In Your Wildest Dreams
By AJ Wesley
His teeth were chattering, his body shaking. Damn, who turned off the heat? He groped blindly, reaching for the blanket that must have fallen to the floor. Or maybe he had. It was hard and…no carpet…no… What the—?
Dean struggled up to sitting, blinking in the darkness. His head pounded like a son of a bitch, and he knew something was wrong. He pressed the heel of his hand against his forehead to ward off the pain but jerked it away when another shockwave threatened to split his head open. A curse slipped out through clenched teeth, and he wrapped his arms around his stomach. He would not hurl. No way.
Dean breathed steadily through his nose until he regained control, then let out a shaky breath. What the hell was going on? He looked around. Listened.
His clothes were icy cold and damp. The echoing drip, drip stirred a memory Dean knew was urgent. A rustle of leaves and a cool breeze from somewhere above. A cave. He fell. They fell.
The flood of memory was like a physical blow. Dean blindly searched the space around him, certain now that Sam had been there. Nothing now. Damn it.
A frantic search of his pockets turned up the Maglite, and Dean twisted the thing on. "Sam?" he called, not caring that it hurt. He waited, but there was no answering call. Dean climbed to his feet, grabbing a nearby stalagmite to steady himself. So many passages. So many different directions for Sam to go. So many ways for him to get hurt. Dean's throat constricted, his stomach clenching.
He aimed the beam at the cavern floor, looking for anything that might give him a clue. Come on…
Okay, so it sucked that the cold damp of the cave made it impossible for their clothes to dry out quickly. But it also meant wet footprints didn't disappear, either. Sam had apparently sloshed through the pool of water Dean had used to clean himself up. Small favors. Okay, to the right, then. That narrowed it down a little. He followed the soggy footprints until he reached a spot where the entire floor was wet. The trail ended there.
Or did it?
Three passages to choose from, or an area in the back where the cavern dipped deeper into the earth. Not that way. So, maybe, if the passages were dry, he could pick up the trail along the way.
"Sammy?" Dean tried again.
"Dean! Over here!"
It was faint, but enough to give Dean direction. Just when he started moving again, he heard—at least, he thought he did—a desperate, hopeful plea. It sounded like—
"Dad?" Louder this time, more urgent.
Dean's chest compressed, pushing the air from his lungs. He knew how badly Sam wanted to find their father, especially after hearing that Dad had checked up on him at Stanford, how proud Dad was of him. It was almost an obsession. And apparently the drug was playing with that little tidbit of information now. Great.
Dean chose a passage and ran. Ignored the pain in his head, because right now, only one thing mattered. "Sam?"
The light bounced off the rock floor ahead of him, then was abruptly swallowed up by darkness. It took Dean another moment to realize what it was, what it meant. A crevasse.
Dean gritted out a curse and threw himself back in a desperate attempt to stop. His boots skidded along the rock, momentum carrying him forward. He hit the ground hard and slid along the smooth surface, hands scrabbling for purchase. Layers of skin scraped away until he could feel the sting, the blood, but he finally managed to stop his forward motion before it carried him over. His legs hung off the edge practically to his knees. Dean bent them, planted his feet firmly on rock, and pushed himself back.
That had been too close. Way too close.
"Sam?" He felt the choke of urgency more than ever now. If—
"Sammy?" Dean scrambled over to where he'd dropped the light and panned it around. "Where are you?"
"Dean! Dad's here! I heard him. He's down there somewhere. We gotta find him."
Dean climbed to his feet and followed the voice, finally locating his brother on a ledge about seven feet below where he was standing, but on the opposite side. "Sammy, don't move!" Dean ordered. He had no idea how his brother had gotten there, but one more step, and it was journey-to-the-center-of-the-earth time.
Sam looked over the edge, frantic, searching. "We have to help him, Dean!"
"Dad's not here, Sam." And, God, he wished he'd never seen the tear-filled gaze that turned up to him at those words.
"No, he's here. I heard him. I swear, I—"
"Sam, please, just…just hang on a minute." Dean searched frantically for a way to reach his brother. To his right, the crevasse narrowed to an opening of a few feet. Sam must have jumped across to the other side there. "Don't move," Dean reminded him. "I'll be right there."
"O-okay," came the reply. "We can find him, Dean."
Dean made his way carefully over to the narrow part of the chasm. The ledge on the other side was only a couple feet wide, but he didn't have a choice. Dean didn't look down, just jumped, with maybe a little too much force.
He hit the wall on the other side, bloody hands splayed to keep his balance. Once he was steady, Dean blew out a shaky breath of relief and hurried back to Sam, who blinked up into the light, looking like a lost little boy.
"Come on, Dean. This way."
Sam took a step.
Dean lunged for his brother.
The Maglite hit the ledge, bounced off, and fell into the chasm. Dean got one brief look at the terror on his brother's face before they were plunged into darkness. The pinprick of light got smaller and smaller until it disappeared completely. He didn't hear it hit bottom.
Sam had hooked the fingers of his left hand over the edge of the crevasse to steady himself. Not enough to give him purchase, but enough for Dean to latch on to. Sam's grip slipped, and Dean cried out as his brother's full weight pulled on his arms. The edge pressed into his chest as Sam swayed.
Dean could feel himself being pulled over. He dug in with his toes. His grip on Sam's left arm was slipping, the blood on his hands making it hard to hold on.
"Grab onto me, Sam!" he gritted out.
The sudden awareness in the call should have been a relief, but Dean couldn't allow it right then. "Sammy, please." Sam slipped further, Dean's hold only on his wrist. "No!"
Sam's other hand locked around Dean's arm, and Dean allowed himself a breath of relief.
"Come on, Sam. Pull yourself up."
The only reply was a grunt, but he felt the grip tighten, felt the strain as his brother obeyed. Dean heaved, pulling back away from the edge. When the upper half of Sam's body had cleared the ledge, Dean grabbed his belt, wrapped his other arm firmly around his brother, and dragged him clear. They fell in a heap, gasping, ragged breaths echoing off the walls.
Dean held on tight, couldn't let go.
"It really is you, isn't it?"
Sam's breath was warm on his neck. The first warmth Dean had felt in…he didn't know how long. "Yeah, Sam. It's really me."
Something that might have been a laugh, or maybe a sob, huffed out of Sam's mouth, then his arms wrapped around Dean. "You're not dead."
"I'm not dead," Dean assured him.
Another huff, definitely a laugh this time, and Sam's arms tightened around him. Dean thought he heard a quiet, thank God, and couldn't keep the smile from his face.
Then, softly, "Dad's not really here, is he?"
The adrenaline rush ebbed, leaving Dean exhausted and hurting. "No, Sam." He shivered, couldn't bring himself to say more.
It took him a few more minutes before he realized there was a draft blowing across his face. Dean focused. Waited. And just when he thought he had imagined it, it came again.
Dean looked around, trying to get his bearings. It was too dark, and he was so turned around, but…it came from his right. He was almost certain that was not the way back to the main cavern. "Sammy?" He slapped his brother's back. "Hey, man, you did it."
Confidence returning by leaps and bounds, Dean shoved at his brother. "Dude, get off me." Okay, so he could have been a little less blunt, but he was aching for normalcy. And he wanted to get the hell out of there.
Sam untangled himself but didn't move far. "What?"
"Feel that?" Dean asked. "I think you found the way out, Sam."
"Now, if we can get there without killing ourselves." Dean patted down his pockets. "Where'd I put my lighter…?"
"Wait," came Sam's voice, then the rustle of material. A moment later, they were bathed in light, Sam holding the other Maglite.
Dean clapped him on the shoulder. "Let's go."
Standing was another issue. He tried not to grouse too much when Sam hovered, but the truth was, Dean didn't like the feeling of vertigo when they were still so close to the bottomless pit. He accepted the offered help with only a little grumbling.
They made their way toward the fresh air, Sam keeping Dean on his feet. It seemed like they were finally in the clear, until suddenly Sam stopped. Dean felt the shudder course through his brother's body. Apparently, the hallucinations weren't over yet.
"Please tell me there's nothing there." Sam stood rigid, breath stuttering. Whatever he was seeing was scaring the hell out of him.
Dean stepped in front of him. "There's nothing there," he said in his best big-brother-knows-what-he's-talking-about voice.
Sam focused on him and, after a moment, nodded. "Good. That's…really good." With a sharp intake of breath, Sam straightened to his full height and plunged ahead, moving past Dean into the passage.
Dean followed closely, and not just to keep eye on his brother; Sam was holding the light, after all. The proximity seemed to help. Every time Sam faltered, a hand on his shoulder got him through.
"Thanks," Sam said softly.
Dean didn't know what to say, so he just slid his hand up and gave the nape of his brother's neck a squeeze.
They had to be close to getting out of there. He gave Sam a shove to get them moving again. The wafts of fresh air teased him relentlessly. Dean wanted out.
"You hear that?"
"Sam…" Okay, so maybe they weren't out of the woods yet…er, so to speak.
"No, really. Listen."
Dean sighed. "Sam, there's nothing—"
A wall of air blasted his body, and he took a step back. Then he heard it. It sounded like—
"Get down!" He grabbed Sam and threw him to the floor, covering his brother's body with his own an instant before all hell broke loose. High-pitched squeals and the thunder of hundreds of flapping wings soared over top of them. Dean didn't move until it was silent again. He slowly pulled his arms from over his head and pushed himself up. "Okay, I take it back. There was something."
"Ow," said Sam, face still pressed against rock. He sat up, rubbing his chest with a grimace where he'd landed on the light. "Was that—?"
"Bats," Dean finished for him, then gave in to a full-body shiver. "Flying rats."
"Well," Sam climbed to his feet, "at least we know one thing."
"We're headed the right way."
Dean smiled broadly and dork-slapped his brother for good measure.
They emerged from the mouth of the cave into a moonlit forest, and Dean threw himself prostrate on the moist grass with a moan of pleasure.
"It's cold," Sam said, sitting down beside him.
Dean rolled over and stared up through the leaf-sparse branches. "You had to remind me." He pushed up onto his elbows and looked with loathing at the gaping maw they'd just clawed their way out of. Okay, bit of an exaggeration, but, hey. "Can I just say how much I hate caves!" Then he fell back to the grass and lifted a hand to his pounding head.
"Feel better now?"
"Yeah, I love you, too."
That about summed it up right there.
"Man, will you quit hogging the tissues?" Sam followed up his demand with a sneeze.
"Got any cheese to go with that whine?" Dean's bandaged hands skimmed across the bed for the tissue box he'd liberated from the bathroom. "And cover your mouth when you sneeze. Geez, didn't I teach you anything? You're gonna get me double sick."
Sam sighed, long-suffering. "You can't get 'double sick,' Dean."
"Thank you, Doctor Sam." Dean located the box and tugged a wad of tissues—or sandpaper masquerading as tissues—free. He sat back and leaned to the side in an attempt to see the TV, since someone was standing in the way. "You make a better door than a window."
Sam lifted his hands from his sides and gave Dean a well? I'm waiting look.
It was Dean's turn to sigh. He lobbed the box at his brother. "You are one miserable mother when you're sick, you know that?"
Sam's head dropped to one side and his shoulders fell. "Why don't you go—"
Dean sneezed. It felt like someone drove a stake through his head. A strangled cry pushed past his lips and he pressed his fingers into his temples.
Warm, gentle hands unexpectedly covered his, and he felt the bed dip under Sam's weight. "Hey, you okay?" he asked softly.
Dean growled, "Does it look like I'm okay?"
This time, Sam didn't take the bait. "Maybe we should get you to a hospital…"
"No." Dean's eyes popped open. "No way, man."
"All right, all right," Sam said in that voice he used when he was trying to calm someone down. "Let me see your eyes."
Dean huffed another sigh but let his brother check. "I'm fine if I don't sneeze."
"Or cough," Sam added helpfully, tilting Dean's head toward the light. "Or blow your nose."
With a satisfied nod, Sam lowered his hands. "Get some rest. The medication should be kicking in."
There was a pause as Sam looked down, considering his words.
"You're blocking the TV again, Gigantor." He knew Sam was going to apologize. And there was absolutely nothing for the kid to be sorry for.
Sam seemed to figure that out, too, because he smiled. He stayed there a moment longer, fixing Dean with a look that said so much. The apology was there, but the worry lines on his forehead had smoothed out. He patted Dean's shoulder, then stood, grabbed the tissue box from where he'd dropped it, and placed it on the nightstand between the beds. "Goodnight, jerk."
Ah, it was good to be back home.