The Twelve Saves of Christmas - Chapter 11
No ‘Save’ in this chapter – it’s a continuation of the ‘Stable Save’…as our two hunters take refuge for the night, it's an opportunity for them to lick their many wounds and gain a little strength for the rest of the journey ahead. We do need them to make it back to the Impala and it's time to give them a little R&R. A Little Rest and Recuperation
December 23rd 10.02pm
Sam's elated chuckle trickled through the tumbling snowflakes that slowly descended, gently twisting and twirling in the relative calm of the sheltered clearing. He gleefully circled again, this time manoeuvring the sled so he could steer them through the narrow gate in the fence. He reached his long arm over the top, releasing the catch and bumping it open. Dean fended off the spring-loaded panel as Sam hauled him through.
Overhead, the moon disappeared behind the fast-moving clouds and the pair were once again, plunged into darkness.
"Dean, here, hold this!"
Sam routed in his pocket, turning on the flashlight as he passed it down to his still seated brother.
"Point it up here, whilst I undo the bolt, can you?"
Dean swore softly under his breath, tiredness dragging at him, his back twinging in complaint as he held the light aloft.
The bolt slid easily and the stable door eased open on its well-oiled hinges. The little donkey stamped a welcome as Sam stamped in, dragging the sled over the hard-packed earth behind him.
The Christmas Hiker smiled as he found himself relieved that the brothers had reached the temporary shelter of the stable. It would inevitably mean a delay to them fulfilling his plans but he could see their exhaustion and understood they needed to rest and recuperate if they were to be of real use to him. He let the wind take him, blowing his tattered remains towards the welcoming stable, determined to watch over them.
"Gimme the light, dude. I'll get the door bolted and then I'll get you settled."
Warm breath and a soft snuffling at his right ear brought Dean's head around with a start.
"Hey, girl. I thought you'd run off and left me. Missed me, Huh?"
He reached up and scratched behind the long, tufted ear. Closing his eyes, he leant his aching head against the familiar warmth. He listened to the scrape of the metal bolt as Sam secured the lower half of the door, relaxing as he breathed in the dusty odour of long stored hay.
A gentle creak and a groan as the top half swung shut, muffling the sounds of the night as they were carried away, moaning and mournful on the wind. Dean wilted, relaxing as his perception adjusted to its new confined dimensions, the solid log walls forming a safe enclosure, a barrier from the harsh elements.
"Dean, look it's perfect. It's got everything, hay and a manger, your donkey. There's piles of stuff up the back here, might even be something to eat."
Sam played the bright beam over the cluttered interior, dust motes dancing crazily as the shaft of light cut through the darkness, long shadows leapt from the beams, and high rafters. Head height, wooden planking separated the stalls running along both sidewalls and low shuffles, grunts and rustles filtered through the still air.
Wearily, Dean raised his head; blinking owlishly in the unaccustomed glare from the torch beam as a huge yawn escaped him. He made no attempt to rise from the wooden base.
"Well, Sammy, it's not quite the luxury suite with Jacuzzi but, dude, I tell you, we've had a lot worse."
He hunched his shoulders, wincing as his multiple bruises protested the movement. With his free hand he hugged his jacket closer around himself and shivered.
The immediate distraction of survival, the concentration he had needed to simply keep placing one foot in front of the other or stay astride the plodding donkey, or more recently the low-slung sled had now gone. One by one his injuries awoke, each making itself known and demanding some long overdue attention.
Clenching his teeth he forced himself to take slow, measured breaths, holding tighter to the nuzzling donkey. He pressed his forehead into the strong neck struggling to overcome the rising panic and dizziness that threatened to overwhelm him. ‘Okay, try to hold it together, just a little bit longer.'
He thought, desperately.
From the shadows the ghost watched on, wishing he could ease the situation of the man before him. He remembered physical pain, though his ethereal body now felt nothing, nothing but the endless anguish of his loss. He hovered slowly, closer, murmuring soft sounds of comfort, letting the animals familiarise themselves with him as he quietly observed.
Sam advanced into the wide walkway between the stalls, flashlight beam investigating the heavily shadowed cubicles, his running commentary giving Dean a quick inventory of their fellow occupants.
"Man, look! It's not just a warm, dry stable; we've got half the Nativity scene, too! There's a couple of goats in this first pen, another donkey in the next one, looks like an... Oh my god! Dean, there's a pair of freakin' reindeer back here!"
Sam's voice tailed off in amazement.
"Uh, huh." Dean acknowledged automatically, disorientated, as he sucked in deep breaths.
"Sweet holy night! You have just gotta be kiddin' me?" A delighted chuckle filled the dusty stable. "Dean, there's a... Oh my God, you're really not gonna believe this. I swear, there's a…there’s a huge camel over this side! You wanna come see. Let me help you over here."
"Just gimme a minute, okay, dude?"
Dean struggled, forcing his reply.
"After the last couple of days, I don't see why the hell I wouldn't believe a real, live camel, in a damned stable on the outskirts of freakin' Bethlehem. Tell me, Sammy, you got the Angel Gabriel, the three wise men and a truckload of shepherds tucked away back there, too?"
Spent, he sagged forward, forehead pressing into the comforting presence at his side.
Sam's good-natured snicker filled the air.
"Who knows? There're piles of stuff back here. So maybe!"
"Sounds... amazing, Sam."
Dean's voice wavered as, flinching, he attempted to straighten his knee."
He bit down heavily on his dried and cracked lips, stifling the groans that would otherwise have escaped him.
"You alright, bro?"
"'M fine, Sammy. What else you got back there?" He deflected.
Gripping ever tighter to the stubby mane, Dean slowly arched his back, stretching as he tried to alleviate the dull pain that now seemed permanently lodged there. Grimacing, he hitched in a sharp breath at the deep-seated ache that accompanied the movement.
Sam continued his excited explorations.
"Hey, Dean! There're some storm lanterns. Hold on. Should have this alight in a minute, bro, then I'll see if there's anything here we can eat. Maybe get a fire going, get us warmed up and dried out, huh?"
"Yeah, that'd be great."
Dean spoke disinterestedly, as he felt the room begin to tilt.
"Where is the damn thing?" Sam muttered patting down his pockets.
"Crap!" Dean's voice ghosted across the shelter. "Sammy?"
Dean's soft voice failed to penetrate the rustling noises as Sam searched for his lighter, the muffled cursing as the flashlight clattered noisily to the floor.
"Sammy, I don't feel so g..." Dean's whisper was lost in the donkey's thick coat, he felt himself slipping sideways, losing the battle with the slowly spinning room and the rising tide of darkness.
The Hiker ghost gentled the swooning hunter to the floor, desperate for him not to be further hurt, regretting his hasty actions of the previous days and the injury they had caused. He calmed the little donkey helping her to steady his fall and then drifted away quickly, back to the invisibility of the shadows, allowing the brother access to the fallen man.
The warm, comforting glow of the oil lamp flooded the rustic interior, chasing long shadows, stretching to the corners. Sam turned, triumphantly, holding the lantern aloft just in time to see the unconscious form of his big brother slump sideways from the low sled, slithering down the donkey's foreleg as she backed nervously away.
Sam's face fell as he rushed to the older man's aid, side stepping the snorting donkey as he skidded to his knees.
"Aw, hell, Dean! Why didn't you say something?"
He placed the lantern on the hard-packed floor and reached out, carefully rolling the comatose body and pulling him up onto his lap.
"Dean? Come on, man. Speak to me."
Gently, he patted the worn, bruised face that lay resting against his jean-clad thigh. Two days growth of dark stubble covered the slack jaw, accentuating the too pale skin beneath. A long velvety nose brushed against Sam's ear, stretching over and down to nudge at the unconscious hunter.
"Aww, come on, Dean. Wake up!"
Sam glanced frantically round the small barn, looking for someplace safe to lay his brother. The donkey nibbled at the collar of Dean's jacket. Sam, frowning distractedly, pushed back against her with his head, trying to butt the concerned donkey out of the way, however, Raptor just affectionately, pushed right back.
The soft, flickering light cast a cheery glow over the surrounding area, giant shadows looming upwards from the floor where it rested. To the right of the stable door sat a small stack of hay bales, one lay prised apart, trails of the pale, golden stems marking a path to each stall.
"Okay, Dean. I'm just gonna put you down for a minute. Don't go ‘way, I'll be right back."
Sam shrugged from his jacket, shaking his arms free, he balled it up and placed it on the floor. Shuffling backwards, he cradled the unmoving form in his arms and eased him to the floor, placing the lolling head with care upon the makeshift pillow.
"Hang in there, bro. I'll be right back."
Sam ducked out from under the donkey's embrace, leaning lightly on her withers as he rose, wincing from the floor. She regarded him steadily with her soft, chocolate brown eyes.
"Hey, don't worry ‘bout your boyfriend here, he'll be fine. Just let me get him up off the floor."
As he crossed to the haystack, he cast a quick glance floorwards, checking that Dean wasn't awake and listening to his private conversation with the donkey. With dismay he noticed the slowly spreading blood stain that darkened the frayed denim covering the lower left thigh.
"Crap! Crap! Crap!"
Chewing his lower lip in concentration, Sam quickly pushed the split bale to the side and rearranged the stack into a low platform between the front wall and the side stalls. Hastily, he crossed the floor to his brother and knelt down beside him.
"Dean, you gonna wake up and make this easier for me, man?"
He queried, quietly. But Dean lay silent, unmoving, apart from the slight rise and fall of his chest as his soft breathe rasped quietly from his barely parted lips.
Sam heaved a deep sigh, running his cold stiffened fingers through his shaggy mane. He stood, strong hands massaging the base of his neck, as he tried to relieve some of the tension that had lodged there.
"Nah, didn't think so."
He hunkered forward and slipped his left arm under Dean's neck and down, gripping tightly to the leather jacket under his brothers left arm. Easing him up into a sitting position, he slipped his right arm beneath the slightly bowed legs. Gathering his brother in his arms, he struggled to rise as smoothly as possible to prevent any further damage to his long suffering sibling. He hitched him higher, attempting to balance the weight, and Dean's head rolled towards him, settling in the crook of Sam's neck.
"Jeez, Dean. You need to lay off the burgers, dude."
Sam huffed as he carried the muscular form the short distance over to the bed of bales.
Gently, he lay the older man down upon the hay, reaching down to brush bits of straw and dirt from the side of his face. Sam straightened, leaning backwards and rolling his broad shoulders; anxiously he searched for any sign of a return to consciousness.
"Hey, Dean. Can you hear me? Come on, man. Wake up for me. Please."
With a trembling hand he brushed the hair back from his brother's battered brow, resting it there, relieved that, as yet, there was no sign of a fever. Beneath his hand, the blood smeared brow wrinkled into a frown and lines of pain creased the pallid face. A low groan escaped from between his parted lips and the eyelids began to flicker as his head leant into the cold hand.
"That's it. Come on, Dean. Can you hear me?"
Dean felt the cool hand upon his brow, heard the familiar voice calling in the distance, calling his name, pulling him back from the warm, dark place where he had taken refuge. It was a voice he could never resist, and he struggled back through the foggy layers, reaching out for his brother.
Cold, pain, disorientation, nausea, all came crashing back as he fought his way back to consciousness, all pushed aside as he answered the plea he heard in his baby brother's panicked tones.
"Unnhh... Sam." He croaked, his words barely more than a whisper.
"Hey, Dean. Easy, you’re okay…How you feeling, bro?"
His eyelashes fluttered open, parting to reveal glassy, emerald green that skittered in unfocused panic, searching wildly for Sam.
"Sammy. Wh...where, aahh... what..?"
He felt Sam's strong hand upon his face, cupping his chin and turning it gently towards him. Dean's voice tailed away as his brother's concerned face filled his vision, leaning over him, soothing his panic instantly.
"Hey, Dean. Calm down, its okay. I'm here, I gotcha."
Sam intoned steadily, breathing a sigh of relief as he sensed the figure before him relaxing.
Another, louder groan filled the air, breath hitching in his chest as Dean weakly moved his legs.
"Hey, I know. I'm on it, bro. Stay with me here, okay? I'll go get something to cover you, try and stay awake, huh?"
Dean gave a small nod of understanding as Sam backed away to retrieve his jacket from the floor. He cast his eyes around the small stable and in the darkness along the left-hand sidewall he noticed deeper shadows hugging the walls, hanging as if suspended. He crossed the small space and his face broke into a relieved grin as he reached down two heavy sheepskin coats.
"Hey, you still with me, bro?" He called over his shoulder, grinning at the sight of the little donkey that had resumed its position, snuffling at his brother's neck. "This should do the trick. Looks like our luck's just taken a turn for the better."
Limping slightly, he crossed the short distance, displaying the coats and draped them, carefully, over the shivering figure laid out on the low, hay platform. Dean sighed in pleasure as the heavy weight settled over him, enclosing him in its warm embrace. Sam re-arranged the covers, pulling them up and tucking them securely below his brother's chin.
The glow from the lamplight reflected from warm, hazel eyes as Sam rose to his full height and grinned down, shaking his head at the dopey smile on his brother's face as he burrowed deeper into the dark fleece.
Dean blinked slowly, his eyelids growing heavier as he struggled to keep his eyes open in the golden glow of the storm lantern. In the shadows over Sam's shoulder, he was vaguely aware of the presence of the ghost. He could sense its frustration, distress, longing. Yet strangely, he knew it meant them no harm. He blinked wearily in acknowledgment at the disembodied soul.
"Dean, listen to me. Your leg's started bleeding, again. I'm gonna have a look round and see if there's anything I can use to clean you up a little. You'll be alright if I go see what we've got here, yeah?"
Twin, flickering lanterns reflected in miniature from the glazed green pools that locked unsteadily onto Sam's face.
"'M okay, Kiddo. Just tired. Go knock yourself out!"
The soft voice rasped, sleepily.
"You get some sleep, Dean, okay? I won't be far."
The word came out as nothing more than a whisper.
Sam backed away, his exhausted mind whirling, spinning as he tried to decide what to do first. Collecting the lamp he checked their discarded rucksacks, tipping the contents of both out into a small pile, inspecting their supplies in the wavering light. It didn't take long. Aside from the knife, sawed-off shotguns and spare shells, they had two flasks of holy water, a large canister of salt, kerosene in a flask, one granola bar and half a bag of M&M's.
Medical supplies were almost down to zero, an almost empty bottle of Ibuprofen and a small tube of antiseptic cream, the last remnants of the small first aid kit. Sam knew he had to stop the bleeding from the deep wound above his brother's knee, and try to find something for them both to eat.
He gathered their gear and hastily stuffed it back into one of the packs, and then grabbed the lantern from the floor as he made to rise. Raising it high he glanced around their shelter, at the back of the stable stood a small table and two chairs, upon which stood a further two lamps and what looked like a small, gas cooking stove.
To the left of it, in the corner, something huge was completely covered by a securely lashed tarpaulin, whilst to the right, sat a large, white painted store unit, three deep drawers at the bottom and one large cupboard at the top. Far to the right, beyond the wall mounted tack rack, sat two large paraffin heaters.
Sam glanced at his brother as he hurried to the table, setting the lamp down he pulled open the cupboard door, praying their good luck would for once, hold. To Sam's disbelieving eyes it was as if he had stumbled into Aladdin's Cave.
On the bottom shelf, canisters, tins and jars were stacked in orderly fashion, a small saucepan, camp kettle, tin opener and matches sat to one side. The top shelf held two large, square elaborately patterned tins and an old fashioned radio, but by far the best find, in Sam's mind was the green, plastic box with a heavy white cross emblazoned on the side.
"Aah, thank you!"
Sam breathed a prayer of relief, picking up the first aid box.
"Dean." He called as he flipped open the catches, "Hey, bro. We're in luck."
He quickly assessed its contents. Bandages, swabs, antiseptic wipes, scissors and numerous Band-Aids all carefully partitioned, met his delighted gaze and there, tucked into the bottom, behind the triangular slings was a disposable suture kit.
Within half an hour, Sam had both paraffin heaters dragged to the front of the stable and giving off a steady heat. Next to the makeshift bed near the door, on one of the chairs, he had laid out the medical supplies and a large bottle of rubbing alcohol and gauze to clean the wounds.
All three lamps were lit, the small camp kettle had just boiled and two steaming mugs of strong black coffee sat atop the table, the pungent aroma filling the stable. Quickly, he stirred in two large spoons of dark brown sugar, knowing he needed to get his brother's energy levels up.
Several tins of soup sat next to the small saucepan, ready for cooking and the two square tins from the top cupboard stood, lids discarded, one full of cookies the other with three quarters of a large fruitcake, wrapped in greaseproof paper. Sam wiped crumbs from his face before carrying the two enamelled mugs and placing them on the chair by the sleeping hunter's head.
He sat down beside his gently snoring brother on the left of the hay bales, taking a sip of his coffee before, carefully, raising the thick sheepskin jackets and pushing them back from Dean's lower limbs. Sam took a hold of Dean's left leg and gradually eased the snow damp denim up past his swollen, bruised knee.
Raptor looked up in interest, stretching her neck and stamping her dainty hooves, anxious at the sudden smell of blood.
"Steady girl, it's okay. He'll be okay, I promise!"
The grubby, blood-soaked bandage was still in place, but the various strains on his leg since that morning had proven too much for the pressure bandage to contain. The deep slice above his knee had bled more than once if the fresh blood now seeping through the stiffer dried brown stains, from earlier spills, was anything to go by.
A low, pain-filled groan startled Sam from his investigation. Instantly, he scooted up to his brother's head, calling out softly, to the weakly stirring figure.
"Dean? Hey, come on, dude. Wake up!"
His eyelids fluttered, lashes casting long dancing shadows across his high cheekbones in the lamplight, unfocused eyes skittering in all directions as he lurched awake.
"Easy there, bro. Whoa, whoa, it's okay. I gotcha!"
Sam comforted, placing his hand, reassuringly, upon Dean's shoulder.
Momentarily unguarded, Dean's startled jade eyes allowed all his pain and fear to show through. He lay, panting, heaving in painful breaths as he fought to bring himself back under control.
"Dude, what're ya doin'? Crap, Sammy. That hurts."
His head turned to the side as nostril's flaring he struggled to subdue the pain, deep slow breaths, in through the nose and out through the mouth. Gradually, his forehead creased into a look of confusion. Suddenly his eyes shot wide open; he stared from the chair near his head to the worried face of his younger brother, with a quizzical gaze.
"Dude! Can I smell coffee?"
He struggled to rise, eyes searching wildly.
Sam's gentle chuckle filled the air,
"Yeah, there's coffee, and it's good! Here, lemme help you up a little and I'll pass it to you."
Dean was trying to wrestle his way out from under the coat, grimacing with the effort.
"Oh, man! That smells good, Sammy! Where the hell are we, anyway?"
He looked around in bewilderment, smiling as his gaze fell on the little donkey, which stood quietly regarding him with her liquid brown eyes.
"Hey, girl." He croaked softly, flopping back to the hay.
"Don't you remember, we got turned around in the blizzard outside and your friend there led us here? I got you inside on the sled and you face planted while I was looking around."
"Yeah, I think maybe I was hallucinating, ‘cause the last thing I remember was you warbling on about reindeer and camels."
Sam sniggered, shaking his head. "'Fraid you weren't imagining it, dude, we're sharing a stable in Bethlehem, with two antlered reindeer and a freakin' huge camel."
"Figures." Dean shrugged in resignation. "Did you find the three wise men and Santa's super-charged sleigh?
Sam shrugged, smiling tiredly.
"Nah, haven't had time to look yet."
He leant over, disentangling the worn hunter from the cover, and then gripped him securely beneath the arms.
"You ready, bro?"
Sam's eyes searched the pallid face as Dean nodded his acquiescence.
Sam braced, and hauled his brother to a sitting position, leaning him back against the rough, plank wall.
Dean bit down on his lip, scowling heavily as the heel of his boot scuffed along the hay.
"Uunnhh! Dammit!" He whispered head held low, as white-hot fire screamed from his knee.
Sam held him until he felt the breathing steady beneath his hands.
"Ready?" He asked softly.
"Hell, just pass me the damned coffee, Sam."
Dean reached out, his cracked, blistered hands trembling faintly. Gingerly he took the hot mug, balancing it between his fingertips. He sniffed appreciatively before taking a long sip, swallowed, then managed a larger gulp. Smiling, he sagged back against the wall.
"Oh, god. That's good! Sweet, but good." He murmured.
Sam cleared his throat as he sat sipping from his own mug.
"Well, we struck it lucky, here, bro. There's heat, light, even a camp stove. I'll make us some hot food in a little while. There's even a Christmas fruitcake and a tin of cookies, and I've not even searched all the drawers yet." He glanced up before hurrying on. "There's a great first aid box, it's even got a suturing kit. So, we can get you cleaned up and get your leg stitched up."
"I'm fine, Sammy. M'leg just needs a bit of a rest, is all. Did you say cookies?"
"Dean, please. Your leg's been bleeding, on and off, all day. I gotta clean it and rewrap your knee. I got good light here, so don't argue, dude. It's a real deep slice, and it needs stitching. Soon as it's done, I'll make some hot food. Okay? Then you can have as many cakes an' cookies as you like!"
Dean tipped back the last of his coffee and then let his eyes fall to the gory bandage gracing his lower thigh.
"'S'not bleeding anymore." He tried hopefully.
"Maybe not now, but you know as soon as you try to move it'll just open up again. It's gotta be stitched, Dean."
Acceding defeat, he placed the empty mug on the bale beside him. Face paling as he cast his eyes over the large bottle of rubbing alcohol and kit laid out upon the chair.
"'Kay, Sammy! Knock yourself out!" He swallowed nervously, "Uh, Sam, there any painkillers in that kit? I guess my knee is a little sore. Is it getting warm in here, Sam, or is it just me?"
He reached up, wiping the beads of sweat from his brow.
"Yeah, those heaters are kicking in nicely. Let's get your jacket off; I need to check out the cuts on your back too. Come on, lean forwards."
"Hey, Sammy! How come I got all these cuts and bruises and all you got to show is a peck on the head from a freakin' insane robin?" He dry swallowed the tablets Sam held out to him.
Dean looked up plaintively at his grinning brother.
"I guess I'm not Mr Clumsy, dude!" Sam laughed softly.
"Bite me, Sammy!" He growled.
"Okay, bro. Where d'you want me to start, your hands, back, knee, or toes? Or is there anything else in between you haven't told me about?"
"Nah, my shoulder's just fine." He smiled wryly.
"Okay, so I guess, we start at the top and work down."
Sam helped him lean forward and slipped the jacket and undershirts from the unresisting shoulders. He pulled at the grubby, blood stained t-shirt that hung over the loose waistband, and made to slip it over his brother's head.
Dean cried out as the soiled cotton ripped away from the dried lesions marring his back.
"Holy crap, Sammy!" Dean whispered, angrily.
"Sorry!" Sam winced in apology reaching for the alcohol rub. "Here, try and clean up your hands, while I get on with this." He passed Dean two antiseptic wipes from the kit. ‘Might take your mind off this mess.'
Sam worked quickly; cleaning and dressing the still inflamed, deeper gouges, leaving the lesser scratches open to dry in the air.
Raptor wrinkled her expressive face in distaste as the pungent liquid evaporated quickly in the warm air. She gave a gently hee-haw and backed away, trotting slowly to nibble at the hay, now strewn liberally around the dirt floor.
Dean tried to concentrate on cleaning the open, weeping blisters on his palms, rubbed raw from the contact with his walking stick. Hissing in pain, he cringed as the cold antiseptic bit deeply into the exposed skin of his back, stinging sharply, fiercely.
"Nearly there, bro." Sam crooned sympathetically.
Dean just nodded, silently, eyes closed tight against the pain.
As he sat up from taping the last dressing in place, Sam gently draped one of the discarded, soft flannel shirts, over his brother's exposed back. He folded Dean's worn leather jacket into a cushion for him to lean against.
Dean lay back with eyes closed, the tension he held himself under, betrayed by the taut muscles of his abdomen. He panted softly, the lamplight reflecting off the light sheen of sweat highlighting his brows.
"You need a minute there, bro?" Sam queried.
Dean shook his head. "Nah, I'm good. Whenever you're ready, Sammy." He breathed quietly.
"I'm gonna get your boots off, dude. Have a look at your toes, okay?"
"Oh, deep joy!" Dean paled further at the thought.
"You wanna lie flat for this? It's gonna hurt. "
"Hell, Florence, just get on with it. The commentary's not helping here!" Dean snapped, the pain making him sound unnecessarily harsh.
Sam shuffled stiffly to the bottom of the platform, loosening the laces in both boots and then carefully eased them off, first the left, trying not to jar the damaged knee, then the right.
Dean's whole body tensed against the pain, his eyes clamped tightly closed, he fought the whimpers that tried to escape his lips as Sam pried the cold, damp leather from his injured foot.
Sam worked quickly; he soaked the blood-stiffened sock with warm water from the small kettle, and left it to loosen as he cut the blood soaked bandage away from Dean's left thigh. The bandage fell away easily, wet as it was with fresh blood, exposing the inflamed flesh around the cut and the myriad coloured bruising that decorated his distended knee.
"You doing okay, Dean?" Sam called softly, hoping his brother would pass out before he cleaned up his knee and toes.
Dean just grunted, dipping his head briefly, in reply.
Sam moved back to the sock and teased it gently from the split nail and dried blood. He trickled the isopropyl alcohol over the toes, holding the foot steady as Dean sought to pull it away. Gasping as the liquid burnt it's way under the nails.
"Steady there, easy, Dean. Nearly done!"
Cleaning the small scissors with an antiseptic wipe, he trimmed off the worst of the protruding toenail, levelling it. Then he wrapped them in Melolin pads and taped them securely together.
At some point, he had felt Dean go limp beneath his hands, the strangled gasps subsiding into quiet moans, then short breaths as he slipped, gratefully, into the welcoming arms of oblivion.
Swiftly, hoping to complete the work on the wounded knee before his brother regained consciousness; Sam thoroughly swabbed Dean's lower thigh, cleaning away both fresh and dried blood.
Gently, he elevated the limb, supporting the crooked knee with one of the heavy sheepskins. Pouring alcohol over his hands, he scrubbed them clean allowing the cold fluid to evaporate as he opened the sterile suturing kit. With shaking hands he trickled more of the antiseptic liquid over the mouth of the wound. Dean groaned and stirred weakly.
"Not yet, bro. Don't wake up just yet."
Sam muttered under his breath, as he wiped the sweat from his forehead with the back of his hand. He was tired beyond belief and the heat of the barn was calling him to sleep. He was really in no shape to do this now but the ugly, jagged edges of the gash compelled him to hold it together for a little longer. With a deep sigh, he steeled himself for the task ahead.
Dean stirred fitfully, mumbling and moaning as the needle pierced his inflamed flesh. Pain spiking, reaching through the layers of darkness, calling to him as each fresh stitch was formed, gently pulling the skin together.
As always, Sam fought the nausea that accompanied him every time he stitched his brother back together, hating himself for the pain it caused, hating every time it had been necessary. His hands trembled as he tied off the last stitch and gently wiped away the blood that had seeped out during the process. Ripping open a sterile pad, he taped it securely down.
He finished off, wrapping the mottled knee and pad in a thick elasticated bandage; he breathed a deep sigh of relief.
He cleared the area of any evidence of his ministrations and carefully straightened his brother's jeans. As he stepped back, he gave in to the rising tide of nausea that he had fought for so long, and bolting for the stable door, he knelt outside in the ice cold of the night and allowed his stomach to void itself.
Shivering and exhausted, Sam staggered back into the barn, pulled the door to and leant back, resting his head against the wooden wall. Sucking in huge gulps of the warm air, his breathing gradually calmed and the tremors receded.
He turned off one of the heaters, conserving the fuel for the long night ahead, and gently covered Dean with one of the coats. Setting the kettle to boil, he selected a couple of tins of soup and emptied them into the small saucepan. Wearily, he made more of the strong sweet coffee, and then set the soup to heat slowly. His mouth watered as the aroma of chicken soup filled the air.
As he waited for his brother to wake and the soup to heat through, his eyes fell upon the large tarpaulin draped shape to the rear of the stall. It was huge, and peeping from the bottom was the tip of a long runner. Sam's hopes rose as thoughts of a snowmobile and easy way out of their predicament, leapt to mind.
From the front of the stable, a long, low groan, followed by a sharper cry of pain, called for his more immediate attention.
"Dean, it's okay! I'm coming." He retrieved the fresh coffees and hurried to his brother's side as Dean struggled to rise.
Dean's bleary-eyed stare greeted him as he rounded the stalls.
"Hey, Sammy. Sorry I checked out before the finale, dude. Thanks for sorting me out. You okay? You had any rest yet?"
He smiled his thanks as Sam passed him the steaming brew.
"I'm good. Still checking out the back of the stable though. I figure I'd better keep going, cause once I sit down, I don't think I'll be getting up again for a while. It's been a real fun couple of days up here!"
"Yeah. Sorry ‘bout that, bro. Nothin' really went the way I had it planned. It was meant to be a Christmas to remember. A good Christmas!"
"I never said I wouldn't remember it, Dean."
Sam smiled, shaking his head.
"You want some chicken soup? It's just about ready."
"Soup? I thought you mentioned cookies an cake."
"Yeah, soup first though. Then you can eat what you like."
Sam fetched the saucepan and a spoon.
"Eat as much as you like, dude. I've already eaten and there's plenty more back there. I'm gonna check out what else is stashed up the back there."
Leaving Dean to his meal, Sam made straight for the mysterious, shrouded mound; he tugged at the tarpaulin, hauling it in towards himself. It was instantly apparent that the sled runners did not belong to a snowmobile. However, any disappointment that may have briefly shown on his face was instantly replaced with a look of stunned, jaw-dropping amazement.
As the oiled cloth fell clear, there, resplendent in its red and gold paint, deep red velvet with white fur trimmed seats and huge sack, full to the brim with brightly coloured boxes of sweets, sat a beautiful sleigh. Sam reached out a hand, lightly running a finger along the row of dainty bells suspended from an alcove in the front panelling. A merry jingling filled the night air, and from the side stalls the reindeer stamped and coughed in excitement.
"Well, I'll be a..." Sam's whispered breathlessly.
"Sam! What in hells bells was that? Tell me the big bearded fella, in a red coat, hasn't just dropped in to fly us back to Bethlehem!"
Dean chuckled, craning his neck to see what his brother was up to.
"Dean, I just found Sa..."
The rest was lost as Sam, walking backwards, unable to take his eyes off the gleaming carriage, reversed straight into the soft eyed camel, who had stuck its large, shaggy head over the stall door to see what was going on. He walked straight into the side of its woolly neck and stumbled. Off balance, he tumbled to the floor, and sat staring straight up into the rather unimpressed face of the yawning beast that peered at him from beneath a long, shaggy mop of hair.
The tawny coloured dromedary batted it's long, thick eyelashes at the startled hunter and waggled its small ears before shaking its elongated face, sending a spray of camel spit in all directions.
Dean witnessed the entire scene, erupting into a howl of laughter at the look of abject horror, now plastered on his brother's face. Sam scooted backwards, frantically wiping the pungent saliva from his face with the back of his hand.
"Holy crap!" Sam managed, spluttering.
"I don't fancy yours much, Sammy, but I think you've pulled there, dude!" Dean laughed aloud, holding onto his knee as the laughter induced rocking threatened to awaken the joint to fresh agony.
He looked from the mop haired camel in the stall, to the flop haired figure on the floor and giggled uncontrollably.
"Sammy, it's a match made in heaven. You've even got the same hair stylist!"
Dean ducked the filthy, balled up sock that flew in his direction, continuing to snigger despite the jarring to his various wounds.
"Ah, man, the look on your face. That was just priceless, dude."
Sam, struggling to maintain his dignity, picked himself up from the floor brushing the hay, straw and dirt from his already grubby clothes. As a wave of dizziness overcame him, he sat heavily on the low bales and leant forwards, dropping his head into his hands, momentarily lost for words.
"Sam? Sammy, you okay?" Dean was instantly contrite. "Dude, you hurt yourself?"
Sam shook his head slowly. "'M fine. Just a little tired is all. Um, Dean?"
"What's up, Sam?"
"Just now, before the, uh..." He jutted his chin in disgust at the swaying camel. "Up the back there, I just found...well it sure looks like...I, I mean, it can't be, but it really does look like..."
"Sam, you hit your head? You're babbling. Come here let me look at your eyes. What did you find?"
"Santa's sleigh!" He met his brother's eyes squarely. "Under the tarp, back there. I just pulled it off, and there it was, presents ‘n' all."
"Ookaay! Sam, you're tired. Come and sit down, you need to get some rest. In fact..."
"Dean, I am tired, very tired. But I'm not imagining it, bro. This must be some Bethlehem Christmas storage depot for all things Christmassy. I don't know, dude. Maybe it's for some Christmas procession. Maybe it belongs to some crazy hermit, who thinks he's Santa. Hell for all I know, Dean, it could be Santa's very own, freaking Grotto. All I do know, is that there's a sleigh, topped up with presents, sitting up the back of this stable."
Sam bent down, undoing his snow stained boots, groaning softly as he pulled them from his feet. Blood spotted Sam's worn socks where the long walk in his wet boots had chaffed at his skin.
"Sam, you got blisters? Here, lemme see! Pass me that first aid kit. Come on, let's get you sorted and then we'll both get some sleep. We'll worry about Santa's sleigh in the morning."
Dean worked diligently, cleaning and dressing the open blisters on both Sam's feet. Raptor had returned to chew lazily at the hay bales, and around them the noises of the other occupants filled the air. The camel, having lost its initial shyness now stood with its shaggy head peering over the stall, chewing the cud, steadily, as it regarded them through its black eyes. The reindeer, remained hidden in the shadows at the back of the pen. Raptor's large ears twitched at the plaintive bleating of the baby goat in the first stall.
Sam's head began to nod as he drifted contentedly off to sleep; slumped in the chair his long bangs falling across his face. Dean finished with his brother's feet and packed the kit tidily away.
The hiker smiled as he observed the care and devotion of the Winchester brothers for each other. These were brothers in the truest sense and they had begun to restore his long lost faith in mankind. He bit down his impatience to have them deliver the conclusion he so desired and basked in the warmth of their love for each other.
"Sammy, wake up." He called softly, gently shaking a long leg. "Sammy, you can't sleep there, you'll get cold and fall off. Come on, bro. Wake up!"
Sleepily, Sam raised his head, yawning widely. "Sorry, didn't mean to fall asleep." He blinked blearily.
"Sam, get on here, there's plenty of room. Grab one of these coats, and get your head down. I'll keep watch, bro. Get some sleep."
"'Kay, Dean." Sam's head turned towards the ever-increasing cries coming from the door of the goat pen. "Dude, what's the matter with the little fella. I'll never get to sleep with that racket."
"Something's sure got it shook! Go pass it over here, Sam and I'll see if I can keep it quiet."
Obediently, Sam trotted over to the stall and hooked the loudly bleating, little black and white goat over the top of the door and presented it to his still smiling brother. It quietened instantly, snuggling into the warmth of the thick fleece that lay across his muscular chest.
"Just call me ‘The Goat Whisperer'", he quipped, delightedly. "Now go get some sleep, Sam!"
And so it came to pass, that the two exhausted hunters found food, warmth and shelter, bedding down for the night amidst the beasts of the stable. Ends
Hope the Stable was up to your Christmassy expectations!! We promise, explanations will follow.
Join us for tomorrow’s chapter “Follow the Star!” as the boys go back out into the snowy wilderness and encounter Save 10 on their long, perilous journey back to safety.
We would dearly love to hear what you think of it so far and hope you stick around for the rest of the tale, it will NOT conclude on Christmas Day, as we have some explaining to do and the boys still have to somehow finish their hunt!