Disclaimer: The only thing I own are the ridiculous situations in which I've placed these boys.

A/N: New Year. New Story. Same fascination with injuring Dean.

His last words to Sam had been, "Trust me. I can handle this."

He hadn't wanted to call a halt to the hunt, not even after he'd relegated Sam to the sidelines with a rather nasty case of bronchitis, and so he'd reassured his younger brother that he could take care of the spirit on his own. Had been doing so for years while Sam had been off at Stanford. Nothing to it.

Famous last words.

He's now wishing that he had Sam as his backup, the spirit in question slightly more pissed off than he'd been expecting. What with the anniversary of its death and all. A little nugget that Sam had mentioned once or twice or ten times, but that Dean had conveniently blown off.

So it really shouldn't have come as any kind of surprise that the spirit had been spoiling for a fight. Had, in fact, put up some rather spectacular resistance to being salted and burned.

His first clue should have been the endless string of normally stationary objects that had begun hurtling towards him as soon as he had set foot in the tiny cemetery on the outskirts of town. After all, it's not every day that park benches and cement urns learn how to fly.

Add to that the fact that this spirit seems to have a penchant for screaming its head off, threatening to perforate Dean's eardrums with its ear-piercing wails, and he really isn't enjoying this job one iota.

Not to mention the fact that it's taking him at least twice as long as it should have to dig up the grave, what with the constant need to keep his head on a swivel, ever vigilant for the next attack, as well as the necessity of having to keep blasting the thing to kingdom come with his salt rifle every other minute, barely allowing him to get a couple of shovels full of dirt out of the grave before having to blast the dammed thing all over again.

So it's with a cackle of glee that he finally breaks through the wooden top of the rotten casket, quickly emptying his salt container over the remains of the well decomposed body before peeking up over the edge of the hole he's dug, kicking himself once again for not having Sam here to cover him while he scrambles out of the grave.

And just as he's about to put the finishing touches on his spirit flambé, he hears yet another god-awful shriek, the noise distracting him just enough to send his next rocksalt shower off its mark, allowing the spirit to drive into Dean and slam him into the ground with a force substantially stronger than its partially corporeal body should really be able to create.

Dean's right shoulder takes the brunt of the impact, his collarbone snapping under the weight of his barely visible but extremely pissed off attacker, while the breath is driven out of his lungs by a combination of the physical compression of his ribcage and the excruciating pain centered in his right upper chest.

He lies on the ground for just a few seconds, trying to catch his breath, grateful that at least the spirit's efforts seem to have affected it as well, its presence dissipating in the blink of an eye after having pile-driven Dean into the cemetery's hard packed earth.

The experienced hunter quickly stuffs the pain deep down inside and struggles into a seated position just in front of the grave, his left hand fumbling across his body for the lighter in his right side coat pocket when it quickly becomes evident that any motion at all by his right shoulder is liable to trigger a trip into unconsciousness, pulling the cheap plastic Bic out rather triumphantly and flicking the flame to life before throwing the whole thing down into the casket.

He watches with satisfaction as both remains and spirit go up in flames, allowing himself a moment of gratification that another hunt has been completed, another town can put their worries to rest, before finally giving himself the opportunity to try to figure out just how bad off he really is.

Because he knows it's not good.

He opens and closes his right hand a few times, slightly comforted by the fact that he can still feel his fingers and that they all seem to be responding to his commands.

It's when he tries to move his right shoulder at all that the issue arises.

The grinding sensation in his collarbone elicits blinding pain, causing him to double over, his left hand traveling up to his right collarbone in an effort to provide some form of support while his mouth lets loose a string of expletives that impresses even him.

Once he's managed to gain some semblance of control over his body, his brain registers the wrongness of the feel of the bone under his left hand. And while he's pretty sure there's not supposed to be a bump there (not that big, anyway), he lets out a slight sigh of relief when he pulls his hand away and finds it free of blood. His relief is short-lived, however, when a miniscule amount of further probing confirms that the ends of his definitely broken collarbone aren't lining up properly.


He slowly gathers his belongings with his left hand, his right arm tucked snugly against his side in an effort to prevent any movement whatsoever of his shoulder, and makes his way carefully to the car, all the while thinking how well and truly screwed he is.

Because he'd told Sam that he could handle this. Had told him not to worry. Had reassured him that he didn't need his little brother there as backup.

His only saving grace is the fact that Sam might be too sick to notice.


Sam idly wonders just how much force it actually takes for a person to cough up a lung. Because he's pretty sure he's giving it a good try.

He'd been fine up until a couple of days ago. Had been feeling great, in fact; good energy levels, good mood, feeling confident about their case.

He should have known it was too good to last.

They'd been in the midst of the research stage of their latest hunt, hunkered down in a hole-in-the-wall motel that Dean had picked out based on its cheesy motif. Literally. They're in the middle of Wisconsin, famed home of cheese curds and Cheeseheads, staying in the Cheddar Wheel Motor Lodge, trying to figure out why this town has a sudden upswing in violent attacks every year around this time.

Sam had been delighting in the research of the hunt, talking with the locals, searching news sources both online and at the library, and had finally made the necessary connections in the case, leading them to the grave Dean's currently trying to desecrate.

At first, he'd thought he'd just gotten a poor night's sleep – thought the fatigue and achiness were due to the lumpy mattress and the scratchy sheets of their third-rate motel. But then the coughing had begun. And then the low-grade fevers. And then the wheezing.

The final straw had come last night, when Sam had awoken gasping for breath, his violent fit of coughing eliciting a concerned "Dude, you okay over there?" from his half-awake older brother. The audible wheezing that trailed after the coughing fit like an afterthought did nothing to help the younger Winchester's reassurances that he was fine.

And so, his overprotective big brother had effectively benched him, relegating him to the dingy motel room while Dean was off ridding the world of yet another baddie, while he himself tries to not cough himself into oblivion.

And as if his physical symptoms weren't bad enough this time around, he's got to worry about Dean.

Because while he knows Dean has done this hundreds of times on his own (if his brother's overzealous assurances are to be believed), he's still never fully able to squelch the worry he feels when he's not there to help.

Especially with this one. He just has a feeling that the spirit's approaching death anniversary is going to make it slightly more difficult than usual, regardless of Dean's dismissal of the same.

And while he still can't believe Dean benched him for this one, both hunters having been doing the job long enough to have played sick and/or injured on plenty of jobs in the past, he does have to agree with his big brother just a tad (although he'd never tell him that - might make his brother's head explode). Because he's really not quite sure how much of a help he'd have been this time around. Short of wheezing the spirit into the Great Beyond.

His little huff of a laugh at that thought is enough to send his body into another fit of wracking coughs, effectively rendering him helpless until he can manage to suck in a few paltry breaths of air, each of them ending in a whistle that only serves to punctuate Dean's rightness in his decision-making at leaving him behind.


It's not until his breathing finally returns to normal that he realizes that the rumbling he'd thought had been coming from his own traitorous body is actually coming from a car, the Impala's engine becoming distinctive as it draws ever closer, finally coming to a halt on the other side of the motel room door.

The niggling ball of worry that's been rivaling the cough for Sam's fullest attention dissipates at the sounds of his brother's return, Dean's safety always forefront on his mind even when it's not on his brother's.

Because Dean has a penchant for finding trouble even when he's not looking for it. Especially when he's not looking for it. And especially when Sam's not around to keep him on the straight and narrow. Although that in and of itself is a rather full time job.

Sam's half-hearted eyeroll and automatic accompanying huff at his internal dialogue sets off yet another spasm of coughing, leaving the younger Winchester gasping for breath, praying that somehow his next few days with Dean won't be filled with condescending "I told you so's" and big brother overprotectiveness.

He doubts he'll be that lucky.

"Oh god," he groans when he finally has air in his lungs again, pushing himself up in order to slump against the headboard of the bed in an effort to not look quite as pathetic as he feels.

He's got the sneaking suspicion that he's failing miserably.

To Be Continued…