Disclaimer: I don't own the boys.
Setting: Season 1, sometime towards the end – call it soon after Provenance.
Thanks to Cheryl for all the help.
Summary: A hunt went a little bad. Then there was an earthquake. Dean's injured and confined to his bed, and that's not even the worst of it.
Warnings: Some mentions of permanent injury (not to Sam or Dean). Also, there's an earthquake.
Edit: A couple of people pointed out that the kid's name switches back and forth between Randy and Ryan. Oops. *blushes* Now he's Ryan all the way.
Dust to Dust
Dean groaned in pain as Sam opened the passenger door of the Impala and unceremoniously shoved him in.
"No," Dean panted as Sam started to go around to the driver's side. "The stuff. Get the stuff."
"Don't be stupid," Sam snapped. "You need a hospital."
"Sam, my fingerprints are all over that gun. C'mon, with your freakish giraffe legs it'll just take you half a minute. Run in, get the stuff, run out."
"Fine. But you'd better not bleed out or break any more ribs by the time I get back."
"It's not that bad," Dean said, rolling his eyes. "Hurts like a bitch, but the bleeding's practically stopped. And I'm not going to break ribs just sitting here. Go."
Sam shot him one worried glance, and then darted away in the direction of the museum, legs eating up the distance. Dean watched him go, feeling a little spark of warmth in his chest.
Sam was turning into a very good hunter. He'd grown into his body in the years they'd been apart, the already-fading adolescent awkwardness giving way to an easy, deadly economy of movement. He wasn't a kid to be protected anymore – well, no, that wasn't true. He would always be Dean's baby brother, always Dean's kid to protect. But he could hold his own on hunts now.
Dean just wished he could have got his brother back without Jessica Moore having to die for it. Nothing was worth Sam's heartbreak, maybe not even this.
Dean shivered. It was getting chilly. The nights were still cold.
He turned on the engine and cranked up the heat, hoping Sam would be back soon.
At first he thought the vibration he felt was just the Impala's engine working extra hard in the cold air, but then he realized the ground itself was shaking.
The cut in his side still hurt and his ribs were still broken, but Dean was out of the car and hobbling towards the museum as fast as his badly sprained ankle could take him.
He was still a hundred yards away when, as though in slow motion, he saw the building begin to collapse in on itself.
Dean woke up with a start.
For a second – just for a second – he felt the relief of thank God it was just a dream.
Then he remembered that it hadn't been a dream, not the first time. He'd tried to run, but his traitorous ankle had refused to cooperate. He'd stood and watched helplessly while the four-floor colonial building came crashing down with his baby brother still inside it.
Dean had staggered doggedly forward as soon as the ground stopped shaking, pulling out his phone to dial 911. But the quake must have knocked out the cell phone towers, because he couldn't get a signal.
When the rescue crews had arrived three hours later, they'd found him, ankle swollen to the size of a football, two more ribs broken, the gash in his side reopened and leaking blood all over his favourite t-shirt. He'd been sobbing Sam's name between ragged breaths, pulling at the rubble with torn fingertips as though he could move the debris of the building with the strength of his arms alone.
They'd pulled him away from the rubble, promised to look for Sam, and ignored his pleas to stay there until they got to his brother. He'd been too weak to resist, and now, two days later, he was in the hasty field hospital that had been set up in the nearest town.
It had been the most devastating quake to hit in decades, he'd heard from one of the nurses, and it had taken everyone by surprise. The epicentre had been less than half a mile from the museum where they'd been doing pest control, which explained why a building that had stood since the early seventeen hundreds had crumpled in on itself like a house of cards.
A building that Dean had sent Sam into.
Dean didn't try to stop the tears that leaked out of the corners of his eyes.
A nurse was with him at once. "Mr. Murray? Dean? Are you all right? Do you need more painkillers?"
"No," Dean choked. "No, just… Has there been any news of my brother yet?"
The nurse shook her head sympathetically.
Dean swallowed. Two days. It had been two days, and no news.
It wasn't hopeless, they kept telling him. People were still being found alive. Aftershocks had slowed the rescue work, and since Sam had been patrolling the basement (at the curator's suggestion, they'd gone undercover as guards, which had the bonus of giving them access to the keys) it might take the crews a while to rescue him.
Dean hadn't given up hope. He knew Sam was alive. He could feel it, deep down, in the part of him that was always attuned to his brother. He knew he'd feel it if Sam died.
But Sam was alone, in the dark, in a building that Dean had sent him to, and every hour that went by without news made Dean trust his internal radar less.
The nurse went away. Dean pulled the thin blanket closer around himself. Supplies were scarce. The town's main hospital wasn't in much better shape than the museum. The storm that had been threatening for days had finally hit, making air drops impossible. The high school was being used as a makeshift shelter for the wounded. The gym was deemed too unstable to be used, but the science buildings were sturdier and had survived the quake.
Dean was in the former Physics lab.
There were around a dozen other people with him, all deemed to have serious but non-life-threatening injuries.
A dozen people, but no little brother.
And thanks to his stupid broken ribs and his stupid sprained ankle and the stupid cut from the sword the spirit had been wielding, Dean was stuck here instead of helping in the search.
Dean shut his eyes.
He opened them again when a young voice said, "Dean?"
"Hey, Ryan," Dean said, shifting a little to the side. He would have tried to sit up, but the limited supplies didn't allow for spare pillows to prop him. "How're you doing?"
Fourteen-year-old Ryan Slade had broken his arm, and normally the doctors would have set it and sent him on his way, but his family was missing. His little sister had had a ballet performance the night of the quake, and she and their parents had gone to the theatre early so she could get dressed. Ryan had planned to join them in time for the performance itself.
Ryan hadn't had any news for two days, either.
"Better," the boy said, sitting on the edge of Dean's cot.
"Have you heard about Isabel or your parents?"
Ryan shook his head. "Have you heard about your brother?"
"No," Dean said. Then, because that sounded too curt and too hopeless, he added, "But they'll find Sam. I know they will." He patted Ryan's knee. "They'll find your family, too."
"I spoke to a woman from CPS today," Ryan said, voice shaking. "She said they've called my grandparents and they're coming here as soon as the storm dies down."
"That's good, isn't it?" Dean said. "You won't be on your own."
"But – but th-that means they're giving up on my parents and Isabel," Ryan choked, eyes filling. "They think they won't find them."
"It means they think you need someone to take care of you for a while. When they find your parents and sister, they might all need some time to recover. And so do you."
Dean was amazed he could sound so calm to Ryan while inwardly his soul was screaming for Sam, the sound of his heart thumping in his ears even louder than the thunder outside.
Dean stood next to the pyre, Zippo in hand, trying to summon the courage to do what he had to.
Sam's ghost, translucent in the light of the waxing moon, looked at him from the other side of the pile of wood. Sam didn't look scary, just sad and betrayed.
"So you're going to kill me again."
"I'm sorry," Dean said, his voice hoarse. "Sam, you know this is best."
"You dragged me away from Stanford – from Jessica – for this? I trusted you!"
"Sam, please –"
"I trusted you with my life. And you let me down."
Dean steeled himself and dropped the Zippo onto the wood. It caught right away, flames arcing up to the sky. Sam's body burned, and Dean felt his heart burn to cinders along with it.
Dean's eyes opened.
This time all he felt was relief. It had just been a dream – and it hadn't happened. Dean hadn't had to give his baby brother a hunter's funeral.
Sam was alive.
Sam had to be alive. Dean wouldn't let himself believe anything else.
He tried to push himself up, but his ribs protested, and he fell back to his pathetic little pillow, gasping.
He couldn't see the stars. The sky was overcast. He could hear the rain, pelting against the building and probably hampering the rescue work.
Dean forced himself to breathe.
A flash of lightning illuminated the clock on the wall. It was a few minutes past two.
Sam had been missing for fifty-six hours.
Fifty-three hours since the rescue crews had dragged him, screaming for his brother, from the ruins of the museum.
Barely even fifty-three minutes since he'd last asked for news of Sam.
Dean turned his head. A couple of yards away from him, a girl with a bandage round her head lay on an identical cot. Her boyfriend was sprawled on the floor next to her, holding her hand as they both slept.
On Dean's other side, a forty-year-old mother rubbed her son's back whenever he stirred in his sleep.
She saw Dean watching and smiled at him, but didn't try to speak.
Everyone knew Dean's brother was still missing, and the looks of pity were worse than anything else he could imagine. Dean didn't need pity. He just needed his brother.
Dean shut his eyes.
He didn't think he could sleep, not when everything inside him ached as though he'd had his heart torn out, but the exhaustion and the pain of his injuries took him into darkness.
Dean didn't have any more dreams that night.
The next time he woke, the nurse helped him sit up long enough to down a carton of apple juice and eat half a granola bar – all he could manage on his churning stomach – before lowering him to the cot again.
Dean, too wrung out to form a coherent sentence, mumbled Sam's name, knowing she'd understand.
He didn't stay awake long enough to hear her response.
This time Dean knew it was day. He could feel the sunlight on his bare arms, but something was shielding it from his face. His borrowed t-shirt had been replaced with something threadbare but soft. The thin pillow was still under his head, but there was something under that keeping him propped at a more comfortable height.
And there was a big hand on his chest, over his heart. It should have been heavy – it should have hurt, a hand that huge on his broken ribs – but the hand was gentle, the touch lighter than any of the nurses'.
Dean was smiling even before he opened his eyes.
"Hey, dude." Sam leaned forward to pull Dean's blanket straight, but the muscled leg under Dean's head didn't move an inch. "About time you woke up."
Sam looked gaunt, with dark circles around his eyes and his cheekbones more prominent than ever. Dean was pretty sure Sam's ribs would be prominent, too, if he lifted his brother's shirt.
But that didn't matter. Sam was alive.
"I know." Sam suddenly sounded just like Dean felt, hoarse, wrecked, filled with a terror that he still couldn't suppress. "I had no idea where you were, if you were all right. I – I tried getting out, but anything I did made the rubble shift and I couldn't figure out how. I was so worried."
"You were worried?" Dean demanded loudly. A couple of people in the room glared at him, and he went on more quietly, "I saw the building come down! On top of you! How do you think I've been?"
"I know," Sam murmured. "I'm sorry."
"Not your fault."
"I know that. That's not what I meant. I just… I'm sorry you were worried and I wish we hadn't been separated at the exact moment the quake hit. That's all."
"And you're… No dehydration or anything? You were in there two days."
Sam's smile turned into a triumphant smirk. "I left my backpack at the entrance to the exhibit, remember? I'd just got to it when the quake hit. I had my emergency rations."
"Freaking boy scout."
"Hey, don't knock it. That's why I'm here to take care of your sorry ass instead of having someone try to put me on an IV." Sam's eyes darkened as he gestured at Dean's bandaged hands. "They told me you made your injuries worse trying to get me out."
"Oh, I'm sorry, Samantha. Was I supposed to sit in the Impala nursing my poor ribs while you were under tons of cement and potentially cursed artefacts?" Then, realizing that he hadn't even thought about the car in his state of panic over his brother, "Where is she, anyway?"
"The Impala? They had it towed to a lot. It's fine, Dean, not a scratch. I'll go and get it when you're feeling better."
"Uh-huh," Dean grunted. "Are you really OK?"
"Dean, I'm fine. Tired, and I scraped my hands a bit trying to get out, but that's it. They cleaned out the cuts – no infection, even. We got lucky this time."
"God, Sam." Dean felt tears prickling at his eyes again. "I thought I'd gotten you killed."
"You'd gotten me killed?" Sam asked, eyebrows raised. "You caused the earthquake, did you?"
"I made you go back in for our stuff. I thought – Sammy."
"Yeah," Sam said softly. "I know. Me too." Sam looked up as one of the nurses came into the room. "You up for some lunch?"
Dean discovered he was hungry again. He sat up – his giant of a brother could support his weight much more easily than the nurses could – and made quick work of the bowl of soup and sandwich they brought him. Sam ate his sandwich, too – without argument, for once.
Then, because Dean was sick of lying down, he stayed propped against Sam's shoulder as the nurse took his temperature and blood pressure.
As she was leaving, he saw Ryan peeking around the door.
Dean smiled and beckoned him in.
Ryan came in hesitantly, as though unsure he would be welcome.
"Hi, Dean. Is this… Is this your brother?"
"Yeah, this is Sam. Sam, this is my friend Ryan. He's been… keeping me company."
Sam smiled at the boy, his patented I'm-a-lost-puppy smile.
Ryan smiled back as he sat on the edge of Dean's cot. "So they found your brother. Is he hurt?"
"He says he's not," Dean said. "He'd better be telling me the truth about that, because if I find out he's been hurt and lying to me about it, he's going to be in more trouble than he's ever been in. Ever."
Ryan laughed, ignoring Sam's outraged sputter.
"So he's alive. You were right."
"Of course," Dean said, grinning. "Big-brother radar is never wrong." He heard a snort from Sam and snickered. It was so easy to push his brother's buttons. Then, sobering as he remembered Ryan's missing family, he said, "What about…?"
Ryan swallowed, looking very young and scared.
"They wouldn't tell me anything but I heard Dr. Mitchell talking to one of the others. He said they've finally been able to get down to the basement – everyone was getting dressed there. They've started to pull people out but not everyone's… you know."
Dean felt his heart ache for the boy.
"But some people are alive, right? You have to believe that your parents and Isabel are safe, Ryan."
"What if they're not?"
"When are your grandparents getting here?"
Ryan shot him a sharp look – he was old enough to spot the evasion. He didn't call Dean on it, though.
"The storm's died down," he whispered. Dean grunted, glancing at the clear sky outside. Another thing he hadn't noticed in the relief of hearing his brother's voice again. "They're already on the flight."
That evening Dean was strong enough to sit up on his own. Sam stayed close, but Dean didn't protest. The fear of losing Sam was still too near for him to complain about his brother's hovering. Besides, he'd have been doing the same thing if their positions had been reversed.
Ryan came in for a minute to announce that his grandparents had arrived and that his family had been found. Isabel was injured but everyone was alive.
Dean let out a little sigh of relief on Ryan's behalf.
He glanced at Sam, who'd pulled a chair up to Dean's bed and was reading a book. (Dean had no idea where Sam had got it. Trust Supergeek to find a book in the middle of an earthquake.)
His heart still hammered painfully against his ribs whenever he thought about those two days when he hadn't known Sam was all right. And Dean wasn't deluding himself. They'd been lucky. Very lucky. The other guards who'd been in the building hadn't made it out alive.
He'd pieced together the story from Sam's accounts. Sam had gone in and been halfway through gathering their stuff together when it had started. Cracks had run up the plaster of the walls almost immediately, and Sam, after four years in earthquake-prone California, had known that the building wasn't going to stand long enough for him to make it back out.
Still clutching the backpack he'd picked up, he'd dived under the most solid-looking stand he could see. It had been granite, built to hold a mummy. The mummy had been turned into ancient-artefact dust, but the table had protected Sam, and had made sure he had air until the rescue crews got to him.
Thank God for granite.
Dean had sent his brother into the museum, and it was only a stroke of incredible good luck that there had been a stand there, that it had kept the debris off Sam instead of breaking under the weight and crushing him, that Sam had had air, that the earthquake had struck after he'd picked up his backpack…
They'd probably used up their supply of luck for the next ten years.
Dean set his jaw. He hadn't brought Sam back into the life in order to get him killed. Sam might insist that it hadn't been his fault, and logically Dean knew it wasn't. Earthquakes were unpredictable.
But he'd almost lost his baby brother, and that thought sent all logic crashing out the window.
Dean would just have to do better. Fault and blame didn't matter when Sam got hurt, and if Sam got killed, Dean would…
Dean would never think about such a thing again, because that made it difficult to breathe, and then Sam dropped his book and got all touchy-feely like the girl that he was, and then the nurses got called in and when it was all over Dean somehow found himself tucked in his brother's arms with Sam's voice sobbing out soft pleas for Dean to stay with him.
Sam was such a girl.
After dinner, Dean lay back down and shut his eyes. He was tired, and, more to the point, Sam had threatened to knock him out if he didn't get some rest voluntarily. Dean had used it as leverage to make Sam promise to get some rest as well.
Once he was flat on his back, though, with Sam's jacket bunched under his head, he found that he couldn't stay awake to make sure Sam kept up his end of the bargain.
He woke a little past midnight to find that his right arm was completely numb.
Dean didn't have to look to know that Sam was curled up on the floor next to his cot, fast asleep with his head on Dean's arm.
Dean hesitated, torn between waking Sam and sending him to get some proper sleep and letting him be. He looked young and peaceful, and Dean didn't really want to disturb him.
The matter was taken out of his hands when Sam blinked and looked up at him.
"Dean? You want something?"
"Yeah," he said, sitting up. "I want you out of here." Sam rolled his eyes. "I mean it. You promised me you'd rest."
"I was resting."
"Sitting scrunched up like that doesn't count!"
Sam glared at Dean. Dean glared back.
He almost didn't hear the soft child's voice saying, "I can come back later if this is a bad time…"
"Ryan?" Dean looked up. "No, it's fine. Come on in. We'll have to keep it down because of everyone else sleeping, though."
Sam turned around to face the boy, but he stayed on the ground, leaning on the edge of the cot. Dean had a feeling it was to keep from intimidating the kid with his size.
He dropped a hand to Sam's head, feeling absurdly pleased with himself when Sam leaned up into the touch instead of pulling away from it.
"What happened?" Dean asked Ryan.
The kid looked like he was going to be sick, and his voice was shaking when he answered. "Isabel broke her leg."
"That has to suck," Dean said. "But it's not too bad. Broken legs get better."
"No," Ryan said, his voice close to a whimper. "That's what I thought, too, but the orthopaedic surgeon just got a look at her X-Rays. He says… He says she'll probably never dance ballet again. Not the way she used to." He looked up at Dean. "And Isabel loves ballet."
Dean couldn't think of anything to say. He didn't want to insult the kid by telling him everything would be OK.
Ryan didn't seem to be interested in an answer in any case.
"I can't help thinking," he went on softly, "I could have helped her if I'd been there. If I hadn't had that stupid paper to finish."
"How's Isabel taking it?" Dean asked at last.
"She's… I've never seen her like this. It's breaking her heart. She really loves ballet, and she's really good. There's so much she wanted to do. She – she wanted to go on one of those world tours. I should have been there."
Ryan's voice broke.
"Ryan," Dean said softly, because, however stupid it sounded, he had to say it. "It's not your fault."
"She's my baby sister."
And Dean was silenced. There was nothing he could say to that, because he understood. If something had happened to Sam, logic and reason and it's not your fault would have crumbled in the face of a hurting baby brother. Hell, Sam was perfectly fine and Dean still felt like he'd fallen short.
He felt Sam slide out from under his hand, and he reached out in protest, but Sam only shifted into a crouch that would let him look Ryan in the eye.
"Hey," Sam said gently. "You can still help Isabel, Ryan."
"How?" Ryan sobbed. "Even the doctors say they can't. She'll never dance again and her life won't be the same and I – I can't do anything about that."
"You can be there for her." Sam put his hand on Ryan's shoulder. "Your sister's lost something that's very important to her. You're right, her life isn't going to be the same, but that doesn't mean it has to be bad."
"She loves ballet."
"And she'll always miss it." Sam squeezed gently. "But if you're there for her, she'll probably find there are other things that make her life worthwhile."
"Having a big brother who cares about her, for one," Sam said. Dean felt suddenly choked up. Stupid Sam and his stupid Oprah moments. "And there'll be other things, too. Maybe you can help her figure out what they are. Big brothers can do that."
When Ryan had gone, Dean said, keeping his voice rough to hide the tremor in it, "So you really are a girl."
Sam glared at him, but it didn't have any real heat.
"I mean it," Dean went on. "You should have been training to be a school counsellor Sam, not a lawyer."
"Excuse me for trying to be nice to your friend."
"Hey, it was good advice. I'm just saying… You could try family counselling, if you don't want to do the school thing." Sam rolled his eyes. Dean sighed, saying more seriously, "If he can actually manage to get his sister through this, he's going to be the best big brother ever."
"Second-best," Sam murmured, eyes catching and holding Dean's in the semi-darkness.
Dean opened his mouth to retort, but had to wait for a few seconds to be certain he'd be able to speak without tearing up. Stupid, stupid Sam. "Tell you a secret, Sammy?"
"What?" Sam asked warily.
"My little sister is way cuter than Ryan's."
Sam huffed. "Shut up, jerk."
He got to his feet, but before he could move away, Dean grabbed his wrist and tugged him down. "Tell you another secret?"
"Dean, if you –"
Sam glowered. "Fine. What?"
"My little brother's turning into a kickass hunter. I'm… I'm kind of proud of him."
For a moment, Sam didn't react, and Dean was afraid he'd said the wrong thing. But then Sam laughed thickly.
"God, I missed you. I was terrified that…"
"Yeah," Dean said. "I know, Sammy. Me too."
"If anything had… Dean…"
"I know," Dean repeated. "But it's OK. We're both OK."
"I will be." Dean tugged Sam's head down to his shoulder, allowing himself a few brief seconds to revel in having his little brother back and safe. Then he released Sam, poked his vulnerable and ticklish ribs and said, "You think you can see about getting me some normal food? And then ask the nurses how long till they let me go."
"Yeah." Sam smiled. "I can do that."
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