SUMMARY: A rough hunt leaves the brothers battered and bleeding. They take care of each other but, as always, someone else has their backs.

RATED: T

DISCLAIMER: Nope, still don't own'em. That pleasure belongs to Kripke & Co.

A/N: A little serving of Winchester whumpage. Enjoy. Great big thanks to Harrigan for the beta.

WAITING FOR HER BOYS

She waits for them, hidden in the shadows of the dark alley, invisible to all but those who know she's there.

The rain is falling hard now, battering the trash cans that line the brick walls and filling the uneven asphalt with puddles. The temperature is dropping; soon the rain will turn to snow, the puddles to ice. Steam rises from a grate where warm air from the sewers meets the chilly night; it fills the alley, diffusing the glow from the lone streetlight.

Beyond the fog, the city street is silent; those who live here know better than to be out at this hour. It's prime hunting time.

Four are dead, at least a dozen more mauled and police are stumped. The coroner says evidence points to a wolf attack, but it's the heart of downtown so the cops don't buy it.

Sam and Dean know better. It's a black dog, and they've found its lair.

She knows they're good at their job, damn good, but they've been gone too long.

And then she sees them, two silhouettes emerging from the fog, backlit by the streetlight as they stumble toward her. Dean is leaning heavily on his brother, one arm draped across Sam's shoulders, the other hanging limply at his side. His steps are uneven, his knees threatening to buckle with each one. As she watches, his head lolls forward.

"Whoa, Dean. Stay with me…it's not much further." Sam's words of comfort are tight as he shifts his grip to get a better hold on his brother. His breathing is rapid, his breath frosting with each laboured exhale. "Come on. She's right there…"

Dean groggily lifts his head and stares right at her. The shadows are heavy but she swears she sees him smile. If she could, she'd smile right back, let him know she's here for him, ready to take him to the help he needs.

Dean's eyes slide closed and he nods softly, as if sensing her reassurance, then grunts as he stubbornly rallies his strength and forces one foot in front of another.

Sam takes on even more of Dean's weight.

There's a service entrance to a store just to her right, a caged bulb over the door. As the boys lurch into its light, she sees what she already knows: it's bad. The hand Dean's clutching to his middle is stained red. His face is ghostly pale and when he coughs, blood bubbles from his lips.

Sam's soaked, his long hair plastered to his head, the rain dripping off his bangs onto his face. He's limping, too. At first she thinks it's because he's basically carrying his brother, but the left leg of his jeans is shredded, the fabric wet and dark. The stains on his shirt? That blood's likely Dean's; but on his leg, that's all his own. The black dog got him, too.

His jaw is clenched and she knows the look; he's hiding pain for Dean's sake. It's a Winchester trait. Both brothers do it… as did their dad… as did their mom.

She remembers the drive to the hospital when Mary was in labour with Dean. A contraction began and Mary bit back a yell, hands squeezing the edge of the seat until her knuckles turned white. John, more terrified than he would ever be while hunting, forced a smile and offered words of comfort even as he drove hell-bent-for-leather. Mary, in turn, reassured him she was fine, even while her nail-marks scored the Impala's leather.

Their boys learned by example.

They're by her side now, Sam letting go of Dean's arm to yank open her door and lower his brother inside. Her bench seat sags a little under his weight; she's in her forties and, even after a rebuild, her springs don't bounce back quite the way they used to. But Dean takes great care of her, so she does the same for him.

Sam hisses as he bends down to gently lift Dean's legs inside, his own injured leg not liking the contortions. Dean's mostly out of it, his head dropping onto the seatback and lolling to the side, eyes fully closed.

With that realization, Sam's mask slips a bit; his own pain now obvious, his worry for his brother even more so. He lifts Dean's arm, hanging limply into the open doorway, and places it across his lap, then gives his brother's shoulder a reassuring squeeze. "Hospital's not far…you're gonna be fine."

The words of comfort are offered for Sam's sake as much as Dean's: the simple fact they're headed to a hospital means it's bad. The brothers often come limping back from a hunt but most times they simply steer her back to a motel where they patch each other up. But they know their limits, and Dean's injuries this time obviously go beyond them.

Sam pushes himself to his feet with a groan and slams the door shut. The noise rouses Dean with a start. He glances around, confusion and pain evident in his expression. He's shaking, cold and shock both taking a toll, but relaxes visibly when he realizes where he is. "Damn, baby… you missed a good fight." He snorts at his own joke, which starts him coughing, blood spattering onto the hand he lifts to wipe his mouth. "I know what you're thinking…" His arm drops into his lap as he smirks around more coughs. "But you should see the other guy."

Sam slams shut the trunk after riffling through it, then yanks open the driver's side door and slides behind the wheel. He quickly turns the key in the ignition and cranks the heat. Good. Sam will take care of Dean, she knows that, but now she can do her part. Her engine rumbles soothingly as she warms up the cold night air and blasts it through the cabin to chase away the chill.

Sam reaches up and turns on the overhead light; she notes his look of surprised relief when he sees that his brother is conscious. "Hey. Still hangin' in there?"

Dean's eyes keep threatening to close but he snorts again, sparking more coughing. "No… freakin' dog's… taking me out."

"Damn straight." Sam has a blanket, which he quickly unfolds and lays over his brother's legs. He gently moves aside the arm Dean has locked protectively around his stomach, peels back the shredded flannel shirt and pulls up the blood-soaked t-shirt beneath. The claw marks, three angry red wheals, start just above the waistband of his jeans and travel across his abdomen and around his side. They're deep, jagged and still bleeding heavily.

"We've gotta get the bleeding under control. But first…" Sam picks up a bottle as he glances up at Dean.

Dean gives him a single, terse nod. "Do it."

Sam uncaps the holy water and pours it over the wound.

Dean's scream fills the car, drowning out the rumble of her engine. His back arches and the muscles in his neck cord as the holy water hisses and smokes, purifying the black dog's poison. His eyes are screwed shut and his hands fisted, the knuckles white.

Like Sam, she watches helplessly.

And then it's over. Dean sags back against the seat, breathing heavily. He's still conscious but just barely.

Sam starts to cap the water bottle but Dean stops him by closing a bloody hand on his wrist. "Now…you."

"He barely scratched me. It's you-"

"Do it." Stubbornness helps rally Dean's strength and he opens his eyes wider. "Now."

Sam raises the bottle to Dean in a mock toast to acquiescence, then pours holy water onto his injured leg. The pain rips through him and he hunches forward, dropping the bottle and grabbing the steering wheel. Like his brother, he yells. She feels his fingers tighten on the wheel as the holy water is brutal in its effectiveness. Dean's hand is still locked around his other wrist; she's glad they can both be there for him.

Then for Sam, too, it's over. He blows out a breath, lets go of the wheel and sits back, gently pulling Dean's hand from his wrist. He reaches down for the first-aid kit which has fallen from his lap onto the floor, and pulls out a pressure bandage. He turns to Dean and quickly tapes the bandage in place where the damage is worst, the bleeding the heaviest.

Dean blinks his gratitude and Sam nods as he lifts the blanket and tucks it around his brother's shoulders.

"Okay. We're outta here." Sam winces as he twists to face forward, slides the Impala into gear and jams his foot on the gas pedal.

She responds immediately, peeling out of the alley and onto the street beyond, her engine rumbling loudly as she picks up speed. So much of her time is spent waiting, by the curb, in the shadows, in a distant parking lot that she relishes the chance for action.

Her favorite times are those when they're cruising along the back roads between one town and the next. Sometimes the boys are bickering, over music, over a case, over what to eat for dinner. Sometimes their silence is companionable, other times it's fueled by tension. Sometimes while one sleeps, huddled against her door, the other's guard drops and she sees clearly the stress they're under, their fears or, if she's lucky, the love that bonds them.

On clear nights in the middle of nowhere, they've been known to roll down the windows and crank up the music, singing along at the top of their lungs. They're not great singers but they're having fun, and there's not a lot of fun in the Winchesters' lives

And then there are times like these when they're in trouble and need help, when all the hours Dean spends lovingly tuning her engine pay off. Suddenly, she's not forty anymore; she's in her prime, racing along city streets, eating up pavement, knowing time is of the essence.

It was like that the night of the crash, when the demon in the semi almost killed them all. They'd lost John, almost lost Dean, and how Sam had escaped with only minor injuries would always be a mystery. She was destined for the scrap yard, until Sam intervened. It was his stubbornness and love for his brother that saved her; Dean's skill and determination that rebuilt her. And as she was rebuilt, so was he.

Sam fidgets on the seat, his fingers clenching and releasing the wheel. His face is a study in discomfort and she suddenly realizes why. The seat is too far forward, his injured leg bent at an awkward angle. Dean had driven them to the hunt; when Sam had placed his injured brother back in the car and slid behind the wheel, he hadn't adjusted the seat. She knows it's because he didn't want to cause Dean more pain. That's the way they are with each other; always willing to throw themselves in harm's way if it keeps the other safe.

"Dean?" Sam ducks his head to see if Dean's eyes are still open, if he's still conscious.

He is.

"Chill, dude." Dean is shaking noticeably under the blanket. His voice is weak but the attitude is still there as he lifts his head and smirks up at his brother. "Haven't checked out yet."

"Let's keep it that way." Relief crosses Sam's face as he glances forward and notes the blue street sign with a white 'H' and an arrow pointing right. "Almost there. It's just around the corner."

Her worry for Sam suddenly redlines. His grip on the wheel is shaky and while he's looking right, she's wandering across the lane to the left. She jerks to the right suddenly when he realizes what's happening and overcorrects.

Dean's voice is a low growl. "Dude, you hurt my car…"

She knows Sam is the real object of his concern, but she takes no offence at that.

"Dean, I…" Sam's protest peters out as he reaches the corner and swings the Impala to the right, sees the hospital entrance and guns her up the ramp. He slams his foot on the brake and she squeals to a stop in front of the big glass ER doors.

"Jesus, Sam…what did I just say…"

Sam isn't listening; he throws open the door and half climbs, half falls out of the car.

An orderly is walking toward them, wagging his fingers. "Dude, you can't park there. You-"

Sam waves a hand in Dean's direction. "My brother's hurt…clawed by a wolf…he's bleeding bad…"

"Son of a…" The orderly steps on the mat and the glass doors slide open. "Yo, Joey. I need that gurney, STAT!"

Joey appears almost immediately, pushing the stretcher to the far side of the Impala. The orderlies are efficient and surprising gentle and soon have Dean onboard. As they push him quickly toward the ER, Dean rolls his head and frowns at his brother. "Sammy?"

His cause for concern is obvious; Sam hasn't moved. He's still standing behind the open driver's side door, leaning against the Impala's frame and hanging tightly onto the frameless glass of the window. Too tightly.

Stupid, stubborn Winchesters.

She relaxes her hinges and the door swings further open. Sam loses his grip and his source of support and goes down. His grunt of pain as he falls draws both orderlies' attention.

Dean answers their unspoken question. "Wolf…got him too."

"Oh crap." The orderly shoots a look at this partner. "Get this one inside, and send me a chair."

Dean is still protesting the order as he's taken into the ER. The doors don't have time to close behind him because a third orderly emerges, pushing a wheelchair.

Sam is trying to get to his feet, with little success. He waves off the offer of help. "M'okay. I just…"

"…landed on your ass because, by the look of your jeans, your leg is torn to shreds." Each orderly has an arm hooked under Sam's as they lift him into the chair. "Don't fight us, man. We just wanna put you back together."

Sam stares at the ER doors, then looks back at the Impala. "The car…I have to-"

"Relax." The orderly pats Sam on the shoulder as they start moving. "Once we get you inside, get the docs taking care of you, we'll come out here and take care of your wheels, put her somewhere safe." He glances back and whistles. "She's a beaut. You-" She doesn't hear what he says next as they disappear inside the hospital.

She's played her role; the boys are in good hands. The doctors will stitch them up, tape them up and dope them up. Then, under the cover of darkness, when staffing levels are low, Sam and Dean will slip out, find her and they'll hit the road, find another motel to recover in, find another monster to chase.

But, in the mean time, once again, she waits.

Finis

A/N: The Impala really is the third member of the Winchester family, isn't she? Thanks so much for reading. If you have a moment, I'd love to hear from you. Until next time, cheers.