Dean stood on the edge of the pool, feeling the warmth of the sun on his back as he contemplated the tranquil water. It wasn’t a very large pool but for the past few weeks it had been serving his purposes just fine. This time of morning, 9.30 am, there was never anybody else using it and it gave him the opportunity to put in some serious exercise before breakfast.
He hitched up the ratty, cut-off jeans which were serving as bathing shorts and made a graceful dive into the deep end. Kicking up to the surface, he began slicing through the water in a powerful freestyle. As his leg grew stronger and his ribs and wrist mended, his distances had gotten progressively better. He always pushed himself beyond his limits and now he could cover a mile and a half in the hour he allocated himself daily. Dean reckoned that was damned near close to Olympic standard.
He enjoyed his solitary swims. They gave him time to contemplate and there was plenty to consider. Sam had insisted they drive down to this small hotel in Mexico, five miles north of Rosarito when Nebraska’s winter became hazardous to Dean’s recovery. The snow and ice was treacherous beneath his crutches and several times he’d slipped and landed flat on his ass. It was embarrassing more than painful and though Dean had seen the funny side, his brother most definitely had not. A bigger problem was the biting, penetrating cold which crept into his bones and set his injuries aching like sons of bitches, especially in the mornings. The second time Sam found him hunched and shaking on the edge of the bathtub, teeth clenched against the pain he’d decided they were going someplace warmer. Dean had been initially reluctant, preferring to stay in Alma, close to the Cedar Valley Clinic where he could continue his treatment. Sam argued that sun, sea and sand would be just as effective, the hospital concurred and Dean allowed himself to get talked round. He hadn’t put up too much of a fight.
Sam’s prediction had proven accurate. A month of physiotherapy in Alma had gotten Dean out of bed, on his feet and pretty nimble on a pair of crutches. After two weeks in Mexico he was walking on his own, the pain was good as gone and he could even run short distances without his leg collapsing under him. Now, the end of week three he was working on the limp. It wasn’t exactly pronounced but it got people looking and made him feel like an invalid. There wasn’t going to be much of a week four in Rosarito since Christmas was only seven days off and Bobby had summoned both Winchesters to Sioux Falls. He’d insisted they all spend the holidays together and wouldn’t take no for an answer. He mentioned getting a few bottles of Jim Beam for the occasion and Sam’s eye twitched at the news like it meant something. He’d remained tight lipped though and refused to be drawn out. Bobby might as well have been a clam…
Dean reached the end of the pool and executed a smooth flip turn before starting his next length. As soon as he’d become
mobile he’d locked into a routine he liked and now he followed it every day. After swimming he’d eat a leisurely breakfast then take a brisk walk or slow run along the beach. The packed sand further strengthened his leg as he covered the mile or so to a beach bar he’d discovered. There were always pretty girls to talk to while he drank a few sodas and they all wanted to know about his scars. Dean was determined to get a good tan and refused to hide himself beneath layers of clothes. Besides, it gave him an opportunity to spin some yarns, see how far he could take the fabrications before he got called on them. Sometimes Sam would join him but usually he elected to stay at the hotel, taking advantage of their free wifi to check news reports or research some new monster which popped up on his radar. Sam’s head was still very much in the hunt; Dean’s not so much. He was officially convalescing, had been skilfully manoeuvred into that mindset and as soon as he’d accepted it wouldn’t be a quick process, he decided to relax and enjoy the ride.
He usually ate lunch at the beach bar, which grilled up a mean surf ‘n’ turf before walking back to the hotel. In the long, hot afternoons he’d tinker with the Impala, hose off the sand and salt which collected on her bodywork or just lounge by the pool, reading books and working on his tan.
In the evening Sam would drive them into town for dinner. Even when Dean was strong enough to handle the old Chevy himself, the practice continued. He liked a few brews with his grub, a couple more afterwards and Sam acknowledged that. His brother was bending over backwards to accommodate his needs and Dean understood why. Sam blamed himself for what happened at the hands of Suzie Wandell and no matter how many times he got reminded it wasn’t his fault, guilt clung to him like a shroud. In the early days at the clinic, when Dean struggled to get out of bed or put one foot in front of the other without dropping like a stone, he’d seen tears glinting in Sam’s eyes. Dean felt terrible about that but his brother was one stubborn bastard and talking sense to him had no effect. Eventually Dean decided to let him stew in his juices, hoping he might come round in his own time. Alternatively, Bobby could beat some sense into him over the holidays.
In the meantime the simmering tension resulted in petty squabbles and some damned awkward silences. Dean figured that’s why they were spending so much time apart, in spite of sharing a hotel room on the edge of paradise. Truth might be painful but denial was agonising.
One thing Sam never seemed to tire of was playing nursemaid. Dean had lost a lot of weight in the early stages of recovery; his appetite taking a nosedive due to grotty hospital fare and the god-awful effects of withdrawal. Sam was determined to fatten him up and while Dean never dreamed he’d need coaxing and cajoling back to his staple diet of burgers and pie, Sam had jumped on his case and refused to get off.
His enthusiasm for greasy, cholesterol-laden food might be returning but he hadn’t gained back any weight. He refused to get on the scales but was still too thin; knew that from the way Sam frowned every time he hitched his belt tight to stop his pants falling down. Dean tried to focus on the positives; he might be on the lean side but coupled with the tan it made him look sleek and defined. Chicks dug the look, it got him laid and was another reason to stroll about wearing nothing but cut-off jeans and shades.
His body was mostly healed now. It had taken the best part of two months but Dean felt almost ready to get back into the game. A few more days in the sun, Christmas at Bobby’s and he figured he’d be good to go. The psychological effects of a bad October were taking longer to process. The clinic in Alma had substituted one heavy duty painkiller for a different type while he was under their care. The dosage was carefully administered but constant because he couldn’t cope without it. The early part of his recovery was rough. He hadn’t been able to get out of bed for the first eight days, had trouble breathing, keeping food down and had only the sketchiest grasp on reality. He was in all kinds of pain, spiked a fever and was plagued by hallucinations and waking dreams which saw him freaking out on a daily basis. The medics kept telling him it was a result of the drugs cocktail he’d been fed, that things would get better but it hadn’t often felt that way to Dean.
Sam and Bobby had been his two cornerstones throughout the ordeal and in moments of clarity he’d wake to find one or both of them sitting beside his bed. They’d offer words of comfort, cheesy jokes or impatient reprimands dependent on his mood. Dean felt weak, vulnerable and became reliant their support and closeness. He’d panicked the few times woke and they weren’t in the room, but was too embarrassed to admit it. He suspected some of the nurses passed the intel round though. He was never alone after that.
As his health began to improve the clinic began decreasing the pain meds. Dean felt the change instantly; clammy skin, dry mouth, itchy eyes and overactive brain function. All symptoms of withdrawal but he didn’t draw attention to it. Allowing himself to get addicted was shameful enough, he wasn’t about to make it worse by sharing his detox hell so he grinned and pretended everything was okay. In reality he couldn’t sleep or eat and every waking moment was occupied by thoughts of the drugs cage down the corridor. It would be so easy to sneak inside, steal what he needed and he battled that urge daily. He got through it by telling himself this wasn’t even real cold turkey. The clinic was weaning him off the drugs slowly and he needed to man up and deal with it. He needed to get himself straight as soon as possible.
By his time of discharge he was off the heavy duty meds and adjusting to the new pills they’d prescribed. He was still shaky, jonesing and everybody seemed to know about it. He was offered counselling and turned it down flat, electing to deal with the problem in his own way. Sam found them a cheap motel and Dean immersed himself in pornography, music and blowing off his brother’s efforts to help. A few beers might have helped things along but he was taking too much medication to handle alcohol. He slept more hours than he was awake, leaving bed only to shower and dress for his daily physio session. Sam would drive him to the clinic and watch him work with the therapist, offering smiles and encouragement the whole time. Dean knew it was eating him up inside but got the feeling Sam needed this as much as he did.
He had a few visitors during his time at the clinic. Tim Matthews dropped by and they didn’t so much work out their differences as nail a tarp across them. Tim had been instrumental in saving his life but Dean didn’t thank him for it. In his opinion it made them square and nothing more. They’d never be friends, all trust was gone and Tim seemed to accept that. Their parting was strained and Dean was glad to see him go.
Kate Wandell came over a few times but whatever it was she was looking for, Dean had no interest in providing it. In his eyes their relationship was no different to that between himself and Tim. She’d played a crucial part in his rescue, he was appreciative of her efforts but saw no reason to be grateful. Her presence only reminded him of things he was trying to forget and eventually she got the message and stopped visiting. Sam thought he’d been ungracious in the matter; Dean told him to get screwed.
He remembered next to nothing about the final act at the old amusement park. He had sketchy recollections of getting spiked by Highball and taken to the pit but as soon as the drugs kicked in, everything went blank. Perhaps it was his mind’s way of trying to deal with the trauma but either way Dean was grateful for it. Sam and Bobby filled him in along the way, describing how a band of hunters saved the day and Sam bigged up Bobby’s crew so much that Dean got suspicious. He was certain they were holding something back, suspected those missing details were related to Sam’s psychic powers but neither would talk about it. Bobby maintained it was a conversation for another time and eventually Dean let it drop. He didn’t want to deal with any of that stuff right now, not ever if he was honest. It scared the hell out of him but so long as Sam wasn’t doing anything freaky in front of him, he could pretend it wasn’t there. For now at least. He promised himself he’d get back on point and deal with the situation it when he felt stronger.
Somehow, Highball had been the only gang member left standing at the end and he’d been dispatched to the nearest police station with his pockets jammed full of stolen narcotics. Whatever explanation he’d given the cops clearly didn’t take since he was still on lockdown and awaiting trial on Federal drug charges.
The two hunters Dean hospitalised had been contacted discretely and told, in no uncertain terms, they were out of the loop. Never again would they be offered assistance, aid or rescue. Nobody would stop them going back to their old life, if that’s what they chose but Dean figured they’d be pretty stupid to carry on hunting with no backup. A part of him hoped they would though. If he ran into either of them again he intended to finish what he started and put the fuckers down for good.
He completed a final length of the pool, stretched out on a sun lounger and let the morning sun bake him dry. He threw an arm across his eyes to shield them from the glare. After a few minutes his stomach growled and he was thinking of heading to the hotel restaurant when he heard footsteps approaching. He dropped his arm and squinted up at Sam who was clutching two glasses of orange juice.
“Freshly squeezed. Get it while it’s cold.”
Dean sat up and took the glass. “Peace offering?”
Sam squatted on the lounger opposite. “We at war again?”
Dean shook his head, smiling. “You’re at war with yourself, Sammy. Let go of it, huh?”
Sam’s brow furrowed. He couldn’t, or wouldn’t relinquish the guilt just yet. Over the past eight weeks Dean had come to realise that what happened in Red Cloud wasn’t the fault of any single person. They’d all screwed up to some extent, all felt bad about it but dwelling on the whys and wherefores wasn’t helping anybody. All he wanted to do was put the past in his rear view and move on; he just couldn’t work out how to get his brother moving in the same direction.
Sam was watching him over the rim of the glass. “This hotel has pretty much cleaned us out. How about we play some pool tonight, make ourselves a little travelling money?”
Dean nodded. “Sounds good.”
“Reckon you can get through a game without picking a fight?”
Sam’s tone was light but Dean felt his hackles rising. “You mean like you’re doing now?”
Sam shook his head. “I’m not trying to cause trouble. I just need to be sure.”
Dean stood up, surprised at how easy it was. “Sure I’m not popping pills behind your back? That cuts both ways, man. How can I be sure you won’t pull that psychic crap next time our backs are to the wall?”
Sam scowled. “Screw you, Dean.”
Dean fought the urge to punch him in the face. A full blown fist fight wasn’t likely to solve anything… Or maybe it would. He’d keep that as a backup plan but for now he kept his voice calm and sat down again.
“I’m not gonna lie to you, it’s tough as hell. Every day I think about getting hold of some pills and every day I tell myself it’ll never happen. I won’t betray you like that again, Sammy. You’re the one thing keeping me strong and as long as you’re around, I’ll stay clean. I owe you that much.”
Sam smiled wanly. “I’m not going anywhere, Dean.”
Dean waited for him to elaborate. He wanted Sam to make a similar commitment; hear an assurance that he’d never use his powers again. As the silence stretched out he realised that wasn’t going to happen.
“Guess you won’t make the same promise, huh?”
Sam shook his head. “I can’t, Dean. Not when I don’t know if I can keep it.”
Dean snorted. “What does that mean? You’re not even gonna try?”
“I never said that.” Sam’s voice sounded ragged. “Of course I’ll try. I’ll try with everything I’ve got because I don’t want to let you down or disappoint you, but…”
Dean’s stomach twisted. “But…?”
Sam shook his head. “Sometimes I don’t get any choice. Sometimes it comes out of nowhere and just… takes hold. I can’t control it, man. I don’t know what to do…”
Dean looked away, unwilling to reveal the fear in his eyes. He wanted what was best for Sam, it was the only thing he wanted but most of all he needed this damned thing out of their lives. From the look on Sam’s face, he needed it just as much. Neither of them had a friggin’ clue how to accomplish that though...
If their roles were reversed Sam would be all over it. He’d be imploring Dean to open up and share, assuring him it would help but Dean had never been good with that kind of thing. Sam looked young and scared, needed advice and comfort from his big brother and Dean just didn’t know what to tell him. He opted for deflection instead.
“Hang in there, buddy. As soon as we get to Bobby’s we’ll talk about it, okay? Bobby’ll know what to do.”
Even if he didn’t, Bobby usually knew the right thing to say and Dean was counting on that. Sam hung his head and Dean slapped him on the shoulder.
“I’m getting some breakfast, then I’m heading over to the beach bar. You should come along, those chicks’ll get your mind off this shit.”
Sam considered for a moment. “Is that a promise?”
Dean smiled and it was very nearly genuine. “It’s one we can both keep.”
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