Author's Note: This was written for the Summer of Sam Love fic exchange over at Livejournal. Moviegeek03's prompt was: "Set during Let it Bleed (6x21). Sam is hurt worse by the Crowley's demons than the hit to the head we saw, but he hides it knowing Dean is worried enough by Lisa's injuries. Dean doesn't find out until much later, when the injury has already worsened in some way."
Disclaimer: I don't own anything you recognize.
Let It Break
Sam stopped the Impala in front of Oakview Memorial Hospital. Dean was inside with Lisa and Ben, and Sam resisted the urge to join his brother and offer support. Instead, he slumped back in the driver's seat, wincing at his jarred ribs. He rested his head against the bench seat and shut his eyes. But he opened them quickly once more when the dark warehouse Crowley had taken the Braedens to was the first thing he saw in his mind's eye. He shook his head in a vain attempt to shake the image.
He and Dean shouldn't have split up after Balthazar had dropped them at the door. Yeah, the warehouse was huge and Dean hadn't wanted to lose any time looking for Lisa and Ben, but separating only ever got them into trouble on a hunt. And, of course, this hadn't been just another hunt.
While Dean had been looking for Lisa and Ben, Sam was ambushed by a pair of demons. They'd tried to knock him out and lock him up, but the first blow only fazed him. By the time they'd dropped him in that closet, he'd recovered and tried to fight back; he kicked out and knocked down one of the demons.
Having lost his grip, the other demon punched him across the jaw and Sam stumbled. He righted himself, but the demon on the ground threw his leg out, catching Sam behind his knees, and Sam toppled over, his back slamming hard into the concrete. Sam's breath exploded from his lungs in a violent whoosh, disorienting him just long enough for the standing demon to land several hard kicks to his midsection.
"The boss said not to harm the Winchesters," the felled demon said as Sam tried to roll away. The possessed man rose and started kicking from the other side, leaving Sam no room for escape.
"Not kill," the standing demon corrected, punctuating each syllable with a kick. "Hard to ignore a chance to wail on a Winchester, though." The other demon laughed.
Sam curled in on himself, the metallic tang of blood pooling in his mouth. He tried to cry out as a boot hit his kidney, but was only able to spit out the blood. The kicks continued and he heard the crack from his chest rather than felt it, absently noting that hearing an injury was never a good sign. He groaned, his vision graying in and out.
He rolled onto his stomach and was trying to prop himself up on his forearms before he realized the blows had stopped. He looked up just in time to see the two-by-four coming toward his head. Everything went black after that.
Sam had no idea how long he was out, but when he came to and tried to move, his ribs screamed in protest. He nearly lost consciousness again and had to gradually work himself upright to test the boundaries of his makeshift cell. When he heard movement outside what could have been minutes or hours later, he banged on the door with one hand, the other bracing his midsection as best he could. Relief had flooded through him at the sound of Dean's voice, but the adrenaline of seeing Lisa's limp form in his arms and Ben with a shotgun in hand pushed the pain from his mind once the door opened.
He hadn't felt it again until he'd pulled the stolen car up in front of the ER and watched as Dean hurried Lisa in, Ben right behind him. He could barely pull himself out of the driver's seat without doubling over.
The last thing he—or Dean—needed was some do-gooder nurse noticing his injuries and trying to admit him. They'd dealt with worse than busted ribs before; Sam had been careless to get ambushed by the demons in the first place, and Dean shouldn't have to worry about anything else with Cas and the Braedens already on his plate. Sam didn't want to be the one causing Dean grief for once. They were finally starting to be brothers again and a couple broken ribs weren't going to change that.
The sun had been coming up when Dean walked out of the front doors of the hospital, his shoulders hunched in a dejected way that Sam hadn't seen since Dean had come back from Hell. Dean scanned the parking lot until he saw Sam leaning back against the car and made a beeline for him. The news about Lisa hadn't been good—the doctors could only do their best to make her comfortable now; she had hours, maybe a couple days at most.
Sam remembered a doctor in a hospital telling him the same thing what seemed like several lifetimes ago after Dean had been electrocuted on a rawhead hunt. He remembered the helpless, broken feeling that followed and knew what Dean must be feeling. And once more, he knew he couldn't give Dean an extra reason to worry.
He offered to drive back to Bobby's get the Impala and ditch their stolen ride while Dean stayed with the Braedens. Dean gratefully agreed and promised to call the second anything changed.
Bobby helped wrap Sam's ribs and gave him painkillers that wouldn't knock him on his ass while he drove. The older hunter still had some research to do after meeting with Dr. Visyak, but would meet up with them in soon to do…whatever. Dean was going to need the time to grieve and Sam to secretly heal.
Sam had been halfway back from South Dakota when Dean called about Cas showing up and his master plan to erase Lisa's and Ben's memories of him. Dean refused to listen to any of Sam's many objections—and the shattered of tone Dean's voice wouldn't let Sam push it, no matter how much he wanted to considering his own frustrating amnesia—so Sam just keep driving. Every bump, every pothole, every brief drift onto the rumple strips and jerk of the wheel in correction felt like a knife sliding into his chest. He was sweaty, pale, and panting like he'd just been on one of Dad's death runs by the time he pulled into the hospital parking lot.
Sam grabbed the pill bottle he'd taken from Bobby's and dry swallowed a couple, then called Dean's cell.
"Hey," he told his brother's voicemail, "I'm outside."
He eased himself out of the driver's seat and shut the door, suddenly feeling out of place behind the wheel. With a glance toward the entrance, Sam rounded the car with deliberate movements to protect his middle. He opened the passenger door, but the thought of sitting back down turned his stomach. That much movement would have to wait for the pills to kick in, at least. Sam folded his hands and leaned against the hood instead, and waited for Dean.
Sam knew he was doing a piss poor job of covering up his pain every time the Impala so much as shifted gears. Every motion of the car took his breath away. He kept one hand wrapped firmly around his middle and the other braced rigidly against the door. Being tense probably exacerbated the problem, but Sam was hurting enough that he couldn't relax.
Normally Dean would have noticed immediately, but he was locked so far inside his head that he wasn't seeing much past the road in front of him. Sam easily recognized a heartsick Dean driving without a destination in mind other than away. It was an awful lot like after Dad had died and Dean had been spinning his wheels, directionless and broken; his only aim had been to get away from the grief, however he could.
They were still driving when darkness had fallen that night, having stopped only for gas and more coffee, and Dean showed no signs of pulling off.
"You want to stop soon?" Sam ventured, unsure of the reaction he might get.
"You tired?" Dean asked, voice rough after not speaking for hours.
"Yeah. And so are you." Sam was tired, his ribs aching, and his head throbbing. And Dean had been white-knuckling it for hours. There was no way he wasn't exhausted as well.
"You can get some rest in the back," Dean said, eyes never leaving the road.
Dean's hands tightened around the steering wheel. "Sam," he interrupted flatly. "It's fine."
He pulled over onto the shoulder and gave Sam a pointed look. Sam clenched his jaw and considered snapping back—using his pain and exhaustion to fuel his irritation and worry—but clamped down on the impulse and pulled himself out of the front seat with a pained hiss. Dean gave no sign he'd heard.
Sam eased into the backseat, shut the door, and slid lengthwise against the seat. Dean steered back onto the road. Sam found himself staring at the back of Dean's head and couldn't help thinking back to years of sleeping in the back as a kid, watching his dad drive and Dean sneak furtive glances back at him from the passenger seat, pulling faces when he saw Sam was still awake. Dad never said anything, but Sam could have sworn there were times the man actually smiled at their antics.
The mesmerizing thrum of the Impala eating up pavement beneath them on the way to the next hunt brought back conflicting feelings for Sam—of resentment and hatred toward a life he'd been thrust into but never wanted, but also of safety and familiarity and home.
Memories of simple times on the road with his father and brother soon lulled Sam to sleep.
Sam woke up coughing, and the sharp stabbing in his chest had him twisting up in the seat in a vain attempt to clear his airways and ease the pain. The world felt like it was tilting around him. Sam groaned. Just great; getting sick on top of everything else was exactly what he needed right now.
Once he could breathe and see straight again, he realized the sun had come up and he was alone in the car, which had, counter to Sam's senses from the last few moments, stopped. He blinked in surprise and sat up. The Impala was parked at a gas pump and Dean was visible inside the store, Sam noted in relief.
He opened the car door and every nerve screamed in protest as he got out and righted himself. He circled the car, grabbed a couple of painkillers from the bottle he'd stowed in the glove compartment, and stuck them in his pocket. After checking that the pump was still working, Sam headed into the store as well.
Dean gave Sam a cursory nod, acknowledging that he was awake, as he walked past his brother resupplying at the coffee machine. When he felt a wave of coughing building up in his chest, Sam headed for the bathroom, shutting the door firmly behind him. He braced his hands on other side of the dingy sink, coughs wracking his entire body. The blinding pain from jarring his broken ribs left his knees weak and head light. He grasped at the porcelain until he felt stable on his feet again. He splashed some water on his face and winced at how pale he looked in the mirror.
Sam inhaled shakily and coughed again into his elbow. He checked the wrappings around his ribs once more before heading back into the store. He nabbed a bottle of cough syrup and a cup of coffee as the door jangled behind the exiting Dean. Sam chased his pills with a gulp of coffee once he paid. He took a swig of cough syrup and hid the bottle in his coat, then headed into the parking lot and slid into the passenger seat next to his brother.
Dean pulled the Impala back onto the highway and, without a word, turned up the Zeppelin tape.
Dean took an exit for some no-tell motel around dusk that night. He turned into the parking lot and stopped in front of the lobby. Sam glanced at Dean, who was frozen behind the wheel, and stifled another cough as he got out of the car and headed for the doors without comment. He kept glancing back at Dean through the windows as he checked in, barely acknowledging the motherly clerk's friendly words and looks.
He and Dean were both wrecked and they needed to meet up with Bobby to talk about the H.P. Lovecraft research he'd done, so he paid for a week in the room. Dean might want to keep driving—his instincts screaming away—but Sam would talk him out of it. He absently thanked the clerk when she handed over the keycards and hurried back to the car. He didn't feel comfortable leaving Dean alone and hurting so much for any longer than necessary.
He handed Dean his key; his brother took it and pulled the Impala around the building. Sam followed after the car and found Dean pulling their duffels from the trunk when he rounded the corner. Dean silently handed over Sam's bag and headed into the room. Sam grunted as the bag bumped his chest, his vision going white for a second as his breath caught in his throat. He had to throw a hand onto the trunk in support as he coughed.
Sam wheezed a few more times before shaking off the fit and followed Dean into the room. Dean had put his bag on the closest bed and retreated into the bathroom. Sam shook his head; Dean was avoiding him as best he could with Sam practically in his pocket. It was a familiar dance they both knew the steps to from years of practice when they fought or were hurting too much to put into words. Sam was usually the one pushing to talk, but after Jess, after Broward County, even after Dean had come back from Hell and Sam had been caught up in his addiction, he'd done his best to avoid his brother and the agonizing grief. That Dean was doing it now sucked and was driving Sam up the wall, but it was also something they'd been through before and could get through again.
Sam dropped his bag on the second bed and knocked on the bathroom door. "Dean, you hungry? I can order pizza or something."
"You go ahead," Dean called back, voice tired. "I'm not hungry."
That was a lie and they both knew it. "Dean."
But the shower turned on and Sam sighed. He grabbed a takeout menu and called the closest pizza place, ordering a pizza with the most meat and no veggies, hoping Dean might at least be tempted with food in the room. He'd been subsisting on gas station coffee and shots of whiskey since Lisa and Ben had been taken; he was going to crash and burn any time now.
Sam laid the salt lines and protective wards while he waited for the pizza. It came and Sam had eaten a couple of slices by the time the shower shut off and Dean emerged from the bathroom in a pair of sweats. He walked past the strategically placed open box without a glance and crawled into his bed, turning his back to Sam. Sam pursed his lips but finished the slice he was working on. He rose slowly and put the rest of the pizza in the mini fridge. He'd just have to try again tomorrow.
He grabbed his shower kit, a pair of sweats, and a t-shirt before heading into the bathroom. He could feel a cough building up in his chest but stifled it until he got the door shut behind him. Dean didn't need to hear him hacking when it wasn't a big deal just to self-medicate. When Dean wasn't eating, it was a sign there were much bigger problems to deal with and this? This didn't even rank.
Sam turned on the faucet hoping to drown out the sounds before the coughs slammed into his busted ribs, like a tornado ripping through his chest. He grabbed the sink so he wouldn't hit the floor when his vision started tunneling. Once the spasms passed, Sam tried to take some calming breaths, but the pain in his chest kept him from breathing too deeply. His legs didn't quite want to hold the rest of him up. He shut his eyes and focused on taking shallow breaths until he felt like he could stand again.
Sam eased his jacket and shirts off and checked the bandage around his ribs. He could see bruising in an array of angry colors. He winced, lightly touching the dark purples and greens. Sore as hell. He pulled the clean t-shirt over his head and changed into the sweats with careful motions and took another swig of cough syrup—he was going to need a resupply pretty soon like this. Awesome. With a sigh, he grabbed his phone and hit Bobby's number on his speed dial.
"What?" came the gruff answer.
"Hey to you, too," Sam replied with a small smile.
"Yeah whatever, Sam. What's going on?"
"We stopped. Finally. You should be able to meet us here."
"You staying put, then?" Bobby asked, a tone of doubt creeping into his tone.
"I'll make sure we do," Sam answered as firmly as he could muster. He apparently didn't muster enough certainty to fool Bobby, though.
"How're your ribs, kid?"
Sam rubbed a hand over his face. "I've had worse."
Bobby snorted. "Yeah, and that knife to your back killed you, best I recall."
Sam huffed a shallow laugh that almost didn't hurt. "I've lived through worse," he amended.
"And what does Dean think about that?"
"He doesn't know."
Bobby sighed. "Sam…"
"It's not a big deal," Sam interrupted. "We're gonna hole up here for the rest of the week." He coughed into his elbow with a grimace. "The best treatment is just resting and that's what we're doing anyway." He shrugged with one shoulder. "Dean has enough to worry about already and I can handle this myself."
"You know he wouldn't want to be in the dark if you're hurt. Or sick," Bobby said pointedly.
Sam shook his head. "He's grieving, Bobby. A couple cracked ribs and a little cough is the last thing he needs on his mind when I'm already taking care of it."
Bobby sighed but didn't argue any further. "I've got a few more things to deal with on my end—a few books I want to track down. But I can meet you boys in a couple of days."
Sam gave him the address of the motel and promised to call if anything happened. With Cas AWOL and up to god knows what with the King of Hell, they needed to stay in close contact. Once he hung up, Sam turned off the faucet and slowly headed back into the room. He checked the wards one final time before sliding into his own bed and turning off the light.
Sam woke up slowly the next morning. His head was pounding, his limbs like Jell-o, and his throat and chest on fire. He groaned when he opened his eyes and the sunlight streaming in through the window hit him in the face. He tried to roll away from the light, but the movement sent a wave of burning agony down to his toes, so he stilled.
After a long moment, he opened his eyes again and peered around the room. The window shades were pulled back, but Dean was nowhere to be seen. Sam frowned and struggled upright to lean against the headboard. He was breathing hard and sweating from the effort by the time he succeeded. It was a good thing Dean wasn't there to see him so pale and shaky. Because it wasn't a big deal.
Sam had just managed to get his breathing back to normal when the door opened and Dean walked in. He had two coffees and a bag of food in his hands. He nodded when he saw Sam was awake.
"Lookin' a little lazy there, Sammy. Sleeping in and just sitting in bed?"
Sam glanced at the clock and blinked in surprise when it read 10:04. "Huh," was the most intelligent reply he could muster.
Dean rolled his eyes and tossed him a breakfast sandwich from the bag. He put the coffee down on the bedside table and flopped down into his bed. Sam grimaced as he reached for the cup, but thankfully Dean was absorbed in his breakfast so didn't notice. Sam took a sip and sighed in relief. Caffeine would be good for his aching skull.
"Finish eating and we should head out," Dean said, crumbling his wrapper and shooting it wide of the trashcan.
"I think we should stay put," Sam replied around a bite of his sandwich.
"Sam, with Cas—"
"Cas can find us anywhere we go," Sam broke in. "We're both tired." And hurting. "We can't do anything about Cas and Crowley on fumes. And Bobby needs to meet up with us." He shrugged carefully. "I booked the room for a week."
Dean sputtered at that. "What?"
"Already paid for," Sam elaborated. Dean knew they couldn't afford to waste money on their credit cards. It was risky even still to be using them at all.
Sam gave Dean his best little brother I'm-getting-my-way-and-you-know-it grin. "A week, Dean."
Dean's mouth worked and he grumbled something about pushy sasquatches, but he didn't push the issue. He nabbed the remote and unapologetically turned on an episode of Dr. Sexy. Sam groaned, as expected, but mentally breathed a sigh of relief.
For the next two days, Sam felt progressively worse. He was taking pain killers more often than he should have been, but he could barely move without jarring his ribs and his head throbbed with the rhythm of a jackhammer. Breathing had become a Herculean effort, and coughing felt like a fault line shifting in his chest. He was constantly light-headed and he felt like he was walking on ice whenever he got up. He felt cold all the time and had layered on an extra shirt and hoodie; if Dean noticed that the heat and been turned up, though, he hadn't commented. Sam had run out of cough syrup that morning and Dean had raised a questioning eyebrow at the lung-lurching hacks, but Sam had waved off any concern, calling it allergies.
As Sam felt progressively worse, Dean got progressively moodier. The first day of being cooped up, Dean had downed the remainder of the pizza and engrossed himself in crappy daytime TV and a B-list horror flick marathon that lasted well into the night while Sam occupied himself on his iPad. He was looking for any omens that might indicate the hunt for Purgatory, but had come up empty. Not that they would have been up to doing anything had he found something, but still.
The next day, Dean started pacing and ended up spending the entire day cleaning out the Impala. He washed it inside and out and changed the oil. And when it got dark, he brought the weapons bag in and set to cleaning the guns and blades. Sam didn't offer to help, realizing that Dean needed to keep busy so he didn't have to think about the loss hanging over his head.
Sam had been the same after Jess had died. He'd needed to stay in motion, constantly hunting and looking for Dad or the demon, so he wouldn't dwell on her death and the gaping hole she'd left in his heart. He couldn't bear to sleep unless he absolutely had to, knowing that she would be on the ceiling every time he closed his eyes, so he pushed himself—and Dean—until he dropped from exhaustion.
And Dean never complained. He'd been there through it all, a constant presence whether Sam had woken up screaming or wanted to watch a movie marathon late into the night to keep the nightmares away. No chick flick moments necessary, just giving Sam what he needed without regard for his own needs—even being willing to go back home despite the pain that came with it.
And those memories were what kept Sam from telling Dean that he was feeling like shit. He wanted to be the constant support for Dean while he was hurting instead of asking for more from his brother than he should have to—or even be able to—give.
The third day since checking in, Dean had slept late and woken up irritated and snappy. He'd gone for a long run and come back only to lock himself in the bathroom to shower and do whatever else he did while avoiding Sam. Sam's stomach had started rebelling that morning, so he hadn't had the energy to move from the bed and try to intercept his brother. But in the few minutes Sam had seen him, he'd recognized the remnants of a nightmare. Dean had gone for a run to shake it off, probably only to realize he'd given himself too much space to think.
And now he was pissed because that was just easier than grieving. Classic Dean. He came out of the bathroom and pulled his jacked on. He grabbed his keys and headed for the door.
"Going to get a drink," he said over his shoulder.
"Bobby should be getting here in a few hours," Sam reminded him against chattering teeth. He pulled the blanket on his bed further up his body in a futile attempt to find warmth even though he was sweating.
"I'm sure whatever it is can wait until morning," Dean replied without looking back. He opened the door. "Don't wait up." He shut the door behind him on the encroaching twilight and moments later, the familiar rumble of the Impala sped out of the parking lot.
Sam sighed. Speaking of classic Dean…Going to a bar to get shitfaced and pick up a woman for the night was something he hadn't done in years. Before Hell, that had been Dean's go-to method for distraction. And Sam knew that if his brother was willing to pull out some old tricks to keep from thinking, he hadn't been doing a very good job of helping him deal. As if he didn't feel bad enough already…
Sam's stomach roiled and bile rose up in his throat. He shut his eyes and willed the nausea to pass. When it didn't, he untangled himself from his blanket and sheets and hobbled weakly to the bathroom, using the edge of the bed and wall for balance.
After puking up his guts and nearly passing out from the quaking in his chest at the violent heaves, Sam dragged himself to the sink and rinsed out his mouth. He blinked at the red-tinted water swirling down the drain. That couldn't be good. Sam covered his mouth as he coughed, yet again, and when he pulled his hand away, there was blood in it.
"Shit." If he was coughing up blood, he needed to call Dean; there were certain things like head injuries and possible internal bleeding that their dad had drilled into them to take very seriously no matter what.
Sam stumbled from the bathroom and put a supporting hand on the wall as he staggered toward the bedside table where his phone was charging. He made to grab onto the TV stand, but his vision swam in front of him and his hand missed the stand as he leaned over. His knees gave out at the imbalance and Sam toppled forward, the carpet rushing toward him at an alarming rate. There was a sharp pain on the side of his head and then nothing.
Dean was nursing his first beer while he sat at the bar. He'd walked into the bar an hour before with every intention of getting completely plastered and picking up a woman to drown out every thought bouncing around his skull, but the minute he sat down, he felt completely out of place. Yeah, he and Sam still hit bars to grab a drink or to hustle pool or darts, but sitting at the bar alone in the hope of finding merciful oblivion in a bottle? That hadn't been him since…god, more than a lifetime ago.
He just couldn't handle another day cooped up with nothing but bad TV and Sam's concerned looks following him around the room from behind the top of his laptop or iPad. Dean knew his brother was worried—and he had every reason to be since history had proven Winchesters didn't handle grief well—but Dean just couldn't…
Not yet. He shut his eyes.
Lisa and Ben.
Even RoboSam. It was all still too goddamn fresh. So for one night, he just wanted to forget; to go back to a simpler time with simpler hunts and simpler problems. Wendigos and missing fathers? Yes please.
But every time he looked at the brunette bartender who smiled in a flirty way that once would have had Dean waiting around for her shift to end, he could only see Lisa smiling at him from across the dinner table. And when a pretty blonde sat down next to him and offered to buy him a drink, Dean only saw Jess with her arm around Sam's waist and nearly bolted.
He just couldn't.
He opened his eyes and took one final swig of his beer, dropped a couple bills on the bar, and headed out the door without a backward glance. He slid in behind the wheel of the Impala and debated whether or not to go back to the motel. On the one hand, the room felt like it was closing in on him and he hated confined spaces about as much as rats and dick angels; but on the other, the only destination that felt right was the one with Sam, worried glances and all.
How long ago had Dean been sure he'd never see another one of those soulful looks again? He swallowed against the memories of Sam falling and of a Sam with no light behind his eyes...
Dean pulled the Impala out of the bar's parking lot and headed back to the motel.
Come to think of it, Sam had seemed a bit off since they'd hit the road—a bit off-balance. If there was anything worth taking up Dean's attention to keep him from dwelling, it was the puzzle that was Sam Winchester.
Dean parked in front of their room and opened the door ready to give some BS reason about why he'd left the bar so early…
Only to see Sam sprawled out unconscious on the floor in front of his bed. Dean froze. There was no sign of a struggle; just an unconscious little brother. Panic flared in his gut.
No, no, no…Not the wall, not now…Can't lose you now, Sammy. Not you, not now, not ever…
The blaring of a car horn in the distance broke the spell of paralysis and Dean hurried to Sam's side, dropping to his knees next to his brother. He felt for a pulse and sighed in relief when he found one, though it was thready.
"C'mon Sammy," Dean pleaded. "Don't you dare leave me again."
And that was when he saw the blood on Sam's lips and chin. Dean did his best not to go back…Sam was clean, so it had to be his own blood. Had he bitten his lip when he'd fallen or were there internal injuries?
Suddenly Dean remembered Sam's cough that he'd dismissed as allergies. Dean hadn't had an interest in pushing Sam, so had left it alone even though it was an obvious lie. Sam was coughing up blood, then.
It hit Dean with all the subtlety of a two-by-four. Sam had been sleeping more, taking pills when he thought Dean wasn't looking, moving gingerly around the room, and layering up despite the room being hot. Dean scrubbed his face through his hands. Sam was sick and had been trying to hide it. And Dean had been too self-absorbed to notice.
But that also meant it hadn't been the wall.
Dean scanned the area again and spotted some blood on the edge of the TV stand. Suspicious, he ran a light hand over his brother's head and found a sticky spot near his temple. Sam's hair and forehead were also damp with sweat. His face was flushed and burning up to the touch. No wonder he'd bundled up n the room had been so hot. With a shake of his head, Dean scanned Sam for any other injury when he noticed something sticking out from Sam's shirts that had ridden up in the fall. Dean pulled Sam's shirts up and hissed when he saw the bandages wrapped around his midsection.
With a sinking sensation, Dean realized pieces were clicking together pretty easily. And he didn't like the picture they were making.
"Dean? What the—?" Dean looked up to see Bobby standing in the open door, keys on one hand and a look of alarm on his face.
"I just got back," Dean said roughly. "And found Sam."
"Is it—?" Bobby trailed off, but Dean knew he'd had the same first thought he had. The wall.
Dean shook his head and Bobby visibly sagged in relief. Dean took a shaky breath to collect himself. Bobby was here, which meant he wasn't alone again. Dean nodded toward his brother. "Help me get him up?"
Bobby nodded and together they maneuvered Sam's deadweight onto his bed. Bobby frowned at the blood on Sam's lips while Dean pulled off the hoodie and overshirt Sam had layered in. And then he pulled up Sam's undershirt to assess the damage Sam must have been hiding since the warehouse. The bandages wrapped all the way around his middle and livid bruises spilled out over the top.
"He was pretty sure he'd broken a couple of ribs," Bobby said by way of explanation.
Dean blinked. "Wait, you knew about this?"
Bobby gave him an impatient glare. "I wrapped the idjit's chest."
"You what?" Dean exploded.
Bobby clenched his jaw irritably. "Watch your tone, boy." He jerked his head in Sam's direction. "He knows better than to leave the damn things on for long. Your daddy taught you better than that. That was just supposed to be a patch job until he drove the Impala back."
"And he didn't think broken ribs were worth mentioning?"
Bobby shrugged helplessly. "He said he didn't want to give you something else to worry about. You know how he can be."
Dean wanted to make some nasty comment in return, but the older man was right; hiding an injury for Dean's sake was such a Sam thing to do and Dean had been missing his brother for so damn long, he just couldn't muster up any anger. All his annoyance drained away and was replaced with worry.
"So why's he running a fever and coughing up blood?"
Bobby gave Sam's unconscious form an assessing look before realization crossed his face. "Balls," he cursed.
"What?" Dean demanded. "What is it?"
"Keepin' broken ribs wrapped up like that makes it hard to breathe and suppresses the immune system."
"Yeah, I noticed he's sick, Bobby," Dean interrupted, but Bobby's look shut him up quickly. "Sorry."
Bobby shook his head gravely. "I think Sam has pneumonia."
At first there was pain; he knew it was his but it still seemed distant, abstract. Then there were voices; he knew they were familiar but couldn't put a face to the sounds. And then there were smells; some intimately familiar—Old Spice and whiskey he was able to put names to—while others were detached, clinical even. But that didn't make any sense.
And then there was feeling. He could feel something soft beneath him—a bed?—and something pricking into his hand, but he couldn't move his limbs to remove the prick. He felt like he was weighed down by stones—wasn't there a story about a man who'd been crushed to death by stones? He was pretty sure he'd read it in one of the countless schools he'd enrolled in as a kid.
The Crucible, he remembered.
Sam opened his eyes, but shut them against the light. After a moment, he opened them again and realized the shades were drawn and the room was actually pretty dim. He turned his head to the side, since that was all he could seem to move, and saw an IV stand next to his bed and frowned. He followed the line uncomprehendingly to his hand. What…?
The prick, he realized. But why was he hooked up to an IV.
"I haven't heard from her in days, Dean," one of the voices was saying from somewhere across the room. Sam recognized Bobby's gruff tone now. That explained the familiar smells. "I don't like it."
"You said yourself she can take care of herself, Bobby." That was Dean. He heard a glass clink and decided they must be drinking whiskey. "She's a big girl from Purgatory and all. She stands a better chance than any of us do even."
Sam frowned, wondering if the conversation didn't make sense because his head was fuzzy and everything from his toenails to his hair seemed to hurt or because he'd ended up in another strange alternate universe. His life was weird enough that either option was plausible.
He shut his eyes as he felt an itch building in his throat and let out a weak cough and a groan. The chairs from across the room suddenly shifted and footsteps crossed the room.
"Sam?" Dean asked. The mattress dipped next to his hip, but Sam could sense Dean's proximity without it; a feeling of safe just washed over him, so he opened his eyes again. Dean was watching him carefully when Sam's eyes found him. Relief washed over Dean's face and suddenly Sam wondered what the hell had happened.
"Dean," Sam was barely able to manage against the grain in his throat and he coughed again.
"Shit, sorry." A cup with a straw appeared in front of him and another set of hands helped sit him up slightly so he could sip the water. The cold wetness was heaven going down his sandpapered throat. After several long gulps, Sam sat back and the hands eased him back down against the pillow.
Only then did Sam look over to see Bobby standing on the other side of the bed. "Nice to see you awake, kid."
"Thanks, Bobby." The older hunter went back to the table, which wasn't even ten feet away though it had sounded like miles only moments before, and Sam turned back to his brother. "What happened?"
Dean's brows furrowed. "I was hoping you could tell us."
Sam frowned. "What?"
"Sammy, I came back from the bar and found you passed out on the floor." A pained expression crossed his face that Sam didn't have the energy to try to decipher. "That was four days ago."
Sam's eyes widened; he would have jolted upright in bed if his entire body wasn't weighed down with ten times normal gravity. He tried to recall his last memory, but everything was like cotton inside his head. "What?"
"Dammit, Sam." Dean shook his head. "I thought…" He caught himself and looked away.
Dean shook his head, but Bobby was the one who spoke. "We thought the wall had come down."
Sam's breath hitched at that. "Oh."
"Oh?" Dean growled. "Is that all you have say for yourself?"
"Dean," Bobby warned. "He just woke up."
But Dean ignored the older man. "You have three broken ribs, Sam!" he growled. "And you kept it from me!"
The words jolted something loose in Sam's mind and he suddenly remembered what had happened. He remembered finding the blood in his hand and trying to get to the phone to call Dean. He remembered slipping and then…nothing. Four days ago?
"Jesus, Sam. That's not something you can hide from me! You know better than that."
Sam swallowed. "I'm sorry," he whispered. "I just…"
"So help me, if that sentence ends with 'I didn't want you to worry,' I'll break your ribs all over again," Dean warned and Sam fell silent. Dean nodded to himself. "Thought so."
After a long silence, Dean began again. "Sammy—"
"I was trying to call you," Sam said in a rush rather than hear what Dean had to say
Dean blinked. "What?"
"That night. Four days ago?" When Dean nodded, Sam continued, doing his best to explain what he remembered in jerky, broken sentences. He was having a hard time getting words out against the cotton in his head and the lead in his body.
"I was trying to call you." Dean squeezed his knee in a silent prod to go on. "I thought…resting in the motel would be enough." Dean shook his head, but Sam ignored him. "But then I got a cough. Wouldn't go away."
"Wasn't allergies," Dean snorted, running a hand through his hair. "I'm such a jackass."
"Yes," Sam agreed flatly and Dean rolled his eyes. "But wasn't your fault." Sam blinked tiredly a few times but pressed on despite the exhaustion trying to pull him under once more. "After you left, I started coughing blood." Dean winced. "Was trying to get my phone. To call you. And I fell," Sam finished with a weak shrug.
"Son of a bitch," Dean muttered. "And you hit your head. You're fucking lucky you're not dead."
Sam blinked just as Dean realized what he'd said and they both laughed. Sam was pretty sure Bobby had muttered something about damn idjits in the background.
Dean sobered quickly, though. "You can't hide shit like this from me."
"You got pneumonia, Sam."
Sam opened his mouth but the words died in his throat as Dean's words registered. "What?"
"Pneumonia. That's why you were coughing blood. You had a fever. For awhile Bobby thought you might have a collapsed lung, too."
"Wha—How?" Sam asked. How was that even possible? At first he thought it was a cold or maybe the flu. And when he saw the blood, he thought he might have some internal bleeding from the broken ribs. Pneumonia had never even occurred to him.
"From keeping your ribs wrapped up, dumbass," Dean informed him. Sam's eyes widened again. "Kept you from taking deep enough breaths. Fucked with your lungs."
"Shit," Sam mumbled.
Dean nodded. "Luckily Bobby here showed up just in time and figured it out. We, uh, liberated some antibiotics and an IV, so you should be fine."
"Nothing strenuous for the next couple of weeks," Bobby informed him. At both brothers' incredulous looks, Bobby corrected himself. "Stay in bed a couple more days then don't be an idjit about it. Gotta make sure you finish the antibiotic course at least."
Sam nodded, his eyelids drooping shut again. He blinked them open again but Dean shook his head. "Get some more sleep, Sasquatch. We'll be here."
"'Kay," Sam murmured, closing his eyes.
"Don't you ever do that to me again, bitch," Dean suddenly whispered in his ear.
"Do what?" Sam whispered back.
"Leave me. I can't do it again, Sammy. You hear me?"
Sam's stomach clenched at the words. Dean was still grieving the loss of over half the people in his life he cared about—Cas, Lisa, and Ben. They'd had to lose Ellen and Jo all over again even though they were the only ones to remember it. And Rufus just before that. It was too much for anyone to handle.
And then Dean'd almost lost Sam again, too. The fall of the Great Wall of Sam was still dangling over all their heads, too. Losing Sam was Dean's absolute breaking point and they both knew it. There would be no apple pie life for Dean once Hell came rushing back in for Sam. And they both knew Sam couldn't keep any promise about it, but Sam spoke the words anyway.
"I hear you, jerk." He swallowed. "I promise."
With Cas and Crowley working to open the door to Purgatory, they might not have much time left anyway, but the brothers Winchester would take whatever they could get with each other until the bitter end. And that would just have to be enough.
- Finis -