It was supposed to be a treat. One more of the thousand little ways that Sam was constantly coming up with to take Dean out of glum he had sunk in since returning from… that place.
Some how, straddling his brother's hips, holding a bloody knife poised above his neck, was not how Sam had envisioned the night going. "Hold him, damn it!" Sam hissed at the guy with the tomato sauce stain in his white pressed shirt. It looked too much like a blood, Sam thought fleetingly.
A real, no expenses spared, Thanksgiving dinner. It was Sam's treat and he would not accept no from his brother. After all, if there were two people on the face of the Earth that should be thankful for something on turkey day, it had to be the Winchesters. The one who had gotten out of Hell; and the one who had been given back his brother.
Sam picked the restaurant carefully. Nothing too fancy, because Dean tended to feel a bit uncomfortable in those and act like a prick; nothing too greasy either, because it was Thanksgiving after all, and it was supposed to be enjoyed with good food, not indigestion.
The mom and pop diner at the edge of the small town where they'd ended up in that end of November was just perfect for Sam's intentions. They'd already eaten there a couple of times, and the matronly lady, with a laugh that could be heard from the kitchen all the way to the dining area, was contagious even without knowing what the hell she was laughing about.
And her food?
Sam figured that he might've given up salads for life if they stuck around that place for much longer.
Pulling into one of the few remaining parking spots, Sam already knew the place would be packed even before stepping inside. Apparently, Sam and Dean hadn't been the only ones who had given up on struggling with a turkey at home and had decided to join the Farlons on their diner for a good old home cooked meal.
The minute the Winchester stepped into the restaurant, Sam could feel his eyes water right alongside with his mouth.
It wasn't just that the smell coming from the kitchen was divine; it was the way the place was arranged. The decorations gave it a whole golden, Autumn-ish ambience that felt more genuine than carefully organized, like the pumpkins had just grown in the windows' edges and the vines were real and not plastic.
It didn't even look like a diner. More like a really big dinning room.
All tables had been joined together, end to end, instead of the usual separate islands of a diner. It was all set up like it a big family reunion for the stranded ones.
Sam and Dean would fit right in.
Dean took one look at the place and was ready to bolt. He could feel everyone's eyes on him, staring at his ratty jacket; at the dark bags under his eyes; at the dirt under his fingernails, the remains of graveyard soil that no amount of showers could ever clean.
He opened his mouth to tell Sam that this was a bad idea, that they didn't belonged there –that Dean didn't belonged there- but Sam was already pushing him towards two empty seats. Apparently, they had reservations and with half the town's attention on them, Dean wanted nothing more than to disappear.
He just sat, trying to make himself as small as his over six feet tall frame allowed.
Dean was aware that it hadn't always been like this. That he hadn't always been like this.
There was a time in his life when Dean would've walked right in to that room and owned the place. Even if he had never been comfortable with large gatherings of people –too many variables, too many hidden dangers, not enough coverage- he could still have used use that feeling to brass his way through the discomfort, to fake his happiness through cockiness.
He'd lost that ability somewhere in the first ten years of Hell.
Now, he looked around the room, seeing weathered, happy faces, mostly farmers from around the town that hadn't felt like spending the day in the isolation of their farms; faces filled with joy and light, ready to celebrate life and thank whatever deity above for the blessings in their lives…
... and all Dean could think was how many of their dead relatives had he tortured in Hell. How many of them would still look at him with a bright smile if they knew how deep in bloody guts his hands had become accustomed to be.
Dean wondered how many of them would simply lose their appetites if he told them how hot and coppery human liver tasted, when you ate it while its owner was watching you with terror in his eyes.
"Hey… are you okay?" Sam's voice cut through Dean's dark thoughts.
He nodded, looking down at his hands to find out that he was squeezing the life out of the tablecloth –real cloth, instead of the usual paper covers, like it was a real dinner table. "Yeah, Sam," Dean finally offered with a forced nod. "I'm fine. Let's just eat."
Dean should've known that trying to eat when your throat is already filled with large knots of dust and bile and blood and memories, was a bad idea.
Dean didn't make it past the bacon cheddar deviled eggs, and Sam will never know if his brother choked on a piece of bacon or the name itself. All he knew was that one minute he was trying to figure out how many beers it would take for Dean to relax without passing out drunk and the next Dean was jumping away from the table.
When Dean grabbed his shirt in a vice-grip, Sam's initial thought was that Lucifer himself had just walked into the diner. But the door was closed, both to keep the warmth of the AC inside and the cold of the snow outside and no one had come or gone in the past ten minutes.
Sam figured that there had to be a plausible explanation for Dean's panicked look when Sam finally met his eyes to ask what was going on.
Dean's mouth was opened and his lips were moving, but for some odd reason, he wasn't telling Sam anything. Just gapping, like a fish out of water.
The grip on his shirt loosened up, Dean's hands exchanging the fabric for his own neck, his fingers like claws, trying to grab something that no one could see.
Sam was one step away from pulling Dean out of there, afraid that he was having some sort of Hellish flashback, when the chip finally fell.
"Oh, my God! He's choking!" someone further down the table said, as if Dean's hands around his throat and the ash coloring of his face weren't evidence enough.
And even though Sam was right there, seeing Dean's increasingly frantic movements, even though he could now hear the wheezing sound coming from inside his brother's chest every time that Dean tried to breathe, Sam still couldn't believe it.
Choking was so... normal.
Sam jumped into action even as the abnormality of the thought filtered through his mind. Choking wasn't exactly the same as having your lungs pulled out by a douchey angel with egomaniac intentions, but Sam knew it was just as deadly.
Sadly, this wasn't the first time that Sam had seen his brother choke on a piece of meat. Back when they had been trapped in the trickster's- in Gabriel's sick and perverse game of 'let's kill Dean a thousand times over', Sam had also been forced to stand by and watch Dean go from gasping to coughing to not breathing at all in just a couple of seconds.
Sam had sworn to himself that he would never let something like that happen again. This time he was ready.
Before anyone could even spell Heimlich, Sam was already supporting Dean's weight from behind, even as Dean's legs started to falter, arms around Dean's chest and hands clasped into a single fist, pressing down and up hard enough to leave bruises.
It wasn't working. Nothing had come flying out of Dean's mouth and Dean had stopped resisting Sam's manhandling and was hanging all but limply from his arms. He looked like he'd just given up, even as some part of Sam's brain informed him that Dean had just ran out of strength to keep struggling.
"No, no, no, no," Sam voiced. This couldn't be happening. Not now. Not here.
"Someone call an ambulance," one of the women, an old lady wearing a flowery green dress, called out. It was just a suggestion, because Sam was sure she hadn't moved to pick up a phone to make the call herself. Maybe she just felt safer calling out those words, like the words themselves had some saving effect over those in need of help.
Sam had completely forgotten about the rest of the people inside the diner. All of a sudden, their presence wasn't as welcoming as it had been just a few minutes before. Before, they had been like some sort of surrogated family, strangers come together to share a meal, just like the original pilgrims.
Now they were just strangers, watching him as he failed to save Dean. Again.
Sam tilted Dean's head back and pinched his nose, desperate to get some air inside his brother. The clock was ticking inside his head, telling him about brain damage, about death.
Something was wrong. Well... wronger than Dean not breathing. Every breath of air that Sam tried to push inside Dean's mouth came rushing right back at him, like he was trying to blow air against a closed window.
There had to be something in the way.
Sam opened Dean's slack mouth, fingers probing inside without ceremony. There was something there, just at the edge of Dean's tongue, Sam could feel the tip of his fingers brushing against it... but he couldn't get it out.
"Twenty minutes," a tall man with grey hair, said from behind the counter. Mr. Farlon, for all Sam knew. "They said that the roads are bad... it will taken them about twenty minutes to get here."
That man didn't know Sam or Dean from a hole in the wall, but still Sam could feel the empathy and sadness in his voice as he delivered the news.
The ambulance would arrive to pick up a corpse, they all knew that.
Sam looked at Dean's face, lips slowly beginning to turn a pale blue. He was starting to look like a frozen statue... and help would arrive too late.
There had to be something...
Sam's eyes fell on the phone on top of the counter and almost kicked himself. So stupid... how could he have forgotten about Castiel?
Certainly the angel who had gone to the trouble of pulling Dean out of Hell and who had killed so many of his own brethren to keep them safe, would come to Dean's aid to prevent him from dying.
Behind Dean's back, Sam had always called Castiel, Dean's guardian angel. It was time the celestial being made good on his borrowed nickname.
Sam pulled his own cell phone from his jeans' pocket, the angel's name on speed dial already.
"Hey, kid," the same old man called out. "Didn't you hear? I already called the ambulance."
Sam ignored him. He even ignored the fact that he would have no plausible explanation whatsoever when Castiel materialized right in front of all those people. Truthfully, he didn't cared. All that mattered was getting Dean to help as soon as possible.
"The number you are trying to reach is out of our coverage zone," a generic, slightly female voice informed Sam.
The plastic pieces of the phone that Sam threw against the wall shattered and fell like seasoning over the already cooked turkey on top of the table.
They were alone. No ambulance in time, no last minute angel-rescue to save the day.
In a room filled with people that were gathered around the two of them, like ants around an iced cake, Sam and Dean were on their own.
Sam took a deep breath. This wasn't over yet.
He'd read about this, a very long time ago when in the despair of trying to guess which way Dean was going to die the following day, Sam had looked through every first aid book he could get his hands on. And when he was done with those, he had moved on to the upper levels.
"I need to get his air-ways cleared," Sam informed those around him, only because he couldn't force himself to move from his place near Dean to get the things he would need for this. "Do you have a first aid kit?" he asked, looking at the man behind the counter.
The old man shook his head and Sam bit down the curse in his lips. Of course he didn't. Why make their lives easier in any friggring way?
"Okay... okay," Sam let out, slowly, calming his desire to start screaming. "Then I'll need a bottle of whiskey, a sharp knife, a couple of clean dish towels and some straws."
To his credit, Mr. Farlon wasted only one second looking dumbfound at Sam's odd list before springing into action.
Sam didn't wait for him to get started. There was no point in second guessing himself over whether or not he could do something he had only read about years ago. It was this or death.
The sound of Dean's t-shirt tearing under Sam's fingers reverberated across the diner like thunder.
"Oh, Jesus... what are you going to do to that poor young man?" said a middle aged woman who had only paused in her nail-biting for long enough to say those words. Sam faintly recognized her a Mrs. Farlon. She wasn't laughing now.
Sam didn't bother answering. He focused on Dean's neck instead, looking so vulnerable and unprotected now that he had cleared all clothing from its vicinity. The frantic pulse, beating wildly under Dean's skin, was easy to see in a straight line coming from beneath each ear.
As long as that pulse was there, there was still time.
Mr. Farlon dropped to his side with a pop of old knees. "It's a forty years old malt," he informed as he handed Sam the glass bottle. "About as much alcohol percentage in it too."
It wasn't perfect, but Sam figured it would have to do. An infection was something that they could handle after. He needed to act now, before whatever erratic pulse Dean was still maintaining, went away.
Keeping in mind that Dean's time was quickly running out, Sam used one cloth soaked in whiskey to wipe the knife clean and another to wet the base of Dean's neck.
His hand shook, the smell of the alcohol burning his nostrils. Slightly above the breastbone, in between his Adam's apple and the hollow where the neck met the chest. That's where he needed to cut Dean.
There wasn't as much blood as Sam figured there would be, and for that he was grateful. There was still enough, though.
The skin opened up beneath the sharp knife like butter, stretched thin as it was over the cartilage beneath. Sam wiped the cut clean, getting a glimpse of the white, annular tube beneath. The path to Dean's lungs.
Puncturing that was harder. It felt like popping a tire with a tack and Sam had to push his nausea away. If for one minute he allowed himself to remember that this was his brother he was mutilating, his brain would lock and everything would be lost.
Sam seriously doubted anyone else in that restaurant would pick up the knife from his frozen hands to finish the job and save Dean.
Keeping one finger inside the hole that he had just opened, Sam grabbed for the straws that the old man had brought him. Two were too short, cocktails' straws; three were too thin. Sam picked up one that looked thicker and had a little bendable neck. Finally, some luck!
Sam bent the straw and carefully inserted it in the hole his finger was keeping open, watching with a satisfied sigh as the muscle around it hugged the straw tight and sealed it in. Sam's lips closed instantly around the other end of the straw and he began blowing a small amount of air inside.
It seemed like a ridiculously small breath, but Sam knew it had worked when he watched Dean's chest slightly expand. He felt his own lungs unclenching as he watched Dean finally get some oxygen his starved lungs.
In between one breath and the next, Sam looked at the big clock on the wall. He figured that the ambulance should be there any minute now, given that certainly close to twenty minutes had already gone by. When the clock informed Sam that less than five minutes had passed between now and his failed call to Castiel, Sam could not believe his eyes. It was like time had stopped and was only now sluggishly returning to its normal pace.
Naturally, Sam would continue supplying Dean's lungs with air through the tiny straw for as long as necessary, but what Dean really needed was that ambulance there to take him to a hospital. It seemed unfair that time had picked that particular moment to turn sluggish.
Sam's only consolation was that, at least, Dean's lips didn't looked nearly as blue-ish now as they did before.
Sam felt it more than he actually saw it when Dean started to come around.
One minute Dean was like an unresponsive rag doll on the floor, the next he was thrashing around wildly, eyes large and filled with terror, fingers clawing at the linoleum tiles.
"Hey, Dean," Sam called out, one hand keeping the life-saving straw in place and the other trying to grab Dean's chin to hold him still. His fingers left bloody prints in the pale skin. "It's okay... you're going to be okay."
Dean wasn't convinced. And why should he? His mouth was opened in a desperate silent scream, he was literally sucking air through a straw, the floor around his head was peppered with blood and every where Dean looked all he could see were strangers' faces, looming above him and watching him closely.
Sam moved on his knees, throwing one leg over Dean's hips until he was sitting on him, trying to keep his brother's chest steady without putting any actual weigh on him. "Dean, please, you need to relax. Help is on its way."
But Dean wasn't having any of that. The air smelled too much of cold food and hot blood and acrid alcohol and Sam's hands were red with blood.
There were tears leaking from Dean's eyes that Sam knew to be from pure fear. He could see it in his brother's face. Dean had no idea of where he was or what was going on.
"I need someone to help me hold him still," Sam rasped out, the words tasting like treason on his lips. "I can't risk this straw moving out of place."
A large guy with a red stain above his right breast pocket, moved forward and kneeled near Dean's head. He seemed reluctant to touch any part of Dean's body and in a time when normal people worried about HIV and swine flu and tuberculosis, Sam couldn't really blame him.
"Just grab his shoulders," Sam told him, watching the instant relief spread through the guy's face.
Necessary as it was, Dean just took it the wrong way, exactly as Sam feared he would. Dean and restraints, given their previous experiences, had never been a good match –if such thing even existed- but Dean and restraints on top of whatever traumas he had brought back from Hell, were tantamount to disaster.
Sam had no idea where his brother was getting his strength from, but he could feel Dean's hips lurching up, trying to dislodge the weight he could feel on his legs; he could see Dean's head, banging sickly against the floor with a muffled sound of cracked hard-boiled eggs
"Hold him, damn it!" Sam yelled, pushing the scared man aiding him into action.
When Sam finally heard the sirens closing in, he was sure that he knew how time in Hell worked. Twenty minutes had gone by in the large clock but to him, and pretty much everyone inside that diner, it had felt like whole weeks had passed.
"I thought you were Alastair," Dean rasped out. It was the first time he had tried to talk since waking up in the hospital. "Back at the diner," he clarified, seeing Sam's confused look.
"I know," Sam confessed, closing the book he'd picked up to read in between Dean's bouts of consciousness. "I figured that with the all the blood, and the knife and the pain..."
"No," Dean cut in, the sound barely a whisper, only made clear by the slight shake of his head. "It wasn't that. It was the chok—" he stopped, swallowing the build up of bile inside his mouth. Even after all this time, Dean couldn't seem to make himself talk about Hell without feeling all over again like he was still there. He closed his eyes, anchoring himself in the surrounding sounds and smells, focusing on the absence of screaming and in the safe mix of antiseptic and the smell of old books that seemed to follow Sam every where he went.
"Alastair, towards the end, used to insist –force me- to share his meals with him," Dean went on with a dry swallow. He could still taste it in his mouth...
"Demons have meals?" Sam couldn't help but voice.
Dean's dry chuckle sounded painful. Given that up until ten hours ago, he still had a tube stuffed inside his throat to allow him to breathe, Sam figured it probably was.
"Yeah, Sam... there were 'meals'," Dean said not meeting his brother's eyes. "And sometimes, if you were lucky, you would choke before the food tried to eat you back."
Sam shuddered at the implications. He didn't want to know what consisted of a demon-meal in Hell, but he could see now why choking on an innocent piece of bacon would remind Dean of that.
"I'm sorry," Sam whispered. "I never should've dragged you to that stupid Thanksgiving dinner. I almost got you killed over turkey."
Dean shook his head again. When he looked back at Sam there was a sad smile on his face. "That's not why I'm telling you this."
"I wanted to thank you," Dean said earnestly.
Sam blinked, trying to determine if Dean was pulling his leg or if he was actually delirious. He was one step away from calling a nurse when Dean grabbed his arm.
"Thank you for not giving up on me," Dean said softly. "Thank you for not letting that memory of Alastair shoving pieces of human meat down my throat to be the last thing that my brain registered."
Sam could only swallow in response, not sure if he wanted to gag or kill Alastair all over again after hearing that.
Of one thing he was sure though: that had to be the oddest thing anyone had ever been thankful for on that particular day. Ever.
Warnings for gorish details. Spoilers for season 5. Betaed by Jackfan2
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.