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do i dare or do i dare? [userpic]

Fic: Master of None 2/3

A/N:  We're very thankful for the feedback!  And we're especially glad authoressnebula  likes it :)  All other notes in part one.

PART TWO

It sort of felt like flying.

Not that Sam had ever flown before, but it was sort of weightless and fast, not quite free falling, but certainly not normal.  Sort of like a roller coaster, the kind Dean always managed to sneak them onto during their summers at the carnivals they snuck into.

Only those didn't make him feel so sick.

And they didn't hurt.

Probably because this wasn't a roller coaster.

When Sam gasped to awareness, he realized the floating sensation was gone, replaced by a pervasive chill and the numbing fact that he didn't know where he was.

The Jack.  The Jack had taken him.

Memory came back to him with a sudden jolt that caught his breath in his throat. 

He'd been going back to the car--ordered back to it, because he wasn't good enough, because his ideas had been weak, because he'd been weak--and then the Jack had come.  Sam had figured it'd be strong, scaling that kind of distance meant it had to be, but seeing it in action had been impressive.

Well, as impressive as something that was trying to choke him could be.

What was it with him and the throat anyway?

What was it with him and just plain sucking out loud?  He had known that the Jack would be around.  He'd suspected from the moment they got there.  And he'd been so busy feeling sorry for himself, so busy trying to prove himself, that he really did let it all get the better of him.  Maybe his dad was right about him.  Dean wouldn't have followed that order (not that it was an order Dean would have been given).

Not that it didn't hurt--working so hard and still being not good enough--but he'd been right about the Jack.  Now he just had to finish the job, not let himself be taken out and rescued like some baby.  Prove himself a Winchester and let himself earn back the freedom and trust he needed to feel like a person again.

Which meant getting up.


Which was easier said than done.

Blinking again, Sam came to realize he was in a cave.  The thing was surprisingly big, with a tall ceiling, and hollowed out space the size of a small bedroom.  The place was illuminated by the flicker of candlelight, a lot of it, Sam saw, as a row of mismatched candles sat on a table in the far corner of the cave. 

The table wasn't the only thing there.  Random coats and other garments were strewn about, even what looked like a handful of purses, a backpack or two.  The Jack's trophies.

It wasn't about the kill, it was about the conquest.  It wasn't about murder, it was about terrifying.  It wasn't the conclusion, it was the performance.

Pushing himself up, Sam winced.  The bruises on his throat seemed worse, exacerbated by the Jack's grip.  Which, of course, made sense.  The Jack was stronger than Sam had expected, not that he hadn't logically known that it would have such power, but being there, helpless in its grip, was another thing entirely. 

Worse than that was the jumping.  The sheer force involved with those leaps was astounding.  The damage to the trees had only told part of the story.  Being dragged around, jump after jump after jump--well, it was no wonder that Sam felt like crap.  His head ached, his ears rung.  On top of that, there was a tightness in his ribs and he felt entirely disoriented.

"The journey is quite rough for those not designed for it," a voice cut suddenly through the coolness. 

Sam startled, pushing himself up and backing up to better gain some kind of tactical advantage.  Eyes darting, there was the Jack in the mouth of the cave.

The creature was mostly shadowed in darkness, but it was the first real glimpse Sam had at the thing.  It was taller than he'd thought, and thinner, too.  Though Sam knew from first hand experience that its frame did not do justice to its strength.

It was wearing clothes, which again Sam had expected, and it did give the being an unsettling aura.  The gentlemanly attire was complete with a grand cape and, at first glance, one might confuse the Jack with an actual human.

But as it stepped closer, eyes alight with a terrible joy, Sam saw just how inhuman the thing was.  Its skin looked vaguely human, sometimes, but seemed to shimmer with translucency in the flickering flame, revealing the hint of bone and raw organs pulsing on the insides.  Even the hands, long fingers curled in a facsimile of humanity, flashed with talons as the light hit them.

Still, it was the face that tested Sam's emotional mettle.  The neatly trimmed mustache curled at the ends, almost a caricature of the gentleman the Jack was impersonating.  The face was long and thin, pale skin shimmering with the same demonic transparency.  High arched eyebrows and a slender pointed nose were accented with a wide thin-lipped mouth which was kept in an unwavering smile.

And the eyes.  Glowing red and alive with the delight of evil and madness.

Sam had seen scarier, though.  And he knew his stuff on the Jack.  He knew what it liked to do, he knew that it didn't want to eat him, probably didn't even want to seriously hurt him.  Maybe it thrived on fear, depended on it, or maybe it was all evil for evil’s sake, but no matter.  Silver bullet to the heart and Sam just couldn't let it get to him.

"You took to it poorly, I'm afraid," the Jack said.  "Those human bones, that fragile skin.  But ah, how I love that flush of a human cheek, the prickling of soft skin in fear.  Those are the things, dear boy, the things that make existence worthwhile."

Sam swallowed, rallying his strength.  His head was clearing and that was all he needed.  The pain was a transient thing, temporary and passing, and he just needed to get rid of this thing and find his father and get out of there.

Fumbling, he dug in his pockets, looking for his weapon.

And that's when he realized that he was in trouble.

It wasn't there.

The Jack sprung unexpectedly, landing near Sam with a surreal grace that left him cold.

"What's that you say?" the Jack asked, craning his head to look down at Sam.  "I did not squeeze hard enough to strangle, just hard enough to make my point.  Fear makes men respond in different ways.  Some, they scream, desperate and afraid.  Others, they shut down, close off, as if their stillness will save them.  And others, still others, are even less wise and fight fire with meager droplets, not enough to quench a babe's thirst."

It wanted an answer, that much was clear.  The Jack was close enough now that Sam could see just how impressive the creature was.  Muscled and strong, this being could inflict damage if it wanted to--but none of the reports documented any damage, not directly.  Just fear.  It wanted his fear.

He steadied his expression, giving it the best defiance he could muster and said nothing.

The Jack edged closer, leering now, leaning down, ascertaining Sam's features with a scrutiny that made his father's watchful eyes look negligent.  "Too scared?  Too hurt?  Or perhaps you were damaged from the start?"

Stiffening, Sam wouldn't give it the satisfaction.  He had to hold his ground--his father and Dean would find them. 

The Jack was practically kneeling now, almost on top of Sam, and it took one clawed finger and traced it up Sam's jacket.  "Young boys must do as their told," he said.  "They are good for little else"

And didn't that just sound like his father?

The talon lingered on Sam's throat.  "No, no, dear boy, I think you just need some persuasion," the Jack said.  It raised its eyebrows, cocking his head.  Then it paused before unleashing a gust of fire, burning blue and searing dangerously close to Sam's face.

Startled, Sam tried to curl away, shielding his eyes from the scorching heat.  Close enough to singe his hair, but not to hurt him.  It was a game, Sam reminded himself, a game.

"No response?  None at all?  That is one of my best tricks.  But no, no, not you.  Simple parlor tricks do not impress," it said.  "Children today, too full of flight and fancy, too much whimsy and disbelief.  I miss the simple days, dear boy, when all you needed was a leap and a flame and ladies passed out and grown men cried."

Screw that.  Sam Winchester was no lady and he wasn't a grown man and a Spring Heeled Jack wasn't anything to him but a chance to show once and for all that he could handle himself.

"But you," the Jack continued, using both hands hand, trailing up and down Sam's shirt.  "You have shown me the power of change.  Evolution, I believe.  The strong survive.  I know my strength and I know my worth, but now I ask, dear boy, what about you?"

That wasn't a question Sam had been expecting, not a topic of conversation that he'd been expecting.  Something was different, something was changing--

With a smile and a quirked eyebrow and a motion Sam couldn't see and certainly couldn't avoid, the Jack had him airborne, a fact made painfully clear when Sam hit the wall.

It was a hard hit, flesh on stone, at a velocity far too fast for such a small space.  His body crumpled, something breaking, Sam was sure, as he landed heaped on the ground.

At first, he was too disoriented to think or to feel, but it didn't take long for pain to throb its way back into his consciousness.

His head, his back, his arms, his legs--everything.  It all hurt with an intensity that left him helpless.

Not helpless.  He could hurt and ache and everything else but that wasn't what it wanted.

With a blink, Sam couldn't quite tell what direction he was facing, up or down, but it didn't matter.

"People can fear what they do not know, what they do not understand.  They can fear dark alleys at night or strange men outside their windows.  They can fear plague and disease and death and decay but, I ask you, do you fear me?"

His eyes focused and the Jack was above him.  Their eyes met and Sam swallowed past his abused throat.  This question he would answer.  Unequivocally.  "No," he said, with a vengeance and desperation that had nothing to do with the Jack at all.

The Jack looked nonplussed.  It shrugged a shoulder.  "Then perhaps you should fear foolishness," it said.  "For it shall surely be your undoing."

And a blaze of blue, and Sam was flying again.

-o-

Dean could handle a lot of things.  He really could.  He could handle being dragged across the country.  He could handle the money when their father disappeared for weeks on end.  He could handle lying to Sammy about when Dad was coming back or that his little brother had nothing to worry about.  He could handle no friends, and a string of girls, and getting through school without trying.  Hell, he could handle more weapons than most trained military personnel.  He could handle the hunt, which was nothing to scoff at.

So yeah, Dean could handle a lot of crap.

Too bad there was still one thing he couldn't handle, one thing he'd never be able to handle.

Sam in danger.

He could handle Sam when he was whiny, Sam when he was a smart-ass, Sam when he was defiant, even Sam when he was screwing up left and right and making Dean wonder what side of the bed Sam had to wake up on to be that whacked.

But Sam in peril?  Sam getting beat up by bullies?  Getting snatched by supernatural dick heads who weren't suppose to be dangerous?

So very, very not cool.

He kind of felt like panicking.  After all, the thing had gotten Sam, evaded them, knocked Sam out and taken off leaving him and his dad alone.

"Something's wrong," his father muttered, eyes combing the now-quiet woods.

"That bastard took Sam," Dean said, which was probably stating the obvious, but what the hell else was he supposed to say, especially when his dad stated it first.

His father scowled.  "This isn't its MO," his father said. 

"Leaping around?  Talking crap?  Big cape?  Sounds exactly like its MO," Dean replied, more curt than he would have normally, because, well, there was nothing normal about this situation.  When it came to Sam, all bets were off.

"It might take someone," his father said.  "But it was too aggressive.  That was more than a display.  It shouldn't have hurt Sam.  None of its victims ever lost consciousness."

What did it matter?  All that mattered was Sam, who was not here, because some moronic Spring Heeled Jack had gotten the drop on them, just like Sammy had suggested.  "We're wasting time," Dean said, his patience thin.  "We need to find Sam."

"No, Dean, we need to think," his father replied sharply, looking at Dean.  "We underestimated it once and we ended up in this mess."

Dean took the reprimand and swallowed hard.  "So what's its deal?"

"It's like it's stepping up its game."

"Well it's been doing the same thing for a hundred years, I'd get pretty bored, too."

His father nodded grimly.  "We need to find Sam."

The now was implied.

"The trees," Dean said suddenly.  "Sam noticed the trees.  The branches, they're all broken in the same direction.  If he uses this as a launch pad, we can probably figure out what direction is home."

His father was already moving, closer to the tree line as Dean spoke.  "There's some in all direction, which makes sense if this is his main launching base," his father was already theorizing, moving carefully around the trees and fingering some of the snapped branches.  "Here.  These."

Dean moved closer.  "There's more going this direction," Dean said.  He moved into the trees a little.  "Deeper, too."

"More consistent."

"Like he goes home this way every night," Dean concluded.

His father pulled out his gun, and checked his ammo.  "Let's go."

That was an order Dean didn't have to think about to obey.

-o-

John had been hunting for almost sixteen years.  That was a hell of a long time.  He'd killed more things than he could remember, more things than he wanted to remember.

But he was still missing that one thing that mattered.  The thing that had killed Mary.  Everything else was just a pursuit of that.  Honing his skills, widening his knowledge, keeping his tab on the supernatural world. 

In the grander scheme of things, a Spring Heeled Jack was nothing.  Just another thing to kill, another chance to train his boys.  They needed to learn after all.  If they were going to be safe, if they were going to be ready--this was the stuff they had to know.  Dean liked to call it a family business, but that wasn't what it was.  It was a family curse, a curse of knowing too much.  It'd burned him once (burned Mary), and he wouldn't let either of his sons fall victim to their ignorance and weakness.

So the hunts now, they were lessons.  Training grounds.

After sixteen years, though, John didn't like to think that maybe there were lessons he had left to learn.

Lessons about how creatures can change and evolve.  How they can surprise you.  How sometimes an outside opinion, no matter how crazy, may just be right.

Sam had been right.

It had sounded so ludicrous, out in left field, and he'd been so ready to look for weakness, to see some sign that Sam wasn't with the program that he'd compromised them all.  And his youngest hadn't been--not for nearly a week.  But tonight, he was ahead of it.

The Jack didn't kill people, John knew that, but there was that niggling doubt now.  That chance that this Jack was different, that this Jack put on the ultimate show to scare John senseless and take his baby boy--take him for good.

At this point, he didn't know. He couldn't be sure.

He just had to follow the trees, watch for the occasional drop points, and thank God that even if his youngest was a mess at sparring and unmotivated in his research that he'd put that much together.

Dean's footsteps fell hard and fast behind him, and John felt the weight of his gun in his hand.  These things were his responsibility, though.  His.  Sam's safety was on his shoulders. The boys had to understand that, had to understand that training and research and hunts were for their own good.

For all the good that getting taken by a Spring Heeled Jack did them.

He and Sam needed to talk.  Hard and long, like men.  About why they did this, about why it mattered.  They had to listen to each other or they would never make it.

First things first, though, John had a hunt to finish.  And he'd be damned if this was the one that got the better of him.

-o-

The Jack rose to his full height, arms out to his sides, claws curled.  He had an impressive wingspan which helped in part to explain how he was able to soar through the air.  Sam tried to get a good look at the black patent leather boots, wondering absently if they had some sort of jet pack in them.

One of the knee length boots snapped forward and Sam tried to dodge, but only made it part way.  Instead of taking the kick to the side of the head, the kick caught Sam on the chin.  Blinking his eyes in a futile attempt to focus his bleary vision, Sam groaned.  Instead of cataloguing the Jack’s physical characteristics, he should have been fleeing the cave.

In his defense, the creature had heaved him around, bashing him off the limestone walls, interspersed with occasional shakes that rattled Sam’s teeth.  A concussion was definitely a possibility and thinking through it was a bitch.  But if he wanted to tell his family what he’d found out, he’d better find an escape route.  Killing the Jack on his own was a distant memory.

Surviving long enough was even beginning to come into question.  It didn’t fit the MO, though.  The Jack wanted fear, not death, didn’t it?  Hadn’t his dad made a point to remind Sam that this was supposed to be easy?

Rolling to his knees, Sam pushed to his feet, weaving in place.  The Jack reached out with a claw to ensnare Sam’s neck and he feinted left before dodging to the right.  Dull moonlight was dappling the packed dirt up ahead and if Sam could get out of the enclosed space, he might have a chance at ditching the Jack.

He was three steps from possible freedom when something bowled into the back of his legs.  Sam’s feet staggered, tried to remain balance, but ultimately crashed to the uneven flooring.  His forehead bounced painfully off the surface and Sam saw stars.

By the time his brain rebooted, Sam was on his back, a fist clenched in the material of his shirt, lifting him off the ground.  “Are you addled in the brain, boy?  You think to toy with me?  I am through with these games.  You will know real fear at my hand.”

Sam’s eyes were drawn first to pointed teeth gleaming in the moonlight and then to eyes blazing blood red.  He tried to scramble backward but he couldn’t find purchase, his feet scrabbling ineffectually over the packed earth.  

Fear, the Jack wanted, and fear Sam was beginning to feel.  The Jack did not have a history of this, it didn’t hurt, it didn’t kill. But his dad wouldn’t be afraid.  Neither would Dean.  If they couldn’t kill it, they would snark, monologue, prolong it.  Sam had to keep fighting, the only way he could.  The way they would want him to.  He would just give the Jack a little of what it wanted, conversation, pleas, something to buy him some time before his family charged in to save the day.  “Please…” 

But it was too little, too late.  The Jack’s conversation was over.  The humor had dwindled to rage in its eyes and Sam realized they had all been wrong.  Fear wasn’t enough.  Not anymore.  The Jack had been scorned and ignored and Sam was one victim too many to underestimate that.  Too little, too late was the story of Sam’s life with a big I told you so from Dean and that condescending shake of the head from his dad that sent Sam packing to the car where he belonged.

The dreaded claws latched on to his throat and soon Sam found himself dangling in the air, his abused throat squeaking as he tried in vain to pull in oxygen.

-0-

Dean was on point and he weaved through the maple trees, ignoring his harsh breathing.  They weren’t going to sneak up on anyone but Dean didn’t care; his sole driving force was to find his younger brother. 

When the Jack had taken off with Sam in its arms, Dean just about dropped to his knees and wept.  Panic pulsed through him in waves and if his dad hadn’t touched his arm, refocused him, Dean didn’t know what he would have done.

He was the older brother.  It was his job to look out for Sammy.

He broke from the clearing and saw a wall of moss covered limestone.  His dad stood next to him, chest heaving.  Dean wanted to scream his frustration, rail at his father, do something.  They were at a dead end and no Sam.

And then voices drifted from above.  “…through with these games.  You will know real fear at my hand.” 

“Please…”

That was Sam, pleading.  Although Dean had to admit his brother didn’t sound particularly scared.  It was more like he was about to launch into some great debate, probably recounting the reasons why the Jack should leave Sam alone.

But Sam was up there, somewhere.  Dean’s eyes scanned the limestone and finally landed on what looked like a hole about fifteen feet above their position.  

Dean drew his arms through the backpack securely and then started looking for hand and foot-holds.  The limestone was brittle and Dean wasn’t sure it would hold his weight but he really didn’t care, fear for his brother’s safety driving him upward.

His dad was scaling the surface to his left, both of them scuttling and scrapping.  Spiderman would have been disappointed in their efforts but Dean let success wash over him when he pulled himself on to the ledge outside of the opening.

The feeling of success turned to unmitigated fear; the Jack was holding Sam by the neck, his brother’s legs a foot off the ground.  Loud wheezes filled the cavern, a testament to how tightly the Jack held Sam in his hold. 

Dean eased the pack from his back and withdrew his gun along with a bottle of holy water. 

The noises coming from Sam were gut wrenching, distracting, but they served to cover the noise of his dad’s ungainly entrance into the cavern.  His dad indicated that Dean should move around to the side or back of the Jack through a series of hand signals. 

Stealth was not his friend as Dean moved along the side of the cave.  It was a mixed blessing that the Jack appeared to be oblivious to the extra people in its lair as it babbled threats and continued its attack on Sam.  “You think to mock me but I have walked this land for two hundred years.  I have seen the rise and fall of nations.  Please, speak up, I can’t hear you.”

Sam’s back was arched, his arms dangling awkwardly behind him, his legs unmoving. 

Dean drew a bead on the Jack’s head and despite the urge to utter his own Clint Eastwood speak along the lines of I can hear you fine asshole, can you hear this he kept silent as he squeezed off his shot. 

The back of the Jack’s head exploded in gore and blood.  Silver bullet to the heart, not quite, but it would do the trick for now.

The Jack dropped to its knees and Dean could only hope it had dropped its hold on Sammy. 

His dad rushed forward, dousing the creature with holy water.  Dean rushed forward as the Jack struggled.  It had no brain to speak of but just like a zombie, it kept thrashing and fighting.

“Dean, get your brother!”

The Jack was being dragged away from Sam as Dean dropped to his knees next to his still sibling.  Sam was sprawled on his back, legs bent awkwardly beneath him, arms flung out to each side.  His chest wasn’t moving.

Sam’s chest wasn’t moving!

Dean sought his pulse but he couldn’t find one at his wrist.  His fingers darted up to Sam’s neck but hovered as he gasped, forcing the bile back down his own throat.

Sam’s neck was mottled with red but it was caved in on itself, the Adam’s apple crushed, a hideous injury against Sam’s fragile body.   “DAD!”

Heat exploded behind him and Dean crouched protectively over Sam’s body.  A hand at his shoulder made Dean jump.  “How is he?”

Dean moved his body to the side, hand cradling the side of Sam’s face.  The skin was still warm which was something.  

But Sam’s eyes were slitted open, his pupils hauntingly large, gaze fixed and staring.  Almost as though he was already de… 

He heard his dad’s swift intake of breath.  “Shit.  It crushed his larynx.  I’ll have to…”

His dad moved away from his side, leaving Dean bereft.  Where was his dad going?  He needed him to make this right, make Sam all right. 

The heavy pack thudded down beside him and then his dad was diving through it.  “I need tubing, shit where is it, okay.  I can do this.”

Dean had never seen his dad so rattled, his hands shaking as he pulled items out of his kit.  And rambling.  His dad was rambling like an amateur.

This was bad.  This was very, very bad.

Eyes focusing on Sam again, his brother looked worse.  His face nearly colorless now, the features drawn, lips already shaded blue in the moonlight.

The hundreds of actions and words Dean had used to torture his younger sibling flooded his mind with recriminations.  You’re too slow…stupid…young…boring…short.  Dean was always pointing out Sam’s flaws.  And the training exercises and incessant belittling of Sam’s skills.  Dean didn’t do it to make himself feel better.  No, his motives had been more pure though the methods brutal by anyone’s standards.

Sam had to toughen up if he was ever going to be a real Winchester.

At least that was what he told himself.  That was the point of the hunt, after all.  Make a man out of Sam.  Make a Winchester out of him so he could survive to hunt another day.

Training had been a disaster.  Research had been slow.  But Sam had been right when it counted about the Jack.  And now Sam was lying right there in front of him, chest still, lips going purple, face almost blue, and every expectation seemed stupid now.  Stupid and blind and it didn’t matter how much training, how much research, sometimes this stuff just happened but it wasn’t supposed to happen to Sam.

Screw it all.  Dean didn’t care about the hunt or killing the Jack or making Sam a Winchester.  Dean only wanted one thing from his brother now – for him to live. 

-0-

He’d doused the Jack with lighter fluid and salt before striking a match.  He hadn’t wanted to do it so closely to his sons but he didn’t have time to move the creature; he wanted to get this over with and see how Sammy was doing.

Panic boomed from Dean’s voice as he called for John and he sprinted over, skidding to a stop as he got his first good look at his baby boy.  He asked about Sam’s condition but Dean seemed to be in some sort of shock. 

Sam’s face was bruised and bloodied, a contrast to Dean’s own strong, healthy hand cradling the abused cheek.  But it was Sam’s neck that had borne the brunt of the violence.  It looked wrong, pulverized, mangled, and realization hit him hard.   “Shit.  It crushed his larynx.  I’ll have to…”

The damaged throat convulsed, Sam’s mouth gaping open, nostrils flaring, but it was obvious Sam’s breathing had been compromised.

It wasn’t too late.  But it would be soon.  If John didn’t do something--fast.

And he knew what he had to do.  He did.  He didn’t want to, but he couldn’t deny it.

Nausea burst through John’s body, his mind going over the macabre procedure he was about to undertake.  He’d never done a tracheotomy himself but he’d held down the Private while the doctor had performed field surgery; they had spread the boy out on the hard ground while the doctor cut him open and inserted tubing so that air could get to his lungs.

As a medic, John had received training in how to perform the procedure but that was some twenty odd years ago and it was never intended for use on his son.

But he hadn’t intended on a lot of this.  He hadn’t intended for Sam to start off so sloppy.  He hadn’t intended on underestimating the Jack himself. 

Mentally shaking himself, John acknowledged that right now the biggest adversary was time.  Was Sam taking in any air or had he already sustained brain damage?  And how would they get him to a hospital?

First things first.  He muttered to himself as he dumped out what he needed; sharp knife, tubing which he kept in case of an emergency blood transfusion, tape, gauze padding and alcohol. 

It came back to him with a numbing clarity.  All the years since the war, all the time he’d spent forgetting those days, and they were gone just that fast.

Alcohol was soaked liberally over the knife.  He handed the bottle to Dean who seemed to hesitate before grabbing it.  “Dean, spread some of this over Sam’s neck.  Then hold him down if he moves,” he ordered.

Dean blinked, staring at the bottle as if he’d never seen one before.  He looked almost as pale as Sam.  

There wasn’t time, though.  “Hey,” he said roughly.  “Are you with me?  I’m counting on you, Dean.”

It was a lot to put on his oldest but he couldn’t do this by himself.  He never could.  God, he missed his Mary. 

John tilted Sam’s head back, thankful that a patch of moonlight was spreading over their position.  He tried to remember how they’d gotten here, the disappointment he’d felt seeing Sam screw up, the certainty that Sam had to be sent back to the car.

Why hadn’t he kept them all there in the first place?

There was no turning back.  Not with Mary dead, not with Dean looking at him like he was the last hope in the world, not with Sam dying under his hands. 

He quickly made the first of two incisions, a curved line along his son’s relaxed skin tension lines.  It was hard to see if he had the placement right but he didn’t have time to measure it out.  The second incision was a vertical incision. 

Blood started welling up and John had to work hard to prevent his hands from shaking; Sam was still a child and he didn’t know if a pediatric trach was different than one performed on an adult.  He also didn’t have time to figure it out as his eyes swept over Sam’s face and he noticed the blue tinged lips.

Sam didn’t have the time. 

John quit thinking and let his hands take over.  He made the incision needed through the second and third tracheal rings and then it was a mad dash to soak up the blood with gauze pads before inserting the makeshift tubing. 

The tube didn’t want to slide into the wound John had created; it was like trying to make a square peg fit in a round hole.  Brute force was required and John cringed as something in his baby’s neck scraped and popped obscenely.

A ragged wheeze filled the air and John sat back on his heels, wiping the back of his arm across his forehead.  His whole body was shaking in the aftermath.  The noise Sam’s battered body made as it greedily sucked in oxygen through the man-made airway was hideous but it meant Sam was going about the business of living.

“Dad, the tube is moving…”

Dean’s panicked words registered in his mind and John reached for the tubing as the blood slicked fingers of his other hand sought the tape.  He fumbled, unable to pull off the length needed. 

His oldest son reached out and guided John’s hand beneath Sam’s head to hold it in place while Dean took the roll and tore off the tape.  John adjusted his grip and watched, mesmerized, as Dean wound the tape around Sam’s delicate neck.  At last Dean patted it gently around the tubing, satisfied that it would hold.

John’s brain was thawing out.  He wanted to hug both of his sons close but Sam couldn’t be jostled and Dean needed to go for help.  “Son, I need you to bring back help.  Our phones can’t pick up a signal here and you may even have to head back to town.  But I need you to bring back paramedics.  There’s no way we can get Sam down without compromising his airway.”

Dean’s forehead crinkled and his mouth twisted into a frown.  A gentle hand snaked out and brushed the bangs from Sam’s forehead.  “But what if he needs me…”

He wanted to take the time to assure Dean that Sam would be fine, that Dean had done what needed doing and that John had everything under control.  But those words would have been a lie and John couldn’t say them, not now. 

Instead John interrupted him, his manner brusque.  “Help me get your brother situated and then get going.”

Sam doesn’t have much time.  He left the thought unspoken. 

Dean frowned in frustration but nodded his head.  Dean always did John’s bidding, thank God. 

His oldest son, fair of form and face just like Mary but practical like John, supported Sam’s back and shifted him until he lay securely in John’s arms.  “Hang on, Sammy.  I’ll be right back.”

The voice was gruff but the look in Dean’s eyes was wild, disconsolate.  If something happened to Sam, John knew Dean would be broken.

Kicking the remains of the Jack, scattering the ashes, Dean scooped up his backpack and headed for the cave opening, glancing over his shoulder one last time.  And then he was gone and John was left holding Sam in his arms. 

Sammy’s color was better, his lips losing the purple-blue tinge.  But the usually tanned and ruddy cheeks were pale, the eyes closed against the injustices of the world.

John needed his youngest to open his eyes and glare, mutinously, tell him he was okay and that he wanted to study or read or do anything except what John asked him to do.

And John would allow it. 

He cradled Sam close, willing his body heat to warm the smaller form in his arms.  The gangly limbs were limp in repose, constant motion eerily stilled.

If Sam could just hang on a little longer, everything would be okay.

-0-

This place was wrong.

Unfamiliar and cold, it smelled clean and impersonal.  Not like the generic scent of over-starched motel sheets or even the well-worn feel of the Impala on a warm stretch across the plains.  It seemed funny, actually, that those transient things were his only sense of home, his only sense of normal.

And this was so far removed, it almost hurt.

No, it just hurt.  Not the room, not the smell or the feel or anything.  He hurt.  All of him, deep and throbbing, enveloping him.

He couldn’t think why, though.  Couldn’t really remember any reasons.  The training, maybe.  All that incessant training made him ache, made him want to sleep his way through history class.

No, not training.  The kids at school.  The jocks he let pick on him because it was the one thing that seemed normal.  Another way to make himself less a freak by being more of one.

Logic, Sam thought.  Who needed it?

It didn’t answer the question because he had no facts to deduce from.  It seemed like there should be.  Like all the pieces were right there in front of him.  The unfamiliar room, the sterile feel, the pain.

Not a motel.  Not the car.  Not a hunt.


The hunt.

The Jack.

And the facts came flooding back to him with the ferocity of the Jack’s leap.

Then there was light and sound, blinding and muffled, and the pain ratcheted up a notch to a nauseating pitch and he wanted to throw up, but there was nothing he could do, nothing at all, because he couldn’t breathe--he couldn’t--there was something.

“He’s awake,” someone said, someone he didn’t know.  Not Dad, not Dean.  Not the jocks and their stupid intimidation tactics that just made them sound goofy.  Not the Jack and his perfectly drawn accent that was all part of the facade.

A face, then.  In front of the light.  Masked.

Doctors.

“Sam, you need to calm down,” she explained.  “You’ve been hurt very badly, but we’re taking care of you.”

That wasn’t very reassuring, because he still couldn’t breathe, and his dad should be here, yelling at him, reprimanding him, something.  He was like the only idiot alive who could get hurt by a Spring Heeled Jack.

Alive.  Kind of.  He needed to breathe.

“Just relax,” she coaxed gently.  “I know it must feel strange, you’ve got a tube in your throat.”

That was a fact he hadn’t been prepared for and one that didn’t quite make sense.  Because his mouth opened and closed, he could feel his tongue, too large and heavy in his mouth and pressure, though, in his throat, his neck, though--

“You can’t talk,” she said. 

But it still didn’t make sense.  His mouth, his neck, his throat--the Jack’s clawed fingers digging into it, crushing--

The question flared anew. 

She tried to smile in response.  “We’re going to put you under,” she said.  “When you wake up, the tube will still be there.  Your throat will need time to heal.  You’re lucky.”

Luck--just like his good luck that he’d gotten himself knocked out by his brother.  Just like his good luck that he’d made the wrong suggestion and disappointed his father.  Just like his luck that he met up with the one Spring Heeled Jack that didn’t want to play by the rules.

But the world was hazy, now, and he still couldn’t breathe, but he was breathing anyway, and that doctor was still looking at him, her lips moving, and he was tired of being too weak, and too slow, and always wrong.

And he fell asleep under the litany of his own failures.

-o-

There were too many damn people in this place.

Old people, children, doctors, nurses.  An old dude with a patched up coat sleeping in the corner, mouth open and head leaned up against a seat.  A little girl coloring in some picture book, something with princesses, it looked like.  A pair of doctors in green scrubs, talking, one rolling his shoulders as if to stretch and the other unwrapping a candy bar.

The place was packed.  A baby was crying somewhere and the room buzzed with quiet conversation.  Some chick cradling her arm kept swearing at her boyfriend.

So many people.  And none of them knew anything, at least not anything Dean wanted to know.

His dad had tried, of course.  He’d tried way back on the scene, to jump into the ambulance with Sam, but he’d been refused.  Something about procedure and liability and Sam’s vitals were a little shaky and they just had to go and Dean and John had been left standing by the Impala feeling empty and bloody.

Because they were.  Empty one pain in the ass little brother and covered in his blood.  Their dad, more so, and glancing at him now, Dean could see that it was still there.  Hands coated with it, a macabre sight that Dean sort of felt should give them some kind of precedence.



It didn’t.

Upon their arrival they had been told precisely that Sam was still in an exam room and that a doctor would be out to talk to them soon.

That had been nearly half an hour ago.

Thirty damn minutes.

These people just didn’t appreciate it.  They didn’t appreciate that Sam hadn’t been breathing, that his neck had been crushed.  They didn’t appreciate that Sam was all that really mattered, that this was Dean’s fault, that Sam had been right when it counted even if he’d been wrong about everything else.  They didn’t appreciate that Dean had run two miles in ten minutes and that when he’d gotten the paramedics back to the cave, Dad had been cradling Sam like when Sam was a baby (those few times Dad had had the time) and he’d been crying and Sam was wheezing and limp and Dean thought he might pass out.

This was his fault.  He was the one who knocked Sam out during training.  He was the one who told their dad that Sam was out of it.  Dad trusted him to play point when it came to Sammy.  He trusted Dean to know the difference between normal teenage idiocy and the kind that got people killed.

He’d thought Sam was a liability.  He’d just wanted to make sure Sam was up to his game, to get his focus where it belonged.

The hunt.  This was their life, after all.  Dean knew all the reasons why, he knew about Mom, but he also knew that this was the only thing worthwhile.  The only thing constant.  The world needed them to hunt.  And Dean got that.  He did.  And he was more than happy to kill some evil sons of bitches if it made the cosmic balance a little more fair.  After all, there were guns and fire and it took skill and precision--those were things Dean could do.

Sam could, too, if the kid just ever focused.  That was the gist of it, why he’d mentioned anything to Dad at all.  Because Sam wasn’t focused.  He was spending time on homework and getting beat up by bullies.  Sam was better than that.  Sam had more skill than that.  Sam had more important things to do than that.

But now Sam was in a hospital with some kind of friggin’ hole in his neck all because of some stupid-ass training hunt that they’d worked him tirelessly for only to ignore him when push came to shove.

Sam was better that that, too.

Dean sighed, dropping his head.

Hunting was dangerous, he knew that.  But never like this.  Bumps, bruises, scrapes.  He’d gotten a broken arm once, a concussion maybe.  But motel room patch-up jobs.  Bragging rights and a pat on the head from his dad for a battle well fought.

This?

So not the way it was supposed to go.

Dean didn’t ask for much in life.  Hell, he refused a lot of it.  He didn’t need the house and the yard and the bedroom with a stash of skin magazines in the back of his closet (his duffle worked just fine for that).  He didn’t need teachers who remembered his name or his name on the roster of a baseball team or a locker that he actually used (and remembered the combination to).  He didn’t need any of that crap--stability, normal--but he sure as hell needed Sam.

Looking up, he cast a glance at his father, who was seated stonily in the chair next to him.

Their dad had said this was a good idea. Their dad had said this hunt would be easy.  Their dad had thought Sam’s idea about the trees was stupid.  Their dad had sent Sam back to the car.

A move that left Sam vulnerable, a fact that they’d used to find Sam in the end.  A hunt that wasn’t easy.  No, this was a very bad idea.

Why did they have to make it so complicated?  Why couldn’t Sam just get with the program?  Try to enjoy the hunt?  Open himself up to the training?  It wasn’t perfect, but it wasn’t without its perks.

And why couldn’t their dad ease up just a little?  Give Sammy some credit.  It was all or nothing with their dad, and while Dean was willing to take all of it, Sam was more likely to choose nothing.

But they didn’t get it--his dad and Sam.  Living at polar opposites, each convinced they’re doing the right thing even when they’re not.  Dean had learned a long time ago that life was never going to be fair and it was never going to be perfect.  He had to take the best that he could and give back what he could manage and let the chips fall where they may.  It didn’t give him everything in the world, but Dean had given up on most of it years ago.  

Now there was just the hunt and his family.  New creatures to kill, new weapons to play with, new moves to try.  And Dad and Sam there to back him up.

The simple pleasures.  He didn’t ask for more and therefore was never disappointed with less.

It kept them safer.

Didn’t it?

He sighed, letting his gaze go to the floor again.  He wanted to say something, to do something.  But there was just nothing to say.  Nothing he could think of that would make anything better.

“You okay, Dean?” his father’s voice interrupted his thoughts.

Dean startled a little, looking up and slinking further back in his seat.  “Yeah,” he said, offering up a lackluster grin.

His father hesitated, seemed to be thinking.  “Dean--”

Dean just shook his head.  “Just--don’t.  It’s okay.  Sam will be okay.”

“There was no way to know,” his father said.  “About the Jack.”

Dean couldn’t move at that, just clenched his jaw and wished his dad would stop talking.  

“It broke all the rules.”

At that, Dean just closed his eyes, swallowing slowly before he opened them again.  He shook his head.  “Sam started to figure it out.”

“Sam was distracted.”

Dean glared at his father.  “So this is his fault?”

His dad deflated, rubbing a hand through his hair.  “No,” his dad said.  “This is all of our faults.  It’s Sam for being so damn blind to what he needs to do, it’s yours for babying him, it’s mine for never knowing when to ease up.  It’s just the hunt, Dean.  This is what we do. This is why we train.  This is why we have to be damn near perfect because the evil out there just doesn’t stop, it never stops--”  His father’s voice gave out, cracking on the last word and he swallowed hard.

There was pain in his father’s voice, and a sadness Dean rarely saw, and Dean felt his anger waver.  “I’m the one who doesn’t forget that,” Dean managed to say.  “That’s why we pushed this week so hard.”

His father nodded.  “I was just so sure,” he said.  “That Sam would get it together.  If we pushed hard enough.  And then I didn’t believe him when he did.”

But Dean hadn’t either.  “So what do we do?” Because Dean could still hear Sam’s strangled gasps for air.  He could still see the tubing sticking out of his brother’s throat, and how young Sam had looked cradled in his father’s arms.

His father’s sigh was weary, downtrodden.  The things they never let Sam see.  Because Sam could never understand, not like they could.  He couldn’t understand that the hunt was about survival.  It was about family.  It was about all they had left in this world to fight for.  It was a pain Dean remembered like smoke in the night and the weight of his baby brother in his arms and that first and most important order, take your brother outside, as fast as you can. Now, Dean. Go!

And that was it.  That was why they were here.  Sam had been spared from that much and why couldn’t Sam just understand that was what hunting was all about?  Because life without it meant pain without making it better.  Hunting gave them purpose, the step ahead they needed...

But it also gave him a little brother with a crushed larynx and a hole in his neck.  Hunting had nearly taken the most important thing.

Dean didn’t know how to reconcile those facts, didn’t know how to make it parse.  How to need and loathe hunting when it was simply the very foundation he built his life around.

But he’d never seen anything like that.  The color of Sam’s face.  The blood on his neck. A nightmare he would never escape.

“Sam will be okay,” his father said.

Dean looked at him, dared to hoped, begged his dad to make this right somehow.  “You sure?”

His father nodded, eyes wet, before his face set once again.  “Sam will be okay and we’ll all train harder and we’ll work together and, you’ll see.  It will all be okay.”

It sounded so good, so exactly what he wanted more than guns and girls and ghouls.  And Dean had to believe because he had nothing to fall back on if he didn’t.

-o-

John was a good liar.  

He hadn’t always been, of course.  Much of his early life there’d been no need.  Not in the war, not with Mary.  Those were days of honesty, of pure fear and pure love and everything in between.

But Mary’s death made a liar out of him.  He’d promised to protect her, to protect her boys, and that lie was one he was still trying to rectify.

So he lied to get what he needed.  He lied on hunts.  He lied on insurance forms.  He lied to get credits cards.  Those were necessary lies, he told himself.  To get him to undo that first great one.

When he told Dean Sam would be okay, John almost believed the lie himself.  He was that good.

It was what Dean needed to hear.  The military man in him could appreciate that much.  Soldiers didn’t need the truth; they needed enough comfort and healthy fear to get them through the night.  And Dean always responded just like he should.

Sam never did.  Sam never did anything by the book.  Screwing up all week in training only to get his game face on when it counted, which was exactly the time John had stopped looking for it to show up.

Maybe he’d let his boy be a kid too long.  Let him live in that fantasy world where monsters weren’t real and where life was safe and simple.  Because what favor had he done the kid?  Finding out had been no less traumatic and now Sam wasn’t ready, didn’t have the right mindset at all, thought like some kid.

He was a kid.  His son was sixteen years old.

But damn it, Dean had been so much more at sixteen.  So much faster and stronger and smarter in the ways that mattered.

Not that Sam was stupid or slow.  He just didn’t have the focus.  Didn’t have the discipline.  No, his Sammy was still clinging to the vestiges of childhood that John had given in to for so long and it had blinded them all.  Made Dean distracted.  Made John short-sighted.  Made Sam hard to believe in.

But John had to believe in his baby boy now.  That Sam, when the chips were down, would prove himself to be the Winchester that he was.

He had, after all.  Sam had figured out the Jack’s pattern.  He had given John the tools he needed to track the son of a bitch.  And he’d been defiant to the end.  The Jack wanted fear, sought it out and Sam had refused to give it.  Not because he was a soldier, but because he had the pride and guts of his brother and his father in him.

For the good it did him.  Nearly got Sam killed.  

John could still hear it, the wet pop of Sam’s muscles and ligaments in his neck, the gurgle of his breath coming out the tubing.  And John could still see it, the badly bruised neck, long and disfigured, waxy in the moonlight.  And John could still feel it, the faint thudding of Sam’s heart against his chest and the rise of bile in his own throat as he held his baby boy.

This was why they trained.  This.  Right here.  And he’d told Dean that much truth.  They would train harder.  They would be better.  They would be on the same page or it would be the death of them all.

But not tonight.

God, not tonight.

“Mr. Winchester?” someone was asking, and John blinked and realized he was staring at a nurse.  She was smiling, a sort of sympathetic smile.  “The doctor would like to talk to you about your son.”

Dean was already up before John could clear his head enough to think.  “He’s okay?”

“The doctor will talk to you about his condition,” she said.

“Just tell me he’s okay,” John said again.

Her smile was wan.  “Your son is stable at the moment,” she said gently.  “Now, please.  This way.”

How he managed to stand, John wasn’t sure.  But he followed her down the hall, Dean at his heels, a constant presence.  He could always count on Dean.

The nurse was young, blond and perky.  John subconsciously catalogued her as non-threatening.  Too bad he hadn’t taken the same care when deciding Sam was ready to go up against the Jack.

 

The nurse seated them in a waiting room in the heart of the ER amidst crammed cubicles. “Dr. Albertson will be right with you.”

Dean spoke up, his tentative tone at odds with his usual bluster. “Please, is there any word on Sam?”

The nurse tucked a strand of hair behind her ear; it was a definite tell.  “I’m afraid I don’t have any news other than he’s stable.  I’m sure Dr. Albertson will update you.”

Her voice was thick with compassion and John had a moment of irrational fear.  He’d done everything he could for Sam but what if it hadn’t been enough?  He had already been making mental plans about how to bring his youngest back into line when in fact he should have been focusing on Sam’s survival.

“Mr. Winchester?  I’m Dr. Albertson.  We’ll be taking your son up to surgery.  After I explain what we’re doing for Sam I’ll have Angie bring the consent forms over to you.” The doctor was short, even shorter than Sammy, but he had a competent manner and immediately John let himself relax. Marginally. 

John nodded his assent.  He’d known Sam would require some sort of surgery, if nothing else then to repair the damage he’d caused when he’d forced the tube into his son’s neck.  The squish and pop of that maneuver stuck in John’s head and every time he thought of it, he was overcome with nausea.  The Jack had really injured his baby and John had finished what the creature had started. 

Clearing his voice to gain John’s wandering attention, the doctor launched into his explanation.  “Sam’s trachea and larynx were crushed.  He sustained severe tears to the muscles, ligaments, and cartilages in his neck that support the act of breathing.  Your decision to perform an emergency tracheotomy probably saved Sam’s life in the short term but with that procedure comes a host of complications, including infection and severe injury to the affected structures.” 

The doctor paused, watching John carefully to see if he was following. John could only nod numbly.  Dr. Albertson continued his litany of woes, “We’ve got Sam on a broad spectrum antibiotic and normally we would want to wait until the infection is under control before performing surgery but the trauma of the injury requires that we go in and clean up what we can otherwise even if Sam makes it, his breathing might be compromised and he would have to remain on mechanical ventilation.  That isn’t even taking into account the possible brain damage Sam may have suffered or the fact that his vocal cords have been torn to shreds.  But we’ll face those bridges when we get to them.  If you’d like to sit with Sam while we prep him for surgery, he’s in this cubicle.  Angie will be along with the paperwork for you to sign.”

As John awkwardly bumped past the doctor, his mind overloaded with the severity of Sam’s situation, the doctor patted him on the shoulder.  “I’m sorry that I couldn’t give you better news.  I’m afraid I can’t even speculate on his prognosis.  There are so many variables involved.  But if Sam makes it through surgery, and if he pulls through the next forty-eight hours, I’d say his chances will have dramatically improved.”

Blindly reaching out, John grasped Dean’s arm.  He wished he could comfort his oldest son but right now his whole attention was focused on the still figure lying on the exam table.

Sam’s color was milky white, a wheezing sound squeaking through the makeshift tube John had speared into his young son’s throat.  For once in his adult life, John didn’t have the answers.

Next

Comments

Posted by: Nebula (authoressnebula)
Posted at: March 21st, 2009 01:49 am (UTC)
spn brothers ahbl end 'i got you'

*stares*

Holy god SAMMY. Oh you brave, stubborn boy. You figured it out, knew why the Jack wanted more than fear-

And John still don't see it. *wants to smack him hard*

Please let John or Dean figure it out? *begs and pleads for Sammy* Oh baby boy, you gotta be OKAY-

Dear god you two are KILLING me. But it's a good killing because I'm loving this and ZOMG WANT MORE. *wants anxiously for the last part*

SO GOOD. I needed this so bad. EEEEEE!

~Nebula

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: March 26th, 2009 12:51 am (UTC)
i have these nightmares

I'm glad you're enjoying it! I know you appreciate a good hurt/comfort so we figured this would fit the bill.

Anyway, the final part is FINALLY up. It would have been up earlier but I had a really rough start to my week. Better late than never (I hope!).

Posted by: Moogs (moogsthewriter)
Posted at: March 21st, 2009 03:38 am (UTC)
SPN - AHBL motion

Super ditto to EVERYTHING Nebula said. GUH. Just plain GUH. So many emotions and angst and just... GUH. You both freakin' took the wind out of me.

A soon-ish update would be pretty much amazing. :) Looking forward to part 3.

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: March 26th, 2009 12:53 am (UTC)
geekboy

Not quite as soon-ish as we'd hope, but part three is up.

Thanks!

Posted by: Damsean (damsean)
Posted at: March 21st, 2009 04:36 am (UTC)

OMG, make it alright, plzz dont harm "TEH NECK", poor Sammy :(

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: March 26th, 2009 12:54 am (UTC)
christmas awe

But Sam's neck is so pretty! Bad guys can't help it...

But poor Sammy indeed.

Thanks :)

Posted by: devon99 (devon99)
Posted at: March 21st, 2009 09:37 pm (UTC)

As always, wonderful, emotive storytelling.
Look forward to part three.

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: March 26th, 2009 12:55 am (UTC)
forever

We're glad you're enjoying it.

Thanks!

Posted by: Dani (pinkphoenix1985)
Posted at: March 21st, 2009 09:45 pm (UTC)

this is just so great! I love that it's Sam who's figuring out things while John is stumbling in the dark about the Jack!

But oh boy! having John do surgery on Sam whilst in the cave was so scary!

I can't wait for part 3!!

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: March 26th, 2009 12:57 am (UTC)
boredom

So glad you're enjoying it.

Thanks!

Posted by: Dani (pinkphoenix1985)
Posted at: March 26th, 2009 07:44 pm (UTC)

:D I'm going to read it now and you guys must be so sick of me replying everywhere! ;)

*hugs*

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: March 29th, 2009 12:02 am (UTC)
brothers2

Nah, it makes us feel loved :)

Thanks!

Posted by: Dani (pinkphoenix1985)
Posted at: March 29th, 2009 06:03 pm (UTC)

*LOVES*

Posted by: *Bright (starbright73)
Posted at: March 22nd, 2009 10:18 pm (UTC)
Hurt Sam (Home)

I'm here thanks to sendintheclowns and Gah! *rips hair* I want to smack John, hard! For not seeing Sam for who he is. And then I want to kinda hug him for getting oer himself and actually getting Sam to breathe!

And now I'm quietly whimpering because of Sam's injuries and the incredible pain!

And Dean! I can feel the love he has for Sammy in every action he makes. *cries*

I'm so friending you to get the update asap! *wink*

Marvellously detailed story, love it to pieces!

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: March 26th, 2009 12:57 am (UTC)
alone again

Always good to have new friends :) Especially Sam girls.

Part three is up. Thanks!

15 Read Comments