Title: Because Dragon's Don't Exist
A/N: From Dianne and darksupernatural... This is one of the remaining One shots that hadn't made the group posting yet. Dianne did a great job with a fanciful plot, and well...I've dropped the ball with this project and although it's here now, there may be some small mistakes I didn't catch in the too small time I allowed myself to read it. So, sorry Dianne and everyone else who spots them. Anyway, enjoy the story and let us know what you think about it. If you're new to the Shots, go back and read the rest and you'll get some wonderful stories from some wonderful people all in one place.
A dragon lives forever
But not so little boys
Painted wings and giant rings
Make way for other toys.
Trees smoldered at their huge, knotty bases, leaves curling and crackling, sending sparks of orange and red spiraling through the plumes of smoke. Cinders caught on the wind using the dry force to leap from pine to oak.
The Winchesters watched through binoculars from the Impala, windows rolled up against the smoke that was making its way down the hill toward the logging road. A herd of deer ran in front of the car, birds flew higher than the smoke in the same direction and the wind slammed into the car spraying ash so thick that the windshield wipers could barely keep up with clearing it away.
Armed with cross bows with arrows dipped in holy water and handguns and wearing fire gear swiped from the 1970's section of a local museum, the Winchesters waited for any sign that would tell them if their prey was near.
"This gear's outdated, Dad," Sam complained.
"Well, I couldn't very well steal modern equipment from a fire station, Sam. It would put lives at risk, and besides, every piece of equipment will be in use today," John grumbled.
Sam was about to ask what his and Dean's life meant, but he tried to put things into perspective. As much as John was a hard ass, he was right. And Sam and Dean wouldn't be going as close to the fire as firefighters would have to. He'd just have to suck up the heavy, ill-fitting turnout gear. Sam chanced one more glance at the dragon on the screen of his laptop
Twenty-year-old Dean could see the fear etched on Sam's face. Hell, if he thought he was going to be fighting a dragon, he'd be scared too. Dean tried to assure Sam that they weren't going to be fighting dragons because dragons didn't exist. Sure, the firefighters and locals whose homes had been lost to previous fires in nearby townships all swore they saw something winging through the smoke, fanning the flames and blowing further destruction down upon their town, but no one had been able to give a description, or at least seemed reluctant to describe exactly what they had seen.
"Sammy, look, I'm gonna say this one more time. Dragons don't exist, kiddo. Dad knows what he's doing. We're gonna kill this thing and get out of here."
John's best speculation based on one day's worth of research was that they were dealing with a Demon called a Black Sabbath, which Dean proclaimed was cool! But Sam disagreed, noting from his own research that Black Sabbaths usually started fires in urban centers and this one was burning forests in South Dakota about every forty years. Also, Black Sabbaths usually started fires on Sundays, hence the name Sabbath. Despite having pointed out any differences he found, Sam was told in no uncertain terms to leave the details to the more experienced and keep his head in the game.
"Boys, if this thing can really fly like the locals have said, I need Sam to be ready with the Latin for the exorcism and Dean you need to man the arrows. When the thing tries to exit whatever freaky body it has, we'll catch it in this box." John held up a metal box with binding rituals etched into the shiny surface that looked impossibly small to imprison anything, but then again, how big could a beast's soul be?
"And if we're wrong about what it is?" Sam asked, eyes going wide the minute the words left his mouth, hands flying to his face as if he could squash them back in.
John turned around to glare at Sam as Dean started talking fast and loud about the suddenly very interesting symbols etched on the box still held in John's hands.
Sam swallowed, grateful for Dean's quick distraction but he shrunk a bit too, when Dean cast a sideways glance at him, brows furrowed the minute John looked away.
Just as Sam wished to be swallowed up, the car seemed to buckle a little as if being pushed down like a toy by a toddler. The moment passed as the shocks sprung back and the car rocked a bit before stilling. Dean cringed, waiting for the tires to blow or something that would indicate that the hunt was going to start with typical Winchester luck. The tires held. He breathed. After all, the Impala was his now.
That was their cue. John ordered them to put on the oxygen masks. Dean helped Sam step from the car, the tank on his back almost bigger than the sixteen year old. Sam had undergone a bit of a growth spurt but he was nowhere near big enough for this man-sized gear. The mask slipped on his face but he pushed it back up with determination, his feet slipping backwards and forwards in the huge boots. Smoke creeping under the mask tickled his nose but he shouldered his cross bow in front of him to offset the huge oxygen canister on his back.
John led the way toward the fire that blazed on the hill not looking back to see if he was followed closely by his sons. It was assumed. It was an order. Dean however did look back. Sam trudged along up the hill admirably well, considering the extra weight and bulk of the fireproof gear. Sam pushed his facemask up again and Dean called a halt, looking pissed.
"Sam! Your mask doesn't fit, why didn't you say something?" Dean cursed.
The truth was, the only checks they'd done on the equipment was to ensure they got the tanks filled at the dive-shop in a different town so as to avoid anyone noticing the tanks were stolen. The masks weren't exactly one-size fits all. Dean reached around Sam's head and hissed in frustration when he found the adjustments were already set on their smallest. He looked up the hill to tell his father that they couldn't take Sam any further but John was already far ahead of them slightly obscured in the smoke that was kicking up at more frequent intervals. Already a line of soot framed Sam's nose and eyes under the mask.
Dean took the crossbow from Sam and gave him a handgun, placing Sam's other hand over his mask.
"No crossbow for you. Hold this mask in place, Sammy, you hear me?"
Sam nodded, already feeling like dead weight in this hunt. He felt he couldn't do one thing right these days. Hell, couldn't even grow properly. Would probably be a shrimp for life if by some miracle he straightened out and learned to be the good soldier his dad wanted like Dean had done.
"Sorry, Dean," Sam mumbled from behind the thick clear facemask.
"No worries, kiddo, a little beer and cheeseburgers and you'll be as big as me someday," Dean replied, slapping him on the back and nearly knocking him over.
The smoke was getting thicker. Dean put Sam ahead of him, not wanting to lose the kid should he tumble back down the hill that was growing steeper by the minute. Sam trudged on like a trooper, breathing a bit easier now that he had a free hand to hold his mask in place. They caught up to John, perched behind a huge boulder sticking out from the hillside like a fist slamming out from the bowels of the earth. Small daisies perched in the dark black soil, all of them pointed away from the increased heat brought by the wind as if they could uproot and run away.
John motioned for the boys to put down their burdens. He wasn't without sympathy; it was just that marines usually didn't need help carrying things and their gear fit, unless they were missing a limb or something. John opened a large bottle of water and held it out to the boys. Dean took the offering and handed it to Sam first. Sam took a deep breath, let the mask slide and took a long drink, making sure there was plenty left for Dean and his father. Sweat rolled down his back and his face hurt from having to push so hard to keep the mask on. Dean winced at the red marks in Sam's heated faced, etched by black soot that strove to get under his mask should he slip up and not hang on to it.
"Look, Dad, I think maybe Sam should go back to the car," Dean said.
John looked over at his youngest, noticing only now that Sam held tightly to his mask. Sam didn't have to hear the sigh that he knew escaped John's lips. John performed the same too-little-too-late inspection of Sam's mask as Dean had, swearing loudly, not particularly at Sam but to the universe in general.
"He has one hand. He can use the gun," John decided. He opened Sam's gun, removing the bullets from the clip and dousing them in holy water.
Sam was glad he knew the Latin Exorcism by heart because there was no way he could hold his gun, the mask and a piece of paper to read from. He was unsure if it would even work against a creature that wasn't riding a human or animal but something surely invented by evil. He'd argued to no avail that the evil might be intertwined body and soul. That or it wasn't a Black Sabbath at all, which was the more likely of the two scenarios in his head. But dragons didn't exist.
When John picked his gear up he didn't need to tell the boys that break time was over. They obediently picked up their gear, Dean shouldering two cross bows and Sam his gun, his other hand firmly on the mask but still looking a little more bug-eyed than Dean liked.
Sam once again in the middle struggled to stay upright, to look tough. He'd never worn a mask like this and didn't know if the strenuous effort to pull air from the canister was normal or not. Dean and John looked fine, no strain indicated from either of them so Sam vowed to suck it up and try to concentrate on not getting winded from the exertion of carrying the extra weight of the gear. Sweat poured down his spine, tickling the small of his back and he'd give anything to scratch but he had no free hand and nothing short of a sword would penetrate the heavy coat anyway. Suck it up Winchester, he ordered himself, trying to sound like his dad in his head.
The whistling sound echoing around the damned mask from Sam's wheezing was annoying. He was glad his dad and Dean couldn't hear it; it would be just another indicator of weakness. The air this time of year under the heavy canopy of trees would have been thick and humid anyway, but coupled with the smoke that hung in an ever-thickening fog, it was almost unbearable. When Sam first put the mask on, the hiss of oxygen felt light and cool, but now it trickled, barely satisfying his need. He stopped for a minute, holding his hand up in an I'm okay gesture usually used by divers.
Dean looked back as Sam stumbled. He tried his best not to leap forward and inspect his younger brother. Sam made it clear that if John insisted that he come on these hunts, that he be treated like anyone else. Still, he moved closer to Sam, almost within reach to trip on his heels if he stopped suddenly. Dean tried in vain to glimpse Sam's face.
Sam's mask fogged up. He tried to sneak and let it up for a minute, hoping to catch the odd clean gust of air that managed to blow up from below from time to time but instead caught a lungful of soot and dirt. His mask didn't clear as he hoped. He clamped the mask back over his jaw and nose and tried to draw in a much-needed breath but the only satisfaction was a half pull of oxygen that didn't fill his lungs when he ached for more. His hair was plastered to his head under the heavy hat. He wanted to strip out of this damned gear and take his chances.
Sam tried to gauge his internal compass. He could no longer see his father through the fogged up glass of his mask. A heavy hand on his shoulder jerked him back and though he tried to ignore it, when it pulled back a second time, he was nearly knocked off balance and had to plant his feet firmly in the loosening dirt so as to not fall back down the hill and take Dean with him in the process.
This time Dean spun Sam around and swore loudly when he looked Sam in the face, or tried to anyway.
"Crap! Sam why didn't you say something? Dad!"
John didn't hear Dean, he was cresting the hill already and having found another huge boulder, he dropped his pack and began setting up to wait for the beast.
There was no buddy breathing equipment on this gear and Dean took his mask off and pressed it firmly to Sam's face, noting the slightly blue tinge to his lips. Dean coughed, pressing Sam's mask to his own face and grimacing in disgust at the impeded airflow. He followed the rubbery tubing until he saw the minute cracks at a bend in the surface from which air hissed almost imperceptibly.
Sam looked livid at being babied but his lips grew pinker by the second and his breathing evened out so he wasn't fighting for every breath.
Dean would have given anything for some duct tape, already fighting to hold his breathing steady despite the starvation of his lungs. He had no idea how Sam had stayed on his feet this long, damned kid and his pride. All Dean could find was a thick elastic band holding the bows together. He stripped it off and wound it around the creased rubber air hose slowing the escape of air considerably, but not perfectly. Dean would have traded air masks but they were attached intricately to the other gear and it would have been impossible under these conditions. He cleaned Sam's mask as best he could and took his own mask back, shoving Sam's tightly over his face and placing Sam's hand over it.
"That's it, I'm telling Dad we have to go back, you stay here," Dean ordered.
"But Dean …"
"Sammy," Dean said in that voice Sam hated because it came with a side order of that stance that belonged to their dad.
Sam wanted to get up, to make it to the crest of the hill, to prove to his dad that Dean was just being an over protective hen. Sam was convinced that if Dean just left him the hell alone, he could have trudged up the hill, but now that he sat down his body didn't want to get back up. He coughed pathetically, trying to quell the thrill of horror when black spittle droplets splattered across his mask. Humiliation rose up and added to the already intense heat inside the suit.
With the cleaner mask, the air was still clear enough to see Dean crest the hilltop safely. Sam could almost feel his dad's eyes upon him, could see the head shake, could see the hand go the hips and then to his head, forgetting that he couldn't run his hands through his hair in frustration like Sam had made him do more times than he could count.
"Dean, tell Sam to go back to the car, then come back here and help me set up," John ordered.
Dean was a good soldier. Always did as he was told. His mouth opened and closed a few times, pondering his argument.
"Sam's not doing well," Dean stated. Before John's usual tirade about sucking it up or walking it off could begin, Dean steeled himself and went on. "His mask doesn't fit and there was a hole in it. Sam hasn't been getting enough air this whole climb. I think he's inhaled too much smoke. I think I should walk him back down the hill at least and then come back to finish this thing … Sir."
John squinted down to his youngest. Sam was climbing up the hill toward them. That's my boy, he thought with pride.
Dean stocked to the edge, preparing to scale back down and give Sam crap. John stopped him and within minutes, Sam crested the hill. John reached down a hand and pulled Sam the final few steps, slapping him hard on the back in a congratulatory manner, almost sending Sam sprawling. Sam sat down with as much control over his shaking limbs as he could manage.
Dean scanned Sam's face. Though his lips were no longer blue tinged, his cheeks were vibrant red and sweat and soot pooled around his nostrils in the mask. John lifted Sam's hand that held tightly to the mask and pulled it gently away with a loud sucking nose that pulled Sam's skin in a way that would have been funny in any other situation. John quickly wiped the glass again before setting Sam's hand firmly back in place with the mask. Dean got the water bottle and handed it to Sam, who took advantage of an updraft from the bottom of the hill of cleaner air to take a long drink. It was a mistake. He coughed and spluttered, having ignored Dean's warning to take small sips.
Sam's hand caught the blackened spittle and there was no hiding it from his father, who finally admitted Sam couldn't continue. Dean grunted in frustration, hauling Sam to his feet, prepared to take his brother down the hill when all three of them were suddenly sent to their knees by a down gust of wind from the other side of the hill. Huge leathery wings obscured what had to be an enormous body, flapping above them and screeching angrily.
The huge beast blackened the sky as it flew over them and turned, hovering, wings rippling like sails made of smoke on a tall ship holding steady in the waves of hot air currents. There was no time to put arrow to quiver.
John dropped to one knee, his gun, an extension of his hand, already cocked and ready to fire at a moment's notice. He shouted out a warning, not waiting to see if it was obeyed or not, trusting his sons to take his word and find cover. He waited, tense, steadying himself to take the kill shot, knowing they only had one chance at this, that if he missed, they would have to take their chances and run, and he was uncertain if Sam was capable of doing so. He breathed slowly through his mouth in an effort to steady himself all the more, the crashing of bushes ahead alerting him to the beast's whereabouts.
A crash and shout from behind him had his focus lost in an instant, his mind casting back to the words of his youngest earlier, words that spoke of caution, of flaws in their plan, of the chance there could be more than one beast. He didn't have time to berate himself though as he was barreled into with force, his body flying gracelessly through the air before coming to land, winded and confused, his head catching a glancing blow from an unforgiving tree trunk. He shook his head, willing the blurriness to abate, his efforts increasing as a scream rang out across the night sky, before everything around him fell silent. Pushing himself up onto shaky arms he shouted. "Dean! Sammy!" Half of him relieved, half of him distraught, when one of his boys answered.
Sam dangled in mid-air, a silent scream frozen on his shocked face. Dean ran to the edge of the cliff yelling his brother's name, skidding to a stop at the particularly steep crest. Their eyes locked. And there was nothing Dean could do. If he shot the beast down, Sammy would plummet from its huge talons. Sam's face was a mask of pain as he struggled, held up by his impaled shoulder.
With one great flap of wings, Dean was thrown to the ground and Sam was lost to view as the beast flew off. A great screech rent the air and Dean clasped his hands to his ears until it died down.
"NO!" Dean screamed. He got to his feet and was about to find his way down the hill, running in the direction Sam had been taken. He was tackled from behind and brought to the ground once again.
John grabbed Dean's facemask, the air a little cleaner a few inches from the ground.
"Let me go!" Dean struggled against his father.
"You can't catch it, Dean. We'll have to figure out where it took Sam. If you go off half-cocked it'll get you too. I can't … I can't lose both of you."
The forest grew quiet for a few minutes. Dean pulled his coat from his father's tight grip and stood up, trying to ignore his father's pleas for him to calm down and regroup. He stared in the direction Sam had been taken.
"We wouldn't have lost Sam if you'd listen to him once in awhile!" Dean shouted as his father stood shakily wincing with every degree he straightened. "He could be anywhere. How do you go after something that flies? Sam could be …"
"We'll get your brother back," John told Dean, plucking his satellite phone from the heavy coat and dialing Bobby's number.
"Bobby, listen, Sam's been taken …" John proceeded to tell Bobby exactly what happened. Bobby promised to call his friend, a Vietnam vet who ran a helicopter tour business and had his fair share of hunting animals and the supernatural under his belt. If anyone would fly out in the dense smoke, it was Stu Smith. Bobby promised to be in the air in a half hour.
A million thoughts flooded Dean's panicked brain. What if Sam was dropped, eaten or set down to burn to death when the beast tired of its new toy? The sky loomed huge before him and he felt small.
"I'm going after him too," Dean announced, stalking off before John could stop him. John tried to keep up with his eldest but the impact into the tree had his vision graying and the pain in his back buckled his legs. Dean was as angry with his father as he'd ever been, his heart ripped out, but he couldn't leave him there like this. He turned around and walked back to his father, handing him the flare gun and the bottle of water.
The satellite phone was pushed into Dean's gloved hands and John nodded.
"Dean, get yourself out before you're surrounded by fire, please son."
Dean clapped his father on the shoulder, almost certain that he would never see him again. He had no intention of coming back without his brother.
Dean wiped soot off of his compass and set out in the direction the beast had flown. If it followed its vague patterns of previous fires, it would stay within a ten-mile radius. Dean fought hard to remember the details Sam had told him, the ones he'd laughed at.
Dean knew of Sam's theory. He had found a pattern in the dates of the fires and the times of year by cross referencing migratory bird nesting grounds and scientific hypothesis of prehistoric pterodactyl. Sightings of the beast were always within ten miles of the heart of the fire. Dean wracked his brain. Sam had said something about the fires renewing certain undergrowth and allowing larger trees to survive and actually helping replenish things in certain circumstances.
The air was fresh above the tree canopy. Sam was grateful for the first full breaths he'd pulled into his lungs in over a half hour but the pain in his shoulder notched up tenfold with his increased awareness.
Sam groped for his facemask, gasping for breath through copper tasting lips. The last thing he remembered was being flung through the air and over the crest of the hill. Something hit him between the shoulder blades, driving the oxygen canister into his back brutally as he tried to roll onto his side. He plucked a large, jagged splinter of broken facemask from his cheek, the disconnected air hose still hissing feebly from somewhere beneath him. He lifted his head, grimacing at the jagged hole in the cloth above his shoulder and the pain from where he'd been grabbed by the beast.
The air was cleaner down here, a ceiling of dense black smoke above him bruising the sky with swirling plumes that allowed the odd stab of mid afternoon sun through, causing Sam's concussed vision to focus oddly on individual granules of soot that settled on his nose and face. A voice called from above, compelling him to answer, but his here, Sir died somewhere deep in his chest from even attempting to shout. He couldn't see the top of the hill from where he lay in a small crevice. Down here, Dad. I'm down here. Sorry.
Panic rose in Sam as he lay like a turtle on its back, ridiculously heavy gear dragging him back down every time he fought through the pain to try to sit up. He finally managed to get his arms out of the heavy straps that held the canister on his back, realizing that he hadn't managed to shift out of his large coat so it now enveloped him like a stifling straight jacket. The sun picked that time to peak through the haze of smoke, glaring down on him like a bug under a magnifying glass. Sweat pooled beneath him, at least that's what Sam told himself. It might not be blood … he thought desperately. The pain in his back and legs would beg to differ but he tried to ignore it. He had to get to the top of that hill. Had to prove he was worthy.
Somewhere above, Dean shouted and his voice echoed for what could be miles. Still, Sam allowed himself to sink back against the canister for a second of pain filled relief at hearing that Dean was alive before resuming his attempt to extricate himself from what felt like elephant skin. The struggle and wiggling cost him the last of his energy and he was still trapped. His fingers found the inside of the top clasp of the heavy coat and Sam unbuckled it, grateful for the first time for the enormity of the garment when he was able to slither on his back out of it, his head and shoulders hitting the ground roughly as they crested the canister. He took a deep breath, trying to let it out slowly but instead it was ripped from him in a choked sob of pain as his tailbone finally fell to the ground off the canister. His left leg rested still inside the coat. Sam reveled in the momentary feel of intense cold as air hit his body, causing his soaked undershirt to suck in against him like cold cloths, reviving him just a bit.
A loud screech from somewhere above the artificially darkened sky zapped that relief in an instant. It was coming back. Sam knew one thing, it wasn't a Black Sabbath. But dragons don't exist …
Sam got his hands beneath him and pushed himself up with a grunt, his legs sliding finally from the coat onto the scrub grass ground. He gritted his teeth to work himself free from the heavy pants. The huge boots were nowhere to be seen. The pants would never stay on now, having been rolled up four times as it was. Sam squinted in pain as he forced his arms over his head to take his tee shirt off. He tore strips of material to tie around his feet when he realized he'd never find the boots; now to stand up and make his way back to his family to kill the beast.
Easier said than done.
The last Dean saw of Sam, he was clutched in a scaled talon, a massive eye raking over his dangling body even as he fumbled with the cross bow he'd grabbed just as he was swept from his feet. The beast had descended from Dean's vision, taking with it the one of the only thing that mattered to him in the world.
John had recovered enough to track Dean. He had to help his boys. It was his fault they were here.
"Sam! Sammy!" Dean screamed his brother's name over and over again into the blackness that surrounded them from the beast's latest fly-by kicking up dirt and soot into ever thickening swirls that disoriented him as he spun around looking for Sam.
A screech louder if possible than the first when Sam was taken away ripped through the hazy air currents distributing sound into stereo making it feel like the beast was everywhere, above, below, beside.
Dean, in full fight mode, struggled as two strong arms pulled him downward until he was lying on his belly and his father's face appeared in the smoke etched shield of his facemask. There was about twelve inches of cleaner air on the ground, as John held tight to Dean's mask, ordering him to take a minute to regain his bearings.
"Dad, Sammy … It got him," But it was what that got Sam, Dean couldn't say out loud. Because dragons don't exist.
Dean pushed against the ground to get up but John held him firmly in place.
"Dean stay down for a minute damn it! We're going after Sam, I just have to think for a minute."
"If you'd thought before we got here, Sam wouldn't be missing. He told you it wasn't a Black Sabbath, but you didn't listen to him and I …" I didn't stick up for him. God, Sammy.
"How do you go after someone who's been flown away by a dragon?" Dean yelled. There he'd said it, even after telling Sam in the car how stupid he was for believing that dragons could be responsible for the damage done in these fires.
John wanted to deny it. He'd been hunting for sixteen years and no intelligence or instinct had indicated that dragons existed. Werewolves? Sure. Vampires? You bet. Wendgos? Yep been-there-killed-that. But dragons? Sam said so and that should have been good enough, at least to entertain the idea. Sam's research and shy, scared remarks about needing to do more research would be rewarded the way they usually were with a why, yes Sam, there is a Santa Clause but there's also anti-clause and by the way, sorry-about-the-whole-dragon- killing-you-thing.
And still Dean looked to John with those trusting eyes for answers he couldn't give.
Hauling Dean to his feet, John checked his oldest over for any signs of injury, causing Dean to step back and glare angrily before grabbing the one cross bow that was left and shouldering the pack his dad had been carrying. John tried to hide the limp from the impact into the tree.
Dean started walking, using the boulder they'd hid under for cover as a marker. The smoke made it hard to keep from falling over rocks and uneven ground. John kept up. No limp would stop a marine and Dean knew in his heart that John hadn't meant for any of this to happen. It didn't lessen the anger. Dean needed that anger to keep going because when Sam dipped from sight in the beast's clutches, hope had abandoned him. Dean nearly tipped over the edge, not able to see where the steep incline started in time, but once again, strong arms held him in place. It was where Sam had gone over. It was the only place to start. They began the arduous trek down, ever cautious of the beast's return.
Twice now Dean tried to set out alone to find Sam but with the fire and unknown terrain he realized they had no choice but to stick together. He fought John each time a rest stop was called and a water bottle was shoved his way. Sam had no water. Sam had no rest.
Pushing to his feet and wiping blackened gloves across his facemask that was about as useless as a boarded up window as far as seeing was concerned, Dean pressed on. Spot fires burned all around them and made them go out of their way wasting time Sam didn't have. They abandoned their empty air tanks and walked straighter, coughing all the way.
The ground was mushy in spots. A water bomb had been dropped here recently. Dean turned back to tell John they had to go around the unstable ground when he stepped into a pit of bright orange embers. His jeans engulfed in flames and the rubber boots he was wearing started to melt and meld to his skin. Dean dropped and frantically tried to pull the boot off causing burnt rubber to stick to his hands and flames shot up his tee shirt. The ground shifted in the mud and fire and a branch from a nearby tree snapped like a twig and smacked across Dean's chest its dried leaves aglow with flame and singeing Dean's face.
John tackled Dean to the ground as another larger branch broke away and fell. He shucked his old turnout coat and smothered the flames on his son's body.
Dean lay in shock, no idea of how badly hurt he was. He rose to his feet before John could stop him and started off again. John wanted to stop him, knew he had to apply first aid immediately, but if they stopped here they'd surely perish. The fire was coming back to eat whatever the water bomb had interrupted. And they were going to be desert. Shock was a blessing at this point if it kept Dean on his feet but John had watched soldiers die after walking for miles after a dousing with Agent Orange or after a bombing. He walked beside his son the images of the dead-men-walking from his time in the war filling his heart with dread.
Sam staggered upright, feet wrapped like a mummy. There was nothing he could do about the blood that dripped slowly down his back, dying his new foot dressings bright red after tickling down his legs through his torn jeans. He reluctantly shouldered the huge canister, putting the end of the tube between his teeth and closing his parched lips around it sucking what little air managed to trickle through. It was better than nothing.
Sam didn't know what direction the car was and when he turned to look up, his stomach sank in the knowledge that he didn't have the strength to get back up the hill to his family.
"Dean!" Sam called, in what he hoped was a strong enough voice to reach his brother's ears. He might as well have been trying to throw an anvil up to the top for all the volume his tortured throat managed.
John's words bled into his waning consciousness. If you're lost, stay in one spot, and we'll come for you. It was the Boy Scout way, the marine way and an order. But right now, the ever-increasing heat, cinders and smoke begged to differ. Sam knew if he stayed here, even if his dad and Dean found him, all that would be left would be burned bones. In the back of his confused mind, this appealed to Sam. It was the hunter way and if he was going to die, he wanted to be burned because if he came back as an angry spirit he'd shove his dragon research right up his father's …
Okay, Sam, get it together, he ordered himself, worrying a little when he answered himself, yes sir.
A gust of wind propelled Sam downward and with every twenty-foot drop in altitude the air cleared a little more. Small, jagged pebbles embedded into the foot dressing tore into his bruised feet. He sucked on the tube clutched in his aching jaw but he'd bitten down on it pain until it was flattened. It was like breathing through a straw that was encased in the dregs of coke in a paper cup. Small animals that would normally shy away from humans ran in frenzied fear past him. Sam remembered the deer and birds taking off past the Impala. He turned himself in the diagonal descent that the little forest creatures had taken. Hopefully they'd make it to safety. Hopefully he'd make it to the Impala and dad and Dean would be waiting. First he'd hug them, then he'd make like an angry spirit and shove his dragon research up … And he used that thought to propel him downward.
Sirens in the distance indicated the new strategy of the fire department. More people were to die because they didn't know what they were dealing with.
Fred Sanders shouted orders to his crew. They were to clear land from the logging road Southward, hoping to contain the fire. Civilians from the logging company volunteered heavy equipment and worked alongside the fire department, plucking trees from the ground as easily as picking flowers.
"Crap!" muttered Sanders as the soot-covered Impala came into view. He ordered the car towed away as soon as possible, not wanting a gas tank explosion should they be unable to keep the fire at bay. The old fire chief ordered his crew to be on the lookout for the idiots who owned the car. He wondered why people would literally play with fire. Didn't they know better? Did they come from a place where the Smokey The Bear never visited? After all, his own son was a trained volunteer fireman of five years experience and he was in the ICU right now, having been burned in the last fire that tore through a neighboring district.
Large machines dug trenches on the far side of the logging road. Firefighters were ordered to check homes and cabins within a ten-mile radius and soon, water bombers would begin grid patterns over the fire, trying to douse it. For a young fire, it was spreading fast.
Fred was bothered by the patterns of this fire, because it was the same as the others that plagued the area for months. He didn't want to think of the painkiller-induced ramblings from his son about the winged beast who breathed fire. No. It had to be arson. More than one person had to be involved too, because there had been more than one starting point in the other fires according to aerial reports.
The tow truck showed up to haul the Impala away just as the wind changed right on time according to the latest weather reports. The air was clearer, cleaner. As Fred watched the Impala round the bend in the road on the back of the flat bed, he shook his head as the red, round brake lights of the sleek black car flashed back at him like accusing eyes. From the amount of soot on the car, the occupants couldn't have been the arsonists, for the starting points were too far away, still Fred intended to put the fear of God and fire into their souls for being here. He cursed the fools loudly as he looked at his watch, unable to wait for the owners to return. Now he'd have to put his crew at risk to go look for them.
Three teams of two were ordered up the hill in three different diagonal patterns. Gut instinct never let Fred down and he knew the occupants of the car had gone toward the fire and not away. Fools rush in after all. His son joked about that before shock had taken his senses. It was the last words his son had said in weeks. Fred ordered a water bomber, informing his team he would radio them before the drop.
An airplane in the distance filled Sam with hope until he realized it was a water bomber. There was nowhere to find cover.
A rush of water filling his ears like a waterfall, Sam knelt, covering his head for all the good it would do. The water dropped somewhere to his right sending a wall of steam and red hot orange embers so intense he feared he would boil rather than barbecue. The crackling of the flames he'd caught brief glimpses of stilled and were replaced by the hissing of instant condensation as the fire fought for its life.
Ash and hot red cinders blistered Sam's cloth-bound feet and ate holes in his jeans burning his legs. He tried to spit out the tube in his mouth but it clung to his parched lips until he pulled it away, tiny beads of blood flowing into his mouth. The oxygen canister was empty. He threw it to the ground and tried to straighten his shoulders. Acrid steam from the water drop overtook him. In one last-ditch effort his feet moved him a bit further down the hill. It was a mistake to rake his hand across his eyes. Dizzying lines of charcoal black filled his vision. There were no more tears left to clear them, no sweat left to cool him. Each step was agony as skin pulled too taut and the remaining dried salt from his body's efforts to cool tortured him further. Isn't a person supposed to be dead before they're salted and burned? he wondered bitterly.
Sam tried to remain upright. His stomach rebelled at the constant effort to pull in air only to cough out black soot that would make a fifty-year, three packs a day smoker blanch in disgust. Heat pushed him to his knees like a medieval soldier waiting for beheading; only Sam knew this death would not be quick. Would not be easy. If he had a voice, he would have cried out in pain as he crawled along the forest floor.
His hands slipped from beneath him and he groped blindly before falling over a steep ledge. He closed his eyes out of pure reflex; smoke had long since blinded all things in the forest. It was a long drop, made almost comical because Sam found out something; life really does flash before your eyes, as you're about to die. And it does so in infinitesimal measurements of time. The gap between space and the sudden stop at the bottom hung like an old cartoon. Meep Meep! Look, Dean I'm the Road Runner! Sanity left at the kindest possible time as Sam's body slammed down and the bright cartoons in his head turned out the light.
When Sam woke he expected a world of pain to greet him, or pearly gates, or hell, but not this … He was lying curled on his side in a slick, snot-like gelatin. Something white and chalky lay over his entire body and with much effort he pushed it off of him and it crumbled. The absence of the thin covering caused Sam to shiver. Evening had fallen over the forest. The air wasn't clear but a few stars blinked through the thinning smoke.
Sam choked and his stomach churned, throwing out some of the gelatinous muck he must have swallowed while unconscious. Large quantities of the black soot mixed with the vile stuff but when Sam's coughs finally quieted, he lay back exhausted but slightly clearer headed. Pain shot through his body when he tried to sit up and his hands slipped in the muck keeping him down.
Sam passed a hand over his face wearily, forgetting the muck and spreading it over his entire his face with one swoop. The burns on his face were soothed instantly and he sighed in relief. Sam tried to stay calm, assessing his injuries. He shivered in the wetness that while a blessing to his burns made his teeth chatter. His shoulder no long felt like part of his body and lifting his other arm was practically impossible. With a thrill of horror, he realized he was naked.
Forgetting the pain momentarily, Sam once again tried to sit. He managed to edge upwards using the white chalk like wall behind his back. What he saw when he managed a half sit up made him want to lie back down again.
Three sets of large green eyes stared at him.
Okay, so, I knocked my head harder than I thought. Or this place is hiding a nuclear plant somewhere and these are giant radioactive lizards.
Sam closed his eyes and tried pulling in a few deep breaths but it was too painful. When he reopened his eyes to a loud burping noise and a small, Bic lighter sized flame shot over his head he knew for certain. Dragons do exist. And apparently they have babies. Honest-to-God fire breathing babies.
Sam forced himself to a kneeling position so he could see over the sticks and mud piled about five feet all around him and the three babies, which were almost his size. He had to get out of here before he became dinner.
One of the baby dragons pawed at the smoke emanating from his sibling's nostrils and proceeded to mimic the fiery burp. All that was accomplished was a smoke ring and the baby that had burped fire knocked the one who had made a smoke ring over with its tail causing it to wail loudly.
Flapping in the distance sped Sam's heart and reminded him of the wounds in his back and shoulders, which pumped blood freely once again. Mama was coming to check on the wailing baby. Sam grabbed the edge of the nest, preparing to climb out or fall on his ass to the ground, whichever came first and get the hell out of there. He got his left leg up and over the side of the nest, sticks tearing at his chest as he let himself drop to the ground with a cry of pain as he landed on his wounded shoulder. He rolled to his back, coughing up more of the black goo that had been jarred loose from the impact with the ground. Tears of fear and pain leaked from his eyes and he curled into a ball.
Sam's face screwed up with pain and the inevitable as the rush of cold from the flapping of wings hovering over him. He held his breath when a huge talon wrapped around his waist picked him up, more gently than the shoulder-piercing ride he remembered only now. The dangling sensation was the same as before when he fell or was dropped, he couldn't remember. He opened his eyes. Some stupid part of him wanted to view the nest from above, wanted to see the dragons one last time even though he wouldn't be able to tell Dean about them. And it wasn't about just the bragging rights anymore. It was sharing something wonderful, deadly, but still amazing with his big brother.
Sam braced himself for the fall, waiting to be torn apart for meat. Instead he was dunked fully into what he now understood was a fairly freshly-hatched dragon egg. He spluttered and coughed out more black goo and the baby dragons turned their attention back to him.
"What? I can't breathe fire if that's what you're waiting for before you eat me," Sam wheezed. The goo was cold. "And you better just eat me soon because I'm going cold," he added defiantly.
A whoosh of warm air rushed over the nest taking Sam's last strength and false bravado with it. The goo he lay in warmed and Sam welcomed unconsciousness as mama dragon blew fire over the nest, probably to cook dinner … him. Huh, I'm a poached egg.
John stood beside Dean by a small lake. Dean's leg dangled in the water and when he tried to withdraw it and stand, he was gently pushed back down. John ended his call from his satellite phone with the fire department.
"Dad, you shouldn't have called them. I'm fine. I need to find Sam." Dean's eyes were huge with shock setting in. John worried about the cleanliness of the lake and infection but he'd had no choice but to get the burns cooled.
"Your chest and leg is burned, Dean. You have to go to the hospital." And your face …
"I'm sorry, dad. I heard the branch snap but I couldn't get out from under it with the gear on and when the sparks landed I couldn't exactly stop drop and roll."
John looked at his eldest. Without the gear, Dean looked small, not as small as Sam, but not like the grown up marine John usually saw. They'd walked for miles through smoke and burning embers only admitting they had to go lower and get in the opposite direction of the smoke when it became clear that not doing so would mean certain death. They could only hope that Sam was still alive.
"You have nothing to be sorry for, Dean."
"Sammy's dead isn't he?" Dean's voice shook and even in the dim light of the few stars that reflected into the glassy surface of the lake he saw the truth in his father's eyes.
"We don't know that, Dean. Sammy's a fighter. If there was anyone who could get out of this, it would be him." If only I'd told Sam as much when I had the chance. Now I could lose both of them. Fire. Again … and a dragon, Sam. Son, you were … oh God, ARE so smart. You're so like your mom.
"But I heard the fireman tell you that they hadn't found him when you called on the satellite phone." Dean pulled John out of his thoughts.
Dean coughed roughly and closed his eyes. God, Sammy, where are you? He could no longer support himself perched at the edge of the lake. His elbows that were supporting his torso as his leg soaked gave and he would have pitched into the lake if John hadn't caught his shoulders. John sat and positioned himself behind his son, cradling his back to his chest and held him, feeling the shudders pulse through him. It would be several hours for the fire department to reach them and the smoke had thickened considerably since he'd called Bobby for help. John couldn't bear to tell Dean that.
Dean pressed the back of his head against his father's body. The burns on his chest felt like they were eating further into his body until they'd consume him. He opened his eyes back up, reaching up to try to peel his shirt away from his torso. A piece of material the size of a baseball had melted to his skin.
John reached around Dean to grasp his hands gently, trying to find a way to hold on without hurting his son further. The outer layer of Dean's hands were in tatters from extricating himself from the burning branch that had fallen on him earlier.
"Dean, I spoke to the medics. Don't peel the shirt away. I know it hurts, son. They'll be here soon."
Dean tried to be the soldier he'd been taught to be. He tried to breathe through the white-hot agony. Shame overtook him as he let out a sob of pain for himself and for his brother.
Somewhere off in the distance, the sound of heavy equipment chopping its way through the forest toward them stilled Dean. And there was another sound. Screaming. It was Sam. He'd know that sound anywhere.
Sam awoke, which to him was miraculous enough. The toenail moon gave its meager light as Sam mentally counted fingers, toes and limbs. They were all there. He hadn't become a snack pack for his nest mates. Yet.
The goo Sam lay in was still warm. The baby dragons were asleep, curled around the nest so tightly in a ball that it was hard to tell where one began and one ended. One of the babies sucked on the tail of his sibling. Sam thought now might be a good time to escape. Modesty returned to him temporarily as he gathered up a piece of thick egg membrane to tie around his waist. It was then he realized he'd gotten to his knees with relatively less pain than he'd passed out with. His left arm was still useless, the shoulder hanging oddly and a couple of his ribs still floated freely in his torso but his legs … The burns are gone. Sam drew his feet together. The burns on his feet were gone too. What the?
Sam didn't have time to finish his wonder. He tied another piece of membrane from the inside of the egg around his neck to hold his left arm, taking pressure off his shoulder and chest. As he tied it he noticed lumps on both collarbones. Broken no doubt. He pulled in a few breaths of air, preparing to try to climb out of the nest again. He didn't know why he wasn't eaten yet but he wasn't going to stick around for another course.
Sam gripped the edge of the nest with his right hand and prepared to endure the pain of the climb out when he came face to face with mama dragon. He found out his lungs were stronger, not healed completely by any means but he bellowed a healthy scream at the proximity of those huge eyes, that hot nose, those Buick sized teeth. Sam fell back into his egg, covering his head and waiting once again for the blow of death.
Mama dragon cocked her head to the side like a cocker spaniel. She opened her huge mouth and Sam gagged at the smell. He was pelted with slime and whatever was being thrown at him woke the babies.
The babies launched into a feeding frenzy. Dozens of fish, some of them still wiggling littered the nest. The biggest baby, first hatched Sam surmised before he heard Dean's voice in his head, only you would think of order of hatching when you're probably desert geek boy, breathed fire onto the fish in his clumsy talons and ate it in one swallow. The smallest baby blew smoke rings onto its dinner, wailing when it wouldn't cook. The medium baby just set about eating as many fish as it could, wiggling or not.
"I'll call you Dean," Sam told the one eating sushi. He wasn't getting out of here anytime soon, if at all, and somehow thinking of Dean's humor, even in situations like this sustained him.
It didn't dawn on Sam that he might live through this until the mama dragon shoved a huge lake trout toward him. One of his nest mates stepped on the fish at his feet, making a popping noise emanate that nearly made Sam throw up.
"Oh! You want me to eat that?" The fish were nearly all gone and the mother dragon pushed the puddle of squished fish toward him again.
A gurgling noise was the only thing that could take Sam's eyes off the mother dragon. He turned to the largest baby dragon to see its tummy area, the only part of the creature not covered in thick body armor that resembled seashells visibly shifting. The two siblings made yipping noises and scrambled to the opposite side of the nest where Sam stood. A huge burp resounded, followed by a ball of fire that would rival a flamethrower.
The mother dragon dropped her nose onto the fire breather momentarily before scooping the one who could make smoke rings. She used her huge tail to swipe across its back and caused a hoola hoop sized smoke ring to belch out of the baby. Next she tried to swing her tail to the final baby but it ducked her blow and proceeded to Hoover up Sam's trout mush.
"It's okay, Dean I didn't want it anyway," Sam told the dragon. Saying Dean's name sent a pang of guilt through Sam. He'd screwed up. The babies were big and relatively clueless. The mother dragon didn't seem to want to hurt him. He'd sort of figured out why the forest fires happened every forty years. The babies were getting big, he surmised that when they started exploring outside the nest, their burps and play would no doubt start fires. Dragons stay babies for years, according to lore, so a nest every forty years didn't seem unreasonable.
It occurred to Sam that he could make up for his uselessness by killing the dragons while mama was away. It was what John would do; at least he thought it was. There were no grey areas to John Winchester. No innocent supernatural creatures. If it wasn't listed in the Noah's Ark book of animals, it got killed, period. And Dean would do what he was told.
Sam studied the pink stomach areas on the babies. Mama dragon's belly was covered in the same thick shells as the rest of her body, save for one missing scale about four inches by four inches, right on her underbelly. Just like in the books. Just like in the movies. Just where a hunter would aim to kill. Sam still feared for his life. But to think of these creatures being killed to extinction … again, made him sick.
Sam's eyes grew wide when mama dragon picked him up and swiped her tail across his back. She thinks I'm hers! He thought as the pain spiked through his back from the intended burp. He cried out in agony and was placed swiftly back into the goo, his breaths labored as more black soot made its way back out of his body via his nose and mouth. He curled onto his side coughing loudly and painfully.
"SAM!" Dean shouted, pushing out of his father's grip and standing, his leg slipping on the muddy riverbank.
"Dean, be quiet, we need to hear from what direction the sound came," John ordered, trying to sweep Dean's feet from under him. The medic on the phone had instructed him to keep Dean still.
"Over there," Dean said determined to stalk off in the direction his index finger pointed, skin dangling from the tip grotesquely.
John knew Dean was right but Dean's momentary adrenaline rush was over. Dean gripped his father's jacket tightly, trying in vain to remain upright, to get to his brother.
"Sam's alive, dad," Dean wheezed. "We need to get him." Dean's eyes rolled back in his head momentarily and John guided him to a graceless heap on the ground.
John wrapped his outer shirt and heavy coat around Dean's shoulders and held him, feeling helpless as Dean began to murmur. How he wished he couldn't understand what Dean was saying in his delirium. Shock had taken hold firmly.
"Hang on for me a little longer, Dean. They're coming. We'll help Sammy too."
"Dad, give him to me. Give the baby to me. I promise this time I'll take care of him. He won't burn again like mommy did. I know it's my job. I'm sorry. Give him to me please. I promise I'll get him out. I won't lose him. Please daddy."
John's head swiveled from looking toward where Sam's scream had come from down to his eldest whose tears streaked through his soot covered hair and down his face, making tracks of too pale skin beneath. Small burns surely stung from the salt of the tears but Dean didn't flinch. He'd grown too still, no longer shivering.
John tried not to be a father. He tried to be the marine, the trained, hardened machine that had a decision to make. Go save the son who was screaming strongly or stay beside the one who was almost sure to die from shock before the fire department could arrive.
Dean made the decision for him. John just wished it wasn't the four-year-old Dean that did it.
"Daddy, Sammy's crying."
John placed his hands on either side of Dean's face, trying to talk to his son, possibly for the last time past the lump in his throat.
"Dean, it's okay. I'm going to get Sammy. I'm going to bring him back here. You have to stay here, son, okay?" Not that John seriously thought Dean could get back up at this point, but it was Dean he was dealing with here and when it came to Sam, Dean could do the impossible at times.
John sat Dean up very carefully and held the bottle of water to his lips. Dean took a small sip but coughed it back up. Dehydration was setting in, all stacking up against his chances of survival.
Dean gave one more shudder of pain before his eyes closed and no longer moved under their lids like before. John reached out his hand and held his breath as he checked Dean's barely there pulse. He kissed Dean's forehead and stood up. He tied bright orange reflectors that he'd cut away from the fire gear to a tree over Dean's head.
John shouldered his pack, climbing steadily back up the hill. As he gained altitude, his view of the fire was renewed. The fire department had knocked it down considerably and he could see the line the heavy equipment made trying to get to them. He estimated another hour or more before they'd arrive and he hoped to have Sam by then and be back to Dean.
John tried to walk lightly so he could listen for any more sounds from Sam. They'd searched all day and to think that Sam may be no more than two miles away from them when Dean had been pinned by the falling tree limb, ramped up his anger toward the beast and kept his fatigue plagued body going.
Sam tried to shift into a position that would take the pressure off his chest and shoulder. It was impossible. He concentrated on taking shallow breaths even though his nest mates reacted to the fish they'd eaten like children who'd eaten a bag of candy. He was going to be trampled. It was certain.
The mama dragon lay curled around the nest, the babies using her tail to climb out of the nest and nuzzle around her long neck before using her long snout as a slide.
"You're a good mother," Sam said, gazing into the eyes that were expressive like no other beast's. There was a wistful tinge to the words. "And I think Dean (Sam looked toward the sushi eater) will look after the smaller ones. He's kinda like my brother, Dean. He'll eat anything. He'd eat a squashed pie … Hell, he'd probably eat the sushi you served for supper.
Animals who hadn't fled or died hooted in muted tones throughout the forest. The sounds were dulled and echoing as though trying to take up space where vibrant lush forest once stood.
And through it all, Sam could hear … It was unmistakable. His father's birdcall. The one that they used as a signal in situations like this … well, not like this exactly, but it was music to Sam's ears.
Sam fought to his feet, pushed past the pain and yelled. "Here! Dean! Dad!" Then Sam clamped his hands over his mouth in horror. In a few minutes, John and Dean would no doubt storm the nest, guns and bows blazing.
Sam no longer paid heed to his hurts. He grabbed onto the mother dragon's snout and extricated himself from the nest. Once on the ground, the mother flicked her tail in invitation for Sam to use it to slide back down where he belonged. Sam shook his head, feeling stupid, as if she could ever understand.
Just then, mama's nose went up in the air, puffs of smoke suddenly pouring from her nostrils like she was preparing to blast. She turned in the direction that John had bird called from. Sam took the opportunity to take one last look at the miracle before him and took off around the nest in the opposite direction from his father, preparing to double back and lead him away from the dragons. Sam made it about two hundred feet before the mother obviously noticed he was gone. A loud screech, followed by a gunshot and deadly silence stopped Sam in his tracks. Sam turned around and ran back.
"Dad! Dean! Stop! Please!" Sam begged. The run exhausted his last reserves and he looked around his father in the small depression in the rocky ledge for Dean. Sam stood between the nest and his father, whose gun was raised to kill.
"Sammy, it's okay son, just walk forward slowly and get behind me," John instructed looking like Goliath about to take down a giant. Truth was, John was scared. He knew he hit the beast the moment it breathed fire over his head.
Sam looked to the mother dragon towering before her nest, which was shielded from John's view. She flicked her tail at any baby who tried to raise its head from the nest.
"Dad, you can't. It didn't kill me. It doesn't understand. It's not evil …"
"Sam I'm not going to tell you again, walk forward, that's an order son."
"No." Sam felt sick. He'd said no to his father a handful of times in the past and usually earned he and Dean extra laps or training. Dean sometimes tried to defend Sam but more often than not he'd run the extra laps and plead with Sam to stop trying the man's patience, however thin it was.
Sam looked around with bleary, tear filled eyes for his support. For a distraction, even Dean calling him a girl right now would do, anything to get John's attention away from that nest. And then it hit him.
The gun faltered in John's hands.
"No …" Sam begged. "No." Sam's already feeble breaths hitched. He stumbled forward, eyes wildly searching the woods behind his father. His head swam. He turned around, staring into the eyes of the dragon. If his brother was dead, her kind was responsible. But it was an accident, right? Surely dragons had been breeding here unnoticed for centuries before humans encroached?
Sam's knees buckled just as John shot again. The sound shattered in his head. He curled on the ground as the dragon rose higher and shot flame closer this time, above John's head.
"Please, no," Sam begged, wishing that he'd never seen a dragon, wishing that they didn't exist, that the world was black and white or at least that he could learn to see it that way.
Sam managed to crouch as John loaded the gun again. He stared between the mother and his father in silent prayer as his mind numbed along with his body and the stars blinked out one by one as his vision narrowed to blackness.
"Sammy!" John shouted. He ran toward his youngest but was swept away by an inferno of heat as fire rushed by his head so close his hair stood on end. The gun fell from his grasp as the dragon bent her muzzle toward the boy.
John caught site of the nest, of the three babies. He paused. Sam would just have to understand if they made it out of this alive. The dragons had to die. John was a smart man. It didn't take him long to see the soft underbelly of the infants. He tucked the details away in the back of his mind and approached his son on the ground.
Mama dragon pawed at the dirt around Sam as if in challenge to John. It was only now that John could see that she intended to keep his son. With every foot he walked toward Sam, she hissed louder.
Strange bits of one-sided conversation jumbled in Sam's mind. He tried to rise to consciousness but couldn't find his way.
"You're not taking my son. No one's taking him. We'll protect him," John vowed vehemently.
We? Is Dean here? Hope flared in Sam and he forced his eyes open. As soon as he did, he wished he hadn't. He'd only seen his dad cry twice, once on a particularly bad anniversary of his mother's death and once when Child Protective Services had taken he and Dean away for a week, promising John that he'd never get them back, and both times, John had been a drunken wreck. Sober tears were way scarier.
"He's mine, do you hear me? He's not taking him and neither are you." Again, Sam wondered who he was that his dad mentioned.
It was scaring Sam, the determination in his father's words that were mixed with equal amounts of fear and bravado. With one last puff of warm air, mama dragon backed up until she crouched over her nest. Sam felt instantly cold.
Sam tried to protest when he was picked up into his father's arms but his head lolled against his chest. For some reason he felt smaller with his dad than he had minutes ago with the massive dragon. He'd just never measure up.
John turned his back on the dragon, hating with every fiber of his being that he couldn't finish this hunt tonight. Hating that Sam blamed himself, hating himself that he hadn't checked Sam's equipment and that he made it impossible for Sam to speak up and tell him it didn't fit before he got hurt. And the closer he got to Dean, the more he hated himself for bringing his boys here, for probably killing the one person who could translate the strange language John and Sam had.
Sam's makeshift sling slipped as John lost his footing and stumbled. Sam woke to agony, gritting his teeth as bone shifted against bone in his torso. John gripped Sam tighter and repositioned him making shushing sounds like he used to when he'd walk the floor with Sam right after Mary's death. Each step John took made Sam an extra shade of pale.
John pushed on to place Sam down next to Dean. Sam moaned a few times, his head tossing back and forth before stilling. John's hand shook as he reached for Dean's neck. The skin was so cold he almost drew his hand back, biting his lip. There it was, not much, but a weak pulse, the slightest rise and fall of breath barely enough to keep a hamster alive John reckoned, wishing for help to arrive soon.
John's whole body jumped when a cold hand encircled his wrist that remained on Dean's jugular.
"Da…" It was barely a breath. "Smmy?" Dean's eyes opened, fluttering as he fought to keep them fixed on Sam.
"Smmeee, s … I … I'm so … sorry …s'my job … I thought … I thought I got you out." Dean's eyes closed and his hands drew up to his chest and began rocking as though he were holding a baby.
John held Sam's right hand and Dean's left. He barely heard the heavy equipment edging ever closer to them.
"They're here!" someone shouted. Four firefighters ran toward them with backboards and cases of equipment.
John answered questions as best he could. Exhaustion was setting in and the news from the firefighters didn't give him much encouragement, as he held tight to his son's hands despite being told three times to step back.
A confirmation of shock was made in Dean's case and Dean squeezed John's hand tightly before his grasp went limp as the firefighters poured a clear liquid from a bag over his chest and leg. Dean's whole body jerked convulsively and he screamed so loud it brought false hope to John for a minute.
"He's crashing!" a medic yelled.
Other than the one yell, the rest of the conversation was quiet and calm as orders were given. John's heart shattered as his hand was pulled away when someone instructed everyone to clear away. Paddles were applied to Dean's already burned chest and John breathed again as one hit brought Dean back. He found his son's hand again just as medic snatched it away to insert an IV line. Someone else started another IV in Dean's neck and he was wrapped in sterile blankets and lifted onto the backboard.
Sam's self-applied sling and other coverings from the nest were stripped away and he was wrapped up from his feet to his neck. Heavy strips of gauze wound around the backboard secured his head and IV's were started.
Sam woke, grasping onto the hand in his. He couldn't turn his head. His heart raced. He remembered gunshots, being carried, and Dean, something about him saying he was sorry. Guilt built up and he wished it was Dean who was holding his hand. Defiance welled in Sam and he tried to let go of his dad's hand. John's heart broke as he looked over at Dean and gripped Sam's hand tight enough for both of them. Sam dissolved in tears, reaffirming his grip as pain and grief overtook him.
"Dad?" Sam's voice was small, pain filled and leaden with fear.
"Yeah, kiddo, I'm here," John answered and for the first time in years, Sam believed him.
"Dean's burned really bad, isn't he?"
John wanted to lie. Usually, the marine told things as they were. Suck it up, his favorite motto but as he looked from Dean to Sam he found he couldn't, found that even though he hated to admit it, he was proud of how Dean always got the girl. His boys were handsome, Mary's contribution he felt, and now Dean lay, his face a mask of burns that would scar him for life, if he even lived. And how screwed up was it that John should care about how his soldiers looked? This is when the father, John Winchester reared his weak head, the one who cared but pretended not to when his boys got good grades, the one who cared but couldn't show it when his boys set a new record in their training or other such pursuits. The one who would have to meld with the marine if Dean lived and be tough, getting him past the pain and the scars, to accept that he wouldn't look like the cocky young man who had so bravely walked into these woods today to slay a beast. The one who wouldn't see his wife's eyes and gentle smile in his oldest son's face any longer.
"Yeah, Sammy, he is. But Dean's tough. He's going to be okay. You need to relax," John told him not believing a word. The medic encouraged John to try to distract Sam from the pain as they secured his broken bones.
"It's my fault if Dean dies," Sam told John, his lip trembling even as he bit it in bitter agony as a needle pierced his arm in the crook of his elbow. Warmth spread up his arm into his chest and as a mask was fit over his face, his eyes rolled back in his head.
Dean and Sam were loaded onto the ATV and there was no room on the back for John. He reluctantly gave up his grasp of Sam's hand and climbed into the front as instructed. The fire hadn't reached the road yet. The wind was shifting. A helicopter was dispatched and would meet them down on the main road if possible.
The ride was bumpy and the ATV was open to the elements. Even with the pain meds Sam had been given, his eyes snapped open whenever the vehicle went over a particularly rough patch of terrain. John leaned over the seat trying to reassure Sam, wishing he could be beside him.
Fred Sanders, the old Fire Captain was driving the ATV. He'd fully intended to tear a strip off of the father who sat beside him for taking his sons into the middle of a raging fire, but there was something about the man's demeanor that stopped him. It was a police matter anyway, he told himself. He'd gotten a name from the father but nothing more so he tried some small talk. It looked like the distraught father could use some medical help himself but when anyone tried to touch him he turned them away.
The ATV followed the heavier equipment on the same path they'd used to get here. Fred was in the middle of deep thought when he heard the medic call for a halt. Dean had stopped breathing.
Two medics tilted Dean's head back as a third inserted a tube down his throat. In seconds the tube was connected to a portable ventilator and all eyes turned to Dean's chest which began to rise and fall.
The halt awakened Sam in a panic. Voices filled with forced calm made him want to turn his head to find his brother. His head was still firmly strapped to the backboard when a loud guttural roar filled the air. A shadow fell before him blocking out the moon and the stars just above the canopy of trees that had escaped the fire save for soot-covered trunks.
Everyone including those working on Dean tilted their heads towards the sky in horror as John jumped from the ATV gun in hand.
"NO!" shouted Sam. They were too near the nest. Mama was mad.
Three shots rang out but still the dragon loomed over them screeching.
Adrenaline filled Sam's body and he reached up with his good hand and unfastened the Velcro straps that held the bindings around his head. The morphine he'd been given was a blessing and a hindrance. He sat up, grimacing in a pain but able to slide off the backboard and the back of the ATV without being noticed by the firefighters and medics.
John got the crossbow out of his bag and as this was his sort of job, he ordered the medics and firefighters to get the hell away and he'd take care of this while they took care of his sons.
Only one problem. Sam was gone.
Sam used the adrenaline rush to propel him toward the nest. He knew his father would get there first if he didn't hurry and despite the bone deep pain he kept going. He heard the ATV start moving again. His father was calling his name. He couldn't answer.
Fred Sanders ordered his second in command to drive the ATV and he set off after John, who was limping badly. He had to know who these men were. He had to know what that beast was and help kill it for his son; for the others who had been injured; for the houses that had burned.
Fred caught up to John who tried to order him out of harm's way. John met his match where revenge seeking was concerned. The old firefighter wouldn't budge. John thrust a gun in his hands and told him about the underbellies of the spawn in the nest. Babies Sam had called them. The boy needed to grow up.
The mother dragon landed in front of her nest, wings outstretched as John fired bow after bow. The bows tattered the wings a bit but didn't penetrate. They bounced off of her until the arrows were spent.
Fred snuck around the nest, gun in his shaking arms. The beast would pay for the injuries to his son. Fred aimed, then a boy stepped in front of the baby dragons.
"Don't shoot!" John yelled.
The bullet had been squeezed out a fraction of a second too late for the warning. Sam's eyes widened as he went down.
John stared, horrified. Fred dropped to his knees in shock.
There were no more bullets or bows left.
The mother dragon screeched loudly once more before she turned her back on the men, seemingly without a care about them and their toys.
The bullet had grazed Sam's temple, leaving him almost deaf. Puffs of warm breath that still smelled of lake trout washed over him as he opened his eyes. His voice came out gravelly as he tried to speak.
"You're gonna die here if you don't go. I wish you could understand me. My dad won't stop until you're dead. I'm sorry." Sam's eyes closed momentarily as the nest jostled and felt like it was folding in on itself. The babies stumbled around him to the point where he was sure he'd be trampled. He had to get up.
Sam stood on wobbly legs, finding his father as he scanned the ground.
"Sam. I'm coming toward you. I'm going to get you out." John approached the nest. The mother dragon continued to spit on the dried sticks as if trying to make the mud sturdier. The babies were agitated and hissing and spitting little smoke rings. When John got close enough to touch the nest, a giant tail thundered onto the ground knocking him to his knees.
"No, please." The mother dragon turned her eyes to Sam. John was no longer a threat. He was close enough to swallow in one bite. She studied Sam closely and sniffed him. The way she sniffed him was different than when she'd caught the scent of the other men. Sam remembered that lore on dragons revealed that they could detect pheromones and hormones and probably sensed that he was not fully mature yet. For once, being small and young for his age paid off. He'd heard of cats adopting squirrels and other animals adopting outside their species but this was ridiculous.
Mother dragon stomped her huge feet. Again Sam pleaded for her to stop and for John to stop trying to find a way to kill her. He turned to look into the mother's eyes knowing full well she couldn't understand a word he said. She ignored him as much as his father did.
Sam shouted as she suddenly picked up the entire nest in her talons and rose twenty feet into the air.
He leaned over the edge of the nest. His father reached for him. Sam leaned more as the mother dragon looked down at him. She flapped against the ground and lowered another few feet as if she knew Sam was going to jump. The nest began to break apart and she changed tactics and swooped off, putting the nest gently down fifty feet to the right.
John took off with Fred, hoping to whatever god existed that he could get to Sam in time.
This time mama didn't let John approach. Fire raced over his head and he was forced to cover his face and kneel.
Sam was on his last reserves. Even the morphine he'd been given couldn't quell the pain. A huge snout was placed near his head. He feebly reached up and stroked it, clumsily scratching around the nostril, which was the size of his head and could just as easily inhale him whole. He cried out, not in additional agony but in shock as he was placed back in the goo he'd started out his little adventure in. Mama breathed fire and warmth swept over him like before sending him into a momentary oblivion. He felt like he was floating. The goo was warm.
When Sam opened his eyes, he was half lying, half sitting in the broken eggshell. Mama screeched in clear warning toward John as she took off into night sky with her babies. John aimed his crossbow up into the sky breathing heavily. It was now or never. The arrow left the bow thudding four feet in front of John who had lowered it at the last minute. He just couldn't do it. Mama adjusted her grip on her babies and disappeared, her brindle and purplish hued scales becoming part of the bruised horizon.
John wasted no time getting to Sam. He and Fred lifted Sam from the ooze as the boy muttered incoherently. Fred took off his large coat, which fell to Sam's knees when John wrapped him in it and used his radio to call for another medical evacuation.
John cradled Sam's head as Fred tried to stop the bleeding from his temple.
"Dad … she … she gave us … um … the goo … egg … um. I'm not … I was burned dad … heals burns dad." He held up his hand with goo dripping from listless fingers staring at it with glassy eyes.
"Sh, Sam don't try to talk," John soothed, hating to hear his son so confused.
Fred remembered saying the same thing to his son, as he lay burned and delirious.
"Keep 'em talking, John," Fred advised. "It'll help against the shock."
"So you survived a dragon attack eh, Sammy. Wait 'til you tell Dean …"
Sam's eyes opened. After everything that had just happened, John still called this a dragon attack?
Sam's vision was graying around the edges. Tears leaked from his eyes. He could save his brother if he could only figure out to get the words out. His ears rang from the gunshot blast so close to his head. The morphine, while no longer doing much but mildly dull the horrific pain in his shoulder and back was playing with him.
Sam got angry. He had to.
"T …t…told you dad. Dragon. Damn it! The goo …" He waved it around helplessly with his good hand as it dangled from his fingers. John shook himself slightly, remembering the burned skin hanging off of Dean's hands.
"I was …what's the damned word again! B … urned. Dad." Sam took as much air as he could before the sounds of one of the ATV's returning muddled his waning concentration more. "It heals dad. E … egg. She … saved me."
Sam went limp in John's arms but he was still breathing. John wanted to discount everything Sam had said but after what he'd done today, not believing in the boy who was so smart, he couldn't do it. And he owed it to Dean to listen to Sam for once.
John had to trust the medics to carry Sam to the ATV and hook him up to all the equipment he'd Houdinied out of. John and Fred carried the half washing machine sized eggshell filled with goo to the ATV and secured it to a side seat.
One of Fred's crew informed them that Dean was very critical and they couldn't hold the chopper any longer so they'd taken him to the hospital.
Fred Sanders was just about to give them the bad news that another evac chopper would be impossible to procure with the fires raging and them all being in service but John was saved explaining that he'd called in a friend when a helicopter with a giant open mouth with huge teeth
painted on the front hub came into view through the smoke. Bobby hopped out from the passenger front side and helped lift Sam in before they took off.
John held Sam's hand all the way into the ER bay where his boy was taken from him. He went to the desk, Fred beside him with a canteen filled with the goo from the egg.
Fred, still dressed in his smoke filled turnout gear asked where Dean was as a fit of coughing overtook John. Knowing the hospital staff was a definite plus. The nurse handed Fred two sets of scrubs and directed the men to change out of their dirty clothing.
Dr. Blakely met John in the hallway. John knew that look.
"Mr. Carter. I'm Dr. Blakely, a specialist with our trauma department."
John shook hands trying to see through the heavy wooden door that stood between him and his son.
"I want you to know that we're doing all we can for Dean but I have to tell you that you need to be prepared…" The young doctor paused, putting his hands through his dark hair. God he hated these conversations. He wondered when he'd get used to them because being in the trauma unit they were all too common. His father, also a doctor told him the good ones never do.
"Dean's a strong boy. I told him to fight," John said as if that explained everything.
Dr. Blakely opened the door and let John have a few minutes.
Dean was packed in sterile strips of gauze. He shivered despite being unconscious. John wanted to take his hands but knew he couldn't. Dean's heart monitor showed a barely-there heartbeat. Even with the respirator it was apparent that Dean was struggling.
In his heart, John knew that putting the goo on Dean, was the only thing to do. His son was dying. Fred brought in the ova and held it out to John with his gloved hands.
Fred warned John that he had only minutes to do what he was going to do before the doctors would take Dean from him. John took a deep breath and steeled himself as he and Fred pulled back the gauze and as gently and quickly as they could, coated Dean's burns in it before setting the gauze back in place.
Dean's shivering worsened as he lay on the white table. It would be only a matter of seconds before medical personnel would rush back into the room as his heart monitor sped up.
A nurse stepped in. She placed a stethoscope on Dean's chest. John breathed a sigh of relief when she didn't try to clean the goo away or question it. He figured she must have thought it was left over gel from the defibrillation.
"His heart rate and blood pressure aren't quite where we need it to be yet for surgery, sir. I'm sorry. We have to get him hydrated first as well." The nurse made some notes in Dean's charts and told John the doctor would be back in a few minutes.
Dean woke just as Fred tapped the other canteen in his pocket and seemed to ask for permission to go to his own son. John turned his attention to Dean after shaking hands with Fred and wishing him luck.
Dean's pain filled eyes met John's with the unmistakable question. Sammy?
"Easy, Tiger," John said, almost putting his hand on Dean's shoulder as Dean turned his head seeming to look past John. John put his hand on Dean's stomach, one of the few places not burned on his son's torso. "You're going to be okay. Sammy's going to be okay."
Again the eyes asked, this time in full silent sentences. Then why isn't he here?
"Sam's getting patched up. Little smoke inhalation and a broken shoulder." Loss of blood, major cuts and contusions, gunshot wound, concussion … "He's gonna be fine."
John wanted to split in two. He wanted to be there for both of his boys. He'd let them down.
Tears leaked from the corners of Dean's eyes. The nurse came back in to give him another shot of morphine. She took his temperature with an ear thermometer and seemed pleased with the results.
"His fever's breaking," she said with surprise evident in her voice.
The morphine kicked in and Dean's eyes slid closed after locking with his dad's eyes.
Dreams took Dean.
Fire. It was everywhere. In his body, on the ceiling with his mother and Jess; licking its evil tongues at his little brother as he lay alone where Dean couldn't save him.
The doctor came back into Dean's room, followed by a nurse with a clipboard. It took John a minute to remember just who would be paying for this trip to the hospital. Oh yes, John Carter.
The doctor lifted the sterile dressing on Dean's chest and John held his breath. The gelatinous muck that he'd smeared liberally onto Dean's torso and legs seemed to have almost absorbed into the skin.
"No way …" the young doctor whistled much to John's surprise. John cringed as the doctor carefully removed a burned layer of skin from Dean's chest, placing it in a plastic container. Under that layer was a pink, shiny patch of skin.
John stood up as the doctor called another nurse in to lift the gauze from Dean's burned leg. She held a tray and shined a light as the doctor gently peeled back layer after layer of skin from Dean's shin all the while making comments John was sure he couldn't help making.
"Holy … What the hell?"
Dean woke crying out in gut wrenching agony, hands flying to the ventilator. John was at his side in seconds.
God make it stop please! Ahhh! Nooo! He thought frantically, eyes wide and scared.
John put his hand back on Dean's stomach as a nurse gently pried his hand from the tube.
"Shh, son, you're doing great. It's gonna be okay."
Burns are one of the most painful injuries a person can experience. The expedited peeling skin was excruciating like nothing Dean had ever felt. His very bones were on fire. He tried to calm his breathing but the tube in his throat added to the agony. He clutched the bed sheets, balling them in his damaged hands. His back was arched so high he was practically standing on his shoulders and heels.
The doctor was frazzled. He checked his watch. The nurse reminded him of the last morphine dosage but there was no choice but to give more pain relief. Dean was going into shock.
The Demerol injection caused Deans' eyelids to droop as he stared at his father who spoke comforting words he couldn't make out. Dean's body flattened slowly from the rigid arch.
The doctor checked Dean's vitals, scribbling on his charts. He was clearly confused.
"Call the OR, tell them to be on standby but we can't operate yet … I don't know if we'll have to. Take this to the lab and have Carmichael from plastics paged."
The doctor seemed to have forgotten John was there. Probably a good thing because John Winchester didn't take kindly to being dismissed.
"I've never seen anything like this before," the young doctor said, sounding elated and unnerved at the same time as he continued peeling looking like he wanted someone to pinch him to see if he was dreaming.
The elation was short lived when Dean's blood pressure bottomed out.
"This regeneration or whatever it is, is taking too much out of this kid. There aren't enough Wheaties in the world for him to eat to replace the kind of calories or energy needed for this …"
The doctor ordered the highest potassium, saline and glucose dose and told the nurse to start another IV in both of Dean's ankles. The living pincushion continued the downward spiral. There was nothing else the doctor could do.
"I'm sorry, sir, we're doing everything we can for your son. I've never seen anything like this before. Until he stabilizes and I can't guarantee that will happen at this point we can't operate or do anything else."
The doctor left instructions with the nurse and left John to prepare for the worse and say goodbye in case the seemingly inevitable happened.
John stood over Dean's bed and bit back a sob as another John's song popped into his head as he looked at his oldest. Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful, beautiful boy, oh what a joy. John brushed back Dean's hair unnecessarily as Dean's hair was always short. His hand came away with bits of skin and he choked on bile that rose up in his throat but with morbid fascination he couldn't help but peel back another layer. Underneath was smooth newborn skin. Yet Dean was still dying.
John was forced to leave Dean's side as new X-rays were taken. He walked on shaky legs to where Bobby sat with Sam in orthopedics waiting for his bones to be set. Sam was still unconscious and for that John hated to admit he was grateful.
"Bobby, Sam was right. That dragon's egg had some healing properties. Dean's skin is healing but he … the doctor said his body's starving."
John raked a hand through his hair.
"Makes sense," he stated in an annoyingly matter of fact sort of way.
"Babies grow fast, they need lots of nutrition."
John was too tired and worried to follow right away as Bobby handed another jar of the goo from the egg that he'd procured on the helicopter trip to the hospital.
"You need to find a way to give him this. It's pure nutrition for fast growth and regeneration. It's dragon Wheaties."
John took the jar and sped off, entering Dean's room closely followed by Bobby.
"Nurse, there's a code blue next door!" Bobby shouted.
The nurse looked confused but it wasn't outside the realm of possibility that the alarms had malfunctioned so she sped off. There wasn't much to be done for Dean at this point other than monitor vitals and she may be able to save a life.
Bobby jammed the door as John cringed while pulling the ventilator from Dean's throat gently but quickly. Dean's brow knitted in pain and confusion that overrode the painkillers until his eyes popped wide open in complete and never-ending agony.
The door rattled in its jamb as the nurse hollered to be let back in. The heart monitor's leads pulled from Dean's chest making them wail.
Stop oh God please make it stop. Can't … breathe. Dad? M'gonna die. I'm sorry. Sammy…
John sat Dean up slightly, the sound of too taut skin on his back cracking and peeling making him want to vomit in sympathy that he didn't have time for. A glass was pressed to Dean's lips and a gelatinous muck filled his mouth choking off the thin trickle of air that kept him alive.
Dean's eyes went wide searching for the demon in his dad knowing that he was being murdered. But the joke was on them. This was a mercy killing. Dean knew he was too damaged to live. He's seen burn victims before, had burnt enough spirits to know all about fire and its insatiable appetite. But Dean thought he'd fight one last fight and get rid of this demon son of a bitch so it wouldn't go after Sam. His hands flew wildly up into John's face and he spat out the muck.
Hallucinations plagued Dean as his father's strong arms pinned him, the pain almost taking him back to darkness. His father's eyes shone with black liquid as he again tried to force the jar to his lips and Dean saw blood. Initiation.
"Bobby help me, he's fighting it. He thinks I'm trying to kill him!"
Dean's eyes went wide before his body succumbed.
M'so so sorry, Sammy. Couldn't … Couldn't save you.
Bobby disconnected a piece of the hose from the ventilator and elbowed John out of the way.
"Hold his shoulders down. This has to go in the right place or it will choke him … or not. I don't know. Just hold him."
Bobby straddled Dean's torso and threaded the piece of ventilator tube down Dean's throat, hoping to place it into Dean's stomach tract. The kid was dead without this treatment so any attempt was better than nothing. With a popping sound the tube passed the stomach valve and Bobby tipped the jar into the tube much like filling his old truck with oil. Bobby withdrew the tube as Dean choked, once again wide eyed with agony and hatred. When the tube cleared Dean's mouth, Bobby got off the bed, threw the jar in the garbage and released the door causing the very upset nurse and doctor and a security guard to fall into the room.
"He panicked and pulled the vent. I tripped over the bed tray blocking the door trying to get him to stop struggling," John said lamely, almost passing out with anguish and worry.
The doctor disregarded everything making a beeline for his patient who was blue-lipped and cyanotic. With practiced hands a new airway was inserted and John and Bobby were ushered out. Bobby gave a warning look to John. Any suspicious activity to this already highly unusual case would just make things worse.
A tear slipped from Dean's eyes as the ventilator began its monotonous click whoosh and warmth slid up his arm as a dose of morphine took him away.
"I didn't want to shoot him up like that with his depressed vitals but at this point the pain could take him as easily as anything else," the doctor said.
The nurse just shook her head, never having heard the doctor sound anything but confident in all the time she'd worked with him. The leads were reattached and the roller coaster of patient treatment the doctor was on continued as he charted the results against the last report.
"I just don't believe this. His pressure's back up, nowhere near normal but better."
John's ear pressed to the door, he heard the declaration that Dean was improving. He was using the dragon egg's nutrients to feed his healing tissues now.
The doctor stepped from the room and walked up to John. Bobby had gone back to Sam.
"I can't tell you what's going on with your son but I can tell you he's a fighter. At this point the next twenty-four hours is critical. Dr. Carmichael from Plastics has examined your son and his opinion is that any surgery at this point will cause more scarring than letting the burns heal naturally. He's heavily sedated right now. It would likely be a good idea to check on your other son. Oh, and Mr. Carter, no tripping over tables, that could have proven fatal to your son."
The doctor stared after John so hard John could feel his eyes boring into him but he had no time to explain what he had done or why. The doctor would be paid back tenfold for his work. For the first time, the Winchesters had something to pay their bills with even if it wasn't traditional cash. John would leave a note with a sample of dragon ova in the hopes that it could be replicated into synthetic medicine for burn victims in the future. If it worked. If Dean lived…
Sam would have been in medicated bliss except for the snapping and popping which were his bones being reset. Then his brother's face swam before him. The half open staring eyes, the once handsome features marred by blood red flesh. And all because he couldn't just grow up and do his job.
He must have passed out several times during the procedure because when he woke he was alone. A mask was fit snugly over his face and when he tried to raise his hands he found to his horror that they were restrained by his side. He lurched up on his heels and shoulders trying to get away.
"Easy, Sam. Stop it. Look at me." Sam focused on the voice knowing Dean must be dead. There was no way John would be here with him if Dean was alive. The last time he'd opened his eyes Bobby had been in the chair beside him.
"Mnn … Dean."
"He's alive, Sam. He's fighting."
Sam tried to focus on his father's face. John's forehead was bandaged and he sat in a chair beside Sam with his leg slightly elevated with a tensor bandage wrapped around his mid thigh. Sam remembered only now seeing his dad hit the tree and slide down it as the dragon took off with him. His dad's injuries only made him feel that much worse.
John stood up wincing slightly and slid Sam's hospital gown down over his shoulders inspecting for burns. There were none. He should have known but he needed to check. Sam shivered at the sudden air and John put the gown back in place and pulled Sam's covers back up.
John's thumb gently pried open Sam's left eye when it closed and he dropped a single tear of liquid from a small bottle from his pocket. He followed by doing the same to Sam's right eye.
Relief Sam didn't know was possible flooded him. The smoke, grit and ash had threatened his eyesight according to the doctors but the scratches on his retinas were diminishing daily to their absolute confusion.
The medications tried to pull Sam back under but he tried again to free his hands. John put his hand on Sam's chest.
"I'll take those off if you promise to stay where you are, Houdini. You kept trying to get up to check on Dean and you fell out of bed right over the rail, do you remember?"
Sam nodded. He thought he'd been dreaming when that happened but the new pain in his hip to add to his list of many testified against him.
"Dad … D-Dean's so burnt. He'll hate m-me. I t-tried to get some of the dragon ova, I really did but I couldn't." Sam's face contorted in pain and mixed with exhaustion and confusion from the drugs as he struggled against his bonds.
"It's okay, Sam. Easy. You have to calm down. Breathe." Sam's shoulders heaved with sobs that caused agony in his splintered collarbones. The exterior wounds had healed completely but the internal bone fractures had been set under heavy sedation. Doctors were at a loss to explain the extent of damage without external wounds. The puncture wounds from the dragon's talons had healed but had left him anemic with blood loss.
"I got some of that goo, Sam. I believed you. I know it was too late to prevent you and Dean from suffering, God son, you can't know how sorry I am for that, but because of you, Dean's going to live, that fireman's son is going to live. You did that. You. All because you didn't listen to me. Don't make that a habit by the way…"
"John's eyes stung with tears. It was harder to praise than to discipline because he had to deal with that look from Sam. Not one of gloating or I told you so, no, that wide eyed wonder of a child who'd grown up thinking he wasn't up to par, that brought home A's on his report card only to be told that he hadn't cleaned the guns right, to win a soccer match despite only having been on a team for a week only to be told to run an extra lap because he'd failed to meet his time. What did you say to a kid who had just saved his brother, another person and possibly burn victims around the world?
Sam wouldn't settle completely and not taking no for an answer, John released the brakes on his hospital bed and pushed it down the hallway. Sam watched the lights over his head making him dizzy and nauseas as annoyed hospital personnel asked a very determined John Winchester just what he thought he was doing.
John knew that Sam wasn't going to be okay until he saw Dean for himself. He was never a man of many words, especially not to his youngest who seemed to always have too many.
When the bed stopped, gentle hands turned Sam's face to another bed. Sam automatically regretted trying to sit up, pulling on the restraints and jarring his collarbones at the same time but the face in the other bed was … his brother. Perfect skin settled in lax features, pink undamaged lips wrapped around a ventilator that was being spontaneously triggered once every few seconds by Dean.
The hand on Sam's chest moved to his wrists where the restraints were undone. John helped Sam to sit up slowly and Sam's bloodshot eyes took in every inch of the form on the bed as if inventorying a newborn infant. John watched as Sam counted every one of Dean's toes and fingers. The skin was shiny but perfect.
"He's going to be so hard to live w-with again," Sam gulped smiling through watery tears. "He'll say n-nothing could ruin his good looks."
John let a small chuckle escape from somewhere deep down inside that he thought had died a long time ago. One hand rested on Dean's shoulder, the other on Sam's back helping him stay upright on his bed.
"Both my boys are beautiful," John stated.
Sam just looked at his father, seeing the vulnerability that usually only showed once a year on the anniversary of his mother's death.
"Don't let Dean hear you say that. Handsome, dad, that's what he'll say. Cars and women are beautiful."
John seemed not to hear him as he studied Dean and Sam's faces in turn. It was unnerving.
"You're both so much like her…"
Sam had nothing to say to that. He's only seen photographs of his mother. Sometimes he thought he remembered her smiling down at him or blowing raspberries on his tiny baby tummy but he never told anyone that, not even Dean. He gulped down a few of the tears that had managed to get to his lips tired all of a sudden.
"Okay, Tiger, we'll have to get you back to your room again or I'm going to be kicked out of this place."
Sam lay back down and closed his eyes, not wanting to watch the ceiling tiles go by again. The door opened when a small moan was heard.
John turned around hardly daring to breathe. Was it possible?
Dean's eyes cracked open and seemed to focus in a sleepy way on John. Dean tried to turn his head but it was held in place by straps. John managed to catch Sam before he fell after getting off of his bed to lean over Dean.
Dean stayed conscious only long enough to count to two.
Fred Sanders knocked before entering Dean's room. He wore a gown and mask, which he shucked upon finding John and the nurse in the room without the protective apparel.
Fred took a long look at the handsome young man in the bed, so very different from when he'd first seen him. He patted the boy's shoulder as John led him into the hallway to talk privately. Before John could take a protective stance Fred embraced him a huge bear hug.
"My son … He's awake. That Bobby fella came back to the burn unit and tipped some of that stuff down his throat and he can talk now, his vocal cords have all but healed. His body is strong enough to fight the infection he had from the burns now. His blood still has traces of infection in it but docs figure he's on the upswing." Fred didn't stop talking for a word in edgewise and continued on about how he'd also applied some to a small child in the burn unit while her parents had gone for coffee. He finally released John who reciprocated the hug with a manly slug on the back.
John sighed in relief. After such a horrendous hunt, the saving people thing had still paid off. It almost came at a price he couldn't afford but it was worth it.
John knew on instinct alone that Fred Sanders was an honest man. He and his family were very much like the Winchesters, saving people in their own way. He arranged for Fred to be the one to give the doctor the sample of dragon ova. There was no way he could take credit for it or allow his boys to, as that would come at the price of his anonymity and his ability to continue the hunt. He didn't even have a suggestion as to what to tell the researchers what exactly the goo was. Because, dragons don't exist and if people believed that maybe they could exist for a little longer, what's another thousand or so years, right?
Fred knew there was something shady about the hero and his brave boys but he preferred not to think on it. Something told him they'd be gone just as soon as they were strong enough. Their secrets were their own, they'd saved his whole world. For some reason it didn't matter anymore that dragons existed, he knew he would never see one again in his lifetime and through all the heartache the encounter had caused, in a different time and place it would have been … magical.
Over the next several days, John grew anxious over the number of specialists looking his boys over, particularly interested in Dean since he'd been brought in with third degree burns and now had none. Fred had done his best to distract the doctors away from the Winchesters letting them examine his own son more. It was the least he could do he figured.
The sun was coming up in Dean's ICU room as Dr. Blakely set out to remove the ventilator.
"Okay, Dean, when as I start to remove the tube, I want you to try to cough as strongly as you can to help dislodge it."
Dean nodded. His back arched and he moaned as John held his hand while he coughed as strongly as he could manage. He could swear the vent was embedded with nails as it scraped up his esophagus finally coming free with a pop and a suctioning noise. The doctor had forgotten to disconnect the vent from the monitors so it wailed loudly when it came free from Dean.
"Sorry," Dr. Blakely apologized but Dean was glad for the noise and distraction because he was sure he'd sobbed a bit when the contraption finally came free. He rubbed at his eyes and tried to massage his throat as John was handed a cup of ice chips to feed to his son. John's hands shook, rattling the ice, the screaming monitor a stark reminder of what he'd almost lost.
Dean didn't manage to speak before he fell asleep.
Sam's long legs bent awkwardly in the wheelchair as he was taken to his new room. The door opened to reveal two beds. Someone was sleeping in the other. He wondered if he'd been put in with another old grouch.
The nurse helped him settle into his new bed and showed him the remote for the T.V. and the call button and where the bathroom was and other helpful hints. John and Bobby had finally gone for something to eat and Sam looked forward to a few minutes where someone wasn't being a mother hen to him.
Sam turned the television on low, having reached out to quietly close the curtain between the beds for some privacy. He blinked away the blurriness that was improving but still worrisome.
"National Geographic, really?" came a raspy voice from the other side of the room.
Sam stilled barely able to believe his ears.
"D-Dean!" he cried, opening the curtain so vigorously that he almost fell out of bed.
"In the flesh book-boy. And good looking flesh still, too." Dean's voice betrayed the joke he tried to put in his tone.
Sam found his voice after he'd drank in every part of his brother's face as best he could. He really wanted to make fun of Dean's vanity but he just couldn't find it in himself at this point.
"Dad says you have to share the nurses, Dean," Sam said, struggling to his feet, his legs feeling like a new born colt's.
"Whoa, what do you think you're doing, boy," came Bobby's voice. Until he saw that Dean was awake.
"Antagonizing your brother already ya idjit?" Bobby asked affectionately helping Sam limp to Dean's bedside.
"Okay, Sammy?" Dean asked, apparently tired out from their two-second conversation.
Sam wanted to be annoyed again. He really did. But Dean's eyes were closing fast.
"Yeah, big brother. I'm okay. Jerk."
Dean's eyes closed. "Bitch."
John and Bobby waited until Sam and Dean were able to eat solid foods and at least walk a bit before declaring that it was time to go. Fred had said his goodbyes and Sam and Dean had met his son who planned on returning to his volunteer firefighting position as soon as he was able. The dragon ova was on its way to a lab for further study and arrangements were made for the Winchesters to stay with Bobby until their full health returned.
Dean grumbled about riding in the backseat of the Impala as his father placed a fleece blanket on his and Sam's laps and pillows beside them.
"Nope, you're not," John said and damned if he didn't flinch when Dean said that.
Take your brother and go, now Dean!
"I'm gonna take care of both of you until you're fully healed."
The family had changed a lot over the last year and John knew he was losing Sam to something bigger that he couldn't hide him from, that he couldn't distract him from. He knew Dean needed him right now. Kid had a lot of pain still and would never admit it. But for now, he was going to be their father. He slid behind the wheel remembering the huge eyes that hovered down upon him from sky, measuring his worth as she fought for her family as the arrow killed the earth at his feet.
He'd let her go. They talked about her on their way to Bobby's. To everyone else her secret would remain her own. But dragons do exist, Sammy.
A dragon lives forever
But not so little boys
Painted wings and giant rings
Make way for other toys.