SUMMARY: The last thing Dean Winchester expected to overhear the physical therapist telling his brother was – "You're going to hell, Sam..." A heaping helping of schmoop and banter, Winchester-style, as the Hellatus winds down.
SPOILERS: None. Set mid Season Two.
DISCLAIMER: Still don't own the Winchesters – they're way out of my budget. Continued gratitude to Kripke & Co. for allowing us to play in their sandbox with their awesome toys.
A/N: This fic is based on a prompt from Roque Clasique over on LJ for the Oh!Sam Comment Fic Meme and a plot outline from my buddy and beta Harrigan. I whumped them for you, my friend! And big thanks, as always, for using your beta skills to make this better. Prompt is at the end of the fic. Enjoy.
UP THE DOWN STAIRCASE
La Conchita, California
It was a scene right out of a horror movie – the cheesy ones Dean always laughed at. But there was nothing funny about Sam hanging off a cliff, a one-handed grip on a broken root all that was saving him from an almost thirty-foot fall.
Dean was lying on his stomach, half over the edge and stretched to his limits in the rain-slicked mud, desperately trying to grab Sam's arm, his shirt…anything to help pull his brother safely back onto solid ground, but Sam was beyond his reach.
"Just…hold on." Dean got a deserved WTF look from Sam for that trite reassurance. "Sorry. I'm gonna get you up… I'm gonna get you up."
Sam couldn't offer much help, his right hand in a death grip on the old root jutting out from the cliff-face, his feet slipping and sliding in the loose mud as he tried to gain some kind of traction, and his left arm hanging limply at his side from a dislocated shoulder. "Dean…no." Sam's voice betrayed the strain of supporting his entire 225-pound frame with one arm. "Don't …you…fall."
"Don't you worry 'bout me." Dean scrubbed the rain from this face, frantically trying to figure out his next move. "I just…Rope. There's rope in the car."
Dean glanced over his shoulder. There were no trees close enough to secure the rope to, but there was the Impala. She was a good five hundred feet away, safely parked on the asphalt path that snaked through the cemetery, but if he drove her closer, he could tie the rope to the frame, and around his waist, then lower himself over the edge to Sam. His Baby was strong enough to support both of them while he hauled Sam back to the top.
'Okay, Sammy. I've gotta plan." Dean's attention snapped back to his brother; Sam's eyes were closed against the rain driving down on him, his hair plastered to his head, his muddy, soaked shirts clinging to his skin. When he opened his eyes, the pain and fear in them turned Dean's stomach. Dean scrambled to his feet. "I'll be right back. Just need to get-"
The root supporting Sam snapped suddenly with a loud crack.
Dean could only watch helplessly, horrified, as his brother plunged to the ground, slamming into the mud below with a nauseating thud.
"That part of the cemetery was cordoned off for a reason, sir. With all the rain this spring, mudslides along the sea cliffs have been a big problem. Where your brother fell-"
"I know, I know." Dean was in the ER waiting room, talking to the police officer filling out the report on Sam's accident. He closed his eyes and could see the spirit wrench the shotgun from Sam's hands, hear Sam's agonized yell as his arm was pulled from its socket, then see his brother tossed through the air and land heavily in the mud. Sam had groaned as he slowly sat up, his dazed expression quickly morphing into shock as the ground rumbled beneath him. He looked up at Dean just as the ground disintegrated, turning into an avalanche of mud and rock that tumbled down the cliff, dragging Sam with it.
Dean shuddered. "But like I told you before, we're not from around here. Our grandma's buried in that part of the cemetery, and we just wanted to pay our respects while we were in town. Sammy, he …" He scrubbed a hand through his still muddy hair as he glanced at the big double doors through which the paramedics had taken his unconscious brother a few hours earlier. "He just stepped too close to the edge…it gave way."
The officer studied Dean for a moment, his eyes narrowing, then clicked his pen closed and tucked it into the spine of his notebook. "Look, I know you're worried about your brother. I've got the basics, I've got your phone number. I can get the rest later." He clapped Dean gently on the shoulder. "I hope your brother's okay."
Dean nodded, watching as the cop left the waiting room. He knew the drill all too well. The cop would call him back and ask the same damn questions, looking for any changes to his story, any red flags. Then he'd talk to Sam and compare notes. But the brothers had been through the routine often enough to know to keep things simple, and the visiting grandma's grave cover was a staple for a salt and burn.
Dean winced as he sank down into one of the blue, waiting room chairs. His clothes were still muddy and damp and his bruised back had stiffened as he waited for an update on Sam. The damn spirit had tossed him into a tree when his guard and his gun were down as he struggled to light supposedly waterproof matches in the driving rain. Sam had blasted it with salt and checked on Dean before snatching the matches and trying to get them lit. Dean's stomach roiled. That's when the spirit had attacked Sam…when his brother had been caught in the mudslide.
He exhaled slowly and picked up the clipboard full of insurance forms the admitting nurse had given him. His eyes blurred as he flipped through the ream of paperwork. Damn. What name had he given the nurse? As his vision slid back into focus and he returned to the first page, he was grateful to see that she had already filled in the name line: Sam Hetfield.
With a groan, Dean dragged his wallet from his pocket and stared at the collection of insurance cards it held. He pulled out the one marked Hetfield, his gut churning when he was hit with sudden doubts: Was the card still good? Cashwise, they were almost tapped out, so… "No. Smarten up, Dean," he muttered to himself as he grabbed the pen attached to the clipboard by a piece of chain and began filling in the information. "Basic rule of hunting – never start a job before checking you've got cash or coverage, just in case. It's good. It's-"
The female voice made him jump, and he hissed audibly at the movement. Damn. The nurse was standing right beside him and he hadn't even heard her approach.
The nurse smiled. "My name is Ann Cafferty. I came to give you an update on your brother."
Dean turned gingerly in the chair. "How's he doing?"
"Remarkably well considering the fall he took." Ann sat down in the chair beside Dean. "He regained consciousness about an hour ago. He has a mild concussion but there are no serious internal injuries, something Dr. Benz was initially concerned about."
Dean frowned. "Sounds like you're saving the worst 'til last."
Ann's gaze was steady. "Sam has two major injuries – his shoulder is dislocated and his ankle is broken. He's in some pain, but we're giving him medication for that."
Dean relaxed slightly. He hated hearing that Sam was hurting, but neither a dislocated shoulder nor a broken ankle was life-threatening. "So, what? You fill him full of happy juice, pop his shoulder back in, then put a cast on his ankle? That the deal?"
"Close." Ann shifted in her seat to face Dean. "The ankle break is a simple fracture, meaning the bone is broken clean through, but in only one place. The problem right now is the bones are displaced – the two broken ends don't line up."
Dean's worried frown deepened. "And that means surgery?"
Ann nodded. "Yes, so the bones can be realigned. And, because it's such a weight-bearing bone, the surgeon will likely pin it – to keep the bones in place and together while they knit."
"Son of a bitch." Dean knew first-hand how much fun pinned bones and the recovery they required were. Sam was gonna be like a bear with a sore head 'til the cast came off. "What about his shoulder?"
"We'll pop it back in while we have him under for the ankle surgery. Dr. Benz has some concerns there may be nerve damage but Sam still has full movement in his fingers which is a good sign. We'll know more once the joint's back in place." Ann smiled and gave Dean's biceps a comforting squeeze. "I know this all sounds a lot but Sam's young, he's fit – he should recover from this quickly." She shook her head. "In fact, there's really only one hold up."
Dean's eyebrow peaked in surprise. "What?"
Ann stood up. "Sam's refusing to have surgery until you've been examined by a doctor."
"Me? I'm fine," Dean growled, tossing aside the clipboard, and pushing himself to his feet. The muscles in his back chose that moment to mutinously cramp. By the look on Ann's face, she hadn't missed the hitch in his breathing, the low groan or the way his knuckles whitened as he tightly gripped the chair arms before slowly straightening up.
The nurse took a few steps to her left, grabbed a wheelchair that was abandoned against the wall and pushed it in front of Dean. "Your brother's worried, and apparently with good reason." Ann smiled conspiratorially. "Look, Sam's technically in pre-op. We haven't moved him yet, but it means no visitors. Let us check you out, and I could put you into the treatment bay next to his. That way you get to say 'hey,' see for yourself how he's doing before we take him upstairs."
"Damn, lady, you're good." Dean shook his head, annoyance mixed with admiration for the tall redhead in front of him. He shuffled forward and slowly lowered himself into the wheelchair. "Let's go. Have your way with me."
Ann's smile widened. "Maybe we'll clean you up first." She grabbed the clipboard with the insurance forms, slipped it into a pocket on the wheelchair back and pushed Dean toward the double doors Sam had disappeared through a few hours earlier.
Sam was pleasantly numb. He was aware enough to know drugs were the likely cause of his pain-free state, and under the influence enough to still enjoy the ride.
The last time he'd woken up, it was to memories of being thrown through the air by the spirit and then dragged off the cliff by the mudslide. He'd jackknifed reflexively at the sensation of falling, and his ankle and shoulder had screamed their disapproval, the pounding in his head adding a bass beat counterpoint to his whole symphony of pain.
This time though, he felt…nothing. No pain, no aches, no pounding in his head – just dull, drugged bliss.
He rolled his head toward his brother's voice and peeled open his eyes. As they slid into focus, he saw Dean sitting in a wheelchair beside his bed, wearing a pair of blue scrubs. Sam frowned. "You're hurt. What's wrong with you?"
Dean moved closer. "That's my line – how you doin'?"
"Better." Sam swiped a hand over his eyes and blinked, his vision refusing to stay in focus as he stared at Dean and tried to sort through the spinning images in his head. The spirit who'd attacked him had gone after Dean, too – tossed him through the air like he weighed nothing. And when Dean had hit the tree, for a few god-awful moments, Sam thought his back was broken. He'd only started breathing again when Dean slowly pushed himself up, insisting he was just winded.
Sam blinked again and studied his brother, trying to decide for himself what shape Dean was really in. "Did the docs check you out? I meant what I said – I'm not having surgery 'til they do."
Dean chuckled. "If you're gonna make threats like that, Sammy, you might wanna try staying awake to carry them out. You're in post-op. Surgery's over and done with."
"What?" Surprise cleared Sam's head a little. He looked down to see his left arm folded across his chest and secured firmly in a sling, and his right ankle propped up on a pillow and now encased in a neon green fiberglass cast. His face fell. "My cast – why is it green?"
Dean shrugged. "They were all out of pink." He winked as Sam turned to glare at him. "They were going to put on one of those boring old white ones, but I talked them into giving you one of the colored casts they normally save for kids. Pretty cool, huh?"
Sam's eyes narrowed. "Dude, it's green!"
"I know." Dean stared down at the cast, smiling. "Suppose I could've gone with the purple, but I think green is more you. Matches your eyes."
Sam pinched the bridge of his nose and exhaled loudly. "You're right – I should've stayed awake." His expression became serious as he turned back to Dean. "I wanted to talk to you before the surgery."
Dean sat back in his wheelchair. "Wanted to talk to you, too, but when they brought me in to see you, you were out cold." He shrugged. "Looked like the painkillers had finally kicked in, so I didn't wanna wake you up. You in any pain now?"
"No. Drugs are… good." Sam smiled, the cast momentarily forgotten. "Don't feel much of anything if I stay still." He glanced over at Dean, this time taking in the IV bag hanging from a pole attached to his brother's wheelchair. "But speaking of drugs, if you're fine, what's that for?"
"Just muscle relaxants – for my back." Dean rolled his eyes at Sam's worried expression. "I'm bruised, Sammy, that's it. No big deal. Letting them check me over was the only way I could get back here to see you." He glanced down at his scrubs. "And get some clean clothes. I can go as soon as this IV's done."
"Oh. Good." Sam's eyes widened suddenly. "The salt and burn? Did we-"
"Dude, chill. The spirit's toast. I got the fire going right about the time he tossed you." Dean scrubbed a hand down his face. "If I'd got the damn thing lit just a few seconds sooner," he glanced at Sam's green cast, "none of this would've happened. You-"
"Don't." Sam glared at Dean as hard as his drugged stupor allowed. "And if I'd shot that damn spirit faster, he never would've thrown you into that tree. We could go round and round on this one. Shit happens. Who was it that taught me that?"
"Smart ass." Dean offered an exaggerated grin. "And FYI, I taught you all your four-letter words."
That earned a smile, but it faded quickly as Sam lowered his voice. "I've got some fuzzy memory of the docs saying Fire and Rescue saved my ass. Does that…does that mean cops know what we were doing?"
Dean shook his head. "We're good. As far as they're concerned, we were visiting our grandmother's grave when you got caught in the mudslide. If they ask, you remember grandma's name?"
"Ivy… Taylor?" Sam's frown remained even after Dean nodded. "But what about the grave?"
"Quick and dirty cover-up. I called 911 but…after you fell, I couldn't get to you. Rope wasn't long enough…no way to climb down…" Dean looked guilty as hell with that admission. "So…I covered our tracks before the rescue crew got there. When they did, there was nothing to see. "
"Then it was the right call." Sam's voice was firm. Quick and dirty meant Dean had stowed the brothers' gear in the car, and used the green tarps they kept in the trunk to cover the gravesite and the mound of dirt they'd excavated – made it look like any newly dug grave in a cemetery. It was the hunters' version of hiding in plain sight. "If you hadn't done that, chances are we'd both be in cuffs by now."
Dean raised his eyebrow. "You kinky bastard. You just-"
Dean left the jibe unfinished when Sam's doctor, Terry Benz, walked into the room.
Dr. Benz smiled at Dean then turned to Sam. "Good to see you awake. How're you feeling?"
"Better. Had no clue surgery was all over and done with." Sam glanced at the IV hanging beside his bed. "This is…some good shit you're got me on."
The doctor, a middle-aged, dark-haired man with glasses, snorted at that.
Dean just shook his head. "You'll have to forgive my brother's potty mouth, Doc. His brain-to-mouth filter short-circuits a little when he's medicated."
It was Sam's turn to snort as he glared at Dean. "This – from the guy who just proudly stated he taught me every four-letter word I know."
Dean kept his attention on the doctor. "How's Sam doing – really? How'd the surgery go?"
"The procedure went well." Dr. Benz took a quick glance at the monitors at Sam's bedside. "I put two pins in Sam's ankle bone, but the break was clean and there's no signs of infection, so follow instructions and, in six to eight weeks, it should be good as new."
"Six to eight weeks?" Sam groaned. "I have to deal with crutches for almost two months?"
Sam and Dean both looked surprised at the doctor's response.
Sam canted his head hopefully, shooting a glance at his foot. "You gave me a walking cast?"
"No." Dr. Benz looked over his glasses at his patient. "It's the one piece of bad news, I'm afraid. We don't want you putting any weight on that ankle for a month to six weeks, to give it time to knit well. Ordinarily, I'd make an appointment for you to see one of our physical therapists, to teach you how to use crutches, but your shoulder injury complicates things."
Dean glanced at the sling supporting Sam's left arm. "Thought you fixed his shoulder?"
"We put the joint back in place, yes." Dr. Benz grabbed Sam's chart from the base of the bed and flipped it open to a page that held an illustration of the muscles and bones of the shoulder. He pointed to the area when the arm joined the chest. "But there's some muscle and nerve damage here. In time, both will heal but, right now, the shoulder isn't up to the stresses crutches will place on it."
Sam ran his good hand down the outside of his sling. "If you're saying it'll be sore, that doesn't bother me. I can handle it."
Dr. Benz's expression turned stern, kind of like a principal Sam had once had. "What I'm saying is, if you place too much stress on the shoulder before it heals, you could cause permanent damage. And, trust me, that's not something you want."
Dean glanced from Sam to the doctor. "Fine, crutches are out. How does he get around?"
Dr. Benz closed the chart. "I'll have one of the nurses come in and discuss your options for wheelchair rental. You-"
"Wheelchair?" Sam almost choked on the word. "For six weeks?"
"Only six weeks." Dean turned to Dr. Benz. "Then he'll be back to normal right?"
Dr. Benz nodded. "At that point we'll give Sam a walking cast which will stay on for a couple more weeks but, by then, he should be able to use a cane and he'll be able to move about independently." He smiled at Sam. "Look, I know this is a shock…a lot to take in but the time will pass quickly." He replaced the chart in the slot at the bottom of the bed. "Think of it this way – you fell the equivalent of three stories. It could have been a lot worse. A wheelchair for a short period of time is a small price to pay for a full recovery."
"I know." Sam rolled his head across the pillow, away from Dean and the doctor. "And I know I'm being a bitch about this but-"
"But, like the doc said, it's a lot to process," Dean cut in. "You'll handle it. You always do."
Dr. Benz's expression softened. "Get some rest. We're going to keep you at least overnight to make sure there are no complications." He raised his hand reassuringly at Dean's look of alarm. "We don't expect any, we're just a naturally cautious bunch." He nodded at Dean. "Your release papers, by the way, are at the nurses' station, with a prescription for muscle relaxants. But a therapist will be by to see you before you go – to go over some exercises that will make sure the injured muscles don't tighten up."
"Thanks, doc." Dean waited until the doctor left the room, then turned to Sam. "Hey. Talk to me?"
Sam was staring down at his cast. "What's to talk about? The next two months are gonna suck and I'm gonna be useless to you when it comes to hunting."
"That's bull, Sam, and you know it." Dean leaned forward in his wheelchair. "First off, I don't give a crap about hunting. If we have to take a two-month vacation – so be it. God knows, we deserve one. Second, if we do take on some cases, unless you dented that Ivy League noggin of yours far worse than the docs here are telling me, you'll be doing the same damn research you always do."
"And then what?" Sam raised his eyebrows at Dean. "I just stay home while you go take on the bad guys? There were two of us there today, Dean, and we still got the crap beaten out of us. We don't hunt alone."
Dean shrugged his shoulders. "Fine, I won't hunt or I'll hunt with Bobby. That make you happy?"
Sam was anything but. "Don't patronize me. And don't tell me, if the positions were reversed, you'd be dealing any better than me. Look at you." Sam motioned with his head toward the wheelchair Dean sat in. "You've only been in that thing for a few hours and you can't wait to get your ass up and out of it. Multiply that by sixty and that's what I'm looking at."
Dean's voice was quiet. "Watching you fall…seeing you at the bottom of that cliff – not moving… I could've lost you, Sammy." Dean looked like he was about to be sick. "Big picture – you're gonna be fine. It's just gonna take time."
Now it was Sam's turn to feel guilty. He was over-reacting, and he knew it. The doc could've told him he was in a wheelchair for life – then he'd really have something to bitch about. This was… an inconvenience, nothing more. But he hated anything that curbed his independence or stopped him from being able to pull his weight, to protect Dean. That's what they did – they looked out for each other and, right now, his ability to keep up his end of the deal was seriously compromised.
Dean rolled his wheelchair a little closer to the side of Sam's bed. "Look, just…get some sleep. We'll talk again in the morning. I'll call Bobby – see if we can crash there 'til you're mobile again. We need to recharge and the Impala needs some work. It'll give us a chance to do both."
Sam nodded slowly, then rolled his head across the pillow to face away from Dean.
He didn't see the expression change on Dean's face. If he had, he would have seen the wheels turning and known that Dean was up to something.
Sioux Falls, South Dakota
Bobby came in through the kitchen, using a rag to wipe the oil from his hands. "Sam?"
When there was no answer, he walked through to the study. Sam was sitting in his wheelchair, staring out the front window – and the kid looked completely miserable.
Kinda like the Bassett hound Bobby had owned some years back. Hank – that was his name. He was a good dog, even if he always looked like his world was gonna end in the next five minutes. Well, from the front, anyway. At the back, his tail was always going 98-miles-an-hour. The two ends never could seem to agree on which emotion was driving the engine.
With Sam, there was no such dilemma. Any which way you looked at him, you got a face full of pure misery.
He'd been slumped in that chair since Dean left the house early that morning. The book in his lap was unopened, the sandwich and bottle of Gatorade on the table beside him untouched. At breakfast, Sam had at least pushed his scrambled eggs around the plate, acting like he was making an effort even if Bobby couldn't recall the fork being lifted to his mouth even once.
Bobby scratched his forehead under the brim of his trucker's cap as he walked toward Sam. "You know, sign at the road says Singer Salvage, not Bobby's Bistro. You don't like what I make you, you know where the kitchen is. You can always whip something up yourself. Throw in some extra for Dean and me, while you're at it. You know your brother'll be starving when-"
"Not hungry." Sam kept staring out the window.
Bobby snorted. "I'm calling B.S. on that one. A boy don't get to be your size by picking at his food like a prom queen."
Sam tapped his finger in a steady rhythm on the armrest of his wheelchair. "What's Dean doing?"
Bobby sank down onto the old battered couch in front of Sam and shrugged. "What he's been doing every day since you got here – working on his car."
Sam turned to Bobby. "Bull. We've been here almost two weeks. One, the only time fixing the Impala has taken Dean more than a couple of days was after it was totalled by the semi. He never lets anything get bad enough to need more than that."
Bobby shook his head. "Maybe he-"
"Two," Sam interrupted, holding up two fingers for emphasis, "the car's over there." He pointed out the window, off to the left. "I can see it. Dean's over there." He pointed to the right. "In your shop. So, what's he doing?"
"Cross my heart, Sam, he's told me squat. He's shutting me out same as you." Bobby rubbed his hands on the grimy denim of his jeans. "All I know is what you heard at breakfast the other day – he asked if I had a welding torch. I told him where it was, he told me to stay the hell away. Seems to have forgotten which one of us owns this damn place." He frowned. "Then yesterday, he asks if it's okay to cut some seatbelts out of a couple of clunkers heading for the crusher."
"Seatbelts?" Sam scowled. "What the hell does he want those for?"
"Damned if I know." Bobby pushed himself up and pulled back the sheers his wife had hung at the window so many years before. "But when it comes to your brother acting weird, today takes the cake."
Sam's scowl deepened. "Why?"
Bobby turned back to Sam, letting the curtain drop. "Dean asked if I had a sewing machine – and if I knew how to use it."
Sam pulled an epic bitchface at that piece of information. "Well, do you?"
"No!" Bobby's expression pretty much matched Sam's. "Do I look like freaking Ralph Lauren to you? I told him that my neighbour Sarah helped my wife with some sewing way back, that she was the only person I knew who might have a sewing machine. I know he called her, and then took off for about an hour earlier this afternoon. I'm guessing that's where he went."
Sam waved his good hand in exasperation. "What the hell, Bobby?"
"Only person who can answer that is your brother." Bobby pointed to the window. "And since he's coming up the path now, maybe you should ask him. I'd sure as hell like to hear what he has to say."
Dean came through the door whistling a few moments later and headed straight for the stairs.
Bobby pushed Sam's wheelchair to meet him.
"Yeah?" Dean paused on the bottom step.
Sam exhaled impatiently. "What are you doing?"
Dean glanced from Sam to Bobby and pointed upstairs. "Going for a shower. It's hot out today and I kinda stink. Figured you two would appreciate a much sweeter me when we sit down for dinner, so-"
"Dean!" Sam shifted impatiently in his chair. "I mean, out there. Seatbelts? A sewing machine? Dude, what the hell?"
Dean frowned at Bobby. "Somebody's got a big mouth." He stepped off the stairs and turned to Sam. "I didn't want to say anything in case it didn't work, but, now," he smiled. "I think it will."
"So…" Sam leaned forward expectantly.
Dean grinned. "Uh-uh. You'll find out tomorrow when we go see your doctor."
Sam frowned. "I don't have a doctor's appointment tomorrow."
Dean's grin widened. "You do now." He bounded up the stairs two at a time, leaving Bobby and Sam gaping in his wake.
"You never told me the story behind...these." The physical therapist was staring at the dozens of pink hearts that decorated Sam's neon green cast.
Sam glared at Dean. "I have my brother to thank for that."
"What?" Dean wore his most innocent expression. "It's not my fault all the nurses at the hospital in California fell in love with Sammy here, and wanted to express that love by signing their names inside little pink hearts."
"With no encouragement from you." Sam's bitchface was back. "And where'd they get the pink Sharpie, Dean?"
"Okay that was me." Dean made a cross over his heart with his finger then held up his right hand. "But it was the only one I had with me, I swear. Pure fluke it was pink."
Sam snorted. "Right, you-"
"Okay, you two. Time out." The therapist, Lucy Evans, a pretty, forty-something mom of two who'd been half mother hen and half drill sergeant with Sam, was smiling and shaking her head. "Back to business. Sam's recovery is right on track. His surgeon in California and his doctor here are on board with your idea, Dean, and I see no reason to disagree. I say we give it a try."
"Give what a try?" Sam exhaled slowly, trying to maintain his temper. "Look, since I'm at the heart of this," he glared at Dean who snorted at the pun, "would one of you please fill me in on what the hell we're doing here."
Lucy looked at Dean in surprise. "You haven't told him?"
Dean shrugged. "I didn't know if it was gonna work, I didn't know if the docs were gonna tell me I was crazy…" His expression became serious as he turned to Sam. "I didn't want to get Sam's hopes up until I knew for sure we were a go."
Lucy tapped one of the pink hearts on Sam's cast and smiled. "You know, your brother may enjoy yanking your chain, but he's also pretty ingenious."
"Dean being ingenious usually means big trouble for one or both of us." Sam frowned as he glanced from Dean to Lucy and back again. "What'd he do?"
With a nod from Lucy, Dean disappeared into the outer office, returning quickly with a full-length leg brace, which he handed to the therapist.
"Dean knew how miserable you were stuck in that wheelchair and that crutches were a no go because of your shoulder, so…" Lucy held up the brace, "he came up with this."
"Came up with it?" Curiosity more than annoyance now fed Sam's frown. "What exactly is it?"
"That," Dean said, grinning, "is the means to getting your lazy ass out of that chair six weeks early and back to work with me."
Lucy bit back a smile. "What he means is, the brace will allow you to walk without the aid of crutches and without putting any weight on your injured ankle."
Sam stared at Dean and then at the brace. "How's it work?"
Lucy rolled her stool in front of Sam. "Here, let me show you."
The brace was essentially a long 'U.' The sides looked like upside down hockey sticks, climbing straight up the calf, then angling gently backwards at the knee to run flush with each side of the thigh, keeping the leg in a natural, slightly bent position. The base of the 'U,' which sat flush with the ground, was a flat piece of metal, bent up at a right angle at each end and bolted to the vertical supports. Padded horizontal bars at the shin and just below the knee joined the vertical supports together and provided support for the front of the leg
A soft nylon boot with Velcro closures, like those doctors prescribe for sprains or minor broken bones in the foot, was suspended between the two vertical supports, about four inches above the metal base. Three straps at the top, which circled the thigh, and two smaller straps at the bottom, which Velcro-ed closed across the calf, would keep the brace securely fastened to the leg.
Lucy gently lifted Sam's casted foot off the wheelchair footrest and folded the footrest out of the way. Then she stood the brace in front of him, and held the boot open. "Okay, slide your foot in here."
Sam did as he was asked. Once his foot was in the boot, Lucy fastened the Velcro straps. She glanced over at Dean. "Help your brother up." As Dean moved in, she turned to to Sam. "I want you to stand up, but keep all your weight on your good leg for now, okay?"
Sam nodded, throwing his good arm around Dean's shoulders as his brother bent down, then pushed himself up.
Once he was standing, Lucy glanced up at him. "You steady?"
Sam nodded, but his attention was solely on the brace. The metal 'foot' was flush with the ground, but his own foot was suspended in the boot, four inches above that, meaning the brace was taking his weight, but his foot wasn't. The padded horizontal supports sat comfortably below his knee and across his shin as Lucy fastened the lower straps around the back of his calf. One by one, she then took the wide thigh straps, threaded one end through the 'D' ring attached to the other and then folded the strap back on itself to cinch it securely and Velcro it closed.
Dean smirked as she worked, shifting his brother's weight on his shoulders. "Gotta admit, Sammy, it's a bit strange being this close to you when an attractive woman has her hands between your legs."
Both Sam and Lucy glared at him and Dean's smirk vanished. "That was my outside voice, wasn't it?" He cleared his throat. "I mean, when a very professional therapist is treating you with the utmost respect."
Sam flashed an apologetic smile at Lucy. "Ignore him – I do." He failed to notice Lucy biting back a grin because his attention locked on the straps circling his thigh. "Dude, these are seatbelts."
Dean nodded. "Yeah. The thigh straps came out of a Chevy half-ton. The smaller ones at your calf I pulled from a Pinto." He pulled a face. "And I truly apologize for that."
Sam snorted. "And you sewed this together yourself?"
"What? No way." Dean gave an exaggerated shudder. "Sewing machines scare me. I tried gluing on the Velcro but it wasn't strong enough…would never hold when a Sasquatch like you starts putting stress on those straps. So Bobby's neighbor, she helped me out." He grinned. "Nice lady. Talks a lot, but her blueberry pie totally makes up for it."
Sam shook his head in admiration. "The welding torch – you needed that for the metal frame?"
Dean nodded. "But all the pieces that physically touch your leg should be well-padded. Oh…" He stuck his hand in his pocket, pulled out a small roll of neon orange tape, and handed it to Lucy. "When he's practicing with it, if he notices any part of the brace jabbing him or that feels off somehow, stick a piece of that on the problem area and I'll take a look at it."
"Will do." Like Sam, Lucy was smiling. "Okay, let's give it a try." She rolled her stool out of the way and stood up. "The idea here is, once you get your balance and the rhythm, you can walk unassisted. You may need a cane for the first day or so if you feel unsteady, but I've got a hunch it won't be necessary."
She glanced up at Dean. "You got him?" When he nodded, she backed up, coming to a halt about ten feet in front of Sam. "Okay, when you're ready, walk toward me, bad leg first. Use Dean to keep your balance but try to walk as naturally as possible."
Sam nodded, tentatively moving his braced leg first and then transferring his weight to the brace as he moved his good leg.
Dean's gaze jumped between Sam's face and his feet as he moved with him. "Any pain?"
Sam shook his head, his grin widening with each step. "How the hell did you come up with this?"
Dean snorted. "Dude, I turned a Walkman into an EMF." He looked up in time to see Lucy screw up her face in confusion. "For, um, a school science project. This – this was a piece of cake."
"The hell it was." Sam was getting steadier with each step, leaning less and less on his brother. "This is…"
"Ingenious?" Lucy was smiling as widely as Sam.
Dean colored a little at the compliment, but quickly shrugged it off. "Yeah, well, after looking at his sour puss for two weeks, I realized I was either gonna shoot him or myself if I had to live with it for another six weeks. I had to do with something. If this works, amen – we save two bullets and my sanity."
"Nice." Sam slid his arm off Dean's shoulders. "Let me try by myself."
Dean frowned but let go of Sam, taking a small step away but staying well within reach to catch him if he stumbled. Sam was far from graceful, especially when he had to turn to walk back towards his chair, but he was walking independently almost six weeks ahead of schedule.
Sam shot an incredulous smile at Dean. "Dude, this…this is awesome. I don't know what to say."
Dean shoved his hands in his pockets. "Say you'll get better at it. Right now, you look like the Terminator when his power cell was running down." He cleared his throat. "Anyway, I'm gonna leave you two crazy kids to practice and go get some java. I've done my bit."
He was half out the door when Sam called his name. He turned back to see his brother smiling, really smiling, for the first time since he was caught in the mudslide. "I mean it, man. Thanks."
Dean nodded, and closed the door after him. Then, when no one else could see, that's when Dean smiled.
Dean frowned when he opened the therapist's door and set down the cardboard tray of coffees: Lucy's office was empty. As he stood there puzzled, a blonde therapist he'd seen around the clinic as he took Sam to and from check-ups, appeared in the doorway.
"You must be Dean. I was told to look out for you. Sam and Lucy, they're in the gym down the hall. Luce wanted Sam to spend some time on the practice stairs before she let him go."
"Oh. Thanks." Dean followed her gaze and pointed left. "That way?"
She nodded. "End of the hall, big double doors marked Gym." She winked. "If you can't find'em, come find me."
"I'll keep that in mind." Dean grinned as he watched her walk away, his gaze falling to her pert, scrubs-covered ass, and made a mental note to find her once he'd checked on his brother. Then he set off down the hall. If Sam was working on stairs, the session must have gone well, the brace been a success. He couldn't help it – his grin widened ridiculously. "So not cool, Winchester" he muttered, swiping a hand over his mouth to try to wipe it away, but the grin stubbornly stayed put.
At least until he reached the gym and pushed open the door. The words he heard there removed all traces of it in a heartbeat.
"No. You're going to hell. The good go to Heaven, the bad go to Hell."
Dean's heart started racing even before he slammed the gym door against the wall. His expression was thunderous as he stormed toward Sam and Lucy, the therapist freezing as she helped Sam down a wide, shallow set of rehab steps in the centre of the gym.
Sam looked up, his smile quickly vanishing when he realized his brother was pissed. "Dean? What's the problem?"
"You tell me." He glared down at Lucy. "What kind of crap are you feeding my brother – about him going to Hell?"
Sam's smile returned when realization hit. "Dean, chill. It's okay." He grabbed Dean's arm to pull his attention from Lucy, to calm him down. "Relax – it's just a mnemonic."
Dean scowled at his brother. "A what?"
"A… a memory aid for when I'm going up or down stairs." Sam let go of Dean's arm and took two slow steps up the staircase. "When you go up the stairs, you lead with your good foot." He turned clumsily around, then slowly came down two steps. "And when you go down the stairs, you lead with your bad foot. See? The good go to Heaven, the bad go the Hell. That's all it was."
Lucy looked like she didn't know whether to be scared or pissed, and had simply settled for WTF.
"Damn." Dean flashed an apologetic smile, turned his head and tapped his proffered jaw. "Go on, deck me. Free shot. Totally deserve it for being a total dick."
"Not a total one." A smile tugged at the corner of Lucy's mouth. "Thanks for the offer, but I haven't punched a patient, or a patient's hothead brother, in more than twenty years doing this job. Don't intend to start today." She gestured at the brace. "Besides after everything you've done for Sam, you've earned a hand wave or two."
"Thanks. That was, um…" Dean scrubbed a hand down his face,"flashbacks to a real bitch of a Sunday School teacher who liked picking on my kid brother here. Kept feeding him crap about how he was going to Hell. Still makes me see red when I hear it." He cleared his throat and turned to Sam. "Anyway, you look steadier than you did when I left. Things going well?"
Sam nodded. "I'm steady enough we're not even gonna bother with the cane."
Lucy shook her head and turned to Dean. "You're gonna have to watch the Energizer Bunny here – he thinks he can just keep going, and going, and going. For every three hours on his feet, he needs to sit for one hour." She levelled a mock glare at Sam, then Dean. "Got it?"
Dean and Sam answered simultaneously. "Yes, ma'am."
Dean waved his hand back towards Lucy's office. "I brought coffee for you two when you're done. I'm just gonna wait with it." He winked at Lucy. "Carry on."
"Won't be much longer." Sam looked over at Lucy. "About fifteen minutes, right?"
Lucy nodded. "That'll be plenty for today. We'll do one more session on Friday, go over any problems you may have encountered, then, after that, we can meet weekly. Now, let's do another set with the stairs."
Dean left the gym and he was smiling again.
Lewiston, New York. Six months later…
"No. No. This is not happening." Dean stared in shock at the Impala – more specifically, the spirit behind the wheel, revving the engine and aiming his car – his car – directly at him.
"Sam!" He risked a glance to his right where his brother was frantically dumping salt into the casket holding the remains of the latest pissed-off spirit they were hunting. "Get the lead out. This son of a bitch has got my car."
"What?" Sam shot a look at the spirit but kept right on dumping salt. "Going as fast as I can." He tossed aside the empty canister and grabbed the can of kerosene.
"Just light him up." Dean's attention was back on the spirit, who was now glaring malevolently at Sam. "Oh no you don't." Dean fired his shotgun into the air to pull the spirit's focus back on him. It worked. The shot's report disappeared quickly behind the squeal of the Impala's tires as she drove straight at him. He raised his gun, aimed it at the Impala, then thought better of it, choosing instead to dive out of the way at the last minute, his car roaring by him.
Dean rolled over and looked back as the Impala screeched to a halt, quickly shifted into reverse, and bore down on him again. He scrambled to his feet to dive out of the way, but with his attention locked on the Impala, failed to see a large root sticking out of the ground. Dean's foot caught in the root and he went down hard – and as the Impala roared by, she ran right over his leg.
Dean screamed out in pain at his car once again screeched to a halt. The spirit was staring at him from behind the wheel, a cold smile painted on his face as he gunned the engine for a third run at Dean, now prone on the ground and an easy target.
But he never got the chance. Sam dropped a match into his remains before the spirit shifted the car into drive. It vanished with a scream of impotent rage, leaving the Impala empty, her engine softening from a roar to a quiet purr.
Sam ran over from the grave, stopping just long enough to snake an arm through the Impala's open window and slip the gearshift into park, before dropping to his knees at Dean's side. "Dean? How bad is it?"
"Four thousand pounds of car just ran over my leg," Dean gritted out from behind clenched teeth. "It's not good."
"Okay." Sam ghosted his hands over Dean's shin and ankle, quickly assessing the injury. "Just hold tight. I'm gonna bring the car right to you."
Sam disappeared and Dean heard the Impala's engine rev again but this time, when she screeched to a halt, she was coming to his rescue, not to run him down. Then Sam was back and opening the Chevy's rear door.
Dean shook his head as Sam slid his arm around Dean's back to help him up. "No. No way. I'm not sitting in the back."
"Yeah, you are." Sam already had him halfway into the back seat before Dean had finished protesting. "I don't like how that ankle feels. We need to keep it elevated 'til we get it checked out, and we can't do that in the front."
Dean grimaced as he eased himself across the backseat, exhaling through clenched teeth as he slumped against the far door. "One broken ankle and suddenly you're an expert on screwed-up legs, huh?"
Sam just shot him a look as he yanked a chemical icepack from their first aid kit, cracked it open and wrapped it just above Dean's ankle.
Dean screwed his eyes closed, hissing at the cold. "How'd you know that's where it ran me over?"
Sam's eyes widened in disbelief. "Because there's a freaking tire track on your jeans." He shook his head. "Son of a bitch… Thirty seconds – that's all I needed. If I'd got the fire started thirty seconds earlier, this never would've happened."
"Hey. Shit happens. Isn't that what you told me once?" Dean swallowed against a wave of nausea. "And while I think of it, don't let'em do anything fancy at the hospital. Only insurance card we've got left just has basic coverage."
Sam snorted at that. "Right. 'Scuze me, doc. I'll just take the bargain basement plan for my brother here – he needs to walk but it's okay if he limps.'"
Dean chewed on his bottom lip, his eyes closed. "I wouldn't put it quite like that, but yeah."
"Shut up, Dean." Sam slammed the door, ran around to the driver's side and slid behind the wheel. "Just hold tight, we'll be there in no time."
While Dean had no shoulder injury or concussion to deal with, he wasn't quite as lucky as Sam when it came to clean breaks. The car had crushed a small portion of his tibia, requiring the surgeon to screw a steel plate into the bone where the injury had occurred.
Dean now lay in the step down unit, a few hours post-surgery, with Sam sitting beside him and the surgeon explaining how the procedure had gone.
Dr. Jeffers held up an anatomical illustration of a leg, and used his pen to point to the lower leg bone, just above the ankle. "The bone was crushed here in what we call a comminuted fracture. Essentially, a small portion crumbled into pieces, some much too small to pin back together so we cleaned them out, then screwed in a steel plate. I guarantee you'll set off airport scanners for the rest of your life but, other than that, you shouldn't notice any problems once it's healed."
Dean grimaced as he stared at the illustration. "Airport scanners aren't a problem – I don't fly. But it's really gonna be as good as new? I need to be…active – for my job."
Dr. Jeffers tucked his reading glasses into the breast pocket of his lab coat. "Something tells me you're not a patient man, so you may find the next couple of months frustrating but if you stick with the rehab program we'll set up for you, I see no reason you shouldn't have a full recovery."
Sam smiled. "That's good news."
Dean nodded slowly. "So how long will I be on crutches?"
"That's something I wanted to talk to you about." Dr. Jeffers slid the leg bone illustration into Dean's file, then crossed the room to a cupboard at the back. "There's another option I'd like you to consider." He pulled a leg brace from the cupboard – a very familiar looking leg brace – and held it up for Dean to see.
Dean's eyes widened as he stared at the brace. It was a much fancier version of the one he'd cobbled together for Sam, with moulded metal side pieces, a logo emblazoned on the support just below the knee and 'Freedom Brace' embroidered on the top Velcro strap, but it was his design. He turned to Sam and frowned when he saw his brother was biting back a grin.
Dr. Jeffers looked puzzled. "Is there a problem?"
Sam shook his head. "Not at all. It's just…I used a brace like that a few months back. Without it, I would've been stuck in a wheelchair, going out of my head. If you think it'll work for Dean, I'm one hundred per cent behind you."
Now the doctor looked surprised. "So you were part of one of the medical trials, too?"
"Yeah." Sam grinned at Dean. "The first one, in South Dakota."
"Strange, I hadn't heard about that one." Dr. Jeffers set down the brace. "But I'm a big believer in this – think it has great potential." He turned to Dean. "So you're willing to give it a try?"
For one of the few times in his life, Dean was speechless. He just nodded.
Dr Jeffers smiled. "Very good. I'll get the paperwork and we can discuss the rehab program using it."
Dean watched him leave the room and then turned to Sam. "That's my freaking brace."
"How'd he get my freaking brace?"
"What you came up with…" Sam shook his head. "The more I worked with it – the more I walked with it – the more I thought this is too damn good an idea to just be for me." He flexed his healed ankle subconsciously. "Anyway, Lucy videotaped me-"
"Walking, Dean. She taped me walking," Sam ignored Dean's smirk. "After Dr. Benz saw the video, he called me for an update." He shrugged. "By the end of that conversation, he'd promised to put me in touch with a colleague of his at Stanford Medical Centre who he was pretty sure would be interested in refining it, putting it through trials and, if those were a success, knew how to go about marketing it."
Dean frowned. "And when were you gonna tell me all this?"
Sam massaged the muscles at the back of his neck. "The trials have only just started. They need to gather data – you know, try it out on people of different sizes, different ages, different lifestyles, with different types of injuries. The more people it works for, the easier it'll be to market. I was just waiting 'til I had some numbers."
"But," he pushed on when he saw Dean about to interrupt, shoving his hand in his jacket pocket and pulling out a folded piece of paper, "I've already been to the Patents Office and registered the design in your name." He shrugged as Dean's eyes widened. "The doctors and engineers can test it, refine, do what they want with it, but as long as they base the end product on your design, it's your brace – your royalties."
Dean sat up straighter. "Royalties? As in cash?"
Sam nodded. "I dunno how much it's gonna make you, and Bobby's still helping with some of the, um, logistics on how you can collect the royalties and stay off the FBI radar, but," he pointed to the brace resting near the bottom of the bed where the doctor had left it, "if it goes like I think it will, it may cut down on our need to rely on insurance fraud when crap like this happens."
Dean shook his head in disbelief. "Son of a bitch."
Sam stared down at the crumpled paper in his hands. "I'm just sorry I couldn't register the patent under your real name. Dean Winchester: Patent Pending has a real nice ring to it."
Dean frowned. "So which one of my aliases did you use?"
Sam smiled and handed him the paper.
Dean pulled it open and quickly read through it, a smile breaking out when he found the name. "Dean Campbell." He looked up his brother. "I don't know which impresses me more – the fact you did this, or the fact you did it without me figuring out you were up to something." His voice softened. "Thanks, Sammy. Really. You did good – more than good."
Sam just stood there, staring at his brother.
"Just enjoying the moment." Sam moved to the bottom of Dean's bed. "Cause I gotta a feeling you may change your mind on that real soon."
"Why?" Dean's eyes narrowed suspiciously. "What did you do?"
Sam bit his lip as he folded back the blankets covering Dean's newly casted leg.
"Son of a bitch!" Dean looked down in horror as he got his first glimpse of his cast. "It's…it's pink!"
"Um, yeah." Sam scratched the back of his head. "Unlike the hospital in California, they had pink ones here. I told'em it was your favorite."
Dean glared at his brother. "I'm gonna kill you."
Sam started moving toward the door. "For that, you'd have to catch me first, and with that cast on, it might be a problem." He ducked as a plastic water glass came sailing toward his head. "Dude, it's only for two weeks. When they cut it off to take the sutures out, you can pick whatever color you want for the replacement."
Dean was still glaring. "Then for two weeks I hope you can go without sleep because you do not want to close your eyes around me. Payback's a bitch."
Sam grinned. "Hey, you started this – neon green cast with pink hearts, remember? And you should be a lot nicer to the dude who'll be playing your chauffeur for the next two months." He jangled the Impala's keys for emphasis.
"Give'em to me," Dean growled, holding out his hand expectantly.
Sam shook his head.
"Sam! My keys, my car. Gimme."
Sam pointed a finger at Dean's very pink cast. "Newsflash – that's your right foot – your driving foot." His expression softened, the fun he was having at his brother's expense tinged with genuine sympathy. "Sorry, dude – you're not getting behind the wheel 'til your cast comes off for good. You're stuck with me as your driver."
"Son of a bitch." Dean dropped his head back onto his pillow, his eyes sliding shut. "I can't walk, I can't drive, and thanks to my idiot brother, I've got a cast that looks like some kid puked cotton candy all over my leg. Just get me my gun so I can put myself out of my misery."
Sam stepped back into the room, his hands raised in a gesture of surrender. "Look, peace offering: God knows why, but one of the nurses out there seems to have a thing for you. I overheard her say it takes a man very confident in his masculinity to pull off a pink cast. I could ask her to swing by and check on you. Then you can do…whatever it is you do."
Dean peered at Sam, suspicious but interested. "She hot?"
"Who does she look like?"
Sam thought for a minute. "Kinda like… Pamela Anderson, pre-Baywatch – when she was more Made in Canada than Made in Taiwan."
Dean's expression softened. "That's harsh, Sammy – a couple of those Taiwanese parts are kinda nice."
Sam rolled his eyes. 'I'll tell Julie – that's her name by the way – that you're thirsty and, um," with a slight tap of his foot, he kicked the plastic cup Dean had thrown at him underneath the cabinet to his right, "we can't find anything for you to drink from."
"Sneaky bastard." Dean almost smiled. "But, please – ask the lovely Nurse Julie to, um, bring her cups."
Sam groaned. "I've created a monster."
"A monster who'll be mobile again, very soon, thanks to that brace." Dean glanced down at his pink cast, a slow grin sliding across his face. "Be afraid, Sammy. Be very afraid."
Sam returned the grin. The next two weeks were going to be interesting. "Bring it."
A/N: So, the prompt was quite simply 'Leg Brace' – linked to a video of the real-life version of the 'Freedom Brace' in action – ironically demonstrated in the clip by a Dr. Jensen – while Harrigan provided the outline in which Dean invented the prototype for Sam. *Much love to her for that gift.* As I read through the outline, I got to thinking, the show hasn't really played with Dean's entrepreneurial skills much since Season 1, so this seemed like a great chance to tap into that part of his brain which 'turned a Walkman into an EMF.' I hope you enjoyed. If you have a moment, I'd love to hear what you think. Until next time, cheers.