Dean lifted his shirt, wincing when pain flared in his side as he reached behind himself, tucking his Taurus into the waist of his jeans before reaching for Sam.
Not wanting to risk words, Dean gently placed one finger across his brother's lips – be quiet – and then lifted Sam to his feet, steadying the kid as he swayed from the abrupt change in position.
Sam seemed oblivious to the quickly weakening shrieks of Owen and Ray; instead clenching his teeth against the pain that overwhelmed his body, refusing to make a sound. Sam rested his forehead on Dean's shoulder as he panted through what Dean suspected was the urge to either hurl or pass out...or maybe both.
Dean held still, rubbing his brother's back as he allowed Sam a few seconds to pull himself together, listening as Owen and Ray were suddenly quiet; their screams replaced by the Owego's chewing and smacking and bone sucking.
Knowing they didn't have much time before the Owego would be finished with its appetizer and refocus on them for its entrée, Dean shrugged his shoulder; a silent indication to Sam that his break was over. Ready or not, they needed to haul ass.
Sam swallowed and nodded, weakly pushing against Dean in an attempt to straighten but only sagged from the effort; a small, pitiful-sounding grunt escaping his lips as he folded against his brother.
Dean frowned. Because as signs went, this was not good; in fact, it was really fucking bad. They had a lot of ground to cover before they were back to the Impala, and Sam was barely conscious; could hardly stand even with Dean supporting most of his weight.
Sighing, Dean grasped the wrist of Sam's uninjured arm and drew it across his own shoulders, holding it there as he wrapped his other arm around Sam's waist, mindful of his brother's injuries. At 18, Sam was still just a skinny kid. And if absolutely necessary, Dean could carry him. But that would slow them down even more; so for now, they would make do like this.
Dean squeezed Sam's wrist – we're about to move – and then paused when he heard the same grunt that his brother had made a few seconds before.
Only, the sound hadn't come from Sam.
Dean felt his heart drop, not needing to look behind them to know they had company; to know that the diversion – the provided snack of Owen and Ray – had been devoured; and now the Owego was focused on them.
"Shit," Dean hissed, tightening his grip on Sam; half dragging, half carrying his brother as they set off in the opposite direction from which the sound had come.
The grunt echoed through the woods, but the Owego was moving slower now that it had fed; another perk of providing Owen and Ray as a snack.
The sound came once more, but Dean barely heard it over the adrenaline humming through his body; over his heart hammering in his chest and the blood rushing in his ears as he tried to cover as much ground as possible while keeping a firm hold on Sam and formulating a Plan B to step three – their escape. The Owego had eaten Owen and Ray faster than Dean had planned – the gluttonous bastard – and now he needed to fucking think.
Dean was unsure how far they had gone or how long they had been running – distance and time often blurring when being chased – but in the next instant, his answer appeared on the horizon.
The quiet surface of the lake was looming before them; shining like dull, dark pewter in the moonlight. And beyond that, on the opposite shore, waiting patiently for her boys was home sweet home herself, the Impala.
Dean felt a wave of relief – as he always did when his brother was by his side and his best girl was in sight – and readjusted his grip on Sam as they stopped at the shoreline. He stared out at the water before glancing back into the timber – where the Owego's approach was growing ever louder, ever closer – and then Dean smiled, because Owegos melted much like Oz's Wicked Witch when faced with water.
Dean's smile faltered, staring down the shoreline as it stretched away from them on both sides; knowing they would never make it around in time; realizing with dread what they would have to do. They were going to freeze their asses off, but there was literally no other choice.
"Ah, shit," Dean sighed before turning his attention to his brother. "Sam," he called as he carefully lowered the kid to the rocky shore; unlacing and tugging at Sam's boots, then his socks, before removing his own, along with his ankle holster. "Sammy..."
Sam blinked, seemingly confused as to why Dean was suddenly undressing him but made no verbal response.
Dean yanked off his leather jacket, throwing it behind him as he reached for Sam. "We're gonna have to swim, kiddo," Dean explained to his brother as he gently maneuvered Sam's injured arm from his jacket, eliciting a gasp of pain as he did so. "Sorry, sorry, sorry..." Dean apologized, slipping off the other sleeve and tossing Sam's jacket to join his behind them. "Sammy..." Dean called again, ignoring the pain in his side as he stood; the small pebbles cold and hard against his bare feet. "You hear me?" he asked, sliding his hands under his brother's arms and lifting the kid up, bracing himself as Sam immediately pitched forward. "Hey..."
Sam wheezed; swallowed; then wheezed again. "C-can't..."
"Yes, you can," Dean instantly responded, sounding a little more like John Winchester than he would have liked.
There was a beat of silence – the Owego strangely quiet for the past few minutes – and Dean sighed, softening as Sam's fingers weakly bunched the fabric of his shirt, seeking strength and reassurance.
"Can't..." Sam whispered again, and Dean knew Sam was right.
"I'm gonna help you," Dean promised, feeling a fresh wave of determination, followed by a surge of protectiveness. "You hear me? We're gonna do this together." Without waiting for an answer, Dean wrapped his arm around Sam, steadying the kid when he wobbled on the rocky shore. "Easy. Almost there," he coached.
And they were.
They were two steps from the water, mere inches from the gently lapping edge, when the Owego appeared out of fucking nowhere.
Startled – and thoroughly pissed for allowing himself to be startled – Dean shoved Sam behind him on instinct – keeping one hand bunched in the kid's shirt, vaguely aware of his brother's sharp gasp at the sudden, harsh movement – and then viciously kicked, splashing water in the Owego's direction.
The creature made a sound all its own – a high-pitched hiss of outrage as the water sizzled on its skin – and then retreated; was back at the edge of the woods before Dean could blink.
"Fuck!" Dean blurted – because seriously, that scared the fucking shit out of him – and then immediately maneuvered Sam back to his side. "You okay?" he asked, pausing only long enough to sweep Sam's bangs from his eyes, to make sure his brother was still conscious.
Sam's face was pinched with pain, his eyes mere slits as he gazed back at Dean, but it was good enough; it would have to be.
"Okay, here we go," Dean warned, and in the next instant, he was pushing Sam into the water; quickly wading out into the icy lake, side by side.
The water was so cold it hurt, and by the time it reached their waists, they were both shivering violently.
Sam gasped as they sank deeper in the frigid water.
"Yeah," Dean agreed, hardly able to force the word up out of his throat as he made a concentrated effort to keep a tightened grip on Sam's shivering form while also treading water; kicking furiously beneath the surface as he tried to compensate for having only one free arm and belatedly thinking that this idea really sucked.
But it was the only option they had, and Dean mentally shook himself, striking out for the dark lines of the opposite shore; a goal which suddenly seemed impossibly far away.
Behind them, back at the timber line, Dean could hear the muted cries of the Owego, and he wondered how much of the water had hit its mark when he had splashed it. Dean hoped the Owego was injured enough that it would not be able to move at its usual speed and would not be waiting for them on the opposite shore when they arrived.
Or more realistically, based on how Dean felt at the moment, if they arrived. Because holy shit...he had forgotten how tiring swimming could be, especially when doing so with only one arm. And even worse, the water was fucking freezing.
Dean clenched his jaw in an effort to stop his teeth from chattering and glanced at his brother, seeing that Sam's eyes were closed. "H-hey," Dean called, panting from exertion as he continued to swim for both of them.
His brother's reaction didn't happen as quickly as Dean would have liked, but after a few seconds, Sam's eyes fluttered, blinking owlishly.
"That's better," Dean praised, one arm holding onto Sam, wrapped around the kid's chest, while the other continued to pull them through the water. "Stay awake."
Sam merely blinked; his body completely lax against Dean, and Dean was thankful for the seemingly magical weightlessness the water provided.
There was silence; the Owego finally quiet, and the only sound now coming from Dean's right arm as it swept through the lake's surface.
The repetitive strokes paired with the unmistakable sound of motion in water produced a hypnotizing effect, and Dean blinked rapidly, widening his eyes against the lulling sensation; willing himself to stay alert; to battle against the cold and exhaustion that threatened to literally take them under.
Despite his efforts, Dean could feel his grip loosening on Sam – muscles cramped and fatigued from the strain of maintaining one position – and attempted to readjust his hold on his brother at the exact moment Sam shivered, jerking out of Dean's grasp and disappearing beneath the lake's surface.
Momentarily stunned – horrified by the reality of what just happened – Dean stared in speechless shock and then dove forward into the water; the frigid temperature instantly taking his breath away. Dean floundered and sank before finally forcing his limbs to move, hard kicks thrusting him back to the surface.
Frantic, Dean sucked in air and looked around for Sam just as his brother's head broke the surface a few yards away; the kid's uninjured arm weakly pawing at the water as he gasped for breath.
"Sam!" Dean yelled and then watched as his brother's head slipped back underwater.
Dean made a guttural sound of panic and frustration, swimming to where he had seen Sam disappear and then dove again. Once under, Dean could see nothing but inky blackness and felt his heart slam in his chest. He came back up and cried out his brother's name again; spinning around as he wiped away the water streaming over his eyes.
Suddenly Sam's head broke the surface of the lake, and Dean immediately reached for him, grasping wildly for his brother but missing entirely as Sam went down once more.
Dean dove after him; his hand reaching, reaching, reaching...and then finally brushing against what had to be Sam's hair. Dean clenched his fist, feeling the wet locks twining around his fingers, and then jerked upwards with all his strength, simultaneously kicking hard for the surface.
Sam came coughing and gasping into his arms, and Dean held on to him with a vise-like grip. "I've got you," Dean panted, his heart hammering in his chest – because Jesus...that was too fucking close. "Just hold on. I've got you, Sammy."
"D...D-D'n," Sam choked out, his teeth chattering so hard that Dean could barely make out the word. "N...n-no..."
Whatever that meant.
Dean didn't have time to figure it out and didn't bother answering as he wrapped one arm around Sam and struck out through the water with the other. He swam on; time losing all meaning as Dean thought of nothing other than telling himself to swim..swim...swim.
Several times Dean went under, choking and sputtering when he managed to fight his way back up to the surface. Feeling the effects of exhaustion and exposure, it was as though his entire body had forgotten how to do things on its own; his legs needing constant reminders to keep kicking; his right arm to keep swimming; his lungs to keep pulling in air. The only part of him that didn't need to be told what to do was his left arm; it curved around his brother's body with a fierceness that made his bicep bunch and cramp. But it didn't matter; there was no way in hell Dean was letting go of Sam again.
Sam had not said another word, and Dean had glanced at him once – unnerved by the waxy paleness of his brother's face in the moonlight, his blue-hued lips – and then refused to allow himself to look again. Dean kept kicking and kept paddling with his right arm over and over; keeping his mind blank and his eyes fixed on the black water in front of him, on the edge of the shore beyond.
When his bare foot finally brushed against gravel, Dean was so exhausted that it didn't register. He swam until he was able to crawl out, dragging Sam alongside him. Dean pulled his brother from the water with his last bit of strength; settling Sam on his back before collapsing beside him facedown, trembling from fatigue as a swirl of thoughts descended.
The Owego's cries had long since ceased, but Dean had no idea where it had gone. He couldn't hear it any longer, but it was unlikely the creature would have given up so easily. So, where was it? Back on the other shoreline, nursing its wounds from the splashed water; maybe even dead by now? Hidden in wait for them on this shoreline? Or had it realized the Winchester brothers were not to be fucked with and had retreated back to whatever cave it had crawled from?
Dean swallowed and shook his head, feeling the small pebbles grind into his cheek as he did so. He couldn't think about any of that now; he had more immediate problems as indicated by the silence that came from Sam's direction.
Willing himself to move, Dean slowly crawled toward his brother. "Sam?"
Dean didn't expect a response, but as he drew closer he saw something else he didn't expect – Sam was conscious, eyes open and blinking, yet he wasn't breathing. There was no rise and fall of his chest; no coughing or desperate gasping. Sam's face contorted in pain and panic; his mouth was open, but he was not drawing air.
Swallowing down his own panic, Dean's eyes swept Sam's body, visually triaging his brother, cataloging the kid's known injuries as he searched for the cause of this latest crisis. Concussion, gunshot wound, fractured collarbone, battered face, bruised chest, probable internal bleeding, broken ribs...
Dean's eyes drifted back to Sam's chest – his hyper-expanded chest – and gently placed his hands on either side of his brother's torso, remembering how the kid had struggled for air since their time in the cave; how Sam had coughed and gasped and mentioned the pressure in his chest multiple times; how Sam's speech had been choppy and breathy.
Dean frowned as his hands remained still on Sam's chest, when they should have been rising and falling as his brother breathed. Dean remembered how he had worried earlier about how much further damage he might have done to Sam while lying on top of him in the cave and knew that all of the activity they had done since then had only made the original injury worse, had most likely caused the broken ribs to puncture Sam's lung and had led to this – a pneumothorax.
"Okay..." Dean sighed, willing himself to stay calm – because he knew what to do, he just had to do it – and angled himself so that he was in Sam's line of vision. "Sammy..." he called, and waited for Sam's sluggish gaze to find him. "Collapsed lung, okay?" Dean reported. "No big deal. I'm gonna fix it for now, and then we'll head to the hospital. Just hang tight..."
Sam's nod was weak and uncoordinated as his eyes began to roll back.
"Whoa, whoa, whoa...hey!" Dean brushed his brother's bangs away, trying to maintain eye contact. "Sammy!"
But Sam was out.
"Ah, shit," Dean hissed; his panic exploding into action as he stood, digging in the front pocket of his jeans for his keys; his fingers cold and clumsy and his legs the same as he jogged the few steps to the Impala, thankful she was close.
Unlocking the trunk, Dean lifted the lid; one hand grabbing the first aid kit and flashlight while the other snagged the less often used field surgery kit they had gotten from a military surplus store. Tucking the flashlight under his arm while holding the kits against his chest with the same arm, Dean yanked open the passenger side door, ducking in long enough to snatch a straw from the glove compartment.
Supplies in hand, Dean jogged back to Sam, hoping – maybe even praying – that this was going to work; that the one time their father had made him practice this procedure on the leftover meat suit of an exorcised demon was enough.
Because he had to get this right; there would be no do-overs. There was no way in hell Sam was going to leave him. Not again. Not here, not now, and sure as hell not like this.
Wordlessly, Dean dropped to his knees, a twinge of pain flaring in his side from the jarring motion, and felt the seep of moisture from the ground and the small pebbles on the shoreline dig into his denim-clad flesh. Clicking on the flashlight, Dean placed it between his shoulder and jaw, angling it to shine on Sam and holding it in that position with his chin. Dean grasped the neckline of Sam's shirt with both hands and then pulled in opposite directions, jaggedly ripping the fabric down the center, exposing his brother's thin chest. Dean scanned Sam's torso, eyes focusing on the left side; the myriad of bruises vivid against the pale, goose bumped skin.
Without looking, Dean flung back the top of the first aid kit, tearing open a single-use alcohol wipe and then swiping it over Sam's flesh. Tossing the wipe back into the kit, Dean glanced to the side, chin still resting on the flashlight, as he unwrapped the straw – no bigger than a coffee stirrer – and then lightly held it between his teeth, careful not to crush it. Dean didn't even notice the spasm of pain from his own injury as he reached for the surgical kit and unzipped it, extracting the syringe with the needle attached – the 14 gauge, 3.25 inch needle, to be exact.
"A 3.25 inch needle will get through the chest wall in 99% of individuals," their dad had read to him from a manual as they had practiced that day several years ago, and Dean hoped that Sam wasn't in the 1% minority.
Dean sighed and steadied the light as it shone on Sam; one hand holding the syringe while the other hovered over Sam's chest, moving three finger widths below the middle of his brother's collarbone to the second intercostal space in the midclavicular line.
"During needle decompression, it is important to remember to enter the chest wall at a 90 degree angle. Entering above the third rib avoids the artery and vein on the bottom of the second rib and also decreases the risk of puncturing the patient's heart," John had continued to read that day, and Dean remembered it seeming so easy when he had followed those directions under his father's guidance.
But this wasn't a vacated body; this was Sam.
Dean swallowed, squinting to better focus as he inserted the needle into Sam's chest at a perfect 90 degree angle – straight down, needle disappearing as it glided through his brother's flesh – and then exhaling himself when he heard the hiss of air as it escaped, indicating he had successfully penetrated the pleural space.
Feeling a wave of relief as he watched Sam's chest deflate, Dean removed the needle, dropping it into the open surgical kit, and then snatched the straw from his mouth, carefully inserting it into the hole he had just created in Sam's chest; allowing his hand to hover over the exposed opening of the straw, feeling the small puffs of air.
Holding the straw steady with one hand, Dean groped around the kit for surgical tape with his other hand. As he snagged the roll and tore off a piece with his teeth, his eyes scanned their surroundings – no sign of the Owego – and then directed his attention back to Sam, securing the straw in place, before once again placing his hands on either side of the kid's torso, feeling shallow breaths.
Seeing the thin red piece of plastic sticking out of his brother's chest was surreal, and for a few seconds, Dean just stared, immensely relieved and grateful to see Sam breathing. But as he continued to stare, Dean realized Sam was shivering – as he was – and knew he needed to get off his ass and get them dry before hypothermia contributed to their problems.
With a sigh, Dean grasped the flashlight – rolling his shoulders against the cramp that had settled in his neck from holding it with his chin – and crawled to the other side of his brother, not wanting to bump the straw when he lifted Sam. Dean slipped one arm – the one holding the flashlight – under the kid's knees and then angled his other arm so that Sam's head rested in the crook of his elbow while he removed the remnants of his brother's shirt.
Taking a deep breath – steeling himself against the fatigue, against the pain he knew would flare in his side – Dean pushed to his feet, staggering a few steps before gaining his balance and crossing to the Impala, thankful he had left the passenger door open.
Keeping his eye on the straw – terrified of jarring it loose – Dean maneuvered Sam headfirst into the Impala, stretching his brother across the bench seat so that the kid's head would be resting in Dean's lap in a few minutes when he climbed behind the wheel. Half in the car himself, Dean leaned over Sam to crank the engine, then blasted the heat before reaching for the kid's duffle in the backseat; grabbing a pair of sweatpants from his bag and then a towel from the stash they always kept in the rear foot well.
Turning back to Sam, Dean gave a cursory pass over his brother's hair before quickly but carefully drying the kid's face and neck; moving to Sam's arms and chest – lingering around the straw, double-checking the tape, feeling the air – and then snagged the sweatpants from the seat as he backed himself out of the Impala.
Draping the damp towel over his shoulder, Dean matter-of-factly removed his brother's jeans and boxers; dropping the sodden clothes to the ground as he dried Sam's legs and then slipped the sweatpants up and over his brother's hips.
Dean tossed the towel and Sam's saturated clothes in the front foot well before crossing to the trunk, exchanging the flashlight for a gray wool blanket – another military surplus bargain. Dean returned to the passenger side – Sam's side, always Sam's side – and once again leaned over his brother, tucking the blanket around Sam; left edge carefully folded back to accommodate the straw; bottom edge wrapped over Sam's bent knees and around the kid's frozen feet.
Standing beside the Impala, Dean paused – shivering in his own wet clothing as he visually assessed Sam's condition – and eased the passenger door shut, not wanting to shake the car and thus shake Sam; paranoid as hell that the straw sticking out of his brother's chest was going to somehow jar loose.
Satisfied that Sam was relatively stable, Dean turned – eyes once again scanning his surroundings – and jogged the few steps to the shoreline. As he collected the first aid and surgical kits, Dean's gaze drifted out over the water, squinting to see the other shoreline; ears straining to hear something, anything.
But it was quiet, as though nothing had ever happened.
Dean sighed, pushing down a mixture of emotions he would deal with later – or not – and then returned to the Impala, glancing in on Sam before tossing the kits in the trunk and pulling out a fresh towel and his own duffle.
In less than two minutes, Dean had dried off, changed clothes, secured the trunk, and was opening the driver's side door to a wave of welcoming heat.
"Alright, Sammy," Dean said conversationally as he carefully lifted his brother's head and slid in behind the wheel, resituating Sam in his lap before pulling the door shut. "How you doin', huh?" he asked, reaching to check the straw but pausing when Sam's eyes opened.
There was a beat of silence; nothing but the rumble of the engine and the whoosh of heated air rushing from the vents.
Sam blinked; his gaze sluggishly roaming the Impala's interior before finally finding Dean; absently wondering why Dean was upside down...or maybe he was upside down?
Sam allowed his gaze to roam once more, further taking in his surroundings and realized he was wrapped in a blanket, lying in the front seat of the Impala; a straw sticking out of his bare chest and his head in Dean's lap.
Sam suddenly remembered Dean promising to fix something – to fix him – and apparently, Dean did. Like always.
Sam sighed breathily and then refocused on his brother.
Dean smiled, relief flooding his chest. "Good to see you awake, lazy ass," he commented good-naturedly, snarky humor having always been a reliable cover for worry. "Hey..." he called as Sam's gaze began to wander. Dean loosened strands of damp hair from Sam's eyelashes and then swept back the kid's bangs, trying to gauge his brother's level of orientation. "You with me, or are the lights just on?"
There was another beat of silence, as though Sam was trying to decide.
"Sam..." Dean called, and then held his breath.
Sam swallowed. "W-with you," he responded quietly, feeling an unexplainable peace. Because even though Sam knew he was severely injured, he also knew he was okay as long as he was with Dean. And even though Sam had left for Stanford, there was still nowhere else he would rather be than with his big brother.
Sam blinked. He would have to tell that to Dean later; when he could say more than two words at a time.
Staring down at Sam, Dean felt emotion surge through him again, because he knew what his little brother was thinking; knew that Sam had never wanted to choose between his life and his family; knew that the kid had missed Dean as much as Dean had missed him.
Dean sighed. They would deal with that later. But for now...
"You okay?" Dean asked, knowing it was a relative question but still needing to check; knowing Sam remembered – even if only vaguely – what had just happened and needing to get Sam's input on his own condition.
Sam's eyes dipped closed.
Dean frowned. That wasn't the response he was hoping for. "Sam..."
Sam winced as a wave of pain swept over him and then coughed, tasting blood before swallowing it down, wrinkling his nose at the coppery tang.
Dean watched Sam's expressions – always an open book – and knew what had happened even before his brother looked up at him, renewed panic in his eyes.
"It's okay," Dean soothed automatically, carefully positioning his right arm over Sam's torso; lightly resting his palm on the kid's chest; further calming his brother while protecting the straw with his splayed fingers.
Sam slowly exhaled. "Hospital?" he asked, hearing Dean put the Impala in gear.
Dean snorted. "What do you think?"
Sam smiled faintly, closing his eyes as he tried to ignore the constant pain pulsing throughout his body; tried to concentrate on breathing; tried to relax.
Dean felt Sam's shoulders sag; the kid's body sinking deeper into the seat as his head lolled in Dean's lap. "Hey..." Dean called, glancing down at his brother before easing the Impala onto the dirt path that would lead to the main highway. "Sam..."
"Stay awake." Dean checked his rearview – seeing nothing but dust in the red glow of the Impala's taillights – and then gently rubbed his thumb over Sam's sternum. "You hear me?"
Sam sighed and then shivered, softly gasping at the stab of pain the involuntary movement caused.
Dean frowned; one-handedly repositioning the vents before readjusting the blanket the covered his brother. "Sammy..." Dean's hand settled back over the kid's chest, his attention darting to the straw – still there, still secure – and then to Sam's face. "Sam. I'm not talking to myself here."
Sam's forehead – still smeared with dried blood – wrinkled, even as his voice slurred. "M'head...hurts."
"I bet it does," Dean agreed, his mind suddenly flashing to Ray beating the shit out his little brother's skull; and then feeling a cold satisfaction in the knowledge that the sonuvabitch was now dead; and Owen, too. Dean shook himself, focusing on the matter at hand. "I still need you to open your eyes, Sam."
There was a beat of silence; Sam seeming to slump further into Dean's lap.
Dean sighed. This was not going well. "Sam, open – "
" – Dean..." Sam interrupted, then swallowed audibly. "M'tired."
"Too bad," Dean answered matter-of-factly, even as he swallowed against the uneasy feeling in his stomach; because Sam was alert two seconds ago, and now it seemed he was fading again.
Dean braced his hand against Sam as the Impala bounced off the dirt path and onto the asphalt of the highway; his eyes looking beyond the headlights for any unexpected danger; knowing they didn't have time to spare.
Dean sighed, pushing harder on the gas pedal. "Open your eyes, Sam. You can sleep later after you've been checked out. But right now, it's wakey wakey time. C'mon..."
Dean waited, counting to ten – twice – before allowing himself to look down at his brother; expecting Sam's eyes to still be closed but seeing the kid staring straight back at him.
"H-happy?" Sam asked tiredly.
Dean glanced back at the road and smiled, feeling a little of the tension unknot in his stomach. "You made my day, sunshine."
Sam's mouth twitched in what was meant to be a smile as he blinked rapidly, trying to stay awake; because it seemed important to Dean.
A few minutes passed; Dean's attention divided between watching the road and checking on Sam; and Sam's strength quickly dwindling as he struggled to stay alert; his eyes dipping closed and then startling open as he realized they were shut.
Dean shook his head; because this wasn't working. He needed to know Sam was awake without having to look down to check every five seconds; and Sam needed something to keep him engaged, to help him resist the pull of exhaustion – which meant...
Dean arched at eyebrow at the memory – because they hadn't done that in years – but it was a tried and true method of keeping sick or injured little brothers awake long enough to reach help.
"Okay, Sammy..." Dean began, once again checking his rearview. "AC/DC or Zeppelin?"
There was a pause.
Dean chuckled, knowing Sam – concussed or not – knew where this was going; because it was his brother's short-term memory that was affected, not his long-term. "Quit stalling and pick, bitch."
Sam huffed a laugh and then coughed because of it, wincing at the fresh flare of pain.
"Easy," Dean soothed, thumb lightly rubbing his brother's chest. "Now, which is it?"
There was silence.
"Talkin' to you, Sam..."
"AC..." Sam swallowed. "...DC."
Like Dean didn't know that would be Sam's choice.
"You know, Sam...when Zeppelin rules the world, you're gonna wish you had shown them a little more love." Dean shook his head in mock disappointment and smiled as Sam blinked up at him. "Okay, I'll take the verses; you take the chorus. And your ass better be ready when it's your turn. Got it?"
Sam nodded ever-so-slightly, literally saving his energy and his breath as he shifted under his brother's arm; waiting for his turn as Dean kept beat on the steering wheel and started to sing.
"She was a fast machine...she kept her motor clean. She was the best damn woman that I...ever seen..."
Sam sighed, always thinking of the Impala during that part. He closed his eyes, allowing the comforting rumble of the engine to wash over him, because she had been the only true home he had known. And he had missed her.
Dean continued to sing. "...she had the sightless eyes...telling me no lies...and knockin' me out with those American thighs..."
Dean smiled, thinking of all the times over the years that he had relayed his sexual escapades to Sam; making half that shit up just to get a reaction from his prudish little brother; knowing Sam often overreacted because he knew Dean expected it, got a kick out of it.
Dean glanced down at the kid he had missed so damn much and frowned to see Sam's eyes were closed. "Hey..."
Sam blinked. "M'awake."
Dean nodded, deciding not to push the issue and started singing again. "...taking more than her share...had me fighting for air...she told me to come...but I was already there. 'Cause the walls start shaking...the earth was quaking. My mind was aching, and we were making it...and you – "
Dean's voice went up at the last part, and Sam smiled, because he had missed this; had missed Dean.
Dean glanced down again. "Sammy? You okay?"
Sam nodded, feeling happy and sad and tired; really, really tired.
"Then come on!" Dean urged. "And you – "
Sam inhaled noisily, measuring his breath has he slowly released it. "Shook me...all...night...long."
Dean grinned. "Yeah, you – "
"Shook me...all...night...long," Sam answered hoarsely; shifting in his brother's lap as his eyes dipped closed.
Dean's smile lingered as he continued to drive; seeing the exit sign for the hospital as he began the second verse and feeling a burst of hope; knowing how fragile this moment was and being well aware that he was still in danger of losing Sam – either to injuries sustained or to the reality of Stanford – but still allowing himself to feel content.
Because right now, Dean had his little brother beside him...and that was all that ever mattered.