A Long Road
"You guys ok in here?" a soft voice whispered from the doorway.
Doc Lee had poked his head in while passing by and smiled when he saw that Sam was asleep.
Dean grinned back. "Yeah, we're fine," he answered, quietly. "Sam woke up for a bit, but I got him off to sleep again."
"That's good," Lee entered the room all the way and picked up Sam's chart from the end of the bed. "'Cos he's gonna need it."
Dean frowned, his heart picking up speed.
"Why? Everything's ok, ain't it? I mean, his fever's pretty bad but it's getting better, right?"
He eyed the doc closely, not liking the guy's body language one bit.
It spoke of a longer stay for Sam, something neither brother was going to be happy about.
Lee sighed and dropped the reassuring smile.
"Sam has septicaemia, and his fever isn't abating under the usual treatment," he pinched the bridge of his nose, and ignored his body's umpteenth plea for sleep. "He needs something much more heavy duty. Whatever kind of dog bit him? It was riddled with disease."
Dean stared at him for a full minute before he asked the dreaded question.
"Doc. Tell me. Sam's gonna make it, right?"
Getting to his feet and hovering protectively over his brother, he grew more anxious and angry when Lee didn't reply straight away.
Lee shrugged and shook his head, still staring at Sam's chart.
"I can't be certain of anything until I put him on the new treatment," he glanced sadly up at Dean. "I'm sorry I can't offer any guarantees. Sam's fighting it as best he can, but there's a strong possibility it'll get the better of him."
Dean suddenly looked lost and bewildered, like a frightened little boy. He looked down at his brother, lying so still and impossibly small in the bed. His eyes followed the IV lines up to the numerous bags suspended above.
Nutrients, antibiotics and saline. All were working to save Sam, and failing.
Lee took a risk and patted the older brother's shoulder.
"I'm going to do everything I can for him, Dean," he said, quietly. "And I mean everything. I'll work around the clock if I have to."
Again, he silently added, and mentally waved bye-bye to his nice, big, comfortable bed for another twenty four hours.
Dean couldn't bring himself to speak, just nodded and hung his head.
Dean clung to Sam's hand throughout the next day and night, despairing every time his little brother thrashed and whimpered in pain. The fever had Sam strung out with nightmares whenever he slept, and terrified rigid from hallucinations whenever he was awake.
"Easy, Sammy," Dean whispered.
He bathed Sam's face and neck with a cold, damp washcloth and tried his best to stay calm, but every time Sam called for him, or Jess, or Dad, his heart broke just a little bit more.
"D-Dean…" Sam whimpered again, face flushed, dark shadows prominent under his swollen eyes. "H-here?"
Dean knew what he was asking.
"Yeah, Sammy, I'm right here, kiddo," he replied, shakily, mouth trembling with grief. The tears came tumbling down his face without warning, and Dean fought hard to contain his sobs. "I'm still here with you, not leaving. And neither are you, are we clear on that, Sam?"
Sam shuddered harshly; his eyes searching the room for god knew what, still calling out for his brother.
"Sammy…" Dean caved in and sobbed out loud, the battle to control his emotions finally lost.
Lee wiped at his eyes and turned away from the door to Sam's room.
Nothing was working. The antibiotics administered yesterday hadn't made a dent, even seemed to fuel the mysterious pathogen. The pyrexia had worsened, and his patient was suffering from severe dehydration.
There was no avoiding it. Sam Hunter was dying and there wasn't a damn thing Lee could do to stop it.
He'd tried everything, but he had never come across an infection quite like it before. The bacteria were doubling in numbers every hour, in spite of hefty antibiotic therapy. In fact, the species was very similar in appearance to that of Staphylococcus aureas, the bacteria often responsible for boils and pimples and other more serious, life-threatening illness, but that was where the similarities stopped.
The toxin it secreted was vastly different to that of Staph, and seemed to not only allow the bacteria to evade Sam's immune system, but to also gradually destroy it. The pattern of response was similar to that of the Human Immunodeficiency Virus, and what was even more confusing? Damn thing had started attacking the poor guy's kidneys and liver, like some kind of weird fucking Ebola.
On top of that, an electron micrograph of the organism showed a strange electric blue, glowing aura around the cell membranes that seemed to jump and twitch.
And that just wasn't possible.
This was something new. Lee's hand had hovered more than once over the phone in the mess room. One call to the Centres for Disease Control in Atlanta and the brothers would be split up, quarantined and held indefinitely for testing.
Lee wasn't sure he could do that to them, not when Sam was critically ill and on the brink of death. Besides, the laboratory staff had proven by pure accident, when an opened phial of Sam's blood had been dropped on the floor, splattering the stuff everywhere, that it was completely harmless to everyone else.
Doc Lee was pretty sure he was heading for the nut house after all this.
This whole case was completely fucked up and he, quite honestly, had no idea what to do next.
It wasn't fair, dammit!
How could a guy so stubborn that he walked four miles across town with a raging infection, now lose the fight?
"No," Lee suddenly shook his head, and stalked with renewed determination down the hallway towards the labs. "I'm not losing him. There must be something I've missed…"
"Bobby, please," Dean rubbed a hand over his eyes, and fought to stay sane. "Call me when you get this message."
It was the fifth time he'd called, and the fifth time he'd gotten voice mail.
Now Dean understood how his brother had felt two days ago.
Sam panted into an oxygen mask, a recent additional feature along with the blood pressure cuff. His breathing had become laboured during the night, and his skin felt almost like tissue paper to the touch. He was on his third saline bag already and it was only ten in the morning.
Dean wrapped one of Sam's limp hands in both of his.
"C'mon, Sammy," he begged, quietly. "Don't you quit on me now, huh? I need you, little brother. Need you so damn much."
Sam's head rolled across the pillow towards him, but that was his only response.
"I know you're trying hard, Sam, but you gotta keep holding on. Bobby will know what to do. We'll get you all fixed up before you know it…"
Smoke Over Water rang out, sounding tinny and pathetic in the quiet of Sam's room.
"Oh thank God!" Dean breathed out when he saw who the caller was, and answered immediately. "Bobby!"
"Dean? What the hell's going on? Where's Sam?"
"He's right here," Dean glanced at his brother's face. "That Black Dog we were hunting a few days back? Damn thing bit him."
There was a brief pause, followed by
"Balls!" then "He ok? How bad is it?"
"It was only a scratch but he got septicaemia," Dean replied, still staring at his brother's face. "Bobby… he got sick in a matter of hours, and he's getting worse."
Another pause, then
"What shape ears did it have?"
Dean blinked. "I dunno… dog-eared shape? What the hell kind of question is that? Sam's dying Bobby!"
"Just answer the damn question!"
"Uh," Dean ran a hand over his spiky hair as he thought it through.
"I dunno, like a Doberman Pinscher's I guess?"
"Shit! Dean, that's no ordinary Black Dog. Its the original East Anglian Shuck's long lost cousin, all the way over from Germany. Those creatures are virtually unheard of but highly lethal. They carry a phantom pathogen which mimics every disease known to man and a few we don't even know about! It only infects what it bites! What the hell were ya idjits thinking!"
"We were thinking 'let's kill the bastard before it harms someone else'," Dean retorted, sarcastically. "It ripped the throats out of two kids last week! And how the hell were we to know it could infect like this? It's not like many people get bit by a Black Dog and live to tell about it!"
He heard Bobby breathing on the other end of the line, and felt immediate remorse.
"Look, I'm sorry, man," said Dean, despondently. "Haven't slept properly in a while, and Sammy… he's…"
Bobby sighed into the phone. "Forget it, son. No harm, no foul."
Dean huffed out a breath. "So, is there anything we can do for Sam?"
"Did you salt and burn the body?"
"Yeah," Dean's heart sank, taking hope with it. "Yeah we did."
"Then go back and get its' teeth. They ain't like ordinary teeth, so they'd have survived the burn, and they'll grind real easy into a fine powder. Dissolve it in hot holy water to neutralise it, and then force the fresh mixture – and I mean so fresh the water's still scolding - down Sam's throat, make yourself comfortable, sit back and wait it out."
Dean turned away from Sam's bed. "You sure that'll work? 'Cos if Sam wakes up and I'm not there…"
"Got no choice but to try, son. If you don't, Sam's finished."
And on that cheery note, the conversation came to a close.
Dean leaned over Sam's prone form and ran a hand through the kid's hair.
"I'll be back soon, Sammy," he said. "I promise."
To his surprise, Sam opened his eyes and gazed up at him.
"N-no… Dean, p-please don't go," he whimpered, voice muffled by the oxygen mask. "Please… d-don't leave me… I'll be good, I swear… please…"
Dean's heart broke all over again for the hundredth time, and he perched on the edge of the bed.
"Hey, I won't be gone long, ok?" he whispered, smiling sadly at his brother. "You haven't done anything wrong, Sammy; I just need to go right now. But I'll come back. I won't leave you for long."
Sam weakly shook his head, tears leaking from the corners of his eyes, and reached out to Dean as he backed away from the bed.
"I gotta go, Sam. I have to go get something that'll help you," Dean pleaded with his delirious little brother to understand, but Sam was too sick and addled by fever. "I swear I'm coming back, Sammy. But right now I gotta go save your life."
He left the room without looking back, scared that if he did he'd never be able to leave.
But as he drove away Sam's cries were still ringing in his ears, and he tried not to wonder if the kid would still be around to come back to.
By the time Dean got back, Sam was on a respirator, unconscious and fading fast.
"Where in hell have you been?" asked Lee, furiously. "I've been trying to get hold of you for hours!"
Dean ignored the doc, shouldered his way into the room, and headed straight for his brother.
He eyed the ET tube and placed a thermos on the night stand.
"Get that thing out of him," he growled, without looking away from Sam.
Lee gaped. "What? No way! He'll die!"
"Trust me, if you don't do it he'll die anyway," said Dean, slipping a hand into the inner pocket of his jacket and pulling out a Ziploc bag filled with white powder.
"Is that what I think it is?" the doc asked, in disgust. "Illegal drugs aren't going to save him, Dean!"
"It's not drugs, its ground up Black Dog's teeth," Dean told him, without thinking, busy opening both thermos and bag.
"Are you insane?" Lee wondered aloud, assuming Dean was kidding.
"Just do it!" Dean roared, startling the doctor.
Lee stared at him for a long second. He had no idea why, but…
He turned to his patient, took a deep breath, and began the extubation.
Sam's body bucked weakly, desperate for oxygen. His mouth fell open with each strangled gasp, neck and back arching painfully off the bed, and Dean seized the opportunity like a gift.
He quickly emptied the bag into the thermos, closed the lid, gave it a good hard shake, then removed the lid again, and grabbed Sam's chin.
"Bottom's up," he whispered, and poured the entire contents into his brother's mouth. Jamming Sam's jaw shut in a tight grip and pinching off the kid's nose with his other hand; Dean grimaced and held on while Sam gurgled, and bucked more strongly, more wildly this time.
The kid's body shuddered until his natural swallowing reflex switched on, and forced the mixture of holy water and ground up teeth into his stomach.
Surprisingly, the scolding hot liquid didn't burn Sam's skin like Dean thought it might. And that ticked one more problem off his list.
Once he was sure it had all gone down, Dean let go of Sam's jaw and nose, and pulled the kid up into a sitting position. Sam's limp body slumped forward, gasping and choking, while Dean took his weight and rubbed his back.
"There ya go, Sammy," Dean murmured into Sam's hair. "Told you I'd come back, didn't I?" He looked at the doc, who was staring back at him in disbelief, and smiled sheepishly. "Old holistic remedy. Friend of ours swears to God it works like a charm every time."
Lee carried on staring, until Dean realised he wasn't actually staring at him. He was staring at Sam.
Pulling away, he cupped Sam's face, tilted it upwards and watched intently.
The fever, which had been raging out of control only moments before, was slowly abating. The dark shadows under Sam's eyes were visibly receding.
Though still obviously sick, Sam was sleeping peacefully.
Dean's smile grew. He gently laid his brother back against the pillows and tucked the blankets in around him.
"Rest up, Sammy," he said, softly. "Take all the time you need."
Lee was still staring, possibly in deep shock. He raised a badly shaking hand and pointed at his patient.
"Mwwwwaaammaaaaaaa..." he wibbled, nervously, not even sure what he was trying to say.
Dean nodded. He felt kind of sorry for the guy.
"Yeah, I know," he assured the doc. "Comes as a shock, huh? Tell you what. You stay quiet about this, and we'll be gone by morning."
Lee blinked and cleared his throat.
"Make it tomorrow night," he said, voice shaking but professional face back on. "Just to be sure Sam's ok. The pulse oximeter's registering low oxygen levels and he's still running a high temperature."
He indicated the little clip attached to the middle finger of Sam's left hand.
Dean's heart thudded loudly in his chest. Things had really gotten bad for Sammy while he was quite literally grinding teeth.
"I can do something about that," said Lee, quickly, seeing Dean's face grow pale.
He reached up and gently fixed a nasal cannula to Sam's face.
"He'll soon pick up," Lee reassured him. "You'll see."
An awkward silence fell between the two conscious men. There didn't seem to be much more to add, apart from one thing.
"Uh, I wanted to thank you," said Dean, humbly. "I know you pulled out all the stops to help Sammy. Including drugging him up so he couldn't leave."
He grinned suddenly. "Which he is gonna be pissed about, by the way!"
"So I gathered," said Lee, wryly. "He wasn't exactly what I would call a happy bunny, but by the time he figured out what I was up to, it was too late."
"Crafty bastard," answered Dean, with no real heat.
Lee chuckled and headed for the door.
"Which is why I'm getting out before he wakes up. Your brother's way bigger than me." He turned to Dean at the last second. "Sam might still be groggy and unwell for a few days, so keep an eye on him, huh?"
Dean sent him a casual salute. "Sure thing, doc."
Sam came round early afternoon the next day to find Dean watching him.
It was kind of creepy.
"Uh, Dean?" he croaked out, sleepily. "What are you doing?"
"Making sure you don't try to walk out of here before you're ready," Dean smirked at him. "I hear last time they had to stick you with a needle."
Sam scowled and reached up to remove the tube under his nose, but Dean batted his hand away.
"Dude! You've been sick for days, so leave that on, ok?" Dean dropped the smirk and frowned. "For now at least. If you get the all clear we can leave tonight."
Sam wrinkled his nose with disgust. "If you had to wear one of these…"
"Been there, done that…" Dean interrupted, and Sam had to concede the point.
They'd both been there. Many, many times.
Dean stared at him in silence until Sam shifted uncomfortably in the bed.
"Dude, quit that," he mumbled and looked away.
"How you feeling, Sammy?" came the quiet question, one that demanded the truth.
Sam sighed and closed his eyes for a second, and Dean was struck by just how vulnerable he looked right then.
"Sam?" he prompted.
Sam looked back at him. "Tired. A bit sick."
He saw the look on Dean's face and amended that.
"Ok, a lot sick. Like I've been drinking cheap whisky non-stop for the last three days and now I have the hangover from hell. There, ya happy now?"
His head thumped back against the pillow, already feeling exhausted and he'd only been awake a few minutes.
"How's the car?" he asked, when a sudden thought struck him. "Is she fixed?"
Dean ignored the question, and a second later a cool hand pressed against Sam's forehead. He didn't have the energy to fight it off and besides, it felt good.
"What?" Sam enquired, closing his eyes.
"Still got a slight fever, but nowhere near as bad as it was," Dean replied, softly.
Sam thought about that. "How bad did it get?"
The hand left.
A long, heartfelt sigh made Sam open his eyes again. "Dean?"
Dean hands were clasped together between his knees, and he was staring down at them.
"Bad enough," he answered, solemnly. "That's all you need to know."
"Enough, Sammy, please?" Dean raised his head and gazed imploringly at Sam. "Another time, maybe, but not right now. I can't…. I just can't right now. You were dying…"
Sam's eyes widened with understanding. Last thing he wanted was to cause his brother more stress, not after all this.
"Ok," he said, gently, and reached out to give Dean's arm a comforting squeeze. "It's ok. Later, perhaps."
Things must've become really bad if Dean was too upset to even talk about it, or even yell and shout at Sam for his stupidity in getting hurt in the first place.
Never mind. He'd drag it out of him sooner or later.
"I'm sorry," Dean murmured, suddenly. "I already said it, but you were delirious at the time, so here it is."
He took a deep breath and looked Sam in the eye. "I'm sorry I didn't answer your calls, that I blanked you when you needed me most."
Sam frowned. "Dean, it's ok. My bad for getting sick in the first place..." he trailed of when his brother scowled deeply at the interruption, and nodded. It wasn't his floor right then.
Dean huffed again but still kept his gaze on Sam.
"And I overreacted about the car. What happened wasn't your fault and I should never have blamed you for it. Shit just happens, Sammy, so don't you go blaming yourself either. You were bitten, and I should've known. Should've taken better care of you."
Sam smiled tiredly. There was no point in arguing with Dean when he was in this mood, so he nodded his forgiveness and looked around the room, trying to find a way to change the subject before either one of them became even more uncomfortable.
He soon found one, and wrinkled his nose on a sniff.
"What's that smell?" Sam lifted the nasal tube slightly and took another long sniff.
Dean frowned. "Huh?"
"Smells like... dog's breath or something round here," Sam grimaced and coughed. "If I didn't know better I could swear that was coming from me."
Dean's grin emerged slowly but surely from behind its' cloud, brightening up the room.
He leaned over and murmured in Sam's ear.
An expression of absolute horror slowly stole across his little brother's face, and was followed by a stunned silence.
"Get me some mouth wash," Sam finally growled, and began scrubbing furiously at his tongue with his fingernails.
Dean shook his head in amusement. "Sam, take it easy..."
"Mouthwash, Dean," Sam barked back, voice still croaky but filled with a determination that spoke of some major ass kicking when he was feeling better. "Now!"
Lee found the goodbye note on Sam's nightstand, thanking him for all his help, and that the brothers had taken measures of damage control to ensure the infection didn't spread. The note hadn't gone into any details but Lee assumed that was why the bed was not only empty of pillows but also stripped of its sheets.
"Excellent," said Lee, sarcastically, to the empty room. "I'll be sure to pass this on to all the Microbiologists, Clinical Chemists and Haematologists who lost even more sleep than I did."
He shook his head fondly, in the understanding that he'd never see Sam and Dean ever again.
When all was said and done, he was rather relieved about that.
Cheers for all the wonderful reviews everyone!
Love ST xxx