Title: Uniform Light
Summary: Sam’s been in a coma since his Wall was taken down by Cas, Dean can’t just sit there and do nothing. So he enlists in the Marines.
Cas had touched his brother, touched him right there in the middle of his giant forehead, and then Sam had collapsed. Like a puppet with his strings cut, boom on the ground, he’d barely had a chance to catch Sam’s head before it smashed open on the pavement. And in that next moment Dean hadn’t cared one bit about any of the world saving business. The whole reason he’d been doing any of this was to save the world for Sam. And if there wasn’t a Sam, then what the hell was the point of killing himself trying to save the world. Right there in his hands, in his lap, Sam was lying there, just completely gone, twitching with all the memories of Hell assaulting his mind.
Dean could only imagine what it would be like for him. His own memories had been bad enough, and he’d only been down in the Pit for four months, not a whole damn year, and sure as hell not trapped in a cage with Lucifer and Michael. From what all the angels had said, if they could even be believed of course, his brother’s mind would be mush, shredded, basically useless. The wall that Death had built was the only thing that had been keeping Sam safe, and Cas had just taken that away.
Dean had dialed 9-1-1 without even thinking, and before the paramedics arrived, something good had happened. He hadn’t really paid much attention to the details really, but Bobby’s friend, Eleanor had suddenly groaned and turned over on the pile of boxes she’d been laying on. She hadn’t been really all the way dead. Dean guessed that her being a Purgatory monster and all, she had some way of resting and regenerating after being tortured by an angel. Bobby had said a quick goodbye to Dean, and hustled her out of there once they’d heard the sirens approaching.
“I’ll let you know what we’re doing,” Bobby had said as he’d left Dean there in the alley, a limp and unconscious Sam in his lap. He’d felt like the smallest most pitiful helpless little boy wanting his daddy to stay and make it all better. But Bobby wasn’t really that, and he was going to maybe save the world while Dean focused on saving Sam. That was all Dean could do at that point.
The paramedics had swarmed in and taken over and Dean hadn’t thought a single thought about Bobby or the nice lady monster named Eleanor or goddamn supposed friends like Cas. He didn’t know how long it had been since Sam had gotten out of surgery. Something about reducing the intracranial pressure. All he knew was Sam was gonna be pissed about losing his hair.
Dean had been sleeping in the uncomfortable chair at Sam’s bedside in the recovery area when his phone had rung. By that point in the festivities Dean had forgotten he’d even had one. It was Bobby’s voice squawking in his ear, all excited and triumphant. Turned out Eleanor had been able to take care of Cas, prevented him from carrying out his folly of a plan.
“Which hospital are you at? Hey, Dean, you with me?” Bobby’s voice was sounding more worried the longer he didn’t give him a verbal answer. He was nodding his head, didn’t that count.
Dean hadn’t been able to find the words, any words at all. The shock of it had shut him down completely. But he had needed—he had needed Bobby to know. He’d struggled with his breath for a few more moments. “Uh…it was close to where we were, in the alley. It was only a few minutes ride in the ambulance. He’s not…they’re not sure what happened to him, I can’t—“ Dean had found he couldn’t finish the thought, couldn’t finish thinking it much less saying it out loud. Nothing in the room had told him the name of the damn place. He had felt so fucking lost.
“I’ll find it, Dean. I’ll be there soon as I get cleaned up and Eleanor situated, hang in there.” Bobby had hung up, and Dean had hung his head down over his phone, feeling even more useless.
Bobby had joined him at the hospital in what seemed like a few minutes, but had actually been a few hours. After getting filled in by the doctors doing rounds, Bobby had physically pulled Dean out of Sam’s room and steered him to the cafeteria. He’d gotten him set up at a table with a cup of coffee and a sandwich. Dean had eaten the thing, because he had known that he was expected to, that Bobby was trying to take care of him the best way he could. He hadn’t been able to think of what to say to Bobby, how to explain all of the feelings inside of him, it had been just too much. So he’d just sat there and drank his coffee and tried not to bring the sandwich back up immediately.
“I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but he’s gone, Dean. Eleanor had to blow Cas to pieces, he wouldn’t stop, no matter what we said to him,” Bobby had said.
Dean hadn’t been exactly sad to hear the news, he’d lost his friend a year ago, and then he’d been betrayed. Cas had done the worst possible thing in the world, he had broken Sam. Dean had growled to himself as he remembered Cas’ last words to him had been: “I wish it hadn't come to this. Well, rest assured, when this is all over, I will save Sam, but only if you stand down.”
Of course they hadn’t stood down, like Cas had expected because he didn’t really know them after all they’d been through, because he was an angel, a dick with wings, and Cas was gone for good now, and there was no one left to save Sam—no one. Dean had looked at Bobby, who was still waiting for his response to the news that Cas was dead.
“Good riddance,” Dean had said with a snarl.
“That’s my boy,” Bobby said with a small smile, he’d reached across the table and patted Dean on the shoulder. His hand had stayed and squeezed gently. “It’s gonna be okay, Dean. They’re taking good care of Sam.”
Dean had nodded and shrugged Bobby’s hand away. He’d known it was true, that he was right, but he also knew that the chances that Sam would wake up and be okay were pretty slim. He hadn’t been able to help but hope though. “I know, thanks, Bobby. I’m really glad you’re here.”
Several weeks went by with no change and it was driving Dean nuts. The doctors had no idea why Sam wasn’t waking up. His brain activity showed that everything was fine, and his body was too. He couldn’t explain to them of course, what his brother was experiencing. A thousand years of memories of literal Hell were assaulting him all at once. And Sam had no one in there, in his mind to help him.
Dean couldn’t just sit there in the hospital watching Sam day after day. It felt like he was watching him slip further and further away, dying by slow torturous degrees. It wasn’t like he could actually do anything, or help Sam at all, so he did what he always did. He ran from the feelings, anything instead of this. He didn’t stay and do the hard work of sitting and being with the pain, he ran from it, substituted action for dealing with the emotion. Just like Dad. He of course made sure that Sam would be taken care of in a hospital that was close to where Bobby lived.
Dean enlisted in the Marines. Just like his dad had all those years ago, but instead of being drafted, this was Dean’s choice, his escape hatch, the way out of the daily pain of seeing his brother waste away to nothing but a sack of bones in a hospital bed.
Bobby didn’t have much more of a response than “You do what you got to, I guess. I’ll just keep checking in on Sam and let you know if there’s a change.”
Coming home from basic training and then once he got the chance to train for gunnery sergeant, not quite officer school, but still more than just an enlisted grunt. So…not just like dad after all. He was a born leader, his CO said. The majority of the time he spent away learning to be this new sort of soldier he was okay—mostly. It was a hell of a lot easier than being a hunter. Once he got into soldier mode, Sam didn’t occupy one-hundred percent of his brain. But when he had any downtime it was hard not to remember what they’d had together. He wanted more than anything to get a call from Bobby with the news that Sam was awake and okay and asking for him. He could picture the reunion scene. How surprised Sam would be to see him in uniform.
On his last visit before shipping out for Afghanistan, he couldn’t help noticing how different Sam looked, his brother just laid out there somehow getting more and more beautiful. His gaunt cheeks had gone much too pale. The permanent tan his brother had had all those years had slowly faded, along with any chance that he’d snap out of it and come back to him. Dean ran his hand over the heavy stubble on Sam’s cheeks.
“Sammy, you’re so scruffy, wonder how long it’s been since they bothered to shave you?” Dean asked out loud.
“I can bring in the shaving kit, if you want to do it yourself?” a strange man’s voice said, startling him out of his thoughts.
Dean turned to see one of the nursing staff, leaning up against the door jamb, watching him, the guy had seen him touching his brother like that. Dean was surprised to find that he didn’t care anymore, if anyone knew. “Yeah…that’d be good, thanks.” He heard the soft footsteps fading away and kept up the slow back and forth of his hand on Sam’s cheek. In his mind he was chanting “come back to me, Sammy” on an endless loop, but he couldn’t say it out loud. That would be too damn much.
The nurse or whatever he was, came back and set up the shaving kit, brought over a small bowl of hot water from the sink. He handed Dean a towel and left without a word, which was just fine by Dean.
Dean dipped the towel into the hot water and draped it over Sam’s beard to soften it up. He unwrapped the razor from the crinkly plastic and shook the can of foam. He dispensed a small amount into his palm and then spread it on Sam’s cheeks and chin, a little over his upper lip. He talked to Sam as he shaved him.
“You’re loving this aren’t you? Getting all this personal grooming done while you just lay there? If the guys in my platoon could see me now, I’d never hear the end of it.”
“Bet you want me to do up your nails next, a little mani pedi for my man,” Dean said.
A shiver of recognition blew through him as he recalled in that déjà vu certainty of saying those exact words at some point in the recent past. He’d been holding Sam’s feet in his hands, Sam wriggling and giggling all over the bed (was it this hospital bed?) at having his sensitive feet touched. Sam’s feet had flicked over some of the medals on his uniform and he’d gotten this funny look on his face.
“You’re such a hero, Dean. My hero,” Sam had said in his memory, running his toes over each medal on Dean’s chest. The look on his face had been full of lust and that deeper emotion they never named but started with the letter ‘l’ of course.
He came back to himself, and saw that he was done with the job at hand, Sam was clean shaven now, his face smooth and pale. So thin and wan, but still the only thing left that was precious to him. He pressed his lips to his brother’s cheek and breathed him in. He didn’t even smell the same. Hot tears threatened to fall from his eyes, but he couldn’t do it, couldn’t let himself cry at Sam’s hospital bedside. He’d never hear the end of it. Not from himself, not from Sam.
“Sammy, I’m leaving, tomorrow morning, my unit’s finally being deployed to Afghanistan. I’ll get leave in six months hopefully. And I’ll be back here, and I want to see those eyes of yours open, and those lips moving. Got it little brother? Don’t give Bobby too much trouble.” He kissed Sam one last time, this time dead center of his warm but motionless lips. He may have whispered those three little words they never said out loud, just in case the bad guys heard. And then he stood up, turned on his heel, just like they’d taught him in Basic Training and marched right out of the door.
The déjà vu hit him hard again, he’d done this before, played this scene, said those words, done this leaving, why did it all seem so familiar? Sam was after all, the one who had left the most often out of the two of them. The nurse who’d offered him the shaving kit passes by and his eyes flashed a familiar bright blue. Not like Cas thankfully, but something he’d seen before, somewhere, his mom had been there, and Sam had been with Jess. He made himself straighten up and stop fighting with his faulty memories, marched himself off to do the job he’d signed up for.
Dean adjusted his Service uniform before pushing open the hospital door. He wanted to look good just in case, which was stupid, because there’d been no change. They’d moved Sam to another ward, this one was much darker, there weren’t nearly as many windows. He guessed they stuck the people who didn’t care much about opening their eyes in these rooms.
“Heya, Sammy, I’m back, didja miss me?”
Sam hadn’t changed much from how Dean had remembered him all these months they’d been apart. Bobby had sent him a few pictures, but then he’d asked him to stop, they made him too sad to see his brother like that. He wanted to remember him how he’d been before, hale and hearty and a pain in his ass. Oh and the love of his life, but that was a whole other thing he’d never shared with another living soul of course, not even Sam.
“Can’t believe you’ve just been lazing around here, getting soft while I’ve been off fighting a war. I have so much to tell you, I wish you’d wake up and just be okay. I need you, Sammy.”
Dean felt that internal wobble of déjà vu push his memories around like so much unwanted furniture, he’d said something just like that to Sam several times over the years, when various creepy crawlies had knocked him out or whatever. But this was so specific, he’d said it before wearing this uniform and in this same dark hospital room. Why was it so dark in here?
“He needs you too,” an unfamiliar male voice said from the doorway.
Dean turned to see a male nurse, he looked vaguely familiar, there’d been something to do with shaving maybe? A lot had happened to him since then, so his memory wasn’t quite clear.
“How the hell would you know that?” Dean asked.
“It’s what all the research says, coma patients really do hear and retain the memories of all the visits of their loved ones. Not one hundred percent, but it’s important to keep talking to him when you visit.” The man’s eyes twinkled a brilliant and abnormal blue as he turned and walked away.
Dean wanted to go after the nurse, to see if the flash of blue was something else, it seemed like something the old him, the hunter he’d used to be would have investigated. But he didn’t have much time to spend with Sam while he was home on leave. He turned back to the still figure on the bed, and sat down in the lone chair in the room.
Taking Sam’s hand in his, Dean started talking like the nurse had suggested. “I’m making a lot of money in the service, three k a month, I’m putting it all away in savings. We’re going to have enough money to buy a house by the time I’m out. We’ll even get a dog like you always wanted, okay? They put me in charge of all the guns, I’m a gunnery sergeant, and it’s awesome.”
Dean stopped talking abruptly, was this really what Sam would want to be hearing? Was it really the most helpful thing to talk about what was happening in the outside world while Sam was stuck here inside his own head? “God, Sammy, you’ve gotta wake up and be okay. I know you’re in there, fighting to get back to me, I know you’ll do it, hell you beat goddamn Lucifer right?”
Dean heard a woman scream in the hallway, he dropped Sam’s hand and ran to see what was happening. He’d always been the one to run towards danger, his whole life, and that had never changed. The medals on his uniform jingled faintly as he ran towards the continuing screams. He noticed that the nurse’s station was covered in blood as he ran past it. There were bloody handprints on the wall and big drips on the floor. He heard glass breaking and a roar of pain, he met a woman’s eyes, she had to be the screamer, she was hiding in one of the alcoves. He held up a hand and signaled for her to stay where she was. She nodded with big eyes full of fear.
Dean walked more slowly towards the sounds of fighting, there was furniture breaking and more glass too. Whoever it was, maybe a patient gone nuts, was really busting up the place. He turned the corner and saw the male nurse being thrown through one of the doorways up against the hallway wall. His head smacked the tile and he went still. He was glowing blue all over his skin in strange curling patterns that seemed so familiar, Dean knew he’d seen this exact thing somewhere on someone else.
Then a huge man came hurtling through the same doorway and landed on top of the nurse, he held a large silver knife that glinted in the hallway lights. Dean noticed that the edge of the knife was coated in red dripping blood, he instinctively threw himself towards the two men, knocking the attacker away from the nurse. He came down hard and smacked his head hard on the tile floor momentarily stunning himself.
“Dean, the knife, get the knife!” a familiar voice yelled.
He opened his eyes and saw Sam—his Sam, pointing towards the bloody silver knife on the floor. It was just out of his reach, and then the nurse was on Sam, choking him out with strong arms covered in those weird glowing blue patterns.
“Please, Dean, please,” Sam barely squeaked out past the choking pressure on his throat.
Dean rolled and grabbed the knife up off the floor, once it was in his hand, he knew what he had to do, he first stabbed the man choking Sam, waited to see him die on the floor next to a Sam that was thankfully still alive. Then he turned the knife on himself, pushing it deep into his stomach right through all the layers of his Service uniform. It was going to be hard to explain to his commanding officer why he needed a new one. The last thing he saw was Sam’s worried face hovering over him, his beautiful eyes finally wide open.