K Hanna Korossy
Something woke him up, and he really didn't want to wake up.
Sam turned his head and grunted as the room turned with him. Great. Considering everything was white, too, that didn't make it hard to guess where he was. At least his head didn't feel like it was going to float away or his body like it was skewered. Small blessings.
The lights flickered above him.
That was what had woken him, Sam realized. The TV also was flashing on and off, and there was the staticky prickle of electrical current in the air. Spirit, Sam dropped his head back to the pillow with a groan.
The light above him went out completely.
Not good. He quickly opened his eyes again, pushed himself up a little, riding out the wave of weakness. "Dean?"
No answer. The TV settled on a shopping channel, the gratingly loud voice babbling on about china animals.
"Dean?" Sam called again, because when he was in the hospital, his brother usually couldn't be pried away from him. But the room was an otherwise empty single, the bathroom door standing open. Dean was probably on a coffee break, or a nurse break. Terrific.
The lights flickered again, and ozone filled the air.
Sam shoved himself upright as fast as he could manage, closing his eyes as everything spun. Now was so not the time. His head ached but was clear enough to know he had to move, and his body felt bruised and sore but intact. There were no leads on him or—thank God—a catheter, just a simple IV he made quick work of. Why was he even in the hospital? Dean had treated him for less in the Winchester clinic.
Sam swung his legs off the bed. There were no shoes or slippers in the room; no clothes of any kind in sight, in fact, besides a thin hospital robe draped over the end of the bed. He grabbed it as he rested his bare feet on the icy tile floor and slowly slid off, testing his weight.
His right knee buckled. Only grabbing at the bed railing saved him from a really embarrassing fall.
Sam groaned, pulling up the bottom of his gown. His knee was in a soft brace, the thigh above it so purple and blue, it was nearly black.
So that was why he was there.
Sam levered himself up again, all his weight on his good leg, and tried again. The right leg was minimally weight-bearing, but anything more than resting his foot on the ground hurt like someone was trying to twist his femur out of its socket. He blew out a frustrated breath.
The exhalation fogged in the cold air.
"Time to go," Sam muttered, and hop-dragged over to the door. The little jolts weren't making his leg happy, either, but it couldn't have it both ways, and at least the floor was listing but no longer whirling. He'd take what he could get.
Sam shrugged on the robe as he peered out into the hallway. He'd still been half-hoping to spot Dean close by, chatting it up at the nurses' station or leaning against the wall and watching the people go by as he gauged each one for potential risk, and hotness. But the hallway was nearly empty, and Sam realized why as the overhead lights briefly flicked on and off. Monitors wailed shrilly from several rooms.
He hovered, torn. If whatever this was wasn't after him, taking off would just leave those defenseless people even more defenseless. On the other hand, if he was the target—and, really, when wasn't he?—then staying there was just putting everyone else at risk. Stay or go? And where the heck was Dean?
At the end of the hallway, in front of double elevator doors, a transparent form coalesced. Burning white eyes immediately latched on to Sam, and a skeletal hand rose to point at him.
Well, that answered one question. Although if Dean were there, he would have been asking what old movie this ghost had seen to get that clichéd move from.
Sam really wished his brother were there.
No time for that now, though. Thankfully, a railing ran along the length of the hallway, and Sam leaned hard on it as he took off in the opposite direction of the ghost.
Okay, plans. Running wouldn't get him far on two legs, let alone one. He had no weapons. Spirits often respected holy ground; would a hospital chapel count? Probably not. Might be some holy water there, though. No, wait, that was for demons, not spirits. Why couldn't he think straight?
His feet were numb from the cold and his breath hadn't stopped crystallizing. The temperature drop was following him and made his fingers ache and stiffen. One slipped off the railing as he made a turn, and Sam smacked his chin against the wall, coming down hard on his bad leg as he stumbled.
"Oh, God," he groaned, involuntary tears springing to his eyes as he leaned hard on the bar. His leg pulsed of pain up through his body into his head, until it was quite possible it would burst from the pressure. That would show Dean.
Sam breathed through clenched teeth until the sparkles cleared from his vision and he could stand without doubling over. The cold was starting to leach into his bones; he had to get out of there. Setting his jaw, he started hobbling again.
A food cart full of lunch trays stood against the wall in front of him. Blocking the railing, and Sam cursed under his breath until he realized what else was on the cart. A bowl of salt packets.
The robe had no pockets. Naturally.
Sam half-limped, half-hopped to the cart and grabbed the bowl. Every tray had a roll in a plastic bag on it, and Sam impatiently dumped out a bun and poured the packets into the bag. It would have to do. Hanging on to the cart edges so hard, the dishes rattled, Sam managed to get around it and back to his railing.
Okay, he had salt. The only other thing that he maybe could find to protect himself was iron. But where would he find actual iron in a hospital?
Sam's eyes fixed on the impossible prize of the stairway door, the answer suddenly obvious. The same place he could go to get away from the other patients and not put them in harm's way: the boiler room.
Sam hobbled a little faster, feeling the caress of static charge on the back of his neck.
He had to sort of fling himself at the door to clear the stretch of intersecting hallway that had no railing to cross it, and Sam pressed his cheek hard against the relatively warm wood. His thoughts started to slide away into twilight. His body was so heavy, so tired, his leg a dull, hot throb of pain. He just wanted sleep; let Dean take care of the spirit.
Something soft swished and scraped in the hallway behind him.
Sam startled, almost losing his balance. A hand grasped his arm, and he turned back enough to see a middle-aged woman with a kind face. She was frowning at him with concern.
"Are you all right?"
Not a nurse. Sam caught his breath. "Yeah. Yes, thank you, I'm good. Just…doctor said I should get some exercise." He tried out a smile. "Thank you."
She nodded uncertainly, still watching him. Her breath was little puffs of mist.
Something white and tattered floated up behind her.
"Uh, I have to go," Sam said quickly, and pushed the stairway door open.
The stairs stretched out below him, at least three flights down. He groaned. If Winchesters didn't have bad luck… Taking a breath and cursing Dean inside his head, Sam leaned heavily on the metal banister and started down.
There was no good way to do this. His bad leg didn't want to bear any weight at all, which let out even limping down the stairs. The only thing that worked was holding his leg up and hopping down step after step on the other. Each landing rattled him with pain, and his bare feet threatened to slip even on the corrugated rubber. By the first landing, Sam was panting and sweaty, which only made him colder.
This was not turning out to be one of his better moments.
The stupid thing was, he couldn't even remember how it had all started. Something about a salt-and-burn, but beyond vague memories of digging in a graveyard—and that could describe just about any week in his life these days—and Dean yelling, there was nothing until he'd woken up for the spirit's visit. And he doubted the fact he and Dean had been trying to put a spirit to rest was any coincidence here. But then why was it still…?
Oh, God. Sam froze on the stairway, half-bent around the railing. The spirit's presence, Dean's absence: one explanation covered it all. What if Dean had been hurt, too, as badly or worse than he? Unable to finish the job, maybe even unable to help Sam…
Sam's frantic breathing had nothing to do with the cold or his labored pace now. Dean could be somewhere else in the hospital, hurt and helpless, unconscious or wondering where Sam was. Or he could still be at the graveyard, injured and hidden. Why hadn't he tried calling Dean while he'd still been in the room near a phone?
Sam gritted his teeth and clenched a hand tight on the railing. This wasn't helping. There were a lot of other explanations here, and assuming the worst wouldn't do either of them any good. He had to believe Dean was out there fixing this, probably detained because of it. Sam just had to hang on and keep himself safe until his brother finished. Even that was turning out to be a real challenge, let alone thinking about helping Dean. Sam just had to trust his brother.
He caught his breath, slowed his heart rate. He could do that. He'd been doing that all his life.
Squaring his shoulders, Sam kept going: hopping, wincing, moving. White fluttered at the edges of his vision, but Sam grit his teeth and kept going.
It actually was three stories, and by the bottom he was tempted to keep going, sink right to the floor and stay there. It wouldn't be the spirit that killed him, but rather the cold that had robbed his extremities of any sensation and the pain that lazily jabbed into his body from his leg. Sam shook sweaty hair out of his eyes, focused with difficulty on the door marked "boiler room," and stumbled forward.
At the door, hunter instinct prevailed over the mud in his mind. Sam swung his head around, found nothing on himself that could be used as a calling card. All he had was the salt, and with trembling fingers he reached in and pulled out a packet. No time for finesse: Sam tore it in half, dumping the crystals in the bag. He jammed the wrapper tightly into the edge of the metal doorknob. Dean would get it.
Sam marshaled his strength, then opened the door and heaved himself inside.
The basement was dark and humidly warm. Sam's chilled body trembled harder from the possibility of heat, and it took two tries for him to find the light. The naked light bulbs that came on were meager at best, but that was okay, so was his eyesight. Sam squinted, then struggled on.
Iron. The boilers were quiet possibly made of the stuff, but he needed something portable, something he could wield. Sam halfheartedly tested a few levers, finding them either too light or too firmly attached. How hard was it to find iron? Toys used to be made from it; farm equipment relied on it heavily; the railroads had been founded on the metal. Funny how there were so many haunted trains. They should look into that sometime, how the iron didn't scare away—
Sam cursed. His mind was drifting, and it was getting harder to focus. Iron. He needed…
The box of parts sitting right by the boiler.
The lights above wavered and steadied. Sam ignored them, hopping forward, leaning on convenient pieces of machinery as he went until he could finally grab onto the cardboard box. Inside it were all kinds of spare pieces, either old equipment not yet trashed or new not installed: Sam didn't care. All that mattered was the bar sticking out from the mess.
Sam pulled it out, weak muscles straining against the weight. It wasn't that big, but solid iron was heavy, and Sam wasn't exactly at his best. Still, the solid mass of it was a reassuring drag as it hung at his side.
Salt and iron. Now he just needed a place to take his stand. And close, because he was pretty sure he couldn't go much farther.
Dark shadows extended in all directions, and as Sam looked up tiredly, he saw the soft line of frost trail across the box of parts at his feet. Crystal white flowered and flowed along the pieces of metal, toward him.
Sam stumbled back, slumping briefly against a wall when he put too much weight on his leg, and he quickly looked around. There. A small alcove in the wall, maybe four by four. Defensible and close.
He dragged himself the last bit of distance, moaning under each breath.
To sit was heaven even though it took some adjusting before his leg wasn't screaming at the new exercise. Sam dropped the iron bar by his leg and dumped out the salt packets onto the frigid concrete floor. With shaking hands, he tore open several packets at a time, pouring them out on the floor, drawing a thin line of protection from one side of the open alcove to the other. He had to stretch to reach past his bad leg, rigidly outstretched in its brace.
White descended into his view, shreds of clothing blowing in an unfelt breeze.
Sam peered at it, trying to recognize features, jog his memory. All he felt was the low-grade prickle of fear, though. "Come back for more?" he growled, and lifted the iron bar.
The spirit retreated, shining eyes weighing Sam.
He tried to keep the salt going one-handed, but it was impossible to tear the packets open and his teeth wouldn't be fast enough. Glaring at the waiting ghost, daring it to make a move, Sam eased the iron bar down and tore the tops of a half-dozen packets off, then a half-dozen more.
The spirit suddenly swung to the right, where no salt had been laid yet. Sam grabbed the iron bar, straining against its weight, and swung.
There was a shriek, and the apparition flickered out.
Breathing a silentthank-you, Sam went back to dumping salt.
Even in the two dozen or so packets he had, there was barely enough to make a thin line across the end of the alcove. But Sam finally succeeded, the narrow, unbroken barrier of protection raised. Exhausted, he sank back against the rear wall of his fortress, lifted the heavy bar into his lap, and waited.
The lights went out, returned. The temperature seemed to drop a few degrees more, although he was so cold already, it didn't matter much. Sam pulled the useless robe tighter around himself and kept watching.
The white slowly re-formed in front of his little sanctuary. Hateful white eyes scalded him where he sat, but every time the spirit darted forward, the salt repelled it.
Sam's mouth inched up. "You think that's bad, wait until you see what my brother does to you." He hoped.
The spirit hovered just outside the alcove, staring at him. Several long minutes of stand-off passed, the two of them eyeing each other warily.
And then suddenly, with a banshee wail, the ghost darted up and disappeared.
Sam's shocked body snapped back to alert, iron bar tight in his grip.
Oddly, the spirit's disappearance made him more uneasy than its presence. Was it planning something? It could, theoretically, come through the walls behind Sam, although most spirits seemed to stick to open doors and corridors as if they were still people. Perhaps the habits of a lifetime of living were hard to break even in death. Or was it going after Dean now? If he really was in the hospital somewhere, laid up, he was even more vulnerable than Sam. If he'd saved himself at Dean's cost…
"Shut up!" Sam snapped at himself. He couldn't think that way. Dean was…there were a lot of possibilities. Really. If he could just rest a little, he could think of some. But his brother was…he really was. Out there, probably worried about him.
Sam had no watch, and the basement no clock. Despite his worry, his eyelids kept inching down, exhaustion and weakness taking their toll, the languor of fatigue providing the only warmth he felt. But Sam fought it, counting minutes in his head, then rituals, then cryptids, to stay awake and focused. If the ghost was still out there, one stray breeze or rat and he was defenseless again.
The unexpected voice made him gasp and press back against the wall, iron bar raised defensively.
The shadow that loomed in the opening of the alcove quickly shrank. Crouching down to eye level, but instead of glowing white, dark hazel raked him. "Sammy? You wanna put that down?"
He squinted at the new arrival, uncomprehending.
"Sam? You okay?" The figure leaned forward, and the iron bar was tugged from his grip.
Sam fought it for a moment, before realizing anything that could cross the salt wasn't— He blinked, frowning. "Dean?"
"Dude, you know how many floors this hospital has? Next time, leave a note or something."
He let go the iron bar, barely hearing it clink as it dropped it to the floor. "Dean. Thank God. I c-couldn't let it hurt anyone—had to lead it away." Warm hands were on his face, his neck, his chest and feet. "Found some s-salt on the lunch cart, but I w-wasn't sure about holy ground, and everything's made of s-steel today or these stupid alloys…" Warm body slipping close, and its proximity alone untensed him like a loosened bow. "An' the lights kept flickering and-and it was so friggin' c-cold—" Warm jacket wrapping around his body, and Sam's eyes sank shut in utter relief. "There was iron down here, but I wasn't sure it would be enough and you weren't there—" He flagged, and a warm arm eased him down onto his left side, his aching head finding a denim-clad leg to rest on. "An'…an'… God, I'm tired."
Warm palm on the side of his head. "Take it easy, Sam. We'll get you back upstairs in a bed in a few minutes, okay?" There were small sounds, movements, then his brother's voice, distant, asking for the number of a hospital.
Sam frowned. "I thought you were down, man. I thought I was c-cutting it loose to go after you."
"I'm fine—we had the wrong grave. I had to go back to do it again. Sorry, bro, didn't think it would come after you while I was gone. I wouldn't have left you alone if I'd known." There was rare regret in Dean's brother's voice.
"I'm good," Sam murmured. He was oddly comfortable, actually, propped up on his brother's outstretched leg. His feet were still cold, but Dean's strong fingers were rubbing some heat back into them, and every other complaint had died to a low hum. His mouth twitched lazily. "Dean, are you…cuddling me?"
"Dude, are you a girl? Who's the one lying half in my lap?" The chafing didn't stop.
Another brief conversation that didn't seem meant for him but that seemed to involve sending help down to the basement and an exasperated, "Yes,your basement," on Dean's part. And then Dean was sliding a hand between Sam's wet bangs and his chilly skin. "Dude, you're like a popsicle." He sounded halfway between amusement and concern.
Sam shifted. On the other hand, his brother was an oven. Sam sagged into him to soak up a little more heat. He'd probably get all kinds of grief for it later from Dean, but right now he couldn't bring himself to care at all. "Dean?"
Sam sighed, content to stay there forever on the hospital basement floor beside his brother. "Next time, leave me a shotgun."
"Sure," Dean agreed amiably, palming Sam's eyes shut.
Safe in the companionable quiet, Sam dozed.