written for the summer 2010 celebration in the ohsam LJ community: a commentfic for a prompt from rainylemons, with a flash beta by scullspeare - with my thanks!
This Isn't Little Big Horn
Dean always figured it would end like this.
Dean never figured it would end like this.
Dean is a hunter, has been fighting evil for as long as he can remember. He doesn't know any hunters who died of old age, so he's always understood that someday he would go off on a hunt, and he wouldn't make it back.
It looks like maybe this is going to be that hunt.
Was it an Indian, going into battle, who'd once said, "This is a good day to die"? Sam would know, Dean thinks. It's getting harder to concentrate, his mind starting to wander.
He's thought about dying before. Falling asleep on scratchy motel sheets some nights when he's not too drunk, or sitting behind the wheel of the Impala speeding along an endless highway, he sometimes daydreams about what would be a good day to die. Like: if he knew it would end up saving his dad or his brother. He used to think that, anyway. Dad is gone, and Dean knows now the crushing weight of guilt on the survivors, so he doesn't wish that on Sam any more. Instead, he sometimes imagines rescuing a little boy or girl, the adrenaline carrying him past the pain of mortal wounds. Then, after he's returned the victims safely to their panicked parents, the evil destroyed, Dean will let himself just collapse and never wake up.
That would be a good day to die. He knows his brother would grieve for him, but Sam would get over it as long as he didn't feel responsible.
So Dean is more or less ready to accept that he is going to die right here. He's always known it would end bloody like this.
What he didn't figure on was that he wouldn't really be injured, wounded or sick. He'd fought a legendary beast the size of a grizzly bear, fought it in close combat with nothing more than a dagger (okay, a really big-ass silver dagger), and he'd won. The creature was so massive the ground actually shook when it fell. The problem is, it fell on Dean. Now he's pinned under the dead body, and instead of a quick, hero's death, he is going to die of thirst. Slowly.
At first, Dean was pissed off. He was well and truly stuck, with his right arm bent awkwardly underneath him. The shaggy beast had smelled rancid even before it died, and now there was the thick, cloying odor of blood - and other wet, fetid smells - that made Dean's stomach lurch and roll. Lying there, trapped, skin crawling, he is pretty sure the damn thing had fleas, too.
Pretty soon, though, Dean made himself focus on more practical worries. How was he going to get out?
It didn't take long to figure out. He wasn't.
Only his head and left shoulder and arm were free. The rest of him was buried under maybe half a ton of rank corpse. He might have been crushed under the weight, but the terrain was uneven, and he'd landed in a shallow indentation in the frozen ground. He had room to expand his lungs just enough to keep on breathing.
So death would take days, probably.
He simply couldn't move the creature. He'd tried struggling, and that just made his pinned arm shriek in pain. Squirming and shoving and trying to shift the dead weight just made it sag heavier against his chest, making it harder to draw a deep breath. He'd slumped back, defeated.
Obviously, the best strategy would be to try to carve it up into smaller pieces that he could move out of the way. Barring that, Dean supposed reluctantly that he could try to eat the thing raw, and drink its blood to stay alive until help came. But those were all out of the question, too. With the dagger lodged between its ribs, the creature's death throes had torn the weapon out of Dean's grasp, and no matter how much he strains, he can't reach it.
It had been close to midnight, moonlight reflecting off the snow, when Dean had tracked the creature to its lair and ambushed it outside the entrance to its cave. It's dawn now, Dean realizes blearily. He's pretty sure he hasn't slept. The sky has faded to a pale gray, like a load of whites in the laundry after months of being washed with the darks. Washed in cold water - 'cause they learned early on that was better for getting out bloodstains. So their whites never look like the clothes on those damn laundry detergent commercials. Maybe they should just quit buying whites altogether...
Dean bangs his head against the ground to force himself to think rationally, to keep his thoughts from rambling. He finds he can reach a handful of snow and thinks about bringing that to his mouth, letting it melt on his tongue and slide soothingly down his throat. Will that just prolong things, he wonders, so he'll die later, of starvation instead of thirst?
A big snowstorm is due to hit tonight. He's cold now, his nose and ears already tingling with frostbite. Dean wonders if maybe he'll die from exposure before he dies of anything else, or if the heavy blanket of dead Bigfoot will prevent that.
Sam doesn't call what they were hunting a Bigfoot. Or a sasquatch. They both know there's only one sasquatch, and it's not evil. It's not. Anyway, Encyclopedia Sammy's full of other names for what they were hunting, Native American names or Inuit names; Dean can't be bothered to remember. It looks like a Bumble, he thinks muzzily. From that stupid Christmas cartoon, the one Sammy used to love.
His thoughts keep coming back to Sam. Hopes he's okay.
They'd killed the creature's mate a day ago, but neither of them escaped the battle unscathed. The creature (a kwi-kwiyai: Dean remembers the name now) was incredibly strong. It had yanked Dean's left arm clean out of the socket and then dropped him on the ground where Dean had curled up in a tight ball, twitching in pain. Sam didn't have a good angle for a killing blow, but he attacked anyway to draw it away from his brother. The kwi-kwiyai whirled and clawed Sam's leg up something fierce, before tossing him face-first into a tree. That had been all the distraction Dean needed to drive the blade into its heart.
The torturous journey back to the abandoned cabin they'd commandeered as a base - that's best forgotten. The important thing is - Sam should recover. The skin around Sam's eye was turning interesting girly colors by then, violet and mauve, but he didn't seem to be concussed. Sam had planted his big, experienced hands on Dean's throbbing shoulder and popped the bones back in the joint where they belonged. Then it was Dean's turn, and he'd lost count of the stitches he'd sewn in Sam's leg once he hit seventy. He meant to keep counting - it might have been a new record - but it was taking all his concentration to keep his sore arm from trembling while he worked, and he was pretty sure Sam was too preoccupied with holding perfectly still to keep track. Afterward, Dean had left his brother doped to the gills and slipped out to hunt the creature's mate before anyone else was abducted and killed.
If Sam stays off the leg and keeps it elevated so the swelling doesn't strain the stitches, and if the wound doesn't get infected (which worries Dean no end, but there's nothing he can do about it now), and if they'd unloaded enough food and water into the cabin to let Sam last out the blizzard...
Then Sam should be okay. Eventually.
Dean's one regret... Hell, he could make a list, but what good would that do? So he tries not to think about regrets at all, but one keeps surfacing...
Dean doesn't want to die here and leave Sam to shoulder all that guilt again. But there isn't anything he can do about it, is there? He can't get himself out, and no one is coming for him. They're probably a couple days away from outside help if Sam could get a cell phone signal. And it'll be longer still before Sam can put weight on that leg without busting the stitches. His knee is really messed up, ligaments slashed, too. Dean had seen how deeply those claws had carved when he was sewing up Sam's leg. And after tonight, the new snow will erase any sign of where Dean had tracked the creature. Scavengers, Dean thinks morbidly, will find his body long before anyone human.
His one regret is that Sam will blame himself for not being there.
The day crawls on, and the sun passes overhead, so bright it burns a hole in the cloud cover, its glare so blinding off the snow that Dean's eyes hurt and he has to shut them tight.
He doesn't open them again until dusk is falling.
He wakes to the sound of a grunting noise and something dragging on the ground. For an alarmed second, Dean wonders if the beast on top of him isn't dead after all and is coming to. Dean's eyes fly open, and he pushes against the clumping fur, panicking until he realizes the body is cold and damp and still.
Another grunt, closer. Harsh breathing. Dean's heart thuds faster as it occurs to him: maybe there was more than just the pair of kwi-kwiyai. What if the ones they'd killed were part of a pack!
Maybe death will be quick, after all. He has nothing to defend himself with. So he closes his eyes to the inevitable.
"Dean? Are you hurt? How bad..."
The ground shudders as another sasquatch drops beside him. The good kind.
"Sam?" Dean jerks, and he opens his eyes to see a face gaunt with pain and exhaustion, hair plastered to his brow with snow and sweat, one eye swollen shut, blue-black skin pulled tight. Sam has rarely looked better.
He's sprawled on the ground beside his brother, propped on one elbow. His free hand clutches Dean's exposed shoulder, then his fingers brush the edge of Dean's jaw, and his palm moves to the back of Dean's neck. Dean feels the skin-to-skin body heat sinking into him, warming the slush in his veins and carrying strength to his stuttering heart. "I'm okay," he tells Sam. "I'm okay. Just stuck."
Sam pulls away, straightens, and struggles to slide a pack off his shoulder. The effort drains him. His head hangs when he finally has the pack off, and the warm spot in Dean's chest starts to grow cold again. "Sammy?"
It's frustrating; he's so locked in place, he can't get up, can barely twist his head around to get a good look at his brother. He sees a forked tree branch - a makeshift crutch - on the ground beside him. Sam's jeans are saturated with blood around the knee, the snow slowly turning red underneath it.
Sam shrugs. "I know. Popped my stitches. After all your hard work, too." He lifts his head; a corner of his mouth attempts a rueful grin. "Sorry."
Dean almost can't believe Sam made that journey, tracking him down one forested ravine and up another. It was tough enough on two good legs. He wonders if he's suffering from hypothermia: maybe he's delirious, and Sam's just a hallucination. If that's true, he won't have to worry about the growing puddle of blood. And it wouldn't be such a bad way to die, he thinks. With Imaginary Sam to keep him company while he just drifts off...
But Sam won't let him, is jostling his shoulder. "Dean! What were you thinking, hunting alone?"
Sam's hand grounds him, keeps him from floating off. "I was thinking... this is a good day to die?"
"Dude! You aren't Crazy Horse! And this isn't Little Big Horn!"
That? Is a wake-up call for Dean. He knows he doesn't know where the quote came from. But Sam does. So Sam must be real and not a figment of his delirium.
And that means Sam is slowly bleeding to death.
Dean tries again to pull himself free and fails. "Sam, you gotta do something about that leg!"
His brother ignores him, pulls a big knife out of his pack, and then crawls around Dean to start digging under Dean's trapped shoulder. Soon, Dean can move it an inch, and pins and needles shoot from his fingertips to his brain.
"Sam!" It comes out a stern growl this time.
Sam sags weakly against the massive corpse, breathing hard, knife slipping from his lax grip. His face is white as salt where it isn't marked by livid bruises and scratches. "I can't, Dean," he confesses finally. "I did try to stop the bleeding. When I got to the top of the ravine." His fingers twitch and then close in a fist, a muscle memory that makes Dean picture Sam clinging to his crutch with failing strength as he hauled himself to the crest. Sam shakes out his hands, rubs them on his jeans. "I tried," he says again. "But when I put pressure on the wound..." he pauses, and his cheeks flush an embarrassed pink. "I passed out."
"Okay." Dean claps one hand over his eyes to think for a minute. Then he moves his hand away and looks at his brother. "I'll do it. I'll fix it. Think you can dig me out enough for that, before you go into shock or something from blood loss?"
"That's the plan." Sam picks up the blade, starts scraping the cold earth again. "Can you reach my pack? There's food. Water. First aid kit, in case you were hurt. A blanket if you need it."
"No chain saw?" Dean's free left arm flaps and finds the satchel, drags it closer, and he rummages inside. His hand closes around a plastic water bottle, and he swallows in anticipation. It's too hard to unscrew the cap with just one hand. He reaches over to bat Sam across the shoulder blades with it. "Open this for me, bitch."
"Jerk." But Sam does and passes it back, and Dean drinks greedily. Sam goes back to his plowing, looking pale but determined.
Dean rolls his shoulders, wincing, trying to jiggle the trapped arm loose. "How are you gonna get my hips and legs free? I don't think that little penknife is gonna do the trick." It isn't a penknife, but the question is still valid.
"I dunno," Sam says. His breathing is getting more ragged.
"You know, once I fix up your leg, you still aren't gonna be able to walk down this mountain, Clara."
"That makes you Heidi, then, doesn't it." But Sam's smile falters, and his mouth tightens in a thin line as he stabs shakily at the ground.
Dean frowns. "Let's pretend neither one of us gets that reference." He wriggles more as he feels clumps of dirt loosen under him. "Seriously, Sam. What were you thinking? How did you think you were gonna get back?" He thinks about trying to navigate through the forest in the dark across steep, treacherous gullies in the coming blizzard, and he shudders.
With a violent tug, Sam pulls Dean's right arm completely free and then collapses against the dead kwi-kwiyai. He is spent, eyes falling shut. "I dunno." His hand gropes toward Dean's. "My job is to keep you alive," Sam says wearily. "It's your job to keep me alive."
That's true. And if Sam can do his job, even when it looked impossible, Dean can do no less. He reaches over and grabs Sam's hand, squeezes it and lets go. He's still got work to do.
Now that he's got some more movement in his upper body, he can't wait to get the rest free. But first things first. He offers Sam the bottle of water. Gotta keep him hydrated. Sam blinks and takes it, hands trembling as he takes a pull, and Dean says, "Just lean back, Sammy. I'm gonna take care of this leg of yours. And then I'm gonna figure out what to do next, before that snowstorm hits."
"I know," Sam says. "Just don't -"
"Don't what?" Dean freezes, reaching for the bandages, knowing he's about to cause Sam a lot of suffering, and hoping Sam isn't going to ask Dean for a promise he can't keep.
"Just don't go all Han Solo on me. This isn't Ice Planet Hoth and that -" Sam gestures with his shoulder at the carcass behind him, "isn't a tauntaun."
Dean snorts, but his answering retort catches in his throat. He remembers little Sammy, who welcomed cuddles when he was hurt. But at some point, Sam has turned into someone who tries to act tough when he's in pain. He's tried to turn into his big brother, and that twists Dean's heart a little. "We're gonna be okay, Sam," Dean tells him instead. Even though his legs are still trapped, he adds, "I'll get us home."
"I know." The look Sam gives Dean is full of faith and trust before he leans back and shuts his eyes again.
Dean has never let his little brother down. So if Sam believes Dean will get them home safe -