Summary: A ghoulish hunt, nightmarish weather and a secret get the best of Sam and Dean. An offering for the second round fic exchange at SFTCOL(AR)S so angst lurks within per thursdaywench's prompt. Action takes place after AHBL.

A/N: Look ma, no beta! The plentiful mistakes are mine, all mine.

Disclaimer: Are you going to make me say it? The characters, etc., don't belong to me. Sigh.

-----

Flesh Wound

Chapter 1: The (Not So) Good

The temperature was well above 90 degrees and it was only 8:00 a.m. The air was heavy with humidity which made breathing difficult. The local weather stations were proclaiming it an "ozone action day" with air quality in the hazardous range. It was a good day for staying indoors with air conditioning.

Unfortunately, it wasn't a good day for the Winchesters.

Dean was frantically weaving in and out of traffic in a "borrowed" Toyota Camry. He bitterly hoped it belonged to the doctor who had treated him at the hospital.

He'd just liberated himself from St. Luke's ER after spending half the night under observation for a concussion. The kicker being that it was possibly the mildest concussion he'd ever suffered but the ER doctor had insisted he stay and had even gone so far as to post a security guard outside of his cubicle.

His pupils were equal and reactive to light and the x-rays had been negative yet the doctor wouldn't sign Dean's release papers. It had taken a while for the dizziness to pass before he could slip out the second floor window and find a car. He'd wanted to leave as soon as he woke up but he couldn't risk falling and injuring himself further because he was the only one who knew Sam was in danger.

They'd been on opposite sides of the cemetery, trying to flush out the ghoul, when Dean had been surprised from behind. What was embarrassing was that he didn't think it had been the ghoul that had snuck up on him – he thought it was a spirit. A seemingly benevolent spirit that had called out a warning before shoving him to the side. Dean had smacked his head on a tombstone and had woken up in the ER. He was told that some teenagers had found him and called 911.

Damn do-gooders. By calling an ambulance, Sam had been left unprotected at the cemetery for six hours and Dean hadn't been able to raise him on the cell phone. At first he'd been hoping it was due to poor cell reception but that was no longer the case; his calls to his brother were going unanswered.

He parked the Toyota a couple of rows up from the Impala, behind some trees and shrubs. He didn't want it to be spotted too quickly but he didn't have the time to hide it better. He needed to find his brother.

He took off at a fast jog toward Sam's last known position, his cell phone on automatic re-dial. If Sam couldn't answer the phone, maybe Dean would get lucky and hear it ringing.

He didn't want to dwell on the implications of why Sam wasn't answering his phone. It was too much to contemplate. Especially on the heels of Sam's death at Jake's hand followed by his resurrection.

Sam had been devoting way too much energy toward finding a way to save Dean. Skipping meals, guzzling far too many caffeinated beverages, logging insane amounts of time on the internet, never cracking a smile…the list could go on and on.

And the nightmares were back. Sam wouldn't say what they were about but when he did finally get some sleep, which wasn't nearly enough, he would jerk awake with a scream on his lips.

Dean had a vested interest in Sam finding a way to save him but he needed to focus Sam's energy on something else, just for a little while. He didn't want his kid brother going bonkers.

He thought he'd found the perfect solution when he's stumbled upon a ghoul in the next town over from where they were staying. Ah, yes, ghouls...usually flesh eaters of new corpses but they had been known to feed on human children, infants, and occasionally weak and sickened adults.

Sam had agreed that they needed to destroy the ghoul – it had already feasted on a tired, unsuspecting traveler. It appealed to his need to protect and serve.

Dean was interested in the hunt because destroying a ghoul involved burning, decapitating, obliterating via concentrated acid or electrocution. A veritable smorgasbord of Dean's favorite activities. He could barely contain his excitement.

They had gone to the cemetery and separated to draw the ghoul out. It had seemed like a good idea at the time, Sam had even agreed to it, but then Casper the Friendly Ghost had intervened and now Sam was missing.

Dean took a moment to compose himself. Ghouls didn't like daylight so Sam would no longer be in danger from it. Maybe the same spirit that had pushed Dean aside had pulled the same trick on Sam and he was even now lying next to some marker, unconscious, waiting for Dean to find him. He began pacing the rows of graves looking for him, periodically trying his cell phone. He didn't want the batteries to run down.

Sweat was dripping down between Dean's shoulder blades, pooling in the middle of his back. He impatiently swiped the wetness out of his eyes, cursing the weather. He doubled back toward the car. He needed water or he would pass out. At the moment he didn't care about his own well being except as it related to Sam – if he was unconscious, he couldn't find his brother.

Dean kept at it for four straight hours. He'd covered maybe half of the massive cemetery and still hadn't seen any sign of Sam. His own cell phone battery was dipping dangerously low but he decided to try his brother one more time before heading back to the Impala to recharge it. Unless he stumbled over Sam, the cell phone was his best chance of tracking him down.

The phone rang five times and Dean was certain it was going into voicemail yet again when it abruptly stopped ringing. "Sammy? Can you hear me?" he called impatiently into the phone.

He listened for some response, some sign that Sam was alive, and was rewarded when he heard his brother's voice. "Dean?" It was weak and hoarse but unmistakably Sam.

Now that he knew his brother was alive, Dean's fear turned to anger. "Where the hell have you been and why haven't you been answering your cell phone?!" It was actually shorthand for I'm coming to get you, are you okay?

Sam was unaffected by Dean's hostile tone and answered the unspoken question. "I'm okay. I got shoved into a mausoleum and I'm stuck." Sam's voice was soft and he ended the sentence by coughing harshly. He might be conscious but Dean doubted he was completely okay.

Dean couldn't get to his brother quick enough. "Which mausoleum? There are like a hundred of them" he said, clearly frustrated as he spun around and located the area where the majority of them were located.

Sam coughed again before he answered. "I remember seeing a marker with Smith on it," he said, wheezing.

Dean closed his eyes in disbelief. "You're kidding, right? Smith. That's like the most popular name. That's just great." He stood up and started moving toward the part of the cemetery with the commemorative stone buildings.

Sam laughed a little at that before the wheezing became more pronounced. "Look for S-M-Y-T-H-E." His answer was clipped but he'd laughed. How bad off could he be?

Dean's cell phone beeped, indicating that the cell battery was on its last legs. "I need to hang up now, okay Sammy? Don't worry, I'm going to get you out," he promised.

"I know Dean. Thanks," Sam disconnected the call before Dean could say anything further. Dean was a little miffed because he wanted to hear Sam talk more, to reassure him that he was okay. But he might still need the cell phone so Sam had done the right thing.

He put the cell phone in his pocket and started hustling by the mausoleums, hunting for Smythe, occasionally calling his brother's name. His head ached from the concussion and his lungs ached from the hot, heavy air but he forced himself on. Sam was counting on him.

Sam was also having a difficult time drawing air into his lungs. The air inside of the small stone building was like an oven and Sam was slowly baking inside of it. His back was up against something hard and he rested his head against his bent knees.

Sam tried to remember what had led to this situation. He'd been patrolling the south end of the cemetery when he'd noticed a strange light coming from the west side. Ghouls didn't like the light but he needed to check it out.

He'd approached the area cautiously and paused when the light disappeared. He'd been on the verge of calling Dean when he'd felt a sharp shove in the middle of his back which had sent him flying forward. His forehead had cracked into something and he saw stars. He felt a tug on his left hand and then thought he heard someone, or something, screeching before he passed out.

The next thing he remembered was waking up in this hothouse, his cell phone ringing, his head aching.

He'd tried to catalogue his injuries but other than assorted scrapes and bruises, including a sore hand, his head and the inability to breathe in the stifling air were the main concerns.

He needed to stay alert so he could either answer the phone or call his brother's name.

His head was spinning and bile perched at the back of his throat. He thought he heard Dean calling him but he couldn't call out, couldn't even lift his head. He was powerless to move. Without water and a way to cool down, he gave in to the heat, tipping over onto his side in a sprawl.

It was well into the afternoon, around 3:00 p.m., when Dean finally hit pay dirt. He'd dialed Sam up and was disheartened when his brother didn't pick up but he heard a faint ring. He called his brother again on the cell phone, trudging along, trying to pinpoint where the ringing was coming from while reading inscriptions.

He was wondering what kind of condition his brother would be in, almost to the point of panic, so that he'd almost missed the name. The Smythes.

He called Sam's name but didn't get a response. There was a shovel wedged against another grave preventing the entrance from swinging open. Dean made short work of removing it and tugged the door open.

The afternoon light filtered into the dark tomb, pooling across his brother's limp body.

If Dean hadn't known any better, he would have thought Sam was taking a nap, stretched out on his right side, his head nestled on his arm. But Dean did know better as he scrambled into the suffocating stillness of the superheated enclosure.

Crouching down in the cramped area, he touched Sam's chest. He finally felt the shallow, delayed breaths of overworked lungs stuttering as they pulled in air.

Dean shook his head, numb with relief. Then he got down to business as he carefully placed an arm under Sam's back and another under his legs. Scooping him awkwardly into his arms, he staggered out into the sultry, summer air. His baby brother was way too big to be held in this fashion but Dean didn't care. If he got a hernia, so be it. His brother needed him and that's all that mattered.

Collapsing to the ground on his abused knees, Dean lowered his burden to the brown, dead grass. He expertly assessed Sam for obvious injuries, noting the bruising on his forehead. Dampening a bandana with some water, he drew it over Sam's face and neck, shielding his brother's body from the sun with his own.

Sam's eyes lazily blinked open and his lips twitched into a sluggish smile.

Dean's face lit up with an answering smile. His brother was alive and conscious. But he needed to act fast if he was going to stay that way.

Cupping a hand behind Sam's head he lifted it while dribbling some of the water into his mouth. Sam coughed some of the water up, splashing the life saving liquid onto the ground, his eyes closing involuntarily, before he was able to keep some of it down.

Dean stood up to figure out where the Impala was parked and was stunned to find that it was twenty yards away from their present position. Incredible. He'd walked all over the cemetery looking for his missing brother and he'd been within a stone's throw of the starting point all along.

Sam's eyes were open again, staring at Dean. "Do you think you can stand up if I help you?" he asked, concerned eyes running over Sam's wan complexion. Dean could feel the heat rising off of his own face, red from the heat, but all color had been bleached from Sam's face. Except for his brother's large, trusting eyes.

Sam nodded his head and held out his hands. Dean didn't think his brother would remain upright for long and instead moved until he was directly behind him, sliding his hands under Sam's armpits. He hoisted him up, much like he used to hold Sam when he was lifting him into the air at playtime. But this time there was no play involved.

He pulled Sam to his feet in one smooth motion and steadied him from behind while his brother got accustomed to being on his feet. Once he was certain Sam wouldn't pass out again, he moved next to him, slinging his brother's right arm over his left shoulder, anchoring it with his right hand, while snaking his left arm around his waist.

Sam's gait was unsteady and Dean was doing all of the work by the time they made it to the Impala, supporting and dragging his brother's weight.

Dean had an important decision to make. He didn't like playing Russian roulette with Sam's health but he was afraid that on the heels of Dean's treatment, the FBI would make the connection and track them down.

He situated Sam in the passenger seat, slowly giving him more water and dampening the bandana again, before heading for their motel room as he opted for trying to treat the heat exhaustion himself.

He knew from past experience that the symptoms -- dizziness, nausea and weakness -- were caused by depletion of body fluids and electrolytes so he just needed to get lots of liquid into Sam and cool his core body temperature.

Glancing at Sam, wilted across the passenger seat, he hoped he was making the right decision. Sam was counting on him.

TBC

A/N 2: I heartily suggest you check out "Don't Sweat the Small Stuff" by JJ Phoenix if you haven't already. I wasn't trying to copy this amazing story but the weather here was awful and it worked with the plot.