“’m not… ‘m not druunk!”
The man dressed in white scrubs hid a smirk and nodded. “I’m sure you ain’t, buddy,” he said condescendingly, one hand gently pushing the man down, back on the gurney from which he kept trying to get off. “Just stay still for a little bit, ok? It’s kind of cold outside… you don’t really wanna hit the streets in your condition, do ya?”
“Not… not dr’nnk,” the man said as soon as he was horizontal once again, reinforcing his point by crossing unfocused green eyes over his nose and managing to get his skin to match his pupils.
It was kind of impressive. That and the barf that exploded out of his mouth in the next second; it flew through the air in a perfect arch before landing squarely between the filthy sheet on the floor and the empty trashcan. It managed to miss both of those, plus the nurse and the orderly that were trying to strip the guy of his smelly, drenched clothing. If there was ever a puke competition at the Olympics, this guy had to sign up for it.
“G’t… get ya f… ffrri’ing hands ‘ff me!” the man blared again as soon as his stomach stopped trying to redecorate the ER room.
The nurse and the orderly easily batted away the clumsy hands trying to stop their cutting and pulling of dirty clothes. But, like all drunks, the kid’s perceptions of near and far, up and down, were pretty much shot to shit. “Be nice, buddy… we’ve got restraints and we’re not afraid to use them,” the orderly warned, grabbing one of the guy’s bony wrists and pressing it to the mattress of the gurney.
That particular warning seemed to sink in and the kid turned one wide, scared look at them and stopped his frantic motions.
The man smelled like sewer -and that was putting it nicely- and his stink was slowly spreading its pestilence all over the place. The ER wasn't all that big, certainly nothing like that one on the TV show, so, all it really took was one smelly guy a night for the metaphorical cloud of green stink to spread and take residence in every nook and cranny of the place. It was barely one a.m. and way too frigging early to be dealing with 'The Stink' until morning.
As it was, nothing but a pair of noses far too used to that kind of crap stood between the guys smelling it and running for cover under a mask. It wasn’t like the masks smelled any better, truth be told… they just didn’t smelled like that particular brand of crap.
The orderly picked the soiled jeans and the ragged shirts with a gloved hand and placed them in a plastic bag. “Jesus cryps, this is ripe! Incinerate?” He asked, more out of courtesy than as a valid option. There is no way they were keeping that bag around and risk the smelled escaping confinement.
“Did they X-ray that yet?” the nurse, a man in his thirties, with dark brown hair and a straight nose, asked. Eyes drawn up in concern, he stared pointedly at the extensive bruise covering the guy’s chest. It looked at least a couple of days old, the black and deep green starting to give away to the yellow and red.
The orderly just shrugged, which could easily be translated as a ‘probably no’.
This particular homeless guy had come in just for the ‘hangover special’, as they called it. Sober up, hydrate and return to the street. X-rays not included.
They’d both seen it far too many times. Men and women like this walk in –or more than likely, get carried in- and people just focus on the smell and the cloud of flees, on the slurred curses and the alcohol stink in their breath, on the ever present insanity that sooner or later seems to get them all.
Truth be told, most of them only really ever go there for a chance of a hot shower and a sure meal anyway, and the bruises… those are usually hidden under too many layers of dirt for anyone to see them. If anyone even bothered to look.
The guy on the gurney had fallen into a somewhat light slumber, eyelids half open, glassy look underneath. His mouth kept mumbling random words, some making no sense at all, some sounding like they weren’t even English.
He looked too young for this shit. This was someone’s kid, probably someone’s boyfriend and someone’s best friend if he hadn’t been living in the street.
Because there was little doubt that this guy had been living in the street. He had that air about him.
There had been no wallet on him when he’d been picked up, stumbling drunkenly in the streets of Blackfoot, Idaho. Apparently, he'd made a nuisance of himself in town, walking in front of cars, stumbling down the sidewalk, grabbing random people and calling them Sammy, right before passing out in front of Tone-Death, Mr. Morris’s music shop.
At least, that was the story that the EMT's had told. They’d been very specific about that name –Sammy-, because that was about the only clue they had about their patient. That, and the smell of booze that was impossible to ignore.
He didn’t look like a robbery victim, either. His rancid condition and the amount of dirt on him, suggested that the guy had been roaming the streets for quite some time.
Not enough for the street to leave its marks on him yet, though. Grabbing a washcloth to get some of the grime off, the nurse could see that this fellow still had some muscle on him, not quite yet at that emaciated point of someone who'd been without a decent meal for months or years. No needle tracks either, but that didn’t really mean much these days.
The guy looked sort of fit, not in that at-the-gym-everyday-ending-in-y, stiff-necked kind of way, but more in the way of an intensely active person who likes to move around and is not afraid of hard labor. Underneath all the wear and tear of being homeless, the guy looked almost healthy. Well, mostly it was the fact that he had all of his limbs present and accounted for. He didn’t seemed to have any sort of deformity that would stop him from being an active and productive person… heck! he didn’t even have any rotten teeth. Maybe there was something wrong with his head?
And, it wasn’t like they were usually looking for that kind of stuff or even paying any particular sort of attention to the fact when people came in. However, everyone had noticed and made some kind of comment about the exact same thing with this one: the guy was pretty.
He had the sort of features that called to people’s attention, even under the chapped lips and cracked skin and the crusts of dirt and grime and general crap that had gathered at the corner of his lips and all over his facial hair.
It was the sort of chiseled features that movie stars bragged about, features that not even a uneven beard and badly grown mustache could hide. If anything, the random tufts of reddish beard made him look like some sort of roguish pirate on shore leave. Barba Rossa, the scourge of the seven seas!
There were only so many reasons for a healthy young man, who looked like that, to be on the street. He was either running from something or hiding from someone. Either way, he looked more and more like a good candidate for the ultimate cliché of street misery: working tricks for the next dose.
“I’m not… ge’ off me.” He started again, mumbling incoherently, eyes darting around, half crazy with confusion until they locked on the nurse cleaning his face. “Don'-- Sammy?”
There it was again, that name. It was about the only intelligible thing he'd said so far. It was clearly someone important to him, someone that had been a part of his life at some point. A girlfriend maybe? Or a boyfriend? His dog? The name had kind of a broad-spectrum quality about it.
“Actually, my friends call me Eddy, but Sammy works too,” the nurse joked, knowing that, by the time the guy sobered up, he wouldn’t be remembering any of this. “What’s your name?” he asked casually. Couldn’t hurt to at least know their John Doe's real name, could it? It wasn’t like they were gonna bother with calling his next of kin or anything, not when the guy would be out of there in a couple of hours.
The choked off words caught Eddy’s attention and his gaze went from the bleeding cut on John Doe's arm, the one he'd just reopened with the warm water and soap, to his patient's face. It didn’t look like he’d stopped talking because he was afraid of telling his name or simply being belligerent about supplying the information. He looked genuinely surprised for not having an answer for that simple question.
Well… it wouldn’t be the first drunk to have a couple of neurons fried by too much alcohol…
“-’m not—‘runk,” the guy said one more time, sounding as convincing now as he’d been the past twenty times.
“Sure thing buddy… care to explain the smell of booze all over you and the blood alcohol content of .3?” Eddy asked. It was a bluff, but hey, it worked nine out of ten times. No one had asked for his blood work and, more likely than not, they wouldn’t even bother with that. Unless the drunk was involved in some sort of accident or crime, there was really not much point in wasting the time and money in getting numbers on what was obvious.
Money and resources, that’s what it was all about nowadays. If the guy smells like booze, acts like booze and talks like booze, treat for too much booze, spare him the hangover and save some bucks in the process.
“I… I don’no,” the guy said, sounding way too honest in his confession. “Do… y— I can’t… can’t ‘member a thing—“ he tried, before his words drifted off and his eyes slid shut again.
Eddy looked more closely at him. Usually, when confronted with solid proof of their own drunkenness, most drunks in denial would come up with the most ridiculous excuses that, surely made some kind of sense inside their wine marinated brains, but failed to convince everyone else. After all, bottles did not ‘jump’ people and ‘spill their contents’ on random mouths and most places did not sell beer saying ‘its just herbal tea’. Best one to the day? Cough drops gone bad while holding a bottle of Vodka.
That sort of openness and genuine concern? Wasn’t all that common.
Eddy put two fingers on the guy’s chin and pulled his mouth open. Calling himself insane for even doing this, he bent down and took a whiff of the guy’s breath.
Strangely enough, Eddy could smell the acrid scent of vomit, strong enough to make his eyes water, but no alcohol. “Weird,” he whispered to himself.
“Smelling the roses?” the orderly, Mike, asked as he came back to the room, after getting himself rid of the nasty smelling bag of clothes, to find the nurse’s head inches from the patient’s face.
“No drinking morning-freshness,” Eddy said at the same time that he pulled back the half closed lids of the man on the gurney and took a second look at his eyes. “I’ll be damn! How did they miss this?”
“What?” Mike asked, intrigued. He’d worked enough shifts with Eddy to know what that look meant. Eddy was on to something and he wasn’t liking it one bit.
“Look at his eyes,” Eddy said, his hand already on the phone to call radiology.
Mike twisted his nose and gave the patient’s eyes a look. “They’re pretty—you calling the Guinness Book to tell them that or something-”
Eddy gave him a look that clearly stated that he was an ass, while his mouth was booking the CT scan room. “Don’t be an idiot… look at the guy’s pupils.”
Mike wasn’t really in the medical field. His job, as he put it, was to be the brawn for these guys’ brains. Didn’t mean he hadn’t picked up a thing or two in the twenty years he’d been working there. Simple basic stuff that actually made his life easier and more interesting.
Things like knowing that anyone screaming that ‘they're dying’, isn’t really all that sick. Learning that people can drown without even being near water. That colors do matter and, more often than not, red means high blood pressure; blue means lung problems; yellow, bad liver; white, puke incoming and gray, racing to the nearest crash-cart. And that bruised brains usually shows up in the eyes.
It wasn’t really very noticeable unless you compared one eye with the other, but with both eyelids peeled back, it was easy to see that one of the guy’s pupils was way larger than the other. “Banged head?” Mike ventured, his gloved fingers searching the guy’s head for an easy culprit. The man’s hair had so much crap clinging to it, that Mike guessed some of that might actually be blood.
“Head trauma, for sure,” Eddy corrected. “Found anything?”
Mike shook his head. “Nope—Oh! Wait a sec… jackpot!” the orderly announced, his right hand under the guy’s skull, near the neck. With one look exchanged between the two men, Eddy was on the other side of the gurney, gently turning the guy’s head to have a look.
The bump was impressive, growing at least two inches above the rest of the scalp. The nasty cut neatly slipping the ‘egg’ open at the middle, looked, like the bruises, at least a couple of days old.
“Ah, damn!” Eddy let out, his finger dropping to the neck to feel a pulse. Too slow… it was too slow “This poor bastard's been nursing that concussion for at least 48 hours— we gotta take him to that scan now,” he pressed on, his eyes on the aluminum work table, where he was already making a list of everything he needed to take with him. If he crashed on route…
Eddy looked up, searching for the rest of team in the ER. The bus load of food-poisoned tourists that had arrived half an hour before was keeping everyone else pretty busy. Maybe he could pull one of the others from the puking and crapping tourists...
“Sammy… you’r here.”
Eddy looked down at the hand gripping his wrist. There was black dirt underneath the man’s nails and two of them had been torn off completely, leaving bloody, angry looking flesh behind.
The patient was confusing him with this Sammy again. Guess that made ‘Sammy’ a dude. Hopefully. “Take it easy okay? We’re gonna take good care of you,” Eddy said, mechanically, his eyes focused on the bloodied fingers rather than the guy.
Those nails were ripped right out by their beds… How does that even happen? One nail falling off after a nasty squeeze or a broken finger, that Eddy could deal with, that he has dealt with, so many times that he’s lost count. But ripped out nails? There’s only one way for that to happen, and there’s usually nothing accidental about it. What the hell?
Suddenly, it was like every assumption that he’d taken for certain had gained a new context. Suddenly, Eddy could guess the shape of a foot in those chest bruises; suddenly the missing patches of beard didn’t looked random but rather like they'd been torn out; suddenly the abrasions on the wrists didn’t so much look like chaffing from dirty clothes but rather like rope burns… it painted a whole picture that Eddy wasn’t liking one bit.
“Sammy… I wanna… I wanna go homm- please… I just… wanna go homm-“
Eddy looked at Mike. They both hated this shit and they each knew it.
Mending broken bodies, dealing with sick people, that was the shit they had signed up for. But this? The whole staring at all the evil, all the unfairness and messed up shit that the world threw on people and not be able to do a single thing about it? They loathed that shit like it was yesterday’ socks.
And it always got worse around Christmas time. Every. Single. Damn. Year.
Like clockwork, as soon as December hit, the sad stories started pilling up, like some cosmic joke that made people’s lives sink in the hole when everyone else was making plans to spend time with their family, be merry and make love.
It was the same crap that happened all year long, really, but it always stung worse on Christmas.
It was the homeless guy who froze to death in the corner of an empty street without anyone really stopping to take notice; it was the little kid whose parents died in the car crash and has no one else who can take him, so gets to spend the holidays getting to know the inside workings of foster care; it was the mother, father, wife, husband that has been sick for months and ends up dying just on the eve of Christmas; the father, mother, husband, wife that stood by the deceased’s side all along and now that they’re gone, doesn’t know what to do with themselves and end up in the hospital too; the poor bastards who look at all the pretty lights and the piles of fake gifts on shop windows and the fake happiness across the billboard models with too white smiling teeth and decide that they’ve had enough of fake and will never be able to taste the real thing… and just kill themselves.
Season of joy… fucking depressing every single time. And now they could add Barba Rossa to their list… and it’s still more than a week to go until Christmas day.
Eddy was about to open his mouth, to offer some other platitude that would do jack-squat for the guy who lived in the street and wanted to go to a home that probably didn’t even exist anymore, when the man’s grip on Eddy’s wrist went from needy to bone-shattering. “Wha-“
The whole gurney started shaking and the man’s fingers had turned into claws, digging into Eddy’s skin where they make contact. Looking higher, it was painfully clear to see the tension on Barba Rossa’s neck.
“Damn! He's convulsing!” Eddy snapped, his fingers already reaching for the pre-filled syringe of Phenobarbital Sodium.
Eddy had to trust his instincts on this one. He could yell for a doctor, but chances were no one would hear him, not on top of all the confusion that was going on in the main rooms of the ER. He could send Mike to drag one there, but that would be wasting precious minutes that Barba Rossa’s brain did not have.
There was a reason why those shots were already set and ready to be use at hand. But the thing was... if Barba Rossa had really been drinking, the drug, on top of the head injury, could sink his breathing and send him into arrest; and if Eddy didn’t gave him the drug, the chances of brain damage were very real; plus the recurring convulsions would make the CT-scan that the guy so desperately needed, impossible to do.
Mike, his long arms draped around the thrashing patient, trying to keep him as immobile as possible, seemed to guess the nurse’s hesitation.
Eddy’s internal clock was ticking. Close to thirty seconds and the guy was still going at it. On the white sheet that they had placed over Barba Rossa’s naked body, a clear, wet stain had started to form over his crouch.
Eddy bit his lip. The only two things that the guy had said since he’d gotten there was that he wasn’t drunk and that he wanted to go home with Sammy.
There wasn’t much that Eddy could do about that second part, but he could believe in the first and save this guy. Or he could kill him.
Without pausing for a second-guess, Eddy pressed the needle into the pale skin and emptied the clear liquid into Barba Rossa’s vein. The effect took only seconds, the thrashing slowing down; muscles began to relax, until finally the guy’s body sagged back on the gurney.
“I got this,” Eddy said to Mike as he pushed the gurney out and headed for the elevator that would take them to radiology. “Page Dr. Henderson and tell him to met us there.”
Two days later, checking out the IV on a bloated faced Mrs. Thompson –the woman was allergic to seafood like nobodies business, but even so, every year, on her birthday, she would insist on eating grilled shrimp, thus ending up here, stretched out on a gurney in the ER, being pumped full of drugs- Eddy saw Mike coming at him with a small, folded piece of paper in his hands.
“What’s that?” He asked, curious. The paper was yellow, torn from some stationary with side holes. “Shrimp recipe for Mrs. Thompson?”
The woman smiled, stretching her swollen lips as far as she could. Sixty years old and no shame at all, that one.
“Found it in room three the other day… figured it’d fallen from Barba Rossa’s things,” Mike said, handing over the folded paper.
The jovial mood fled Eddy, quickly replaced by a bitter taste in the mouth.
The guy’s CT-scan had revealed a frontal contusion, a small thing that, caught on time, could’ve been treated safely. The time for safety, however, had been spent wandering the streets. The edema had already set in when they caught on and the guy had slipped in to coma shortly after leaving radiology.
Barba Rossa wasn't going to be telling anyone who he was or what his sad story was. Not now that he was barely breathing on his own and that his physical responses weren't looking all that hot.
Crosschecking his data with the police’s missing persons database had turned up jack-squat. It didn't look like anyone was missing him enough to file a police report. And with no clue on who he really was, the name Barba Rossa had kind of stuck.
Despite being the one who’d caught on what was wrong, everyone knew Eddy well enough to know that he was still feeling guilty for the time he’d spent washing the guy and tending to minor cuts while his brain went in the drain. Which was why Mike knew that Eddy would want to see what was on that piece of paper.
Unfolding the paper, Eddy read the black letters written in a no nonsense handwrite –Princess: (650) 723-2560. He looked up, searching Mike’s face. “Any idea what it is?”
“Stanford campus’s phone number,” Mike said, his voice announcing clearly how much of a dead end that phone call had been. “We tried to find out if they had any missing students, but they don’t keep that sort of tabs on people. Until someone reports someone missing, they can’t know who’s missing because they want to be missing and who’s just missing,” he said with a shrug. “Besides, it’s the holidays… half their students are not even there either way.”
Eddy stuck the piece of paper in his pocket, useless as it was. The moment he’d realized that this might be a link to someone who knew Barba Rossa, Eddy had kind of hoped that this would be like one of those fairy tales stories that actually end well: lost guy, confused from a head injury, wanders into a hospital and a small piece of paper, forgotten on a dirty floor, leads to his friends and family, who’d been madly in search of him. In that perfect story, there were no evidence of abuse, there were no signs of abandonment on the street, there was no coma and no possibility of the being dead before Christmas.
Real life, however, sucked at nice plots.
Real life was the guy being brought to the hospital too late, was the guy being denied of his single wish of going home with Sammy, was Sammy probably not even caring about the fate of Barba Rossa to come looking for him.
‘When Christmas comes to Town’, playing quietly on the background music, were barely noticeable unless you stopped to pay attention to it.
The best time of the year; When everyone comes home; With all this Christmas cheer; It's hard to be alone.
It was the season for being merry, for fucks sake; the season to spread the love; the season for miracles.
Clenching the folded piece of paper in his fisted hand, Eddy signaled his colleague that he was taking a ten-minute break and went to the elevator. Neurology was on the fourth floor. Barba Rossa was in the ICU there. And Eddy had an idea.
It quickly evolved into a betting game, even if no one could bring himself to bet against the odds of someone showing up. The story of what Eddy was trying to do for Barba Rossa was already known to all and there wasn’t a single employee around that wasn’t crossing his or hers fingers for it to work.
Working on the hunch that Sammy and ‘Princess’ were actually the same person, Eddy had taken a picture of Barba Rossa and had send it to Stanford University. No one knew exactly how he’d managed that, but Eddy had extracted a promise from one of the guys in charge of the campus to post fliers all over the college, with both the picture and a message telling ‘Sammy’ to come to Black Foot Memorial.
The odds of anyone showing up were slim to none. Sammy could be anywhere else but college; Sammy could be there, but away for the holidays; Sammy could be there and not be bothered to drop everything to come.
Sammy could not even be real, just a figment of Barba Rossa’s contused and swollen brain.
It was like hoping to win the lottery without even buying a ticket.
The elation of the first days slowly ebbed away. The glow of being involved in a potentially heart warming story was dimming. The hope that had grew around the prospective of something actually beating the odds, was slowly withering.
Barba Rossa, fortunately, slept through it all. He wasn’t aware of the looks of pity people gave him, wasn’t aware of the disappointment in everyone’s faces. For him, the world was just as black as before and the lure of a bright light hadn’t even touched him.
And then Sammy came.
Eddy got the call from the fourth floor on the 24th. A young guy, face flushed like he’d run the whole flight of stairs up instead of waiting for the elevator like everyone else, had come asking for his brother, Dean.
The nurse on the Neurology floor hadn’t been able to do much to help him, since there was no patient named Dean in there... until the tall guy announced that he was ‘Sammy’.
Barba Rossa’s Sammy was real.
For some reason, everyone was expecting a short, middle aged, paunchy guy in a sweat suit. The young kid, tall as the trees, with an impressive mop of brown and the faded jeans was, at the same time, surprisingly different and weirdly appropriate.
With his red, Santa’s cap, the one that he insisted on wearing every Christmas day since the first year he'd started to work, Eddy knew that his presence wasn’t exactly inconspicuous. He also knew that as an ER nurse, his connection with this particular patient had ended the minute he’d been admitted in the fourth floor. But he was curious as hell.
The lights of the Christmas tree that the staff had put up in the waiting room glinted off the floor while ‘Jungle Bells’ trickled through the corridors.
Eddy nodded to the nurse guarding the sleeping patients in the ICU and went in. Sam was seated near one of the beds, his back turned to the door, hand clasped around Dean’s wrist, fingers touching the pulse there. The kid looked like he was making sure that his brother was really alive, despite the monitors’ bipping assurances. He was talking quietly, the words faint. In the eerie quietness of the ICU, they echoed distortedly, like prayers in a empty church.
"... you dumb fuck... -unting alone, weren't you?... dad should've... with you... What the hell, Dean?... by yourself... trampling in the sewers... no backup... goddamn hero every fucking ti-..."
Eddy smiled. The words were not important; no one was really listening to them, not even the comatose patient.
And the words and ‘whys’ weren’t why Eddy had raced up there as soon as the call had come; he had no wish to know what had driven Dean to be on the street or why he smelled of sewer or even why his body bore the marks of having been attacked. All of those were for the police to find out or for Dean to tell, if he ever chose to or had the opportunity to do that.
No, Eddy had raced to the fourth floor because he needed to know if the longing and love that he'd heard on Barba Rossa's voice in the ER, calling out for his 'Sammy', was there as well in Sammy's voice.
Because, all it really took was one person loving you back for things to look a little less grim and hopeless. All it took was someone caring enough to travel 800 miles, all the way from Palo Alto to Blackfoot, on Christmas Eve, on nothing but a grainy picture and a generic message on a flyer.
It was easier to believe that things would work out better this way... it was possible to believe that everything was going to be okay.
Eddy wasn't listening to Sammy's words. There was no need to get their meaning to understand what his shaky voice and teary eyes were saying. The 'I'm scared shitless that I might lose you', the 'I can't stand seeing you so still like this', the 'I love you' went unspoken, but Sam might as well be screaming them.
Eddy went back to the ER with a smile on his face and light skip on his walk, feeling like a kid who’s just caught Santa in the act.
So, it was still cold and dark outside, and most of the people in the ER’s waiting room wished they were somewhere else other than there; so some of them had no other place to be than there. So, there was still too much pain in the world.
But all it really took was one small glint of hope to believe that things had a chance of being good once in awhile.
And so what if Dean hadn't miraculously woken up on Christmas Eve? He had his Sammy with him now and even if Barba Rossa's recovery didn't get to be a Christmas story, Eddy was sure that it would be a New Year's one.
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.
A short story, set in the time when Sam was away, in Stanford. Just a bit of Christmas warmth, SPN style. Beta-ed by the awesome Jackfan2. All remaining mistakes are there because I put them there *g*
Chapter end notes:
Merry Christmas to all!