Grandview Motel
Lewistown, Montana

Dean woke up with a start, jerking halfway up before his mind kicked in and he realized where he was. "Damn," he muttered, dropped back down on the bed and draped an arm over his face. His head still hurt a little and he felt even more tired than he had when he'd reached the motel earlier.

In a rush, the last two days came back to him and he sat bolt upright and stared ahead of himself into the twilight of the room. It was getting dark outside and Sam was in the hospital. He glanced at his watch and groaned. Seven thirty. He'd slept for over three hours. "Damn," he muttered again, swung his legs over the edge of the bed and got up.

Within ten minutes he was ready to leave and briefly glanced around the room to assess what he might need and what he may have forgotten. Then he shook his head lightly and left the motel room, set on getting back to the hospital. He could sleep more there. Right now, he just needed to know that Sam was still among the living.

He had grabbed a bottle of Aspirin and a bottle of water and swallowed three before getting into the car. The headache was dull, not really annoying, yet still there with the potential of getting worse if he didn't watch it. "Don't have time to be sick now," he muttered to himself and covered the distance to the hospital in under fifteen minutes. When he pulled into the parking lot there, he realized it might have been beneficial for him to walk the distance, but then again, he didn't know when he might need the Impala.

The ward on the third floor was silent, the lights dimmed, and it made him wonder what they treated here apart from abdominal wounds caused by raving lunatics. He stopped briefly at the nurses' station and found the redhead there. She was working on some charts and hadn't noticed him.

"Hey, Red," he said, trying to cover up the fact that he had no clue what her name was.

"Gowers," she said and looked up with a vague smile on her lips.

"Huh?" he countered, a little confused.

"That's my name, Dean. Maryann Gowers," she repeated and chuckled at his mortified expression.

"Uh ..." He cleared his throat. "Sorry. I didn't mean to be rude or anything. Everything just happened so quickly and ... I never got around to asking," he added.

"Don't apologize. You had plenty on your mind without having to worry about who I am," she countered and got up. "Sam's asleep. He woke up briefly, but fell asleep shortly after again."

He nodded and glanced in the direction of the room. "How is he?"

"Well, he's on some heavy-duty medication right now. Dr. Faulkner dropped by to check on him and gave me the go-ahead to use the stronger stuff," she said and got up. "I've had a cot set up for you in his room so you can stay with him," she added and eyed him with a smile. "I see you clean up nicely."

He replied with a crooked grin. "I do, don't I?" he agreed and was rewarded with a slightly self-conscious chuckle from Nurse Gowers. "Thanks for the cot. I really appreciate it," he added and headed down the corridor to the room Sam was in.

The door opened with a quiet whoosh and he stepped into the dimly lit room. Everything was on night-light right now, it would seem. He closed the door behind him and arched an eyebrow at the neatly made-up cot placed under the window. He dropped his jacket on it, then turned his attention to the apparently peacefully sleeping form of his brother. The cloth covering the wound was still there and Dean quickly pushed the thought of what lay underneath away.

"Hey, Sammy. I'm back," he said, keeping his tone low. "Sorry it took so long. Time got away from me," he added, pulled the chair closer and sat down next to the bed.

Gently, he draped his left hand over Sam's and frowned a little at how cold his hand was. A quick glance at the cardiac monitor put his mind at ease, though. The sound had been turned off, leaving only the jumping green line on the small screen to tell him how his brother was doing.

"You look like crap, by the way," he said and smiled vaguely. "Not a pretty sight. No nurses are going to swoon over you at the moment," he went on. "Not that they ever would. I mean, not with me around anyway." He patted Sam's hand, then leaned back on the chair and folded his arms over his chest, suppressing a yawn. "I've decided to stick around, you know. Got a bed all ready for me and all," he continued.

It was a matter of keeping up appearances as much as anything, but mostly Dean prattled on like that when he was concerned and it mattered in the end, because if he was upbeat about all this crap, then Sam would feel it and Dean was convinced it would help his little brother get better. He had always talked a lot when Sam got hurt.

Like that time when the kid had nearly had his foot taken off by a bear trap. Now that had been scary. There had been so much blood and Dean hadn't been able to shut up all the way to the hospital even though Dad had told him repeatedly to put a sock in it. But he couldn't stop and it had helped Sam in the end.

"Now, Nurse Gowers out there, she's hot. Even for an older chick," he prattled on. "Cute as button," he added and snorted. "What a stupid expression," he added. "Anyway, you should see her. She's seen you, after all," he continued and waggled an eyebrow. For a few heartbeats he fell silent, listened to the sounds of the hospital, the rush of air from the air conditioning unit that was hiding somewhere under the ceiling, the soft patter of footsteps passing the door on the way to answer a silent alarm somewhere. Even after dark, a hospital was a noisy place. But most of all what he listened to was Sam's breathing. It was comforting to be able to hear him breathing without the hitching the pain caused, without the stifled groans of agony. "You know what? When this is all over, I think we're going to take a vacation. I really think we both deserve it. I want to see the Grand Canyon," he said and frowned. "I can't believe I've never been there with all the traveling we've done," he added and blinked heavily.

He sat like that for another few minutes, then glanced at the cot and stifled another yawn. "I think I'm gonna take a time out here, Sammy. You just let me know when you're awake, okay?"

It was silly, really, talking to Sam at this point. Even though Dean was convinced that Sam heard him on some level, he wasn't able to respond and that was really what Dean needed the most right now; for Sam to respond to him. He wanted to hear him warble on about something Dean didn't understand, or – even better – hear him make fun of his older brother. He smirked joylessly and stretched out on the cot, turned so he could see Sam at all times, and then just lay there until he drifted off.

***

The following morning

The world drifted oddly into focus around him while he lay there and felt like he was drifting. The room around him seemed to move lazily and so did the bed beneath him. His eyelids were heavy, his body heavier, and he couldn't really make his mind connect. He knew where he was, had a fairly good idea of why he was here, but all that seemed to be utterly insignificant. Only one thing mattered to him.

He let his head roll to the left, the boneless feeling in his neck making him grimace, but he found what he was looking for at once. "Dean," he whispered and tried to clear his throat. "Dean," he tried again.

Dean stirred, then propped himself up on one elbow and blinked a little sluggishly at him. "Sam?" At realizing that Sam was awake, he was off the cot in one fluid movement and dropped down on the chair next to the bed. "Hey, dude. How are you?"

"... m'feel weird," he managed, his voice barely audible.

"No surprise there, man. You're drugged out of your head. They're giving you all the good stuff here," Dean countered with a smirk on his lips. "You seeing two of me?"

"No," he rasped and tried to move his head but somehow failed to bring up the energy. "... m'were you?"

"What?" Dean countered, a slight frown creasing his brow.

"... woke up ... weren't there." He couldn't really make the words work for him right now and it annoyed him a little. Some part of his mind thought that was funny. He wouldn't make a very good drug addict if it annoyed him when he lost control.

Dean dropped his gaze, looking almost self-conscious for a moment, then he made a face and glanced up at him again. "I needed a change of clothes and a shower, man," he said and grabbed Sam's arm. "Sorry. It won't happen again," he added with an apologetic smile.

Immediately Sam felt bad for having made Dean feel guilty for leaving him, but he just didn't have the strength to reassure him right now. He would have to make up for that later. "... m'I doing?" he managed.

Dean frowned and pursed his lips. "How are you doing?" he asked.

"Uh-huh," Sam muttered.

"Better, I'd say. Unless it's the drugs talking. Your doc's gonna be in this morning to check up on you. I'll have a word with him," Dean said. "How do you feel? Apart from weird, that is? Which incidentally can't be a new feeling for you."

Sam knew he should respond in kind, but he couldn't. What little strength he'd had when he woke up was ebbing away fast. "... m'tired," he managed before his eyelids slid shut again and the darkness once again engulfed him.

***

Dean eyed Sam for a moment, watching him sleep, then reached out to touch his brow. Even despite the drugs they were pumping into his system, he was still hot to the touch. "I bet you are, dude," he agreed quietly to Sam's statement. "But that doesn't mean you get to give up, okay? You hang in there, Sammy."

As suspected, the doc did turn up and inspected the wound, shook his head and gave Nurse Gowers instructions on the further procedure before he left again. Dean didn't get a chance to talk to him.

"He's a very busy man," Nurse Gowers said, apologizing for the doc.

"Yeah, I bet he is," Dean agreed, unable to keep the sarcasm completely out of his voice. "So, what's the verdict?"

Nurse Gowers prepared to re-dress the wound, which really wasn't something Dean wanted to witness, but he had sworn to himself that he wouldn't leave Sam's side again and that was as far as it went. He would just have to suck it up and bear it, because however he turned and twisted things, Sam had the short end of this stick. He had to endure the procedure. All Dean had to do was watch it and he couldn't even begin to imagine what it had to feel like.

"The verdict is that there's still seepage," she said and carefully dislodged the first piece of saline-soaked gauze that padded the wound. "In other words, it's still infected, which means it won't be closed up today. Or tomorrow. Maybe the day after, depending on how it looks at that point."

Dean frowned and pointedly avoided looking directly at what she was doing. "How long can you guys leave a wound like that open? I mean ... doesn't it cause more damage or something?"

"Well, there is the risk of the muscular tissue retracting so far that retraining it will be painful and in some cases not possible, but as Dr. Faulkner said yesterday, Sam is young. He'll heal fast," she said while she continued working. "Sam is on some heavy-duty antibiotics right now along with the good stuff where painkillers are concerned. He won't be in actual pain for the next couple of days. Unfortunately the body has a tendency to remember and seems set on making sure you feel it. Delayed pain is not uncommon and Sam is not out of the woods yet." She changed her gloves before starting the procedure in reverse by padding the wound again with fresh saline-soaked gauze pads. Once she was done, she draped a fresh sterile cloth over the wound, removed her second pair of gloves and gave Dean a smile. "I'm sure he'll be fine. He already seems to be doing better."

Dean nodded and glanced at Sam, who hadn't stirred throughout the procedure. "That really has to be some heavy stuff you've given him. I would have thought he felt that," he said.

"He probably did, but the drug we're giving him has properties similar to nitrous oxide. He sort of feels the pain, but also feels disassociated from it. We've found that its easier on a patient's system to do it this way, to allow them to experience the pain without having to really relate to it and thereby get beyond it," she explained. "And now, if you'll excuse me? I have to tend to my other patients before I go home for today," she added. "I'll see you tonight."

"Thanks for the update, Nurse Gowers," he countered, then returned his attention to Sam. "I guess you're flying high right now, huh? Enjoy it while it lasts, man," he muttered and sat back down again.

***

Maryann Gowers closed the door to room 315 behind her, the tray with the bandages in one hand. Dr. Faulkner was waiting for her at the nurses' station and she hurried over to him.

"So? How does it look?" he asked.

"Not good, doctor. It's deeply infected," she said quietly.

Dr. Faulkner made a face. "We may need to do a flush of the wound and maybe his abdominal cavity. Let's give it until tonight. If there's no improvement by then, we'll discuss how to proceed," he said, then shook his head. "That wound," he muttered, a disgusted look on his face. Then he focused on Maryann. "That is done with surgical precision. I'll be damned if that wasn't done by someone formerly employed in the medical profession," he added.

"I was just thinking the same, doctor. It looks too clean. He must have known what he did, whoever he is," she agreed.

"Yes," Dr. Faulkner said. "But why? Why would anybody do that to a kid like him? We should report it to the police. Has his brother said anything about the police? Whether they're involved already?"

"No, he hasn't mentioned the event at all," Maryann countered. "I'll mention it to him."

"Do that. Good job in there, Maryann. Keep up the good work," Dr. Faulkner said, smiled briefly and left to tend to his other patients.

Maryann knew he was curious about this case, but also deeply worried about Sam's condition. Unlike so many others in his profession, Dr. Faulkner actually genuinely cared about his patients and had a tendency to get personally involved with the patients that really touched him. Sam was one of them. Mainly because Faulkner had lost his own son a few years back and had since keenly associated with anyone around the age of twenty. Maryann knew that it could be considered a liability that he couldn't distance himself from his work, but in her opinion it made him a better doctor that he cared and didn't just see his patients as jobs.

With a light sigh, she settled down behind the desk and eyed the computer screen for a moment, but decided not to investigate the Weatherly brothers on her own. She would talk to Dean about it first.

***

Three days later

Sam was back on the operating table, this time to have the gaping hole in his stomach closed because the 'seepage' – as Maryann called it – had stopped and the infection had retreated enough for this to happen, and Dean was anxiously waiting for news about how it had gone. At the same time he was worried about Maryann's questions the day before about why the police had not been involved in this case. Dean had struggled with the explanation, and Sam had come to his rescue by feigning an anxiety attack. He was barely able to keep his eyes open for more than a few minutes at a time and hyperventilating like that had to have hurt like a bitch, but he had done it so convincingly that even Dean had thought it was for real at first.

Maryann had spent the better part of half an hour trying to calm Sam down again and had forgotten all about her request for information. But Dean had no doubts that she would remember eventually and if he couldn't give her a satisfactory reply, she would probably check up on it herself. And that meant trouble. So he either had to lie the best he could or had to let her in on the secret. But he wasn't inclined to do so, which left him with a bit of a dilemma, because, like it or not, Sam was the better liar and he was probably going to be out of commission again for a few days. All Dean could hope for was that Maryann didn't ask again until Sam was able to add his two cents to the mix.

"Dean?"

He turned around to face the selfsame woman he had just been thinking of and was quick to suppress any outside signs of his present preoccupation. "Any news?" he countered.

"Well, no, not yet," she said. "Listen, I was wondering ... about what I asked you yesterday."

'Oh god no, not now', he thought desperately and sent a quick glance toward the doors leading into the part of the hospital where he couldn't follow. 'Quick, think of something to say. Anything. Stall her!' He could almost hear his father's voice speaking those words and cringed inwardly. "Maryann, no offence, but I'm not really ..."

"No, no, I didn't mean to pressure you. I know you have a lot on your mind right now," she said, holding up both hands in a deprecating gesture. "But I really do think you should inform the police about this. What if this man does this sort of thing to someone else?"

Dean froze, then returned his attention fully to her. He couldn't very well tell her that the creep was dead, that he had emptied two clips into him and was going to go back there to salt and burn his bones to make sure he didn't come back to haunt Sam, and he had never felt further removed from the truth than he did right then.

It was almost a painful experience, having to lie to her more than he was lying already, having to come up with some lame excuse that his mind refused to conjure right now because he was so damned worried about his baby brother. And he couldn't tell her about that other poor kid, lying dead under a dirty bloodied sheet that Dean had taken off him, his guts hanging out of his stomach, his dead eyes staring up at the ceiling above him with the horror and the pain still visible in their glassiness.

And he couldn't tell her about the smell that had indicated other corpses somewhere, other dead kids. He didn't know why he was convinced that the other corpses were kids, but something insisted that if he'd found them, he would have found a pile of barely-out-of-their-teens kids, naked and rotting, their dead eyes filled with pain and terror.

As suddenly as if someone had sucker punched him, he felt the air go out of him, felt suddenly lightheaded and queasy. That could have been Sam, lying in a pile of corpses, rotting in a dark, dank factory basement in the middle of nowhere Montana. And the thought nearly brought him down.

"Dean?" Maryann's voice sounded far away, as if it came through layers of cotton. "Are you okay?" She grabbed his arm and he could barely feel her hand through the sudden iciness of his body. She guided him over to a chair and pushed him down on it. "Head between your knees," she instructed, her tone tolerating no argument.

He did as she said, leaned forward and dropped his head between his knees, and realized he had come within an inch of passing out from nothing other than the startling realization that his brother could have been dead now. But it wasn't just that, was it? No, it was so much more than that. Because, without his brother what was he? The answer was simple, yet devastating. Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

He hadn't even noticed that Maryann had left him for a moment until he jerked at the icy chill of a wet washcloth against the back of his neck. She hunkered down in front of him, one hand on his knee, as she pushed two fingers under his chin and raised his head up. "You okay?"

He breathed deeply, slowly, fighting back the need to pass out while berating himself for such a girly display of weakness. "Yeah," he finally managed and tried a smile which failed miserably judging by her expression.

"This has been a long time coming, Dean. I'm surprised you didn't drop on your first night here," she confessed, her tone worried. "You need to rest, Dean. More than you do now. You need some real sleep, a full night of it."

He sat up again and leaned back on the chair, registering from the corners of his eyes that others waiting for news on loved ones under the knife were watching him. And for the first time ever, he realized that complete strangers could have compassion, because there wasn't a condemning look among those gazes coming his way. A woman twice Maryann's age with grey sprinkling her hair and deep dark patches under her eyes smiled with sympathy and he found it impossible to not respond to her unwitting kindness by giving her a quirky smile back before returning his attention to Maryann.

"I know I need rest, but how can I?" he asked quietly and sent a quick glance toward the doors leading into the inner sanctum of this hospital, the place where they performed their versions of miracles. "I need to know that Sam's going to be okay."

Maryann's eyes were full of pity and a part of him resented that. He couldn't help it. It was too deeply ingrained in him that others shouldn't have to pity him. He was stronger than that, self-reliant and independent. At least he wanted to be and he knew he usually gave that impression to strangers too. But he knew he wasn't, not entirely, because he needed Sam to be okay so bad it was almost a physical pain. "Don't you have other family you can call? An aunt or an uncle? Cousins? Someone who could stand in for you while you catch up on your sleep?"

He shook his head lightly. "No, Sam's all I've got," he muttered, then clenched his teeth together when the fear of losing his sibling welled up in him again.

Maryann rose slowly. "I'll go check how far they've gotten," she said quietly, turned around and left.

Dean just sat there and stared ahead of himself, unaware that he was displaying more fear than he had thought until the lady with the kind eyes suddenly stood beside him and held out a tissue. Only then did he become aware of the wetness on his cheeks and the burning in his eyes. He took the offered tissue and nearly broke apart into tiny little pieces when she put a comforting hand on his shoulder and muttered, "It'll be alright. Don't you worry, son," because that was what his dad would have said.

He nodded, not trusting his voice right then, and was grateful when she returned to her seat after a moment. Instead of staying where he was, he got up and went into the restroom to splash some water on his suddenly hot and flushed face. Then he stared at his reflection in the mirror for a moment and tried to work up the indignation he would otherwise have felt at such a whiny-assed lack of control.

But he couldn't. Something inside was broken. There was a fissure the size of the San Andreas fault going through the veneer of his defenses and until he knew that Sam was out of the woods and would recover from this nightmare, he had no earthly chance of healing that fissure.

He sighed and allowed his attention to wander for a moment, then he closed his eyes and let his head drop forward. He could honestly admit that he had never missed his father more than he did right now.

***