The stabbing sensation in his lungs as he instinctively gasped for air when the glacial water closed over his head was nothing compared to the shock of a lifetime of memories slamming into him in a single, agonizing blast.
Sam Winchester thrashed and choked, drowning and freezing at once as his body hung suspended, linked to the surface by a set of handcuffs. He couldn't sort through the images assaulting him fast enough to register that in order to live, he must breathe. It took a moment to recognize that someone was pulling him upward by his hair, the instinctive relief of finding air his one grounding factor.
Gagging on water, choking for breath, Sam fought to reach the rock edge, his limbs trembling helplessly as he braced his arms on the flat surface, throwing up water and dragging in air almost at the same time. The man—Dean…my brother, Dean—cuffed to him was practically growling with pain as he reached for the waistband of his jeans to get a better grip and haul him fully out of the water.
They lay gasping in the dark, both shivering from either cold or pain. Sam coughed roughly, trying desperately to expel the water from his lungs, feeling his core muscles seize as he gagged out more liquid. The man—Dean…this is Dean—pounded him weakly on the back, his body a brace as Sam violently rid his body of the freezing water.
With agonizing clarity filled with sharp edges, Sam could suddenly remember his youth, his father, the anger and resentment, the fear when John and Dean didn't return when they thought they would. He remembered discovering the truth about hunting. He remembered leaving home. He remembered Stanford. He remember Jessica. He remembered fire and flame and Dean saving him. He remembered holding a gun on his father, he remembered Dean bleeding, and he remembered the semi-truck smashing their lives apart.
"H-hey, c'mon, man."
Sam lifted his head, hair hanging in his eyes, sticking to his face, memory overlaying reality and making him dizzy, despite the fact that he couldn't see a thing in the pitch surrounding them.
"N-need to move," Dean gasped. "Get you w-warmed up."
"I remember," Sam rasped, coughing harder. "I remember you."
But Sam couldn't tell him, not with years rushing at him like a freight train. Not with a funeral pyre for his father blending with Hellhounds shredding is brother's chest. In the cave, Dean was climbing to his knees, saying something about getting up, but Sam was swimming in memories of slit throats and demon-black eyes and drinking blood and incantations in Latin and fire and death…so much death.
Arms still connected, Dean hauled him upright and turned him toward the dim light they'd seen earlier. Sam stumbled forward through memories of Ellen stalwartly refusing to leave a dying Jo, of the burned-out shell of the Roadhouse and finding Ash's watch, of Bobby's hat and library and his voice on the phone.
He remembered hands—Dean's hands, Dad's hands—holding him, grabbing him, steadying him, showing him how to balance a shot gun, how to stitch a wound, how to paint a Devil's Trap. He stumbled headfirst through the dark, his mind a wash of frightened eyes and screaming voices, of fists and blood and accusations, of feeling the presence of someone not him beneath his skin and inside his head, of Horsemen and Adam and Death and intertwined rings and the Apocalypse and of falling…falling forever until the fire wrapped around him.
"Ahhghh, man, don't…don't fall, c'mon," Dean begged, his voice tremulous in the dark. "Gotta keep moving."
But in his mind, Sam was burning, flames consuming him as they had so many spirits vanquished over the years. And then he shattered and there were pieces of his soul scattered and missing and it was Dean, God it was his brother who put him back together and held him solid, made him strong.
I am your flesh and blood brother, okay? I am the only one who can kick your ass in real time…. Believe me. Make it stone number one and build on it.
Sam pushed forward, shivering, passing a stalagmite jutting up from the ground as he swam through moments with Amelia, the darkness that surrounded Dean after Purgatory, the cold intrusion of an angel's possession, the emptiness of Dean's eyes as he died, blood-soaked and trembling, in his arms.
"Th-think it's another…another cavern, okay? J-just a little f-farther," Dean was saying.
"You died on your feet," Sam gasped, teeth chattering loudly in his head. "The last t-time…the last time you died, you were st-standing up."
"'K, you're talking kinda crazy right now, Banner," Dean huffed, the grip he had on the front of Sam's wet shirt tightening as he propelled them both forward.
"But you came b-back," Sam continued, trying to filter through the slowing rush of recollection, catching up to today, to now, to how they'd ended up in this cave. "You came back every time. From Hell and Purgatory and death and demon…you came back."
"You hit your head when you fell?" Dean asked.
"N-no," Sam shook his head, a mighty shiver coursing through him. "The w-water. The water washed off the poison."
"Uh-huh," Dean paused a moment, leaning against the wall for a moment as he caught his breath. "Can we place bets on how much therapy you're gonna need if we get outta this?"
"'s from the bat," Sam continued, blinking as he remembered. "Saliva."
"Right," Dean nodded, stretching the word out like taffy. "I'm starting to think these cuffs were for you, not me."
The cuffs. Sam frowned, his fingers beginning to stiffen from the cold. He couldn't remember the reason for the cuffs.
"C'mon, we're almost to the end. You see it?"
"I see it," Sam nodded shakily. "Matches got wet."
"N-no matches, no fire," Sam explained.
"Ah, right," Dean pushed against him slightly to get him moving. "We'll figure s-something out. It's going to be fine. You're gonna be fine."
That's my job, right? Watch out for my pain in the ass little brother.
The words rang in his head, slicing through the memory of the pain in his back, the memory of the cold filtering through him—different from this chill…a permanent, forever kind of cold. He remembered mud soaking through his jeans, Dean's arms around him like a promise, and the sensation of slipping away as Dean called to him, begged him, held him.
Sam reached up and clutched at the hand holding tightly to his wet shirt, needing the balance of contact. Dean had no idea who he was, but Sam remembered. He remembered all of it. His brother's bravado, resistance, resignation. He remembered Dean giving in, giving up, and fighting to the end.
The tunnel narrowed slightly, twisting as it emptied into another cavern, this one larger than the last, but missing the ledge and its terrifying drop-off into nothing. The roof of the cavern was split open, roughly three hundred yards above their heads, the softening light that filled the space giving the sense of the dying rays of sunset illuminating the room. They stopped at the end of the tunnel, both flinching away from even the muted light after so long in the pitch dark.
Shuddering with cold, Sam glanced to his left and caught his first good look at Dean since all this began.
"Jesus, Dean," he gasped. For a moment, his brother didn't react, but then he looked over and Sam saw him flinch away. "You're a mess, man."
"What was that?" Dean frowned slightly, his blood-crusted brows folding across the bridge of his nose.
The right side of his face was abraded from forehead to chin, blood still oozing from some of the deeper cuts. Blood vessels in his right eye had burst turning the white a horrifying red and making the green irises gleam. His right wrist—like Sam's left—was swollen, bruised, and bloody, and Sam didn't even want to see the bruising that he knew had to be covering his brother's right side.
"What did you say?" Dean pressed when Sam didn't answer him.
"Dean," he repeated. "Dean Winchester. That's your name."
Dean blinked again, pulling his chin up, eyes calculating, but not immediately resisting. Sam shivered again before he was able to reveal more and Dean looked away, narrowing his eyes to scan the interior of the cavern. Sam followed his lead, his brain pin-balling between now and then, memories ricocheting against reality and sending him spinning.
The walls of the cavern were dome-like, as if the Earth had molded itself around an overturned bowl. Layers of mineral deposits painted natural graffiti up from the craggy, uneven floor where the brothers stood to the expansive opening far above their heads, the light shifting with cloud-cover and time. The wall opposite the tunnel entrance was easily a hundred yards away, the immensity of the place sending a shudder through Sam completely unrelated to his frigid state.
Debris, dead branches, and leaves were scattered all around the floor of the cavern, no doubt having drifted in from the crack above them over the course of years. They could also see bones from smaller animals near the center of the cavern and Sam was exceedingly grateful that these bones were bleached and stripped, no flesh clinging to cause his stomach to twist in visceral reaction.
"What'd we do, beam in?" Dean muttered, shuffling forward slowly, encouraging Sam to follow.
"Look," Sam jerked his chin to a shadowed wall on their left. "That l-look like a b-bag?"
They headed toward the lump of material Sam had seen and he dropped to his knees when he realized it was indeed a duffel bag. There was also rope, carabiners, and harnesses as well as Dean's jacket.
"S-someone else is here," Sam said, looking over his shoulder and around the dimly lit space.
"What?" Dean crouched slowly and picked up the jacket. "How do you figure that?"
Sam lifted the harness. "Because w-we know shit about c-climbing gear."
He glanced up toward the break in the roof of the cavern and saw the sunlight glinting off of several piton's shoved into the rock face. Looking back at the pile of rope, Sam guessed they'd lowered themselves in and pulled the rope from the carabiners at the top of the cavern—though how they'd been planning to get back out was anyone's guess.
Dean dug through the pockets of the jacket, pulling out his 1911, a flask, a small flashlight—which he immediately turned on—a strange-looking, thin silver whistle, and his ID. Sam watched his brother's shoulders sag with something like relief as he shone the flashlight on the face of his FBI badge.
"You were right about the Dean part," he said with a crooked grin. "But it's Stark. Not Winchester."
"Dean Stark," Sam dead-panned. "And that seems right to you?"
Dean narrowed his eyes, head tilting slightly to the side in a move Sam recognized as doubt.
"C'mon, man. Stark and B-banner? Really? N-nothing Mr. Pop Culture?" Sam pressed, remembering Dean's kid-like grin when he created this particular set of fake IDs. The second Avengers movie had just come out and he'd been on a superhero kick.
At that Dean sank down to his rear, curling his shoulders forward. "So, you're saying you…you don't turn into a green rage monster when you get pissed off?"
"They're fake IDs."
Sam started to shrug out of his wet jacket, managing to get it off of his right arm, but wincing as the weight of it hit the cuff and his wounded wrist. If he was going to warm up, he had to get out of his wet clothes, and there was no way he was going to do that while still cuffed to his brother.
Coughing roughly, Sam took the flash light from Dean, trying to hold it steady over the cuffs.
"Here." Dean picked up his gun. "We'll shoot them apart."
"No freaking way!" Sam instinctively—and without thought—jerked his wrist away from the barrel of the gun causing Dean to cry out in pain and drop the weapon. "Sorry."
"H-hold still," Dean implored, reaching for the gun again. "I got this."
"You're shaking like an 80 year old," Sam nudged the gun out of Dean's reach with a sweep of his free hand. "And I can't even keep this light steady."
"So, what's your idea, then, genius?" Dean growled, closing his eyes briefly.
Sam handed the flashlight back to him. "Hold this as still as you can," he said, pulling out a small cloth case from the duffel bag. "I'm gonna pick the lock."
"Sure you are," Dean muttered, but held the flashlight on the lock at Sam's wrist as Sam selected the right pick for the job.
It took him a few more minutes than he expected it to, the flashlight trembling in Dean's grip by the time he was done, but the relief of having the metal off of his wounded wrist was worth Dean's disbelieving muttering that had been the soundtrack to his progress.
"Huh," Dean said when their arms dropped free of each other.
"Now you," Sam said, reaching for him.
"No; get out of those clothes before you turn into a human Popsicle." Dean shifted slightly away. "I'll round up some of this crap to burn, warm you up."
Dean stood and was moving around the edge of the cavern before Sam could stop him. Shivering violently and aching from the cold, Sam decided to take his brother's advice and began to strip out of as many of his wet clothes as he could. He laid out his jeans and shirts along the rock ledge behind him, goosebumps rising on his bare skin. Rubbing his legs vigorously, he noticed that while the skin on his wrist was torn and the joint swollen, nothing seemed broken and he was able to move his fingers with relative ease.
The light around him was dying quickly; night was coming on and they hadn't found Dean's cell phone in the pack to provide back-up light. The warmth that slipped in from the outside through the crack in the ceiling of the cavern faded quickly with the encroaching darkness. Sam slid his bare arms into Dean's dry jacket, fastening the buttons over his chilled torso. Shuddering, he dug through the pack and found an extra pair of socks and several rolled up bandages, but no spare clothes. He also found another book of matches, some food, four bottles of water, and what appeared to be oddly marked bullets.
"It's Sam," he replied automatically.
"Whatever. You need to see this."
Sam looked over his shoulder and saw that the beam from Dean's flashlight was about fifty yards away, trained on something on the ground. Standing shakily, Sam made his way along the edge of the cave wall in his stocking feet until he stood directly behind his brother. He looked down at the area where Dean shone the beam of the flashlight and flinched at the unexpected sight.
It was a body, a relatively fresh one, lying face down, deep lacerations running the length of its back.
"Judging by the threads, I'd say he's a cop," Dean said, toeing the body until it rocked slightly.
"Dude!" Sam protested.
"What? Not like he cares," Dean replied.
Reluctantly conceding that point, Sam crouched and carefully turned the body over, jerking back when he saw what was left of the man's face. It looked like it had been gouged apart by an ice pick.
"I did not need to see that," Dean muttered.
"You're right, he's a cop," Sam sighed, pulling the man's badge from his belt. "Looks like he was the climber, too." He flicked at a purple carabiner that was attached to the harness the man still wore.
"So, I'm guessing these are his," Dean lifted his wounded wrist. "Question is, why'd he put them on us?"
Sam rubbed at his head, thinking. The memory was elusive; he could remember the Christmas he gave Dean a gift he'd originally meant for his father with precise clarity but the last twenty-four hours were a blurred mess of muted voices and slipping images.
He shivered, then coughed roughly into the crook of his elbow. Water stubbornly sloshed around in his lungs, but he couldn't cough hard enough to eject it.
"Hey, c'mon," Dean moved away from the body of the cop. "You're gonna freeze to death, you run around bare-assed naked down here."
"I'm not naked," Sam protested, tugging at his damp boxers while eyeing the dead cop's jeans. Too bad the guy was about five inches too short.
"You find any matches?"
"Y-yes," Sam nodded.
"Keep moving," Dean ordered. "You move, you're alive. Help me grab some of this wood."
Sam was able to gather more than his brother—Dean picking up a stick or two and shuffling a mess of leaves and debris with his feet back over to where they'd left the pack—and within a few minutes, they had a large fire lit, the heat warming Sam's icy skin, the smoke curling up through the hole high above their heads. The light shifted, day having given way to night, and the beams spilling in through the crack in the ceiling of the cavern now held the pearl of moonlight.
As he warmed up, Sam felt the aches settle into his bones, and looked over at Dean's hunched form. The guy was hurting, that much was clear. But he was on guard, careful.
"It's Winchester," Sam said.
"What is?" Dean asked, not looking away from the fire. He was curled sideways, leaning on the wall and the duffel, the handcuff still on his wrist.
"My name." Sam grabbed the lock pick and eased closer to Dean, gently lifting the other man's wounded arm so that he could see the lock by firelight.
"Thought you said that was my name," Dean replied in a tight voice, his whole body tensing as Sam held his damaged arm.
Sam glanced up and saw Dean's eyebrows fold into inverted V's as he took this in.
"So…what. You're saying we're brothers?"
"I…uh, can't remember having a brother."
"You can't remember anything," Sam countered, gathering up the lock pick.
Dean shook his head. "Not true. I remember plenty. Just…not you."
Sam frowned, Dean's words slicing through him with more impact than he knew the other man meant for them to have. Memories were tickling him, emerging like flashes of light at the corners of his eyes. Ash and the Roadhouse. Bobby's panic room. Discovering the bunker. Rebuilding the Impala. Translating Dad's journal. Dean finding him in the Bender's barn trapped in a cage. Finding Dean tied up as an offering to a pagan god. Images, phrases, shrieks of pain, cries for help, the rare burst of laughter.
Across every memory, every moment, was Dean.
"Fake Fed IDs, blades, a sweet Desert Eagle…," Dean held himself still as he watched Sam pick the lock free and gently pull the metal away from his damaged skin, "and some bad-ass lock-picking skills. What are we? Spies? Assassins?"
Dean lifted a brow. "What, like deer?"
That fabric softener teddy bear? Oh, I'm gonna hunt that little bitch down.
Sam slumped back against the wall, also leaning on the duffel, his right shoulder propped against Dean's left. For a moment, he thought the other man would pull away, but apparently he was beat up and tired enough the extra support was welcome.
"We hunt monsters," Sam told him. "You taught me about them, actually."
Sam nodded, waiting.
"Monsters. Like a bat the size of King Kong?"
"It's called an Olitiau. A cave demon."
"Of course it is," Dean said, his voice strained as he tried to shift positions.
Sam could tell Dean wasn't taking his words seriously. And, truth be told, how could he? Even Sam—who remembered every hunt, every loss, every death—didn't always understand their lives. Someone accepting the fact that they hunt monsters at face value was like looking through a keyhole and saying they could see the whole room.
Coughing again, Sam dragged in a shaky breath, trying to figure out the best way to explain angels to someone who had once been earmarked as a vessel for an archangel, or demons to a man who had once become one and survived.
How did he tell Dean that not only were vampires real, but that Dean had actually been one for a day? Or that souls were not just a part of the Sunday School script but could literally be torn from their bodies? Or that both Dean and their father had traded their souls at one time?
Or that they'd each seen Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory? How did he explain working with the King of Hell and against the Scribe of God?
Glancing askance at Dean, he frowned thinking for a brief moment about the last memory that had sucked the air from him as he fought toward the surface of the icy cave pool: Dean, beaten and bloody, eyes wounded and weary, slumped in defeat as Metatron drove an angelic sword through his brother's chest.
I'm proud of us.
Sam shivered, needing to find words heavy enough to stand on. Something that would help him take action, even if that action was convincing the man who raised him that he wasn't a stranger.
"Can I look at your arm?"
"It's fine." Dean's voice was hollow with pain, his response ironically predictable.
"It's not fine," Sam snapped, exhaustion wearing his patience whisper-thin. "You fell off a cliff and hung from your wrist, Dean. Let me look at it."
"You a doctor or something, too?" Dean growled, tucking close in on himself like a wounded animal.
"No, but I've just sewn you back together more times than I can remember. Literally." Sam snapped. "I've set your bones and monitored your concussions and stolen medicine from clinics and kept you alive when the whole fucking world wanted you dead. So I think I deserve a little credit."
Dean simply blinked in the face of his tirade. Sam sank back on his rear, coughing as his sluggish lungs tried to keep up with his need for air. He was warm and nearly dry, but that cave water had done him no favors.
"How do you know all this stuff, man?" Dean asked quietly. "You…how do you…. How do you know me and I don't know you?"
Sam sighed, rubbing his face. "I told you," he said. "The water washed off the poison."
"Poison…what? What poison?"
"The Olitiau's saliva is poisonous. It affects different species differently—for humans, it's an amnesiac."
Dean's brows folded once more. "You're saying…I'm covered in bat spit?"
"Pretty much, yeah."
"We could always dunk you in the water—"
"Dude, no," Dean shook his head. "That was fun enough fishing you out of it the first time."
At the mention of being rescued from the water, Sam felt memories slip over him once more like a poorly edited movie reel in his mind. Images of Dean gripping him tightly as a vision took him to his knees, Dean grabbing him as Lucifer rose, Dean watching his bus to Stanford pull away, Dean hauling him from the fire that took Jessica from his life, Dean shooting the shtriga, Dean bringing him back from the edge that Lucifer tried to push him over, Dean next to him every time he woke wounded and hurting.
His whole life was defined by both the presence and absence of his brother. Not his father, not his girlfriend, not a friend or mentor…his brother.
I've been looking up to you since I was four…studying you…trying to be just like my big brother.
It was a strange thing to be forced to put his life—their lives—back together based on the evidence of their journey rather than the memories of their truth. There had always been a path toward reason, a justification for choice in everything they'd survived—even to the point of Dean sacrificing his soul and bargaining with an angel to save Sam's life.
But then he saw it from a perspective that lacked the grounding sensation of having lived each moment, no matter the impossibility of it all. And he couldn't find the balance he'd always taken for granted. The constant that was, simply, Dean.
Lifting his gaze to his brother's wounded face, he met Dean's mirror-like eyes and felt for the first time what it was like to be on the other side. Dean was watching him with wary caution, the way he watched strangers, the way he watched those he didn't trust. Though he held perfectly still, Sam still felt as though Dean was circling him, judging, measuring.
In all the memories that rushed him in the last hour, not one of them included Dean not trusting him. Including that horrible year when Sam had been absent his soul. When his brother had looked at him through the eyes of a demon, Sam hadn't seen this…caution. This fear. Even when Dean was truly afraid, it was never of Sam.
Look after my wheels. And Sam? Remember what Dad taught you…and…remember what I taught you.
The thing about life, Sam knew, was that while it was lived linearly, it was remembered in a tangle of moments. Images and sensations rolled around each other until time no longer stretched out behind in an endless highway of events, but instead curled up around instances of clarity, shaping a person through perception rather than reality.
"Let me tell you a little bit about my brother," Sam started, quietly positioning himself in an effort to get at Dean's wounded side. "He has the uncanny ability to be a world-class asshole and one of the best people I have ever met at the same time."
Dean tilted his head, listening.
"He's a genius, even though he hides it. Because he says when people don't know how smart you are, they let their guard down and you learn more about them."
"Makes sense," Dean nodded.
"He is stubborn as hell, loyal to a fault, fierce—scary fierce, actually." Sam leaned forward. "And to-his-soul good."
Dean frowned, shifting his eyes away and toward the fire. "Thought you said you saw me killing someone. Saw me with…with black eyes."
"Yeah, well," Sam rubbed at the back of his neck. "Our jobs are complicated. And we've both been through some shit."
"The kind of shit where we kill people?"
Sam looked down. "Sometimes, yeah." He thought of Kevin. Of Charlie. Of Ellen and Jo. Of Bobby. Of Dad. "And sometimes…people die to save us."
Dean looked out into the growing darkness of the cavern, moonlight slipping higher in the night sky and illuminating the air above them.
"You say all this stuff, but…I don't know you, man." He looked back at Sam. "I don't remember any of that."
"You will," Sam said with more confidence than he felt. "I think you just…you must've got hit with more of the saliva—"
He paused, sucking in a breath as a flash of memory shot through him like a lightning bolt.
Twisting around their cuffed wrists, Dean pushed Sam away from the creature as it swooped down from the opening to the cavern, its lithe body moving more like a dragon than a bat. Sheriff Larkin fired off two rounds, neither of them finding a target, and the Olitiau screeched, zoning in on the man before either brother could so much as call out a warning.
The attack was swift and vicious and the man was dead before the creature took his eyes. They were separated from their backpack—and their weapons—and Dean's arm was turned backwards in his effort to keep Sam behind him.
"Move, man," Dean hissed, pushing Sam back.
"Where?! We're in a goddamned cave!"
"Down that tunnel—go!"
The Olitiau, finished with the Sheriff, brought its massive head up at the sound of Dean's voice and Sam tensed, waiting for it to breathe fire or spear them with its deadly talons. The spray of saliva was a shock, catching Dean full in the face and torso, and splashing across Sam's free arm and soaking into the lower half of his body. It was glacial, like being hit by liquid ice. Dean gasped and stumbled, momentarily going limp against him.
Sam grabbed his brother's shoulder and pulled, moving faster than he thought possible through the dark, miraculously missing jutting rock and cave formations, dragging Dean behind him and all the while feeling as though the breath of the Olitiau marked their escape. And then they were suddenly free of the tunnel and he felt space around him, sounds echoing against the black. Sam went to his knees pulling Dean with him as the creature clawed its way along the rock.
Sam couldn't see it. He could only hear it. Hear it and his brother's rasping gasps for breath as he struggled against the dark itself.
"Stay down!" Sam whispered urgently.
But Dean was clearly disoriented, his scrambling and grasping at Sam indicative of his panic. Sam moved to grab him, try to keep him close until he could calm down, but before he could move the Olitiau screamed. It was the only description he could come up with. The only thing he could see in the dark of the cave were the creature's large, amber eyes. The scream shook through both of them, and Dean shot to his feet, his cuffed arm tugging at Sam.
"Dean!" Sam bellowed.
It was too late. The Olitiau emerged from the tunnel and took to the air, seeing in the dark with some sort of sonar. The stir of air told him the creature's wing swiped at them and Sam heard Dean cry out, jerking back and away. Sam knew the creature had clipped his brother. They had to move, but he didn't know where to go. He tugged at Dean once more, backing away from the scream, away from the amber eyes.
Dean followed—their tether not giving him a choice—and the Olitiau charged once more, the amber eyes growing impossibly large. The spray hit them again, the edge of it saturating Sam's torso but the brunt of it slamming into Dean, knocking him sideways. And then suddenly his brother's weight was pulling at Sam, crashing him against the cave floor and dragging him forward and into confusion.
"…fade on me, man, c'mon."
"What?" Sam blinked, the fire coming back into focus. "What's the matter?"
Dean was looking at him as though trying to decide if he should lock him up or hand him a blanket and some soup.
"You tell me," Dean challenged.
"I just…I remembered how you fell off the cliff," Sam explained. "How you got that." He pointed to the wounds on Dean's face.
"Double-tap with bat spit, huh?" Dean recounted Sam's earlier surmise.
"Basically," Sam nodded. "Probably why getting it off your arms when you pulled me out of the water wasn't enough."
Sam wasn't sure if Dean was aware of the way he curled in on himself when the water was mentioned, or of the way he was visibly shivering, even though he was completely dry and sitting close to a roaring fire, but seeing that little bit of vulnerability broke something inside Sam.
"Dean," he started, plucking one of the rolls of gauze bandages from the pack and wrapping it slowly around his wounded wrist as a gesture. "It doesn't matter if you believe me about the monsters. But if you can't move, we can't get out of here."
"You can," Dean said quietly.
I'm tired, Sam. I'm tired of this job. This life. This weight on my shoulders, man…I'm tired of it.
"Well," Sam sighed, shifting a little close to his brother. "I'm not leaving without you. So," he ducked his head, catching Dean's eyes, "will you let me look at your arm now?"
"Not sure if you can do anything," Dean grumbled, relenting.
"Neither am I until I look, right?"
Sam waited, watching Dean as his brother stared at the fire, a muscle along his jaw coiling and dancing under his skin. He was obviously turning Sam's words over in his mind; Sam simply let the quiet linger until it pulled tight between them.
"Okay," Dean acquiesced softly.
Sam nodded, moving so that he didn't block the light from the fire. With Dean's help, he unbuttoned his brother's flannel shirt and pulled it from his left arm, rolling it carefully down his right until he was able to carefully pull it from the damaged wrist. The skin around Dean's wrist matched Sam's in its resemblance to an attempted skinning, the joint was swollen, Dean's fingers bent into an almost claw-like shape. The unnatural angle of the radius made Sam's insides shiver. He was just glad the bone hadn't pushed through skin.
Pulling out the flashlight, Sam lifted Dean's T-shirt and tried not to audibly hiss when he saw the massive bruising along his brother's ribs, running up to his shoulder and surrounding that swollen joint. The bruising traveled up the side of Dean's neck and blended with the blood that coated the side of his face. The darkest part of the bruise, however, was just below Dean's ribs. Sam found himself trying to recall external signs of internal bleeding.
"Well, it's colorful, I'll give you that," Sam sighed, gently rolling the flat of his hand along Dean's rib cage, wincing in unison with his brother when he felt a give along several of the bones. "So, here's the thing. You definitely have some broken ribs, here. Also your wrist is definitely broken and I think your shoulder popped out, but slid back in."
"I felt it pop in when you pulled me over the edge."
"You've dislocated that one a couple times, so we know the drill—or would, if we weren't in a cave."
"Ice and immobilization," Dean intoned. He glanced at Sam. "Yeah, that I remember. Like I remember how to field dress that Desert Eagle with my eyes closed. Or that that I can hit a bullseye with the knife in my boot from twenty yards." He winced as Sam lowered his T-shirt. "But I don't remember how I ended up hanging off a cliff or why my head feels like an army of little men are chipping away at my brain. Or the fact that I have a brother."
"It'll come back," Sam promised emptily again. "Let me wrap your ribs and set your wrist at least and let's try to get some sleep. We can figure out how to get out of here tomorrow."
"What about the…the demon cave bat thing?"
Sam dropped his head forward. "Right."
Dean was quiet for a moment. "Tomorrow."
Sam lifted his head and smiled. "Tomorrow."
Wrapping Dean's ribs was relatively simple, thanks to the bandages he'd found in the pack. The hard part was ignoring the small sounds of distress his brother was unable to stifle as Sam pulled the bandages tight to keep the bones from moving too much. Setting Dean's wrist was another issue.
Finally deciding to use the rest of the gauze along with two of the smaller sticks they'd gathered to keep the fire stoked and straps from the harness that had apparently carried them down into the cave, Sam set the bones as best he could. He pointedly ignored Dean's comparing him to MacGyver—as well as the stream of curses that turned the air blue around them—and helped his brother pull his shirt back on before immobilizing his arm with the harness.
Once Dean was somewhat settled, Sam pulled on his mostly-dry jeans so that his legs were at least covered. His shirts and jacket he left to dry further from the heat of the fire; he kept Dean's jacket wrapped around him for added warmth.
"Get some rest," Sam suggested. "Not much we can do until morning."
Dean settled back against the rock wall, staring at the fire. Sam mimicked him after tossing a few more sticks into the flames.
He could practically hear Dean waffling around the use of his name—not ready to concede the familiarity of family. "Yeah?"
"Still not sure I believe you about monsters."
"What, that they're out there, or that we hunt them?"
I mean, come on…we hunt monsters. We search out things that want to kill us. I mean, who does that? Crazy people!
Sam chuffed slightly, remembering Dean's words. "Well, some things are true whether you believe them or not."
As though to punctuate his sentence, the same unearthly cry from before echoed through the tunnel that connected the two caverns. Sam flinched, instinctually drawing closer to his brother. Dean, however, reached for his gun, a move so quintessentially him that Sam nearly smiled.
"What's this thing called again?"
"Olitiau," Sam replied.
"And besides spitting on people and being freakishly huge, what does it do?"
"Um," Sam frowned, reaching for the flashlight and shining it on the entrance to the tunnel. "It…it, uh…."
A memory flared. Dean standing in a hotel room, sliding bronzed bullets marked with a sigil into a clip, a scowl on his face as he argued a point.
"Don't much matter what kind of monster it is, does it? This is what we do."
"Yeah, Dean, but…c'mon, a cave? Seriously?"
"Since when have you been scared of caves?" Dean shoved the clip into the base of his gun, sliding the weapon into the duffel.
"I'm not scared of caves," Sam retorted. "Just…can't we wait until it comes out to feed?"
Dean gave him a look. "It ate three people last night, Sammy."
"I don't want to get eaten by a giant bat."
Sam sighed. "Fine. But I want it on record that I think this is a really bad idea."
"We're gonna have to get some climbing gear."
Dean grinned. "Turns out, I know a guy."
"It eats people," Sam said, flinching as the screech came again, this time sounding much closer.
"Well that's just great," Dean grumbled, trying to feed a bullet into the chamber with his bandaged hand.
Sam reached over and helped him cock the gun, then returned the light to the tunnel.
"You want to do this, Mr. My Right Hand Is Free?" Dean muttered, readying his stance.
"You're the better shot," Sam replied. "Even left-handed."
The air around them seemed to tug forward, smoke curling away from the opening and leaning toward the tunnel entrance.
"Here it comes," Sam warned.
The scraping sound of talons on rock competed with the slush and swipe of the creature's leathery wings as it emerged from the tunnel like a butterfly from its cocoon. Sam took an involuntary breath as the Olitiau stretched its wings, beating against the air and stirring their fire, scattering sparks and ash and smaller bits of wood and causing them to blink and turn away from the twisting, writhing smoke.
With another screech that shook the broad cavern around them, the Olitiau took flight, scattering the leaves, twigs, and bone as it reached for the opening several hundred feet over their heads. Dean sighted and fired, sending three bullets after the creature, but it pulled its wings close, turning itself into a missile and broke through the crack in the ceiling, exiting into the moonlit night.
In the wake of its exodus, Sam and Dean sank back, their fire catching on pieces of debris around them.
"Tell me there's liquor in that flask, man," Dean finally said, his voice edged with a raw quality Sam hadn't heard since…since Dad.
"Holy water," Sam replied, eyes still on the opening above them.
Dean dropped the gun to the top of the pack. "One of us is in the wrong line of work."