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In The Dark (3/4)

IX.

Caleb, for all that the other hunters teased him for being somewhat impulsive, had a tendency to come up with some pretty impressive plans, when it came down to it.

He was also, self-admittedly, a pyromaniac, which was why Dean had chosen him for the ‘distraction’ part of the plan. He had to admit that he did, briefly, question that decision when Caleb announced his grand plan, just ten minutes after he’d arrived: magic. From what he’d explained, it was a mild form at best, and after a few moments of listening to him excitedly babble, Dean reluctantly had to admit that it made the most sense. Nothing else would allow for a fire big enough to cause panic, whilst also keeping it safely contained to one area.

He didn’t actually want to burn the place to the ground, after all.

He took his time in calling everyone to action, collecting the stuff that he needed from around Sam’s room. The locks on the two small cupboards proved themselves to be woefully inadequate in the face of his lock-picking set and the moves that his father had taught him, and he emptied the drawer filled with bandages for Sam’s eyes and different ‘strength’ earplugs straight into Bobby’s duffel. He then took the liberty of selecting two of the thickest hospital blankets from the bigger cupboard, tucking them under his jacket for when it was time to move.

Sam had always run a little colder than he should do when he was sick, and the elder brother figured that this was no exception.

Eventually, he was forced to admit to himself that he was stalling. Whilst none of the other hunters had mentioned anything, Dean figured that they must be getting restless, too – it had been nearly an hour and a half since they’d arrived, and God knew that they’d overstayed their welcome. It was only a matter of time before a nurse came to check on Sam and realised that something was amiss.

Taking a deep breath to steady his nerves, he met Caleb’s eyes from across the room and dipped his head in a tiny imitation of a nod. The hunter rose from his seat without a moment’s hesitation, offering Dean a wide grin before he disappeared around the corner with what could only be described as a schoolboy’s cackle.

A few moments passed in tense silence, and Dean almost flinched when the unearthly wail of the alarm cut through the stillness of the room. In the bed, Sam flinched visibly and Dean glanced towards the cardiac monitor just in time to see the younger man’s heart rate pick up at a rapid speed. He felt a sharp stab of guilt, realising for the first time that though the earplugs had been enough to block out the everyday noise in the hospital, they clearly weren’t enough for the alarm. He rationalised that it was for the best. It wouldn’t be long until the hospital realised that they were being scammed, and it was far better for everyone involved that the Winchester brothers were long gone before they did.

It was less than a minute later that Sam’s nurse flew into the room, her usually immaculate ponytail tussled and a somewhat harried look on her pretty face. Dean realised that Sam must have been her first port of call when the alarms sounded, a needle in her hand that he pegged instantly for a sedative, and he thanked the lord for small mercies.

Josh and Bobby silently slipped out of the room as she rushed towards Sam’s bed, making the most of the chaos around them.

“Don’t panic,” Amanda was telling him, voice a near-shout to compete with the siren. “The fire department are already on their way, and they’re evacuating everyone floor-by-floor. They’ll clear the paediatrics ward first, but Sam’s on the top floor, so they’ll be headed here straight afterwards.”

Dean shook his head. “There’s no need. If you just sedate him now, I can carry him downstairs no problem. It’s not the first time I’ve had to carry the Sasquatch – for all of his size, Sammy’s a notorious lightweight. Two beers and he’s singing karaoke; two more, and he’s passed out at the bar.”

The woman hesitated, needle hovering over the smooth skin of Sam’s forearm.

“I’m really not sure,” She said hesitantly. “It goes directly against hospital policy, Dean. You’d be better off just waiting for-“

“Look,” The elder of the two Winchester brothers interrupted, doing his best impression of the earnest tone that Sam always used to get through to witnesses. It fell flat of what the younger man would have been capable of, but it seemed to do the trick. “He’s not exactly your usual case, is he? The sires are freaking him out, and those sedatives aren’t going to kick in straight away. The sooner he gets out of this place, the better. You know me. I wouldn’t offer to carry him down there if I didn’t know I could. Besides which, this hospital has hundreds of patients that you need to get out – this just means one less bed for you to clear.”

The nurse nodded for a few moments longer, and then slowly nodded her head, smoothly breaking the skin and injecting the fluid directly into Sam’s veins. The young man trembled at the contact, head shifting irritably on his pillow as she carefully disconnected the IV from the back of his hand, leaving the port in place.

“Thank you.” Dean exhaled in relief, meeting the woman’s eyes for a long moment. She smiled at him, looking a little calmer this time, before she turned and disappeared into the chaos of the hallway. Dean didn’t waste his opportunity.

Sam was shaking visibly, his muscles tense underneath the sheets, and Dean refused to stop and let himself feel guilty. Instead, he shrugged on his jacket and tucked the two liberated blankets around his brother, cocooning him in tightly. Only once he was sure that his brother securely wrapped up did he gather him into his arms and scoop him up, automatically adjusting his stance to account for the extra weight.

Sam was tall and undoubtedly strong, but he was thin and lean where Dean was sturdy and stocky. He weight was still pretty significant, but Dean cradled the younger man to his chest with the same ease as when Sam had been four years old and searching for reassurance after a nightmare. It didn’t matter how big and strong Sam got, because Dean was always going to be just that little bit stronger; and even though Sam had long-since overtaken him in the height department, there had never been a moment in their lives when Dean had worried that he couldn’t bear his brother’s weight.

“Alright, Sammy,” He muttered quietly, feeling his brother’s ragged pants for air against his breath. “Here we go. We’re breaking outta here, you hear me? Gonna find you somewhere nice to rest up and get better. Somewhere that doesn’t smell like bleach and old people. How does that sound?”

He knew his brother couldn’t hear him, but he kept up the chatter nonetheless, carefully navigating his way through the maze of hallways until he finally pushed open the door leading to the stairs.

The stairs were a bit trickier than carrying Sam along a flat surface, but after he’d made his way down the first few, Dean finally figured out the perfect way to angle his body so that he could see where he was putting his feet, and simultaneously prevent himself from smacking Sam’s head off a banister. That would’ve been nothing short of disastrous.

By the time that he hit the first floor, they were surrounded by doctors, nurses and kids with their parents. Some of them were being carried out on stretchers, and Dean felt his breath hitch in his throat with guilt when a young girl with a bald head was carried out, an oxygen tank cradled next to her in her father’s arms.

In his own, Sam’s body gradually began to sink further and further against his chest as the sedatives kicked in, his muscles relaxing as awareness slipped from him. Dean tore his gaze away from the small girl, catching one last glance of beautiful blue eyes before he turned and headed in the other direction – further down the winding stairs, into the parking garage below.

Save from a faint hum of familiar voices, the garage seemed otherwise deserted, and Dean felt himself finally begin to relax a little as he neared the familiar form of the Impala. Bobby and Caleb, having presumably parked on either side of the Impala, had pulled out of the spaces and left their trucks in the middle of the access way, engines idling softly.

It wasn't until Dean got closer and Bobby opened the door of the backseat for him that the hunter realised that they’d done it to give him enough room to position Sam comfortably. Even as Dean was sliding him in from one end, Josh was crouching at the other, lifting the youngest Winchester’s head onto the pillow that he seemed to have conjured from nowhere. Dean was ridiculously touched by the gesture.

The Impala’s doors swung shut near-silently, and Dean turned to face the other hunters, grinning widely in relief.

“I can’t believe how smoothly that went.” He admitted, accepting the Impala’s keys off Caleb. “Thanks, guys. You were awesome.”

Bobby shrugged his shoulders. “You’re family, boy. The both of you.”

“The stuff you asked for is in the Impala’s trunk,” Josh piped up. “We got everything you asked for, and even picked up a little something extra that we thought you might appreciate.”

Dean opened his mouth to thank them again, but Caleb was already talking, pressing a second set of keys into his hands as he did so.

“They’re for my parents’ cabin. It’s only an hour or so from here,” He announced. “We figured we’d drive you out there, help you get settled and that. After that, we’ll head into town and grab a couple of the rooms at the motel – that way we’re close by if you need anything, but not getting in your way. I’m pretty sure that we all know what you’re like when it comes to Sam.”

Dean scowled at the playful jab, but he appreciated the gesture.

Quite honestly, he’d been dreading the thought of helping Sam towards recovery in a dingy motel room. Not only were most of the ones in his price range completely unsanitary, but it also meant that they couldn’t stay still for more than a couple of nights before risking arrest, and the last thing that Sam needed was to be motel-hopping. A cabin sounded perfect – somewhere out of the way, where there wouldn’t be as much noise or nosy people hanging around.

“That’s awesome,” He acknowledged. “Thanks, man.”

Caleb shrugged. “That’s what family does.”



X.

The cabin was bigger than Dean had expected.

When Caleb had offered up his parents’ old place, he’d assumed it would be the same kind of thing as the dimly-lit, three-room cabins that had coloured his childhood; most of them with a sagging porch and gusts of wind seeping through the cracks in the window panes. Instead, he was faced with something out of some kind of clichéd movie; spacious rooms and vaulted ceilings, rich mahogany floors and thick, fluffy rugs. 

If Bobby or the others were as surprised as Dean, they didn’t let onto that fact. Instead, Bobby settled himself into the front of the Impala, vowing to watch over Sam whilst the rest of them sorted the place out. It was almost embarrassing how long it took Dean to convince himself to leave his brother behind. Weeks of looking for him had left him paranoid, and he knew that it would be a long time before the sick feeling in the pit of his stomach disappeared fully.

Caleb pointed him in the direction of the linens cupboard, whilst he and Josh checked the perimeter and strengthened the wards. Dean appreciated the space just as much as he did the help, ignoring the slight tremble to his hands even as he evaluated the contents of the linen cupboard. It was a few moments of deliberation before he settled on the softest set there was and headed into the closest bedroom to the living area.

The double bed was long and spacious, big enough that even Sam would have plenty of room to sprawl out, and Dean paused only to pull the thick curtains shut before he set about making up the bed with military like precision, eyeing up the sturdy-looking bedpost as he did so. If Sam didn’t take to the solid food as well as they hoped, then chances were they’d have to hang an IV bag if nothing else, and it was always handy when the bedpost was a decent height to hang one from.

Finally, Dean was forced to admit that he was stalling for time.

He’d plumped the pillows twice, repetitively shaken out the thick quilt just on the off chance that it was dusty and even given the curtains the same treatment. The cabin was clean and homely, and the sight of the bed looked tempting enough that Dean was sure Sam would be comfortable. Not to mention the fact that the sedatives would be wearing off soon, and it would be better for everyone concerned if Sam was already settled into his new surroundings before that happened. Carrying his struggling brother once in a day was more than enough for Dean.

Sighing wearily, the elder Winchester headed back outside, smiling at the sight of Bobby sat twisted awkwardly in the Impala’s passenger seat in order to keep a literal eye on his younger brother. If the honest affection on the older man’s face was anything to go by, Dean wasn’t the only one that had been more than a little rattled by Sam’s sudden disappearance.

It took only a few steps to cross the distance between the cabin and the car, and Dean was pleased to note the way that Bobby’s hand fell to his gun as soon as he heard the tell-tale sounds of someone approaching, turning to check who it was with a level gaze. If he was embarrassed by his reaction, he didn’t show it, instead grinning a little.

“Got everything sorted?”

“Sure do.” Dean nodded, glancing at his brother curled into a loose ball in the backseat. “Just got to get Gigantor there nicely tucked up in bed and then we’re all good to go.”

Bobby snorted genially, climbing gratefully out of the car and shutting the door behind him. “Yeah, good luck with that. I’m gonna hit the head.”

Dean watched him go with a slight shake of his head, smiling slightly despite himself. It sucked that their father was still out of reach, too caught up in whatever it was that he was doing to even care that his youngest son had been tortured for weeks, but somehow that knowledge was a little easier to deal with when Dean took a moment to appreciate what he did have. Bobby, Caleb and Josh had dropped everything and driven across the country at a moment’s notice; heck, even Pastor Jim had been willing to walk away from his rectory and all of the people there that depended on him in an effort to help Dean look for his brother.

Their father might be MIA, but they weren’t without family, and as far as epiphanies went, that was a pretty awesome one to be having.


XI.

Time seemed to pass slowly for Dean.

He spent most of his time in his brother’s room, steadily working himself through the collection of car magazines that he’d stumbled across in the back room, where shelves upon shelves of them lined the walls. The TV in the main sitting area worked perfectly, and even had decent cable reception, but Sam seemed more settled with his brother by his side, and Dean couldn’t bring himself to deny his brother that comfort for the sake of a few crappy TV shows or a lame action movie.

For the most part, Sam seemed just the same as he had in the hospital. He ate and drank minimal amounts when prompted, occasionally made an effort to tangle his fingers with Dean’s when his older brother spent a while pressing their hands together as a reassurance, but otherwise seemed content to lie there and do nothing. Toileting was an issue that had been eliminated with Bobby and Josh’s liberation of some medical equipment, and Dean took care of it quietly and efficiently, doing his best not to picture what his brother would say if he were aware enough to realise what was happening.

He administered a mild sedative – also liberated from the hospital – before his brother had time to rouse for the morning, using the time that Sam was passed out in order to change his bandages and earplugs without causing any undue stress, and the younger man adapted to the slight changes without any fuss. Dean wondered if he even realised what was happening.

It was only a matter of days before Dean had established a routine for the two of them and settled into it faultlessly, trying to carry out the various Sam-related tasks with as little thought as possible. Thinking about what he was doing only made it harder, inviting thoughts that he didn’t want to consider – what if Sam never went back to normal? What if Dean did something wrong and managed to destroy all of the progress that they’d made? What if he took the blindfold off too early and mentally scarred his brother? It was daunting to think about.

Still, he did his best to stick with the plans that had been outlined to him in the hospital, removing the thick layer of bandages one layer at a time every time they were changed and reducing the strength of the earplugs every other day.

By the time a week was up, he was fairly certain that there was enough light peeking through the bandages for Sam to be able to make out shadows, if nothing else. He wasn’t sure if his brother was picking up anything but the loudest noises, but more than once the younger man had tilted his head as if his eyes were trying to track Dean’s progress around the room from behind their covering. Sometimes he flinched when Dean got too close, if he woke up to Dean less than a couple of feet from him, but it no longer took the elder hunter quite as much time to help Sam understand who it was that was in the room with him.

As a result, the kid seemed at least a little more comfortable with physical contact. Whilst he’d never pulled away from his brother, he’d been more than a little hesitant in the hospital; now there was very little hesitation between the moment that Dean pressed their hands together and Sam curling their hands together, gripping tightly. He’d allowed Dean to rouse him by rubbing his arm a few times, though he didn’t seem to like getting touched on the stomach or neck, and changing the bed sheets was easier than ever after Sam started to respond to a gentle nudge on his back encouraging him to roll over.

Dean still kept his efficient sponge baths for the morning hours when the drugs kept him unaware, unwilling to flood the poor kid with sensations before he was ready, but he knew progress when he saw it.

“You’re doing really good, Sam,” He informed his brother jovially from his position perched on the end of the bed, gently easing his brother into a sitting position and propping him up against some pillows. It had only been a couple of days since he’d first successfully managed to get Sam sitting up, but already it had meal times a heck of a lot easier than before. He waited until his brother was settled before reaching for the tray on the floor, setting it onto the seat of his vacated chair and reaching over to scoop some spaghetti-o’s onto a spoon. “Figured we’d try something a bit different today. You must be sick of soup, hey? Variety’s the spice of life and all of that.”

Sam didn’t respond to his voice, but Dean hadn’t really expected him to. Talking things through was more of a comfort to him than it was his brother, for the time-being at least, but Dean figured that it wasn’t a bad habit to get into. It would only be another week or so before he was finally weaning Sammy off the earplugs and blindfold for good, and he wanted to get Sam used to as much of the daily noises he was going to be hearing as he could.

“Come on, open up.” Obviously feeling the nudge of the spoon against his cracked lips, Sam opened them obediently, and seemed to balk a little as the strange taste hit his tongue. For a long moment, Dean was genuinely convinced that Sam was going to spit the food back out like a petulant baby. Instead, Sam’s mouth slowly closed around the metal spoon and he swallowed carefully, as if savouring the taste. Dean grinned widely. “You liked that, huh? Thought you might. You’ve always been a kid at heart, man. I bet you ate ice cream for breakfast every day for a month after you skipped off to Stanford, isn’t that right?”

He carefully filled up the spoon again, and this time Sam opened his mouth before Dean had a chance to close the distance between him, and the elder hunter laughed at the sight.

“Impatient, huh? Can’t say I blame you.” He grinned, ignoring the tomato juice that dripped onto his knee as he once more placed the spoon against his brother’s mouth. “Hopefully this might help you get some meat on those bones of yours, buddy. You look like one of those runway models who spend half their life throwing up, and you really can’t pull that look off. At this rate, I’m gonna start losing you every time you turn sideways.”

It took nearly half an hour before Sam finally refused to eat anymore, and Dean was pleased to realise that he’d coaxed almost three-quarters of a tin into his brother. It still wasn’t nearly as much as the young man would like, but it was a hell of a lot more than he’d managed in the days previous.

“You’ll be lecturing me on healthy eating before you know it, Sammy.” Dean announced proudly, settling back into his chair and tucking into the ready-made burger that he’d microwaved up for himself. Bobby and Caleb had surprised him a day after they’d first dropped the two Winchester brothers off at the cabin, arriving with a car filled with enough food to feed an army, apparently determined that neither Winchester was going to go hungry. He appreciated the gesture. “Although I’m gonna suggest that you lay off the salads for a while, and concentrate on the good stuff – cheeseburgers, bacon and pancakes… heck, maybe even a few steaks. Sounds nice, huh?”

Sam didn’t respond, but his head was angled in Dean’s direction and the rhythmic sound of his breathing told Dean that he was both awake and studying him intently. He wondered what it was that his brother saw – was it just a vague blur, or a definitive outline? Enough to make out that it was Dean, or just enough to let him know that another person was there?

In the end, he decided it didn’t really matter; he was a hundred percent sure that Sam knew who he was, and that was the important part. In a couple of weeks, he could ask his brother what he could see and get a definite answer, and until then wondering about it wasn’t going to change anything. Instead, he set his empty plate aside and selected yet another car magazine from the stack that he’d carried into Sam’s room on their first night.

He settled back into the chair once more, kicking his legs up on the mattress and ignoring the dull twinge of discomfort in the bottom of his back. The armchair was big and cushy, but after spending the better part of a week in it, Dean figured that his body was sick of cramming itself into the same seat over and over.

Sam shifted slightly in the bed and Dean glanced up instinctively, checking that his brother was alright. Sam snuffled slightly in sleep, another new development, and settled back into the pillow. Dean studied him for a long moment, making sure that he wasn’t having some kind of nightmare, before his eyes unwittingly fell to the empty expanse of bed next to his brother.

Despite the fact that the cabin had three bedrooms, Dean hadn’t spent the night in a bed since they’d first arrived. He’d attempted it, the first night, but had only forced himself to lie awake for an hour before he’d given up and headed out to the car to grab his sleeping bag and roll mat, setting up shop in the corner of Sam’s room. He knew that it was more than a little ridiculous – the place was in the middle of nowhere, and there wasn’t a chance in hell that any kind of creature was going to make it past the wards, but he’d be damned if he was going to lose his brother again. Especially when he was two doors down the hallway catching up on his beauty sleep.

Slowly, Dean rose to his feet and skirted around the edge of the wide bed, gingerly settling himself on the edge. Sam didn’t seem to notice the slight movement of the mattress, and Dean slowly swung his legs up and settled himself against the headboard, pillows cushioning his lower back from the wooden surface. The relief in his back was immediate, and he felt his muscles relax into the soft surface. He paused there for a few moments, waiting for some kind of reaction from Sam, and when non came he finally turned back to his magazine grinning widely when he saw a familiar sleek shape on the page – a ‘67 Impala, shining red in the bright sunlight.

He let himself get lost in the pages, a discussion on the merits of a ‘67 Impala verses ’67 Mustang Shelby, and barely resisted the urge to flinch when he felt a light pressure against his knee. A downward glance revealed that Sam had rolled towards him at some point whilst he’d been reading, one hand curling lightly on the jeans above Dean’s knee as he buried his face into the side of the older man’s leg.

Slowly, Dean let his hand drop down, gently tangling his fingers in the soft hair atop of Sam’s hand. The younger man made a sleepy, content-sounding noise that made happiness curl in the pit of Dean’s stomach, and he bit back tears at the realisation that this was the first noise he’d heard Sam make since he’d gotten him back that wasn’t a whimper of fear or pain.

Sam was warm and safe and content. He might not be a hundred percent better yet, but he was getting there, and that was enough for Dean.

He let his fingers trail through his brother’s hair soothingly, smiling down at the younger man.

“There’s my boy, Sammy,” He grinned to himself. “There’s my boy.”

<-- part two |   part four --->

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