Summary: "A hundred salt-and-burns, curses and hoodoo, poltergeists and wailing women, but he doesn't know this. He's not supposed to have to know this."
Characters: Sam, Dean, John, Bobby
Story Notes: Pre-Series. Sam just past fifteen with Dean the logical four years older.
Originally found in The Brotherhood 8. Thanks to all those who worked to bring the zine to fruition. You did a fantastic job.
Disclaimer: not mine
The First Wendigo
No no no.
In the distance, Sammy is yelling his name. It comes to Dean's ears over and over and over again, rushed, pained, as ragged and indistinct as the ground he's dragging over. He sucks in air to yell back—Run, Sam! Go! Get Dad!—but a bouncing rock against his ribs steals all his wind.
Branches reach for him, clawing at his face, trying to slow him down. He tries to let them. He tries to reach back. Everything burns and cuts and slides right through his fingers. He locks his heels into the dirt, dragging, skidding, building mud on the backs of his boots. He digs at his neck, yanking, peeling. The wiry hands in his shirt don't loosen at all.
The rushing brush of movement zips him onward. His jeans snag and rip against something sharp, skin and blood tearing with it. Every time he tries to draw a breath it goes right into his stomach. He bites his cheek against the need to throw up and feels teeth jar into his lip. Blood leaks over his tongue. On his last attempt to get his brother's name out, his head smacks the edge of a tree trunk. A hail of fireworks explodes in his right eye.
Everything else goes dark.
Tracking Dean isn't hard. There's evidence of him all over the place. Furrows, gouges, drag marks in the mud. Rolled leaves and torn up moss. Broken branches and snagged material.
Sam runs at first, as fast as he can, as fast as his dad has ever made him, as fast as he ever has. In no time at all his chest is burning, fire spreading and lapping at his limbs, pulse hard and hot through his head. He runs until he's dizzy, until the rising uneven ground is pushing as hard against him as he is against it. After a while he's tripping more than he's running, knees and shins bruised and angry.
Around a corner a claw-like branch snags his eyebrow, ripping open a cut that sends blood straight into his eye. He drops next to a gashed tree trunk and smacks at the sting. Red stains his hand when he pulls it away. "Dean," he huffs, misery rising in his chest. He's in way over his head. A hundred salt-and-burns, curses and hoodoo, poltergeists and wailing women, but he doesn't know this. He's not supposed to have to know this. This was just supposed to be…
Reconnaissance, Sammy, he remembers Dad saying, that's all you're to do. Reconnaissance.
You and your brother get an EMF reading and come right back.
And that's all it had been. A milk run. No stress. Dean had even let him drive, listened and teased while Sam talked about Beth Gifford and whether or not they had a chance in hell of being back in Livingston come fall. It'd been fun. Casual and lazy-feeling. No homework to get back to and just… simple. Just… him and Dean.
Now, he has no air left. Nothing. And no idea how far Dean has been dragged. How violently. How seriously hurt he'll end up being.
Darkness is everywhere. Sam sits hard and drags his knees close. Up through the trees the moon is mockingly bright. The Douglas fir at his back smells ridiculously of strawberry milkshake. Bile rises in his throat. He swallows hard, twice, then tips his head forward to hammer on his knee, dragging air as he speaks to the ground in huffs. "It was just…we were just…" We were just checking for EMF. That was all. "That was all!"
Half a second warning and Dean gets taken by a blur from the trees. A freakin' blur.
Sam's breathing hitches, chest tightening from more than just exhaustion. Squeezing his eyes shut, he forces his lungs to still, counts to twenty and blows slowly out his nose. He can't lose it now.
Three more careful breaths have the prickle in his eyes receding and his mind feeling less panicked. He fumbles to think while using two clumsy fingers to dig for his new cell phone. It shows no bars. The tiny digital readout blinks no service at him in boldface, confirming what he already knows. There's no Dad. No Bobby. He has no idea if Dad and Bobby have even missed them yet. He's on his own, and he doesn't even know what he's after, other than his brother. It's a cardinal Winchester rule: never confront something you don't know how to kill.
The Impala's keys feel bulky in his pocket. They cut into his fingers as he grips them, as he thinks for a moment about going back, finding reinforcements, because he's only two months over fifteen and every hunting problem he's ever faced has been answered with find Dad or find Dean.
Except, if he turns around now, it will take hours to get back to the car, hours to get back to Dad. And who knows how long after that to get back to Dean? Who knows if Dean's trail will even still exist? Rumbles of thunder have been laughing at Sam in the distance, sending panic surging through his chest. He can't chance leaving for help when rain is threatening to wash every last sign of his brother away.
Slapping a hand on the tree trunk, Sam unlocks his knees and climbs to his feet, shouldering Dean's army duffel and its minuscule offerings. He wipes damp fingers across his pants, blinks against rusty red on denim, and swallows down the stone in his throat. "I'm coming, Dean," he whispers, one foot striking out, followed by the other, seeking a pace and rhythm steady enough for his spent stamina. "I'm coming."
Please don't be dead.
Finding the trail again is easy. It's written all over with Dean, tatters of his skin and hair and struggle. It's horrible, but Sam's grateful. It's all he has to go by.
Whatever took his brother left no tracks.
When Dean wakes up he feels like he's in pieces, separated evenly and spread over two sides of a long divide. He's pretty sure if he moves at all, he'll end up hurling. His skull is moaning. His memory is mashed. He can't think where he is or who he's supposed to be with. He feels a small surge of panic and Sammy, but quells it to take inventory.
His body is numb. His hands are roped together above his head. When he drags his eyes open, all he sees is shadow. He squints and pulls and tries to think, but his memory won't give—pulse stabbing through his ears, an ache at the base of his brain that periodically rebounds into his eye.
The rest of his body wakes with resentment, angry and screaming. Some of it comes back to him then. The sudden grip pulling him off his feet, the rough drag, Sammy's voice yelling in the distance.
Dean is cold. Sonuvabitch, he's cold. His shoulders and chest are like ice. He shivers and feels the painful yank of muscles torturing his ribs. A groan rises to his nose and crumbles out of him. That's when he hears it. Scuffling and shuffling in the dark, layered just underneath the sound of his own gasp. He bites his lips together, sucking the thin skin of his cheeks between his teeth, and shivers some more, trapping his next moan just behind his molars.
His eyes are slowly adjusting to the dark, but it doesn't help. They stretch and widen but he still can't see what's coming toward him.
He just knows that something is.
Two miles later, Sam finds one of Dean's boots. He tells himself it's a good sign. It means he's close, that Dean is near. He clings to it, smoothing fingers over the leather like it can give him answers. He wants to hug it and hurl it at the same time but reins in his emotions and does neither. He drops to his ass again instead, puts his back to a wide tree trunk and carefully tucks his brother's shoe into his bag.
Dean will need it to walk out.
He takes inventory while he's at it, digging purposefully through Dean's bag, because if Dean is close, Sam will need weapons and a plan. He finds the basics: a nine millimeter with iron rounds, three containers of lighter fluid, a canister of rock salt, two motel matchbooks, a box of strike-anywheres, a box of waterproof, and a Zippo. He tucks the gun into the waistband of his jeans and pockets the Zippo, leaving the bag unzipped while he decides what to do with the rest of it.
The sweat under his hair has cooled.
A shiver crawls down his spine.
He folds his arms, elbows set on knees, slows his breathing, and tries to think. He already knows it's not a spirit that has Dean—the EMF meter gave them no warning whatsoever when the blur emerged from the woods—but everything Sam knows how to kill is killed with fire and salt, and he can't think of anything else. He has no equipment for any other plan. Even the nine millimeter feels useless. The way his hands are shaking, he'll never be able to draw bead on a blur.
He stares ahead and chews his lip. Moonlight splashes like water over a tangle of trees and a jutting crop of rocks. The trail his brother left behind is swallowed by them and Sam has the feeling there is where the story ends.
He dangles his arms over his bent knees, wrapping cold fingers around the toes of his sneakers, thinking and planning and chewing his cheek. Rocking back against the tree trunk, he stares in the other direction. Please please please please please. He's shaking, and some of the please pleases are whispered out loud, but Dad and Bobby still don't magically appear.
The scuffing Dean hears turns into a chuffing that feels like rust against his eardrums. It sounds like breathing. It prickles his neck hairs. It's coming from behind him, lazily approaching, and Dean doesn't like the implications.
Come on, come on. Show your face.
He cramps his fists, flexing against the ropes, and still can't control the shiver that runs through him. His eyes have adjusted further to the dark, enough for him to see the abrasions on his toes and the human remains discarded at his feet. Casual. Like tossed out chicken bones.
The chuffs thrum closer, hissing now directly in his ear. A finger digs against the skin of his neck—warm, and Dean flinches harder because he hadn't expected it to be. The flinch sends lightning through his brain and tiny shards of ice tumbling through his blood vessels. He trembles in a careful breath. "What's the matter?" he forces out, breathing heavy though his nose as the warm finger on his neck becomes a hand. "Can't look me in the face?"
The hand zips down his back, but it's not just a hand anymore. Sonuvabitch. The nails become claws, razor sharp, tearing through his shirt, slicing and shredding the surface of his skin. Then a pull, like he's being peeled.
A scream claws its way through his throat, bolting out his mouth.
The world returns to pitch.
Sam hears the scream. It jerks him to his feet so fast he almost trips, barely catching himself with hands on the tree trunk. His hopes for surprise reinforcements shatter at his feet. He feels sweat itch the back of his neck, crawling down, drawing a chilled line between his shoulder blades.
"Dean," he whispers, cautious now, saying it aloud. Partly because he doesn't want to get taken by whatever has his brother, and partly because he knows now that he's going in and doesn't want to advertise. He breathes cold through his teeth and whispers again, "I'm coming, Dean." Don't be dead. Don't be dead.
Now or never, he thinks, then, do or die. Maybe both. He's been nervous on hunts before, but prepared, not scared—not like he is now. Maybe if he hadn't just sat there waiting for the hope of Dad to come…
He hunkers fast, reaching into the bag—pulls the lighter fluid and the salt, then tucks an extra matchbook and the box of strike-anywheres next to the Zippo in his pocket and leaves the rest.
Dean wakes to hands crawling all over him, running over his hair, tugging at his moaning shoulders, jabbing at the groaning flesh around his ribs. Pushing or pulling, Dean can't tell, but it prompts him into a clumsy attempt to find his balance and get his feet under him, to try to brace himself against another peel of pain. He flinches hard when the crawling hands brush actual skin.
"Dean? Come on. Come on. You need to wake up. I don't know how long it'll be gone." The voice is a raspy whisper. It thuds against Dean's ear and calls to his core.
"Yes. It's me, Dean. It's me. Do you have a knife? I don't have a knife."
He tries to widen his eyes. Sammy?
"Knife, Dean, do you have one? I have to get you down. I have to get you down." Sam's voice is shaky and rushed and not at all as quiet as he probably thinks it is.
"Sam? Sammy, you gotta get out of here."
Sam shakes him. "Knife, Dean."
The fireworks return to his eye. Dean coughs rust and tastes blood. "Back… back pocket." He feels Sammy dig into his jeans and hopes it's still there. "Da…" Dean coughs again, widens his eyes, waking more fully, gaze dodging around, trying to keep watch over his little brother's shoulder. "Dad?" he gets out.
Sammy's heart trembles against Dean's chest as he stretches up and grips his hands, sawing with the knife. His eyes catch Dean's for a moment. From just inches away there's not a lot of secrets in them. "He's not…" Sam stumbles, "I didn't have time to… we're on our own." His eyes flit back upward and all Dean sees is the straight line of his jaw and his unprotected back.
No. Sonuva… "Sammy? Sammy?" he grunts. "You've gotta go. You have to get out of here. It's… it's close. It will come back. It's… fast."
"I know, Dean. I have… I have a plan." The ropes jerk. Dean stumbles. Cut loose from the ceiling, his tied hands drop straight around Sam's neck, nose mashing into Sam's collarbone. He smells salt, and blood, and lighter fluid.
"I got ya. I got ya," Sam says. His hands come around Dean's back to brace him. Dean swallows bile and a scream when one of those hands connects with shredded skin. He tucks his teeth together, feeling his eyes tear up, blurring everything. He lifts his nose from Sam's shoulder and replaces it with his chin, still trying to keep watch but his head swims when he struggles to get his feet straight.
Sam's hands shift around, tucking under his arms to keep him upright and that's when Dean hears it. The chuffing. They're not alone. Not safe. His breath catches. His eyes dart. Feeling an electric spike of fear, he scrambles his feet and tries to lift his tied hands off the back of his brother's neck.
Two eyes glow near the corner, flecks of tarnished copper in the dark. "Sammy, look out!"
Sam yanks him forward, hands gripping again at his angry back. The world clouds and flashes, and suddenly, all Dean smells is fire.
Dean's tied hands are a godsend. Sam keeps them looped over his head as he drags them over another line of salt, across another line of lighter fluid, and tosses another match. The smoke is already coming quicker than he thought it would, tearing his vision, pushing into his lungs.
And the heat. That's quicker too. He can feel it flaring, searing the back of his neck, singeing his hair as he drags Dean into his chest.
Everything behind them is burning.
He forgets about lighting the next fuel line and concentrates on just getting them out. If the thing can get through the fire he's already started, they're screwed anyway. He coughs and drops to his knees, pulling Dean with him, dragging them both directly through more lines of fuel, and Sam's urgency increases because he's suddenly terrified that he's lit them both on fire.
He crawls and coughs and scrambles. He's trying not to hurt his brother, but he's pretty sure he already has. Dean was moving with him in the beginning, fists digging and crumpling in his shirt. Breathy, coughy Sams coming out his mouth.
Dean isn't trying to help anymore. He's not moving on his own, but Sam can't stop to feel for a pulse.
When they hit the exit, the contrast of cool air slaps at Sam's wet face. He stumbles up to his feet and keeps them going, bumping over boulders and branches, until he finds the bag and his tree and can plant his back against it. He does, shoulders shaking, feeling the dig of rough bark.
Dean is dead weight against him, wilted, legs scattered out, hip digging into Sam's. Hair made of ash and soot. Grey face buried in Sam's chest. Sam uses grimy-bloody fingers to fumble for a pulse. When he finds one, his chest seizes and stutters. He tips his head up, watches the raging blaze he created, and cries.
"John! John, I got 'em." Bobby's shout is like a lifeline. Sam can't move. He and Dean are in the same position they stopped in when Sam pulled them out. He doesn't know how long it's been. All of his muscles have turned to mud.
"Sammy?" his father calls, voice distant. Then suddenly, he's there, right in front of him, heavy hands gripping Sam's shoulders. Eyes wide and hard and a little bewildered, glancing between the fire and his boys. "Are you okay?"
Sam shivers and thinks what his Dad really wants to say is, What the hell?
Bobby crouches down with them. He shines his flashlight on Dean's sooty head and smoothes careful, ginger fingers over it, down his neck, checking his arms and legs without moving him off Sam's chest. He gives John a worried look but nods, folding something white over Dean's bloody back.
"I tried not to hurt him," Sam says. His voice rattles, feeling raw and dry, cringe worthy, like the scrape of a plastic big wheel over cement. "I tried not to."
John's fingers grow fiercer around Sam's shoulder. "What happened?" he asks, gaze sweeping down Sam's body.
Sam clenches his jaw, stares back at his father, feeling his heart thunder. He's relieved and grateful and angry all at once but angry is what he wants to hold onto most. He wants someone to blame, but when he says, "Dad," his voice breaks and the anger drips out of him. The reserve of terror follows, dissipating in shudders down his body. His father's strong hand settles softly on his head, gently pushing his hair back.
Sam leans into it and feels his chest hitch. "I didn't know what to do," he says. "I didn't know what to do!" He tries to explain after that, tries to tell what happened, and how he just did the best he could because he didn't know.
Dad, it took him and I didn't know.
He's pretty sure, from the looks Dad trades with Bobby, that he's not making much sense.
John's thumb settles gruffly on his cheekbone, fingers curled behind his neck, giving Sam a gentle shake. "Easy, Sammy. Easy. Easy. We're going to get you out of here. You and your brother. It's going to be fine." The litany continues as John leans forward, pulling Sam into him.
Sam feels the brush of scratchy beard against his forehead, feels his father's deep voice resonate through his chest, the deep sense of safe that comes with it, and he folds, winds one hand in his father's shirt and tucks his face into John's shoulder. The cut on his forehead stings from the contact, but he doesn't care.
Dean is still crumpled between them, Bobby steadying him from somewhere behind. John's voice rumbles, placating and humoring and strong. Sam loves him, and he hates him, and he still wants to be angry.
The first thing Dean sees when he opens his eyes is the moon. Full and orangey-red. The image wraps over his brain, winding around his head like a strip of warm cotton. It's like an omen, but Dean can't think of what it should mean.
"It means you're alive," he hears, a deep rumble smoothing over his ears. There's a crack underneath it. It makes Dean think of darkness and worry and stars twisted out of shape in a kaleidoscope. Dad's voice.
He blinks, biting off the unconscious mumble through his lips, and stares around. He's stretched on a cushioned lounge chair on the back porch of their temporary cabin. There's evidence of triage. Bandages and blood. Sheets and stained blankets. A bowl of soapy water with a stained washcloth on its lip. The sliding glass door behind his father emits an orange glow, stretching the silhouette of John's already broad shoulders, accentuating the angle of his bent head and playing tricks with the expression on his face.
Dean racks his brain but remembers nothing, nothing but fog. He feels like a hundred miles of graded dirt, and when he tries to lift his head, he's quick to realize it's not a good idea.
John flattens a palm on his chest, holding him still. "Don't move," he orders.
Dean eases back carefully. Everything about him feels thick and heavy and slow. His legs are weighed down by a mass of blankets. After another blink, he realizes he's swathed in them, feels them lumped under his head and all along his back, keeping him propped at an angle. Not all the way up on his side, but not flat on his spine. Several suture kits sit discarded by John's hip, and Dean realizes he's got stitches somewhere.
"What happened?" he slurs, trying to think. He darts his gaze around and feels the sudden desire to lay eyes on his brother. His heart thumps. "What happened?"
"Easy." John's hand stays heavy on his chest. The other runs down his torso, smoothing something over the hollow of Dean's ribs. It doesn't hurt, but it feels like it should. "Easy."
Dean stares as John looks away. The orange from both the moon and cabin light John's eyes the color of whiskey. "It was a wendigo," he says finally, squeezing Dean's shoulder then letting go, clasping his hands together, hanging them down between his knees. Too casual. "We had no idea. We just… we had no idea."
At this elevation, the night is warm. The motionless air clings to the heat of the day, waiting for a breeze to drag a chill down from the mountain. Dean shivers anyway, and that's what does it. Memories tumble over him. Matches. Fire. The intense smell of salt and smoke and lighter fluid.
Dean breathes a thick coil of air and widens eyes at his father. "Sammy?"
John leans forward, rubbing a hand on the back of his neck. "He's okay, more or less. Scared. Shook up. He… he got you out."
Dean rolls his head, trying to see past his father into the cabin. "He what?" But he remembers that now too. Part of it. Sam shaking him. Sam cutting the rope. Sam pulling.
John's hand returns to Dean's chest. "I said he's okay."
Dean swallows, tucking his arm across his torso as he checks his father's expression. He doesn't know if it's absolution or blame in his dad's face but he finally nods acceptance, slowly closing his eyes, a shudder of leftover panic quivering his muscles.
A finger taps soothingly against his sternum as he breathes.
Then, abruptly, startlingly, John laughs. Dean opens his eyes to see him shaking his head. "Kid damn near burned down the entire mountainside," he says. He runs his thumb over his lower lip, shakes his head and laughs again. There's sternness and amusement in his face, anger and fear and pride.
Dean stares. His muscles begin to ease up. He tips his head back and pants out a laugh of his own. He feels the pull of stitches on his back, the angry protest of his ribs, and thinks these are both things he can handle. Compared with the alternative, these are things he can deal with.
After a moment, John rubs his face. He smiles wearily at Dean and just looks tired. Behind him, Sam appears in the orange-lit doorway. "Is he awake?" he asks, voice raspy, like he inhaled too much smoke.
John nods. He rubs a hand over Dean's hair as he stands, scrubbing with his knuckles before moving to the cabin. He pauses at Sam's elbow on his way inside, locking a hand on his shoulder. A stern gaze takes over his features. "Bobby and I will move him inside in a minute. Don't talk too long." His hand gentles, smoothing over Sam's head. "You need to get some sleep." His face softens, fleetingly, as he settles his fingers on the back of Sam's neck, as he leans in briefly kissing Sam's hair. Dean sees it, and feels his throat tighten. A few more inches and Sam will be as tall as him.
When he's gone, Sam steps forward hesitantly, taking the seat their dad vacated. He looks terrible, pale and worn. "Dean?"
"Are you okay?"
Dean nods, squints, tries to decipher his brother's mood. "I'm good," he says, glancing past Sam into the cabin. "Dad mad?"
"Yeah," Sam huffs. The word breaks a little in the middle, but there's amusement and duh in there as well. He leans forward, elbows on knees, fingers hovering shakily near Dean's arm. There's a gouge in his eyebrow, scratches on his cheek.
Dean's lips thin together. "You should've… you could've been…"
"I had to, Dean. I had to. I didn't… I just… I did the best I could." Sam's head drops, chin tucked down and trembling. A flash of emotion burns bright through his eyes as they lower to the floor, emotion Dean hasn't seen before, and doesn't quite know how to label. It scares him, just a little, and makes his chest feel tight. He shifts carefully, reaching a hand out to grip Sam's forearm, squeezing gently.
Sam opens and closes his mouth. Dean watches him swallow. When Sam looks up, he keeps his eyes averted, gaze high, like he's looking at the moon. "I was scared," he whispers. "I was so scared." He says it cautiously, like he thinks Dean might be mad about it.
Dean breathes slow, firming his grip on his brother's arm. "You didn't show it," he says.
Sam lifts his eyebrows, looking down at him like he doesn't believe it. "Really?"
Sam swipes at his eyes, taking a deep breath and sighing it out. The trembling in his chin steadies. His eyes become less painful to look at.
Dean's lips twitch and he gives Sam's arm another squeeze. "You were like… freakin' Rambo out there, man."
Sam laughs lightly. It rings soft and smooth through the night. Dean doesn't realize it until then, but he's been holding his breath. At Sam's huff, his chest unclenches. When he breathes out next, it feels like relief.
Somehow, they really do make it back to Livingston in the fall. It's the first time they've ever returned to the same spot after a summer away, other than Pastor Jim's, even if Dad had promised that they could. Sam's pretty sure it means they'll be gone before Halloween.
On the first day of school, the English teacher tells them they're going to write about their summer vacations. The class groans while the teacher sticks up his index finger. "To make it interesting," he says, "I specifically want you to write about something you did this summer that you've never done before, something that was completely new to you, no matter how big or small."
Sam is sitting next to Beth Gifford. She slides her big eyes sideways at Sam and giggles. "I had my first kiss," she admits, shrugging, flames rising in her face. "But, Mr. Hastings probably doesn't want to hear about that."
Sam swallows and doesn't know what to say. He feels more detached than cheated.
"What about you?" she asks. "You do anything new?"
Sam's chest tightens. The wendigo hasn't left his dreams. Dean recovered quickly, took the enforced bed rest and subsequent extra training from Dad in stride, teased Sam, called him awesome and Rambo and slept closer to him at night. But the memory of Dean's dull pulse under his fingers, Dean's ashen face, the dead weight he'd been against Sam's hip… those things haven't left his dreams either.
Sometimes Sam sees the ashen face even when he's awake. After catching sight of the white lines down Dean's back, skin still tender where he'd worn the long rows of stitches, it all tumbles back as fast as it took the wendigo to take Dean. And Sam ends up staring until Dean throws something at him and makes him stop.
John took Sam out after, to the woods, showed him all the signs to look for in the future, reviewed with him suspected weaknesses. It was more than just training, but Sam didn't know that until his father looked at him and said, "If you can identify it, Sammy. If you can kill it, it's never as scary."
Another student leans over, caught by Beth's question. "Yeah, what did you do, Sam? I didn't see you all summer. Anything exciting?"
Sam blinks steadily. Forcing half a smile, he swallows again and answers, "We went to Pittsburgh."