“What can you know about a person?
They shift in the light. You can’t light up all sides at once.”
― Richard Siken
He just can’t catch his breath.
Since the heart to heart with Sam in Virginia, Sam’s been different. Dean can’t quite put his finger on it. Sam was already tense, angry, and chronically sleep deprived before their little talk. He’s still all of those things, but the difference is in how he treats Dean. Dean thought Sam might hover and try to coddle him but he definitely needn’t have worried. Sam doesn’t initiate conversations much. Won’t look Dean in the eye half the time. He’s more obsessed than ever with finding John, but it’s much less about John and more about what he knows. It all makes Dean nervous, puts him on edge.
On top of all that, Sam manages to drag him back to Lawrence. Lawrence. Dean’s pretty close to losing it. He hates himself for being weak and calling John. His weakness so obvious in the useless message he left. He hears his dad’s voice in his head, plain as day. ‘You can’t be weak, Dean. Never show anyone that you’re afraid.’ ‘Do you think you’re prepared for anything if you’re crying, boy? Guard up. All the time.’
Of course, John never calls back. Never shows. Probably couldn’t be bothered to even listen to the message.
Once it’s all over, he and Sam are both raw. Seeing their mom again reopened wounds that never had and never would fully heal. It only increases Sam’s drive to get the thing that did this. Dean supposes he finally feels that connection he was always missing before. Now, he can picture her, the sound of her voice, her smile. Now, he knows what he’s been missing, what was ripped away.
They hightail it out of there, no reason to linger. Neither of them want to stay. Dean’s nerves are frayed, emotions running high. There’s no time to breathe, to catch his breath before they’re sent a new set of coordinates and have an old argument all over again. Sam is pissed, defiant, just like always. He may be 22 but he still sounds like a pissy 15 year old to Dean. But he goes with Dean to the asylum, just like John wants.
Dean isn’t surprised that John is nowhere to be found. He’s just as frustrated and angry about it as Sam, he just isn’t going to bitch about it. Sam has no such reservations. When Dean’s on his back staring at the barrel of a gun with Sam’s angry, judgmental face looking down on him, he can’t help but feel he deserves the contempt radiating from him. And sure, Sam’s not Sam, but that’s just what allows the truth to finally surface. And this is the truth, Sam’s truth, anyway. The anger and frustration Dean sees in Sam’s face when he realizes the gun is empty, that he can’t kill him, that’s a memory that’s going to stick. Even so, he feels guilty for taking Sam down.
Finding Ellicott isn’t hard, but finishing the job alone is bit more tricky. All he has to do is light the son of a bitch up but with Ellicott’s hands latched to his head, it’s a lot easier said than done. The sharp pain bouncing around his skull makes it hard to move, let alone think. He has one chance with the lighter and hopes his aim is true when he tosses it onto the doctors corpse. The relief is instantaneous. He groans as he pushes himself up. His chest is on fire. Like he said, rock salt wouldn’t kill him but it sure as hell hurts like a bitch.
Outside the asylum, Sam asks if they need to talk. Dean’s just focusing on getting enough air to his lungs. Sam hasn’t asked if he’s okay, hasn’t seemed to notice everything isn’t quite right. He shrugs the conversation off, after all, what is there to say? He already knew Sam felt that way, but he’ll try deny that it’s true, insist it was all Ellicott. Dean doesn’t want to hear it.
He has to stifle a groan when he gets in the car; his chest might be worse than he thought. Sam was really close when he shot him. It felt like a baseball bat to the ribs, and he’s pretty sure the wadding did some real damage. He grinds his teeth as he reaches to start the car, and that, Sam does notice.
“You okay?” He asks, genuine concern flitting across his face.
“Peachy. Just wanna get back to the motel and sleep, man.”
Sam nods, but keeps an eye on him. It’s annoying, really. One minute Dean wishes Sam would really see him and give a damn and the next he just wants him to mind his own damn business. He knows he’s all over the place and he’s driving himself crazy with it.
Right about now he’s really regretting not taking a better look at himself before they left, but if he can just make it to the hotel...just get there and beg off the inevitable heart to heart for a shower instead, he can clean himself up and put himself together again. He just needs a little time.
But time isn’t in the cards. He actually can’t catch his breath and it hurts when he tries. Not to mention he’s getting dizzy and his heart feels like it’s about to beat out of his chest. He knows what that all means. When his hands start shaking, he drops all pretense he can take care of this himself and pulls over on the side of the road.
Dean shakes his head and curses. “You drive.” He says as he climbs out of the car. He swallows a groan as he unfolds and tries to stand straight so Sam might actually let this slide, but Sam is by his side before he even registered that he’d gotten out of the car.
“Dean?” He says cautiously.
“Motel,” Dean grits out as he gingerly lowers himself to the passengers seat.
Sam nods and bites his tongue as he gets them to their room in record time. As soon as they’re in the room, Sam pulls the first aid kit from his duffle as Dean sits on at the end of the bed. “Let me see,” Sam says as he lifts Dean’s shirt and just freezes. Dean’s working up the energy to bat his hand away when he looks at his chest, too.
“Jesus,” Sam finally mumbles as he shakily lets Dean’s shirt fall back down. “Let’s get this off,” He says as he helps Dean with his jacket and shirt. Dean flinches and curses, covered in sweat by the time they manage it. Sam stares at the mess of Dean’s chest as he runs his hands through his hair, pulling it hard. Dean can see the guilt in his eyes, but then he takes a deep breath and it’s gone. “Give me the rundown,”
“Ribs are busted. Collapsed lung,” Dean clenches his jaw as Sam tries to wipe away the blood coating his chest to get a better look. Too much has congealed for it to do much good.
“No hospital.” Dean grinds out. “You’ve done this before.”
“Years ago, Dean! This is-,” He pauses and looks a little green. “This wound here is bad, it means the wadding is inside . I can’t just go digging around your guts for it. And your lung,”
“You can handle it, Sammy. You can,”
Sam huffs and shakes his head as he readies everything he'll need.
An hour later, Sam’s not so sure Dean's faith in him was justified. He did all he could, needle aspiration for the collapsed lung, irrigation of the many wounds from the salt, more stitches than he cared to count where he could get the flesh to meet back up mostly right. After twenty minutes of carefully searching, he finally found the shotgun wadding. He had to make an incision to widen the wound so he could get a better look around and clean it out. It took too long though, and right before he found it he was just about to call it quits and call an ambulance due to Dean’s shaking and pallor. It’s been half an hour since and Dean doesn’t look much better. Sam himself feels nauseous and shaky as he watches over Dean while he sleeps.
A low groan startles Sam out of his restless sleep. It’s barely morning, the sun just starting to seep through the threadbare curtains. Sam hurries to Dean's side.
“Dean?” He asks quietly.
“Shit,” Dean groans and huffs a pained breath when he tries moving his arm a bit.
“Dude, stay still. You’re a wreck, remember?”
“S’mmy. Still here.” He closes his eyes and takes a careful breath. His ribs protest all the same.
Sam frowns. “Yeah, 'course. Don’t think either of us 'll be goin’ anywhere for a good while. Want some pain meds? Water?”
Dean nods almost imperceptibly. It hurts like hell when Sam helps lift his head enough to take a drink and swallow the pills. “Patched me up?”
“Yeah, did my best to put you back together. Dean...I’m sorry, man. I-,”
“Shut up, Sam.” Dean tries to growl but it comes out annoyingly weak. “Ahh, fuck.” He groans and tenses in pain.
“What is it?” Sam asks quickly.
Dean has to work to steady his breathing for a minute. He’s had worse than this before. He can hack it. His body being beat to shit isn’t the problem, it’s everything else that makes this hard. He should’ve shaken this off by now. Thrown out a few jokes for Sam to roll his eyes at. But he can’t. He just can’t muster up much of anything right now.
Sam’s shoulders collapse and he rubs the bridge of his nose. “Look, I did like you asked, fixed you up here, but you gotta make sure you let me know if things are going sideways. Trouble breathing, signs of infection. Promise.”
Dean nods. “You gonna drop this?”
Sam laughs humorlessly. “You’re lucky to be alive. Lucky I didn’t kill you. Just lucky, Dean. I would’ve killed you. I wanted to. I was so pissed when I realized that gun wasn’t loaded. Would’ve beat your skull in with the damn thing if you hadn’t stopped me.”
Dean’s stomach rolls as Sam talks, his chest tightening as tendrils of panic burgeon. He takes a deep breath so it’ll hurt more, so he has something else for his mind to latch on to. He doesn’t want Sam to see him freak out. “Yeah, well. You still want to?”
“No! Of course not. And I mean it Dean, I never-,” He shakes his head. “I don’t think those things.”
Dean scoffs. “No?”
“Sam...I can buy you don’t want me dead. But there’s only so much I can believe.”
“It's just...Dad and his orders and his rules. It drives me nuts. He doesn’t always know best and I know you know that. Better than I ever could-,”
“Sam.” Dean warns, jaw tight.
“But you still do what he says. After everything. Why?”
“Because I know what happens when I don’t. Trust me, it ain’t good. You really think I never once tried to do go against him? And now? I’m just tryin’ to hang on. Help people along the way to finding him, do what he wants so we can end this nightmare. We gotta get the thing that killed Mom and Jessica. Soon. I just want it to be over, Sam. And if we’re fighting Dad, how’re we gonna fight whatever this thing is? We have to be together in this or we don't have a chance. You know that.”
Sam shakes his head. “I can’t pretend he didn’t do what he did, Dean.”
Dean’s got a white knuckle grip on the pilled up bed spread, that alone is sapping what little energy he has left. Everything hurts, nothing makes sense, and he doesn’t know what to do. He knows Sam is going to leave him. He's probably planning how he'll do it even now. They’ll kill the monster and then he’ll go back. He'll go back and find a new girl and become a lawyer and none of this will matter. They won’t see each other, probably won’t even keep in touch. Sam’ll have kids that he doesn’t want Dean to ever meet. Probably won’t even tell them they have an uncle. Their relationship has an expiration date and it’s almost that time. Dean knows he was always just a tool in John’s eyes, a mindless soldier. And it’s really not so different from the way Sam seems to view him. Useful for now, easy to discard later.
A traitorous tear escapes from the corner of his eye and he’s too tired to even try to wipe it away. He hates himself through and through and thinks maybe Sam had the right idea after all, back at the asylum.
Too many moments of silence pass. “Dean, did you hear me?” Sam asks.
Dean sighs and closes his eyes. “We have to work together to get the thing that killed Mom. Then I’ll follow your lead on Dad.” It’s what Sam wants to hear. What’s the point in fighting, anyway?