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In The Dark (Part 2/4)

Sam woke up the same way that he’d always woken up when he was unsure of his surroundings.

It was sudden, instant, and Dean was the only one who noticed. The doctor was still bustling around his brother’s still form, taking little notes on his clipboard, and he didn’t seem all too happy when Dean manhandled him away from his patient.

“He’s awake.”

The doctor frowned, leaning forward a little to peer at Sam closer. “Look, Dean, I understand that you’re anxious for him to wake up, but there’s nothing to suggest-“

“His muscles are tense.” Dean interrupted, nodding to his brother’s arms, curled up against his chest. Though his fingers remained still, there was a barely noticeable ripple running through his arms, a rhythmic tensing and relaxing of his muscles. A hunter preparing for the opportunity to save himself, and Dean had never been so glad that their father had drilled it into them to always wake up still and quiet, eyes staying shut whilst they tested out their bodies for injuries, tried to gather as much information as possible without giving themselves away. “Our dad was in the marines. It’s a trick he taught us – he’s testing his muscles to see if he’s hurt.”

As if on cue, Sam’s fingers on one hand gave three barely there twitches, followed by three more on the other. The doctor’s eyes widened in amazement, and Dean couldn’t help the wide grin that broke across his face. Some part of him, he knew, had been waiting for proof that his brother was still in there somewhere. He’d just gotten it.

“Well, I never.” The doctor breathed. “All of the previous experiments into the effects of this kind of torture suggest that he should have nowhere near this level of consciousness, nevermind control. It seems you were right when you told me that your brother was strong.”

His grin grew, and he sank into the chair next to the bed, reaching for his brother without thought. He paused halfway there, eyes flying to the doctor. “Can I… is it okay to touch him?”

The doctor hesitated.

“I had been going to suggest that we wait a few days, until the IV and the feeding tube had been allowed a little time to start making your brother feel better, but…” He smiled a little. “After what I’ve just witnessed? It might be worth giving it a try. Nothing too overwhelming, though.”

Dean nodded.

It was a few seconds before he could gather the courage to stretch his hand out, and he was almost surprised to find that he was shaking. For a long while, it was all he could do to rest his hand on the bed just a few inches from his brother's. Finally, slowly, he stretched out and pressed their fingertips together, just the lightest whisper of contact.

Sam flinched as if he'd been burnt.

Dean resisted the urge to pull away, just left his hand there, a constant pressure that didn't lean to pain. He wondered if the psycho that had captured Sam had been hurting him, somehow, whilst he was there. There'd been unexplained bruises on his body. It would almost make sense. Dean couldn't imagine how terrifying it must be to be completely shut off from the world around you, and to have the only contact with another person bring nothing but pain.

He was just beginning to wonder if maybe this whole thing was too much, too soon, and then Sam's fingertips shifted slightly against his own, twisting so that their fingers were pressed together pad to pad. Dean frowned in confusion, feeling the way Sam's hands trembled around his, suddenly squeezed. He flinched again, expecting a blow that didn't come. Testing the waters.

Dean stayed still.

Those fingers carried on moving, sliding slowly further down Dean's hand, until they encountered the thick scar along the bottom of the thumb, and Dean realised that - somehow - Sam had known it was him. Had looked for the proof that he needed to know that he was safe, somehow. Protected.

He wasn't embarrassed by the tears that fell free, tickled at the edges of his smile. When he looked up, Doctor Mullins was smiling, and Dean could just about make out the glimmer of moisture in the older man's eyes.

"I'll give you some time." He said kindly, slipping the clipboard back into its rightful place at the end of Sam's bed, before leaving the room quietly. Dean watched him go, inexplicably worried about being left alone with this new, fragile version of his brother.

Sam was trembling lightly, and Dean wondered whether it was from fear or hope. He wondered how many times Sam had dreamt that someone had found him, only to wake up in that box all over again.

The skin pressed against his own was baby smooth and Dean bent, slowly, to press a kiss to his brother's forehead.

Sam trembled, and when Dean looked at his brother's face, he caught the glint of a tear making its way out from underneath the blindfold.

"It's alright, Sammy," He whispered, not caring that his little brother couldn't hear him. "I'm here. I've got you."


For hours, Dean did nothing more than hold his brother's hand.

Gradually, Sam got braver. Moved his own hand further down until they were pressed palm-to-palm and, nearly four hours after the two of them had first made contact, he tangled their fingers together in a rushed movement, flinching violently even as he did it.

There was no real pressure in the grip. If it weren’t for the fact that Dean’s eyes were locked on the places that their fingers were tangled together, he might not have even realised that the two of them were touching. As it was, he didn’t tear his eyes from that small point of contact until he felt his brother’s slowly relax into sleep once more.

It was then and only then that he gently pulled away, feeling a pang of guilt when Sam stirred slightly, hand twitching a little as if in search for Dean’s. He was tempted to give in and reach out once more, but he knew that he had to put the hours that Sam slept away to good use.

The laptop was still in the car, but the phone that Sam had finally convinced Dean to ‘upgrade’ to had an admittedly handy ability to channel google, and Dean did his best to put it to good use. If ever before he’d doubted that he didn’t have his brother’s researching abilities, than his abysmal attempts at discovering what he was likely to encounter in Sam’s recovery proved it. It turned out that typing in ‘after effects of sensory deprivation’ and hitting the search button didn’t really narrow it down much, and the few useful websites that Dean did find seemed to be referring to some kind of experiment where people had willingly signed themselves over to try it, and had promptly regretted that decision.

He wasn’t sure how accurate those results really were, because Sam wasn’t exactly the kind of person to sign himself over for a friendly bit of torture every now and again.


The small amount of information he did manage to turn up wasn’t exactly reassuring. Most people had experienced some kind of hallucination or psychosis whilst in isolation, and they’d only been down there for a few hours. Sam had been in that basement for three weeks, and Dean couldn’t even begin to imagine what his brain might have cooked up in that amount of time. Sam wasn’t exactly his own biggest fan to begin with, and Dean knew without a doubt that he would have blamed himself for his kidnapping.

Hell, knowing Sam, he’d have convinced himself that Dean was in the box next to his.

Dean’s eyes widened at the thought, because could it possibly be that the reason that Sam had let him get so close, hadn’t freaked out more than a little when the two of them had made contact, wasn’t because he knew he was safe with Dean, but because he thought Dean was trapped down there with him? If he’d believed from the start that his brother was in exactly the same situation, it made a sick sort of sense that his presence would bring nothing short of relief – for all he knew, Sam had spent the past three weeks wondering whether or not his big brother was even alive.

Poor kid.

Still, Dean wasn’t above using that belief in order to make life a little easier for the two of them. For now, it was easier to let Sam believe that he was still in the basement, but Dean would be damned if Sam was being made to believe that he was still alone. Whether his brother knew that he’d been found and was free, or whether he thought that Dean was still down there with him, at least he was accepting comfort from one source.

It was a hell of a lot more than the eldest Winchester had expected.

Dean could list hundreds of things he loved about being a Winchester.

Loyalty, family, kicking some serious ass. Their ability to wrangle their way out of almost any situation, and survive against the odds; the fact that all three of them could hit a moving bull’s-eye at two hundred yards. They could recite exorcisms in three different languages, forwards and backwards, and he was pretty sure that Sam must hold the land-speed record for lock picking. Being a Winchester was awesome.

Unfortunately, Lady Luck didn’t seem to agree.

The doctor had come in to check on Sam just a few hours after he’d fallen back to sleep, and Dean had been so wrapped up in his brother that it wasn’t until the man paused at the end of the bed and began shifting his weight from one foot to the other, uncomfortably, that he realised anything was wrong. His saving grace was that his honest relief at finding his brother, and Sam’s reaction to him being there, seemed to have won the man over – he looked more than a little reluctant as he informed Dean that there’d been a problem with their insurance.

Dean had almost forgotten about that.

Usually, they made a habit of only sticking around for as long as it took for them to have their broken bones casted and their wounds stitched up before they skipped town. In an ordinary situation, they’d have been out of there hours beforehand, the small town not so much as a speck in the rear-view mirror.

This really wasn’t a normal situation.

Pretending to be flustered wasn’t really that hard. He was a hunter, for Christ’s sake, and his dad would be kicking his ass if he knew that Dean had forgotten such a major issue. Upon seeing Dean’s reaction, the doctor had assured him that it wasn’t a pressing issue – as long as he sorted out the problem within the next couple of days, the hospital weren’t going to be pressuring him to cough up the correct details.

He’d then checked Sam’s vitals, fiddling with the IV for a seconds before heading out again, leaving Dean shifting uncomfortably in a hard-backed hospital chair and with a serious conundrum on his hands.

Sam was messed up. Really, really messed up. If Dean had his way, the kid would be spending the next month in the hospital at minimum, the two of them following every little rule that the doctors set to make adjustment easier for his brother. Unfortunately, it was pretty clear that wasn’t going to happen. He briefly entertained the idea of skipping town and checking his brother into a hospital a few hours down the road, but he knew that there’d be too many questions. 

He hated the idea of taking Sam to a motel room. Of leaving the quiet, controlled bubble that the hospital provided and striking out on his own, but he really wasn’t seeing another option.

The doctors had talked him through their plans for Sam over the following weeks, and for the most part it was pretty straight forward. The earplugs that would filter out the world to varying degrees were labelled and stashed in a small drawer in Sam’s nightstand, and the bandages around his eyes would simply need to be removed one layer at a time, until Sam could stand to be in a dimly-lit room without them on. Simple.

Only, the thought of trying to do it by himself terrified Dean in a way that nothing had ever terrified him before.

Hell, the doctors and nurses were professionals, and even they had seemed nervous. There was so much at stake.

He wished he had a choice.

He knew better than to think that he could bust his brother out of the hospital alone. As responsive as Sam had been to him, there was no way that he was in any fit state to get out of bed under his own steam, and Dean wasn’t even convinced that he’d be able to prop the kid up in a wheelchair without causing a major meltdown. Pushing him out on a gurney wasn’t in any way feasible – there wasn’t a snowball’s chance in hell that he’d get his brother out of the building before someone realised he was doing something he wasn’t supposed to be doing.

Which, really, only left one option.

The payphone in the hallway was positioned in just the right position so that, with the blinds to Sam’s room cracked just right, Dean could keep one eye on his sleeping brother as he dialled Bobby’s number from memory.

The hunter picked up on the second ring, with what sounded like a sigh of relief, and Dean could picture him perfectly in his mind’s eye, face pale with worry and a glass of whisky in his hand, hunched over the rickety old desk in his study. It had been years since they’d last spoken, and yet Bobby had responded to Dean’s panicked phone call with the same level of gruff concern that the younger man had remembered. It seemed that some things never changed.

“You found him?”

“Looking at him right now.” Dean confirmed. “He’s alive, but… he’s pretty messed up, and the hospital are already onto me about the insurance. I need him out, but I can’t do it alone.”

He could hear the rustle of the hunter’s baseball cap as he nodded. “We can be there in a couple of hours. He okay to be moved?”
Dean hesitated for a long moment, eyes flying back to the prone form of his brother.

“I… he’ll have to be.” The hunter acknowledged after a long moment. “Look, he was being held captive by some psycho human, and the guy had him in some kind of fucking… box. He’s had a blindfold and earphones in for three weeks so, no, he probably isn’t okay to be moved. But I don’t have any other choice, and I really need your help with this. Just trust me. Please.”

“Of course I trust you, idjit,” Bobby groused. “You’ve never done anything to hurt that brother of yours, and I don’t wager you’d start now. Hang up the phone and go back to your brother. We’ll be there as soon as we can.”

Dean shut the phone with a sigh of relief, and settled in to wait with a new found strength.

“Took you long enough.” Dean groused, rising to his feet at the sight of the three weary hunters making their way into Sam’s hospital room. He crossed the room to greet them, unable to keep the irrational irritation out of his voice. Bobby glared sourly, but despite having spent the last two and a half hours in a truck with nothing but his radio and the rushing sound of tarmac under his tyres for company, the older man didn’t rise to the bait. Instead, he wordlessly dropped his duffel bag against the wall, casting a quick glance at Caleb and Josh when they trailed after him and did the same.

The three of them had pulled into the car park at the same time, despite having left from chasing completely different leads, and by some twist of fate, they’d also managed to land the two parking spaces on either side of the Impala. Considering what they were there to do, Bobby figured that was nothing shy of a blessing.

The older hunter finally turned his attention to the still figure in the hospital bed, and Dean’s eyes immediately followed his gaze back to his brother, silently assessing. After the first few hours of sitting silently beside his brother, occasionally touching their hands together in a silent show of solidarity that was usually met with some kind of flinch, it had become apparent that the only sure-fire way to track how Sam was doing was the cardiac monitor. The difference in rates was the only accurate way to tell whether Sam was still sleeping, lying still and awake and at least somewhat calm, or freaking the hell out.

Mainly because he did it all silently, and without moving his muscles.

With the earplugs and blindfold still cutting off the majority of his senses, he didn’t exactly expect his brother to react to the arrivals, but it was still off-putting to notice that Sam was lying as still and silent as he had since he’d first arrived. The heart monitor seemed to suggest that his brother was awake, but just like every other waking moment he’d had since waking up, he seemed inclined to just lay there passively.

“How’s the kid doing?” Bobby asked gruffly, voice sounding suspiciously choked up. Dean decided not to mention it.

“He’s hanging in there.” The hunter replied, voice uncharacteristically soft. He ran a hand over his jaw, grimacing as the thick stubble there scraped uncomfortably against his palm. He’d had more important things to do than shave these past few days, and it was only the need to look vaguely respectable when trying to gather information that had forced him to waste the time on trivial things like that from the moment that he’d realised his brother was missing.

“The doctors have basically said to be patient.” He continued quietly, eyes falling once more on his brother. “The blindfold and earphones are keeping him from being overwhelmed by everything at once, and they figure it could be up to a few weeks before they can be removed completely. They took the feeding tube out about an hour ago, which is progress, and he managed to keep down a protein shake once they finally convinced him to drink it. We can work up to solid food later.”

Caleb winced a little at the honest assessment of the damage, hissing out a sympathetic breath, and Dean glanced towards him and Josh for the first time, his dark glare daring them to say something. The young hunter held his hands up in surrender, and Dean felt a small shred of guilt worm its way into his stomach as he turned back to Sam. The three men occupying the space just inside of the hospital room door were good people and they were great friends. They’d dropped everything to come and help Dean search for his brother when he’d called for him, and hadn’t stopped until the moment that Dean had phoned to say that he’d been found.

They didn’t deserve to be treated with mistrust, but seeing Sam so utterly defenceless was seriously screwing with Dean’s already over-protective big brother instincts.

“In that case,” Josh interrupted easily, apparently unfazed by Dean’s momma-bear act. “How the hell are you planning to get the runt out of here without someone spotting him? He’s not exactly a shrimp anymore, Dean. We gonna go for the standard fire alarm trick?”

Dean hesitated for a long second, and then nodded. “Something like that. It needs to be something that’s gonna keep things chaotic for a while, not just long enough for us to slip away… I was thinking a real fire, this time. Caleb? You think you can make one big enough to cause havoc and keep it contained?”

“Got it.” The hunter confirmed with an easy nod, winking cheekily. “You sure do know how to make things fun. How about Sam?”

“I’ve got him. When they come to evacuate him, I’ll convince the nurse to sedate him so that I can carry him down. Shouldn’t take much doing – it’s a big place, and they’re gonna want to get everyone out as quick as possible. I imagine they’ll jump on the chance to lessen the workload a little. From there, it’s a straight shot to the Impala.”

“Alright,” Bobby agreed slowly. “Seems a solid plan. So what do you need from Josh and me?”

Dean grinned impishly. “I’m going to need some medical equipment. There’s a storage cupboard just down the hall. I’m gonna have my hands full with six-foot-four of overgrown baby brother, so if I write you a list, do you reckon you could liberate some stuff?”

Josh rubbed his hands together like some kind of cartoon villain, face breaking into a wide smile.

“Well damn. This is definitely my kind of party.”

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