SUMMARY: Dean's in no shape to be hunting. Neither is Sam. But since when has that stopped either one of them? H/C with a healthy dose of brotherly schmoop and snark.
Disclaimer: Sam, Dean and all things Winchester belong to Kripke & Co. I'm stubbornly encamped in his sandbox, playing with his toys, but always for fun not profit.
A/N: My pal Harrigan wrote an awesome one-shot called This Isn't Little Big Horn, based on an LJ prompt by rainylemons. It inspired this remix, which builds on the 'off camera' moments of her story. While each fic stands independently, you'd be missing a treat if you didn't check out 'Big Horn,' too. More on why at the end of the story, so as not to spoil things. The two fics can be read in any order.'Big Horn' can be found on this site by searching under author for Harrigan. A big thanks to Harrigan for the inspiration and the beta. Hope you enjoy.
It's My Job
The pain in his leg wakes him, lightning bolts sparking mid thigh and shooting down to his calf. His knuckles whiten as he twists the threadbare blanket he's huddled under, his rapid, staccato exhales visible in the chilly air of the cabin.
Sam frowns. It shouldn't be cold. Dean lit a fire in the big stone fireplace in the corner. It backlit his brother while he sat at the side of the bed stitching Sam's leg back together. Sam had focused on the pops and crackles, the flying sparks as the seasoned wood caught fire, so he didn't have to think about the needle going in and out of his leg, pulling muscle and skin back together, ten…twenty…thirty…sixty times.
Not that he was counting.
But now there's no fire. No crackles. No sparks. No heat.
And no brother spitting out non-stop anecdotes in an attempt to distract Sam from the anaesthesia-free field surgery until the painkillers kick in.
"Did I tell you about the time I met the circus acrobat? Man, the things you can do on a trapeze…"
"… Dude bets me double or nothing I can't sink the 8-ball. Ha! That's the night we had steak and Johnny Walker Blue, Sammy..."
"…So, this hooker is telling me about the attack when I realize… the chick has an Adam's apple…"
It was dark when Sam finally slipped into drug-induced oblivion. Now it's light. And cold. And quiet.
"Dean?" His mouth is dry, his voice weak. He clears his throat and tries again. "Dean!"
There's no answer. Sam lifts his head, gritting his teeth as his leg screams at the slight movement, and surveys the cabin. His usual 20/20 vision is more 50-50 this morning, given the shiner that has swollen his left eye shut, but it's a one-room cabin; if Dean's inside, there's no place to hide, even from fuzzy vision.
But Sam is the cabin's lone occupant. He knows that without a doubt when he sees that the fire is out, thin tendrils of smoke curling up from gray ash the only evidence it has recently been lit. If Dean was around, no way would he have let the fire die out; not with Sam injured, not with the temperature hovering near freezing and a storm in the forecast.
But there's no fire, and that means Dean's gone.
Sam glances to where they'd dumped their packs when they staggered into the cabin the night before. Sam's is still next to the door, but Dean's, like its owner, is missing.
And, with that, Sam knows exactly what his brother's doing: finishing the hunt. By himself.
"God damn it…" Sam throws back the blanket, swings his legs off the bed and sits up. The pain grays his vision and he's flat on his back again before he even realizes he's toppling over. He slams his fist into the bed, screws his eyes closed, huffs out three rapid breaths, and tries again. This time he stays upright, injured leg stuck straight out, calloused fingers gripping the edge of the bed, and eyes still shut as he waits for the dizziness and nausea to pass.
The kwi-kwiyai, the white grizzly-gorilla-yeti-bigfoot-whatever-the-hell-you-want-to-call-it creature that shredded Sam's leg, had also pulled Dean's arm from its socket. Sam popped it back in soon after they got to the cabin, but the color draining rapidly from his brother's face made a mockery of the "I'm good now," he spit out when Sam was done.
To Dean, it's an inconvenience, not an injury. But Sam remembers the sweat trickling down his brother's temples as he sews up Sam's leg, recalls the slight shake of his hand and the way his face hardens as he concentrates on each stitch. All sixty-seventy-whatever of them.
Dean's in no shape to hunt, and Sam's in no shape to track him down. But that's not going to stop either of them.
Sam's not sure how long it takes but, eventually, his stomach settles, his head clears and he risks opening his eyes. He frowns. He's wearing a t-shirt, boxers and thick socks, a heavy bandage around his leg, but no pants.
Where the hell are his pants?
A memory from the previous night fills his head. Dean is clumsily pulling off Sam's jeans, trying not to jostle his brother's injured leg but having little luck since he's barely using his inconvenienced left hand. "I could cut'em off you, Sammy… but, sooner or later, we're gonna have to hike outta here, and you're gonna need'em in one piece. It's a little frosty to be trekking around bare-assed."
Memory next shows him Dean tossing the sodden jeans over the seat of a chair, then shoving the chair in front of the fire so the pants and the rest of his clothes hung on it can dry. Sam glances around, blinking to find focus. When he does, he sees that the empty chair is now tucked back under the table and his dry clothes are hung neatly over the footboard of the old iron bed.
He grimaces as he leans sideways to grab his pants, his leg not liking the movement, but the scowl relaxes when realization strikes: Dean moved the clothes when they were dry. That means he hasn't been gone that long, must have waited for daylight, and that betters Sam's chances of catching up to him.
Sam's leg protests again as he tries to bend it to pull on his jeans, but Winchester stubbornness trumps pain and in a few minutes, he's dressed and standing. Okay, leaning against the footboard, weight shifted entirely to his right leg and eyes closed waiting for another wave of vertigo to recede.
His thoughts return to the kwi-kwiyai. Or kwi-kwiyais. Plural. The female, which had attacked them the day before, is dead. Dean killed her while her focus was on Sam, scooping up his dropped knife with his good arm and plunging the silver blade through her ribs right into her heart.
But the male, her mate, is still out there, vengeful now as well as bloodthirsty. And that's what Dean's hunting. By himself. Over nasty terrain. Through a building storm.
"Stupid, stubborn, son of bitch," Sam grits out as he pushes off the footboard and limps across the room toward his boots, his coat and his pack. The speed he's moving, no world records will fall, but he's upright and as long as he stays that way, he can find his brother.
Sam's face down in the snow. The cold burns his skin but also shocks him back to clarity. He rolls onto his back with a groan, trying to remember exactly how many times he's fallen in his trek from the cabin. Sixty-three sounds like a good number.
Dean's voice echoes through his head. "Sixty three? You aiming for one fall for every stitch, klutz?"
"Shut up." Sam's tired, cold, in pain and in no mood for his brother's cracks, especially imaginary ones dreamed up by his own subconscious.
He has to admit though, this last tumble was pretty spectacular – from halfway down the ravine, all the way to the bottom. A triple back sommie with two-and-a-half twists. Even Louganis would be impressed.
He's been walking all day and now the wind's picking up, which means the storm is moving in. He doesn't want to think about what he'll do if he loses Dean's trail. So far, it's been easy to follow; his brother wants the kwi-kwiyai to find him so is making no effort to hide his tracks. But a storm can erase that trail in a heartbeat, and then they're both screwed.
Sam clenches his teeth together to stop them from chattering, sits up with a groan and scans the snow for the Y-shaped branch he's using as a crutch. It's still in one piece, thank god, and within reach, but Sam's both sweating and chilled to the bone by the time he's upright again. He winces as he bends down to pick up his pack, winces again as he slings it over his shoulder.
Sam squints against the setting sun as he stares up at the far side of the ravine, the one he now has to scale. He exhales loudly and starts moving. He feels sick at the prospect of the climb, knowing his injured leg will scream at him with every step. But Dean's tracks go that way, so Sam will, too.
Sam's moving slower now, a lot slower, – and, damn, he hadn't exactly started out speedy – but he's close to the top of the ravine.
He stops to catch his breath, leaning heavily on his crutch, and scowls down at his knee. After his uphill climb, the blood stain on the shredded denim of his jeans is much larger. He has no clue how many more stitches he's popped, would rather not think about it, but he can't ignore the damage any longer. The blood loss is making him light-headed.
"Gotta stop the bleeding." Sam turns, falls back onto his ass with a groan, then brushes away the pinkish-red snow stuck to his jeans. He shakes his head, knows Dean will chew him out for screwing up his stitches, then presses hard against the wound. It's a mistake. Pain shoots through him like an electrical shock, firing in his knee and sparking behind his eyes. His yell echoes around him as the sunlight splinters and the ravine walls waver, fading only as everything turns from white to black.
Sam doesn't know how long he's been out. Not long, he thinks; the sun hasn't moved much. It's the last thing he remembers before he passed out, the first thing he sees when he comes to, but it's low in the sky. He's losing daylight and he still needs to find his brother.
He sits up, stares down at blood-soaked denim and frowns. Right. He passed out trying to stop the bleeding. His leg is still a mess, but he can't afford to pass out again, so screw it. He'll fix it when he finds Dean.
Sam grabs his crutch and his pack, painfully pushes himself to his feet, then slowly climbs up the last few feet of the ravine. As he drags himself over the crest, he can't quite stifle a groan as his leg screams that it's had enough – more than enough. He pauses, wheezing with each labored breath, then freezes.
At first he thinks he's staring at just another mound of snow. But, as the wind picks up, it ruffles the dirty white fur.
Fur, not snow.
Sam blinks, then swipes an arm across his face to wipe away sweat, to wipe away snow, to be sure.
It's a kwi-kwiyai. A dead one. And not the one they took out earlier, either. This one's bigger. Much bigger.
Dean did it. He killed it.
"De-" Sam stumbles forward, starts to call out in the hope that his brother is still within earshot, ready to crow that the beast has claimed its last victim, that the mountains are safe again thanks to Dean Winchester, when he spots the body pinned under the carcass. The sight steals his voice, leaves him mute in his shock.
Body. The head is turned away from him but he'd know that spiky hair anywhere. Sam's legs threaten to give way, his crutch creaking as it takes all his weight. No… No, it…it can't-
He inhales sharply when the body moves. An arm flails, smacking at the beast, desperately trying to shove it away. Then Sam hears a weak, pissed-off but oh-so-familiar voice. "Stupid, stinking, flea-bitten son of a bitch…"
For the first time since he woke up at the cabin, Sam smiles.
Dean's still stuck, but they're working on getting him out.
Sam leans back against the carcass of the beast his brother is pinned beneath to catch his breath, then wrinkles his nose. "This thing stinks."
Dean snorts. "You're telling me? I'm the one whose been stuck under it all day." He scratches his neck. "I think King Kong here gave me fleas."
"Fleas?" Sam rolls his eyes, then drags his wrist across his mouth.
Dean scratches again. "Course, if I have to pull a Han Solo, cut it open and shove you inside to warm you up, fleas'll be the least of your worries."
Sam scowls at his brother. "You've been out here a lot…longer than me. If anyone… needs warming up, it's-"
"I'm not the one who's blue, Sammy. In case you hadn't noticed, I'm under a one-ton blanket. My ass is cold but…" Dean's rant loses steam as he sees his brother start to keel over while fighting to keep his eyes open. "Hey." He pulls the bottle of water Sam gave him earlier from inside his jacket. "Here, drink this… now."
Sam peels open his eyes, stares at the bottle, then shakes his head. "No... That's yours… You need it."
Dean snorts. "You're the one about to pass out." He gestures with the water bottle again. "Take it. That's an order."
Now it's Sam's turn to snort, but he does as he's told and takes the water. "Even stuck under a big-assed dead thing, you're bossy."
"Nope." Dean picks up his hunting knife and starts chipping at the ice and snow near his hip. "Just doing my job – looking after my pain-in-the-ass-little brother. And Sammy, trust me, you are a royal pain."
"Right." Sam gulps down some water, then drops his head back against the kwi-kwiyai. "Just who saved who's ass… huh? It's not me who let Not-So-Gentle Ben land on him."
"Oh, shut up." Dean grins at the crack as he continues chipping ice. "You know as well as I do, only way to take these buggers out is up close and personal; silver knife to the heart. Not my fault the clumsy son of bitch slipped. Besides, I killed it, didn't I?"
"Yeah." Sam's voice goes quiet, and not just from weakness, "but it would have killed you, too…eventually…if I hadn't found you."
Dean glances up, stops chipping for a moment, recognizing the truth in Sam's words. He'd been pinned helplessly beneath the creature's crushing weight, only his left arm free, his knife buried in the kwi-kwiyai's chest beyond his reach, and hard-packed ice and snow beneath him giving him no traction, no leverage to push himself free. If Sam hadn't shown up…
They're both silent for a moment, then Dean starts chipping ice again. "Yeah, freezing to death or starving to death…didn't much care for either of those endings. Now, Sambo riding to the rescue, that's a plot twist I can go for." He thumps the carcass with his free hand. "But I can't believe you can't roll this thing off me. All those muscles…nothing but show, huh?"
"Shut up." Sam had tried – pushing, pulling, shoving, rolling – been on the point of collapse when Dean told him to stop, but the kwi-kwiyai was just too heavy.
Now they were working on Plan B. It'll get Dean out but with exhaustion and blood loss threatening to fell Sam, his brother's doing most of the work.
And that's just wrong. Sam clumsily caps the bottle of water, then picks up his own knife.
Dean sees what he's doing and shakes his head. "Sam, no. I got this. Save your strength."
But Sam's as stubborn as his brother. "No. I wanna help. It's my job to save your ass." He pushes away from the carcass, rolls onto his stomach and joins in chipping at the snow and ice around Dean. "You're like a bus stuck under a bridge."
Sam blinks as he looks up at Dean, unsure what his brother's asking. "What?"
Dean returns the frown. "That's my question. What were you just mumbling?"
"Oh." Sam screws his eyes closed, trying to get his vision to focus, to clear the cobwebs from his head. "Um, I was just thinking…you're like a bus stuck under a low bridge. Can't move forwards, can't move backwards but we can still get you out in one piece…by-"
"…letting the air out of the tires." Dean looks really worried now. "Sam, we already had this conversation. That's why we're digging me out…Getting me enough clearance so I can slip out."
Sam nods slowly. "Oh. Right."
Dean puts down the knife for a moment and presses his fingers against Sam's neck. "Your pulse is slow. Your leg still bleeding?"
Sam shrugs. "Dunno… worry about that later…get you out first." He resumes digging robotically. "You couldn't have fallen on soft snow… could you? No, that would've made things too easy. You-"
"Sam, stop," Dean's eyes widen as he shifts slightly toward his brother. "One, you're rambling. And, two… I just dropped down a bit. There's not as much pressure on my legs." He winces as he pushes himself up, jarring his bad shoulder, then looks over at Sam. "You think you've got enough juice left to gimme a hand?"
Sam nods. "I save your butt, you save mine. That's what we do, right." He rolls over with a groan, unsteadily pushes himself to his feet, then wobbles there for a minute waiting for the landscape to stopping tilting.
"Sammy? Just hang in there for a minute more, okay? Just a minute, that's all I ask. Then I'll take over."
Sam frowns, not sure what Dean wants to take over, but he nods anyway. "There you go…being bossy again." He looks down at his brother, puzzled. "What were we doing?"
Panic is visible briefly in Dean's eyes before he quickly brings himself back under control. "Pull me out, Sam. That's it. That's all you need to do."
Sam nods and stumbles behind Dean. He reaches down, winces as more stitches break, but slides his arms under Dean's and locks his fingers in the centre of his chest.
Dean nods. "Good. Now, on three…One…two…three."
Sam heaves and, all at once, Dean slides free, like a cork from a bottle.
With the sudden release, Sam crashes heavily to the ground, crying out as his injured leg twists viciously. For a moment, both Winchesters just lie there, breathing heavily.
It's Dean who moves first, slowly sitting up. "You did it, Sammy. I'm out."
Sam frowns because Dean's voice suddenly sounds very far away. "Good," is all he manages to get out before all awareness slips away.
As consciousness returns, Sam wrinkles his nose. Fur is tickling his face. Stinky fur. "Dean, no…you promised."
Sam's having a hard time opening his eyes, is not so sure he wants to if Dean's done what his muzzy brain thinks he's done. "No Empire Strikes Back crap with the tauntaun."
Dean snorts. "It's a kwi-kwiyai, not a tauntaun, or so you tell me. And dude, I'm a man of my word. I did not cut open the beast and shove you inside it to keep you warm."
Sam peels open his eyes. Dean's face is hovering over his. "Then why does it stink like-"
"'Cause," Dean's worried expression gives way to an exaggerated grin, "I cut the outside off the beast and put you inside that."
"What?" That rouses Sam. He rolls his head to the right, wrinkling his nose in disgust at the sight of the beast's carcass. "You skinned it?"
Dean shrugs. "It's dead. Fur coat's not doing it any good, but it's gonna save your frostbitten ass, young Skywalker." Dean's expression turns serious. "Look, temperature's dropping, we're losing light and we need to get you out of here, fast. You've lost a lot of blood and your leg's a mess, so you ain't walking. You're too damn big for me to carry, even if my shoulder wasn't screwed, so this is the only way." He squeezes Sam's shoulder. "Just relax and enjoy the ride."
"Ride?" Sam glances down. "Is this-"
"Yup. A travois. MacGyver-ed it myself."
Sam is lying on the fur pelt. The outside edges are folded over him and laced shut along his chest and legs with small pieces of rope from Dean's pack. Two long, slim tree branches, taller than Sam, are threaded through small slashes in the pelt on either side of him, braced for stability by a short, horizontal branch just above his head and a slightly longer one behind his ankles. At the top, the long branches extend beyond the brace, forming the handles. Twisting his head, Sam can just make out a length of rope puddled between the handles; it will loop over Dean's good shoulder and around his chest, helping to more evenly distribute Sam's weight as Dean pulls his brother back to the cabin.
Sam turns back to Dean, eyes wide. "You've been busy."
Dean grins. "I'm not just a pretty face, you know."
Sam shakes his head. The shadows under Dean's eyes are inky, his skin gray behind the stubble. He's got to be cold, exhausted, hungry, and now he faces the prospect of hauling his brother through a building snowstorm back across miles of rough terrain. "You sure you can do this? I mean, it's a long way… and I'm not exactly a lightweight."
Dean snorts. "Mr. Understatement." He gestures at the carcass. "Look, I've been stuck under that stink pile all day, doing nothing. I need some exercise. Getting us out of here … it's just a good way to get the blood pumping again."
Sam rolls his eyes. "And you call me Mr. Understatement." He watches as Dean gathers their supplies, shoves them into the pack, then places the pack on the travois by Sam's feet. "If we take it slow, I can walk. I-"
Dean snorts again. "Right."
Sam bristles. "I got here under my own steam."
Dean's expression softens. "And nobody's happier about that than me. If you didn't, I'd be a Dean-sicle come sun-up, still stuck under that rotting carcass." He crouches down at Sam's side. "What is it you said? It's your job to look out for me, my job to look out for you? Well, you've done your job, now let me do mine – and we'll both get out of here in one piece."
Sam smiles tiredly. "We both need new jobs. Our bosses are pains in the ass."
Dean grins as he stands up, walks to the head of the travois and loops the rope around his chest. "You said a mouthful, Sammy." He grabs the handles and begins the long trek back. "But we wouldn't have it any other way."
A/N: Harrigan's This Isn't Little Big Horn is told from Dean's perspective while he's stuck underneath the kwi-kwiyai. So for those who want more hurt!Dean, that's where you'll find it. Thanks so much for reading and I'd love to hear from you. Until next time, cheers!