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War Wounds Part II


* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *


"Ah, hey," Sam murmured brokenly, lifting his hand to gently brush away the tear that leaked from Dean's eye to slip down the side of his face. "Shh. It's gonna be okay, Dean. You're going to be okay. Easy, Dean. Just rest right now. Just rest."

But a machine started keening, the line on the heart monitored jagged violently and then went flat, and suddenly nurses were flooding the room, pushing him out of the way, pulling the head of the bed away from the wall. Two rolled Dean, slamming a hard flat tray under his back, and then one climbed up on the bed, while another stuck something down his throat and then was bagging him, while the one on the bed pressed rhythmically on his chest, counting, "One hundred, two hundred ...."

Someone took his arm, to pull him from the room, but he was frozen in place, gaping, not wanting to know what was happening, but unable to deny that Dean was slipping away ... dying.

"NO!" he cried out, desperate to be heard. "DEAN! Don't you go! Dean, please. Don't let go. DEAN!"

Tears glistened in his eyes, and he panted with helpless fright. "No ... please," he whispered hoarsely, and then called again plaintively, "Dean. Oh, God. Dean!"

The shrill keening abated and the nurses paused in their resuscitation efforts as they turned to watch the monitor. One said, "He's stable," and the rest nodded. The woman on the bed climbed down. The nurse with the airbag attached an oxygen line to the tube she'd slid into Dean's throat. The bed was pushed back against the wall.

"He's hanging tough," the one standing beside him said, sounding pleased as she patted his back. They all turned to leave the room, pacing calmly past him with encouraging smiles and fleeting, comforting touches on his arm.

Sam was scarcely aware of them.

Trembling, weak with relief but so scared by what almost happened, he stared at his brother; his lips parted to drag in gulps of air, and his reddened eyes burned with unshed tears. He felt as if a vise was crushing his chest and cotton was stuffed in his throat, making him want to gag. Slowly, dazed, he moved to the bed and took Dean's hand. Helplessly, he sank to his knees and pressed his forehead against the mattress. He tightened his lips to stifle the sob that threatened, pressed his eyes closed to contain the tears, and he still felt like he couldn't get enough air.

"I can't lose you," he finally managed to rasp. "Please, Dean. I can't lose you, too." Swallowing, knowing he needed to pull himself together, he swiped a hand over his wet lashes and looked up, forced himself back up onto his feet. Tenderly, he laid his palm on his brother's brow. Sighing, he shook his head, and then said with absolute conviction, "I don't think any of us can survive this without you. You're our rock. You can't leave us. You hear me, Dean? You have to hear me." And, then, his voice cracking, he added poignantly, "I don't want you to go. I ... I'm scared Dean. I don't know why it wants me. I ... I need you."

Nervously, he raked his fingers through his hair and, trying to relax, he rubbed the taut muscles in the back of his neck. Uncomfortable with the over-wrought emotions that had spun out of control and the pathetic whining, he huffed a broken laugh. "You're the only brother I've got, and I love you, man. But if you ever pull a stunt like that again, I'm going to smack you. You got that? So, ditch the dramatics, and just ... just wake up as soon as you can."

Once more, he pulled over the chair and settled into it. But he'd just begun to think he'd gotten his balance back or, at least, that he wasn't about to lose it completely, when a nurse paused in the doorway and told him it was time to go.

Resisting, he countered, "But ... after what just happened, I don't want to leave him."

"We'll keep a close watch on him. You can come back in again in an hour."

He slumped but then reluctantly nodded. Standing, he paused by the bed, and then impulsively bent down to kiss Dean's brow. "I won't be far away," he promised with stark sincerity. "And I'll be back soon."

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *


After he'd been banished from Dean's side, Sam found his way to Admitting. He told the clerk he didn't know what the records problem could be and, obviously, his brother was very much alive. So the insurance number he'd provided should be used, he insisted, bluntly stating that the screw-up wasn't either his fault or his concern at that moment. When the young woman looked uncertain and harried, he snapped, "Guess maybe he should've just died a few minutes ago, when his heart stopped beating. Too bad they brought him around, huh? Sure makes your life difficult."

Stung, she flushed and then her expression softened. "I'm sorry," she murmured, chagrined. "I hope he'll be okay. Don't worry about any of this. I'll take care of it."

Taking a breath, he nodded tightly and allowed a grateful expression to flicker over his face as he said, "Thank you. I appreciate that," and hastily turned away. God, sometimes he hated all the lying and deceit, the games they played to avoid the authorities and stay on the hunt. He wandered down the hallway and wondered what he should or could do next.

And he wondered what the demon was up to, and when the next attack would come.

Frazzled, emotionally and physically very close to exhaustion, he reluctantly followed the directions to the cafeteria. He felt sick and wasn't sure he could eat, but he had to keep up his own strength, especially now, when he was the only one still standing.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *


The night seemed interminable. Sam wore a path between ICU and his father's room, fitting short catnaps between his hourly visits with his comatose brother. When the gray light of dawn stole through the window, both men were bone-tired and tense from worry and regret, guilt and the sense of being so utterly helpless. John was told he could go about an hour after breakfast, and he was offered crutches to keep his weight off his injured leg. He waved them off impatiently, but grudgingly accepted a cane. After he'd dressed in his grimy, bloody and torn clothing - having nothing else - they took up residence in the ICU waiting room, to continue their vigil together. The only good news they had was that Dean was holding his own, there'd been no more close calls and they'd pulled that tube out of his throat an hour or so before. There were no other visitors in the lounge, and for that they were grateful. At least there was no one sitting nearby who could suddenly be possessed. They'd only been there for a few minutes, when a nurse came to tell them they could visit Dean, so Sam leant his father a hand, to steady him down the corridor.

When John reached the room and saw his oldest boy through the plate glass, he stopped and stared, shaking his head. An infinitely sad expression filled his face and eyes, and then anger sparked, at himself, at the demon, at the obscene unfairness of it all. Straightening, pulling away from Sam's support, he hobbled into the room, his son close behind him, once again reaching out wordlessly to ease him into the chair by the bed.

"Would you, uh, like a few minutes alone with him?" Sam asked uncertainly. His eyes averted, John nodded stiffly. "Okay, I won't go far. Just out the door. Call me if you need anything."

He swallowed and nodded again, and heard Sam's steps as he went out and a few feet back along the corridor, where he stopped. Sighing heavily, he lifted his eyes to study the machines, and then Dean. Though he opened his mouth, he didn't know what to say. Reaching out tentatively, he closed his fingers around his son's wrist. "I'm here, son," he rasped. "We're keeping watch over you, Sammy and me."

The machines droned on and Dean's chest rose and fell shallowly, and tears filmed John's eyes before he blinked them away. Sniffing, he looked around the cramped room and shook his head, and he remembered Dean pleading with Sammy not to kill him. After what he - the demon - had done. After Dean had said that he knew it was the demon because his father would never be so kind to him; in fact, would have ripped him a new one for wasting a bullet to save Sam's life.

Wasted a bullet, to save Sammy's life. And Dean honestly believed he would have been furious with him for that.

Swallowing bitterly, he had to admit that he probably would have been irate. Hell, he had been and had made that clear to Sammy in the car afterward, that Sam should have killed him - it - whatever. They didn't have bullets to waste when there were other ways to drive off or destroy lesser demons. But ... but he regretted that his irascibility was his defining feature in his son's mind; regretted even more that Dean had sounded so convinced that he'd never be kind or understanding, or even grateful for what Dean had done to save his brother's life.

Or for anything else, for that matter.

His mind flickered back over the years, to a four-year-old boy who had solemnly promised to look after his brother, his eyes wide with shock and fear as he protectively clutched his baby brother to his chest on the dark street outside their home.

Bowing his head, he let the memories claim him ....

Sirens howled in the night, and a crowd of neighbours had already gathered, but Dean stood alone with the baby in the pool of light cast by a street lamp, anxiously waiting on the sidewalk for him to race out of the burning house.

His nostrils twitched as if he could still smell the suffocating scent of acrid smoke, and see the eerie light of flames spilling into the night from the upstairs bedroom. As his mind latched onto those long ago moments, the chaotic noise of sirens echoed in his mind along with the crackle and snap of the fire, and the alarmed voices of men shouting. Dashing out of the house, he'd scarcely noticed neighbours standing around in nightgowns, pajamas, robes and slippers. All he remembered now was seeing his small boy clutching his baby, Dean's little face pale and smoke-smudged, tears spangling in his eyes and stark, shocked horror darkening their depths as he stared unblinkingly at the house.

"Dad!" he cried out with abject, heart-rending relief. But his lips trembled as he looked past and asked brokenly, "Mom?"

"She's gone, son," he said, more harshly than he'd meant, but he felt ripped to his soul, devastated beyond words by Mary's death and the horror of it.

At the time, he hadn't know what that thing was or how she could be smashed against the ceiling; at the time, he'd had no clue about demons or ghosts or evil entities of malicious energy. He'd been sick and shocked and all he'd known was that he'd find out who had done this obscene thing, and why. But more than twenty years had passed since that terrible night, and he still didn't know why.

All he'd been able to say to Dean at the time was, "I'll figure it out, son. I'll find out who hurt her. That tried to hurt Sammy. And ... and they won't get away with it. You understand?"

Dean frowned, uncertain. He'd looked down at the baby in his arms, and John could see tears slipping down his cheeks. "But ... what about us?" he whispered.

Tears threatening his own eyes, he went down on his knees then, and drew both sons into his embrace. Then he drew back and clasped Dean's thin, fragile shoulders. "I need your help, Dean," he murmured brokenly. "I promise you, son, I'll get whoever did this - that killed your Mom. But ... but you have to help me. You have to look after Sammy. Can you do that, Dean? Can I count on you, son?"

Swallowing, shuddering under his hands, the boy lifted his chin and stared up at the bright splash of flames in the window above. 'Mom?' he mouthed silently, his lips trembling. He blinked and swallowed hard and, slowly, he nodded as if hearing something beyond John's ken. His features stiffened into a maturity far beyond his years, all innocence ripped away by the horror of the night. Then he leveled his dark, tear-filled eyes on his father's and nodded with sober solemnity, the vow etched in his haunted eyes.

"You're a good boy, Dean," John had grated approvingly, before standing and moving away to deal with the arriving firemen, leaving the child to care for the infant. He hadn't thought about Dean's silence in those last moments. Hadn't realized that he wouldn't hear his boy's voice again for months.

But spoken aloud or not, Dean had kept the vow he'd made that night. He'd only slipped up once in all the years since, unfortunately with nearly horrific results. But he'd only been, what? Eight, maybe? And John believed Dean had never forgotten those frightening moments, or the way he'd bellowed at him for having abandoned Sammy. Certainly, for all the rest of the past twenty-two years, he'd diligently kept his promise.

The memories faded and John blinked, and found himself back in the small, glassed cubicle once again. He scraped a hand over his face and tightened his grip on his son's wrist, wishing he could do more, had done more, had hugged his boys more often ... that he hadn't grown so cold and remote with the icy, relentless need for revenge. "You're a good boy, Dean," he said huskily, his voice cracking. "A good man. I'm proud of you, son. Always have been."

But he didn't think Dean could hear him, and he told himself he'd have to make a point of saying the words again when his boy woke up. His lips thinned, and he found he couldn't stay in the room, couldn't stand the guilt he felt when he looked at Dean, lying there so still and broken, contusions bruising his face. He should have been able to stop that damned demon long before now. This should never have happened. In those moments, John felt an abject failure in every way. He hadn't protected his beloved, sweet, beautiful Mary all those years ago. Hadn't caught the vicious beast that had murdered her in the long years since. Hadn't protected his precious sons nearly well enough - in fact, he hadn't really protected them at all, but had enlisted their help throughout their lives, stealing their innocence away every bit as much as that ... that thing had done. And now? Now Dean was lying here, maybe dying, because he hadn't been able to stop the demon from using his own body to torture his boy ... and Sammy? Sammy was scared. The demon wanted him for some reason, and none of them knew why.

He rubbed his hands over his face, as if he could wipe away the shame and grief, but he couldn't. The stains were etched on his soul. Slowly, he pushed himself to his feet, wincing at the sharp jab of pain in his leg. "I'll be close by, Dean, but ... but Sammy wants to spend a few minutes with you, too. You, uh, you rest and do whatever you have to do to get well, y'hear? I ... I need you to get well, son." And then he caressed Dean's cool, stubbled cheek before turning back toward the door.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *


Sam was leaning against the wall, waiting for his father to call him back into the cramped room, when an orderly strode past him ... and then stopped abruptly. Suddenly sharply alert, Sam stiffened as he straightened, and one hand started toward the pistol hidden under his shirt in his belt. The young man wheeled around to face him, and his eyes were cold, like black shards of obsidian. And he laughed, low and cruel, in his throat. He glanced toward the hidden weapon, and Sam's hand froze in place, unmovable. Sam's jaw tightened, his mouth and throat dry with desperate frustration and fear.

"You won't need that, Sammy," the demon drawled, and then cocked his head toward the glassed-room, where John was slowly making his way to the door. "Got something for you to think about, though. What would you give to save their lives? Eh, boy? You'd give your life, sure. But would you give your soul?"

Before Sam could answer, the young man before him shuddered and nearly fell as the demon released him. Sam instinctively reached out to steady him, but the orderly pulled away, his face filled with stunned horror. "What was that?" he gasped, looking around wildly. "What the hell just happened to me?"

"Hell just happened," Sam told him flatly, but his expression softened with compassion. "But, uh, don't worry. I don't think it will happen to you again. I'm ... I'm sorry you had to experience that."

The orderly was nervously edging away from him when John reached the doorway. Seeing Sam's shocked pallor, he scowled and demanded, "What happened here?"

Sam looked at him and then looked away. "It was here."

"What?" John exclaimed furiously, feeling trapped in a no-win game. "And you didn't stop it?!"

Lifting his hand, Sam shook his head as he stared at it. "I couldn't," he rasped. "I couldn't move."

John closed his eyes briefly, and then hobbled closer to reassuringly grip Sam's arm. "What did it want, Sammy?"

"What it's wanted all along, I guess," he replied bleakly, still avoiding eye contact. "It wants me."

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *


Dean felt something, something chillingly evil nearby, and he fought the fog that surrounded him, the dislocating sense of being separated from his body. He still felt muddled; still didn't know where he was. And the pain that seared his chest and head left him feeling queasy ... but there was something there. Something he couldn't ignore. What the hell was it? A frisson in the air? A scent? He didn't know, just knew it was close, and watching. He heard mocking laughter, and that sparked a deep-seated rage that banished his confusion and made the pain irrelevant. That damned demon was after Sammy. It thought it was winning.

Well, he'd be damned if he let that foul, vicious monster hurt his family again!

Breathlessly, groaning with the effort, he struggled desperately to compel his body to obey him. At first, he didn't seem to be getting anywhere, but ... but then he could feel himself gradually rising out of the well of darkness. His fingers scrabbled and found purchase in the sheet covering him. He blinked and looked anxiously around the room; his heart hammered and his breath locked tight in his chest, to find himself alone, to feel so weak and helpless. "Sammy!" he croaked, and grimaced at the pitiful whisper of sound. Swallowing hard to moisten his parched mouth, he took a deep breath and yelled as loud as he could manage, "Sammy!"

"I'm here, Dean!" he heard with a rush of relief so profound that he nearly sobbed, and then he saw his brother fill the doorway, his father close behind, and he closed his eyes in gratitude as he tried to get his breath. Feebly, he lifted a hand, and Sam took it, and held on strongly. "Easy," Sam murmured, stroking his forehead. "Easy, Dean."

He looked up into his brother's eyes, and then his gaze narrowed as he searched them. The stark horror he saw there didn't match the soothing tones. He glanced quickly at his father, saw anger and helpless frustration written on his face, and then he caught Sam's gaze again. "What's going on?" he demanded hoarsely, wanting to curse his weakness. "It's here, isn't it? Isn't it?"

Sam flashed a glance at his father before he focused on him again. "Dean, you've been a coma. You need to rest. We're okay ..."

"Don't kiss my ass, Sam," he hissed irritably. "I can tell something bad’s wrong here, and I don't just mean that fact that I'm a little beat up. I can see it in your eyes. Both of your eyes," he added with a quick flash at his father. "Just tell me what the hell happened and when I can get out of here."

"It was here, Dean. The demon," his father interjected darkly. "But it's gone again. Sam's right. You're badly hurt and you need to heal."

"How badly?" he demanded, glancing at the machines that lined the walls.

"You cracked that hard head of yours when a semi rammed the car," Sam returned acerbically. "You've got a cracked collar bone and ribs, a bad concussion, and you lost more blood than was good for you. Your organs are bruised and, I guess, there's been some internal bleeding, too. In your chest. So - you ready to calm down and rest now?"

He swallowed and his gaze flickered away as he swiftly took stock of his body. He felt weak as a kitten and everything hurt but they obviously couldn't stay in the hospital - they were too exposed in such a public place, and too many innocent people could get caught in the crossfire. There was no way to take any of the right precautions. But ... "A semi smashed the Impala?" he muttered, frowning heavily. "Is it salvageable?"

"I don't know," Sam sighed, and shoved his fingers through his hair. "I don't think so."

Dean's lips thinned and he looked away sorrowfully. He'd really loved that old car. It was built like a tank - probably the only thing that saved them all from being killed in the wreck. "You need to get us a new car," he said grudgingly. "An' get our gear out of the ... the old one. We need to hit the road."

"Oh, come on," Sam challenged heatedly. "You're in no condition to go anywhere."

"You let me worry about what condition I'm in, okay?" he snapped back, wishing he sounded as strong as he was trying to pretend. "Mostly sounds like I just need to take it easy for a couple days, that's all. No big deal."

"No big deal!" Sam squeaked.

"Yeah, no big deal," he drawled and gave a lop-sided grin. "Go on, get us some wheels. I need to get out of here without creating a lot of fuss." Looking around again, he added wryly, "I don't have the insurance for all this, anyway. We gotta move on before somebody figures that out."

"Dad, you talk to him. Tell him he can't -"

"Dean's right," John cut in briskly. "The sooner we're all out of here, the better. If he says he's okay to travel, I believe him." Dean blinked at the solid sound of approbation in his father's voice, and studied him carefully. Catching the wary look, John's lips quirked and he muttered, "Relax, it's me."

He gave John a skeptical look, but turned back to Sam. "What are you still doing here? Dad says I'm good to go. I say I'm good to go. So let's get our act in gear."

Lifting his hands in frustration, Sam argued, "You're both crazy, you know that? Dean, you're in worse shape than the Impala and, trust me, it's not going anywhere."

"Yeah, I heard you the first time," he grated irritably. He knew Sam was right. He felt like the proverbial pile of shit. But he was right, too. And they both knew it. He was marshalling his energy to argue further, when an attractive nurse hurried into the room and then stopped to gape at him.

"You're awake," she observed, her voice stunned, as if she couldn't quite believe it.

Gazing at her appreciatively, he smiled and replied winningly, "Yeah, well, what man would waste time sleeping when you're around?"

Sam snorted and shook his head. "Okay, you win," he capitulated with ill-grace. "If you're well enough to flirt, then I guess ...."

Dean's smile widened, and he hoped it wasn't as pathetic as he honestly felt. "Absolutely," he cut in, with a meaningful flicker of his gaze toward the nurse. "So you go right ahead and take care of that errand." He looked at his father, anxiety for Sam in his eyes, and John nodded with sober understanding.

"C'mon, Sam," he rasped. "I'll go with you."

"But -" Sam began, wanting to protest the idea of leaving Dean alone when he was in no condition to defend himself.

His gaze shifting from John back to Sam, Dean cut in before he could get the words out. "Good, great. I'll be fine here until you get back." When Sam still hesitated, studying him with an expression that mingled exasperation with apprehension, he sighed and waved them away. "I mean it. I'm fine. I'll be fine. Just don't take too long."

"I'll let the doctor know you're awake," the nurse said, still gaping at him as Sam and John moved past her, into the hallway. "You know ... nobody expected you to wake up for hours yet."

Returning his attention to her, and scrounging up as much charm as he could muster, he replied seductively, "Yeah, well, I've got great recovery power."

She chuckled and shook her head. "So it would seem," she agreed as she moved closer, to take his pulse and blood pressure. "Next thing you know, you'll be walking right on out of here."

Giving her a winsome, closed-mouth grin, he contented himself with a wink. Hopefully, he'd be walking out a lot sooner than she thought, and without anyone noticing. He didn't want to waste any time or energy with stupid arguments, or the hassle of proving himself fit enough to be discharged when he knew he wasn't. Nor did he particularly want to sign himself out against medical advice.

After all, he was supposed to be dead, and a signature proving otherwise could be an even greater hassle. For a moment, the familiar unsettling feeling of being officially dead assailed him, but he pushed it away as he always did. Given the life he led, the scams he ran, hell, that poor innocent possessed guy he'd killed to save Sam, he was better off having no paper records - the authorities wouldn't bother tracking a dead man. Burying the unease deep, he refused to allow himself to dwell on the other implications of his official non-existence. Dead men didn't get normal jobs, or get married and have a family or lead a normal life. But he hadn't known what 'normal' meant since the night his mother had died, and he'd given up any hope of that kind of life long before he'd been officially declared dead.

Achingly glad to no longer have to pretend he felt a helluva a lot better than he did after the nurse finally finished her brief examination and left, he sank into the support of the bed and closed his eyes. Damn, but he hurt; his head was pounding mercilessly, he felt nauseated and his chest burned like fire. Forcing himself to breathe deeply, slowly, he told himself the pain, the weakness, the dizziness didn't matter - none of it mattered - because if he couldn't leave, then he'd have to tell Sam and his father to go on without him.

And no way was he willing to do that.

He could rest in the back of the car.

He'd be fine, in a day or two.

He had to be fine.

They had some serious hunting to do.

But now that his mind was working again, he couldn't seem to shut off the thoughts that assailed him. He'd been 'hunting', fighting a war against evil, for as long as he could remember. But the rules of engagement had just changed. They weren't just hunting disembodied evil spirits anymore or even the undead vampires who feasted on the life force of innocent people. Even so, he tried really hard not to think about that guy he'd shot through the head to kill the demon within, and sternly told himself once again that he hadn't had any choice. But his nausea spiked and bile burned the back of his throat when he thought about having murdered that poor guy to destroy the demon inside. Shuddering, he turned his thoughts instead to the sheer, godawful torment Meg had experienced while being possessed and not being able to do anything but helplessly witness what her body and the demon that controlled it were doing. Man, that had to be a fate worse than death. Grief suffused his face and he turned his head to the side; somehow thinking about Meg didn't assuage his guilt for having killed that stranger. But if he hadn't shot that possessed man, Sammy would be dead and ... and he'd learned in those frightening, sickening moments that he'd do anything to protect his family. He just hoped to God that he didn't turn into some kind of monster himself along the way.

Damn demons. It wasn't just that one demon anymore. There were dozens and dozens of the things out there. Why so many? And, God, how were they ever going to deal with them all when they hadn't even been able to deal effectively with that ... that thing that had taken over his father, killed his mother and Jessica, and had come damned close to killing him.

Dean's thoughts flinched away from those memories, from everything the demon had said to him. The devil's spawn lied and twisted the truth to confuse and distract and defeat. Besides, it wasn't like he'd heard anything he didn't already know. Stifling the urge to groan with the pain that wracked his body, he told himself to stop thinking and stop whining and to rest when he could. He needed to get some semblance of his strength back ... and he needed it in a hurry. Disgruntled, irritable, exhausted by pain, he finally slipped into sleep, only to be tormented by the eerie, creepy feeling that the demon was watching him.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *


Sam and John got a taxi driver to take them to the closest used car lot where they endured the prattle of the eager salesman who insisted upon following them around while they examined the options available. To forestall questions about their disreputable appearance and bloody clothing, John muttered they'd been in a car accident and his boy quickly needed a new set of wheels for work. After that, they morosely studied the used cars as they moved down the long row of vehicles. The choices that fit their requirements - heavy body, powerful engine, huge trunk, and innocuous - turned out to be limited. They were beginning to think they'd have to settle for less than they needed when they neared the end of the lot and stopped dead in their tracks.

If Dean's old Impala had a twin, then this was that car.

"Perfect," Sam breathed, careful not to let the intrepid salesman hear him.

John shot him a look and then began his routine. A scowl settled over his features and he muttered crossly, "My leg is really beginning to act up. Maybe we should come back and look another day." The salesman appeared alarmed at the thought that they might escape without buying.

Sam's lips twisted and he looked mutinous. "I need wheels for work, Dad," he protested, winning a solemn nod from the salesman who hovered close.

"Well, then, pick something, dammit, so I can at least sit down while we test-drive it," John grumbled. "And remember I'm not made of money, so ..." he snapped.

"I know, I know," Sam returned dejectedly as he did a slow turn to look at all the cars parked in the two rows around them. "But I really wanted something with some style, you know?"

"Style you can buy with your own money," John grunted cantankerously. "Look, let's do this another time. Maybe try another lot tomorrow."

Desperate not to lose out on a sale, the eagerly helpful and ingratiating salesman jumped into the discussion. "Well, if it's good value you're looking for, something dependable ..." he urged, shepherding them closer to the dusty old Impala that looked like it had been sitting on the lot for months, if not years, "this classic right here might be just the car you want."

"Oh, Dad," Sam groaned, dragging his feet. "It's an old heap."

John harrumphed and cast a dyspeptic eye on the salesman. "How much?" he demanded flatly.

"I can make you a very attractive deal," the salesman asserted with overblown bonhomie. Sam rolled his eyes and shook his head, and John just impatiently quirked a brow, so the salesman hurried to quote a price that was a few hundred less than what he'd hoped to get. Better something than nothing.

John's lips thinned and he shook his head. "Too much," he grated, turning away. "My boy's right. It's a heap - not worth half what you're asking."

Alarmed, the salesman immediately cut the price another third, and John paused, a considering expression stealing over his face. "What kinda shape is it in? The engine strong?"

"Why don't you try her out?" the man encouraged with an expansive wave of his arm.

"Yeah, okay. At least I'll be able to sit down," John groused, hobbling toward the passenger-side door, where he paused and jerked his head for Sam to get in. Looking hard-done-by and resigned to the unpleasant inevitable, Sam obliged. As soon as he started the engine, and they heard the deep, even growl emanate from under the hood, they knew they had a winner. But he took it on a short drive to test the steering, the brakes, and its responsiveness. They didn't look at each other, but they wore nearly identical expressions of hidden satisfaction. When they pulled up outside the office on the lot, John nodded grudgingly. "Okay, this one'll do."

The salesman beamed as he led them into the office, filled out the forms and handed them the ownership in return for the cash John pulled from his wallet. Sometimes it was worth scamming with a fake credit card or false account information, but he didn't want the cops on his tail, looking for a hot car. His mouth twisted as he handed over the money, and he tried not to think about the bitter irony that it was the insurance money from his wife's death that had kept him and his family going all these years while he'd hunted for the monster that had killed her.

From the used car lot, they went directly to the police impound yard, to get their gear from the wrecked Impala. John remained in the office with the guy who was supposed to accompany owners to oversee the removal of all their possessions before they signed off the receipts - to be sure nobody claimed something was missing when it had never been there in the first place. He waved Sam off, to drive their new vehicle around to the old one and unload the trunk in privacy, while he kept the caretaker talking, sharing meaningless details of the damned accident they'd been in, and how it had banged up his bum leg, and on and on.

Sam wasted no time as he hastily forced open the jammed trunk with a crowbar, and lifted their personal gear onto the ground at his feet. Then, hidden from view from the office by the trunk's high, wide lid, he hastily flipped back the blanket over the false flooring, unsnapped the wooden cover Dean had made, and speedily transferred bags of salt, ammunition and all their weapons, along with their stash of fake IDs and Dean's laptop. He slid the wooden cover over their stockpile of armament, layered the blanket over it, and then tossed in their bags. Sliding swiftly into the driver's seat, he drove back to the office to get his father.

John and the caretaker came out of the small, ramshackle building, the latter carrying a clipboard with the release he needed them to sign. Sam rolled down the window, and John asked, "You get everything?"

"Yep," Sam replied laconically, one arm draped lazily over the steering wheel. John nodded, signed the form, took a copy and that was it. Done deal.

On the way back to the hospital two hours after they'd left, they discussed their strategy for spiriting Dean away without anyone taking undue notice. Gratefully, they noted it was nearing noon, when the staff would be shorthanded and busy. Sam parked in the Emergency Visitor lot near the entry and pulled some clothing for Dean from the trunk, stuffing it all - shirt, jeans, underwear, socks and shoes - into a used plastic grocery shopping bag.

John exaggerated his hobble on the way inside, and Sam begged the use of a wheelchair to take his father up to see his brother. The clerk behind the desk waved him toward the wall where several chairs were standing idle. He solicitously helped his father into one under her unsuspecting eyes, and then wheeled him along the hall to the elevator. Upstairs, they buzzed into ICU to gain access to Dean and the nurse, recognizing them from earlier that morning, simply confirmed that they knew where they were going and bustled on ahead, intent upon other, more urgent, duties.

Dean looked haggard when they entered his room, and his eyes were closed, as if he might be asleep, but at the creak of the wheelchair's wheels, he roused immediately. "'Bout time," he muttered raggedly.

Sam gave him a sardonic look and began digging out the clothing while John closed the door and the blinds on the window that gave a view from the hallway. Dean began to weakly push back the sheet and light blanket covering him, but Sam swept them out of the way. "Here, let me help you sit up," he said quietly.

Dean gritted his jaw as he took a grip on Sam's arm, but couldn't quite stifle the moan that tore out of his chest when his brother drew him upright, nor could he stop his eyes from tearing at the searing pain. Panting shallowly, he kept a grip on Sam while he tried to find the strength to sit straight on his own, but he felt dizzy and sick. Wordlessly, John moved to stand beside Sam and he anchored Dean with a strong grip on his shoulder and, grateful for the support, he let his hand drop away from Sam.

Sam knelt to put the socks on his feet and then, though it was awkward, he slipped underwear and jeans up as far along Dean's legs as he could while Dean was sitting on the edge of the bed, and put on his shoes. Then, he slid his brother's good arm into the shirt, pulled it around his shoulders but left it gaping over Dean's left arm, which was bound to his chest to keep pressure off the cracked collar bone. "Okay, you ready to stand?" he asked, searching his brother's eyes and not liking the shadows there, or the lines of pain etched on the too-pale face. Nor did he like Dean's complete passivity while he'd been dressing him. It wasn't a good sign. If he'd been able to help himself, Dean would have been pushing him away, and he sure wouldn't have been allowing their father to hold him upright.

Dean took a breath and nodded, and started to slide forward off the bed. But as soon as he tried to stand, a wave of dizziness swamped him and he found himself leaning heavily into his brother, his good hand fisting in Sam's shirt as his head fell against Sam's shoulder. It was all he could do to hold back the moan that pressed into his throat.

Hastily, Sam and John eased him swiftly back down onto the support of the bed, and Sam held him close as he protested, "Dean, this is crazy. You're in no shape -"

"Just ... just give me a minute," he gasped, still leaning against Sam's body, still panting to master the flaming agony in his chest and the sickening pounding inside his skull. "'m okay," he insisted, though he was very far from it.

John shifted, making sure of his own balance on his bad leg, and then started to shoulder Sam aside. "Here, I'll help him stand while you finish dressing him," he said matter-of-factly.

Sam looked from Dean, who was still leaning against his chest, to his father. He opened his mouth, but the words died in his throat. Instead, he nodded bleakly and helped ease Dean into his father's embrace. Once again, they got Dean on his feet and, working quickly, Sam got his pants up and fastened. Then, together, they practically carried him to the wheelchair and eased him into it. By then, Dean was sweating and his eyes were glazed, his face the colour of chalk.

John hobbled to the door and peered out, then waved Sam forward. Immediately, Sam pushed his brother into the hall and toward the exit, his body blocking the nurses in the ward behind from a clear view, so they'd simply think he was taking his father back to the waiting room. Once outside the heavy glassed doors, he continued along to the elevator and punched the button before looking up and down the hall, and kneeling beside the chair. Laying a light hand on Dean's arm, he asked anxiously, "How're you doing?"

Dean swallowed and nodded; tried to force a smile but didn't quite make it. "I'll be okay," he rasped. "I can rest in the car."

Sam's lips tightened and he didn't look convinced, but at that moment, John emerged from the restricted ward, leaning heavily upon his cane. The elevator doors opened and Sam pushed the chair inside, John on his heels.

When they emerged from the building and wheeled him to their new set of wheels, Dean's eyes widened and a sweet, small smile of pure joy curved his lips. "The Impala," he breathed, and then flashed a look up at Sam and his father. "How ...?"

"Must've been meant to be," Sam told him, pleased to see a little more animation and a brief flash of colour on Dean's cheeks. "She was just sitting there waiting for us to claim her." Dean nodded with weary happiness, and then they carefully supported him into the back seat. While Sam took the wheelchair back into Emergency, John pulled a blanket from the trunk and, with gruff solicitousness, layered it over his son.

"You need anything for the pain?" he asked with rough concern.

Dean swallowed and slowly shook his head, rolling it against the back of the seat that he sagged against for support. His eyes drifting close, he mumbled, "Nah. Talked them into a shot about ten minutes ago. I'm good."

John's throat tightened with pride at the quiet gallantry and courage with which Dean was coping with what he knew had to be pretty bad pain. He hesitated and then, with awkward and uncharacteristic tenderness, he combed his fingertips through Dean's short hair. When Dean opened his eyes and looked up at him, surprised but with wary poignant love glowing in his eyes, John quirked a crooked smile, and then wordlessly drew back, closing the door and getting into the front seat.

Disconcerted, Dean studied the back of his father's head for a long moment, wondering what the gesture and the smile had signified. Warmth stole into his chest, muting some of the pain, and he blinked heavily. By the time Sam got back, he was already asleep and didn't feel anything as the car started moving, left town and picked up speed.

Part III: http://caarianna.livejournal.com/23896.html

Comments

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
iamstealthyone
Aug. 16th, 2006 04:48 am (UTC)
Good to see Dean wake up in this part. Nice job with all the h/c in here as he first comes around and later, when they sneak him out of the hospital.

I really liked the scene in which John and Sam played the car salesman to get a good price on the Impala. *g*

Favorite lines:

"I can't lose you," he finally managed to rasp. "Please, Dean. I can't lose you, too."

Aww. Poor Sam here. *hugs Sam* It really would devastate him if Dean died.

When the young woman looked uncertain and harried, he snapped, "Guess maybe he should've just died a few minutes ago, when his heart stopped beating. Too bad they brought him around, huh? Sure makes your life difficult."

Wow. Angry!Sam. He does a good job here of browbeating that poor nurse. I feel kind of bad for her.

Frazzled, emotionally and physically very close to exhaustion, he reluctantly followed the directions to the cafeteria. He felt sick and wasn't sure he could eat, but he had to keep up his own strength, especially now, when he was the only one still standing.

Yeah, it’d be tough on Sam to feel like he’s the only one between the demon and his family. John and Dean are in no position to protect themselves at the moment, and that would be a heavy burden on Sam.

But ... but he regretted that his irascibility was his defining feature in his son's mind; regretted even more that Dean had sounded so convinced that he'd never be kind or understanding, or even grateful for what Dean had done to save his brother's life.

Nice job here of getting into John’s head, and showing us how he feels about Dean’s reaction to what happened at the cabin.

Feebly, he lifted a hand, and Sam took it, and held on strongly. "Easy," Sam murmured, stroking his forehead. "Easy, Dean."

Aww. Such a good little brother. *pets Sam*

Gazing at her appreciatively, he smiled and replied winningly, "Yeah, well, what man would waste time sleeping when you're around?"

LOL! Even half dead, Dean’s still flirting with the ladies. *g*

Dean took a breath and nodded, and started to slide forward off the bed. But as soon as he tried to stand, a wave of dizziness swamped him and he found himself leaning heavily into his brother, his good hand fisting in Sam's shirt as his head fell against Sam's shoulder. It was all he could do to hold back the moan that pressed into his throat.

My poor Dean! *bites lip*

Looking forward to reading the last part. :)
caarianna
Aug. 16th, 2006 09:01 pm (UTC)
Hey, glad you're enjoying the story! Thanks for highlighting the bits you liked best!

Arianna
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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