Dean lay in a state mid way between consciousness and the nightmare realm that reached out for him so seductively, teasing him with promises of seeing his father again. He floated, hearing as though through a cotton wool filter, the tones of his brother close by, safe, grounding him. He couldn't quite grasp the meaning of the words, they danced just beyond his reasoning but it was enough to know Sam was there, his presence alone enough to keep the demons at bay.
He heard other voices, felt unfamiliar hands but simply knowing Sam was nearby keeping guard, standing watch over him, kept his panic at a distance. What he really wanted was to feel his brother's hand in his, his touch the only reassurance he needed. His breaths came slow and steady, as he breathed deeply of the oxygen flowing through the mask.
He felt the world tilt alarmingly as the ambulance lurched to a stop outside the main entrance and he was lifted out and wheeled through into the emergency room. Too many voices now, where was Sam? He stirred uneasily, 'Sam? Sammy?' His eyes rolled beneath lids that refused to open. Then the voice he sought was there, closer, right by his ear.
"Dean, they need to take you through to the ICU, and get you cleaned up a little, I've just gotta fill in the medical forms and I'll come find you. I'm okay, don't worry about me, I'll come as soon as I sort out the paperwork." Dean felt the gentle touch on his forearm.
'Sammy! No don't. Please.' He silently begged. 'Please don't go, don't leave me.' The heart rate monitor picked up the increased beats as Dean felt the first tendrils of panic reach out for him as he struggled to reach the surface. His breaths quickened, panting as if he was running a race, head twitching from side to side as he fought against the confines of the facemask.
Sam watched his brother stirring weakly as he was wheeled through the double swing doors at the head of the corridor. "Dean it's okay, just settle down." He called over his shoulder, unsure if his brother could even hear him, as he made his way over to the desk to complete the frustrating paperwork.
"You'll have to wait out here, sir." The hard faced receptionist turned an 'I've heard it all before', expression towards Sam as he tried to talk his way in to see his brother. "You still need to be checked over by the nurse, so please go back and take your seat!"
"Freakin' hospitals! Freakin' waiting rooms!" Sam muttered as he paced nervously up and down, waiting for news of Dean's condition. He'd spent the first fifteen minutes filling in forms. Luther had paused on his way back out to reassure Sam that Dean was in good hands. The next half hour was spent glancing up anytime a nurse or doctor appeared.
Eventually, Sam was called through to see the triage nurse, who insisted on checking his head, arm and breathing. The pulse oximeter showed Sam to have COHb levels consistent with a heavy smoker at about 9% but assured him that that would gradually return to normal. She cleaned and redressed his head wound then discharged him.
Again he checked for an update on his brothers' condition and was abruptly told he would be the first to know when there was one. Sam visited the restrooms and stood at the sink suddenly seeing himself for the first time since his queue-jumping shower only that morning.
'Jeez, was that just earlier this morning – feels like a goddamn week ago?' He raked his fingers through his tangled bangs, brushing gravel dust from the ends, he noticed the streaks of tears, the dust and coffee smeared on his face and dipped his head, splashing cold water over his face and neck. He stood back and took in the rest of his appearance, appalled at the mixture of coffee, dust and Dean's slowly drying blood that decorated his clothes.
Sam exited the restroom, returning to the slowly filling waiting area. He sat slumped heavily in the corner, elbows resting on his knees and leaned forward, cradling his pounding head in his hands. Now that he'd stopped, a wave of total exhaustion washed over him.
"Dean it's okay, just settle down." The words travelled to him as from a great distance, words that grew fainter as he felt the movement and bang of doors. The sudden stillness and quiet, the sudden knowledge that Sam was no longer there, filled him with terror.
'Get a hold! Get a hold! He said he'd be right back. Okay, breathe deep and slow.' His breath coming fast and shallow, refusing to listen to his instructions. 'Oh, God. Why can't I move? What the hell's happened to me?…Where's Sam?…Sammy?'
Voices, none of them Sam, too many voices, he struggled to focus to listen. Strange hands probed all over him, gripping, lifting, hands that removed the clothing from his body. Hands that reached everywhere, he felt violated and vulnerable. 'Unh! Jeez!' He grit his teeth, wincing at the sudden pain as cold, hard tubes were inserted. 'Sammy?…Sammy, Please? Get me outta here.' He howled silently. He felt the jab and slight pressure as a needle entered his arm.
Different voices, more hands supporting him, lifting him. The smooth weight of the hospital gown as they manoeuvred him into it, the touch of the crisp sheets, crinkling, cold beneath his now bare feet.
He shuddered, terrified, trapped, disorientated, the little control he had over his muscles coming and going like ripples on water. So he cried out for his lifeline, silently in his head, calling out for his brother, over and over until the darkness reached out to claim him once more.
Raising his head, Sam blinked weary eyes into focus, checking the time on the overhead digital display, his heart missing a beat as the numbers rearranged themselves to read 10:41AM. He swallowed thickly, terror coursing through his veins as hot tears sprang to his eyes. Wordlessly, he begged it to not be an omen of things to come, as memories of his father's last moments came rushing back to haunt him. Overwhelming sadness flooded through him and left him shaking, struggling to breath round the lump that filled his throat.
Suddenly self-conscious, he glanced around noticing that several children were staring at him whilst most of the adults averted their faces. Wiping his eyes and sniffing loudly he stood and made his way over to the vending machine in the corridor, needing to escape the inquisitive glances, needing the solitude to compose himself.
Feeding coins into the slot he thought of the coffee and shopping he'd left on the ground outside their room. 'Damn, never did get my coffee, it's not a wonder I'm in pieces.' He smiled, 'Dean's gonna be like a bear with a sore head when he finds out he's missed his pie.' He reached for his coffee, 'I'd better call Muriel and ask her to take the groceries in, otherwise there'll be rats and racoons ripping it up all over the place."
Sam leant his back against the wall, sipping his steaming beverage, unwilling to return to the waiting room. Closing his eyes he raised his face up to the heavens, 'Please let him be okay.' He offered up a silent prayer as he felt the hot rush of tears sting his bloodshot eyes once again.
Images flooded through Dean's subconscious mind, and he found himself unable to block out the memories of pain, loss and fear. He saw his once warm and loving father turning away from him, changing into a cold and distant man, with only one mission in life.
He saw himself standing side by side with Sam in the darkness, numb with grief as the dancing flames flourished, spreading joyously, feeding on the funeral pyre that burnt so brightly before them both. The moment frozen in time and space, Dean, for once too damaged to reach out to support his brother, whose grief was so palpable it filled the night…Lying to Sam, to shelter him, unable to share with him his father's last words, the awful legacy placed upon him.
He saw his brother Sam, leaving him, banished, after a terrible argument with their father, being told never to return. He felt again how a part of him had shattered and died that night as Sam had walked away, never once looking back. How he'd fought back the tears and kept his game face on, desperately trying to hide the pain and anguish that scarred his soul.
The glimpsed nightmares slowed, focusing in with shocking clarity.
Sam had gone, that was the simple truth. It was three months since he'd walked out of their lives and they'd heard nothing from him. Dean felt the loneliness and betrayal as a physical pain that never left him, night or day. It was matched by the anger that had simmered just beneath John's surface, threatening to spill over any time Dean even tried to mention his brother's name.
Dean sat slumped heavily against the door in the passenger seat of the Impala. His eyes screwed shut and jaw tightly clenched against the gasps of pain and hitching sobs that escaped him every time the old car hit a pothole on the bumpy, overgrown sidetrack that his father now eased her slowly down. He felt the weight of his father's eyes glance across to him over the wide bench seat as he sat cradling his left arm fiercely to his side, rocking with the pain that slammed repeatedly through him.
"Just hang in there, son. It's not far now."
His fathers' words came as from a great distance as Dean lost the battle to stay fully conscious, his head nodded forward onto his chest to bump gently against the side window. He felt the lumbering tilt as the car rolled from the track and back onto the blacktop, unable to control his anguished groans at the motion, he heard the engine note change as his father floored the gas pedal.
He jolted awake, feeling himself falling, only to find the strong arms of his father surrounding him as he was gently lifted from the seat. Waves of dizziness and nausea assailed him as the sudden movement sent white-hot streaks of lightning racing through his shivering frame.
"Steady, Kiddo. I gotcha." The deep rumble sounded close to his ear as Dean's head lolled against his fathers' broad shoulder, the rush of leather, gun-oil, sweat and graveyard dirt filled his senses, bringing instant comfort, as John carried him into the motel room as easily as if he were still a child.
Glimpses of light, flashes of pain, the gentle creaking of the sagging mattress as his father laid him carefully down. Drifting in and out of consciousness, mumbling, sobbing, struggling weakly as he felt his rough, wet clothes removed. The soothing feeling of the cool, damp cloth pressed gently against his bruised brow. Whispered reassurances that steadied him when his weak, hated whimpers could no longer be contained.
"Okay, son. This is gonna hurt… I need you to try to relax whilst I get your shoulder back in." He felt the mattress rock beneath him as John shifted his position, moving to stand at his left-hand side. "You wanna shot'a this first?"
He smelt the sweet acrid aroma of the whisky as it was held to his lips; he took a faltering sip from the bottle, coughing as the fiery liquid burnt the back of his throat. "Just do it, dad!" He ground out between gritted teeth. Turning his face away, attempting unsuccessfully to take deep calming breaths against the grating of the broken ribs in his side.
Dean arched his back, gasping, forcing his face against the rough blanket covering the bed, heels scrabbling futilely, seeking escape as his tortured arm was slowly raised at the elbow. "Uunnhhh!" He panted, his face unable to disguise the agonies that raged within.
"Easy, boy! Steady now, nearly there. Keep breathing, son. Nice and slow." John's steady cadence brought little solace. "Nearly there…Here we go…." The sudden 'thunk' as his joint snapped back into place was drowned out by the scream of pure agony that poured from him, tailing off into raspy breaths as the arms of darkness reached out for him once more...
The touch of a cool hand against his fevered brow pulled him back towards the surface. "Sammy?" He whispered, eyes skittering open, searching for his brothers' face.
"No, Son. It's me." John's voice sounded tired, almost broken. "Sammy's long gone, remember? He won't be coming back anytime soon."
It was the first time Dean had heard his father mention the forbidden name since his brother had left for Stanford over three months ago. The voice sounded hollow with regret. He felt his fathers' rough hand support the back of his neck, raising his head.
"Here, Son. Try to swallow these, they'll help with the pain."
The bitter taste of tablets placed on his tongue, then cool, sweet water held to his lips. He forced the Tylenol down, and then turned his unfocused gaze back to his father.
"Dad," he whispered breathlessly, eyes glazing over once again, "I miss him so bad, it hurts." He sank back down into the pillow, unsure of whether he had really spoken out loud.
"Me too, kiddo… Me too." John's quiet words washed over him as Dean returned willingly to the patient arms of oblivion.
"Mr Holden? Sam Holden?" A short, weary looking, bearded young doctor approached cautiously, unwilling to disturb the obviously distraught young man leaning by the wall.
Sam started, looking down almost guiltily, hastily wiping his good hand across his eyes and nose, and struggling to pull himself together. "That's me. Ah, I'm sorry… How's my brother? Is he okay? Can I see him now?"
"Hi, my name's Doctor Anguston, I'll take you through to see him, if you'll follow me?"
He turned and led Sam back through the waiting room towards a set of double swing doors.
"Before we go through though, I just need to ask you a couple of questions first." He held up a hand to stall Sam's intervention. "In cases of CO poisoning, we need to ascertain if there's any chance that it was intentional exposure rather than accidental? Or if your brother has ever suffered from depression or mental illness?"
"What, Dean? No! No, he'd never try to hurt himself." Sam stammered, horrified at the suggestion. "He's never suffered from anything like that, he's the strongest person I know." Sam felt the need to defend Dean. "Our dad died earlier this year and yeah, we both took it bad but we're dealing with it." He sought the doctors' eyes, "Why d'you ask? What's the matter with him? Look, I really need to see him, now! I have to know he's okay!"
"Your brother's drifting in an out of consciousness, it's quite normal in the case of carbon monoxide poisoning at the levels your brother has been exposed to." He paused, "However, he seems very disturbed, distraught even. You say you lost your father, this year?"
Sam nodded, brows knit together with worry.
"It may be linked to that." The doctor looked doubtful, "It could just be a reaction to the poisoning…" He looked dubious "But coupled with the excessive amount of scarring we have found on his body we are concerned there may be some underlying psychological issues."
Sam took a deep breath, trying to contain his growing frustration.
"Look, he's got scars cause well he's really, really accident prone!" He stated lamely, "Not cause he's deliberately hurt himself. He's distraught because I'm not there to calm him down!" Sam's voice rose a level, "He's terrified of hospitals – which is why I need to see him now!"
"Sir, please calm yourself. These are questions that have to be asked, however unpleasant. We have a duty of care to our patients." The small doctor raised his eyes to meet Sam's "It's important that you don't upset your brother, he's on intensive oxygen therapy and needs to remain calm under any circumstances."
Sam bit back his sharp retort. "Okay, look I'm sorry." He let his breath out slowly. "Please can I just see him, now?" He offered a tight-lipped smile.
Doctor Anguston's face softened,
"Come this way." He stopped outside a nondescript grey door. "We've moved him from the ICU as he's responding well to the oxygen therapy. Unfortunately, we've had to restrain him; he only has limited muscular control at the moment, this will improve as the CO is purged from his muscles. In the meantime however, he keeps trying to remove the mask and is very uncoordinated, we're concerned he may hurt himself. It's imperative that he keeps the mask on until we can bring his COHb levels right down."
He opened the door and followed Sam to his brothers' bedside.
"Aah, Dean. No."
Sam whispered, biting his bottom lip as he stood at Dean's shoulder, watching in alarm as his brother's head twisted from side to side, eyes screwed tightly closed, his knuckles showing white as he pulled against the soft straps holding his wrists securely to the bed rails, bare feet scraping against crumpled white sheets as he fought to escape some unseen horror.
Sam glanced at the doctor who indicated a chair with a nod of his head. "Talk to him, see if you can calm him down. I really don't want to have to sedate him again, unless there's no option. I'm leaving shortly but someone'll be by to check on him later. Don't worry, he's being monitored up in the nurses station." He smiled his reassurance. "We should know more about his recovery in a few more hours."
"What do you mean? I thought as soon as the carbon monoxide's outta his blood he'd be fine. What d'you mean 'know more about his recovery'?" Sam growled at the doctor.
"It's a little more complicated than that, Mr Holden. It's too early to tell yet, I'll go into more detail once we have a better idea of what's happening." He turned to leave. "Just try to keep him calm."
The touch of a cool hand against his fevered brow pulled Dean from his memories. "Dad?" He rasped behind the facemask, his eyelids flickering open as he searched in panic for his fathers' face.
"No, Dean. It's just me, Sam." Sam's quiet voice sounded tired, almost broken.
"Sammy? What…? Wh…where's dad…?" Dean blinked in bleary confusion, brow creasing as he took in his sterile surroundings.
"Dad's gone. Remember?" Sam whispered, gently stroking back the damp hair from his brother's forehead.
"Oh, god, no…Sammy he's gone." Understanding flooded pale, gaunt features and Dean's eyes filled suddenly with a hot rush of tears, his face crumpling in despair. He turned away, mind reeling in confusion, pressing his face into the pillow, eyes held tightly closed against the deluge of tears that could no longer be contained.
"God, I miss you, dad." Words ghosted silent as a prayer, words that were never meant for Sam's ears.
"Ssshh, it's okay. I know, Dean…I know." Sam's quiet words tailed off and Dean felt his brothers' hand slip over his own, his lifeline as he spiralled downwards once more.
Later, as full awareness returned, Dean glanced down groaning, struggling weakly against the restraints securing his arms.
"Sammy? Wa's goin' on? Where? Nnnhhh!" His head sank back to the pillow as a wave of vertigo rushed over him. He turned distraught eyes beseechingly to his brother.
"Don't worry, Dean. Take it easy. I'll call someone, get them taken off you. Dude, you gotta promise not to take the mask off, okay?" Sam reached across and pressed the call button. Then leant towards Dean, searching deep into his eyes. "You really back with me this time? How ya feeling?"
"Like crap… Like I've been run over by a truck." He winced as the pounding in his head reached a crescendo. "Oh and Yeah! I do know what that feels like." He coughed, the mask irritating him. "Dammit, Sammy, get all this offa me. Please!"
"I tried to take the straps off earlier, dude, but they caught me and threatened to throw me out till morning."
Both brothers turned their heads as the door suddenly swung open and a short jolly looking, dark-haired nurse bustled in. "Okay, how ya doin' boys?" She smiled warmly, "You called?"
"My brother's awake now, can we please get these restraints off him? He promises not to touch the mask!" Sam glared at his brother not to argue.
Dean's eyebrows rose as he gave a weak smile and inclined his head.
"Well, I'll check with the doctor about the restraints, but I need to remove the mask for 5 minutes, so that'll give you a little break." She smiled as she eyed her patient. "You're on 100 percent oxygen, while we try to reduce your CO levels, but we have to give you a short break every hour, an 'air protection' period, so you don't have a hyperoxic seizure, that's a bit like an oxygen overdose." She explained, leaning over him, undoing clips to disengage the tight fitting mask.
"Now lay back and try to take slow steady breaths." She smiled at his relieved expression. "You may feel a little light headed at first, so just take it slowly."
Dean closed his eyes and lay back, grimacing as the room began to slowly spin and he swallowed thickly.
"There, nice slow breaths, that's it, don't worry it'll pass. Your chest may feel a little tight." She observed the readings from the pulse oximeter attached to his finger closely. "Just a few more minutes."
He peered at her through watery eyes, glancing over to Sam's concerned face.
"Levels are coming down nicely." She smiled. "I'll be right back. Take it easy now, nice slow breaths." She instructed over her shoulder as she turned to go.
As soon as the door swung shut, Dean's panicked whisper cut through the air.
"What the hell happened to me, Sammy? I don't remember a thing. What am I doin' here? How the hell did I get here?" Dean's confused expression brought a soft smile to Sam's face.
"Carbon monoxide poisoning's what happened…I phoned Muriel earlier about our gear and she says they've had accident investigators there, at the motel, all day. Evidently, the boiler house flue was blocked by some boarding, which meant all the fumes back-vented into the laundry room, directly below where you were sitting." Sam cast his eyes downwards, "They said if you'd been in there much longer you just might never have woken up!"
Dean shook his head, uncomfortable at Sam's obvious distress.
"Jeez, dude. If it's not enough with freakin' ghosts, vampires and demons after my hide, now it's the freakin' plumbin' too!" He rested his head back into the pillow, breath now labouring.
"Sam, stop with the scratching, leave your arm alone." He growled menacingly as he eyed the miraculously appearing chopstick with extreme distaste, before his gaze tracked across to the door as it reopened admitting an older doctor followed by the small nurse.
"Aah, hello. Good to see you back with us…I'm Dr. Walton. How're you feeling, Mr Holden?" He inquired, "Nurse Rains here assures me we can get rid of these restraints now."
"I'll be good, Doc. I promise!" Dean laboured, grimacing. "I'm feelin' just fine. When can I get outta here?"
The doctor laughed softly. "Let's not jump our guns just yet, Mr Holden. Your levels are coming down nicely but there's still a long way to go yet." He indicated to the nurse, "Let's get him hooked back up first, then get those straps off!"
She moved to Dean's side and clamped the heavy mask back into position. Immediate relief showed on his face as the pure oxygen again flowed into his airways.
"I'm afraid we have to use the heavier mask, its got special valves to prevent rebreathing exhaled breath." The doctor apologised, "Not the most comfortable but it does the job. Now let's get these off!" Amiably he indicated to the restraints.
Dean visibly relaxed as his arms were freed, laying back rubbing both wrists.
The doctor picked up the charts noting the readings. "We'll need to keep you on pure oxygen for another couple of hours, at least and then we'll see how you get on with reduced levels. Fortunately, it seems you've responded very well to the oxygen therapy. If you hadn't, we were going to fly you up by the lakes to our specialist centre, for some hyperbaric oxygen treatment in a high pressure chamber." The doctor paused, noting the look of horror that flickered over his patients pale face. "However, if all keeps going well, there's no reason we can't discharge you tomorrow."
Smiling apologetically, he turned to Sam. "However, we do need to make you aware of the possibility of some serious long term side effects or sequelae. These can occur days or sometimes weeks after an acute poisoning."
"Mr Holden…Dean?" He continued, fixing his patient with a no nonsense stare. "So far you're making a very positive recovery, all your readings are good. No signs of renal failure, your heart and lungs are responding well. Hopefully we caught you early enough to reduce the chance of any major complications." He paused as he placed the charts back on the side.
"But be aware there can be complications! Some of the common problems you need to be on the lookout for in the next few weeks include difficulty with higher intellectual functions, irritability, gait and/or speech disturbances, short-term memory loss and depression."
He pulled a selection of leaflets from his pocket, handing them over to Sam.
"Don't worry too much, some people don't get any side effects, you just need to be aware. There's a lot more information in these pamphlets, if you have any questions I'll be back before I go off duty." He nodded to them both as he turned to leave with the nurse in tow. "Try to get some rest."
Sam quirked an eyebrow, catching Dean's eye, "Thank You, Doc, I'll keep an eye open for any problems." He glanced over at his scowling brother as the door closed behind them. "Irritability, speech/gait disturbances, higher intellectual malfunctions! Dude, it sounds like you on a good day!"
"Leave it alone, Sammy. Don't even think it!" Dean glared as Sam's smile grew.
"Ooh, there goes the irritability!…What, dude?" Sam asked, the gleam in his eyes betraying the apparent innocence of the question.
"Get outta here, Sammy. I'm tired." Dean growled. "Go get me some clean clothes, and a coffee, I really need a coffee. A big coffee." He sank back into the pillows. "I wanna be outta here first thing tomorrow."
"It's tomorrow already, dude." Sam peered at his watch, rolling tired neck muscles. "Get some rest, I'll be back first thing in the morning…Clean clothes, coffee? Anything else?" Sam inquired as he approached the door.
"Yeah, Sammy, where's my stuff? Pass me my wallet will ya?" Dean asked quietly
Sam looked around, locating the small still coffee dampened pile of belongings on a table by the end of the bed. "There you go, phone, billfold, ring and amulet - I'll leave them all there, right next to the bed."
Dean reached out and retrieved his wallet. "Dude, it's wet, what's this? What happened…? I didn't…?" Dean looked up with horror written across his face.
Sam shook his head, laughing gently. "No, Dean. You didn't." He paused, "It's coffee. I um…I was bringing you a cuppa coffee, then when I saw you lying on the floor, I, aah, guess I dropped it, then ended up draggin' you through it to get you outta the washroom. I don't know if your jeans'll make it, they're pretty trashed. I'm still covered in it too!" Sam looked down at his stained, dust-ingrained clothes, smiling apologetically.
Dean looked his brother over, noting for the first time the coffee and bloodstains, the gravel dust marks and the dark smudges under his eyes that betrayed the exhaustion he struggled to hide. "Sammy, go get some rest, you look like hell."
Sam lifted an eyebrow, "Yeah, right back at ya, dude." He turned to go, "I'll see you in a couple of hours. You'll be all right? You need anything else?"
"Nah, I'm good. Be careful if you go near that freakin' laundry room, make sure you prop that door open. You hear me, Sammy?"
"Relax, Dean. Get some sleep, I'll be careful!" Sam's voice trailed behind the slowly closing door.
The damp wallet lay heavy in his hand as he watched the door close to, leaving him alone with his thoughts. He rested his aching head back against the pillow, eyes closed, reliving in flashbacks the nightmares and memories that had so recently escaped the confines of his defensive walls.
Sighing, he flipped open the billfold, thumbing through to lift out the two dog-eared, slightly coffee-stained photographs that nestled at the back.
The first saw nine-year old Sam, laughing and care-free, sitting on his fathers wide shoulders, both of them grinning and waving happily at the camera as they celebrated Dean's fourteenth birthday. Dean savoured the memory, through eyes that prickled and stung, a rare day free from the obsession of hunting, spent in the park, in the cold, just playing ball.
His hand reached up to run shaking fingers through his coffee matted hair, the ache surrounding his heart threatening to overwhelm him. Pulling in deep oxygen laden breaths he glanced back down, hesitating briefly before revealing the second image.
The rugged, lined face of his father stared back up at him, sporting three days worth of stubble and a beer bottle raised in salute. A wry smile, frozen now for all time, softened the hard lines around the eyes and mouth. A nameless bar in a forgotten town, the picture taken to mark Dean's last birthday spent in his fathers company. Sam away at Stanford, they were in between hunts and Dean had snapped the picture with his new phone, catching his dad unawares. Printed out months later when they were searching for John. Dean realised with regret, it was the last picture he'd ever taken of his father.
He stared longingly at the photograph through eyes swimming with unshed tears. His thumb reached out to gently stroke the beloved profile. Beneath the mask he bit his quivering lip, breaths hitching around the lump that was lodged, like a boulder, in his throat. With shoulders shaking against the sobs that now engulfed him, Dean slowly closed his eyes against the tear-blurred image of his father and let go. Pressing his head back into the soft pillow, he gave in to the tide of emotions that washed over him.
Exhaustion claimed him as sobs gave way to stilted gasps, that slowly gave way to gentle rasps as he gradually slipped into a deep, dreamless, healing sleep for the first time since his fathers' death.
Sam exited through the main doors, shivering as he stepped into the chill of the pre-dawn air. Head clearing as he stretched his long legs and breathed deeply, glad to be free of the confines of the hospital. A brisk twenty-minute walk had him climbing the low steps up to the reception of the Far Horizons Motel; a small 'Closed' sign greeted him. He rapped loudly on the door.
Minutes later, lights flickered on as the inner door opened to reveal a watery-eyed Muriel shuffling through in pink velour dressing gown and fluffy mules. "We're closed, can't you read the sign?" She grumbled, peering short-sightedly at Sam as he stood behind the closed glass partition.
"Muriel, it's me, Sam Holden. I'm sorry it's late but I've been down to our room and it's all cleared out and I can't find our washing."
"Oh, Lord. Just a moment, Sam, let me get this door, honey." She hurried round the desk. "Come in, come in!" Muriel stood back admitting a dishevelled Sam.
"I'm sorry, Sam. I brought all your washing up here, I guess I got my chance to get my hands on your brothers 'smalls' after all." Her eyes brimmed with tears. "I'm so sorry…is your brother alright? I've just had the boiler serviced, nothing like this has ever happened before. They've given us the all clear for the boiler, it was the workmen that blocked the main vent with the new boarding"
"Hey, hey!" Sam soothed, "Dean's gonna be just fine, please don't cry!" He pleaded.
"You boys should'a told me I gave you the wrong room keys too. I had ma boy, Elvis, move all your belongings into the 'Hunters Lodge', it's right next door to the 'Strawberry Shortcake Suite'. My poor old eyes aren't what they used to be." She sniffed.
"Hey, that's great, Dean'll be delighted, pink's just not his color." Sam smiled, "He should be released some time tomorrow, I'll save it as a surprise for him. We'll be leaving in the evening, I guess." He swapped the keys for #27.
"Muriel, I'm beat, I'll take the washing, if that's okay and turn in." He yawned widely, "I'm sorry, It's been a really long day!"
Muriel retrieved two large piles of beautifully ironed washing, presenting them to the weary young hunter. "Uh, Sam, honey…I need to know if you're thinking of suing the motel for nearly killing your brother." Muriel raised her tear-filled eyes.
"Um, no. We're not really the suing kind." Sam bit his lip, smiling as he shook his head. "No. Dean's gonna be just fine, maybe a little grumpier than usual. He's never gone this long without coffee before!" He loaded up the wash baskets and struggled through the door as Muriel held it open for him, her relief written plainly across her lined face.
"I'll have my Elvis valet that car of yours when you get back, it's the least we can do." Muriel called after his retreating back.
"Dean'd like that. Thanks. Night Muriel." Sam called over his shoulder.
Sam arrived at 8.30AM with a clean set of clothes and the largest coffee he could find, to discover Dean, still sleeping peacefully. Now breathing easily through a lightweight air/oxygen mask. As he set the coffee and clothes on the side the strident ring tone of Dean's phone disturbed the quiet of the room. He scrabbled to grab it from the bedside table as Dean stirred.
"Hey, Ellen! No, it's Sam, Dean's just erm, in the shower…No, I'm sorry, we've been held up." He paused to listen, "Yeah, we're still coming. We're on our way, we'll be up there in a couple of days at the most." He glanced over as Dean opened bleary eyes, blinking to clear his vision. "Yeah, reception's been bad, we must've missed your call."
"Ellen." He mouthed silently to Dean's questioning brow. "Sure okay, we'll be there as soon as we can. Bye." Sam snapped the phone shut.
"Hey, Dean, how're ya doing?" He smiled; relieved to see his brother's eyes back to full alertness. "I brought coffee!"
"Oh, god. At last! I'm good now! Hand it over, Sammy." He reached out eyeing the large cup with a look akin to lust. He slipped off the light mask, eyes closing in ecstasy as he breathed deeply, inhaling the pungent aroma of the strong black coffee.
Early afternoon saw Dean finally released and standing in the doorway of the 'Hunters Lodge' his eyes roving over the expanse of beige and brown faux suede that lay before him. The room layout identical to #29 but sporting stuffed animal heads mounted on rough plaster walls, where cross-stitches had adorned the neighbouring walls. Cowhide rugs graced the board floors. Empty bandoliers outlined the headboards, spent cartridge cases framed the mirror and photographs of proud hunters next to their slaughtered prey festooned the walls.
Dean shuddered. "Dude, just let me grab a shower and let's split this joint. There's only so many beheaded beasts I can take staring at me in one day. Sammy, did you get my knife from next door?" Dean crossed to the bed, grabbing for his duffel.
"It's right there, Dean!" Sam assured, "Elvis evidently isn't the type to ask too many questions, particularly when they thought we were going to sue them to high heaven! Look, right there, under your pillow. You sure you don't wanna stay the night, it's on the house!"
Dean retrieved the gleaming Bowie, lovingly running his thumb over the razor sharp blade, before placing it into the top of his duffel. "Sammy, I'm going in the shower now, then I wanna hit the road. I'm not sure I could sleep with all this wildlife staring at me." He rummaged for his wash bag, "I may be a while!" He turned wearily and headed into the darkened bathroom, shutting the door as he groped for the light switch.
Sam laughed at the startled "Oh, Jeez! What in holy hell's that?" The door was thrown open as a heavily breathing Dean appeared carrying a life-sized stuffed racoon with paws raised and teeth bared in a ferocious snarl, held at arms length.
"Damn! I am not taking a shower with that…that…thing staring at me! You knew that freakin' monstrosity was in there?" He flung it into the corner and glared at a now giggling Sam. "It's like something from the freakin' Lost Boys." He muttered before turning and huffing back into the bathroom.
"Better watch out for that paranoia and irritability, Dean." Sam laughed at the now closed door.
"Bite me, dude!" Came the muffled reply.
"Okay…so tell me Dean, just how am I supposed to know if you come down with any of these sequelae, when you already exhibit 90 percent of them?" Sam settled himself into the car, smirking widely as he pulled the heavy door shut. With eyebrow raised he turned and held his cast-clad right hand out for the keys, placing his now well-worn chopstick delicately onto the centre console.
"Leave it, Sammy, and I told you to stop that scratching! There's no way I'm coming down with something I can't even pronounce. Now quit ya bitchin' and concentrate on the driving." He grouched angrily, glaring at Sam who sat happily ensconced in the driver's seat.
"And while you're at it, don't you go having any of your freaky psychic visions whilst you're at the wheel!" He continued grumpily, "You damage my baby and they'll be hell to pay. You hear me, Sammy!" He leant back, draping his left arm over the wide seatback, stretching, moulding himself to the well worn leather, moodily eyeing his brother's every move as he set the big old car in motion.
Sam gently shook his head, long bangs flopping forwards into his eyes. "Quit staring at me, Dean." He grinned amiably from the corner of his mouth, flicking a quick glance over at his still pale companion. "It's like, 300 or so miles to the Roadhouse, and you can't drive yet. So just sit back and relax! Deal with it, bro!"
Dean grumbled steadily to himself beneath his breath as he reached beneath the seat, rummaged in the battered old box and then slipped Metallica into the tape deck. He sighed in resignation as he cranked up the volume and slouched back into position.
Sam's gleeful laughter cut through the strident tones, "I don't think so, Dude." Sam shot him a delighted look, "Remember, 'Driver picks the music…Shotgun shuts his cakehole!'" Giggling to himself, he flipped over to the radio searching for the most unDeanlike channel he could tune in to.
Dean glared over to him, hearing his own rules shot back at him, he growled, "That's it, Sam. Get outta the car. I'm driving. Stop the car, Sam!"
"No way, Dean. It's doctor's orders! No driving for at least 24 hours, dude, in case of relapse. That's what he said. So suck it up and enjoy the ride. Jerk!" Sam's chuckle filled the car as he rolled his neck and manoeuvred his tall frame more comfortably into the seat, wincing as the mellow strains of the "Dixie Chicks," blared jauntily from the speakers.
"Oh, god! I'm in hell." Dean shook his head, trying without complete success to hide the smile that played at the corners of his mouth, as he stretched out, relaxing in the only real home he could remember. "Bitch!"
* * * * *
The now gleaming Impala cruised steadily along the black top, hungrily devouring the miles, taillights disappearing into the distance like two glowing eyes hunting in the darkness. The sudden, brief blare of "Like a Rhinestone Cowboy", that rent the night's silence, was conducted by one well-worn chopstick that spun crazy cartwheels as it sailed out of the passenger side window and away into the night.
Thank you for reading and for all the lovely reviews and comments, I hope you enjoyed the story. As ever, I would dearly love to know what you thought of it. Jane