Disclaimer: They're not mine.
Spoilers: This story is set in Season 1 between "Provenance" and "Dead Man's Blood". There are flashbacks to instances that happen throughout Season 1 up to this point as well as flashbacks to the boys' childhood, and events in my other stories, Holding on to Let Go, and Within My Hands. But it's not necessary to read those to understand – it is simply memories from the boys.
a/n: The story is more of a focus on the relationship between the boys, so I've kinda dropped them into the action. And, I'll just say it. It's angsty with some hurtDean/hurtSam comfort thrown in there for good measure.
This story will eventually contain phrases spoken in Ojibwa (or Chippewa) Indian. I put the translations at the completion of the relevant chapter. Additionally, to help orient you to the timing of the flashbacks/memories, I've put the location and year at the beginning of the flashback. The story title is from Led Zepplin's song of the same name. All songs will be referenced in the story or at the chapter's close. Hope you enjoy!
Kelly – again and always, thank you for the beta read.
Courage is the complement of fear. A man who is fearless cannot be courageous. -- Robert A. Heinlein, Notebooks of Lazarus
Ramble On – Part 1
"Holy shit, there's two of them!"
"What the hell? Since when did wendigos hunt in pairs?"
"Since now – Sam, look out!"
They were separated by five feet. Five feet. If Dean could have reached twice as long as his arm, he would have had a fistful of Sam's jacket right now. He would have pulled him out of the way. He could have prevented all that was to come. Instead, he watched in horror as the boulder rolled in amazingly fast slow motion toward Sam. He watched Sam's head jerk up at the sound of his voice and then saw him try to spring away, getting clipped on the shoulder and thrown off balance, teetering for precious seconds on the edge of the cliff while Dean reached and ran…but wasn't fast enough.
Sam toppled over the edge and into the darkness.
The impossibly tall wendigo screamed a harsh, guttural sound from behind where Dean now stood, from the direction the boulder had come.
Nothing, no sound. The cave was damp, dark, and colder than the woods that surrounded it. It was more of a deep outcropping in a cliff face than a cave. The northern Minnesota woods hid many such caves which were perfect lairs for bears, wolves, and apparently wendigos. Dean dropped to his knees on the narrow ledge where seconds before his brother had been standing. The wendigo's cry was a nauseating gurgle of insanity, and it was getting closer.
"Sam, dammit, you answer me," Dean ordered, his eyes searching the darkness below, his tone a barely-controlled panic.
"Dean," Sam's voice was faint, and a lot closer than Dean thought it would be.
"Hey," the relief in Dean's voice was palpable. "Hey, you okay man?"
"Freakin' boulder," Sam grumbled, pain laced through his words.
"Can you move?" Dean still couldn't see him. He gathered that Sam had tried to move, though, because a second later his gut clenched when Sam cried out in pain. "Sam!"
"Oh, God, Dean, m-my leg," Sam's breath was coming in gasps and his voice was faint.
"Don't move," Dean commanded. "I'm coming down." Where the hell was he? Dean's eyes darted below him, trying to see into the gloom.
"I'm right here," Sam gasped. He'd seen Dean's frantic eyes searching for him and realized that the darkness of the cave was covering him. They had entered the cave and climbed about ten feet up a stone wall to a ledge as they tracked the wendigo. They had set their packs down, and were prepared to fight the one wendigo they knew about when its friend had shown up. The ten-foot cliff face Sam had fallen from hadn't been that steep, but he'd been off balance when he fell and had landed hard, on his right leg, the air leaving his lungs with force.
"Where? Sammy, I can't –"
"Dean, behind you!" Sam found the air he'd been missing. He sucked it all back in when he saw the wendigo literally loom over Dean in the wan light filtering in from the mouth of the cave. He actually reached toward Dean, his instincts screaming at him to shove Dean aside, but even if he had been close enough, he couldn't get his body to move. The pain in his leg canceled out all other function.
He watched Dean's eyes flash wide for an instant of confusion, startled by the panic in Sam's voice, then his brother ducked and turned, pulling the flare gun from the pocket of his cargo jacket and bringing it up to fire in one smooth motion. The snuff-growl of the tall, emaciated creature echoed off the small confines of the cave. Before Dean could get the gun completely up and pointed where it would do the most damage, the wendigo swiped at him, its claws slashing across his upper arm, the force of the blow propelling Dean sideways, out of Sam's line of sight.
"Dean!" Sam bellowed, trying to use his arms and left leg to push him out of the little slope he'd fallen into. The pain that lanced through the lower part of his right leg brought him up short. He could feel the warm, sticky sensation of blood running down the inside of his jeans.
With a growl of frustration and pain, he dropped his head back, trying to see Dean, the wendigo, anything. Then, he caught a movement out of the corner of his eye and remembered the shocking realization that had gotten him into this mess. There were two. And if Dean was tangling with one, then what he was seeing was the mate or partner or whatever the hell it was advancing for the kill.
"Dean!" he bellowed again, and this time he heard him.
"Fucking son of a bitch," Dean was yelling, a grunt of pain following the phrase.
Sam's brown eyes darted, trying to see something, a shadow, an arm, something that gave him some indication of where Dean was.
"Arggaahh!" Dean yelled and was suddenly in Sam's line of sight as he flew over Sam's head and hit the far wall at an alarming rate of speed. His body slid to a motionless pile at the base of the wall.
Shit, Sam thought, knowing that both wendigos were still above him as he hadn't seen the flare gun or a torch or anything illuminate the cave before Dean's aerial stunt took him out of the game. Sam had lost his gun when the boulder hit him, but he knew that Dean would still have his. He knew it would be clutched in his hand, conscious or not.
When he'd found Dean in the basement of the cabin with the Rawhead, nearly dead from a heart attack triggered by 100,000 volts of electricity, he'd had to pry the taser from his brother's grip.
"Dean!" he called, twisting his neck so that he could see his brother. Dean didn't move. Sam tried again, and this time he both heard and felt a shower of smaller rocks from the cliff edge above as a wendigo moved toward them, drawn no doubt by the scent of the blood he could feel pooling under his right leg. Puffing out a series of breaths to try to still the nausea that immediately hit when he shifted his leg, Sam started to pull himself toward Dean's still form.
In seconds he was sweating, bright spots of light dancing in front of his eyes as the pain from his leg slammed into him in literal waves. The crest of each wave made him whimper or cry out depending on its intensity, the lull of each wave made him pause in his slow backwards crawl toward Dean as the relief made him weak.
In what seemed like a year, but was probably only a span of about three minutes, he felt Dean's back under his outstretched hand. Dean was on his stomach, both arms underneath him. Sam paused, panting, and darted his eyes around the dimly lit cave. He couldn't see either creature, but he could hear them, smell them. They exuded a rank odor of rotting flesh, dirt, and stagnant water.
Sam dropped his head back to the cave floor trying to catch his breath. Sweat ran down his face and inside of his shirt, despite the frigid air in the cave. Closer, Sam, it's getting closer, he could almost hear his brother's voice in his head. It was always Dean's voice he heard when he was in trouble or hesitant. He knew Dean heard John – Dean had always heard John more clearly than he had anyone else – but for Sam, it was his brother's voice commanding, comforting, encouraging, warning.
A guttural growl spurred him into action. He rotated his right arm over his head and fisted Dean's jacket, rolling his brother to his back. Dean was limp, unresponsive. Sam swallowed, unable to clearly see his brother's face from this angle. He reached out blindly to find Dean's neck and searched with frantic fingers for a pulse. He felt it, faint, rapid, but there. First things first, Sammy, the voice that was Dean in his head reminded him. Kill the bad guy, then care for the soldiers.
Sam's hands shook slightly as he gripped Dean's arm, bringing it into his line of sight, praying it was this hand and not his left for some random reason. Though his fingers were loose, the flare gun was there. Sam worked it from his brother's grip and rotated around to face the direction of the cliff. The stench was stronger now. Sam kept the gun up, darting his eyes around. He heard the gravel fall again from the cliff above.
And then it was there. Just there, it's long claw-like fingers splayed, reaching, its sharp teeth dripping, and black pits where its eyes should be boring into Sam. He couldn't see where the other one was, but one was enough for now.
He pulled the trigger, closing his eyes and turning his head as the flare lit up the torso of the wendigo, its shrill cry of agony drowning out any other sound and all other thought. In seconds the first creature was no more than a pile of ash and bone. Sam blinked a bit in the left-over light of the flare. His over-taxed brain flashed to the last time he'd seen a wendigo die by flare-gun fire. In the wake of the burst of light he'd seen his brother, battered, bloody, bruised, actually grinning as he stood on the other side of the creature.
"Not bad, huh?"
Sam began searching frantically for the second creature while patting down Dean's jacket pockets for another flare.
"C'mon c'mon c'mon…" he chanted. Dean was always prepared. Extra prepared. John had literally drilled that into his brother from a young age. "Where is it, Dean," he muttered.
He could feel rock salt pellets, car keys, an extra clip for the .45… he grunted as he pushed his brother onto his left side and felt his back pockets with the back of his hand. He was beginning to shake from the effort and the hot throb of pain from his lower leg was building on a crest again. If he didn't find this flare soon, he was afraid that – there! There it was. Back pocket. Easy reach. Of course.
Sam dug it out, loaded the gun and shifted against Dean as his brother's unconscious form slumped back against the cave floor.
"Where are you, you bastard," Sam growled, keeping the gun up.
The cave was silent save for his harsh breathing. As the pain crested over him, Sam's arms trembled. He lowered the gun to his lap, still looking around the cave. He couldn't see his leg, but he knew by the pain that it was broken, and by the feel of the blood that the break was bad. He held himself tense as the pain eased again, then dropped his head back, resting it on the inside of Dean's shoulder.
"Dean," Sam called, holding his breath as he waited for a response. Dean hadn't moved, hadn't made a sound since he hit that wall.
The silence of the cave was beginning to suffocate Sam. He could feel his breath coming in harsh gasps, coming too fast.
"Dean," this time his voice was less sure, less of a command for an answer, and more of a plea for reassurance. Answer me, big brother, let me know you're still with me… let me know we're getting out of this.
The flare gun dropped loose in his grip as he closed his eyes against another wave of pain. He then became aware of two things at once: Dean was stirring and the stench of the wendigo was gone. Had the second one left?
"Sam," his name was a mere breath of air whispered across his brother's still unaware lips. It wasn't acknowledgment of his presence. It was simply Dean's first thought upon waking, verbalized through his bewilderment.
"Dean, man, c'mon," Sam swallowed. "I need you to wake up."
He didn't lift his head from Dean's shoulder so that he could feel when his brother became more awake, ready to resume control. He felt Dean shift slowly and could picture him turning his head toward the weight on his shoulder, his green eyes blinking in pained confusion.
"Sam?" this time it was spoke with more strength. "How… did I get…"
"Wendigo. Tossed you into the wall."
Dean groaned and Sam felt him shift again. "Why'r you layin' on me?"
"Flare gun," Sam panted through gritted teeth. His leg was on fire now.
"You get it?"
"One of them," Sam answered.
"Shit, yeah, two," Dean muttered. Sam felt him starting to relax, starting to fade, and that's when the real worry set in.
"Dean!" he barked with as much force as he could put behind his voice. Dean jumped, suddenly more awake.
"Dean, I need your help, man," Sam continued, allowing the pain to seep into his voice.
The plea in Sam's voice brought him the rest of the way to awareness. He blinked up at the dark, blank canvas of the cave ceiling for a moment, gathering his bearings. His head pounded, he could feel the hot sting of the gashes on is left arm from the wendigo's claws, and his vision wouldn't stop sliding in and out of focus, but other than that, he seemed intact.
"You fell," he said suddenly.
"Yeah," Sam answered, unable to vocalize much more.
Dean shifted so that Sam's head eased off of his shoulder and rested on the cave floor. He pushed himself into sitting position, waited a moment while his stomach caught up with his bouncing vision, then rolled to his knees. As he approached his prone brother, something Sam said suddenly registered.
"What happened to that other ugly mother?"
"Left," Sam ground out.
One word answers were Dean's stock in trade to handle pain. If Sam were adopting that trait, things were not good.
"Okay, take it easy, Sammy," he soothed. "Let me take a look."
Sam's eyes were closed, his hands fisted at his sides. Dean remembered his brother's pained gasp of my leg just before he managed to wrestle himself into a toss against a wall. He could see Sam's left leg was up, bent at the knee. His right, however… Dean hissed.
"Okay, Sam, I'm not gonna bullshit you," he said, his voice low. "This is not good."
Sam nodded once. He was sweating and shaking, but he was focused on controlling his breathing. Dean's here… Dean's here… Dean's here…
"Looks like the bone broke through the skin just below your knee," Dean muttered, wishing for more light. "I'm gonna have to go up and get our bags… get the supplies."
"Let me have the flare gun."
"No," Sam ground out.
"Waddaya mean, no?" Dean's eyes flew to Sam's face, surprised.
"I can see…better than you… in the dark. I can… watch for it," Sam said, looking at his brother still perched at his lower leg.
"Whatever, Riddick," Dean grumbled. "Like you could hit anything shaking like that."
"Dude, TV… has an off button… and I hit the other one just fine," Sam shot back.
Dean worked his jaw, knowing his brother was right.
"Just don't miss," he said, pressing his lips together to ward off a particularly harsh thump in his head. "Off button my ass, you knew what I was talking about," he muttered as he turned to find a way back up the cliff face.
"I heard that," Sam said.
"Well I said it out loud," Dean snapped at him.
Sam concentrated on keeping his breaths even, blending the pain thrumming from his leg with the rhythm of his breathing. He kept his eyes on Dean, not missing the unsteady sway that his brother controlled just before he started to work his way, hand over hand, up the cliff face. At least it was a baby cliff.
He didn't realize he'd said that thought out loud until he heard Dean's curse in reply. He knew what his brother was doing. Antagonize him, keep him focused on the barbs, not on the pain. Get him irritated with Dean and he just might forget the waves of pain slicing through his leg. Dean had done this before. With the werewolf when he was 14, the poltergeist when he was 16, and that time he'd managed to break his arm on the basketball court when he was 10… his first and only non-supernatural injury.
"I'm up," Dean called, breathless. "I got the bags."
"You see an easier way down?"
"Geeze, Sammy, what the hell is easier than falling?"
"Just be careful," Sam grumbled.
Dean had to stop and take a breath. His head was pounding and he kept seeing two of everything. He had to reach for the duffel handles three times before he actually grabbed them. Sweat kept running into his eyes and he rubbed it out impatiently with the back of his hand. Had to get back down to Sam. Leg looked bad. Had to set it, get him out of there. Somehow. He'd had trouble carrying his brother since he turned thirteen and overnight, it seemed, grew taller than Dean. And with the incessant burn in his arm, carrying Sam's lanky bulk was pretty much a non-option.
Set leg, then worry about escape. First, he had to get down. He looked over the edge and almost threw up as his vision wavered again, the nausea hitting him like a wave.
"You okay, man?" Sam asked.
Dean hadn't realized he'd closed his eyes until he opened them at Sam's voice. "Sure, why?"
"You looked… you sure you're okay?"
Dean wasn't okay, and he was starting to register that. The crack to his head was harder than he realized. He swallowed. Then swallowed again. The instant he knew he was going to be sick, he turned away from the edge of the cliff.
"Damn," he moaned, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. He hated getting sick. He knew what this meant, though. With the pain, the double vision, the nausea…but he'd had concussions before and this could not stop him from helping Sam. A compound fracture trumps a concussion any day.
"I'm coming, Sam," Dean said softly, hoping Sam's ears were as good as his eyesight. "Just… just gimme a minute. I just need a minute."
New Orleans, LA 2005
Dean shook his head. He had to get up, he knew it. Something was wrong with Sam if he was losing this bad in a fistfight. He tried to stand and ended up falling forward, catching himself with his hands. He heard a gasp of surprise and possibly of pain from one of his attackers. It's about time, Sam, he thought. He just needed a minute… just a minute to catch his breath.
Another gasp, sounds of a struggle, and the unmistakable sound of flesh hitting flesh. Then, he swore he heard the sound of a knife stabbing into someone. It had a distinct muffled pop that he'd heard countless times before. But that didn't make sense because he had the knife, not Sam… He felt hands on his shoulders, easing him back into sitting position.
Gentle hands probed the back of his head and he winced when they touched the bleeding gash at the back of his scalp. He tried to brush the hands away when they moved to his eyes, prying them open to check his alertness.
"M'okay," he mumbled, trying desperately to sound as if he meant it.
"No, you are not," said a voice that was definitely not Sam's.
Dean's eyes flew open. "Where's Sam?" His voice sounded rough to his ears. Rough and worried.
Joss shrugged, "I do not know. I followed you, and when I got here, you were fighting two men. And losing," he added, grimacing at the bruising already showing up around Dean's left eye and on his forehead.
Dean started to push Joss away and stand. The world chose that moment to tilt dangerously to the side. To avoid sliding off the planet entirely, Dean eased back down until the world righted itself.
"Gotta find him," he said. Where the hell was Sam?
"Man, that was weird," Dean muttered. For a moment he felt as though he was actually back in those woods with Joss Coulee, realizing that his brother had been taken from him. "I'm coming down."
With a barely muffled grunt of pain he slung their packs over his shoulders, ignoring the stabbing pain in his arm and worked his way slowly back down the cliff face.
"No bad guy?" he panted when he reached Sam.
"Not yet," Sam replied, his voice thin with pain.
Dean dug into Sam's pack for the flashlight with the halogen lamp on the side. "Think this will draw it?"
"We'll smell it," Sam said.
"We'll smell it if it comes back."
Dean cocked his head to the side, studying his brother. "Look at the college boy," he teased, a soft grin tugging up the corner of his mouth. "Pretty smart, there, Sammy."
He flicked on the halogen lamp, then dug the first aid kit out. He wiped the back of his hand across his forehead to block the sweat that seemed determined to fall into his eyes, reached around and drew out his knife from its sheath in his waistband, then gently cut away Sam's jeans starting just above the knee. He sliced the material down the center so that it just fell off Sam's leg. He registered that when focused on this task – caring for his brother – his vision remained thankfully steady.
He didn't realize he'd been humming a steadying beat until he saw Sam's head quirk up.
"Dude, is that… Zepplin?"
Dean's hands paused. "Uh, yeah. Huh."
"You do that a lot, you know," Sam said, his eyes steady on Dean's.
"Count the beats in a song," Sam said, watching Dean's eyebrows go up in surprise. "Mostly when you're hurting."
Dean could recognize a veiled attempt at checking on him when he heard one. "I'm fine, Sam."
"Well, I'm not," Sam said.
"Yeah, that much is clear, little brother," Dean muttered, gathering the items he'd need from the first aid kit.
"Can you… can you sing it for me?" Sam asked through clenched teeth.
"What?" Dean's head shot up in surprise.
"Y'know, like you used to," Sam breathed out, trying to ride the wave of pain.
"Sam, that was… a long time ago," Dean said, completely surprised by the request.
"I won't tell."
Dean looked at his brother, the pain pulling his skin taut across his features, the set of his jaw, the paleness of his skin. "Yeah, okay," he said, then, "You want me to warn you?"
"When you start singing?"
"When I set this," Dean said.
Dean licked his lips, pulling his lower one in and clamping it between his teeth for a moment. He poured the antiseptic over the small hole Sam's bone protruded from. Sam groaned through clenched teeth squeezing his eyes shut tight.
"Leaves are falling all around, it's time I was on my way. Thanks to you, I'm much obliged for such a pleasant stay."
He placed his left hand, his weaker hand, on the side of Sam's bone, and gripped Sam's leg with his right one. John had taught them field medicine early on, knowing that he would need help after hunting…
"But now it's time for me to go, the autumn moon lights my way. For now I smell the rain, and with it pain, and it's headed my way."
Sam's scream when he pulled the leg straight echoed off of the cave walls. It seemed to go on for hours, though in reality it lasted barely ten seconds. The scream tore into Dean and he actually curled over Sam's leg.
"Easy," he whispered, keeping his hands on Sam's leg as the scream subsided into trembling whimpers as Sam fought for control. "Easy, kiddo, it's over now."
"Holy s-shit," Sam gasped, tears in his voice.
"You did good, Sam," Dean's voice was a low murmur, as if talking his brother back from a ledge.
"Damn, that hurt," Sam said, trying to suck it up, trying to take it. The way he knew his brother would. The way he knew his brother had because it was what his father wanted.
"It's okay, Sammy," Dean soothed. "It's okay now."
Sam blinked at those words. Those words he'd heard Dean say to one of them so many times…
Jefferson City, MO 1989
Dean had put him to bed two hours ago, but he couldn't sleep. He could see the light from the TV flickering in the next room. Dad was supposed to have been home this morning. He promised. He'd promised Dean. He never broke his promises to Dean unless something real bad happened. Sam got out of bed and crept to the door, trying to be really quiet, wanting to ask his brother to come to bed. He could sleep if Dean were there.
"Go back to bed, Sammy."
Dean sounded like Dad. How did he always know?
"When is he gonna be back, Dean?"
"Soon, kiddo, now go to bed," Dean turned away from the TV and his tired hazel eyes met Sam's. Sam saw him smile with those eyes, even as his mouth stayed serious. Sam hadn't said anything, but the older Dean got, the less he saw the smiles in his eyes. He liked those smiles.
He had no sooner climbed into bed when he heard the pounding at the door.
"Dean," he heard his father call to his brother. "Let me in, son."
"What's the password," Dean's voice was hard, and Sam knew that the rifle that was almost as long as Dean was tall was resting comfortably in his brother's capable hands.
Sam sighed. Dean got to choose this week.
He heard the chain release from the door and the door creak open. He heard Dean's gasp of surprise and the rifle clatter to the floor. He heard his father groan in pain and he heard something that sounded like someone hitting the floor. He wanted to get up and see, but he was suddenly afraid.
"Son," Dad's voice sounded funny. It sounded shaky like Sam's did when he'd been crying. Was Dad crying? Dad didn't cry.
"I got it, I got it, Dad," Dean was saying. Sam could hear his brother moving around and he listened hard to figure out where he was in the small apartment. Kitchenette, bathroom, back to the living room.
"Dean," Dad started again.
"It's okay, Dad. It's okay, now." Sam heard Dean's voice, steady, sure. His brother sounded older than Dad. Sam knew he was taking care of it. He knew Dad would be okay now because Dean was there.
"Yeah," Sam gasped out.
"You still with me?"
"I need to step away a second and get something to splint this with, okay?"
Dean was gone no more than two minutes, but Sam had already started to panic.
"I'm here," Dean panted. "You hanging in there?"
"Yeah," Sam said. "It's not as bad now."
"I'll give you something here in a second," Dean said, wiping the sweat from his brow again as it started to run into his eyes. It was starting to get annoying. He wasn't even hot anymore. He noticed Sam shiver.
"Let me get this, and we'll build a fire," Dean said.
"What about the –"
"I don't smell anything," Dean said quickly. "Besides, Sam, it's dark out there. We're going to have to wait here until morning and we can get out of here."
"I don't like it any more than you do, believe me," Dean grumbled.
Actually, Sam thought, as he felt Dean steady his fractured leg with what felt like two thick sticks, Dean probably liked it a lot less than Sam. He had a thing about camping since their last encounter with a wendigo.
"No more wendigos," Sam groaned as Dean shucked his jacket and long-sleeved shirt, then pulled his white T-shirt over his head.
"We drawing a line, there, Sam?"
"Yeah," Sam looked at his brother, noticing his shivering in the cold at the sudden loss of clothing. He watched Dean cut the T-shirt he'd been wearing into strips. "We don't do wendigos."
Dean looked up with a half grin and Sam's breath caught, seeing his brother clearly in the light of the halogen lamp.
Dean focused on Sam, hearing the change in his brother's tone. "You okay?"
"Your head, man," Sam said.
Dean gave him a look that said 'do I have horns or what'.
"Dude, you're bleeding all over the place," Sam said, pointing to the T-shirt.
Dean wiped at what he'd thought was sweat and this time looked at his hand. It was covered in blood. The T-shirt he was cutting up was blood-smeared. He reached up to feel where the worst of the pain had been thrumming and felt about a two inch gash on the side of his head.
"Huh," he said.
"Huh? You lose a pint of blood and all you can say is huh?"
"Don't be such a girl, Sam," Dean scoffed, continuing to cut up the T-shirt. "You know head wounds always look worse than they are."
"How many fingers am I holding up?"
Dean didn't bother to look at him. Instead he answered while securing the branches he'd found to Sam's broken leg. "No more than ten, no less than one."
"Sam," he echoed in the same warning tone. "I'm fine, okay?" He lifted his eyes to Sam's. "I'm fine."
He had put butterfly bandages across the hole in Sam's leg and used a couple of the cleaner strips of his T-shirt to pad the wound, then carefully wrapped the bandages around Sam's leg. The tree limbs might rub on him a little, but the bone wasn't going anywhere and that was the important thing.
Dean's shivering increased as he worked; the minute he was done, he pulled his long-sleeved shirt back on, hissing as the material slid over the cuts on his arm. Sam had remained silent after his last decree that he was fine, and was just watching him. Silence on Sam's part wasn't all that unusual. Pouting wasn't either. But as Dean lifted his eyes to his brother's and saw the stark pain reflected there, he sighed.
"It's gonna be okay, Sam," he said.
Sam worked his jaw. He slid his eyes away from Dean in an effort to get himself under control.
"I'm not gonna let anything bad happen to you," Dean reminded him.
"What about you?" Sam's voice was soft and Dean saw him shiver.
Dean covered Sam's chest and arms with his jacket.
"What about me what?"
"What if something bad happens to you?"
Dean swallowed. Sam sounded very young in that moment. "Impossible," he claimed. "I lead a charmed life."
The incredulous look Sam shot him caused Dean to grin. He picked up the flashlight and stood slowly, surveying their surroundings. The boulder that had knocked Sam from the cliff rested in a little sloped area just beyond them.
"Well, looks like you picked as good a place as any to stay for the night."
"You picked it."
Dean rotated the light over to Sam.
"Yeah. It's where you landed. I just crawled over to get the flare."
"Nice. Look, my brother's a boneless heap on the cave floor… hey maybe he has a flare gun…"
Sam couldn't help but grin at Dean's tone. "Just following the rules, man."
Dean lifted the corner of his mouth in a half grin, crouching down to dig through the duffels. "What number is that, two or three?"
"Bad guys first, soldiers second?"
"Two. He made that rule when I was ten and you almost got killed trying to get him out of the way of that poltergeist in Jackson."
Dean nodded with a small smile, and handed Sam three pain killers and the only bottle of regular water they had. Sam swallowed them gratefully, pulling Dean's jacket tighter around him. "Is there a three?"
"I think that's arbitrary," Dean said, his eyebrows lifting and he looked to see what else they had with them in their duffels. "It's either always be prepared, never stop fighting 'til the fight's done, or clean up the car before it rusts… y'know depending on his mood."
Dean felt Sam's eyes on him as he pulled out the remaining guns, holy water, peanut M&Ms, two spare flares, and the first aid kit. Not much there.
"At least you have provisions," Sam commented. Dean looked up at him, and noticed his eyes were on the bag of M&Ms.
He grinned. "Never leave home without them."
Sam watched his brother move the supplies into one duffel, then he cut open the other one, laying it flat. He cut off the handles and stuffed them into the full duffel, then spread the flattened bag over Sam's legs. Keeping his center of balance low to the ground, Dean cleaned off a space of cave floor just beyond Sam. He handed his brother the bag of M&Ms.
"I'm going to get us some firewood," he said. "Save me some," he nodded to the yellow bag.
Sam watched as Dean stood and tensed as he saw his brother's eyes blink closed with a line of pain between them. Dean swayed on his feet and Sam was sure he was going to topple over. He reached his hand out from under the coat, but Dean managed to steady himself and without another word, turned toward the cave exit.
"I'm fine, Sam," Dean muttered as he walked outside to gather firewood.
Sam hated that word. Of all the lies his brother told, it was the biggest, most frequent one. Watching Dean's retreating back until he couldn't see him anymore, Sam popped an M&M into his mouth.
Chattanooga, TN 1991
"Dude, seriously, go easy on that," Dean's voice was stern.
"Because there isn't much left. You want breakfast, right?"
"Can't we just… go to the store?"
Dean sighed and looked over at him. Sam could see that it was on the tip of his tongue to play Dad's 'because I said so' card, but he knew Dean hated that as much as he did.
"Because we're out of money until Dad gets back, and I don't want to…"
Sam nodded so that Dean didn't have to finish. He didn't want to have to steal food again. He hated it – mostly because of the danger of being caught. Dean was good, but if he slipped up, it would mean the end for their family.
"What about you?"
"I'm fine, Sammy," Dean held up a one pound bag of peanut M&Ms, half-gone. Sam stared at it. Dean had been carrying it around for two days.
"What else have you eaten?"
"Don't worry about it, little brother. I'm fine. Get your book bag and we'll go through your homework."
Sam stared at the bag in his hands as the memory washed over him. Dad had been two days late. And when he got back, he'd smelled like whiskey. By the time he got home, Dean was pale and shaky, but he helped his Dad unpack and clean the guns before he asked for any money, silencing Sam with a well-timed glare. They'd gone to the store, and afterwards Dean had eaten three ham sandwiches and four glasses of milk in about ten minutes time. Since then, Sam didn't think he'd ever seen his brother without the chocolate candy.
"You gonna eat those or stare holes through the bag?"
Sam jumped, crumpling the bag between his hands. "Dude, you scared the crap outta me."
"Shame on you, Sammy," Dean shook his head. "I shouldn't be able to sneak up on you."
Sam just glared at him. The painkillers were making his head fuzzy, but the pain in his leg had been reduced to a dull ache. Slowly, so as not to disturb the splint, he used his hands and pulled himself back until he could prop himself back against the wall.
"You doing okay?" Dean asked.
Sam nodded, just watching his brother. He rotated the lamp until it was pointed in Dean's direction. He watched with fascination as Dean piled the firewood he'd gathered on one side of him, sat down and pulled some of the dried twigs and leaves he'd found into a pile and set a short piece of wood beside them. He then unlaced one of his boots, tied either end of the lace to one of two equal-lengthed sticks, then stood the second stick up on the flat piece of wood and wrapped the bootlace once around the stick. The end result looked like he was playing a violin against the bow, rather than the other way around.
He began to pull the stick with the string on it rapidly, turning the other stick against the flat piece of wood.
"Dude, what the hell are you doing?"
Dean lifted his head to briefly meet Sam's eyes. "What does it look like I'm doing?"
"I think you're trying to… make a fire."
"You sure you didn't hit your head, Sammy?"
"Dad never taught us that," Sam ignored his brother's comment. Dad had taught them to be prepared. Extra prepared. He would have chewed Dean's ass for not having waterproof matches in the packs.
"So… where'd you learn it?"
Dean paused in his efforts, lifting his eyes to Sam, as thought weighing the consequences of confession. "MacGyver."
"The TV Show?"
"No, Sam, MacGyver my imaginary friend," Dean resumed the rubbing. Smoke started to filter up from the top of the vertical stick. "There was an episode once where Mac—"
"You're on a first name basis with him?"
"Dude, you want to hear this or not?"
"And that's not his first name."
"Anyway," Dean sighed. "He takes a bunch of kids out on some sort of get-over-being-a-delinquent trip into the wilderness and the plane crashes…"
"Oh great. Way to go, Mac."
"Not like he crashed the plane," Dean protested, rubbing faster as the smoke began to build. "So, since they're stuck out there until help arrives he does all kinds of stuff to help them help themselves to survive."
"Did it work?"
Dean grinned as his efforts paid off. Flames sparked from the end of the stick and Dean brushed the dried twigs and leaves on top of the tiny fire. When they caught, he started to add more firewood until eventually he had a fire large enough to illuminate their immediate area and the cave up to the cliff wall.
"It's MacGyver. The dude can make a bomb out of a soup can and a roll of duct tape. 'Course it worked."
As the boys looked around, they were amazed to see crude drawings on the walls of the cave, and in the ceiling, a phenomenal site. The cave was like the crest of a giant geode. On the ceiling, reflecting in the firelight, thousands of crystals of varying length and color sparkled down at them.
"Damn," Dean whispered.
"This ever happen on MacGyver?"
"Not even close."
"What are those markings?"
Dean leaned forward, inspecting them closer. "Some kind of Indian markings maybe?" He looked over his shoulder to Sam, unconsciously wiping more blood from his eye with the back of his hand. "What were those markings we saw in Lost Creek?"
Sam saw the blood on his brother's hand. His lips thinned. "Dean, let's take care of your head."
"Your head, dude. It's still bleeding."
Dean blinked, looking genuinely puzzled. He turned his hand over and saw the blood on the back of it. He was suddenly very thirsty. Wiping the back of his hand on his jeans, he moved back over to Sam in a low crouch.
"Lemme have some of that water, Sam," he said, reaching his hand out. Sam handed him the bottle, reaching for the duffel and the first aid kit.
"Some day trip," Sam muttered.
Dean took a shallow swallow from the bottle, capped it and set it down next to Sam. "What?"
"Easy hunt, fire up a wendigo, we're back in the car inside of two hours," Sam said, recalling Dean's words from earlier.
"How was I supposed to know there would be two of them?"
Sam just shook his head. They hadn't been prepared. End of story. If they ever ran into their Dad again, if they ever found him again, he was going to be pissed if he ever found out about this hunt. He pulled the first aid kit from the pack.
"What are you doing?" Dean asked, sitting next to Sam in a low crouch, balanced on the balls of his feet. He'd been looking at the markings on the cave walls, trying to figure out why they looked familiar… something about the pattern more than the drawings themselves… something about the way they were organized was tickling his memory. His eyes caught on Sam's movement.
"I'm gonna clean up your head, Dean."
"It's fine, Sam."
"Dude, stop it. It's not fine. You can't bleed for an hour and be fine."
"It's not bleeding that bad."
"You should see yourself, man. You look like something out of a John Carpenter movie."
Sam rolled his eyes when Dean's mouth flicked up in a grin. "You're impossible."
Dean shook his head. "Seriously, Sam, we've got more important things to worry about."
Dean lifted a brow. "Your leg getting infected for one. Getting the hell back to the car tomorrow morning for another. Don't know if you noticed this, little brother, but you're awfully big to be carried."
"You're not carrying me."
"Damn straight. But you aren't walking either."
Sam looked down at his leg; the dull ache was ever-present, but he could now feel a strange heat building around where Dean had done his best to close up the hole and stop the bleeding. How the hell were they going to get out of there?
"You'll just have to go for help and come back for me."
Dean shook his head once, decisively. "No. No way."
"Dean, it's the only thing that makes sense."
Dean's eyes were hard, his jaw set. "I'm not leaving you, Sam."
"You wouldn't be leaving me… you'd be going for help."
"No, and that's the end of it. I'll get us out of here," Dean looked back up at the markings on the walls again. "Somehow."
Sam shook his head again, but the look in Dean's eyes suddenly shifted. He looked… confused.
Dean just blinked at him.
"You okay, man?"
Dean blinked again and shook his head. The left side of his face was a mottled mixture of red and brown from the dirt and dried blood and the fresh blood that continued to seep from his head wound. He reached up with a clumsy hand and swiped at his cheek with the back of his hand.
"Just, uh," he pulled his eyebrows together and looked at Sam. "Just gimme a minute, okay?"
"Yeah, sure," Sam said, growing increasingly worried by the second. Dean put his hands on the tops of his knees and stood. The minute he did so, Sam knew it was a mistake. "Dean!"
Dean blinked again, and reached out blindly for the cave wall. "Whoa."
"Dean, sit down, okay?"
"Yeah, okay," Dean whispered. And then his knees buckled. Unable to move, all Sam could do was instinctively reach his arms out. He managed to catch Dean's shoulders and prevent him from injuring himself further by cracking his head again.
"Dean?" Sam was in an awkward, twisted position in an effort to keep his splinted leg steady and catch his brother. With a strong heave he turned Dean onto his back and pulled his head and shoulders into his lap. "Dean?"
Under the dried blood Dean's face was pale, his lashes throwing shadows on his cheeks from the dancing firelight. His lips were slightly parted and his breath was coming in short bursts.
"Dammit," Sam growled. "Stupid, stubborn bastard. Hope your head is hard."
Sam ran a tired hand over his eyes. He had to get a grip. Clean out Dean's wound while he was out so that he couldn't protest. Get him to wake up, because he knew he had a concussion. Sam shivered and looked over at the fire. He had to do that fast before the fire died out or they would both freeze to death. Autumn night, northern Minnesota woods, minimal supplies, no blankets, in a wendigo's lair. Perfect Winchester evening.
As he reached for the first aid kit, he heard the unmistakable sound of gravel falling from the cliff face above. Sam lifted his eyes to the darkness above and saw two eyes reflecting the light that danced from the crystals on the ceiling.
"Oh, shit," he breathed.
a/n: The song Dean sings to distract Sam is "Ramble On" by Led Zepplin. Seemed fitting.