Sam shifted on his chair in the waiting room and wrenched his eyes away from the framed watercolour on the opposite wall. He knew every brush stroke, every detail of the damned thing since it was the only point of interest in the barren, stuffy room. He’d been sitting here for over an hour now, when he wasn’t pacing the corridor outside and he still had no clue what was happening with Dean. The fear and uncertainly was driving him nuts.
As he got to his feet, about to check the nurse’s station again, he felt a firm hand on his shoulder.
“Quit fidgeting, boy. You’re giving me ants in my pants.”
Bobby was sitting beside him, a picture of Zen-like calm and Sam scowled.
“That’s easy for you to say; he’s not…”
“He’s not what?” It was Bobby’s turn to scowl. “Not my kin? Not my problem? You freakin’ serious?”
Sam shook his head, embarrassed. “I’m sorry, man; but it’s taking too long.”
Bobby raised an eyebrow. “You forgetting the state he was in? That sort of thing don’t get fixed with a band aid.”
Sam’s stomach twisted. He’d seen the expressions on the faces of the medical staff as they carried Dean in; barely-conscious, bloody and still handcuffed for everybody’s protection. It wasn’t something he’d forget in a hurry. He tried to focus his thoughts elsewhere and decided to go on another coffee run; anything to keep himself occupied.
“You need more caffeine, Bobby?”
Bobby nodded wearily. “And don’t go pestering those nurses on the way down; they ain’t gonna tell you squat.”
His phone rang as Sam was headed out. “Tim? What you got?”
Sam turned back, eager to know what was happening at the carnival ground and Bobby motioned him away impatiently.
“Go get the damned coffee, Dumbo.”
They’d been here just under an hour and a half. The place wasn’t large and Sam already had the floor plan memorised; along with entrances, exits and fire escapes. The cafeteria was on the ground floor and he took the stairs down two levels, joined the short queue at the counter and debated whether to pick up a sandwich. He’d eaten virtually nothing in the past forty eight hours but still couldn’t work upany appetite. How could he think about food when his brother was upstairs in the ER?
It turned out they’d been in Nebraska the whole time; 170 miles from the original meet point in North Platte. Suzie held them just outside a town called Red Cloud and Webster County Community Hospital had only been ten minutes away. However, a straw poll of every hunter present turned up the same unpleasant result: they couldn’t take Dean anywhere near a regular hospital. His injuries would attract half the police in the state, even if he wasn’t on the FBI’s most wanted list, but he still needed urgent medical attention.
Tim suggested Cedar Valley Medical Clinic in Alma, forty miles away. He’d worked a job there once, ridden the place of a potentially catastrophic ghoul problem and they still owed him. He placed the call and it took some fast talking and strong arm tactics before they reluctantly agreed to treat Dean. It would be confidential, no questions asked so long as somebody could supply valid health insurance. Bobby had any number of bogus policies to cover the request.
Tim went from zero to hero in the blink of an eye. Perhaps he was energised from shooting Suzie but he took decisive control of a potentially chaotic situation. With the gang leader and most of her cronies dead, there didn’t seem much point calling the cops anymore. Tim co-opted Brody as his deputy and got him organising the hunters into clean-up parties. He assured Bobby and Sam that next time someone showed the old carnival ground would be clean as a whistle; nothing to suggest foul play ever went down. Hunters generally flew well below the radar; the dead ones were unlikely to be missed but if anybody came looking for them here, they wouldn’t find a shred of evidence.
Kate was a potential spanner in the works. She was clearly traumatised, unsurprising given recent events but she’d been raised a hunter and it showed in the silent, stoic way she dealt with her loss. Tim walked her from the building, hand on her arm as he spoke earnestly and she nodded slowly. Sam watched them go; he had no idea how it would pan out but his faith in Tim Matthews was growing stronger by the minute.
He was anxious to get on the road but something important needed taking care of first. He jammed a pistol into Highball’s throat and assured him he’d pull the trigger unless he started talking. He demanded the exact drugs and quantities they’d used on Dean and the creepy son of a bitch spilled his guts in seconds. He was very specific; he also pissed himself again.
Even with pedal to metal, the journey would take at least half an hour. Jack Saunders and Red Keenan volunteered their services, which Sam interpreted as meaning he couldn’t control his brother alone and it turned out they were right. Moving Dean from the pit got him agitated and he snarled and struggled like a rabid dog. He bit his tongue in the process and blood dripped steadily from his mouth as they carried him outside. Despite the cuffs and ropes, it took all three of them to restrain him on the back seat of the truck while Bobby floored it; cursing under his breath.
Fifteen minutes in Dean stopped fighting; his whole body went limp and he began trembling. He was cold, clammy to the touch and Bobby turned the heater up full. Red and Jack laid their coats over him but the shaking only got worse. His breath was catching in his throat, his chest was heaving and his pupils expanded and retracted alarmingly.
They were running out of time and Sam clawed some back by calling ahead to the clinic, bulldozing his way through to a senior doctor and telling him exactly what they were bringing in. He described every injury on Dean’s body then relayed the ingredients of the drugs cocktail and the reactions it provoked. Finally he came clean about Dean’s dependency on heavy duty painkillers. When he’d finished there was a pause on the line before the doctor’s voice came back, calm and professional. He said there was a team waiting and to get the patient to them as soon as possible. Like Sam needed telling…
As he disconnected the mood in the truck felt ominous. Red and Jack were watching Dean anxiously but to Sam’s eyes it felt like pity. They were looking at his brother like he was a worthless, street corner junkie and anger prickled up his spine. They didn’t know Dean, didn’t know what he’d been through and it was none of their damned business anyway.
Nobody spoke for a while and the silence was getting tense when Bobby finally broke it. “Those pills related to that thing in Duluth?”
He sounded cautious, uneasy and Sam went on the defensive. “Don’t judge him, Bobby. Don’t you fucking dare.”
“Don’t take that tone with me, you insolent pup.” Bobby’s voice was hard as nails. “I ain’t judging him, I’m freakin’ worried for him.”
Sam reddened; chastised by the outburst. He was damned if he was going to apologise though...
An assistant requesting his order pulled Sam’s attention back to the cafeteria and he picked up two coffees to go. As he approached the waiting room, juggling the overfilled cups, he saw a doctor go inside. He practically sprinted the last few yards, almost scalding his hands in the process.
Richard Hallam was the doctor Sam spoke with on the phone. He was a consultant at Cedar Valley; a stout, middle-aged man with a no-nonsense approach to medicine and pretty much everything else. He didn’t sugar coat the news, bluntly stating how Dean was lucky to be alive. The drugs came close to shutting him down, would have triggered a heart attack or stroke if the team hadn’t known exactly what they were dealing with and Sam saved his life by supplying that vital information.
The overall prognosis was cautiously optimistic but ultimately uncertain. Hallam and his crew had cleaned and stitched Dean’s wounds, stabilised his condition and were keeping him sedated while they flushed the narcotics from his system. His physical injuries were numerous; in addition to the gunshot wounds he’d suffered four cracked ribs, a sprained wrist, concussion, internal bruising plus multiple cuts and contusions. Sam’s mind reeled as he tried to digest it all while still being bombarded with medical information.
The principle concern was Dean’s leg. The bullet wound was a major concern in itself but he’d complicated the injury by standing and ultimately fighting on it. The resulting muscle damage couldn’t be fully gauged until he woke up and started talking but Hallam had a fair idea how things were likely to pan out. Dean was looking at some serious mobility issues; a few months on crutches at least, coupled with a lengthy physical therapy regime.
The fallout from the drugs was a separate matter. Flashbacks and nightmares aside, there were measures and recovery times required for addiction. The more Sam listened, the more he understood the challenges of the coming months. There was no way on earth Dean would submit to psychotherapy or counselling but he wasn’t going to face withdrawal alone either. He was a demanding, frustrating patient at the best of times but Sam was determined to be there for his brother. No matter how gnarly things got, they’d work through it one day at a time.
When the doctor was through he stood up to take his leave. He hesitated at the door, eyeing Sam bleakly.
“Whoever did that to him, they’re being punished for it?”
It was a leading question if Sam ever heard one. He exchanged a brief look with Bobby then offered Hallam a tight smile.
“It’s taken care of.”
He hoped that was true. Highball was the only gang member left standing but Red and Jack were on their way back to Red Cloud with a plan. He’d get a special kind of justice, as would the two hunters Dean hospitalised. Sam didn’t need to ask any questions; what they’d done to Dean wouldn’t be taken lightly by the hunting community.
He slumped in his chair, feeling a whole lot lighter than he did fifteen minutes ago. As the gnawing dread and fear began to lift, the events of the past two days hit him hard. He was tired, aching, hungry and the mother of all headaches was starting up behind his eyes. He felt Bobby’s hand on his arm.
“Go get some shuteye. There’s a motel across the road.”
It was a tempting idea which Sam couldn’t entertain right now. “Maybe later. After I’ve seen Dean.”
Bobby studied him quietly for a moment. “You saved his life, Sam, you should be proud of that.”
“That wasn’t me, Bobby. If you and the others hadn’t shown up when you did…”
He left the sentence hanging, unwilling to speculate what might have happened otherwise. Bobby snorted softly.
“You played your part in that rescue, son.”
Bobby’s expression turned guarded but he said his piece anyway.
“Shotguns don’t generally backfire. Hunters’ guns never backfire and they don’t jam and they don’t overheat on their own. All three together just defies the laws of nature…
“Want to tell me what happened?”
He knew. Sam was convinced of it; it was written in every line on his face. He was also pretty sure how Bobby came by the information.
“How much did he tell you?”
Bobby’s eyes went wide and innocent but he quickly gave up the pretence. “I’ve known about the visions for a while. We had the telekinesis chat a few months back.”
“Jesus Christ.” Sam shot to his feet, anger and betrayal vying for control. “Dean and his fucking mouth…”
“He’s worried about you, you damned idjit.” Bobby’s voice was quiet and calm. It only served to incense Sam more.
“He had no right telling you that stuff, Bobby. It’s personal.”
Bobby stood up and grasped him firmly by the shoulders, his expression grim. “You got any idea how much crap your brother carries round, boy? How much blame and guilt he lays on himself? It amazes me he don’t buckle under the weight and on top of all that, he’s scared shitless you’ll go darkside.”
Sam’s legs wobbled and he sat down hard. Guilt was rapidly replacing anger because he knew Dean felt that way. He’d watched his brother struggle with feelings of self-loathing and worthlessness for years but never made any more than token efforts to help. He’d pretended Dean’s flippant brush offs and gruff dismissals meant he was okay, meant he was coping and he’d been dead wrong on every count.
Sam had been consciously deceiving himself, which made him selfish, cowardly and stupid. Dean deserved more and he needed support from his family, whether he thought he wanted it or not. Bobby was part of the family now. It was clear from the way Dean opened up to him that he trusted Bobby enough to confide things he’d never admit to own brother...
When Bobby spoke again his tone was gentler. “You boys dance round each other like ballerinas but Dean needs to unload sometimes. I’m guessing those pills were a shoulder to cry on when nobody was around to listen.
The implication was clear and Sam’s guts clenched up. He opened his mouth to protest but Bobby got there first.
“Nobody’s blaming you, Sam; your brother’s like a giant, screwed-up clam most of the time. I’m only surprised this didn’t happen years ago.”
Sam agreed. No-one could operate under Dean’s self-imposed terms of silence and secrets indefinitely.
“He can’t know what really happened in the pit, Bobby. He needs to focus on getting better, not be worrying about his freaky fucking brother.”
Bobby looked uncertain but capitulated readily. “As far as Dean’s concerned we showed up in the nick of time and saved you both from a bloody death. That good enough?”
Sam shrugged. That was as good as it was likely to get. Bobby’s mouth quirked up into a knowing smile.
“When Dean’s back on his feet we’re all gonna have a heart to heart. Me and Jim Beam are mediating and it’ll be up close and personal. I ain’t kidding, Sam. The crap you boys don’t talk about will tear you apart if you let it fester.”
Sam nodded glumly as a nurse came into the room. She told them they could see Dean but not to expect anything in the way of conversation. He was heavily sedated and out for the count.
She directed them to a private room on the fourth floor of the building. Early afternoon sun flooded the room with bright autumnal light but all Sam could focus on was his brother. Dean was so pale the cuts and bruises on his face and arms stood out like islands in a stream. He was hooked up to various drip feeds and machines, there was a bandage on his right wrist and his breathing was shallow. Bobby cursed quietly and Sam glanced across. He was staring at the bed, his expression haunted.
“Dammit, Sam, I’m sorry.”
Of all the things Sam was expecting to hear, it wasn’t that. “What you got to be sorry about?”
Bobby shook his head. “I got you boys into that mess, sent you over to Nathan and Toby. I should have known better, should have smelled a rat...”
Sam shook his head emphatically. “There’s more than enough blame to go round, Bobby but you are not feeling guilty about this. None of it was your fault.”
Bobby snorted doubtfully as his cell phone rang. He muttered an apology, left the room and Sam dropped into a chair beside the bed. He clasped Dean’s left hand; warm to the touch but his brother was totally unresponsive. Beneath the closed lids his eyes were still. Sam wasn’t entirely on board with the doctors using more drugs to combat those already in his system, but he wasn’t about to argue the point with medical professionals either.
The quiet in the room was broken only by the soft, repetitive sounds of the machines. Time seemed to slow down and then stop completely. The room was warm and Sam felt drowsy; calmed and comforted by the close presence of his brother. Dean always made him feel safe and protected. Right now Sam felt like he was seven years old again and it felt good. It felt like coming home.
His eyelids were heavy as lead and his head drooped forward. It landed on Dean’s forearm and he didn’t have the energy to lift it again. His brother was going to be okay and that’s all that mattered. There might be an immense hill to climb on the road to recovery but Sam focussed on the end result. A few months down the line they’d be arguing over their next hunt. He’d tease Dean about his gimpy leg and Dean would bitch about his driving. He’d stuff his face with burgers, turn up the radio and promise serious beat downs if anything happened to his baby with Sam at the wheel.
Thinking about the Impala reminded Sam it was still outside a barn in New Platte. He needed to get over there and recover it before Dean woke up and pitched a fit. He figured he might do that tomorrow.
Or the day after.