John’s head pounded furiously in his skull as stinging raindrops flicked at his eyelids and drew him out of the inky blackness. A groan slipped out of his lips while he forced uncooperative hands to push against solid, smooth wood and raise his upper body up.
His eyes slowly opened and gazed about in a daze of confusion. He was soaked to the bone; his feet buried up to his shins in thick mud while the rest of him lay sprawled over the top of a coffin. John reached up and felt the back of his head, pulling away his hand to see it smeared with bright, red blood. Sluggish memories began to surface and images of flying trees and the silhouette of a vicious funnel of destruction against a lightning bright sky flashed across his mind’s eye.
The wind had died down to a stead breeze and while it still continued to rain and thunder, he was certain that the worst of it had passed, but just as he realized that, he remembered the direction the tornado appeared to be heading.
He shot up with a start, causing a spike of agony to bury itself in his brain and his vision to darken temporarily. Steeling his resolve, he willed the dizziness to abate – he had to get to Sam and Dean.
Standing up while stuck in the muck, John swayed precariously, grabbing the edge of the coffin beside him for stability. That’s when he was reminded that he still had a job to do and a fire to start.
He was torn between finishing the salt and burn or bolting for his kids. It was impossible to say whether or not they had been in the path of the tornado or not. If they were still in that derelict, old house, who knows what could have happened to them if it had been hit, but on the other hand, the storm could have missed them completely and they might still be in danger if he didn’t burn the bones.
John only needed to mull it over for a heartbeat before he started looking around for his lighter.
Unfortunately, it was nowhere to be found.
It was dark.
When he first opened his eyes, he wondered if he had suddenly gone blind, but when he tried to raise his hand so he could wave across his face and confirm whether or not he was truly blind or if it was just extremely dark, he found he couldn’t move it – he couldn’t move anything at all.
There was pressure all around him, compressing every inch of his body and making it harder and harder to breathe with each inhale. A sinking feeling of dread washed over him as he realized he was trapped – crushed under the weight of a house he now remembered had fallen on him and he was immediately awash in a sea of panic.
And what of his brother?
Every part of his body constricted in fear while adrenaline flooded his veins and supplied his muscles with renewed power and super-charged strength. His fear then fed into his galloping heart as his muscles constricted tightly and he pushed, unsure of which was up and which way was down, but it didn’t matter so long as he could get himself free enough to where he could climb out from the wreckage on top of him.
His hands found themselves wrapped around something solid he could push against. He let out a curse and an animalistic shout as he heaved with every ounce of his strength, cording muscles until he was sure they might snap.
At last, something moved above him and the pressure lightened significantly. He grunted, sweated and pushed then pushed some more until whatever was obstructing his head came loose and shifted, sliding away from him. His face was struck by wet drops of rain that felt like heaven on his skin and he could see clouds, dark and foreboding slipping across the sky above him.
Lightning streaked across the darkness above and made him wince in its intensity, but proved to him that his was indeed not blind – he had only been buried.
He struggled to get the rest of his body to freedom, grabbing onto anything he could get his hands on to pull him from the debris that attempted to smother him. His fingers found a cool, piece of metal – a rod of some sort for him to hold onto and he thanked his father for making him do so many chin ups during their training as he pulled his upper body up and freed his legs enough to crawl his way out the rest of the way.
Collapsing in a heap, he gulped in as much air as his lungs could hold while his over-fatigued muscles in his arms shook like Jell-O in an earthquake.
The wind whistled over his head and distant thunder filled his ears, but otherwise everything was still and silent.
He rolled onto his stomach, searching to see some sign of his brother, but there was nothing but fallen timbers, loose bricks, and piles of plaster surrounding him.
His heart thumped wildly in his chest as he cried out, praying for an answer, “SAMMY!!!!”
John gave up trying to find the lighter – he must have lost it when whatever it was struck him in the head and it was probably hopelessly buried in the mud surrounding his feet.
All he had left to start a fire was a waterproof book of matches from an MRE meal that had been in his jacket pocket for months.
He wasn’t even sure they would even strike a spark much less light for long enough to start a fire, but it was all he had and he had to try.
He cursed when he opened the matchbook and found that there were only two matches left – two tries to burn those bones and John wasn’t holding out much hope that he’d get even one lit.
His hand shook as he propped open the coffin lid again and ripped out the first match.
Scraping the match against the sandpaper strip, John held his breath as it sparked ... then promptly blew out.
Dean shouted again, calling his brother’s name repeatedly until he was hoarse. Various aches and pains announced their presence and throbbed across his body, and a trickle of blood from the top of his head trailed down his right eyelid, irritating the eye underneath. But he had no intention of nursing any of those wounds until he found Sam.
A voice startled him from behind and he whipped his head around, hoping it was Sam’s but immediately realized that it was not.
Garwood Steven Lackey III marched right over to him, his face twisted in rage and righteous fury, “You stole my book, destroyed my house!!!!”
Dean’s eyes darted about for anything to defend himself with, but all he had at hand was an iron rod that was too wedged within the debris for him to free in time to use. His shotgun gone and muscles weak, there was little he could do to fend off the advancing spirit and before he could get to his feet, Garwood was on top of him, wrapping his fingers around Dean’s throat and squeezing with crushing force against his windpipe.
Dean batted feebly at Garwood’s hands, but that only enraged his attacker more and increased the constriction. No air could get through and Dean felt rather than saw the encroaching darkness.
This was his last chance.
John tried to steady his hand as he struck his final match and this time when it lit, he wasted no time tossing it into the coffin and onto the kerosene soaked bones .
Flames sprouted immediately, sheltered by the lid of the half-open casket, but John didn’t wait around to watch it burn – he was too busy pulling himself out of the mud and racing to the car so he could find his boys to care.
Flames erupted in front of Dean’s dimming vision followed by a howling wail. The pressure let up on his throat and he gasped hungrily for air, rubbing his aching throat and coaxing it to relax and let him breathe fully once again.
His lungs burned with new oxygen, but he really didn’t care how he had come out of that predicament – Sam was still lost and he needed to find him.
His burning throat did little to allow the lump growing in there to shrink as he scanned the wreckage and didn’t know where to start.
“Sammy!!!” he yelled, unable to get more than a squeak out, “Please …”
Only silence and a rolling clap of thunder answered him.
Tears blurred his eyes – what if he was too late?
Dean closed his eyes, panting harshly and wheezing, “Please …” he prayed. Dean was not the type to get down on his knees, clasp his hands together and beseech the heaven’s for help, but this time, he came close, hoping for a miracle and chanting over and over again his pleas for mercy.
His prayer was answered the moment he let his body be still and listen.
He wasn’t sure and never would understand what took hold of him that moment that let his heart and breathing calm down for long enough to hear what he had been praying for, but it was there – soft and muffled – coarse with pain.
Sam’s voice – Dean’s name being called.
Dean’s eyes shot open and he called out again, “Saaaammmmy!!!!”
“Here!!!” He heard only a few feet away, buried under the rubble.
“Keep calling! I’m gonna find you! Hold on, Sammy!!!” He yelled back as he started to fling refuse and rubble away from where he thought he heard his brother’s voice. Renewed energy throbbed in his sore muscles, his pain forgotten and annihilated by his desperate attempts to free his brother from the wreckage.
“Dnnn!” Another muffled response came forth and Dean dug faster, filling his fingers with splinters and tearing flesh as he struggled to find his buried brother.
Sam voice was starting to get a clearer and a pained moan made Dean shout out to reassure him that he was close, “Almost there, Sam … hang on!”
Dean tossed a large piece of wall that the incredible Hulk would have been proud to have flung and finally saw a clump of chestnut hair poking through the rubble. He lifted 2x4’s, planks of siding, chunks of broken plaster and pieces of molding until Sam’s face was finally uncovered.
Sam’s eyes were closed, shut tight with lines of pain creasing his brow. Blood flowed freely from his nose and from a deep gash on his forehead.
Dean reached out and gently patted his brother’s face, “Hey, kiddo … I’m here … Gotta get you out the rest of the way.”
Sam shook his head from side to side, gritting his teeth, “Can’t … can’t move.”
“I know, Bro … hold on you’re just a little stuck, I’ll get you out.”
“No … Dean … don’t …” Sam gasped opening his eyes wide as Dean pulled off more debris from his chest.
“Don’t worry, I’ll get you out.” Dean panted, his throat rough as sandpaper.
“No, Dean … you don’t under—“ Sam suddenly screamed out loud the moment Dean started moving the fallen pieces of house from his lower abdomen and legs.
Dean fell back in shock at Sam’s primal and heart-wrenching shout, stunned and shaken, “Holy shit … “
Sam finally stopped yelling in pain after Dean stopped touching the rest of the debris covering his lower half, but he was left breathless to the point of hyperventilation, “What? What? Tell me what’s wrong?” Dean demanded.
Sam gasped, screwing his eyes shut, “My … I dunno … It hurts, Dean … shit … hurts so much… Dean … please … don’t move it … please.”
“Sam … ”
Sam opened his eyes, tears flooding his face and diluting the blood rolling in rivulets down his skin as he begged, “Please … “
“Okay … okay …” Dean’s hands skimmed over the crap pinning his brother, unsure what he could move without causing him any more pain “I’ll be careful not to move you, but I got to see what we’re dealing with here, okay?”
Sam shook his head, leaking more tears.
“You can do it Sammy.” Dean assured him, reaching for his brother’s hand and squeezing. “Just try to stay calm and take some deep breaths with me, okay?”
Sam reluctantly nodded and clutched Dean’s hand tight in return, deeply inhaling and exhaling along with him.
After about ten breaths, Sam started to noticeably relax, “There …” Dean squeezed his hand again, “better?”
Sam nodded and Dean carefully let go of his younger brother’s hand, gently picking up a large piece of plywood and picking it up, levering it off Sam’s legs.
Sam yelped and sobbed, but didn’t beg Dean to stop, so he kept going, removing one piece of debris from his injured sibling at a time until his legs were completely uncovered and all that remained was a large, heavy piece of a plaster wall laying horizontally across him from mid-thigh up to his lower abdomen.
Dean’s arms, already shaky with muscle fatigue reached for the final piece of the house that pinned his brother, but was stopped mid-way by Sam’s hand, “N–no … don’t.”
“It’s just one more piece, Sam. I get this off quick and it’s over, okay? Then we can get you out of here.”
Sam shook his head vehemently, his nostrils flaring as he breathed heavily and tried to hold back more tears, “I can – I can feel something … s’broken in-inside … it’s … oh God. “ he panted, his words coming out as thin wisps from pale, quivering lips, “it’s … it’s bad, Dean ... please … no more …”
Dean sat back on his knees and tried to assess the situation. Sam was stuck and moving the heavy piece of debris from his broken body might cause any internal bleeding he had to worsen if the pressure from the weight of the slab was released – besides, there was a good chance that he wouldn’t be able to move it even with his adrenaline charged muscles and he ran the risk of dropping it again on Sam, causing more damage. There just wasn’t any way he could free him on his own.
Gathering his wits about him again, Dean struggled past the nauseating throbbing in his temples to think of his next move then almost slapped himself for not thinking of what he should have done sooner. Dean reached into his pocket and pulled out his cell phone then almost cried as soon as he flipped it open and the device fell apart in his hands, crushed beyond all hope of repair.
They were so screwed.
John didn’t bother to fill in the grave – he didn’t have time for that shit – he had to get to Sam and Dean.
He drove at speeds that would have been unsafe during a clear, beautiful day, and with the rain beating against the windshield and the roads slick with hail, it was a life and death battle to keep the vehicle on the road without it sliding into a ditch.
It was a twenty minute drive under normal circumstances from the cemetery to the house, but John forced the old Impala to make it there in little over ten, but when he pulled up the long abandoned drive and found a house with only three walls left standing, no roof, and gaping hole left in the center of it. His heart stopped cold in his chest, skipping several beats before renewing its merciless pounding with vigor.
John jumped out of the car without bothering to shut the door, and ran through pounding rain, slipping through the mud and muck until he was where the front door should have been.
“Oh my God.” He whispered as his legs failed to support him and he fell to his knees. His world had been in that house and now that world was destroyed.
“Hey … stay with me, Sammy.” A cool hand patted his face and roused him from the sleep he so desperately desired. He slid his eyes open marginally and Dean’s face filled his sight.
“That’s it … just stay awake for a little while longer, okay?” Dean pleaded.
Sam fought to do as Dean wanted him to do. But the pain – it was beyond anything he had ever felt before and he dare not move a muscle or he might that fiery lance of pain impaling him though his pelvis again as the broken bones scraped against each other, grinding and shifting. But, being so still also made him incredibly lethargic and increasingly exhausted so that all he wanted to do was sleep. It was the only escape from the pain he knew and it was so enticing, beckoning him towards a blissfully numb nothingness.
“Nuh uh, Sammy,” More patting hit his face and Sam jerked awake, moving far too much and sending a bolt of electric agony up his spine. He clenched his teeth, and tried not to cry out because Dean’s face when he did that only made the pain so much worse.
“I gotta go for help, Sam.” Dean said, his voice wracked with pain and sounding like he had been gargling with rusty nails, “I’m so sorry … but I won’t be gone for long – I promise, okay?”
Sam reached out with his hand and grabbed his brother’s wrist – he didn’t want to be left alone – not like this – not trapped and in so much pain – so cold and desperate for warmth. He needed Dean with him -- needed him to stay.
He knew he couldn’t stay aware much longer before he slipped away– it was already too hard to think, to breathe – to do much of anything but hold Dean’s hand and being left alone to fall into an unconsciousness from which he might not awake was more terrifying than anything he had faced before – more than wendigos, more than ghosts, more than his dad after a fifth of whiskey and hard hunt. No ... he didn’t want to be alone.
He didn’t want to die alone.
“Please …” he begged his big brother, his protector and many times his only friend, “stay.”
Dean looked torn – his face a bright shade of white against the backdrop of the dark sky above, “I have to get help – I can’t let you –“ his brother, a jackass most of the time and not one to wear his distress so visibly on his face, crumbled in front of him, letting tears slip from his eyes.
Sam knew then that he was going to die – it was written all over Dean’s face, but he wanted the last thing he ever saw to be his brother’s face – something good that he could take with him into the afterlife, if there was one beyond being a malingering ghost.
Sam squeezed Dean’s hand with what little strength he could still feel in his numbing fingers, feeling chilled to the bone, but warmed a little by the touch, “Please … just stay … until … until I fall asleep.”
Dean’s bottom lip spasm grew more pronounced as he fought for control of his voice, “Okay , Sammy … I’ll stay.”
That was all he needed.
He let his eyes close, his body relax, and his mind drift off into nothing.
Sam’s eyes blinked slowly as dark hazel irises locked onto Dean’s until his eyelids slid shit and stayed that way.
Dean felt his brother’s finger grow lax in his hands and he bowed his head, unable to stop the drips of tears from falling and mingling with the rivulets of rains streaming down his face.
He couldn’t shake the feeling that Sam had been saying ‘good-bye’ as if he knew that he couldn’t last much longer, but Dean refused to accept that – Sammy wasn’t going to die – not if he could help it and he watched carefully as his brother’s chest rose and fell, shallowly inhaling and exhaling.
It was difficult for Dean to lay his baby brother’s hand back over his chest, and leave him behind, but he knew he couldn’t stay. He had to leave – he had to find help and he would walk—no , run – until he found someone that could save Sam because without him, his life –nothing-- would have any meaning anymore.
Dean ran a hand through Sam’s wet hair and removed his plastered bangs from his eyes, taking in his every last feature right down to the mole next to his nose and memorized them before pushing himself up crawling over the strewn-about debris field.
He reached the basement stairs that he and Sam had raced to before everything had collapsed on them and pushed broken boards, and pieces of the house out of his way as he climbed his way up. Once at the top, he wavered on unsteady feet, pain blossoming through every joint and muscle in his body, but he couldn’t stop for that – he needed to move – he needed to place one foot in front of the other until he found someone to save his brother.
He pushed himself forward, half-blinded by the dark, slipping over piles of wood and detritus as he moved painfully slow over the ruins of the old, Victorian house, unsure if he was going the right way until a familiar sound reached his ear that nearly made him pass out in relief. It was the sound of hope and salvation – the rumble of the engine belonging to a ’67 Chevy Impala followed by twin beams of light to show him the way.
John sat on the ground letting the rain and wind assault him. He closed his eyes, unable to move or breathe, unable to think of anything except how utterly he had failed his sons.
He was too late.
God … the destruction ---
A part of John wanted to get off the ground, curse at the sky and damn God, but he just couldn’t move – he was frozen.
Water poured down his face, but it wasn’t tears – he wasn’t able to produce any. He was too numb with disbelief for his body to react.
How long he sat there with his eyes closed, John would never know, but his eyes suddenly snapped open the moment he heard the best sound to hit his ears in a very, very long time.
John was on his feet in an instant, racing to reach his boy as he crawled over the ruins of the destroyed house, wrapping his arms around him before he let him speak. Dean hugged back, but only briefly before pulling away.
“You okay?” John demanded, seeing the blood trailing down Dean’s ghost-white skin, the red and purple bruises around his throat and desperate expression on his face. John’s relief at seeing his son quickly morphed into fear again seeing that terrorized look in his son’s eyes.
Sam wasn’t with Dean.
Dean pulled on John’s sleeve urgently, “This way …c’mon hurry. He’s trapped.”
Dean charged ahead and John followed close behind with his heart wedged in his throat as his son frantically climbed over the strewn pieces of the destroyed house, recklessly unmindful of his own safety as he led the way towards his brother. John knew from the panic in Dean’s heavy, labored breathing that whatever had happened to Sam, it was bad – very bad.
John tripped and slipped amongst the debris, but kept pace with Dean until they were climbing down a crumbling set of stairs that felt like they were descending down to the gates of Hell, but after a moment, he realized that it was the basement of the house and that the boys must have sought shelter there when the storm hit.
It was too dark to see further than two feet in front of him, but Dean didn’t seem to need any sort of flashlight or illumination to know exactly where he was going and it wasn’t until Dean came to a stop and dropped down on his knees that he came to see that they were almost on top of his youngest child.
John’s stomach again clenched tight. Sam was lying on his back against the cold, wet litter strewn concrete and just as Dean had said, he was caught underneath a large piece of rubble. Quickly, John was on his knees beside Dean, reaching out for his son’s battered face. Aside from the blood dribbling from a gash on his forehead, his skin was the color of chalk, clammy and cold to the touch as he wiped some of the blood away.
Sam didn’t stir when Dean and John called his name and if it hadn’t been for the shallow rise and fall of his chest, he might have mistaken him for dead.
“Dean … did you call the paramedics?”
Dean shook his head, “Phone’s busted … “ He said between pants, his voice coarse like it pained him to use it, “I was going to run to find help, but thank God you were already here. Can’t you call them?”
“My phone got soaked. It won’t turn on.”
“Crap …” Dean ran a shaky hand through his wet hair, “what do we do?”
“We’ll have to get Sam to the hospital ourselves,” John stated, pushing aside his fear and letting the competent hunter part of his personality take over if not for his own sake then for Dean’s who needed his father to take charge and control the situation, “Run to the car – the portable stretcher is in the trunk and when you get back we’ll get this thing off of him and carry him out on that. Got it?”
Dean nodded, “yessir!”
“Good . Go now… hurry!”
Dean took off at once at a sprint. John was all at once proud and worried at how his oldest was handling everything and how he put his brother’s welfare above his own – ignoring his own injuries in order help Sam, but John also knew that that kind self-sacrificing quality in his son might one day get him killed and after that first moment when he pulled up to the destroyed house and thought that his sons were dead, he couldn’t bear the thought of losing either one of them.
John knelt closer to Sam and grabbed his hand the moment it looked like he was stirring, “Sammy? You hear me, son?”
Sam let out a low, pained groan, his head rolling from side to side, “C’mon, kiddo … open your eyes for me.” He didn’t mean to make it sound like an order, but it may have sounded that way to Sam and even though his youngest son didn’t have the best track record when it came to obeying him without question, Sam for once, did as he was told and started to flutter his long eyelashes, opening them up to mere slits.
“Thatta boy,” John encouraged.
“Dad?” Sam whispered.
“Yeah … it’s me. You’re gonna be okay. Dean and I are gonna get you out, alright?”
Sam sighed, blinking slow, “Where’s D’n? Is he okay?”
“He’s fine. He’s coming right back, just hold on.”
Sam closed his eyes, “Tired.”
“I know, kiddo.” John squeezed Sam’s hand then ran fingers through his thick, shaggy hair, “but I trust you to stay strong for me for just a little while longer. You can do it.”
“Trust me?” Sam opened his eyes fully and looked John full in the face, seeking out something that John rarely gave: validation.
“I do – believe me.” John wiped rain from his face before he went on, “You and your brother are the strongest kids I know – much more that I was at your age and I know …” John gulped, pushing down the lump in his throat, “sometimes it’s hard for me to show it – but I’m pretty damned proud of you.”
Tears glistened in Sam’s eyes and John didn’t know why it was so hard for him to show his sons how he really felt about them. Maybe it was because his own father hadn’t been overly affectionate and praise wasn’t something he gave out freely, but it was more than that – maybe he was just afraid – afraid that showering his boys with too much esteem would make them not strive as hard or fight as hard – and he needed them to do both – to give everything they got inside of them to the job or they may not outlive him.
And John wasn’t willing to let that happen.
Yet still, he had gone far too long in the hard-ass role and right now, Sam didn’t need a drill sergeant barking orders at him, he needed his father.
Rapid pants and the sounds of Dean’s frantic race back preceded his return and John turned his head, watching him advance with the portable stretcher in his hands.
It wasn’t so much a stretcher as it was more of a man-sized, nylon tarp with handles on both ends that could be rolled up and stored in a pack for those times when the hunt took them out into forests or mountains where vehicles couldn’t go. While thankfully, they had never had to use it before, John was glad now that he had picked it up at an Army surplus store years ago.
“Go ahead and roll it out next to Sam,” He ordered Dean as soon as he was close enough to be heard over the remnants of the storm. Dean did as he was instructed and laid the litter out beside his brother.
“How is he?” Dean asked as he worked.
“We need to hurry and get this thing off of him.” John replied tersely.
After giving Sam a reassuring squeeze of his hand, John leaned in to speak to his son, “We’re gonna get you out now, Sammy … just hang on and it’ll be over soon.”
Sam fought to put on a show of bravery even though John knew he was scared and afraid of the pain that was to come, but he didn’t protest, plying John with trusting eyes.
John nodded to Sam then let go of his hand and stood up, studying the slab that entrapped his boy to figure out how best to remove it. His best bet would be to pull it directly up with him and Dean on opposite sides rather than trying to slide it off which would only damage Sam broken bones even further.
He bent at the knees and reached his fingers under the heavy plaster while he directed Dean to take the other side and follow his lead. John counted three and together with Dean he used all the strength in his thighs and arms to heave upwards.
Sam’s reaction to the movement was immediate and his scream tore at the center of John’s stomach, but he couldn’t stop. Dean almost faltered too, but was of the same mind as John, unwilling to let go until Sam was completely uncovered.
It weighed more than he was expecting as though it was made out of concrete and Dean made many of the same grunting and strained noises that he did until they finally had the slab off of Sam’s body and tossed to the side with the rest of the house’s building materials. Sam in the meantime, had already passed out either from pain or from shock and lay deathly still.
John rushed back to Sam’s side followed close by Dean, “Take his feet, Dean.” He instructed without needing to explain to Dean to be careful as they moved his brother onto the stretcher. John went behind Sam’s head and wrapped his hands under his shoulders before making eye-contact with Dean. Again he counted to three and they lifted in unison.
Sam cried out, the pain ripping through him causing his whole body to shake and he passed out once more as soon as he and Dean had him lying on the stretcher.
John and Dean repeated their lifting process after they had both grabbed the handles on their ends and hefted Sam up. With determination and bracing his will against the pained noises Sam made as he came to, John let Dean lead the way across the destruction and back to the car.