Title: Ripple Effect
Season: 2 – set between the episodes Simon Says and No Exit
Category: General, Action
Tagline: ...and the effect spreads outwards, like ripples on a pond when a stone is dropped...
Total Word Count: 43,131
Total Chapters: 7
Chapter 3 Word Count: 7861
Story Banner: Chasidern
I tried to come up with a good reason for Bobby to abandon Sam....lots of angst ensued over whether I'd succeeded. Hope I did....
I also wanted to show Sam as being resourceful in his own right, and not just have him sit down and passively wait for Dean to find him.
Consciousness returned, and so did the pain, roaring through the young hunter like a tidal wave. Sam gasped breathlessly, cradling his right arm to his chest as he fought down the nausea that threatened to choke him. His body trembling with the effort, he pushed down the pain and queasiness as best he could, and slid one leg along the ground. Bending his knee, he pushed his body back and awkwardly sat up. The horizon flip-flopped and Sam closed his eyes, breathing rapidly until the dizziness waned.
Slowly he raised his head to peer into the dark woods. “Dean,” he whispered, wincing as pain stabbed through his neck. “Dean!”
Flashes of the accident came to him, replaying in his mind like a badly edited movie. The horizon tilting – the screech of metal and the crack of shattering glass – his brother’s winded grunt as he hit the steering wheel – Dean’s fingers brushing his wrist in a vain attempt to stop him hitting the door – the blinding agony of smashing onto the ground and rolling out of control – listening to the hideous shatter and screech of the truck rolling down the slope away from him, just before unconsciousness took him.
Sam blew out a soft sigh, and clenched his jaw. He had to find Dean. But first, he had to get up.
Moving as carefully as he could to avoid jostling his arm, Sam got his legs under him and rested his left hand on the ground. He pushed up, managing to get to one knee before his head swam with dizziness. Gasping, he clambered to his feet and stood swaying like a reed in a hurricane. Sam gritted his teeth and stumbled a few steps down the slope, figuring that if he stayed near the path of the truck, he would eventually find it – and his brother. Trying to force the pain to the back of his mind, he stagged on, doggedly determined to find Dean and make sure his big brother was okay before seeing to his own hurts.
The ground beneath his right foot suddenly dropped away and Sam tilted, his precarious balance destroyed. Flailing with his good arm, he fought to stay upright, but his body had passed the point of no return. With a soundless yell, he toppled down a small slope. Pain blinded the young hunter; his long frame shuddering uncontrollably as he finally came to rest on level ground at the bottom of the slope.
Tears leaked from under his tightly closed eyelids as he gasped for breath. He pushed with his good hand against the ground, but couldn’t gather the strength to haul himself to his feet. “I’m sorry, Dean,” he whispered, before his world faded to black.
* * * * *
Groaning weakly, Dean peeled his eyelids apart, blinking rapidly to clear his vision. He pushed himself up on trembling arms, his head hanging, and his breath coming in short, pained gasps. His head was spinning and his stomach roiled with nausea. “Sammy,” he whispered raggedly, fighting down the urge to vomit as he slid his good knee forward. Slowly, Dean manoeuvred his battered body into a half crouch and pushed up off the ground, staggering drunkenly as he got to his feet.
Dean gritted his teeth against the pain flaring in his knee and leaned against the nearby tree, wrapping his arm around its sturdy trunk as his head spun sickeningly. “Got to – find Sammy,” he murmured doggedly.
Raising his head, the hunter stared out into the darkness, waiting for the horizon to stop shifting position and the dizziness to abate. He could just make out the shapes of the trees and low bushes in the faint starlight, and swore as the memory of his last few minutes of consciousness came flooding back.
“Damn it! Lost – freakin’ path!” Pressing a hand to his head, Dean grimaced at the sharp, stinging pain the contact caused. He held his hand before his eyes and stared in dismay at the glistening patch of fresh blood on his fingers. “Great.”
Dean drew in a shallow, ragged breath and blew it out. “Okay, Win-chester – get a freakin’ – grip. First, you need – to find a – branch or somethin’ – use as a crutch. Then you – gotta get your – ass into gear – find Sammy.”
Gingerly, he pushed away from the tree, his eyes scanning the ground around its base. Moving slowly and carefully, Dean searched for a suitable branch among the deadwood littering the area. Finally he found one that would serve and bent to pick it up, almost falling headlong into the spiky grass in the process. Wearily, he straightened up, the branch in his hand, and he stripped off the excess twigs and leaves with shaking fingers.
“Okay, first – first task – complete. Now for – second,” Dean murmured to himself as he wedged the branch against his side. Sucking in a deep breath, he stepped forward, clamping his teeth onto his lower lip when his knee threatened to buckle under his weight. Pain stabbed through the injured joint like a red-hot knife, and the battered hunter’s face broke out in a cold sweat as he took another hesitant step. “O – okay – that’s – not – not so bad. Okay – path – should be – this – this way…”
Hobbling as best he could, Dean made his way deeper into the woods, away from the wreck and away from the road, not realising that he was heading gradually downhill. One thought was burning through his concussed mind – find his brother. It drove him on, pounding relentlessly through his brain in an endless litany. Find Sammy…find Sammy…
“Find Sammy – got to – find Sammy – got to – protect Sammy…”
* * * * *
Bobby stared at the mangled wreck illuminated by the flashlight clutched in his shaking hands. He swallowed repeatedly as he slid down the last few feet of torn up ground and threw out a hand to steady himself against the side of the truck. Making his way to the front, he peered in through the open passenger door. “Boys?”
Finding the truck empty, Bobby cursed and ran a hand across his face. He aimed the flashlight inside the cabin, spotting the smear of blood on the steering wheel and the broken passenger seatbelt. “Damn it, boys – what the hell happened to you two?” he muttered.
The bearded demon hunter directed the flashlight beam onto the ground beside the truck, and discovered more blood on the grass and leaf litter near the base of the tree that had stopped the truck from rolling any further down the hillside. He bent down to examine the ground, and could just make out some faint indentations, as if something heavy had fallen there. Scuffed earth and disturbed leaves told the hunter that the heavy object had gotten up again, and he sighed in relief when he found a partial imprint of a hand a few moments later.
Bobby laid his own hand lightly over the imprint, judging by the difference in size that the print could possibly be Dean’s. He got to his feet and swept the beam in a slow arc around the immediate area. “Dean! Sam!”
No answering yell came out of the dark, and Bobby clenched his jaw as he completed another slow circle with the flashlight. He trained the bright beam onto the torn up ground and walked slowly around the wreck, searching for some sign of the missing Winchesters. He found a few faint scuffmarks that could have been footprints, and a spatter of blood near the rear of the truck, but not enough to give him a clue as to which Winchester it was or which direction he headed in. Finding the handprint had been a sheer stroke of luck.
Bobby glanced around, and widened his search. He paced about ten yards from the wrecked truck and slowly worked his way around in a circle again. He couldn’t find any trace of the boys, not even a few drops of blood. Once more he widened his circle, and scanned the ground twenty yards from the truck.
Sighing in annoyance when he failed to find any further tracks, the bearded hunter turned his attention to the torn up stretch of earth between the road and the truck. Bobby estimated that the truck had slid and rolled at least two hundred yards down the side of the hill. He studied the wreck as he walked closer, and picked up the broken seatbelt on the passenger side. Holding the torn strip of webbing in his hand for a moment, he turned his thoughtful gaze to the bent and mangled door. “Someone – Sam – got thrown out, maybe.”
If that was the case, the demon hunter decided that he had a good chance of finding at least one of the boys by backtracking the truck. With renewed hope in his heart Bobby directed the flashlight beam toward the slope and walked up the incline, keeping to one side of the path of destruction as he looked for signs.
* * * * *
Dean had lost count of how many times he had fallen. All he knew was that he had to keep getting up – he had to find Sam and get the hell back to the road. But each time, it became harder to push himself to his feet and keep going. Shivers wracked his battered frame, and he paused frequently to wipe the cold sweat from his face and catch his breath. He felt as though he had a steel band wrapped around his ribs, and it was getting tighter with each agonising step. Each breath was a fiery stab through his lungs and chest. Dean could feel the leg of his jeans pulling painfully across his knee, and figured the joint was swollen so much that it was stretching the denim.
The tired hunter stumbled, losing his hold on his makeshift walking stick as he flung out his hands to stop himself from falling. The palm of one hand smacked into a nearby tree, but the other hand missed completely and Dean fell forward, off-balance. His side crashed into the unyielding trunk and he grunted as what little breath he had in his lungs was forced out.
Black spots swam before Dean’s eyes and he gasped painfully, sliding down the trunk of the tree to sit huddled on the ground. “I’m so sorry, Sammy,” he murmured bitterly, his heavy head lolling against the tree trunk as he closed his eyes.
Finally the dizziness abated, and Dean was able to get some air into his starving lungs. He kept his eyes closed and concentrated on breathing, vaguely aware of the night noises around him. Somewhere in the distance a bird called, its mournful tone rising and falling on the light breeze. Crickets chirped nearby in an endless concert. Leaves rustled, and Dean heard a faint scratching sound as something foraged in the undergrowth a few yards away.
“Okay, Dean – pull yourself – together,” Dean gasped. “Get up – go find Sam – and get the hell – out of here.” He could picture his father standing over him, a stern expression on his bearded face. Dean glanced up, blinking slowly at the deep shadows surrounding him. His vision blurred for a second, the shadows shifting – merging, into a familiar shape.
“Get up, Dean! Get your ass up! Finish the job.”
The exhausted hunter shook his head slowly, and stared at the dark shadowy figure standing before him. “Dad?”
A puff of wind swayed the branches of the tree overhead and the figure wavered, melting back into the shifting shadows. Dean rubbed a hand across his weary eyes and glanced around, but all he saw were trees. A breathless grunt left his pale lips and he wrapped his arm around the tree trunk, pulling himself upright. “Huh – see-seeing things – now – freakin’ great…”
He kept one hand pressed against the tree as he bent slowly toward the ground to pick up his walking stick. Taking a shallow, shuddery breath, Dean moved on, gritting his teeth as he stumbled down the slope.
* * * * *
Bobby picked up the broken piece of plaster and studied it, recognising it as a part of Sam’s cast. He moved the flashlight in small circles across the ground, searching for any more sign of the injured hunter. He found a few more small scraps of plaster lying in the grass and dead leaves, but couldn’t make out any tracks in the torn earth. Bobby turned in a slow circle, panning the light around. “Sam? Sam!”
The bearded hunter cut back and forth across the path of the careening truck, trying to pick up Sam’s trail. His search revealed nothing, and Bobby turned reluctantly back toward the road. He ran a hand across the back of his neck, massaging away the tense ache in his muscles. Glancing at his watch, he noted that it was only a couple of hours until dawn, and he decided he had a better chance of finding the boys in the daylight. Even with the aid of the powerful flashlight, there was still a chance that he could have walked within a few yards of either Winchester and not seen them in the dark, especially if they were unconscious – or in Sam’s case, possibly unable to call out.
Bobby got to the road, turning for one last look down the slope before heading to the waiting Chevy. He climbed in, sighed heavily, and rested his head against the back of the seat. Wishing he had thought to bring a thermos of coffee with him, he closed his eyes and drifted into a light doze.
* * * * *
A warm puff of air blew across his face, accompanied by a soft snort. Sam groaned breathily and moved his head, biting his lip as the nausea bubbled up in his gut. He peeled his eyelids open, blinking a little in the soft pre-dawn light. The soft snort came again, and Sam slowly turned his head toward the sound. Horror flooded through his battered body as he came nose to nose with a fuzzy brown face.
“Crap!” Sam froze, his eyes wide as he stared into the curious dark eyes of a grizzly bear. The bear lowered its head and snuffled at his hair. Hardly daring to breathe, the young hunter remained silent and still while the bear nosed his ear and then his shoulder. He could feel the animal’s warm breath against the back of his neck as it continued its examination of this strange thing it found lying in its territory. Sam prayed silently, fighting down his natural reaction to flee. Every muscle screamed with tension while the bear hovered over him, his nerves jumping as he waited for the animal to attack.
Finally, the bear decided that the injured young man was no threat, and with a final deep snuffle it ambled away. Sam dug the fingers of his left hand into the loamy soil as shudders wracked his long frame, thanking whoever was listening that the bear wasn’t hungry.
Sam lowered his head until it was resting against his left forearm, and concentrated on getting his racing heart back under control. His head pounded, and his body throbbed as a dozen aches and pains made themselves known. Sam’s neck and right wrist screamed for attention, followed by his back, but he couldn’t spare more than a passing acknowledgement of the pain. He had to get to Dean.
Lifting his head slowly, he watched the dark bulk of the grizzly gradually disappear into the shadows. Flicking his gaze up to the sky without moving his head too much, Sam noted that the sky was getting considerably lighter toward the east, indicating that daybreak was not far away. Already he could make out the dark shapes of the trees nearby as the soft pre-dawn light crept over the landscape.
Deciding that the bear was far enough away to risk moving, Sam slid his left hand along the ground until it was positioned just under his chest, and he pushed up until his torso was clear of the ground. Gritting his teeth as burning agony shot through his back, neck and right arm, he drew in a shuddering breath and slid his knees up toward his chest. Finally, the young hunter sat on his heels; cradled his right arm against his chest, and supported his head with his left hand as he studied his surroundings.
Sam found himself in a small hollow, surrounded by a stand of young white spruce and oak trees. A burned tree trunk lay a few feet from where he sat; the wood hollowed out and half rotted. Sam figured there had been a fire through the area a few years ago, judging by the state of the fallen tree and the age of the new growth that had sprung up around it. He turned his attention to the lip of the hollow.
The top of the small slope he’d fallen down during the night was about ten feet above where he sat. The slope was steep and looked slippery, but nothing he couldn’t handle – if he had two working arms. Sam would never make it up the incline with one arm out of action. If he slipped half way up, and landed on his arm – Sam shuddered at the thought. He was already in enough pain after the accident, and then his unexpected tumble in the dark. No, he decided, there had to be another way out.
A sudden thought came to him, and he twisted his battered body to cast a glance behind him. The bear had wandered away through the trees, following a faint path. Sam’s eyes narrowed as he studied the trail. “If the bear got out, then so can I,” he mused softly. “Just hope the bear doesn’t mind me using his trail.”
Pulling his cell phone from his jeans pocket, he checked the screen, huffing in annoyance when he saw that he had no signal. “Fine – guess I have to find him the old fashioned way.” A sharp pain stabbed through his wrist and he winced, before giving a deep sigh. “Man – guess I better see to this first.”
Sam took a deep breath and lowered his gaze to his right wrist, wincing at the condition of his hand. The fingers were swollen, and tinged faintly purple. Sam pulled off the remains of the ruined cast, and felt in his pants pocket. His fingers brushed against the cool metal handle of his pocketknife and he pulled it out, flipping the blade open.
Hooking the tip of the blade into his right shirtsleeve, Sam cut along the top of the shoulder seam. He closed the knife and dropped it back into his pocket before tearing the sleeve off and pulling it carefully over his injured hand. Hunting along the ground, he found a few sticks and rested his knee on them as he used his left hand to break them down to a suitable length to use as a makeshift splint.
Sam laid the shirtsleeve on the ground and crouched down, positioning the sticks across the cut off sleeve. He lowered his right hand, gasping as the swollen flesh made contact with the ground, and carefully bound the sleeve and sticks around his wrist and hand. Pulling the knife out again, he cut the end of the sleeve into strips and tied them off, using his teeth to pull the knots tight. One of the impromptu ties broke and fluttered to the ground, but the others held the bundle of sticks firmly against his wrist.
With his broken hand splinted as best he could, Sam turned his attention to the rest of his injuries. There wasn’t much he could do for his throat, apart from remembering to turn his whole body and not just his head. His back throbbed – a deep, burning pain that told of extensive bruising. He felt a warm trickle down the side of his face and raised his left hand to press against his temple. It came away with a smear of ruby red across the tanned skin, and Sam grimaced as he put the handle of the knife between his teeth. Raising his left arm, he carefully poked the tip of the blade through his shirtsleeve just below the elbow, and dragged his arm slowly down, cutting a small gash in the cotton fabric.
Dropping the knife, Sam gripped the cuff of the sleeve between his teeth and pulled hard, ripping the material. He kept tearing at it until the end of the sleeve slid down over his wrist, and laid the strip of cotton across his knee as he picked up the knife again and cut a thin strip from the same sleeve, leaving it ending just above his elbow. He quickly folded the torn-off sleeve into a pad, holding it against his temple to stop the bleeding. Tilting his head, biting down hard on his lower lip as a stab of agony went through his throat, Sam awkwardly wrapped the thin strip of shirt around his head and over the pad, tying it off in a loose knot. Blowing out a heavy sigh, he flipped the knife closed and shoved it back into his pocket.
Sam struggled to his feet, leaning against the slope while he got his balance. Pushing down the wave of dizziness, he focussed on the faint game trail. One thought burned uppermost in the young hunter’s mind – he had to find his brother. Sam gritted his teeth against the pain roaring through his body, and stumbled down the path. He didn’t notice the bloodstained pad slide from under the makeshift bandage around his head and fall to the ground.
The bear watched the injured hunter as he staggered through the trees. Turning back to the bottom of the slope, the animal spotted something white lying in the grass. Ambling over to Sam’s discarded cast, the bear nosed the strange object, snuffling as it breathed in the smell of sweat and blood. The bear picked up the plaster cast in its jaws and crunched down, hoping that it tasted better than it smelled. A few moments later the bear growled, spitting out the powdery remains in disgust. Grumbling deep in its chest, the bear wiped its muzzle along the ground, trying to rid its mouth of the peculiar taste of the plaster.
Turning its attention back to the trail and the battered human stumbling along its length, the animal licked the tip of its nose. Sniffing the air, it detected the confusing scent of fear, worry and grim determination coming off the young man. It cocked its head to one side in curiosity and followed him, its feet making no sound on the damp, leaf-littered ground.
* * * * *
A faint metallic ping woke the hunter from a troubled doze. Blinking his eyes to rid them of sleep, Bobby stared out at the landscape swathed in grey shadows, rubbing the back of his neck. Another ping sounded on the roof of the Impala, and the demon hunter scowled as a drop of rain splashed against the windshield. He glanced up at the sky, seeing a faint glow toward the east, just under the heavy band of cloud that was slowly moving in.
Bobby ran a hand over the steering wheel as he opened the door. “Time to go find the boys, old girl. Don’t worry – I’ll bring them home.”
The burly hunter checked his pockets, patting the comforting bulge of his pistol and the two bottles of water he’d picked up from the gas station the night before. Reaching back inside the car, he plucked the first aid kit from the seat and slung it over his shoulder by its carry strap. Bobby locked the Impala, and glanced at the trees before turning back toward the trunk. He rummaged through the weapons in the false bottom, pulling out a high-powered rifle and checking the loads. He slung the rifle over his other shoulder, the muzzle pointing toward the ground in front of his feet. “Just in case there’s something hanging around the crash site,” Bobby muttered darkly.
He made his way carefully down the slope as a light drizzle began to fall. The ground was firm underfoot for the moment, but if the rain increased it was going to become slippery. Bobby fully intended to find the boys before it got to that point.
Within a few minutes he had reached the place where he’d found the piece of broken plaster cast, and he waited until the light grew a little brighter before starting to track the youngest Winchester.
* * * * *
The trail wound its way in a roughly diagonal line across the slope of the hill, and Sam made good time despite the growing ache in his back. He figured he had a good-sized bruise from his impact with the edge of the door and it was beginning to make itself felt, going into competition with his throat. His hand had gone numb, which was a mixed blessing for the injured young psychic. A dull headache was beginning to develop, throbbing gently against his temples, and he realised with a start that he hadn’t had any water or food since lunch the day before. The pain in his body took care of any hunger pangs, but he would need water soon.
The trees thinned, and Sam detected a faint gleam of metal just up ahead. Sucking in a shallow, ragged breath, he stepped from the path, working his way through the sparse undergrowth toward the metal object that had grabbed his attention. A few moments later it came into full view and Sam gasped in shock, hanging on to a nearby tree as he stared in horror at the mangled wreck of the truck.
“Oh, my God.” Making his way as quickly as he could to the driver’s side, Sam peered in through the broken window. The truck was empty, and Sam felt a wave of panic rising in his gut as he noticed the blood on the steering wheel and the seat. But there was no sign of Dean. Wincing in pain, Sam searched the damp ground, supporting his head with his good hand as he tried to take the strain off his neck. He found the marks where Dean had fallen, and frowned as he studied the ground.
Turning his whole body as he glanced around, Sam tried to figure out where his brother had gone. Logically, Dean should have headed back up to the road but if he’d been hurt badly, he could have gotten turned around in the dark. He could be anywhere, Sam thought worriedly. He could be hurt – he could be…no.
Sam checked his cell phone again, scowling at the screen when it stubbornly refused to display any signal bars. Angrily he shoved it back into his pocket and leaned one hip against the side of the truck as he studied the torn up slope. Gritting his teeth against his body’s demands to sink to the ground and curl up into a ball, Sam forced himself to begin the long trek up toward the road, following the path gouged into the earth by the rolling truck.
* * * * *
Keeping his eyes on the torn up ground, Bobby found a series of dents and gouges stretching for a few yards to one side of the path of the rolling truck. Tiny specks of plaster dotted the faint trail, and Bobby surmised that he’d found where Sam had been thrown from the vehicle and rolled for a little way at an angle to the truck. He searched in a circular pattern, letting out a relieved sigh when he found a scuffed patch of earth that looked like a partial boot print about twenty feet from the patch of torn earth.
“Sam? Sam!” Bobby listened for a moment, but the only sounds he could hear were the birds in the branches high above his head. “Sam!”
Continuing his search pattern, Bobby walked in another slow circle, finding a second scuffmark and a tiny chunk of plaster about five feet downhill from the first one. Surmising that the young hunter was following the path of the truck, Bobby walked back to the long line of gouged earth and continued on down the hill.
* * * * *
Sam heard the faint voice calling his name and he halted, leaning his left shoulder against a nearby tree while he caught his breath. The voice called again, and despite the throbbing aches in his body, Sam smiled in relief. The voice was the unmistakable gruff tone of Bobby Singer. “Bobby!” he tried to call, but his breathy shout was lost in the hissing rain. Sam hung his head, swaying dizzily as Bobby called again.
The direction of Bobby’s voice was hard to pin down, but it sounded like it was coming from further up the slope and to the right. Sam took another step forward and then hesitated for a moment, chewing on his lower lip in indecision. The young psychic wanted to meet up with his friend as soon as possible so Bobby could help him search for Dean, so he decided the best thing for him to do would be to make his way back to the truck. Bobby would likely be headed there first to look for the brothers.
He turned; aiming to retrace his steps, and froze as a dark shape loomed out of the drizzle. Holy crap, his mind screamed as he recognised the shape as that of a large grizzly, probably the same one that had checked him out at the hollow. Damned thing must be following me.
The bear came to a halt, its head cocked to the side as it studied the bruised and bloodied human. It let out a low growl, and Sam slowly began to back up, his good hand stretched out in front of him in a warding off gesture.
“All right – just take it easy – I’m not gonna hurt you,” Sam whispered pleadingly. “I’m just looking for my brother, all right?”
A soft whuff fluttered the bear’s jaws.
“Why am I talking to a friggin’ bear?” The young hunter continued to back up, his wary gaze never leaving the huge animal standing in the middle of the game trail. “You’re losing it, Sam. Must be the dehydration.”
The bear took a step forward, its black eyes glittering in the soft early morning light.
Sam risked a glance behind him, hissing in agony as he turned his head. There was another game trail winding its way through the trees, heading down the slope at an angle away from the path of the truck. It looked as if it hadn’t been used by any of the wildlife in a long time, and there were signs that the forest was doing its best to reclaim the trail. In the distance Sam could hear a faint rushing sound, and figured there was a stream or river nearby – probably at the bottom of the hill. He glanced quickly up at the trees, but the nearest branches were too far above the ground for him to climb one-handed. That only left him one option, and it wasn’t a pleasant one. He had to get away from the bear on foot, over rough ground. Or hope that it would give up on him and wander off by itself.
“When are we ever that lucky?” the young hunter whispered bitterly. “All right – I’m gonna get out of here. You – you just stay there, all right? Stay.” Sam held up his hand, and kept a slow steady pace as he continued to back away.
The bear watched his every move.
Sam felt the ground give way slightly underfoot, and risked another quick glance behind him. He saw a tangle of dead branches, leaves and grass spread over the ground, and he cautiously prodded it with his boot toe. It looked like an old bear trap – a hole dug in the ground with branches spread across the top to disguise it. By the look of the camouflage, it hadn’t been touched in years. Grass had grown across the dead branches, almost completely covering the hole. Sam darted a quick glance at the bear, and groaned softly when it gave a low growl and stalked toward him.
Faced with the choice of possibly getting mauled or risking a step into the unknown, Sam took the more attractive option. He clenched his jaw, cradled his splinted hand across his chest and jumped onto the flimsy top of the bear trap. The dead branches snapped like matchsticks under his weight, and he fell to the bottom of the hole amid a shower of leaves, grass, twigs and mud. Sam’s legs gave way as he hit the damp ground and he crumpled, sprawling onto his side, jarring his hand and neck. A silent scream of agony left his lips, and he forgot the bear, the rain, Bobby, and Dean as the pain stabbed like a white-hot poker through his body.
The young hunter slumped unconscious to the cold, muddy ground.
* * * * *
The rain steadily increased from a drizzle to a light shower. Bobby heard a faint crackle and paused, the rifle swinging up as he scanned the misty slope. Deciding that it must have been a branch falling from one of the trees, he continued on his way.
Within minutes, he caught the gleam of metal through the trees, and stared at the mangled wreck in horror. It had looked bad by the beam of the flashlight, but in the cold light of day it appeared much worse. Bobby wondered how either of the boys had managed to survive the impact.
“Dean? Sam?” he called as he made his way to the gaping passenger’s door. No one answered him, and he peered into the truck in the fond hope that one of the boys might have returned to the wreck and taken shelter in the cabin.
The truck was empty, the dashboard and edge of the bench seat damp from the rain trickling in through the broken windshield. Bobby gave his attention to the ground around the truck, hoping that the rain hadn’t washed away all the tracks. He found the marks where he assumed Dean had fallen, and followed the faint, fading scuff marks of his boots as the young hunter had stumbled to the end of the truck and fallen again.
Bobby found a few tiny splatters of blood on the fallen leaves and another handprint on a bare patch of earth, partially filled with rainwater. Searching the ground carefully, the bearded hunter saw a smeared boot print, and then another about a foot away. He couldn’t tell whose print it was, not knowing the sole pattern of the boys’ boots. Sam’s prints further up the slope had been too smudged to get clear picture of the pattern. But it seemed to Bobby as if the unidentified Winchester was sliding one foot along the ground.
“Hurt his leg – maybe can’t lift it off the ground,” he mused as he followed the tracks. A half hour’s steady walking brought him to a stand of trees where he found a smear of blood on one of the trunks, and rough marks on the bark where something – or someone – heavy had fallen. The leaves were disturbed around the base, and Bobby found another partial boot print on a small patch of bare earth. “Okay, son – where the hell are you headed? And which one are you?”
Bobby scanned the immediate area. “Dean! Sam!” he shouted, and listened for a response. Hearing nothing, the hunter quickly scanned the ground, following the faint trail the injured Winchester had left behind.
An hour later, Bobby found an area of flattened grass, disturbed twigs and washed out bloodstains. He figured the boy had fallen again, and noted that he seemed to be heading steadily down the side of the hill. Bobby pushed his cap back on his forehead and scratched his head, wondering why the boy would be wandering away from the accident site and the road. No matter who it was, his first thought would have been for his brother, so logically he should have headed back up the slope toward the road instead of the route he’d taken.
“Concussed, maybe? Concussed, and got turned around in the dark. Damn it, boys…” Bobby increased his pace as the tracks became clearer. He scanned the ground up ahead, and sucked in a sharp breath as he caught sight of a muddied black boot sticking out from under a low stand of bushes.
Pushing through the undergrowth, Bobby found the young hunter lying on his side on the wet ground. Dean’s eyes were closed, his damp lashes plastered to his pale cheeks. A light sheen of sweat mixed with the rain on his face, and shivers wracked his body. Bobby dropped to one knee and pressed a hand to Dean’s forehead, detecting the telltale heat of a fever.
Blood stained the younger hunter’s face and hair, coming from a deep cut just above his hairline. Bobby ran his hands over Dean’s arms and torso and the young man groaned, flinching away from the probing hand as he wrapped one arm across his ribs. Bobby grimaced and grasped his friend’s shoulder.
“Dean – Dean! Wake up, damn it!”
Dean groaned again, his eyes rolling beneath their lids, but he didn’t wake. Bobby checked him for any other injuries, and found blood on the young man’s knee. The joint felt swollen beneath his probing fingers, and Dean weakly jerked his leg in response to Bobby’s examination.
Slipping his hands under Dean’s shoulders, Bobby sat him up and held him in place with a hand fisted in Dean’s tee shirt. As he pulled one of the water bottles from his pocket, the green eyes slitted open and gazed blearily up at him.
“It’ me, Dean.” Bobby twisted the cap off the water bottle and held it to the young hunter’s lips.
Dean took a sip, coughed raggedly and pushed the bottle away. “Wh – where – Sam…”
“I don’t know.” Sighing in an equal mix of frustration and worry, Bobby looked down at his young friend. He quickly stripped off his jacket and draped it around the shivering Winchester’s shoulders. “But we’ll find him, okay? I must have missed him in the rain.”
“Got – find – hurt – need meds – got…” Dean’s head lolled, and his eyes fluttered closed as he slumped back against Bobby’s upraised knee.
Taking his knife, Bobby slit the leg of Dean’s jeans, exposing the swollen knee joint and the shallow cut just below the kneecap. Opening the first aid kit, he grabbed a bandage and bound the knee, forcing the eldest Winchester to swallow some painkillers with some more of the water after he was done. Deciding that the rest of Dean’s injuries would have to wait until he got the boy back to the house, Bobby slung the carry straps of the rifle and first aid kit over one shoulder.
“Okay, son – let’s get you out of here.” Getting to his feet, the bearded hunter transferred his grip to the younger man’s armpits and dragged him to his feet, taking care not to put too much pressure on Dean’s ribs. Bobby hauled Dean’s arm across his shoulders and wrapped his other arm around Dean’s waist, hooking his fingers in the belt of the young hunter’s jeans.
“All right, Dean – let’s go.” Half-carrying, half-dragging the insensate hunter, Bobby slowly made his way back to the wreck, hoping to pick up Sam’s tracks or better yet, find the young psychic waiting in the mangled cabin.
The going was painfully slow, and Bobby was sweating profusely when the truck finally came into view. With a winded grunt, he lowered Dean onto the passenger side running board and cast a glance around. “Sam!”
Making sure Dean was propped up as securely as he could manage against the side of the truck, Bobby started his first search circle about five yards out. He found only the tracks he’d come across before, and sighed as he gazed at the soles of Dean’s black biker boots – the rapidly fading print was the same.
“At least now I know which is yours, so if I find a different one, it’s got to be your brother’s,” Bobby muttered. He rolled his head to ease the stiffness in his neck, wondering how the youngest Winchester was doing without the pain meds for his injured throat. “And God knows what else he’s got hurting after this – his wrist, I’m guessing, for one thing. Exposure, dehydration – unless he found himself some water.” Glancing ruefully up at the sky and the rain, Bobby shook his head and continued his search.
Returning to the driver’s side of the truck for a moment, Bobby sank down onto the running board and stared at the ground while he took a breather. Idly, he watched the rainwater trickling in tiny rivulets over the rough ground, filling in a row of tiny indentations and spilling over, like miniature dams. His gaze fastened on one that looked like a half moon and he frowned, turning his head to study it. Bobby’s eyes narrowed as he found another identical mark about three feet from the first one, and finally his tired brain caught up with what his eyes were seeing – the faint marks of boot heels, spaced widely apart – as if the wearer of the boots had freakishly long legs. The faint tracks wound around the side of the truck, paused near the tailgate, and then headed up the slope.
“Sam! Sam?” Bobby was on his feet in an instant, peering into the gauzy grey mist. The youngest Winchester had been near the wreck and not too long ago, judging by the age of the tracks. Swiftly the bearded hunter made his way around the truck and grabbed Dean’s arm, hauling him to his feet. “Come on – we gotta go, son.”
“Sam?” Dean murmured groggily, blinking the rain and sweat from his eyes. He shivered violently, and Bobby pulled the jacket tighter around his torso.
“Yes, let’s go find Sam and get you boys out of here.”
The hope in Bobby’s heart rapidly faded as he lost the trail of Sam’s boot heels about ten yards from the truck. The faint marks had been washed out by the rain, which was increasing steadily as the day wore on. He glanced worriedly at Dean as the young hunter stumbled along, noting the droplets of sweat beading his pale, freckled face, and the bright flush of fever staining his cheeks.
Finally, they made it to the part of the slope where Sam had been thrown from the truck, and Bobby carefully lowered Dean to the ground. He took his pistol from his waistband, bent down and thrust the weapon into Dean’s trembling hands. “Dean – Dean!”
Dean’s eyelids fluttered open, revealing fever-bright green eyes. He blinked in confusion at the dark shape hovering over him.
“Dean, you stay here. I’m gonna go after your brother, understand?”
“Sammy,” Dean whispered groggily, and slumped to the cold ground.
Chewing worriedly on his lower lip, Bobby began his hunt, starting with the broken shards of plaster lying in the wet grass. He found the faint boot prints he’d seen before, and started another search circle using the marks as the centre. A few feet to one side of the indentations, away from the trail of gouged earth, Bobby found a scuffmark and a patch of broken earth at the lip of a hollow. He leaned cautiously over the edge, and his heart lurched as he spotted the shattered plaster cast lying on the ground at the base of the hollow.
Letting go of the rifle, Bobby let it swing by its carry strap as he made his way down the steep slope. He dropped to one knee and picked up the broken cast, his sharp eyes detecting the teeth marks in the plaster. Bobby searched the ground, finding a tiny handful of cotton threads, a scrap of torn material and a smear of blood. And then his heart skipped a beat and the breath froze in his lungs as he stared at a bare patch of earth near the fallen log. “Bear tracks – oh God, Sam…”
Bobby’s eyes burned, and he dropped the pieces of plaster he’d been holding. He lurched to his feet and scanned the little hollow, looking for drag marks. Bobby figured the bear must have come across the injured hunter and attacked him while he lay helpless on the ground, then dragged him off.
Unshipping the rifle from his shoulder, Bobby cocked the weapon and swept its muzzle in an arc as he scanned the nearby trees. “Sam!”
Finding the small game trail, Bobby started down it, every sense alert. He hadn’t gone more than a hundred yards before a splash of colour caught his gaze and he halted, stooping down to pluck a scrap of plaid material from the ground by the side of the trail. Bobby’s heart sank – it was part of a shirtsleeve, stained with blood. It looked like the one that Sam had been wearing the previous afternoon. Swallowing down a growing lump in his throat, Bobby stuffed the torn sleeve into his pocket and hefted the rifle.
A faint snort brought him to a halt. Bobby looked up, and his blood froze in his veins when he spotted the grizzly standing on the path about twenty yards away. The bear stared back at the hunter, fresh blood staining its jaws, and a low growl issued from its chest.
“You son of a bitch!” Bobby raised the rifle and pulled the trigger just as the bear moved its head. The rifle boomed, the crack of the shot echoing off the surrounding hills. Letting out a startled whuff as the bullet whipped past its ear to smack into the trunk of a tree, the bear spun on its paws and sprinted down the path. It was soon gone from sight, and Bobby cursed bitterly as he lowered the rifle.
It was obvious to the stricken hunter what had happened. For a long moment, Bobby wrestled with his conscience, wondering if he should leave Dean alone at the top of the slope while he searched for Sam’s body. But with the bear still in the area, he couldn’t risk it – his priority had to be the sole surviving Winchester. The bear had tasted human blood, and Dean was far too weak to defend himself if the animal should find him. Bobby would be damned if he’d leave the boy in danger of becoming the bear’s next meal. He’d have to get Dean to safety first, and then come back to locate and bury Sam’s remains. With a heavy heart, Bobby clambered up the slope to the fever-wracked young man.
* * * * *