A/N: Thank you everyone for reading and reviewing! I appreciate it so much! For those of you who asked, this is set season one, before Shadow.
The clock's ticking was beginning to drive Sam crazy. The second hand had an odd double tick, the hand would move forward then drop back half a step. It seemed like it was slowly increasing in volume, the tick tick was drowning out the TV, the conversation in the hall, the nurses' voices as they came to check on Dean. The temptation to tear the clock off the wall and destroy it was edging closer and closer to obsession. Sam sighed and stood, walking to the window and looking out at the parking lot. The Impala was gleaming in the rain. An ambulance pulled up to the ER, sirens blaring, but hardly noticeable because of the tick tick behind him.
"I don't know, Dean," he said, turning back to the figure on the bed. "How much do you think they'll charge if I destroy that clock? No one seems to look at it, they all know the time. It's just there—ticking at me."
Sam paced to the door and looked out. The nurses were sitting at their station, one was laughing about something, a cell phone in her hand. He walked back to the bed. "I think I hate the clock, it's ticking away like there's nothing wrong and in case you haven't noticed, everything is wrong." Sam sighed and sank into the chair, putting his hand on Dean's arm. "You can't let a cat named Fluffers take you out. Yeah, okay," Sam answered the unspoken protest. "It was a sorcerer using a cat's body, but the infection is the same as if it were plain old Fluffers." Sam looked up as Stan came in the room, the doctor glanced at the monitors and stopped beside Sam. "How's my brother?"
Stan shook his head and put a gentle hand on Sam's shoulder. "I have a little good news. Since we've been able to back off the sedation, we can pull the vent in a little while."
Sam blinked back the tears that were suddenly in his eyes. "He's getting better?"
"Sam…" Stan sighed. "This has very little to do with the infection and everything to do with the amount of anesthetic we had to give him to keep him down. He's breathing mostly on his own, we just need to make sure…"
"I understand," Sam said quietly. All too well. I know the drill, how many times have I sat here with him? How many times have I waited for him to live or die? How old was I the first time? How many times since…? Sam swallowed. "I…I…" He shook his head. "Sorry," he mumbled.
"It's okay, Sam. I understand, you know. I've been around for awhile," Stan said.
"Yeah," Sam smiled.
"One of the nurses noticed my hair." Stan ran his hand over his head, the hair that had been raven black that morning was now more salt than pepper. "I hope no one tries to make me retire."
"Stan…?" Sam stopped himself.
"I was born in 1887," Stan said with a smile. "Does that answer your question? But, please, don't mention it to anyone."
"I won't. Why would I take a chance at losing a doctor with that much experience? It could come in handy…"
"I bet considering what you and your brother do."
"Yeah. Is Dean going to make it?" Sam got the words out in a rush. Please say yes, Stan. Please.
"Honestly, I don't know, Sam. If he starts responding to the antibiotics, yes. If the fever goes down, yes. Right now I still don't know."
"Yeah," Sam said quietly. "I know. It's just…"
"What?" Stan asked kindly.
"If only I had realized what was happening sooner, maybe I could have…" Sam shook his head. "He always gets delusional when he has a fever. Always. I should have realized this was something different."
"Yeah, the last really bad one…" Sam laughed. "He ended up punching our father, shooting out a door frame and trying to save me from pixies, apparently he thought I'd been kidnapped. And I thought this time was like that, just Dean's usual delusions."
"Why would you suspect differently?" Stan said, pulling a chair over and settling down beside Sam. "Sam, you shouldn't beat yourself up, how could you have known?"
"Because…" Sam swallowed sudden pain.
"It was the summer before I left for college, we'd been hunting…"
"Hunting? Animals?" Stan asked.
Sam smiled. "Sort of. Our family generally sticks to hunting things like Fluffers. We were on our way back…"
The forest was giving way to civilization, the setting sun blindingly hot through the windshield and Black Sabbath was blasting out of the speakers. Sam had his eyes closed, enjoying the warmth on his face, trying to ignore the fact his ears were almost bleeding from the decibel level of the stereo. I'm going to go deaf one day. Or just hear a ringing in my ears. He opened his eyes and looked over at Dean, his brother was singing along with Ozzy, drumming his fingers on the steering wheel in time with the music. The white bandage on his forearm was getting damp with blood.
"Is that still bleeding?" Sam asked.
"What?" Dean looked over at him.
"The scratch? From the tree? Is it still bleeding?"
"The scratch, from the tree," Sam shouted. Dean turned the stereo off half way through so the last three words were shouted into a quiet car.
"What's that Sammy?" Dean asked with a grin.
"Cute. Is the scratch still bleeding?"
"A little. Stings like a mother."
"I'll clean it out again when we get back."
"Thanks." Dean reached over and flipped the stereo back on.
They pulled up in front of the ratty motel fifteen minutes later. Their father's truck wasn't in the lot when they arrived. "Where's dad?" he asked Dean as they got out of the car.
"He muttered something…said he'd be back around seven and he'd bring food." Dean grinned. "Not sure what the mutter was about…If it had been me…"
"Don't even start."
"Dean, I don't care who, what or when, okay?" Sam sighed and opened the door to the room, grabbing Dean's arm and pulling him towards the bathroom when Dean headed towards the bed. "Nope, I need to clean that out before you start on an all night TV marathon."
"But Sammy, 'Monolith Monsters' is going to be on…" Dean glanced at his watch. "In ten minutes."
"I'll be done by then. And how can you stand that movie?"
"People chased by killer rocks? What's not to love?"
"Oh yeah, Dean, scary," Sam said. "Sit."
Dean sat and watched as Sam cut away the bandage. "And after that is 'Tarantula' with John Agar—you know that's one of Clint Eastwood's earliest speaking roles? And then 'Them' which is…"
"One of Leonard Nimoy's early roles, yeah, you might have mentioned that before." Sam looked down at his brother's arm, the scratch was long and shallow running the length of Dean's forearm. "How did this happen?"
"When the tree tried to grab you, it caught my arm." Dean poked at the wound, Sam slapped his hand away. "If I can last till midnight 'Dr. Phibes' is on."
"How many times have you seen Dr. Phibes?" Sam sighed. "I think I'd rather watch 'Spinal Tap'."
"How can you say that?" Dean asked in mock disgust. "I mean, the nurse getting eaten by grasshoppers? Good stuff, Sammy. Hey, that hurts."
"Alcohol usually does."
"No, I mean more than usual." Dean twisted his arm to get a better look at it. "It doesn't look that good, does it?"
"Think you should see a doctor?"
"Yeah, you go ahead and tell dad I need to go to the doctor because of a scratch. I'll just sit here and watch." Dean smiled at him. "Let's wrap it up, the movie's nearly on." Sam smeared antibiotic cream on it and put a fresh bandage over it. "Thanks, Sam." Dean said, dashing out of the bathroom. Sam wasn't even out of the small room before he heard the TV come on.
Their father returned with two large pizzas in hand. He dropped them off and then disappeared to his room muttering about bad Fifties science fiction films. They finished the pizzas and settled in to watch the rest of the marathon. Towards the end of 'Monolith Monsters' Sam noticed his brother was unconsciously rubbing his arm, halfway through 'Tarantula' Sam noticed his brother's cheeks were red and his eyes were a little glassy. Is he getting a fever? Great.
"You know, Sammy? If I ever woke up in that town…I'd probably run screaming from the hotel."
"The one all of these movies are set in. If I woke up there, I would totally freak."
"Right." Sam looked over at Dean. "Are you okay?" He got up and put his hand on Dean's forehead. "You're hot."
"That's what she said."
"Ha ha. I meant fever. How does your arm..." Sam looked down at Dean's arm, his hand was red and swollen. "My god, Dean! I'll be right back." Sam walked quickly to their father's room and banged on the door.
"What?" John asked, opening the door.
"Dean's arm, it looks bad."
"His arm? That scratch?" John walked back into his room and came out with the first-aid kit. "We cleaned it…"
"I know, and I cleaned it again when we got back. It looked red then, but I put antibiotic cream on it."
"Good job, cleaning it again, let's see what's going on. How are you feeling?" he asked Dean as they walked into the room.
"I'm fine, I think the bandage is just too tight," Dean grumbled.
"Yeah." John sat on the bed and poked gently at Dean's arm. "It's fevered. I don't think we should take any chances." He rummaged around in the first-aid kit. "Take these." He handed Dean a bottle of pills. "If it's not better in the morning, we might need to do something more. Keep an eye on it."
"Thanks, dad," Sam said as he walked his father to the door.
"If that fever gets higher…"
"Tie him in bed?" Sam grinned. "Yeah, I know. I'll hide the gun too." Sam closed the door and grabbed a coke for Dean.
"Thanks. I hate taking pills dry." Dean smiled. "Damn, we missed the part in the lab."
"You've seen it before."
"And? Your point would be?"
"Bite me, Dean."
Dean chuckled and leaned back in bed. Sam grabbed his book off the nightstand and tried to ignore the sounds of mayhem coming from the TV. He drifted off to sleep as the sirens started blaring, warning Los Angeles of the approaching giant ants.
"Sam?" the quiet voice broke into a dream. "Sam?" There was a pause. "Sammy?"
"Dean?" Sam opened his eyes, the room was dark, the TV off.
"Sam?" Dean said again, as if Sam hadn't answered. He could hear an edge of panic in Dean's voice.
"Dean?" Sam sat up and turned on the light. He looks terrible. Dean's eyes were closed, his face red. "What is it?"
"Feel bad," Dean said, his voice tight with pain.
Sam was off the bed and to Dean in one motion. He put his hand on Dean's head. He's burning up. "How does your arm feel?"
"What?" Sam pulled the covers down enough to look at the arm without moving it. The bandage was wet, the hand still red, the arm badly swollen.
"Trees, on the walls?"
"There are no trees, Dean. We're at the hotel. It's the fever."
"No. Trees. Laughing at me."
I think we need dad. "I'll be right back. I'm going to get dad." He stood, then stopped and patted Dean's chest. "I'll get an axe for the trees, too."
"Thanks, Sammy," Dean sighed. "Hurry."
It took several minutes for John to answer the banging on his door. "Dean's bad," Sam said, before John could say anything.
"Bad how?" John asked as he followed Sam back to the room.
"His fever is up, his arm is swollen. I think he's hallucinating."
"He gets delusional when he has a fever, doesn't he?" John asked with a gentle smile. "Glad you're here, you deal with that better than I ever could." He slapped Sam on the back as they went into the room. John sat on the edge of the bed. "Dean?"
"Dad, did Sam get the axe?"
"I've got it right here, Dean. You talk to dad and I'll take care of the trees."
"Thanks, Sam," John said quietly.
"They're thickest by the bathroom," Dean said, glancing in that direction with panic in his eyes.
"I'm on it," Sam said. Okay, now that I'm here how do I chop down non-existent trees? He started thumping the wall by the bathroom with his hand.
"Thanks, Sammy, you're getting them," Dean said.
Sam listened to his father's questions and Dean's answers as he pounded on the wall. Sam worked his way around the room. Dean's answers were coming slower and slower. I wonder what's going on. Should a scratch get infected that quickly?
"Dean? Dean?" John's anxious voice brought Sam back from his musings. "Sam!"
"Dad?" Sam hurried to the bed.
"Can you talk to him?"
"Dean?" Sam sat on the opposite side of the bed. His brother turned towards him. "What?"
"Trees said…Feel bad."
"He's said that about ten times," John said, frustration in his voice.
"How do you feel bad?" Sam asked.
"I did ask that," John said sotto voce.
"Dean?" Sam asked, when his brother didn't answer.
"Heart hurts, hand, hot," Dean said. "Trees laughing. There's a black hole thing, trying to pull me down."
"It's the fever, Dean," John said reasonably. "Let the antibiotics work."
"No!" Dean grabbed Sam's arm in a vise-like grip. "It's more. Fix it, Sammy, please," Dean said desperately.
"Dad gave you antibiotics, Dean…" What do I do? How can I fix this? How do I…
"More…They say…sickness…Not fever…" Dean's eyes fluttered closed. "Sick from…Sam, remember the story…"
"Dean? Dean!" Sam shook his brother, then looked at his father. "Dad?"
"Go warm up the car, we're taking him in to emergency."
"Yeah." Sam grabbed the keys and sprinted to the car. He turned on the ignition, listening to the throaty rumble of the engine. What did he mean? Remember what? What were we talking about? Dean? A little more info would be helpful some…Sam turned off the ignition and ran back into the room. "Wait!" he shouted.
"What the hell are you doing?" John asked, he had Dean and was half dragging him out of the room.
"It's like that legend I was telling Dean, dad," Sam said earnestly.
"We'll talk about that later, he needs medical…"
"No, that won't help. It's the residue of the spirit…"
"What?" John said, lowering Dean back onto the bed. "What?"
"The wound, it has a residue from the spirit creature in it, we have to get rid of that—it's the only thing that will work. I remember reading about it in a book of Anglo-Saxon medical lore I found. We need a spell and some herbs to dispel the spirit…"
"What do you need?" John asked quietly.
"Oh my god," Sam said, pausing. Oh my god, what if?
"Sam?" Stan asked. "What happened?"
"It worked, Dean was up the next day." Sam answered without thinking. Could that, would that…? "Stan?"
"What if this is like that? We killed Fluffers, but somehow something got left behind, a spirit infection?" How did I miss that? Oh god, Dean, I'm so sorry.
"Hmm." Stan was quiet. "I've seen them…There was a case in 1923 in…" He looked up at Sam. "I should have seen it." He nodded. "I'll be back."
Sam scrubbed his hands across his face. "I'm sorry, Dean. I should have realized. You might be better off without me." He sighed. "How can I tell you…? Dean, just make it, okay? Killer needs you," Sam said, picking up the plush toy. "The curling championships are over, the yellow guys won. Dean…" He stopped when a nurse came into the room. She checked everything, smiled at Sam and left. "Your feet are a mess, by the way. You might not be able to wear shoes for awhile. They took care of that really deep cut, but they look…Stan?"
"This should work, Sam," Stan said, holding out a coffee mug with a Far Side cartoon on it.
"Thanks." Sam took the cup. "I'll do it. This is my fault…"
"How is it your fault?"
Sam felt the cup trembling in his hands. "I should have realized sooner, I should have been able to stop it before I had to…" He stopped. That won't help Dean. Sam took the spoon Stan offered and started patiently spooning the tea into Dean's mouth.
The dark was finally just that, dark. No screaming voices, no hot blood flowing over him, it was just dark. It wasn't completely silent there was a soft whisper in the back of his head and Sam's voice would drift down and find him now and then. The fever was there, he could feel the heat of it throbbing in his head. The pain had nearly disappeared when it began pulsing through him again. It wasn't the white-hot agony of before, not even bad pain yet, but there was something in the way if felt…Dean suspected the further he moved from the dark the worse it would get. He let himself drift in the dark.
"I don't know, Dean," Sam's weary voice again. Sammy? What's going on? "How much do you think they'll charge if I destroy that clock? No one seems to look at it, they all know the time. It's just there—ticking at me." It's a hospital, Sam, the clock would cost ten bucks at the store, which means here it's about five hundred dollars, right? There was this clock once in this motel room in Texas. I came back to the room and it was ticking and I think I threw it out the window.
Sam was still talking. "You can't let a cat named Fluffers take you out." What was that? Fluffers? Really? Why couldn't it be, I don't know, what was that cat's name? The cool black one? Wolfman? Why couldn't it be that? I'll never live this down… Dean drifted on that indignity for a minute. Just great. Sam will hold that over my head…The dark pulled him away.
The dark was becoming less dark, less velvety, the pain more pronounced. Sam was talking. Dean listened, letting his brother's voice calm the panic stirring in his chest. His hand ached, he was hot, the edges of fever causing a bloody light to filter through his mind. Sammy? Something's still wrong isn't it? Sam? Sammy? The panic exploded in his chest, Sam was still speaking, then another voice, one Dean thought he recognized. Sam sounded sad, desperate, as he spoke to the other person.
Something hard pressed against his lips and something vile dripped onto Dean's tongue. He swallowed convulsively. Another drop and another. Each drop added velvet to the darkness holding him, each drop cooled the heat throbbing through his body, each drop silenced the last of the whispers still screaming in his head, each drop carried him further away.
"Something's happening," the other voice said as Dean drifted away.
"What?" Sam was panicked. "Stan, what?"
Dean tried to stay, to hear what was said, but the soft velvet enveloped him and pulled him into a cool sea.
The sea slowly parted, the dark receded and awareness crept in. Actual awareness, untouched by fever or dreams. Something warm was clasped around his left hand. The warmth registered. Good sign maybe? His hand feels warm, not cool. That's good right? He drifted in the cool dark.
A sigh reached him. Sam. Dean tried to force himself out of the dark. Sam was talking again, it took a minute for Dean to realize his brother was talking to him. The weary sadness in Sam's voice hit Dean hard. He could hear his brother was very close to the end of his ability to cope. Dean clawed his way towards consciousness. As he did so pain blossomed through his body, his hand was still throbbing in time to his pulse. His leg ached deep down, there was other pain, but those two were the focus. He pushed himself further, aware of the feeling of drugs in his body. The dark was trying to pull him down again. "Smm?" he asked. Not sure if I actually said anything. Hmm. Try again. "Smm?" He took a deep breath, his throat was sore. "Sam?" He heard it that time, his voice was rough, raspy.
"Dean?" The hand on his tightened. "Dean?" Sam's voice was full of tears.
"You 'kay?" Dean tried to open his eyes, they were glued closed.
"I'm okay, Dean."
"Here." A straw poked between Dean's lips. He took a tiny sip of the ice water and let it slide down his throat. "More?" Sam asked.
"No. Thanks. Sleep." Dean managed to get all three words out, even as awareness started flowing away. "Leg hurts."
"Yeah, I'm sorry, Dean. I'm so sor…" Sam's voice drifted off into the dark. Dean wondered why Sam was sorry his leg hurt.
It was almost silent the next time the dark sea parted. The soft beeping of monitors and the hiss of oxygen we a backdrop to the silence. Someone was snoring beside him. Dean swam through the dark waters, up and into awareness. Sam's hand was still on his. Dean opened his eyes. The small plush dog Sam had purchased was sitting on the tray, he turned his head, Sam was asleep in the chair beside the bed. His brother looked terrible. Dean could see the lines of exhaustion and despair on Sam's face.
A sound by the door, Dean turned his head. A tall man with salt and pepper hair walked into the room. He smiled at Dean. "Awake?" he said softly.
"Yeah," Dean answered in the same tone. He thought he recognized the man, or at least his voice. "Who?"
"I'm Dr. Olejniczak," he said, glancing at the monitors over Dean's head. "I'll wake Sam."
"No, let him sleep," Dean rasped out. "He okay?"
"Yes," the doctor said kindly. "Exhaustion, nothing more."
"Good. Tell him I was awake." Dean closed his eyes and let the pain meds carry him away again.
The scent of coffee drifted down and pulled him towards awareness. He focused on his body, the fever was gone, the pain in his hand was no longer hot and throbbing. It hurt and the skin felt funny, but it didn't ache the way it had before. His leg hurt, and as consciousness returned, he realized the pain in his leg had the potential to be bad. What happened?
He heard Sam talking to someone by the door. The deep voice of the doctor was answering Sam's questions, a minute later he hard footsteps and the scent of coffee got stronger. I don't suppose he brought me any. He opened his eyes, blinking from the sunlight streaming in. Sam was standing with his back to the bed, looking out the window. Sam's shoulders were slumped, as if he were bracing himself before getting hit. That's not good. "Sam?" Dean said.
"Dean?" Sam snapped around and walked quickly to the bed. "Hey, man."
"Hey. Where's mine?"
"What?" Sam frowned in confusion.
"Coffee? I haven't had any coffee since yesterday." He stopped when he saw the tears spring into his brother's eyes. "Oh."
"Dean…" Sam put his coffee on the tray. Dean managed to get his left hand around it and took a sip. "I'm not sure…"
"Then why did you put it there?" Dean made a face. "It's not really coffee at all."
Sam smiled a little. "Vanilla latte. Dean…I…" Sam looked away.
Oh, that is so not good. What happened? Dean closed his eyes and tried to dredge memories up. Nothing but agony and blood, pain and screams came into view. "Sam? What happened?"
Sam sank into the chair by the bed and put his head in his hands for a minute. He took a deep shuddering breath and looked up at Dean. "What do you remember?"
"The cat bit me…"
"Fluffers," Sam said with a smile.
"Fluffers? Great, I didn't dream that." Dean sighed. I'll never live that down. "I came to the ER, I remember that…You came, I was watching curling…" Dean frowned, the memories were confused after that, curling mixed with demon cat eyes, blood on the walls, screaming.
"Yeah. Blood on the walls, screams, I dreamed I was outside…" Dean stopped, the memories flowing by. "I was cold for a minute…" He tried to focus, then shrugged. "It's all crazy. Fevers, eh, Sammy?"
Sam's shoulders twitched, waiting for the blow. "It wasn't just a fever, Dean."
"Fluffers was a sorcerer…"
"Fluffers? The sorcerer's name was Fluffers?" Even better. What the hell kind of sorcerer is named Fluffers. Sam will never let me live this down.
"Yeah, and you got caught in the spell. The bite was the vehicle, once the fever set in, Fluffers could control you."
"He was the one behind the dreams?" Dean asked, he blinked, Sam was getting blurry.
A twinge in his leg shot pain through his body. He groaned, Sam pressed a button into his hand. "Morphine?" Sam nodded, Dean pushed the plunger and waited for the odd pressure morphine always caused at the base of his skull. Relief spread through his body. The morphine made Sam even blurrier, the need to sleep was forcing itself on him. "My leg hurts, Sammy."
"I know, Dean," Sam said, his voice breaking. "God, I'm so sorry. I…" Sam put a trembling hand on Dean's arm. "Dean…"
Dean's eyes closed. "Sorry, Sam, need sleep…" Why is he sorry about my leg? Sam, we'll talk about this next time. "Coffee…"
"I'll ask Stan if you can have some, Dean…"
"Stan?" Dean asked as he drifted away.
"The doctor, Dean."
The ache in his leg woke him. It hurt with a deep down pain Dean knew was a serious injury. How the hell did that happen? I was in a hospital…A vision of an open field, a small house, a child and a gun suddenly played in his head. He swallowed, the pictures had the intensity of memory. "Sam?" Dean opened his eyes, his brother was sitting in the chair beside him.
"Dean?" Sam looked over at him.
"You been there the whole time?"
Sam smiled. "No, I went back to the motel and took a shower. Gayle sat with you."
"Gayle?" Dean frowned, trying to remember if he knew a Gayle.
"Sorry, she helped me track down Fluffers." Sam looked uncomfortable.
"Fluffers the sorcerer."
"Yeah." Sam looked out the door.
Uh oh, this is going to be bad whatever he's carrying. "Where's my coffee?"
"I was waiting till you woke up. You wouldn't want cold coffee, would you?" Sam stood. "Be right back."
"Hurry," Dean said, watching Sam leave. He shifted a little in the bed. The pain in his hand was almost completely gone. He lifted his arm and looked at it. The hand was still a little swollen, the four dark marks left by the cats teeth were puckered in his finger. More scars. Fun. And not sexy. "How did you get that scar?" "Oh, this one? A cat bit me." Right. She'd run screaming from the bar.
Dean sighed, something was definitely wrong with Sam. He could peg most of his brother's moods and this one looked a lot like "guilt is killing me" Sam. The Sam that rarely appeared. In fact, I haven't seen it since, hmmm, after that hunt in New Mexico when Sam had to…Dean paused, remembering the hunt, remembering what his brother had to do to stop the creature they were hunting.
Sam walked back into the room with a small paper cup in his hand. "Before you say anything, Stan said small coffee only."
"It's probably a latte too," Dean grumbled, taking the cup from Sam's hands. "Nice, not a latte." Dean smiled. "Hey check out my hand. Only those four small marks, not bad. The fever's gone, too."
"Good," Sam said. Dean noticed his brother's hands were shaking.
Okay, that's it Sammy. "How are you?"
"Yeah, you look fine, Sammy." Dean sipped his coffee. Sam glanced at him, looked out the door, looked out the window, glanced back at Dean and started the rounds again. Okay, that's enough, I mean it. If you won't talk. "What happened to my leg?"
Sam looked at him, tears pooling in his eyes. "Dean…" he said in an agonized voice. "Do you remember…?"
"Remember what?" Dean looked at Sam, an image swam before his eyes, bodies on the ground, a voice screaming at him, a small child held against his chest. Dean gasped. "I didn't hurt him?"
"A boy? I remember a child…?"
"Yeah," Sam whispered.
"Sammy, what?" Dean asked gently. Sam put his head in his hands, his shoulders were shaking. "Sam?"
"I shot you," Sam said into his hands.
Sam looked up from his hands, anguish in his eyes. "I shot you, Dean. Oh god, I'm so sorry. I shot you."
"The white light, it stopped the screams. That must have been when you shot me."
"I'm so sorry, Dean. God…"
"Sammy," Dean said. Sam ignored him continuing his litany of "I'm sorry". "Sam? Sammy!" Dean grabbed his brother's arm and gave it a shake. Sam focused on him. "What happened?"
Sam sank down on the edge of the bed, picking at the blanket for a moment. "Somehow you got out of the hospital. Fluffers sent you after the last of the family. We tried to stop you with a dart, it didn't take you down. You made it to the house and one of the boys got in the way. You were going to kill him. Jeff—one of the local police—he was going to shoot you. I'd planned ahead in case anything happened. I had my Sig loaded with hollow points filled with salt and Chrism. The first shot passed through your body, the other hit your leg. It nicked the artery." Sam recited it all in a flat monotone.
"And the rest?" Dean could tell there was more there. He knew his brother well enough to know there was more.
"We got back to the hospital," Sam continued in the same toneless voice. "You woke up during surgery. I…Stan said we should let your heart stop—and it worked, they finished the surgery. You woke up again and were going to kill yourself. I…Stan…" Sam stopped, Dean looked at his brother with concern, Sam was getting ready to break.
"Sammy? I remember waking up, I think. I was in a room, someone put something in my hand. Then you were there, you stopped it."
"I…Stan…We had to…You were sedated. It was…respirator…Sorry, Dean, my fault."
"Your fault?" Dean asked. He could see the cracks slowly pulling Sam apart.
"I should have known it was Fluffers, that these were more than the usual delusions. If I had realized that, I could have stopped you. I…Dean…I shot you."
"Not the first time," Dean said with a smile. "Not including rock salt."
"I took care of Fluffers and you still were…My fault." The cracks widened a little further.
"I…" Sam didn't get any further, he shattered, the tears streaming down his face. "I…" He put his head in his hands and collapsed forward. Dean put his arm around him and held his brother against him while Sam cried. "Sorry, I'm so sorry," Sam repeated. The words became unintelligible as Sam wept softly against his shoulder. Dean held him, aware of tears in his own eyes. I hate that he had to go through this. I hate that I put him in this position. Sometime I hate this life. Sam finally stopped shaking.
"I'm okay, now. That's also your fault, must have done something," Dean said softly.
"I remembered about the spirit infection," Sam said, his voice muffled against Dean's shoulder. He pushed himself up and wiped the tears off his face. "Stan knew a spell. That's what turned the tide. Once that was dealt with you started responding to the antibiotics."
"The doctor knew a spell?" Dean said, smiling at Sam.
"Yeah, well Stan's interesting."
"That's a kind way to put it," the doctor's deep voice came from the door. "How are you feeling?"
"Better. My leg hurts," Dean said, trying to ignore the wince of pain on Sam's face when he said it.
"It will for a little while," Stan said, bending to examine Dean's hand then turning his attention to the leg.
"When can I go?" Dean asked. His brother gave a little strangled laugh that sounded very close to a sob.
"Not for several days. You can't just go through something like this and expect to go romping free the next day," Stan said with a smile.
Sam snorted. "Romping free?" He chuckled, the chuckle became a laugh, the laugh grew until Sam was gasping for breath. He kept mumbling apologies, the laugh growing more out of control.
"Sam?" Dean grinned at the doctor. "You okay there, Sammy?" Sam shook his head, still laughing, tears streaking his face. "This happened sometimes," he said with a shrug. For some reason that increased his brother's laughter.
"I'm okay," Sam hiccupped a few minutes later, gasping for breath. "I'm okay."
Dean put his hand over his brother's. "Are you?"
"Yeah, I think so. You?"
"Yeah. Sammy, I'll be fine." Dean sighed and grabbed the TV remote. "I wonder if anything's on?" he asked as he turned the set on. "Hey, 'Simpsons'. They have the answer to everything, Sammy. You need an answer, the 'Simpsons' have it."
"I'll remember that, Dean, promise." Sam shifted off the bed and into the chair.
"You better, there will be a test later." Dean closed his eyes with a sigh, still aware of Sam's hand under his. It will be easier to live that down than the whole cat thing. He drifted off to sleep with the sounds from the TV.
They released him three days later. Stan wanted to keep him a little longer, but Dean was making enough of a nuisance of himself so that the nursing staff practically cheered when Stan gave him the go ahead to leave. Dean was waiting for Sam to come up with his morning coffee and the release forms. As he waited, he pulled strips of skin off his hand.
"That's just gross," Sam said, walking in.
"It itches." Dean heard the whine in his voice. "And it's peeling."
"That doesn't make it a toy." Sam grinned at him and handed him a coffee.
"Fine," Dean mumbled. "Time to go?"
"Yeah, you ready? The nurse is bringing the wheelchair."
"Good. How long do I have to be in the chair?" Dean said as Sam swung his legs off the bed. "Thanks."
"Stan said a week or two, depending on how well you behave yourself."
"I always behave."
Sam rolled his eyes. "Seriously, you have to be careful."
"I know, Sam," Dean said quickly, hoping to cut off the look of soul deep guilt that appeared in Sam's eyes when discussing the leg wound.
"Ready to go?" Stan asked, coming into the room pushing a wheelchair.
"Oh hell yeah," Dean said, smiling. Sam helped him up, he leaned against his brother for a moment before letting Sam settle him in the chair. "Needs a cup holder."
"I'm driving, you can hold your cup," Sam said.
"I wanted to tell you," Stan said, looking from one to the other. "Someone was asking about you."
"Who?" Dean asked, his heart suddenly pounding against his chest.
"He said he was a friend of the family. He wanted to know how you were. I spoke with him and he left. I thought he was going to come up, but he left." Stan smiled gently. "He looked a little like you two. I suspect he was…"
"Dad," Sam and Dean said together.
"How did you know?" Sam asked.
"I've been around awhile…" Stan chuckled. "I'm sorry he didn't stay."
"Yeah," Dean said softly and looked at his brother. Sam's eyes were sparkling with unshed tears. "Hey," he nudged Sam. "You ready to get me out of here, princess?"
"Yeah, sure," Sam said distractedly, then cleared his throat. He looked at Dean, a grin spreading across his face.
"Oh god, what?" Dean asked as Sam pushed him out of the room and down the corridor.
"I found out Fluffers real name…"
"Oh, do you mean Viktor…" Stan started, Sam cut him off.
"No, Fluffers. That was his nickname." Sam chuckled.
"Oh?" Stan asked, looking at Sam.
Sam pushed the chair out the doors, the Impala was parked in the loading zone. "Yeah," Sam said, still grinning.
"Was he a champion and had one of those cool names?" Dean asked hopefully, knowing that Sam's grin did not bode well.
"Something like that." Sam chuckled as he and Stan helped Dean into the car. He folded the wheelchair and put it in the trunk.
"Yes?" Stan said when Sam came back.
"Sam…" Dean growled
"Fluffer Nufter Tuffkins."
"What?" Dean groaned. I will never, ever live that down. "Shoot me now."
"Keep in touch," Stan said, closing the door.
"We'll be back for Dean's appointment on Friday."
"And we won't lose touch with the only 100 plus year-old doctor we know. Thanks," Dean said, smiling at Stan. The doctor clapped the top of the car and Sam pulled out.
Sam was chuckling under his breath. "It was an evil sorcerer," Dean said indignantly.
"Named Fluffer Nufter Tuffkins."
"You aren't going to let me live this down any time soon are you?"
"If it were reversed, would you let me live it down?"
"Oh hell no," Dean said with a grin.
"Bite me. Bitch."
Dean smiled and leaned back in the seat as Sam flipped on the stereo, "Cat Scratch Fever" blasted out of the speakers. Dean looked over at Sam, his brother smiled back and turned the Impala onto the road.