Dean got the call a few hours after he dropped Sam off at the library.
He had been hanging out at the only bar in town, playing a little pool and trying to get as much info from the slack-jawed, knuckle dragging locals as he could without sounding like a complete weirdo. While Sam was good at finding information from books or the internet, Dean was more skilled at getting people to open up to him and talk. For the most part, he was usually successful, unfortunately, no one in this town had found anything suspicious about the recent cattle deaths. Apparently cattle in the area had come down with a rather virulent form of cow pneumonia or shit like that and lots of ranchers had lost animals to it. Sometimes a steer might not be found for days after it died, its body bloating in the heat until it burst open which could explain why they looked like they had been mutilated. As for anyone that might have killed the cows as some kind of ritual sacrifice to Satan, he really doubted that anyone in this little god-fearing part of Utah would ever worship the devil and broaching the subject had only gained him some sideways looks.
Dean was beginning to think that they were just wasting their time here unless Sam turned up something at the library.
Thinking of Sam, Dean had already pulled out his phone to call him and see if his brother had found anything during his research, but before he could dial, it suddenly began to ring. His caller ID displayed Sam's number and he grinned a little at his brother's timing.
"Hey. I was just about to call you. You find anything?"
"Uh …" An unfamiliar, and somewhat nervous-sounding, female voice spoke, "I'm sorry?"
Dean's brow creased, worry and confusion warring with each other, "Who is this? How do you have my brother's phone?"
"Oh …my name's Margaret Miller and I work at the Uintah County library." The woman spoke quickly, her voice hitched with uncertainty, "I'm sorry to use his phone, but I wasn't sure what else to do. I found it next to him and I figured that the last number he dialed would be someone who knew him. I didn't know his name and the paramedics didn't know what to call him so I –"
Dean felt his heart leap into his throat. Paramedics? "Whoa, whoa … Back up. What are you talking about, paramedics?"
"Yes … sorry, but this young man came into the library today for a few hours and then he asked me to use the restroom. He didn't look all that well and I didn't want to pry, but he had been in there an awfully long time … I'm a little ashamed to say that I knocked on the door to ask if he was alright, but he didn't answer, so I went in … I don't really know what happened to him, but I found him on the floor. So, I called for an ambulance –"
A chill raced up and down Dean's spine. Sam had been fine, albeit a sore, when he dropped him off at the library. What could have happened? Was he attacked? "Ambulance? Where is he now?"
"Uh … the county hospital off Highway 50 about 20 miles from here."
Dean ended the call abruptly, never bothering to say good-bye to the woman and kicked back his chair, racing for the door. A few moments later, he was in the car, pushing it to the limits of its muscular engine, heading directly for the hospital
Sam woke to a bright light burning a hole into his eyes. He jerked his head to escape it and then felt a hand touch his shoulder.
"Take it easy, Buddy. You're going to be just fine." A male voice spoke to him as he lifted his heavy eyelids, taking in unfamiliar surroundings with a strange feeling of detachment. A face came into blurry focus before Sam's eyes and smiled kindly, slipping a pen-light into his shirt pocket. He could feel movement underneath and all around him as the world swayed a little from side to side. Sam tried to piece it all together in his foggy brain, concluding after several confusing moments of looking around him and the equipment that surrounded him, that he was in an ambulance.
"Wha …? Where …?" Was all he could manage to get out.
"You're on your way to the hospital. You passed out at the library. Do you remember that?"
Sam nodded after having to think for a moment … yeah … he remembered feeling awful, his back killing him, and needing to pee … after that, it was all kind of fuzzy.
"What's your name?" The face asked.
"Okay, Sam. Can you tell me if you're feeling any pain?"
Sam nodded again. His back might have been on fire, given how hot and searing the stabbing pain was. In fact, everything ached, but nothing came close to the screaming his nerves were doing from his spine all the way down to his toes.
"Where does it hurt, Sam?"
"Your back?" the face asked again, making Sam wonder if the words he was speaking were actually making any sense.
Sam nodded again, too tired to talk anymore. He just wanted to go back to sleep and run away from the agony his body was inflicting on him.
"ETA is five minutes, Bill." Another voice called out from behind Sam's head, "How's he doing?"
"Pupils are equal and reactive and he's just now come around. BP's a little low, and his temp's at 104.5." The face spoke, turning his head to the other speaker.
Sam let his eyes slipped closed for the briefest of seconds, but a rub against his sternum had him flicking his eyes back open, "Hey now, Sam. Think you can try to stay awake for me? We're almost to the hospital and the doctors are going to want to ask you some more questions, okay?"
Nodding again, Sam consciously fought the urge to let his eyes close and give in to sleep. Dean probably would have slapped him across the face to keep him awake, but it was the sudden realization that his brother wasn't there, that truly woke him up.
"My brother … Dean. I need to call him." Sam tried to convey to the face hovering above him.
"Alright, Sam. Don't worry. We'll get a hold of your brother when we get you looked at by the doctors, okay?"
Sam didn't want to wait. He needed to speak to Dean now before his brother went crazy trying to find him. He'd run out on Dean before and after the incident with Gordon nearly got Dean killed, Sam had learned a valuable lesson about trust and how much better he and his brother worked when they were together rather than apart. Dean might think that he had taken off again if he showed up to the library only to find Sam missing and he didn't want him to think that Sam would do that to him again.
Trying to slip his hand into his jacket pocket for his phone, he was crushed to find that his pocket was empty and his phone gone.
Sam wanted to ask the face what had happened to it, but at that moment, the momentum of the vehicle ceased and the man sprang into action. After that, Sam was swallowed up in a whirlwind of activity, being swiftly unloaded from the ambulance and then pushed into the Emergency department of the hospital. The pain in his back hitched up several notches every time the gurney he was on moved and he had to use all of his concentration on not dissolving into a whimpering mess of sobs and tears.
Eventually, he was moved into a curtained off area where he was met by a young doctor whose name came and went through his head like a sieve, but whose youth reminded Sam of Doogie Howser. He was stripped, dressed in a gown, poked and prodded, hooked up to an IV, asked for a urine sample (not a pleasant experience) and then asked questions about his back, how he got that massive bruise, how it happened, when it happened, when he started feeling feverish, was there blood in his urine and so on and so on. Sam answered as best as he could without going into what really happened and came up with a rather weak story about falling on a rock a couple of days ago. Even half-lucid from the pain, he knew he couldn't just come right out and say that he was digging up a grave with his brother and got thrown into a headstone by an angry ghost. It was bad enough being in a hospital in the first place, he didn't want to visit the psych ward as well.
The worse bit came when a nurse turned him over onto his good side and the doctor explained he needed to perform an ultrasound on his back.
"Sorry … the gel's a little cold." The doctor apologized as he squirted a health measure onto left flank. The coldness of the gel turned out to be the least of Sam's complaints as the device's probe was pressed firmly into his back. Sam grunted in pain, his hand gripping the rail of the bed as he squeezed his eyes shut tight and bit his lip to keep from crying out. The damned doctor seemed to take his time, digging into Sam's throbbing back like he was tenderizing a piece of meat all the while telling stupid jokes that even the nurses wouldn't laugh at. It seemed as though the only person that found him funny was himself.
At last, the doctor finished his exam of his back, but then had Sam turn over so he could do the same to his abdomen. At least his abdomen wasn't nearly as tender as his back and the ultrasound was over far quicker than his back and when the doctor finally removed the probe, he pulled over a wheeled stool and took a seat.
"Well …" The doctor began, his light and far too chipper for how terrible Sam was feeling, "You should be happy to know that you are not pregnant …" The doctor chuckled at his own weak joke and if the meds the nurses had spiked his IV with hadn't already begun to kick in and make him feel like he was going to float away, Sam would have seriously considered punching him in his smug face.
"Just kidding, of course." The doctor sniggered, the tried to put on a serious face and cleared his throat when it finally seemed to dawn on him that no one found him amusing, "Anyway, your abdomen is clear and your bladder looks good, so we can rule those out as the cause of blood in your urine, but I did see a little bit of bleeding going on either in your kidney or around it. It's nothing massive or life-threatening right now, but I want to do a CT scan so I can get a better look at your kidney and see if surgery is needed or not. My guess is that you've got a bruised kidney and the fever your running is caused by some infection settling in at the sight of injury. I'm going to go ahead and start you on some antibiotics to clear up the infection and then the nurse will have you taken down to CT to get your scan, okay? Any questions?"
"My brother …" Sam started, but by then, the drugs he had been given were definitely starting to make it hard for him to keep his eyes open. At least the pain had died down to just an irritating ache rather than a debilitating fire. "Need to call 'im."
"What's his name and number? One of the nurses can call him for you."
"Dean." Sam tried answer, his words slurring together while he attempted lift stubborn eyelids that were closing without his consent, "His number is … uh … 555 —"
In Sam's mind, he relayed the rest of the numbers to the waiting doctor, never knowing that he was fast asleep before he could speak the last four digits.
Sam floated somewhere in the twilight, answering questions when needed, but then forgetting he'd even said anything the next moment. He was vaguely aware of being moved into the CT scanner and after that being told by the doctor that the results showed that he wouldn't need surgery, and that the bleed was rather small and should heal itself in a week or two. He would, however, need to stay in the hospital a few days to monitor the kidney and receive IV antibiotics since the fever and the infection running rampant in his urinary tract was most likely what caused him to pass out in the first place.
All of this information Sam absorbed without really registering anything, it mostly just skimmed over the surface of his consciousness as the painkilling drugs in his system made it difficult to keep his eyes open.
He hadn't even realized that he was on the move again until an orderly began pushing his gurney from the Radiology department and back towards the emergency room bay he had started off in. Apparently, he had to wait there until a room opened up for him and it might be a few hours before that happened.
Only half-awake, Sam was brought back into clearer alertness as he was pushed back into the ER. The noise of frantic activity occurring at the end of the bay was loud and distracting, but Sam couldn't make out what was happening. However, one thing he could see was the back of a very familiar leather jacket.
Dean … Dean was here, but his attention seemed to be focused on whatever was going on at the end of the room.
"Whoa … wait. Stop." He tried to ask of the orderly pushing him, but his tongue was sluggish and fat in his mouth, making it come out all garbled. The orderly made no sign of hearing him and went about his job, pushing Sam and the gurney back behind the curtain where he knew Dean wouldn't be able to see him and then walking away before Sam could ask him to bring his brother over.
Frustrated that Dean was so close, but oblivious to his presence, Sam set his jaw determinedly, ignoring the violent twinging in his back to raise himself up to his elbows and then rolled himself off of the bed. The combination of pain radiating up and down his back coupled with the drugs almost sent Sam to the floor, but grasping the nearby IV pole he was attached to, he managed to pull himself to his feet. Thankfully, the IV pole set upon a set of caster wheels and he was able to shuffle in his stocking feet, half-bent over in just a hospital gown while holding onto the pole and moving slowly forward at a snail's pace.
It was probably only about ten steps from Sam's bed to end of the curtain where he could finally see Dean's back again, but it might as well been a mile given how much he was panting and sweating. But, being able to see his brother bolstered his endurance and he was able to catch his breath long enough to raise his voice loud enough for his brother to hear him.
Dean couldn't move, couldn't breathe. The world around him faded into the background and all he could hear was white noise buzzing in his ears while his feet had grown roots, sticking to the floor, his hand frozen, tightly gripping the fabric of the curtain he had pulled back, knuckles bright white with the pressure.
No no no no no no …
This was not happening.
Sam had been fine. He had been fine!
Dean's mind flashed, seeing his brother's first steps, his first words, his first hunt, the first time he rolled his eyes at Dean, his laugh, his smile, the last time he saw him …
God, no …
He couldn't be …
He could still hear Sam's voice …
"Dean … gah …" and Sam's voice sounded like he was in pain – pain he should have been there to prevent.
A hand touched his shoulder and Dean jumped, snapped out of his paralysis, ready to fight – ready to kill whatever had done this to his brother. Whatever it was … it was going to pay. Anger, searing and hot boiled in his veins and he whirled.
"Dean! Jesus!" Sam stood before him, griping a pole with one arm while the other was raised in defense to Dean's balled fists, "What's your problem?"
Dean could hardly believe it. His head darted between the man standing next to him and the other one in the bed lying dead. Many eyes in the room were on them now, but Dean paid them little heed and the nurse whose back had been blocking most of his view of the man in the bed turned at the sound of the commotion, revealing to Dean the truth of what he had assumed had happened.
Aside from the hair, the dead man in the bed looked absolutely nothing like Sam.
Dean turned back to his brother, relief and hope and joy nearly overwhelming him, "Sammy?"
"Dean? You okay?" Sam asked, leaning heavily to the IV pole he was still attached to, face pale and pinched, but nothing about his appearance really registered with Dean other than 'Sam's alive!' as he pulled his living, breathing brother into a crushing hug.
Sam immediately stiffened and started going down. "Ahhhh, gah …" If Dean hadn't already had his arms around his brother, Sam would have hit the floor. Hearing Sam in pain, guilt flooded Dean all over again as he supported his brother and helped him to stay on his feet. Clearly, Sam wasn't doing hot and there he was making things worse. God … he was such an idiot.
"Shit, Sam! I'm Sorry!"
Sam recovered a little and shook his head, "It's okay …" He said breathlessly, "Just … bed's over there." He pointed to an empty bed that Dean swore hadn't been there earlier. Dean kept a firm arm around Sam's waist and helped him back to the bed, letting Sam keep a grip on the IV pole for extra support. Careful not to hurt his brother again, Dean was gentle in helping Sam get back on the bed and grabbed the discarded blanket lying on the floor, draping it over Sam's long legs.
"Better?" Dean asked.
Sam just nodded, his hair hiding his pale features as they crinkled in pain. Coming down from the emotional overload he had just experienced, Dean was left with a butt-load of questions that needed answering. Sam looked like crap and whoever dared to lay a hand on him was going to learn just how good a shot Dean Winchester was.
"Dude … what happened?" Dean asked as Sam turned onto his good side, his eyes lazily blinking. Sam looked like he'd been drugged to the gills and while this was usually amusing to Dean, he wasn't done trying to get to the bottom of what happened. "Who did this?"
"No one did this. I guess I just hurt my back worse than I thought." Sam slurred as he explained with a yawn, as if that would clear things up for Dean.
"What? That's it?" Dean looked at his now sleepy brother incredulously, "The lady from the library called me and said she found you unconscious in the bathroom. You don't get that way from just a bruised back."
"Uh …" Sam rubbed his face, looking a little guilty, "Yeah … that's what I thought too. Apparently I bruised my kidney when I hit that headstone the other day and I picked up an infection on top of it. Doctor says I gotta stay here a few days for observation and IV antibiotics, but I'll be fine."
"Dude … I could tell you were hurting, but if you were running a fever or something you should have told me."
"Honestly, I didn't think it was that bad." Sam replied in defense, his eyes still a little loopy, but his voice gaining a little more coherency. "I mean, I was pretty sore and I felt kinda crappy, but you and I have both been hurt far worse. Hell – you once went a week with a broken wrist before getting it looked at."
"Still … why didn't you call me when it got worse?"
"I was going to, but I had to use the bathroom, but while I was there, I guess I just … well …sorta passed out." Sam admitted, the flush in his face all the more pronounced compared to how pale his skin was.
Dean grinned a little wryly, "You mean you fainted … like a girl swooning over a boy band. And in a public bathroom? Dude ... that's just gross. Did you at least zip first or did Madame Librarian get to see the family goods?"
Sam, even doped up and half-asleep managed to pull off a spectacular bitchface, "Shut up," he mumbled, his eyes no longer battling to stay open as his breathing evened out into a deep sleep.
Dean couldn't find a chair nearby, so he took a seat on the side of the bed Sam wasn't occupying and tried not to act like a creeper watching over his little brother as he slept, but he just couldn't help the occasional look Sam's way as he drooled into his pillow, oblivious to the harsh world around him.
Only twenty minutes earlier, Dean had assumed that he had lost his brother, but there he was, sleeping soundly next to him, his warm shoulder just brushing Dean's knee - sometimes it was good to be wrong. Leaning back against the head of Sam's bed, Dean pillowed the back of his head with his hands and relaxed, safe in the knowledge for now that Sam would be okay.
As Dean closed his eyes, exhausted from a day filled with some many ups and downs, he found that 'thankful' was a word that barely scratched the surface of how he felt.
Thanks so much for reading! :)