Title: Mornië Alantië

Summary: Not everyone wants to be rescued. The boys find that out the hard way.

Spoilers: "In My Time of Dying", "All Hell Breaks Loose" part 2. Set in S3, but no real spoilers for any S3 episodes.

Warnings: Much blood. Graphic violence. Much limp!Sam and hurt!Dean. Brief but very naughty language, for which I blame kimonkey7,pdragon76, BEKi of Dorvan, BigPink and the other awesome writers who have been corrupting my brain.

Pairings: None.

Characters: Sam, Dean, Bobby and Ellen.

Category: Gen, hurt/comfort (more hurt than comfort), some angst.

Word Count: 6,295

Disclaimer: Not mine; not getting paid; I'm just playing with them.

A/N 1: I have fought tooth and nail with this story for more than a month. It has gone through at least six re-writes. (Go ahead, look at the word count and laugh.)

A/N 2: The story title is from the LOTR soundtrack; I'm told it translates to darkness has fallen. Yes, I am a geek. Why do you ask?

A/N 3: My town of Timber Valley, Minnesota is purely fictional, and any resemblance to real towns, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended to offend.

- - - -

(present)

Sam's hostage is shaking. Sam can feel the tremors running up through the barrel of the gun he's pressing to the guy's head.

"Please please don't hurt me don't," the guy rambles, and Sam closes his eyes briefly. Shut up, why won't you just SHUT UP. Sam is bloody and exhausted and he does not need this shit. He suddenly realizes how much pressure he's putting on the trigger, forces himself to ease back, exhaling through gritted teeth. Calm down, Sam. Focus. Don't kill him unless you need to.

"I need to use your phone," Sam says, his voice raw and broken. He knows he sounds like a crazed drug addict, or an escapee from a psychiatric ward, but he doesn't care.

The guy makes frightened, wordless sounds, too focused on the chambered bullet hovering inches from his brain to manage a coherent response. Idiot, Sam thinks, stupid fucking IDIOT, and he has to consciously relax his trigger finger again. He's so tired, can't focus. His equilibrium hiccups and he lists to the side, dragging his hostage with him.

"Just let me use your phone, man." Sam softens his voice with effort, adds a shade of cooperate and this'll all be over.

"Okay, okay," the guy bleats. He points to a counter across the room, where a cordless phone sits in its charging cradle. Sam pushes the guy forward, moves with him, still pressing a .45 snugly against his skull. For an instant Sam's vision warps, colors bleeding together, and he wobbles on suddenly rubbery legs. Don't pass out, dammit.

The guy picks up the phone, but his hands are shaking and he drops it. It bounces off a couch and onto the floor. Stammering frightened apologies, the guy bends to pick it up, and Sam never sees his hand slide beneath the couch cushion.

There's an instant of warning when the guy suddenly stops shaking and his mucles tense; but Sam is so worn, his reflexes dulled by pain and lack of sleep, that he doesn't realize in time. Then the guy is moving, twisting in Sam's grip, one arm knocking aside the .45 while the other raises a snub-nosed .38. Sam turns his body sharply away, diving to the side, but it isn't fast enough. White-hot pain flares an instant before he hears the gunshot.

Sam hits the floor hard, ears ringing, blood running from the ragged hole in his side.

- - - -

(past)

"Wendigo?" Dean suggested from the driver's seat, his fingers tapping the steering wheel to the rhythm of the Zeppelin song playing in the background.

Sam shifted the pile of newspaper clippings in his lap. "Don't think so. The intervals are wrong, and since when are Wendigos picky? This thing only takes children."

"Shtriga?" Dean's knuckles whitened on the wheel, but Sam didn't comment, just shook his head.

"Nah. These kids aren't getting sick; they're getting eaten. Two every ten years, just like clockwork. Goes back as far as the newspaper does—to the early 1900's."

"Damn, that's..."

"A lot of kids, yeah. There have been various theories—bears, mountain lions, kidnapping rings for the ones who were never found. Nobody's ever proven anything."

Dean looked vaguely unsettled, and Sam figured it was because of the kids. Dean harbored a special kind of hatred for creatures that preyed on children. "So, you got any theories?" Dean asked. "The witch from Hansel and Gretel, maybe?"

Sam ignored Dean's weak attempt at humor. "Honestly? I have no idea. It doesn't fit any creature I've ever heard of. We'll just have to see what we find when we get there."

"You said all the kids were out in the woods when they got taken?"

"Yeah."

"Great." Dean groaned. "We get to go hiking again. Maybe even camping."

- - - -

(present)

Sam scrambles to his feet, moving on what little adrenaline he has left, and dives through the doorway as another shot shatters the window behind him. He hits the porch running and doesn't stop until he reaches the treeline. Faintly he hears yelling behind him, and there are more shots fired, but none of them come close.

When he's sure he hasn't been followed, Sam stops, gasping in air so cold it burns his lungs. He braces himself against a tree and leans over, taking the weight off his aching leg, fingers pressed to his side. The pain from the bullet wound is really starting to kick in now, damaged nerves overriding shock and adrenaline. Warm blood seeps through his fingers, drips onto the snow.

Sam's entire body is one big bruise, and he feels like he hasn't slept in years, and he's just been shot. He can hardly comprehend how thoroughly screwed he is.

He needs help, needs somebody to tell him what the hell he should do now. Dad would know, he thinks. The rift between Sam and John never quite managed to erase Sam's Daddy, fix it instinct, and right now all he really wants is his dad, larger than life, saying it's okay, Sammy, we'll get you out of here.

But his dad is gone, and Sam doesn't know what to do. Dean's hurt bad, maybe almost as bad as he was after a semi crushed the Impala, and now Sam's losing too much blood and he has no way to call for help.

Unless...

Sam takes out his cell phone, leaving smears of red across the screen. His fingers are stiff and numb with cold and he's shaking, so he almost drops the phone into the snow. There's no signal, hasn't been since they arrived in this godforsaken little town, but...

Sam looks up at the tree he's been leaning against. It's a big pine, at least eighty feet tall, and the bottom limb is just low enough for Sam to reach it. Sam's climbed trees before; he and Dean did it all the time as kids. It's not lack of experience that'll make this hard, but Sam's physical state—he's weak, and only has partial use of one arm and leg. It'll be a miracle if he can get high enough to find a signal without falling and breaking his neck.

Tucking his phone back inside his jacket, Sam grits his teeth against the fire in his side, prays for a miracle, and starts to climb.

- - - -

(past)

Timber Valley was not only small, but isolated as well—fifty miles of bad road separated it from the nearest town, and there were miles of woods in every direction. It was so far out in the boonies that both Winchesters' cell phones displayed "No Signal". Dean complained about it, asking how he was supposed to call hot chicks if his phone didn't work. Sam just shook his head.

After they booked a motel room, Sam headed for the local library to search for connections among the victims. Dean, of course, went to the bar. In a town so small, and so isolated, everyone would know about the disappearances. Dean had never lived in any particular small town for long, but he knew how the grapevine worked, how anything gossip-worthy got spread around fast.

It was just a short visit to a small-town bar; Dean didn't intend to ruffle feathers, and whatever they were hunting lived out in the woods, so he left his Colt in the Impala.

The bar held the usual assortment of characters. The bartender was friendly, unlike the rest of the locals, who watched Dean with suspicion. He was aware, and somewhat proud, that he looked like trouble. He'd worked almost as hard at cultivating that image as Sam had at the puppy-dog face.

The bartender's name was Joe, and he chatted easily with Dean about the weather, the bar, the town. He'd lived there since he was born, had a wife and two kids, liked his job.

When Dean started nudging their conversation toward the disappearances, Joe tensed up a little. Glancing around at the other occupants of the bar, who were trying to pretend they weren't watching, Joe said softly, "Look, I can't talk about that here. My shift's almost over; just give me a few minutes to wrap up."

Dean nodded, watched as Joe organized a few things and made a quick call to his wife. After hanging up the phone, Joe motioned with his head for Dean to follow him. Dean got up, slightly on edge. Joedefinitely knew something. The question was, why didn't he want to discuss it with an audience? Dean suspected that the answer might make him wish he'd brought his gun.

The bar was on the edge of town, with a small open field directly behind it and woods behind that. Joe walked outside, and Dean followed cautiously. Icy snow crunched loudly beneath their feet, and the winter sky overhead was diamond-studded with stars.

Joe turned to face Dean. "First I want to know one thing," he said, keeping his voice low, aware of the distance sound carried on cold air. "Can you stop this? Whoever's been taking our kids, can you stop them?"

"Yeah," Dean said with conviction, watching Joe's expression and trying to remember whether any of the missing children had had a father named Joe. "Yeah, I think I can."

Joe nodded, turning to lean against the side of the bar. He ran a hand across his face.

Then he spun, quick as a cat, and bashed in the side of Dean's face.

- - - -

(present)

"Bobby?" Sam says when Bobby answers the phone. "Bobby?"

"Yeah, Sam, it's me. What's goin' on?" Worry coils like a snake in Bobby's gut as soon as he hears Sam's voice.

"Bobby, you gotta help us," Sam says, then pauses, and for a moment all Bobby hears is shaky breathing. Bobby's about to say Anything, anything you need, just tell me, when Sam finally continues.

"They have the Impala. We're in the woods and Dean won't wake up." Sam's voice cracks. "They hurt him bad, Bobby. He won't wake up."

Bobby digs his fingernails into the side of the table. Sam didn't say anything about himself, but Bobby can tell by the labored breathing, the scattered thoughts, the childlike quality of Sam's voice: he's hurt too, and probably in shock.

He won't wake up, Sam said, sounding all of ten years old, and all Bobby can think is, Don't let Dean be dead. Please God, don't let him be dead.

"Sam, where are you?" Bobby says. "I need to know where you are."

"We're...in, uh...Minnesota." Sam has to pause to remember, and that's a bad sign, because normally Sam can instantly bring to mind anything he needs to know and a lot of stuff he doesn't. Sam's words are starting to blur together, fade into each other, and Bobby knows he needs to keep him talking.

"Where in Minnesota, Sam?" Silence. "Sam?"

"The town's called...Timber Valley. We're in the woods," Sam says. He's quiet for a moment, then repeats: "Dean won't wake up." Sam's mind, searching out patterns even in his current state, must have made a connection between woods and Dean won't wake up.

"They hurt him bad, Bobby. He keeps bleeding and he won't wake up and I don't know what to do." Sam sounds like he might cry, and it reminds Bobby of Dean on his knees in the mud back in Cold Oak, whispering I think he's dead, Bobby. I think my brother's dead.

"Sam, I'm coming, okay?" Bobby grabs things he might need, throwing them into a duffel. Timber Valley's not far, just a few hours away. They can hold on for a few hours, right?

"Sam, who's they?" Bobby asks, needing to get an idea what he'll be up against. "Who hurt Dean?"

"People. It was people...from town. I don't know why. They already had Dean down by the time I got there." Sam's voice drops to a whisper. "They hurt him bad, Bobby."

"I know, Sam. I know." Bobby doesn't want to hang up, but he needs to call Ellen. Much as he'd like to run off and take on a whole town by himself, he knows it's smarter to get backup. Besides, Ellen will kill him if he doesn't call her.

"Listen, Sam, just hang on, okay?" Bobby says. "I'll be there as soon as I can. Can you tell me how to find you?"

"Even better," Sam says, sounding a little more lucid, like hope has cleared his head. "I'll send you our coordinates."

"Okay, good. Sam, just...hang on, okay?"

"I'll try," Sam says.

- - - -

(past)

It wasn't a fist that hit Dean, it was a club of some kind, and he actually heard the crunch when his left cheekbone caved in. He went down hard, rolled over, dragged himself to hands and knees. He wanted to curse, but the words were getting lost in transit between his brain and his mouth.

Joe stepped back, still holding the 2x4 he'd used to hit Dean. This day just kept getting better, because Dean's good eye made out more shapes coming out of the shadows. Townspeople, some he'd seen in the bar, some he hadn't, all armed with clubs or bats or knives. No guns that he could see, but that wouldn't help him much, sincehe didn't have a gun either.

Dean felt a sudden urge to cry, and not only because his cheekbone had just met a board. He had four months left to live, and he was about to get pulped by the people he'd come here to help. It wasn't his fault this time, couldn't be his fault—he hadn't slept with anybody's wife or stolen anybody's car. He hadn't even hustled pool. So what the hell was going on?

"We know what you are," Joe said. "We don't want your kind here."

Okay, so maybe it was his fault, indirectly. "A nice invitation to leave would've worked," Dean managed to say. Damn, it hurt to talk, because that involved moving his face.

Joe smiled. Dean's inner smartass, which never knew when to shut up, made a comment about oral hygiene that didn't escape only because Dean's face was broken. "Your kind is persistent," Joe said. "We handle this our own way. Keep it happy, keep it fed. It doesn't bother us. Your kind, you'll make it mad, turn it against us. We have to be sure you won't be back."

"You feed it?" Dean's disgust and horror overrode the pain of talking. "With your children?"

Twisted grief mixed with cold anger in Joe's eyes. "You know nothing about us. We won't let you destroy our town."

The circle started to close. Dean tried to stand, but he was so dizzy that he ended up back on his knees. "I wanted to help you!" He shouted, anger and desperation overlapping in his voice. "I was gonna kill it!"

They didn't respond. The time for talking was evidently over, and they descended on him with terrible purpose. Dean tried to fight back, but he was already hurt, and there was a certain ratio at which a fight automatically turned into a beating. Five-to-one was a little beyond that ratio.

By the time Dean heard Sam shouting, he was more dead than alive, tasting ice and blood, only vaguely aware of the sharp crack of ribs snapping. He barely had time to hope before someone kicked him in the head and he was gone.

- - - -

(present)

Sam pushes the "off" button on his cell phone and closes his eyes, leaning his face against rough, icy pine bark. The ice melts against the heat of his skin and runs down his cheek like tears. He wants to climb down, go find Dean, make sure Dean's still breathing. But he's feeling light-headed and confused, and even the thought of looking down makes him dizzy.

After taking a few minutes to regain his equilibrium, Sam climbs down, one agonizing limb at a time. Finally he drops into the snow, biting back a sharp cry when his leg crumples under him.

The sun is hiding behind pale gray clouds, so Sam uses the GPS in his phone to find his way back to Dean. Normally he has a good sense of direction, but his head is a little scrambled right now, and all pine trees look alike anyway.

Sam's heart is already starting to beat faster; it feels like there's a bird fluttering in his chest, trying to break free. He's terrified of what he might find when he gets back...because Dean was barely alive when Sam left, and now he's been lying alone in the cold for hours.

Sam stumbles suddenly and falls to his knees in the snow. The impact makes him see white for a moment. He can feel blood still trickling down his side, soaking into his jeans; he has lost track of all the places he's bleeding from. He breathes for a moment, then pushes himself back to his feet, blinking against the snow starting to fall. It's not far now.

Dean is lying exactly where Sam left him, on his back beneath a makeshift screen of pine branches, face turned up. The snow is coming down harder now, some of it filtering in through the cracks. Delicate flakes have caught in Dean's eyelashes and spiky hair. He looks so young. He looks dead already.

His own pain forgotten, Sam falls to his knees beside his brother and reaches out a shaky hand to feel for signs of life. Dean's pulse is weak and thready and his skin is cold to the touch. He's not bleeding anymore, but that doesn't change the fact that he's dying.

Sam crawls in beside Dean, curls himself around his big brother the way Dean used to do when Sam was small and had had a nightmare. He wraps his arms around Dean's chest, sharing body heat, willing Dean to live.

"Dean, please," Sam whispers, closing his eyes as Dean's heartbeat slows. "Please."

- - - -

(past)

They'd agreed that Dean would come get Sam after an hour, and when Dean didn't show, Sam gave an exasperated sigh and started walking. In a town this size nothing was far from anything else, and after a brisk, chilly ten-minute walk Sam spotted the Impala still parked in front of the bar.

Sam was walking toward the car, his breath making white streamers in the crisp winter air, when he heard a raw, unguarded cry of pain he'd know anywhere, despite only having heard it a handful of times. He was running before his mind could form the word Dean, but he forced himself to alter course, heading for the Impala instead. He threw open the door, dug out the pistol hidden beneath a jacket in the floorboard, and ran toward his brother.

There were five of them, and they had Dean down. They'd had him down long enough that he wasn't moving. Sam yelled as he ran, cursing them loudly and fluently, waving his gun for emphasis. Five of them, armed with clubs and bats, and Dean a silent, dark shape in the bloody snow.

"Get back," Sam shouted, finger on the trigger, bloodlust singing in his veins. He was two seconds from dropping them all, knew he could—might regret it later, but right now Dean was broken and still, and part of Sam wanted nothing more than to pull the trigger. The part of him that liked killing, the part that had been in the background since he woke from something deeper than sleep, was fighting for dominance.

Sam's willingness to kill must have showed, because Dean's attackers backed away wordlessly, leaving Dean curled up, arms still wrapped around his head. Sam moved forward, jumpy as a cat, his gun swinging back and forth to cover them all.

"Back off," he said coldly. When they didn't move, his finger tightened on the trigger. "Get the fuck away from him!"

They did, reluctantly, fading back into the shadows between the bar and its neighboring building. Sam had no illusions that they'd stay gone for long. He needed to get Dean to the Impala, then to the nearest hospital. Then, after Dean woke up (because he would wake up), Sam could find out what the hell he'd done to make these people want to kill him.

Sam knelt in the bloody, trampled snow beside his brother. "Hey, Dean...hey, man, wake up." He reached out to feel for a pulse, and for a few seconds his focus was completely on his unconscious brother as he waited to feel the rush of blood beneath skin. Those few seconds cost him.

One of Dean's attackers hadn't gone as far as Sam had thought. He blindsided Sam, slamming him to the snow a few feet away from Dean. Sam's breath whooshed out, lights exploded in his vision, and his gun flew away into the snow.

Before Sam could recover, the man connected with a wicked right that made Sam's thoughts go fuzzy. Another punch hit Sam in the stomach, and he curled in on himself instinctively, still shaking his head to clear it. With effort, he uncurled and kicked the man off, adrenaline lending him strength. He scrambled for his gun, couldn't find it in the dim light and deep snow.

Sam caught a ghost of movement out of his peripheral vision, and he rolled sideways, throwing up his left arm to field the blow that would have split his head open. Hot pain like electricity shot all the way through Sam's fingers as a 2x4 connected with his forearm.

The man landed another blow, this one to Sam's ribs, and he felt bone crack, couldn't hold in a strangled yell. He scrambled back, sifting through the snow, searching for his gun. The fingers on his left hand had gone completely numb, and not from the cold.

Where, God where, was the gun? Board-guy was still advancing, and now he had a friend. Another of the five hadn't gone far. Where were the other three? Gone for reinforcements, probably, as if this situation wasn't already bad enough.

Both of them closed in on Sam, and he saw light glint off a sharp edge in the second man's hand. A knife. Perfect.

Sam found his feet and continued backing away, drawing them farther from Dean. When knife-guy lunged, Sam wasn't quite quick enough, and the blade skittered across his chest, sank in at the shoulder. Sam wrenched violently away, trying to jerk the knife out of the man's hand, but it pulled free of his shoulder with a sick, wet pop. Another swipe caught him shallowly across the cheek as he weaved back to avoid a blow from the 2x4.

Sam landed a desperate right to board-guy's cheekbone, felt his knuckles split. He blocked another swing, wrenched away the board and dropped its wielder with a nose-shattering blow. He spun and clipped knife-guy across the head, and the man went down, dazed but still aware enough to slash at Sam's calf. Sam's leg gave way, but as he fell to his knees, he swung down and connected with a sound like a melon splitting. The second man fell back, blood spurting dark across the snow, and didn't move again.

Panting, dazed and bloody, Sam leaned forward, bracing his left arm across his ribs. His head snapped up at the sound of voices. Flashlight beams were heading toward them, and he heard the unmistakable sound of a shotgun being cocked. Those were definitely reinforcements, armed ones, and Sam was cut off from the Impala. That left only one option.

Sam staggered to his feet and nearly tripped over his .45, prompting a few choice words Dean would have been proud of. The gun had hidden until just after Sam really needed it. Damn Murphy and his stupid Law. Sam stuck the gun into the back of his jeans, gasping when the chilled metal hit his skin.

Doing his best to ignore his own injuries, Sam gently scooped up his unconscious brother. Dean's arms and legs dangled limply, and Sam couldn't swallow the hard knot of fear in his throat.

Sam disappeared into the woods just a few seconds before flashlight beams swept the small clearing.

- - - -

(present)

They're curled around each other when Bobby and Ellen find them—well, more Sam curled around Dean. There's so much blood mingled together that it's impossible to tell which of them has lost more. For a second Bobby thinks they're too late.

Ellen falls to her knees beside them, peeling off her gloves to lay a hand on Sam's too-cold face. She slides her fingers down to the pulse point in his throat. "He's alive," she reports, her tone caught between relief that Sam's breathing and horror at the brutality of what's been done here.

Bobby gently, carefully moves Sam while Ellen searches Dean for signs of life. Dean's skin is dead white in the few places it's not dark with bruising. Dried blood trails from his mouth and nose and both ears. Sam wasn't exaggerating, and Bobby feels sick, because even if Dean lives he might never be the same.

Ellen's shaky fingers against Dean's throat find nothing but stillness, and she looks up, eyes glossy with tears. "I think he's gone, Bobby," she says.

Bobby keeps working on Sam, finding a shallow bullet wound in his side, bruises, some cuts, including a deep one in the left shoulder. He tries to keep his mind on Sam, on saving Sam, but he can't completely shut out grief and anger. If what Sam said is true, if the townspeople beat Dean and shot Sam and left them to die in the snow, then this town is going to burn. Bobby'll make sure of it.

Ellen gasps suddenly, presses her finger harder into Dean's throat. "Wait...he's alive. Oh God, Bobby, he's still alive." She checks to see if he's breathing—which he is, faintly—and then wraps him in the blankets Bobby tosses to her. They need to get him help yesterday. Both of them, because while Sam's pulse is fairly strong, he's ice-cold and has lost a lot of blood.

"Come on, Dean," Ellen whispers, tucking the blankets beneath his chin, her eyes lingering on the relatively undamaged side of his face, the side that still looks like him. "Hang on. Lotta people need you."

- - - -

(past)

The forest was dark, with only a little pale, cold moonlight filtering through the pine branches. There was just enough light reflecting off the snow to keep Sam from running into trees. He was deep in the woods by the time he stepped awkwardly, and his leg gave away without warning. He didn't have a chance to soften the fall.

He went down hard, and Dean rolled out of his grip, hitting the ground with a heavy, inanimate thud. Clutching his left arm to his ribs, still feeling warm blood trickle down from the wound in his shoulder, Sam clumsily crawled to his brother's side.

Dean's skin shone almost as white as snow in the moonlight, except where slick darkness had oozed from his nose, mouth, and ears. That was a bad sign. Really, really bad sign. Sam couldn't help but worry that he'd made his brother's injuries worse by dropping him.

Sam wasn't sure how long he lay in the snow beside his brother, semiconscious, but by the time he came back to himself the moonlight was almost gone and snow was beginning to fall steadily. They were a fair distance from town now, and the snow would cover Sam's tracks. No point in moving deeper into a monster-inhabited forest, especially since Sam couldn't trust himself to carry his brother any farther. Might as well try to wait out the night here.

Sam was no avid outdoorsman, but he knew that pine boughs made a decent bed, and might also serve to keep most of the snow off. Dragging with weariness, working half-blind, he cut enough branches for a prickly bed and a makeshift lean-to against the trunk of a massive pine. The shelter should keep out the worst of the snow and wind, and having the tree at their backs would narrow the directions trouble could approach from.

Sam crawled in beside his brother, wishing Dean would wake up and tell him to back off, wishing Dean wasn't so still and cold, his face still seeping blood on Sam's shoulder. Sam took off his coat and spread it over both of them. He lay still and tried not to shiver; then he worried because Dean wasn't shivering. That was another bad sign, wasn't it?

He knew he needed to sleep, but he was terrified of what might happen if he did. Sam kept thinking that if he could stay awake, he could keep Dean with him. He hoped his presence alone would be enough to make Dean fight, because Dean had been fighting for Sam his entire life. It was an instinct woven into the fiber of who Dean was, and most of the time it drove Sam crazy, but he swore he'd never complain about it again if it could just keep Dean alive.

"In the morning," Sam whispered to his unconscious brother, "I'm gonna go get help. I'll come back for you, Dean, I promise." His chest clenched at the thought of leaving Dean alone, but he knew it had to be done. "I'll save you," Sam said, "I don't care what I have to do," and the words reached out, unfurling to cover tonight and tomorrow and four months future.

- - - -

(present)

The fifty-mile drive to the hospital is the most nerve wracking half-hour of Bobby's life, and that's saying something. Neither Winchester wakes up, but they hang on. Ellen talks to them the whole time, her soft, smoky voice reciting a litany of hold on and not far now and you're gonna be okay.

At the hospital, there's a dizzying flurry of motion as staff members get Sam and Dean onto stretchers and fire clipped questions at Bobby and Ellen. Then there's silence, a long wait in a white room that smells faintly of piss and bleach. Bobby's pretty sure he sprouts a dozen new gray hairs before somebody finally comes out with an update.

Sam is hypothermic, of course, and they had to give him a blood transfusion. The bullet didn't hit anything vital, but the gash it left took twenty stitches to close. The knife wounds in his shoulder and leg received fourteen and ten stitches, respectively. He has two broken ribs, a cracked bone in his left forearm, and bruises all over. Sam's condition is serious but stable; he's lucky, the doctor says, and Bobby can't believe anybody would use that word after seeing the shape these boys are in.

Dean's in surgery; like Sam, he has moderate hypothermia, but that's the least of his problems. All they know so far is that one of his broken ribs punctured a lung, and that there's pressure on his brain, which they're working to relieve. As far as Bobby can tell, Ellen hasn't cried, but her voice sounds like she's been gargling sandpaper when she asks about the likelihood of brain damage. The doctor replies too early to tell, but his eyes say more than likely.

After surgery, Dean ends up in the ICU on a respirator. In addition to the punctured lung and possible brain damage, he has a fractured cheekbone. That, at least, should heal with no permanent effects—if he survives. The doctor doesn't sound very optimistic. When he speaks of Dean's chances of survival in negative odds, like Dean's life is a horse race, Bobby has to grab Ellen's arm to keep her from hitting the jerk.

When Sam wakes with his brother's name already on his lips, Bobby has no choice but to tell him the truth. Sam looks away, tears filling his eyes, at the words swelling and brain and coma. Bobby remembers, then, the last time Dean had a severe head injury and was in a coma: he would've died if not for his dad's deal with the Demon. This time there's nobody to make a deal for the damaged kid who already made one of his own.

On the second day, Sam is allowed into a wheelchair so he can visit Dean. Bobby waits in the background, watches as Sam gently wraps his long fingers around Dean's smaller hand. Sees the scabs on Sam's knuckles, skin still split open from fighting off the sons of bitches who broke his brother. Bobby has to push back the urge to kill something, anything, the first thing that looks at him wrong. Justice will come. In the meantime, these boys need him and Ellen.

Sam's thumb rubs across Dean's knuckles, back and forth, back and forth, like Dean's a genie in a bottle and rubbing his hand will make him wake the hell up. Bobby starts edging away, and when Sam gingerly leans forward to rest his forehead on Dean's hand, when Sam's shoulders start shaking, Bobby leaves them alone.

Against all predictions, Dean wakes up on day six. His dark lashes flutter on pale cheeks, and then he starts gagging. When the respirator tube comes out, Dean's voice is weak and rough, but he can tell the doctor his name (the fake one Bobby whispered to him), his birthdate, what month it is, and who's president. Later, after predicting no permanent brain damage and full recovery for Dean the awed doctor uses words like "amazing" and "miracle".

"He's a tough kid," Bobby says. As much as he disliked John Winchester sometimes, right now he's never been happier that Dean is his father's son. Stubborn as a mule, just like John, and Bobby wouldn't have it any other way; because by all rights Dean should bedead, and instead he'll probably be on his feet in a week or two. Bobby refuses to think about what's scheduled to happen to Dean a few months after that.

Bobby's in the background again the first time Sam sees Dean awake. He hears Sam say Man, you scared me, and Dean's weak response of I know, Sammy, the words filled with resigned sadness. Dean knows he's going to die, and he's finally starting to realize what that'll do to Sam. Bobby shakes his head, closes his eyes. They'll find a way to save Dean. They have to.

Dean's memory of the last few days before he got hurt is sketchy—of course it is, with a head injury that bad—and he recalls nothing at all of those hours out in the woods. But he does remember what that bartender said right before they tried to kill him, and he tells it to Bobby and Ellen, his voice a rasp, throat still raw from the respirator.

Dean's face is already looking a little better, swelling going down, bone starting to mend beneath the surface. One eyelid is droopy, though, and his smile doesn't quite lift both sides of his mouth. Doctor says it's temporary. Says Sam will regain feeling in his left hand, too, with time. It was a close thing, and Bobby can't help wondering how many more times these boys are gonna make it out in one piece.

"They took m' car, Bobby," Dean slurs. His gaze shifts to Ellen, eyes mournful as a kicked hound. "Fuckers took m' car." Like that's the worst thing they did, like it trumps the fact that they broke his skull and shot his brother.

Muscles jump in Bobby's jaw, but he just pats Dean's arm awkwardly and says, "Don't worry about it, Dean. We'll get it back for you. You just get some rest." He glances at Ellen, and the look in her eyes makes him damn glad she's on his side. The woman's a caged tiger when you push her far enough, and this definitely qualifies asfar enough.

Bobby pulls out his cell phone after he leaves Dean's room, and he sees Ellen do the same. They have favors to call in.

- - - -

(future)

The hunters will surround Timber Valley silently, in the middle of the night. By the time anyone realizes something's wrong, the hunters will have the town boxed in, forming a silent line, wielding torches and shotguns.

The townspeople will be rudely awakened by the loud revving of an engine. When they wander outside in PJ's and slippers, indignant questions on their lips, they'll see the Impala parked at the edge of town, Ellen in the driver's seat. Then they'll see the torches and guns, and they'll begin to realize the enormity of their mistake.

Bobby will answer their questions before they have time to ask. "You've got an hour to get out, and keep goin' until you're a long, long way from here," he'll say. "The critter you people've been feedin' your kids to is already dead. Anybody still here in an hour will be joining it."

"Why?" A housewife will ask tearfully, holding close the two children she didn't sacrifice to a monster. "Why are you doing this?"

Bobby will smile coldly, torchlight reflecting in his eyes, and he'll frighten her more in that moment than the monster ever did. "Because," he'll say, his gaze flicking over to the reclaimed Impala. "Because you screwed with the wrong hunters."

The blaze will be visible for miles. No one will ever find out what caused it, or why the town was deserted before it even began.

Timber Valley will never be rebuilt.

(end)