The Winchester boys are overdue, and Ellen is pissed. They're staying at the Roadhouse for a few days taking care of a hunt only a few miles north, and now they're nearly two full days later than expected, without a peep. Ellen wipes down the counter with a little more force than necessary, swearing under her breath as she expects every car that pulls up to contain Sam and Dean.
Not that she cares, though. She doesn't. What's it to her if the Amazing Brothers Winchester get themselves killed?
But as the clock tick tick ticks away, and hunters and anyone else who stumbles into her bar cycle in and out, her stomach gets more and more clenched, her throat tighter and tighter. Jo looks up as she brings empty glasses back, concerned eyes locking with Ellen's.
"You think they're okay, Mom?" She asks, her voice more subdued than usual.
Ellen snorts and shakes her head because she doesn't care, she really, really doesn't- then hesitates before answering.
"They're fine, Jo. They're good hunters. Good instincts."
Jo gives her a look that makes it clear she isn't buying her mother's words. Ellen flicks her dishtowel at her.
"Shut up, Joanna Beth," she says. Jo smirks and turns away again. Ellen goes back to scrubbing at the counter.
Hours later she's in bed, just on the cusp of dozing off when there's a pounding at the door. It's not a drunk pounding, or an angry pounding, but a desperate one. Ellen pulls on a robe and hurries down the stairs. Jo is right behind her.
"Who's there?" Ellen yells at the door, though her stomach sinks at the thought of it being who she suspects.
"Dean." He sounds tired and worn out, his deep voice even huskier than usual. Ellen opens the door to find Dean with one arm looped around Sam's waist, the other holding Sam's arm around his shoulder. Sam, though conscious, is clearly out of it.
"What the hell happened?" Ellen demands, ushering the boys inside and slipping an arm around Sam's other side. She isn't surprised to see Jo standing there. "Jo, grab the first aid kit."
Jo scurries off as Dean and Ellen help Sam into the nearest chair. Sam hisses painfully, and Ellen immediately starts checking for injuries.
"What happened?" She asks again, shooting a glance at Dean. For the first time, Ellen notices that he's carefully guarding his right side, breathing gingerly. "You okay?"
Dean waves a hand in Sam's direction. "I'm fine. Just cracked some ribs. Sam's hurt worse."
Ellen frowns and turns back to the younger Winchester. There are definite signs of concussion, and one shoulder seems out of place. There's a bandage wrapped around one arm, obviously done in haste.
"Took us longer than usual to find the Rugaru's nest, and we were about to take it down when a stupid kid stumbled onto us," Dean says, and his voice is ever so slightly breathy. Ellen makes a mental note of it to herself as she starts to unwind the bandage from Sam's arm.
"I went to help the kid and the damn thing barreled into me," Dean continues. "I was down and it was going for the kid, so Sam ran distraction. He got banged up before I could waste the son of a bitch."
Ellen nods, prodding gently at Sam's wound; it's a long cut, jagged, but not too deep. A handful of stitches should be fine.
"Here," Jo says, materializing next to Ellen and holding out the first aid kit.
"Thanks," Ellen says, taking the kit and setting it on the table next to Sam. She starts feeling at the large knot behind Sam's ear.
"He's got a concussion, but it's not too bad," Dean adds, watching intently as Ellen patches Sam up. Ellen nods again, having come to the same conclusion herself.
"He's right here," Sam grumbles, squinting up at Ellen. "And he's just fine."
Ellen snorts and rolls her eyes, then turns to the shoulder.
"Looks like you dislocated it," she says, frowning. "Why didn't you pop it back in?"
"Dean tried," Sam answers, and Dean makes a kind of embarrassed noise. "Couldn't get enough leverage with his ribs banged up."
Ellen sighs, then turns to Jo.
"Can you go get Ash? Tell him the Winchesters banged themselves up and I need his help." She's a good enough medic, but Sam is huge, and she's not a miracle worker.
"Besides," Sam says, wincing as Ellen starts stitching his arm, "I knew you would do it when we got back." He grins cheekily at her, all big eyes and lanky hair.
"About that," Ellen says, feeling the concern die down and the anger flare up. "I really don't appreciate you boys running late and not letting me know."
Sam looks confused and a little indignant.
"Ellen, we're adults-"
"I know that, Winchester, but you're staying under my roof. As long as that's happening, you're telling me where you are, when you'll be back, and you're sure as hell telling me if you're going to be late!"
Sam opens his mouth to argue, but Ellen glares at him.
"If the next words out of your mouth are not 'I understand' or 'Yes, Ma'am,' or 'Gee, you're right Ellen, I'm sorry we were so irresponsible,' you're going to regret it."
Sam winces and ducks his head, looking properly cowed.
"Tell me you understand," Ellen orders.
"I understand," Sam mumbles.
"And? What are you going to say, Dean?"
She's expecting a snarky comment. Maybe 'Yes, Mother,' or, 'Aww, you do care!' Instead, Dean says nothing. Ellen can hear the smack of dry lips, the squeal of air, but it's not until Dean's knees give out and he drops to the ground that Ellen realizes how blue he is.
"Shit!" Sam yells, bolting upright and wincing in pain.
"Stay there," Ellen orders, pointing threateningly at the youngest Winchester even as she hurries to the older. "I don't need you distracting me while your brother's in trouble."
Sam stops moving, clearly shocked at the sudden turn of events. Ellen has just reached Dean's side when Jo and Ash come back into the room, Ash shuffling sleepily, his hair mussed.
"The hell?" He asks, blinking as he takes in Sam propped up on the table and Dean in a heap on the floor.
"Ash, I need you to help Jo pop Sam's shoulder in while I check up on Dean," Ellen orders, gently rolling Dean onto his back. His skin is a milky white, and his lips are a startling shade of blue. His fingernails show the same coloring.
"Damn fool," she mutters under her breath as she bends over Dean's chest. He's had to have trouble breathing for a little while to get that blue, and he never said a word. Ellen curses the Winchester stubbornness even as she digs a couple fingers into Dean's throat, searching for a heartbeat. She's relieved to find a pulse, less relieved when she realizes how erratic it is. His breathing sounds even worse, rattling and shallow and pained.
Sam lets out a muffled yell from the table, and Ash mutters a pleased 'Got it!' Ellen's just glad that one thing, at least, is going right.
"Dean?" Ellen says, slapping lightly at Dean's cheek. "Come on, Winchester."
Dean doesn't respond at all. Ellen knuckles his sternum.
"th' hell?" Dean mumbles, clearly disoriented.
"Hey, stay with me Dean. Where does it hurt?"
Ellen isn't stupid. It hurts on his right side. Still, she needs him conscious and doubts he'll be able to focus on much else.
Dean sucks in a desperate breath, his eyes wide. "Side," he pants. "Ribs."
Ellen nods and runs a hand over his ribcage, pressing lightly. Dean lets out a strangled cry that has Sam launching off the table and stumbling to his side.
"Ellen?" Sam asks, turning frightened eyes on her.
Ellen shakes her head. "Three busted ribs. One of 'em probably punctured a lung."
Sam pales and turns to Dean.
"Shit," he mutters. Dean gasps abruptly and chokes, fingernails digging into the wood floor as he scrabbles for some kind of hold. Ellen helps Sam prop him up and watches without surprise as Sam scrambles behind his brother, tucking Dean's lolling head against his chest. He winces for a minute as pressure is put on his bad shoulder, but he doesn't seem to care that much as Dean's breathing eases a bit.
"Ash, I need you to get hold of Przybylski, tell him we need him."
"Pr- what?" Sam murmurs as Ash nods and disappears into his room.
"He's a doctor, Sam."
Jo crouches down next to Ellen, taking in Dean's pallor and labored breathing. Sam's pale too, jaw clenched, but he looks determined.
"Do you want me to switch you places?" Jo asks. Sam shakes his head vehemently.
"I've got him," he says.
"Yo Ellen," Ash calls, poking his head out of his room. "Bylski says he'll be here. Pissed as hell that I woke him up, but he's comin'."
"Thanks," Ellen says, then turns to Sam. "Okay Sam, I'm thinking that your brother is going to need to be up on the table. So Jo and I are gonna clean it off and then I need you to help me move him. Think you're up for it?"
Sam sits up straighter and nods. "Yeah," he says, "I'm okay." His words are carefully measured, like he's worried they'll betray the pain he's feeling and Ellen can tell he's lying through her teeth, but she doesn't say anything. Ellen stands and with Jo, clears off the table then grabs a bottle of bleach and gives it a quick scrubbing down. On the floor, Sam is talking lowly to Dean, who looks on the verge of losing consciousness completely.
"Hey," Sam murmurs, jostling his shoulder lightly. "Awake, Dean."
Dean nods tiredly. "Am," he says succinctly.
"I know you are," Sam answers. "Just stay that way."
Dean grunts/groans in response.
Table cleaned, Ellen crouches down next to Dean and presses a gentle hand to his forehead. It's sweaty and clammy, confirming that he's well on his way to shock. A glance at his face reveals that he's awake, barely, his eyelids at half-mast, his lips still that eerie shade of blue. His breathing is shallow, rattling, and Ellen curses the Winchesters under her breath. If she comes out of this with anything less than a head of gray hair, she'll consider it a win.
"How much longer?" Sam asks, the worry practically dripping from his voice. The long fingers of one hand are tangled in Dean's hair, the other wrapped protectively around Dean's waist to keep him from listing too badly.
"Not too much," Ellen answers, keeping the "hopefully" to herself. "Let's get him on the table, okay?"
Sam nods and shifts behind Dean with a grimace, so that Ellen is for a moment the only thing keeping Dean upright through her grip on his forearms. His head lolls forward and Ellen feels a spike of panic.
"Hey, none of that," she murmurs, lifting Dean's head as Sam supports him from the back. Dean's eyes are closed and his face is nearly devoid of all color aside from the blue tint of his lips. The wheezing, rattling gasps are barely audible and too far apart for Ellen's liking.
Together, she and Sam lift Dean's limp form and settle him on the table, while Jo tucks pillows under his head to prop him up and ease his breathing. It isn't helping very much. Ellen sits in a chair next to the table, one hand gripping Dean's wrist, the other on his chest. Damn if this boy doesn't bring out the mama bear side of her with a vengeance.
"Ash! Where's that damn doctor?" Ellen demands as Dean's breathing hitches and stops for a second before starting up again. Sam starts pacing next to the table, his good arm coming up to mess with his hair again and again, shooting nervous glances at Dean and Ellen.
"He's- shit, he's gonna be okay, right? I mean, he's always okay, right? Damn it," he mutters. Ellen remembers abruptly that Sam's concussed and maybe shouldn't be pacing in circles right before Sam passes out, narrowly missing clocking his head on the table.
"What the hell?" Ash demands, hurrying into the room. "They're dropping like flies!"
Sam's already coming around, blinking rapidly and moaning, bringing his good hand up to his head.
"Just stay down, Sam. Don't need you going out on us again."
"I've got him, Sam. Doc'll be here any time now."
"Okay," Sam murmurs. Dean's breathing hitches again and takes longer to resume, and Ellen's starting to worry that he's going to stop completely before the doctor gets here if it isn't soon.
"Mom?" Jo asks, frowning. Ellen tries to smile reassuringly, though it's blatantly clear that Jo isn't buying.
"Bylski needs to hurry," she says finally. Jo's face tightens and she nods. Ellen brushes a hand through Dean's hair and leans down, relieved to feel the slight puff of air on her cheek.
"You hang on, Winchester," she says close to his ear. "I do not want you dying on my table, hear me?"
The sudden pounding at the door startles her, but she's relieved and grateful when Jo opens the door and Bylski stumbles in, arms laden with medical supplies.
"Over here, Doc," Ellen says, waving the man over. He's old, with lanky white hair and a bushy white beard and huge glasses that make his eyes look owlishly large.
"Whoa, who is that?" Sam demands, struggling to get to his feet with Ash holding him down. "He's ancient!"
Ellen rolls her eyes, and Bylski shakes his head as he pulls an oxygen mask over Dean's face.
"I've been practicing medicine since before you were born, son," he says, pulling a stethoscope from his bag. "And I'm still plenty nimble. Now shut up and let me look at your brother."
Sam blinks in surprise and Ellen chuckles, then abruptly stops as she notices the look on Bylski's face.
"Stopped breathing," Bylski says tersely, then hands Ellen a mask with a bag attached that fits neatly over Dean's face. "You take over, I'm gonna insert a chest tube."
Ellen nods, hands suddenly shaking, and starts squeezing the bag. Sam's screaming incoherently in the background, with Jo and Ash trying to calm him. Bylski snaps on a pair of gloves, then pulls out a scalpel and makes a small incision between two of Dean's ribs. Ellen forces herself not to turn away, to be there for Dean through the whole thing. She can hear Sam sobbing exhaustedly behind her, yet another side effect of the concussion.
"I need a water bottle," Bylski says, "but not full. 'Bout a third empty."
Jo nods and scrambles into the kitchen as Bylski sticks a finger into the incision he's just made. Ellen swallows down the bile that starts to rise and continues to watch as Bylski sticks a tube into Dean's chest. Jo hurries back with the water bottle and Bylski puts the end of the chest tube into it, watching with satisfaction as the water starts bubbling. Dean gasps suddenly and starts to cough before settling again, breaths sawing in and out.
"Nice job, Doc," Ellen says, lightly stroking Dean's forehead.
"Badass," Ash adds, nodding his approval. Sam, for his part, has levered himself up from the floor to see for himself that Dean's okay.
"He's okay? He's going to be okay?" He asks, looking frantically from Ellen to Dean and back again.
"Sure," Bylski says. "Probably sore for awhile, and he'll need to be careful about straining himself for a few weeks. He'll be fine though."
"Thanks," Sam says, smiling tiredly. "Guess you're okay for an old guy."
Bylski snorts. "I could kick your ass, kid. Now take a seat at the bar and let me check you over."
Ellen rolls her eyes fondly as she listens to Sam and Doc bickering and turns back to Dean, who is starting to come around.
"Hey, hey Dean. How you feeling?"
Dean groans, throwing an arm across his eyes.
"Better. I guess. I can breathe, but hurts like hell."
"Yeah, well. You kinda deserve it, you idiot."
Dean blinks in confusion.
"You should've said something, Dean. You had to have known you were in trouble for awhile before you finally collapsed."
Dean smiles sheepishly and shrugs, then winces and lets out a hiss of pain.
"Ellen, Sam was hurt-"
"I don't care if Sam's hurt, if you're hurt too you tell me. Do you understand me, Dean Winchester?"
Dean grins and shakes his head.
"I'll tell you," he says, "but Sammy comes first. Always."
"I know," Ellen says, smiling and gently ruffling Dean's hair. "Get some sleep, Winchester."
Dean's already starting to drift off, smiling softly as Ellen tucks a pillow under his head and a blanket around his shoulder. She brushes the hair away from his forehead and, once she's certain that no one is looking, she leans down and presses a quick kiss to his hair.
"Felt that," Dean murmurs sleepily.
"I'll deny it," Ellen answers, shaking her head.