IN GOOD HANDS
SUMMARY: A banishing gone wrong leaves Sam caring for an injured Dean. But the brothers' determination to finish the job puts both their lives in jeopardy. Two-shot, featuring whumpage, humor and a seasonal twist. Written for a monthly challenge on The Writers' Guild. For Vanessa.
DISCLAIMER: The characters of Sam and Dean Winchester belong to Monsieur Eric Kripke. I am simply encamped in his sandbox, playing with his toys. And what lovely toys they are.
RATING: Dean drops a few f-bombs early in the story when he's in pain but, beyond that, language is pretty mild.
Dean sat on the gurney, hunched forward, his face pinched with pain.
Sam paced worriedly beside him. He moved in instinctively when the blanket wrapped around his brother slipped from Dean's shoulders.
Ignoring the admonition, Sam picked up the blanket from the gurney and draped it back around Dean. "You need to stay warm. You-"
"Don't." Dean glared up at Sam, his breath hitching as another wave of pain hit. "I'm pissed, and I need to stay pissed or I'm gonna lose it."
Sam spread his arms wide. "If yelling helps, yell at me. I'm right here."
"I don't wanna yell at you." Dean closed his eyes and swallowed. As his eyes slid open again, he glanced around the ER bay and his voice became a clipped stage whisper. "I wanna bring back that fucking spirit and rip his fucking head off. But, to do that, I fucking need my hands in one piece."
In frustration, Dean yanked both hands out of the metal basin they had been soaking in, knocking the bowl off the rolling tray table that sat in front of him. The water sloshed onto the floor, the bowl clattering noisily after it. He turned to Sam, his eyes wild. "Fuck, this hurts."
Dean's hands were burned. His fingers were swollen, the skin of his palms red, peeling and covered in large blisters. They shook noticeably as he stared up at his brother in a rare, unspoken plea for something, anything, to stop the pain.
The look broke Sam. He strode to the side of the cubicle, yanked back the privacy curtain and found himself looking down at Dr. Carol Reid, the ER physician assigned to Dean's case.
The 50-something woman looked past Sam, taking in the upturned bowl on the floor and the puddle of water before turning to her agitated patient. "Dean?"
Dean's hands were shaking, even as he held his arms rigidly against his chest, but he said nothing.
Sam stepped back to Dean's side, his hand resting on his brother's back, his voice tight as he fought to control his anger. "You said you were getting him something for the pain."
Dr. Reid nodded. "I have it right here." She reached into her pocket, withdrew a syringe and nodded reassuringly at Dean. "This should help."
The doctor walked around to Dean's left, uncapped the needle and injected the contents into a port in the IV line which ran into the crook of his left elbow. "You should feel the effects almost immediately."
As if on cue, Sam felt his brother sag slightly against his hand, saw the tension in his shoulders soften and the pain lines etched around his eyes and mouth relax.
Dr. Reid nodded. "If you start feeling sleepy, don't fight it. It's perfectly normal."
The doctor moved to the back of the exam room but Sam's eyes stayed on his brother, replaying the sequence of events that had landed Dean in the ER.
The Winchesters had driven into northern Vermont to investigate a series of accidents along a stretch of mountain road. Officially, each had a logical cause – bad weather, driving too fast, driving under the influence - but each of the victims the brothers interviewed blamed a mysterious figure, holding a hunting rifle, who appeared suddenly in the middle of the road. Some swore they had hit him, others said they slid off the road as they swerved to avoid him, but accident investigators found no evidence of this man's existence.
A few days research turned up similar sightings and accidents dating back 30 years, long before the road became the main route to a large ski resort at the top of the mountain. A little more digging revealed the spirit's likely identity – a hit and run victim named Caleb Barnes.
A recluse who lived in a cabin not far from where the accidents occurred, Barnes had vanished in 1979 while hunting. His disappearance remained a local mystery until, almost a decade later, a logging truck driver drunkenly confessed to hitting Barnes as he crossed the road in the middle of a blizzard. The driver died of a heart attack before he could be charged and, despite an intensive search following the trucker's confession, Barnes body was never found.
As he uncovered the final puzzle pieces, Sam looked up from his laptop and shook his head. "The perfect set-up for an angry spirit: Barnes never received a proper burial; his killer was never brought to justice …"
Dean nodded. "And now he's lashing out at innocent people in some twisted quest for revenge." He frowned. "But how's he picking his victims? Since that ski resort opened, thousands of cars use that road – the number of attacks is up, but he's not going after every car."
Sam shrugged. "I think he only attacks when weather conditions are similar to the night he died. All the accidents happened in the middle of a snowstorm."
"Makes sense." Dean looked over at Sam. "I would love to salt and burn the bastard, but since we don't have any remains to torch – Plan B?"
Sam nodded. "Plan B it is."
The 'B' stood for Banishing. Two hours later, the brothers had broken into the vacant cabin that once belonged to Barnes. They laid down a large salt circle on the floor, filled it with candles and mystical symbols, and then built a hearty fire in the large stone fireplace. Sam held the summoning spell that would draw Barnes' spirit to his former home, trapping him in the salt circle. Once he was trapped, Dean would read the banishing spell and toss a mixture of herbs and oils into the fire to complete the ritual.
After surveying their preparations, Sam exhaled audibly then turned to Dean. "You ready?"
Dean, holding his sawed-off shotgun in one hand and the bowl containing the banishing mixture in the other, nodded. "Do it."
Sam read the incantation, carefully chalking more mystical symbols around the edge of the circle as he did so. The candles flickered and Dean subconsciously took a step closer to the fireplace.
Sam stood up slowly as he finished reading, glancing around the cabin. Nothing happened.
The brothers looked at each other uncertainly. Dean shifted his grip on the shotgun and shrugged. "It should work. It-"
The door flew open suddenly, a gust of wind blasting through the cabin, extinguishing the candles and blowing apart the salt circle even as a figure began to materialize inside it. The fire that had been crackling quietly flared viciously, angry flames shooting into the room toward Sam and Dean.
As the brothers ducked against the searing heat, Barnes' spirit disappeared from the broken circle – only to reappear in front of Dean. The elder Winchester looked up just as Barnes swung the shotgun he carried, smashing the butt into Dean's left hand, the hand holding the banishing mixture. Dean grunted in pain as the bowl fell from his hand, dumping the contents onto the floor.
As Sam lunged for his gun, Dean raised his shotgun one-handed, pointing it at the spirit. Barnes vanished as the elder Winchester's finger twitched on the trigger, reappearing almost instantly on Dean's right. Dean spun to face him.
A blast from Sam's shotgun filled the cabin, the rock salt shot striking the spirit square in the back - but not before Barnes violently shoved an off-balance Dean toward the fireplace. He toppled forward, the shotgun dropping from his grasp, his hands shooting out instinctively to stop his fall. He twisted his face away from the flames, feeling the heat scorch the side of his neck, but his hands landed right in the burning embers.
Barnes bellow of rage as he dissipated blended seamlessly with Dean's yell of pain. The elder Winchester twisted as he fell, rolling onto his side and yanking his hands from the flames, but the damage had been done.
Sam stared horrified as his brother slumped against the stone hearth, burned hands shaking as he cradled them in front of his chest. An angry "son of a bitch," spat out between clenched teeth, spurred Sam into action. He dropped his gun, grabbed the duffel bag and dragged it toward Dean. Crouching beside his brother, he reached into the duffel and pulled out a jug of holy water.
Quickly twisting off the cap, he gently pulled Dean's arms straight and poured the water over his hands. His stomach churned as he studied the damage; black soot mixed with charred skin and Dean's fingers were already starting to swell. Pouring more water over Dean's right hand, Sam reached for his silver ring and winced at his brother's sharp hiss of pain as he slid it off his finger. "Sorry. Sorry."
Breathing heavily, Dean looked up at Sam and motioned with his head toward the ring. His voice shook. "You lose that, you're doing laundry till you're 30."
Sam smiled worriedly at Dean as he slid the ring on his own finger. "Safe and sound. See." His frown deepened as he noted Dean starting to shiver. Shock was setting in. "Dean? Talk to me. How bad is it?"
Dean ignored the question. "How the hell did he do that?"
Sam tossed aside the empty water container then pulled off his coat, draping it around Dean's shoulders. "I dunno. And, right now, I don't care. We need to get out of here." He hooked his arm around Dean's back and helped him up.
Dean's jaw clenched and the color drained from his face but he stayed on his feet, even if he was leaning heavily on Sam. "We've gotta try again."
Sam ushered his brother toward the door. "We will, but not now. First, we take care of your hands."
Dean smiled weakly. "Lucky for me I have Dr. Sam Winchester on retainer."
Sam glanced down at his brother as they moved slowly toward the Impala. "Uh-uh. No motel fix-up this time. We're getting you a real doctor."
Dean slumped a little more heavily against Sam but offered no protest.
Standing beside Dean in the ER, Sam realized that was the moment he'd really started to worry; when Dean agreed that a hospital visit was necessary, it was bad.
Sam turned to the doctor, his hand still resting on his brother's back. "Dean's hands – how bad … will he …"
The doctor finished scrubbing up, slipped on a fresh pair of sterile gloves then turned to walk back to the brothers. She offered a reassuring smile. "There should be no permanent damage."
Dean's eyes slid closed in relief and both Winchesters relaxed noticeably with the doctor's words.
Dr. Reid sat down on a stool opposite Dean, gently taking his right hand and turning it over. "The body essentially has three layers of skin. Your burns are what we call superficial second-degree, meaning there's damage to the outer layer and some to the deeper tissue. But your burns don't extend to the deepest layer so the nerves and the muscles are undamaged. In time, there should be full recovery."
The doctor lowered Dean's hand into a fresh basin of distilled water and surgical soap, prepared by a nurse who was now assisting her. She offered an apologetic smile when Dean flinched as she began gently washing his hand to remove all dirt and loose skin.
As Dean tensed, Sam reflexively began moving his hand in reassuring circles on his brother's back. Dean shot him a sideways glance, an unspoken 'knock it off.'
Sam's silent response was equally clear. 'Deal with it. I'm taking care of you for a change.'
Dean was in no shape for a fight. His eyes slid closed as the painkillers' hold strengthened and he offered no further objection as Sam's hand stilled, but stayed against his back.
As the doctor treated Dean's hands, Sam glanced down at his brother's ring, sliding his thumb back and forth across the underside of the silver band. Wearing it just felt wrong. It was an extension of his brother, as much a part of Dean as his amulet, his music and his car. Sam knew he wouldn't completely relax until the ring was back on Dean's hand, where it belonged.
The younger Winchester looked up to find Dr. Reid studying him intently.
"What about you? Were you injured in any way?"
Sam shook his head. "I'm fine. I was well away from the barbecue when it flared."
Dean looked at Sam, his eyes hazy but his message was clear; 'That's the best you could come up with?'"
Sam shrugged. It was a weak cover story but, so far at least, it had held up.
Dr. Reid nodded. "Good. You did a great job of triage and getting him here so quickly, by the way. That helped minimize the effects of the injury."
Sam nodded his thanks, coloring slightly.
Dean's eyelids were drooping, staying closed for longer periods each time he blinked, but he caught his brother's reaction to the doctor's compliment. He grinned. "Aw, Sammy's blushing."
Sam bit back a smile. Dean was physically relaxing and his guard was dropping, both signs he was now well under the influence of the drugs. "And you're high."
Dean considered the possibility, then nodded agreeably. "Pretty much."
Sam's eyes narrowed with concern. "How's the pain?"
Dean looked puzzled for a moment, then nodded slowly. "Better. Whatever they gave me, it's good shit."
Sam turned to the doctor. "The painkiller works fast."
Dr. Reid nodded. "It's supposed to, although with most people, it knocks them out almost immediately."
Sam smiled softly. "Trust me, Dean's not most people."
Without warning, Dean tipped sideways, falling against his brother and landing with his cheek pressed against Sam's chest.
"Hey." Sam quickly wrapped his arm securely around his brother. "Dean? You still with us?"
"Mmmm-huh." Dean's head nodded but his eyes stayed closed.
Dr. Reid's voice was calm. "Let's get him lying down. He-"
"No." Dean eyes slid open to glare at the doctor.
Sam tightened his hold on his brother as he felt Dean tense again. His brother was out of it enough not to object to being held by Sam but still aware enough to feel vulnerable lying down in the presence of strangers. Sam smiled at the doctor. "It's okay. I've got him. Just keep working."
Dr. Reid's eyebrows peaked but she said nothing, only nodding before turning her gaze from Dean to Sam. "I need you to follow what I'm doing as I bandage Dean's hands; you're going to have to change the dressing two, three times a day, perhaps more if the bandages get wet or soiled."
Sam nodded, watching intently and listening carefully as the doctor walked him through applying the burn cream to keep the skin moist and protect against infection, and wrapping the bandages tightly enough to remain secure but loose enough to maintain flexibility as the damaged skin healed.
"Keeping the thumb free of the fingers will allow Dean to retain some grasping ability," Dr. Reid said. "He'll be clumsy, and his hands won't be able to handle much weight but he should still be able to hold a cup or a glass. Smaller objects will be a challenge, at least for the next few days until-"
"I can hear you heart beating, Sammy."
Sam looked down; Dean was still slumped against him, his face pressed against Sam's chest.
Dean eyes blinked slowly. "Damn, it's loud." His eyes slid closed again as his mouth twisted into a faint smile. "Sounds like the Jaws theme …"
Sam looked over at Dr. Reid and shook his head at Dean's mumbled "da-dum, da-dum, da-dum…" The doctor just smiled and kept working.
Finally, in the battle between Dean's stubbornness and the drugs in his system, the drugs won. His eyes stayed shut and he drifted into pain-free oblivion.
Dean startled awake, confused and disoriented.
His eyes darted around, hunter's instincts fighting to overcome the drugs clouding his thinking. His vision blurred then cleared as he took in his surroundings.
He was in an ER exam bay, lying on a gurney, covered in a blue blanket. The metal safety rails were raised and the head of the bed was elevated. An IV was attached to his left arm and both hands, now resting against his chest, were bandaged. Sam was nowhere in sight.
"You're okay. Relax."
Dean rolled his head across the gurney, blinking sluggishly. A tall, blonde nurse he recalled seeing earlier appeared at his side from somewhere behind him. She smiled. "Do you know where you are?"
Dean nodded. "Hospital." His eyes tracked the nurse's movements as she picked up a blood pressure cuff from the counter at the side of the cubicle, and then fastened it around his right arm. "It's Jackie, right?"
The nurse nodded as she pumped up the cuff. She checked the gauge and nodded again, satisfied with the results. "Are you in any pain?"
Dean considered the question, then slowly shook his head. "Everything's kind of, um, fuzzy." He frowned, wishing his head would clear, then jumped as Jackie pulled apart the Velcro strips to remove the blood pressure cuff.
She smiled apologetically. "Sorry. Just a few more basic tests." She pressed a thermometer into his ear.
Dean's frown remained, but he didn't protest. He glanced down at his bandaged hands, then surveyed the room again. "Where's Sam?"
The digital thermometer beeped and Jackie removed it, checking the reading and adding the information to Dean's chart. "Your brother went to pick up your prescriptions and get you some clean clothes. Told me to tell you he'd be right back."
Dean's eyebrows peaked hopefully. "Then I can get outta here?"
Jackie nodded as she finished taking his pulse and glanced over his chart. "Everything looks good. Dr. Reid says there's no reason to keep you once your IV meds are finished."
Dean glanced at the privacy curtain which shielded him from the hallway beyond. "Sam been gone long?"
Jackie checked her watch. "About an hour."
Dean's eyes widened. "An hour? How long was I out?"
"A little over three. Your brother wanted to stick around until you woke up but I think he needed a break from his fan club."
Dean's eyebrows peaked. "Huh?"
Jackie grinned. "Sam's a big hit with the student nurses. They're good kids but I've never seen them quite so, um, enthusiastic when it comes to helping a patient's family. I think he was a little … overwhelmed."
Dean snorted. "Knowing Sammy, I'm surprised he noticed." He shook his head slowly. "And he had me as a teacher. I don't get it."
Jackie put down the clipboard holding Dean's chart. "You and Sam – you seem pretty close."
Dean nodded. "He's my kid brother … the only family I've got. When he's not around … it's like I'm missing a part of me, you know?" He closed his eyes, regretting almost instantly revealing that vulnerability, sharing something so raw with a virtual stranger. "Damn," he mumbled. "I'm usually a better poker player."
Jackie looked puzzled. "What was that?"
"Nothing." Dean peeled open his eyes, schooling his features into neutral. "You said something about getting out of here?"
She nodded. "Your IV's almost done. Sam took care of most of the paperwork. He also has all your medication and burn care instructions but, if you're feeling up to it, I'll go over everything with you."
Dean nodded. "Sure." Without thinking, he reached out, grabbed the metal safety rails of the bed and hauled himself up to a sitting position. White-hot pain shot from his hands up his arms and into his head as he collapsed back onto the gurney, arms clenched rigidly in front of his chest. Dean heard the yell that echoed through the ER bay but it took a moment to register that he was the one yelling.
Jackie moved quickly, sliding down the gurney's safety rail and rolling Dean onto his side. "Breathe through it, breathe through it."
Dean's eyes were screwed closed as he buried his face in the gurney. Pain seemingly paralyzed his lungs, robbing him of the ability to breathe deeply, as his heart pounded cruelly against his chest.
And then the fire went out; the white-hot pain disappearing behind a soft warmth and the tension holding his body rigid quickly dissipating. Lungs relaxing, he took a deep breath and opened his eyes, blinking slowly.
Jackie stood beside him, removing an empty syringe from the port in his IV. She watched him worriedly. "Dr. Reid authorized another round of pain meds, if necessary. I think this qualifies. Better?"
"Oh yeah." Dean breathed out slowly, closing his eyes as the effects of the drug took hold. "I think I'm love with Dr. Reid right now."
"In love with who?"
Dean's eyes snapped open at the sound of his brother's voice. "Hey. Sammy." He offered a loopy grin. "How's the babe magnet?"
Sam's eyebrows peaked. "What?"
Dean gave an exaggerated nod to Jackie, I-told-you-so written all over his face. "See. Bunch of hot chicks checking out his ass and he's totally clueless."
Sam tilted his head at the nurse. "What is he on?"
Jackie smiled. "He got another shot of painkillers. It can act as a mood enhancer, and I think Dean's happy to be going home."
Dean nodded. "Damn straight." Using his elbows, he clumsily pushed himself up, then swung his legs over the side of the gurney. Sam and Jackie each moved quickly to his side; Dean swayed for a moment but remained sitting up unassisted. He smiled drunkenly at his brother, holding out his hand. "Keys, Sam. We're outta here."
Sam snorted incredulously. "Right."
Dean gestured again, impatiently. "Dude, come on. Keys."
"Dude – no!" Sam sighed audibly as Dean showed no sign of backing down. "If the situation was reversed, would you let me drive?
Dean's expression grew serious and he shook his head slowly. "No." He grinned. "It's not your car."
Sam rolled his eyes. "Well, possession's nine-tenths of the law and I've got the keys – that means you're riding shotgun."
"And you call me bossy …" Dean's glare would have been more effective if his eyes didn't keep sliding shut. "Whatever. Let's go."
As Dean moved to stand up, Sam dumped the plastic bag he was carrying beside Dean and gently grabbed his brother by the arms, pushing him back down on the gurney. "Dean, sit down. You're still on a leash."
Dean glanced down at the IV line in his arm. "Crap." He glanced up at Jackie and grinned. "Don't suppose I can get one of these to go?" He turned to Sam. "Seriously, this stuff is awesome."
Sam bit back a smile. "Yeah, well I'll take your word for that." He turned to Jackie. "So Dr. Reid gave the okay for him to leave?"
Jackie nodded. "Yeah. Once the IV is done, probably another 10-15 minutes, he'll be all set. She'll want to check him over one more time but, basically, you just have to sign his release papers. They're waiting for you out there at the desk."
Sam nodded. "Good." He glanced again at Dean. "The prescription I picked up from the pharmacy, will it have the same, um, effect on him?"
Jackie shrugged. "To a lesser degree. He's getting the industrial strength version here. In pill form, the effects will be more subtle."
The next 15 minutes passed quickly, at least for Sam and Jackie as they discussed Dean's medication, its effects and side-effects, and other problems he might face as he recovered from the burns. Dean tried to follow the conversation but zoned out on more than one occasion.
Sam peered worriedly at his brother. "Dude? You hanging in there?"
Dean nodded but frowned. "Yeah. Just wish you and Jackie would quit talking like Charlie Brown's teacher."
Finally, with the IV empty. Jackie removed the catheter and Dean moved to slide off the gurney. Again, Sam stopped him.
Dean frowned impatiently. "Sam, it's done. I'm good to go."
Sam sighed. "Just one more thing."
Dean scowled in annoyance. "What?"
"Pants. You might want to put some on."
Dean's eyebrows peaked as he glanced down at the hospital gown he wore. "Damn. Good call."
Sam pointed to the plastic bag on the gurney. "I brought you some fresh clothes. You want me to help you get dressed, or would you rather Jackie do it?"
Dean glanced from Sam to the blonde nurse, then grinned. "Jackie." He turned back to Sam, speaking in an exaggerated whisper. "She's hot. Great legs, nice-"
"Dude," Sam cleared his throat, "outside voice."
Dean looked puzzled but Jackie just laughed. "Thanks, Dean. I'll let my husband know he has competition. It's good to keep him on his toes." She smiled at Sam. "If you want to sign him out and bring the car around to the front entrance, I'll page Dr. Reid, and then bring Dean out to you when she's done."
Sam hesitated. "You sure? He can be a handful when he's high like this."
Dean scowled at Sam. "Hey – right here, in the room." He turned to Jackie, his doped-up smile widening. "Sweetheart – don't listen to him. I am always a handful. But I am so worth the effort."
Jackie laughed. "That I can believe."
A half-hour later, Dean's release papers were signed and he was slumped in the Impala's passenger seat, leaning against the door. Sam was behind the wheel, driving them toward the motel they had checked into three days earlier.
The 30-minute ride was filled with a series of nonsensical conversations as Dean battled the increasingly strong sedative effects of the painkillers.
"I can't feel my lips, Sammy."
Sam's eyebrows peaked incredulously. "What?"
Dean was opening and closing his mouth in a pretty good imitation of a fish. "My lips. I think they're gone."
Sam rolled his eyes. "They're not gone, Dean. They're fine."
"Damn straight they're fine." Dean grinned. "That waitress in Pittsburgh – what did she call them? I know - luscious."
Sam groaned. "TMI, dude." He shook his head. "Look, you're legally stoned. Just relax and enjoy it."
"Can't." Dean was staring intently at the side view mirror, squeezing his eyes open and closed as he tried to bring his reflection into focus. "I need my lips. How am I supposed to kiss without them?"
Sam turned toward his brother. "Who are you gonna kiss, Dean?"
Dean looked puzzled for a moment then did a double-take. "Not you."
"And for that I'm thankful." Sam turned his eyes back to the road. "And since I'm the only one here right now, you can relax."
Dean slouched in his seat and was quiet for a moment as he studied Sam intently. "Why'd you do it, Sammy?"
Sam eyebrow quirked as his brother's train of thought once again jumped the track. "Do what?"
"Grow so freakin' tall." He jabbed a bandaged hand at Sam. "Little brother." He pulled the hand back and tapped himself on the chest, wincing slightly. "Big brother." He shook his head. "Big brothers are supposed to be bigger."
Sam smile softened. "It's not like I had a say in how tall I got." Dean was larger than life in so many ways, Sam often forgot he'd outgrown him. It was a handy weapon to draw on during their frequent verbal sparring matches but, in his mind's eye, he would always look up to Dean, literally and figuratively. His smile widened. "But, unlike someone I'm related to, I ate my veggies."
"Veggies are evil." Dean's words slurred slightly as he began to lose his battle with the painkillers. He yawned.
"Dude, don't fight it." Sam encouraged. "We're almost back at the motel. Just relax."
Dean's response was unintelligible. His eyes slid closed, and stayed closed, his head rolling across the seatback until his forehead pressed against the passenger side window.
Sam's smile faded. The next few days would be difficult for Dean as he struggled with the loss of independence that came with his injury. He'd be reliant on Sam for a lot of things he normally took for granted.
Sam's fingers tapped the steering wheel as he considered Dean's limitations and possible solutions. Holding a knife and fork, for example, would be next to impossible, but that was easily handled – it just meant plenty of burgers, pizza and sandwiches in their diet over the next couple of weeks. Not a big stretch from normal there. Other things, however, posed bigger problems. While Dean had enjoyed Jackie helping him get dressed at the hospital, for instance, he'd be less than thrilled if Sam had to help him on a daily basis.
Sam glanced again at his brother. "Just remember, it's temporary. You're gonna be fine." He nodded to himself. "And I've got an idea or two – should help us both get through the next couple of weeks without ripping each other's head off."
Five minutes later Sam pulled the Impala into the parking space in front of their motel door. The familiar creak of the door hinges startled Dean awake and he blinked sleepily as he sat up. Sam jogged around to the passenger side, pulled open the door and reached in to help Dean stand up. Dean batted away Sam's hands, swung his legs out and pushed himself up. He moved slowly but under his own steam. "I got it. I'm good."
Sam nodded but remained at Dean's side as the elder Winchester moved robotically toward the motel door. Once inside, Sam helped his brother take off his leather coat, leaving him in the long-sleeved t-shirt and sweatpants Jackie had dressed him in. Dean staggered over to the bed and sank down tiredly. "I'm wiped, Sammy."
Sam tossed Dean's coat on a chair and glanced over at his brother. "It's the drugs, dude. I told you: don't fight them. Just go to sleep. You'll feel better in the morning."
"Mmmmm." Dean yawned, glanced down – and frowned. "Sam?"
"These aren't my feet."
Sam's eyes widened. "What?"
Dean looked up but gestured to the floor with his bandaged hand. "I've never seen these lame-ass shoes in my life, and my feet sure as hell wouldn't be caught dead in them."
Sam pulled a face, scrubbing a hand across the back of his neck as he looked down at the black canvas loafers Dean wore. "Yeah, sorry about that, but it's the best I could find on short notice."
Dean's eyebrows peaked. "Huh?"
Sam shrugged as he sat down on his bed, facing Dean. "Your boots all have laces, which are a no-go for you, right now. These you can slide on and kick off, hands-free, without any help."
Dean's face crumpled into a grimace. "But they're loafers. Even the name is lame."
Sam's nose wrinkled in agreement. "Yeah, but it was either those or flip-flops – and, since it's December in Vermont, these seemed like the better option."
Dean looked miserably at his bandaged hands as he kicked off the loafers. "This sucks."
Sam smiled sympathetically. "Look, any time you wanna wear your boots, just say so; I'll lace'em up. Deal?"
Dean nodded, eyes drifting shut. "I like my boots. My boots are cool."
Sam stood up and helped his brother stand so he could pull down the bed covers. "I'm just surprised it took you this long to notice. I expected you to go postal when you were getting dressed at the hospital."
Dean grinned sleepily, flopping into bed and falling back onto the pillow. "Lame-ass shoes vs. hot nurse dressing me – which do you think had my attention?
Sam rolled his eyes. "My bad." He lifted Dean's legs into bed then folded the covers over his brother. "You need anything?"
Dean shook his head, rolled onto his side, his hands still cradled in front of him, and was asleep before Sam stood up straight.
Sam pushed open the motel room door and looked across the room to see Dean scowling against the bright shaft of sunlight pushing in through the open door and hitting him in square in the face as he lay in bed.
"Sorry." Sam quickly closed the door with his foot, placing the tray of coffees and bag of donuts on the small table in front of the window. "How long have you been awake?"
Dean shrugged. "Not long."
Sam's brow wrinkled. "How's the pain?"
Dean's "okay," was less than convincing.
Sam nodded, knowing better than to make a fuss. "I'll get your meds. You ready for coffee?"
Dean suddenly looked miserable. "I, um, …"
Dean glared at his brother. "I gotta go – and you are not helping me."
Sam nodded. "Okay."
Dean's expression was a cross between surprise and suspicion. "Okay?"
Sam nodded again. "Just take your time and, when you're done, we'll change your bandages."
Dean stared at his brother. "I thought you'd be, you know, hovering …"
Sam smiled. "There are some things a man just needs to do for himself. If you need help, I'm here, but I'm sure you can manage."
Dean kicked off the bed covers, swung his feet off the bed and stood slowly, still uncertain how to take Sam's behavior. He shuffled toward the bathroom, disappeared inside and kicked the door closed. Five minutes later he called out to his brother. "Sam."
Sam looked up from where he'd laid out the first-aid supplies to change Dean's bandages. "You okay?"
"Fine." There was a pause. "But I can't open the freakin' door."
Sam crossed the room quickly, opened the bathroom door and found his brother staring at himself in the mirror. "Everything else good?"
Dean nodded slowly. "Yeah, except …"
Sam's eyebrows peaked. "What?"
Dean turned sideways, still staring at his reflection in the mirror. "I think I lost weight."
Sam shook his head. "No you didn't."
"Look at me. My clothes are hanging off me." Dean turned to his brother. "I really need pie – and a steak."
Sam smiled as he turned back into the room. "I'll get you pie later but you're fine. Those are new clothes and I got them a size too big."
Dean followed his brother out of the bathroom, padded across the carpet and sat down on the edge of his bed. "Why would you do that?"
"Did you have any problems getting your sweatpants on or off?"
Dean shook his head slowly. "No – that's when I noticed they were kinda loose."
Sam nodded. "So no pressure on your hands, right? The pants are easy for you to slide on and off? No need for me to help." He reached for a pair of scissors on the bedside table. "Come on, give me your hand and I'll change your bandages."
Dean stared at his brother, suddenly aware of all the steps Sam had taken to protect his independence, protect his dignity. He smiled. "College boy's so smart."
Sam smiled back. "Hands, now, before your coffee gets cold."
Working quickly and efficiently, Sam removed Dean's old bandages, smoothed on burn cream and carefully rewrapped his hands. Once done, he handed Dean a motel room glass that contained his meds. After Dean tossed them back, Sam passed Dean his coffee, the cup wrapped in two thermal sleeves. "You good?"
Dean nodded, then frowned.
Dean's nose wrinkled as he sniffed himself. "I stink."
Sam shrugged. "So. I showered earlier. Bathroom's all yours whenever you're ready."
Dean's eyebrows arched as he put down his coffee and held up his bandaged hands.
Sam smiled, pushed himself off the bed and walked over to a plastic shopping bag sitting on the chair. Reaching inside he pulled out a box of plastic bags and a roll of tape. "We jury-rig a pair of plastic gloves and you're all set."
Dean's smile was a mixture of gratitude and admiration. "Nice one, MacGyver."
Sam reached into the plastic bag again. "There's also this …"
Dean frowned at the white, terrycloth mitt that Sam held up. "What the hell is that?"
Sam shrugged. "It's a spa mitt. You put the soap in the pocket here, slip in on, then, when it gets wet, it lathers up. It should fit over the plastic …" Sam stopped talking when he realized Dean was staring at him strangely. "What?"
Dean's eyebrow quirked. "How the hell do you know about spa mitts?"
Sam blushed lightly. "Yeah … well …Jess … she had one …"
A wide grin stretched across Dean's face. "Sammy, Sammy, Sammy – something tells me she didn't just use it on herself."
Sam's blush deepened. "Dean!"
Dean held up his hands in surrender, but his grin remained. "Okay, okay. You've been busting your butt to help me so I'll cut you some slack." He glanced down at the plastic bag. "But you pull scented candles and a Yanni tape out of there, we're getting separate rooms."
After the brothers finished their breakfast, Dean took his shower and, thanks to Sam's MacGyverisms, managed most of it independently, needing help from his brother only to get his t-shirt over his head and his socks on. But as he dropped his wet towel back in the bathroom, he glanced down at the counter and frowned.
Sam looked up from his laptop toward the open bathroom door. "What?"
"Get in here."
Sam pushed back his chair, walked over to the bathroom and leaned against the door frame. "What?"
Dean glared at Sam and waved his hand toward the counter. "I realize this is the question of the day, but what the hell is that?"
Sam followed Dean's gesture, and sighed. "It's your toothbrush."
"It's a Spiderman toothbrush."
Dean's eyebrows peaked. "Why the hell would you get me a Spiderman toothbrush?"
Sam shrugged. "It was that or Dora the Explorer; I didn't think she was your type."
Dean looked at Sam like he'd lost his mind. "Dude? Seriously …"
Sam exhaled in exasperation, pushing past Dean to pick up the toothbrush. "Look. Your regular toothbrush is too small; with you hands bandaged you're going to have a hard time picking it up, never mind using it." He offered the Spiderman brush to Dean. "Spidey here is almost two inches in diameter – you should be able to hold onto it, no problem."
Dean's face softened as he reached out and clumsily took the brush from Sam, his bandaged hand closing slowly around the moulded plastic figure that formed the handle. When he looked up again, his eyes reflected a mix of guilt and gratitude. "Damn, Sam – something tells me I'm gonna be a bigger pain than usual until my hands are fixed." He smiled ruefully. "If I cross the line, you have my permission to kick my ass – deal?"
Sam grinned. "Deal." He turned to walk back to his computer. "And if it gets too bad, I'll just get some scented candles and a Yanni tape – take you up on that separate rooms offer."
Dean returned the grin.
Sam sat down at his computer then gestured toward the bathroom. "I found toothpaste in a pump dispenser. Just press the pump with the heel of your hand and you should be good to go."
Dean glanced down at the Spiderman toothbrush as he turned back into the bathroom. "Too bad they didn't have a Batman brush. Now that would have been cool."
The next week was filled with ups and downs as Dean wrestled with the pain of his injured hands and the lack of independence they caused. Each of the brothers lost their temper, regretting each outburst almost immediately and, with the exception of one major spat, quickly restoring the détente.
Christmas fell mid-week. Sam gave Dean IOUs for a bottle of Crown Royal, payable as soon as he was off his pain meds, and a steak dinner with pie for dessert as soon as he was capable of wielding a steak knife.
Dean's gift to Sam had been hidden in the trunk of the Impala for almost two months. Wrapped in the centerfold from the October edition of Busty Asian Beauties was a leather-bound copy of To Kill a Mockingbird, one of Sam's all-time favorites. For years, the younger Winchester had carted around a dog-eared paperback, tossing it only after the cover came off and pages 54 through 73 fell out.
Sam had found the leather-bound version in a used book store when money was tight, quickly deciding it was an unnecessary expense. Dean, however, had charmed the store owner, a blue-haired senior with a girlish giggle, into putting the book on one side until he could send the money. Bobby had picked it up for him and handed it over the last time they stopped by the salvage yard.
Christmas dinner was a barbecued turkey pizza. After polishing off five slices and a glass of virgin eggnog – which Dean quickly decided totally missed the point – Sam sat on the edge of the bed, changing Dean's bandages.
Dean watched as Sam worked. "We need to take care of Barnes."
Sam looked up, eyebrows arching, but kept working. "We will – as soon as your hands are better."
Dean shook his head. "No. We need to do it now." Seeing Sam about to interrupt, he pushed on. "When you went off to the men's room at the pizza place, I was listening to two of the locals talking. The ski resort is hosting some big New Year's shindig. They said with plenty of snow forecast between now and New Year's, it should draw a record crowd."
"Damn." Sam paused, looking up at Dean. "Which means plenty of potential victims."
Dean nodded. His voice was quiet, but emphatic. "We can do it, Sam. We just need to make a few … adjustments."
Sam finished wrapping Dean's right hand, turning his attention to his left. "Don't suppose you'd let me take care of this solo?"
"Hell no." Dean's eyes flashed as he raised his right hand. "That bastard did this to me. I want the pleasure of sending him to Hell."
Sam nodded slowly. "Fine. But not until we work out all the bugs in case Barnes has any more curveballs in his arsenal."
Over the next two days, the brothers did just that. Finally, the only step left was to replenish supplies then head up to the cabin. It started to snow while the brothers were in the local hardware store. Sam shook his head as he tossed their purchases in the backseat, slid behind the wheel and looked out at the steadily falling snow. "This storm wasn't supposed to move into the area until morning. Maybe we should wait until-"
"No." Dean shook his head. "The resort's New Year's celebrations start tomorrow. We need to do this before the road gets busy."
Sam nodded slowly, knowing Dean was right but unable to shake a sense of dread.
As the Impala turned onto the mountain road, the storm began raging in earnest. Sam's knuckles whitened as he tightened his grip on the steering wheel, fighting to maintain control of the big Chevy.
The windshield wipers beat steadily, waging a losing battle against the constant barrage of ice pellets and snow. The road, twisting its way up the mountain from the highway, was dark and deserted. There were no tire tracks for Sam to follow and the light from the infrequent streetlamps was hidden behind the thick veil of blowing snow. The Chevy's high beams were useless, illuminating only the frenzied dance between wind and snow, and the low beams gave him six feet of visibility, at best.
High winds buffeted the car and Sam felt the tires start to slide as they lost traction on ice hidden beneath the snow now covering the road. His heart rate quickened even as he steered into the skid and accelerated gently out of it. He exhaled audibly, glancing over at his brother in the passenger seat.
Dean sat with his bandaged hands resting in his lap. He'd refused to take his painkillers before they left, saying he wanted a clear head. His hands were getting better but, without the medication in his system, Sam could tell his brother was in pain. He also knew pushing Dean to take the pills was useless. "I think-"
"I don't care what you think," Dean snapped. "We're doing this tonight." He closed his eyes, knowing his tone was harsher than he intended, sharper than Sam deserved. "Sorry, Sammy. Remember what I said about kicking my ass."
Sam smiled softly. "You're lucky you're sitting down."
He turned back to the road, his eyes widening in shock as a man appeared suddenly in front of the car. Sam jerked the wheel to the left, fighting instinct to slam on the brakes, but the car began skidding anyway. The back-end of the Chevy fish-tailing wildly, Sam steered into the skid and wrestled the car back to the middle of the road, pulling his foot from the gas pedal so the car slowed to a crawl.
Heart pounding against his chest, Sam turned to look at his brother; Dean's eyes were wide, his breathing rapid. Both brothers turned to look out the back window where, moments earlier, the spirit had stood. Now, there was no sign of him.
Dean swallowed, then nodded admiringly at Sam. "Nice driving, Earnhardt."
Sam shook his head. "I dunno. That seemed too … easy."
"Whatever. We'll take it." Dean glanced around uneasily. "Let's get out of here."
Sam pressed his foot gently on the accelerator and the Impala gradually picked up speed, her tires spinning slightly as she fought to gain traction. The wind picked up suddenly, creating whiteout conditions that immediately reduced visibility to zero. Sam's knuckles again whitened and he shook his head. "I can't-"
The whiteout cleared suddenly and Barnes was again standing right in front of the car. This time, Sam was ready; rather than swerving to avoid the spirit, he gunned the engine, aiming straight for him.
The spirit only smiled, raising his shotgun and firing it at the oncoming Chevy.
The front window shattered. As Sam ducked against the shower of broken glass, the Impala skidded across the icy road, spinning 360-degrees before tipping sideways into the steep ditch on the far side, rolling side-over-side once and coming to an abrupt stop when the driver's side slammed into a tree.
The throaty growl of the Chevy's engine sputtered twice then died, the warm, yellow light of her headlights dying with it. The snow continued to fall, covering the skid marks on the road, covering all traces of the accident before covering the Impala herself.
There was no movement from inside the car. The only sounds were the mournful howl of the wind and the soft ticking of the Impala's rapidly cooling engine.
From the middle of the road, the figure who had set in motion this latest chain of events surveyed the scene. Caleb Barnes smiled – and faded from sight.
To Be Continued …