Dean's muffled breaths were all that punctuated an overpowering and unnerving silence.
He shifted uncomfortably with a soft moan. His head ached; no, check that – his whole body ached. He opened his eyes; or did he? There was no difference either way. Around him was darkness; crushing, soul-destroying darkness.
He squinted, trying to adjust his eyes, but there simply was no light for his eyes to adjust to. As well as the aching all over his body, there was pain again; the same terrible pain as when the Lyndworm had burst out of his stomach. That's a point; where was the freakin' crater that thing had left? He rubbed a hand over the flat, smooth planes of his abdomen; confusion overtook him.
God, such pain in his belly though. Was he sick? Was it his appendix? That's in that part of the world somewhere … what side was it on? Heck, he wished Sam was here. Sam knew all sorts of shit like that.
As he moved, he banged his elbow on something hard, he reached out to feel a flat upright just inches to his left. His breathing began to quicken as the pain across his stomach intensified like a white heat, making incandescent spots of colour flicker and sparkle before his eyes. With a pained grunt, he brought his knees up, trying to curl into a ball, but something hard above him blocked the movement.
Where was the light? Nowhere can be this black …
He began to squirm, trying to find somewhere away from the pain ripping across his belly, everywhere he moved, his limbs hit solid barriers within inches; he tried to sit up, and his head made heavy contact with a hard barrier above him.
He began to pant heavily; there was an increasing tightness in his chest that was making him breathless.
Then his heart stood still as the awful realisation dawned.
He was in a box. Not just any box; a coffin.
With the realisation; came the sting of bitter tears; terrified despair as claustrophobia took hold with a crushing grip.
He squirmed, moving frantically within the black confines of his tiny prison; Pummelling on the lid, only inches above his nose; his panting breaths turned into massive oxygen-wasting gasps as he cried out for help, the sound seeping into the solid ground around him; going nowhere.
Panic consumed him and his squirming turned into fullscale thrashing, he hammered on the walls and lid of the coffin; his knuckles and fingernails grazing and tearing against the wood. His wide open mouth gaping for what precious dregs of air remained. He tried to scream, but his lungs were so empty and constricted, all he could manage was a hoarse squeak.
His heart pounded in his burning chest, for once the pain in his belly was forgotten. Frantic hands scrabbled at the lid, as the walls closed in on him; down and down, tighter and tighter; he felt his head begin to swim … "not like this; oh God, please, not like this …" his gasps became more and more rapid and shallow, racking sobs shaking his body as his movements became weaker and more spasmodic; chest burning, he gulped the last vestiges of oxygen in the tiny box, as his mouth yawned his final desperate breath.
Sam crouched over the bed trying to comfort his delirious brother. Dean's arms flailed, grasping and reaching for something; Sam knew not what. Whispering soothing nonsense, he held Dean down as he bucked and lashed, glassy, fear-glazed eyes staring straight through his brother to an unfocussed spot somewhere in the distance.
Once again, the fit subsided, and Sam bit back tears as he gently stroked a large flat palm across Dean's sweat soaked forehead. "Hey dude, s'alright, you're safe, all fine now …"
"Hold him still." Sam glanced up on hearing Tom's voice, and his stomach lurched as he saw the massive syringe containing the Lyndworm blood in the Doctor's rock steady hand.
Swallowing weakly, Sam turned away just in time to miss Tom sliding the needle deeply into the angry wound on his brother's side. He heard Dean yelp and felt the flinch, for once glad that Dean was too spent after his latest nightmare to put up too much of a struggle.
Sam felt a hand on his shoulder; he looked up to see Bobby's face smiling at him.
"Coffee for ya;" Bobby placed a mug on the bedside table; and bent to pick up the old damp facecloths they had been using to cool Dean's fever overnight, replacing them with fresh.
Sam watched his brother breathe, watching the strained rise and fall of his chest; he watched his face tense and relax with the pain. He looked anywhere he could except the spot where Tom was working with admirable precision.
Eventually Tom withdrew the needle. He put the empty syringe down on a metal tray behind him and pressed a pad of gauze to the wound.
Sam watched him dabbing the wound; his eyes scanning his brother's pallid abdomen, studying the grey tendrils of poison which spread out from the wound across his belly like frost on a window pane.
"Well, that's it." Tom gave a deep sigh, "that's all the Lyndworm blood I can give him". He turned to Sam; "It's down to him now".
Bobby squeezed Dean's shoulder; "you hear that boy?" he whispered, "you gonna show us that pig-headed stubbornness that you love to piss us all off with, and beat this thing?"
"To be honest," Tom continued, looking at both men, as he gently cleaned the inflamed wound; "I'm amazed he's made it this far".
Sam glanced up. "How so?"
"Well, I'm pretty sure anyone else's heart would have given out with the trauma of the nightmares, the fever, the sickness; everything he's been through over the last three days." He looked at his patient in awed wonder, shaking his head. "No wonder my last Lyndworm bite didn't make it; I only just got the first shot of the stuff into him before he kicked it".
He looked up at Sam with genuine admiration in his brown eyes.
"Your brother is, without doubt, the strongest man I have ever come across."
He went to work with the stethoscope; brow furrowing in concentration as he listened to Dean's gradually slowing heartbeat and his shuddering breaths. He placed the back of his hand across Dean's forehead. "Fancy cooling him off a little for me?"
Sam and Bobby nodded in unison; each taking one of the fresh facecloth, dampening them in the various bowls of water that had been gradually accumulating around the room. Sam sat at Dean's shoulder, and Bobby stationed himself at his by now familiar spot at Dean's feet. Together they went to work; wiping the cooling cloths over Dean''s burning, sweat-soaked skin. Dean's brow knitted and he murmured breathlessly, shifting and squirming uncomfortably under the cold touch. Sam smiled, "stop bein' such a baby, jerk!"
Together the two men worked until Dean looked a lot less flushed and a lot more comfortable.
Tom checked his temperature and gave a satisfied nod; "much better guys; leave him be now; let him rest."
Now that there was no more medicine to give, all they could do was wait; wait and see what would happen. For want of anything else to do, Sam sat at Dean's head and talked. He talked about the Impala, he talked about their best hunts, and he talked about Bobby's dress sense, earning himself a clip round the back of the head. For what seemed like hours, he talked.
Bobby and Tom had left the brothers alone, slipping out of the room to give them some privacy. Every so often, either Bobby or Tom would peer round the door checking that one or both of the boys were OK; keeping Sam plied with coffee and sandwiches.
Sam stroked Dean's head, carding his long fingers through the damp spiky hair at his brother's crown; he gathered his brother in his arms from time to time to enable him to drink the fruit juice that Tom had left and on occasion when Dean's peace was broken by restless fits of shivering or nightmares, he was there; cooling his brother off, or holding him close; making it better.
In his continuing desperation to do something constructive, Sam decided to give Dean a shave. It had been four days since the encounter with the Lyndworm and Dean was sporting an impressive growth of dark stubble across his parchment-grey face.
He was halfway through the exercise when Bobby walked back into the room with another coffee; stopping abruptly and staring in amusement at Dean's foam smeared, half shaven face.
Sam looked up at the older man; "Dean's gonna be pissed if he comes to lookin' like he's been dragged through a hedge."
Bobby shook his head and grinned; "you're not wrong there kid; your brother's looks are his most deadly weapon; at least that's what he thinks!" Sam smiled, "Oh yeah, he takes his looks very seriously; my brother!" Continuing his task, he gently rinsed Dean's clean shaven face and patted it dry, finishing off with a splash of Dean's favourite aftershave lotion.
"There y'go, dude;" Sam smiled, inhaling deeply of his brother's scent; "gorgeous … I could almost fancy you myself!"
He turned to rinse the razor and brush in the bowl beside him, when he heard a faint whisper from the bed.
"don' swing tha' way …"