PUPPETMASTER

SUMMARY: As Sam recovers from knee surgery, he's hit with violent visions that will, ultimately, put both Winchester brothers' lives in jeopardy. Set mid to late Season 2. The story follows the events of Bridging Two Solitudes and Grave Consequences.

RATED:T for some cursing, including the occasional f-bomb.

DISCLAIMER: I do not own Supernatural or its characters. They belong to the dastardly Eric Kripke. Once again, I am encamped in his most awesome sandbox, playing with the incredible characters he created.

A/N: Sigh! RL just does not respect a posting schedule. A bit later than promised but here is the final chapter. Again, a huge thanks to everyone who has followed this little adventure, suffered through my cliffhangers and sent along such wonderful feedback – I'm incredibly grateful. To my betas, Ann and Amy, this story wouldn't be half what it is without your input, encouragement and occasional butt-kicking. Any remaining goofs post-beta can be blamed on my chronic tweaking. A big thanks, too, to Heather for the medical info which launched this story. This final chapter was written without a medical beta so any mistakes on that score are completely mine. Hope you enjoy!

CHAPTER 9

"Sammy?"

Sam frowned without opening his eyes. His brother sounded worried. And when the worry was wrapped around his name – especially the diminutive form – he didn't need two guesses to know who Dean was worried about. "M'okay."

"No…you're not. But we need to go."

Sam's frown deepened. Go where?

As he did so often, Dean seemed to read his mind. "I'm a little fuzzy on what just went down, but I'm pretty sure there are two dead bodies over there and another went out the window." He paused, as if to catch his breath. "Won't take long for cops to show, and we really don't wanna be here when they do."

The showdown between Durrell and Gaston replayed in Sam's head on fast-forward.

He forced open his eyes and lifted his head with a groan, another vision-worthy headache accompanying his return to consciousness. He blinked, ignoring the black dots and white lights bouncing through his vision as he focused on his brother.

Sam was lying on his stomach where he'd fallen after Gaston's attacks had siphoned off the last of his energy. Dean was sitting on the floor just in front of him, slumped against the wall, his head hanging forward, arms held limply in his lap. His legs were stretched out in front of him, his bare feet still lashed at the ankles. He was trembling as if he was cold and his breathing was shallow and audible.

Sam hissed in pain as he knee protested the clumsy process of rolling over and sitting up.

"What is it?" Dean's eyes were closed but there was nothing wrong with his instincts when it came to Sam.

"Nothing. I'm just…stiff." Sam dragged himself to Dean's side, his knee throbbing in time with the pounding in his head. Anger built quickly as he studied his brother's battered face. "What the hell did they do to you?"

Dean grimaced as he pulled his head up and dropped it back against the wall to look at Sam. "We went a few rounds. No big deal. Let's just get out of here."

"You keep saying that, but you're not moving." Sam glanced around, spotting Danny's knife on the floor a few feet away from him. Leaning over with a groan, he grabbed it then turned back to his brother. "Seriously, Dean, how bad is it?"

Dean stared blearily at Sam for a moment, then turned his face away. "I'm fine. Just-"

"Don't you shut me out." Worry further stoked Sam's anger. "I've seen you beat to hell way more than I should. This…there's something more." His voice softened as Dean turned back toward him. "Let me help, damn it."

Dean curled his hands into fists to stop them shaking. His voice was barely audible. "Drugs."

Sam froze at the word, his fingers underneath the cable tie, carefully pulling it away from his brother's skin as he prepared to cut through it. "What did they give you?"

Dean shook his head slowly. "Dunno. Some kind of speed, I think."

"Speed?" Sam spat out the word, snapping the knife blade upwards and cutting through the tie, the anger in his eyes in complete contrast to the deftly gentle way he removed the restraint from Dean's ankles to ensure no further injury. He snapped the knife closed and shoved it and the broken plastic restraint in his jeans pocket. "How much?"

"What?"

"How much did they give you?"

Dean frowned. "Cranked me up twice, I think…gave me something else to knock me out when they brought me here." He snorted as he looked again at his brother. "Jesus, Sam – I don't even know where here is. Where the hell are we?"

"Durrell's dockyard." Sam grabbed Dean's wrist, scowling at the sluggish pulse beneath his fingers, and holding on easily as Dean weakly tried to pull his arm away. Sam shook his head. The skin around Dean's swollen right eye was now turning vivid shades of purple, red, blue and black. His left eye was a narrow slit, bloodshot white and dilated pupil all but hiding the familiar green. "Can you even see me?

Dean smiled tiredly. "The blurry look suits you." He clumsily shook off Sam's hold, grabbing his brother's shirt. "Never mind me. What the hell happened to you? One minute you're all badass, giving Gaston all kinds of grief; the next, its nap time for Sammy." He tightened his grip, his hand shaking noticeably. "They drug you too?"

"No. No drugs. It was Gaston." Sam exhaled audibly. "Whatever psychic energy he needed to…do what he did here, to attack those men, he pulled from me. The more he did, the more light-headed I got, the weaker I felt, until…lights out."

"And now?"

"Just tired."

Sam began to push himself up but Dean pulled him closer, frowning. "Why isn't the protection symbol working?"

Sam shook his head. Even beat to hell, Dean was more worried about his brother than himself. "I wiped off the bloodmarks."

"What?"

Sam sighed, wishing this conversation could wait but, short of losing consciousness, Dean wasn't about to let it drop. "You warned us they were skeptics. The best way I could think of to get them to believe Gaston was behind all this was for them to see him. We…adapted the symbol so he could appear through astral projection, but couldn't take over."

Dean's unfocused gaze slid past Sam to Durrell's body. "So you knew Gaston could…do this?"

Sam shook his head. "No. Last time he showed up he couldn't even grab my arm. This…" He turned to look at Danny's body, at Durrell's and at the glass window Connor had been thrown through. "…was all new. If I'd known…hey."

Dean was suddenly sliding down the wall away from him. Sam grabbed him by the arms and gently sat him up. "Okay, recap can wait. Like you said, we need to get out of here."

Dean nodded, closed his eyes, then smacked Sam in the chest.

Sam's eyes widened. "What the hell was that for?"

Dean peered up at his brother. "For walking in here…putting yourself in the line of fire to save my sorry ass. You know better."

Sam smiled. In Dean-speak, that was a thank you. "You're welcome. Now you think you can stand?"

Dean's jaw set stubbornly. "Soon as you cut me free."

Sam's worry ratcheted up a notch. "You're already free."

Dean frowned as he blinked down at his ankles. "Damn. When'd you do that?"

"Tell me again how you're fine." Sam pushed himself closer to the wall, using it for balance as he hauled himself to his feet. His face contorted with pain as he shifted his weight to his right leg. "Gah-"

"Sammy?"

Sam fell back against the wall, quickly shifting his weight to his left leg, screwing his eyes closed as he waited for the pain to dissipate. "Damn it. I think my knee's screwed."

"Your bad knee?"

"It wasn't bad anymore," Sam muttered as he leaned down and pressed his fingers into the side of his knee. Beneath his jeans, the joint was tender and swollen. "At least until that bastard kicked it."

"He kicked…son of a bitch…" Anger seemed to rouse Dean a little.

"Whatever." Sam exhaled loudly, found his balance and then offered a hand to Dean. "We'll deal with it after we get you to a hospital."

Dean reached up to grab Sam's arm but was already shaking his head. "No. An ice pack and one of your leftover happy pills…I'll be fine. You can just-"

"They drugged you, Dean." Now Sam was using his anger at what Durrell's men had done to Dean to push through his pain. "We need to find out exactly what they pumped you full of, and that means a hospital. Now. No arguments."

Dean snorted. "Damn, you sound like Dad when you go all Full Metal Jacket like that." He locked his hand around Sam's wrist. "Course, you'd need a serious hair cut for the full effect."

"Shut up, Dean. You ready?" When Dean nodded, Sam braced himself with his left leg and hauled his brother to his feet. Dean was vertical for about two seconds before what little color he had left behind the bruising drained from his face and he toppled forward, falling against Sam.

Sam grimaced at the strain on his knee as caught his brother but, by locking both arms around Dean's waist and letting his left leg take the weight, he saved them both a fall.

Dean's face was pressed against Sam's chest, muffling his voice. "Good catch."

It was at that moment that the door to the office flew open, and two men dressed in jeans, plaid shirts and trucker's caps entered the room with shotguns raised. Two more men, similarly dressed, followed right behind.

The shorter of the first two men raised an eyebrow at the sight of the two brothers, Sam clinging tightly to Dean as he stood slumped against him. "You Johnny Winchester's boys?"

Sam frowned. "Who wants to know?"

The man nodded. "Ricky Gonzalez." He motioned with his head to his partner. "That's O'Brien. Behind me are Cooper and Fuentes. Bobby Singer said you might need a hand."

O'Brien smiled. "Actually, what he said was, 'Those two idjits might need a hand.'"

Sam relaxed visibly. Dean rolled his head to the side, groaning as he took in the strangers. "This is so not how I pictured my rescue." His knees buckled suddenly and he started to slide out of Sam's hold.

Sam gritted his teeth as he tried to keep them both upright. "Um, could use a hand here."

Gonzalez and O'Brien quickly handed off their guns to Cooper and Fuentes, and moved forward to help. Seconds later, Dean was supported between the two men, each with an arm around his waist and his arms pulled across their shoulders.

O'Brien shook his head as he took in the state of his charge. "Damn, kid. You're a mess."

Dean shifted uneasily. "I'm fine. I just-"

"He's not fine." Sam was struggling to find his balance. "They beat the crap out of him, they drugged him with god knows what...damn it." He almost went down again as he tried to limp toward Dean.

Gonzalez raised an eyebrow. "You don't look so hot yourself."

"His knee's screwed," Dean mumbled between coughs.

Gonzalez nodded at Sam. "Right. Coop, you're the tallest: you're best suited to help Stretch walk out of here." He glanced from one brother to the other. "But, first, any unfriendlies we should know about?"

Sam shrugged. "In here, no. Out there – who knows."

O'Brien shook his head. "Nah, we cleared a path outside. We're good to go. But we need to be quick. We heard some chatter on the police radio. Somebody called in possible gunshots. 5-0 will be poking around here soon." He glanced around the room, taking in the two bodies and the broken window. "Fuentes is our janitor. What kind of clean up are we looking at?"

Sam's eyebrows peaked. "Scuze me?"

"He'll get rid of any evidence you two were ever part of this. Where should he look?"

"Right." Sam mentally kicked himself for the lapse. They'd often run into militaristic hunter teams but the events of the past few days were starting to catch up with him. "Sorry. Not thinking straight." Sam screwed his eyes closed, retracing his steps. "They took some clothes and my phone when I got here. Last I saw them, they were in the room to the right of the entrance, first floor. I boosted a car to get here, dark blue Ford, parked on the far side of the street by the main gate. Any blood on this side of the room or by the entrance is likely mine or my brother's."

Gonzalez nodded. "Good." He turned to Dean. "What about you, son. You thinking clearly enough to give us any intel?"

"Always." Dean's response was emphatic but he was sagging more heavily in his rescuers' hold. "Woke up in a windowless room… they took my boots…my phone…" He was struggling to hold up his head, let alone remember details. "They shot me full of some crap…they-"

"Durrell has security cameras all over this place." Sam motioned with his head toward Durrell's desk. "Last image he called up on that computer was the room where Dean was being held."

Fuentes was already moving behind the desk. "Good. That'll tell us where it is and I'll scrub any footage of the two of you in the process." He nodded at Gonzalez. "Won't take me long. Get those two out of here."

Less than five minutes later, Gonzalez was settling Dean into the passenger-side back seat of Coop's SUV, which was parked right by the door. Sam noted that none of Durrell's people were around and that the front gate to the dockyard was swinging open. Apparently, Gonzalez's team didn't mess around.

Coop held open the rear door on the driver's side of the SUV, and Sam maneuvered himself inside the vehicle, swearing softly as he bent his injured knee. Once in, he nodded at Coop, who slammed the door and climbed behind the wheel.

Gonzalez, standing in front of the open door next to Dean, nodded reassuringly at Sam. "Hospital's less than 15 minutes away. Coop'll take you straight there."

"We've got everything we need back at the motel," Dean grumbled. "Just take us-"

"Don't listen to him." Sam glared at Dean.

"Don't worry, I won't." Gonzalez smiled. "I've got my orders."

Dean scowled. "Whose orders?"

"I believe you boys know a Doc Caine."

Dean rolled his head toward Gonzalez. "Doc? What's she doing here? This isn't her town."

Sam winced as he shifted in his seat, still trying to find a comfortable way to sit and keep an eye on his brother. "She's worried about you, Dean. Bobby told her Durrell's men grabbed you. She said she was gonna make her way to L.A. so she could help when we got you back."

Gonzalez nodded. "She thumbed a ride with a mercy flight to Cedars-Sinai." He checked his watch. "Landed about an hour ago, then cabbed it over to Community General. She'll be there when you roll in." He glanced again at Sam. "You good?"

When Sam nodded, Gonzalez slammed the door closed and banged twice on the roof, signaling Coop to put the SUV in gear and steer the vehicle out of the dockyard and toward the hospital.

xxxXXXxxx

After the organized chaos that accompanied their arrival at the ER, Sam welcomed the current respite. The examinations and tests were done and the relentless questions answered – most truthfully, some more creatively.

He and Dean had been left alone in an ER exam room, waiting for the doctors to return for the next round of poking and prodding, and with the next slate of bad news.

Sam shifted uncomfortably on the gurney. The head of the stretcher was raised to a 45-degree angle, his injured leg stretched out in front of him. The right leg of his jeans had been cut open to mid-thigh, a chemical ice-pack wrapped around his knee and an IV inserted into the back of his left hand to deliver painkillers and anti-inflammatories. Bruises from the punches he'd taken at the hands of Durrell's men were starting to blossom and his muscles beginning to stiffen.

As promised, Doc had met them when they arrived at the hospital, paling at the state of the two brothers but quickly shifting into doctor mode as the Winchesters were wheeled into the ER. She'd had a cover story in place to explain both her presence and the drugs in Dean's system – something about FBI agents and a drug smuggling investigation gone bad – but Sam hadn't paid attention to the details. His focus was solely on Dean, who had faded noticeably on the ride to the hospital, the last of his energy seemingly dissipating the minute he knew each of them was safe.

Sam glanced over at his brother, who now lay asleep on a gurney to his right. Dean's street clothes had disappeared at some point during the numerous tests he'd undergone, replaced by a thin cotton hospital gown and the two blue blankets draped over him. The head of the gurney was raised and the safety rails locked in place, a defense against the occasionally violent tremors that still racked him. The right side of his face was heavily bandaged, the bruising spilling out from under the wrapping, traveling down his chin, across his nose and up his forehead into his hairline.

Both wrists were lightly bandaged, hiding the damage his struggles with the cable tie had caused, and the middle and index fingers of his left hand were taped together while the cracked bones healed.

Wires that disappeared inside the neck of his hospital gown led to sensors that tracked his still erratic heartbeat, the monitor at the side of his gurney in silent mode, and an IV in his left arm was helping to flush the street drugs from his system.

Sam stomach lurched as he mentally catalogued the physical damage, flashing back suddenly to the hospital after the crash with the semi and the doctor's words that had ripped through him then: "If he wakes up." Dean's injuries this time weren't life-threatening but they'd reawakened his fears of losing his brother, and of just how quickly it could happen.

Sam snapped out of his reverie as another nasty tremor ripped through his brother, followed by a groan. "Dean?" He leaned forward worriedly. "Hey."

Dean rolled his head tiredly toward Sam. "What?"

"You need a doctor?"

"Nah. If I need a doc, I've got this thing." Dean dragged his hand over the call button resting on the gurney beside his head.

Sam nodded slowly. Dean sounded tired but the most coherent he'd been since they landed at the hospital. "Seriously, man, how you doing?"

Dean cleared his throat. "Don't feel like I'm on another planet any more. That's good, I guess." He rolled slowly onto his side to face Sam after glancing around the empty exam room. "Where is everybody?"

"Collecting test results. Doc's gone to see is she can hurry things up so we know what's what."

"Good." Dean looked blearily at his brother. "What about you? Your leg?"

Sam shrugged. "Knee's swollen but I don't think it's anything major. They did an MRI to be sure. Like you, I'm waiting for the results."

Dean sounded suspicious. "Nothing else?"

"No." Sam glanced down at his right leg. "Unless you count the fact they killed my last pair of jeans."

"Great. Sammy shopping to look forward to." Dean groaned as another tremor ripped through him.

"Dean?"

"Gimme a sec." After a moment, Dean peeled open his left eye. "Okay, I'm good."

"Really?" Sam studied his brother worriedly. "I think we should get the doctor in here to-"

"No." Dean started to shake his head then thought better of it. "It's that crap Durrell's bastards shot me up with. The docs said this is likely to keep happening until it's out of my system." He looked up at his brother. "Distract me – fill me in on what happened. Everything's kind of fuzzy."

Sam nodded. "Sure. Where do you want me to start?"

"I'm not sure what's real and what's not. Back at Durrell's office, just before Gaston disappeared…was I seeing things or was there-"

"…a spirit?"

The bandages couldn't hide Dean's surprise. "So it was real? Or…you know what I mean.?"

Sam nodded.

Dean's left eye slid closed, relief evident in his voice. "Good. Maybe my head's not quite as screwed as I thought."

Sam smiled. "I wouldn't go that far."

Dean shot Sam a look. "Bitch. Any idea who the spook is?"

"Yeah." Sam stared down at his knee, frowning at the sloppy ice pack that was long past offering relief. "Nick Haskell."

Dean fought to place the name. "Haskell? He's the-"

"…organ donor." Sam pulled the ice pack from his leg and tossed it onto the cabinet beside his gurney.

"And he's-"

"…the one who's been asking for help." Sam turned toward to his brother. "The second voice in my head."

"Oh." Dean winced as he grabbed the safety rail of the gurney to hitch himself up. "And he wanted help to-"

"…break through. Go after Gaston."

"You've really gotta quit finishing my sentences." Dean shifted again, trying to get comfortable. "But this is good , right? Now we've got a spectral hitman on our side."

Sam exhaled slowly. "Gaston's dead, Dean."

Dean's grip on the safety rail tightened. "Damn. He works fast."

Sam shook his head. "We don't know for sure it was him. While you were going through that last batch of tests, Gonzalez got a message through to Doc. Hunter grapevine says Gaston was found dead in his cell, but no details, so far."

Dean's grip on the safety rail tightened as he waited for another tremor to pass. "Way too big a coincidence for my money."

Sam nodded.

Dean rolled onto his back, biting back a groan. Sam didn't miss the fact that there was a lengthy pause before his brother spoke. "Remind me to hoist a glass to Haskell when we get out of here." Dean looked over at Sam. "And kick your ass for your buckets o' crazy rescue plan."

Sam's eyes widened. "Dean, I-"

"Hilts, Sammy." Dean turned again to face his brother. "You know what that means: get the hell out, lie low until it's safe – not make yourself the red flag in a tug-of-war between two sets of nasties."

Sam swallowed. "I had to."

"No you didn't. I would've figured something out."

"Look what they did to you, Dean." Sam sat up, leaning toward his brother. "I was on the other end of the phone when they grabbed you - had to listen while they beat the crap out of you, while they dragged you away. I took the call from Connor when he gave me thirty minutes to show up or he'd kill you. Thirty minutes. You really think I was just gonna do nothing?"

"No, because you're a stubborn ass who never does what you're told."

Sam's jaw clenched. "So stop telling me to do things you know I won't do."

Dean scowled. "What are you? Five?"

"No, and that's my whole point." Stress and worry were fueling Sam's anger. "I'm not a kid any more. You can't shove me under the bed any time something dangerous shows up."

Dean snorted. "When was the last time you fit under a bed?"

"Exactly." Sam's voice softened. "You've be throwing yourself between me and the bad guys my whole life, Dean. All through my rehab, through this whole thing with Gaston, you were right there." He sighed. "You gotta know I'm there for you, too."

Dean was quiet for a moment. "When those guys were wailing on me, shooting that crap into me, I could handle it because I knew you got away." He looked up a Sam. "I can't handle it if it's you, Sammy."

Sam held his brother's gaze. "It's no different for me."

Dean rolled his head across the pillow, allowing his left eye to slide closed. "Then we're both screwed."

Sam's eyebrow quirked. "So, what? You wanna give up hunting? Go for something nice, safe and boring, like…Wal-Mart greeter?"

Dean shot Sam a look. "Uh-uh. Kids are germ factories. You never know what you'll catch."

Sam bit back a smile. "Okay. IT support."

"Death by boredom."

"Accounting?"

"Paper cuts – could turn septic."

Sam leaned back against the gurney. "Guess we're stuck with hunting, then."

"Guess so." Dean turned back to look at Sam. "But don't think this gets you out the ass-kicking I owe you."

Sam's smile faded, as he stared down at his knee. "There was big body count on this one, Dean. A lot of good people, a lot-"

"…of scumbags," Dean cut in, scowling at Sam's expression. "Okay, my eyes must be screwed because I swear you look guilty."

Sam's voice was low. "Gaston was human., So was Durrell, Connor-"

"Gaston was a monster, in every definition of the word," Dean growled. "You start beating yourself up because you had the brains and the balls to figure out a way to survive this, I really will kick your ass."

Sam shook his head. "Dean, I-"

"Look at me." Dean waited until Sam made eye contact. "If Gaston didn't use you, it would have been someone else, then someone else, then someone else – all innocent people who are still alive because of what you did. They won't have to go through the hell that Donald Chapman did. That Jack Monroe did." His voice softened. "That their families are still going through."

Sam took in his brother's bandaged face, the tremor in his hand as he gripped the safety rail, the wires to the sensors tracking his irregular heartbeat. "I know. And given the same circumstances, I wouldn't do anything different. It's just…what we do is hard enough without blurring the line even further, you know?"

"I know." Dean studied his brother for a moment, then rolled onto his back with another groan. "You keep this up, you're gonna need another transplant."

"What?"

Dean's eyes slid closed. "Swap that bleeding heart of yours for something less emo."

Sam smiled despite himself. "Jerk. That is so not funny."

Dean offered a tired grin. "Yeah, it is. Just a little." He sighed. "But, hey, if you weren't always riding my ass about the sanctity of life, I'd really be worried."

"Worried about what?"

Both brothers turned toward the door as Doc walked into the exam room. She wore a 'Visitor's ID badge attached to the zipper of her jacket and carried a large manila envelope.

Dean cleared his throat. "Gaston. Got any news?"

Doc stood between the gurneys, glancing from one brother to the other. "He's definitely dead. They found him in his cell – his liver ripped out, and missing."

Dean smiled tightly. "That's another drink I owe Haskell."

Sam looked over at Doc. "The liver…we think the original donor, um, reclaimed it."

Doc nodded, seemingly unsurprised, as she dropped the envelope on the bottom of the gurney and began to check on Dean. "Forgive me is this sounds harsh, but from everything you've told me about Gaston, it couldn't happen to a nicer guy."

"That's what I said, right Sammy?" Dean groaned, more in annoyance than pain as Doc gently rolled him onto his side to examine his back. "Doc, quit it. I'm fine."

Ignoring Dean's protests, Doc frowned as she studied the bruises that surrounded his spine. "Jesus, Dean, I can tell what kind of boots this bastard wore."

"It's nothing." Dean's flinch at Doc's touch quickly revealed the lie. "I've had worse."

Doc's eyes widened. "And that's supposed to reassure me?"

Dean gritted his teeth as Doc again rolled him onto his back. "You wanna make me feel better, tell me Gaston's already ashes."

"I just talked to Bobby," Doc said, straightening Dean's blankets, "He's been in touch with hunters in the northern part of the state. As soon as the body's released from autopsy, before if they can get to it, they'll make sure it's salted and burned.

"Until then…" She turned to Sam, digging in her pocket and pulling out a Sharpie and a piece of folded paper. "Bobby suggests you draw on this protection symbol -- just in case Gaston has any plans for revenge from the other side. The physical link is gone but, with dark magic…"

"…you can't be to careful." Sam took the pen and paper. "Thanks."

"Damn it." Dean was speaking through clenched teeth as he tried to push himself up. "Just get us out of here and we'll salt and burn the bastard ourselves."

Doc turned quickly, gently pushing Dean back onto the gurney. "Sorry, Dean, you two aren't going anywhere."

Something in Doc's tone immediately put Sam on alert. "Why? What's wrong?

Doc's voice was soft. "Those animals did a lot of damage. It's going to take surgery to fix it."

Dean's attention jumped to his brother. "Sammy's knee?"

Doc shook her head. "Sam doesn't need the surgery, Dean. You do."

"It's his eye, right?" Sam leaned forward worriedly. "Or did the drugs do something?"

"Both are concerns, but it's Dean's eye that requires surgery."

Dean's fingers tightened around the safety rail of the gurney. "Spit it out, Doc. How bad is it?"

Doc grabbed the envelope from the base of the gurney and walked over to the wall near Sam. Pulling an x-ray from the envelope, she clipped it to a light box and flipped the switch, illuminating an image of Dean's skull. Doc pointed to the area under his right eye. "There are two main concerns; the cracked orbital bone here, and the hematoma, forming here."

Sam's eyes jumped from the x-ray to his brother and back. "What about the eye itself? His sight?"

Doc exhaled slowly. "As the hematoma fills with blood, it's creating pressure on the eye which, if left untreated, could cause permanent damage." Her voice became reassuringly emphatic. "But we're not gonna let that happen. We've caught this early and you're in a good hospital. There's every reason to believe surgery will be successful."

Dean's voice was as tight as his grip on the railing. "You said there were two concerns. What's the other?"

Doc pointed again to the x-ray. "Two bone chips – here and here – have broken loose. Right now, they're not a major cause for alarm but, if they were to migrate, they could pose a threat to the optic nerve. We want to take them out before that happens."

Sam looked almost as pale as Dean. "So when can you do the surgery?"

Doc flipped the switch, turning off the light box, and walked back to the side of Dean's gurney. "Ideally, as soon as possible but we need to flush that toxic soup from your system first."

Sam's gaze stayed fixed on his brother. "Did you find out what they gave him?"

Doc looked over at Sam. "It's some kind of speed cocktail. The lab has identified most of what's in it but there are still a couple of unknown elements." She turned to Dean. "It's why we can't give you any painkillers right now, why anesthesia would be dangerous – we don't know what the drug interactions would be."

Sam winced as he pushed himself up. "How long before that crap is out of his system?"

"As a general rule with amphetamines, they stay in the blood for about 12 hours." Doc glanced at her watch. "From what you've told us, you were last dosed about six hours ago. We'll monitor you closely for the next six; hopefully, by then, the lab will have some answers and we can move ahead with the surgery." She reached over the safety rail and squeezed Dean's shoulder. "The good news is one of hunters who rescued you found a syringe and a vial of the drug. They're down at the lab now. Having a pure sample to work with will really speed things up."

Dean was quiet for a moment, then looked past Doc to his brother. "What about Sam's knee?"

Sam exhaled loudly. "Dean, we're talking about you. We need-"

"I said, what about Sammy's knee?"

"It's a bad sprain." Doc frowned as she moved to the side of Sam's gurney, reexamining the injured joint. "You should have an ice pack on this."

Sam motioned with his head toward the discarded wrap on the adjacent cabinet. "Wasn't cold any more."

Doc caught Dean's silent demand for more information. "I'd say the injury puts Sam about a month to six weeks behind in his rehab." She crossed to the cupboards on the far side of the room, opening three of them before finding the fresh chemical ice pack she was looking for. "He'll be back on crutches for a few days but, after that, the knee brace should be enough." Moving back to Sam's side, Doc cracked open the ice pack, shook it and gently wrapped it around his knee.

Dean followed her actions closely. "But there's no permanent damage?"

Doc turned toward Dean and shook her head. "Once the sprain heals, he'll be right back on track." She folded her arms. "Gaston's gone, Dean. Physically, Sam's surgery was always a success. This injury…it's just a minor setback, nothing more."

Dean's jaw clenched. "What about the other crap – you know, Gaston using Sam as a psychic Duracell? Did that do…anything?"

Doc smiled softly. "Sam's been through almost as many tests as you, Dean. He needs a good meal, a good night's sleep and to be able to quit worrying about you. How 'bout you help him out with that last one, huh?"

Dean ran his fingers down the bandages covering the right side of his face, a flash of anxiety visible briefly as his emotional armor cracked. "No bull – you can fix this?"

"The odds are all in your favor." Doc moved to the side of his gurney. "Look, I'm going to go find your surgeon, ask her to come and talk to you. She'll explain the procedure, answer any questions you have."

A smile tugged at the corner of Dean's mouth, the armor quickly repaired. "She?"

Sam rolled his eyes. Doc just smiled.

"Her name is Dr. Isla Franklin. She has an excellent reputation." Doc crossed again to the cupboards on the far side of the room, opened one and pulled out a small pillow. She returned to Dean's bedside, gently lifted his head and placed the pillow underneath. "Try not to move around too much, okay? If you notice any change, if the pain gets worse, don't hesitate-"

"I know, hit the call button." Dean's voice softened. "Thanks…you know, for…"

"Yeah." Doc smiled at Dean, winked at Sam, then disappeared through the swinging door into the corridor beyond.

Sam frowned as Dean stared straight ahead, rolling the edge of the blanket that covered him back and forth between his thumbs and forefingers. "You're gonna be fine, Dean. The surgery's gonna work."

"I know." Dean rolled his head slowly across the pillow to face Sam. "Just make damn sure they don't use anybody else's spare parts in the process."

xxxXXXxxx

"Did you just giggle?"

Dean frowned at his brother. "Deans don't giggle." He wrinkled his nose, then turned his gaze back to the ceiling, blinking each time he passed under a light.

"Deans, huh?" Sam, swinging his crutches with practised ease, shook his head as he walked alongside his brother's gurney as it was pushed toward the OR. "I know the drugs have taken hold when you start referring to yourself in the third person."

They'd been at the hospital for close to eighteen hours. The lab had finally identified all elements of the street drug Dean had been given and, when doctors determined it had worked its way through his system to the point it no longer posed a threat, surgery had been scheduled. Now he was under the influence of a legal drug with much more pleasant side effects.

Dean nodded thoughtfully. "Her name fits."

Sam's eyebrow quirked as he looked from his brother to Doc, who was walking on the opposite side of the gurney, her hand on the safety rail. She shrugged.

Sam shook his head. "Whose name fits?"

Dean offered a loopy smile. "My doctor. Her name's Isla."

Sam nodded. "Yeah. And…"

Now Dean looked annoyed. "Get with the program, Sammy. Her name's Isla and she's gonna fix my eye. Get it? Eye-la."

"Um, wow…" Sam's eyes widened as he looked again at Doc, who was biting back a smile.

Dean nodded. "Think I'll call my nurses Ei-leen and I-rene." He snorted at his own joke.

Sam looked over at Doc. "I should be recording this because he'll deny saying any of it once he comes down." He turned back to Dean. "Okay, I'll play. Your anesthesiologist is a dude. What are you gonna call him? Ivan?"

"No." Dean frowned at Sam for a moment, then grinned. "Seymour." He snorted again.

Sam smiled despite himself. "Geez, Doc, what the heck did they give him? I've seen him high before surgery but, man, he's flying."

Dean's smile disappeared, his hand smacking the gurney's safety rail as he reached frantically for Sam. "Changed my mind, Sammy. Can't do it. Turn this thing around."

"Dean, chill." Sam motioned for the orderly pushing the gurney to stop, then found his balance on his crutches so he could reach over the railing and grab Dean's arm. "What is it? You were fine with surgery."

Dean grabbed his brother's shirt. "You didn't say anything about a plane."

"Plane? What…" Sam exhaled audibly when he realized what had happened. "I said you were flying – as in high as a kite, on whatever drugs they gave you to relax."

Dean frowned. "So, no airplanes?"

"No planes, I promise."

"No airports?"

Sam shook his head. "No airports either. Just the OR."

"Awesome." Dean released his grip on Sam's shirt, his arm dropping limply to his side, the single word dripping with sarcasm. "How screwed am I that I like ORs better than airports?"

Doc nodded at the orderly who resumed pushing the gurney toward the double doors at the end of the corridor. She reached over the railing and gave Dean's hand a squeeze. "Hang in there. They're gonna take good care of you."

Dean rolled his head toward Doc. "They're gonna stick a sharp knife in my eye. How's that good?"

"It's going to undo the damage that animal did to you." Worry and anger mixed equally in Doc's words. "Make sure those pretty green eyes work the way they're supposed to. Make sure you can protect yourself, and your brother, from all the nasty things you two deal with on a daily basis."

Dean nodded slowly. "And check out chicks."

Doc smiled. "That, too. How could I forget?" She walked to the end of the gurney and pushed open the doors to the surgical wing.

As the orderly began to roll the gurney through, Dean twisted his head toward his brother when he realized Sam was no longer at his side. "Keep up, Sammy."

Sam shook his head. "End of the line for me, man. I'm not allowed in there." The orderly paused for a moment, allowing Sam to move back into Dean's eyeline. "Doc's got the okay to observe the surgery, though, so she'll be in there with you. Make sure they do everything by the book."

Dean shook his head. "You should come in, too. Just sneak in behind Doc: they'll never see you."

Sam glanced over at Doc, all 5'4" of her. "Yeah, that'll work." He smiled down at his brother. "Just relax; let them do their jobs. I'm gonna park my ass out here, then I'll see you in recovery in no time."

Dean frowned. "Recovery?"

Sam nodded. "Yeah. Doc's promised to get me in there – rules or no rules."

Dean smiled sleepily. "Told you sneaking in with her would work. You just have to hunch down a bit…maybe turn sideways." He raised his hand toward his brother. "Later, Sammy."

Sam reached forward and clasped his brother's wrist, as Dean squeezed his. "Later."

He released his hold and stepped back, the doors swinging shut as Dean, Doc and the orderly disappeared on the other side. Sam wavered on his crutches, the bravado he'd maintained for Dean's sake evaporating with his brother. His legs felt like jelly.

Shakily, he made his way over to the small, surgical waiting room. The only other occupants were a middle-aged couple seated in the far corner. He nodded politely, leaned his crutches against the wall, and then sank into one of the vinyl, padded chairs near the entrance. He winced, his knee objecting to the maneuvering, then twisted around a second chair to rest his leg on.

It wasn't exactly comfortable, but it would do. He dropped his head back against the waiting room wall, allowed his eyes to slide shut, and waited.

xxxXXXxxx

"Sam?"

Sam jumped, the soft voice so different from the deep timbre of his brother's, his usual wake-up call. His eyes snapped open when the fog of sleep rolled back and he remembered where he was.

He blinked, his vision focusing on Doc as she crouched beside his chair in the surgical waiting room. "How's Dean?"

Doc smiled. "Came through with flying colors."

Sam scrubbed a hand down his face and pushed himself up in his chair. "No bull – his eye's good?"

Doc nodded. "The bleeding's stopped, the excess blood that was creating the pressure has been drained and they got out both bone chips that posed a threat." She gave Sam's arm a reassuring squeeze. "There's no damage to the optic nerve, nothing that should have any permanent effect on his eyesight."

Sam exhaled audibly. "Damn, that's good to hear." He yawned as he glanced around the waiting room; the couple that had been there earlier had left at some point so he and Doc were alone. "Where is he now?"

"In the recovery room. Should be another 10 minutes or so before he wakes up." Doc smiled as she straightened up and sat in the chair beside Sam. "Give yourself a minute to do the same thing, then I'll take you to see him."

Sam nodded, then cleared his throat. "Doc, you've been great through all this – my knee, and now Dean, I-"

Doc gave his hand a squeeze. "The only thanks I need is for you two to stay out of trouble for a while."

Sam snorted. "Don't know if I can promise that. Trouble seems to ride around in the back seat of the Impala."

Doc laughed. "I've noticed. But you really need to dump that passenger, let her hitchhike with someone else for a couple of weeks. Let Dean recover, let your knee heal…let my frayed nerves mend." She twisted around to face him. "How does a couple of weeks at the Ellisons' cabin sound? Just say yes and I can get the key."

Sam's brow furrowed. "You sure there's nothing going on between you and Doc Ellison? You seem to have free rein with that cabin."

Doc smiled as she stood up and grabbed Sam's crutches, offering them to him. "Come on, I'll take you Dean." She winked. "I'll tell you the story on the way there."

Sam pulled his leg off the chair it was resting on, grimacing as his knee objected to being in one position for too long, but he stood with only a slight wobble. He took the crutches from Doc, settled himself on them, and then waved his hand toward the corridor. "Lead on." He grinned. "This should be good."

xxxXXXxxx

Dean dreamed about Jenna the gymnast, waking with the smile.

"Hey. Welcome back."

Dean frowned. Damn. He didn't remember Jenna's voice being that deep.

"Dean?"

Sam. Of course it was Sam; he'd know that worried tone anywhere. "What's goin' on, Sammy?," he mumbled without opening his eyes.

"You tell me. How're you feeling?"

Dean peeled open his eyes, frowning when he could see nothing out of his right and his left was blurry. Two figures hovered over him on his left, both tall with dark hair and balanced on crutches. He frowned as his vision cleared. "There's two of you."

Both brothers nodded. "Just give it a minute. Surgery went well. You're gonna be fine."

Surgery? Right. His eye. Dean blinked rapidly and his two brothers slid together, forming one. "I'm gonna see okay?"

Sam nodded. "Yeah. I'll let the docs explain the technical side of it but, bottom line, no permanent damage. In time, you'll be back to 20-20."

Dean smiled tiredly. "Good. So I can I get out of here, right?"

Sam snorted. "You're not even out of recovery, Dean. Give it a few minutes, will you."

"How long am I stuck here?"

Sam shrugged. "At least until morning."

"It's morning somewhere." Dean pulled at the hospital gown he wore. "Just find me some clothes and let's hit the road."

Sam shook his head. "One, Doc would kill me if I let you do that, and, two, my right knee is screwed and you can't see – which one of us is gonna drive?"

Dean mulled that problem for a moment, then offered a sleepy grin. "I'll drive, you navigate."

Sam looked at his brother incredulously. "Right. And when the cops pull us over, the first words out of their mouths will be, "Great teamwork, guys."

Dean failed to see the humor. "Well, what are we supposed to do? I don't want stay here or hang out in that dumpy motel until you driving leg's fixed or I can see straight."

Sam nodded. "I know. And I'm with you on that, but Doc's offered us another two weeks at the cabin. She's off arranging a ride up there and a tow for the Impala right now."

Dean looked up at Sam. "Ellison definitely has a thing for Doc."

Sam laughed. "That's what I said but, you'll love this: Doc won two weeks at the cabin in a poker game."

Dean snorted. "Doc's a card shark?"

Sam nodded. "Apparently. She and a group of docs get together for a weekly game. Ellison had reached his limit but threw a stay at the cabin into the pot to try to rescue his hand. But Doc's four-of-a-kind beat his full house."

"Damn." Dean yawned. "How'd we not know that? We need to challenge her to a game. I wanna see this myself."

Sam smiled. "So you're good with staying at the cabin?"

Dean shrugged, nestling his head in the pillow. "Cool place, cool tunes - what's not to like? Especially since Gaston's been evicted." He frowned, his left eye sliding open. "Speaking of that son of bitch, any news?"

Sam reached up and pulled down the neck of his t-shirt; the symbol he'd drawn there as protection against any potential attack by Gaston's spirit was gone. "Bobby called just after they put you under. Gaston was salted and burned two hours ago. Case closed."

"Amen." Dean blinked up at Sam. "So you're good? All quiet on the psychic front?"

"Dean, I'm fine." Sam adjusted his crutches. "Remember the deal? It's my turn to worry about you."

Dean shook his head, his eyes sliding closed. "I was under the influence when I agreed to that. Doesn't count." His voice was slurred as the drugs in his system lured him back to sleep. "It's my job to keep you safe, Sammy. Always will be, no matter how old you get, no matter how annoyingly big you get. So, you're just gonna have to live with that."

"Guess so, jerk."

Dean smiled, but the expected retort remained unspoken as he drifted off.

xxxXXXxxx

The door slid open, revealing the hospital lobby beyond. Doc and Sam were standing on the far side, close to the main entrance.

Dean smiled as he stepped out of the elevator and crossed the bright atrium. Sam had ditched his crutches and now stood in his familiar wide-legged stance, shoulders hunched forward, hands jammed in his pockets, hair falling over his eyes as he nodded in response to something Doc said.

The only visible signs of the knee injury were the safety pins that held the right leg of his jeans together. The bruises on his face were still vivid but Sam looked relaxed – all the tension of the past few weeks gone, at least on the surface.

Dean knew his brother too well to believe it would last; Sam was a natural worrier. If he was being honest, they both were – Dean was just better at hiding it. Or maybe Sam just let him believe he was.

But Gaston was gone. They'd beaten him, stopped him from hurting anyone else and, most importantly as far as Dean was concerned, stopped him from hurting Sam.

Doc laughed at something Sam said, then turned her head to see Dean approaching. As Sam followed her line of sight and saw his brother, his eyebrows peaked in surprise.

Dean grinned, dropping his small duffel at his feet. "What do you think? Pretty cool look, huh?" The heavy bandaging down the side of his face was gone, replaced by a small bandage over the eye itself, held in place by a black eye patch.

Sam smiled and nodded. "It's…interesting."

Dean tapped the patch. "Chick magnet. Wait and see."

Sam rolled his eyes. "So, how'd it go?"

"Fine."

Both Doc and Sam folded their arms, canting their heads expectantly.

"You two practise that?" Dean shook his head. "Fine. Bloodwork's clear. Heart rate's level. Swelling around my eye is down…Oh, and the highlight of my day so far, I had to pee in a bottle – again – before they'd let me leave."

"And…" Doc was unfazed by Dean's building rant.

Dean sighed. "Minute traces of the drug, all well below acceptable levels."

Sam frowned, wincing slightly as he shifted his stance. "And the eye itself? Your vision? Everything still on track?"

Dean tapped the patch. "I'm stuck with this for a few more days but, otherwise, yeah. The lovely Dr. Isla thinks I might be able to see out of it by the end of the week. Long-term prognosis still good."

Doc shoved her hands in her pockets. "And for follow-up care?"

"All records are being forwarded to Stanford so I can see the quacks up there for any more check-ups I need." He offered Doc an exaggerated grin and then turned to his brother. "Your turn, Samantha. Where are your crutches?"

Sam patted his right leg. "Traded'em in for my leg brace, and I'll only have to wear this for about another week or so."

Doc nodded. 'I've made an appointment for him with Cole –Dr. Tynan – when we get to Palo Alto, just so he can get up to speed on this setback but, otherwise, everything's good."

"That's what I like to hear." Dean glanced up at the glass hospital doors, squinting at the bright sunshine spilling in from outside. "Now, can we get out of here, please. I've been cooped up inside way too long."

Sam nodded. "We're just waiting for our ride."

Coop, one of the hunters who'd rescued them from Durrell's dockyard, had business in the Bay Area and had offered to drive the three of them to Palo Alto and tow the Impala. They'd stay with Doc for a few days until one of them was ready to drive, then they'd head to the cabin. The only part of the plan Dean wasn't too fond of was the towing his car part.

He looked from Doc to Sam. "This Coop know what he's doing? My baby's not too fond of strangers. She-"

"Dean, chill." Sam was shaking his head. "Given how…protective you are, I told Coop you'd like to be there when he hitches up the Impala. When he gets here, we'll head to the motel and you can supervise while he hooks her up."

Dean grinned. "Good boy."

Doc laughed, pulling a piece of paper from her pocket. "And, if you have room for more than one lady in your life, I know someone who'd like to meet you." She offered the paper to Dean. "Her name is Taylor. I think you'll like her."

Dean eyed the paper suspiciously, then glanced from Doc to Sam. "This some kind of trick? You setting me up."

Sam held up his hands. "Don't look at me man. I had nothing to do with this."

Doc gestured with the paper again. "Two pens and a notebook – at all times. Write down phone numbers. Wasn't that what you said? Taylor asked about you, so…"

Dean frowned. "I've met her?"

Doc nodded. "She's one of the recovery room nurses at Stanford. She's nice, so-"

Dean's face fell. "Nice?"

Doc rolled her eyes. "Sorry. That's a four-letter word, isn't it? Okay…think Sandra Bullock, circa Speed, with a voice like Demi Moore. Wicked sense of humor – more than a match for you."

Dean brightened, memory suddenly sparking a smile. "Right – long hair, big brown eyes, kind of tuck-under-the-arm height?"

Doc nodded. "That's her. She's not looking for anything long-term but she's certainly up for some fun." She grinned, waving the piece of paper again.

Dean plucked the paper from Doc's hand. "That's more like it. Thanks." He glanced over at his brother. "What about Sammy? You got one for him, too?"

Sam shook his head. "Oh no. If I want a date, I'll find my own."

Dean stared at his brother. "Fine. Once we're mobile, you've got three days to find one."

Sam eyes widened incredulously. "What?"

Dean grinned, shoving the piece of paper in his pocket. "Not kidding, Sammy. Three days to find a date, have some fun, or, me and Doc, we're staging an intervention, finding you one."

"Dean, come on-"

Doc laughed. "You two leave me out of this, but," she looked up at Sam, "Dean's right about having some fun. What you two do, what you go through…if you're going to save the world, once in a while you have to remind yourself what you're saving it for."

Dean snorted. "You read that in a Hallmark card?"

"Smartass." Doc punched him playfully in the arm. "Okay, it was corny, but take my point."

Dean grinned at Sam. "Oh, he will. Three days, Sammy. Clock starts now." He cut off Sam's protest by pointing outside. "This our ride?"

Sam turned to look as Coop's SUV rolled up. "Yeah."

Dean bent down to pick up his duffel. "Finally. First stop, we pick up the car." He glanced over at Sam and the safety pins that still held his ripped jeans together. "Second, we go buy you some new pants. You look ridiculous. You'll never get a date looking like that."

Sam rolled his eyes. "Right. This coming from the guy with the pirate patch."

Dean clapped Sam on the back, threw his arm around Doc's shoulder and steered her toward their ride. "There's two guys in the world who can pull off this look – me, and Johnny Depp."

Sam shook his head as he limped after his brother. "Okay, so, while we're shopping we're picking up dreads and eyeliner, too?"

"Bite me." Dean grinned down at Doc. "Now, back to Sammy's date. Think that physiotherapist would go out with him? I mean, her biceps weren't THAT much bigger than his..."

FINIS

A/N: And so, another adventure ends. I hope you had as much fun reading it as I did writing it. If you have a moment, I'd love to know what you think. Until next time – and yes, a couple of plot bunnies are hopping around in my backyard – enjoy Season 5. Woo hoo!