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Fic: One Step at a Time 1/4



Dean’s response to waking up to stark white and the smell of antiseptic was, “Aw, hell.” Then the pain washed over him, sharp and stabbing and building until he thankfully blacked out again. All in all, it was one of the worst hospital awakenings he’d ever had, though still second to the time he got a piece of rebar shoved through his intestines. He hadn’t been able to eat solid food for six months that time, as he recalled.

It was better the next time he woke up. The pain was still there, throbbing incessantly along with his pulse, but it was covered with what Dean recognized as a thick blanket of opiates that made everything fuzzy around the edges. Dean pried his eyes open, squinting against the brightness, only to see his father’s bearded face inches from his own.

He jolted back on reflex and immediately regretted it. The dulled pain sharpened instantly, making him gasp. “Easy, son,” his dad said. “Don’t move like that, not yet.”

“Duly noted,” Dean managed between gritted teeth. “What happened?”

“What do you remember?”

It took him a moment to put things into place. “Black dog. It snatched up a couple of kids from some neighborhood.”

“Good place to start. You chased that damned thing out of the suburbs and onto a four-lane highway. It got hit by a semi, which didn’t kill it but slowed it down enough for you to catch up and take care of it.”

“I remember running,” Dean said, fighting against the pain and the vagueness of the drugs. “I don’t remember the semi. Did it get me before I put it down?”

“No, son.” His dad looked weird, which Dean attributed to the drugs. There’s no way John Winchester was crying. “You were standing on the shoulder, calling me to say you’d gotten it, when some asshole driving an SUV and talking on his cell phone clipped you. You went down, but you were still talking to me at that point, telling me what was going on. While you were down, as far as anyone can tell, someone else ran over you.” His dad’s hand clenched into a fist, a gesture familiar to Dean that meant something or someone was about to be laid flat. “That’s something we don’t know for sure, since whoever it was didn’t stop to check. You screamed and then you weren’t answering.”

“How long until I’m back to kicking ass?”

What little color had been in his father’s face drained, leaving him ashen and drawn. “The doctor can explain it better.”

“Reader’s Digest version, Dad.”

“A year, at least.” There was something he wasn’t saying, and the idea of his Dad leaving out information about him pushed all his worry buttons, but he couldn’t keep his mind focused long enough to ferret it out. “Go back to sleep, Dean. I’ll keep watch.”

His body relaxed like it had been conditioned to with that phrase and the warm, comforting dark swallowed him up again.

There was someone waiting with Dad when he swam back up into consciousness, a doctor if Dean went by the white coat and the clinically sympathetic expression. “Dean,” he said as Dean blinked at the two of them. “Glad you decided to join us.”

“Well, it’s my party,” Dean managed to quip. They’d dialed down on the painkillers, which meant the pain was sharper but his thoughts were as well. “Be a shame if I didn’t show up for it.”

The doctor nodded. “We have to talk about your options. Your father refused to make a decision in your stead, since it was not life-threatening at the moment, we complied, but now you have some decisions you need to make.” He pulled the sheet covering Dean’s lower legs back, like a stage magician making a reveal, and brushed his hand against something that sent fireworks off behind Dean’s eyes. The doctor didn’t seem to notice. “I’m sorry, I wish we had more time to ease you into this, but we must take advantage of your awareness. You’ve been mostly unconscious for the past week and not truly lucid for those rare moments when you were awake. The damage done by the vehicle was extensive. Some of it can be repaired, of course, but the recovery time will be at least a year and you will never have full mobility again.”

Dean could feel himself slipping again at the doctor’s words. “Bottom line it, Mengele.”

The doctor didn’t flinch at the insult, continuing to look at him with mingled pity and sympathy. “With your legs as they are now, you will require multiple surgeries and at least a year of physical therapy before you could walk, even with crutches or canes, and you will be in constant pain for the rest of your life. The bones of your feet and ankles were crushed. I think you need to consider amputation.” He put up a hand, probably to forestall Dean’s knee-jerk refusal. “At the moment, your lower limbs are little more than useless pieces of meat and bone. You will experience far less pain, have far more mobility, and be up and moving much more quickly. This is the best option for you.”

“How long do I have to think about it?” Dean asked.

“Not long. The longer you wait, the more problems you’re going to have. We’re having a very hard time maintaining blood flow and preventing infection, and the more time passes the more complications we’re likely to see. You have an hour.”

Dean looked down toward his feet, still feeling the sharp stabbing pain that had occurred when the doctor had barely touched his leg. He couldn’t see anything past a set of bulky braces and didn’t want to try wiggling his toes. He pictured the future the doctor had predicted, with him trapped in a wheelchair or basically stuck on the bed in some cheap motel room while his father hunted. He thought about his dad carting him around like an extra piece of luggage, lugging him in and out of the Impala like a broken weapon that John Winchester refused to discard, dead weight that his father would be better off without. “Do it.”

“I’ll bring the papers you need to sign and schedule the surgery,” the still unnamed doctor said, hurrying out of the room.

“Don’t call Sam,” Dean said once the man was gone. He didn’t meet his father’s eyes because he didn’t want to see the pity that was probably there.

“Your brother would want to know,” his dad said, almost hesitantly.

“Don’t call him.” It wasn’t that he didn’t want Sam there. Short of his dad, there was no one he would want at his side more than Sam. But somewhere deep in his subconscious he doubted his brother would come when he called. It was better to not have him here at Dean’s decision than to find out Sam’s classes and normal life were more important than his brother.

Things moved very quickly after that. A doctor came in, not the same one as before, with a sheaf of papers that needed signed. The double whammy of pain and opiates was threatening to put him under again, so he made his father read them, signing everything blindly once his dad was done. The original doctor came back and finally introduced himself as Dr. Vjotek before running through an overview of the procedure.

“You put me to sleep, you cut off my legs, I hopefully wake up,” Dean summed up.

“Without nearly as much pain, if everything goes well.” The doctor made some weird, solemn expression that was probably supposed to be wise and kind, but missed the mark.

“All right then.” Dean glanced over at his father, purposefully didn’t look down at his mangled feet, and laid back on the gurney. “Let’s do this.” He could handle it as long as he didn’t think about it as they wheeled him down to surgery, his dad keeping pace at his side for as long as they would let him. Instead, he mentally detailed exactly how he would take apart his favorite gun and put it back together. He started humming Metallica under his breath, then moved on to Zeppelin. He dismantled and rebuilt the engine on the Impala in his dream garage and had begun to tweak it when they put the mask on his face. And then there was blissful nothing.

onestepdiagnosis

“It’s done.”

“The next pieces are in place?” He knew he didn’t have to ask the question. His companion was nothing if not meticulous and completely devoted to this project, two invaluable, irreplaceable components of the plan, after all. But the act of asking was part of the lesson for that particular companion.

“Yes,” the answer came to his unnecessary question. “I am still unsure that this much damage was needed.”

“Dean has to be kept out of hunting for at least a year if you’re going to keep him alive through this whole thing. Azazel wants Dean almost as badly as he wants Sam, because Dean is the real threat. The oldest Winchester brother is the fulcrum on which the family turns. The only way to manipulate Sam or John is to use Dean as either the carrot or the stick.”

There was a tilt of confusion to his companion’s head. “You may be right. And Dean himself is almost impossible to steer.”

“Unless you’ve got the little brother or Daddy on hand,” he finished. “Trust me, this is way better. He’ll have a hard time believing it for a long time, but this way he lives to see thirty.”

xxx

He had no memory of the surgery, something he was very thankful for. Dean had undergone emergency surgery twice before, and during the time that a vengeful spirit had shoved a piece of rebar in his stomach he had woken up. There hadn’t been any pain, but he could hear the doctors talking about their children and the local schools while they were wrist deep in his insides and it made an impression. Thankfully the anesthesiologist had noticed what was going on and rectified the situation, but that experience was on his list of ‘never again.’

His dad was there when he woke up in recovery, looking far older than Dean remembered. The morphine was still swimming through his system, making his thoughts languid and the pain a dull throb behind the curtain.

“ ‘S it over?” he said, his words slurring a little. He couldn’t really get a good look at his father’s face from this angle, so he tried to push himself up and turn. It was a bad decision.

“Easy, Dean,” his father said, easing him back when the sudden spike of pain made the edges of his vision white. He nudged the bed control toward Dean. “Do me a favor and use this first. I’m getting too old to pick your ass up off the floor.”

“You could just call for a nurse or something to help you.” Dean attempted a smile, but he had a feeling that his face wasn’t quite cooperating. “I know you like the nurses, Dad.”

“Yeah, right.” His dad shook his head, but he looked a little better. Mission accomplished. “Smartass,” he added.

“I come by it honest,” Dean told him with mock gravity. He was about to follow that up with a pithy comment about how Mom had been the one with a sense of humor when the Dr. Vjotek came into the room.

The man walked down the row of beds, half of them containing patients, and headed over to Dean. “I see you’re awake. How are you feeling?”

Actually, the longer Dean stayed awake and aware the more the pain came into focus, though it wasn’t nearly as bad as the first time he’d woken up. “About like someone cut off my legs. Thanks for asking.”

“I can give you something for that, but I need to check a few things first.” The doctor ran through the usual battery of ‘you just woke up and we need to make sure you’re going to stay alive’ tests before tossing back the sheet to check the incisions.

Dean looked down and involuntarily tensed. He had avoided that glance down since he’d woken up, much like he’d avoided thinking about it while they’d wheeled him down the hallway, but now the facts were staring him in the face.

He’d never given his feet much thought before, as long as they weren’t hurting. They were just there, part of the mechanism of walking and running. And now they were gone and his legs ended in two swollen lumps about six inches below each knee, heavy gauze wrappings undone and tubes sticking out of each stump. Dean gagged a little at the sight and turned his head away.

“So far it looks good,” Dr. Vjotek murmured. “We’ll move you into a regular room now. It looks like you’re not reacting to the anesthetic or the blood we gave you, which is a good sign. Just try to rest for the remainder of the day. The physical therapist will be up to talk to you tomorrow morning to give you a timeline for your prosthetics.”

“How long do you think you’ll keep him in the hospital?” John asked. “We don’t have the greatest insurance.”

Dean felt the edge of a bitter, hysterical laugh bubble up in his chest, which he quickly suppressed. They didn’t have any insurance, really. Nothing legal, and certainly nothing that would hold up for however long it would take to make it so he could hobble along.

“I wouldn’t worry about that,” the doctor said. “It’s been taken care of.”

Dean shot a worried glance over at his father. “By who?”

“The benefactors wish to remain anonymous. I can tell you more about it once we get you into a more private room.”

It took a fair amount of engineering to accomplish this; moving Dean from the bed onto a gurney took two people since Dean was still in too much pain to do much to help out. The ride itself was smooth, although Dean couldn’t stop himself from believing that everyone was staring at him as they wheeled him down the hall, into an elevator, and through three more corridors before they reached a semi-private room. Transferring him to the new bed wasn’t quite as difficult; Dean was already figuring out how he had to move with his new, overly abused body. There were bruises on his shoulder and on his back and hip that he had noticed when they transferred him, coming out in all their violent color schemes.

The doctor pulled a seat up next to Dean’s bed. The other bed in the room was currently empty, although Dean didn’t’ expect that to last long. He’d been in enough small-town hospitals and clinics to know that space was at a premium. “All right, Mr. Winchester. Here’s what I can tell you about your anonymous benefactors. Your story made the front page of the local paper. Three different mothers witnessed you saving those children and pursuing that animal. We’ve already had several locals make donations to help pay for your medical expenses. Yesterday it got picked up by the national wire service, as a two-paragraph blurb, and then showed up as a short news story on the Internet. The story mentioned your name and that you had no insurance. We got a call from New York asking about making a donation while you were in surgery and three more from Illinois, Texas, and Ohio while we were moving you into this room. Do not worry about the money for your treatment and rehabilitation. It’s been taken care of.”

Dean felt his face grow hot and he avoided looking at his father. His whole life he’d been taught to never accept pity or charity, and now he had no alternative. The entire fucking world knew that Dean Winchester was a helpless, useless cripple.

His dad stirred in his own seat. “What about prosthetics?”

Dr. Vjotek smiled. “The owner of one of two shops in the area that deal with prosthetics limbs has a daughter and a granddaughter. They live in the neighborhood that you helped protect. I wouldn’t worry about that, either.”

Dean clenched his fists and closed his eyes. He refused to cry right now, and getting mad and punching either his father or the doctor would be pointless. “I need to be alone right now.” He was remotely proud that the words had come out evenly, with no hint of the emotion underneath.

After a lengthy pause his father took the hint and ushered the doctor from the room. Dean waited until they were long gone from range before he clenched his fist and punched the plastic rail on the bed. It cracked slightly and scraped along his knuckles, but compared to the signals the remains of his legs were sending out the pain was dismissed as soon as it was noted.

He closed his eyes against the fluorescent lights and ignored the hot prickling behind his eyelids. It didn’t mean anything, after all. None of it did. He was useless now. He’d never be able to do things the way he was raised and trained to do again.

There was a slight rustling sound, somewhere between the movement of lab coats and the flapping of wings, and Dean felt a cool hand rest on his forehead for a second before it was gone. He opened up his eyes, startled at the intrusion, but there was no one there.

xxx

The morning after his embarrassing breakdown, and also the day after the surgery that amputated his lower limbs, the physical therapist appeared. They’d already started dialing back his painkillers for this visit and the ones that would follow, so he was miserable and grumpy but fairly clear-headed. The guy introduced himself as Tom and talked with Dean for about two hours, laying out both the long-term plan for Dean’s recovery and specifics about what the next few weeks would entail. His visit was concluded with a preliminary test of reflexes and muscle tone which the man seemed pleased about and a friendly warning to go easy on the coffee before the next couple of sessions.

It was incredibly depressing to Dean how much that little chat drained him. Once the physical therapist was gone he fell asleep, only to be awakened by a nurse after half an hour for a vitals and stats check, a slightly humiliating bathroom break, and a change of the blood-spotted sheets. His dad showed up just as he was transferring back to the bed, dashing most of his prospects when it came to a possible nap. There was no way he could show his father that kind of weakness now, not after yesterday. So he kept his bed propped up in position and they talked about hunting, using as many neutral terms as possible to keep from freaking out civilians.

In some ways, it was exactly what he needed. His father kept to old stories and legends without mentioning any future hunts. It was nice to have the moment when his father walked away from his now-useless son delayed and to be reminded of the good stuff he’d managed to do before.

Dad didn’t bring up contacting Sam, but Dean wasn’t expecting it. His dad had the ability to stick to his decisions like a pitbull regardless of whether they were the correct ones and while Dean had cautiously brought up his brother when things were good John Winchester sometimes pretended that he’d never had a second son. He did mention Pastor Jim and Bobby Singer, his slightly shifty expression revealing that he’d already called the two men, and Dean didn’t bother with telling his dad he didn’t want them here. It was already a lost cause. He was going to have visitors and he was going to have to deal with it.

xxx

It was Jen who brought the article to her attention, dropping the paper down onto a table in the break room with an aggravated sigh. “People suck,” she announced, sitting down on one of the plastic chairs.

“What brought about this revelation?” Lisa asked. She didn’t argue with the assessment.

“This.” She pushed the paper in front of Lisa, stood up and turned to the fridge. “Some guy was hit by a car while protecting a bunch of kids from a rabid dog. SUV-driving asshole didn’t even slow down. ‘Dean Winchester, 23, remains in critical condition.’”

Lisa started at the name. Dean was kind of unforgettable, after all, since he’d given her the best night of her life and a little boy that was in pre-school right now. The age was right as well, but Lisa was sure that there was more than one Dean Winchester out there that was about her age. “Are you done with this paper, Jen?”

Her coworker shrugged and closed the fridge door, returning to the table with a yogurt and a plastic spoon. “I’m done. Do whatever you want to do with it. Hey, did you see those shoes Peg was wearing? It’s a good thing she’s on desk duty right now. Those things would kill after a shift on the floor.”

Lisa nodded, because she had seen the shoes and they were both cute and painful-looking and would be entirely impractical for anything that didn’t involve strutting down a runway or sitting behind a desk, but most of her attention was on the article in front of her.

It wasn’t a local story, so it only took up a few inches in the ‘Nation’ column. Lisa read every word carefully because the name of Dean Winchester alone was enough to make her heart climb into her throat. There weren’t any further details on his identity beyond name and age, which was incredibly frustrating, but the incident it described sounded very much like Dean (THE Dean, best night of my life Dean, as she’d called him to a couple of her friends). They’d met at a bar when he’d basically been her knight in slightly rusted armor, helping her get rid of the guy she’d nicknamed ‘Poor Choice Rick’ when that particular ex-boyfriend had gotten a little too persistent. She’d took him home for the night for that and kept him for two more when she saw him help her elderly downstairs neighbor into her car. Little things like that were more important than most guys realized.

Five years later, she still had his telephone number scribbled down on a folded scrap of paper in her wallet despite the fact that she’d never called to tell him about the little boy with his father’s eyes and smile. Lisa wondered what would happen if she called that number now. Would he answer at all? Would he be fine and healthy and safe, or in the hospital and in pain?

Lisa carefully folded up the paper and tucked it into her bag. It was something to consider. Dean was the kind of guy who deserved a second chance, especially since she’d never really given him a first chance. She would think about it when she got home.

onesteplisa

Part 2