Summary: Pre-Series – Hurt Sam, Hurt/Worried Big Brother Dean – Although Sam had been shot and beaten, he couldn't allow himself the luxury of lying there in the leaves; of trying to slow the rhythm of his breathing. Because they were still coming; were still tracking him through the woods. He could hear them.
Disclaimer: Not mine.
Warnings: Maybe spoilers for the Pilot, but I think we're well past giving warnings for that one. Otherwise, just the usual language...especially in later chapters.
And we'll run for our lives... ~ Snow Patrol
He paused, shivering in the damp afternoon air even as he wiped perspiration off his forehead with his shirtsleeve, blinking in bewildered interest at the blood smeared on the fabric's cuff and across his wrist.
That was strange.
He remembered – quite vividly – being struck in the back of his head, but why was there blood on his forehead?
He reached up to touch the sluggish trickle he could feel sliding down the side of his face, smearing the blood over his jaw and down his neck as he did so. He stared at his red-tipped fingers, sweeping his thumb across the slick, yet slightly sticky pads as though he had never seen, never touched, never smelled blood before.
He felt alarmingly detached as he continued to stare at his fingers, and then sighed, squinting at his surroundings.
Where was he?
He sighed again, choking and then coughing on the exhaled breath.
It didn't matter.
He swallowed and stumbled unsteadily forward through the never-ending maze of trees, pushing the heavier brush aside with his left arm as his right hung at his side, useless and aching.
He wanted – his body begged – to stop and rest, but he didn't dare. They were close behind him, he knew – he could hear them – and if he stopped again, they would find him.
So he kept moving.
One foot in front of the other for what felt like hours, until his boot heel caught an exposed root, and he went down, sprawling on his face in the leaves and dirt; top teeth slicing bottom lip; molars clamping down on his tongue as his chin hit the ground. A strangled moan became a sharp cry, bloodied saliva spraying the foliage, as his injured body absorbed the impact; tears welling in his eyes from the pain and frustration caused by a royally fucked up day.
He closed his eyes, swallowing hard against the urge to throw up; an urge made worse by the metallic tang of blood as it slid down his throat, causing him to gag. His head and right shoulder throbbed in time with his erratic heartbeat; both caked with a mixture of dried and fresh blood, of sweat and dirt.
"Get up," he hissed at himself, knowing he couldn't allow himself the luxury of lying there, of trying to slow the rhythm of his breathing.
Because they were coming.
He could hear them.
Opening his eyes, Sam pushed himself up, vision graying and narrowing as he held himself off the ground on shaky arms; feeling blood ooze down the side of his face and dribble from his mouth; watching in detached fascination as the droplets splattered the leaves beneath him, sounding like the rain had earlier.
Rhythmic and lulling...
...and he needed to get up.
Sam continued to push himself up and back until he was sitting on his knees, cradling his right arm against his chest as he swayed under the wave of dizziness.
"Up," he commanded and forced himself to stand, shocked at how much effort it took to rise, knowing he shouldn't be so tired. He had run a lot faster, a lot further, a lot longer than this many times.
Sam released a shuddering breath, willing himself to pull it together, and then he heard the encouragement he needed. Faint voices filtered through the trees. A short distance off, but they were getting louder and thus closer. A new surge of fear caused his heart to beat faster, and his feet to start moving again.
Funny how fear could energize, could put things in perspective. Life was context; and in the context of this situation, what had happened over the past few months was nothing.
And yet, it hadn't felt like nothing.
His life had been a jumble of kaleidoscopic contradictions since it had happened.
Since he had left for Stanford to the sound of his father's piercing words and Dean's echoing silence.
What had happened between them – between all of them – had disturbed on the deepest level. It was a mixture of crossed signals and secret selfishness, of bad timing, perceived betrayal, and a hint of fate.
As tensions had mounted that night, words had ricocheted like bullets, and actions had spoken louder than words.
Because Sam had left.
He had left, his heart wounded from the verbal shrapnel John had hurled at him – don't ever come back – and from Dean's soul-crushing silence as his brother had stood there beside their dad and had said nothing, had done nothing but watch him leave.
It had all been as fascinating as a train wreck; as consuming as a barn on fire; as brilliant and cold as a sun-flooded winter's day.
The past few months had been an emotional tornado – brutally unnerving in its depth of destruction – and Sam had felt hopelessly bleak and disturbingly detached. College wasn't quite what he thought it would be, and the same could be said for the normalcy he had so desperately craved. Classes were hard, friendships were harder, and he wasn't sure if he could ever feel anything other than sorrow or anger ever again, wondered if the rest of his life would be bathed in lush regret.
But then came a call that changed everything – an undisclosed number at 2:00 on a Tuesday morning.
And Sam had been instantly awake, simultaneously panicked, relieved, and pissed at the unmistakable sound of that voice; his own voice silenced by the lump of emotion that suddenly clogged his throat.
Dean had chuckled, undoubtedly envisioning Sam's reaction, able to pinpoint the exact moment a facial shrug morphed into an epic bitchface. "You doin' all right?" he had asked in that genuine tone that most had never heard.
And Sam couldn't help but smile because, regardless of hurt feelings, physical distance, and lapsed time, no one knew him like Dean; no one cared about him like Dean; and he had missed that, had missed his brother so damn much.
"Yeah," Sam had answered quietly, sounding as strangled as he had felt. He had cleared his throat and had tried again. "Yeah." An awkward pause. "You?"
"Yeah," Dean had responded and then there had been another pause. "Hey, um, listen...I know it's been a while, and things have been fucked up between us since...well, you know..."
Dean's voice had trailed off, and Sam had sighed in the silence. Yeah, he knew. There hadn't been a day that went by that he hadn't thought about, hadn't relived every detail of that night.
Don't ever come back.
Followed by Dean's deafening silence.
"Anyway..." Dean had sounded as emotionally wrung out as Sam had felt. "Dad's on another hunt, but I think I got something up in your area...possible wendigo from the looks of it. Folks keep disappearing into the woods, and there's other details, too, but I can tell you about those later, if you're interested, if you want to come. Maybe leave on Friday; come back Sunday...or Monday...whatever works with your classes. What d'ya think? Are you in?"
Dean's offer had spilled forth in one continuous breath, as if his brother was afraid Sam would hang up at any moment. And at the mention of a hunt, Sam had considered doing just that. He had considered refusing, of politely thanking Dean for his too-little-too-late call and then telling his brother to fuck off while reminding him that his silence that night at the cabin had said it all, thank-you-very-much. A hunt? Seriously? After everything that had happened, after all the months that had passed, Dean was calling at 2:00 in the morning to invite him on a fucking hunt?
"Sam?" Dean had prompted.
And something in his brother's tone had instantly dispersed Sam's seething anger and made him realize what he had already known beneath the layers of hurt – Dean had missed him, too; Dean was sorry, wanted to make things right between them, and this was the only way he knew how; this was his brother's proverbial olive branch.
So, Sam took it, unsure of who he had shocked more with his response. "I'm in."
And so he was.
So they both were.
They were in more than they could've imagined that morning when they had left his dorm.
Shouts snapped his attention to the present, and Sam forced himself to move faster through the dense underbrush. The rain had returned, stinging him in the face as he ran against it; branches clung to him, winding around him even as he snatched them off and shoved them aside, inwardly cursing at the worthlessness of his injured right arm.
In the next instant, he came up on the edge of a short bluff, barely visible in the fog created by the late afternoon rain. It was hard to tell how steep the slope was or how far down he'd have to climb, but there was no other choice.
Casting a glance behind him, Sam eased himself over the edge in a vain attempt to avoid further injury, but his progress down the hill was fast and uncontrolled; more of it spent sliding and rolling than actually climbing. When he at last hit the bottom with a hard, bone-jarring jolt, he gasped, instantly recognizing the breath-stealing, white-hot pain of broken ribs.
"Shit," Sam hissed breathlessly, his hands reflexively balling, grasping leaves and sticks and dirt, as he squeezed his eyes shut against the blinding pain – not only in his chest but also in his shoulder and arm and head and face and absolutely everywhere. He swallowed hard – he was not going to throw up – as he took a shallow breath and slowly crawled deeper into the bushes, resting, trying to gather his thoughts, to figure out just what in the hell he was going to do while resisting the urge to cry out for his brother.
Sam pressed his forehead into the dirt, feeling tears glide down his cheeks to mix with the sweat and blood and rain.
When Dean had grabbed the rifle from Owen's hands, it had taken all the others by surprise – but not Sam. Dean had locked eyes with him an instant before he had lunged, and Sam had known the plan, had been prepared to move. Fear of getting hit themselves had caused the men holding him to release their grip, and Sam had jerked awkwardly to the side and slightly back. But – surprise, surprise – shitty luck had remained shitty, and the movement had not allowed him to escape injury; it had caused the bullet to slam into his right shoulder, throwing him to the ground even as Dean had yelled his name.
Owen had fired again, his cohorts had scattered to get out of the way, and the ensuing chaos had given Sam a chance at freedom.
"Sam!" Dean had yelled, still wrestling with Owen.
"M'okay," Sam had called back, dazed and unsure if he was lying or not as blood had seeped between his fingers where he had covered the wound with his left hand.
Dean had viciously planted a boot into Owen's chest, kicking him down and disarming him in one motion. "Run!"
"No!" Sam had immediately responded because he wasn't going without Dean.
"Sam!" Dean had yelled again looking beyond him, and Sam had known the rest, hadn't needed to turn to know the other men were already coming back to join the fray.
Sam had tried to sit up, gasping as pain shot through him.
"Run!" Dean had commanded again before ducking a punch and then throwing his own, a satisfying crack connecting with Owen's jaw. "Now!"
And Sam had heard the assurance as clearly as if Dean had said it.
I'll be right behind you.
Sam had nodded, scrambling to his feet, ignoring the exploding pain in his shoulder, and had sprinted off into the surrounding woods. Angry voices had receded into the distance, and his body had hummed with adrenaline as he had run.
But he had stopped abruptly – so abruptly he almost fell – when he had heard a gunshot and what had sounded like a strangled cry of pain and outrage.
Had they shot him, too?
Sam had turned, instantly forgetting his promise to Dean – that he would run – and had prepared to go back when he had heard Owen's voice remarkably clear in the distance.
"No witnesses. Run the fucker down!"
Ray's answering voice. "Both of them?"
Owen's icy reply. "Both of them."
Both of them...meaning him and Dean; meaning Dean wasn't dead, or so badly injured that he couldn't run; meaning they still had a chance.
Sam had then heard them crashing along behind him – Owen and Ray and two other guys whose names hadn't been called for him to know. He had heard them as they had traversed back and forth among the rows of trees; looking for him and Dean, unaware they were hunting hunters.
But that had been at least an hour ago, and now Sam was facedown at the bottom of a hill shrouded by bushes and undergrowth and yet still not safe. He sighed, shifting and wincing and listening. He could still hear movement and shouts among the trees, and he wondered where his brother was.
"Dean," he whispered as he shut his eyes against the crushing pressure in his chest, the intense throbbing in his head, and the fierce burning in his shoulder. His tongue swiped across his lips, tasting sweat-salted, rain-diluted blood and feeling the swelling around the split flesh. Gathering his strength, he squeezed his left hand between his chest and the ground and wiggled tentative fingers inside his shirt, trying to assess the damage.
The bullet had hit him high on the front of his right shoulder and then angled up, but – Sam gasped as his hand curled over bone and muscle, fingers pressing into his back – not out. There was no exit wound that he could feel, which meant the bullet was still in there, lodged somewhere beneath his collarbone. As gunshot wounds went, he knew he could have been hit in worse places – like the headshot Owen had been aiming for – but it still sucked that his dominant arm had been rendered virtually useless.
Further self-triage confirmed what he suspected; the collarbone was broken, having taken the impact of the bullet as it had tried to exit his body. Sam moaned as his body involuntarily twitched under the palpating fingers. The pain on the upper right half of his torso was so insistent and pulsed so strongly that he couldn't tell whether the majority of it was coming from the broken bone or the gunshot wound. And then there were the broken ribs, causing shallow, painful breaths, and the head wound he had received, compliments of Ray.
Shouts drifted toward him, still at a distance but considerably closer than they had been, and Sam knew he needed to move.
Nodding in agreement with himself – and then regretting it as dizziness and pain washed over him anew – Sam pushed to his feet, thankful that at least he hadn't been hit in one of his legs, and hoping the same could be said for Dean as he started running again.
He hadn't covered 100 yards before Sam staggered to a halt and breathlessly leaned against a tree, his chest hugging the bark. Unable to stop himself, he slowly slid down the tree's rough surface, feeling it snag his shirt until he was on his knees.
Sam swallowed, the scent of the damp tree and surrounding foliage renewing the nausea of before, and blinked rapidly. He couldn't see, his vision blurred by the intensity of the pain; he couldn't breathe, his inhalations excruciatingly shallow due to the broken ribs; and he couldn't think, his remaining coherence floating away on a wave of incomprehensible thoughts. He was only cognizant of one desire – to lie down – but knew if he did, he would never get up again.
So Sam knelt there; his face and his uninjured shoulder propped against the tree, and listened to the sounds of his pursuers echoing off to his right.
He couldn't afford this break. They were too close, and he needed to move.
Dean would want him to move, and he had promised his brother he would run and keep going.
But he was tired. It seemed all his life, all he ever did was run – whether literally or figuratively – and he was tired. So very tired.
Sam looked up at the tree towering over him like a guardian; its leaves whispering a lullaby; its unmovable trunk supporting his sagging body. He pressed his cheek into the rough bark, and he thought about Dean.
Dean was like this tree: solid, comforting, strong, supportive...
Sam closed his eyes against the unwelcomed thought, but it was true. He loved Dean – there was no one he loved more – but his brother had been silent; hadn't said one fucking word when Sam had needed him the most; had just stood there and let their dad throw him out of their lives. And although he wanted to, Sam wasn't sure he was ever getting over that.
This trip, this hunt was supposed to make things better, though; was supposed to start making things right between them again. Sam couldn't fathom how, but he was willing to give it a shot because he loved Dean and missed him and, 18-years old or not, Sam still wanted, still needed his big brother. But now instead of hunting, they were being hunted.
The shouts were closer, and Sam sighed.
"Move, Sam," he mumbled to himself, bracing against the tree, feeling bits of bark embed under his fingernails as he pulled himself to his feet. He leaned there for a few seconds, and then shoved himself away from it.
He took four steps before his legs refused to support his weight, and he hit the ground hard, jarring his injured shoulder and broken ribs and throbbing head and crying out before he could stop himself.
Out of sheer determination, he lifted himself up onto his hands and knees, panting shallowly, blinking against his narrowing vision.
"C'mon...get...up," Sam whispered, and struggled to obey his own command, pushing up until he was half standing, half bending at the waist and was not surprised when one step landed him on the ground again, flat on his back.
He lay there, heaving for breath, staring up through the trees' branches at the late afternoon sun as it tried to push through the dark storm clouds. The rain had stopped again, now only drip, drip, dripping from the leaves above.
And in the next instant, the urgency to get up faded and was replaced by a curious peaceful detachment. He was floating up and away, and it didn't seem to matter as he shut his eyes.
Don't ever come back.
Sam's eyes snapped open as he startled at the words, though not surprised they would haunt him even in his last moments.
Don't ever come back.
It seemed John would get his wish after all.
Sam sighed and thought again of Dean, wondering if his brother would make it out alive and knowing he would be pissed, would be irreparably shattered once he found out that Sam didn't.
Sam blinked, feeling momentarily alert. That image of his brother – upsetting as it was – was vaguely familiar and made his heart constrict painfully, hurting as much as the memory of Dean's silence.
And it was then that Sam finally understood.
Dean's silence wasn't a communication of concurrence with their father's words and actions; it was only the reaction of a man on the verge of irreparably shattering from the sudden impact of loss.
Dean hadn't said anything because, for once in his life, he hadn't known what to say. His life had unraveled as quickly as Sam's had that night, and Sam felt embarrassingly stupid and selfish for just realizing now.
He smiled sadly; oddly light at the weight forgiveness had lifted. But he felt the expression dissolve, silent tears mourning for what could never be expressed in words and could never be fixed by time because it seemed he was out of both.
He could only hope that Dean had forgiven him, too; or if not, that he would in the future. Not that Sam would be around to know either way.
Suddenly, there was a voice – shockingly close – and the tramp of boots running toward him, shuffling leaves in their hurried approach.
This was it.
Sam closed his eyes and prayed for mercy as he waited for the end.