The crushing sameness of hospital rooms, one indistinguishable from the next is the thing that always gets to him. But really, the details of what’s in the room aren’t important, only the person in the bed is. That’s always been the way it is for him, all his focus on the seemingly empty shell lying there. Waiting for him to re-inhabit the body again, for his brother to return to himself. He’s been here too many times. Too many times for both of them. Dean forces his eyes away from Sam’s slack face and scrubs his cheeks with his hands, trying to stay awake a little longer. He needs to be here and alert, just in case.
The excruciating silence in the spare hospital room is suddenly broken.
“Ah, finally I get to run this sack of meat again. It’s not much fun getting kicked into the background. Oh you’re here. Of course you are, I don’t know why I’m surprised, not like you could possibly do anything else than watch Sammy’s ass,” Sam says, shrugging his shoulders like he’s putting on his fed suit jacket.
Dean is beyond happy to hear his brother’s voice after days of waiting here at his bedside. Just barely tolerating the nurse’s encouragement and platitudes without committing murder or mayhem as he truly wanted to. But it was, of course, too much to hope for that Sam would be just-plain-Sam after this latest catastrophic injury. He can tell immediately that somehow it’s that soul-less dick speaking now. The how of that happening is not something he can work out quickly, but the look on the jerk’s face requires a response.
“Nice to see you too, asshole,” Dean says, because that’s what the dude deserves after what he did to Bobby.
“Hey, did you know that Sam had to kill me to get control back? Guess it didn’t take or something since I’m back.”
Dean scowls at the idea of this soul-less version of his brother taking over permanently. “Don’t get comfy. You’re not back, Sam’s just having some issues coming out of this coma.”
“What, you think I’m temporary or something, Dean?” the Sam who is soulless taunts.
“Yeah, you’re not him, you’re not my brother,” Dean says dismissively.
“Actually I kinda am. I mean, I’m not ever really gone. I’m just what Sam is without a soul.”
“Sure, whatever. Don’t remind me.”
“He doesn’t need it, you know.”
“Sam doesn’t need what?”
“His soul. I got along just fine without it.”
“I wouldn’t call it just fine. You were a psycho killer.”
“And you weren’t, as a demon? C’mon Dean, we’ve both been there. And done that, am I right?
Besides, I had a reason for every piece of collateral damage.”
“Oh yeah, how could I forget. You’re all about the job, right?” Dean sneers.
“Yeah, that’s how it should be. Getting shit done.”
“Not according to Sam, it’s not.”
“Eh, you never listen to him anyway.” Soulless Sam flaps a hand at him dismissively.
“Says Sam. He’s convinced himself you don’t ever listen to what he wants, you’re so damn focused on saving him all the time.”
“That’s my job. Always has been.”
“Yeah, oh man how he loves that! Being just a job to you. Damn! He’s your brother, you asshole. He loves you, for some fucking reason I could never figure out. And believe me, I tried.”
“Like I’m gonna believe you.”
“Whatever dude, it’s your loss. You're missing out. He’d give anything just to be on an equal footing with you again.” Sam’s head flops back against the flat hospital pillow, his hair fanning out in a halo of shiny brown strands. Dean stands and puts his hands on Sam’s cheeks, looking down at his brother’s face.
“You’re not just my job, I hope you don’t really think that,” Dean says, hoping that Sam can hear him somehow. The nurse had said to keep talking, that sometimes coma patients hear things while they’re still under. He considers again how it was that some part of his brother just started randomly speaking like that, as if he was another being residing inside Sam’s complicated (and frequently injured) brain. Random and miraculous things happen to them, pretty much all the time. They live their lives surrounded by magic, or some shit like that. Sam would have an idea about it, but he’s got to wake up to actually tell him.
Dean’s hands move down Sam’s neck, slowly, lingering over the pulse, relishing the warmth of the familiar skin. A faded hickey is under one of his thumbs and he presses into it gently, remembering that night, a little less than a week ago. Sam coming unglued and writhing in pleasure underneath him. “Please, Sammy, you gotta wake up. Help me figure this out,” Dean begs, stroking both of his brother’s shoulders, squeezing them both tightly.
Sam’s entire body shivers in response to Dean’s touch. A violent, earthquake level shiver that doesn’t look right in this hospital bed. His eyes fly open and look around the room in a panic. In a small, very tired voice that Dean can barely hear, Sam says, “Just get it over with, I can’t take anymore.”
Dean gulps to steady himself, because this isn’t Sam, he never sounds this defeated, well he hasn’t since that stay in the psych ward that they’ve both tried to forget. Dean asks, “Can’t take what, Sammy?”
Sam flinches away from him, eyes wide with terror.
Dean’s stomach drops all the way down to the hospital lobby. “So who the hell are you supposed to be?”
Sam stares at him for a long moment, like he’s swimming through murky jello to come around to answer. “I’m the Sam who was in Hell, the one who was in the Cage,” he finally says in a low murmur.
“Why are you someone separate?” Dean asks, knowing that this version of his brother will only know about pain and terror and not much else. He also knows that there being more than one version of his brother inside of Sam is something that is beyond worrisome, and he thus avoids thinking about it for now.
“I don’t know. Probably Sam had to make me up to take over when he has to deal with remembering Hell.”
“How often are you around?”
“He’s been letting me take over a lot lately. Especially since you became a demon.”
“Uh…you probably don’t want to know. I shouldn’t tell you, he wouldn’t want me to,” Sam whispers, looking in all the corners in quick succession like he’s tracking something that’s about to attack.
“I do. I want you to. Tell me, please.”
“Fine, whatever. Torture, Dean, duh. He was torturing to find information to find you. He knew he was going too far, so he used me to do it. I’m the one with the most experience, learned from the masters, Lucifer and Michael. And it brought up all the memories of being tortured in Hell. Get it?”
“I don’t believe it, that he’d go that far. Just to find out where I went, he wouldn’t do that.”
“You don’t know him very well then. He made a conscious choice to take on the memories of Hell just to get to you when you were dealing with Cas opening Purgatory.”
Sam laughs, a bitter, broken sound that hurts Dean’s ears. “Of course he wouldn’t have told you about it. Yeah, I told him to just stay in his good memories, not go back out into the real world. But he said, ‘you know me, you know why. I’m not leaving my brother out there.’”
“He really said that?” Dean asks, struck with a hollow feeling in his gut, that Sam had never told him about this, and that he’d never thought to ask.
“Yeah, and that was all she wrote, stuck a knife in my belly and I was gone, until just recently. He was dealing with the Hell memories all on his own somehow. I don’t know how he managed, he’s a lot stronger than I thought he was.”
“You’re not kidding, he always surprises me with that. He’s a whole lot stronger than I am.”
Sam barks that broken laugh again, and it sounds even worse this time. “He’d never believe you just said that, not in a million years.”
“What? He doesn’t think I believe in him? That he’s the strongest person I’ve ever known?”
“Nope, he’s got himself convinced that he’s just a burden to you, and that you don’t think he can deal with making his own decisions or running his own life.”
“That’s so messed up.”
“It’s all wrong. He’s got it all backwards.”
HellSam laughs, with real bitterness that he seems to chew on and relish. “Riiight, you keep telling yourself that, Dean. Well, you gotta talk to him or something. He doesn’t think you trust him.”
“I trust him with my life.”
“But do you trust him with his?”
“Of course I do.”
“Dean, I know you’re not this stupid, c’mon. Recent events wouldn’t exactly jive with that, if you’re honest with yourself.
“But I do trust him with my life, his life, pretty much everything. Of course I do.”
“Don’t tell me dude. Tell him.”
Dean starts to agree, to swear that he will, of course he will, as soon as the real Sam is there to talk to, but Sam’s body goes limp and appears to be uninhabited, eerily empty once again. Dean is out of his chair and shaking Sam’s shoulders before he knows he’s moved. His hands are cupping Sam’s face and then he’s pulling up one of Sam’s near-translucent eyelids to see if anyone is still home. The pupil dilates normally, so Dean lets the eyelid go gently. Still holding Sam’s face, he whispers a close-to-silent plea to whichever power happens to be eavesdropping, “Please, he’s had enough, he’s done enough, please just let him be okay, let him come back to me in one piece.”
Sam’s body seems to gain weight and presence as his eyes focus on Dean’s face hovering above him. He inhales deeply and then grimaces. “Oh God, not another one of these! Why do you keep doing this to me?”
“Which one are you?” Dean asks with a sinking feeling in his stomach. He’s just realized that the fact that there are apparently more than a few versions of his brother inside of Sam is something that is beyond worrisome if it’s not happening because of magic. But he’s not sure what to do, and he needs to keep Sam awake and talking, no matter which Sam it happens to be.
Sam rolls his eyes so far up in his head Dean thinks he’s passing out on him again. But then he hears the sarcastic laughter coming from Sam under his breath. “Uh, Lucifer, your Dean imitation never works. C’mon, give it up already. I told you a million times ,you never get his smell quite right.”
Dean’s hands tighten on Sam’s face. “Sammy, it’s me.”
Sam shakes his head roughly, dislodging Dean’s grip. “Oh shut up with the Sammys. It just makes you sound desperate. Besides, it’s not gonna work this time”.
“Stone number one, remember?” Dean says.
Sam makes an unbelieving noise in the back of his throat. “Ah, that’s such a load of bullshit. Dean never meant that crap anyway.”
Dean straightens up to his whole height, hit by sudden anger at being challenged. “What the hell? Of course I did.”
“Sure, like I’m supposed to believe that when the first thing he did after telling me that was lie to me,” Sam challenges again.
“What are you even talking about?” Dean asks, shaking his head in confusion.
“Think about it. What was the first big thing that happened, after he made his little ‘stone number one speech’?” Sam asks in response.
Dean searches back through his memories of that awful time. “The Leviathan attacked us when we got back to Bobby’s yard.”
“No, after the hospital, when Sam was off trying to help his friend who happened to be a kitsune.”
“Oh,” Dean says in a small voice that trails off to nothing, remembering with all too much clarity.
“Yeah—oh—Amy Pond—you remember her? And how you lied to Sam’s face about killing her. It made him have to question everything, reality, what was true, what else you were lying about, if he could trust you, or trust himself. And all that when he was trying to not let you know how bad the hallucinations were getting.”
“That wasn’t a good call on my part, lying to him about it. I just didn’t want to upset him so soon after he had that breakdown. And then it was too late to fess up.”
“Do you know how hard that was for him? To come back to you? And you never really apologized, just assumed he’d take his place in the passenger seat again.”
“What else was I supposed to do?”
“I don’t know, Dean, be a human, talk to him for once. Tell him why you did what you did. You know he’d understand, he’s way too forgiving for his own good.”
“Yeah, I know,” Dean mumbles into his chest.
Sam grabs at his hand and laces their fingers together. “Listen to him when he tells you this stuff, Dean. It takes a lot for him to even say something to you about these things. So when he does, it’s really important to him.”
Dean squeezes Sam’s hand, thankful for the advice. “I will, I swear I will,” he says, staring into his brother’s eyes that have that vacant look that means another hallucination is coming on quick.
“You better. Otherwise, you might get stuck with one of us for a brother and I’m pretty sure you don’t want that,” Sam says, with a sad, slow shake of his head. “This wasn’t some coincidence, Dean. It has to do with the case you were working.” And this time, his eyes do roll up from the pain of the sudden movement, and his hand goes limp, releasing Dean’s. Just like that, Dean is alone again, waiting to see who will show up next in this parade of the many flavors of Sam. If this is some magic deal, having to do with their most recent case, well, it sucks, and he doesn’t like it. He hopes that’s all it is, and not some permanent multiple-personality disorder thing, because how in the hell are they supposed to deal with that?
He pulls his chair a little closer and winds his hand through the tangle of cords and the bed rail to reach for Sam’s hand again. He opens the closed fist up and traces his finger over the still-jagged scar on Sam’s palm, remembers stitching it up, Sam’s lip trembling with the pain, his eyes filled with tears. Bobby had helped distract him then, and Dean wishes with all his heart that Bobby was here now. He’d know what to do. Or he’d at least help Dean hold his shit together to get Sam through this. But it’s only them now, like it’s been for a while now. He traces all of the fingers of Sam’s hand and then slots their hands together, forefinger instinctively reaching for Sam’s pulse point on his wrist. “Need you, Sammy, need you to come back to me.”
Sam’s hand tightens into a hard claw as his body convulses, he groans with the pain of moving his head too suddenly. Dean gasps with the pain of Sam’s crushing grip. Sam hears the noise and his eyes jump to Dean’s face and he lets go of Dean’s hand like it’s on fire. “Oh shit, what’s this, another nightmare? Am I ever going to stop dreaming you?”
“You’re not dreaming me, Sammy, I’m really here,” Dean says, trying to be patient, but being called a nightmare is kind of rough.
Sam’s eyes go wide as he searches Dean’s face. “No you’re not, you can’t be. You’re dead.”
“I’m sitting right here in front of you, dude. This is me pinching your arm. Does it hurt in your dreams?” Dean pinches Sam on the back of his wrist, hard.
Sam yanks his hand away from Dean’s fingers. “Ow! You fucker.”
“Believe me now?”
Sam turns away, pressing the side of his face into the pillow. “Yeah, whatever. Doesn’t matter. When I wake up for real, you’ll still be dead and gone,” Sam mumbles into the pillow.
Dean waits for a long moment, wondering if Sam’s passing out again or if this is another personality or whatever he’s talking to. He decides he might as well ask, just to be clear. “Who are you anyway?”
“I’m the Sam who tried to live without you when you died killing Dick Roman,” Sam says in a sad, empty voice that sounds so unlike Sam it makes Dean want to scream.
“Uh huh, so why are you separate?”
“Oh right, he’s never told you this. I probably shouldn’t…” Sam’s voice trails off and he slowly turns to look at Dean.
Dean’s eyebrows shoot up at the hesitation, he marshalls his face into the pleading one that usually works on Sam. He knows it’s his own lame version of Sam’s unbeatable puppy dog eyes. “Just between you and me,” he cajoles.
Sam rolls his eyes at Dean’s antics, almost smiles. “I’m the one that kept him alive long enough until he met Amelia, and then she took over from me. But let me tell you, it was a close one.”
“A close one?” Dean asks, a cold, spiky ball of fear beginning to form in the pit of his stomach.
“Yeah, he didn’t just hit a dog like he told you, there was a lot more going on that night.”
Dean feels the ball of fear release all it’s spikes at once, they shoot through his body, causing him to flinch. “Like what exactly?”
“He was trying to drive off a cliff,” Sam answers, looking at Dean with an eerie calmness, like he knows what Dean’s response will be before he even says anything.
Dean shakes his head, not wanting to accept this Sam’s words. “Doesn’t sound like my Sam to me.”
“Your Sam? That’s cute, he’d like that. Anyway, he was pretty far gone by then, it’d been a couple months, you wouldn’t have recognized him. He really fell apart when you died so suddenly like that. And with Bobby, Cas and Kevin gone too, well he didn’t have anyone to turn to. All he had was the car.”
Dean lets all of the words and their meanings sink in for a long moment, the fear is all through his body now, a thorough chill at the thought of how close he came to losing Sam for good. “Why didn’t he ever tell me?”
“He was embarrassed and guilty. Mostly though, he didn’t think it would change anything, and he was pretty sure you’d think less of him if you knew what he’d almost done. I think he figured you assuming he had a nice year off with Amelia was better than you knowing the truth.”
“I had no idea. I guess I was pretty set on that assumption and being mad about it.”
“Would you have done anything differently?” Sam challenges.
“Sure, of course. I’d have forgiven him right away for leaving me to rot in Purgatory.”
“He really thought you were dead, Dean.”
“I get that now. How did he do it?”
“Take all the crap I said to him about abandoning me? It was like a whole year of me doing that.”
“He felt he deserved it all, and more. You telling him that stuff was nothing new, believe me. He already had that song and dance going in his head before you ever said word one.”
“God, he must think I’m a real jerk.”
“Yeah, sometimes, but it doesn’t ever stop him.”
“Stop him from what?”
“Loving you, you jerk. You’re damn lucky to have someone like him, you know? Somebody that loves you unconditionally and has such a capacity to forgive.”
“I know I am. And I know I don’t deserve it.”
“He wouldn’t agree about you not deserving it. Like, at all. What he knows about your self-esteem issues could fill several volumes. But what he doesn’t know, is if you feel the same way back towards him.”
“He doesn’t? Of course I do. How can he not know that after all this time?”
“Gee, I don’t know, Dean, have you ever come out and said it out loud? That you love him and you’re thankful that he loves you? Maybe it wouldn’t do anything, but it sure couldn’t hurt him to hear it said out loud one damn time.”
Dean swallows nervously and shifts in his chair, uncomfortable with hearing his brother’s voice saying the ‘l’ word that they rarely use with each other. He looks over at this version of Sam, too tight, angry, needing some kind of answer. “All of you are giving me a big to-do list here.”
“Oh, poor you. Well, seems like you’ve got time to figure it all out, why not use it? He’s worth it to you, right?” Sam challenges.
“You have to ask that? Of course he’s worth it. He’s worth everything to me.”
“Just make sure he knows that,” Sam says with satisfaction, he smiles at Dean, that smile Dean’s seen since their childhood. The one that tells Dean he’s actually satisfied the kid for once, at least for now. He’s about to say something about wishing Sam smiled more when his brother's beautiful face turns into a mask of pain, a small noise escapes Sam’s tight lips and then his body is vacant. Nobody home. Dean shivers with a sudden rush of fear that Sam’s dead or something. He reaches out and touches the side of Sam’s neck, sliding his fingers delicately along the warm skin until he can feel the familiar rhythm of Sam’s heartbeat under his fingertips.
Dean’s eyes lose focus as he sighs in relief and he moves his hand up to hold the side of Sam’s face. He traces one finger gently over Sam’s sculpted eyebrows, hoping for a response.