Pulling my gun, I slid out from behind him. The movement had him stirring and asking hazily. “What?”
“I think the doctor’s here. But I need to make sure.” When he grunted in acknowledgement, I crawled to the door of the boxcar and looked out onto the pickup truck that had just pulled up. Not a cop car, at least we had that, and I breathed a little easier when I saw a middle-aged man with glasses climb out of the cab.
“Hello?” he called warily. “I’m Michael Gant. Bobby Singer sent me.”
Lowering the gun, I poked my head out. “Doc, am I glad to see you.”
“Are you Dean?”
“Yeah, my brother’s in here. He’s been shot and I think the bullet’s still in him.”
He blinked and hesitated when he got a clear look at me, probably because of the blood on me… mine, Sam’s, it didn’t really matter, the result probably wasn’t the most welcoming sight. But when you’re called out in the middle of the night to treat a gunshot wound in a train car, it shouldn’t be far from what you expected. Which just went one more step in confirming what I had suspected– Doc Gant wasn’t a hunter.
I put my gun down and raised my hands to show I wasn’t a threat. “Look, you’re safe. I’m not going to hurt you. Bobby vouched for us, didn’t he?”
With a nod, the doctor steeled his nerves and handed his medical bag up to me. I took it and offered my hand down to him. “Thanks for coming.”
He accepted it and climbed up into the car. “You look like you could use a trip to the emergency room yourself.”
“I’m fine,” I dismissed, “Just take care of Sam.”
He didn’t waste any time crossing the short distance and kneeling beside his patient. “I need to look at the entry wound.” When Sammy nodded in understanding, Gant put on surgical gloves, lifted his shirt and pulled away the bandages I’d dressed the wound with earlier. The doctor winced almost as much as Sam and I figured gunshots weren’t something he treated on a regular basis. But he reached into his bag, pulled out a stethoscope and listened to Sammy’s breathing. “His lungs sound clear, so I don’t think the bullet made it past the ribs. This may hurt, son.” He started probing along the line of entry and Sam cried out.
“What?” I demanded when Sam’s eyes widened and he gasped as he arched his back.
“The bullet hit the rib,” Gant explained as he studied Sam’s back, “no doubt broke it, and then skidded along it to back here. Now it’s lodged between the muscle and the rib cage.”
“Well, that’s good, right?” It sounded a hell of a lot better than the alternative. “It’s not in his lung.”
“Yeah, but I need to get it out and this isn’t exactly the most sterile setting to perform surgery, no matter how simple.”
“Look, given a choice, I’d take him to the nearest hospital, but that’s not really an option. We don’t have the luxury of being picky right now.”
Using the back of his hand, he pushed his glasses up. “You boys, you do what Bobby Singer does, don’t you? You hunt… things.”
“Yeah,” I confirmed, going with a gut instinct. “Bobby helped you, didn’t he?”
“My daughter was in trouble… in danger… from her mother.” His eyes dropped as he confirmed what I had suspected. “He took care of the situation.”
“I’m sorry.” Bobby may have saved the guy’s kid, but I had feeling it hadn’t been a happy ending for her mom. “But considering what went down with your wife…”
“Ex-wife,” he corrected with a humorless laugh. “That was one way to settle the custody battle.”
“Well, then you know that sometimes we have to do things that the cops just don’t understand. Hell, most people don’t understand them who haven’t been through something like you have.”
He nodded again before looking back at Sam. “I’m going to need more light and my I.V. kit and some meds. They’re out in my truck.”
“I’ll help you get them,” I volunteered, climbing down after him. Once we were out of earshot of Sam, I told him, “Hey, I know this isn’t the sort of thing you’re used to seeing…”
He gave a harsh snort and stopped me with a raised hand. “I’ve treated gunshot wounds before, just not in humans.”
“What?” But he didn’t have to answer when I saw the door of his truck. M. Gant, DVM. “Wait, you’re a veterinarian?”
He shrugged as he gathered the materials from the back of his truck. “I’m accredited by the AVMA if that makes you feel any better.”
“You’re a vet?” He had to be shitting me. What the hell had Bobby been thinking?
“You said it yourself, Dean; you don’t have the luxury of being picky. So do you want me to get that bullet out of your brother or drive him to the closest emergency room like I’d prefer?”
“What do you want me to carry?” I asked without hesitation.
He shook his head in disbelief but handed me a box. “Are all hunters this crazy?”
My mind went straight to Gordon and his Jesus-freak friend. “Are you kidding? We look like choir boys in comparison to some of them.”
“Well, then, I’m glad Bobby didn’t ask me to help one of them.”
We climbed back up in the train car and I found myself leaning against the doorway waiting for the wave of dizziness to pass.
“When we’re done with your brother, I’ll check you out,” he promised.
“I told you, I’m fine.”
But my argument was met with a scoffing, “I’ve treated mules that weren’t as stubborn as you. Now come make yourself useful and hold this bag.”
Doing as I was told, I took the bag of saline solution and elevated it while he stuck it in the back of Sam’s hand. Sammy roused at the prick of the needle and I bent down beside him. “Hey, how’re you doing?”
“He going to… be able to… fix me?”
“Not bad at all,” I promised. “He’s just going to get that bullet out of you and you’ll be good as new.”
“I’ll give you something for the pain, too,” the doc assured him. “Something that will help you to sleep so you can get some rest. You’re going to need it over the next several days to get your strength back up.” When Sam nodded in understanding, the doctor turned back to me. “Have you given him anything yet?”
“Yeah, morphine about an hour ago.” I held up the small military issue dispenser.
He took it and seemed to be mentally calculating a new dosage before telling me, “We need to roll him on his side and hold him there.”
I helped Gant get Sam into the position he wanted, bracing his shoulder with my free hand. “It’s almost over, Sammy.”
The doctor injected a local anesthetic near the location of the bullet that was now one large bruise. He gave the drug a few minutes to numb the area, using the time to clean Sam’s back thoroughly with an antiseptic. Satisfied it was as good as he was going to get, he told Sam, “You may feel a little tugging. Let me know if you’re in any pain.”
He had the bullet out in less than a minute, simply made the incision and it practically popped out. “You don’t save these as souvenirs do you?”
“No, the less we remember about these things, the better.”
Tossing the slug aside, Gant cleaned and sutured the incision before moving to work on the entry wound. He finally had me sit Sam up so he could bind the ribs. By then, it was time for a new bag of fluids which he injected with another drug.
“Antibiotics,” he informed me. “And I’ll give you more, some pills, before I go. He’s going to need them. If he starts running a fever, call me immediately.”
“You have human antibiotics?” I asked suspiciously.
“Relax, Dean, he’ll be fine with these. On the plus side, you don’t have to worry about heart worms either.” He just grinned when my eyes widened in alarm. “Believe it or not, they’re the same for animals as they are humans. I just have to dose him like a Great Dane.”
Once he’d done that, he gave him a painkiller and I watched Sam’s eyes slide peacefully shut. “Sammy?”
“He’ll sleep for a while. It’ll be good for him; he lost a lot of blood.” He then turned his attention to me. “You’re up.”
I sighed but sat and let him look me over, flinching back from the penlight he flashed in my eyes. “You’ve got a pretty nasty concussion, but I have a feeling you already know that.”
“It’s not my first, if that’s what you mean.”
He clucked his tongue and wondered, “How do two brothers get involved in a life like this?”
“Family business,” I explained.
“I think if I were you, I’d try to find a new line of work.”
“Yeah, well, it’s not that easy.”
Taking a piece of gauze soaked in antiseptic, he set to cleaning up the blood from my head. “You boys are still young enough to go to school, get a degree, get a regular job and get on and have a normal life.”
Young enough, sure, but age didn’t have much to do with our… my current situation. And I didn’t think poor Doc Gant was up for a tale of selling souls. But there were other reasons Sam and I did what we did, the same reasons our dad did it. I didn’t know what Gant had seen exactly, but there was no denying he’d seen something. “Can you honestly tell me that when you look at your daughter, you don’t think of what happened to your family? Since Bobby took care of things, have you ever thought of the world the same way you did before? That monsters are just for movies and bedtime stories and you can go to sleep not wondering what’s out there in the dark?”
He sighed sympathetically but didn’t disagree with me. “Maybe it’s the parental instinct in me, but I hate to see you two living a life like this.”
I couldn’t help the laugh at that statement. It had been parental instinct that had dragged me and Sammy into the life we led. Right or wrong, Dad had believed the best way to keep us safe from the boogeyman in our closet was to teach us how to kill it. Because there were boogeymen and witches and werewolves and vampires and a hundred other things that had most kids hiding under the covers at night but had the Winchester brothers reaching for the holy water and consecrated iron buckshot beside their beds.
“You think it’s funny to suggest a better life?” Gant asked in genuine confusion.
“I think a life like you’re suggesting is the real fairy tale, a luxury we just aren’t going to get.”
He looked around the train car. “So this is the norm for you? Sleeping in an abandoned boxcar, running from the cops?”
“I wouldn’t say it’s the norm. We usually stay in a motel, occasionally sleep in the Impala.”
“You don’t even have a home somewhere? I’m pretty sure Bobby at least has that.”
Yeah, Bobby did have that, or at least he had a house and seeing as he was haunted by the memories of the home it once was, I wasn’t sure if he stayed in it out of convenience or guilt. Given the price that went along with most of the conveniences in life that Sam and I had never really had, I wasn’t so sure we had gotten the short end of the stick.
I plastered on my best devil-may-care smile. “You know what they say; home is where the heart is.”
The problem was, the devil did care a little too much about us Winchesters, which is why home wasn’t a quaint three bedroom with rosebushes and Mom making us sandwiches on a Sunday afternoon, why it was currently a railcar in Octa, Missouri. When my eyes flicked to Sammy, Gant didn’t miss it.
“He’s all you have, isn’t he?”
I shrugged as casually as I could, trying to cover how accurate he really was. “We grew up with just the basics.”
“You grew up with each other,” he corrected.
“Like I said; the basics.”
“I get the impression that the basics are pretty important to you.”
“If you mean keeping my brother breathing and not bleeding to death, then yeah, they’re pretty damn important.”
“Well, you got lucky this time around. That bullet could have easily hit where it could have bypassed his ribcage or kept going and lodged in his spinal cord or hit a little higher and nicked an artery or his heart or…”
“Yeah, okay,” I cut him off, “I get it.”
“I guess I’m just saying that I hope your luck continues, because in your line of work, I think you’ll need it.”
I dropped my eyes, trying not to laugh bitterly at how off he was about our luck holding out, because that would imply we had good luck to begin with, and anyone who knew the Winchesters knew that wasn’t the case. Everything we had, every scrap to our name, including the fact that we were still alive, had been earned by sweat and blood and, yeah, our souls.
I tried not to sound too sarcastic when I agreed, “Here’s hoping.”
He finished up his work on my head, shining his flashlight on it to get a better look. “Well, it looks like it’s held for now; you’re not going to need stitches.”
“I’m just one lucky son of a bitch, I guess.” So maybe I wasn’t as successful at sounding positive as I thought I could be, because the look the doc gave said he wasn’t buying it. But at least he didn’t call me on the lie.
“Why don’t you try to get some rest, too? I’ll stick around until dawn, just to keep an eye on your brother.”
“You sure?” This guy didn’t know us, was risking being in league with us if the cops showed up, and I didn’t want him getting in trouble for helping us just because Bobby had asked him to.
“You know, I don’t envy your life, Dean, but you were right with what you said earlier.” He dug around in his bag again and handed over two pills. “I haven’t slept the same since my ex-wife unwittingly moved in with a werewolf and ended up one herself. But at least I can sleep knowing there are people like you and your brother and Bobby Singer out there doing what you do. I guess it’s time I returned the favor.”
I took the pills and frowned. “I’ve heard of horse pills, but I never thought I’d have to take ones meant for a real, live horse.”
He grinned and shook his head. “Actually they’re generic acetaminophen I buy in bulk at Sam’s Club for me. You have no idea the kind of headaches you can get hanging out all day in a kennel full of barking dogs.”
I swallowed them down, settled back against the slats of the boxcar, and looked over at where Sam slept. The creases of pain had eased on his face and his breathing was deep and steady. “You sure he’s going to be okay?”
“Keep his wounds clean, make sure he takes the antibiotics, and he should be fine.”
And with that reassurance, I gave into my own exhaustion and slept.
When Gant shook my shoulder to wake me a few hours later, the sky was just starting to pink. “I thought you should know they’re talking about the robbery and shooting on the local radio. The clerk evidently gave a description of two men who fled the scene with the surveillance tapes, even though they weren’t involved in the robbery.” I winced at the news but he just shook his head. “One was blonde, blue eyes with a Mickey Mouse tattoo on his bicep; the other had curly black hair and a mustache. They both left in a red SUV.”
“Seriously? That’s what she told them?” Maybe we were luckier than I thought.
He just grinned. “You might want to keep an eye out for those guys, they sound a little shady.”
They’d still look for prints and there was a good chance Sam and I would show up in the FBI database, and even with the cops not looking for us at the moment, that could change very quickly. So it seemed like this was as good a time to leave as any. “Is it safe to move Sam?”
“He’ll be sore but there’s no danger in moving him. Are you okay to drive?”
“Yeah, actually, I do feel better. At least enough to get a few hours down the road and find a motel.”
“Then I’ll help you get him in the car. He’s probably going to still be a little loopy from the pain meds.”
The doc set to gathering his gear and I took the time to pat Sammy’s shoulder. “Up and at ‘em, Sunshine.”
His eyes open a sliver, blinking against the faint light of the rising sun. “Dean?”
“The one and only.” I gave a reassuring squeeze to his shoulder. “You ready to hit the road or do you plan to sleep all day?”
“The cops?” He tried to push himself up, dropping back down with a groan when he was rewarded with a sharp pain for his effort.
“The girl in the store threw them off our trail for now.” I helped him sit up, then steadied him when he swayed. Dr. Gant was right; Sammy was still more in la la land than out. “I guess the Dean Winchester love mojo works even when I’m under duress.”
Sam rolled his eyes at my wily grin. “Yeah, I’m sure that’s it. It wouldn’t have had anything to do with the fact that you scared the crap out of her.”
“Are you kidding? I was nothing but pure charm. How could she not fall for me?” Slinging one of his arms around my shoulder, I hauled him to his feet.
Sam gritted his teeth and braced his busted ribs with his free arm. “We weren’t there long enough for you to get her drunk,” my brother pointed out.
“You know, you can just stay here if you want.”
My threat was answered by Gant, who stepped in to help Sam on his other side. “And waste my drive out here. I don’t think so.”
Sam looked at the doc with a bit of confusion, like he’d seen the face but couldn’t quite place the name. “Michael Gant,” he told Sam in way of introduction. “We weren’t really properly introduced last night.”
“So, you’re the one who patched me up?”
“That’s me.” We led him to the door of the train car and Gant stepped down onto the trunk of the Impala and helped Sam down while I supported him from above.
“Thanks,” Sammy told him with a grunt, easing the rest of the way to the ground. “I know you really took a risk coming like you did.”
The doc shrugged at the compliment. “Evidently walking into a convenience store can be risky, too.”
“Yeah, evidently.” Sam leaned against the car as he walked the short distance to the passenger door and sat gingerly.
I climbed down and shook Gant’s hand. “Seriously, thank you.”
He handed me a business card and a bottle of pills. “If Sam’s wound becomes infected, call me.” I nodded and he told me, “And give Bobby my best when you see him again.”
“We will,” I promised.
Gant put his bag in his truck and gave a final wave as he pulled away and I joined my brother in the car. I handed over the antibiotics and business card to Sammy, who looked at the card with a frown.
“He’s a vet?”
The corner of my mouth twitched and I tried to keep a straight face. “Seems appropriate.”
With a shake of his head, he sighed. “Dude, we really need to talk to Bobby about his idea of help.”
“Hey, compared to how you looked six hours ago, I think he did a great job.”
“Yeah, okay,” he conceded.
“And he gave me one of those doggy cones to put around your neck if you start picking at your stitches.” My smug grin was met with a roll of brown eyes that was almost identical to the one he gave me several days later.
I’d driven us a few hours south, checked us into a motel, and we holed up for three days. When Sam was falling prey to the cabin fever as much as I was, I figured he was well enough to rejoin the hunt. That haunting in Little Rock we’d been heading for when we stopped for gas was being handled by another hunter, so we ate breakfast and hit the road heading for Wichita and a potential vampire lair. By mid-afternoon, the Impala wasn’t the only one that needed to refuel to keep going.
“You want something?” Sam asked as he started toward the am/pm connected to the gas station.
“Yeah, I’ll take a rib eye, a baked potato with sour cream and chives, and a nice red wine,” I told him as I pulled the nozzle from the pump.
And there was the eye roll. “Burger, sour cream and onion Pringles, and a Dr. Pepper; got it.”
“And a Snickers,” I called after him.
He waved his hand over his shoulder and disappeared inside. I watched him go, trying to keep him in sight. Sure, the chances of him being shot twice in a convenience store in one week were pretty slim, but we were Winchesters, so anything could happen. Fortunately, he came back out by the time I finished filling the tank. He pulled his own lunch from the bag before handing the rest over to me.
Digging through the bag for the burger, I narrowed my eyes as I pulled out a small plastic bubble containing a blue bouncy ball with white and neon orange swirls. “What’s this?”
“That? Oh, well, I know how much you like them.” He looked up at me from under his bangs before quickly looking away. “And you seemed a little disappointed that you didn’t get one at the last store…”
“Well, I was a little preoccupied the last time I saw one of these.” I gave the clear dome a shake and the ball bounced wildly, and even though the memory associated with the last time I’d seen one definitely wasn’t happy, I couldn’t help the smile that came to my face at the sight of the little ball. “Someone interrupted my porn purchase.”
He snorted before grumbling. “Try and keep up with this one. I don’t want it to be a wasted purchase.”
“It won’t be a waste,” I assured him.
I was talking about more than the ball. There was a chance that I might outlive Sammy even with my limited time here on Earth. It wasn’t something I liked to think about and I sure the hell planned to do everything in my power to keep him alive, but there was no denying shit happens. And Sam and I tended to attract it like a fertilizer factory. Sometimes it seemed we had targets on our backs, and the tattoos on our chest only went so far in keeping us safe. But when the rubber hit the road, the fact was, I’d never regret my deal, even if I’d only gotten a few hours with Sam. Because, in the end, I knew I’d done everything in my power, not to mention the power of Hell, to keep my brother safe. That had been my job since I was four years old and while I’d been accused of being many less than flattering things, slacking off when I had a job to do wasn’t one of them.
“And if it goes behind an ice machine,” Sammy warned around a bite of his burger, “don’t expect me to go get it for you.”
I sat the ball on the dash, and I doubted it would ever leave its little plastic display case; sometimes it’s best to preserve these things in mint condition. But there was no reason for him to think he would get off the hook if that was true.
“You can’t be serious. Do you miss those mega-atomic-wedgies that much?”
“Dude, you try it and you’re going to be hiring day laborers to pick the Fruit of the Looms out of your own ass.”
Besides, being able to grab a meal, gas, and a six-pack of beer all at the same time might be a convenience, but being able to share them with my brother was anything but. It was as close to needing something as I’d ever come in my life. Like I said, I was always the one who needed something I could touch, whether it was a bouncy ball or my brother… and now I had both. Not to mention the threat of wedgie vengeance. The fact that Sammy was still around to try to intimidate me just had me smiling even more in spite of the threat, hell, because of it.
Yeah, I’m pretty easy to please, even if, these days, it takes a little more than a quarter in a vending machine to do it. Then again, if my brother was the one who spent his quarter, it helped. It helped a hell of a lot. And if I was the one who made sure he was around to do it, then the satisfaction made the cost worthwhile.
It sure the hell wasn’t something you could buy at a 7-Eleven, but not everything can be bought at a convenience store.
Although the porn… now that’s another story.
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