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In Case of Emergency 3/3

December 29th, 2007 (08:17 pm)

A/N:  Here's the conclusion!  All notes an disclaimers in part one.

PART THREE

There was pain.

It wasn't a conscious thought, but it was the closest thing to it that he could manage.

All he wanted was to go back to sleep, to slip away into the oblivion from which he had come.

"Sam," someone was calling. "Sam, wake up."

He didn't recognize the voice, didn't recognize anything. The voice was quiet somehow, or maybe just far away, buried in the buzzing that surrounded him.

"Sam, can you hear me?"

Hearing wasn't really the problem. Answering was beyond him.

"Sam, we've called your brother."

That got his attention. He tensed, in anticipation, in relief. It was his brother, he needed his brother, his brother was there for him.

But his brother was with his dad. His dad had kicked him out.

Panic rose. So did the contents of his stomach.

"Whoa, he's vomiting."

There was movement now, not by his choice. The bitter taste of bile choked him and tears sprung to his eyes. Hands supported him, keeping his head to the side, cushioning his body in what Sam vaguely recognized as recovery position.

It hurt and burned and it eclipsed Sam's awareness.

When he was able to breathe again, he was on his back and the buzzing was louder now, inescapable.

"Just relax, Sam," the voice said again. "Dean will be here soon."

Sam wanted to protest, he wanted to tell them not to, but he wanted to sleep so much more.

-o-

Dean was barely coherent during the drive. Speed limits weren’t real to him, didn’t apply to him, and he dared any cop, anyone to stop him. He had one focus and one focus only: getting to Sam.

Growing up with hunting had made some things clear to Dean. First, life was dangerous. Things could happen. Security and safety was nothing more than an illusion, a delusion, a fantasy. Only vigilance and preparedness could protect you, and even then, it might not be enough. Dean had seen his father hurt; he’d been hurt himself. He’d heard stories of hunters who had died, and he knew his own family history better than he was ever allowed to talk about.

The second was that family was everything. Family was all there was, all there would ever be. It was the only thing worth fighting for in the end, the only thing truly worthy of pursuit and protection. It came before everything, even his own wants and needs.

So, no matter how mad he was at Sam, he couldn’t just sit around idly while the kid was hurt, maybe dying in some hospital. It wasn’t the Winchester way.

At least, it wasn't Dean's way.

Dean was about an hour out of town before he realized he hadn't told his father anything. That wasn't like him, to forget about his father. He had freedom to do what he wanted, sure, but there were some things necessitated by safety and worry. Dean should have left a note.

He probably should have told him about Sam.

But Dean wasn't sure he wanted to tell him about Sam. At least not until he knew how bad Sam was hurt. He'd let his dad know where he was, but his father had been the one to deliver the ultimatum. Sam had been pushing for years, but it was John who drew the line in the sand. Sam just crossed it. Dean had lived with his father long enough to know that John didn't forgive easily. He'd seen too many friendships and working acquaintances cut out of their lives over far less than going to college.

This was still too fresh. His father wasn't ready--and Dean couldn't take the risk that John wouldn't let him go. John could hold his grudges. Dean's meant nothing in the face of losing his brother.

Foot to the accelerator, Dean drove on.

-o-

"Sam? Sam, can you hear me?"

Sam wanted to groan, to roll away.

"I think he's awake," someone said in passing. "Or he's trying to, anyway."

Furrowing his brow, Sam frowned at that, feeling perverse for reasons he couldn't quite grasp. His head just hurt, everything hurt, and he wanted to go back to sleep. Just for a little bit.

"Sam, can you open your eyes?"

Someone slipped a hand in his.

"Can you squeeze my head?"

Shifting, Sam tried to pull away, his eyelids flickering as he did so.

"Good, Sam," someone coached. "Just a little more."

At least they were polite about it, Sam supposed, remembering the military tone of his father's "requests." The curt orders were always expected to be followed by prompt obedience. He must be getting soft.

Opening his eyes was a struggle, one he regretted the moment he did it. Light flared up, pouring in and blinding him. Something like a whimper escaped his mouth, and he tried to roll away. He was immobilized, though, trapped, stuck.

"Easy," the voice soothed. "You're still strapped to a backboard. We need to rule out spinal injuries. Your friends tell us you took quite a fall."

His memory jogged. A fall. Friends. Football. The football game.

His mind more clearly situated, opening his eyes seemed a bit more relevant. He tried again, this time squinting, prepared for the onslaught of light.

The world was gauzy, blurred and faded around the edges. Nausea crept up the back of his throat, and he tried to swallow it back. The effort was wearing, and tears sprung uncontrollably to his eyes as he tried to move and failed.

There was a hand on his arm now, gentle but restraining. "You won’t be able to move. We still need to take you down to radiology. Do you understand me?"

Sam’s eyes struggled to focus, taking in the sight of the woman by his side. Older than he was, but not old, her hair was some shade of blonde. She was smiling.

"Sam? Can you say something?"

She was asking so nicely, that Sam couldn’t help but want to oblige, despite the pounding in his head. He opened his mouth, but found it dry, his throat strained. He closed it again with a painful swallow.

"You’re at a hospital, Sam," she explained, her voice patient and smooth. "You were hurt. Do you remember getting hurt?"

The pass and the collision seeped into awareness. He nodded almost imperceptibly.

She must have seen it, because her smile widened. "Okay, good," she said. "We’re going to run some tests to see how you’re doing. You took a hard hit to the head and have been in an out of consciousness for a while now."

That surprised Sam. It hadn’t seemed that long—that meant he had missed the game. Had they won? Had he even caught the ball? Where was Eric?

Sam’s eyes were drifting shut, opening and closing sluggishly. The darkness was warmer, easier.

"We’ve called your brother," she said next. "He’ll be here in a few hours."

Startling, Sam opened his eyes, probing hers with a desperate question. "My brother?" he tried to say.

She nodded. "Yes, he was listed as your emergency contact. The severity of your head injury warranted such a call."

He tried to shake his head desperately, pain flaring through every synapse. Dean couldn’t come, Dean shouldn’t come. Dad had told him he had no family, that he had no one left. He’d had to believe it. He couldn’t face Dean—not like this. Dean couldn’t see his weakness. No one could. All Dean would say was I told you so. Sam couldn’t see either of them until he was better, until he was a success, until even they couldn’t be disappointed in him anymore.

She was watching him now, her smile gone, concern evident on her face. "Sam, are you okay?"

Tears burned his eyes now, more than he could handle. The pain in his head spiked and his stomach turned violently. He couldn’t stay awake, he couldn’t do anything—it was just too much, too fast, and he didn’t know how to keep up.

He needed to explain it to her, to tell her to keep Dean away, but his consciousness was waning rapidly now, and as the light disappeared entirely from Sam’s vision, all he could think was how he’d failed again.

-o-

The hospital was easy to find. Dean had been in enough that they all looked vaguely similar, all vaguely ominous, just by the very nature of what being in one usually meant.

He parked the Impala in the first spot he saw, oblivious to the spot’s designation, and hurried toward the Emergency Room entrance.

The admit desk was easy enough to spot. It had a wide counter and seemed to be the hub of activity, nurses and doctors bustling in and out, charts in hands. There was procedure to follow, Dean knew that much, and even the Winchester in him couldn’t avoid that inconvenience.

At the desk, he didn’t wait to be asked. "I need to talk to someone about Sam Winchester," he said, projecting his voice for everyone behind the desk to hear. "Someone called me."

The woman that finally looked up at him was gray-haired and had a weary face. Her hair was pulled back hastily in a ill-becoming ponytail, and she peered at him over the top of her glasses. "And you are?"

"His brother," Dean replied, keeping his anxiety in check.

She rifled through some files with an air of indifference before finally lingering at one. "Yes, we have a Sam Winchester. He’s still being examined."

Dean waited for more expectantly. Patience had its time and place; when it came to information regarding his little brother’s well being, though, patience was not a virtue. "What’s wrong with him? Where’s his doctor?"

"Look, I’m sorry," she said shortly. "You’ll have to take a seat in the waiting room. We’ll send someone to find you as soon as we know anything."

Dean’s jaw clenched, and he struggled to control himself. It went against his instincts, but he didn’t have much else he could do. Not playing by the rules in a place like this could result in his removal, which would keep him from Sam even longer. No, unfortunately his best bet, his only real bet, was to wait.

He paused in the waiting room entrance, taking in the partially filled seats. A handful of people were sprawled about, some looking tense, some looking half asleep. Dean sought out a vacant corner and slunk over. Slouching low in a blue plastic chair, he made himself invisible to the people around him.

Most of the room's inhabitants were like him, quiet, withdrawn, sullen, probably mulling over whoever it was they were waiting for. Dean's mind wandered, thinking about the last time he'd seen Sam. The kid had been grim-faced and angry and scared as hell. His hands had trembled as he held his bag; his small number of possessions painfully light.

Sam had looked at him that night, hopeful and desperate, and Dean hadn't known what to do. He could hear the harsh words, his father's and Sam's, and all he knew was that if Sam walked out that door, he'd never be back.

If Sam walked out that door, it'd ruin them all.

Sam had. And Dean had spent the last few months trying to recover.

Until phone call to brought it all back again.

He sighed, pushing the thoughts away and letting his attention shift to the other people in the room. There were a few boys in the middle section, fidgeting and leafing through magazines, talking amongst themselves.

"You'd think they'd have told us something by now," one of them muttered, sounding more than a little cross.

"We're not even family, dude," another replied. "I'm not sure they'll even tell us anything."

"But you said he hasn't even got family. We have to count for something, don't we?" the first asked.

"Nah, man, he's got family," the second one said. "He's just not on speaking terms with them. But they said they called his brother or something."

At this, Dean perked up, his ears honing in and his eyes darting stealthily to the boys. The one who was speaking was clearly the leader of the bunch. His voice was clear and his looks were solid.

A third scowled in his seat. He was wearing a hat pulled low over his eyes. All three were covered in grass-stained sweats. "I don't see why we have to wait around, then," the third said.

The second one smacked him on the arm. "He's our friend, man," he admonished. "Winchester would do it for you."

Dean didn't have to listen anymore. "Sam Winchester?" he interjected, sitting up and leaning forward.

All three boys looked at him, surprised.

"Yeah," the second said. "What about him?"

"You came in with Sam Winchester?"

He nodded. "And you are...?"

"His brother," Dean said shortly, daring the boys to say anything negative with his eyes. "What happened to him? They wouldn't tell me anything on the phone."

At this, their hesitation and skepticism melted away into guilt.

"What?" Dean asked, prodding them to answer, trying not to feel the panic broiling in his stomach.

"We were playing football," the first one said. "Intramurals."

Dean's stomach flipped. "And?"

"Sam took a bad hit," the second said plaintively, his jaw set tight.

"What kind of bad hit?" Dean ground out, trying to keep the accusation out of his voice.

"It was awful, man," the third kid said, looking pale and drawn. "I could see it happening, but I couldn’t stop it. I couldn’t do anything."

Dean’s patience snapped. "What happened," he demanded again, no longer a question but a threat, his voice low and his eyes piercing.

Two of them shrunk away, surprised at his anger. The third one leveled him with a stare. "The hit Sam took—he was in the end zone, jumping to catch the ball. A defender was in the air, too, trying for an interception. That wasn’t a problem. Nothing out of the ordinary. But the guy below. That guy—he was trying to take Sam out, trying to make him lose his footing. He rammed straight into Sam’s knees. Sam didn’t have a chance."

"What do you mean—he didn’t have a chance? What the hell happened to my brother?"

"He went down," the kid told him simply. "The impact screwed him up—he fell on his shoulders and head." He paused and shuddered. "It didn’t look right, man. And Sam just didn’t get up. Wouldn’t wake up at all. That’s when we called the ambulance."

Dean waited, expecting more, expecting something more dramatic. Winchesters were injured in hunts, by spirits or monsters, but in football? When did Winchesters even have time to play football?

Anger was roiling inside of him, mounting steadily toward a rage he could not place. Rage at the guys who had done this—punk kids who just wanted to win a game. Rage at Sam for being so stupid to get hurt like this. Rage at himself, for not being there to stop it before it happened.

It was so uncontrollable, so strong, that Dean was about to demand the names and addresses of the guys who'd done it, when someone was talking to him.

"Dean Winchester?"

The voice was gentle and vaguely familiar and Dean looked up into the face of a scrubs-clad young woman.

"You're Dean Winchester, right?" she asked.

Dean nodded, shooting to his feet. "Yeah, tell me about Sam. Is he--is he okay?"

"Right now he's being taken up for a few tests--some more scans to check for damage to his head and neck."

"But he's going to be okay, right?" Dean asked, pushing the issues. There was one answer he wanted, and she wasn't giving it to him yet.

"We're still assessing him," she said. "He has a bad concussion, and he hasn't been completely awake yet. Once the doctor has his test results back, he'll talk to about what's going on with Sam. But just know that for now he is stable."

It took a moment before Dean realized he was gaping.

A sympathetic look crossed her face and she put a hand on his shoulder. "I'm sorry," she said. "I wish I could tell you more. It shouldn't be too much longer before the doctor comes to see you."

She lingered, watching him carefully. But he couldn't move, couldn't reply. After a moment, she disappeared back into the hallway, and Dean felt his knees go weak.

He had come fearing the worst. He'd heard a thousand terrible reports in his head as his fears had run wild. He had thought he'd been prepared.

Her words weren't as terrifying as what he'd feared, but they left him feeling empty all the same.

-o-

Someone was doing something around his head.

No, someone was doing something to his head, which might explain the pounding headache that seemed to follow him no matter where he went.

"Sam? Are you awake?"

That question again. Always with that question. He had better things to do--

"Your c-spine looks clear. We're going to remove the collar now," someone explained.

With a wince, Sam felt something around his neck loosen, something around his head disappear. He was rolled suddenly to his side, and all sensation was deadened to the rising nausea.

He was rolled promptly to his back, and he swallowed hard against it, squeezing his eyes shut to quell the increasing urge to vomit.

It took a minute, but when the urge passed, he opened his eyes again to find a plain-faced man looking down at him. "My name's Dr. Lundvall," he explained. "I've been treating you since they brought you in a few hours ago. How do you feel?"

"Okay," he lied. His head was still killing him and his vision was still faded around the edges.

"Any double vision?"

The doctor was hazily outlined in the light, but there was only one of him. "A little blurry," Sam admitted.

Dr. Lundvall nodded, pulling out a penlight. "Can you follow the light with your eyes?"

Sam flinched as the small light flickered to life in front of him, sending new waves of pain through his head. He tracked the movement, though, slow and steady, breathing in relief when the instrument was put away.

The older man picked up a chart then, making some notations. "You're doing much better than you were an hour ago. Your pupils are still a little sluggish, but your responses are becoming much more coherent. I understand this is probably your first conversation since the accident occurred."

Sam couldn't be sure, so he nodded.

The doctor scribbled down another note and put the chart down. "You have a concussion. The swelling in your neck seems to be going down already, but we want to keep you for a bit to monitor the head injury. We can't let you fall asleep for awhile yet, which is why we're laying off the good drugs for what I'm sure is a massive headache. But I think there are some people here to see you--I know your teammates are anxious to make sure you're okay, and I believe Patricia told me your brother has finally arrived."

At this, Sam's heart skipped a beat. "My brother?" he asked, his letters slurring all over each other. "Dean's here?"

Sam's distress went unnoticed. "I'm going to go talk to him then let him come in to see you. Having someone around will help keep you awake, anyway."

"But--" Sam began, his fears and protests lodged in his throat. "Dean's here?"

The man patted Sam's leg awkwardly. "Of course he is," he said with assurance. "Now just relax, and Patricia will check on you in a bit."

Before Sam could think of anything to say, he was alone again.

Feeling defeated, he let his eyes roll back to the ceiling. This shouldn't have happened. He shouldn't have let this happen. If his dad were he, the man would tell him I told you so with relish. More evidence that Sam was a screw-up. He closed his eyes. He just wanted to be alone.

A sound came at the door, and Sam jerked his eyes open, regretting his hasty movements immediately. He'd had concussions before, and he knew what side effects they brought along with them; this one was one of the worst he'd had.

Grimacing, he fought back a wave of unsteadiness and nausea as his eyes focused. There, standing in the doorway, hunched uncertainly in the frame, was Dean.

His eyesight was still sketchy, so it was hard to read his brother's expression. He waited, nervously. It had been months since he'd seen Dean. Months since he'd been kicked out and told never to come back.

"Hey," Dean said finally, shuffling his feet. "I heard you were here."

Just like that, Sam's eyes focused, taking in his brother. Dean looked nervous, but he was trying to hide it, just like his brother always did to avoid showing weakness. Sam's heart started to ache--he had almost forgotten how much he missed him.

Seeing Dean here—it was surreal, painful and yet somehow reassuring. He hated thinking about living without his brother. But his brother had come for him, to help him. His brother still loved him, maybe even forgave him. Maybe Dean even understood. Maybe Sam had been wrong—maybe his family could learn to accept this choice, this part of who Sam was. Maybe there could be a happy medium after all.

A watery smile creased his face. "Hey," he said softly, trying to push himself up on the bed.

Dean eyed his efforts tentatively, moving cautiously to a chair next to the bed. "They told me it's lucky you have a hard head," he said.

Sam laughed a little, awkward and uncertain. "Yeah," he agreed. "Always was a trait of mine."

Tentatively, Dean took a seat. Sam watched him stretch out and try to appear relaxed. "Your friends were pretty worried about you," he said finally.

Sam tensed. "They were out there?"

Dean eyed him appraisingly. "They'll probably want to see you."

Nodding tightly, Sam tried not to look surprised, tried not to show how uncomfortable he was. An awkward silence lapsed. He laughed a little, awkwardly. "I can't believe you came." He glanced up at his brother from under his overgrown bangs.

Dean's own features were taut. "You're still my brother," he said. "And you scared the crap out of me. Getting a call from a hospital like that--I worry enough about Dad, I don't like doing it about you, too."

Something like warmth spread painfully throughout his chest. The love he'd been missing, the family he'd wanted--how close he was and how much he'd walked away from. Maybe now...maybe it could be different. "Dean," he said softly. The emotions built up inside him, so deep and so real that Sam felt like he was drowning. There was so much to say, so much to explain, and he couldn't say any of it. His eyes stung suddenly, and he choked back his words, his apology. He laughed instead. "I'm so tired."

If Dean recognized the lost words, he didn't say anything. "Yeah, well, concussions do that to you, genius."

This time Sam's chuckle was real, ripping through his battered body. "Thanks, Dean," he said when his humor faded. "Thanks for coming."

Dean sighed, sinking back into the chair, the tension finally leaving his body in a rush. "No place I'd be, Sammy," he said, his voice as strong and reassuring as Sam remembered. "Except for maybe with that nurse down the hall. I didn't know they made scrubs that tight."

The joke was familiar, routine, so Dean, that Sam couldn't help but join in the act. "Then maybe you should go see her," Sam suggested. "You know, just so you don't lose your touch."

With raised eyebrows, Dean just looked at him. "Me? Lose my touch? I think you've been hit on the head a little too hard there."

"Then prove it," Sam challenged, just like when he was a kid.

Dean snorted. "I can't just leave you alone," he said. "You'll fall asleep."

Sam rolled his eyes, forgetting the pain in his head. "I'll survive five minutes, man."

Dean seemed to consider that, shrugging his shoulders lightly. "Well, then, maybe five minutes. I could use some coffee anyway. I don't think I really got much sleep last night and driving sort of did a number on me."

"Okay," Sam said.

Pushing himself out of his chair, Dean's eyes lingered on Sam a moment longer. "You sure you're okay?"

"Yeah," Sam assured him, hoping his voice sounded stronger than it felt. "I'm sure."

At that, Dean nodded shortly before heading out the door.

-o-

The coffee sucked and there really wasn't a cute nurse, but Dean didn't care. It didn't matter. Because Sam was listening to him, Sam was okay. All he had to do was let the kid know it was okay to come back and everything would go back to how it was. It would be like the last four months didn't happen.

He was humming when he came back in Sam's room, plopping comfortably in the chair. "The coffee here--is impressive," he said with a knowing nod. "We got to bust you out of this place."

Sam looked a little warily at him. "I'm sure," he said. "Typical Winchester family tradition. Leaving before they can catch you with a bill."

Dean grinned widely. "You haven't forgotten that much."

Sam just rolled his eyes.

"So," Dean said, leaning back in his chair. "Did you finally see the light?"

Sam looked at him, perplexed, through his bangs. "What light?"

"The light that says this life isn’t for you, that says you’re better off with people who can take care of you."

Dean’s tone was light, his mood jovial. He wasn’t in the mood to rub his little brother’s mistakes in his face; he just wanted the kid back where he belonged.

The look on Sam’s face, though, was hardly one of repentance and growth. He stared at Dean blankly. "Are you serious?"

"Sure," Dean said with a shrug. "This just proves how pointless this all is. Getting hurt playing football? Where's the value in that? When you could be saving lives, helping your family."

Sam's eyes flashed with anger and hurt. "Dean, this is my life." The words were choked and defiant.

Dean cringed.

It was happening again, he was losing Sam just like before. Only this time, Dean didn’t want to keep his mouth shut. This time, he didn’t want to tell Sam it was okay by his silence. This time, he had a voice, and he wanted it to be heard.

"You really still can't see how much of a waste this is? How much more we need you? You really want to waste your time on this?"

Sam shook his head, looking desperate. "Dean, why don’t you get this?"

"Get what?" Dean snapped back.

"Get that this is what I want."

"Yeah, well, I want us to be a family," Dean pointed out, crossing his arms across his chest indignantly.

Sam looked hurt, his eyes wide. "We are a family. Me being here doesn’t change that."

"No, family is about sticking by each other, watching each other’s back."

"No, family is about putting the other person's needs and wants above your own."

Dean actually snorted at that. "Just like you, Sammy? The selfish one who ignored what both his dad and brother needed and did his own thing anyway?"

Sam’s face fell and his shoulders sagged. "Dean," he said, his voice quiet. "I felt like I was suffocating back there. All the training, all the hunting—it was just too much. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t do it and be happy. If I would have stayed, I would have been miserable. Don’t you understand that?"

"Yeah, I understand," Dean said coldly. "I understand that we weren't enough for you, right, Sammy?"

"No, Dean, I wasn't enough," Sam seethed back. "I never was. I wasn't enough for dad--not a good enough hunter, not obedient enough, not quick enough. Nothing I did was enough. I wasn't enough for you--for all you protected me, Dean, you never told me it was okay to want more, you never understood that I needed more. Hell, I probably wasn't really good enough for Mom--not really worth dying for. It's what I've seen in Dad's eyes for years now, but no one will say it. I'm not enough, and I never will be. I can't please you, I can't please Dad, so I have to try to do something for myself."

The speech was wearing, and Dean watched as Sam sagged back when it was finished. He stared at his brother, stunned and hurt, before his jaw clenched. "I always looked out for you," Dean said back. "You were always my priority, and I protected you from Dad more times than you even knew."

Sam blinked slowly, sleepily from his bed. "I know," he said. "I just don't always want to be protected. I want to be supported."

It was too much. After all he'd done for Sam, after all the years he'd spent making sure Sam was happy and okay, and Sam told him that he wasn't supported? Anger pulsed in his veins and Dean suddenly sympathized with his father. Sam certainly did know how to push the right buttons. "And who was there at your high school play?" he charged, pushing out of his seat and pacing the room. "Your graduation? All those events--I was there, Sam. Don't say that I wasn't."

Sam deflated more, letting his head loll against the pillow. "So, why can't you understand this?"

Dean turned away again, disgusted. "What? You turning your back on me?"

"I'm not...," Sam's voice trailed off. "I never wanted..."

Dean looked back at his brother, finding the kid with his head turned away from him. "You never what? Wanted to hurt me? You left, didn't you?"

Sam's chest hitched, his head rolling back toward Dean. "I just...I wanted both...," he said, his words slurring now.

Dean's anger simmered as his concern spiked. He could be angry with the kid, undoubtedly, but in the end, his need to protect him would always surface on top. "Sam?" he asked, moving cautiously toward Sam's side.

Sam's eyelids cracked open then slid shut. "...ssssorry...always was the bad son..."

Leaning forward, Dean put a hand on Sam's. "Sam? Sammy?" he called.

Sam mumbled something unintelligible, turning his head away once again.

Dean was no doctor, but he knew that sudden sleepiness after a head injury was never a good thing. Sam would certainly be tired, but not to the point where he was drifting off in the middle of sentences. Not to the point when he wouldn't wake up.

Shaking Sam's arm, he called again. "Sam! Sam, wake up."

This time he garnered no response.

For a painful second, Dean froze. He had thought that his worst nightmare was Sam leaving. He'd replayed that night Sam walked out in his mind a thousand times, thinking of things to say to make him feel guilty, of things to say to make him feel okay, of things to say to make him stay.

He was wrong, though. That wasn't his nightmare. This was it--everything he'd ever been afraid of. He'd give anything for Sam to be alive and happy if it just meant that Sam was alive, period--even if it wasn't with his family.

He came to life, sprinting out of the room. "Hey!" he screamed into the hallway. "Hey, my brother needs some help!"

The blank stares he received were hardly comforting, but then he saw a face he recognized--wide brown eyes and a soft face. "Dean?" Patricia asked, her hand on the stethoscope around her neck. "Dean? What's wrong?"

"Sam and I were talking--and now--now he won't wake up--" he tried to explain, grabbing her arm and pulling her into the room.

She followed, her brow creased. Once inside, she brushed past him, moving to Sam's side. With sure and gentle hands, she reached down, jostling Sam's shoulder. "Sam? Sam, can you hear me?"

Just as before, there was no response. Dean chewed his thumbnail nervously, waiting for some kind of information, from some kind of response from Sam.

A frown crossed her face and she took her fist, rubbing her knuckles across Sam's sternum.

This time the response was marginal, but hardly coherent. Sam's hands flailed a bit, his head shift, and a moan escaping his lips. It took everything Dean had not to rush to his brother's side.

Patricia's eyes flicked upward toward the monitors, and she turned toward the door.

"What's wrong?" Dean asked, snagging her arm. "What's wrong with him?"

"I need to get Sam's doctor," she explained, her voice too calm, too composed. Her eyes were sympathetic and professional, and Dean felt his heart fluttered. "Please, let me do my job."

There was a small voice in Dean's head that begged to be able to do his job, to take care of Sammy like he'd always done, like he'd always been ordered to do.

But seeing Sam so prone, so unmoving, left him unnerved, and he could not resist as he was pushed out into the hallway.

He lingered in the door, watching, hoping, praying unconsciously. There was another nurse now, and a doctor, leaning over Sam, talking to him, talking to each other.

"SATs are in the 70s," Patricia said. The head of Sam's bed dropped flat and Sam didn't flinch.

The doctor's brow furrowed. "Renee, get me a number eight ET tube."

Movement swirled, steady and knowing. Positioning himself, the doctor tilted Sam's head back, opening his mouth easily with one hand.

It was Dean who had to flinch at what they put in Sam's mouth, and he grimaced when the tube was threaded down Sam's throat. Because throughout it all, his strong, defiant brother, let it all happen, didn't even attempt to fight back. Sam was many things, but he'd never been the type to roll over for anyone else. He would fight as long as he had breath left in his body.

Dean swallowed hard against that thought.

Patricia was squeezing a bag now, one attached to the tube in Sam's throat. The doctor was listening carefully to Sam's chest, moving the end of the stethoscope which each breath forced into Sam's lungs.

Dr. Lundvall said something softly to Patricia, who nodded back, and then the doctor went on examining Sam. Dean watched numbly as the man checked Sam's pupils, rubbed a fist across Sam's sternum. He waited for his brother to respond, to do something, but the response was minimal. With a creased brow, Dr. Lundvall made a notation on Sam's chart before turning back to Dean.

"What's wrong with him?" Dean all but demanded, his chest tight and his eyes stinging.

The doctor held out a placating hand. "Sam's oxygen levels fell low; we're not sure why."

Dean's face screwed up in confusion. "You're--you're not sure why? What does that mean? You're a doctor."

The man nodded patiently. "Head injuries are tricky things," he explained. "We're going to take him up for a CT scan to see if we can rule some things out. In order to help restore his oxygen levels, we did intubate him."

"That's the--that's the tube, right?" Dean's incredulity was barely contained.

"Yes, we put a tube in his throat and hooked him up to a ventilator to restore his oxygen levels. They've already rebounded."

"When will he wake up?"

"It's hard to say for sure," Dr. Lundvall explained. Before Dean could ask another incredulous question, the doctor continued, "I do believe at this point that Sam will wake up. While he is somewhat comatose at the moment, he is showing some purposeful movements, which is a good sign. We'll know more after the tests. Now, please, you need to leave for a moment while respiratory gets the vent set up."

Just like that, Dean found himself back in the waiting room. This time, however, he didn't get his privacy.

"Dean," someone said, moving toward him eagerly. "Dean, hey. What's going on with Sam?"

Dean looked up, almost surprised. He recognized the boy looking at him from before. One of Sam's friends.

"Dean?" the guy said. "Come on, man, I've been waiting here for hours. Bryce and Adam went back to the dorm. But I needed to know."

Shaking his head, Dean said, "Who are you again?"

The guy looked a bit exasperated. "Eric. I'm Sam's roommate."

Dean nodded absently, but he couldn't bring himself to speak.

"What’s wrong?" Eric asked, and Dean could feel the younger man’s eyes studying him. "Did something happen to Sam?"

There was compassion in Eric’s voice, but Dean didn’t want that. He didn’t need it. "It’s none of your business," he said shortly, moving to brush past Eric for some privacy.

Eric didn’t budge, moving himself purposefully into Dean’s path. "Wait a second," he said. "Yes it is my business. I’m Sam’s roommate, he’s practically been my best friend for the last month or so."

Dean turned icy eyes to the college boy. "Yeah, well I’ve been Sam’s brother for his entire life."

Eric didn’t even flinch. "Then his brother shouldn’t have cut all ties with him for going to college."

The iciness turned to rage just like that, and without thinking, Dean was charging Eric, flinging him hard into the wall and getting into his face. "You know nothing about my family."

A few people were watching them now, uncertainly, but Dean ignored them. So did Eric. "Well, you must know nothing about Sam to do that to him."

Dean’s hands trembled, still gripping Eric’s shirt. "And you think you know my brother so well?"

Eric scoffed. "I know that your brother is about the nicest guy around. He’d do anything for anyone if they just asked. And college, man—it means everything to him. The time and energy he puts into it—it’s almost scary devoted. And I know your brother wants more than anything else for his family to support him. I don’t even know how he does it. Manages the grades he pulls without any support whatsoever."

Dean’s hands loosened and his anger became tinged with fear. He shook his head. "You don’t know us."

Eric shrugged. "Maybe not. But what does Sam want that’s so terrible? A life of his own? A little freedom? He told me you didn't get it." Eric shook his head in disbelief. "I thought he was nuts. Any family would want that in a son. Hell, my parents would trade me in for Sam Winchester in a second. And you treat him like a stupid runaway dog that doesn’t know what’s best for him."

His hands dropped to his sides and Eric straightened his shirt, his face set with anger. Dean shook his head. "There's a lot of things you don't understand," Dean told him in a low voice. "One thing you need to know is that Sam's my brother, and that means more to me than just about anything else. Leaving was his decision, and he made it without thinking twice, without looking back. He's the one that walked out, not me."

Eric's look didn't waver. "He doesn't deserve this," he said.

Dean gave an incredulous chuckle. "Yeah, well, neither did I."

Before Eric could reply, Dean retreated to a chair, lowering himself into it to wait. After a moment, the younger boy returned to his own chair, turning himself purposefully away from Dean, but clearly having no intention of leaving.'

The action made part of Dean angry. What right did this guy have--who was he to stay around and wait for Sam. He wasn't family, he wasn't anybody. He was just some spoiled college kid who Sam had gotten stuck with. He meant nothing. He knew nothing.

But in all the angry words, in all the accusations, Dean could see past his own ego to see that Eric cared, that Eric knew something about Sam that he didn't.

That didn't mean he was right. What Eric didn't know, what Eric would never know, was what they did and why they did it. He wouldn't know about spirits and demons and things that go bump in the night. He wouldn't know that they only way the Winchester men survived was by being together, sticking together, and that was the trust that Sam had violated. No matter what his reasons, Sam had done the one unforgivable thing. He'd put himself first, above his father, above his mother, above the good of other people, above the brother that had given everything to Sam.

All Sam wanted was to go to college. All Dean wanted was for Sam to stay. One of them would end up crushed, and Sam had chosen to save himself once and for all. That hadn't changed and wouldn't change, and if Sam survived this, Dean knew they'd be right back where they began.

-o-

He'd been scared before, when he first got the call and when he first saw Sam laid out in the hospital, but the fear now was bitter and laced with a guilt he couldn't deny.

His brother's bed was flat now, and Sam was prone upon it. He still sported the IV and the monitors, but now a tube was strapped to his face, snaking its way up over Sam's head to someplace behind him.

Patricia lingered in the doorway. "It's not as bad as it looks. Remember, it's not a coma. He may even be able to hear you, he may just take awhile to wake up."

Dean nodded tightly and waited for the sound of her footsteps to retreat into the hallway before he approached Sam's bed again.

Sam still hadn’t moved, nothing except for the rise and fall of his chest, which seemed wrong now.

Everything was wrong. It was wrong that he hadn't talked to Sam in four months, that he'd missed that much of his brother's life. It was wrong that Sam had gotten hurt in such a normal, mundane way. It was wrong that their dad wasn't here, probably wouldn't be here, even if Dean wasn't too scared to call him. It was wrong that Sam had been afraid to ask Dean to come here, even more wrong that Sam still wanted to stay.

It was all wrong. All of it. They needed each other, but neither knew how to find the compromise to get them there. They could never be family, not like they had been, not when John's orders rested firmly on both their heads: walk out that door and you never come back.

Sam wouldn't come back. And Dean wouldn't be able to bring him home, not because Sam didn't love him, but because Sam had been forced into a corner, and he had no options left. They each needed what they needed, disparate though those things may be, and sometimes there was no compromise, not in their father's stark world of black and white.

Dean would always love his brother. His brother would always love him. But Dean couldn't do this. He wouldn't do this. He'd spent too many years in the middle, running interference, hoping for some miraculous bonding that never came. Would never come. Some things weren't for him to fix, and this was one of them. There was no neutrality in a war, and he'd been kidding himself to think that the battles between John and Sam were anything less than that.

Either he could stay here with Sam, and leave his father and hunting behind. Or he could go back to his father, and leave Sam to his normal life and his normal friends.

It was time for Dean to take sides. Not because he wanted to, but because he couldn't do anything else.

There were no words he could say to Sam to make his brother change his mind. There were no words he could say to his dad to move him from his position. All Dean could do was stick by one of them, make his choice, and learn to move on.

He looked at his brother, young and youthful and determined. Sam had made his choice. A choice that took him away from Dean.

He remembered his father, hurt and stubborn, but human. His dad. Their bond was growing stronger; Dean had so much left to learn.

With a sigh, Dean knew in the end there was no other option. He was a hunter, through and through. It was who he was, who he’d always wanted to be. He couldn’t walk out on that, no more than he could walk out on the father he’d depended on, he’d tried to please entire life.

He’d just have to keep Sam safe from a distance.

Placing a gentle hand on Sam’s head, he let his fingers run through Sam’s hair, remembering younger times, simpler times, when this was all he’d cared about.

He didn’t know when he’d get to do this again. If he’d ever get to do it again.

"Sorry, Sammy," he whispered. "You made your choice. I have to make mine. I’ll always be here for you, but I can’t stay here. No more than you can come back with me."

It was the first time Dean had really ever understood--about himself and about Sam. For as much as he loved his brother, they were different people on different paths. Dean could only hope that someday those two worlds would bridge, that someday their father would let them bridge.

Until then, this was how it had to be. Making sure Sam was okay, nothing else. Once Sam was awake, once he was well--then Dean would have no reason left to stay.

With a sigh, he sank into the chair next to his brother's bed and began to wait.

-o-

He awoke to the sound of movement. Nothing too frantic, just subtle sounds of a struggle.

Rubbing his eyes, Dean remembered where he was, his eyes snapping fully open to check on his brother.

His little brother was still on the bed, still with the tube down his throat, but he was moving now. More than that, Sam's chest was heaving, his arms flailing in distress.

For a brief second, Dean feared the worse--that Sam had taken some tragic turn, that Sam was going to die after all of this. Then, he realized Sam's eyes were open.

Sam was awake.

Dean was almost standing when Patricia came back in. "I heard the vent alarm go off," she said, going to Sam's side. A smile brightened her face as she looked down. "Hey, guess who's up?"

At this, Dean tensed, afraid to be hopeful. "Is he...is he okay?"

Patricia ignored his question, instead leaning over Sam. "Easy, Sam," she soothed. "You have a tube in your throat to help you breathe. The doctor should be coming and when he does we can talk about taking that out."

Dean watched as Sam's wide eyes turned, strickened, upon her. There was pleading there, and confusion, and probably pain--things he never wanted his brother to feel. Things he couldn't prevent Sam from suffering.

With a smile, Patricia ran a hand through his hair. "Just relax and let the vent do its thing, okay? You're going to be just fine."

It was a struggle for Sam, but Dean saw him attempt to comply, and it amazed Dean how much his brother could endure, how much he would endure if someone only asked him.

Dr. Lundvall promptly arrived, brushing by Dean to Sam's side. As the doctor spoke in low, soothing tones, Dean felt himself shrinking back until his back was against the wall. The doctor was coaching Sam, having him cough, and Dean saw the tube get expelled, leaving Sam heaving and gasping in its wake.

"There you go," the doctor said. "You're going to be raw for awhile. Do you understand?"

Even from his spot, Dean could see his brother nod.

Dean listened to the exchange that followed, a series of questions and tests, all of which Dean knew were to gauge if Sam had suffered any damage. He listened carefully to the answers; though his brother's voice was strained, the answers were clear and coherent, and Patricia glanced back at him, a reassuring smile on her face.

Sam was okay. His brother was fine.

That was all he needed to know. It still felt like he was dying, slowly and painfully, but he'd do it anyway. He'd do it anyway. He survived once, he'd do it again.

Resolved, he walked away from Sam's room, ready to move on.

-o-

It was several minutes before Sam remembered his brother. The world had been a mess of sensations and voices, and it took all his focus just to answer the doctor's questions. His throat felt worse than it ever had, and his headache had yet to abate. It was like he'd been thrown against a wall by an angry poltergeist, and it took him long enough to remember that it'd been nothing more than a football game.

A football game that gave him a serious concussion and probably a bruise to the brain for whatever that was worth. A game that had brought his brother there.

Dr. Lundvall had left, signing his chart with a grin, and Patricia was adjusting a few monitors when Sam realized that Dean should still be here. His brother was always there when he got hurt, always there when he woke up. And they hadn't been done with their conversation.

"Where's my brother?" he rasped.

She looked at him, cocking her head. "She was just here a minute ago," she said. Then she frowned, glancing around the room. "He must have stepped out. Do you want me to find him for you?"

Sheepishly, Sam nodded his head. Being at college didn't change the fact that he wanted his brother there. Nothing would change that, no amount of pride.

She smiled. "Just give me a second, hon."

He watched her go, a weak smile on his face. Dean had come. His brother had dropped everything and left. Despite the fact that they didn't see eye to eye, there had to be a way to make this work. Sam wanted that more than anything--college and his family. Or at least Dean. Dean was at least willing to listen, so maybe someday Dean would understand.

That didn't mean that Sam wouldn't have to apologize. He'd hurt his brother--that much had been apparent. His brother felt just as betrayed as Sam did. If it meant getting Dean back in his life, that was an apology Sam was willing to give.

The door opened and Sam straightened eagerly. His shoulders fell when he saw Patricia there. She looked confused. "I could have sworn he was right there," she said. "He was in the room when you woke up, while the doctor assessed you. Maybe he went down to the cafeteria for a bite to eat. I'm sure he'll be right back."

But Dean wasn't at the cafeteria, Sam knew that. Dean wasn't anywhere in the hospital. Dean was gone. Gone back to the hunt, back to dad, back to the life Sam had left.

"When I see him, I'll let him know you're looking for him. Your friend, though--the one who came in with you. He's still here. He'd like to see you."

Sam nodded absently, barely hearing her. He didn't notice her leave the room--he was too numb to notice.

His brother had been here, and now he was gone. Left, just like Sam left. There wouldn't be a compromise. Injuries were the only way to break the distance. Unless Sam was dying, he might as well be dead already as far as his family was concerned.

Gritting his teeth, Sam tried not to cry. He should have seen this coming. He probably deserved this. His dad hadn't been lying that night--leaving meant he wasn't one of them any more. Sam had made his choice, and he couldn't really blame Dean for making his.

Damn it all if it didn't hurt even worse this time.

He was surprised when the door opened again, even more surprised when he saw his roommate standing there. Eric was smiling, big and awkward. "Winchester, they finally let me come see you," he said.

Sam smiled back, or tried to, but the action left him feeling empty.

Edging closer to the bed, Eric scratched the back of his head. "So, how you feeling?"

"Okay," Sam lied, more by rote than anything else.

"Quite a hit you took," Eric commented with a nod. "Freaked us all out."

"Sorry," Sam apologized.

"For what? Winning the game for us?"

Sam looked up at this, surprised. "I caught the ball?"

Eric snorted. "Caught it and held it all the way down, even when you were out cold, man. It was damn impressive if I do say so myself."

The praise seemed faint in light of his loss, nearly insignificant. But the look in Eric's eyes, the relief in his voice--Eric wasn't family, Eric wasn't Dean, but he cared about Sam.

He had nothing else to build on except that--what little he had at college was all he had left.

It would have to be enough.

 

Comments

Posted by: Becky (ewanspotter)
Posted at: December 30th, 2007 04:28 am (UTC)
SPN John

Aw, boys. Lovely story.

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: January 15th, 2008 02:37 am (UTC)
dazed

They're so angsty. Thanks :)

Posted by: Ruth (just_ruth)
Posted at: December 30th, 2007 04:39 am (UTC)
Witch's Moon

Oh, wow, this was good. Very painful, you make their viewpoints very clear and you work well within them.

Nice job!

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: January 15th, 2008 02:38 am (UTC)
sam v. air conditioner

Showing both viewpoints was very important to me--so I'm glad they were both believable.

Thanks!

Posted by: ash48 (ash48)
Posted at: December 30th, 2007 08:12 am (UTC)

I enjoyed this - I love that Sam played football and of course he would be awesome at it. I liked Eric - I'm sure Sam would have made some good friends in his time away. Great Dean here too - both had to let go and they did. *sniff*

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: January 15th, 2008 02:40 am (UTC)
shiny

I think Sam could excel at most anything he tried at. He just sort of has that way about him.

It was so hard to write this--Dean walking away--but it had to be.

Thanks!

Posted by: percysowner (percysowner)
Posted at: December 30th, 2007 04:38 pm (UTC)

What a great look at both Sam and Dean at this juncture of their lives. You did a great job of showing both their POV's and showing how hard the decisions they made were. I love the fact that you appreciate the fact that Sam leaving for college was not in and of itself a selfish decision. John's ultimatum was unreasonable. Dean choosing to stand by John's ultimatum in this story is believable, but still so unfair to Sam and to Dean himself. You did a great job portraying a complex situation. Thanks for sharing.

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: January 15th, 2008 02:42 am (UTC)
bruised sam

This period of their lives is so hard to think about--because they were at such opposite sides of things with nothing to join them together.

I have never believed Sam was selfish for going. He had to go, and if Dean didn't recognize that, then I really think he didn't know his brother as well as he thinks. It was part of Sam was and to keep him would have killed that in Sam. Which is why I'm sad he's given it up--I feel like we have lost something of Sam because of that.

Thanks!

Posted by: sendintheclowns (sendintheklowns)
Posted at: January 2nd, 2008 03:15 am (UTC)
Failure

Of course I adore the scene where Sam grays out on Dean and big brother can't wake him up. ER has nothing on you.

I love that Eric gave Dean a piece of his mind. I know it makes for good family drama but it truly is mind boggling that no one in Sam's family was happy for him to continue his education...on scholarship...to freakin' Stanford no less!

Dean finally understands a little bit of the struggle it's been for Sam to break away but I must say his response, leaving Sam at that moment, leaves a lot to be desired. You can see how much Dean loves him but it also explains a little bit why Sam is as strong as he is...he had to be to survive.

Another wonderful effort, my dear!

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: January 15th, 2008 02:42 am (UTC)
eye roll

I loved writing Eric. Him giving it to Dean was very therapeutic :)

Thanks!

Posted by: noirbabalon (noirbabalon)
Posted at: August 18th, 2008 04:57 am (UTC)

here from a rec by krazykipper at spn_themes. The voices for the boys just ring so true in all of this. Their anger and pain at each other, themselves, John.

Poor Sam, trying to make friends and hanging by his finger nails to what he has left...is all that he thinks he has left.

And Dean desperately bonding with John over the loss of his driving reason, Sammy.

Makes me ache to think of this period in their already painful lives.

Thanks for sharing.

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: October 22nd, 2008 02:29 pm (UTC)
bad day

I'm so behind...but I just wanted to say thanks. The Stanford era was surely one of the hardest and most misunderstood time for all three Winchesters.

Posted by: Mandy (a_phoenixdragon)
Posted at: October 13th, 2008 10:33 am (UTC)
Winchesters

Dammit!! *Cries* Dean should have said something to him when he woke up - anything!!

Those poor broken boys...and how I luvs them!! This was sheer perfection dear!! Thank you so much for sharing!!

*Cuddles*

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: October 22nd, 2008 02:30 pm (UTC)
needs a hug

Awww, Dean did what he needed to do. And I do like the idea that Sam wasn't the only one to choose this separation. Dean made his choices the same as Sam did.

Thanks :)

Posted by: The Anti-OTP (snowpuppies)
Posted at: September 19th, 2011 01:45 am (UTC)

*sobs*

Poor boys. *smishes them*

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: September 22nd, 2011 01:43 pm (UTC)
bloody hero

Thanks :) Preseries fic always makes me want to hug them.

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