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 4 Word Count: 5547
Story Banner: Chasidern
The sun was drawing level with the trees when Bobby headed up the stairs, a cup of coffee gripped in one hand. He walked quietly into the guest room and sank onto the chair beside the bed. Putting the coffee on the nightstand, he leaned over the bed and pressed a hand against the sleeper’s sweat-dotted forehead.
Dean’s fever had come down a little since Bobby had gotten him back to the house. The elder Winchester had been unconscious when Bobby had finally dragged him into the Impala. He’d laid the young man on the back seat and found a blanket in the trunk. Tucking the blanket around Dean’s shivering frame, Bobby had wasted no time in getting back to his house.
He didn’t know how he’d managed to get the tall young man up the stairs but he’d finally succeeded, and staggered into the boys’ room. He'd got the young hunter onto his bed; pulling off his shoes and stripping him of his wet, muddy clothes before cleaning Dean's wounds and strapping his cracked ribs. Finally he'd dressed him in a clean tee shirt and boxers before covering him with blankets.
Bobby had hurried downstairs, grabbed a bottle of Tylenol and some water, and forced Dean to wake up long enough to take the painkillers. The elder Winchester had fallen into a restless sleep almost immediately, his shivers gradually dying down as his body slowly warmed up.
The bearded hunter had kept watch over his friend for the last hour and a half, but when Dean showed no signs of waking, Bobby had slipped downstairs to get some much-needed coffee. He added a dash of whiskey from his hip flask as he watched the steady rise and fall of Dean’s chest under the mound of blankets.
Bobby wasn’t looking forward to Dean waking up. He didn’t know how the hell he was going to tell the young man that his brother was gone – mauled by a grizzly. Bobby knew the bond between the boys was strong, and he’d seen Sam after the accident in the Impala when he thought Dean was dying. The young psychic had been almost beside himself with worry. Bobby knew Sam would have shattered into pieces if Dean had died. And he figured it would be the same for Dean. More so, given that it had only been a couple of months since the boys had lost their father.
As if the universe was having a joke at his expense, he heard a soft moan from the bed, and he glanced at Dean’s pale face. Sooty lashes fluttered open, revealing green eyes bright with fever, and Dean frowned as he turned his head to search the room.
“Dean, it’s me.” Bobby rested a hand on his friend’s shoulder.
“Where – Sammy,” Dean replied groggily. He struggled to sit up, scowling as the elder hunter pushed him back down. “Damn – it – got to…”
“Dean, just calm down.” Heaving a sigh, Bobby realised he couldn’t put it off any longer. “Dean, listen to me. You boys were in a hell of an accident – do you remember?”
Dean blinked slowly as he relaxed against the pillows. “Truck – rolled.” His eyes flew wide, panic in their glassy depths. “Sammy! Can’t find – got to…”
“Dean, calm down! Just – take it easy.”
“Got to find…” Dean struggled weakly against Bobby’s restraining hand.
Bobby shook his head. “Dean – Sam – he’s…”
The tall young hunter stilled his restless movements, his gaze fastening on Bobby’s face. A spark of fear blossomed in the fever-bright eyes. “Where – is he?”
“I – I found where he’d been thrown from the truck. I tracked him – and I…”
Dean’s lips trembled as he stared at his friend. “Where is he?”
“Dean – Sam got attacked – I found his cast, and some threads from his shirt – and – bear tracks. Grizzly.”
“No,” the young hunter muttered stubbornly. “No, he’s not – he’s fine – he’s fine…”
“Dean – after I found you, I went back to look for him. I ran into the grizzly – it had fresh blood on its jaws.” Bobby pulled the bloody scrap of shirtsleeve from his pocket and held it out. “And I found this.”
“No – no, no, no.” Dean closed his eyes and rolled his head to the side, refusing to listen. “No, no, no.”
“Dean, damn it!”
Bobby’s shoulders slumped in defeat, and he picked up the cup of coffee as he got to his feet. With one last sorrowful look at the stricken hunter lying in the bed, he stuffed the torn sleeve back into his pocket and walked downstairs, leaving Dean to his grief.
Dean listened to the fading footsteps heading down the stairs, and his hands clenched into fists under the blankets. His heart felt crushed inside his chest. Sam was gone. And it was all his fault. If he hadn’t been so mad – if he’d paid attention to the road instead of letting his temper get the better of him… A stray tear burned his eye before spilling from under his tightly closed lid.
His brother was gone. A hollow ache burned in his gut as he realised the last words to his sibling were spoken in anger.
Dean opened his eyes and squinted at the setting sun. For all he cared, the sun could just go down and never rise again. His world was certainly a dark place now, so why should the rest of the world have any light?
Throwing back the covers, he slowly sat up, swinging his feet over the side of the bed to rest on the floor. His watering eyes roamed the room, and his throat burned as he glanced at the empty bed next to his own. He’d failed – failed to protect his little brother – failed to keep his promise. His fault – all of it.
“Sammy,” Dean whispered brokenly. His breath hitched in his bruised chest as the tears came. “I’m so sorry…”
* * * * *
Sam came to with an inaudible groan, blinking the rainwater out of his eyes as he slowly raised his head. Every movement sending a fiery pain lancing through his abused body, he pushed himself upright and looked slowly around his self imposed prison.
The walls of the hole were damp, and crumbled easily under his questing fingers. From where he sat, Sam could see patches of the grey sky through the remainder of the dead branches overhead. He judged that the hole couldn’t be more than ten or twelve feet deep. Deep enough to cause him trouble with his broken hand. If he couldn’t get up the slope out of the hollow, he sure as hell wasn’t going to get out of the hole. Unless a miracle happened.
“Guess I just have to make a miracle, then,” the young psychic whispered. Letting his head fall back a little, he opened his parched mouth and tried to capture a mouthful of rainwater to quench his growing thirst. It wasn’t much, but it helped a little, even if it was only psychological. With a little luck, when he got out of the hole he would find some water and his brother – not necessarily in that order.
Gasping with the effort, Sam got to his feet and searched the ground, scuffing his booted feet through the debris. He picked up a broken branch with a sharp point on the end and dug it into the earthen wall before him, a little bit of hope creeping into his heart as the dirt broke away in a clump and fell to the ground between his feet.
Unfastening the middle two buttons on his shirt, Sam slipped his broken hand inside and refastened one of the buttons, creating a makeshift sling. Gripping the broken branch tightly in his left hand, Sam proceeded to dig hand and footholds up the sides of the hole.
* * * * *
“He’s not dead.”
Bobby jumped, startled by the sudden gruff voice, dropping the bloodstained scrap of plaid material he’d been clutching in his hand. Twisting around on the chair, he looked over his shoulder at the tall young hunter swaying in the kitchen doorway like a reed in a hurricane.
Dean’s glazed eyes were red-rimmed, burning with fever and a fierce determination as he stared at the elder hunter. “He’s not dead,” he repeated doggedly, wiping the sweat from his forehead with the back of his hand.
“Dean,” Bobby began cautiously as he rose to his feet. “I saw the tracks…”
“Did you see a body?”
“He’s not dead.” Dean shook his head, his lips pressed into a stubborn line. “I’m going back for him.”
“No, you’re not!” The bearded demon hunter took a determined step toward the young man and grasped Dean’s bicep. “Dean, you can hardly stand up! You’re in no condition to drive, let alone form a search party.”
Green eyes blazed as they stared into faded blue orbs. “I’m going.”
“Not alone, you’re not.” Bobby glanced down at Dean’s knee. It was badly twisted, but he’d put a thick bandage around it to support the joint. “What about your knee? Do you need –”
“Screw my knee!” Dean growled, twisting out of the elder man’s grasp. “Let’s go already. It’ll be almost nightfall by the time we get there, and there's no way I'm leaving him out there all alone in the dark.”
Sighing softly, Bobby placed his hands on Dean’s shoulders, turning the younger man to face him. “What say I get you some warmer clothes first, okay?”
Groggily, Dean glanced down at his tee shirt and boxers, grimacing as his friend hurried up the stairs. He sank down onto the nearest kitchen chair and groaned, fisting one hand in his hair as he stared out the window at the gathering dusk. “Hold on, Sammy,” he whispered desperately, twisting in his chair as he heard Bobby returning. “Bobby – Sam’s jacket – where is it? He wasn’t wearing one when I picked him up from the hospital. He’ll be freezing…”
Bobby frowned, trying to remember what had happened to the garment. “I think it’s still out at my truck.”
“He’ll need –”
“I’ll get some blankets. If he’s…” Bobby swallowed, dropping his gaze. “If he’s – still alive, he’ll need more than just a jacket.”
The bearded hunter hurried back upstairs to grab a couple of blankets from the cupboard in the spare room. He laid them on the table while he helped his young friend to dress, silencing Dean’s protest with a warning glare. Bending swiftly, he tugged on Dean’s boots, lacing them up with quick jerks of his calloused fingers.
Dean got to his feet and snatched the blankets from the table, his face flaming, pressing one arm across his bruised ribcage as he limped toward the door. “Let’s go.”
“Let me –”
“Bobby – I’m fine, okay?”
Bobby hooked the first aid kit from the table and grasped Dean’s free arm, dragging the limb across his shoulders as he glared at his young friend. “Don’t give me that crap about feeling fine, Dean. Just shut up and let me help you. We’ll get there a hell of a lot faster if you button your lip and swallow that friggin’ Winchester pride.”
Dean fell silent as he limped toward the front door. With Bobby’s help, he got down the steps and slid onto the passenger seat of the waiting Impala, wrapping his hands around his injured leg to lift it into the car. The driver’s side door slammed, and the big V8 engine roared to life. Dean turned to look at his friend’s grim profile as Bobby steered the Chevy down the drive.
Bobby stared fiercely at the road ahead as he gripped the wheel, concentrating on getting back to the crash site as fast as possible. The elder hunter wasn’t surprised that Dean didn’t believe his brother was dead. He should have known the young hunter would want to see the body as proof. But he’d had a responsibility to Dean – he’d had to get the young man out of there and tend to his injuries as quickly as possible. He’d made the call to rescue the living brother. Bobby just hoped that he’d made the right decision. If he’d called it wrong – if Sam had still been alive at the time, then he’d never forgive himself.
* * * * *
Sam stretched his arm above his head, digging deep into the side of the hole to carve out the last handhold. He’d been working steadily for over two hours, and his left arm and shoulder burned with a dull ache. Pain wracked his tall frame, overridden only by his desperate need to find his brother. Dizziness made his vision swim and he blinked rapidly to re-focus his eyes, reaching out to steady himself against the side of the hole. Despite the few tiny sips of rainwater he’d managed to catch, his mouth and throat felt as dry as dust and his head pounded in a steady rhythm. Dropping the broken branch, he stepped back, letting his head drop until his chin was almost resting on his chest.
Pain speared through his throat and he grabbed his chin, pushing his head upright with his hand. He drew in short, ragged breaths, trying to force down the nausea roiling in his gut. Sam sighed, closing his eyes briefly as he gathered his fading energy.
Putting a boot into the first of the footholds, he reached up with his good hand and pulled himself off the ground. His other foot found the next hole, and he hung on the earthen wall, pressing his body against the damp soil as he slowly worked his fingers toward the next handhold. He pressed too hard, and gasped as pain speared through his broken wrist. Instinctively he drew away from the side of the hole, shifting his centre of gravity in the process.
Sam’s body tilted backward and he made a frantic grab for the wall. His fingers missed the handhold and he slipped, jarring his neck and back as he landed awkwardly. A strangled whimper escaped his tightly clenched teeth and he sank to his knees, cradling his chin in his hand, tears of pain and frustration trickling down his cheeks. He leaned his forehead against the wall of the hole; a wave of despair crashing over him.
Slowly, the light faded from the bottom of the hole, leaving the miserable young hunter in semi-darkness. A soft sob hitched his chest, as he thought of his brother lying lost and hurt somewhere in the gathering darkness. “Dean,” he whispered brokenly, closing his eyes.
* * * * *
The Impala pulled up near the guardrail, and the two hunters grabbed their equipment as they exited the vehicle. Dean hefted the rifle while Bobby slung the first aid kit over his shoulder. Together they started down the steep slope.
His knee twisting painfully, Dean stumbled, flailing out his arms in an attempt to keep his balance. A rough hand wrapped around his wrist and he nodded gratefully as Bobby dragged his arm across his shoulders. They made their way across the soggy ground, the young hunter leaning on the elder man for support.
Bobby came to a halt and pointed toward the hollow. “There. That’s where I found his cast – what was left of it.”
Dean nodded and hobbled toward the lip of the hollow. He studied the slope, looking for an easier way down. Failing to find an alternate route, he settled for sliding down on his butt, not caring about the mud and water seeping through his jeans. Allowing Bobby to help him to his feet at the bottom, he staggered to the small pile of broken plaster.
The bearded hunter watched in silence while the young man picked up one of the mauled pieces of Sam’s cast. His eyes narrowed as he gave the surrounding area a cautious glance, and he strode over to the game trail leading out of the hollow. “Bear probably would have dragged him along here,” he stated gruffly. “This is where I found that piece of his shirt.”
Straightening up, Dean dropped the plaster and positioned the rifle so that its butt rested against his hip. He draped his arm across Bobby’s shoulders and limped along the trail, watching out for danger while Bobby kept his gaze on the ground to look for tracks.
The two hunters followed the meandering path in tense silence, dreading what they would find at the end of their search. Dean’s mind shied away from the mental image of Sam’s mauled and bloody body, not wanting to believe that his baby brother was no longer among the living.
Suddenly, Bobby stopped and pointed to an area of bare earth at the side of the trail. Sheltered as it was under the spreading branches of an oak tree, the soil was fairly dry despite the steady rain, and the mark of a boot could be clearly seen. Hope soared in Bobby’s heart, along with a hefty lump of guilt as he studied the print. “Could be Sam.”
“It is,” Dean replied bluntly. He looked around, and his tall frame stiffened when he saw the mangled truck between the trees about a hundred yards ahead. “There’s the truck. He must – must have come looking for me.”
“Dean,” Bobby murmured. “I found his tracks earlier – when I found you. The bear…”
“No – no, he’s alive, Bobby – I can feel it.” Dean pulled his arm free and hobbled toward the wreck, hoping that he would find his missing sibling sheltering in the cabin. He leaned a hand against the side of the truck as he peered in through the broken windshield. “Damn it!”
Bobby examined the ground near the driver’s door. It was too muddy to retain any tracks, and the bearded hunter shrugged helplessly as his friend glanced his way.
Dean turned in a slow circle, his heart hammering in his chest. Spinning to face away from the wreck, the young hunter drew a deep breath, pressing a hand against his aching ribs. “SAMMY!”
* * * * *
Sam’s head snapped up and he winced, his left hand pressing gingerly against his throat. Frowning, he tried to pinpoint the direction of the distant yell. It sounded like Dean and he listened, his heart in his mouth, as he heard the deep bellow once more.
“Dean!” Sam whispered; his voice lost in the rain. “Damn it – how can I…wait a minute – maybe this time…”
Sam dug his hand into his pocket, pulling out his cell phone. He cursed breathily when he saw no signal bars on the screen, and was about to shove the useless device back into his jeans when a vague memory stirred. Sam pressed one of the buttons, and an electronic beep sounded. A relieved smile wound its way across his expressive face as he turned up the volume on the keypad. Getting to his feet, Sam stretched his arm up, holding the phone as high as he could, and pressed his thumb in a staccato rhythm. He paused for ten seconds and then repeated the pattern, mouthing a silent prayer as he peered up at the darkening sky.
* * * * *
Dean grabbed Bobby’s arm. “Bobby – wait.” He cocked his head, ears straining to identify the faint electronic beeping. It stopped as suddenly as it had begun and the young hunter sighed in frustration, turning his head from side to side to try and pick up the sound again.
The peeping began anew, and Bobby frowned as he strode to Dean’s side. “What is that?”
“Wait, wait, wait – it’s kind of a pattern – like – like a message…” Dean trailed into silence, a vague memory stirring of a long boring summer and a gangly, bright-eyed teenaged Sam begging his older brother to learn – “Morse! It’s Morse Code!”
Dean held up a hand as the sound fell silent, and he waited breathlessly until it started again, his lips moving as he counted the beats. And then the rapidly fading daylight seemed just a little brighter as the young hunter staggered forward, his lips curving upward in a broad smile. “Dot-dot-dot; dot-dash; dash-dash. S-A-M – he’s alive, Bobby – Sammy’s alive!”
Bobby frowned, turning in a slow circle as Dean bellowed his brother’s name again. He heard the faint electronic peeping begin anew, and held up a hand. “Dean – the code’s changed. Listen.”
Dean stood fidgeting, counting the beats. He shook his head in frustration. “Damn it! I missed the first part. Wait!” The young hunter’s full lips moved silently as the sequence started again.
“Dash-dot-dot; dot; dot-dash; dash-dot.” Bobby shrugged.
Dean nodded, grinning. “D-E-A-N. It’s definitely him, Bobby.” The code repeated, and Dean cocked his head, trying to pinpoint the direction. “This way.”
The bearded demon hunter adjusted the shoulder strap on the first aid kit and dragged Dean’s arm across his shoulders as they made their way up the slope toward the road.
“Sammy! Keep signalling, kiddo! I can hear you!” Dean caught sight of the old game trail winding through the trees and paused for a moment. The peeping seemed to be louder in that direction, and he shared a hopeful glance with Bobby as they started down the overgrown path.
Down in the old bear trap, Sam felt his heart lift as he heard his brother’s shout. He tapped his thumb on one of the cell phone buttons to create a constant string of short peeps, gritting his teeth at the growing ache in his arm. Finally he heard a series of pain-filled grunts and the thud of footsteps coming closer, and he kept up the signal until a dark shape blocked out the fading light. “Dean?”
Dean sagged in relief as he saw his brother’s doe eyes peering up from the shadowed depths of the hole in the ground. “Sammy!” Kneeling awkwardly, he stretched out a hand. “Come on, dude, I’ll help you up.”
Sam started to shake his head, and thought better of it when his pain level soared. “Can’t,” he whispered. “Broke my hand again.”
“Son of a bitch!” Dean grimaced, rubbing a hand across his jaw before turning to the elder hunter at his side. “We’re gonna need a rope to get him out of there. There’s one in the trunk.”
Bobby nodded. “I’ll go get it.” He patted Dean on the shoulder, nodded to Sam, and sprinted up the slope.
Turning back to his brother, Dean settled on the ground, stretching out his injured leg to ease the throbbing pressure on his knee. “You okay?”
“I’m fine – what about you?”
“I’m good.” Dean pressed his lips together and stared up the slope. Sheer relief and sharp guilt crashed through his tired frame in equal measure as he avoided his sibling’s concerned gaze.
The elder hunter glanced down as the faint, raspy whisper reached his ears. “What?”
“It’s nothing.” Glancing up as he heard pounding footsteps approaching, Dean struggled to his feet. He held out his hand for the rope and dropped one end into the hole as he wrapped the other end around his waist. “Sam, wrap this around you as best you can – I’m gonna pull you up.”
Sam quickly wrapped the rope around his chest and under his arms, tying the end off as best he could. Clamping his fingers over the knot, he took a deep breath before looking up at his sibling. “All right.”
“Dean,” Bobby cautioned, taking the rope from the injured hunter’s hands and unwinding it from his waist. He pushed Dean down toward the ground at the edge of the hole before wrapping the rope around a nearby tree trunk. Steadying himself, he wound the end of the rope around his hand a few times, dug his heels into the soft ground, and pulled.
Slowly but steadily, Sam was lifted from the hole, pushing out with his feet to stop his body bumping into the sides as he rose. Finally his shoulders cleared the edge, and he reached out to grasp the calloused hand stretched toward him. One last heave had him toppling onto the wet ground, twisting to land on his side in an effort to protect his broken wrist.
Dean hitched himself across to where his brother was struggling to sit up on the muddy trail. Quickly untying the knot pressed against Sam’s chest, he freed the rope and tossed it aside before reaching for his brother’s right hand. “Let me see that.”
The young psychic gasped as his brother’s fingers closed over his forearm, flinching away in pain. That in turn jarred his neck and he sat back on his heels, his eyes tightly closed as tears of agony leaked from under his lids.
Dean whipped his hand back, and then grasped his sibling’s shoulders, his concerned gaze flicking over Sam’s tattered shirt and muddy jeans. He could only guess at what other injuries his brother was suffering. “It’s okay – it’s okay.”
Slowly, Sam relaxed, beating down the fiery pain in his body. He felt his brother’s hand at his right elbow, and gritted his teeth as Dean unbuttoned his shirt to release his broken hand.
“Jeez…” Carefully, Dean eased his brother’s arm away from his makeshift sling and examined the swollen limb. He pressed the back of his hand lightly against Sam’s fingers, frowning when he found them ice-cold to the touch. Easing himself closer to his little brother, he pulled off the makeshift bandage tied around Sam’s head and examined the gash on his temple. Moving onto the next visible injury, Dean hooked a finger under Sam’s chin and gently tilted his head up to check the filthy dressing across his throat. “Where else are you hurt?”
“Back’s bruised,” Sam whispered painfully. He reared back a little as a bottle of water dropped into his line of vision. Sighing in relief, he grasped it and took a sip, noting that the top had already been taken off for him. “Thanks.”
“Drink it slowly,” Bobby’s gruff voice instructed.
Sam blinked in acknowledgement and took another small sip, relishing the cool liquid as it slid down his parched throat. Letting his brother check and tighten the makeshift splint, he slowly lowered the tide in the water bottle until it was half empty. Hearing a muttered curse above his head, he squinted into the rain, blinking the water from his eyes as he encountered Bobby’s guilty stare. “Bobby?”
“I – uh – we better get you out of here,” the bearded hunter murmured softly, dropping his gaze. “Damn it, Sam…”
“What?” the young psychic whispered painfully. He swigged one last mouthful from the bottle before handing it back, watching in puzzlement as the demon hunter twisted the cap back on with a savage jerk of his wrist.
“Let’s just get you to the car first, okay, kid? You’re gonna need a doctor for that hand – and whatever else is hurtin’.” Bobby ran a hand across his jaw, studying the two battered young hunters in concern. “We’re not far from the hospital –”
“No!” both boys chorused vehemently. Dean’s feverish eyes blazed in the gloom. Tension raced through his body, curling his hands into fists as he stared up at his friend. Sam reached out with his good hand and grasped his brother’s shoulder. To Bobby’s surprise, the elder Winchester slowly relaxed, his burning gaze dropping to contemplate the muddy ground a few feet from where he sat.
“Not the hospital, Bobby,” Sam rasped, swallowing painfully. His soulful gaze flicked to his brother before returning to Bobby. “Trust me – find somewhere else.”
“Okay – no hospital.” Moving quickly, the elder hunter coiled the rope and slung it over his shoulder, along with the discarded first aid kit and the rifle.
Dean’s jaw rippled as he clenched his teeth. He drew in a ragged breath, and forced his tired frame to move. Lifting his head, he gazed at his brother. “I’m sorry,” he whispered softly.
Sam frowned in confusion. “For what?”
Shaking his head, Dean struggled to his feet. He flashed a grateful glance at his friend as he felt Bobby’s hand hook under his arm and haul him upright. Leaning down, he reached out a hand to his sibling, and with Bobby’s help got Sam to his feet. “Watch his arm,” he cautioned as the bearded hunter stepped to Sam’s right side. “Okay – come on. I gotcha.”
Snaking his good arm around Dean’s back, Sam staggered along the now slippery path toward the road. He glanced at his brother’s determined face, noting the twitches of pain under the tense features. Glancing down, he saw the way Dean favoured his right leg, and listened to the hitched gasps that told him his brother was hurt way more than he let on. Subtly, he leaned more of his weight on Bobby, and tightened his arm around his big brother’s back.
Dean leaned into the touch, grateful beyond words that his brother was alive and relatively unharmed. He tried to help Sam as much as possible, but by the time the guardrail at the top of the slope came into view he was no longer sure who was supporting whom. Exhaustion and fever battered at his senses, sweat stung his eyes, and shivers wracked his frame. Sam wasn’t much better. Dean could hear his brother’s teeth chattering and feel the tremors shaking Sam’s body. The tall psychic wasn’t moving anywhere near as fluidly as he normally did. His breathing was slightly ragged, but there was no ominous wet rattle that would have meant the onset of a chest infection or pneumonia.
Sighing with relief, the elder Winchester sagged against the cold black metal body of his baby, maintaining his grip around his brother’s waist while he waited for Bobby to unlock the Impala’s doors.
Bobby threw the equipment into the trunk and grabbed the blankets he’d brought from the house. He handed them to Dean, and helped the young hunter get Sam into the back seat. Sliding in beside his brother, Dean tucked the blankets around his shivering sibling, being careful to avoid the badly swollen hand resting in Sam’s lap.
Dean glanced up as Bobby slid behind the wheel, meeting the elder hunter’s faded blue eyes in the rear view mirror. “Bobby.”
“Don’t.” Bobby held up a hand as he jabbed the key into the ignition. “You don’t have to say it – I left him.”
“I wasn’t gonna –”
“Damn it, boy – I thought the bear…” Bobby choked, and shook his head as he clamped his lips tightly together.
Sam blinked in confusion, painfully turning his head to meet his brother’s gaze. “Dean – what…”
Dean swallowed and wrapped the blankets more tightly around his sibling. “Bobby – we – thought you were…Bobby found bear tracks, and – well…”
“You thought I was – dead?” Sam whispered, his eyes widening in shock.
Dean dropped his gaze, not wanting to face the sympathy and understanding brimming in his brother’s expressive eyes. He stared out at the passing scenery, guilt over the accident eating at him like a vat of acid bubbling in his gut.
“I found your cast – chewed up,” Bobby explained quietly. “Found a piece of your shirt covered in blood. Then I came across a grizzly – it had blood on its jaws…”
Sam tried to nod and winced, his hand creeping up to his neck. “There was a grizzly – it checked me out, but it didn’t hurt me. I took my cast off – it was busted anyway. That was after the bear wandered off. It must have come back and chewed on the cast while I was trying to…” Sam’s soft hazel eyes bored into his brother’s jade green orbs. “…to find you. It followed me, and I found that trap – figured I was safer down there than trying to outrun the bear on foot.”
“Yeah,” Dean muttered tensely.
“It must have gone hunting for food while I was down in the trap – I never saw it after I jumped down there.”
“Must have.” Chewing on his lip, Dean fixed his gaze on the rapidly darkening scenery flashing past the Chevy’s windows.
A tense silence filled the car, broken by the roar of the V8 engine when Bobby turned the key. Dean steadied his brother against the seat as the elder hunter threw the car into a U-turn and headed out of the foothills.
Bobby glanced repeatedly into the rear view mirror, as if to reassure himself that Sam was alive and well. “Dean,” he ventured after a few miles. “There’s a doctor in the next town. He’s a friend of mine – he won’t ask questions. We can be there in a couple of hours.”
Nodding briefly, the elder Winchester returned his gaze to his brother, studying Sam’s pale, grubby face in the last glow of daylight. Sam gazed steadily back, his eyes glistening. Dean saw the worry in the hazel depths, and he wondered if Sam had thought that Dean was gone when he’d found the empty truck. “I’m okay, Sammy,” he muttered softly.
Sam smiled tentatively. “Me, too.”
The Impala sped down the rapidly darkening highway, her headlights cutting through the encroaching night like a beacon.
* * * * *