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Fic: Too Little, Too Late 2/3

August 17th, 2007 (09:11 am)

A/N: And thus begins the real guilt and angst. Just be warned I really didn't hold back in this one therefore it may seem a bit over the top. I'm very relieved for the most part people don't hate me after chapter one :) All other notes and disclaimers in chapter one.

Part One

-o-

Dean couldn't help but feel a little guilty, no matter how right he was. Even now, Sam was hunched and withdrawn, collecting his things like an old man, not the young kid that he was. That should bother him, it used to, but he didn't know how anymore.

He looked away, focusing on his things, cleaning up the barn the best he could. He wanted to disappear from this place, from this planet, as best he could.

Sam trailed after him, quiet and obedient for once, but Dean refused to look at him.

Sam had been a liability on this hunt. The kid had nearly gotten them both killed, which was just about the last thing Dean wanted to deal with at this point. He had enough to worry about without worrying about Sam getting himself killed in some basic hunt because he couldn't keep his head where it belonged.

Hell, even he had managed to keep his head in the hunt and he sure had a lot more on his mind than Sam did. Not that Sam wasn't grieving and screwed up, but Sam didn't have an inkling of how deep this thing ran.

He could still hear Sam's words. I'm not okay.

Yeah, well, neither was Dean. And even at Dean's most reckless he never put Sam at risk. And yet Sam, in his emo ways, had managed to compromise both himself and Dean, which was a mistake they couldn't afford.

They couldn't afford much of anything at this point; they were barely keeping it together.

He let his eyes finally drift to Sam, who was seated in the passenger's seat, completely stoic and blank. His brother hadn't as much as twitched since they'd left the farm.

And wasn't that just like Sam. For all his demands and pleas to talk, to express emotion, Sam never seemed to know what to say when Dean finally gave in. Dean's heartfelt confession had been hard enough as it was, and in the silence that followed, Dean wondered how his brother could be so selfish.

That probably wasn't fair, not really. Dean's revelation to his brother had been more than a little heavy, and the kid was flailing as it was.

So fine. It didn't matter. All Dean had learned was that he needed to keep his secrets, for his sake, probably for Sam's.

His eyes lingered on his brother, taking him in.

Sam did look terrible. The weeks were wearing on Sam since their father's death, and it was pretty clear the kid didn't have much left in him.

Dean paused to reevaluate. It wasn't exactly like Sam--even in the days after Jessica, Sam had been staunchly capable of defending Dean in the hunt. Maybe Sam was hurting in ways Dean couldn't see.

Not that it made a difference. Not that any of it made a difference. Not now. Not knowing what Dean knew.

He loved his brother, he'd spent his entire life protecting his brother, but he was so tired. He was just worn out. Too empty to even pretend like he could do this anymore. Sam knew that. Sam had to know that. And yet Sam wouldn't even grant him this one weakness.

Looking back out at the road, Dean stifled a sigh. He didn't know where they were going, but he just knew they were going. It was all they had left. They'd crash someplace late and find something else to hunt in the morning.

-o-

Sam sat carefully in the car, sitting so that his arm could rest on top of his legs and bracing his long legs against the floor and dash to minimize the shaking from the drive.

It wasn't much, but it was all he could do, and he needed it. Any movement made him want to cry, and at this point, crying wasn't something that was okay. Crying had never been okay.

They were completely screwed up. They had been since the beginning, since the day his mother died above his bed but it was all catching up with them now. Because Sam had left. Because Sam's girlfriend had died. Because the demon wanted Sam. Their dad had to make a deal because Sam disobeyed an order.

Now he'd nearly gotten them killed. He wasn't really sure how it'd happened, what had happened at all. He couldn't really remember the hunt, just the blinding pain in his arm and the angry, desperate look in Dean's eyes.

He was pretty sure that Dean hated him, on some level. Not that Dean would ever admit it, but he'd never thought Dean could act like this either.

He blinked hard, feeling the sting of tears behind his eyes. Tears? What the hell was wrong with him?

Dean had nearly died, Dean didn't feel like he deserved to live, and Sam was the one who felt like crying? What kind of wuss was he?

It was irrational, overwhelmingly out of character. Sam was the sensitive one, sure, but he could usually keep his emotions more in check.

He could usually do a lot of things.

But it was all too much. The Demon, the car accident, losing Dad, Dean's confession. Sam felt like he was drowning, and on top of it all, his arm hurt so badly.

And he was tired, drainingly, impossibly tired.

He closed his eyes, just for a second, and the car hitting a pothole jarred him awake. He startled, glancing at Dean, who stared ahead, stony-eyed and oblivious to Sam. Sam swallowed, his throat feeling sticky. He struggled to focus on the clock and realized he had no idea how long they'd been in the car.

The area didn't look familiar and it was dark out. They'd driven all night?

Dean must be exhausted, he thought, squinting to study his brother who sat erectly in the seat.

Dean didn't show any indication of wanting to relinquish the wheel. It bothered him a little on some level, because he doubted his brother trusted him at all, considering what had happened the last time he'd driven the car.

But, at the same time, Sam didn't think he could drive. He alternated between chills and hot flashes and a tiredness seemed to seep into his bones, starting with his arm. He had a fever, no doubt, and had probably been nursing one for days.

It was broken, Sam had no doubt of that now. But the Ace bandage stabilized it decently. And it was aligned okay, Sam was pretty sure. It just hurt too much to move, but his fingers were colored okay, so he was sure they were getting enough blood.

It was the fever that was wearing him down and keeping him from being the brother he should be. Dean had yet to notice, and Sam planned to keep it that way. Dean had spent his life putting himself second for Sam, and a fever? A fever would never stop Dean from doing his brotherly duties. Sam was sure of that.

He'd been called a selfish bastard one time too many. He didn't have any will left to fight. He would do the only thing he had left. He would save Dean.

The thought made him laugh, and he was surprised when a muffled laugh escaped his lips. How was he supposed to save Dean when he couldn't do anything right? He didn't know how to comfort Dean, he didn't know how to make Dean happy, he couldn't even finish a hunt correctly, and he thought he could save his brother?

"Something funny?" Dean asked, but there was no humor in his voice.

Sam blinked, wondering if he was a bit delusional. He'd almost forgotten Dean was there. "No," he said.

Dean raised his eyebrows, and Sam could feel the skepticism rolling off his brother.

"Just tired," Sam managed, which was about the understatement of the year.

A year ago, Dean would have said something. Dean would have given him a look.

Dean didn't even give him a double take.

Sam closed his eyes, ground his teeth, tried not to swallow, and lost himself to sleep.

-o-

Dean drove until he couldn't see straight. He might have kept going if Sam could drive, but Sam was zonked out in the passenger's seat as was. If Sam didn't want to drive, Dean wasn't going to make him.

If Sam wanted to sleep, then Dean would let him sleep. Hell, he'd even pull them over to a rest stop and sleep himself. It's not like he had anything left to prove to anyone.

Dean kept his jaw set and let himself go numb inside. He pulled off at the first motel he saw and didn't even say anything to Sam when he went in to check them in.

There was a girl behind the desk, cute and flirtatious, but Dean barely spared her a glance even when she snapped her gum right in front of him. It was such habit, old hat. One room, two queens. Credit, please. Signed Roger Hernandez, Milton Schnackenberg, Lyle Barnaby, Elroy McGuillicuddy.

The aliases meant nothing, were supposed to be jokes. He used to love filling out the forms with fake names just for the laughs.

Now he could feel them piling up, weighing on him. John Winchester wasn't even dead according to the state.

Funny how Dean Winchester was.

Just more evidence that what was dead, should stay dead, he thought, scribbling on the receipt before handing it back with an empty smile.

Sam was still asleep in the car, but jarred awake when Dean opened the door. Dean didn't say anything, he didn't have to. He didn't even look as Sam got out of the car, sluggishly following him to the room. Maybe, just maybe, if he kept his back to Sam, Sam wouldn't notice. Sam wouldn't ever have to know. Sam wouldn't have to realize just how wrong Dean was.

-o-

Sam's mouth was dry. He tried to swallow, to bring some kind of moisture to his mouth, but only succeeded in making himself nauseous and making his throat ache. Dean had already shouldered his bag and was halfway to the room before Sam even got out of the car.

Pushing himself up, he fought off a wave of vertigo and clumsily retrieved his own bag from the trunk. Closing it was difficult, jarring his hand painfully, but he managed to make it to the motel room door before it closed behind his brother.

"I'm taking a shower," Dean announced.

Before Sam could even comprehend what Dean was saying, he heard the bathroom door close.

He attempted to swallow again and sighed. His bladder was full and his stomach was queasy but that would just have to wait.

The room was dim and Sam didn't have the energy to figure out how to turn on the lamps. There was a single king bed in the middle of the room and a small couch in the corner, which Sam could only figure was a pull-out unless his brother had suddenly warmed up to the idea of sharing a bed. Clearly this motel hadn't had their typical two queens and Dean didn't seem in the mood to keep driving.

The bed looked warm and inviting and Sam wanted to sink into it and sleep away all the pain and take the edge off of his fever. He wished he'd remembered to bring in the first aid kit--he felt like he was on fire.

He sighed, dropping his bag unceremoniously to the floor.

Going back out to the car would not be worth it to find out he had a fever he was already pretty sure he had. Nor was it worth seeing that they were completely out of painkiller.

Sleep was his best option.

He eyed the bed longingly again and was about to ease himself onto it when he heard the shower run.

Dean needed the bed. Dean needed his rest, more than he did.

His feet felt heavy as he moved toward the couch and as he leaned over to pull the cushions off, his head began to spin.

He groaned, wishing he almost would just pass out and get it over with.

No such luck.

Maybe his random bout of telekinesis would reassert itself and make the bed for him.

Again, no dice, though the thought did send a sharp pain through his skull.

He reached out his right hand and regretted it immediately, drawing it back in as tears bit at his eyes.

Shaking, he used his left to clear the couch of its cushions and, with some fumbling, managed to pull the stowed bed to its full length one-handed. Luckily, it was already made up with sheets. Sam figured there was an extra pillow in the closet, but he wasn't sure he had the motivation to go get it.

Instead, he collapsed hard onto the small bed, and it rattled precariously. It took some effort, but he managed to pull his legs onto it, barely even noticing the way his feet hung off the end of the child-sized bed.

He should probably get undressed, should get under the blankets, should go get the pillow, but he couldn't move. He couldn't do anything except lay there.

Pain effused through him and his mind sunk deeper into itself to escape it. Sleep called and he did not fight it.

-o-

Dean let the shower run from scalding hot to icy cold, not moving under the spray, hoping that something would penetrate his body, his sense. He just wanted to feel again.

When he turned the water off and reached for his towel, he noticed the goosebumps on his skin, the way his hair stuck straight up, and closed his eyes.

Ignoring the chill, he wiped himself down, stepping into his nightclothes without as much as a thought. He thought briefly about going out, to grab a drink, but there wasn't any point. There wasn't any point to anything. All he needed to do was sleep so he could wake up and start it all over again.

"Take care of yourself, Dean,"
his father used to say. "If you let yourself get worn down, then you're a liability."

But Dean had been a liability. He'd been his dad's greatest weakness. He should have figured it all out sooner, kept his father from making that deal. He acted like he was mad at Sam, but it couldn't erase the guilt that lay only on himself.

He just should have died, maybe back in Nebraska. The faith healer should have picked Layla because she deserved to live.

Dean was nothing but a letdown, a failure, a liability.

His dad had died for him, not because he loved him, but because he needed Dean to carry on. And wasn't that the kicker.

Teeth clenched, Dean made his way back into the main room, surprised to find Sam already sprawled in sleep.

Jess's death had made Sam sleepless. Apparently Dad's death had cured Sam's nightmares, Dean thought bitterly.

He sighed, letting his anger drain away to emptiness once more. It wasn't fair to wish his own grief on Sam. He pulled back the covers and slid beneath them, staring at the ceiling and letting his mind drift to the sounds of traffic outside.

-o-

His dad always looked the same. Face clenched in pain, a blood stain on his leg. "Sammy! You shoot me in the heart!"

And Sam could feel the gun, cold and heavy in his hands. His entire life for this moment. The chance to end it. The chance to be the good son.

But not like this. Not ever like this. He needed to say so much. He needed to say I'm sorry, I love you, please don't make me stay away.

"Sam, no."

Dean. Dean would save him, even from himself.

His aim fell and so did his father's face.

Then it contorted in anger. Blame. "If you had just shot me when you had the chance!"

Sam wanted to be angry, felt himself losing control, but then he saw Dean.

Dean was dying.

He had killed his brother.

He'd chosen wrong, he'd been selfish again.

The Ouija board moved beneath his hands. Why, Sam?

Dean asked the question, just like his father, just like Jessica before them, just like his mother before them all.

He turned to run, but Dean's hand was on his arm, gripping it harder than he thought was possible. He crashed to his knees, tears forming in his eyes, and Dean's eyes are cold above him. "What's dead should stay dead, Sam," he said. "Can you live with that?"

Sam couldn't.

"Then you'll just have to die," Dean said.

Pain exploded in his arm but his cry was cut off by the breathlessness in his chest as the darkness won.

The darkness always won.

-o-

Dean unplugged the clock at 3:33 because he got tired of looking at it. He would have hurled it across the room were Sam not sleeping quite so soundly.

Well, actually it was more the effort to throw it would be more than Dean was willing to expend, especially at that hour of the night, especially in his state of mind.

He got up with the sun, trying to ignore Sam as much as possible, as much for his brother's sake as his own. He went about his morning business silently, with the ease and practice of a hunter, and Sam didn't even twitch.

Finally dressed, he sunk back onto his bed, feeling deflated. He knew he needed to go buy a paper, go buy breakfast, get the day started, but he didn't want to.

He just didn't want to.

He wanted to take the Impala and drive as far as possible, away from everything, away from this life, away from these memories. He wanted to find something good, something pure, some kind of reason for it all, some kind of escape.

He could take Sam and go.

Sighing, he spared a glance at Sam, still asleep on the pull-out, nearly exactly as he was the night before. It occurred to him that the bed was comically small for his brother. Sam must have been exhausted since he wasn't even get under the covers, wasn't even get undressed.

A few months ago, that might be cause for joking, might be reason to make fun of his brother in his patented big brother way. But joking was harder now, strained.

Besides, something was off. Something had been off since their stint in the hospital, but Dean hadn't taken the time to notice it. But he could sense it, now suddenly with a surprising intensity. Something in the way Sam was lying, something in the way Sam had been acting...

Concerned, Dean stood, leaning over his brother, taking a good look at him for the first time in weeks.

His brother looked terrible.

His face was pale. His cheeks were sunken and blushed with the flush of a fever, which also explained the sheen of sweat on his brother's skin.

The rapid rise and fall of his brother's chest was matched with the frantic eye movements beneath his lids. His lips were pale and parted, wet breaths coming between them in pants.

No wonder Sam was acting so out of it--the kid was sick. Sam's spacey behavior, sleepiness, lack of conversational skills--it all made sense.

Carefully, he managed to get himself on the edge of Sam's too-small bed and reach a hand out to feel his brother's brow.

The heat surprised him, and Sam groaned, turning into his touch with the trust of a child to a parent.

This wasn't a sudden illness. It had to have developed, settled in. Sam must have felt sick throughout the entire last hunt, and Dean hadn't noticed.

Dean hadn't even had a clue.

Gaping, he let his eyes roam the rest of his brother's body. The shirt was ripped and bloodstained on his left arm--from being thrown across the barn, no doubt. He hadn't even thought to check if it was deep, nothing more than a cursory glance. He hadn't thought about it at all.

He peered through the hole in Sam's shirt, wondering if somehow the cut was worse than he'd thought. It was still bloody and jagged, but superficial and decidedly free from infection. Letting his eyes peruse Sam's body once more, he tried to see if he'd neglected anything else.

Luckily, everything else seemed intact, except the Ace bandage on Sam's right hand and wrist.

He frowned, trying to remember how long it'd been since Sam had hurt it. He'd promised Sam that they'd get it checked out. Dean had never managed to remember.

Gently, he lifted the limb, unwrapping it.

Sam whimpered, and Dean could see why.

The wrist was swollen and bruised, the discoloration vivid and mottled throughout the entire region. He fondled the limb, eliciting a sharper grunt of pain from his brother,

"Sorry, Sammy," he murmured. "I just need to check this out."

He couldn't feel much through the swelling, but the amount of heat coming off the wrist suddenly unnerved him.

This needed to be treated. Even if Sam had had it stabilized, the impact with the wall and ground could have exacerbated any previous injuries.

Especially untreated injuries.

Sam should have known better, Sam should have said something. But wasn't that so Winchester. And it wasn't like he'd given Sam much of a chance to say anything lately. He'd been difficult, distant, and reproachful--even if Sam hadn't been sick, his brother probably couldn't have penetrated Dean's shell of grief. It had all come out, all come undone, and Dean hadn't managed to get it back together yet. All the blame in the world he could try to place on everyone else when he belonged on him.

He was Sam's brother. Sam had spent all his time looking out for Dean and Dean had neglected the most basic things in return.

How could he have forgotten?

Swallowing back his incredulity, he felt a wave of nausea flutter in his stomach.

"Sammy?" he asked, turning his attention back to his brother's face. He put an easy hand on his brother's cheek. "Hey, Sam."

There was no meaningful reply. His brother was trapped in his fever.

Dean gnawed absently on his thumbnail. There was no way around it. He needed to take Sam to a hospital.

Luckily, they had some time, so an ambulance wouldn't be necessary.

But a hospital...

The prospect of it made Dean queasy.

His entire life had ended in a hospital.

Or it should have.

The memory of waking up with the tube in his throat was still too fresh. The lingering feel of his father's breath against his ear was too haunting. The doctor announcing time of death, 10:41 was just too real.

He closed his eyes, trying to shut the memory out.

When he opened them, he saw Sam, still asleep on the bed. Asleep or unconscious, Dean wasn't sure he wanted to know.

It didn't matter that watch out for Sammy was his father's first and last mandate. It only mattered that Sam trusted him, that Sam was the most important thing left in his life.

What's dead should stay dead, but as long as he had a heart that was beating, no matter what the circumstances, he needed to take care of Sam.

-o-

Getting Sam to the car was not an easy process. Sam was hardly coherent enough to help, and Dean didn't want to hurt Sam's wrist anymore than it already was. He didn't want to hurt Sam anymore than he already had.

A soft mewl escaped Sam's mouth as Dean buckled him in, his sweat-soaked head rolling toward Dean in his delirium. But his brother didn't speak, didn't move beyond that.

"It's okay," Dean soothed, feeling awkward. He ran a hand over Sam's forehead, swiping his bangs to the side. "We're going to get you taken care of."

With that, he closed Sam's door and hurried to his own. He tried not to notice how his hands were shaking as he started the car.

The engine rumbled to life, and Dean spared Sam another look, praying that this wasn't too little, too late.

-o-

Dean had thought he was afraid to lose his dad. He'd thought he'd been afraid of his father's secret. He thought he'd been afraid of living, of going on, of existing.

It was nothing compared to the fear he felt now. The fear of failing his brother. The fear of living without his brother.

He could live without a lot of things, but he couldn't live without Sam.

He wasn't sure how he'd ever forgotten that.

The drive was a blur, fast and rough, one hand on the wheel, the other bracing Sam to the seat, neither willing to relinquish its important duty.

The flashing lights of an ambulance signaled the hospital's entrance, and Dean screeched to a halt just behind it.

It probably would have been most practical to leave Sam in the car and go in and demand help, but Dean was beyond practical. He was beyond waiting. He'd waited long enough already--at Sam's expense.

Climbing out of the car, he scrambled to Sam's door, flinging it open wide, barely noticing when the door slammed against a nearby sign. Fumbling, he undid Sam's seatbelt, catching his brother's upper body as it slumped over toward him. Straining, he looped one arm under Sam's shoulders, using the other to cradle Sam's knees.

He staggered a little, but managed to stand, Sam's body dangling in his grasp.

He was panting by the time he made it to the doors, and his arms burned, but he barely felt it. He barely felt anything but the heat of Sam's body seeping into his.

At the desk, Dean gaped, staring blankly at the movement of the doctors and nurses, none of whom seemed to notice him at first.

"Hey," he tried, annoyed at the weakness of his own voice.

A handful stopped, nudging each other, looking at him.

"My brother," Dean panted, hoisting Sam higher awkwardly. Sam's head lolled back, his mouth falling open with strained breaths. "He's sick."

The small crowd in the waiting room stared at him, and the activity at the reception desk stopped, all eyes upon him. It must have been a site, Dean figured absently, carrying a man of Sam's size would look a bit ridiculous--lots of limbs flopping everywhere and whatnot.

But Dean didn't have time for their wide-eyed wonder and shock. Sam could have been dying and everyone was just staring.

"Someone help him!" he yelled, trying to sound angry and commanding (just like their father), but merely sounding tired and strained.

It was a doctor who approached, middle aged and bald headed. "Lainey, can you get a gurney," he said, glancing at a nurse, before moving toward Dean.

The nurse stirred to action and life slowly resumed its pace. The doctor's hand went to Sam's head, trying to peer beneath Sam's sweat soaked bangs. "What happened?" he asked.

The gurney arrived and the doctor moved to help him ease Sam onto it, help which Dean accepted distrustfully. Sam was slack on the gurney, his head turned slightly toward Dean, arms limp at his sides. "We were hiking," Dean said, his mind barely working. "And he fell--down a hill. Got cut up a little. Hurt his wrist. There's something wrong with it."

They were moving now, where Dean didn't care to look. The doctor was visually looking Sam over when he saw the bound wrist. "Did he get it looked at?" he asked, examining it tentatively.

"No," Dean said. "He sprained it a few weeks ago in a car accident but he'd been fine since."

That was a lie that hurt because Dean didn't know if Sam had been, he didn't know anything about Sam at all over the last few weeks.

Dean barely noticed that they were stopped now, in an examination room. A few nurses were moving around, bringing equipment forward. The doctor pulled out a penlight and was peering into Sam's eyes. His brow furrowed as he put the light away and a nurse started to cut away Sam's clothes.

When the t-shirt and jeans were sheared away, the fresh gash on Sam's arm was visible, and Dean winced even though it was nothing new to him. There were a few bruises that lined Sam's side, too, but nothing to warrant Sam's current condition.

Someone had set up an IV, and the doctor muttered, "Get him started on some saline. Let's get him hydrated a bit and see if that brings him to."

"BP's 80/50," a nurse said softly. "Pulse is 90."

"What's his temp?" the doctor asked.

Another nurse put a thermometer in Sam's ear and waited for the beep. "103.9."

At that, the doctor grimaced and Dean felt his stomach twist. It dropped completely when the doctor unrolled the hastily wrapped wrist.

Dean had known it was bad. He had even been pretty sure that the wrist was the cause of the problem. But seeing the grim look on the doctor's face unnerved Dean. It wasn't just scary for the untrained civilian. It was bad from a professional medical point of view.

The doctor fondled the wrist gently before placing it back down next to Sam. He glanced back up at Dean, his eyes focused and resolute. "You say he hurt it a few weeks ago?"

"Yeah," Dean said slowly, suddenly uncertain.

"He didn't get it treated?"

"No," Dean said. "It was just a sprain. I mean, he didn't say anything." Not that Dean would have been listening.

"Cathy, we need to get him to x-ray and get this looked at," the doctor said.

Dean watched as a nurse nodded and stepped to the telephone.

"We're going to take your brother to radiology," the doctor was saying, and it took Dean a moment to realize he was talking to him. When Dean made eye contact, the doctor continued, "My name's Dr. Wallace. Once we have the films and get some of his preliminary blood work back, I'll come out and update you on how he's doing."

Dean wasn't sure what to say, wasn't sure what was expected of him. He had so many questions, so many concerns, but they were so encompassing, so overwhelming, that he couldn't get them out.

The doctor smiled a little again. "We're going to help your brother," he said softly.

Dean stared at him, blank, broken.

"You understand me, son?" the doctor said again. "We’ll help him."

Jaw clenched, all Dean could think was at least someone was.

-o-

Dean had paced off the small room countless times, keeping his strides even on the well-worm linoleum. He was too nervous to sit, too nervous to wait. He wanted to be with Sam, wanted to know what was going on. He was tired of being in the dark while things happened to his family.

But this was different. Sam was going to be fine. Sam had to be fine. After all, the poltergeist hadn't done any serious damage--the cut hadn't even needed stitches. And the only other injury Sam had endured at all was a sprained wrist. Maybe broken, but even then, Sam had broken far worse on the soccer field and still lived to rebel another day.

Dean sighed, scratching the back of his head with a nervous twitch. A little old woman was watching him, but he ignored her, not even sparing a glance to shame her into turning her head.

He was rationalizing and he knew it. He was grasping at straws. Anything to avoid the plain and simple truth that he’d closed himself off to Sam, closed himself off from Sam. There was a reason their father had demanded total focus on a hunt, a reason he demanded complete loyalty. Pride wasn't the only reason he had told Sam to stay gone when he left for college. To hunt together, they needed to live together, experience everything together. Distractions could get people hurt, get them killed, and that wasn’t something the Winchesters could stand much more of.

Dad had lived that until he died and he’d asked Dean to live it for him in his wake.

But Dean didn’t know how to. He didn’t know how to deal with anything. He was tailspinning, violent and volatile, withdrawn and weary. In that, he couldn’t see beyond himself.

He couldn’t even see Sam’s desperate tailspin, which Dean was recognizing all too clearly now.

When the doctor finally came out, Dean had no idea how much time had passed, he didn't have much concept of anything except the pit that was growing in the pit of his stomach.

"Dean, why don't we take a seat," he suggested casually, a fatherly smile on his face.

Dean just stared at him, shaking his head. "How's Sam?"

The doctor raised his eyebrows and sighed, taking pity on the older brother. "Your brother's hand has been severely fractured, probably more than once," the doctor explained. "We're going to be sending him up to MRI here shortly to get an exact estimate of the real damage. But given the amount of time he's left it untreated, I'm guessing we'll have to take invasive measures to fix his hand."

Dean shook his head. "Invasive measures?"

"Surgery," Dr. Wallace clarified. "But setting the fracture isn't what's really concerning me. We can't operate until his fever's at a more manageable level anyway."

It was already too much information, too fast. If Sam's hand needed surgery, then Dean had let this get too far as it was. To think there was more...Dean just wasn't sure how to cope with that.

"Sam's also a bit dehydrated, which is pretty normal since he's been sick and apparently neglecting himself," Dr. Wallace continued. "The IV's are already helping to rectify that, so I expect we'll see his vitals even out as the saline does its work."

Dean could feel the but building slowly, painfully. He looked at the doctor, wishing he could stop the man before he continued.

"It's the fever, though," the doctor said softly. "Clearly something is going on in your brother's body that needs to be dealt with."

Dean knew that, Dean had known that when he brought Sam in. Why wouldn't this man just get to the point? "What's wrong with my brother?" he finally asked, demanded.

"Mr. Deveroux, please understand," Dr. Wallace said evenly. "Your brother's vitals are still very low. He's suffering from some form of infection, though from where we've yet to determine."

"What do you mean, you've yet to determine?" Dean asked, his eyes narrowing suspiciously.

The doctor seemed unfazed by Dean's accusatory tone. "We've already started him on a broad-spectrum antibiotic just to be sure. But once we get some blood work back, we'll know more clearly what we're dealing with and be able to combat it a little more head on."

That sounded reasonable enough and Dean forced himself to stay calm. He swallowed hard, reinforcing his facade of strength. "When can I see him?"

The doctor glanced distractedly at his watch. "We'll be taking him up in a few minutes, but I see no reason you shouldn't be able to wait with him until then. He's still unconscious, but if you'd like to see him, I can show you to him."

Dean nodded, a tad eagerly, grateful for this chance to make things better.

-o-

Sam's color seemed a bit richer, but it only seemed to feed the redness in his cheeks, which did nothing to assuage Dean's doubt or guilt.

Dean was grateful that there was little medical intrusion on his brother. Sam was laid out on the gurney, a gown quickly thrown over his tall body, and his arms were placed at his sides. There was a pair of IVs and a few wires stringing from his chest and another clipped to his finger, undoubtedly for monitoring purposes.

In short, Dean had had worse and seen Sam through worse. He could take comfort in that.

But comfort was hard to find in the nagging guilt that wouldn't go away.

Dean shuffled, uncomfortable, scratching the back of his head. "Dude, you better wake up soon," he said. "Your nurses keep talking about sponge baths, and I know how shy you get around women."

The joke was so him, so typical, that it seemed natural.

It wasn't enough.

Dean's forged smile fell as he inched forward, gripping the rail of Sam's gurney. "It's going to be okay now, though," he promised. "Because I'm here. I always take care of things, right? I know I wasn't really doing so well for awhile, there..." He swallowed, his voice trailing off as something burned behind his eyes. He resolved himself. "But I'm here now."

-o-

He'd been relegated to another waiting room, maybe the same one, but Dean couldn't tell. He didn't really care anyway. Waiting was waiting, no matter where he did it.

He was exhausted--everything ached. He hadn't been sleeping much before the hunt, and it seemed like it had been days already since he'd dragged Sam in here. Some caffeine would probably help, but he was jittery enough. Any coffee in his system would probably send him into convulsions. The last thing he wanted was to be out of commission when Sam needed him.

Too bad he hadn't thought of that before Sam got sick.

When the doctor finally found him, he was crashed in a chair, somewhere between sleeping and waking, teased by the tendrils of nightmares.

"Mr. Deveroux," Dr. Wallace began, his eyes sweeping critically over Dean's body. "Have you been taking care of yourself?"

Dean straightened, wiping the sleep away from his eyes. "How's Sam?"

The doctor looked more than a little skeptical. "We've managed to identify the source of the infection," the doctor said, starting slowly. "He has a bad case of strep."

"Strep? The thing kids get?"

"Yes, it's a common infection," Dr. Wallace confirmed.

"Then what the big deal?" Dean asked, a bit afraid of the answer.

"Well, infections have a tendency to attack other parts of the body--when left unchecked, they can spread. Sam clearly left this unchecked, and it attacked the most vulnerable part of his body--his wrist."

Dean looked confused. "But it was a closed break. It never broke the skin. You told me it might need surgery, not that it was what was causing the fever."

Dr. Wallace sighed. "Let me try to explain, son. The initial fracture could have been easily treated," the doctor said. "It was a painful break, so I'm surprised that Sam didn't seek treatment for it. Usually people find this type of fracture incapacitating."

Dean gritted his teeth and tried not to let his guilt show. That explained Sam's odd behavior, his hesitations in the hunt. Sam was hurting, and Dean had been too busy brooding to notice.

"The real problem though is that even though Sam was seemingly able to manage the pain, he continued to use his hand, which only made the injury worse. The bone was never permitted to heal, leaving it susceptible to re-injury and infection. Infections with closed fractures is rare, but so is someone foregoing treatment for this long. Usually the infection starts in other places in the body--something small, that normally wouldn't be a problem, but then the infection attacks the weak part of the body. In this case, Sam's hand."

"Infection," Dean repeated, a little shaky. He swallowed, clearing his throat. "So you give him some antibiotics and he's good, right?"

The doctor's smile was wan and sympathetic. "We've got him started on a strong cycle of antibiotics. But you need to understand, Sam's been fighting this infection likely for a few weeks now. When he re-injured his wrist, he merely expedited the process, giving the infection the upper hand. When an infection is this far advanced, sometimes even antibiotics aren't enough."

Dean just stared. "So what? You're saying he could die?"

The doctor smiled gently. "It's a little early to tell," he said. "But your brother is very ill and bone infection isn't something to mess around with. We'll do everything we can, but a lot of this is up to your brother."

He wanted to believe that Sam could beat this thing, that Sam could beat anything, but he couldn't. Because deep down he knew that he had no idea how Sam was doing. He didn't know if Sam was coping with their dad's death, if Sam was coping with anything. He didn't know if Sam had any spirit left at all to fight with.

That was the thing: he didn't know. He'd spent his entire life looking after Sam, being attuned to Sam, and when Sam had needed him most, Dean hadn't paid any attention.

The doctor patted him on the shoulder, his smile flickering before he drifted away, leaving Dean alone.

Part Three

 

 

 

 

Comments

Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: August 17th, 2007 02:41 pm (UTC)

Good chapter.Update soon.Poor Sammy. He's still feeling guilty,and he's sick and everything else. At least Dean got him to the hospital.I love how bad the brothers' relationship was during the ELaC-CSPWDT era. We had never seen the brothers fight like that before.And Dean did keep hurting Sammy. I'm still mad about the "too little,too" late comment,the punch.Then in CSPWDT,when Sam thinks it's not a real hunt and Dean glares at him, Sammy tells Dean that it's okay to punch him if it makes him feel better.I bet we were getting a lot more off-screen fights between the two.

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: August 19th, 2007 12:46 pm (UTC)
someday

I do feel for Sam in this time period--mostly because all the focus was on Dean and Sam was left to deal with his own problems with no one even looking out for him. It couldn't have been easy and his guilt was heavy. And Dean, though suffering on his own too, didn't make it any easier.

Thanks!

Posted by: pcan (pcan)
Posted at: August 17th, 2007 03:17 pm (UTC)
oh, boys

~huggles them~

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: August 19th, 2007 12:46 pm (UTC)
Re: oh, boys
brothers

They definitely need it :)

Posted by: ヴェレーナ (ongiara)
Posted at: August 17th, 2007 04:09 pm (UTC)
sdj hurt

Nice job on showing the change in Dean and falling back into big brother mode. Hope it wasn't too late for both their sakes ;)

Well done!

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: August 19th, 2007 12:47 pm (UTC)
undone

I do love to see Dean in protector mode, so I usually try to get him there one way or another.

Thanks!

Posted by: Hope Calaris (hope_calaris)
Posted at: August 17th, 2007 06:24 pm (UTC)
Robin Hand

Wow ... my heart broke for both of them. Wish I could say more, but words fleed me while reading.

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: August 19th, 2007 12:48 pm (UTC)
condemned

I'm so glad you feel for both of them! That's what I'm going for--they're both in desperate need of a hug.

Posted by: Dairwendan Mirthmaker (dairwendan)
Posted at: August 18th, 2007 11:34 pm (UTC)

Wow, bone infection! When you set out to hurt the boys you don't mess around! ;)

I'm glad Dean can see that Sam has been trying to back him up. Done his best to keep him safe, and isn't as selfish as he thought.

Looking forward to part 3!

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: August 19th, 2007 12:49 pm (UTC)
wistful

I do pride myself on new and inventive ways to hurt them :)

And I couldn't have the boys be oblivious to each other the entire stories--I think they've suffered quite enough :)

(Deleted comment)
Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: October 14th, 2007 06:32 pm (UTC)
flustered

How did I miss replying to this? I don't know. It's not personal--I'm just completely disorganized. But I had to comment on the mewl. Mewls are AMAZING. I do believe one of the first times I fell in love with the mewl was reading your cat!fic (or, you know, the fic where they lick each other platonically). At least I have this memory of it but I'm pretty tired at the moment so I could be a complete moron.

Thanks!

(Deleted comment)
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