SUMMARY: Mother Nature and an angry spirit complicate a routine salt and burn, with life-threatening consequences for Sam and Dean.

A/N: This story features the two boys, some patented Winchester whumpage and the hurt/comfort that ensues. It takes place mid-to-late Season Two but before THE DEAL and after my last fic, Bridging Two Solitudes. If you haven't read that story, the only thing you need to know is Sam's knee injury was sustained in that fic. Hope you enjoy.

GRAVE CONSEQUENCES

Sam was drenched. The rain that started just before the Impala pulled up to the rusted iron gates of the cemetery had quickly turned into a steady downpour.

A crack of lightning split the sky, briefly turning night into day and sending harsh shadows tilting and twisting from behind the weathered gravestones. The loud rumble of thunder followed almost immediately, placing the storm directly overhead.

Sam's hair was plastered to his head, water dripping off his bangs and running down his face, his neck and under his collar. Shivering, he wiped a shaky hand across his face to clear the water from his eyes.

His jacket had long since given up being waterproof; his shirt and T-shirt underneath soaked through and clinging to his skin. He clenched and unclenched his fingers around the shotgun he held, trying to restore feeling to his cold-numbed hands.

Lightning flashed again and Sam warily scanned the cemetery, searching the shadows for any sign of threat, before his eyes quickly returned to his brother. Dean was a mess, caked in mud from head to foot. Standing in the open grave, illuminated by the camping lantern they had placed in front of the dilapidated headstone, only his head and shoulders were now visible above the ground. After more than an hour of digging, he was close to unearthing the coffin that held the remains of Ezra Crandall.

Crandall's spirit had been making life hell for the construction crew of a strip mall on the edge of town. The old Crandall homestead had been razed to make way for the mall and Ezra had expressed his displeasure by causing numerous accidents on site. His attacks were becoming increasingly violent and the latest had been fatal.

Called in by the foreman, it had taken the Winchesters little time to identify the angry spirit and track down his gravesite. Dispatching him seemed like a simple salt and burn until Mother Nature threw in a torrential downpour to complicate matters.

Shivering, Sam limped forward. He frowned at the water running down the growing pile of dirt Dean had tossed from the grave, the drips joining forces to become a trickle, the trickles teaming up to become a steady stream. Slowly, steadily, the grave was filling with water.

"Dean – there's a lot of water in there."

Dean stopped digging and turned to glare at his brother, his face red from exertion despite the chill in the air, his breath clouding with each tired exhale. He scrubbed a hand through his hair, sending water droplets flying. "Your Stanford education help you figure that out?"

Sam rolled his eyes at Dean. "My point is, it'll pretty hard to burn Crandall's remains if the casket is under water."

Dean shook his head. "It's just surface water. Most of it is soaking into the dirt. We might have a problem if we were trying to burn the casket but what's inside should be dry, as long as we do this quick. Besides…," Dean started digging again, "since only one of us is in any shape to dig right now, we're finishing this tonight. No way in hell am I filling this in to try again another day. "

Sam glanced down at the bulky immobilizing brace encasing his right knee. He'd torn the ligaments a month earlier during a confrontation with an angry spirit. Daily physical therapy since then had strengthened the damaged ligaments to the point he no longer needed crutches but he was nowhere near up to withstanding the rigors of grave digging. That put physical labor solely in Dean's hands.

Dean dragged the back of his hand across his face, smearing dirt with sweat and rainwater, then resumed digging. Three shovelfuls of sloppy mud later he was rewarded with a hollow-sounding thud as his shovel hit wood.

"Yahtzee." He smiled tiredly at Sam, then tossed the shovel out of the grave.

Dean stepped forward and slipped, losing traction in the slick mud beneath his feet. He pitched forward, landing face first on top of the mud-covered casket.

Sam moved quickly to the edge of the grave, staring worriedly down at his brother. "You okay?"

Dean pushed himself up and stared up at Sam, the whites of his eyes a stark contrast to his mud-encrusted face. His once grey T-shirt was now dark brown and mud caked his bare arms and his sodden jeans. "Peachy."

Dean pushed himself up and clumsily regained his footing.

Sam bit back a smile. "You know, there are women who pay thousands of dollars for spa treatments where they end up looking pretty much like you do now."

"Bite me." Dean's eyes flashed but there was no heat in his anger. "Just pass the kerosene and let's get this done."

Sam grinned as he limped to the side of the gravestone where Dean had dropped their duffle bag. He bent down stiffly, wincing at the pull on his knee, and grabbed the can of kerosene. He tossed it to Dean then reached back into the bag for the canister of salt. He stood up and turned back toward the grave as a sudden, brilliant flash of lightning again illuminated the graveyard.

Sam froze. The angry face of Ezra Crandall stared back at him from across the open grave.

Dean, now on his hands and knees, clearing away the last dirt from the casket lid and searching for the opening, flinched at the sound of Sam's shotgun blast. He scrambled to his feet, fighting to keep his balance as he reached behind him and pulled his gun from his waistband. His eyes darted round in search of whatever his brother was shooting at. "Crandall?"

"Yeah."

"Sonovabitch." Dean was again fighting to keep his footing on the slick coffin lid as he shuffled round, searching the darkness for any sign of the angry spirit. He scrubbed his left hand over his face, clearing the rain and mud from his eyes, then glanced at Sam. The canister of salt lay at his brother's feet where he'd dropped it to fire the shotgun at the spirit. "You see him?"

Sam shook his head, then gestured to a large, ornate headstone about six feet away. "He was over there."

Dean followed Sam's gesture, scanning the area warily. Seeing nothing, he again wiped the rain from his face and blinked to clear his vision. The light from their lantern spilled little more than five feet from the grave Dean was standing in. Anything beyond that was quickly lost where shadow blended into night. "You hit him?"

"Think so." Sam shrugged, fingers again clenching and unclenching his shotgun. "It's pitch black and pissing rain……The only thing I'm sure of is he disappeared." He glanced at Dean. "I…..Let's wrap this up and get the hell outta here."

Dean nodded, then clicked on the safety of his gun and re-stashed it in his waistband. "Pass me the salt."

Sam bent down stiffly to pick up the dropped salt container and tossed it to Dean, who caught it deftly. Sam returned his grip to the shotgun and resumed his watch for Crandall.

Dean dropped to his knees, hauled up the coffin lid and recoiled. No matter now many times he did a salt and burn, the smell of decay, up close and personal, always made him gag. Tilting the lid forward to keep the rain from soaking the inside of the casket, he shook the salt over the remains, then tossed the empty container aside. Popping the lid off the kerosene, he liberally doused the body and interior of the casket, then allowed the lid to close as he stood up.

The rain was still falling heavily. Leaving the casket lid open risked the fire being extinguished before the remains were destroyed.

He turned to look up at his brother. "Pass me a couple of those wooden stakes from the duffle." Sam limped over to the bag, pulled out the requested stakes and tossed them to Dean, his eyebrows arching quizzically.

Dean shrugged. "Just need'em to wedge open the lid. It'll keep the rain off but let the fire catch."

Securing the stakes in two corners of the casket, Dean lowered the lid on top of them then glanced up at Sam as he reached into his pocket for the pack of waterproof matches. "That should do it. Now we just ……BEHIND YOU!"

Ezra Crandall had materialized suddenly behind Sam.

Sam reacted instinctively to his brother's shouted warning. He spun quickly, raising the shotgun as he did, and came face-to-face with Crandall's menacing sneer. His finger depressed the trigger but Crandall grabbed the gun even as it fired, sending the shot wide. The spirit pulled the gun from Sam's grasp and tossed it aside before backhanding the younger Winchester, the force of the blow lifting Sam off his feet and sending him flying six feet through the air. He landed heavily, cracking his head on the marble base of an ornate grave stone.

"SAM!" Dean's reflexes were well-honed and threats to Sam made him even faster. He drew his gun from his waistband, clicked off the safety and fired all in one fluid movement – all before Sam even hit the ground. The bullet found its mark and Crandall dissipated instantly. "Sammy?"

Sam pushed himself up groggily. His vision blurred then slid back into focus, settling on his brother staring worriedly at him from inside the grave.

"Sam? You hurt?"

Sam grimaced as he ran a hand over the back of his head where a lump was already forming, then over his bruised jaw where the spirit hit him. "M'okay."

"You sure?"

Sam nodded. "Yeah. Or I will be when you torch the bastard."

Dean's eyes flashed angrily. "You got it. One crispy corpse, comin' up."

Dean re-stashed his gun then reached into his pocket for the matches. He dropped to his knees and, using the coffin lid as a shield from the rain, struck a match. He stood up quickly as he tossed the match inside the casket, flinching slightly as the kerosene caught and flames flared.

Standing in the mud at the end of the coffin, Dean dug his fingers into the slick sides of the grave to maintain his balance. The flames reflected eerily in the rain water puddling around the casket. When he was sure the contents were burning, Dean turned to climb out.

Sam smiled as the glow from the fire lit up the dark cemetery. He pushed himself unsteadily to his feet, searching the ground for the shotgun Crandall had pulled from his hands. He spotted it on the ground about 10 feet away and limped toward it. He bent down to pick it up, wincing as his knee protested the movement, then turned back toward the grave. "DEAN!"

Crandall materialized suddenly at the foot of his own grave.

Dean, halfway out of the grave, whipped his head around to see the livid face of Ezra Crandall glaring down at him. Crandall waved his hand and Dean was thrown backwards as a loud rumbling broke through the eerie quiet of the cemetery. Dean landed heavily on the casket lid, snapping the stakes holding it open. The old wood splintered under his weight as the lid slammed shut.

Sam raised the shotgun and fired, his blast finding its mark even as the purified flames inside the casket died out, having consumed the last of the spirit's earthly remains. Ezra Crandall bellowed furiously one last time before his spirit turned to ash that was quickly carried away by the rain-soaked winds.

Crandall was gone, for good this time, but not before he set in motion one last vengeful act.

The ground beneath Dean was shaking and the quiet rumbling above was quickly growing louder. Water pouring into the grave down the pile of mud suddenly sputtered then changed direction. Dean's eyes widened in horrified realization. The pile of mud he'd dug from the grave was tumbling back in on top of him.

Dean rolled frantically onto his stomach and tried to push himself up but the fire-weakened wood beneath him gave way suddenly. He lurched forward, his hands crashing through the coffin lid, jagged splinters driving into his wrists, his chin slamming into the shattered wood. Stunned by the blow, Dean moved strictly on instinct. He tried to pull his hands free, wincing as the wood shards bit into his hands and wrists. He shifted his weight to his elbows but the wood beneath them gave way, enlarging the hole in the coffin lid.

He sensed movement above him, but could only turn his face away as the whole pile of sodden dirt came down on top of him.

The spirit-fuelled mudslide had taken mere seconds. Sam had watched Crandall dissipate, relief quickly replaced by horror as he saw the pile of mud shift then tumble into the grave, burying his brother.

"DEAN!" Heart slamming against his chest, Sam stumbled to the edge of the grave in which his brother had been standing just seconds earlier.

"No…no….no….no…." Sam grabbed the shovel and, knee loudly protesting, frantically began to dig. The dirt was wet and heavy, each shovelful taxing the muscles in his shoulders and arms.

Sam's heart was pounding loudly against his ribs. He dug steadily, rhythmically, ignoring his harsh breathing and escalating pain in his knee. The mantra "be okay, be okay, be okay…." ran on a loop through his head.

His feet slipped and slid in the sloppy mud, but he kept digging. He ignored the lightning, the thunder and the steady downpour. His only focus was Dean – getting to his brother, getting him out.

He swallowed as he thought about his brother trapped under the dirt. How much air did he have? How long before he suffocated? Was he even alive?

"No. Don't think that. Don't think that.." Sam admonished himself as he kept digging. "You're okay, Dean……You'll be okay….. You have to be…….."

Shovelful by shovelful, Sam tossed the mud aside. Even in his worry-fuelled panic, the logical side of his brain was calculating how long Dean could survive buried alive. It had taken Dean nearly an hour of steady digging to clear Crandall's grave. The ground was soft, the dirt containing more sand than clay, which made for comparatively easy digging but, still, an hour was too long. Dean couldn't survive an hour without air.

Sam had grown up thinking Dean was indestructible. He'd seen him battered, bruised, cut up, even shot and stabbed but he always bounced back. The events of the past year - the confrontation with their possessed father, the crash with the demon-driven semi, Sam's own possession - had all sorely tested that belief but Dean had survived. There were scars, of course, both physical and emotional, but even the anger and grief over their Dad's deal to save Dean's life had ultimately been pushed back behind the emotional armor his brother slipped on with the same ease as his leather coat.

"You take too many chances," Sam had said after one close call. "You're not Superman."

Dean had just grinned. "Damn straight. No way in hell would you catch me wearing tights. And no funky green rock is gonna take down Dean Winchester."

Sam raised an eyebrow. "A little cocky, don't you think?"

Dean's grin widened. "Not cocky, Sammy. Confident. I know my job. I do it well. Bad guys don't stand a chance."

Sam threw out another shovelful of dirt and his leg slipped as he shifted, sending searing pain from his knee up his leg. He bit back a cry and kept on digging. Every second counted. The faster he got to Dean, the better the chances Dean would be alright.

Sam picked up the pace. His chest was heaving from the exertion. He was cold, wet, tired and in pain but none of that mattered. Dean was in trouble and he was the only one who could save him. And he had to save him. He had to.

Dean's bravado was an act, a defence mechanism. Sam knew that. The tragedies that marked their lives, too many of them, - their mother's death, their father's obsession with the Yellow-Eyed Demon, the murder of family friends Caleb and Pastor Jim, their father's sacrifice - all played a role in eating away at Dean's self-worth. They also made him that much more protective of Sam, determined to keep him safe. Every time Sam got hurt, Dean saw it as a personal failure.

Sam didn't. Dean was the one constant in his life; the one person he could always count on, even when they were butting heads. God, how many times had Dean thrown himself into the line of fire to save Sam?

He knew Dean trusted him to cover his back on a hunt but his brother had grown so used to looking out for Sam, it was a hard role to relinquish. Even now, when Sam was bigger and faster than Dean, and more than capable of looking out for himself, Dean held tightly to his self-appointed role as Sam's protector.

"I'm the big brother," he'd said simply, when Sam had once pressed him on it. "That's what we do."

But here, now, Sam had to look out for Dean. There was no one else. No Dad. No Bobby. Just Sam. And he couldn't fail Dean. He wouldn't.

Sam shifted his weight, throwing dirt to the opposite side of the grave. Pain flared again in his knee but Sam simply bit his lip, muffling the unsolicited groan, and concentrated on digging. His feet slipped and slid in the mud as fought to maintain his balance. His breathing was harsh and rapid as he pushed himself to dig faster.

The muscles in his arms and legs were trembling with exertion. Sam let out a yell of frustration, channeling the adrenaline it released into his tired limb. Shovelful by shovelful, he dug deeper into the grave. Each shovelful of dirt he threw out got him closer to Dean, but would he be in time? He had to be.

"Dean, you hang on. Don't you dare die on me. Don't you dare."

Still Sam kept digging. His chest was heaving noticeably with each swing of the shovel. The rain was constant and steady but Sam was oblivious to the chill. His only conscious thoughts were of Dean, of finding him, of saving him.

Sam had no idea how long he'd been digging when his shovel bit into the mud and hit something soft. He froze, adam's apple bobbing as he swallowed to steady his harsh breathing.

"Dean?" Sam tossed aside the shovel and dropped awkwardly to his knees, his braced knee stuck out to the side as he scrabbed in the dirt with his bare hands. His heart was pounding against his chest as he pulled aside the sloppy dirt and uncovered a scrap of fabric that, even mud-covered and hidden in the shadow of the grave, he recognized instantly as his brother's shirt. Sam kept digging with his hands, the dirt cold and wet, but each handful he pulled aside revealed more and more of his brother's prone form. Sam's rapid pace became frantic when he uncovered a shoulder and realized he was close. So close.

Pulling aside more dirt revealed the back of his brother's head. Quickly but gently he pulled aside more and more dirt, until Dean's head was clear of the mud. His brother was lying on his stomach, his face pressed into the splintered lid of Crandall's casket.

Sam's eyes widened, as he realized what he was seeing. Dean's face was pressed against a hole in the casket lid. If there was air trapped inside the casket, Dean may have been able to breathe, even while trapped under the mud.

"Dean?"

Predictably there was no response. Sam swallowed, hope and dread fighting a battle in his head. The air pocket inside the casket should have given Dean a fighting chance, and Sam knew his brother was a fighter. Or had the fire they'd set to burn Crandall's remains eaten up all the oxygen, leaving Dean nothing to breathe.

"Dude, come on. Gimme something."

Sam placed shaky fingers on Dean's neck, searching for a pulse. His own heart skipped a beat when he found one. It was faint and slow, but Dean's heart was still beating.

Sam's sigh of relief was audible. "You keep fighting, Dean. You hear me. You keep fighting."

He bent his head close to Dean's face, listening for any sign of breathing. There was none. He placed his hand in front of Dean's mouth, hoping to feel a hint of warm breath against his cold hands. He didn't.

"Dammit, Dean."

Sam knew he needed to start rescue breathing, get Dean breathing on his own before his heart stopped. But he couldn't breathe for Dean given the position his brother was currently wedged in. Sam's digging became frantic again, scrabbing through the dirt to free Dean's back and legs, uttering reassurances as he did so, as much for himself as for his brother.

Finally, Dean was free. Sam gently but quickly rolled him onto his back, tilted his head back and began rescue breathing. With each breath, Sam saw Dean's chest rise as his brother's lungs filled with the air he provided. But each time Sam stopped, Dean's chest stilled.

Sam lost track of all time, of everything except breathing for his brother and willing him to take a breath. He turned his head, ready to breathe for Dean yet again when he sensed something had changed. Sam's eyes locked on Dean's chest, a smile of relief spreading slowly across his face at the slight rise and fall. Dean was breathing – on his own.

Sam laughed, fighting back tears as the emotions his single-minded determination to save Dean had kept at bay threatened to break loose. He collapsed at the side of his brother and ran a shaky hand across Dean's head. "Dean. Come on, man. I need you to wake up."

Dean didn't move. Caked in mud and lying still, deathly still, he was barely recognizable as his larger-than-life brother. Sam's hand slid to Dean's chest. He closed his eyes as he felt the soft, slow but steady beating of his brother's heart. His own heart, slamming against his chest, slowed as the adrenaline dissipated until in beat in sync with Dean's.

Sam patted Dean's chest, then dragged the back of arm across his face and blinked to clear the rain and mud from his vision. He shivered, suddenly aware of how cold he was. God, Dean must be cold too. They needed to get out of there. He needed to get Dean help.

Dean was breathing and his heart was beating. Beyond that, Sam had no idea as to the extent of his brother's injuries. Quickly, he checked him over. Dean's wrists and hands were torn and bloody, the blood mixing indistinguishably with the mud that caked them, but, as far as Sam could tell, there were no broken bones.

Wincing, Sam pushed himself up. Bracing his feet on either side of the grave, he reached down, grabbed Dean's arms and hauled him to a sitting position, and then to his feet. He then bent forward to throw his brother over his shoulder in a fireman's carry. He staggered under Dean's weight, his injured knee protesting loudly. He grabbed for the side of the grave with his free hand and huffed out a breath three times to force back the pain sparking in his knee and find his balance.

With a grunt, he hefted Dean up onto the ground at the side of the grave and lowered him gently down. He grabbed the shovel and tossed it out of the grave and then pulled himself out after it. Sitting on the ground beside his brother, he paused a moment to get his breathing under control and glanced down at this braced knee. He knew he'd reinjured it, that without the immobilizing brace there was no way it would support his own weight, let alone his brother's too.

He closed his eyes and blew out a long, slow breath. It would have to hold up just a little while longer, just until he got Dean to the car. He said a silent thanks that, because of the weather, Dean had insisted on cutting the chain off the cemetery gates and driving to within a few hundred feet of the grave, rather than leaving the car outside the cemetery as they usually did.

Sam glanced down at Dean, lying too still on the muddy grass beside him. He leaned down and placed a shaky hand on his brother's chest, needing the reassurance that his heart was still beating, his lungs still pumping. He relaxed a little when he sensed the slight rise and fall beneath his fingers, felt the slow, steady 'lub-dub' of Dean's heart beating.

His hand remained on is brother's chest. "Dude, you'd make it a lot easier on both of us if you woke up right now."

Dean didn't move. Sam knew it was wishful thinking but it was the optimist in him, needing a happy ending, that he'd never quite been able to tame. Whenever they settled into a new motel room, Dean would grab the remote and scan through the available channels. Unfailingly he'd turn to Sam and say, "Perfect. Casa Erotica for me, the Hallmark Channel for you."

Sam smiled. Except for his time at Stanford, he couldn't remember a day when Dean wasn't teasing him about something. It was just, well, Dean.

Sam's smile turned into a grimace as he pushed himself clumsily to his feet. He groaned loudly as he again pulled Dean up before hefting him over his shoulder. He stumbled then gritted his teeth as his knee protested both the movement and the additional weight. Regaining his balance, Sam moved off slowly toward the car.

Normally the brothers covered their tracks, filled in a grave so the authorities were none-the-wiser, but there was no time for that now. Dean was the priority. The rain, which showed no signs of letting up, would hopefully wash away any footprints and tire tracks. Once Dean was settled in the car, Sam would grab their duffle and shovel, anything with their fingerprints on it, but the groundskeeper could puzzle over the grave desecration in the morning.

A smile broke through Sam's grimace as he reached the Impala. Both of them were soaking wet and plastered in mud; they were about to make one helluva mess inside his brother's beloved car.

"Sorry, Dean," Sam muttered, as he pulled open the passenger door and lowered his brother gently into the front seat, "but I think your baby has to take one for the team."

xxxXXXxxx

Dean groaned and stretched as he fought to pull open his eyes. He listened, expecting to hear the clicking of keyboard keys or the sound of running water, both signs Sam, a terminal early riser, was already up and moving around. He sniffed, hoping for the aroma of coffee. But the only sound was a shrill, steady beeping; the only smell the unmistakable scent of antiseptic.

Crap. Dean knew the signs all too well. He peeled open his eyes and squinted against the harsh light. Pale green walls, drop ceiling, pale green blanket. Yup. Hospital room.

When his eyes found focus they settled on the machine at the left side of his bed which beeped out his heart rate and God knows what else. At least he had a heart rate. That was always a good sign. He scrubbed a hand over his face and frowned as it collided with plastic tubing under his nose. His frown deepened as he pulled off the oxygen canula and realized his hand and wrist were bandaged and there was an IV taped to his arm near his elbow.

Double crap. He rolled his head across the pillow and grimaced at the pasty taste in his mouth. He stilled instantly when his eyes fell on his brother, sitting at the side of the bed. Sam's eyes were closed, his head forward, chin resting on his chest. The soft, steady breathing told him Sam was sound asleep.

Dean smiled, his hand shooting out to smack his brother on the shoulder. "Hey, Sammy. Wakey-wakey." Dean cleared his throat; his voice sounded rough and hoarse. "I need a little 411 here."

Sam's head shot up at the sound of his brother's voice, his eyes blinking dazedly, a sleepy smile spreading across his face.

Dean's smile softened. Sam looked five when he did that. A giant five, perhaps, but in the twilight between sleep and wake there were still remnants of innocence their screwed-up life had yet to steal away.

Sam grimaced as he shifted in his seat, then scrubbed a hand over his face. His smile returned as he looked at Dean. "How you feelin'?"

Dean ignored the question when he realized Sam was sitting in a wheelchair, his immobilized right leg stuck out in front of him supported by the foot rest. "Why are you in that thing?"

"What?" Sam was too busy soaking in the fact his brother was awake and talking to comprehend what he was saying.

"That thing." Dean's big brother worry was unmistakable. Forget the fact he was the one in the hospital bed; his focus was solely on Sam. "Why are you in a wheelchair?"

Sam rolled his eyes at Dean's overprotective streak. "It's nothing. You…"

"Sam. If it was nothing, you wouldn't be in that chair. Spill."

Sam shook his head, amazed at how much Dean sounded like Dad when he was worried. He sighed, staring down at his hands. "It's my knee. I screwed it up again digging you out."

"Digging me…." The events at the cemetery suddenly tumbled through Dean's head; the confrontation with Crandall's spirit, the mudslide crashing down on top of him. His eyes widened as he turned to Sam. "You dug me out? You're not supposed to be digging." It was habit. The words spilled from Dean's mouth before he realized what he was saying.

Sam snorted. "It's not like I had a choice, Dean. That bastard Crandall buried you alive."

Dean shifted uncomfortably as he realized what had happened. He had no memories between the mud falling down on him and waking up a few moments earlier in this hospital room. He swallowed as looked over at his brother. "I should be dead, Sammy."

Sam smiled softly. "I know you don't believe in angels, but something's looking out for you. Your face was pressed against the broken coffin lid. I think there was enough of an air pocket inside to keep you breathing until I could dig you out."

Dean swallowed as he took in what Sam was saying. "That's not angels. That's dumb luck."

Sam shrugged. "Either way, you're still here."

"Yeah….." Dean grimaced, suddenly realizing how stiff he felt. "How long have I been in here?"

"Just overnight."

Dean lifted his bandaged hands. "What's the damage?"

"Your hands were full of splinters. The docs spent about an hour pulling them out and stitching you up." Sam shook his head. "You won't be playing the piano any time soon but no permanent damage. As for the rest of you, you're in one piece, although the docs said for the next day or so you'll probably feel like an elephant walked over you."

Dean nodded. "Okay. But if I'm good, why am I still here?"

Sam's eyes widened. "You were buried alive, Dean. And you stopped breathing. The docs wanna keep an eye on you. They checked you in for observation."

Dean waved his hand dismissively. "Well, they can observe me walking down the hall to the front doors. Get me some clothes so we can get out of here."

He groaned as he sat up, threw back the covers and dragged his legs over the side of the bed. The dizziness passed quickly but the docs were right about the elephant. He frowned, rubbing his chest, as he stared at Sam's injured leg. "Scratch that. I want to talk to the doctors about your knee. Tell'em they can quit worrying about me and take care of you."

"They already examined it." Sam braced for the explosion he knew would come when he finished his next sentence. "They kind of insisted when I couldn't stand up."

Dean's eyes narrowed, burning into Sam. "Scuze me?"

Sam cleared his throat. "I pulled into the ER bay, yelled for someone to come help you …."

"And….."

Sam sighed. Dean wasn't going to let this one go. "I kinda did a face plant getting out of the car."

Dean twisted round, grabbing his call button and pressing it repeatedly. "That's it. I need to talk to your doctor. Now."

"I'm okay, Dean."

Dean's eyebrows arched incredulously. "You're sitting in a wheelchair after just admitting you couldn't stand up. How does that add up to okay?"

Sam shuffled uncomfortably in his wheelchair and swallowed before lifting his head, his eyes meeting Dean's. "They're recommending surgery."

Dean's demeanor softened immediately. "Not rehab? That was working well."

Sam shrugged. "Yeah, but I did a real number on it this time, I guess. Without surgical repair, they don't think the ligaments can handle rehab."

Dean's gaze didn't waver. As he had so often before, Sam drew strength from the connection.

Dean nodded slowly. "What do you wanna do?"

Sam stared down at his injured knee, tapping the brace distractedly. "My options are kinda limited, Dean – surgery or limp around for the rest of my life."

"Then surgery it is."

Sam turned back to face Dean. "The recovery period's lengthy. I won't be able to hunt… I…."

"Sam." The big brother tone was back in Dean's voice. "Screw hunting. If surgery's what you need, we'll do whatever it takes to get you well. Besides, you screwed it up saving my ass so……."

"Don't." Sam's eyes flashed angrily. "Don't you dare make this your fault. You wanna blame anyone, blame Crandall. He almost killed you. He….."

"Easy Tiger." Dean placed a hand on Sam's shoulder, giving it a gentle squeeze as he smiled at his brother. "Thanks."

It was a simple word, one syllable, used so casually by so many. But here, now, from one brother to another, it meant so much more.

Sam smiled softly. "You're welcome…jerk."

Finis

A/N: Hope you enjoyed this angsty tale. It really serves as an appetizer for my next multi-chapter fic. I'm about half done and still plugging away. RL has been a bit crazy of late but I'm hoping things will calm down now and give me back my writing time. Thanks so much for reading and, please, let me know what you think. I love to hear from you.