A/N: This was originally my first idea when I was asked to write for the Brotherhood Zine 7. However, I wound up with a different idea since my muse wouldn't move fast enough on this one. I waited until she was ready, and then my muse helpfully finished the story a few months later.
Easy hunt, inside and out. Find the creature's lair, find the creature, kill the creature. Armed with every single item from their arsenal, holy water, silver bullets, shotgun with salt shells, and small flame-torch at the top of the list, they were more than prepared. So the hunt was easy, no problems anywhere to be seen. Good luck was on their side for once.
Which was why Dean should've known it would all fall down around their ears.
They'd found the lair easy enough, sure. The blood stained rocks and broken branches had all led to the cave on the southeast, low side of the hill. The proximity of the cave to where the victims had all been found, blue, scratched up, and lifeless, had made it even more plausible that this was the place to find whatever it was. They hadn't quite agreed on the creature, but in the end, they'd had everything they needed in order to take it down.
Getting inside had been easy. Following its trail hadn't been all that difficult, either. The cave was full of twists and turns, various paths that went every which way, but in the end, they'd found the creature, lucky to have taken the right turn at the right time. They'd taken aim, fired, and had been rewarded with a death-howl.
Then their flashlights had flickered out. When Dean had finally managed to get his to work again, he'd noticed the light was dimmer than before.
Because his had been the only flashlight, and Sam had been gone.
Two minutes later of wide-eyed searching and trying to breathe deeply, Dean decided he was still of the opinion that the job could be easy. Find Sam, get him out. The creature was gone as well, leaving a sticky black trail that sparkled when covered in light, but Dean didn't care about the monster; only Sam. "Sam!" he shouted, his voice echoing around him as he hurried through the various tunnels. He slid suddenly, and balanced himself in time to keep from tripping down a small slope. Little black, sparkling smears were visible on the walls, and with a renewed sense of hope Dean made his way down the slope. It opened up into a small cavern, one with various paths that branched out in every single direction.
In the middle of the cavern, laid out on a long stone slab, was Sam.
"Sammy," Dean said, relief coursing through him. His brother's eyes were closed, but there was no mistaking his chest going up and down. "Sam, wake up, c'mon."
Sam groaned, his head turning toward Dean's voice, and he finally opened his eyes. "You okay?" Sam blinked a few more times, and Dean began to frown. "Sammy?"
"Yeah," Sam replied, before he coughed. "Yeah. Just dizzy, that's all." He pushed himself up and shook his head a little, and Dean had barely taken a step in his direction before Sam turned to Dean with wide eyes. "Wait, are you-"
"I'm fine," Dean assured him. "Chill, dude. More concerned with you, since Black Guts decided to take off with you."
Sam frowned and tilted his head. "What?"
"Never mind. C'mon, you okay to stand?" Dean asked. Sam nodded, gathering his legs to slide them over the ledge, and Dean automatically reached out to steady him.
Only to be met with resistance. Dean frowned, pushing a little harder. There wasn't anything to see, but Dean could feel the pressure underneath his flattened palm. "What the...?"
"What's the matter?" Sam asked, sliding his legs over the edge. At least, attempted to do so. As soon as his feet hit the edge of the stone he was laying on, they wouldn't go any further. Sam frowned, supporting himself against the stone slab and pushing harder. "Uh, Dean? I can't-"
"I know," Dean snapped, cutting him off. He took a deep breath in, reminding himself that this was an easy hunt, and he wasn't mad at Sam. He wasn't mad at anyone, because this was an easy hunt. Right.
Sam was already reaching out in every direction. Wherever the stone slab ended, so did his movement. The slab itself was only a little bigger than Sam, and Sam's hands and feet did nothing against the barrier. After every side was examined, Sam finally sat back on the slab, brow knit and lips pursed. No way out.
At least, not that way. "Can you stand up?" Dean asked. Sam's eyes widened, and he immediately drew his legs up and stood. He'd barely made it out of a crouch when he yelped and fell back down, clutching at his head. "You okay?" Dean asked, already starting to feel weary, because this was supposed to have been an easy hunt.
And right now, it was starting to become anything but.
"Ow," Sam mumbled, still clutching at his head. Dean snorted and shook his head, stepping back over towards the stone slab. As soon as his hand met resistance, he began sliding it down, moving towards the slab. He kept the pressure hard and constant, and a few moments later, he hit the slab and the stones piled beneath it. Carefully he wedged his fingers underneath the slab, trying to feel for a barrier, and feeling inordinately pleased when there wasn't one. Finally, things could possibly get easy again.
When he stood from his crouch, Sam was at the edge near Dean, watching him. "What is it?" Sam asked.
"No barrier under the stone," Dean said. "Means it's only contained to the edges of the slab. I'm thinking if we can make a hole in the stone, you can slide out the bottom."
"Yeah, that's a great idea, Dean," Sam said, and the sarcasm made Dean glare at his brother. Sam glared right back. "Because god knows that we have something strong enough to break through stone out in the car, and then when I get through, you'll be able to pull me to safety without the slab crushing me."
"Then how else are you supposed to get out?" Dean yelled.
"I don't know!" Sam shouted back.
Dean turned away and clenched his fists. As much as he hated to admit it, Sam was right. He couldn't get Sam out that way.
He let out a heavy sigh and turned back to Sam, who seemed to have calmed down as well. "What about if you shoved the slab?" Sam asked. "I'm up higher than the ground, right? So whatever it's resting on, just try and shove it off, and if we break the slab, we should break...whatever the hell this is."
"It's not on a steady surface," Dean replied. "Just a bunch of rocks put together to hold it up. There's a good chance the slab'll land on you and not break the barrier."
Sam bit his lip. "Yeah, but-"
"No, Sammy," Dean said firmly. There was no way in hell Dean was going to risk Sam. The stones looked like they'd crumble as it was, and if they gave, it could flip the slab over, and Dean would never get the leverage to pull it off of Sam before it crushed his chest. And while they'd had good luck so far, Dean wasn't trusting it to stay good where Sam's life was concerned. Especially the way things had started to go. "End of story."
Sam finally nodded, and the two stood and sat in silence. Dean resisted the urge to pinch the bridge of his nose. Easy hunt his ass. Sam was locked in by something mystical they couldn't even see, the creature might not even be dead-
He straightened suddenly and turned back to Sam with a grin on his face. "The thing that dragged you here," he said, and Sam frowned, trying to follow his train of thought. "It has to be behind the barrier thing, right? I mean, it dragged you here, right?"
"So it's obviously not dead," Sam said, nodding slowly. "Because if it was, I'd be able to get out."
"Exactly," Dean said, stepping back over to Sam as he warmed to his subject. "Think about it. Thing drags its victims in here, locks them in, takes whatever it wants from them, and then lets them roll down the hill."
"Which would explain the abrasions."
"Right. So all I've gotta do is find the creature, torch it, and we'll get out of here." Easy, simple plan.
"Right. Wait," Sam said suddenly, leaning as far forward as the barrier would let him. "Dean, no. You can't take this thing on by yourself."
Dean reached out and knocked against the silent barrier with raised eyebrows. "Can't exactly help me with this, Sammy. And I kinda have to, if you don't want to stay in there."
Sam's face twisted up, his unhappiness obvious, but finally gave a reluctant nod. "Just...be careful, all right?"
"You too," Dean said, and realized for the first time that Sam had no weapons. If the thing came back to do whatever it wanted to Sam, it could. And Sam couldn't do a damn thing to stop it.
Dean'd just have to find the thing first, and then Sam's safety would never come into question.
"I'll be back," Dean promised. He was going to have to backtrack to the duffels, provided the creature hadn't taken them, and then go hunting.
And that was a plan he could get behind.
Twenty minutes of searching yielded nothing, but Dean hadn't been able to explore every single path, either. Some dead ended just as they'd begun, and other went on for miles. Probably.
The worried tone had Dean moving quicker back through the now familiar tunnels to the room where Sam was. "Sammy?" he called ahead. "You okay?"
He slid down the slope easily and hurried over. Sam looked okay, besides the sweat on his face and his heavy breathing. "You see somethin'? You look panicked, man," Dean asked.
"No," Sam said, shaking his head. "Just, uh, thought I did. Where have you been? Been calling for awhile."
"Tried to find the right path." The thought of his wasting time just made him even more pissed off. Any minute now, the thing was going to come back around and take whatever the hell it was that it wanted from Sam.
God, hadn't this been an easy hunt not too long ago? Where the hell was his good luck now?
He was so wrapped him up in his annoyed thoughts that it took a moment for him to notice that Sam was still pulling in deep breaths. "You okay?" he asked.
Sam lifted his head and gave a nod. "Yeah, just...been calling for awhile," he stammered. "That's all, Dean."
Dean winced. "Sorry." Kid was probably trying to come down for an adrenaline high of worry. "You got your cell phone..?"
A slow shake of Sam's head told Dean that that search had been well made already. "Look, I won't go so deep next time," Dean promised. "Try not to yell if you can help it. If you see it, start screaming your head off, but-"
"I know. Be careful, Dean."
"Yeah," Dean said, already trying to decide which tunnel to head down next. This was such garbage. The only good thing was that the duffels had been right where they'd been dropped, and it was those duffels that he placed now by Sam's slab.
The hell could the thing have gone that Dean couldn't find him? Even if the thing had chosen one of the longer tunnels, the mile-deep ones were straight enough that Dean could seen pretty far down. And with that much sticky blood, the thing should've been easy to spot already.
Okay. Review and report. The thing had gotten clipped (more than clipped with that howl), taken Sam, stuffed him on the magical slab, then left. Plenty of tunnels for the thing to disappear into, but only three of them had any of the sticky residue.
Dean slowly shut his eyes and counted to ten before he allowed himself to uncurl his fists. Sonuvabitch.
"Dean? What's the matter?"
"I'm an idiot," Dean stated. "See this?"
He could hear Sam's frown in his reply. "Five paths. I don't know which one it...uh, went down." The pause made Dean frown, but Sam replied before he could think about it. "What am I missing?"
Actually, he couldn't believe Sam hadn't spotted it, considering he'd been sitting in the room for almost thirty minutes. "Uh, three of them have goo?" Dean asked, throwing a look over his shoulder. "One's from where it came from; that one on the far left."
Sam blinked before he nodded in realization. "It couldn't have gone two ways. It's trying to throw us off."
"How much you wanna bet it didn't go down either one?" Dean pulled his gun back out and moved over to the two middle tunnels not marked with any residue. "Heads or tails?"
"Heads," Sam huffed, though his laugh didn't sound amused.
Dean headed down the right one and peered around the sharp corner. He pulled the flashlight up and locked his wrists to keep both of his tools straight in front of him. Somewhere down this tunnel was the stupid creature. It had to be. Then Dean could kill it, get Sam out, toast the thing's death with a cool beer. Easy hunt, nothing majorly complicated.
Fifteen minutes and an almost sprained ankle later, the path led him right back to the main tunnel. One big freakin' circle, and Dean fumed and stormed all the way back towards Sam. Whatever the hell it was, it was a damn good hider. Not so smart, though, because when Dean found it, it was dead. With no less than three bullets in its head.
"Goddamn sonuvabitch isn't down that one," Dean snarled as he strode back in the room. Sam was seated on the slab, not even raising his head at Dean's return. "And at this point, I'm going to start betting that it isn't down the other one, either. For all we know, the thing slipped back out the front and into the forest, laughing its ass off at us." He took a deep breath to keep raging, then paused, really looking at his brother. "Sam?" he asked.
Sam's head was still bowed, hair limp and plastered against his head. His usually talkative brother was taciturn, and his lips were parted. He looked...looked like crap. "Sammy?" Dean asked again, moving closer.
"I know how it kills its victims," Sam whispered breathlessly. He raised his eyes to meet Dean's, and all of Dean's rage slid away in a rush.
And Dean wondered how this easy hunt had gotten so bad so fast.
Then he realized that Sam didn't sound surprised or earnest, but resigned. Guilty. "How long have you known?" Dean asked, feeling like he was fighting for air himself. "Dammit Sammy-"
"After you found me and left the first time," Sam whispered, and Dean's heart dropped into his stomach. Sam's panting for air and his slowness to comprehend suddenly made too much sense, and Dean felt sick.
"You should've told me-"
"What good would it have done?" Sam panted, looking just as miserable as Dean felt. "You were already looking for the thing, wouldn't have...have made you search any faster."
Search. He still had one tunnel left to find the thing. That was presuming that their earlier guess had been right, but it had to be, they still had to have some good luck left, dammit. They were running out of time. Sam was running out of time while Dean stood there with his throat too thick to swallow around. "I'll be back," Dean said. "Just...shallow breaths or something."
"Be careful," Sam called out as he ran, but Dean didn't reply, scanning the tunnels instead for any mark of goo. Rocks threatened to trip him as he hurried, but none of it mattered. The only thing that mattered was finding the creature and wasting it before it drained all of Sam's air supply.
The darkness suddenly ended, and Dean stared in horror at the wall in front of him. Another dead-end. No creature.
Dean immediately pivoted and ran back, cold sweat sliding down his back. Fear was starting to curl in his belly, his breaths coming even shorter as he hurried. Had he really gone all this way down? The tunnel hadn't been this long going down it, but Dean couldn't see the opening that led to the cavern, no matter how hard he pushed himself to run. His legs were aching, his lungs burning, but at least he could pull in air, Sam couldn't, god Sam-
He stumbled suddenly back into the cavern, panting and feeling dizzy. Sam was laying on his side on the slab, mouth still open as he tried to pull in air. His eyes slid to Dean, and the look on his face told Sam everything he needed to know. Sam lifted a corner of his lips in an attempt to smile. "Sammy-"
"S'okay," Sam whispered raggedly. "S'okay, Dean."
Dean glanced wildly between the two tunnels he hadn't looked into yet, but before he could start down either, Sam reached out, hand pressed against the barrier. "Don't. I can't...I need you to stay here, please?" he gasped, breaths short and horrible. Dean curled his fists tight but stepped away from the tunnels. He stopped right next to the slab and gazed down at Sam. Sam, who tried to give him another smile, this one looking more like a grimace.
Easy hunts and good luck: since when had Dean ever believed in them? The only thing they gave him was a little brother who was taking his last breaths inches away from Dean and Dean couldn't even get to him. He was right there, and Dean pushed suddenly with both hands against the barrier. Nothing shifted suddenly, nothing gave against his anger.
"Dean," Sam murmured, and Dean shut his eyes tight to stave off the hot tears. When he had them under control as he was going to get, he let his hand slide and rest palm to palm with Sam's. Less than a quarter of an inch between them, and Dean still couldn't pull Sam out.
Sam's eyes suddenly widened even as his lips parted further to try and pull in air that Dean realized wasn't there. "Sammy," Dean choked as Sam struggled to breathe. His eyes pleaded for help, and the only thing Dean could do was not leave him as he suffocated, and god, there was nothing worse than watching him fight for air.
Then Sam's body went still, and Dean realized there was something worse. "Sammy!" he screamed, pressing futilely against the barrier. This wasn't happening, this couldn't be happening, this was supposed to have been routine and easy with copious amounts of good luck, and where had it all gone wrong? Sam's eyes were sliding shut, slowly drifting down, and Dean kept pressing against the barrier, fighting to get to his brother, and if the barrier would just drop-
And suddenly, it did.
Dean fell through onto Sam, the barrier now gone. He immediately reached for Sam, pulling all the CPR knowledge from the back of his brain. As soon as he placed Sam's head in position, however, Sam pulled in a ragged breath. His eyes shot open and he began to cough, lungs trying to greedily suck in the air. "Easy, Sammy," Dean whispered, and he couldn't stop himself from clutching at his little brother, fingers buried and twisted tight in Sam's jacket. He shut his eyes tight as Sam gasped for air and felt his eyes burn.
If the barrier was gone, then the creature, wherever the hell it was, had died. Had probably literally crawled into a hole to die, and if it had held out for a little longer, then Sam wouldn't have made it. Another stroke of good luck.
Probably the last of it, but that was okay. Dean didn't intend on staying any longer.
He carefully helped Sam slide off the slab once Sam was breathing again. Dean grabbed both duffels with his left hand, his right arm still wrapped tightly around Sam. No way in hell was he letting go anytime soon.
The next job was going to be tediously boring, or exasperatedly difficult. As much as Dean hated them, he knew how to deal with them. No more easy jobs.
"How 'bout we pick the tough jobs here on out?" Sam croaked, his head coming to rest on Dean's shoulder. Dean snorted a laugh.
"Yeah, I'm okay with that."