In the morning, or what he guesses must be morning, he wakes up alone. Bed empty, space where Dean lay cold. He sits up and looks around the room in a panic, because there’s no way he could have slept through Dean leaving. And Dean should still be in bed anyway, sleeping off the hangover he’s got to have this morning. A quick search of the room reveals a few crucial changes. The photos of him that were laid out on the desk are gone, so’s Dean’s duffel bag, and his boots. So he’s gone? Where and why, are the only questions ringing through Sam’s mind as he races down the cold hallway toward the kitchen.
On the coffee maker, there’s an envelope with his name written on it in Dean’s careful scrawl. It’s one of the fancy Men of Letter’s heavyweight stationery envelopes with the seal on the corner and the gold art deco bars on the flap. Sam sits down at the table with the envelope in his hand. He reads it, SAM. Not Sammy, which is usually how Dean writes his name. Even on little sticky note messages, always Sammy, (Sammy, Let Me Go) but not this time. His heart sinks into his churning stomach. He sets the envelope down without opening it. Knowing that whatever’s in there is going to hurt, and hurt badly.
He stands up and busies himself for a short time in the kitchen, making a pot of coffee, some quick eggs and toast. He eats at the counter, across the big room from the table where the envelope lays, trying not to think about it. He briefly considers putting it off to take a shower, but decides that’s stupid and that if Ghost Kevin were still around he’d be making all the appliances ding to tell him to knock it off and read the damn thing. Finally, after the dishes are cleaned, the counters wiped and all the pots put away, he takes a deep breath and marches back to the table, scooping the letter up and opening it as he leans against the kitchen table.
I’m sorry. I just have to start out with that. Because I am. I’ve hurt you so much these last few years. More than I ever realized or even thought about. I’ve assumed things about your motivations that weren’t at all true. I’ve accused you of being a bad brother or a bad hunter when I was angry. Of course you’re the best brother a man could ever have and you’re a far better hunter than I can ever hope to be.
Worst of all, I turned myself into a demon and almost killed you, right here in our damn home. All of that’s unforgivable, but yet you’re still here with me. I can’t figure out why you would be. And I realized tonight, that all this time, ever since I picked you up from Stanford, I’ve made sure you had no other option but sticking with me. It’s not right. I can’t do it to you any more.
I just can’t.
What we have, (or had) was the best thing in my life. No, it was my life.
And I’m pretty sure it’s been the worst thing in the world for yours.
I know my leaving like this is the coward’s way out, but like you said tonight, it’s pretty much my M.O. when it comes to stuff like this.
I suck and I know it, believe me.
Sam, you are an amazing person, you’re so fucking smart, so beautiful and sexy and you care so deeply about everyone. If it’s the last thing you ever do for me, please just try and be happy, move on, forget me, whatever you need to do to have the better life you deserve.
Bye Sam, I love you,
Sam doesn’t realize he’s crying until his tears have hit the ink on Dean’s last words on the page, blurring the ‘Sam’ until it looks like he feels: An undifferentiated blob of worthless nothing. He lets himself cry for a while, lets the shock of it all hit him hard and deep, right where Dean was aiming. It cuts him up inside, he feels shredded, all those safety pins he’s been held together with all this time, opening up and pushing through. They make a new pathway for the ball of pain deep inside him. He feels it growing larger and larger, consuming all his thoughts and breath and blood. It expands and pushes and consumes everything he is, until he feels himself about to burst. And then it does, it all burns out of him in a concentrated blast of energy and untapped power that’s always been there, waiting to be used. He can’t see it, can’t see anything, all he can feel is the words flowing out of him, heading to Dean, wherever the hell he is.
No. No Way.
You do NOT get to do this.
Not to me.
You finally took me to Venice, Dean. Venice.
You knew what that meant to me.
I know you did.
You come back here right NOW.
I mean it Dean. NOW.
Or I will find your sorry ass and bring it back myself.
And it will not be pretty.
Come Home NOW.
After the words are said, or communicated, or whatever the hell that was, Sam feels a return of energy into the place that was empty. A rushing-in feeling, being filled up by what he’d put out there maybe? He’s scared though, to have accessed and used that power without getting a conscious choice is terrifying. Did something beyond this extreme emotion make him do this?
What in the world is Dean going to think or do? And oh god, oh god, what if he was driving? Of course he was driving, he’s running away from me.
And that’s all Sam remembers, running away
- running tears
- running rivers of blood
- running down an empty lonely road
- running until he’s all alone.
“Sam? Where are you? Sam!” Dean yells when he enters the top floor door to the bunker. He runs down the stairs, scanning the big room below him. Empty, no Sam. He heads off for the kitchen and is horrified to see his brother lying on the floor with blood all around his head. He’s completely still, and deathly pale. Dean rushes to a kneeling position on the floor, avoiding the pool of blood, he feels for a pulse on his brother’s neck. It’s there, but very weak. The blood on the floor and Sam’s face is mostly dried-up and seems to be all from a nosebleed, no other visible cuts on his head. There’s a swollen bump on the side of his head where it must have struck the floor when he fell.
Did he faint? Using all that power must have made him faint. Oh god, what if there’s brain damage. What have I done to him?
Dean’s emergency medic skills kick in and he folds up his jacket for a pillow to elevate Sam’s head. He gets a towel and some warm water to clean up the blood from Sam’s face and hair. Then he uses the emergency kitchen flashlight to check Sam’s pupil dilation. Thankfully it looks pretty even. He doesn’t really want to move Sam, but he probably needs a hospital. That’s half an hour away in Smith Center for the County Hospital.
He stands and readies himself to haul an unconscious Sam all the way up the stairs and out of the Bunker. But first he looks at his brother, lying there, so peaceful you’d never have guessed that burst of anger would have carried all the way to where he’d been, three hours away, almost to Topeka. He’d made it back in just two and half. But that wasn’t fast enough. Sam’s been lying here for that long, heart barely beating, breathing so shallowly. Alone, all this time. Dean wants to take the time to beat himself up about this properly, but he’s got a job to do here. He’s got to do right by Sam, at least this once.
Bending down, he hoists his brother up onto his back in a fireman’s carry. Trying to stabilize Sam’s head as well as he can over his left shoulder. Sam moans softly and then goes silent again.
“I gotcha Sam, I’m here, gonna take care of you,” Dean says, more to comfort himself than Sam. Sam, not Sammy. Not ever again, he reminds himself.
He staggers out of the kitchen, crossing through the main room and slowly makes his way up the staircase to the exit. The locked front door is a bitch to open with two hands, so it’s a surprise when he manages it without having to jostle Sam around too much. Then he’s got Sam in Baby’s front seat, his head propped up on his lap so he can keep an eye on him during the drive. The drive that he knows so well. Not that he’s ever been to this particular hospital, but Smith Center is where they go for most shopping since they’ve lived at the Bunker. And it’s small, so he knows exactly where the hospital is. Hopefully they’re big enough to handle whatever Sam’s got going on in that big skull of his.
He runs his fingers through Sam’s hair, trying to unknot it where it’s gone stiff with the remnants of dried blood. He cups one hand around Sam’s cold cheek and just holds him steady while he steers Baby the rest of the way there.
“I’m sorry, Sam. I won’t leave you like that. Ever again. I promise. And that means you can’t leave me, okay? I get it now, Sam. I swear I do. Please, you gotta be okay so I can tell you.”
Sam responds to his words with a small moan and a small twitch in his hand which quickly subsides. Dean’s heart leaps with hope that Sam heard him somehow, that this means he’s going to be okay.
“Almost there, Sammy. Uh, I’m sorry, Sam, we’re almost there,” Dean says, mentally kicking himself for using the name.
The intake nurses in the emergency room are great, they get Sam into imaging for a CT scan right away and send Dean to wait in the cozy waiting room. The tv mounted in the corner near the ceiling is humming along at a low enough level to make it easy to ignore. There are two other groupings of people waiting with him that he barely acknowledges, drawing into himself to review what happened and plan what comes next. He scribbles in his small notebook to gather his thoughts, trying to work it like a case, which feels like the only thing he knows how to do,
I left around 5am
Sam read my goodbye note around 8am
He got angry(?)
He sent me a message through telepathy (maybe like Andy did?)
He fainted (?) and was still unconscious two and half hours later
He’s probably just going to wake up with a big headache
But it’s probably really the demon powers again (?!)
What do I do? I really meant what I said in my note, I don’t think I’m good for him
But he’ll kill me if I’m not here when he wakes up.
How do I apologize?
How do I leave, will he let me? Or will he do that again?
What if he’s not okay, or not himself when he wakes up?
Several hours later, one of the nurses comes in to shake him awake. He can’t believe he fell asleep. The hangover he’d been ignoring roars back full force as follows her down the hall to Sam’s room.
“Now, Mr. Winchester, he’s going to be out for some time. The doctor felt it best to leave him sedated until the swelling goes down,” the nurse says, blocking his entrance into the room.
“Swelling?” Dean asks, trying to peer around her at the too-still body on the bed.
“Didn’t the doctor come talk to you? Let me check the chart, hold on.” She walks into the room and flips open the chart from the foot of Sam’s bed reading through the scribblings. “Oh, it says Doctor Venter didn’t want to wake you, but I can tell you for him. Mr. Winchester has internal swelling that’s putting pressure on his brain. It’s not enough to require surgery, but it is serious, and it’s good that you brought him in. He’s going to be out for the rest of the day and night, and then the doctor will re-check the swelling level. If it’s gone down enough, they’ll bring him out of sedation tomorrow morning.”
“Got it. So, can I see him?”
“Of course you can. Just remember, he’s pretty far under, but he might be able to hear you, you never know. I’ve heard some pretty funny stories over the course of my time being a nurse here. People remember all kinds of things when they’re under like this.”
Dean remembers his manners and reads her name tag. “Thanks, uh, Gladys. You’ve been a big help.”
Dean approaches the hospital bed with soft footsteps, not sure why he’s creeping around since Sam is out, but it doesn’t seem right to go stomping and crashing around. He leans over the bed and kisses Sam on the cheek above the tape for the breathing tube. “Love you, Sam. Never stopped. Never will.” He doesn’t realize he’s crying until there are tears running down the side of Sam’s face and onto his neck. He straightens up and wipes them off gently with his shirt sleeve. “I’ll stop crying all over you. Soon as you wake up, you can give me hell for it.”
The nurse, Gladys, had said Sam might hear him. And he’s got nothing better to do while he waits out the rest of the day, so he talks. And drinks pitchers of ice water that Gladys keeps bringing him. And he talks some more. Saying all the things he wished he’d been able to before. Working out for himself, out loud, why hearing ‘Sammy’ is an issue for Sam. When he realizes the truth for himself, he cries some more. For what he’s done, for what he almost did as a demon. And he still wonders why Sam’s still here, still wanting to be with him.
“You’re just gonna have to wake the hell up, Sam, and tell me yourself. I’ve gone round and round about it for ages now. And I can’t work it out for myself. I believe you now. I really do. But I still need to know why. If you can explain it to me so I can understand it, that’d be great. But I believe you, that’s the main thing. You wouldn’t have been able to do that telepathy thing, whatever it is you did, to call me back here, if you didn’t feel something big for me. So I get it now. As much as I can. And I swear, when you wake up, like I know you’re gonna, you can tell me I’m an idiot for leaving. Because I know I was. I am.”
Dean stops his monologue and takes a deep breath, hesitating even though Sam is unconscious, it’s still so hard to say this out loud. “I just wanted to keep you safe. From me. That nightmare I had last night, it was about killing. And enjoying it. Killing you. And I can’t know that I’ll be able to stop myself. And you can’t know that either. I know you say you’ll find a way, we’ll find a way to get rid of this damn thing. And I want to believe it, but I have to keep you safe. You know that, right? I know you do. And I thought, well I thought it would be better to stay away from you. So if I get real bad again, I wouldn’t be any where near you, so I couldn’t hurt you again. I have nightmares, Sam, almost every night, where Cas doesn’t come in time to stop me, and I’m chopping your head off in the damn hallway. And I’m smiling and grinning and loving it. So help me, that is not happening. Never again. So wake up so we can talk, and so maybe you can let me go once you understand what’s at stake.”
It’s dark outside the green mesh curtains when Gladys returns and pushes him out the door to the cafeteria. Her shift is over and she chides him that his friend wouldn’t want him to end up in the same predicament. Dean doesn’t correct her that Sam’s his brother, not just his friend. But he does what she says, sits at a table by himself and chokes down a dry sandwich and some salty soup with another cup of tasteless hospital coffee. It’s never a fun time waiting in a hospital, and he’s had way too much practice. Both of them have. He wonders if Sam’s heard any of the stuff he’s been telling him. Or if this has just been a trial run for when Sam’s back to walking and talking. Or at least talking.
Dean stays there at Sam’s bedside the whole night, Gladys must have let the nurses know he was one of *those* family members who are impossible to shoo away for non-visiting hours. It’s nice not to get bothered by well-meaning nurses for once, though. He’s got more important things to deal with. Like worrying about whether the demon powers (or whatever that was) are going to mean Sam won’t be Sam when he wakes up. Most of the time he spends just watching Sam, his chest moving up and down so similar to when he’s breathing on his own. It reminds him of what he looks like when he’s deeply asleep, after they’ve had several rounds of deeply satisfying sex. He can see that Sam’s face isn’t as relaxed as you’d think it would be, as sedated as he is, but there was a lot of anger in that blasted message he received. It had almost made him drive right into the cars next to him on the highway. Pulling over safely while having Sam’s furious voice pounding through his skull was quite an accomplishment. He knows he deserved it, and probably worse.
The next morning, Dean’s been awake for just a few minutes, enough to use the bathroom and slash some water on his face. When he comes back out into the room, there’s a silver-haired man in a white coat examining his brother.
“Hi, Doctor, I’m Sam’s brother, Dean Winchester.”
“Yes, hello, Mr. Winchester, good to meet you. Okay, so down to it, your brother’s got himself a class five concussion, with some subdural swelling that looks to have decreased somewhat overnight. Which is a good sign. He didn’t sustain any fractures, so that’s a good thing. According to the CT scan, this isn’t his first head injury, not by a long shot. He happen to be an athlete or something?”
“Yeah, something like that, and he’s pretty clumsy too. Uh…Doc, is he going to be okay?”
“I’d say he’s got a real good chance of coming out of this without too much long-term impact on normal function. Brain trauma is cumulative, so that makes it hard to predict. Also, there may be some temporary issues like seizures that you’ll have to worry about for the next few weeks after he’s released. This all assumes that when he comes out of sedation later this morning, all his brain function tests are in normal range. That’s what we’re hoping for, the best-possible outcome, right?”
“Uh…right. Can I ask, is there any brain damage present at all, from the previous injuries?” Dean asks, thinking about all those concussions, too many to count at this point. Plus the whole Hell-Wall thing and the zapping his brain got in the mental hospital, thanks to that demon orderly. And who knows what state Gadreel and Crowley left him in. It’s all got to add up to a lot of visible damage.
“There are some areas of concern, especially in the area of the brain that control memory storage and retrieval. Has your brother had noticeable difficulty recalling recent events?”
“No, not that I’ve noticed. He’s been bringing up childhood memories, things like that, a little bit lately,” Dean says.
“But not recent events though? Say within the last several months?”
Dean thinks of the last several months, and what’s happened during them, and it isn’t surprising Sam wouldn’t have talked about them much. And he has no idea what happened while they were separated while he was off being a demon. But what if Sam hasn’t said anything because he doesn’t have the memories because his brain is screwed-up? “Hard to say; let me think about that one.”
“You do that. So, the nurse will be in to reduce the sedation, and he’ll probably be back with us in an hour or so. Don’t expect a lot right away, he’s going to be pretty out of it, I’d imagine.”
“Thanks, doc, for taking such good care of m’ brother. He’s all I’ve got left and he means everything to me.”
The doctor leaves with what seems like a patronizing nod, and Dean’s left with more hope for Sam being okay, but new worries about what might be going on in his brain. How would these powers of Sam’s look on a CT scan, or would they even be something that’s scannable? There’s probably some psychic study out there, but that’s all moot until Sam wakes up and talks to him. That’s all he wants, Sam awake and aware and able to listen.
Gladys bustles in and adjusts the medication on the IV. She comes in and out several times, lowering the dose gradually, until finally Sam’s fingers start moving on their own. Dean tries to contain his excitement but can’t resist pressing the nurse call button several times. Gladys is back in a flash and standing ready to remove the breathing tube.
Sam’s eyes finally flutter open and he dazedly scans the room, first landing on Gladys and then locking onto Dean. His eyes tighten into anger and he opens his mouth to speak, but is unable to because of the breathing tube.
“Hold on there, honey. Let me help you get this out, okay? Try to relax, and cough when I say so, all right?” Gladys says, leaning over the bed and un-taping the breathing tube from Sam’s face. She expertly begins to withdraw it, telling Sam to cough at several points, so that eventually the whole thing is out. Then he’s coughing, long and loud. “Don’t strain with the coughing; your brain doesn’t need the pressure, okay? Here, take some water, hon,” she says, handing Sam a cup with lukewarm water and a bendy straw. Sam drinks and looks at her gratefully, his coughing subsiding.
“Can you say anything, Mr. Winchester?” Gladys asks.
“Call me Sam,” he answers with a small smile and a weak, scratchy voice.
Dean breathes a sigh of relief at Sam’s return to good humor, but that’s dashed the moment Gladys leaves to go find the doctor so he can come in and do some exams. Sam turns to him and glares, doesn’t say a thing, just glares with the angriest eyes Dean’s seen on anyone in a long time. At least they’re not yellow, he finds himself almost saying out loud, but thank god he stops himself in time. “Sam. I’m sorry,” Dean says, congratulating himself for remembering not to use the now-dreaded nickname.
Sam doesn’t acknowledge his apology, just continues glaring with the same intense stare.
“You’re mad. Of course you are. I came back though, when you called me, and you were there on the kitchen floor, passed out, lying in your blood.”
Sam flinches a little at the mention of blood and feels around his skull.
“No, nothing’s broken. You lucked out. Doctor said you had some swelling inside, that’s why they had you sedated and with the breathing thing.”
Sam doesn’t say anything, just keeps staring intently at Dean, like he’s trying to move him aside with his mind.
“I get it now, Sam. I swear I do,” Dean says quietly, reaching out to hold Sam’s hand. Sam pulls it away and clasps his own hand so tightly the knuckles go white.
“You don’t want to talk, or me to touch you, that’s fine. You’re the boss,” Dean says, sitting back in his chair and clasping his hands together tightly in an imitation of Sam’s.
Dr. Venter comes back in with Gladys trailing close behind. “So, you’re awake, that’s great to see this morning, Mr. Winchester.”
“Call me Sam, please,” Sam says, voice still rough and gravely.
“So, Sam, I’m going to perform some tests, make sure everything is working the way it’s supposed to, okay? Then Gladys here will get you something to eat.”
Dr. Venter checks reflexes, pupil dilation, and presses around the injury site on the side of Sam’s head. He winces a little, but doesn’t cry out in pain.
“Can you tell me, what did you have for breakfast yesterday?”
“I had two eggs, over-easy, a slice of whole-grain toast with mixed-fruit jam, and one cup of coffee with a small amount of milk and sugar.”
“How about last week, did you catch the Jayhawks game?”
“Yes, well, I read the score, didn’t get to watch it, we were out of town, but they won, beat Kansas State 68-57.”
“And where were you born?”
“Down east, over in Lawrence.”
“Well, it’s all looking pretty good, Sam. A little bit of numbness on your lower leg, same side as your injury; it should clear up soon. We’ll keep you one more night, just to make sure all the swelling is down.”
“Okay, thanks Doctor Venter, you’ve been great,” Sam says.
“Just keep still today, as much as you can. And nothing that will strain the injury area. I will see you tomorrow.”
The doctor leaves and Gladys steps in to adjust a few monitoring devices that are threaded through Sam’s hospital gown. “You let me know when you’re ready for something to eat, and yeah, staying still means bedpans for the rest of the day, just press the button and we’ll come help you. I’ll leave you two be for now, I’m sure there’s a lot Dean wants to tell you based on how much he was talking to you all day yesterday.”
Gladys turns to Dean and looks him up and down with a critical eye. “The night nurses probably won’t let you get away with another night in here though, Dean. I’m sorry.”
“I get it. Thanks for letting me stay last night. I don’t know what I’d have done.”
“You just get him talking, used to being awake and aware,” Gladys says as she leaves.
“So, uh. You gonna talk to me, Sam?” Dean finally asks after a long, increasingly uncomfortable silence.
Sam just glares, and doesn’t say anything. His eyes don’t leave Dean’s face, and they track him whenever he moves. Dean knows he’s got some explaining to do. A lot. But Sam does too.
“So how long have you had the power voice and were you ever gonna tell me?” Dean asks, not expecting an answer, but just putting it out there to start the conversation in Sam’s mind. Which he knows is churning over every possible way to answer without speaking.
Sam doesn’t say anything, no explanations or accusations, just sullen silence.
“I almost crashed, you know. You might want to practice a little, make sure you can modulate how loud you come through. It made it a little hard to function. At least my eardrums weren’t bleeding or anything.”
Sam rolls his eyes at that one, but doesn’t say a word to defend himself. Or explain his sudden powers.
“Like I said, Sam. I get it, what you were mad about. At least I think I do. And I’m sorry. Sorry for everything, for leaving, for not understanding, for not listening to you, for not asking all those times I should have. I hope you can forgive me some day.”
No response from Sam, except for slightly less angry eyes, and his hands have finally relaxed. Dean gives up trying to read his face and looks down at his lap, where the streaks of blood from Sam’s head are on one thigh. He picks at it until the red flakes fall away.
“Not mine, don’t worry. I drove you the whole way here with your head in my lap. Got some of your blood on my jeans,” Dean explains, when he sees Sam’s expression change over to worried little brother.
Sam nods and closes his eyes. Dean can see him visibly attempting to relax. But the tightness around his mouth and the obvious tension in his shoulders gives him away.
“You want me to leave you alone for a little while? I’ll go. I’d rather not, but if I’m making you upset, I probably should.”
Sam shakes his head in a small, controlled movement, his eyes still closed. He tightens them further, and Dean sees several tears escape. Sam wipes them off and looks at Dean again. Finally he speaks. “No, stay. I don’t want to talk about everything until you take me back home.”
“Okay, Sam, okay.”
Dean stops apologizing, but keeps talking, filling the silent room with one-sided banter, stories he doesn’t think he’s shared with Sam before, memories of their family from when Sam was very young. He talks about his bucket list, and how the Grand Canyon is still on there, and now that they’ve done Venice, that should be the next trip they make. The whole time he talks, he leaves spaces in his monologue where Sam would normally be responding, with either snark, questions, or his own comments. Dean tries to answer the questions he thinks Sam would usually ask. Slowly, Sam’s angry eyes turn into his more normal resting bitch-face. The one that Dean’s always thought of as Sam’s I’m-tolerating-my-big-brother-becaus
Eventually, it starts to get dark outside, and Gladys comes back in to say goodnight and check Sam. She reminds Dean about the night nurses, and how they’ll probably kick him out.
“I’ll handle it, thanks Gladys,” is all Dean has to say. “Thanks for taking such good care of my brother. We appreciate it.”
Gladys smiles and leaves with a small wave.