I can't tell you how much I am in your debt. You're all so very nice to me, it's hard to believe I deserve all this.

Last weeks chapter had me on edge, really, and while I know that it was mighty intense I'm even more thankful for all your nice words and supportive reviews and Pms.

I'm so terribly sorry I didn't answer back to you yet. But each and every one of them is very special to me, I hope you know that by now. I will get to answering them all, I swear! Till then, I hope you'll find the time to read this next installment.

Torn and Frayed

Chapter 5

He kills the headlights as he pulls around the corner into the abandoned parking lot.

Wincing at how close to the motel-room door he already is Sam quickly shuts off the lmpala's rumbling engine, lets the car roll into the designated parking spot in front of room number 7 before stepping on the brake.

The sudden lack of engine noise is deafening, the car's interior suddenly way too quiet.

The parking lot is abandoned, not a single car anywhere. It doesn't really speak for the motel that it's abandoned like this, even though it's pretty close to the big highway bypassing this town, but that's probably one of the main reasons they've chosen to stay here of all places, Sam muses.

Dirt and discomfort versus privacy and a bargain. Story of their lives.

Looking around Sam sees that all the rooms are dark, and despite the late – or early hour, there's usually always someone awake, always some window illuminated to indicate another lonely soul who can't seem to find any sleep that night. But not here – not tonight.

For a moment, Sam feels very alone.

For a moment he stays behind the Impala's wheel, staring at the door of the room that holds the only family he has still left. The only person he is supposed to be able to trust – the one person he's tried to get back for four fucking months. Four months of unimaginable heartache and suffering, of brokenly uttered promises that he will do everything – everything – to get his brother back.

And now that he has him back he's suddenly trying to get away from him every single chance he gets.

His hands are shaking, Sam realizes, or rather thrumming with un-harvested energy. He consciously tightens his fingers around the steering wheel before forces each of them to let go – one by one - forces them pull the key from the ignition, forces them to drop into his lap and not rub and scrub over his face and through his hair.

He's jumpy, nervous – dissatisfied.

The night certainly didn't go as planned.

First the hunt that turned out not to be a hunt at all, then Dean suffering another one of his breakdowns connected to his time in the pit - even though of course he didn't admit to it - and then, finally, Ruby telling Sam to meet him somewhere only to never show up in the end.

An utter waste of time – all of it. From stalking a fictitious black dog to hoping to be let in on his brother's fears – to training and…having a little fun, maybe, with Ruby.

All of it a freaking waste.

And what makes it worse is the fact that Sam can't go in the room now and share his thoughts with his brother. He can't just waltz in there and complain about his shitty day and how it all sucks to hell and how he feels all his nerves tingle from the need to get a boost of energy he so desperately craves – almost like an orgasm – that surge of high he always gets when he sends some demon back where he came from.

Here he is, carrying around all this weight on his shoulders – this tremendous responsibility - and there's nobody to share it with.

Ruby…well, he could talk to her, of course, but their relationship isn't exactly a vocal one. And the one person that always used to listen to everything Sam had to say, be it important or not, apparently isn't capable of handling the truth right now.

So, Sam's on his own here. It's not the first time, probably won't be the last either. Still doesn't mean that it has to feel good…

So here he is, back to pretending.

With a heavy sigh Sam folds himself out of the car, careful to close the creaking driver's door as quietly as possibly. In a surge of irritation he thinks that, most definitely, Dean is not oiling the damn hinges just so he can keep track of when Sam's taking the car, so he can hear when he comes back.

It's unreasonable, of course, Sam knows that the second the though has formed in his mind, but for a beat of a second there it all seemed so wonderfully plausible.

"She's an old girl," Dean keeps telling Sam. "I keep good care of her, but you can't exactly blame her joints for getting a bit rusty, seeing how she has to haul your giant ass around all the time…"

Sam can't help but snort at the instant memory of his brother's teasing banter, feels a sharp pang somewhere in the depths of his chest when he realizes how rare those times of lighthearted, no-offense-taken pestering of each other have become.

Making sure that the Impala's door is locked securely Sam walks toward room number 7, suspiciously eyeing the only window right next to the door. Still no light on inside. Good.

Squaring his shoulders, Sam eases the key into the lock.

Just as he's about to open the door, though, a faint thud – the sound of something hitting the floor emerges from the room and Sam freezes.

Immediately, the hair on the back of his neck rise like the hackles of a rabid dog.

Dean's awake.

The thought is enough to make Sam's heart skip a beat, enough to make all the muscles in his body clench painfully. Enough to send his mind into overdrive.

Dean's awake.

Which means he knows Sam's been gone, knows he's taken the Impala, knows Sam has been lying

For a crazy second Sam contemplates to just make a run for it – to leave the room key dangling in the lock and turn around, take the Impala and get the hell out of dodge. He could look for Ruby, hook up with her – send his brother a text message with the coordinates of where he left the car and that will be it.

No more keeping secrets, no more living next to each other, yet worlds apart.

"Alistair,"

It takes Sam almost a full second to recognize the voice, hoarse and choked off and filled with such pain and…fear, it's hard to connect it to Dean.

But it is Dean, there's no doubt about it.

Then it takes him yet another second to comprehend the word his brother has been yelling.

Alistair.

The name sends a shiver of ice cold hatred straight into Sam's heart.

Without hesitation, the key forgotten in the lock, Sam slams shoulder first into the door, splintering lock and doorframe as the old, not so sturdy wood gives way without any resistance. Stumbling to a stop just inside the shattered doorframe Sam keeps his eyes open, the darkness inside almost complete so he has trouble making out anything but very faint outlines of chunky pieces of furniture.

From the desperation he heard in his brother's voice Sam expected to be walking in on a fight – or at least an impending one – expected to see both his brother facing off with the demon Dean admitted to knowing from his time in hell, but at first sight the room is not only dark and quiet, it's also…empty.

Energy buzzing through his head, Sam stands stock-still, taking a precious second to scan the darkness in front of him.

The salt-line that's been guarding the front door when Sam left has been disturbed, but it looks like Sam was the one breaking it, scattered crystals of pure white lying scattered around the outlines of Sam's well worn sneakers. He only realizes that he hasn't even grabbed his weapon upon entering when he hears his knuckles crack under the pressure of his clenched fists.

Goddamnit.

But a weapon against a demon would be useless, Sam argues with himself as blood continues to rush in a sickening crescendo in his ears.

The good thing about cheep motel rooms is, they hardly are very big – which makes it so very easy to scan the room in mere seconds – and find it empty.

At first, Sam's relieved. So it's been one of Dean's dreams again – a terrible one, no doubt, judging from the force of Dean's shout, the unusual violence with which he woke from his otherwise soundless nightmares – but a dream nonetheless.

Because there's most definitely nobody here – certainly not Alistair.

No one here but Sam.

Not even…

It hits Sam like a sledgehammer, his eyes immediately cutting back to the two beds on the other end of the room.

They are both empty.

And it doesn't make one shred of sense.

For a frightening moment Sam thinks he's imagining things, that his brother never called out at all – that Dean isn't even here to begin with.

Maybe…maybe it's withdrawal setting in, then…even though it's been barely two nights since he's last seen Ruby. And he has taken a sip earlier, too - when Ruby didn't show and Sam had been left to face his inability to do anything without the snarky, sexy as hell demon who seems to having a lot more power over him than she rightfully should have.

The flask…Sam's thoughts irrevocably turn toward the flask he carries around in the inner breast pocket of his jacket, his brain short-circuiting with the temptation, the promise of power.

But then, barely a heartbeat later, Sam is pulled back into the present again, pulled back with such force he almost sways on his feet.

Something's wrong.

He can taste it in the air – can smell it.

Taking yet another moment to let his eyes adjust to the darkness, Sam scans the room once more.

He has to find his brother.

With the condition Dean has been in lately, there's no knowing what his brother has done when waking up and finding Sam gone. Dean has been so dangerously close to snapping before, Sam can only imagine…

Fighting the urge to call out his brother's name, Sam forces his body and mind into hunting-mode, concentrates all his senses on the sense of wrong that thickens the air.

His eyes on the bathroom door across the room, Sam takes a tentative step forward when, out of the corner of his eyes he sees something sticking out from the narrow space between the two beds.

Jerking to a stop, Sam whirls around.

A hand.

The sense of dread pushes a surge of bile to Sam's throat.

Not just any hand.

It's Dean's hand.

No matter how much they've grown apart lately, there's no way Sam does not recognize the silver ring he noticed on his brother's hand for the first time when they reunited back at Stanford that night and Dean has never been without since.

"Dean…no,"

Reaching Dean's side with two long strides Sam pushes himself into the crammed space next to him, twists and maneuvers his body until he's on his knees next to his fallen brother. Worried hands are hovering inches above Dean's skin, unsure where to start. From past experiences Sam knows how wrong things can go when he touches his brother – wakes him too early.

But this, certainly, is nothing like any past experience they ever had.

Dean's lying on his side in the way too narrow gap between the two twin beds, one arm wrapped protectively across his belly, legs drawn up to trap the limb there in a very uncharacteristic display of vulnerability. His face is turned and practically squished into the mangy carpet, one hand fisted into the threadbare fabric of the partly pulled down comforter from one of the beds. The fact that he's lying way too still, twisted in a way that just has to be uncomfortable, there's no doubt that Dean didn't just fall asleep on the floor.

"Dean,"

There's no sign of any visible injuries, no blood at least. But there's a large puddle of puke staining the carpet right next to Dean's face, the smell hitting Sam's nostrils hard as he leans closer toward his brother.

"Jesus…"

The first touch is electric, Sam's fingers tingling almost as he touches the almost inhumanly hot skin of his brother's forehead. Carefully turning Dean's head Sam searches his brother's features for any sign of what's wrong with him as if, now that he's actually unconscious, he'll maybe let Sam in on his secrets.

Dean's face is pale and slick with sweat and even though the room is pretty dark Sam can make out bright red blushes accentuating his brother's cheekbones.

"What the hell…Dean? What the hell's wrong with you?"

There's a pulse, albeit a weak and thready, but nevertheless beating against the tips of Sam's fingers as he presses them against Dean's throat.

Not good…Jesus. But he's alive. Still alive.

Sam can't restrain the relived sob that pushes out from between tightly set lips as he feels his fingertips tremble a bit against Dean's fever-flushed skin.

"Time to wake up, dude," he whispers, applying gentle pressure to Dean's shoulder. "Come on, Dean,"

When a light but decisive slap on the cheek fails to rouse his brother Sam continues to run his hand from Dean's face over his skull, for once thankful for the close-cropped hair since it makes it so much easier for him to feel any kinds of bumps or broken skin there. But there's nothing, nothing to explain this – no cracked skull, no lumps or dents or anything else suggesting a concussion that could knock Dean out like this.

The frown bisecting Sam's brow deepens.

"Dude, hey. Time to wake up now,"

This time the slap is a little harder, Dean's head lolling in Sam's cradling hand, but still he doesn't wake up.

"Come on, Dean,"

Sam applies pressure to Dean's knees, attempting to fold them down so he can somehow get his brother into a better position for Sam to check him out more properly.

This, at least, get's a reaction out of Dean.

The sudden cry escaping his lips is deep and guttural, primal in its intensity. With sudden, unexpected strength he pushes away from Sam's touch, pulling his head out of Sam's palm to once again bury his face in the mangy carpet. But before Sam can say anything, can reestablish his hold or do anything else to pull his brother out of his apparent misery, Dean goes rigid.

His whole body tightens so suddenly, Sam jerks his hands away in surprise at the sudden tension that hardens every one of his brother's muscles, pulling him taut like a bowstring. Another cry of pain is cut off yet his mouth opens, lips forming unheard sounds of agony as his body is robbed of all means to express itself.

Then, Dean's eyes shoot open, confused, glassy orbs of green wildly roaming the room before getting stuck at Sam's face, staring at him for some endless, breathless seconds.

"Hey," Sam croaks, surprised by the emotion running wild inside his own heart at the open vulnerability he sees in his brother's gaze.

Dean's face is frozen in an expression of shocked disbelief and Sam thinks he can't take this, wants his brother to look away, to get a grip on himself again. Because this…

"Dean, hey. You with me dude? What happened?" Sam isn't even sure Dean heard, his gaze never wavering away from his face, locked in some kind of paralysis. Sam feels his unease grow.

Reaching forward Sam attempts to reestablish physical contact again, knowing that Dean, albeit always going on about personal space and touchy-feely little brother really just craves this just as much as Sam does.

But as his hand descends toward his brother's shoulder, Dean's eyes suddenly widen. A second later he sucks in a breath so deep, it's as if he's been close to suffocating. As if he hasn't drawn a decent breath in ages.

Forcing himself to wait, Sam stops his hand just inches from making contact, intent on giving his brother time to get a grip once more, to relax into the situation.

Dean's always been most vulnerable after waking up from one of his nightmares and it always, always takes him a while to get his shit together again. Sam doesn't know what his brother sees in those endless seconds after waking, doesn't know much about the images assaulting his brother's dreams and sometimes even waking hours – but he does know that they have to be terrible to lay his brother bare like they do.

Any second now, though…any second Dean will recognize Sam. He'll realize he's safe and pull himself together again, slam those walls down and secure them in place once more.

And then, as soon as Dean has himself back under control once more, they'll have some serious talking to do – Sam will make sure of it. He'll make his brother talk, if he wants to or not. Because there's still something terribly wrong. There is no way Dean will be able to explain this away anymore – the puking and the fever and passing out on the floor.

No way.

But as Sam watches his brother carefully he is confused to not see them fill with the relief Sam hoped to find there. There's no recognition, no moment of clarity – nothing but complete, utter pain and confusion. And terror.

Instead of slumping back down, instead of closing his eyes for a moment to school his features back into a mask of indifferent stoicism, Dean gasps. It's a horrified, pain-filled groan that seems to tear out of his innermost core and he jerks up and away, the movement impulsive and agitated, fuelled by what exactly Sam has no clue.

But Dean's body seems to be on some kind of lockdown, the usually controlled fluidity of his movements frighteningly absent as he flails to push himself up with onto shaking arms only to tumble back down again the next instant. His back hits the bed frame behind him, stopping his escape and still Dean pushes back, his whole body practically trembling as he stares as Sam with eyes awash with horror and naked terror.

"No,"

Sam jerks his hands away as if burned; shocked to the core by his brother's reaction, unable to contemplate what Dean must be seeing if his reaction is this primal, this raw.

Sam feels…gutted, almost and still he's unable to look away, mesmerized by his brother's eyes.

"You…not you…" it's the only thing, the same three words, uttered by pale lips, over and over again.

Sam doesn't think he'll ever be able to forget those words coming out of his brother's mouth, nor that tone of voice, the utter despair – the screaming desperation that bleeds out of those three words, repeated like a sobbing mantra.

"Hey…hey, Dean. It's me. Sam, just… You gotta snap out of it," Sam presses out, finds his own voice trembling slightly in reaction to his brother's misery.

Dean's head jerk, lips parched and eyes wide.

"No…you can't…you can't be here. Not here. I saved you…"

The words hit hard but Sam tries to not let it show as he slowly extends his hands to hold them up, palms forward. But the placating gesture only seems to agitate Dean even more. He pales visibly, breath stuttering out of him in an almost whimper as he presses his back even harder against the bed frame behind him.

Like a cornered animal.

That look…Sam remembers seeing it in his brother's eyes when he wakes up from one of his nightmares – the one he pretends to not have. But the look never stays this long, never takes over Dean's whole face, his whole being. Not like this.

This is so terribly wrong…

"Dean, no...It's me. I'm here, right here,"

At that, finally Dean stills. The sudden silence in the room feels like a bolt of thunder. For seconds he does nothing but stare at Sam but just as Sam starts to feel uncomfortable underneath his brother's stripping gaze, Dean's eyes start drifting off, off to the side to latch onto something else there. Sam can't help but turn his head, trying to see what his brother is looking at, but there's nothing. Just dusky corners and nothing else.

"You promised," he whispers so quietly, Sam's not sure he heard right and yet the words couldn't have hit him harder, more squarely and straight in the gut if Dean would have screamed them in his face.

Sam freezes, mind going blank for a second before it starts working in overdrive, thoughts tumbling over each other as if on a wild dash for the emergency exit.

'Dean knows.'

It's the only conscious thought, the only thought loud enough to be heard at the moment.

And for the first time in weeks, Sam feels really, truly guilty. Maybe it's because he didn't meet up with Ruby tonight, didn't get to 'train' with her and therefore doesn't feel the justness of his actions as strongly as he usually does. Or maybe it's simply the way Dean says it – in the throws of his nightmare and pain – the deep, heartfelt sincerity with which he delivers those two, simple words.

All Sam knows is, he feels gutted – and it hurts more than he thought possible.

He's struggling to come up with something to say – an excuse or a justification – when suddenly Dean slumps forward.

There's one single tremor, like a tidal wave crawling up from his toes to the top of his head.

He goes still again for the beat of the second before his body practically seizes, a retching cough erupting from his throat as he curls forward and dry heaves so hard there are tears streaming from his eyes, muscles and tendons standing out sharply against the sweat-slicked skin of his neck.

The onslaught of retching coughs is so violent, Sam's afraid his brother's body will break under them. But even now, even barely conscious and retching his insides out, Dean jerks in surprise as Sam takes a hold of his shoulders to keep him from face planting into his own puke.

"No more...let go of me…already said…yes…" he pants out between bursts of heaving breaths.

For the beat of a second Sam almost lets go. But, of course, he doesn't. He can't, because no matter what is wrong between them at the moment, no matter what needs to be said and done – the one thing Sam can't ever do is let go of his brother when he really needs him. Not even Ruby and all the damn demon blood in the whole wide world will ever be able to change that.

There's not much to bring up, apparently, only strings of bile and spit staining the already rotten carpet, and still Dean can't seem to stop retching, his body convulsing as he's trembling with pain and exhaustion. The sounds emanating from his throat, deep and raw, are the worst Sam has heard in his whole life. Almost as bad as back when the hellhounds tore him apart right before

Sam's eyes…

No matter how you turn it, this is wrong.

Even if it's PTSD – Dean reliving Hell – there's no way this is going to end well. No fucking way can he go on like this – physically or mentally - and ever be the same again after. And it's definitely not just in Dean's head. It can't be, and if the days of no eating and the puking and the soaring fever aren't proof enough Sam doesn't know what is.

For days or weeks or even months Dean has been holding on by no more than a thread.

And from the look of it, that thread's just torn under the constant strain.

The limited space between the beds makes it hard for Dean to truly fight back as Sam gently but decisively pulls him onto his lap, levering him sideways and holding on to his forehead as he keeps retching and trembling in his arms.

He wants nothing more than to hold on like this forever, never let his brother go again, but Sam knows he has to call an ambulance, right now, before he does anything else.

It takes some smart maneuvering and twisting until he can reach one hand into the back pocket of his jeans without letting go of his brother. Dean's weak yet insistent attempts to fight Sam's hold keep hindering his movements, but finally Sam manages to pull the phone free and punch in the emergency number before wedging the phone between shoulder and ear.

Between his brother's broken mumblings of no and stop and youpromised Sam snaps at a slightly overwhelmed operator to send them an ambulance – NOW. He offers little more in terms of an explanation other than that his brother is very sick and he needs a hospital 'right the fuck now' before disconnecting the call and dropping the phone carelessly to the floor.

There's so much more he should do.

Sam knows he should get up, pull his brother back onto the bed, cover him with all the blankets he can find. He should get up and make sure their weapons-bag is hidden underneath the bed instead of lying pretty much in the open next to the bed – that Dean's knife does not peek out from underneath his pillow.

He should make sure he has a decent cover story ready when the ambulance gets here – fake names to match their fake IDs and insurance cards, should make sure he's got all their stuff together so he can up and leave as soon as they wheel his brother out of here.

But he can't do any of those things.

There's this part of him – a part that has been missing, somehow over the course of the past weeks or even months, a part that tells him that he can't let go of his brother, not now. If he lets go now, Dean will slip out of his grasp once and for all and Sam will fall again. He'll fall into that terrible void he'd fallen into when he'd buried his brother in a wooden box in the middle of nowhere, vowing he'd get him back while secretly knowing that it would be a promise he wouldn't be able to keep.

Yet another promise…one of many he's made, Sam realizes.

When Dean finally succumbs to unconsciousness, Sam's almost ready to carry his brother to the nearest hospital himself.

Fighting down a tremor of dread shaking his own body, Sam reaches behind him and pulls the comforter off his bed, drapes it over Dean's prone form.

Now…now would be the time to get ready, turn on the lights and open the door, wait for the ambulance to arrive.

But he doesn't move until he hears the approach of siren's in the distance, doesn't get up until the paramedics practically make him.

He can barely speak as they ask him about his brother's symptoms, make Sam relay everything he can remember about his brother's condition the previous days.

Dean doesn't wake as they do their preliminary examination, doesn't move a muscle when they strap him onto a stretcher and load him onto the ambulance waiting just outside the door.

And after trying once – only once to make Sam leave his brother's side and get into his own car to follow them instead of riding in the ambulance with them – they give up trying.

Sam would have hated to hurt them.

But he would have if it had really come down to it.

OoOoOoO

So, Dean is sick.

Very sick…terribly sick. The looks the paramedics have shot Sam were accusatory at best as Sam relayed his brother's symptoms to them, got downright disbelieving as Sam dished out more and more details, surprising himself at how many little things he'd successfully overlooked over the past days.

Now that he's thinking about it, it has been pretty damn obvious something was wrong with Dean.

And Sam feels like a freaking idiot, an ignorant - and the worst brother in the world for ignoring Dean's obvious distress.

Maybe it's because he's been too focused on other things – other vital things, lately. Dean did his best to push him away, and Sam was only too happy to let his brother have his way for once. Sam didn't want to see his brother's pain only so he himself didn't have to feel anything.

But with everything that happened – starting with Dean going to hell, the selfish bastard – the four months after that and then the months since he's come back… All that is Dean's fault to begin with. Nobody's fault but Dean's.

And Dean is just so intent on playing the strong, the indestructible - even though it's as clear as anything that he isn't. Not anymore. Even Dean has to be able to see this.

But even though it clearly isn't his fault, Sam still can't believe he's missed it – let himself miss it. It's not like Dean's quite as subtle about being sick as he thinks he is. Sure, he's all false bravado and stoic face and manly grunts of 'I'm fine', but Sam is no novice at this. He's seen his brother sick and too proud to admit it more times than he likes to remember. He should have been able to pick up on it this time for sure.

"Mr. Hamill?"

Sam jumps as the strange voice intrudes his thoughts, forcefully rips him out of his reverie.

He's up on his feet instantly, hands nervously running over the thigh of his jeans as he tries to calm them, dry them since they've somehow gotten all sweaty. One quick at the clock above the door the doc just came through shows Sam that three hour have passed since he's last seen the man now standing in front of him.

Three hour. Godfuckingdamnit.

Sam's eyes shift to the man's face, recognizing him to be Dean's doctor – Dr. Silvers. Letting his gaze trail over the man's body Sam searches for blood, for any sign of how his brother is doing; as if he can read it on the man's light blue scrubs, somehow.

But he looks as clean as when he's left Sam sitting there, declaring that Sam can't stay with Dean during whatever the hell they were planning on doing… X-Rays, MRT – possibly surgery - Sam forgot all the details. All he remembers is that he hasn't yielded easily, only finally backing down when Dean suddenly started cramping and throwing up again, all the machines he'd been hooked up to going ballistic all of a sudden.

That has been over three hour ago – three hours in which Sam hasn't seen his brother, has gotten no word of his condition, fearing the worst.

Sam cuts the thought short, refusing to go there. He'd know if something happened to Dean since they wheeled him away. He'd know…he'd have felt it.

Scanning the doctor's appearance a little more closely Sam tries to peer beyond the professional mask that always managed to infuriate him but somehow pulls at his nerves even more now.

Dr. Silvers looks a little tired, maybe, but otherwise his emotions are carefully concealed behind a mask schooled by years of experience.

"How is my brother?" Sam hears himself ask, his voice almost as if it doesn't belong to him but some hoarse stranger instead.

At that moment the double doors behind the doctor swish open, revealing a long, brightly lit hallway through which an orderly pushes a bed. The bed is flanked by two nurses, surrounded by all kinds of equipment. On the gurney – practically buried underneath the tubes and bottles of infusion and a laughably thin, white sheet, lies Dean. He's not moving, not even breathing, Sam thinks – or maybe it's just the angle and the machines obscuring his view, but Dean positively looks…dead.

The cold shiver crawling down Sam's spine almost paralyzes him with fear.

Not again.

'Notagainnotagainnotagain' runs in an never-ending loop through Sam's head.

Sam takes a step forward, realizing it only when the doctor pushes himself between Sam and the bed, one hand held lightly against his chest as if he'd be able to push him back if the need arose. The gesture is so laughable, Sam can hardly believe it.

The top of man's head barely reaches Sam's shoulder and Sam has at least 40 pounds on the man, if not more.

Sam schools his features into the most stoic mask he can manage but puffs his chest out a little, using his superiority in height and bulk to make Dr. Silvers move backward one step, then another. But Dr. Silvers keeps himself between Sam and the bed nonetheless, doesn't look like he's going to completely give in to Sam's threat.

"Sir, we need to talk for a minute," the doctor ventures, his voice low and soothing and professionally level and Sam can't help but cringe, can't help but tense inside as he realizes what the man is trying to do.

"What's wrong with my brother? What did you do… Is he…?" Sam can't bring himself to finish the sentence – for all his false bravado. There are some things he can't voice, ever. Not again.

"He made it through surgery," Dr. Silvers says carefully, the answer no satisfactory at all.

Sam's head is spinning, out of control, rushing of blood too loud almost to hear his own thoughts.

Critical condition…high fever…have to run some tests…possibly fluids building in his abdomen…emergency surgery…

The doctor's words keep running through Sam's head in a never ending loop – just like they have for the past three hours of waiting.

But Dean's made – he's still alive…

As the bed comes closer, Sam can't take his eyes off his brother's face, pale and unmoving, his mouth and nose covered by a clear, plastic breathing mask.

The orderly throws a sideways look at Sam as he passes them by pushing the bed just a little faster as he senses the tension in the air.

Sam turns to follow when the doctor takes a half step between him the open hallway once more, blocking Sam's path. Keeping his eyes on Dean's unmoving form as long as somehow possible it takes every bit of control Sam can muster to not just barge ahead and go after him, the doctor be damned.

"Mr. Hamill,"

"I need to see my brother," Sam presses out and he feels his heart-rate pick up a notch when the orderly pushes Dean's gurney around a corner, disappearing out of sight.

"He's being brought into the ICU, sir. You cannot be with him right now. We'll have to wait until his condition is more stable,"

At that Sam wheels around, facing the smaller man and fixing him with what he's sure is almost a death glare.

"I need to see my brother." He repeats, slowly, holding eye contact to make the man understand that he's not going to accept anything but a straightforward escort to his brother's room.

Dr. Silvers, to give him credit, doesn't back down underneath Sam's flinty gaze, just nods a little, something like sympathy flashing through his eyes before they go back to their old, coolly professional selves.

"Your brother has yet to wake up from anesthesia and he's been given strong painkillers, so he certainly won't wake up for a while…"

"Then I'll wait – with him – until he does," Sam snaps, barely able to contain himself. But the urge to see his brother, to be with him – now – is so goddamn strong…

Sam starts another attempt to leaver but finds that the doctor hasn't moved out of his way. And with every second Sam is standing here, discussing this, Dean is moving farther and farther away from him.

"Sir, why don't we sit down for a moment so I can give you the details of your brother's condition,"

Gesturing toward the uncomfortable plastic chairs lining the wall Dr. Silvers takes yet another step in front of Sam, as if he's be able to actually, truly stop him.

Clearly, the man has no clue. Sam wouldn't even have to try very hard…

Sam doesn't have time to waste. God knows…god knows he's been staying away for far too long already, has been gone when Dean needed him, when he'd been feeling unwell, sick…when he'd been suffering in ways Sam can't even come close to imagining. And there's no way Sam will not be there now – not when his brother wakes up this time.

Maybe it's too little, too late, but Sam cannot not try…

"I can assure you that your brother won't wake up any time soon," the doctor continues softly, twisting the paper cap off his head and crumbling it up in his hands.

Then he sighs, continues: "I will make sure that you'll be allowed to see him as soon as he's settled into his room…"

Sam takes a breath, feels his body trembling, his head swimming with nervous dizziness.

But the doctor is right. And Sam needs to know what's wrong with Dean. He might be pretty good at medical mumbo-jumbo, but most likely his best chance of finding out what exactly is wrong with his brother is to stick to the doctor's explanation instead of reading it off a chart or extorting it out of some nurse before hospital security throws him out on his ass.

It will save him time, if nothing else, and that in turn will give Sam more time to concentrate all his efforts on staying by his brother's side till Dean's released form this joint again. Like hell is anybody going to throw Sam out before Dean's ready to leave, too.

Dropping his stance, Sam takes a step back, moving out of the doctor's personal space, which he only now realizes he's been invading. He will give the man ten minutes – no more – to tell him everything he needs to know. Then he'll go find his brother, no matter what.

Taking another tentative, staggering step back, Sam relents.

He's just about to ask again what exactly is wrong with his brother, what they did to him…what will happen now, when suddenly the world tilts on its axis.

The bright lights of the hallway seem to increase in their intensity, the brightness sending searing a stab of pain right into his brain.

Reaching a hand toward his temple Sam digs desperate fingers against his skull.

He feels dizzy, a sudden drumming sound droning inside his head and there's nothing he can do as the doctor pushes him back and down as if he's little more than a ragdoll. Helplessly, Sam lets himself slide back into the chair he's been sitting on, his back hitting the backrest hard, the back of his head colliding with the wall behind it.

He can feel a hand on his shoulder, another one slipping between his head and the wall, senses a presence far too close to him. He can practically hear the blood rushing through his veins – taste her blood on his palate yet his body is impossibly weak, not thrumming with energy as it usually does after one of his sessions with Ruby. Maybe it's the exhaustion of the past night…the lack of satisfaction to his body's cravings – or simply the worry about his brother's well-being, but Sam feels like he's about to pass out if he doesn't…

The weight of the flask presses against the inside of his jacket pocket, his fingers itching and unconsciously reaching up toward his chest, reaching for it – needing to open it. Just a sip – a tiny sip so his head straightens out again…

"Mr. Hamill,"

The voice is loud, way too close to his ear and Sam flinches back as suddenly, with an almost audible pop, his ears clear up again, the deafening heartbeat inside his head disappearing to once more make way to the low, hollow sounds of the hospital around him.

Blinking his eyes he clears the last cobwebs of shivering confusion from his vision, finds himself face to face with eyes he doesn't immediately recognize. Not his brother's eyes…

"Sir, are you alright?"

The doctor…sure. The man is looming dangerously close, his face just inches from Sam's, one hand on his shoulder and Sam can't help but shrug off the touch with an almost violent motion. The second the hand slips off, the last bit of tension is gone, too.

"I think you passed out on me for a second there," Dr. Silvers says, but he takes a step back.

Drawing a shaky breath Sam sits up a little straighter in the chair, pressing his shoulders against the wall, trying to balance himself.

"I'm fine…fine," he presses out, can't help but realize that he sounds exactly like his brother all of a sudden.

Just like Dean, reassuring Sam that he's fine, alright, peachy, right after puking his guts out after waking up screaming in the middle of the night…

But Sam is feeling better, the attack – or whatever just happened to him – is gone, body and mind back under control.

"I'm fine," Sam repeats with conviction "Just...tired. It's been a long night,"

The doctor still looks doubtful so Sam sits up straighter, rolling back his shoulders to instill confidence into his bearings. After a couple of seconds Dr. Silvers finally relents. He moves away from Sam, sits down two chairs down, giving him some space.

Sam can't help but feel relieved.

Sometimes - when he gets this…rush, this craving, he doesn't trust himself, feels like he might lose control. It's only for a second or two, most of the time, but that's enough time for him to do some serious damage. Sam knows that. It's bad enough when Dean's right in his face when it happens, but to go against a total stranger, someone who doesn't care enough about him to look past it and just let it go…

"So…my brother," Sam presses out.

But he's pleased to notice his voice sounds much stronger already, much more steady than before.

"Your brother…" the man still eyes him a little bit uneasily, but with the question, apparently, he snaps back into his professional mode.

The doc takes the crumbled paper-skull cap, flattening it against his thigh while collecting his thoughts – rounding up the facts. Then he looks up, squarely meeting Sam's gaze.

"Unfortunately, his condition turned out to be a lot more serious than we hoped,"

OoOoOoO

tbc

AN:

Just a short note tonight, I promise!

Once again, thank you all for reading. No broken ramblings tonight - which should show you how much I am elevated by your wonderful support. i'm still nervous, mind you, but am doing much better (tonight).

The next chapter, I'm very confident to say, will be the last one. But I probably won't be able to post next week, because I will be going away over easter and most likely will not have internet access on the ranch I'm staying at. So, I hope you still find this story worth waiting for - I hope I can make it worth your time.

Happy easter to all of you. Thanks for taking the time to read, and maybe even tell me what you think.

take care!