Title: And the Rest is Silence
Disclaimer: I do not own the Winchester family, their property, their friends or their enemies. If you recognise something, it's probably not mine.
The cave is dark and damp but Sam doesn't know when he's ever seen a more welcoming sight. He gently nudges Dean and waves to the entrance.
"We can find shelter there," he whispers and he thinks it's gone in, even if Dean is still looking around, trying to find what Sam is talking about. Then he nods and lays his head back down on Sam's shoulder, eyes drooping and unable to pick his feet up any more.
"How you doing?" Sam asks, more for the reassurance of hearing Dean's voice than to garner an actual answer to his question.
There's a long pause before Dean replies. So long, in fact, he wonders if Dean is conscious still. Yeah, he's on his own two feet but his head on Sam's shoulder feels heavy and Sam's worried about concussion. The fall off the edge of the cliff really took it out of Dean and Sam thinks there were obstacles on the way down. He's pretty sure there's at least one broken rib, probably more.
Dean was lucid at first, cursed the wet grass he slipped on, the craggy outcrops he bounced off, the shingle on the riverbank he landed on. Sam was happy to hear him delving into his colourful vocabulary, it meant his brain was working. But as they climbed, oh so slowly, back up the slope, away from the raging torrent, Dean started to fade.
Sam tried to ignore it when Dean stumbled and grabbed for his little brother. He tried to pretend it really was cold enough to induce shivering. He wanted to believe Dean was holding on to his arm so tightly for his own protection, not because he was swaying violently enough to fall over if Sam took a step too fast.
"I'm good, Sammy," Dean finally replies and Sam has to strain to hear the whisper. He shifts his hold on Dean so his arm is wrapped round the older hunter's waist. He waits, hopes, for the sarcastic retort, the comment about inappropriate touching, but nothing comes. Dean just sighs and leans a little more heavily into Sam.
Sam manoeuvres them into the relative safety of the cave, wishing the light wasn't fading quite so quickly. He can just make out the rear wall and, with painfully gentle movements, steers Dean to the back of the cave, lowering him with infinite care to the cold, unforgiving floor.
Dean shudders and tries to suppress a cough. He fails and Sam is at his side instantly, rubbing small, soothing circles on his back. When the coughing fit passes, Dean nods his thanks through watery eyes and wipes his mouth on the back of his jacket sleeve. Sam brushes his hand over his brother's forehead, startled by the heat he feels radiating off Dean.
"Dean?" he asks, knowing he won't get a straight answer.
"'m fine," Dean groans and Sam can't hold back the sigh.
"No, dude, you're not. Why do you always do this?" He rummages through his bag till he finds a flashlight. "Where does it hurt most?" he asks.
Dean doesn't answer though and when Sam turns back, his heart stops. Dean's eyes are closed and he's slumped to one side. It's not his posture that worries Sam though. It's the blood on his lips and jacket sleeve. That last coughing fit? Internal injuries. And from the amount of blood on Dean's face it looks pretty bad.
Sam sits down heavily and pulls out his cell phone. He's had no reception for the last two hours so he's not surprised when he doesn't get a signal here, not even when he moves to the front of the cave. He scrubs a hand through his hair and turns to look at Dean. In the beam of his flashlight his brother looks pale and fragile, the blood on his lips glistening like macabre rubies in the light.
He sighs and curses the forest, the valleys and hills blocking his cell signal, even curses Dean for being so stubborn, insisting they finish off the wood nymph on the foulest of nights with no back up. Bobby won't miss them for another day or two and Sam realises, with a sinking heart, that might be too long. The Impala is too far for him to carry Dean and the black of night has descended, covering the countryside with an impenetrable blanket of darkness.
He props himself up next to Dean and gently taps his brother on the cheek.
"Dean. Hey, Dean. Wake up, dude," he pleads, a little freaked by the racing pulse he feels when he places a hand on the side of his brother's neck. He shakes Dean a little, trying to get a response – any response.
He's rewarded by a grunt and a feeble swat on the arm. "G'off me, dude," Dean manages before he's engulfed by another fit of coughing. He covers his mouth with his hand but he's too late to stop Sam seeing the fresh blood he's bringing up with every hack that courses through his body.
"Dean," Sam says, gently, wiping Dean's face with a towel from the bag. "You're bleeding internally. You need a hospital."
Dean laughs a little through the pain. "Where are we gonna get one of them from, then?"
"I'm gonna go for help," Sam decides. "We can't be more than a couple of miles from civilisation."
"You know the way?" Dean rolls his head to the side, one eye cracked open just enough to watch Sam through.
"No," Sam admits. "But you need more help than I can give you. This…" he waves in the general direction of Dean's screaming ribs, "…I can't handle."
"Call Bobby," Dean croaks and lets his eye slide shut again.
"I tried that. There's no signal, man. We're in a valley."
"Just get to the top of a hill then," Dean suggests and Sam can hear the effort it's taking for his brother to just force the words out. "See if there's a signal up there."
Sometimes Sam wonders how he could be so stupid. Here he is, wondering how to walk back to town, get help and make it back to Dean before it's too late and all the time he just needs to go as far as it takes to get a signal. He pats Dean reassuringly on the shoulder.
"You'll be okay till I get back?" he asks but they both hear the unspoken request. Sam's asking Dean to hang on, not to give up and Dean nods. Just once.
"Don't go to sleep, Dean. Okay?"
"'kay," he mumbles but he knows Sam can hear the lie in it.
"I mean it, Dean. Don't… Just don't. Okay?"
"Mmm," Dean manages and listens as Sam pulls himself to his feet.
"I won't be long," he tells Dean but Dean's already out of it again.
Sam bites his lip as he looks as his brother, lying on the hard, stone floor, and he hates himself for leaving him so vulnerable. He has to go, though. If Dean dies because he didn't make it as far as a cell phone signal, he'll never forgive himself.
So he steels himself and sets off into the night, heading to where he thinks the highest hill is.
It must be an hour before Sam returns to the cave, exhausted and frustrated beyond belief. He shines the flashlight over his brother's face and he knows with a horrible certainty that Dean isn't walking away from this one. He feels a lump in his throat and a burning sensation at the back of his eyes. For a minute he tries to convince himself that Dean is just sleeping off a bad hangover, tries to believe that any second now he's going to open his eyes and rib Sam for being so overdramatic. But he can't do it.
He drops to the floor and hangs his head low, letting a tear fall to the ground. Then he looks up and he wants to scream to a god who has never been there for him. Wants to know why Dean deserves this. They're hunters and Sam always thought they'd go out fighting, not taken out by some wet grass and a cliff.
He crawls back to where Dean lies, motionless and pale. He lays a hand on his brother's forehead. Dean stirs and tries to open his eyes.
"S'm?" he croaks.
Sam smiles sadly and strokes his hand through Dean's sweat soaked hair.
"Yeah," he replies as Dean's eyes fall closed again. "It's me."
"You get a signal?"
"Yeah," Sam lies, "You can sleep now," and he curls up next to Dean.
He rests a hand on Dean's chest and drops his head on his brother's shoulder. He lies there for an age, feeling the rise and fall of the body beneath him slow, and eventually stop.
He raises himself onto one elbow and, through his tears, he places a soft kiss on Dean's brow.
"Goodnight, Dean," he whispers. "I love you."