Dean was seriously getting pissed. It had been two weeks since he'd arrived at the hospital, and Sam wasn't getting better. In fact, he was getting worse. Well, in his opinion, if not the doctors, and damn it! That's the only opinion that mattered.
Sam had three more seizures, mild ones, but it made the stupid doctors up his medication. Sam was on no less than ten strong medications. He slept twelve or thirteen hours at a time, and when he was awake, he was far from coherent. He and Dad researched everything they could about the meds they didn't already know about. Drugs like Ciprofloxacin, Amihacin, Klonopin, Tegretol, and Valium of all things. The side effect list was truly staggering. Sam had moments of deafness from the Amihacin, and the doctors prescribed another drug to counteract the side effect of the first. Not to mention, Sam's kidneys were in serious danger with all this crap.
"I'm here, Sammy," Dean said softly. He was standing at the foot of the bed, watching, always watching.
"Wh-what does it m-ma-matter…" His hand flopped like a dead fish in an indecipherable gesture. "That I h-h-have double-j-j-ointed to-to-toes?"
Despite the many hours of sleep, Sam's eyes were still circled by black rings and were dull. His dimples were gone completely. Sam was fading away.
"I don't know, Sam," he answered, not knowing what the heck Sam was on about now but glad the kid was talking to him and not to people who weren't there. They had to be careful or the fucking doctors would inject him with anti-psychotics next.
"Yeah. I'm here." Dean sighed. He felt bone weary. What was he going to do?
"Did th-th-th, th-th-th…"
"The," he offered with a pained look.
Sam nodded his head a half-dozen times before continuing, "Bl-l-l-lood g-get s-s-nake b-b-bit?"
Dean covered his face, fighting helpless rage. He was usually pretty good at understanding Sammy-speak, but his brother's gibberish had become true gibberish.
Then Sam stopped breathing.
Dean rushed around the bed and grabbed his brother's shoulders. Sam had taken to doing this for the last few days. It scared the bejeezus out of him every time. "Hey, come on. Breathe with me, little brother. Sam, can you hear me? Breathe, okay?" Dean grabbed Sam's limp hand and placed it on his chest to demonstrate the simple act of breathing. "See? In and out. Come on, Sam. Breathe!"
Sam gasped and blinked his eyes rapidly.
Dean went limp at his side. Shaking, he laid his forehead on his brother's greasy hair. Tears burned the back of his eyelids, but they refused to fall. "Why do you do that? Huh? Why, Sam?" He'd asked it a dozen times, but Sam had never answered. Until now.
"D-d-drowning, De. I'm dra-dra-drowning."
Dean went rigid. He about crushed Sam to him in a fierce embrace. Voice rough, he answered, "Not on my watch, you're not." With that, he released his brother. "Go back to sleep, Sammy."
"Kay." Sam closed his eyes, pliant and vulnerable in his drugged state.
"The nurse said they want to put him in a nursing home for long-term care."
Dean lifted his head to see Jessica standing in the doorway. The girl had been hovering around the last week, but they hadn't talked much. Dean liked her all right. She wasn't clingy or weepy, and sometimes she even made Dean laugh. It was clear she really cared about Sam. Dad avoided her like the plague, which was why the man was missing now. When public visiting hours came around, he always disappeared back to the motel. To wash and look into things, he said, but Dean knew it was because Jessica reminded him of their mom.
"He's not going," Dean answered shortly. "In fact, I'm busting him out. These doctors don't know what the fuck they're doing. They're killing him."
Jessica held his gaze. He waited for a denial, a rush of words to convince him it was the wrong decision, that he might fucking kill Sam by taking him away from medical care, but she said nothing. Dean found himself holding his breath, waiting for her verdict. And since when did he need permission or approval from this girl, anyway?
"My family has a cabin. It's only an hour away. Got all the amenities, but it's private. Your family can crash there. It'd be better than a hotel or the school dorms."
Dean found himself relaxing, a smile lighting his face. "Thanks, Jess."
Her eyes narrowed. "But only on the condition that I can visit regularly. You can pick when's good for you. And if he starts getting worse, he comes right back."
"Of course," Dean quickly agreed.
She nodded, her blonde ponytail bobbing. "Okay, then. What can I do to help?"
Turned out Jessica didn't have to do much. She just dealt with Sam, getting him dressed and keeping him calm. He couldn't walk on his own. He was weak and shaky, not to mention very uncoordinated at the moment, so all she had to do was push a wheelchair. It wasn't difficult, and as a bonus it gave her a ringside seat for the unfolding drama.
Dean and John were a formidable team. They filled the corridor and kept any nurses from getting to Jess and Sam as she pushed him toward the elevator. John had the right to take his son. At least for now. Dr. Milton was currently screaming about having Sam declared mentally unfit to make legal decisions and John an unfit caretaker. He even had the audacity to allude to what they were doing as murder.
Jess shook her head as Dean finally exploded. It was rather impressive, actually.
"Oh, shut up, you pathetic shit-eater! You want to talk murder, Mr. Sanctimonious? You're practically reducing my brother to a gibbering human shell, all lights turned off! So don't talk to me like I'm the one doing serious harm. You're world is so fucking narrow that all you can see is numbers on a page! Way to go, Dr. Jekyll. You can't even remember it's a person you're dealing with, you soul-sucking bureaucratic goat-fucker! "
"Dean! Enough. Let's go."
The two men stepped onto the elevator with Jess and Sam and the doors swung shut on the red-faced, apocalyptic Dr. Milton. Soft elevator music enveloped them.
"Well, if he does need to come back to a hospital, best not make it this one," Jess offered into the awkward silence.
John shifted his weight, not looking at her, but Dean flashed her a wide grin.
Sam looked up at her as well and offered his own opinion. "St-st-strawb-b-berries always m-m-make D-d-dean ha-ha-hungry."
"Yeah, his face did look like a strawberry," Dean translated with an ease that continued to surprise Jessica.
She giggled, but her amusement faded quickly. She really hoped they were making the right decision. She wouldn't be able to live with herself if she aided hurting Sam further. But somehow, the way John smiled softly down at his youngest, his big hand resting on Sam's arm, and the way Dean stood so protective and ready despite the dark circles his own eyes were sporting, told her that Sam would be better off with them than with the doctors and syringe after syringe of drugs.
The car ride was interesting. There was a bit of juggling and unspoken shuffling with the seats. Dean wanted to sit with Sam, but it was clear their dad wasn't comfortable with Jessica up front with him. But once Sam was settled in the back, there wasn't room for all three of them. Dean made his own opinion clear by sliding in with his brother and shutting the door.
John scowled at Jessica over the car before a grin – one so much like Sam's it surprised her a bit – spread across his usually angry features. "I'll follow in my truck." He tossed her the keys and she nearly fumbled them.
"Oh, ah. Sure. But then someone's gotta drive me back for my car."
"Not me," Dean's voice came muffled from the Impala's back seat.
Their dad's nearly permanent scowl was back. "Dean, put Sam up front with you, and you drive. I'll take my truck, and you can lead the way."
Jessica flushed. She wasn't sure why their father didn't like her, but it was starting to make her angry. She stiffened her back and stomped away without another word. What a jerk!
The best part of the cabin – with the Jacuzzi tubs, fully stocked kitchen, and monster fireplace – was that the nearest houses were a mile down the road. Even still, Sam's screams would have been heard if it weren't for the forest of redwoods surrounding them. The full-throated bellows and shrieks had tapered down at last a few hours ago. Hopefully they wouldn't start another round anytime soon. John didn't know how much more of this he could take.
For weeks he'd been hovering in doorways. He'd merely exchanged the hospital doorways for the doorways in the luxurious cabin Sam's girl was letting them use. His arms were crossed, and he knew he had to look like death-warmed over. Neither he nor Dean had slept more than three hours a day since breaking Sam out of that shit-hole hospital almost four days ago.
He watched as Dean moved down his brother's pajama clad body, rubbing at the cramping muscles in his legs and back. Sam lay on his stomach, unfortunately awake. His gut-deep sobs were more appropriate for a toddler than a man Sam's age. His boy wasn't getting better. There hadn't been anymore seizure yet, but the fever that had remained at 103 despite everything they did was going to kill him.
"He'll be fine," his eldest answered automatically.
His voice was rough and almost too hoarse to lift over a whisper. Dean looked almost as bad as his brother. They both were ghosts of themselves. John felt sick with dread. God, he was losing them, both his sons to this madness.
"He's gonna pull out of it. All that craps almost out of his system."
John shook his head. Even if Sam pulled out of it like Dean kept insisting, he wasn't certain Sam's mind would be intact. The delirious and incoherent ravings over the last few days were hardly encouraging. Finally, Sam fell silent, going limp under his brother's hands.
"I'm going to get more coffee and water. You should eat while he's out, son."
"Later," Dean murmured predictably.
Food and sleep would all come later when Sam was better. Or not at all. Then John would be the last Winchester standing. That was the worst fate that could befall any man. It seemed to take years to reach the kitchen. He filled a pitcher of cool water from the refrigerator door and made sandwiches to bring to Dean. Now who was delusional? Maybe Sam was contagious.
John froze in the doorway. Sam was awake again and wasn't raving or sobbing. He was speaking normally. His voice hardly above a whisper, much like Dean's, but there was no stuttering. Dean's back was to John. The boy probably didn't even know his father was there, too wrapped up in his brother. He was bending low so they were only a few inches apart, and John shifted so he could see Sam's face over Dean's broad shoulder. Two red circles lay high on his cheeks and his eyes were glassy still with fever, but his skin was slick and shiny with sweat. The fever had finally broken. Better yet, Sammy was smiling. John almost staggered and had to clutch the pitcher of water to his chest or risk dropping it.
"What oranges, Sammy?"
"In Florida. Wanted to surprise Dad, remember? Cook him dinner. So we snuck into the orchard. Stole bags of oranges to practice. Dad got to judge whose was best."
Dean chuckled. "I remember. Ate so many damn oranges that week we couldn't look at another for months afterward."
"Who won? Don't remember."
John watched as Sam's eyes dropped with exhaustion, his smile still pulling at his chapped and bruised lips.
"Dude, your orange rice was pretty awesome."
Sam whispered a laugh, eyes opening again to look up at his brother. "Nah. It was awful. Your pancakes shoulda' won. Those were awesome."
Dean ducked his head. Even without being able to see his face, John knew he would be blushing. Dean never did well with compliments.
"Can you make 'em again? Haven't had your pancakes… in… long…" Sam was asleep before he could finish his sentence.
"Anything you want, Sammy," Dean answered, almost too softly to be heard.
"I remember that," John offered as he came fully into the room. He smiled as Dean's exhausted, red-rimmed eyes met his. "Sam's going to be just fine. You were right, son. You did good. Now get some sleep, Dean. I've got this watch."
Dean smiled back, heartfelt. "All right." His fingers brushed over Sam's hair as he stood. "Wake me if anything happens."
"I will," John promised. "Go."
Dean gave an absent nod and left for the guest room next door.
John settled into the chair beside Sam's bed and felt a wave of regret bow his shoulders forward. He remembered coming home to those orange dishes. It had confused him at first, but the uncomfortable look on Dean's face, even while Sammy had been so innocently excited, had clued him in.
It was one of the first times he'd left his boys for more than a weekend. He'd been hunting a witch. Got laid up in the local hospital for almost a week before he could escape and drive home. The money he'd left Dean had run out. To keep himself and Sam from starving, Dean had made eating oranges into a game. Turned a potential traumatizing memory into a good one. He'd been twelve, Sammy eight.
John had made so many mistakes. It was undeniable. Especially with Sammy. But mostly, all he could see were his successes. Dean and Sam were strong and well-trained. They were smart and selfless. But, sometimes, he wondered how much of Sam was Dean's doing, not his. Who tells their child, 'Don't ever come back'? Dean, his obedient soldier, hadn't spoken to him for a month after that.
It had shocked him. Dean was the most forgiving man he knew, especially when it came to his family, and the rejection might have even gone on longer than a month, but John had finally broken and taken them to Stanford. They put up some protections around Sammy's dorm building and the campus, but neither of them had tried to talk to Sam. The boy had looked worn around the edges but determined. John hadn't wanted to interfere, and Dean must have agreed.
Sam had made his decision, one John understood so much better now after listening at the hospital door almost three weeks ago. But even back then, John had been proud of his son. He hadn't known about the phone calls. He felt a pang knowing none of them had been to him. But what did he expect? He'd well and truly turned his son against him.
"How is he?"
He almost jumped out of his skin at the soft voice. In a second-flat, he was on his feet, facing the door, a knife in hand, but it was only Sam's girl. Morning light flooded the room. Night had passed in a blink as he sat lost in thought. Thankfully, Jessica only had eyes for Sam and hadn't yet noticed the knife. John quickly returned it to the small of his back and out of sight.
"Better," he answered gruffly. "Fever's finally broken. Looks like he'll be just fine."
The girl nodded and finally looked at John. "Can I sit with him?"
He inclined his head and left the two of them alone. He went in search of some coffee. He stood at the kitchen sink, looking out at the forest as it percolated. He was strategizing on how to get his boys to eat, flipping through a list of their favorites, when a too familiar scream pierced the quiet. He was back in Sam's room almost instantly, but Dean still beat him. His eldest was already wrestling with his weakly flailing brother, yelling and trying to wake him up. Jessica was helping him as much as she could.
"Sammy! It's okay! It's just a dream!"
John moved forward, hesitating. His boy arched, giving voice to horrible screams that sounded like something dying.
"Dammit! Sam! Wake up!"
Jessica was crying, her tears dropping down on Sam's forehead and cheeks. Sam's screams turned into low howls of utter misery. John couldn't take it. He yanked the girl away from the bed, intending to take her place. It was like flicking off a light switch, instantaneous. As soon as she released her hold on Sam, the boy went still. He sobbed weakly as his eyes blinked open, obviously dazed, confused.
"De… De…" It was a desperate plea.
Dean crowded protectively closer. His knees literally pressed into the mattress as he stood as close as he could to the bed. "I'm right here, Sammy."
"Please. Dean. Make it stop. I'm sorry. Won't go away again. Just, please, no more."
John's heart raced in his chest as he listened to his son's desperate begging. Sammy turned on his side and practically curled around Dean's thighs, his long arms wrapping around his brother, his face pressing into Dean's side as he trembled and shook. What the hell? But Dean didn't hesitate even a moment. His hands instantly went down to steady Sam against him, rubbing circles on Sam's back.
"Hey, hey," he soothed. "It's stopped. You're awake. I've gotcha. Nothin's gonna hurt you, Sammy. I'm here."
Green eyes flashed up to meet John's and darted a look at the pale, shell-shocked Jessica. John gratefully took the cue. This, he could deal with. Sam breaking apart, he couldn't. Firmly, he guided the girl from the room and shut the door after him to keep his sons out of sight. He led them to the living room before barking out a sharp, "Christo!"
The girl looked up at him unflinchingly. "Sam… What happened… I…"
Disappointed and relieved, John rubbed at his face. "You tell me."
She shook her head, and he could practically see the denial beginning to wrap around her. "I... I don't know."
"You do," he snapped, furious. "You need to tell me exactly what happened in there if you want to help Sam."
She jumped and tears flooded her eyes again. "I was telling him about school. It started back up yesterday. Then I took his hand. He… He screamed. But it couldn't be because of me… I'd never hurt him… I…"
John frowned darkly as she began to cry, reaction and shock settling in. Not good, he thought darkly, panic scrabbling at the corners of his mind. So not good. He remembered with a flash of perfect clarity, "Your son is gifted, John. You either help him or he'll repress it. And when it finally comes out, it'll swallow him whole."
John was terrified by the mere idea that Sam was psychic, but as the years passed and Sam had showed no hint of what Missouri had sensed, he'd relaxed and figured she'd been wrong. The woman wasn't infallible, after all.
He was a hunter. He wasn't ignorant or stupid to the supernatural. He was well aware that traumatic events – like being struck by lightning or smoldering in withdrawal-induced fever for days – could activate dormant psychic abilities. And now that it was absolutely undeniable, he realized that there had been hints. Hints he'd ignored. And by ignoring them, he'd unintentionally made his choice. He chose to encourage Sam to repress his… abilities. Now they were out of control and could very well drive his boy insane.
The supernatural had always been attracted to Sam. It was hell trying to protect the boy on hunts. Sam thought their over protectiveness was due to them not trusting him or doubting his skill, but it was because he was targeted so much worse than Dean. John had told himself it was because Sam was the weakest link, the youngest of their group, but it was because Missouri was right. Sam glowed in the dark. He was a Sensitive. The only good thing about this was that it seemed Dean was immune to Sam's awakened senses. Sam was safe with Dean. They might be able to salvage this yet. And maybe John would also be safe with Sam. Lord knew the boy would need all the help he could get.
"Is Sam okay?"
John looked directly into the girl's eyes for the first time since meeting her. "You're going to have to give us time. We'll call you when you can come back."
"Sam's sick, but he's getting better. You're going to have to let us fix him."
Jessica nodded, obviously reluctant. "I'm going to write him a note before I leave. You'll give it to him?"
"Leave it on the mantle," he answered, already moving on to the things that needed to be done.
She was calmer but still shaken, so she nodded without argument.
John turned and stalked back to the bedroom. He had to know.
"… was dead, Dean. She was bleeding. It was dripping. Maybe on fire, too? That's all I remember… There was more, so much, but I can't…"
Mary, he thought, pain spearing him briefly, as he slipped into the room. John carefully shut the door again behind him. Sam was on his back, no longer clinging to Dean's legs. He looked confused but coherent. Dean was sitting next to him, their hips touching.
"It was just a dream, Sam," Dean answered softly after a quick glance at John to make sure it was him. "You're still sick. It's no surprise that the nightmares are back. We've dealt with them before. It'll be fine."
John winced. He'd forgotten about all the nightmares Sam had had growing up. They'd been violent and horrible, but they'd eventually tapered off as Sam entered his teenage years. John had ignored them because Sam could never say what was in them, even though emotionally they had a powerful effect on his youngest. Another sign that Sam was different.
"But I scared her," Sam fretted, his long fingers twisting in the blankets. "Jess…"
"She's fine," John interrupted. He moved across the room and stopped at the bed. "She just wants you to get better. You still look like crap, Sam."
Sam looked up at him with big, wet eyes. His boy was obviously exhausted, ill, and vulnerable. This was John's worst nightmare come to life. Not only was Sam apparently a psychic of some kind, but he was weak and untrained. He was literally a sitting duck, defenseless to all the evil out there. Evil that would hunt him down and gobble him up. It was only a matter of time before Sam was killed. Worse, he'd be consumed. Sam couldn't protect himself like this, and John and Dean were only human. They'd fall eventually. John needed Sam strong.
He steeled himself and reached down to touch Sam's shoulder. Sam showed no reaction. Dean, however, stiffened and narrowed his eyes suspiciously. John took a deep breath and moved to touch Sam's cheek, skin to skin. He didn't know if that made a difference, but he had to make sure. Jessica had touched Sam's hand. Maybe skin contact mattered.
Please, he prayed. Let me be safe for Sam. I need a second chance. Need one more chance to train him right. I can't lose my baby boy. Please, Mary, help me protect him.
"Dad?" Sam stiffened, but he otherwise showed no distress. "What? Is… something wrong?"
"You tell me, Sam," John answered softly, holding his breath, waiting for the verdict. He stared into Sam's eyes even as his boy tried to turn his head away.
"Dad? What are you doing?"
Dean was on his feet, but John couldn't look at him, couldn't reassure him. All his attention was on Sam. Sweat was beading on the boy's brow. Was he losing it? John held his breath.
John smiled at that. He glanced at his oldest. "Good boy, but I'm not a demon."
At the d-word, Sam's eyes flared wide open. As if in slow motion, John watched Sammy's mouth fall open, his face stretched in torment, terror bleaching his features, as his body went into seizures. He looked like a picture out of Hell.
Sam screamed, hysterical, as fire exploded the world. Almost blinded with light, he struggled to cover his eyes. It burned his face, his arms, his hands. Then he saw her. She was there. She was burning. His heart felt torn from his chest. God. The pain of seeing her, the grief and madness inducing horror. His love, his everything, burning away to nothing. Gone.
Sam screamed with loss so profound it cracked apart his very soul. It was so agonizing he couldn't even feel as his own flesh caught fire and burned away. All that existed was loss of her.
Laughter had him spinning around, grief igniting into pure rage. A man stood there with yellow eyes. Evil. Behind the bastard were hundreds of corpses, paving the road he walked. Bodies of children and beautiful women lay like decomposing dolls. He could still hear the echoes of the infants' crying, the wails of grief for the mothers and wives that died for them, with them. All dead because of this laughing demon.
Sam roared, so beyond anger there was no word for it. He went berserk. He launched himself forward, no concept of self-preservation or sanity, his mind consumed with bloodlust and bent on destruction. Desperate to kill, maim, destroy. The demon laughed as Sam thrashed on the fist slammed through his chest. Uncaring that the fucker was going to squeeze his heart until it burst, Sam still clawed and fought, determined to kill this monster. Blood filled Sam's mouth as he growled and hissed, and still he lashed out at the demon. Until all lights went out.
Such darkness. It filled the universe, and he was swimming with no land in sight. He was suddenly terrified. Ohgodohgodohgod, they were coming! He was stripped bare, reduced, diminished, no pride or confidence or skill. Nothing left, and the monsters were coming. Sam had no protections for body or mind. Broken, helpless, he reached one last time for salvation.
"Dean! Please! Dean!"
Sam began to sink into the murky dark of death and torment. His body would be consumed by monsters, his soul unraveled stitch by agonizing stitch. He could see it! What they would do to him, and he couldn't even breathe around the terror, let alone scream. Sobbing, he let himself go. There was nothing left… Nothing…
Something grabbed his wrist and he screamed… It was starting! … But he couldn't fight, exhausted to the point of death.
But instead of teeth and blood-soaked claws, he was pulled up, out of the dark waters. Sam gasped and sputtered, heart racing in his chest as he shook apart at the seams. Dean held him close to his broad chest. Strong, solid, protective. Sam clung to his shoulders, fingers white as they clutched at his brother's shirt. He couldn't talk past his chattering teeth, couldn't blink for fear of returning to the dark, to the monsters. He kept them wide open, locked on his protector.
"I gotcha, Sam. I gotcha."
Dean's rough voice was almost as solid as his body. It wrapped around him, further shielding him from everything else. Sam shuddered and curled forward as close to Dean as possible, silently begging.
Help me. Keep me safe. Save me.
He felt more than saw Dean lean over him in answer. Always.
Sam sighed, still shaky but beginning to relax. He caught sight of Dad crouching down next to him. Sam felt tears spill over his raw cheeks as a hard hand gently settled on his head. He relaxed further. Dad and Dean were there. He was safe at last.
Dean sat shell-shocked, half curled over Sam's trembling body.
Watch out for Sammy. Keep your brother safe.
His little brother. Raving and fighting things that were only in his head. His Sammy with such terror and horror on his face, with wide empty eyes the picture of devastation. Sammy who screamed so desperately for Dean. It had taken an hour, a goddamned hour, to get through to Sam. And the look that had flooded his brother's too wide eyes when he finally saw Dean… It brought him to his knees. He didn't know what to do with such trust and need, was terrified to fail his brother.
"What. The. Hell?" He looked up at his father through narrowed eyes. "What was that? That wasn't a nightmare! It wasn't even feverish delusions! His heart almost burst!"
His Dad stared back at him, and for a horrible moment, Dean thought he wouldn't get an answer. He felt his blood pressure begin to skyrocket with fury. Now wasn't the time for their Dad's need-to-know bullshit! Sam had almost died in his arms.
"Help me put him in bed. We'll talk in the kitchen."
Dean growled at the delay and at the thought of leaving Sam's side even for a minute, but he forced himself to calm. Sam needed to rest, and they might wake him up. Carefully, they cleaned the sweat off Sam with warm rags and changed his pajamas. In less than ten minutes, Sam was back in bed and tucked in safely. Dean spun on his heel and stalked from the room, heading for the kitchen. He immediately turned off the coffee, it was close to burning by this point, and turned back to the door, arms-crossed, as Dad entered.
"Spill. What's going on with Sam?"
Before answering, his father moved to the counter and picked up his cell phone. He dialed a number. Dean watched with unblinking eyes. "I need you," Dad said gruffly. "California. Cabin just out past Sanford." He hung up the phone and lifted his head to meet Dean's gimlet stare. "A friend's on her way. She'll help us."
"With what?" He'd never spoke like that to his father, but he didn't even care.
"Dean," he said on a sigh. "Your brother…"
"What about him?" Dean was practically growling.
Dad snapped. "Can the attitude, boy. Your brother's got one hell of a parting gift from that damned lightning strike. He's going to need help controlling it."
And it was Dean's turn to be struck by lightning. Shit. He knew as well as their dad how some psychics came into being. His fists clenched. Goddamn it to motherfucking hell. Sammy.
"Missouri is a good friend of mine. A psychic we can trust." He realized his Dad was staring at him in that evaluating way he had, measuring if Dean was ready for a hunt. "You probably don't remember her. You were only five when you met. She told me then Sam might have abilities. I thought she was wrong."
"Fuck." It was the least foul thing he could say at this point.
"She can help, Dean," Dad said again, hotly. "She can teach us what we need to know."
Dean turned and began to leave the room.
"You okay with this?"
Dean's back stiffened at the hard question. He turned around and the glare was back full force. "He's m'brother." Then he turned and marched away. What the hell did Dad think? That he was just going to abandon Sam when his brother needed him most? Fuck that! This was shitty, and it sucked big ones, but Dean wasn't going anywhere. It was his job to protect Sam. That's all that mattered in the end.
Sitting numbly on his brother's bed, almost unconsciously he reached for Sam's neck and pressed at his pulse point. Still a little fast but closer to normal. Sam had been minutes away from dying in Dean's arms. He didn't care what it took, psychic boy or not, but that would never happen again.
He must've fallen asleep. Next thing he knew it was morning again and Dad was shaking his foot.
He sat up, instantly alert as a stranger filled the bedroom doorway. He stood and blocked the woman's view of Sam, knowing without looking his brother was still sleeping and vulnerable by the even, deep breaths behind him.
"This is Missouri. She can help."
Dean leveled a sharp look her way. "What exactly can you do?"
The black woman huffed and slapped Dad upside the head. Dean's eyes went wide in awe. "What? You thought you'd leave all the explainin' to me, did ya, Winchester?"
Amazingly, Dad didn't retaliate. He merely sighed. "Dean was sleeping. I thought talking could wait."
Despite his shock, Dean shifted to block her when she stepped further into the room. For a second, he stared into deep chocolate eyes and had a sense of mutual respect pass between them.
"Boy, I can't help you if you don't let me."
Stiffly, Dean stood to the side at his father's order, but he didn't go far. He was ready to intervene if Sam showed the slightest distress.
Missouri didn't touch Sam, but when she got close to the bedside she gasped. "John, you fool."
Dean's eyes flashed to his Dad's, but the man wouldn't meet his gaze.
"Can you help?" he demanded gruffly.
"The boy's been broken wide open. Usually it's like a window. You awaken abilities slowly, opening an inch at a time." She shook her head, and Dean saw her hands were trembling. "His mind's flung all open, the glass shattered."
"Can you fix it?" their Dad demanded with a fierce glare.
Missouri shook her head. "Johnny… I'm sorry, but the trauma… The poor boy! Such power…"
Dean stepped closer, protectively. "There has to be something we can do! Please."
Missouri looked into his eyes and visibly squared her shoulders. "He'll need a crutch. A storm shutter, if you will. Had he opened his powers more naturally, he'd be able to protect himself, but as I said, the glass of his window's all broken. Even if we shut his gift down, there'll be a gaping hole where any old thing can get in."
"How do we get him a shutter?" Dean practically leapt on the chance his brother could be helped.
"Someone else'll be his shield, his anchor, since he can't be his own no more." Missouri again looked at Dean.
Dad stepped forward. "I trust you, Missouri. Can you be his anchor?"
Dean hardly felt the heavy hand that settled on his shoulder. He already knew how this would play out. He'd trust no one else to guard Sam's fragile mind. For a second, it almost felt like relief. All his life he'd been trained to protect Sammy. And it almost felt like it was all for this one moment.
"I could," Missouri answered reluctantly. "But it wouldn't be as strong or as effective as it'd be if it was someone he trusted. Either you or Dean would serve."
Dean held his breath, paralyzed by the thought that his duty would be taken by their father.
"No. You're psychic. It'd be best if it was you."
Missouri narrowed her eyes. "Don't be telling me my business, John. I know what I'm talking about."
"Dad…" Dean began.
"No, Dean. We have to be free to protect Sam. Things will be coming for him now. More than ever before. We have to be able to fight."
"I can still fight," Dean protested hotly.
"You wouldn't be able to leave Sam, and Sam can't be exposed to the supernatural," John snapped back. "I said no, Dean. Missouri will do it."
Dean said nothing as Missouri sighed and turned back to his brother. He trembled with the need to intervene. Sam was his responsibility. But Dad had given an order. Said it was best for Sam this way. That Sam would need them to physically defend him. But, god, it was hard.
Missouri put her plump hand on Sam's head. Dean held his breath as his brother went rigid, back arching off the mattress. With a startled shout, Missouri was flung violently across the room. Dean didn't even turn to make sure she was okay. He rushed forward as Sam's panicked eyes darted around the room. He dropped to his knees, hands soothing back Sam's hair. His brother's heart rate was up again.
"It's all right, Sammy. I'm here."
Sam was obviously exhausted. He weakly turned his face in Dean's direction, his eyes bloodshot. "Dean," he whispered, frightened. "Inside me. Get it out. Something's crawling inside me. Dean. It hurts, god, it hurts! Help me."
"Okay. Okay, Sammy. Relax. Breathe with me. I'm gonna fix it. I swear. Trust me, little brother. I gotcha." Without looking away from his brother., Dean said over his shoulder," Missouri. Tell me what I need to do."
"Dad," Dean snapped. He didn't have time for this. "This is how it's going to go. Missouri. Now."
He heard movement behind him, but all his attention was on Sam, who was bravely trying to match his panicked, hitching breaths to Dean's slow, even breathing. His heart was still beating too fast, but it was beginning to calm. Dean held tightly to Sammy's hand and tried to show how proud he was with his eyes and a half-smile. Sam blinked tears and sweat clear of his vision, but he never looked away.
"He's already reaching out for ya. He just don't know what he needs to do. I'm gonna show him. You'll know when it's done."
Dean couldn't see her, but he knew the instant she touched Sam. Sam tensed as his eyes went wide with terror. Dean held Sam's hand tightly, pinning his brother with an intense look. "Trust me, Sam. You gotta relax. It's okay. I wouldn't let anyone who'd hurt ya get close. Just do what you need to, Sammy. Let it happen. I'm here. I gotcha."
Then something warm and heavy firmly grasped the back of his neck. It pressed him down. Dean resisted the pressure until he found his balance again and relaxed. Sam went limp under his hands. His face, tight with strain and slick with sweat, loosened on a gasp of surprise. His pupils dilated, and he smiled goofily.
The soft moan of pleasure made Dean blush. "Ah, jeez, Sammy. The things I do for you." He blushed hotter when Sam's smile only widened. Dean wished their Dad wasn't standing so close, holding onto his neck. This was embarrassing enough. He shifted uncomfortably.
"Dean. S'good. You got me." Sam's big hand lifted clumsily and patted at Dean's chest. "Best big brother ever. Always save my ass."
Dean laughed. "Let's leave your ass out it, huh, little bro?"
Sam's face crumpled, fear creeping back into his eyes. "Don't leave me, Dean. Please. Need you."
Dean tried to shake off their Dad's hand as he leaned closer to his brother. Dad held on stubbornly, so Dean decided to ignore him. Sammy was more important. He'd deal with the man's disappointment later.
"I'm not goin' anywhere, Sam. Stop being such a chick and rest, okay?"
Sam's smile peeked out at the corners of his mouth. "Jerk."
Sam's eyes fluttered closed. His breathing deepened as he slipped into sleep.
Dean's head whipped around. That had been Dad, but it had come from the other side of the room.
The foreboding man stood by the door, leading Missouri out by the arm.
"I'll be fine. Just need some tea."
"I got coffee," he countered gruffly, obviously angry by how things had played out.
All of this barely registered with Dean, who was still focused on the warm hold on his neck. No one else was near him. It had to be Sam. His eyes widened as it really hit him what had just happened. He scrambled to his feet, chasing after the other two.
"What does this mean," he demanded a bit frantically. The hold on him didn't lessen or waver no matter how he moved or paced in front of the couch Dad had settled Missouri onto.
"A little late to be asking questions," Dad growled.
"John. Coffee," Missouri interrupted.
He scowled at her, but rose to do as she asked.
Temporarily distracted, Dean grinned. "How do you do that?"
She lifted an eyebrow unimpressed. "I don't take nonsense from nobody, boy. Now sit down."
Dean obeyed, scratching at the back of his neck. She slapped at his hand.
"Stop that. There's nothing there. You're only feeling an interpretation of the mental link. If you resist too much, Sam will sense it and think you're rejecting him."
Dean instantly froze. "Shit."
"Now, honey, I know it feels strange. It's gonna be uncomfortable at first. You're sharing space with someone that has always been all your own. In time, you won't even notice."
"Can he read my mind and stuff?"
Missouri sighed. "Well, I'm not sure how his abilities will manifest. We've seen so far that he's telekinetic and has visions. What else he'll develop, I'm not sure." She patted Dean's knee gently. "But the link will fog the issue for Sam where you're concerned. You literally stand between Sam and the metaphysical world. That means you're too close to him to really read properly. Like trying to focus on something right in front of your nose. It's impossible and causes strain."
Dean grinned, a weight lifting from his shoulders. He loved Sam dearly, his only brother, his best friend, but he'd been bothered by the thought Sam could possibly see into him more than Dean ever wanted anyone to see.
She laughed at him. "Though if you think he won't be able to read you through everyday means, you're crazy, boy. He knows you as well as you know him."
Dean rubbed his hair with a smile. "Yeah. He does know me pretty damn well, but still, that's not the same as being able to get in my head."
Missouri nodded, understanding.
"And I don't want him worrying about me. That's my job."
"Boy." She slapped his head. "You're father told you the truth. You boys are now connected. That ain't a metaphor. If you were to be hurt, Sam would feel it. Heaven forbid, if you died, he'd either follow due to shock or need to be locked up in an asylum drugged to the gills."
Dean looked horrified. "Couldn't someone else become his shield?"
"No." Missouri shook her head sadly. "I'm sorry, but the ability to maintain a link would be yanked out of him if your bond were to be destroyed. It would leave a wound too deep to mend."
Dean was on his feet with no memory of standing. He was used to being able to fling himself between Sam and trouble, not having to really worry about what happened to him as long as he knew Sam was okay. That had all changed. He now had to protect himself just as fiercely. It was overwhelming. How would he be able to defend them hampered like this? He saw now why Dad had been against it.
Missouri was furious. "I could slap him," she muttered. But before she could say more their Dad returned with the promised coffee.
"Sorry, Dad. I just didn't see any other way."
John said nothing, and Dean cringed. His Dad now had to guard two handicaps, not one. Worse, his Dad had just lost his partner. Who would watch John's back now?
"I can't believe you two," Missouri yelled. She jumped to her feet, her hands clenched and shaking at her side. "It ain't like you lost your limbs! Sam's powerful. Once he gets a bit of control over his abilities, he'll be an asset in any fight! And, Dean! You can still fight, boy. You just can't be suicidal!"
"You don't understand, Missouri," John barked, equally angry. He got right up in the woman's face. "I know it seems counter-intuitive, but the ability to go into battle not worrying about your hide could mean the difference between livin or dyin. You can't be scared of losing your life when you go into a battle, or it'll be used against you!"
Missouri wasn't going down without a fight. "John, you fool of a Winchester! You open your eyes to the here and now and leave the big picture alone! Your youngest isn't outta the woods yet. He's not gonna react well to you tellin him he's psychic, especially after what you've been filling that boy's head with! You gonna add to that by tellin him he's a burden? Dean, you gonna sit there and look like you've been handed a death sentence because you two are connected?" Her chest heaved with emotions and angry tears ran over her cheeks. "You shoulda let the boy's heart give out! Why save him if you're just gonna push him into taking his own life? What should he live for? Not this, I tell you! And you know where suicide will get him? You yanked that boy from Heaven and his Mama only to condemn him to Hell!"
"Enough!" John bellowed.
Dean was too shocked to speak. He was having trouble breathing, thank you so much. The picture Missouri painted with her cruel words made him ice cold. The mere thought of Sam killing himself… The gentle pressure on his neck increased. Instinctively, he knew Sam was reacting to his distress and Dean tried to calm down. Missouri was right, damn it! If he felt the connection or whatever was negative, Sam would find out and obsess about it. And Dean was well aware Sam was a gold medalist in Guilt. He didn't need Missouri to tell him how that would eventually destroy his brother.
"He'll kick ass, you say," he ventured hopefully, trying to break the glaring match between Dad and the psychic.
Missouri turned to him with a strained smile. "I know his gift makes him stand out a bit to the supernatural, but it also enables him to fight it more effectively than either of you."
Dean shot their Dad a look and saw the man was still furious. His new found optimism wavered.
Missouri clapped her hands. "Okay. This is what we'll do. John, when Sam wakes up, you'll tell him that you still love him, that being psychic doesn't change that. And you will make that clear, Johnny," she said seriously. "Then I'll hook you up with a psychic hunter I know. You'll see how they make the gift work for them, not just against. That way you'll have some idea how it'll be with Sam."
Dean was startled by his Dad's almost violent reaction.
"No!" John's eyes were cold, his fists clenched. "You won't be telling anyone about Sam."
"John! I'll not say a word. It's not like Pamela shouts to high Heaven what she is. I'll just tell her you're going to be training a psychic. She won't know it's Sam."
"If she's psychic, she'll see it," John snarled. "I said no, Missouri."
"Pam can be trusted!"
Dean physically placed himself between the two, honestly afraid his Dad was going to hit her. "Hey. Calm down. You don't have to go. And, to be honest, no matter what you say to Sam, he won't believe it if you ditch us here. He'll think you hate him."
"Fine," Missouri huffed with her arms crossed. "I'll do research to see if there's any accounts on psychics in battle for you to read." With that, she turned and stormed off to an empty guest room.
Dean eyed his dad. "You okay?"
"Go and watch your brother," he sighed in answer.
Dean watched as his father stalked to the kitchen with worried eyes. He knew they were both caught off balance with Sam and his new abilities, but their dad wasn't doing well with it, at all. Dean worried for him. The last year without Sam had been hard and too quiet. Without Sam there questioning, arguing, the hunts were near silent. No telling what this psychic shit would do to the man. No telling what their father's attitude would do to Sam, either.
"Great," he muttered. "Something more to worry about."
For the next two days, the Winchesters slept and recovered their strength. They only woke long enough to eat and use the restroom before crawling back into bed. Dean bunked with Sam, sharing the Queen bed. John took the room next door, and Missouri stayed in the last room down the hall. It was on the third morning that Dean woke to find Sam staring at him. He knew instantly the break was over. His brother's face had some color, he was freshly washed from a shower the night before, and his expression was relaxed, but his hazel eyes were dark and haunted.
"What happened?" Sam whispered, eyes locked on Dean's.
"What do you remember?" He asked in return, mostly to stall. He sat up and put the headboard at his back. Mostly so he didn't have to stare into his brother's hollowed out eyes.
"A lot of stuff," Sam answered. He didn't bother trying to sit up.
Dean translated that as meaning, too much. He gritted his teeth, hating that Sammy was suffering. He decided to go for casual. "You got struck by lightning, dude. It shook something up in your geek brain."
"So it was real. All of it," Sam rasped. His fists clenched in the blankets and his eyes squeezed shut.
"Hey." Dean placed a hand on his brother's head. "We'll figure this out, Sam. You were out of control, but we'll fix that. It'll never be that way again. I swear it."
Sam opened his eyes and stared up at him as tears rolled down his cheeks. "I'm psychic, Dean. How can that ever be okay?"
Dean shifted uncomfortably, but he didn't flinch away from his brother's need. He tightened his hold on Sam's hair and gave it a gentle shake. "You listen to me. Whatever else you are, whatever you do, you're still a Winchester. My geeky little brother. And we'll work this out together. The three of us."
A smile peeked around the corners of Sam's mouth and the tears stopped. Sam ducked his head and swiped at his face halfheartedly. Dean ruffled his hair and let him go, basking in the silence and in his success. It didn't last long, of course. Sam was never one to let things go.
"What does Dad say about this?
Dean had a flashback to when Sam was thirteen and had joined the school soccer team. Sam had refused to tell Dad because he was afraid he would make him quit, so Dean had been the one to tell him. Sam had waited in the car, and when Dean had come out, he'd asked in the same low, hesitant voice, "What did Dad say?" There had been other instances like that, and the answer always varied. Dean was happy to report this was one of the cases Sam would be let off the hook.
"He's worried about you. He knows this puts you in danger, and he hates that, but we've never hid from the truth. He's going to do his best to see that you can defend yourself mentally as well as physically. And we're going to help you as much as we can."
Sam shook his head. "I can't believe it. That he's okay with this. That you are. Hell, I'm not okay with it. I keep hoping I'll wake up and this will all be a horrible dream."
"I know, little brother, but we can work this out. We've dealt with worse. It's not the end of the world."
Sam looked up, and Dean almost flinched at the ocean of fear he saw inside his brother. "Dean, man, it feels like it is. I… I can't… I can't go back there again."
"You won't," Dean promised again. "I told you that was because you were out of control. It's over; you're past that. It won't happen again, okay?"
"How do you know?" Sam asked in a soft, pleading voice that reminded Dean of five-year-old Sammy.
He ruffled his brother's hair again. "I'm the oldest. I'm always right. Besides, I'm not going to let anything bad happen to you."
And so the future was altered. A different destiny taken up.