The lot outside the diner was empty except for the Impala. The sun was shining so brightly against the black paint that it was hard to remember it was cold out there. That clear of sky shouldn't show in January. Sam put his hand against the window and felt the tinge of chill seep into his fingertips. He turned back to his computer.
"I'm thinking yeti." Dean said. He sniffled into his napkin and tossed it on the table.
Sam slammed the laptop shut. Dean was trying to be a pain in the ass. "A yeti?" Sam glared at him and then glared at him more when Dean offered him a smirk in return.
"That doesn't make any sense, Dean."
Dean pulled back, his eyebrows raised. "We're looking for an apelike creature that our only witness described as an 'abominable snowman'. Oh, and yeah, it's supposed to be white and furry and it likes to swipe people and then rip them apart. How's that not a yeti?"
"Because we're in Georgia." Sam tensed his shoulders. "And yetis or abominable snowmen or whatever the hell you want to call them, one, do not exist, and, two, if they did exist, they'd live in the Himalayas and the mountains of Asia. They would not be in Georgia."
"Sam." Dean leaned across the table towards him, speaking with his mouth filled with bread and meat. "It's a yeti. It's a Georgian, punk-ass, people-stealing and eviscerating yeti."
Sam knew Dean was pulling this crap to irritate him. Dean had a little cold and was cranky. And he wanted Sam to suffer as well. Not that Dean needed to be trying so hard. His brother had been pissing him off for the better part of four days.
"No, Dean, it's not. And even if it was, it wouldn't be 'Georgian' it would be from Georgia. There's a difference. It's probably a water spirit or even a misplaced wendigo." Sam ran his hand through his hair. "Let's just check out the trail tonight. See what's there." Sam ruffled through the maps. "The sighting and disappearances were all on or around Pioneer Mountain." He motioned out the window. "That's it out the window."
Dean peered out. His mouth curled down. "It's kinda small for a mountain."
"Yeah." Sam nodded. "It's on the Southern end of the Appalachians." Facts about the area flooded into Sam's head. "Actually, these mountains are much older than the Rockies or Himalayas. They've been weathered for hundreds of millions of years. That's why they're small and virtually tectonically inactive." Sam looked back at his brother. Facts always relaxed him. Dean continued to stare out the window. "Dean?"
"Huh?" Dean turned back to Sam. "Oh. Sorry Sammy." He stood up and patted Sam on the shoulder. "I tune you and your geek boy splendor out if it's before noon." He glanced back at the mountain. "Must be a piss poor excuse for a yeti to be claiming that piece of rock."
"Dude..." Sam said with deep exasperation in his voice. "It is not a yeti."
Dean's face brightened. "Wanna bet?"
Sam let a predatory smile cross his face. "Alright. I win – you keep from annoying me for a week."
"And how do I do that?"
"Let me rephrase. I win – you shut the hell up for a week…except for shop talk."
"Okay." Dean's face darkened. "And if I win – you stop being a whiny little bitch for a day."
"A day?" Sam asked.
"Oh…I'd ask for more, but I know you couldn't handle it."
Sam huffed. "Fine."
"Fine." Dean said and walked out the door leaving Sam with the bill.
Sam threw a twenty on the table, got up, and stomped towards the door. He looked down long enough to thrust his wallet in his jacket pocket. He took a breath, counted to ten, then twenty, and walked out to join his brother. Dean wasn't there.
"Dean?" He called, scanning the lot. The Impala was parked where they'd parked it. If Dean was pulling some sort of annoying joke, god help him, Sam was going to kick the crap out of him. Hell, Sam might kick the crap out of him, regardless. Sam scratched his head and glanced up at the sun. "Dean!" He called again. Sam stomped around the car. He caught site of something beside it. Dean's leather jacket lay in a heap on the ground. His anger quickly transformed into something else.
Dean wouldn't have left his car and his jacket. Sam picked up the jacket. He fingered the cool leather between his fingers and glanced at the small mountain. It was winter. It was winter and Dean was missing without his jacket and he was sick. And even in the mountains of Georgia, winter was cold in January. Sam took a closer look around the parking lot. He walked to each empty corner, checking for signs of struggle, signs of his brother.
"Dean!" He yelled again. His eyes strayed over to the mountain and he knew. He knew that's where Dean was. The not a yeti had taken him. Sam cursed. He pulled out his phone and tried to call his brother. The sound of Dean's ringtone rang out from his jacket pocket. Sam pulled it out and stared at it dumbly for a moment.
Sam glanced at the Pioneer Mountain again. He called Bobby, left him a message that he was hitting the trails to look for his missing brother. Cell phone reception in the range was spotty and he didn't have time to track down a satellite phone. Sam collected everything he'd needed and hurried towards the nearest hiking trail.
Five hours after Dean disappeared; Sam trudged through the paths on Pioneer Mountain carrying a canteen and a pack heavy with energy bars, rope, and weapons. He'd stuck a map and geologic survey of the area in as well.
His boots scuffed against the rocky trail with each step. He felt his mouth twitch. Damn Dean getting himself taken. If the jerk hadn't been trying so hard to piss Sam off, if Dean had been paying attention and not tromping off to the parking lot to leave Sam with the bill, then they would have left together and either be safe together or taken together.
And if the creature – the one that wasn't a damn yeti – had hurt the bastard, Sam was going to rip it's not yeti head off. Then he was going to hold up the head of the creature and say, 'Not a yeti, Dean'. Yeah. That was exactly what was going to happen.
Sam followed the same trails where four of the five victims had last been seen alive. He made himself as tasty a target as possible. He fumbled around. He ate some bars and threw the wrappers on the ground. He did everything the missing people had done that might piss the not yeti off. By hour seven, his patience had worn thin.
"Dean!" His voice echoed in the hills, scaring a few birds out of the nearby trees. "Dean!" By nightfall his yells became hoarse.
The creature wasn't taking the bait. Sam should have expected that. The thing wouldn't be hunting someone tonight – it already had Dean. Sam would have to find it. Sam plopped down on the frozen ground and ripped into an energy bar. He'd need his strength to kill this sonuvabitch.
He mentally analyzed every piece of data they had collected before Dean disappeared. Each victim disappeared on or near the mountain. Three of them showed signs of prolonged exposure to cold before death. Pebbles and mud were found under their fingernails. All the victims had died from evisceration.
Sam took a second, eying the dark path. The not a yeti had stashed the victims somewhere. It didn't kill them right away. Out here, that left two possibilities – a cave or a cabin. Mud and pebbles were found under the nails, not splinters. And Sam didn't think this thing had much in the way of higher cognitive functioning. It had to be a cave. He slammed his hand into his pack and took out the geologic survey. Using his pen light to see, he marked all the rocky outcrops on the stupid, little mountain.
He stood up. He pushed everything back into the pack except his gun, light and map, and headed toward the nearest rocky area to scope out caves.
Two days later Sam's normally clean face was covered in dirt and stubble. His hands were numb. He'd eaten nine energy bars, slept for forty-five minutes, and filled his canteen from the mountain streams three times. He hadn't bothered checking to make sure it was safe, just guessed according to its clarity and location on the trail. He'd checked every acre of the mountain. Every cave. Every crevice. Everything. He'd found nothing. But Sam was sure the thing was keeping Dean in a cave. It had to be.
"Dean!" Sam yelled. He ran his hand through his hair, feeling the sickening expanse of time his brother had been missing slam into him, make his stomach clench. Over two days. The victims' bodies, bloody and frozen, had all been found three days after they disappeared. And Dean had been gone close to that. Shit.
Sam had to find him. He had to find him now. Dean had been eviscerated by hell hounds once. Whatever this thing was, it couldn't have his brother. Dean didn't deserve to die like that twice. And Sam couldn't see that again. He couldn't handle seeing that again. He'd lose whatever sanity he had left.
"Dean!" He turned around. "Dean!" He took a gulp from the canteen. Damn thing was empty again. Sam trudged back to a small creek and waterfall to fill it. He closed his eyes. He'd check the mountain again. He'd missed something. He'd check it all again. He wouldn't give up. Not now. Not ever.
He glanced down at the water running over his fingers. He couldn't even feel it. It was like staring at someone else's hand. The rush and heat of the anger that hit him came from nowhere.
"Dean! Where the hell are you?" He slammed his fist down into the pebbly bank.
Sam froze. It might have been lack of sleep. He might have hallucinated his brother's voice over the tinkering creek.
"S-Sammy?" There was a pause. One too long for Sam's comfort. 'Bout…time."
Sam frantically spun around, trying to determine where Dean's voice was coming from. And that was definitely his brother's obnoxious, beautiful voice.
"Dude. I'm coming." Sam said. Where the hell was he? Sam didn't see any holes, any cracks. "Where are you?"
"Dark. Wet." Dean's words cracked and echoed. And he coughed. "Friggin'…cold."
Not much help. Dean didn't know where he was either. But he was close. Sam stalked up to the small waterfall. He ran his hand down the smooth rock and down into the creek. There. The water ran under the wall of rock. He kneeled down, took a deep breath, and stuck his head in the frigid water. He reached out into dark space under the overhang above. The creek kept flowing into the mountain. Shit.
"Dean?" Sam said. He listened. Carefully.
"You coming…or…or what, Sam?"
He sounded nervous. But that was okay. Because he was alive. Dean was definitely behind that wall. And now that Sam had found him, he could save him. "Gimme a minute, big brother."
Sam grabbed his gear. He tied an end of the rope to a tree on the bank and looped the other side to his hand. He left his jacket and his backpack on the shore. He waded into the water bringing only his pen light and ignored the painful cold threatening to paralyze his muscles. He gulped in a deep breath and dove into the dark water under the falls.
He counted it off in his head. Twenty seconds. It took twenty seconds of swimming through the narrow passage way to reach the cavern. Then the rock above him disappeared and he stood up. He shone the pen light around. The water was about a foot deep in the expanse but the cave ceilings reached up a good twenty feet. It smelled like dead mammal. Sam held tightly to the rope. The space was disorienting and he felt his cold mind starting to muddle.
Sam shone the light to the left. Dean was huddled in the corner, sitting on top of a large, furry dead something and mostly out of the water.
"You got it?" Sam moved closer to him. He shone the light on Dean, but he couldn't make out his brother's condition.
"Y-yeah." Dean rasped. "One d-dead yeti. Got it in the n-neck with my b-boot knife yesterday." He smiled a half smile and fell into a coughing fit. "K-kept warm by s-sleeping on top of the d-damn thing."
"What was it?" Sam said.
"Y-yeti." Dean didn't move, but he waved his arm around. "No exits."
Sam shone the light on the creature. It was big and furry and must have just barely fit through the passage way into the cave. Sam shivered at the thought of it dragging Dean with it through the tight space. The carcass's light fur was covered in dark, sticky spots that Sam identified as blood.
"I got an exit." Sam didn't point out that was obvious, since he'd been able to get inside. But he wasn't sure Dean was all there at the moment. "Let me get you outta here." Sam pulled him off the corpse and into the water. Dean swayed on his feet. "We're gonna have to swim. I can pull you, but you gotta hold your breath."
Dean nodded and coughed. His brother's compliance amped up Sam's concern. He helped him towards the passageway and shone the light on the rope.
"F-follow me." Sam stumbled on the words. He had to get them out fast before the cold compromised them both. "We'll get warm outside."
Sam pulled Dean behind him. His brother was mostly limp by the time he pulled himself up and took in big gulps of air. He drug Dean onto the bank. He didn't move. His chest didn't rise. Sam felt for a pulse. It was strong. He put his ear to his mouth to listen for breathing. Nothing. He checked his airway and didn't find any obstructions.
Sam bent down, pushed Dean's chin up and gave him two quick breaths. He waited a moment. He did it again. Dean spluttered and coughed. Sam turned him to his side, watching, as he heaved water and phlegm onto the rocks. Dean's eyes fluttered.
"Hey. You with me?" Sam said.
He cracked one eye open. "Y-you know it."
Sam ran his hand over his brother's head and shoulder checking for injury. Now, in the light of day, he could make out the damage. There was a bad slash across his shoulder. Dean had managed to bandage it with his overshirt. His face was bruised. But what was really bothering Sam was his breathing.
It sounded labored. And it had sounded that way in the cave before the swim too. Dean also had a deep cough he was trying to keep inside. Sam felt his forehead. He was hot. And considering how damn cold it was, that was an accomplishment.
"You're sick." Sam said.
Dean rolled his glassy eyes. "No s-shit."
"The cold might have actually helped."
Dean looked at him like he was nuts.
Sam chuckled. "Yeah. I guess none of this has helped y-your cold." Sam started to shiver. The adrenalin rush was wearing off and he was wearing out. "W-we've gotta keep warm, man."
"I was cold. Now…I'm…warm." Dean said not moving.
Sam reached his pack. He pulled out a knife. "N-no. You're f-feverish." Sam said. "C-chills and fever." He pulled off his shirts and cut off Dean's t-shirt not surprised at the bruising he found around the ribs. He grabbed his dry jacket and his pack and dragged them up towards the trees. He went back and grabbed his brother.
"Come on, D-dean."
He maneuvered his brother to lie down in the same spot. He grabbed out three energy bars, used the pack as a pillow, and wrapped Dean in front of him in his arms. He covered them both in the dry jacket.
"I…I d-don't like you l-like that."
Sam broke out in a grin. "T-the way you look right now, this is the best you're gonna g-get."
"Y-you wish. I-" Dean's retort got interrupted with a violent coughing fit.
Sam waited. Dean kept coughing. Sam rearranged himself so he could rub Dean's back. His brother kept coughing. He started wheezing. Gasping for breaths. His body seized in Sam's grip.
Sam's own pulse began to race. "Breath man. Concentrate. Just get some air inside."
Dean managed to turn and hit Sam with a half-heated glower. He wheezed in a breath and started coughing again. His body shook violently with each hack. Sam knew the fit was exacerbating his other injuries.
Sam reached for his canteen. He pushed himself up to sitting, made the pack into a backrest and pulled Dean up with him. Dean gasped in air. He still coughed, but being upright was helping.
"In and out, man. In and out." Sam rubbed circles on his back, tried to distract his brother's body from the itch in his throat. "Keep breathing, man. Y-you're doing great. Just keep going."
Dean wheezed in a few more breaths. "Don't need…a damn…i-inspirational talk, Sammy." He said. "Know…know how to breath." But his energy was gone, and he relaxed back into Sam's arms and was asleep in minutes.
Sam was exhausted, but he was warming up. He monitored Dean's breathing and pulse. His breathing remained labored. He'd cough in his sleep – violent coughs that left his body trembling in Sam's arms and his pulse racing.
Sam had to get him to a doctor. And to do that, Sam had to make himself rest. He needed enough energy to carry Dean two miles down the mountain trail. Right now, they might make it thirty feet. He put his hand over Dean's heart so he could feel it beating and let himself drift off.
Sam awoke slowly. The sun was just beginning to come up. That seemed odd, because it hadn't set yet when he took his nap. His own chest had begun to hurt and he had to work hard not to start coughing like his brother.
Dean was warm. His breathing was shaky and he didn't awaken when Sam shook him. Sam rested his head against the back of his uninjured shoulder. He made a decision. If he was going to get them down the mountain, he needed to do it now while he had some strength left. He could make it more than thirty feet. He was a stubborn son of a bitch. He could do it.
He untangled himself from Dean and stood up. He was a bit shocked to see the ground spinning. He waited until it slowed down and then hefted his brother across his shoulders. Dean's weight pushed down on his shoulders and chest and Sam coughed. Dean hacked in his sleep. Sam had to concentrate not to drop his heaving body. He stumbled the short distance to the trail. He was quashing down the idea of crashing into the dirt and lying there with Dean until they died or not – when he saw a gray-bearded park ranger running up to him.
"H-hey." Sam stammered. He started to tip. He straightened and grinned, congratulating himself on not dropping his brother.
The ranger reached out a hand. "You Sam and Dean Singer?" He said. He moved closer treating Sam like a spooked animal.
Sam thought about it for a moment. "Y-yeah." He said. "Sam. That's me."
The man grabbed his walkie talkie from his belt. "Got 'em. They're in rough shape. We need a med-evac." He walked up to Sam and placed his hand on his arm. "You can put him down, son. I got help on the way."
The ranger aided Sam in getting Dean gently to the ground. They kept him in a sitting position at Sam's insistence.
"You too, now." The ranger settled Sam next to his brother. "We've been looking for you boys since last night."
"H-how-" Sam broke out coughing before he could finish. The ranger got the idea anyway.
"Your uncle called us. He's been worried sick about you boys."
The hospital room was small and crowded. Sam frowned at his IV. He glanced at Dean in the bed beside him breathing easily even if he was pale as could be. Bobby came in holding a coffee and a paper.
"Hey Bobby." Sam said, feeling meek. "Thanks for…uh…sending in the calvary."
"Yeah. Well." Bobby shook his head. Whatever he was thinking he kept to himself. "You boys should come and rest up at my place after they let you out." He paused. "Doc says you idjits were attacked by a black bear." He waited with a curious expression.
Sam looked again at his brother in the bed beside him. His eyes were closed and his sleeping peaceful. "You wouldn't believe it, Bobby." He let his voice drop to a whisper. "It was a yeti."
"Sam." Bobby chuckled. "There ain't no such thing as yeti." He laughed a little harder and took a sip of his coffee.