Title: Helping Hands
Betas: Amy and Carikube
Some bad words, standard Dis
Author's Notes: This was a 'really small bunny' Amy gave to me a few days ago. But once he was in my head, he just grew and grew and grew. Don't you just hate that?
Dare to reach out your hand into the darkness, to pull another hand into the light.
Norman B. Rice
"Sit down before you fall down. I can't believe you got us lost."
Sam collapsed gratefully on a rotting log, his good hand gripping the moldy bark. Holding his injured arm tightly against his chest, he glared at his brother. "How did I get us lost? You're supposed to be the expert zombie hunter."
"I never said I was the expert, I said I did this before with Dad."
"Well- Ow! Back off. Well in my book, that makes you the expert."
Dean stood back with his hands on his hips. "I need to stitch that. You feel okay?"
"I'm fine," Sam lied. "Just give me a minute."
"It's 90 degrees out here," Sam exclaimed, waving his good hand in the air. The sun beat down upon them and he squinted. "Plus, we just got done killing zombies. You're sweating too."
Dean rolled his eyes. He spun in place slowly, scanning the trees that surrounded them. "So what do we do now? Which way do we go?"
Sam squirmed against the throbbing in his bicep. The long jagged cuts bled slowly, the warm dark blood cementing the shredded fabric to his shredded flesh. It looked ugly and would take a while to heal, and probably attract a lot of attention in the meantime. He looked like he had gone a round with a rabid lion.
In actuality, he was lucky. He could be dead.
"I don't know, Dean," he sighed. "Pick a direction."
Dean ran a hand over his head and faced Sam again. "Can't you like, have a vision of us finding the car?"
"Well we were going west when we started. I know because the sun visor was up when I parked the car."
Sam shook his head. "The visor was up? That's how you know?"
"Dude. I pay attention to stuff like that. Trust me."
Sam shook his head and pushed to his feet. Maybe if he walked around a little, it would take his mind off the pain. "Fine. When we started this morning, we were going west, away from the sunrise. So now that it's afternoon, we should go east, which would be opposite of the sunset."
"See? I knew all that college stuff would come in handy one day. Let's go."
Sam remained where he was. "There's only one problem."
"We've been going east for the past hour. We should have found the car by now."
A crow laughed at them from its perch overhead.
Dean flung his arms out to the sides. "Well then we'll just have to pick a different direction."
Sam looked around them. There was nothing but tree after tree after tree in all directions. The Cascade National Forest surrounded them, swallowed them whole, and there was nothing else for as far as the eye could see. They were completely and utterly alone.
"Which direction?" he asked.
Dean looked up, then licked his index finger and held it in the air. He mumbled to himself, spun in a complete circle, then stopped and pointed. "That way."
Sam shut his mouth. "What was that?"
"That. That whole Mark Twain bit."
"Oh. That. Just something I learned from Dad. Come on."
Sam stared at him. "You have no idea, do you?"
"Not a clue."
Sam shook his head, his mind still reeling in amazement. "Does your phone work yet?" he asked, grabbing his own with his good hand.
Dean retrieved his phone from his back pocket and flipped it open. He held it up in the air. "No bars here. You?"
Sam stumbled over a knotted vine and cursed, kicking free of it. "No. No bars."
"We really need to switch services. Which one has the ten thousand people that follow you around?"
"I don't know."
"Well, if we had ten thousand people with us right now, I bet one of them would know how to get the hell out of here." Dean snapped the phone shut and thrust it back in his pocket.
Sam looked at his arm. The bleeding had finally stopped but it still throbbed angrily. Cleaning it would be a bitch. And having Dean stitch it up? Perhaps wandering around in the woods for a few more hours wouldn't be so bad. At least, until infection set in.
Sam sighed heavily.
"Well I'm hungry."
They trudged along, their shoes rasping through the dry leaves that littered the forest floor. The shadows grew long and dark underneath the sinking sun. Sam shivered as rivulets of sweat cooled on his skin. His own stomach gurgled, reminding him that neither of them had eaten since breakfast. For the first time since the attack, Sam acknowledged his fear. He knew they wouldn't die here, but if they didn't find a way to orient themselves, it could be days before they found a road. His arm would be dangerously infected by then.
Sam gazed at the cloudless sky, searching for an answer. "Dean… seriously. How do we get out of here?"
"We just keep walking. This is the right direction, I remember now."
Sam had a sneaking suspicion the words were only meant to reassure him, that there was no truth behind them. It was what Dean did best, after all.
An hour later, Dean stopped. Sam stopped beside him, shivering.
"I think we're lost."
Sam fought for breath, wrapping his arms around his stomach. Sweat soaked his shirt and it clung to him like a sheet of ice. "Ya think?" he grumbled.
Dean voice softened as he moved closer. "Hey. Hang in there. It can't be much farther. I mean, we've been walking all day. We gotta be close, right?"
"What if we're not, Dean? What if we're still days from getting out of here? I really don't wanna die out here, do you?"
"Sam, calm down. I'm sorry, alright? We got turned around somehow- it's not the first time. But standing around and freaking out isn't going to help. Can you keep going?"
A dull throb had settled deep in his humerus, exhausting him. But the possibility of getting out of here tonight was just too tempting. He would push on, for himself and for his brother.
"Yeah," he panted. "Just a flesh wound. Let's go."
This time when Sam stumbled, they both fell.
Darkness cloaked them long ago, smothering them in a thick, blinding blackness. A deafening symphony of crickets echoed all around, disorienting and amplifying their solitude. Even the moon had abandoned them.
"It's okay, just stay down," Dean murmured from above him. "We'll take a break for a while, okay? You still with me?"
Sam couldn't open his eyes. He nodded instead. "Yeah. Just gimme a minute."
The leaves rustled. "Sit up. I'm gonna lean you back against this tree."
He wanted nothing more than to simply lay here and sleep atop the musty earth. His muscles ached, his lungs burned, his arm throbbed. His body had turned to stone.
Suddenly Dean lifted him, dragging him by the armpits until Sam came to rest against a broad tree trunk. "Hey," Dean said, plopping down next to him. "I ever tell you about that show on TV, where those two guys try to bust myths?"
Sam burrowed against the tree, curling into a ball. "Mythbusters."
"Yeah, that's it. You ever watch that show?"
"You'd like it. They seem pretty smart."
Dean shifted, closing this distance between them. Sam appreciated the warmth. "So anyway, it was on the other night, while you were in the shower. They were trying to figure out which would hurt more: falling into water or falling onto land. Kinda interesting, right? Plus even when stuff goes wrong, it's still awesome. So they rig this crash-test dummy to a crane and lift him way up in the air. Then they drop him and…"
Sam blinked open his eyes. Songbirds chirped and flittered about as they foraged for breakfast. A spider web stretched between two saplings, tiny drops of dew glittering in the morning sunlight. He smiled at the simplistic beauty of it all.
Wait a minute- what the hell was he doing outside?
Sam jerked away from the tree. His mouth tasted stale and his head spun. His arm ignited in pain and he looked down at it, remembering the torn and bloody fabric and the events that preceded it. Dean. He scrambled back, twisting to see his brother. Dean slept on, propped up against the same tree, his jaw slack and lips parted as he snored. Oblivious.
"Dean!" Sam shoved Dean's shoulder. "Wake up."
Dean's arm shot out to catch himself. "What the hell- Sam?"
Sam's stomach rolled and bile burned in his esophagus. He felt hot and his body ached all over. He looked at Dean, waiting for the vertigo to ease.
"Jesus," Dean murmured. "We gotta get you outta here. Can you stand up?"
Sam watched Dean stand before attempting the feat himself. "Help?"
His hand gripped Dean's and Sam pulled against his brother's sturdy weight, using the leverage to get to his feet. Once there, he listed into the tree and stayed there, waiting for the world to stop spinning.
"You're hot," Dean said clinically. He tugged lightly at the fabric stuck to Sam's wound. "We need to find water and get this cleaned up."
The thought of water tempted him anyway. He licked his cracked lips. "We gotta find a way out of here first."
"I know. I'm still working on that."
Not what Sam wanted to hear. He took a deep breath and held it in, then straightened. "Let's go."
They traveled a short distance in a long time, taking breaks frequently. Neither of the phones had any reception. In fact, the batteries were draining. Time blurred into one long, agonizing period of consciousness. Dean's stomach growled audibly more and more frequently while Sam got more and more nauseous.
"My favorite is that mini-pancake sandwich. That one with the dots of maple syrup in it? The McGriddle? I like it with bacon, because you get both salty and sweet. You gotta drink milk with it though, just like chocolate chip cookies."
Sam paused to take a large step over a small log, purposefully ignoring his brother's rambling. Dean waited with semi-outstretched arms on the other side.
"You can't live off fast food forever. Don't you want to settle down and eat breakfast in your own house, with a family of your own?"
"Can my wife make McGriddles?"
Sam rolled his eyes. "Yes. That's specifically why you married her, in fact."
"What about pets? I don't like cats and I don't want some slobbery fur-ball of a dog."
They continued on their way, shuffling through the leaves exactly how they'd been taught NOT to do. "Fine, you can have one of those short haired dogs, one of those grey ones with short tails you see on TV all the time."
"The ones on Sesame Street?"
Sam stared at him.
Dean shrugged and raised an eyebrow. "I mean, I don't know. Sure."
They walked in silence for a few minutes. Melancholy settled over them quickly and Sam found himself focusing on his pain. They should be sitting in a quiet little diner somewhere, being served by a plump old woman and searching the local paper for possible gigs. They shouldn't be here, wandering a national forest alone, hurt and hungry.
A hand on his chest brought him up short.
"Freeze. I hear something."
They stood still, listening. Sam's lungs burned as he held his breath.
Behind them, a branch snapped. Dean spun, one hand snatching the gun from the waistband of his jeans as he shoved Sam behind him with the other. He stood like a rock, the gun aimed before them with unwavering confidence. "Who's there?"
Sam concentrated on retrieving his own gun. He hoped his aim would be accurate enough.
More branches rustled, more twigs snapped. Dean took a step back, keeping his body firmly between Sam and the noise.
Sam took aim around Dean's shoulder, the gun's muzzle glinting as it trembled.
The bushes parted and a small boy stepping into the clearing. He stopped, brushed the leaves from his navy blue uniform, and then looked up at the brothers.
"Whoa- hey!" Dean scrambled to shove his gun under his belt. "Little kid, chill out, it's okay," he exclaimed, holding his empty hands up in front of him. "Stop with the ear piercing screams, okay?"
Sam lowered his weapon and watched, trying to figure out what was going on.
The boy stared at them with wide eyes. His button-up shirt was dotted with brightly colored badges and his hat bore a familiar wolf symbol…
"Who… who are you?" he asked, shrinking shyly against the bush behind him.
Dean glanced at Sam. "We're just a couple of… hikers. I'm Dean. This is Sam. Are you lost?"
The little boy shook his head. "No. I just had to go to the bathroom."
Dean took a deep breath. "Didn't anyone ever tell you not to jump out of the bushes at people?"
The little boy stared at Sam. "What's wrong with him? Were you attacked by a bear?"
Sam swallowed the pasty gunk on his tongue. "Yeah. Something like that."
"Our Scout Leader says that you should play dead when a bear comes. Did you play dead?"
Sam shook his head. He was fairly sure he could play dead now, however.
"Scout leader?" Dean echoed. "So you're a what, a boy scout?"
The boy looked at Dean. "No, I'm a girl scout."
Sam laughed. Dean's eyes narrowed.
"Are you guys lost or something?"
"What? No. Of course not." Dean fidgeted, looking around. "Just out… sight-seeing. So uh… where's your family at again?"
A small thumb jerked over his shoulder. "On the other side of this bush. We're learning how to cook breakfast."
Sam's stomach grumbled loudly.
"Breakfast, huh?" Dean asked. "What are you making?"
"We caught some fish. We got some oatmeal too, the kind with candy dinosaurs in it."
Sam licked his lips.
Dean shifted his weight. "Well we're Boy Scouts. So we uh, better come and make sure you kids are cooking it right. Don't want you to poison yourselves or nothing."
The little boy eyed them critically. "You guys are Boy Scouts?"
"Yeah. We graduated. A long time ago."
He stared at Sam's injured arm. "You're not very good Boy Scouts."
Dean gestured to the bush behind the boy. "You're the one pissing in a clump of poison ivy."
"Justin? Are you okay back here- What the hell!" The newcomer leapt in front of the boy. "Who are you?"
Dean raised his hands. "It's okay, we were just talking to Justin. We're hikers."
The man looked less that convinced. "You stay there. I'm gonna call the park ranger."
Sam relaxed. Park rangers were good. Park rangers could help them find the Impala. Then they could drive to the hotel and he could sleep for the next 72 hours.
"Okay, look. We're just lost, okay? We were stuck out here over night and my brother needs to see a doctor. Can you just tell us how to get back to the east entrance?"
"West," Sam corrected.
The Scout Leader eyed them for a long minute, then finally began to soften. "There's only one visitor entrance, and I can show you how to get back. What happened to him?"
"He was attacked by a bear!" Justin exclaimed. "They're Boy Scouts too. They're gonna show us how to take the poison out of our fish."
Dean coughed awkwardly. "So which way is the parking lot?"
Dean kicked the door shut behind them. "Lay down. I'll be right there."
Sam didn't have to be told twice. He collapsed on his back, barely aware of the scent of cigarette smoke clinging to the bed spread. Now that his belly was full of oatmeal and candy dinosaurs, he couldn't keep his eyes open. Between the infection in his arm and the hike back to the Impala, he was thoroughly exhausted.
The bed springs squeaked as the mattress dipped. "Lift your arm. This is gonna get messy."
When Sam couldn't find the strength, Dean lifted Sam's arm and lowered it onto a scratchy terrycloth towel. "Say goodbye to your shirt. I don't think this one's salvageable."
Sam really couldn't remember which shirt he was wearing anyway.
"Okay, I'm gonna pour this on now. It'll be easier to peel the fabric away after it's wet. You still with me?"
Sam nodded, not trusting his voice. He concentrated on preparing for the pain.
Cold liquid ran over the hot, tender skin on Sam's arm and he jerked, clenching his jaw. The worst was still to come.
"Water or land?" he blurted.
Sam squirmed, his eyes still screwed shut. "On Mythbusters- which was more fatal, falling into water or on land?"
Dean chuckled. "It depends on how you want to die," he said.
His skin stung suddenly as Dean began peeling away the bloodied fabric. Sam held his breath.
"When you fall on land, you shatter. You're basically just a big puddle of flesh and broken bones."
An image of Meg flashed through his mind.
"But water- if you fall the same distance into water, all your limbs get ripped off. It was really cool."
It felt like Dean was peeling his flesh away. Sam balled his good hand into a fist, squeezing the bedspread in a death-grip. "Cool?" he panted.
"Yeah. I mean, it was just a crash-test dummy, but still. They proved their point."
"How come… I never see you watching this stuff?"
"I told you, you were in the shower. Jesus Sam- this looks bad. I'm gonna clean it now, okay?"
No, it most certainly was NOT okay. "Yeah."
Dean might as well have been scrubbing with steel wool and gasoline.
"Stop," he yelped, jerking away. "I can't."
The grip on his arm eased. "You have to, Sam. I'll do it softer. Just be still."
Dean started again and a tear trickled down Sam's face. "Hurts," he whispered.
"I'm not exactly having fun here either. You want me to take you to the emergency room?"
Sam shook his head and forced himself to hold still. "I'm okay. I'm okay. Just do it."
The pain tore through his arm once more, searing his flesh and gnawing on his bone with fangs of fire. Sam forced himself to breath through it, slowly and steadily.
"So you ever want to be a Boy Scout?"
"No? I think we would've been awesome Boy Scouts."
"Well think about it. We were used to doing a lot harder stuff than just camping. I mean, we could've had our own badges for setting werewolf traps, burning graves, all that stuff. We could have been the Extreme Boy Scouts."
"I'm also done. Don't go anywhere- I still have to wrap it."
Sam blinked open his eyes. Dean screwed the cap on the bottle, his fingers coated with fresh blood. It was under his nails, caked in the folds of skin on his joints. Determination hardened his face as he set the bottle aside and grabbed the bandages.
"Thanks," Sam offered. "For everything."
Dean shrugged. "Just put my check in the mail."
Sam smiled. "You'd get lost on the way to the mailbox. I'd have to send the Cub Scouts out to find you."
Dean wrapped the bandage a little tighter than necessary. "Speak of that again and I will officially disown you."
Sam laughed. "Okay, okay."
He waited until Dean moved away before asking, "So just what kind of poison is in fresh water fish?"