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Breathe

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The sewing kit was underneath the first aid kit, both stacked on the toilet tank, because his father always saw everything, knew everything.

Dean shrugged out of his coat, dropping it to the floor and kicking it into a corner behind the door, knowing he’d examine and repair it when he was no longer at risk of bleeding on it.  The flannel came next, material on one side drawn into tatters like the fringe on a buckskin jacket.  Unsalvageable, but it might make decent rags.

He dropped it in the sink.

His t-shirt was plastered to him, a stiff and blackened bandage.  He gave up trying to peel it away in favor of soaking it off.

His jeans were bloody, but otherwise unscathed, a fact he was grateful for as he only had two pair to his name.

Steam had fogged the mirror by the time he stepped into the spray, and he gritted his teeth against the scald of water entering his cuts, telling himself it had to be cleaning them well to hurt that badly.

The cotton eventually relinquished its hold, and he eased it off, another useless scrap, this one damaged almost beyond recognition.

He turned his back to the spray, lathering his hair once, twice, three times, with each rinse carrying the cleansing foam over his chest to runnel into the deep cuts there, sanitizing them.

He turned off the shower, palming an apartment-sized bottle of dish soap, and began to work it into his lacerations.  From there he moved onto his groin, hand working behind and beneath him, making sure to scour every millimeter of flesh between mid-thigh and waist.

He lifted the handheld shower head from its rack, turned the tap to its hottest setting, and rinsed.

 

Then repeated it all.

 

And did it again.

 

Finally satisfied, he reached for a towel. He dried his hair and back, ignoring the front of his torso, and wrapped the towel around his waist.

The fan in the motel bathroom was apparently decorative, and he had to wipe the steam from the mirror with his repurposed shirt before he could examine his new marks.

Punctures, always a tricky wound to judge, ringed the curve of his jaw.  They were swollen and tender, but had bled little, which only told him that his jugular veins and carotid arteries had been spared.  Given that he was upright -- he hadn’t bled out somewhere -- that wasn’t new information.  He had no idea how deep the beast’s claws had penetrated, but other than washing out the wounds one more time, there was nothing to be done.

His chest was another story, one that his shirts had alluded to.  Parallel gashes in quadruplets, high and deep on the right, low and less so on the left.   Left-handed werewolf.  Weird.  

They looked clean enough, but Dean grimaced, realizing he’d need to suture the worst of them, and that it would require that he use his left hand.   Hope it’s better at that than the other job I tried to give it.  Not a very rewarding blind date.

John rapped a knuckle softly on the bathroom door.  “Need anything, Son?”

Longing and loss pulsed sharply in his chest, then faded.  “No, I’m good.  Just gotta sew up my coat.”

He waited through the silence to see if his father would accept that small lie and just leave.

“Alright,” and he sounded reluctant, but resigned.  “I’m goin’ to bed, but go ahead and wake me if you need anything.”

“Yes, sir.  ‘Night.”

Dean blinked rapidly, clearing his eyes, then drew in a breath and held it while he threaded the needle.


 

 

“Sweats and sneakers are okay today, Dean.”  His father had tilted Dean’s head, first to one side, then the other, and prodded the punctures gently before pronouncing the young hunter fit for training.

“Thanks, sir.” He had, of course, avoided disclosing the extent of his injuries to John.  

The trip to the school was quiet, each Winchester lost in thought, and none willing to share.

Sam cast Dean an apologetic glance as he headed into school, and Dean smiled a “No big deal, bro” in return.

The football field was bright in the morning light, promising a scorching day, but Dean kept his sigh internal.  If his dad wanted to put the effort into training him, it meant he hadn’t decided Dean was too much of a liability to allow him to hunt, and there was no way  he was going to risk changing the man’s mind.

“Ten and twenty?”

John’s sharp gaze scanned his older son appraisingly.  “For starters.”

Dean couldn’t help but grin as he turned away to start the first lap.


 

 

 

‘S not bad , he assured himself, ignoring the fact that even his unspoken words came between huffs for breath.   You always feel like this by the last trip up the risers.

Not this bad, he answered himself, and scowled at the unsolicited contention.

Stop bein’ a pussy.

He made it to the grass on shaky legs and lowered himself weakly to the ground, proud of himself for not ending his laps with a puke-fest this time.

‘Cause you were movin’ like somebody’s grandma, that inner voice sneered at  him.  He pretended to ignore it.

“Not bad.  Little slower than the other day, but you got it done.  We’ll up it next time.”

An internal groan translated to “Yes, sir” as it left his mouth.

His father offered him a water bottle.  “One minute, then push-ups and a wall sit.”

Dean accepted the gift, resting it on his thigh until he’d caught his breath enough to drink.  Sweat streamed down his face ineffectually, and as before, his clothing was soaked through.  This time it wasn’t all sweat, and for the hundredth time that day Dean congratulated himself for owning so much dark-hued clothing.  Sweat, blood, it all tainted black cotton the same.

He felt the stitches tear with the first push-up.  His right arm was shaking, like it didn’t want to support him. He gritted his teeth, shifting his weight to the other arm, the right doing little more than providing balance.

“Down….hold.”

The whole right side of his chest was burning.  He ground his teeth, eyes clenched shut.   You got this.  Hang on.

“And up.”

He probably would’ve gotten away with at least one more, except for gravity being a bitch and funneling blood down his straining pectorals, across his deltoid, and snaking it down his arm.  Except for that.

“Dean!  What the hell?”

Shit.  He is going to be so pissed.   With a sigh he allowed himself to drop to the ground.

His father rolled him over, none too gently.  “How bad?” Knowing his son would either evade or out-right lie, he moved to raise the boy’s shirt.

 

Jeff bunches Dean's shirt in his hands, from hem to neck, and he pulls it up and forces it between Dean's teeth

 

“No!”  The word was a gasp.  Dean knocked John’s hands away as his heels dug into the turf, scrambling backwards.

“Dean -- “ but his son’s eyes weren’t focused on him, and that realization locked him in place, hands suspended, with no idea what to do.

And just as quickly, it ended.

“I -- I’ll do it.  It’s stuck in some places.”  Dean’s eyes shifted slightly, centering on his father.

John’s brow creased, but he stayed where he was, cataloging his observations for later scrutiny.

Dean curled into a sitting position before reaching over his head, dragging damp cotton up his back to pull the garment over and in front of him.  He peeled it gingerly from his shoulders and chest as he lay back, wincing when the cloth caught on sharp suture ends.

A look of irritation shaded John’s face, and he shook his head.  “I’m not even gonna ask why you didn’t bother telling me about this.”

Dean looked away, tongue flicking out in a failed attempt to moisten parched lips.  

John stepped closer, and without warning or hesitation, emptied a water bottle over his son’s gore-painted torso.

Dean hissed in a breath, closing his eyes, but held his position.

He flinched when his father pressed the skin between two lacerations.  “Nice stitch-work.  Too bad there ain’t a suture in the world that will hold through push-ups.”  He stepped back, appraising his son, expression quizzical.  “You do those left-handed?”

“Yeah,” and his voice was raw with caged fear.

“Nice.”  He shook his head again.  “Shame all that work was wasted.  Let’s get you back, fix this up.  I wouldn’ta had you train if I’d known about this.”

And that’s why I didn’t tell you.




“You sure you don’t want me to just take you to a clinic?  This is gonna take a while, and it’ll hurt like a bitch for most of it.”

John had set up what he euphemistically called a ‘MASH camp’ against the end wall of the motel, out of sight of curious passers-by.  Dean was perched on a stool, back warmed by rough brick, wearing nothing but a towel.

He hadn’t been too thrilled with the idea, but John had pointed out that the lighting in their dismal room wasn’t nearly bright enough, and there was no one to hold a flashlight.  So sunlight it was, and the only good thing about that was the extra incentive his father would have to work quickly before they both roasted in their skins.

“This’s fine.”  The crown of his skull rested against the wall, chin angled up to give John better access.

 

“Shower and then rinse it out with this,” John had said a half-hour earlier, handing Dean a bottle of rubbing alcohol.  “Then I’ll clean it out and stitch it.”

“Clean it out?”

“Yeah.  Claws are nasty.  Doesn’t matter if it’s werewolf, wendigo, or house cat, the crap it carries in is just as likely to kill ya with infection  as the cuts themselves.”

 

So here he sat, sun baking his skin, waiting to feel forceps digging into his flesh.  And Dean was fairly certain that his father’s assertion that whiskey was not an option for pain control was some sort of punishment.  “You’re dehydrated.  Alcohol’s dangerous.”  That’s what the man had said, a not-so-subtle reference to that morning’s training session.

The Tylenol with codeine had taken effect, so at least he had that.

“You ready?”

Dean kept his eyes closed.  “Yeah.”

“Lemme know if you need a break.”  

“Yes, sir.”

 

From long experience Dean knew to find something to concentrate on that would distract him from what his father would be doing, so he let his mind drift.  

 

And he lets them. He lets them take his jacket, and his flannel --  

How could I...?

...Why couldn't I...?

 

His eyes snapped open.

Two latex-encased fingers settled on his chest, one on either side of a jagged laceration, and spread it open.   No worse than when the stitches pulled through.  Fluid under pressure -- He pulled it up into a syringe -- needled into raw flesh, and he closed his eyes again.  Then the metal, cold but burning, a sharp sting, and his dad’s self-satisfied grunt.  “Look at that, kid.  It’s like the damned thing was wearing press-on nails.”

Dean obligingly opened his eyes, cringing at the ragged black something that his father held gripped in his tweezers.  “That is nasty.”

"Full a’ bacteria, too, and God only knows what else.”  He wiped it onto a cloth.  “And that’s why we’re doing this.”

His father turned back towards him, and Dean closed his eyes, focus entirely on what  his father would be doing.


“Still need to work on those punctures, but I’m done with the cuts.”  John leaned back, rolling his shoulders, stretching out his spine.  “And I gotta get out of this sun.”  He scrutinized the young man before him.  Dean’s eyes were closed, body tight, jaw clenched, covered in a thin sheen of sweat.  He hadn’t done more than breath sharply here and there throughout the thirty minute ordeal.  “You alright?”

“Yeah, ‘m good,” but his voice was lifeless.

“C’mon, bud,” John stood, taking his son’s elbow gently.  “Let’s get you inside.  Don’t need to add sunburn to your list of injuries.”

“‘S too late,” Dean groaned, leaning forward to force himself to his feet.  “My pale ass was prob’ly pink the second I stepped out the door.”

“Skin’s not as red as that towel.  Think we’ll have to trash that one.”  They had a policy of not leaving bloody linens for motel staff to wonder about.

“Better the towel than my pants.”  Which was why he’d had to sit out there in a relative state of undress.

“You good to stand on your own while I make sure there’s no one in the parking lot?”

“Yeah.  ‘M good.”

He did appear solid, despite having a shoulder and his head pressed into the wall.

John slipped around the corner, scanned the area, and leaned back to give Dean a terse “Come.”

The room was dark and cold by comparison.  Dean showered again -- rinse, lather, rinse, repeat twice more -- and dressed before settling on top of the blankets with a grateful sigh.  

“Take a nap,” his father ordered.  “I got a few errands to run.  We’ll try to get those punctures opened up and cleaned out before I gotta go get Sam.”

“‘M kay.”  He was already half asleep.


            He pushed up, snagging his beer in two long, slender fingers, and made his way to one of the pool tables. He'd been watching, and a couple of the guys were good enough to be a challenge.

           He stacked his coins on the table.

          "You want a partner?" one of the men asked, and Dean answered with an easy smile.

         "Sure. Name's Dean."

         "Jeff."

 

Dean shifted in his sleep, unaware of the change in his heart rate.

 

          "Finish yer drink," a bearded man from their group admonished, holding Dean's tumbler out to him. "Ain't polite to leave it when we's the ones hadta buy it." He smiled when he said it, and Dean chuckled.

          "Aw, Scott, you know they always taste better when ya earn 'em fair and square, right?" Dean winked good naturedly at the man before tipping his head back and emptying his glass. "So where's this game?"

 

His limbs twitched, and he began breathing faster.

 

          One on each side they half carry, half drag him into the house. He tries to help, but his toes keep catching, and he can't keep his head up. A part of his mind picks at him, a concerned What the fuck? , but that voice is quiet and very far away.

          He rouses somewhat when the door closes behind them. Lights come on, and he blinks, trying to focus.

         Living room, not too clean, mattresses instead of furniture. "'S a crack house?" and the men laugh, but he doesn't know why.

        " You need to lie down." Jeff is there, and he sounds paternal. "You had a little too much whiskey, buddy."

         Hands on his jacket, and he thinks there might be something wrong with that, and he tries to resist, but Jeff is there, and he sounds paternal. "We gotta get these off of you, get you comfortable so you can sleep it off."

         And he lets them. He lets them take his jacket, and his flannel, and when he is swaying there in jeans and a t-shirt, Scott kneels. Dean feels someone tugging on his boots, and he mumbles "No," or he thinks he does, but Jeff is there, and he sounds paternal. "Cowboys don't really sleep with their boots on, Dean."

        And then he's on the mattress, and there is a man on each arm, and Jeff is sitting on his pelvis, pinning him down with his hips. And Jeff bunches Dean's shirt in his hands, from hem to neck, and he pulls it up and forces it between Dean's teeth, and he is not paternal at all.

 

“No!”  He bolted upright, scrambling backwards until he came up hard against the headboard.  It took a moment for his brain to accept what his eyes were telling him: he was alone in a hotel room, fully clothed and mobile.

 

He closed his eyes, swallowing hard.  He drew his left knee up, buttressing his elbow so his hand could hold his head.  

The fingers of his right  hand pressed into the damaged flesh over his chest.

Pain burned the last vestiges of the nightmare from his mind.