Chapter 1 - So is this our life now?
"Hey Dean. How's it going today?" Sam enters the room, forcing the cheerfulness that he no longer feels into his voice. Sam can barely remember the last time he felt cheerful or even for that matter vaguely positive. It had been before they killed the demon and therein lay the irony. Killing the demon had been supposed to be the end. They were supposed to be able to have a life afterward. Instead, they got this, Sam a half-life and Dean . . . Sam doesn't know what he's got, doesn't know what he registers about what goes on around him most of the time.
The doctors say there is no reason for Dean not to walk; it won't be as smooth, easy and natural as it had been before but he could do it and with time it should become easier, but as a rule he doesn't. As far as anyone knows he's only walked twice since that day, twice since his broken legs had healed.
There is also no reason for him not to talk, but he doesn't, except in his sleep or when . . . Sam isn't sure what the actual triggers are . . . maybe anger, maybe fear. Some of the things he says suggest they might be possibilities although it isn't always clear what he's saying and half of it doesn't make sense. It is virtually impossible to know what Dean is thinking now. Sam had thought it to be hard work before, but now he is just floundering.
Sam moves round in front of his brother. "Hey Dean," he tries again as he crouches in front of the chair.
He hates it coming to see Dean here, like this. It is wrong, it is . . . hopeless. But for now Sam has no alternative. He can't take Dean home because Dean needs a safe environment and Sam's home wouldn't be safe not without someone watching Dean all the time and Sam's meager salary can't support twenty-four hour home care for him.
One hand drops from where the fingers are curled in the top of his t-shirt to clench the other resting in his lap, as Dean's eyes move from staring at the fish in the tank to looking at Sam. He blinks slowly but doesn't break eye-contact.
"So I was thinking, today's a good day." Sam reasons that he hadn't been thinking that at all, but Dean looking at him and maintaining eye-contact is enough to make it seem like a good day. It just shows how much his expectation for a good day has dropped. He supposes it just emphasizes how sad their existence is that this does make the day seems better.
But then Dean lifts his hand and reaches forward, his fingertips brushing Sam's cheek. Sam keeps quiet, wondering "why now?" but not wanting the moment to end. He is barely breathing, not wanting to do anything that might stop this.
Dean moves forward a fraction, allowing his hand to cup Sam's cheek. His thumb traces gently over Sam's cheekbone, eyebrow and nose and now Sam is stunned because this is the first time, since that night with the demon, that Dean has initiated civilized contact with anyone. Sam thinks 'civilized' because although this isn't exactly normal in anybody's world, least of all Dean's, there is no intent to hurt in Dean's touch and to date that's the only type of contact Dean has started. It's why they don't take him to the community rooms anymore. They think he's a danger to the other patients and staff after he twice attacked people there, throwing punches. See, that's the problem with Dean. While this may not be the Dean Sam knew from before, this Dean still has the knowledge of how to fight and how to do damage to dangerous things, he just can't pick the right fights anymore.
Dean's hand falls back to his lap and his eyes drop to watch it and all Sam can see is sadness that goes on without end in his brother's eyes.
Sam knows he's pushing his luck but Dean has been more "here" in the last few minutes than he has in the months since they killed the demon, since the fight that brought them both to this point. He reaches forward and gently touches his fingertips to Dean's hand. He is pleased when Dean doesn't flinch or draw away. When Dean opens his hand, giving Sam access to fingers and palm, Sam is amazed.
Dean's eyes continue to watch as Sam's fingers gently run over his hand, gradually slowing until they come to rest with the barest of contact on the pulse point in Dean's wrist.
Dean's eyes are on Sam's hand but Sam's aren't; Sam's are watching Dean's face for clues, clues as to what Dean is thinking. Right now, he can read fear in Dean's eyes and wonders if Dean's frightened Sam is going to move for more contact or that Sam is going to remove it altogether. Sam does neither, just leaves his fingers in this barely-there ghost of a touch.
Sam sees the burgeoning look of desperation in Dean's eyes and wonders what to do to stop it. He doesn't want it to be there, he wants Dean's eyes to be the clear hopeful color they used to be.
"Dean," he says quietly, "It's okay." Dean's eyes come up to meet his. An instant later, Sam feels Dean's hand close round his. The grip is too hard to be comfortable, but Sam says nothing just waits. It's the grip of a man hanging from a crumbling precipice, a man wanting to be pulled to safety. Sam waits until he hears Dean draw a desperate breath, then he knows he has to do something, he's losing Dean again and he can't let that happen. He lets his thumb fall to the back of Dean's hand and strokes it over the taut muscles there. He feels Dean's grip loosen enough to be comfortable, sees the tension in his eyes recede a fraction, knows he got it right this time.
He mimics Dean's move from earlier and lifts his free hand to Dean's cheek, sees him almost flinch away before holding steady, waiting. Sam wants to ask him what he's afraid of, what he thinks Sam might do, but more than that he wants to know what happened. What did the demon do to break who Dean is? He knows what it did to Dean's body, but it's not his body that Sam's worried about now. If he could only find Dean inside this body, he knows they could overcome most of the physical damage.
"Dean, I won't hurt you."
He looks up at Sam as if to say "Why do you say that? I know."
"You flinch, Dean, when I come near . . . when anyone comes near, you . . ."
Sam sees Dean's hand come back to finger the top of his t-shirt again. "Sorry," Dean's voice is rusty from not being used other than his screams when the nightmares overtake him, but it's a beautiful sound to Sam. It's Dean taking part in a conversation.
"You don't need to be sorry, but can you tell me why? What do you think will happen?"
Sam isn't surprised when Dean remains silent. An answer had been too much to hope for. He is surprised by the headshake. It means so much. It means he isn't going to talk about it, maybe can't talk about it, but it also tells Sam he's still there, pick the right thing and maybe, just maybe, they can keep talking.
"It's okay, Dean. It doesn't matter." He puts his hand over the one Dean has resting on the arm of the chair and feels it clench against the chair as Dean tries not to pull away.
He withdraws his hand and sees an apology in Dean's eyes, a belief that he's let Sam down again, that he isn't who he should be, who Sam wants him to be. "It's fine, Dean. We can sit like this, we're fine." But Sam's reassurances don't drive the look from his eyes.
"So today, at work, you know what happened?" Sam talks, tells Dean about his day, tells him stuff that's happening outside these four walls. He doesn't ask Dean anything because that look hasn't gone yet and he doesn't want to ask something Dean can't answer, he doesn't want Dean to feel pressured.
It takes time, but he sees the look ease. It doesn't go completely though, but Sam is running out of steam, he has nothing left to say, but today he is determined. Dean has tried so hard, come so far, today. Sam isn't going to let them sit here in silence. Today, Sam is going to be the brother Dean deserves.
"Do you feel like going outside for a bit?" Sam asks. He watches as Dean's eyes flick to the window; there is a yearning there, then to Sam, then down in defeat. "Dean, would you like it? To go outside?"
He looks at Sam as if to say 'I don't know, I don't know whether I can; I don't know if I'm ever going to be able to leave this room.' His fist clenches at the base of his throat.
"Dean, how about I talk with the staff and then I take you outside for a few minutes. We don't need to go far, just as far as you feel okay with."
"W-W-What if I . . ." Dean's been stuck inside for weeks. He only sees three rooms, his own, his doctor's and the gym. He goes to each when no other patients are around. He speaks to no-one and only the doctor, his physiotherapist and the staff who take care of him speak to him. He has the same staff and each does the same thing and Sam wonders if that doesn't just make the whole thing worse.
"I'll be back soon," Sam says as he goes to find the doctor to tell him about his idea.
The doctor agrees reluctantly, saying at least all the other patients have come in for their meal now. Dean after all, he reminds Sam, is the only patient who doesn't eat now. Sam knows that, Dean eats better for Jerry, the guy who comes in at eight than he does for Suzanne, his key nurse now, so rather than non-stop battling, Dean's food is put on one side and Jerry re-heats it when he comes in.
Sam heads back down to Dean's room with an extra sweatshirt he had in the car that shouldn't be too hard to get on. When he opens the door to Dean's room, he can feel the tension hit him, but makes a decision to soldier on as if everything were okay. He knows it could backfire, they could end up back where they were before today, but maybe he can make this work if he handles this right. One thing Sam knows is that he can't take many more visits in which he watches Dean stare mindlessly at those god-damned fish. He knows that sounds harsh, but he hates coming in and seeing Dean stare without moving for hours on end. They'd given him the fish after removing the television. They seemed to think it was to account for Dean's nightmares. Unsurprisingly for Sam, removing it had not improved the situation. Sam wishes it were that simple to get rid of the horrors he imagines trawl freely through Dean's mind when he's asleep. If there's anyone in this place who's seen enough to give them nightmares, it's Dean. One night a week, Sam stays over. One night a week, he's there when the night terrors come. One night a week, Dean sleeps a little better and Sam sleeps barely at all.
Sam approaches Dean carefully and starts talking as if they were already part way through a conversation, "So I thought I'd stop and bring back a sweatshirt for you on my way. I just thought you might want it on, it's a bit cooler out there than in here." Dean always so active he was warm, Sam used to envy him how little he felt the cold. Now, Dean's never warm. Each room here can have the heating individually controlled and the doctor asked him if Dean had always had difficulty keeping warm because now his room was set to the highest setting and he was still often found shivering with cold.
It was just one more part of Dean's burden, one more thing he had to battle, had to struggle against. It was one more thing to wear down his spirit, his pride, his dignity.
Sam rambles on with his grand plan for their trip outside, while Dean turns the sweatshirt over and over in his hands. Sam tells him how good it will feel to breathe the fresh air, how outside there are different areas, a herb garden, a flower garden, there's a pond with fish, if Dean wants they can go look at the fish. Sam's inordinately pleased to get a disparaging look from Dean at that suggestion.
Dean still hasn't put on the sweatshirt and Sam figures that is the sign, the sign to say ‘we aren't going anywhere, I can't do it’. He'll accept that as what Dean wants. He'll accept it because at least today they talked about going out, at least today for a moment it seemed possible. Sam stops talking and Dean stops glaring at the sweatshirt he's torturing in his hands. Sam reaches down to take the sweatshirt and says quietly, "It's okay, Dean, another time maybe," but as he goes to take the sweatshirt away, Dean snatches it back and begins to struggle into it. Sam wants to help, wants to make it easier but knows that at times, anger propels Dean further than any other emotion ever could. Right now, Dean's angry, angry that he can't just put the sweatshirt on, that it hurts and pulls across the scars on his body left by the demon's attack on him. Dean won't let the demon win this battle with a shred of fabric and so Sam stands back, heart fragmenting as Dean finally manages to get the sweatshirt on.
Sam moves Dean's chair towards the door and hears how uneven Dean's breathing has become so he stops and moves to face him again. "We don't have to do this today."
His hand drops again from his throat to his lap as he answers, "D-Do"
"You've done fine, Dean. You've done enough."
There is a moment's hesitation, a moment when Dean nearly takes Sam's offer, then he says, "D-Do it."
"Just let me know, Dean. We'll come back, it'll be fine." He receives a nod and starts to move forward again.
They don't make it outside, but they make it to the door and they sit with the door open for a while and Dean breathes deeply of the fresh air that is carried in on a breeze and Sam is so proud of him, he thinks he could burst.
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.
There are some reference to past violence throughout the story and at times bad language.