Sam shoved her away as he hurriedly came outside, shutting the door behind him.
"What the hell are you doing here?" Sam said quietly.
"What? Do you think I forgot about you?" She snapped.
"Shh! Would you keep it down!? If Dean sees you here... I don't what he'll do."
"What he'll do? Dean can't do anything. The guy can barely move. He's a cripple."
"Don't talk about my brother."
Ruby pouted, stepped closer to Sam, placing a hand on his chest and getting on tip toes to lean closer to his ear.
"He's slowing you down."
Sam pushed her away, stealing his jaw.
Ruby scowled, "No, you know what, Sam? He hasn't slowed you down, you've completely stopped."
"We're out. Forget it."
"You can't do this, Sam! We need you. Lilith -"
"Stop. I don't care."
"You don't care?"
Sam huffed through his nose, "No. I'm out."
Ruby softened, staring into Sam's eyes.
"I know you want it..."
Sam steeled his jaw, "Don't come back here again. I mean it."
“My God, Sam. Do you think I’m an idiot? I’ve known where you were since the second you supposedly “dropped off the grid”. I was hoping you’d come to your senses sooner rather than later. But I guess I’m going to have to do all the work around here.”
Sam took a composing breath, “What part of we’re out are you not understanding?”
“I can’t believe what I’m hearing.”
“I’ve had my time over,” Sam said, keeping his voice low but steady, “I choose Dean.”
Ruby cocked her head and said questioningly, “I thought we were doing this for Dean.”
Dean woke up, not thrashing or screaming. He’d dreamed of hell but it didn’t seem so vivid this time. He woke knowing where he was, knowing he was out, knowing he was safe. It still took him a minute to catch his breath but it wasn’t so bad. Maybe it was finally getting better. Maybe he was finally moving past it.
He sniffed and realized his nose was completely blocked. He groaned, scrubbing at it with the back of his hand. God, he wished he could wake up feeling good. Just once. Just for a moment. But this was an improvement. When he was in the hospital, everything was bad. He felt so weak, so tired, so pained. He had to be whacked out on morphine just so he could get through the day. There were honest moments when he thought he was going to die… again. And even though, his back still ached, he still felt weak, the heaviness in his chest still lingered, his throat still burned, and his head still pounded, it felt like he was passed the worst of it. Like he’d finally started to come out the other side. One toe at a time.
He eased himself up to sit, his back rigid. He absently bent his arm round to rub it and felt his shoulder pull.
Wrong arm, he was reminded as his shoulder began to ache.
His silver crutches were resting against the nightstand where he left them so he slid his forearms in and used them to lever himself up to stand. He let out a low groan as he straightened and began his trek out to the living room.
“Sam?” Dean called, clearing his throat.
The kitchen and lounge room were empty.
He crutched his way over to the kitchen and opened the fridge. Sam had made Dean a sandwich, sitting on a plate in the middle of the shelf, a note stuck on it saying ‘eat me’.
Dean chuckled lowly, and grabbed the plate, sliding it onto the bench. He decided making it to the table or the couch was too much of an effort in his current state so he rounded the bench and eased onto the barstool.
The sandwich was chicken and lettuce and some other salady stuff, but it wasn’t bad, and he ate it because he had to, because he wanted to get better.
Dean looked across at the calendar on the fridge and Sam hadn’t marked that he was working. He would have looked around to see if his boots were at the door but he knew twisting wasn’t a good idea. He leaned on the bench, on both elbows, wincing and shifting onto the right one when his left shoulder told him how much it didn’t like it. He needed a massage, and physio, and sweet, sweet painkillers. He settled for eating his sandwich.
The sound of the impala filled the street as Sam returned from wherever he was. Dean had gotten halfway through his lunch and had to stop to catch his breath. It was hard to eat when you couldn’t breathe at all through your nose.
Sam came through the front door and Dean didn’t bother turning to face him, he swiveled halfway on the chair and waited for Sam to enter his sight.
“Hey, you’re up.”
Sam was carrying a few shopping bags in each hand and dumped them on the counter in front of Dean.
“What happened to no lifting? You couldn’t take one bag in at a time?” Dean raised his eyebrow, added a bit of bite to his voice.
Sam looked sheepish, “This was quicker.”
“Mmhm,” Dean groaned, trying not to be angry with his brother, “Where you been?”
“Where’s it look like?” Sam said with a chuckle, as he started unpacking groceries.
“And you were out of painkillers.”
Dean nodded again, trying consciously not to breathe so heavily. He could feel his chest heaving, knowing his face was flushed.
“How you feeling?” Sam asked with a frown, studying Dean’s expression.
“Not too bad, Sammy,” he tried for a genuine smile.
It wasn’t that he wasn’t happy, because all things considered, he kind of was, it was just the monotony of it all. Waking up scared, popping pills, hurting bad, popping more pills, Sam asking him how he felt, him lying about it, doctors appointments, rehab, exercises, more pills, no drinking, how you feeling?, crippling exhaustion, going to bed (still scared), nightmares of hell, and around and around we go.
“You sure? You look a little feverish.”
Dean had been playing the victim a lot these last 4 months. He was sick of it. Since Castiel had came and brought him sleep, real true rest, he’d felt energized in a way he previously hadn’t. Castiel didn't get it. He didn’t want Dean to hunt, didn't want Sam to hunt either for that matter, probably because before that he was on a dangerous road and a slippery slope. But Dean needed hunting, because he needed to make it right, needed to make up for hell. It was the only way. He knew that, and he was at peace with that, in a manner of speaking. He felt renewed, reenergized. He wasn’t going to mope around anymore and feel sorry for himself. He was going to get his life back.
“Hm?” Dean looked up, the room lurching dizzily with the movement.
“Okay, can you make it to the couch? No where for you to fall if you’re already lying down.”
Dean’s brain couldn’t keep up with Sammy’s words, spoken too quickly and too mumbled.
Sam was at his side before he could blink, holding his crutches steady for him. Dean slid his arms in and pushed to his feet, wavering slightly. Sam put a hand around his bicep.
“Don’t help me,” Dean said, then he noticed the hurt expression in Sam’s eyes, “Your ribs, moron.”
Sam backed up a little and let Dean walk to the couch, by the time he got there new sweat was prickling on his face and he was panting like he’d just run a marathon.
He sunk down, unable to muffle a pained yelp at the movement of getting onto his back.
“Geez,” Sam winched at the sound, “You okay?”
“Mmhm,” Dean nodded, his lips tight.
“I’ll get you some drugs, huh?”
Sam didn’t wait for an answer before he disappeared. Dean breathed slowly, calculatedly. His back had seized up on his descent. He tried to will his muscles to relax, telling himself silently that it was getting better, and trying his best to believe it.
Sam could see Dean was trying his best. Over the past few months Dean’s attitude hadn’t been the easiest to live with. Sam felt like he was on a rollercoaster trying to manage Dean’s many moods. Mostly he was just angry, then he was upset, withdrawn, depressed, sometimes he’d shut everything out and pretend he was completely fine, but that one never lasted long. It couldn’t. He was rarely the man he used to be. The man that was scared of nothing, the man that made inappropriate jokes at inappropriate times, the man that could always make Sam laugh, even when he really didn’t feel like laughing, the man that was always fine. Always. And it wasn’t his fault, not at all. He’d been in pain a lot of years, adding to that the effects of 40 years in hell. If he came out of that the same man he was before, then it would be a miracle. And that’s exactly what Sam hoped for.
“Here. Open up,” Sam said, waggling the thermometer in front of Dean’s face.
Dean glared, “Really?” he said incredulously.
“Dude, you’ve got a fever. I just need to know.”
Dean sighed but took the thermometer from his brother and stuck it under his tongue.
“And don’t pout,” Sam said with a laugh.
“M’ nah pou’ing.”
“Don’t talk with that.”
Dean rolled his eyes.
A minute later the thermometer beeped and Dean didn’t even bother looking at it before handing it to Sam.
“So, am I gonna live?”
“Thankfully, yes. But you do need to cool off a bit. I’ll grab you some ice.”
Sam kept busy. That was how he got through it. He busied himself looking after Dean, he busied himself with work and trying to earn money for them, he busied himself checking in with Bobby. All so he wouldn’t think about Lilith, all so he wouldn’t think about what she’d done to his brother, what she’d taken from him. All so he wouldn’t think about Ruby and what she was offering.
Sam glanced out the window, suddenly worried he’d see Ruby again, standing outside, beckoning him. She wasn’t there.
Dean coughed, snapping Sam out of his deranged thoughts.
He brought a few ice packs wrapped in pillowcases and placed them around his brother.
“Gimme,” Dean motioned for one, and placed his on his shoulder, pushing down tight with a wince.
“Your shoulder hurt?”
“Yeah,” he groaned, “Moved the wrong way before.”
“Those pills working yet?”
Dean had his eyes closed and swallowed, “Not yet.”
“Shouldn’t be much longer,” Sam said, reassuringly.
Dean smirked, mouth open so he could breathe, “We do this dance a lot, don’t we, Sammy?”
Sam struggled to think of what to say back to his brother. He knew what he meant. Knew Dean was getting pretty tired. In the end he didn’t say anything.
Dean opened his eyes and felt the sting of sweat. He was shaking, panting, tears on his face. He reached out a hand and grabbed his brother’s shirt. Each breath was voiced in panic.
“Hey,” Sam said.
Dean brought both palms to his eyes and pressed down, trying to calm his staggering breaths.
“I’m okay,” his tongue was thick and dry.
Sam huffed out a breath beside him.
“How long was I out?” Dean rasped.
“About half an hour.”
“Is that it?” Dean took his hands away from his face.
Dean began pushing himself up.
“Hey, slow down. You feeling alright?”
“Yeah, pain’s not so bad now.”
“But you’re freaking burning up, man. Stay down.”
Dean continued on his way to his feet and Sam reluctantly set his crutches within reach.
“Gonna have a shower.”
Dean got halfway down the hallway when Sam spoke again.
Dean turned around and his brother was standing there with hands in his pockets and a coy look on his face.
“Do you wanna, maybe, go to the bar tonight? Get some dinner… shit, I mean… just dinner. We can go somewhere else that doesn’t serve – “
Dean started laughing, “Sam, stop. I’m not gonna… you know. I’m okay to go to a bar.”
“I have to go pick up my pay cheque anyway, so I thought if you were feeling up to getting out…”
Dean smiled, then shrugged minutely, “Sure.”
Dean turned the water on and waited till it was hot before he eased himself into the shower chair. The hot water was amazing on his muscles but his head was feeling fuzzy with fever so he turned the temperature down a little.
Dean was glad Sam had offered to take him out, as small a gesture and as pathetic as it sounded, he was surprisingly happy about it. Even though they’d been at the house for months it wasn’t in Dean’s nature to settle. He had itchy feet, even though he knew he couldn’t leave. Not now. Not yet. He had healing to do. Healing that couldn’t happen on the road, or in some motel. He could probably handle everything else on the road if it wasn’t for his back. He wanted to go back to hunting, but just the thought of a demon throwing him, or taking any kind of hit made his body tense up. The pain was too intense when he was just lying still to even imagine what it would be like in a fight. He’d be down and out for the count by the first punch. And he was no good to anyone like that.
He wasn’t in the shower very long. It was amazing, and also depressing, how much energy it took out of him. He pulled himself to his feet and shuffled towards the sink. Looking in the mirror he didn’t look well. He’d almost gotten used to it though. He didn’t look the same anymore, didn’t feel the same…
Screams filled his ears, an internal rabble of noise. Chains jangling, knives sharpening, blade against blade.
He looked in the mirror and into his eyes. The world disappeared around him and the blackness enclosed.
“Oh, Deano, you know this can ALL stop. You just gotta say the word, kiddo.”
“Never. I’ll never – AAARRRGHH!”
“That’s a beautiful song, Dean! Sing it louder!”
“AHHH! No, please…”
He felt every slice… every bit. Slice, upon slice, upon slice, upon jab, upon twist. Agony. Every second.
Sam tapped the side of his fist against Dean’s bathroom door. It had been 20 minutes since Sam heard the water shut off and still there was no sign of Dean.
When there was no answer Sam’s heart started pounding a mile a minute, practically leaping into his throat.
“Dean? Open up.”
Sam jiggled the doorknob and found it locked. Dean was an idiot sometimes. He wasn’t supposed to lock that door incase of an emergency, like they could be having right now, and Dean had locked the friggen door.
Sam pressed his ear to the door and could hear rapid, heavy breathing. It wasn’t a good sound to hear but, hey, at least he was breathing.
“Dean!” Sam banged against the door again, louder, firmer.
Dean sounded scared in there, and if Sam had to guess, he was having a flashback, or a ‘waking nightmare’, whatever they wanted to call it. Sam jiggled the handle again. He should have come to investigate sooner. Dean could have been standing there, or sitting there, for 20 minutes, not even knowing where he was, but thinking he was still in the depths of hell getting torn apart.
“Dean, you’re okay. Listen to me, Dean. I’m here. Just listen to my voice. Dean?”
Sam pressed his ear to the door again, listening for the breaths.
“Sam?” Dean’s voice was husky, and strained, higher pitched than usual.
“Dean! Open the door, please. It’s okay. It’s over. You’re here with me now, remember?”
Dean launched into a long coughing fit and eventually Sam heard him retching.
“Open the door. It’s okay, man.”
Sam only heard Dean throw up once, and he was pretty sure it was just because he couldn’t get his fit under control.
Sam was practically bouncing at the door until Dean clicked it open. He stood there, a towel wrapped around his waist, pale and drawn, shaking from exertion and fever too probably.
“I… forgot where I was,” he said, sluggishly licking his lips.
Sam sighed and, failing to resist his manly upbringing, wrapped his arms around his brother and pulled him in close. He felt Dean’s breath on his neck, and soon enough one arm came across his shoulders and Dean hugged back, gripping him a little too tightly. Sam bit his lip to stop from gasping at the pain in his ribs. He was sure Dean was hurting more than he was anyway.
“You’re okay now.”
Dean sighed near his ear and Sam felt him relax a little too much. Afraid he might collapse, Sam steered him towards his bed. Dean sat heavily and coughed a little.
“I’m alright, Sam.”
Sam nodded, furrowing his brow.
“Really. I just… you know, had a thing,” Dean waved his hand around his head.
“You can’t lock that door,” Sam said calmly, trying not to make it sound like an order.
“Sorry,” was all Dean said. Then he took a deep breath and straightened. “How long was I in there?”
“All up about 45 minutes. I heard the water shut off like 25 minutes ago.”
“Geez,” Dean groaned, shaking his head.
“Do you think you should,” Sam took a breath, tiptoeing around the subject, “make another appointment with the psychiatrist?”
“No, Sammy. I’m good,” Dean answered way too quickly.
Sam nodded, “Okay.”
Dean rubbed his hand over his face, “Now, grab me my pants and let’s hit the town,” he winked.