Sam never imagined how soul-refreshing it would be being able to wash his hair again. And that included having to scrub carefully around the spiky patch beginning to grow back in. It certainly was an improvement just to no longer need the constricting band around his head. He relished standing in the steamy bathroom, dressed except for his shirt, feeling the rough stitches puckering as they healed.
Beyond the dinky, tiled space, he heard the cabin door open and close. Rustling and thumping preceded his brother's voice.
"You conscious in there, or do I have to come rescue you?" Dean announced himself.
Sam opened the door, not too happy to emerge into the drafty main room. "I'm fine, Dean. Did you get the groceries I asked for?" Dean rolled his eyes as he cracked open a couple beers for them. He indicated the large brown bag on the folding table.
"Don't know what the hell you find in that rabbit food. Black hole of taste, if you ask me…"
"Your opinion doesn't matter in this case. My best chance of getting back on track includes eating as healthy as possible." Sam dug around in the bag until he came out with a prepackaged convenience store salad. "Speaking of getting back on track, it's probably about time we removed the stitches. They're getting uncomfortable."
Dean snatched up their first aid kit, with which he had been keeping the area of surgery clean for the past week and a half. Sam stiffly settled onto the bed with his salad and a plastic fork. They may trust each other with their lives, but he was still nervous at having even Dean go at the back of his head with scissors.
This was by far the weirdest sensation Sam had ever experienced, and that was saying a lot. He would feel a couple snips—trying not to register them as pain—and then a spine-tingling pulling through the skin. He had trouble not thinking the suture material was scraping right against his skull. Suddenly he wasn't hungry at the moment. The process repeated over and over. By the fifth one, his scalp was definitely tender.
"Can we—can we take a break for a bit?" he finally had to ask Dean. His older brother stopped poking at Sam's head.
"You okay? Gonna hurl or something?"
"No, I just…need to stretch my neck out…" Dean let Sam get up, pace, flex his stiff muscles. He realized he was shaking. This was just like any other self-done medical treatment, right? Why was he so on edge?
He caught Dean watching. "Sam…"
"You're not doing anything wrong, Dean," Sam tried to reassure them both. "I don't know why I…this…"
Dean shrugged. "It's not exactly familiar territory. I mean, concussions we've done. All manner of blows to face, neck, you name it. But a hole drilled in your head? Anybody'd be jumpy about dealing with that in the field. C'mere." He took Sam by the arm, grabbing a little hand mirror they used for checking harder-to-see injuries. After using a towel to clear the bathroom mirror, he spun Sam around and held up the small one.
"See for yourself. Yeah, it looks a little funky with the redness and the hair growing back in. Beyond that, it looks fine. No gaping holes, no raging infection. You're gonna be okay." They headed back into the main room.
"Dean…the doc said there's a chance I'll have scarring in my brain," Sam said quietly, "without weeks of medication and therapy and all that. He said…I might still have hallucinations."
Dean's face looked like a brick wall had run into it. "What?"
"After the last seizure, and allergic reaction…it's not supposed to be as bad as before, but a lot happened in a short amount of time, when I was more vulnerable than ever…it makes sense…"
"Damn." Dean leaned on the bedframe for support. "All of that just to end up back at square one?"
"Well, not completely. Dr. Harvey did say the worst symptoms were because of pressure, and that's gone," Sam pointed out.
"But I still have to possibly keep Halucifer from running off with you! What am I supposed to do with that?"
"Just what you said, I guess. Find a way. I've still been able to hunt, aside from the seizures, and those should be over." Sam returned to his seat, absent-mindedly fingering the aging scar in his left palm. "Build on stone number one, right? Someone told me that once." He managed a semi-confidant smile, which Dean thankfully returned. Sam handed him the little medical scissors. "Might as well get this over with. It looked like you only had a few left."
Dean nodded. "Yeah. Hang in there."
The older Winchester made quick work of the remaining stitches, and Sam could finally relax a little. He sipped at his beer, not quite ready to try eating again. Dean dropped into a chair opposite Sam, digging into the burger he'd picked up for himself. "I better not catch you picking at what's left, either. It ain't been easy keepin' a hospital standard."
"Dean, you're doing everything you can. We both are. It's not your fault we had to bust out of there. Look, would it help if I promised to behave?"
"When have you ever behaved?" chuckled Dean as he punched at Sam's arm. The motion knocked over the stack of flash cards from their perch on one of the bedposts. "Which reminds me. Quiz time!"
"Aw, wouldn't you rather go over the possible hunt I found online?"
"Already called someone in on it, while you were napping earlier. We are going to make sure you're head's good and back together before we go anywhere. And you promised to behave, so behave."
"I didn't actually promise, I just asked if it would help!" Sam protested. Dean handed him the abandoned salad and held up a card.
"Well, I'm taking it as a promise 'cause it would help in this case—and don't give me the bitchface."
That just goaded Sam into exaggerating his expression on purpose; Dean threw his own impression right back. Why they were acting like children was anybody's guess. But it made Sam laugh. After momentary confusion, Dean joined in. Sometimes lightening the mood was all they could do. Maybe it was all that they needed.