Author's Note: I recently lost a family member this past weekend. Her passing inspired this. Set after "In My Time of Dying" but before "Everyone Loves a Clown". I've taken a few liberties on the medical terms, as I'm neither a doctor nor a medical professional.
"If only. Those must be the two saddest words in the world."
"I'm still alive, but I'm barely breathing,"
—The Script, "Breakeven"
Sam was numb.
Around him, words were being spoken—he's in shock, barely breathing, contact someone on his behalf—but they were just white noise to the young hunter. Someone had bundled him up with a blanket and moved him to a comfortable blue chair. The red blanket irritated his skin, but he made no move to get rid of it. It was almost as if he had no energy to do so, no will to do anything other than focus on the spot on the pristine white wall that was off-white. It was a perfect circle on the wall, almost as if someone had been rebelling against the strict hospital codes, saying "Screw you, hospital!"
God, he was tired too. Hell, he was thinking about the origins of a slightly off-white spot on the wall! If that wasn't a sign of sleep deprivation, then the youngest Winchester didn't know what was.
"Sam? Can you hear me?" Bobby knelt down and Sam adjusted himself so he could once more gaze at the spot. What was Bobby doing here? Wasn't he taking care of the Impala? It needed to be at the salvage yard before Dean woke up because his older brother would be pissed if he found out that his baby was in a million pieces on the road. "Dammit, boy."
"Like I explained, Mr. Singer," A distinctly professional voice started. "He's gone completely catatonic."
"How do we snap him out of it then?" Bobby sounded upset, angry even. Sam kept his eyes on the circle. Who had put it there? Had it been a doctor? Maybe an upset patient? A ghost, possibly?
His first practice session had come the morning after his father had found out that Sam knew the truth. John had woken him up at 5:00 AM and dragged him down to the empty field down the road from where they were staying. John covered the basics and then finished with a lesson on the most common foe a hunter would face—ghosts.
"Killing ghosts is pretty easy, Sammy. Just gotta use salt. Find the body and salt and burn it," His dad grinned and ruffled his hair affectionately. "Remember that and you'll be able to get through anything."
"Yes, sir!" John chuckled.
"That's my boy."
That had been his first lesson in hunting. He had been so young—too young—but his father had been so damn proud when Sam had managed to recite the information that John had drilled into his head. That was one of the few smiles that his father had ever given him—Sam would know, he had cataloged them and brought out the memories whenever he had been depressed at Stanford. He had recalled the smiles as proof that his father had still loved him that he hadn't meant the things he had shouted when Sam had left for Stanford.
"Hold the gun steadier, Sam."
Strong hands moved his arms with a gentleness that Sam hadn't known he was possible of having.
"Like this, Dad?" John nodded his head.
"Now, you never pull that trigger unless you're sure, you hear me?" Sam nodded seriously. He was 10 years old now, he understood plenty.
"That's my boy." John patted his shoulder and then turned towards Dean, ready to teach his eldest new hunting tricks.
"Honestly, given all his emotional trauma," The professional voice—doctor?—started. "I doubt there would be anything for us to do, short of sedating him. Would you—?"
"No, no." Bobby interjected quickly.
"Good," The doctor said with a small sigh. "I believe he's been through quite enough today, I mean, given his previous injuries caused by the car accident—"
"Previous injuries?" Bobby questioned and Sam wondered if he imagined the concern that slipped into his tone.
"Yes," The doctor replied. "Sam sustained multiple lacerations, blood loss, a concussion, a dislocated shoulder, along with various cuts and bruises. What astounds me is the fact that he refused medical treatment."
"He did what?" Bobby asked, voice becoming distinctly angry. If Sam had any energy, he might've wondered what was upsetting his old family friend. As it was right now, he didn't care. He couldn't convince himself to care.
"He refused treatment," The doctor repeated. "Pretty much told my staff that if they had any common sense, they'd stay away from him. I figured with everything that happened with his brother and his father—"
"Boy's got a stubborn streak a mile wide." Bobby mumbled.
"That's enough, Sam. I told you that I need you here." John towered over him and on any other day, the youngest Winchester would've backed down, but not today. No, this was an important matter. He couldn't give up this fight so easily.
"Dad, I'm going." He kept his tone calm and his voice steady. He couldn't show any signs of fear. Dean would've been proud if his brother was here and not at Pastor Jim's studying some new rituals.
Which left a 13-year-old Sam with his father—a father with whom he felt increasingly isolated from.
Flabbergasted silence. His father's eyes widened and rage filled them. Still, Sam stood his ground and practically dared his father to force him to stay.
"Sam," John began in his no-nonsense tone. "You are staying home. That's an order."
"No, I can't," Sam replied. "I'm going to school, Dad."
And with that, he stormed out the door and didn't look back.
"Anyways," The doctor continued and Sam wondered why he was taking such an interest in him. He didn't want help—he wasn't the one who needed it. Dean and his dad— "You were listed as an emergency contact for all of them. I'm sorry to give you such awful news, but I thought maybe if you were here, you could help Sam."
"You really think I can snap him out of this?" Their family friend was skeptic and if Sam had it in him, he would've laughed. The response was so typically Bobby.
"In my experience, people that experience trauma such as this tend to respond to those closest to them." The doctor explained. "I'd have his brother out here, but he only woke up a short time ago and we're finishing up his treatment before releasing him."
"It's a free pass, Sammy." John explained as he threaded the needle.
"It's Sam." He responded quickly. He was 15—almost 16. He wasn't a baby; he didn't want to be called that name anymore.
"Right," John mumbled, slight amusement flickering through his eyes. "Anyways, if it hurts, you can . . ." His voice trailed off, clearly uncomfortable with discussing crying in general, even though the rule still stood. Crying was only permitted if you got hurt bad enough that you required stiches. Still, Sam wasn't a child anymore—he didn't need to act like one. He needed to be more like Dean—he didn't cry over stiches being put in.
"I know, Dad." Sam mumbled, eyeing the needle apprehensively, but not letting the fear he felt grace his face.
"Okay then," John began. "Here we go."
With that, his father's nimble hands sewed up the injury.
"Sam?" Bobby tried once again, kneeling in front of him and blocking his view of the circle on the wall. "Listen, Sam, if you can hear me, I need you to snap out of it."
Snap out of it? What was the point? If he let his mind process what he had seen today, it would be like accepting it. He didn't accept it—he never would accept it! It was too much to deal with. First, it had been Dean dying and now he was fine and his dad was . . .
"Please keep trying, Mr. Singer," The doctor told the gruff hunter. "I'll go check on his brother. Perhaps he might be able to be of assistance." Footsteps echoed in his ears, but Sam remained resolute.
He wouldn't waver.
"I'm going to Stanford."
John put down the gun he was cleaning and met his now 18-year-old son's gaze. Dean gaped at him, mouth open in shock. His father glared at him, fury flashing in his eyes. He rose calmly from the couch and took a few deliberate steps towards Sam.
"I got a full ride," Sam explained quickly, holding up the letter he had received as if John needed proof. "And I can't just walk away from this! It's an amazing school, Dad—"
"It doesn't matter," John explained. "You aren't going. You have obligations to your family—"
"I don't want to be a hunter." Sam replied in a rush, his words tumbling together. John froze at this and Sam felt fear enter his system, still he would not back away. He had learned how to be stubborn from his father.
"It doesn't matter," John replied, voice calm—too calm. "You're a hunter, Sam. It's who you are."
"No, sir," Sam repeated. "I'm a lot of things, but I was never a hunter, not like Dean." At the mention of his name, Dean slowly rose from the table and eyed his two family members warily. Sam wondered if his older brother would get involved in this fight or if he would stay out of it.
"I said no." John growled, his posture indicating that he was in charge as he tried to tower over Sam. While it might've worked when he had been little, it had no affect on him now.
"Dad, I'm going," Sam paused, letting that sink in. "You can't stop me!"
"Sam Winchester, your priorities are to your family, to hunting down the demon that killed your mother!" His father bellowed.
"I want to go to school!" Sam snapped. "I want more, Dad! I want to be normal! And it's not like college is a bad thing, I'll come and visit and I can help out on hunts over vacation—"
"No." John said, suddenly calm.
"You walk out that door, Sam," John began, his voice venomous. "Don't you ever come back. You won't be a part of my family."
It was like a dagger to his heart. Sam's gaze became watery, but he somehow forced himself to stay composed as he grabbed his duffel and head over the door. Resting one hand on the doorknob, he faced his father once more.
He let the door slam behind him before he finally started to cry.
"Dammit, Sam," Bobby cursed as he gently shook Sam. "Are you even in there?"
No, Sam Winchester was gone. He was somewhere else—somewhere where his mother was still alive, where his family didn't hunt things, where Dean was finally free of all burdens, and where Sam could be normal. That was all he ever wanted. Why couldn't his father have understood that? Would it have been so awful—it had been college! It wasn't like Sam would've been gone forever . . .
But it was too late now.
John had made his choices and Sam had made his. There were no re-dos, no chance to make amends. It was too late.
That was the story of Sam's life—he had always been one step behind. If he had gotten back to Jessica even just five minutes earlier, she would've lived. If he had seen the truck, none of them would be in this hospital right now. If he had just come down the hall just a bit faster, his father would—
"My point is, Sam, that this was never the life I wanted for you."
Don't think about it, don't think about it, no, no, focus on the wall, keep staring at the wall—
"Yeah. You left. Your brother and me, we needed you. You walked away!"
Sam wasn't here. He was somewhere else. He was in a world where demons didn't exist, where everyone got to live and no one died in fires.
"No, Sam. I want to stop losing people we love. I want you to go to school; I want Dean to have a home. I want—I want Mary alive. It's just—I just want this to be over."
Dimly, Sam heard footsteps approaching, but they were lost in the din as he his lungs tried to suck in more and more air. His vision swam and Sam wondered if it would be so wrong for him to just fall into the darkness. He couldn't deal with this anymore; it wasn't fair! He just could not—
"Sam, deep breaths," Bobby growled, but Sam ignored him. "Dammit, boy, you're gonna hyperventilate!"
What did it matter? What was the point in going on? Dean had been hurt—almost died—because of him. If he had just shot the demon when he had the chance, then none of this would've happened. If he had never been born—
It was voice he knew well and though it lacked it's usual charm, the youngest Winchester would've been able to recognize it anywhere.
"Dean," Bobby greeted with a small sigh, clearly happy to be relieved of duty. "Doc says he's catatonic. He sure as hell won't listen to me and—" Dean knelt down before him, bruises decorating his face. Exhaustion danced in his eyes, but he was alive and breathing—that was all that Sam cared about. His brother's methodical gaze scanned him, cataloging all injuries.
"How long has he been like this?" Dean murmured, eyes never leaving Sam.
"Doc told me over the phone that he's been like this since your daddy . . . well, you know." Bobby's voice trailed off and Sam noticed the wince that their father's name caused.
"Sam," Dean called gently. "Hey, Sammy, you gonna come out now? Cause I gotta tell you, I'm sick of this place." The banter wasn't right—Dean's voice was flat and only the tiniest bit of concern was in his tone. His brother had to be as tired as he was then, that was the only explanation Sam could think of.
"Maybe we should have him sedated—"
"No," Dean snapped and then he pinched the bridge of his nose. "I'm sorry, Bobby, it's just—"
"I understand," Bobby replied. "You two have been through enough today. Listen, I'm going to make sure you're ready to go. Truck's outside waiting when you two are ready." Dean nodded and Bobby soon vanished from view. Left alone with his brother, Sam felt a bit of the tension drain from him. Dean always had that effect on him—always able to calm, even in the direst of situations.
"Sam, dude," Dean tried once more, summoning some emotion into his tone. "I'm getting a bit tired of this whole lights-on-but-nobody's-home thing you've got goin' on."
And Sam was tired of everything.
"Sammy, please," Dean whispered, his hand resting on Sam's shoulder, squeezing it gently. "I need you to come back. Cause, honestly, Sammy, I can't handle Dad's death alone."
And just like that, Sam's wall of denial crumbled.
Instantly, his eyes flashed to his brother, as tears filled his vision. His dad had gotten his wish. It was over for him—John Winchester was dead. He had left behind two brothers who were barely holding it together, two brothers who were now orphans in the world. Dean was all he had left now.
No words were spoken as Dean simply tugged his brother towards him, the red blanket sliding down to the floor. Before he could process what happened, Dean engulfed him in a hug. Tears spilled down his cheeks, but Sam didn't have the heart to wipe them away. Instead, Sam let himself be comforted as he had done so many times after he had been in a fight with his dad. Dean had always been there, prepared to make things better whether that meant hugging Sam until the pain passed or joking with him until the sadness had retreated.
"I've got you, Sammy." Dean whispered fiercely. "Nothing's goin' to happen to you, not while I'm here."
Eventually, Dean would tease him about this moment. He'd call Sam a girl or something along those lines and Sam would roll his eyes and play along; but for right now—for this moment—it was okay to grieve.
His big brother had his back, even if John no longer did.
Author's Note: We can all agree that John is a complex character and I tried to show his good moments with Sam and his bad moments. How Sam coped with his grief isn't shown too much in the show, as it mostly dealt with Dean's anger, but I'd like to think that Dean was there to help Sam through it at first. Anyways, if you have a free second, let me know what you guys thought.