Disclaimer: I own nothing, and I write for pleasure not profit.
As Sam stared down into Damnation made real –
into the mouth of Hell,
a place that had broken his unbreakable brother,
– he understood with perfect clarity that he had literally doomed the world.
He understood, too late, that he'd made all the wrong decisions.
Instead of trusting himself into the care of the one person who was the source of all the good in his life, he'd unknowingly surrendered to the evil that had stalked and condemned him since before his birth.
Sam may have been destined to do this horrific thing, but he'd also had the option of choosing a different destiny. He'd been given a chance to find the right path. A single chance that was embodied in Dean.
And he had turned his back on his older brother again and again, in ignorance, because of fear and pride.
Dean held the keys to his salvation, in his love and protection, his sheer devotion to and faith in his family instead of himself.
And still words fell short. They couldn't encompass what Sam now saw so clearly.
Dean wasn't just his older brother. He'd been ordained as Sam's Guardian. They'd always known they had roles to play, known they were more than brothers. Dean was Sam's father in many ways, his companion, his comrade-in-arms, his anchor, his home. Sam had fought, fought hard as he'd been taught. Unfortunately, he'd also fought against Dean.
In his stubbornness, he'd walked alone down a path that no single man could conquer. But together, Dean and he, they could have done it. They could have made it to the end; they could have survived with their souls intact.
Sam had been ignorant. He'd panicked and pushed, and he only managed to cut himself free from his parachute. For a long time, he'd been freefalling out of control, and this was the result.
"It was your feather, Dumbo."
Ruby. He'd given trust to Ruby instead of Dean. It had all made sense at the time, but now, as he stood there, bathed in the light from the Pit, he could hardly fathom what had led to that choice.
Betrayal. From his father. From Ruby. From the angels. From his faith. But more painfully, he'd betrayed himself. The hallucination of himself as a teenager had been right. What the hell had happened to him? It had all gotten so confusing, but his younger self would never have made this mistake. His younger self still knew how to trust and have faith, knew how to ask for help and lean on his family when he was too weak, and that was the only thing that could have saved him.
Suffering. He'd suffered. Dean had suffered. His father. Their friends. Now the whole world would suffer beyond imagining. And the worst of it was, it wasn't punishment. It was just cold consequences. The punishment would be worse and more personal, Sam was sure. Death. Loss. There were worse things. And they were all about to rain down on him.
…lay in ruins.
So as Hell rose up to engulf him at last, regret overpowered all else. Regret, not for himself – he really had earned this – but for Dean. Dean didn't deserve it. Didn't deserve Sam. Dean hadn't failed. Sam had. It was all Sam.
Pushed around by beings more powerful than any mortal, he'd been a tool. Allowed himself to be a tool. A tool used not only against the world, but also against his brother. Hell had broken Dean, maybe, but Sam was the only thing that could destroy him.
They were both destroyed. Lucifer was rising.
If he could go back and rip his life away at the moment of his birth, he would have, but he didn't have that power. Besides, Dean had fought himself bloody, his soul in tatters, just to keep Sam. No. Sam wasn't going to make the wrong decision. He was going to do things right, finally.
He knew when his good intentions had changed to denial, when his decisions had begun to go bad. And he knew just what it would take to keep him from making all the same mistakes again. Knew how much he was sacrificing but also what he was protecting.
Sam grabbed his brother. "I'm sorry," he shouted. Much too late, way too little. He closed his eyes. All that he was, all that was left, he focused all of it on fixing this. He burned up his own life in the effort.
In a flash of light that rivaled even Lucifer, Sam burned away with a yell of pure grief.
Sam nervously straightened his blue button-down in front of the full-length mirror on the back of the door. His roommate snorted behind him, and without looking, Sam grumbled, "Shuddup." The name Dean was on the tip of his tongue. But it wasn't his brother behind him. He turned and flashed David a grin. "You're just jealous."
"No, I'm shocked you're putting down all your books to go on a date." David shook his head in mock bemusement and lifted his sports mag off his stomach.
Sam rolled his eyes. "You goin' out later?"
"Dude, it's Saturday night. I'm not a geek like you. What do you think?"
Sam wondered about his luck sometimes. He really did. Just starting his second year at Stanford and he got a cheap Dean impersonator for a roommate. Last year, he'd been thrilled to room with Ben. They'd really hit it off, but Ben hadn't returned this semester. His older sister had gone missing during the summer and was found dead just a few weeks ago.
Sam still squirmed guiltily over that. He felt like he'd betrayed Ben somehow by not telling him what he suspected about his sister's disappearance. When Ben had told him the details, Sam had instantly thought of a Black Dog. He'd said nothing, though. Ben wouldn't believe him about a supernatural dog-creature, and if Sam was right, his sister was already dead. Black Dogs killed their prey immediately, but saved the corpse to eat slowly over time. From what Ben had told him, there hadn't been more than literal skin and bones left of his sister when a hiker had stumbled on her remains.
David laughed behind him. "You look like you're about to puke. Don't tell me you're a virgin. This your first date?"
"Shut up, asshole," Sam snarled as he stormed from the room. David's laughter followed him down the hallway.
Sam gritted his teeth. He was being punished because he'd kept his silence with Ben, he just knew it. He slammed his hands into his pockets and brooded. People needed help. He knew what was out there, he had the skills needed... but he couldn't take hunting with his family. Always regulated to support. Treated like a helpless kid, over-protected, taken for granted. He'd been about to lose his mind, snap completely, so he'd run away to Stanford, his only other option at the time.
Sometimes he worried himself sick wondering if Dean or Dad were even alive anymore. Maybe they'd been killed by something they hunted, and Sam would never know. It had been hard at first to shove his doubts and fears to the back corners of his mind. He used school as a distraction, keeping himself functional, even if it didn't stop the episodes of coming screaming-awake from nightmares. Ben had been understanding, even though Sam had never told him the source of the night terrors. David, not so much, but Sam didn't give a fuck about David.
He'd lost count of how many times he'd picked up the phone to call Dean, to beg his brother to come get him, but then Sam would remember, If you walk out that door, don't you ever come back. He'd remember the insanity invoking frustration, the terror, the desperate need for independence. And he'd hang up before Dean could answer.
"Hey, there, handsome."
Sam's head jerked up to see Jessica Moore. She wore a red cotton dress that fell to her knees. She was absolutely beautiful. Instantly, he felt tongue-tied and flustered, miserable in a completely different way than a few moments before. "Hey, uh, Jessica. You look… really nice." He blushed hotly, wishing he could disappear.
Jessica smiled, blue eyes twinkling. "Thanks. You look good, too." She linked her arm through his and guided him toward the parking lot between their dorms.
Sam flushed brighter. He'd worked hard during the summer, waiting tables, doing office work for the school, and lifeguarding at the beach on weekends. It was just enough to get him through the next fall and spring semesters buying books, food, and the occasional night out, but no way could he afford a car. It made him feel awkward and pathetic next to her. She obviously had a wealthy family, was gorgeous and intelligent. They competed for top dog in their shared Anthropology class…
He should never have agreed to this date. He had a test on the Judicial system Tuesday, a paper due on European mythology next week, and he could always start work early on the next Anthro essay. So what was he doing here, with someone like her?
"So what's your major?" Jessica pulled out of the parking lot, her long blonde hair sliding over her bare shoulder as she looked both ways.
Sam swallowed hard. "Uh, oh, I'm Undeclared."
Her smile made him feel a bit light-headed. "Yeah, me, too. There's so much to choose from. What are your favorite classes?"
"Anthro is really cool, and I really like Bio and Psych. Not so much Chemistry. I like History a lot, especially American History. The few law classes I've taken so far are really interesting, too. I've got Statistics this semester. So far I really like it. And Latin. It's more fun than I thought it would be. I tested out of 111, so I'm taking 215."
He realized in horror that he was babbling. Damn, he really was acting like this was his first date. It'd been so long, it kinda felt like it, too, like he might throw up. Jessica didn't seem to mind his awkwardness. She flashed him another brilliant smile.
"Sounds about right. Same for me. I'm thinking maybe pre-Vet, but it's hard to decide. I really love Anthropology. I just don't know what kind of job that could land me besides museum curator or teacher. I want to do something more active. I'd just go crazy behind a desk."
Sam smiled shyly. "I think you'll do great at whatever you decide."
She laughed. "Thanks, Sam. Same for you. You're pretty brilliant and not bad looking. That always helps, even if it shouldn't." Suddenly her eyes lit up. "Oh, I love this song. Do you mind?" She blushed a bit at asking. It was a boy-band top hit he vaguely recognized. "It's embarrassing. Not even really music, but it got me somehow. I swear I normally have better taste."
It was Sam's turn to laugh and he felt his muscles begin to relax. "Go ahead. I've suffered worse music, trust me."
She grinned at him and turned the song up.
Sam watched her, almost mesmerized by how free and happy she was, singing along to the cheesy song. Jessica was definitely special, and he felt something giddy settle in his stomach even as his heartbeat picked up. Maybe he'd made the right decision, after all, to come on the date. Hell, even to come to Stanford.
The following weeks were spent buying Jess coffee in the mornings, meeting her for lunch in the afternoon, and doing homework together in the evenings. David teased him mercilessly about his 'puppy love', but Sam was too blissed out to care. He'd never been this happy, he didn't think. At least not in a very long time. Jess made everything so much better.
He'd almost called Dean to tell him about her, to brag and rub it in that he had a sexy girlfriend who outclassed any girl Dean had ever dated, but as soon as he heard the first ring, he hung up, heart racing in his chest. He was terrified of confronting his brother, knowing Dean must be pissed at him. He also felt guilty. He'd come here to prove himself, to prepare, not to find a girlfriend. Thankfully the guilt faded more every day, and the urge to call Dean lessened. So did the night terrors.
Jessica screamed playfully as Sam chased her around the fountain. With a growl, he switched directions and managed to snag her around her waist. He spun her around as she laughed, the smell of her shampoo wrapping around him, making his stomach growl at the fruity scent. Her arms came around his shoulders and suddenly their mouths were moving together, soft and hungry. His hands cradled her small hips as her nails scratched sensually at his back. They'd made out before, hundreds of times, but this… This felt different, wild and burning.
Sam pulled her flush to his body, and she molded to him, submitting as he walked her backward. Their tongues danced. She tasted so good that he couldn't get enough. With a gasp, she pulled her mouth away, and he immediately attacked her neck. Jess gave a long, low moan, exhaled his name, and Sam practically ran with her up to his dorm room. They pulled clumsily at their clothes, yanking and tearing at their multiple layers.
Jess fell with a soft cry, bouncing on her back on the bed, wearing only a bra and jeans. Sam followed her down and suddenly got an attack of nerves. David hadn't been far wrong. He'd had hand jobs and done some heavy petting with the handful of girlfriends before Jess, but he'd never gone all the way. Heart pounding, skin hot and too tight, he held himself over the woman he'd fallen in love with and had no idea what to do next.
Flushed, mouth kiss-swollen, Jessica smiled sweetly, pupils huge with lust, and pulled him down against her. She arched and rubbed, the move so primal and instinctual that Sam found himself responding in kind. All his nervousness broke away, and he stopped thinking all together.
He couldn't keep his hands off her after that. Always wrapping his arms around her, holding her hand, kissing her. Every chance he got, he pulled her into bed. Jess didn't seem to mind if her enthusiastic response was anything to go by. Soon they were in danger of losing their 4.0s. Christmas was coming fast, and with it, the end of the semester. Anxiety over grades paled in comparison to the nerve-wracking panic he felt about the coming winter break.
Jess had cornered him, using blackmail and very lewd promises to get him to agree to come home with her to meet her family over the holidays. God, what was he going to do? For the first time in weeks, he eyed the phone, wishing he could call Dean for advice. But this was likely out of his big brother's experience. This was so normal.
He stood there, dazed for a moment. He'd always felt envious of the normal lives other people seemed to have, always wanted his own, but he'd never actually thought he'd get to have one. For the first time, he could actually picture himself in a life that didn't have hunting in it in some form. The thought gave him a twinge of guilt for all the people who were in danger, but his brother and father were out there. They'd help them. He shook off the guilt and returned to his books.
Sam put his duffle into the backseat and slid into the passenger side. He glanced at the dark storm clouds hanging low above them with a frown. If he didn't know better, he'd think it was a summer thunder storm about to break, but that couldn't be right, it was mid-December. He shivered. "Are you sure we can't wait another day?"
Jess smiled and patted his thigh. "I told you, Sam. They'll love you."
"I'm serious. Those clouds don't look good." Sam wiped his hands nervously on his jeans. He had a bad feeling about this.
She bent over the steering wheel to look up at the sky. "We should be okay. It's only two hours."
Sam said nothing. Jess was right. He was probably just nervous about her parents. He shook off his unease and gave her a dimpled smile. "All right. Let's do this."
She kissed him in reward, and they pulled away from the school.
They were halfway to her parents' when the clouds released their burden in buckets. Thunder rumbled so loudly that the windows vibrated with each crash. Jess slowed the car to a crawl, wipers going at their highest setting, and still they could hardly see. Despite it being early afternoon, it was pitch black out there.
"Pull over," Sam ordered. He wasn't about to risk her safety.
She sighed and did as he instructed. She left the car running for the heater and turned the hazard lights on. With a grin, Jess moved across the distance between them and settled in his lap. Sam's arms immediately came around her. Their mouths moved together, slow and lazy.
With a mischievously smile, Jess pulled away. "Good idea. I needed that."
He could hardly hear her over the rain pounding on the roof, lashing against the windows. It was as if they were wrapped in their own little universe. Nothing outside the car existed. The kissing became heavier. Soon she was rocking against him. Sam growled, fumbling for his pants. Jess shimmied her jeans down her thighs and turned around. Sam couldn't believe he was doing this. Then he was sliding into her, Jess giving a hoarse cry, and all thoughts stopped. He lifted her slowly, bringing her back down as he thrust up.
"Sam, god, yes. Faster."
The torturous pace escalated. The windows fogged. Sweat plastered their hair to their faces. With a sharp cry, she orgasmed, folding limply across the dash. Sam gave a roar and followed her into ecstasy. They sat there, panting, for several minutes before Jessica began to squirm.
"Sam, baby, you know I love you, but I'm sticky."
He laughed. "Let me help you with that." It took some maneuvering, but he managed to give her a tongue bath that had her screaming his name a second time.
Eventually, their clothes were righted and they returned to their proper seats. The engine chose that moment, of course, to sputter and die.
Jess cursed, slapping the steering wheel. "We're outta gas."
Sam grinned at her dark glare. She hated rain, and she wasn't looking forward to going for a long hike through the end of the storm to get more. "Hey, it's okay. I'll get it and come right back. Keep the doors locked. The station's only a mile back or so."
Jess sighed. "Thanks, Sam. I really do love you."
"I know. Love you, too." He kissed her with another soft chuckle before stepping out into the cold drizzle still falling from the dark sky. "I'll be back soon. Be careful."
"You, too," she answered.
Grinning like an idiot, Sam began to jog away from the car. He'd only gone a few paces, however, when the hairs on his arms stood on end. He turned his head in slow motion, eyes wide, as white agony slammed into him.
Sam woke slowly. It was like trying to swim against a surging current. In fact, for one distorted minute, he thought he really was drowning, and he held his breath until his eyes came into focus. He was in a room. Hospital, he recognized instantly from the smell and chill. Drowsy but in no pain, he looked around at the equipment surrounding him. Sure was an awful lot. There were no people waiting by his bedside.
Where was his family? Were they hurt, too? Had they been on a hunt? Sam couldn't remember. He'd only ended up in the hospital a few times. Usually Dean got hurt the worst. By protecting Sam.
Sam was so sick of patching up his family. So sick of his brother throwing himself into harm's way thinking it was helping Sam when it only made him want to scream.
And just like that, he remembered.
He'd left his family. He'd gone to Stanford. The sudden sense of loneliness and vulnerability was crushing, but thankfully he wasn't left with it for long.
A middle-aged man in a white lab coat walked in and froze in surprise. "Ah! Mr. Winchester, I'm pleased to see you awake."
Sam blinked his blurry eyes, pretending the tears wetting his cheeks didn't exist, if only for his pride's sake. The doctor pushed a button by his head. It raised his torso with a loud grating noise by about forty-five degrees.
"How are you feeling, Mr. Winchester?"
Sam shivered, feeling exposed and weak. His fingers tugged restlessly at his bed sheets. His hands felt too big, clumsy. What had happened? Fear kicked his heart rate up. Why was he hurt if he'd left hunting?
"I'm Dr. Milton. Do you remember what happened?"
A nurse entered then and began to record things on a clipboard from the machines. The doctor waited patiently until Sam's eyes returned to him.
"Can you tell me your name? What's the last thing you remember?"
Sam tried to answer, but he only got out a weak croak. The nurse hurried to get him a cup of water, and he drank gratefully. When she pulled away, he tried again.
"Sa-sa-sam. Wh – appened?"
"Sam, you were struck by lightning last week. Do you have a family doctor? I would like to see your medical records, compare them to our results."
"L-lost i-i-in fi-fire," Sam stuttered weakly, the practiced lie coming easily to his mind even as the words struggled on his tongue. He frowned. Why was talking so difficult?
The doctor mirrored his unhappy look. "Is there family I can contact? I have a few questions."
Sam felt his throat close up. Dean. Dad. He was also beginning to realize something was really wrong with him. He felt numb. Heavy. "A-a-ask m-m-me."
"Mr. Winchester, do you have a history of seizures?"
Sam's eyes widened. He shook his head hard.
"You've suffered three seizures since you've been hospitalized. The test results suggest epilepsy due to the regularity of the disturbances and the higher activity in the brain during calm periods. Is there a history of epilepsy in your family?"
Again Sam shook his head. He couldn't catch his breath. Panic scoured through his veins. He wanted Dean more than ever.
"Is the stuttering normal?"
Sam could only stare at him, his breath rasping quicker through his raw throat and lungs.
"I'd like to run some more test to gauge the extent of the damage. There are other potential physical side effects to epilepsy besides seizures. Stuttering is one of them. Hopefully there won't be any mental impairment, but you should prepare yourself for that possibility."
Sam's breath shuddered through his lungs. Seizures. Other effects. Stuttering. Static filled his head. Mental impairment. The realization that he was shaking hit him, and his panic skyrocketed into terror.
And then, like a light being flicked off, he was gone.
The second time Sam woke, he wasn't as numb. His whole body throbbed dully. It reminded him of grueling training sessions, which led him instantly back to thoughts of his family. He reached out a shaking hand. His arm muscles burned, but he ignored it. He needed the phone. He was weak, vulnerable, and afraid. Not exactly how he'd imagined reuniting with his family, not the picture of strength and independence he'd hoped for, but he couldn't do this alone. Not anymore. He had no pride left. None.
With a whimper, he lifted the handset and brought the phone to his ear. No dial tone. He pulled it back enough to push nine. Success. A low, patient hum filled his ears. Tears blurred his vision, but he could dial the number in his sleep. This time when he heard ringing, he didn't hang up.
"Hello?" Gruff, sleepy. Dean.
"D-d-d-d…" God, he couldn't get his tongue to work, the word, the plea, was stuck in his mouth. His distress made it worse. He couldn't even fucking stutter right, forget talking!
"…Who is this?"
A sob tore free from Sam's throat as he pulled the phone as close to his face as possible.
"Hey, it's okay. I can help. Just tell me who you are."
Sam closed his eyes tight, beginning to wish he hadn't called. It'd been over a year since he'd seen his brother. The gap between them suddenly loomed insurmountable, and he saw no way across despite the gut-wrenching need to reach the other side. Even if he could talk, what would he say?
Don't ever come back.
"Winchester," a deep voice barked into the phone. "What's this about?"
The sound of his father's voice made Sam feel hot and cold at the same time. His father had no forgiveness in him. Not that Sam wanted to ask for forgiveness; he'd done the only think he could do, the only choice left to him outside of being driven to blow his brains out. Sam was a burden, anyway. Dad had made that clear, so why'd he get so mad when Sam had wanted to take a break for school?
Soft in the background: "… Dad, give me the phone…" Then the rustle of the phone being shifted, a door being opened then shut, muted steps on concrete. "Sam?" Dean spoke softly, carefully. "That you? You okay?"
God. Sam's breath whooshed out. He hadn't even realized he'd been holding it. Not for the first time, it hit him how much Dean did for him. As much as it infuriated him, it also meant a lot that Dean protected him. Even from their Dad. Soft memories flooded his mind's eye.
Dean was the one who fetched and soothed when Sam had been sick. Dad was a protective presence in the background. Always the background. Unless it was to bitch him out or to bark orders. Not Dean. His brother was a constant source of comfort and aggravation. The key being constant. Right now, Dean was one hundred percent in comfort mode. Sam missed him so much it physically hurt, and he pressed a weak, trembling hand to his chest.
"Sammy? You still there, bro?"
Despite Sam walking away, despite the cruelty of adding a year of silence, Dean still stood beside him, still loved him. He was crying again. Humbled, feeling wretched, he again doubted his choices up to this point. He'd never wanted to lose his brother and father so completely. That had never been the goal. Independence, respect, a little relief from the constant fear and disappointment, but not this isolation.
The plastic creaked in his hand, he held it so tightly. "D-d-de…. D-de…"
"Hey. Hey, it's okay. Deep breaths, man. I'm not going anywhere. Take your time." Dean's voice washed over him, calmed his racing heart. "It's nice to get out of the room for a while. TV don't even work. Worth freezing my nuts off for some fresh air. Even got some snow. Vermont in December. Can you believe it? Should be in Florida. Year-round beach babes."
Sam snorted, muscles relaxing as he was enfolded in everything Dean. It also reminded him of his own babe. Jessica. God, what had happened to her? Was she hurt, too? How could he have forgotten her? Fear for himself shrank, replaced with worry for his girl.
"D-dean. In h-h-hospita-tal. Light-light-light…" he cut the word off almost violently and forced the word past his numb lips. "Lightning st-strike."
"Take it easy, Sam. You'll be all right. I'm on my way. Where are you?"
Relief filled his eyes with tears. "D-don't kn-kn-kn-kn…" Helpless to communicate, he whimpered in frustration.
"I'll find you," Dean promised, and Sam didn't doubt him for a second. "See you soon, little brother. Hang in there."
Dean's voice had gotten gruffer at the end. Sam smiled, thinking, Love you, too. But there was no way he could say it, even if he didn't stutter like a broken record.
Things weren't all better between them. Dean may have put their fight on hold, but a year and an act of abandonment wasn't going to disappear without some serious groveling, but Sam felt confident that their relationship could be mended. He wasn't so sure about his father, but he'd deal with that later. Right now, he needed to know about Jess.
He clumsily hung up the phone and fumbled with the nurse call button. He waited, almost feverish with nerves, but it wasn't a nurse who walked through the door a moment later. Jess's eyes lit up as she saw him and a breathtaking smile warmed her face.
"Sam! You're awake! God, why didn't they call me?" Then she was on him, hugging him as tightly as she could. "I was so worried! Don't you ever do that again."
Sam held her with heavy arms. He sighed, tension draining out of him. How could he have forgotten this even for a second? Exhaustion tugged him down, and he pulled the scent of her with him into the darkness.
"He ready to call it quits and come home?"
Dean scowled. He didn't even pause to look at his dad as he moved to his bed and began to quickly pack his things. "He's in the hospital. Doesn't sound good." Sam's weak stuttering echoed in his head, and Dean practically vibrated with the need to get to him. "Something about a lightning strike. We gotta go."
Dean looked up at his father's uncharacteristically hesitant tone. He saw his dad rubbing tiredly at his face.
"I'll finish up here and follow you."
Dean's mouth fell open in shock. He hadn't expected those words to come out of his father's mouth. Not now. Sammy had called. His brother had finally reached out after that nightmare fight. Sam was hurting and needed them. And Dad wasn't coming.
"That rawhead's got three little kids. Can't leave the hunt. Not while they might still be alive. Go. Take care of your brother. I'll only be a day or two behind you."
The rage faded before it could really grab hold of him. He frowned. "I could stay…" It killed him to offer.
"No." Dad again rubbed at his face. "Sammy would only get upset to see me. You go. Figure out what's going on. Get him settled. Then I'll see him."
Dean nodded, already moving toward the door.
"Dean. You stay on guard. Don't know if this was supernatural or not. You keep him safe."
"Yes, sir," he answered solemnly and hurried to the Impala. Sam needed him.
Jessica was stopped in the hall just short of Sam's room. Her hands were full of the flowers she'd bought and a frown instantly filled her face.
"I won't keep you long, dear," the elderly nurse assured her. "I was just hoping you could talk to your friend. He keeps delaying the tests we need to do."
"Is he okay?"
"He's stable," the woman answered. "But we need to know the range of the damage if we're going to help him recover as much as possible."
Jessica's face crumbled a bit. She wasn't stupid. She knew by the way no one would use the words 'full recovery' in reference to Sam that her lover had been permanently damaged. Guilt ate at her. It was her fault. She'd made them leave even when Sam was worried about the storm, and then she'd made him get gas before the rain had passed completely. She would do everything in her power to make sure Sam got as well as possible, and if that meant seducing him into letting the nurse run tests, then that's what she'd do.
"I'll see what I can do," she promised.
The nurse gave a big smile at that. "Thank you. You're a good friend to him."
Jessica ignored that knowing it wasn't true. However, she straightened her shoulders and brought out a smile before she entered Sam's room. She knew it would only upset him if he saw how miserable she felt.
Sam was sitting up, his face pale and his eyes dark with fear and pain that he couldn't hide. He looked horribly ill and small. Already he'd lost nearly ten pounds. Her gorgeous and sexy boyfriend was melting away it seemed. She hid painful tears with a bright smile. "Hey, baby. Brought you some lilies."
He smiled back, but it was only a shadow of his normal smile. There were no dimples in sight. "N-n-not r-roses?"
"Roses are lame," she scoffed. Jessica set the flowers on the rolling table that was pulled close to his bed. There was a very unappetizing meal sitting there untouched. "Food sucks, huh?"
His eyes dropped to his lap. "Not h-h-h-hungr-gry."
Her smile cracked around the edges and disappeared. She reached out and held one of his cold hands. "Maybe later, then. How do you feel?"
Sam didn't answer her. She decided she'd have to do something drastic or he was going to shut her out.
"You mad at me?"
Sam's head whipped up predictably. "N-n-not an-an-ang… mad," he finally spat out.
His free hand clinched in the sheets and tears welled in his eyes. The grief-stricken expression about broke her heart. Though it did help to know he wasn't talking to her because he hated the stutter, not because he was pushing her away. She opened her mouth to reassure him that it didn't matter when a rough looking guy strolled into the room like he owned the place. More shockingly, Sam's whole body went limp. Jessica hadn't even realized how tightly Sam had been holding himself until he'd gone loose.
"Sammy," the man called as a greeting, a smooth grin sliding across his face. "What'd I tell you 'bout beatin' yourself up just to flirt with the pretty nurses?"
To her further shock, Sam actually smiled at the stupid joke. A full smile, dimples included. "De-dean."
Dean. Jessica had heard Sam call that name twice before in his sleep. It was a word filled with such longing and need that she suspected it was the name of a former lover. To realize just how attractive her competition was made her jealousy double. It did not make her happy that Sam had reacted so strongly to this guy when she didn't have nearly the same reassuring effect.
With a bit more heat than was normal for her, she crossed her arms and lifted an eyebrow. "I'm Jessica. Sam's girlfriend."
Dean's smile widened as he looked her up and down, lingering on her chest. "Wow. I've got to say, you're way out of his league."
She scowled at him, seeing red as the guy's hand settled on Sam's wrist in a possessive, protective gesture that was unmistakable. The insult to Sam on top of it almost made her explode, but before she could tear the guy a new one, Sam laughed. It was the first laugh since he'd woken up over two days ago. Jessica stared at him as relief killed her jealousy. She'd put up with almost anything that made Sam laugh like that.
"Th-th-this is my, my, my…" Sam's smile vanished, his whole body tensing again.
"His awesome big brother," Dean finished for him, grin still in place.
If Jessica wasn't watching carefully, she'd have gotten mad again at the seemingly dismissive way Dean treated Sam's distress, but she was watching, and she saw how the guy's fingers moved in subtle circles on the inside of Sam's wrist. The touch was obviously calming, since Sam was relaxing again.
"That's what he was going to say, right, Sam? I'm your totally awesome brother." Dean batted his long lashes at Sam, and even Jessica had to smile at that.
Sam rolled his eyes with a smile. "Y-yeah right, j-j-jerk."
"Brother, huh?" Jessica relaxed completely and offered her own charming smile. "Well, in that case…" She leaned across Sam's bed and kissed Dean on the cheek. Dean actually blushed, his eyes darting down shyly for a split second before he could recover with a leer. She laughed, now certain this was Sam's brother and that he could be trusted. "My friends call me Jess."
Dean wagged his eyebrows at Sam, his freehand gesturing at his face. "Get's them every time. You better watch out for your girl, man."
Sam was grinning at both of them, obviously delighted.
Jessica bent and kissed the corner of that smile. She stroked his hair twice before kissing his cheek. "I have to go. I'll see you tomorrow, okay?" She usually stayed until visiting hours expired, but she could tell the brothers needed time. Sam nodded, flushed and happy, confirming her decision. "Bye, Dean. It was real nice to meet you."
"Same here," he responded with a grateful smile and offered his cheek playfully. "Don't I get one?"
She shook her head and touched his arm gently as she passed him. She pulled the door shut after her and just stood there for a minute, listening.
"So when can I bust you outta here, dude?"
"All right. I'll get the nurse. Sooner we start, the sooner we'll finish."
Jessica smiled and left them to it.
Dean would never wish Sam hurt, no matter how mad he got at the brat, but some small part of him had wanted Sam to be wrecked without him. It would only be fair, after all. Something inside Dean had gone dark when Sam left fifteen months and thirteen days ago – Yes, he'd kept count – and as soon as he'd laid eyes on his brother, he felt whole again. But he was not happy at all with the dark circles, the unhealthy pallor, the too-long oily hair.
Sam was strong, defiant, brilliant. The frightened look in the kid's eyes as he completed the endless rounds of tests the doctors had thought up did not make him happy at all. Dean felt grim reality closing in on him. It was clear Sam was in serious trouble. His muscle strength was crap, his hand-eye coordination nowhere near his usual perfect, and the stuttering only got worse throughout the grueling day, rendering him practically mute.
Probably the worst of it for Sam was the mental exercises, the stupid puzzles and shit they had him do. The results had been way below average when normally he scored off the charts with any kind of logic assessment. The bad scores were partly due to his attention span, which was shot, but his short-term memory wasn't so great right now, either.
The worst of it for Dean was the way three separate doctors huddled together whispering over the results of the CAT scans and MRIs. Apparently, his brother's brain was lit up like a lighthouse. The threat of more seizures hung heavy in the air. Dean knew what kind of damage a Grand Mal could cause and was frankly terrified for his brother. No. Dean was not happy. Well… Maybe a little.
They were back in Sam's room with his brother safely deposited in bed, and Dean gently brushed a hand over the kid's limp hair. "You must be beat. Get some sleep."
Sam blinked up at him, almost like he was afraid if he closed them, Dean might disappear. He may not be able to talk right now, but Dean could read him like a book. Always had.
"I'm not going anywhere, kiddo."
Sam's hand turned over, palm up.
Dean linked their fingers without any hesitation. "Sleep, Sammy. I've gotcha."
The dark, hazel eyes slid shut, the lids faintly blue, the circles underneath black.
Dean stood there for several minutes, softly petting Sam's hair. When he was certain Sam was deeply asleep and wouldn't wake, he carefully pulled his hand away and silently went in search of Sam's main doctor. Dean wanted answers, and he wanted them now.
Fortunately, he didn't have to go far. Dr. Milton was waiting for him, and they had a bit of a tug-of-war. Dean didn't want to leave Sam's floor to go to the doc's office, and the doctor didn't want to have their conversation in public. They compromised and took the discussion to a nurse's office only three doors down from Sam's room.
Dean sat in an uncomfortable chair in the closet-like space and listened as the doctor informed him that Sam had flat-lined for relatively ten minutes before he could be resuscitated. Milton went on and on about all the possible effects of being dead, then listed all the possible effects of being electrocuted. Dean's teeth slowly began to grind, the chair's arms creaking under his grip.
"Sam's in very fragile condition right now, Mr. Winchester. To be frank, we haven't seen a case like this in many years. I'm frankly astonished he's even coherent with the storm raging through his brain. It's important you don't get his hopes up. It is highly likely, I'm afraid, that more complications will crop up or for the afflictions he's demonstrating to worsen, and he needs to prepare himself to cope with his new condition."
Dean shot to his feet. "Like hell I'm taking the kid's hope. You don't know shit about my brother. Sam's strong. He's going to make a full recovery. He just needs time."
The doctor's eyes narrowed. "That kind of attitude certainly won't help your brother. I've witnessed the devastation in patients when the full recovery promised never appears. Many ended up on suicide watch."
"Sam ain't most people," Dean growled in warning.
The doctor stiffened, voice going cold. "That boy should have died. The fact that he came out of it with merely second degree burns across his chest and arms and epilepsy is a miracle. Be grateful for that instead of demanding the impossible."
Dean reached over and grabbed the smug asshole by the coat, yanking him half over the desk. "Don't tell me to stop wanting the best for my brother, you sanctimonious prick. He deserves the fucking best. Sam's a better person than you'll ever hope to be, so you make sure to keep your opinions about his future to yourself, you hear me? Or we'll have to have another talk."
Dean released the sputtering man and stormed from the small office. How dare that bastard! The power of positive thinking – as cheesy as it sounded – was remarkable. If Sam thought there was no chance of recovering, then he really wouldn't get better. But believing it was possible would at least give him a chance, and Dean would make sure Sam had all the chances he could get. Milton had obviously never dealt with Winchesters before. Sam had been through worse than a bit of lightning and had made a complete recovery. There was no reason this wouldn't be the same.
John had been up for almost thirty-eight hours, but he couldn't rest. Dean hadn't called. John assumed that meant he was busy, but if he was that busy, then that couldn't mean anything good for his youngest. Thus, he was a bit sharp around the edges when he extracted the information of what room his son was being kept in. Nurses practically dove out his way as he stalked through the sterile halls.
Finally, he reached 509 and silently pushed the door open. The room beyond was dark. Light from the hall spilled in to reveal Sam staring dopily at his brother who was sleeping awkwardly in a chair by the bed. Even in his sleep, John could see Dean had a firm hold on Sam's hand. The light registered, and Sam's head came around, blinking. John's breath caught in horror at how sick Sam looked. Recognition lit Sam's hazel eyes and the boy paled further, the heart monitor spiking with his boy's obvious fear.
Dean jerked awake. "Sammy?" He jumped to his feet and faced the door, only to relax again.
John was still shocked over Sam's appearance and the obvious fear he invoked in his son, so he stood rooted in place, leaving Dean to once again pick up the pieces. But, damn, was his eldest good at it.
"Hey, it's okay, bro," Dean soothed his brother, bent low near Sam's face. "Breathe. I gotcha. It's just Dad. I know he's scary before he gets coffee, but you know he's all bark. And he needs a shower. Almost looks as bad as you, dude. That's sayin' something."
Sam visibly shuddered before going limp, gasping in air. He sat there for a moment before breaking eye contact with his brother. This time when he met John's eyes, he was less afraid, more cautious. His long fingers twisted in the blanket draped over his lap.
"How is he?" John rasped out.
Dean lifted his head and their eyes met. "He's gonna be fine. Got a bit of a rough ride ahead, but they expect a full recovery. For being in a week-long coma, he's doing really well, actually. Already callin' him a miracle."
Sam gasped, relief and wonder filling his too-young face before he buried it in his brother's side.
John frowned at Dean above Sammy's head. Dean stood there, all fierce determination, challenging him to take away the hope he'd just given his brother. The sound of Sam's muffled sobbing filled the room, and John began to feel a bit queasy. So he nodded, silently agreeing to follow Dean's lead. Hell, Dean usually knew best when it came to Sam, anyway. Probably the smartest thing he could do. Especially when he wasn't quite firing on all four cylinders.
"That's right, Sammy," Dean practically cooed, his attention returning to his brother. His hand moved up and down Sam's back. "You're gonna be just fine, you big drama queen."
John cleared his voice roughly as Sam's sobs tapered off and finally fell silent. "I'm real glad to hear that." Dark hazel eyes peaked out at him from Dean's sheltering side. "You had me real worried, son."
Sam lowered his eyes before glancing up at Dean. Dean gave him an encouraging nod. John waited patiently as Sam looked back at him.
He sounded just like he had at three years old, tired and miserable, and John found himself moving forward almost unconsciously to the foot of the bed. He patted Sam's leg. "Don't be sorry, Sam. Just get better and I'll be happy."
Sam smiled. A huge, heart-stopping smile that had John reflecting it without meaning to.
Squeezing his boy's leg, he cleared his throat for a second time. "Guess I'll go talk to the doc. See when we can get you outta here."
Sam nodded, eyes large and red from his crying.
John squeezed his leg again, hoping to give some reassurance, and gave Dean a nod before slipping from the room as silently as he'd come. He leaned against the door and just listened for a moment. It seemed like he'd spent half his boys' childhood listening at their door. It was the only way he could gain understanding sometimes. His boys rarely said what they meant in the light of day, but they were remarkably open and honest at night, closed up together. He wasn't disappointed. Almost instantly he heard the murmur of soft voices and tilted his head so his good ear was closer to the wood.
"Th-thanks f-f-for comin'."
"Dude, you know how much I love hospital food."
A weak chuckle that quickly trailed off.
"Never m-m-meant to le-le-leave you and Dad. Just wanted to-to-to…"
"Whatever, man. It's cool. Get some sleep."
A soft thump. A fist on the bed, John suspected.
A moment of silence, the sound of weight settling in a chair. Then Sam's soft voice continued.
"I wanted to p-p-prove I could d-do it. To myself and to you g-g-guys. A-Always the ba-ba-baby. Took cl-classes thought would he-he-he-help the h-hunt. Make me b-better. Sick of being p-pushed to the side-side-sidelines. P-patching you up. Wa'ned to be equal. A p-partner. Like y-y-you and D-d-dad. And was so ti-ti-tired of b-being a-a, af-af… scared. Just wa'ned a b-break, D-dean. Didn't th-th-think couldn't c-come h-home if I w-went. Then it w-was all m-messed up. Too l-l-l-l-late. But never wa'ned to l-l-l-lose you, D-dean. M-mi-missed you so b-bad. Called. Hung up. Hundreds of t-times."
John's nails had broken the skin of his palms, and he wondered why Dean was letting Sam go on so long. The broken little speech was about killing John. He'd done this. He'd seen Sammy as his baby boy. Hadn't been able to see the man he was becoming. Pushed him into running away to prove he could be a part of the team and not just a grunt. Then he'd slammed the door shut between them, after practically shoving Sam out to begin with, with that 'don't come back' shit. He'd just been so scared, and that always transmuted into anger with him.
Dean's voice finally cut in. Unfortunately, it only made John feel worse.
"I knew it was you. I got all of 'em. Missed you, too, Sammy, and I never doubted you could do it, bro. A full ride to Stanford. You're such a little geek."
A soft laugh. Sam's.
"Bitch." Dean answered, and John knew if he could see through the door that Dean would be ruffling his brother's hair. "You're gonna regret this mega-chick-flick tomorrow when some of the meds are out of your system."
"No. M-mean it."
"And I hear you, Sam. Just rest now. I'll still be here tomorrow."
John sucked in a harsh breath. No doubt Sam was drugged to the gills for that to slip out. His boys said it through teasing nicknames or ridiculous pranks, or by giving up favorite things to the other. It was never so baldly stated. So he expected Dean to deflect, bring it back to the realm of normal with a teasing remark. Instead, there was no hesitation.
"Love you, too, little brother. Now get some sleep."
Silence followed this remarkable occurrence, and John suddenly felt uncomfortable for overhearing something meant to be private. Although he did feel stronger now. His boys were together. They were safe. Sammy was still the same precious boy he'd always been. John hadn't lost him, not completely. Determined, he pushed away from the door and went in search of the doctor. He was going to find out the truth of Sam's condition, and the reason behind the fire in Dean's eyes when he'd told Sam he was going to be fine. And John better like the answers, or he wouldn't be responsible for his actions.