Dean almost missed his alias of the week being called as he had been counting the tiles on the floor mindlessly for the last hour, waiting for word any word on Sam and trying to block out any thoughts that didn't include his little brother not being okay, because he had to be okay - he just had to. His name was called again and he suddenly snapped out of his distracted thoughts and glanced up to see a middle-aged man in green scrubs walk his way.
Dean gave the man little chance to introduce himself as soon as he stopped in front of him, going straight to the questions he needed answers to right the hell now.
"How's my brother? Do you know what's wrong with him? Is he gonna be alright?"
The man raised his hands in surrender, "Whoa … I'll try to answer your questions, but one at a time, okay?"
Dean swallowed hard and nodded.
"I'm Dr. Hirsch, I've been treating your brother since he came in," The doctor pointed to a row of seats, "Do you mind if we sit for a moment? I have a few things I need to discuss with you."
Dean didn't care if they sat or not as long as this guy didn't beat around the bush and gave him the facts without diving into mind-boggling medical speak he couldn't understand.
Dr. Hirsch took a seat and Dean sat in the one next to it, "First off, I just want you to know that Sam is holding his own right now. He was having difficulty breathing when he was first brought in, but we've got him stabilized now and his breathing has improved enough for us to not have to worry about intubating him. He is however, still deeply unconscious, but hopefull he'll start coming around soon. Now … as to how your brother ended up in this shape, I'd like to ask you a few questions."
"Sure, anything." Dean answered, even if he wasn't about to tell the truth about Sam's noggin being damaged by Hell.
"Do you know how much your brother had to drink tonight?"
The question took Dean off-guard, "Drink? What? …" he sputtered, thinking the guy must be on crack to ask such a stupid question, "Nothing … he just went to sleep and then started having convulsions."
"Really?" The doctor pulled confused face, "Are you sure he couldn't have been drinking when you weren't paying attention?"
"Why the hell are you asking this? What's wrong with my brother?"
"I'm asking because Sam has a blood-alcohol level of .35 – high enough for the glucose level in his blood to drop and cause the seizure you witnessed. It also created a severe depression of his respiratory system, but since we started him on glucose for his low blood sugar and hemodialysis to clean the toxins out of his system, he's showing signs of improvement. However, he's got other issues that I'm concerned about that will need to be addressed after he regains consciousness – he'll most likely start experiencing delirium tremens as he detoxes and his blood work is showing that his liver is starting to show early signs of fatty change which is an indicator of chronic alcohol consumption. Now ... I know of a few good treatment programs -"
Dean blanched, "What? Sam hardly drinks –"
"I know this has got to be hard for you to accept and I'll admit that his case is a little baffling for me too since he didn't smell of liquor, yet maybe he's just good at hiding his problem – he wouldn't be the first patient I have seen that has kept his drinking problem as secret from their family …"
"Whoa … my brother is not an alcoholic, got it?" Dean felt the heat of anger rise in his cheeks. This doctor was an ass and didn't know what he was talking about, "If anyone has a problem with drinking it's –"
Dean stopped cold while a rush of nausea came over him and the pieces fell together, clicking into place like a goddam puzzle: Sam acting like he had woken up with a hangover while Dean woke up feeling fine … his strange behavior at the restaurant, like he was drunk while Dean couldn't even get his buzz on … the burned hand Sam got while Dean walked away unscathed … Dean drinking an entire bottle of Jack and never getting drunk while Sam ended up in the hospital with alcohol poisoning. It all slammed into Dean at once – how had he not seen this before? How could he have been so stupid to not notice?
Something had put the whammy on them. Something was causing his brother to absorb whatever injury or intoxication Dean should have suffered. Dean should be the one in that hospital bed, not Sam.
God … what had he done to his brother?
Dean abruptly stood up and left the bewildered doctor to stare at him as he raced for the nearest bathroom where he promptly vomited into the nearest sink.
Sam was cold and he really wanted to find out where his blanket had gone to and why it was so damn freezing in there. And it wasn't just the lack of warmth that was drawing him out of his slumber; he was growing increasingly aware of a nausea growing in his gut, an annoying itch under his nose, and if he thought his head hurt before he had fallen asleep, it was nothing compared to the stabbing pain coursing through it now.
He groaned and made an attempt to throw his arm over his face so he could block out the light flooding through his eyelids and go back into the darkness and sleep … God, he was so tired … but its momentum was hindered by something pulling painfully on his hand and his eyes opened involuntarily to a blurry, fuzzy image of an unfamiliar room.
Confusion overwhelmed his pain and exhaustion and his eyes darted about, brow furrowed as he looked about him for some kind of explanation for why he had fallen asleep on the floor of a dirty, dilapidated farmhouse and was now waking up in the clean, antiseptic confines of a hospital bed. Almost immediately a face filled his field of view.
"Sam?" Dean asked. He looked awful – his eyes red-rimmed, face unshaved and hair disheveled. God … what the hell happened? Is he okay?
"Dean?" Sam croaked weakly, barely hearing his own voice and annoyed again by the itch under his nose. He raised his fingers and felt them brush up against a plastic nasal cannula.
"Hey … try not to pull that out okay?" Dean took hold of Sam's hand and gently pulled it away from the cannula while making an attempt to crack a smile, but it was a poor imitation his genuine grin – in fact, it was somewhat ghastly given the unease in his brother's eyes and it sent a shiver of concern through Sam.
"Wha's …?" Sam swallowed to moisten his cottony mouth and tried to piece together his thoughts through the murk that lingered in his head, "What happened? You okay?"
Dean sat down heavily in the chair beside the bed, shaking his head, "I'm fine, Sam … you're the one that's been sick."
"Sick? With what?" Sam asked, feeling heavy and uncertain of how long he could keep his eyes open.
Dean looked down at his lap, hiding his eyes as his shoulders slumped, hesitant to respond. "Uh … you uh …"
"God … I did this to you, Sam … I'm so … so sorry,"
"You didn't do this …"
"No … listen, I did." Dean was suddenly out of his chair and pacing, running a hand over his mouth then watching the floor as he walked back and forth so he wouldn't have to look Sam in the eye, "I drank last night … a lot … too much in fact, but nothing happened, I didn't get drunk – not even a little, but then you – " Dean stopped his pacing and sighed then looked up and Sam could see the guilt and shame crisscrossing his face, "you just started seizing worse than you ever have before and I freaked, called an ambulance and they brought you here. The doctors … they found out you have alcohol poisoning."
Sam wouldn't have believed that if it hadn't some from Dean's mouth, "What? But I didn't –"
"I know." Dean interrupted talking too fast for Sam to cut in, "You didn't drink. I did … and you paid the price. And that's not all – yesterday I should have burned my hand when that can exploded, but didn't – you got hurt instead. Then there was the restaurant – I had three cups of coffee with whiskey in them and you're the one that was acting like Lindsey Lohan falling off the bandwagon again. So, don't you see? - we've been cursed, or hexed or something, I dunno … but, something is making you take on all of the shit that should be happening to me."
Sam sighed, still a little confused by what Dean was trying to tell him, "S'not your fault."
"No, it is. And I'm sorry, man … I should have seen it sooner ... I should have known something was wrong -"
"Well then, I should have too. I knew I was feeling off, but I tried to rationalize it and explain it away."
"Speaking of which … you remember when you started feeling that way? We need to find the thing that did this and make them reverse whatever this is."
Sam closed his eyes wearily, trying to search his fuzzy memories, "Well … I guess it all started when I woke up the morning after that bar fight we got into the other day."
"You talk to anyone at that bar? Notice anyone suspicious?"
Sam shook his head, "I uh … I dunno … I talked to the bartender – I think she said her name was Jolie."
"Just uh … " Sam stopped cold, recalling the conversation he had with the woman, the way she touched his hand – the strange tingle he felt which he promptly forgot about as the fight between Dean and those other mooks broke into an all-out melee, " crap …"
"We talked about you, actually … about your, uh … problem … I told her that I wished you could see what your drinking was doing to you and … to me. She must have been the one to do this – she must have somehow granted my wish."
"You telling me you wished for this to happen?"
"Well … not like this and not in so many words, but … I guess so."
"Dammit," Dean growled, shaking his head.
"Okay, we got to cut out the apologies here and fix this," Dean straightened and eyed Sam with a mixture of worry and regret, "I'm gonna take care of this, okay. Think you'll be alright while I'm gone?"
Sam nodded, feeling what little energy he had had for his conversation with Dean slipping away, "I'll be fine … think I'm just gonna sleep for the next twenty hours or so."
Dean gripped the wheel tight as he waited in the parking lot of the bar for it to open. His thoughts came on non-stop, but for the most part he was successful in blocking the worst of them out, except for one: the instant replay in his head of Sam's long legs and arms flailing about uncontrollably on the floor of that filthy farmhouse.
Normally by this time, he would have been hitting his flask up to chase these unwanted feelings of guilt and hopelessness away, but he knew it wouldn't do any good. And when he thought about it, he realized that it had been almost an entire day since he had a drink and knowing how his body worked after that long without a swallow of booze, he dreaded thinking about what Sam might be experiencing right then without him - the physical cravings, the tremors, and the pains of withdrawal weren't supposed to be Sam's problems - they were supposed to be his.
How did I let this get so out of control?
Dean was getting sick of waiting and he had a deep desire to get back to Sam as soon as possible and he grew more and more impatient by the minute until finally, an old VW Beetle pulled into the parking lot and took a space by the front door. He watched as a dark-skinned woman exited the car and headed for the door and right off the bat, he recognized her as the bartender that had served he and Sam.
He got out of the tiny compact car they stole a week ago and snook up quietly behind her as she slipped a key into the lock on the front door. She didn't hear him approach and was taken completely off guard when he came up from behind her and clamped his hand around her mouth, pulling her backwards towards his chest.
She muffled a choked off scream into his hand, but it wasn't not loud enough to be heard by anyone that might be near, but Dean knew he had to be quick before he could draw any unwanted attention.
"We need to talk," He spoke into her ear as she struggled. Trying to fight him off, she bucked against Dean's hold, but couldn't break free from his grasp before he let go of her mouth and spun her around to pin her against the door and look her in the eye, "What did you do to my brother, bitch?"
She shook her head, he eyes wide with fear, "Please … don't hurt me … you can have my purse, please just take it." She lifted her purse with shaking hands, but Dean pushed it away.
"I'm not here to take your money … I need to know what you did to my brother – you did something to him the other night when we were here, didn't you? What was it? A spell? A hex? You slip something funny into our drinks?"
Recognition crossed her features, "Oh … it's you."
"Yeah … me. You remember Sam too?"
She nodded quickly.
"Good ... Now open the door so we can take this inside."
She gulped harshly then turned to open the door, visibly shaking so much that she struggled to turn the key and once the door was open, he took her by the shoulders and pushed her inside, closing the door and locking it behind him.
She turned, openly gasping as he pulled a gun from his waistband. She raised her hands in surrender while frightened tears rolled down her face, "Please … I only tried to help your brother. I only gave him what he said he wanted."
"What did you do to him?" He asked, seeing how spooked she was by the weapon, he held back on raising it, but was ready to use it if he needed to.
"I just granted him his wish … that's all."
"How? You some kind of witch?"
"No! I'm not a witch. I don't know … maybe I'm psychic or something? I don't even know exactly how I can do it - it's just something I've always been able to do for people that I feel really deserve it. Your brother seemed to really want to help you and I just wanted to make it happen for him."
"Well, it backfired big time. Sam almost died!"
"What? How? That wasn't supposed to happen." She looked genuinely shocked, but Dean was still seething.
"But it did and you need to reverse this wish or whatever it is."
"You don't understand, I can't un-grant a wish."
"Then grant my wish and change us back."
"Because I can only grant one wish at a time and Sam's wish hasn't yet come true completely."
"What do mean?"
"I mean his wish was for you to see what your drinking was doing to you, so you could see things from his persepective, even if it meant that he had to trade placews with you– which I think you see now, but the more important part of his wish was for you to change – to take a little better care of yourself, for you to quit throwing your life away because he can't stand seeing you fall into the deep, dark pit you keep tossing yourself into,"
She lost some of her fear of Dean and her voice turned emphatic and laced with sympathy, "Don't you see? The only person who can truly turn this around is you. You have to want to change and let Sam know that you'll do whatever it takes get rid of your crutch and walk on your own. Once he sees that, his wish will be complete and things should go back to the way they were."
Dean stood in the open doorway to Sam's room and watched his little brother sleep, curled up on his side, his mouth open and dripping drool onto his pillow with one hand extended out and dangling over the edge of the bed – it was probably the most peaceful rest he had seen Sam get in a long while and despite his brother's overgrown size, there were times such as this one where he had trouble not seeing the little boy he had a hand in raising. And maybe that was part of his problem … he spent the majority of his life looking out for him that it was hard to ask for his help or accept his wanting to watch out for Dean in return.
But he had to be honest with himself this time - he needed help and he couldn't trust himself to change on his own.
Pushing away from the door, Dean crossed the room and stood over his brother. His skin was still far too pale, and the hand hanging from bed trembled even as Sam slept, but his doctor had assured Dean that he was doing much better and could be released in the morning.
As relieving as that news was to Dean, he still had a huge hurtle to jump over and that was to make amends with Sam for being such a self-absorbed dickhead the last few months and for being so wrapped up in his own grief and hopelessness that he hadn't seen that hurting himself was only hurting his brother until it was almost too late.
Dean pulled the chair beside him closer to the side of bed where he could face his brother, purposefully scraping it loudly against the floor before he sat down to announce his arrival. The noise of the movement caused Sam to jerk awake and blink at Dean through bleary eyes.
"Sorry, didn't mean to wake ya." Dean lied.
"Yes you did." Sam rasped in return, licking his lips as if he was experiencing a deadly case of cotton mouth. Dean reached over to the table beside the bed and poured some water from the pink, plastic pitcher sitting there into a cup. Sam struggled to sit up and swayed a little as soon as he was upright then reached out and took the cup from Dean, his hands shaking so badly that he nearly spilled the water before the cup finally made it to his lips.
After Sam finished off his water, Dean pressed the button on the side of his bed to raise the head of it so Sam could sit up comfortably and make it easier for him to follow along to Dean's soon to premiere, epic chick-flick moment of Little House on the Prairie proportions.
Once Sam settled back against his pillows, Dean took a seat. "How ya feeling?"
"You know – awful with a touch of crappy, but better. You talked to Jolie?"
"Yeah. I guess she's got psychic powers or something and she thought she was helping you out by granting you the shittiest wish ever."
"What did you do? You didn't -"
"Kill her?" Dean finished for him, seeing a flash of Amy come into his mind's eye. It was a subject neither of them talked about, but Dean had the feeling that Sam hadn't forgiven him completely for killing her or lying to him about it, which was well within his rights. But, Dean hadn't been able to bring himself to harm the bartender in any way. Yeah, he left her rattled and gave her a stern warning about being careful with her 'gifts', but he couldn't do that to Sam again, "No … she's fine. I don't think she meant to hurt you."
Sam looked relieved, "Was she able to help?"
"Yeah … she told me what I needed to do." Dean had thought about what he was going to say to Sam on his way back. He knew that he had to keep the conversation he had with Jolie vague otherwise Sam might think he was just giving him lip-service and might not believe he was being honest about this. But despite all of the mental rehearsing he had done, now that he was faced with actually spilling his guts … he didn't know where to start or what to say.
Jesus, Dean ... just get it over with already.
"So uh … here's the thing ... I've been an ass, Sam. Here you are in the same boat as me, dealing with all the same crap I've had to handle since Cas and Bobby ... and plus you've had Hell and Lucifer on top of it all, but I'm the one wallowing in self-pity, fucking up my life and dragging you down with me. It's not right … and …" Dean stalled and his eyes stung with tears he desperately tried to hold back.
Shit … why was all of this so hard to admit?
"And I get that now and I get why you made that lame-assed wish just so you could show me how much this has been hurting you as much as it has me. So … this is me, telling it like it is and taking that first step of twelve and admitting that I'm a fucked up drunk. I'm an Goddamn alcoholic, Sam - and I can't seem to get a handle on it and I need some help to fix this – I'm gonna need you to help me get back on track."
Oh God … now Sam was on the verge of tears. This was an even bigger girl moment that Dean was expecting and his own water works weren't far behind.
For once Sam was speechless and openly gaped at Dean then shook his head as if he couldn't believe his ears, "This is uh … is this really happening?"
"I mean it." Dean added seriously, "I need to change – and I'll do whatever it takes to not let you down."
"You know, this isn't about you letting me down … it's about you not letting yourself down. And this …" Sam gestured towards himself and the hospital room, "was all worth it if you would only care about yourself as much as I care about you and if you're willing to do that - you know I'll be there. Just like you've always been there for me."
"It's just ... this shit isn't easy for me." Dean turned his head away and felt the little knot in his throat get tighter, making it damn near impossible for him to speak as the first of many tears slipped from his eyes.
Dean felt Sam rest his hand on his shoulder and squeeze it supportively, "I know, man. Trust me … I do."
Dean glanced back up into his brother's face and wiped away the offensive tears streaming down his face. Sam's skin had picked up a rosy color and his eyes showed little signs of the exhaustion and pain they had taken on before. At the same time, Dean felt his hands begin to tremble, head throb, and gut twist with nausea, but he smiled – this was the way it should be and he welcomed the pain to come because Sam's wish had been fulfilled.
And along the way, so had Dean's.