Spoilers: Set during the first episode of Season Two.
Disclaimer: Kripke owns this show and this fandom and my heart.
Summary and A/N: anteka wanted a “Sam has to hold onto Dean's necklace while he's in his coma” fic. And who am I to deny her?
His heart sits in his chest like a stone at the bottom of a dark lake.
It isn’t like Sam hadn’t been through this before. Wounds being swabbed and stitched. Handing over fake insurance cards. The sting of antiseptic and the ache of bruises. Words of comfort from grim-faced doctors and sympathetic nurses. The toxic waste that passes for coffee.
Aching and exhausted, Sam sits on the chair next to Dean’s bed, broad hands clasping Dad’s journal. His palm rubs back and forth across the hide cover as if trying to conjure forth a solution. It hurts to look at Dean, to see his body violated by tubes and wires, but Sam will not take his eyes off him.
Dean doesn’t quite look like Dean. It isn’t just his pallor or the artificial, too regular rise and fall of his chest or his deathly stillness. At first, Sam hadn’t been quite sure what it was. This morning, or was it yesterday, when Sam first sat here and tried to work out what was wrong – besides his brother being in a coma – it had gnawed at him until he felt something akin to panic rise inside him. It seemed desperately important that he figure it out. Finally he realized – aside from the hospital I.D. bracelet Dean’s hands and fingers were clean of his usual rings and leather wristbands. And his amulet was gone.
Sam doesn’t know where or when Dean had acquired the amulet. He didn’t have it when Sam left for college, but then Dean had acquired more than an amulet in that time. After four years apart, it hadn’t taken Sam long to get used to a Dean who looked a bit older, a bit more careworn, who wore jewelry and used hair gel. The mistake he made was assuming Dean hadn’t changed in other, less visible ways. The Dean of his childhood was still there – the annoying bossy big brother, the too loyal son – but it was Dean the man that Sam was just starting to know.
He’d asked Dean about the amulet a couple of times and interpreted the various answers – just a souvenir; a gift from a grateful - a very grateful - girl; just a little extra protection – as a mind your own business Sammy. It irritated Sam, hurt just a bit, that Dean wouldn’t tell him, would keep something from him. He didn’t used to. When they were young Sam could wheedle anything from Dean – secrets, money, the last of the cereal in exchange for a plastic charm and a pleading look.
Sam had looked anxiously around the room. There was nothing in the bedside table, no personal effects of any kind. He’d raced down to the nurses’ station, and harassed some poor guy until he went to a storeroom and returned with a large plastic bag. Clutching it close to his chest, Sam had walked back quickly to Dean’s room.
He’d dumped the contents on the floor, and crouched down next to them. Inside a Ziploc bag, he found Dean’s wallet, a pocket knife, cell phone, a bottle opener key-ring and Dean’s rings. Sam tipped the silver rings into his hand and as he picked up each one in turn, he thought they seemed small, too small. There was engraving inside one, but it was worn and he couldn’t read it. He wasn’t even sure what language it was in. He tipped them back into the baggie and put it in his shirt pocket.
There wasn’t much in the wallet, just thirty dollars, a couple of receipts and a few cards from bars they’d visited over the last few months. Sam turned over one from Frostbites and half-smiled as he saw a cell number scribbled next to Call Deanne – you know you want to.
Between two of the cards he found a passport photo, crinkled and faded. It was of himself, a gangly seventeen year old. It was one of four he’d had taken for college applications; a photo he had never known Dean had even seen. Sam ran a thumb over the face of his younger self. He couldn’t wait to get away from his family back then, to find out what it might be like to live a life that was his own and not just one he inherited from his father, or passed on like a cast-off from his big brother. He tucked the photo back in the wallet, and stuffed it into his jeans.
The key-ring held half a dozen keys. He thought two or three were to mail or safety deposit boxes, and one looked like the spare key to the car. The other two were unfamiliar. One was a key to a deadlock, the other one was small, like the key to an alarm or lock box. He puzzled over them for a moment and wondered what Dean kept locked away.
The only other things were the remains of Dean’s clothes. They’d cut both his t-shirt and jeans to get them off him. He picked up the t-shirt by an edge and stared at it. He couldn’t remember what color it had been. Blue? Or gray perhaps? Impossible to tell now, as it was soaked dark in Dean’s blood, the still damp fabric leaving a rusty smear on his fingers as he dropped it on the vinyl floor.
Sam closed his eyes as he thought back to Dean pinned against the cabin wall, the Demon cutting into him with hateful words spoken in their father’s voice - They don’t need you, not the way you need them. Sam had strained to use whatever psychic power he had to get the Colt. He thumped his forehead now with his fist. Great help he’d been, useless, while Dean had pleaded with their father, and his life seeped from him through invisible wounds.
Afterwards he’d maneuvered Dean into the back seat of the Impala with brute strength and a string of vows to any god who’d listen: Please, just let him live and I’ll do anything, give anything... Dean was drifting in and out of consciousness, but just before Sam had closed the door he’d grabbed for him and pulled him close. Sammy? He’d whispered, and held Sam’s hand flat against his chest, over his amulet. He wasn’t sure what Dean was asking of him, but he answered I promise Dean, I promise.
He grimaced as he picked up Dean’s jeans, which were splattered with blood and, from the smell, soaked in piss. Sam felt though all the pockets but, aside from some change and a couple of crushed M&Ms, they were empty. Where was Dean’s amulet? Maybe the cord had broken and it had come off in the crash. Or had someone in the hospital taken it?
Sam didn’t know why but it seemed important that he find the amulet, keep it safe for Dean. Maybe it had some power that could help; maybe it would just make Sam feel that he could give Dean back something.
When he’d met Bobby at the junkyard he barely recognized their car. It was a wreck that smelt of gas and blood and defeat. All Sam could think was that it had to get fixed for Dean, because the thought of never seeing Dean at the wheel of the Impala again… Sam felt a hitch in his throat and he swallowed his grief and his doubt and told Bobby they would repair it. He’d got the Colt and the other salvageable weapons from the trunk (apparently the Devil’s Trap could stop demons but not the front wheel of a Mack truck). He grabbed the laptop although he doubted anything could be retrieved from it, but it was Dean’s and that decision was his to make. And although he searched over and under the seats he failed to find the amulet.
As Sam sits besides Dean’s bed, he wonders if his father is back in his room. He has no desire to look for him; Dad has made his choice. Sam thinks that maybe the Demon has already won when a father chooses vengeance over his son.
Grief pulls at Sam’s heart like a riptide. Not just sadness for now, for the broken brother in the bed. But grief for those lost years, for the years when Sam was certain that he didn’t want, didn’t need Dean in his life. And the grief isn’t only for what he might have taken from Dean, but for what he’d robbed himself of.
He’d always felt he didn’t quite fit in at Stanford and that had only made him hate his family more. They’d damaged him, made it impossible for him to be like other people. What he hadn’t worked out was that it was their absence from his life, not their presence that made him different. Sam had gained so much in those years – a new sense of self, knowledge, Jess. But he’d also had a Dean-shaped hole in his life and never realized it.
He told Dean that he'd never give up and that Dean just had to hold on, but he can’t sense Dean’s presence now. What he’d felt earlier is gone and Sam wonders whether he’d imagined it all, whether the spirit he thought was close was just his own hope and desperation. Maybe. He’d felt it first when they’d been trying to resuscitate Dean, trying to restart his heart with an electric current that caused his brother’s rigid body to arch from the bed. There had been something — a glimpse on the periphery of his vision, a sound just out of earshot. Sam had spent too many hours alongside Dean in the dark not to know what it felt like to have Dean nearby, even when he couldn’t see of hear him.
When Sam would wake up in whatever motel room they were in, sometimes there would be a moment of where am I? Was it
Why the fuck can’t he feel Dean now? Sam had thought the Ouija board was confirmation. The planchette had moved, had spelt out hunt and reaper. But was that just Sam’s own mind telling him to accept that Dean was going to die? He couldn’t. It was unimaginable. After Jess, he felt rage and grief and guilt. He felt. Now, to think of Dean…It was like trying to look beyond the vacuum of space. It was just full of nothing.
Dean isn’t here in this hospital room. There is Sam and Dean’s body, and Sam doesn’t know what that means.
The nurses said people in comas could smell and feel and hear. Well the smell thing was unfortunate because Sam knows he stinks like a hobo’s armpit. And when he reaches out to touch him, Sam’s hand hovers just barely brushing the hairs on Dean’s arm. He can’t… It feels wrong because Dean awake would swat his hand away. So Sam starts to talk. Not about anything much, just stuff. Like the first time at college he got really drunk, or how Jess had tried to teach him to bake or why he liked the last Star Wars movie but not the one before. Sam keeps talking, not listening to his own words, but always reaching out from within to see if Dean is there.
Eventually Sam decides to get a soda. As he stands and reaches into his back pocket for change, his fingers touch something cool and hard. He pulls it out and looks at it. Dean’s amulet. The leather cord is gone, and he has no memory of how it got into his pocket. Has it been there all this time? He squeezes his hand tight, feeling the little horns press into his flesh. It is solid, it has substance. He feels relief, like something has finally gone right. Leaning over the bed, he gently takes Dean’s hand in his. He rolls open Dean’s fingers and places the amulet on his palm. Closing Dean’s hand inside both of his, Sam holds it close to his lips.
I promise Dean he whispers, I promise.