More Winchesters, horses and angst, this way ...
Sam's hands shook wildly as He tried to calm his brother, "can' breathe …" Dean gasped breathlessly, "can' bre … athe …" The words came out in short stuttering bursts between panting, laboured breaths.
"Dean," Sam gasped, tightly gripping his brother's waist for want of knowing what else to do. "what's wrong man? … Oh God, what's wrong with you?"
Heart pounding, he tore open Dean's T shirt in a desperate effort to glean clues to his brother's sudden and terrifying deterioration.
Dean's free hand clawed frantically at Sam's shaking arms as he tugged the tattered T shirt over Dean's good shoulder, muttering frightened and unconvincing reassurances to his distressed brother.
Releasing Dean's sling, Sam carefully lowering his injured arm into his lap and ran a hand over the livid bruising which covered the front of Dean's shoulder, swallowing back a gag at the grotesque kink of his fractured collarbone.
He watched in horror as Dean's chest convulsed in his fight for air; what little breath he could drag into his lungs was taking every ounce of his effort, and his strength was waning fast.
It was then Sam noticed that the movement was almost all on the left side of Dean's chest; the injured side holding disturbingly still.
"S'mmy …" Dean croaked fearfully, glassy eyes impossibly wide; "Sammy; hur's …" he pleaded, his cold, shaking fingers twining nervously in Sam's overshirt; "hel'me … plea… ease …" He forced the words out between yawning gasps.
Sam gently pulled Dean forward, lifting the tattered remains of his T shirt to examine his back.
There were no obvious injuries, but the same horrible lop-side heaving was evident.
He glanced up as he felt hot breath over his crown, ruffling his hair. Sam looked up straight into Indiana's curious face. "Not now big dude," he muttered, reaching up and gently swatting Indiana's face away, as he laid Dean back to lean once again against the fallen log.
Something about Dean's condition flicked a switch in his mind. He couldn't remember if he had seen or read or heard something like this before; the lop-sided breathing, the pain was ringing all sorts of bells.
Curiously, he tapped the paralysed side of Dean's chest with his knuckle, like he was knocking on a door; the sound echoed back to him hollow, resounding like he was banging on a drum.
The pieces fell into place.
Never having personally experienced such a problem, Sam didn't know much about the condition except that it was life-threatening. He glanced back at Dean's clammy face, a blue tinge forming around his lips; and scraped a hand through his fringe. Why here? Why now? He fought the rising urge to panic; that would gain them nothing.
Taking a long slow breath, he reached round pulling the saddlebag towards him, and tipped it up, spilling the contents including the first aid kit over the dusty trail.
"Hang in there bro'," he called back over his shoulder above the increasingly desperate sound of Dean's rasping breaths; glancing back as he rummaged through the first aid kit, Sam could see Dean's head thrown back, the tendons in his neck standing out starkly, glistening with sweat under the strain of each hard-fought breath.
Sam tore the first aid box apart before he found what he was looking for, he grasped the tatty blue book to his chest in a moment's sweet relief when he eventually found it.
The book had previously belonged to his father, now it belonged to the boys. The dog-eared little book was over thirty years old and held together with sticky tape and, most importantly, it had earned it's place in amongst the boys' arsenal more than once, but never in a situation as dire as this.
'The US Marine Corps Handbook of Field Medicine.'
Sam gently gripped Dean's knee, just to remind him he was there; "gonna sort you out real soon, bro'." he reassured softly.
He flicked through the tattered pages until he found the chapter which covered chest trauma; in particular collapsed lungs, and began to rapidly scan the words.
The text confirmed Sam's diagnosis:
Often caused by a blunt trauma to the chest - check
Lop sided breathing - check
Extreme pain on breathing - check
The affected side sounds hollow - check
His heart sank and his stomach flip-flopped as he read on.
Trauma related collapsed lung is often life threatening and requires immediate emergency treatment.
He wiped tears from his eyes with a shaking hand as he read the rest of the page, fighting the urge to throw up.
He knelt beside Dean, and began to knead the back of his neck. He wiped his eyes so that Dean couldn't see his distress.
"I'm gonna help you dude," he swallowed hard as he continued, "you've got a collapsed lung and I've gotta release all the air from inside your chest so your lung isn't squashed any more."
He continued to squeeze the back of Dean's neck, which was corded in rock hard strain as his head arched backwards in his weakening fight for breath. His eyes flickered towards Sam, who knew that it was the only response he could give.
"But, I'm sorry dude, I'm afraid it's gonna hurt;" Sam stifled a gag, "I can't do this without hurting you."Dean's hand squeezed a fistful of Sam's shirt, and Sam knew that was his go ahead; confirmation that Dean knew what had to be done, and that any pain inflicted was already forgiven.
Knowing they had no syringes in their first aid kit, Sam had to think of other options. "C'mon Sam, think …" he scolded himself. He needed something that was man enough for the job of piercing Dean's chest wall without leaving a wound so big he would bleed to death instead of suffocate.
Then it came to him in flash of inspiration; a darning needle.
The brothers didn't have the funds to just replace the numerous items of clothing and underwear that got damaged and worn, so they did running repairs. That is to say, Sam did running repairs; Sewing was, as Dean had reminded him on several occasions, women's work and, therefore, right up his street.
Sam gently laid Dean out flat on the ground with his folded hoodie under his head, laying the book out beside him and re-read the passage which explained in nauseating detail the process of 'aspiration' he was about to follow. He took a deep, stuttering breath and counted down two ribs below the collarbone; he swabbed the spot between them with an antiseptic wipe, using another to sterilise the thick 4-inch needle he held in his shaking hand.
Placing the needle point down on the bruised ridge between the two ribs just below the collarbone; he fought not to close his eyes. Under any 'normal' circumstances he would never even want to watch a procedure like this, never mind inflict it on his brother with his own two quivering, sweat-soaked hands.
"I'm sorry Dean," he whispered and pressed down the needle, piercing the skin easily, Dean jolted, his gasps hitching into a pained hiss, but as hard as Sam pressed, once the needle hit the dense muscle layer beneath the skin, Sam's sweaty fingers slipped down the shaft and it went nowhere.
Dean gasps rose to a breathless squeal as he arched against the pain. Sam cursed, gripping the needle again and pressing it hard, into the twitching, flickering skin, but to no avail as his sweaty fingers simply slipped down the thin metal shaft again. He cursed again; louder this time. He wanted to get this over quickly for Dean's sake.
He stared down at the thick needle embedded in his brother's stocky, muscular chest. "Jeez Dean" he snorted, pushing down on the needle again, "why can't you be some puny runt with no friggin' muscles?" He snorted, "why've you gotta have a chest like a friggin' brick wall?"
He was hurting Dean, that much was clear; and it tore Sam to pieces. He scraped a soaking hand across his face and, in desperation, he picked up the little book and slammed it down on the head of the needle, cringing as he heard Dean muster a hoarse screech. The needle's point drilled down through the thick muscle layer, and pierced the chest wall with a muffled pop. There was a hiss as a bubbling ring of foamy blood began to form around the shaft of the needle.
Sam, carefully pulled the needle out, keeping his hand pressed flat on Dean's chest to hold him down as he squirmed, teeth gritted against the pain.
As the point of the needle emerged with a quiet sucking sound, it was followed by a bubbling hiss as more watery scarlet foam flowed over the tiny puncture wound, spraying upwards in a fine red mist as the trapped air burst out under intense pressure. Sam continued to hold his hand flat against Dean's chest, gently rubbing small circles to reassure his brother as he still gasped for breath.
Eventually the hissing subsided, and Sam swabbed the lightly bleeding wound with their last antiseptic wipe, taping the little plastic bag which had previously held the wipes over it, leaving an opening so that the air could still trickle out.
Job done, he sat back, pinching the bridge of his nose and watched Dean intensely. He seemed a little calmer; his breathing, although still seriously strained was definitely easier. "How ya doin' bro?" he asked softly, lifting Dean back up into a sitting position against the log and leaning over him to fasten his sling again. Finally, he wrapped his hoodie around Dean's shivering shoulders. "I'm real sorry about all that, dude," he sighed.
Dean's eyes drooped closed, and he leaned closely into Sam's solid presence; "m'b-better, S'm … my, th-thanks."
It was getting dark, and Sam reluctantly accepted he wouldn't be able to go seeking help now. They were going to have to try to sit out the night, Sam knew he would have to find help in the morning; he was painfully aware that Dean wasn't out of the woods; far from it. All he had done was bought Dean some time.
He looked up to see Indiana's big muzzle filling his field of vision again and smiled, taking the time to ruffle the horse's velvet nose; "sorry I pushed you away earlier, big dude," he whispered, rubbing the horse's long, flat forehead.
Indiana cocked his head, and Sam gazed into his big, liquid chocolate eyes. "I'm gonna need you to help me stay awake dude," he smiled, "I can't go to sleep - not tonight."
He patted Indiana's neck, and glanced across to Dean, his eyes closed as he leaned heavier into Sam's shoulder; "Someone's gotta keep both your asses safe from the Chupacabra."
Indiana whittered softly and tossed his head. It could have been a nod.
Sam gathered up his rifle, and placed his a hand on his dozing brother's head as he watched Dean, on alert for changes in the pattern of his harsh breathing.
As the night progressed, and Dean had settled as much as he was going to be able to; Sam sat and listened out at the sounds around them; the warm breeze rustling through the trees, the scrabbling of small animals in the undergrowth, Indiana's restless shuffling and stamping. He closed his eyes briefly and pondered how, on this otherwise beautiful Summers' night they could be in such a dire straights. He gazed up at the stars and thought back, scarcely believing that it was only this morning that he was basking in the bliss of an idyllic Summer dawn. It seemed like a lifetime away.
The chirping of a million crickets and his brother's rhytmic wheezing began to have a soporific effect after the evening's dramas; Sam's eyes began to droop, and the fight not to doze off became more and more of a challenge. He clung to his brother, his fingers carding through Dean's spiky hair; taking his own comfort from the contact; comfort which added to his fatigue. Everything suddenly seemed so peaceful, so quiet … Sam began to succumb to the pull of rest.
A rest which was abruptly interrupted on hearing a heavy rustling crunch in the undergrowth behind them.
Sam jolted awake as he heard a sudden heavy crunch in the undergrowth behind them.
He shuffled stiffly out from under his sleeping brother's head which was resting limply on his shoulder. Dean blinked blearily at the movement and opened his mouth to speak, but managed only a wheezing huff as he slowly keeled over without Sam's solid support.
Sam's grip tightened on the rifle as he reached out with his free hand to steady the listing figure beside him. As he scrambled to his feet, stamping down on his injured leg to try to coax some movement and feeling back into it, he heard the sound again; another heavy cracking rustle seeming closer this time. It was the sound of whole bushes and not just undergrowth grasses being trodden down.
Indiana's head jerked up giving a sharp snort of alarm and he shied backwards, squealing as the rein tethering him to a nearby tree sprung tight. He pulled against the taut rein stamping and fidgeting fretfully as he wheeled round, turning his back to the menacing noises.
The sound fell silent, and Sam's heart pounded in his chest as his instincts spiked. He didn't like it; not one bit. Stepping over the log he effectively placed himself as a barrier between Dean and whatever it was out there in the dark.
"S'mmy … Chu…pa …? " Dean whispered hoarsely, unable to finish the question.
"Shhhh … let me listen, dude," Sam whispered as he carefully scanned the darkness through the trees, pausing to focus on a quivering bush; his breathing quickening as he squinted through the impenetrable blackness.
Sam exhaled slowly. Perhaps he was imagining it; perhaps it was just the breeze rustling through the bushes. Maybe it was a raccoon or something; those things could be heavy and destructive.
He felt himself start to relax and glanced round to Dean who was leaning crookedly over the log, his unfocussed eyes looking up at him from under heavy lids. Letting the barrel of the rifle dip, he gave out a shaky sigh and glanced back up into the darkness.
Straight into two glowing red eyes.
Stumbling backwards in shock, Sam almost dropped the rifle. He fumbled it back into a firing position and loosed off a hasty shot in the direction of the eyes, hearing a gasp as Dean flinched behind him at the noise of the shot.
The eyes continued to stare through the darkness at him, unblinking.
"S'mmy … Sa …" Dean's struggling breath caught in his chest as he tried to look round, letting out a hoarse grunt of pain as the action pulled on his broken collarbone.
Sam stood rooted to the ground, staring helplessly at the two red orbs; unable break their gaze. At the back of his mind, a creeping sense of dread began to weigh heavily on him as he remembered reading something a long time ago about the Chupacabra having a hypnotic gaze; mesmerising it's prey into submission, making it easier for the heavy, cumbersome creature to kill. He hoped to hell that wasn't the case, because if it was - he was screwed.
The eyes moved slowly towards him in a jerking, bobbing motion which made him feel slightly nauseous; as he watched, his trembling finger curled around the rifle's trigger. He didn't want to waste this shot - he had to wait until he could be sure it was right on target.
Slowly, by stages, the moonlight began to pick out it's shape as it approached. It was, Sam guessed, the size of a very large dog; moving towards him at a loping hop on it's hind legs, it's clawed forelegs curled up beneath it's chest. It's skin, hairless, save for a lank, oily mane along the top of it's head and back, glistened like wet suede.
Dean struggled, trying to turn round. He wanted to climb over the log to help Sammy, but damnit, his stupid broken body was simply refusing to co-operate; he gasped miserably, desperate to call out to Sam, but his compromised lungs squeezed all the sound out of his voice, leaving only a rasping croak.
Staring into those glowing red eyes as the creature stalked towards him in it's peculiar hopping gait, Sam watched in dismay as it's head remained motionless, maintaining that dizzying eye contact; never blinking, never breaking it's gaze. It was close enough now that he could hear it's snuffling, rattling breaths and smell it's rank odour.
His hands shook as he held the rifle. He knew it was close enough now for him to hit it point blank; he couldn't miss. But he simply wasn't able squeeze the trigger.
It had him.
Those terrible red eyes; he had unwittingly fallen under it's spell.
It leaned back on it's haunches, ready to spring, never breaking that mesmerising eye contact; behind him Sam could hear Dean's breathless gasps and his feet scrabbling in the gravel as he tried to stand, desperate to help his stupefied brother.
Suddenly, with a flash of chestnut and a crack of shattering bones, the creature was flung aside as the quiet, placid horse that Sam had completely forgotten about in all the drama, landed a vicious kick into it's side.
The eye contact broken, Sam snapped back into his senses and lunged over to the prone creature as it lay squealing and writhing weakly on the ground, the side of it's rib-cage caved in.
Sam pressed the rifle against it's head and fired.
As the muffled shot sounded, the jerking body slumped into stillness.
Sam stood panting for a moment, then looked across to Indiana, who gazed amiably back at him. He strode over and lavishly ruffled the horse's big velvet muzzle.
"You great big badass, you…" he gasped joyfully, slapping Indiana's neck.
Dean peered round, as far as his injuries would allow, "wha' … goin' on?" He gasped between agitated breaths; "s'mmy … y'okay?"
Sam turned, and hopped back over the log; "s'all good Dean, Indiana iced the Chupacabra."
Dean stared at him. "Indi … ana … killed it?" He paused, wincing as he drew in a pained breath; "Y'got ... y'ass ... outfought by … a horse?"
Sam grinned broadly, "yep dude; I totally did."
He dropped to his knees on his brother's good side, and fussed over Dean's sling; "how you doin, bro'?"
Dean gave a tight lipped nod, "m'good" he croaked.
Sam patted him on his good shoulder, and got up, reaching for his handgun. He walked back over to the Chupacabra, and although it was fairly obviously dead, for his own peace of mind, he emptied an entire clip into it's head.
"That's for Hannibal." He stated coolly.
Sam cracked open a bottle of water and knelt down before Dean, supporting his head as he held the bottle to his lips. Dean managed two faltering gulps then stopped to catch his breath, Sam gently kneading the back of his neck to reassure and help him as he pulled in the painful breaths.
They carried on in that fashion until Dean had managed to take in around a quarter of the bottle. Sam took a couple of long, deep gulps from it; taking care to reserve the remainder for their hero standing quietly behind them, chewing contentedly on an uprooted shrub.
Sam slowly sat down on the ground at Dean's uninjured side, stifling a groan of pain as his abused hip screamed in protest, and gathered Dean into him. He smiled as Dean leaned, unresisting into his shoulder. He would stay like this for the rest of the night; holding his brother, rubbing his back to ease his breathing, listening to Dean's strained gasps on sharp alert for any signs of deterioration.
He decided that as soon as there was enough light, it was down to him to go and find help. With the Chupacabra dead, it would be safe to leave Dean for a little while, wouldn't it?
He didn't see that he had a choice.
Sam blinked blearily and glanced down at his watch, as he was awoken from an uncomfortable catnap by Dean shifting. It was 8 am; he had been awake when dawn had broken a good couple of hours ago and he silently cursed himself for falling asleep again. Stretching stiffly, he yawned, knowing his first job this fine morning was to seek help; not just seek it. Find it.
He had spent the night holding his brother tight, listening to every one of Dean's harsh, pained breaths, subconsciously comparing each to the previous one; listening for any kind of change or deterioration. It was just before dawn; the last time he had heard Dean's voice, that Sam's gnawing concern had racheted up a notch when Dean had begun shifting fretfully and murmuring between his pained breaths. Sam thought he'd heard his own name mentioned a couple of times, but couldn't hear what was being said.
He leaned in closer; "hey dude, what is it? You need something?"
Dean whispered again, the only word that Sam caught was his own name.
"You thirsty?" he softly rubbed Dean's arm, "c'mon man, what's wrong?"
Dean shifted again. "Where S … S'm?"
Sam's brow furrowed, "where am I? I'm right here, dude…" he reassured softly, his hand moving up to rub his brother's unkempt hair, "hey Dean, why don't you look at me, then you can see where I am."
Dean blinked slowly, but otherwise didn't move, "tell … S-s'mmy … breakfast."
Sam stared at him, "Dude?"
"e-eat … his break … fast; oth'wise … late f'school …"
Sam's heart sank.
"Hey Dean, wake up man, you're dreaming…" Sam whispered, hoping against hope it was, indeed, a dream.
Sam turned to pick up the water bottle and offered Dean a drink.
Dean shook his head. "S'mmy … needs'is … breakfast…" He panted harshly for a moment, "get … hungry a'school …"
Gathering Dean in as tightly as he dared, he spoke softly as he tried to reach his confused brother; "Hey Dean, knock it off; you're scarin' me man."
He looked intently into Dean's face, trying to make some kind of connection with the empty, half closed eyes; trying to see past the dark smudges beneath them, the sickly grey pallor which had leeched any trace of colour out of his face, the tightness across his brow and lips formed of constant pain. He carded his fingers through Dean's hair, "I don't go to school any more dude;" he murmured softly, "I'm way too big an' ugly for school now."
Dean 's mouth worked around his rasping gulps; "need t'find … S'mmy …" it was with deepening concern that Sam saw the blue tinge had set in again around his lips.
He pressed the water bottle to Dean's mouth, taking small comfort when he drunk enthusiastically, pausing between each heaving breath until he had emptied half the bottle.
Sam felt Dean's head sink into his neck as he watched the pale rays of the morning sun spreading upwards over the foothills, heralding a warm and bright start to the new day. A day that would bring the help that Dean so desperately needed.
Sam would make sure of it.
His mind began to race through all the things he would need to do. Dean had taken a turn for the worse; that much was certain. Sam had known he would deteriorate without the medical help he needed, but he hadn't counted on the deterioration being so sudden, so terrifying. Now he realised he couldn't be away wandering the landscape looking all over for help that might not be there - he had to be a swift as possible, and his guessed his best chance was to try to find that elusive cellphone signal.
That's all he needed; a cellphone signal; that's all. Just one stupid pissy little bar.
They weren't that far from civilisation; it wasn't like they were on Mars or anything. He scanned the trail and guessed if he climbed up one of the foothills that might prove to be his best chance of finding a signal long enough to call 911. If not, he might at least be high enough to scan for any signs of life.
Of course, what his injured hip would have to say about doing that was another matter. It had been drifting between tingling numbness, burning pain and throbbing ache all night, becoming so immobile that he was reduced to walking in a kind of stiff legged shimmy, but he didn't give a crap. He would climb the damn hill in handstands if that's what it took to get the help Dean needed.
Sam watered Indiana, ruffling the his smooth forelock as he did so, then left the gentle horse with whispered orders to look after Dean until he got back.
Kneeling down beside Dean, Sam placed a hand on his neck and his heart lurched as he looked into the unfocussed green eyes; they stared dully back through him, squeezing tightly closed with each painful breath. They barely registered his existence.
"Dean" he whispered, "hey man, wanna drink before I go?"
His brother's face registered no flicker of response as he continued his long and fading battle for breath.
That was all Dean could focus on now; his world had shrunk to each pained, wrenching breath that he could force into his body, trying to fight against the dwindling supply of oxygen which was gradually shutting him down.
It took a desperately long time before Sam could bring himself to leave his brother.
"I'm just going to take a walk up that hill there to try and get us some help," he murmured, bending low to look directly and closely into Dean's face, seeing his eyes closed; "you gonna be okay dude?"
Sam wasn't sure if the barely perceptible nod was a positive response or simply gravity working on Dean's sagging head.
"I'm not gonna be long, okay? And you'll be able to see me right until I get to the top. " He reached and laid a palm against Dean's cold clammy face, taking care not to touch the bruised grazes from the original fall; and took a deep breath, "don't you go doin' anything stupid when I'm off up there, you hear me?"
His thumb absently traced the curve of Dean's cheekbone, as he blinked back tears. "I couldn't do that Dean;" swallowing hard as he fought to compose himself, "don't make me come back and find you …"
For a moment the only sound was a series of harsh wheezing breaths, before Dean's eyes finally lifted to meet Sam's. The merest spark of acknowledgement flickered across them before they closed again.
Sam began the long trek to the top of the hill, moving as swiftly as he could. Every step he took felt like a red hot iron skewering his hip, but he soldiered on, stumbling over the loose shale, turning every few strides to look back down at Dean.
With virtually every step of his laborious journey, he checked his cell, growing more frustrated and scared by the second; "c'mon … c'mon … pick up a signal you sonofabitch …"
He was about three quarters of the way along the track heading towards the crest of the hill when he turned to look down on Dean once more. Another fruitless check of his mobile; he sighed … sure he was high, but the mountains blocking the signals around him were a heck of a lot higher.
A darkness began to bear down on him, a sense of overpowering hopelessness and despair, as he turned to look back at Dean's unmoving figure once more. As he stared down, he saw something out of the corner of his eye, something which drew his attention.
A flash of colour.
Way below him, along the trail, Sam guessed, about a kilometer from where Dean lay slumped against the log were two figures in red overalls.
Sam stopped and stared, blinking against the sunlight; barely able to believe what he could see. Relief engulfed him as he opened his lungs and screamed at the top of his voice …
"HEY … YOU GUYS … OVER HERE …"
The two figures had already reached Dean by the time Sam had scrambled clumsily back down the hill. Falling over twice, he presented himself to them with he knees torn out of his jeans, the blood from one of his grazed knees staining his shin.
"Parks Authority Search and Rescue;" the taller of the two men introduced himself, "I'm Jim, this is Allan. What's your name, buddy?" Sam noted that Allan was already on his knees in front of Dean, monitoring his desperately heaving chest, pressing two fingers against his neck.
Sam panted wildly, and doubled over leaning his hands on his knees; "I'm Sam; oh God … thank God; you gotta help my brother, Dean; he got a collapsed lung and a broken collarbone." Jim reached out, grasping Sam's elbow to steady him.
"Okay Sam, Dean's in good hands, Allan there's a paramedic;" He smiled, looking Sam up and down, "are you okay? You look a bit banged up yourself." he added.
"Uh, yeah, whatever ... I'm good …" Sam responded absently, watching as his barely conscious brother received Allan's confident attentions.
"He started getting delirious this morning," he called across, "then he stopped being able to talk altogether." Sam's voice tailed off into a plea. "Please help him … please. Look, he can hardly breathe."
Allan strapped an oxygen mask onto Dean's face, and folded his stethoscope away, looking up at his colleague. "Severe respiratory distress; this guy needs immediate hospitalisation."
Jim looked up at Sam. "We've got an ambulance truck about a mile up on an access track, that's about as close as we could get; you up to walking, Sam?"
Sam nodded, then stopped "what about Indiana?" He gestured over to the tall chestnut who stood patiently beside the log, curiously overseeing Allan's efficient examination of Dean.
"We brought a horse trailer too."
Sam blinked, hesitating; "I don't understand; how did you find us? I couldn't call anyone - couldn't get a signal on my cellphone."
Jim stepped past Sam to help Allan manoeuvre a telescopic stretcher down on the ground next to Dean.
He looked back to Sam as he worked; "the authority got a call late last night from the wife of a farmer to say that she had good reason to believe two campers who had rented two of their horses had gotten into serious trouble out here." He slipped his hand under Dean's shoulders as Allan took his ankles and the two men hoisted him onto the stretcher.
"They knew you were planning to come out on this part of the trail; and seemed to think you'd got into trouble with the rogue cougar that's been killing the livestock recently."
Sam stared at him, confused. "Uh, rogue cougar? Uh, yeah, the rogue cougar..." He watched Dean being strapped onto the stretcher, "yeah, um … damn thing killed one of the horses, that's how Dean had his accident." he stepped back to allow the two men to lift the stretcher; "we killed it," he added, "shot it in the head; it - um - crawled away to die. No idea where it's body is."
"Sounds like you did everyone a good service then; it won't be giving anyone any trouble any more." Jim responded with a heave as he and his partner lifted the stretcher.
Sam swiftly untethered Indiana, and set off after the two men as they carried the stretcher smartly along the track toward the truck, racking his brain to try to work out how the farmer's wife could possibly know they had got into trouble.
The ambulance truck pulled up outside a bustling ER, and Dean was carried urgently through it's swinging doors by their two rescuers.
As Sam limped through the door behind them to see a swarm of medical experts descend upon his brother, he finally succumbed to the overwhelming relief of seeing Dean in the good hands of the people who would mend him.
He smiled and crumpled slowly into a dead faint.
Sam sat on a hard examination couch in the ER cubicle where he had spent the last couple of hours, his head still spinning wildly from the morning's turn of events. This whole job had been like one seriously bad trip; swinging wildly between blissful peace and solitude save for listening to Dean moaning about his saddlesore ass to the agony and terror of watching his battered brother practically dying before his very eyes.
Shifting uncomfortably on the hard couch, he winced as his hip, finally getting the rest it needed, reminded him that he was far from forgiven for the damage he had inflicted on himself.
A series of x-rays and a ridiculously painful manual examination had turned up the unsurprising fact that he had a severely bruised hipbone. Most of the current, most excrutiating damage, however, had been inflicted by his constant movement and use of the damaged joint after the fall. When the doctors had started talking about heavy bleeding into the surrounding tissues, inflammation pressing down on nerves, and all sorts of other shit that was doctor-speak for 'your hip is crapped to hell Sam, and it's your own fault,' that's when Sam had switched his ears off; switching them back on only when the medics started talking about him not going anywhere without crutches for the next two weeks.
Sam sighed. He was clumsy enough on his own two feet; understandable really - the damn things were so far away from his brain, it was only to be expected that a few synaptic connections would get crossed on the way down, but throw two long metal poles into the mix and bitter experience had shown that he all too often became a weapon of mass destruction.
But if crutches were what it had to be then, that's what it had to be.
The simple truth of the matter was that Sam really didn't care about his hip. Couldn't give a crap quite frankly; so it hurt – boo hoo, he'd had worse, and he'd got over that too.
The only thing he could focus on at the moment was Dean. There had been no sign and no word since the moment they had made their dramatic entrance in the ER unit to a ringing chorus of urgent voices; shouting and yelling, "pneumothorax," "field aspiration," "hypoxia," and all sorts of other terrifying words; a wall of sound into which Dean had disappeared, and as yet, not emerged.
Sam's heart skipped a beat as the door handle dipped, and the door was pushed open by a white-coated figure.
Sam looked up, "Uh, yeah."
"Hello Sam, I'm Doctor Morgan, and I've been taking care of your brother. I'd like to give you an update on his condition."
Sam shifted, trying to sit up straighter, gasping as a bolt of pain from his hip sliced through him.
Doctor Morgan watched him move; "have they given you anything for the pain?"
Sam nodded, "yeah, I'm good. How is he?" The anxiety was written across his face.
"I'm not going to lie to you Sam;" Morgan began, "your brother is a very lucky man."
Sam allowed himself a twitch of a smile; lucky? That had to be good right?
"He had a broken rib directly underneath his broken collarbone," explained the Doctor, "that's what punctured his lung." He paused long enough to let his Sam take in the news then continued; "that procedure you did out there on the trail prolonged his life, Sam. He's got you to thank for the fact that the rescue service were able to get him to us in time."
Sam gathered his thoughts; he could feel himself shaking as he thought back to the terrible thing he had to do. His stomach lurched at the memory.
"Why did he go downhill so fast?" He asked quietly.
Morgan took a seat in the chair next to the bed; "the aspiration procedure takes the pressure off the collapsed lung but, if the lung is damaged, as Dean's was, it doesn't necessarily enable it to reinflate," he explained patiently. "What it meant is that his lung was still damaged, it just wasn't under pressure."
He continued, "so although you did this, and it helped a lot, that lung still wasn't working properly and that, in turn, was putting too much pressure on his good lung, which eventually started to give out and collapse under the strain."
Sam looked horrified; he had no idea that Dean had been in such a bad way. He'd have moved things along a lot quicker if he had realised.
Seeing Sam's obvious shock, Morgan smiled reassuringly; "I say, once again, your brother is a very lucky man. If you had got here only a couple of hours later, I would have been sitting here telling you something completely different.
Recovering his senses, Sam spoke up in a small voice; "can I see him?"
The doctor rose, and nodded in Sam's direction; "sure; he's just coming out of surgery, but once they've given him all the necessary checks and moved him to a bed in ICU, I'll take you right there."
Sam bolted upright; "Surgery?" he snapped in panic; "you never said anything about surgery."
Morgan sat down again; "well, we had to reset the rib and collarbone to prevent any further damage to the lung." He waited to see if any further questions were forthcoming, when they weren't he continued, "we've also repaired the damaged lung, and put a line into his chest to stop the pressure building up until the lung heals fully."
Sam stared at the doctor's face; "but he's okay right?"
Morgan smiled, "of course, with any kind of invasive treatment in a non-sterile environment, there is always going to be a big risk of infection, so he will be on a very powerful antibiotic drip for a few days."
"But, as far as I'm aware, everything went fine," Morgan added cheerfully. "We've put him on oxygen to boost his breathing and I'm afraid he'll be very sore for a while from the injury and the surgery, so he'll be on some very strong painkillers which might make him a bit groggy."
Morgan stood up once again, and beckoned Sam; "but I'm sure he'd love to have you there for when he comes round from the anaesthetic."
Sam eased himself off the couch, and gathering up his crutches he allowed himself a small, crooked smile. It was a long time since he'd witnessed the spectacle of his brother emerging from a general anaesthetic; with a cocktail of plutonium strength painkillers and turbo-powered antibiotics thrown into the mix there was no telling what could happen. Whatever happened, it was likely to be entertaining, and Sam had no intention of missing the show.
Doctor Morgan quietly pushed the door open, and gestured for Sam to enter the room. Manouevring himself through on his crutches, he misjudged the gap and crunched his knee on the doorframe.
Hobbling into the room, he cursed softly before turning to face the bed in the powder-blue room. As he looked down, his breath caught in his throat..
Lying propped up almost in a sitting position in the bed, Dean looked so deathly pale, Sam felt like he'd been punched in the gut when he looked down on the ashen face. His knees buckled and he leaned heavily on the chair beside the bed, lowering himself shakily into it without taking his eyes from his brother's still form.
A broad expanse of gauze was taped over his right shoulder, upper arm and the right side of his chest, with his arm folded in a sling over the top of it. Sam swallowed as he noticed the outline of a tube or some sort of line disappearing up under the dressing; that must be the line Doc. Morgan was talking about. Sam closed his eyes; he didn't want to know the gory details.
Nodding his thanks as Doctor Morgan took his leave, with assurances that Dean could start to wake up any time, Sam turned back to the bed. He simply would never get the hang of how small and young and helpless his brother looked asleep in a hospital bed.
He just sat and stared helplessly at Dean's gaunt, hollow cheeks and colourless lips, partially obscured by the nasal cannula which snaked across them, watching as his dark lashes stood out starkly against his pallid complexion, the light peppering of freckles across the bridge of his nose the only colour evident in his ivory-pale face.
Sam shuffled round, pushing his crutches out of his way, and swearing as they tangled around his unco-ordinated feet, bashing against the chair leg.
He briefly turned away form the bed to prop his crutches up against the wall, and let out a muttered oath as they slid down the wall, clattering across the floor.
Sam frowned, glancing up to the ceiling and counted to ten. Hate. friggin. crutches.
He looked back to the bed and his frustration dissipated instantly. How the hell does he do that? Sam smiled; he's four years older than me and he looks like he could be my damn son lying there!
Leaning forward, he gently brushed Dean's limp fringe back across his forehead, giving him a pale imitation of the aggressive spike he generally liked to arrange his hair into. He smiled at his handiwork; nope, sorry Dean, you still look more like a fourth grader than like a badass monster hunter.
As his eyes scanned the pure white gauze, Sam gritted his teeth when he thought of the extensive surgical work that had gone on under there, wondering what terrifying scars would be revealed when all the dressings were eventually removed.
He pulled the chair as close to the bed as he could and leaned across, sliding a flat hand under the back of his brother's neck. He absently threaded his fingers through the back of Dean's spiky hair and sat, just waiting for his brother to start coming back to him.
It took less than an hour; and it was a shallow sigh which started the process.
Sam noticed Dean's eyes flicker beneath the closed lids, and smiled as his freckled nose twitched.
"Hey dude, you wakin' up?" Sam murmured, smiling as he continued to knead his brother's warm nape, "about time!"
The slow rhythm of Dean's breathing hitched, and his head rocked slightly as he let out another huffing sigh, this time opening his eyes for just a moment.
Sam leaned over, desperate to be in his brother's line of vision; "hey dude; you gonna say hi?"
Dean's glassy green eyes fluttered open again and latched onto the figure above him, his nose twitched again as the heavy-lidded eyes slowly focussed on Sam.
"Hey, bro', I know I'm a sight for sore eyes, but you can say something if you like," Sam teased.
Dean's mouth moved before any sound came out; it was on the fourth attempt that the wheezing huff turned into a sound.
Sam grinned, ruffling the clammy back of Dean's hair; "that's me bro'. Man, it's good to see you."
The eyes lost their focus and began to droop.
"Hey bro', I've just got you back," Sam whispered, leaning in as close to Dean as he dared, "don't you go off again; not just yet."
"You're in hospital, dude." Sam continued to rub Dean's neck as he spoke, reassured as he felt Dean lean back into the touch; "they've fixed all your broken bits and you're gonna be just fine."
Ah, okay. That was a curve ball. Sam choked back a snigger, "uh no, I don't remember them saying anything about fixing your sore ass, dude. I think you might just have to deal with that yourself until it gets better."
Dean slowly turned his head, and looked at Sam from under a long blink.
Sam grinned, he was waiting for that one; that was usually the first question. "She's fine, man; Bobby's looking after her."
Sam bit his lip, trying so very hard not to laugh; "yes dude?"
Dean hesitated, taking a deep breath as if he were about to say something of great importance.
"Shegott'go … ou'side."
Sam listened closely to the hoarse whisper, a look of amused bewilderment spreading across his face. "Uh, yeah dude, she'll go outside; Bobby's not gonna take her to bed with him."
Oh God; the struggle not to laugh was getting harder. Sam's bottom lip was turning white between his teeth; he folded his arms; "yes dude?"
Sam rubbed his face.
"Hospital dude;" he guided Dean's unfocussed eyes down to the gauze on his chest and his sling. "You've had an operation to fix your collarbone and stuff."
Dean stared, wide-eyed, straight into Sam's face.
Sam snorted as he fought to compose himself; "yeah that's right dude, whatever the damn thing's called – they fixed it," he grinned.
Dean swallowed, and his brows knotted into a grimace.
Sam caught the grimace, and had no intention of letting it go; "you in pain bro?"
Sam prayed to a higher power to help him as he sat, wiping away the tears of unborn hilarity.
"I know you're in hopista - I mean hospital dude, but are you in pain? In hospital?" he asked again.
Dean's chest lifted into a deep sigh; "m'ass!"
Sam snorted and rolled his eyes.
Settling into a disorientated silence, Dean blinked slowly, scanning the room through the fog of anaesthetic. Sam picked up a carton of juice from the nightstand and offered it to Dean; "C'mon bro'," he whispered, "have a drink."
Dean drifted slightly cross eyed as he stared at the carton in front of him and opened his mouth, allowing Sam to guide the straw toward him. "There you go, dude," he smiled as Dean's lips latched onto the straw and he began to drink enthusiastically.
Sam tossed the empty carton into the trashcan, then sat back down, leaning back over his brother and watching as he sighed deeply, closing his eyes.
"You gonna have a nap bro?"
Sam smiled; "what dude?"
"Yeah, you do that," Sam gently rubbed his brother's cheek, trying to avoid the dry, livid grazes, "have a little sleep bro', I'll still be here when you wake up."
He watched again as Dean's brows knotted, and leaned over him in concern; "you sure you're ok dude?" He asked, "you gotta tell me if you're in pain."
Sam smiled with a sigh, "yes dude?"
"Apart from that," he chuckled, "the doctor isn't gonna give you a morphine shot for your sore ass."
Sam shook with silent laughter and scraped a hand through his hair. "What about here bro?" he pointed to the gauze, "what about your shoulder?"
Dean's head dipped as he squinted down onto his chest; "soldier?"
Sam was starting to think he would benefit from a dose of morphine himself.
"Yes dude, your soldier – does it hurt?"
"'s ass hur's."
Sam scratched his head; "your shoulder's ass hurts?"
Dean yawned, nodding absently.
Sam gritted his teeth, snorting as he stifled a chuckle; "what dude?"
Sam stared at his brother. Well, that was random.
Dean murmured something unintelligible through a wide yawn; and then settled down, looking back up at Sam.
"wan' coc'nut …" he whispered absently, closing his eyes.
Sam was about to investigate this latest revelation when he turned on hearing the door open behind him.
He looked up in delight to see Bobby standing over him. The older man looked at Sam, worry-stricken. "I came as soon as I heard; how is he?"
Sam was about to answer when a weak voice drifted up from the bed; "Bobby … wan' co'cnut."
Bobby looked at Sam, perplexed, and mouthed, "coconut?"
Sam shrugged, clapping the older man on the shoulder. "Boy am I glad to see you Bobby," he smiled broadly; "you've never witnessed Dean coming out of an anaesthetic have you?"
Bobby shook his head in concern, "is he okay?"
Sam nodded, struggling again not to laugh; "so far his shoulder's ass is sore, he doesn't want you to take the Impala to bed with you, and now he wants a coconut." Sam paused briefly, "an' he only came round about half an hour ago!"
Bobby stared at the pale, woozy face which smiled crookedly up at him from the bed.
"I'm gonna go an' get coffee, Sam;" he sighed, "we could be n for a long night!"
to be continued ...