A/N: This was written for devon99, a dear friend who won me in Sweet Charity. She presented me with tantalizing plot bunnies, and this was the first one I finished for her.
The last thing Sam remembered was falling down the hill.
Okay, that wasn't true. Sam remembered falling, trying to get his footing on the hill that wasn't really all that steep. He remembered catching himself on one of the trees, his hands stinging from the sharp stop, his ankle protesting but holding. He remembered slowly edging back up towards the path, the harpy, and Dean.
The last thing he remembered was his ankle screaming and giving way at the wrong time.
He had no idea what had happened after that, but could make a few intelligent assumptions. He was still in the forest, and his ankle didn't feel any better than it had before. He wasn't moving anymore, which meant he'd come to a stop. The sky looked darker but not completely dark; at least, not yet. He felt chillier, but his jacket was still on.
And his head hurt. Tentatively he raised his hand up to touch the right side of his head. Another instant later and he was yanking it away, moaning softly. He wasn't even all that surprised when his hand came away a little wet and a little dark. When he looked back up at the forest around him, everything swam for a long, frightening moment. His stomach rolled, and he laid back down on the ground to quell it, though he wasn't sure when he'd sat up.
Concussion. Had to be.
"Dean?" he called as loud as his head would allow. When he didn't get an answer Sam forced his eyes open to look around, and when the hell had he closed them? "Dean?"
No answer. His brother was nowhere in sight.
Worried now, Sam pushed himself back up and felt his stomach pitch violently. Bile crept up the back of his throat, and he closed his eyes and swallowed convulsively. After several long minutes of shivering and scared anticipation, the nausea subsided. Sam took a few deep breaths and opened his eyes again.
Still no Dean. Where was his brother? "Dean?" he called, his voice trembling. God it was cold and where the hell was Dean? Was he hurt? He'd fallen with Sam, the two of them tumbling down over the steep cliff-
No. Rational thought emerged for a quick moment. Sam had tumbled down a hill, not a cliff. And Dean hadn't been with him. Dean had been ahead...no, behind. No...
Sam fought down the whimper inside of him and instead wrapped his arms around himself. It felt colder, and when Sam looked up, the sky was much darker. Maybe it was just the trees. He tilted his head up to view the sky and found his eyes continuing to roll, right back into his head. He felt himself fall and hit the ground, shivering again.
Where was Dean?
Where the hell was Sam?
"Sam!" Dean shouted again, hearing his voice echo through the forest. When no response came, he pursed his lips together and tried again. "Sam!"
Nothing. Dean cursed under his breath and glared back at the harpy's corpse. The thing had led him on a merry chase, but it had been easy enough to kill. He'd gotten two shots off through the trees, and he'd followed the shriek to find the body. Easy hunt.
Except when he'd turned around, Sam hadn't been there.
The problem with harpies was that their hearing was good, and that had forced Dean to keep communication between them utterly silent. Not even a tap on the shoulder that would rustle clothing. Their moving through the woods had been damn near perfect, no branches being snapped, no leaves being rustled. Their dad would've been proud.
The slight thought of John still made Dean pause and have to breathe. Grief didn't surge and turn into anger, though it did tighten his chest and force him to sit and count his breaths.
The moment passed, and grief slid straight into worry. Of everything his dad had ever taught him, it was to look after Sammy. And at that point, to look after Sam, he had to find his little brother.
"Sam!" he yelled into the night. The last remnants of the sun were sliding down behind the trees, and Dean was just starting to feel the chill. Another twenty minutes, and it'd be more than a chill. Which made finding Sam, fast, a priority.
He tucked his coat further around himself and tried to figure out where their original path was. Sam had been right behind him and he knew it. So he had to have wandered off the path somehow. Dean shone the flashlight around and bit his lip. Sun had been off to their left, but still forward, which meant the original path had to be over...there.
Dean immediately set off through the trees, flashlight searching for any clue as to what had happened to Sam. Any broken branches, snagged clothes, dropped cell phone-
Dean froze before he groaned out loud at his own stupidity. He quickly dug out his phone and hit the number one speed dial number. "C'mon, c'mon," he muttered and began to edge forward some more. The phone rang once, twice, and Dean risked pulling the phone from his ear to listen for an answering ring somewhere out in the forest.
No answering ring. However, from the phone there was a soft, tinny, "D'n?"
The phone was whipped back up to Dean's ear in record time. "Sam? Where are you?"
The response was mumbled, but it was the underlying pain in the tone that caught Dean's immediate attention. "Are you hurt?" he demanded.
"Fell. Leas' 'ink I did."
Dean swore a blue streak in his head and hurried forward. He flashed his light from the left to the right, keeping the path slow. "Do you see a light?"
A huffed laugh came through. "Don' worry; won' go t'wards 't."
He couldn't help the eye roll that followed. Or the slight drop in tension at Sam's small joke. If he still had his wit, Sam couldn't be that bad.
The wind slid through the trees, sending shivers of ice down the back of Dean's neck. He glanced back and saw the last glimmer of light fading from behind the trees. Shit. Even if Sam wasn't bad yet, he would be soon. He sounded confused (Dean was willing to bet the kid had a concussion) and in pain.
"Sammy, you gotta help me find you," Dean said. He kept his eyes to the path for a moment, trying to figure out if any of the faint imprints were Sam's. When he realized Sam hadn't responded Dean instantly jerked his gaze up. "Sam?"
God, he sounded worse than before. Dean swallowed hard and tried to focus on moving forward. "Just stay with me, dude. I'm gonna find you, all right? But you gotta help me out. Okay?"
"Okay." Think, Winchester, think. "Anything you can tell me about where you fell?" Dean asked. "Weird looking trees, any other landmarks?"
The pause that followed would've worried Dean more if he hadn't heard the labored breathing on the other end, and god, when Sam's painful breaths were a good thing...
"Cn't...see much. Um...s'ere's n'trees, D'n. R'bsh's."
Dean closed his eyes tight for a moment and forced the panic back. Panic wasn't going to help him find his little brother. Especially a little brother who needed him because he was fading.
Before Dean could answer, Sam said the thing Dean had been hoping he wouldn't say. "D'n? M'cold."
"I know, Sammy," Dean said softly. "I know." Okay, no trees, no bushes. What about a big rock Dean could use to pinpoint? Oh god, rocks. Did Sam hit his head? "Sammy, did you hit your head on a rock?"
Silence. "Sam?" Dean pressed, searching around. Dammit, there wasn't anywhere to fall, it was just flat forested area-
Except there. Dean threw his flashlight to the left, where a tree was visible but its trunk wasn't. Depth perception told him the tree was farther out than the others, which meant-
Which meant an incline. Something to fall down. Sammy.
"Sam hold on!" Dean called into the phone. There was still no response, and Dean all but flew over towards the edge.
It wasn't a big hill, nor was it very steep. It certainly rambled on, though, and the terrain looked like a bitch, especially in the dark. On the other side was more forest, and between both sides was a small ravine of sorts.
And just at the bottom of the ravine, his tan coat caught in the light of the flashlight, was Sam.
"Sammy!" he shouted, making his way down. The trees growing on the hill made it easier to slide down, and within half a minute Dean was hitting the ground and running. "Sam," Dean said as he slid to his knees. Sam's eyes were shut, his face pale and his lips starting to turn blue. When Dean turned Sam's head from the side to face forward, the bright blue screen of the cell phone stared up at Dean.
Covered in small flecks of blood. "Sammy?" Dean tried again, and he knew he sounded desperate but dammit, Sam had been unresponsive for a few minutes and oh god, Dean should've started CPR or-
A soft sound, almost like a whimper, came from Sam. A moment later, and his forehead scrunched slightly. A moment after that, Sam still didn't move, and even while Dean tried to remember how to breathe, Sam's eyes finally cracked open. He blinked slightly, eyes remaining half-lidded, but he looked in Dean's direction and mumbled, "D'n?"
"Thank god," Dean breathed, leaning in a little closer. He let Sam's head rest gently on the leaves below and quickly pulled his own coat off, draping it gently over his brother. "You with me?" he couldn't help but ask.
"M'tri'n," Sam mumbled, already attempting to fall back asleep. He whimpered quietly when Dean pulled him up and then checked the sides of his head. Nice lump, but the bleeding looked like it had stopped.
Whether it was still bleeding or not, though, it was high time to get out.
"You okay to stand?" Dean asked. Sam swallowed once, twice, then settled on looking confused. Solved that question. "Hold on," he said, pulling Sam's arm up around his neck. As slowly as he could Dean moved from his crouch to standing, bringing Sam and the jacket with him.
Sam immediately stumbled and fell against him, his cheek almost frozen against Dean's neck. Dean fought down the shiver as best he could (though most of him was starting to shiver on a whole) and wrapped the coat around Sam again. "We're moving, I got you," Dean promised. The car was maybe six minutes away from here. The motel was another ten from there. Wash-up and first-aid would take five minutes, hopefully.
First step meant moving Sam. As slowly and carefully as he could, Dean guided his brother back up to the forest.
The last thing Sam remembered was the cold.
It had sunk deep into his bones, icy knives chipping away at his muscle and skin. He'd felt tired, listless, like he could float and drift on something frozen and black. Made everything blurry, couldn't think straight.
No, it wasn't the last thing he remembered. It was being picked up, stood up and being carried up through the trees again. Terrified of slipping back down because he didn't know how he was getting up, but knew that if he started sliding back down he couldn't save himself.
No. The last thing he remembered were hands on his face, a voice in his ear and in front of him, calling for him, Sammy over and over again. Worried face, scratched face, familiar face.
It didn't matter, in the end. When Sam finally opened his eyes, he was warm, covered with softness and surrounded by heat. He felt sleepy for an entirely different reason. He also wasn't being carried anymore, but was laying down on something flat and wonderful.
And the first thing he saw was Dean sitting beside him, his face still scratched, but the worry receding into relief and more warmth than Sam could ever get from blankets.