Characters: Dean and Sam, OC
Notes/Disclaimers/Summary: This story is set in Season 1 between “Provenance” and “Dead Man’s Blood." When a hunt goes sideways, the brothers are hurt and lost in the northern Minnesota woods. They have only each other and their skills to get them out...and they aren't alone. They are being tracked by the 'perfect hunter.'
Cripple Creek, CO 1997
He turned up his walkman, drowning out the repetitive droning of the same Led Zepplin cassette that his Dad and brother had listened to the entire drive to Colorado. He wanted to get lost in the lyrics he was listening to, to ignore why they were there, to just look out the back window of the Impala at the bright white light of the moon as it turned the midnight world into a fantasy land of possibilities.
“I know you're half awake, and no hate and I know how to do it, hold the door and let it out, don't get it right or wrong, no I don't get it…”
He caught his father’s eyes in the rearview mirror and realized belatedly that he’d been talking. He pulled the earphones down and could still hear the soul-thrumming beat of Chris Cornell’s vocals around his neck.
“…you got that, Sammy?”
John’s eyes flicked back to the road, then back up to the mirror to meet his son’s dark eyes. “You have to pay attention, Son. Especially now. This isn’t a game.”
“I know,” Sam replied, his eyes flicking to Dean’s profile in the front passenger seat. Dean was looking forward, but Sam could see the muscle in his jaw jump. His brother had already vocalized his dislike of this plan, of separating them. But John’s firm voice had silenced further protests from his brother with the claim that Sam had to learn sometime.
“Repeat back to me the exit plan,” John ordered.
Sam did, and then waited for his father’s approval, the song continuing to chew through his anxiety with irony.
“I'm giving blood tonight, I don't care how, don't care why, I'm giving blood tonight, I'm feeling just like I could give it all…”
“You understand, Dean?”
Dean nodded once. “Yessir.”
John looked up to the mirror and repeated what he said, much to Sam’s relief. He flicked off the walkman so that he wasn’t tempted to miss anything else. “You get back to the car when your part is done, you do not wait for me.”
“Yessir,” Sam said, his voice a pale echo of his brothers.
The hunt for the werewolf was quick. They had known where its lair was located before they set out. John took point through the dense area of trees and the boys flanked him on either side. Sam was sweating, his pistol loaded with special-made silver bullets held loose and confident in his hand, his crouched approach mirroring his brother’s down to their footsteps.
He kept his eyes on his Dad, watching until he saw John stop outside of the cave entrance. He was far enough away from them now that Sam had to narrow his eyes in the bright moonlight to see him. Sam held his breath and pulled his eyes from John to look for Dean. He couldn’t see him at first and his heart suddenly hammered against his ribs in instant fear. He had to at least see him. He could do this if he could see Dean. Then he saw the moonlight hit the silver of his brother’s gun and the pale grip of his hands as he lifted them to point directly at the cave entrance. The rest of his body was hidden by a large tree.
Sam drew in a heavy, shaking breath and mimicked Dean’s stance, turning his eyes back to his Dad. He wanted desperately to be here and he wanted desperately to leave. All he knew was that he couldn’t let them down. He couldn’t let Dean down. He’d seen the stark fear flash through his brother’s eyes when John had declared that Sam would be on his own for this hunt. He wanted Dean to know he’d be okay, he could be trusted.
John lit the torch he’d soaked in gasoline at the car and with a practiced grace tossed it into the mouth of the cave. The werewolf exited with a vicious snarl within seconds. It passed John and headed for the woods. John whistled once and at the signal Sam moved in the direction of the cave, knowing Dean was moving in the opposite direction with the intent to trap the wolf in a cross-fire.
The creature had other ideas. At John’s whistle, it stopped its flight and sniffed the air. Before Sam could do more than gasp, it was heading for him, its mass as big as he was, its eyes twin pools of rage, its stench overpowering. It smelled evil. All of his training tangled in his head and he dropped his hands and backed up. He couldn’t think of anything beyond run. But he knew if he did, he was dead.
“Sam!” his brother’s voice cut through the absolute stillness of the wooded mountainside. The werewolf didn’t pull his gaze from Sam. It almost seemed amused by his fear. Sam watched in a detached, fascinated shock as the wolf’s shoulders bounced as it prepared to leap. Something solid slammed into him from the side, knocking him to the ground, forcing the air from his lungs in a rush. He blinked in confusion, expecting the wolf and instead seeing his brother.
Dean jumped up as soon as he and Sam hit the ground and physically caught the werewolf in a strange sort of embrace as the creature leapt at Sam. Dean shoved his forearm up to keep the wolf’s jaws from his throat. Sam lay on the ground, his ears ringing, his vision tunneled to only see his brother fight with the werewolf.
He could see the wolf dig its massive claws into Dean’s chest and legs as it fought his brother for supremacy. He heard Dean scream in pain. He heard his own voice call for Dad. He saw himself pick up his gun and point it toward the battling pair as they fell to the ground, still struggling. He saw Dean plunge his knife into the wolf repeatedly. He heard himself call for Dad again, and then he heard the echo of his father’s gun join his as they fired together into the beast the second Dean was able to get some distance.
The werewolf jerked and screamed as the silver hit its blood stream. As it died, Sam watched with the same detached feeling of unreality as Dean weakly shoved himself away, his eyes pinned to the werewolf. When the wolf died it shifted back to its human form. That of a fourteen or fifteen year old boy with a mop of dark brown hair and an eerily innocent face. Sam stared, unable to move. Then he heard Dean’s voice and his skin crawled.
“Oh, God,” Dean gasped out. “Sammy…”
Sam wanted to open his mouth to say he was right there, but he couldn’t get any sound past his lips. Maybe he wasn’t there. Maybe that was him. Maybe he hadn’t been here for a long time. Maybe… He blinked and shook the dizzy feeling of detachment away, looking down at Dean. John had hurried over and was crouched beside Dean.
“It’s not him, Dude, you’re okay, you’re okay…” Dad was saying. Dad sounded worried. That chilled Sam. He took a step forward and saw that Dean’s eyes were still pinned to the body lying next to him.
“Sammy,” he said again, his voice broken. He tried to reach a hand toward the body.
Again Sam tried to say something but could only stare. There was so much blood. It was running from his brother and from the werewolf’s human body. The pools were meeting in the middle between the two. As Sam watched, Dean’s green eyes filled with tears.
“It’s not him, Dean,” John’s voice was hard. Sam blinked rapidly, watching John press his coat against the cuts on Dean’s chest. Dean cried out when he pressed the jacket harder to staunch the flow of blood. He blinked and the tears toppled down his cheeks. That shocked Sam out of his silence. Dean just didn’t cry.
“I’m here, Dean,” he said, his voice sounding a hundred years old. He watched Dean’s eyes shift from the body to his face. Sam dropped to his knees next to Dean on the forest floor, oblivious of the blood pooling there. “I’m here, man,” he grabbed Dean’s hand and gripped it tight until Dean gripped back.
Dean’s face was pale, his breathing shallow, but his eyes lit up at the sight of Sam. Sam trembled at that look. There was more love in that look than Sam knew what to do with. Dean had just saved him from his own stupidity, his own inattention, and had nearly died doing it, and yet the look in his eyes was such unabashed relief at seeing Sam safe that Sam felt tears well in his own eyes.
“We’ll get you out of here, boy,” John said, shifting his arm under Dean’s shoulders and knees and lifting him into his arms. Dean cried out once at the movement, and then was silent. Sam picked up his brother’s gun, watching his father carry his brother back through the woods, back to the Impala. He followed closely, knowing that someone would have to come back and take care of the body. Knowing it would be him. It had to be him.
Sam jumped. He had been so lost in thought he hadn’t heard or seen Dean come back into the cave.
“You okay, man?”
Sam nodded, blinking his eyes rapidly, shocked to discover tears. He tasted them at the corners of his lips and felt their tracks on his face. Using the cave wall for support, Dean dropped whatever he had been carrying and came over to Sam, crouching down so that he could better see his brother’s face.
“Sam, talk to me,” he ordered.
“I’m okay,” Sam said, his voice rough from lack of sleep and too many memories. “I-I’m sorry, Dean.”
“For what?” Dean put the back of his hand against Sam’s hot forehead, his mouth turning down into a worried frown.
“For getting us into this mess. For giving you a hard time,” Sam pressed his lips together, then angrily wiped the tears from his cheeks. “I was being an ass.”
Dean sighed resting his arm on his bent knee. “Yeah you were, but it doesn’t mean you were wrong.”
Sam looked at him, surprised.
“It doesn’t mean you were right, either,” Dean quickly amended. “It just means I’m tired, you’re hurt, and we have a long way to go and I don’t want to get there fighting.”
Dean rolled his neck. “We’re going to have to leave some things behind.”
Dean slowly pushed himself to his feet and Sam watched his jaw tighten. “Because I can’t carry it all, Sam,” he said through clenched teeth.
“Oh,” Sam replied.
“So, get the stuff out of that bag that you think we’ll need and put the rest in a pile. I need the bag empty.”
“What are you doing, man?”
“Making a travois.”
Sam lifted an eyebrow. “Um, a what?”
“You know, like a sled… so I can pull you,” Dean said, moving over to the other side of the cave, near the symbols on the wall. Sam saw then that he’d brought in two branches, as long as Sam was tall and about as thick around as his arm.
“Dean, man, how the hell…”
Dean shrugged, pulling his knife out. Sam looked at him more closely. His face was covered in sweat and dirt, the cut on the side of his head that had never really stopped bleeding was seeping more, and from where he was sitting, he could see almost the entire left sleeve of his shirt was darkened with blood.
“Okay, skipping past the part where you tell me how you managed to get those branches, how the hell do you think you can pull me out of here? You can barely stand up,” Sam exclaimed.
Dean didn’t look at him. Instead he took the duffel blanket off of Sam’s legs and started cutting several slits on the edges.
“Are you going to answer me or what?”
Dean looked up, “Oh. I thought it was a rhetorical question.”
Sam’s eyebrows went up. He opened his mouth to continue to argue with his brother when his leg thumped once, hard, and painful. He closed his eyes quickly, gripping the top part of his thigh. He eased his breath out through clenched teeth and slowly, very slowly opened his eyes. Dean was sitting in front of him, looking like someone hit him with a two by four and then tossed him off of a cliff, handing him painkillers and the bottle of water. Sam took them gratefully, swallowing as little of the water as he could to get the pills down.
“I’m getting you out of here, Sam,” Dean said returning to his task.
Sam’s breath caught, so close were those words and that tone to his father’s that night in Colorado. Dean leaned over to Sam’s right boot, loosened when he splinted the bone, and pulled out the laces. He used the laces to lash the top of the branches together. He then took the duffel blanket and began tying the strips to either side of the branches so that the end result was an inverted V with the branches, joined by the duffel blanket. Dean took the other empty duffle and cut part of it into strips, tying the strips together and to the top of the branches, creating a harness.
“Dude,” Sam said, awe in his voice.
“When we get out of here, I’m buying every episode of MacGyver.”
At that, Dean actually grinned. “Didn’t learn this from Mac.”
“I can read, you know,” he said, looking at Sam out of the corners of his eyes. He looked… pleased. Pleased that Sam, the smarter one, the college boy, was impressed with something he knew that didn’t involve hunting evil.
“I still want to know how you’re going to try to haul my ass out of here,” Sam said.
Dean shrugged, “I’m just gonna do it, Sam. There is no try.”
“Who are you, Yoda?”
At that, Dean laughed. An actual laugh that crinkled his eyes and folded his cheeks. Sam grinned back. They shared a small look, one that said in one second of eye contact what neither knew how to say with words. Both knew that they hadn’t reached a conclusion about their Dad, that he was still present, around even when he wasn’t. But they had been raised to work as a unit; they knew no other way.
“Put the guns and ammo in the pockets of the jacket, but keep the flare gun out,” Dean instructed.
“I got one more thing I have to do,” Dean went over to the fire and pulled out a stick from the non-burned end. The opposite end was glowing red. He waved it in the air a few times, cooling it. Sam watched, fascinated. At this point, he wouldn’t put anything past his brother.
Dean went over to the travois and on the canvas began to draw. For a moment Sam was puzzled, then he realized that Dean was copying the markings and the arrangement of them from the cave wall. He blinked, his eyes shifting to Dean’s profile, his brow furrowed in concentration.
“I never really knew,” Sam whispered.
“Whassat?” Dean asked, distracted.
“Nothing,” Sam spoke up. I never really knew how complex you are, Dean. I don’t think anyone does…
When he’d completed the drawings, he stood slowly, leaning one hand on the cave wall to get his balance and then bent and picked up a handful of smaller rocks. To Sam’s complete amazement, he started chucking them at the ceiling.
“Dude, what the hell are you doing?” He watched as Dean winced after one particularly hard throw and pressed a hand to his head.
“Well,” Dean gasped, releasing his head and throwing another rock. “I figure there’s a reason the pentagram was connected with light from the crystals…” heave, miss… “I figure it has something to do with using the elements…” heave, miss… “and the crystals are formed by minerals, right…” heave, miss… “so I thought I’d just, y’know, to be safe, use that to draw in the pentagram on the…” heave, hit… “canvas.”
He bent over and picked up one of the crystal pieces. Sam watched him in silent amazement. Dean pulled the bottle of holy water from the discard pile Sam had created and dipped the crystal into it. He lifted his eyes to Sam’s and Sam was surprised to detect a flash of humor there.
“Better safe than sorry, right?”
“Right,” Sam nodded.
Dean drew the pentagram by connecting the symbols. The water dried up almost immediately, but they both knew it was the ritual that would protect them… if it worked.
“You ready to get out of here, Sammy?”
Sam swallowed and looked at his brother. For a moment he couldn’t breath. Twenty-three years of sacrifice, of protection, of care, of anger, of laughter, of lessons, of pain, of love flashed through his minds eye. Not once in all of those memories could he find a time when Dean had complained, had even hinted that he regretted it. Not once had Dean given up on him. He didn’t believe he was worth the time it would take to clean the cuts on his arm, but he was ready to pull Sam out of the woods on a pentagram-protected make-shift travois.
Dean waved a hand in front of Sam’s face. “Hello, Sam. Earth to Sam… Sam wears women’s underwear.”
Sam blinked. “You okay, Dean?”
“What? Dude, you’re the one that was zoning.”
“Your, uh, your arm…”
Dean shrugged, not even looking at it. “Looks worse than it is, Sammy. Let’s blow this popsicle stand.”
Sam mentally berated himself. Why couldn’t he just say it? Three words. Not that hard…
Dean took the jacket from Sam and laid it aside, then bent over, grabbing Sam’s arm to help him up. Sam resisted for a moment, looking at him.
“Geeze, Sammy, you’re looking at me like I’m gonna vanish or something,” Dean said in a low voice, his brows pulled together in worry.
“I –“ Sam started. He swallowed. “Thanks, man.”
“Don’t thank me yet,” Dean grinned. “This could be the worst idea I’ve ever had…”
Sam gave in to his brother’s grin. “I don’t know,” he said, gripping Dean’s outstretched arm and bracing himself for movement. “You’ve had some pretty wacked out ideas over the years.”
“On three, right?”
“One, two, three…” Dean heaved up and Sam used his left leg to push himself up.
“Holy shit,” Sam breathed, his world tilting as the pain slammed into him. Dean’s smaller, but muscular body balanced him, kept him from falling. His voice was a steady cadence of easy, that’s it, easy, Sammy, I got you…
They moved as one and Dean slowly eased Sam down onto the canvas of the travois. When he was down, Dean fell, trembling, to his knees and both brothers fought to catch their breath. Sam lifted his eyes to his brother’s face and their eyes met for a moment. Sam knew then that Dean would get them out. He knew it in his heart. The look in his brother’s eyes was the same determination he saw when they were on a hunt and someone needed saving. That’s how Dean saw this, Sam knew. He needed saving. But he couldn’t help but wonder who was going to save Dean.
Dean pushed himself to his feet. He adjusted the canvas sling that Sam sat in to make sure that Sam’s leg wouldn’t fall out and hit the ground. The ride was going to be bumpy enough for him as it was. He checked to make sure that they had all of their weapons, that his knife was secure, and that Sam had the flare-gun at the ready. He moved to the front of the travois, bent carefully and slid the harness over his shoulders. He hissed as the canvas brushed against his left arm, but kept silent.
“You sure you can do this, man?”
Dean didn’t answer. Instead he stood, the harness lifting the top part of the travois from the ground. Bracing himself, he took one step forward and the contraption with its precious cargo followed easily behind. He heard Sam gasp as the branches bounced on the uneven cave floor, jostling his leg.
“Sam,” Dean said through clenched teeth. “You gotta promise me something.”
They were reaching the mouth of the cave.
“What?” Sam’s voice was low, and Dean could hear him breathing slowly to control the pain in his leg.
“No matter what happens, you stay on that canvas.”
“What are you talking about, Dean?”
“Just promise me,” Dean said, his voice hard. “No matter what – even if…” he took a breath, pausing at the mouth of the cave. “Even if something happens… to, uh, me.”
He felt Sam shift on the canvas and the harness pulled against his shoulders. He bit his lip to keep his cry of pain silent. He pressed forward, breaching the mouth of the cave.
“What the hell are you talking about, man?” Sam’s voice was like glass and the fear Dean heard there cut to his heart. He continued forward until Sam was completely out of the cave and heard his brother gasp.
What he hadn’t told Sam – and why he made sure to draw the protection charm on the travois – was that the wendigo had been busy in the night when it was denied entrance. Over the mouth of the cave, the skinned body of the wolf that had managed to get in the cave lay exposed, its entrails stretched across the stone. As Dean continued to move forward into the woods he felt rather than heard Sam’s shock at the carnage they walked through. Swaths of blood marked each tree they slowly trudged past and after about five minutes of walking, Sam saw the black skin of the wolf staked to a large tree with claw marks scoring the oak above it.
“Promise me, Sam,” Dean said again, his voice low. “You stay on that canvas. You stay there.”
Sam swallowed the bile that rose in his throat at the pitiful sight of the wolf skin. “Dean, I can’t…”
“Sam, please,” Dean’s voice was thin, strained with effort and pain.
Sam dropped his head back against the crossed branches. “The charm doesn’t protect you, does it?
“Don’t think it works that way, man,” Dean whispered.
“Don’t do this to me…”
Dean didn’t stop moving. The harness pulled against his tired shoulders and he had to blink rapidly to clear his wavering vision. He couldn’t stop moving – he didn’t know if he could start again, and he didn’t know how close the wendigo was.
“I won’t leave you, Sam,” he said, “if I can help it. But you promise me you’ll stay there.”
“Dammit, Sam,” Dean stumbled.
Sam felt the travois jerk, he heard Dean’s intake of breath. Sam closed his eyes, hating himself.
“I promise,” he whispered.
Dean stumbled again, but found his footing. “Thanks,” he said. “Now keep that gun ready… you’re all we got going for us, Dude.”
“Swell,” Sam whispered, gripping the flare gun in one hand and his leg in the other as the travois bounced over the rough terrain.
Dean moved like a machine. They walked in silence for over an hour. Sam didn’t know where he pulled the energy from – he hadn’t slept, he had a concussion, and Sam knew his arm was in bad shape. But he barely paused in his forward movement, until…
“What the hell was that,” Sam exclaimed as the travois jerked to a halt, bouncing his injured leg and eliciting a startled gasp from Dean. It sounded like a cry – a child’s cry – sweeping from one side of the wooded area they trudged through to the other.
Dean pulled against the harness, trying to vary their path. It was tracking them, he knew. It was toying with them.
“Ignore it, Sam,” he panted.
The cry came again, this time louder and with it the blurred movement of a shadow around them. Dean stumbled again, this time going to his knees. A brief cry of pain escaped him.
“M’okay,” he panted.
“Dammit, no you’re not,” Sam started to shift on the travois, clenching his teeth against the pain radiating through his leg.
“Sam, you STAY PUT!”
“You promised,” Dean whispered on his hands and knees, his head hanging low between his hands.
They heard the cry again, and this time, when Dean lifted his head he saw the eerie glimpse of the wendigo’s wasted body dart through the trees.
“Fucking son of a bitch,” Dean growled. He raised himself up and started to struggle out of his harness.
“What are you doing?”
Dean didn’t answer.
“Dean, let’s just go, okay?”
The travois listed and then dropped as Dean stepped out of the harness.
“Give me the gun, Sam.”
Sam used his elbows and pushed himself up to a seated position. “Dean, we can –“
“Give. Me. The. Gun.”
Sam licked his lips and handed it over. Dean’s hand trembled as he took the gun from his brother. Sam looked around the opposite direction from Dean. He’d stopped near a tree, the travois resting just beneath it. Sam shifted, thinking if he could maybe get his left leg under him, he could be in a better position to –
“Sam, don’t you move. You stay there.”
Dean’s voice had dropped. The worry was still present, but there was a dark current of danger running under his words. Sam turned to look and saw the morning light filter through the trees to land directly on his brother. The sun hit his dark-blonde hair and picked up flecks of gold, giving him an almost-halo effect. His hands were out at his sides, blood dripping from his left, the flare-gun in his right. His legs were braced slightly apart, and Sam could tell from the energy shimmering from him that he was ready for a fight.
Sam followed his eyeline and saw it. Standing about twenty feet away, almost camouflaged by the trees, stood the wendigo. It was eyeing them. It acted almost human – predatory, but calculating. Sam reached into the pocket of Dean’s jacket and drew out one of the pistols. It wouldn’t kill it, but it would be something to slow it down, something to give Dean a chance.
The wendigo shifted. Sam bit his lip, his breath stilling in his throat.
“Bring it on, you sonuvabitch,” Dean growled.
At that, the wendigo sprang forward.
Part Seven can be found here: http://gaelicspirit.livejournal.com/11053.html