it in Sam's eyes- this was guilt. And it was eating Sam up inside.
If anyone had something to feel guilty about, it was Dean, not Sam. He had been the one that had taken Sam away that weekend. But he didn't feel responsible for what had happened – that lay completely on the shoulders of the damned sonofabitch that killed Jess – that killed their mom – that drove their father into hiding – and when he finally caught up with it, he was going to tear that fucker's insides out and shove them down its throat for all of the pain it had caused his family.
He just wished there was some way for Sam to see that as well.
Dean wanted desperately to comfort his brother, but he honestly had no clue how to go about it. Those years Sam had been at Stanford had changed his brother – hell, he was changed too. There were four years between them now where they didn't know what the other had lived – Sam had no idea of what Dean and Dad had hunted, how many conversations they'd avoided mentioning Sam, how many bars he'd closed missing his brother like a limb. And he couldn't imagine Sam's life with teachers, and studying, and fuckin' normal. Even though they were starting to fall back into a familiar pace together, he still felt at times that he simply did not know what to say or do for Sam.
Sooner or later he'd have to talk to his brother about his guilt, but what could he really say that wouldn't sound like hollow platitudes when Sam's pain and grief was still so fresh and raw?
Dean hated the heart-to-heart thing, but it worried him that Sam hadn't spoken about Jess beyond making it plainly clear that he wanted to find dad and catch her killer. He didn't talk about what Jess had been like, the kind of person she was, how they met –nothing. He hadn't even cried … not once.
Dean was no psychologist, but he knew that couldn't be a good thing. Maybe that was why Sam was currently puking his guts out – he was holding so much in emotionally that something physical had to come out.
Dean heard the toilet flush followed by the running of the shower water. He sat up and stretched, then slipped out of bed, walked over to the bathroom door, and rapped his knuckles on it.
"Hey … you okay?" He asked through the thin wood.
"Yeah," Sam replied flatly.
"Go away, Dean."
"Fine … just don't use all the hot water."
Maybe Sam just needed time, Dean thought as he flopped back down on his bed. Perhaps Sam would eventually come to him when he was ready to talk and Dean wouldn't have to be the one to bring up the painful subject. Until then, Dean would keep a close eye on his little brother. After all, that was his job.
The Rockies were cold this time of year, and Sam shivered even in the booth of the well-heated diner. Dean munched hungrily, working on a plate full of a cardiologist's worst nightmare of saturated fats.
Sam fought hard not to be sick again. The knot in his stomach that he'd woken up with that morning had lingered. Usually it was gone by the time he finished showering, but this morning it stuck around- a new and constant reminder of what he should have done for Jess.
"You gonna eat, or what?" Dean mumbled with his mouth full.
Sam poked at the short stack of pancakes in front of him with disinterest. He wasn't hungry – food had no appeal to him any longer. It all tasted like ash and soot.
He shoved his plate away and grabbed his coffee instead, taking a sip and feeling it slide into his empty stomach. It was warm, and God knows he needed the caffeine, but his stomach rebelled at the liquid and roiled noisily.
Perhaps coffee wasn't a good idea.
"You okay? You're looking a little green there, Sammy."
"I'm fine … and quit calling me 'Sammy.'" God, how he wished Dean would quit asking if he was okay and looking at him like he was going to break down any moment. He couldn't do that yet – he had to keep himself together until they caught Jess' killer. Then he could fall apart and dissolve into tears until his eyes bled.
"Jeez…fine, Bee-otch. Forgive me for being concerned after that marathon puke fest you had this morning …" Dean shot back sarcastically. Sam looked down at the table abashed. "Yeah, I heard you … it was kinda hard to miss." Dean softened his tone. "Look … I just need to know if you're coming down with something or not … we can take a few days off here … "
"No. Dean … I'm okay … really … I probably just had a case of food poisoning or something. "
" S'cuse me if I'm wrong here, but don't you need to actually eat something in order to get food poisoning?"
Sam didn't answer that – he knew Dean wasn't stupid and it was pretty obvious that he hadn't been eating or sleeping much lately – he needed to give Dean a sign of appeasement before Dean would let this go.
"Fine." Sam grabbed the plate of pancakes, slid it back in front of him, took a bite, and forced himself to chew and swallow despite the nausea churning in his stomach. "There … Happy?"
"I'd be happier if you ate the whole thing."
Sam grumbled, but if this was what it took to get Dean off his back, then he'd have to do it. He wasn't about to let a little tummyache sidetrack them from the search for their father.
He picked up his fork again and forced himself to finish his breakfast.
There weren't any signs of Dad or the yellow-eyed bastard that killed Jess anywhere. The trail was growing colder with every passing hour, and Sam had no idea where to look next.
Damn his father, he fumed to himself. Why had the man taken off now when they needed him the most? Sam had no idea how to find or kill the thing that got their mother and Jess but their father would. Perhaps he was on the thing's trail at this very moment, and was planning to kill the monster on his own without Sam and Dean's help. It would be like Dad to put his need for personal revenge ahead of anything Sam would need.
Sam felt his anger build at Dad for not taking him and Dean on the hunt. After all, didn't they deserve a chance at vengeance as well?
He rubbed his weary eyes and sighed in frustration before closing the book on demonology he had been reading. It wasn't much help and it gave him no more insight than what he already knew, but it was better than sitting on his thumbs feeling utterly useless.
At least his stomach had begun to settle somewhat after breakfast and the nausea was gone, though he still felt a residual ache deep inside. He didn't believe it was physical now – his heart ached worse than his stomach.
Inadvertently, he caught himself thinking about Jess – about that little ring at the jewelry store in Palo Alto. It had been a simple piece of jewelry and hardly worthy to be worn on Jess' finger, but even so, it took him weeks to save up enough money from his part-time TA job. The understanding clerk had set up a payment plan for him and sent out an order for the ring in Jess' size.
Today was to have been the day that he picked it up.
He had forgotten.
His stomach twisted into knots again and the nausea returned with a vengeance. He had to stop thinking about this … about her.
He closed his eyes. Don't think about it … don't think … don't think ….
"Hey…" Dean materialized, seemingly from out of nowhere. "I just got a call from Caleb."
Funny. Sam hadn't even heard Dean's phone ring, in fact he hadn't even heard him return to the room with supper. Dean placed the fast food bag on the table next to the pile of books Sam had accumulated from the nearby library. Its smell assaulted Sam and he had to clench his teeth in order to keep his breakfast from making an encore.
"He's got a job for us out near Portland." Dean sounded excited to have something to do other than chase their tails in the search for their father.
"Oregon or Maine?" Sam asked to distract himself from his darkening thoughts and the sour pit growing in his stomach rather than out of any interest in taking on another case. Hunting the wendigo had been enough for Sam. Obviously, however, Dean wasn't content to sit around and research, not when he knew someone needed their special brand of expertise.
"Oregon. Caleb's already working a poltergeist down in Florida, but a friend tipped him off to some cases of hikers turning up in pieces and he wants us to check it out. I said we would."
"Dean … we got enough to do just looking for Dad…"
"I told you already, Sam. People need our help. We just can't ignore that – Dad wouldn't want us to and let's face it ... we're getting nowhere fast trying to find him. If Dad's gone into hiding, then you know how hard he's going to make it for anyone, even us, to track him down. So, c'mon – we need to hit the road."
"Do I get any sort of say in this?"
"No… Now pack your bags. We're going."
Sam felt all of twelve years old being ordered about by his big brother again, and Dean sounded eerily like Dad did whenever he told them they had to pick up and move on to the next gig. Sam hated that and he let his irritation show on his face.
"You should have at least talked to me first before you said we would take the job, Dean," Sam balked.
Dean was already shoving clothes into his duffel bag. "Look … sorry I didn't run everything by you first, but people are dying, Sam. Now, I gave Caleb my word we'd go up there and I'm not about to let him down."
Sam sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. Despite his annoyance at Dean for leaving him out of the decision to head to another case, he knew his brother was right. If people were in danger, they had to go.
An hour later, after returning the books Sam had taken out from the library, Sam sat with his head resting against the window, fighting sleep as they drove across endless miles of scenery. They sped past a pasture with cows … Sam's eyes grew heavy … Next came a corn field … he fought to keep his lids from closing … There was a grain silo … his head bobbed … a windmill … more cows …
Sunset … The sun a bright-red and orange fire ball sinking into the horizon, highlighted against a darkening, purple sky.
Waves broke against the shore, the cool water lapping at his feet as they walked together arm in arm. He stopped suddenly and pulled her close. The scent of salt-water mingled with her perfume and surrounded him as he touched the softness of her hair, the smoothness of her skin before falling to one knee before her, unmindful of the water soaking his jeans.
Her eyes sparkled in delight when he reached into his pocket and pulled out the tiny box and she smiled with a splendorous light that rivaled the setting sun. His heart fluttered in anticipation while he fumbled to open the box and held it up for her to see.
"Oh, Sam …" She breathed out, her hand flying up to her mouth.
"Jess … will you … "
"Marry you?" She finished for him. His throat was too dry to respond with anything more than just an eager nod of his head.
Somehow the impossible happened - her smile intensified. Her arms wrapped tightly around his neck and Jess murmured over and over again, "yes, yes, yes …"
Sam was so blindingly happy that he almost forgot to take the ring out of the box, but when she laughed and held out her hand, he took the ring that felt so tiny in his hand and brought it up to her ring finger.
He slipped in on and had it up to her first knuckle when her hand changed. Soft skin turned brittle and shriveled as he held it, darkening and charring, breaking off and flaking away. He looked to her face in horror to see her hair singeing and burning away, her face a rictus of pain as her skin tightened and shrunk and cracked until there was nothing but blackened bones.
"NO! … NO! … Jess, No!" He screamed, the smell of burning flesh overwhelming all else. The hand he had been holding crumbled, turned into ash and blew away until there was nothing left to hold except the small ring.
A voice whispered on the wind, taking her ashes with it.
Sam shot up yelling, causing Dean to jump in surprise. Sam finally seemed to have fallen into a peaceful sleep for the last hour or so and Dean had been content to let his brother get some much needed rest in the Impala's passenger seat. He even turned the radio down to a barely audible volume hoping Sam would be out for more than just a cat nap, maybe get rid of the ever-present dark smudges under his eyes.
But Sam woke violently, his eyes filled with fear as he looked around in a daze. Clearly another nightmare had interrupted any rest Sam tried to catch.
"Hey…you okay?" Dean asked, catching a look at Sam while simultaneously focusing on the road.
Sam rubbed a hand through his hair and exhaled. "Yeah … yeah … I'm fine." He glanced out the window and shook his head. "Just a … dream."
"Bad?" Dean asked. Though he already knew the answer, he hoped this would get Sam to finally open up a little bit.
But Sam was shutting Dean out again, building another brick wall between them as he answered with a simple, "Yeah," and changed the subject. "Where are we now?"
"Somewhere in Idaho." Dean responded, chancing another look at Sam. He was flushed as if he might start hurling again, which kicked Dean's big-brother instincts into high gear. "You sure you're alright? 'Cos you look like you're gonna start blowing chunks again."
"Dean…God, enough already. I'm fine." Sam shot back, raising his voice. "How many times do I have to say that? I'm just a little carsick … It's not like I'm used to driving all over kingdom-come anymore, okay?"
"Hey … don't get bitchy at me … I'm just trying to help, that's all."
"Just don't, alright? I don't need any help," Sam huffed. "I told you I'm fine, so just drop it, will ya?"
Dean gripped the steering wheel tight, resisting the urge to pull the car over right then and there and shake Sam until his teeth rattled. Damn, the kid was a stubborn and pig-headed little shit at times.
If that was how Sam felt – that he didn't need Dean's help – that he was 'fine' even though he was about as far from 'fine' as the east was from the west, then what could Dean really do about it? It wasn't as if he could bring Sam's girlfriend back or make their father magically reappear … so really … what could he possibly do?
The tension in the car was stifling, but Sam was in no mood to address it. His stomach was in an upheaval ever since the dream and he was angry – not so much at Dean any more – but at himself for falling asleep and letting his guard down
Dean was still pissed and Sam knew he should apologize for going off like he did; after all, Dean was just being concerned, but Sam was so nauseated now that he had to keep all of his focus on holding his stomach contents down.
The silence continued for miles until Dean grumbled about the car being low on gas and he pulled into a 7/11 next to a pump. Sam got out wordlessly and headed straight for the store but stopped when Dean called out, "Get me some coffee and candy, will ya?"
Sam nodded and hurried inside, going straight for the bathroom and violently throwing up until the fiercely clenching stomach spasms produced only dry heaves.
Spent and exhausted, Sam sat on the dirty floor for several long minutes cradling his jacked-up abdomen before there was a knock at the door. "Sam? You in there?"
Sam closed his eyes and sighed before answering. He just couldn't escape, could he?
"Yeah … I'll be out in a sec."
Sam tried to stand up. A white hot poker lanced his abdomen as soon as he attempted the feat however, and he had to bite back a groan and hunch over until it dissipated enough for him to pull himself up by grabbing onto the sink. This latest round of vomiting had done a real number on his insides. Finally the sharpness of the pain subsided into a dull ache, and he found he was able to mostly ignore it and push it away.
He met up with Dean in the candy aisle.
"Jeez, took you long enough, I was beginning to think you had fallen in," Dean eyed him.
Sam rolled his eyes.
"Say… how much cash do you have on you?"
"Uh… I dunno … about twenty bucks."
"Dammit." Dean sighed.
"Why? What's wrong?"
"Damn credit card isn't working. I wasn't able to get any gas with it."
"What about the other ones?"
"I forgot that this was our last one. "
"Look, I'm sorry. The credit cards were always Dad's thing and with all that's been going on … it just slipped my mind."
"So what do we do?"
"Well … I think we have enough gas to get us to the next town. There's got to be a pool hall around there somewhere."
Sam groaned. He hated the idea of Dean hustling pool and the thought of spending the night in a smoke-filled bar just made his insides ache worse. But what choice did they have? It was either that or stay stranded.
Dean had a sixth sense for finding bars with drunken sods that didn't know any better than to bet on pool games against him, and the scam was going true to form. Starting slowly, throwing a game, then miraculously improving until Dean was winning money hand over fist in no time.
Sam had spent most of the evening sitting in a corner booth with his laptop trying to do a little research on the Oregon case despite the noisy atmosphere and the fact that his gut still troubled him if he moved the wrong way.
From the newspaper reports, five people had been found in the last few months essentially torn to shreds by what authorities were calling a rogue bear. But Sam had been able to hack into the medical examiners files and found that all of the bodies shared one thing in common: a missing heart. It was pretty easy to guess what got them: a werewolf. It made sense given that all of the bodies showed up around the time of the full moon.
Great. Sam hated werewolves – they were hard to track down if the moon wasn't in the right phase, which it wouldn't be for the next couple of weeks. This job was going to be a bitch and a half. However, Sam saw Dean's point– they had to put a stop to this. People were dying – innocent people - even a young college aged girl named Rebecca.
She had only been 23.
Jess would have been 23 next month …
Stop it … Don't think about it …
His stomach churned uneasily.
Sam reached into his pocket and pulled out the pack of Rolaids he'd grabbed at the convenience store and hoped it would chase some of the discomfort away. They hadn't really worked very well when he'd taken them a couple of hours ago, though, and he was beginning to wonder if he was indeed coming down with some kind of stomach virus. He popped three of the chalky tablets into his mouth and chewed, swallowing them when his brother's voice caught his attention.
Dean was grinning widely, reaching across the table to grab a stack of cash when a beefy paw slammed down on the money before Dean could pick it up.
"Hey, man. What gives?" Annoyed, Dean looked up at a huge, black-bearded biker, his head a shiny, shaved dome who towered over him by more than half a foot, and outweighed him by at least fifty pounds. Sam groaned, sensing trouble brewing and closed his computer, stowing it away before things got out of hand with his brother.
He slid out of the booth, doing his best to ignore the stabbing sensation in his gut, and walked over to the pool table fighting the need to hunch over, feeling beads of sweat pop out along his brow from the exertion. Something was definitely wrong with him and he'd have to let Dean in on just how awful he was feeling – they just might have to take a couple of days off to get this bug out of his system before trying to take on a werewolf.
However, suddenly there was no time to worry about his own health issues as Dean stepped into the big guy's personal space, Dean's anger overriding his judgment. If Sam didn't hurry it'd be Dean who would need the recuperation time.
"Listen, Curly …" Dean hissed. "I won this money fair and square and if you don't get your fat hand off of it right now, I'm gonna cut it off and beat you senseless with it."
Curly wasn't in the least bit intimidated by Dean's over-exaggerated threat and took a step forward, glowering down. "There's nothing fair about it. I saw you - you tapped the cue back with the stick before you shot the eight ball in."
Dean snorted. "I don't think so –"
Sam saw this as his opportunity to intervene before things got bloody. "Hey… hey … hey. " Sam stepped in between the two, thinking of a diplomatic solution. "Look … there's no need for a fight here, okay."
"Who the Hell are you?" Curley asked belligerently.
"He's my brother and he's gonna shut up and back off because I didn't touch the cue ball and I'm keeping the money," Dean returned, glaring at Sam for interfering.
"Like hell you are," Curly exclaimed and two more men of equally intimidating size moved alongside him.
"Awesome… looks like Larry and Moe have come to join the party," Dean seethed with venomous sarcasm, but from the scowls in reply none of the bikers were fans of his humor.
Sam turned to Dean. "How about you just give him his share of the money back and you can both call it even, huh?" These three against the two of them wouldn't be such a big deal on a normal day, but Sam wasn't feeling up to his usual strength.
"No way." Curly crossed his arms over his chest and raised himself up to his full height. "It was a double or nothing game. He cheated and the money's mine - All of it."
Sam saw the flicker in Dean's eyes and he knew they were going to be in big trouble.
Oh Shit …
Dean picked up the money and grinned, pretending to be friendly all of a sudden and holding the wad out. "You know what … you're right … You should take all of the money. You clearly were the victor here … so, c'mon, take it."
Curly narrowed his eyes at Dean suspiciously as Dean faked his most charming smile and Sam watched things unravel in slow motion. Curly's greedy eyes landed on the money in Dean's proffered hand, but never noticed his other hand ball into a tight fist, and as soon as the big guy reached for the cash, Dean let it fly. Curly took the blow squarely on the nose, blood gushing out of his nostrils at an astonishing rate as he howled in pain and fury.
Time sped up after that. One of Curly's buddies gunned for Dean while the other went after Sam with a cue stick. Dean managed to take his guy down quickly with a resolute kick to the groin, but then an incensed, bloody- faced Curly charged at him.
Sam's attacker swung the cue stick like a baseball bat and Sam's reflexes were so sluggish that the stick whiffed his hair. Sam tried to throw a punch, but he was slow, like he was trying to fight while trapped in a vat of goo.
The bastard flipped his grip so that he was wielding the stick like a police baton and he jabbed it into hard Sam's abdomen. Pain exploded inside of him, searing white-hot daggers through his gut. Sam went down like a sack of potatoes, clutching at his stomach, stars bursting behind his eyes and unable to breathe.
Fuzzily he was aware of cue-stick man's feet coming towards Sam for another blow. Sam couldn't move to defend himself or even roll out of the way – the pain was too overwhelming. Before the foot connected there was a flash of color and a vicious curse as Dean tackled the guy to the floor, his fist connecting with the man's face repeatedly.
The loud sound of a shotgun being cocked filled the bar. Sam wheezed painfully, his temple resting on the filthy floor as he curled in on himself, certain that his insides were coming apart. An irate voice started shouting at all of them to get the hell out of his place before he called the cops, but his words barely registered to Sam through the depths of his agony.
Sam screwed his eyes tightly shut as involuntary streaks of hot tears cascaded down his face. He couldn't remember ever being in this much pain from one single blow before.
Something was wrong. Something was terribly wrong.
Sam felt hands grab his arms and try to pry him off the floor, but moving brought a fresh round of hot pokers stabbing him in the gut and he whimpered and moaned pathetically in a voice that he didn't recognize as his own.
"Sam … c'mon, we gotta get out of here before Mr. Barkeep here either calls the cops or blows our brains out," Dean urged him on, pulling him up.
Sam resisted the tug as it brought the pain on sharper and hotter. "No … no … Dean, God…."
"What's wrong with you? C'mon." Dean hauled him to his feet and Sam stood for only a second before he doubled over, the agony exquisite, but somehow Dean to pulled him toward the door, out through the parking lot and to the car before it all became too unbearable and his legs went boneless.
"Sammy?" Dean caught him under the armpits, taking his weight. "What going on? Talk to me, man."
"Oh God … Dean … m' stomach … " Sam gasped for air, his lungs struggling to fill with air amidst the turmoil raging inside of him while fireworks popped and sparkled in dimming vision.
"Okay … okay … I got you …" Sam clenched his teeth while Dean opened the passenger door and carefully helped him in. "Just hold on. We'll get someone to look at you … you'll be okay."
Despite Dean's words, Sam doubted he would be okay, not with pain like this. He was dying - he had to be.
Sam folded himself like a sheet of paper, his forehead resting on the dash in front of him, focusing on trying to breathe while Dean jumped into the driver's side. Dean floored the accelerator in reverse then swung the car around, peeling out of the parking lot with a squeal of rubber against pavement.
Sam felt a hand on his back and Dean was talking to him, but he barely heard a word as his world shrank into a hole of dark blackness and he let it swallow him whole.
Dean watched Sam sleep. His brother was drugged to the gills, but Sam was going to be okay and that's all that truly mattered.
The past ten hours after Sam passed out in the car were a blur of frantic driving, panicky hollering in the ER, doctors rushing Sam into surgery, and then the numbness of waiting. Now that the immediate danger was over, Dean could finally let go of the breath he had been holding for hours. He reached a hand out to a stray piece of hair that had fallen into his brother's closed eyes and brushed it aside. God … the kid was going to be the death of him.
Guilt washed over Dean. Sure, Sam still would have ended up in the hospital, but if Dean had done a better job of keeping watch on Sam then Sam would have been spared the worst of the pain he had suffered.
Dean promised himself right then and there that he would never let something like this happen to Sam again.
Sam stirred as Dean touched him, and Dean pulled his hand away before Sam realized what he had been doing. Sam slowly pried open his eyes, wearily turning his head until his half-open eyes landed on Dean.
"Hey," Dean forced his face into a grin for Sam's benefit.
"Dean?" Sam tiredly asked, his voice hoarse and gravelly, "Wha? … What happened?"
"Well …. Looks like you tried to pull a Houdini, Sammy."
"What? … Houdini? …. What are you talking about?"
"What? You're telling me Mr. Encyclopedia-of-useless-knowledge doesn't know what happened to Harry Houdini?" Dean chided him playfully, trying to keep things light for now. "Don't you remember how he died? He dared some guy to punch him as hard as he could in the stomach and then died a day later from a burst appendix."
"I have appendicitis?" Sam asked then furrowed his brow.
"Had appendicitis, actually. The doctors took it out. You'll never miss it; all the damn thing is good for is making you sick."
Sam sighed and slid his eyes closed tiredly. "Thought I was dying. Pretty silly, huh?'
Dean didn't think so, but held his tongue for Sam's sake. If he hadn't rushed Sam straight to the hospital from the bar –
Dean didn't even want to go there.
Dean cleared his throat. "Yeah, well you didn't, but don't think I'm gonna let you off that hook that easily."
Sam reopened his eyes and stared at Dean with a haunted look shadowing his face. Yeah. Sam knew what he was going to talk to him about.
"Why did you lie to me, Sam?"
"Dean … I didn't know I had appendicitis."
"No … But you knew something was wrong. You had to be in pain, but you kept telling me you were fine and I was stupid enough to believe you. And now I feel like this is my entire fault - that I should have kept a closer eye on you."
"S'not your fault Dean." Sam lowered his eyes, hiding his expression behind his bangs. "I just thought – with everything that happened - that it was just stress or something. M'sorry."
Dean shook his head wearily. "You can't keep this up, Sam."
"Keep what up?"
"This … You being so strung out that you can't even tell the difference between appendicitis and stress. I mean c'mon, man. This eating you up inside and you're keeping so much crap in it was bound to make you sick one way or another. You know, I'm no Dr. Phil, but you can talk to me. "
Sam refused to meet Dean's eyes, but his fingers were agitatedly twisting his blanket between his fingers. "Talking won't do any good - can't change what's happened."
There was a heavy pause before Dean could think of something to say. Finally, his voice gentle, Dean said, "I know it can't bring Jess back, but neither can ignoring or denying the fact that she's gone, Sam. "
There was no turning back; Dean was committed to getting Sam to open up one way or another.
"She's gone … and for that … I don't know what to say. But you have accept to accept it … you have to let her go –"
"Dean …" One of Sam's arms rose and wrapped protectively around his middle as he spoke through clenched teeth. "I can't … I just can't.
"You can, Sammy …" Dean's voice cracked with emotion seeing the grief in his brother's face and again he wanted with his whole being to track down the SOB that had hurt his brother so much.
Sam shook his head, lowering it until his chin hit his chest. "I can't …" he whispered brokenly.
Dean got up and sat on the edge of the bed while Sam began to visibly crumble, arms wrapped tightly across his stomach in pain that went beyond the physical. Dean carefully slid his arm under Sam, letting his hand come to rest on Sam's opposite shoulder, feeling it tremble under his touch.
"Let it out, Sammy." Dean whispered, letting Sam know that he would never think his brother was weak for giving in to his despair and heartbreak - that he was safe to mourn in Dean's presence.
"Why?" Sam choked, "Why her …"
And finally the floodgates opened. A quiet tear rolled down Sam's face, then another, and then he broke into shuddering, wracking sobs that seared Dean's heart.
Sam finally cried himself into a fitful and exhausted sleep, his head resting against Dean's arm. Dean stayed where he was, letting his arm go numb and quietly keeping watch until Sam would need him again.