A/N: This is something I wrote awhile back and finally decided to post. No specific season, although I imagine it during season 1... probably after "Skin". You can decide, though. Also, it came out in the present tense. Not sure why, but... meh. That's my muse for you. And I do believe this is my first fic where Dean's the limp one and not Sam. Just goes to show that there are strange anomalies in this world.
Disclaimer: Not mine. Title and epigraph are from Robert Frost.
"The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep."
- Robert Frost, "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening"
The trees are thick, dense, crowded almost to the point of claustrophobic, with tendrils of wispy fog weaving between the trunks. Shafts of moonlight pierce through partial cloud cover and branches before they're obscured by the fog, casting the area with an eerie glow. The air is heavy with the moist, humid scent of evergreen, wood smoke, and iron.
It's the iron that makes Sam want to gag as he uses the dim firelight to examine his brother's wound again. Despite his best efforts, most of the wood Sam has found is either still green or wet from the rain-soaked ground, giving him little more than a dim glow of embers to work with and a lot of thick smoke for the effort.
Growling softly in frustration, Sam pulls the penlight out of his pocket and quickly flicks it toward Dean's bandage-covered side. The beam flickers brightly for a moment before dimming significantly, as if the device belatedly realizes it doesn't have much energy for shining at full power. Sam skims the bandage lightly with his right hand, noting with some relief that the red stain in the center is relatively dry – a sign that the bleeding is finally tapering off.
Sam clicks the light off again, his eyes adjusting rapidly to the darkness as he tucks his jacket, Dean's jacket, and the two sleeping bags they had packed away in the duffel around his brother. He's still worried about the blood loss and the possibility of infection, but Dean managed to swallow half a bottle of water earlier, and a quick brush of his brother's forehead reassures Sam that the low-grade fever hasn't gotten any worse over the past hour.
Sam nudges the small fire with a long stick, hoping that somehow he can coax the embers to become the flickering flames he really wants, even if he knows it's hopeless. A fine tremor runs through his body, and he drops the stick so he can raise his hands to blow into them, trying to warm his fingers again. His undershirt, long-sleeve t-shirt, and torn jeans aren't doing much to keep out the damp chill, but Dean needs his jacket more. Sam's survived colder for longer. He realizes that the little sniffle he'd had before they started the hunt will more than likely morph into a full-blown cold. But Dean's been keeping him pumped full of Vitamin C for the last week and a half as if he were the psychic one instead of Sam, so hopefully the jump start for his immune system will keep the cold from turning into anything worse.
But even if it does, it will be worth it. It may be selfish, since Sam knows Dean will go on a guilt-trip for letting his little brother get sick, and Sam does feel bad about that, but it's still worth it. By that point, they'll be back in a warm motel room, where it'll be a lot easier to take care of each other. For now they're stranded out in the wilderness, and Sam doesn't have many options to keep Dean from going into shock.
He shifts slightly so that his lower back nudges Dean's leg, buried beneath the thick material of the sleeping bags. Dean murmurs something in his sleep and stirs slightly, his leg pressing against Sam's back. Sam chuckles softly and pats at his brother's foot with a hand. "I'm right here, Dean. I'm fine. Go back to sleep."
Dean mutters something under his breath and then goes limp again, sighing softly.
Sam pulls his knees up to his chest and wraps his arms around his legs to try and keep in some warmth. His body is screaming at him to sleep, but he keeps his eyes wide as he gazes out into the fog-shrouded pine trees. The .45 loaded with silver bullets rests at his side, and the duffel full of weapons lies at in easy reach at Dean's feet. The werewolf they were hunting may be dead, but that doesn't mean there aren't other threats in these woods.
Sam chews at his lip, wincing as the movement tears the scab on the corner of his lip and causes it to start bleeding again. For all the chaos of earlier, Sam managed to get away relatively unscathed. He's got a split lip, a bruised cheek, and what he's fairly certain is a sprained ankle, but he hasn't taken off his boot to check for sure. He can't help but bitterly think that he would've been a lot worse off if it weren't for his self-sacrificing older brother.
Not that Sam is really surprised by what Dean did. It's Dean's second nature to step in when Sam's about to get hurt, so it's instinct for him to get in the way of a vicious swipe from a werewolf. It's a good thing Dean is four inches shorter, because the swipe that had been intended to disembowel Sam had rebounded off Dean's ribs, cracking two and leaving a nasty gash that had spilled blood everywhere.
But just because it's in Dean's nature doesn't make Sam any less pissed, no matter how foolish and pointless his anger is. His older brother never seems to realize that killing the thing would be just as effective as throwing himself in front of it. True, Sam likes having his intestines remain inside his body as much as the next guy, but that doesn't mean he wants his brother having to pay for his clumsiness and stupidity.
Sam shivers again, stretching out one leg to try and nudge the fading embers back to life. All he manages to do is get wet soot on his boot and send another thick puff of smoke into the air. Sam pulls his leg back in, wincing slightly as it nudges his other ankle, and tries to curl in even more while still keeping Dean's knee against his back. He really wants to do nothing more than curl up on the ground next to his brother and try to get some sleep, but Dean's hurt, which means he's the one that has to keep watch.
Plus he figures Dean won't be too happy if Sam slips into hypothermia because he couldn't stay awake long enough to keep himself alive.
He glances up as an owl hoots softly and relaxes slightly. There'd been no animal noises before – the werewolf had scared them all away. The sound of the owl, while a little spooky in this fog, lets Sam know that the danger's passed. The supernatural danger, anyway.
Sam shivers a little and clutches his legs even tighter against his body, making a face as he notices the stiffness of his muscles. He thinks he should probably get up soon and walk around so that he'll actually be able to move if something charges at them. Right now, even the thought of walking around makes him shiver a little more, and he scoots back a little to be closer to his brother.
Cold, damp weather – another reason why Winchesters and camping don't mix.
Although that isn't entirely true. Sam remembers his one camping trip with Jess, back when he was a sophomore at Stanford. Becky and Zach had come with, and they'd spent a weekend up in the Sierra Nevada range, near Yosemite. Jessica's parents had let them borrow their camper, which they'd hitched up to Zach's truck. He had literally laughed at his friends' version of "roughing it" out in the wilderness. Both Becky and Jess had "only" showered once the entire weekend, and Zach had a minor withdrawal when he couldn't play his video games.
Despite their complaints, it had been one of the best weekends of his life at Stanford. Between them they'd devoured five packs of hot dogs, three bags of marshmallows, a box of graham crackers, and over a dozen chocolate bars. They'd gone hiking, played endless games of poker and pinochle, and swapped ghost stories over the campfire.
It was the first real time Sam had been able to talk about Dean and his dad in front of his friends, and he regaled them with various misadventures he and Dean had had when they'd gone hunting. (Of course, his friends thought he was referring to deer hunting, and he'd done nothing to correct them otherwise.) The only thing that could've made it better was if Dean could have been there.
But most of the time, Winchester camping experiences weren't nearly as plush and cozy as Sam's had been that weekend. More often than not, they turned out a lot like this – with one or more of them hurt and bleeding, unable to reach the Impala in one shot and thus stranded for a night or two until they'd recovered enough to head out. Not to mention the weather – it was almost always cold, damp, and just plain miserable.
For most of his life, Sam had been bitter about those trips. They were classic examples of just how messed up their lives were. And both Dean and Sam had often talked about how much they hated camping. Sleeping in the Impala – hell, even the nastiest hotel room – was an improvement over camping out in the woods.
But when he'd been telling Zach, Becky, and Jess about his life that weekend, he'd come to realize that there was an aspect of those trips that was irreplaceable – he'd been with his family. Even when he and John had fought, even when he and Dean were mad at each other, they'd still been together. And that made all of the pain and misery in those trips worth it.
Not that Sam can ever tell Dean that. But it's a nice realization, anyway.
The soft murmur has him twisting around so he can kneel next to Dean, regardless of the stiffness of his muscles. He grins when he sees the slits of green peering up at him. "Hey, Dean," he says. "How're you feeling?"
Dean blinks a few times until his eyes are half-open. "Tired," he groans with a lick of his lips. Before he can ask, Sam's tipping a water bottle against his lips. Dean takes a few sips before Sam pulls the bottle away. "Thanks."
"No problem," Sam replies, recapping the bottle.
Dean's eyebrows furrow a little as he stares at his brother. "Wha' happened?"
"Werewolf slashed you up a little. Cracked two ribs, lost some blood, but you should be alright."
"No, I mean… wha' happened t'your coat?"
Sam blinks once. "Had to keep you warm – didn't need you going to into shock."
Dean stares at him for a moment longer before he rolls his eyes. "Put your coat on, Sam," he says, and despite the fact that it's little more than a croaky whisper, Sam knows an order when he hears it. He sighs and pulls out his coat from its spot between the two sleeping bags. A shiver runs reflexively up his spine as he puts the already-warmed jacket on, and he immediately zips it up to his chin.
Dean rolls his eyes again. "Geek Boy can't even tell when he's freezing to death," he grouses, shifting slightly. He hisses when the movement jostles his ribs, and his face goes white as he squeezes his eyes shut.
"Hey, take it easy, alright? I wrapped those ribs as best I could, but we don't have many bandages here – the kit's back at the Impala," Sam scolds, laying a hand on Dean's shoulder.
Dean sags back against the ground. "Should – get back –"
"In the morning," Sam soothes, moving his hand to Dean's forehead to provide an anchor for his brother as he tries to breathe as best as he can through the pain. "You're in no shape to go anywhere, and I'd like to be able to see before we try to walk back again."
After a long moment, the lines of pain around Dean's eyes fade and his shoulders relax. "Safe?" he hisses through his teeth.
Sam lets his hand drop as he rocks his weight back a little, trying to get some feeling back into his knees. "Yeah, Dean. We're safe. The werewolf's dead. Took a little bit, but I got it salted and burned." Used all the lighter fluid on the stupid thing when I should've made a fire first, he adds silently.
Dean's eyes flick open a bit. "You did what you had to, Sammy," he says softly. "An' I'm gonna be fine."
Sam's lips quirk a little – even pain-riddled and nearly asleep, Dean can still read his mind. "You won't be if you don't sleep some more."
Dean sighs as much as he can without jostling his ribs. "Whatever, bitch."
"Get some sleep, jerk," Sam replies with a roll of his eyes. "We'll head out in the morning."
Dean lets his eyes drift closed as Sam slides back to sit with Dean's legs against his back. "I hate camping," he murmurs.
Sam chuckles, blowing into his hands as Dean's knee presses into the small of his back – an anchor for both of them. His knows his voice is quiet and filled with affection when he says, "Yeah, Dean. Me, too."