After the Hunt
The crunching of dry, brittle leaves filled her ears as she moved forward in the shadows. High above, the moonlight filtered through the treetops in patches of eerie blue swatches that slashed the landscape. Hollow, whistling wind swirled around her, bending and moving the limbs in a ghostly dance of arms and clawed hands. Shivering in the crisp night air, she picked up the pace, resisted the urge to look behind her, and plowed ahead.
A snap somewhere off to her left electrified every nerve and she whirled around, peering into the dense blanket of wood, bush and darkness. Her eyes strained to see and her ears strained to hear. But there was nothing. Chuckling to herself, she thought about how silly she was being and resumed walking—nearer a jog if she were honest with herself.
A cold chill snaked up her spine, tripped her neck hairs into a standing salute. She felt eyes tugging at her body with menace and longing. Up ahead, the soft glow of fluorescent light welcomed and beckoned. They meant home base, safe, olly olly oxen free and she hurried toward it.
Nearly there, she thought a moment too late.
Dropping down directly in her path, the leather-skinned creature stretched its inhumanly long arms out to its sides, threw its head back in a skull-shattering wail an instant before she felt its filthy, curved claws rake across her middle—spilling her guts to the forest floor. Her scream gurgled in her throat along with the blood that spilled from her lips down her chin and chest in a river of blackish blood not yet turned red.
“NO!” Sam screamed.
Dean's hand braced his shoulder as he leaned into Sam’s face. “What did you see?”
Panting, Sam swallowed and gasped, “Dean, we have to hurry. The Barbazu’s already tracking her. It’s—”
Up ahead, a thundering roar sounded, an identical echo from his vision. Instantly on his feet, Sam chased after his already-in-motion brother, whipping through the underbrush and ignoring the cuts and scrapes as thorns and jagged ends of brush caught and tore his flesh.
The glint of Dean’s Colt being pulled from his waistband flashed in the moonlight and reminded Sam to reach for his own weapon. The brothers flicked off their safeties as they raced toward the shrill cry of the girl, weaving and ducking trees and vines. Their heartbeats tripped when her cry suddenly cut off and they knew they were too late.
Busting from the foliage, feet stumbling to a halt, they winced at the mangled, bloodied body at their feet. Her pale face was frozen in eternal terror. Sharing a pregnant glance, the brothers swallowed and began circling, guns held steadily in front of them. Their eyes searched the barely lit area for the demon, knowing it would now be hunting them.
“You see it?” Dean spoke sideways, eyes not breaking from scanning their surroundings.
With a shake of his head, Sam answered, “No. Nothin’.”
Shoulder to shoulder they systematically scoured every shadow and possible hiding place, alert to every movement and sound. The forest was quiet. Unusually quiet. Not one night-bird--not one bug--could be heard trilling, peeping or screeching. No frogs, no crickets, nothing; every creature holding its breath in the quiet that comes just before the kill.
Sam licked his lips nervously and blew out a puff of air turned visible by the cold Autumn weather. His senses tingled, alive and singing of thrill and danger. Out of the corner of his eye he caught a dark blur. It was heading straight for Dean.
“Dean! Behind you!”
Dean’s head swiveled to follow Sam’s wide-eyed stare as he twisted to the side too late. The Barbazu’s poisoned fangs sunk into Dean's shoulder as he fell away. Sam’s Taurus boomed, boomed, boomed, sending three silver bullets sailing over Dean’s descending body. Two plunked into a nearby tree while the third sliced through the shoulder of its target. Screaming wildly, the creature leapt into the cover of a nearby thicket, disappearing like a shadow on a moonless night.
Sliding next to Dean, frantic hands touching, searching and pushing cloth aside, Sam cried, “Dean!” And then demanded, “Did it break the skin?!”
Dean bit back a groan and shoved Sam’s fumbling hands away, fighting to find his feet. “Later. We’ve gotta find the bitch before it comes back for chow time.”
Feeling sticky wetness on his hands, Sam drew them up toward a sliver of moonlight. The gory mess of Dean’s blood covering his fingers and palms was illuminated in the soft glow and he swallowed hard. Sam clamped shaky fingers on Dean’s arm, held on tight, felt his stomach crawl up his throat as he said, “Dean, you’ve been infected. We’ve gotta get you taken care of.”
Dean ripped his arm out of Sam’s grasp. “Not now, Sam.”
Dean plunged into the woods, one hand pressed against his shoulder, weapon leading the way in the other. Sam could do little but follow and back his brother up.
“It shouldn’t be too hard to find. The poison from the silver bullet should slow it down,” Sam said. He hoped so anyway, hoped the text he’d read was correct and silver was poisonous to these creatures.
"Let's hope so," Dean answered as he hunkered down, in full hunter mode.
They both glimpsed the flash of red eyes at the same time. Glowing, red eyes up ahead, just north of a large pine. Sam exchanged a look with Dean and they charged ahead, jumping overgrown roots and loose rock as they went—Dean surprisingly agile and quick for a man with deadly venom coursing through his veins. Sam stumbled behind him, face full of limb and leaf, and cursed his height’s disadvantage.
“Damn, Dean. Wait up," he yelled.
But Dean was a one-man mission, single-minded determination as he disappeared behind a tree. Sam was forced to stop again and untangle his shirt sleeve from a wild rose bush and cursed again as he lost sight of his brother.
Rushing headlong into a clearing, Sam stopped short, realized he had no idea which way Dean had gone. Going still, he cocked his head and listened, eyes straining against the dark. Desperately he tried to pick up Dean's trail. Suddenly, his senses prickled with the sensation of being watched. Drawing his gun up and bracing the butt against his palm, he began tracking the lower portion of the trees.
Phantom shadows flickered in and out of his peripheral vision, causing him to whip his head one way and then the other. His spine tingled with knowing and his skin pimpled with goose flesh. It was near. And it was watching, waiting for an opportunity. Behind him, a low cat-like growl rumbled, reminding him of all those Discovery channel specials of big cats stalking their prey.
Sam turned toward the direction of the sound about the same time as another blurred image whipped by in the opposite direction. Either that was Dean or the thing was scary fast. Reversing motion, Sam slowly eased back the way he’d come, breath held in anticipation and wishing for eyes in the back of his head. The loud lub dub of his heart hammered in his ears and pounded against his chest, sweat broke out across his upper lip and along his temples.
Bumping into the trunk of a mighty oak, Sam lost his balance and scrambled to keep his feet and hang onto his gun. Throwing his arms out to steady himself, he maneuvered his long legs on either side of a large gnarled root at the base of the tree. He closed his eyes and took deep breaths to calm himself. Felt something tickling his lashes and nose and opened his eyes. Debris from above rained down around him, forcing his gaze straight up. The creature hissed, its glistening teeth visible even in the dimness.
He threw his arms out in a last ditch effort at protection as the creature sprang from its perch with an angry scream. Sam managed to get a booted foot jammed into the thing’s throat as he fell backwards, keeping sharp teeth and claws from his own flesh. His gun lay inches from his fingers and Sam fought with all his might to keep the thing at bay and retrieve the gun at the same time. The creature’s drool dribbled on his neck and chest as it gnashed its teeth in frustration and he turned his head away with disgust. The Barbazu reared back, one long grotesquely misshapen arm held high in the air as it prepared to slaughter Sam right then and there.
Emerging like a mist wraith from the forest, Dean appeared in front of them, gun drawn for a head shot. Two thundering blasts accompanied bright powder flashes lighting up the dark and the creature stiffened, then flopped over in a messy heap. Frantically, Sam pushed the dead thing's arm off him and scrambled out from beneath it. Coming to a stand beside Dean, Sam heaved gulps of air into his lungs and gawked at the bloody jumble at his feet.
“Man, Dean, I’ve never been so happy to see you in my life!” he huffed.
Dean clapped his brother on the back and laughed. “Saved your ass again, Sammy. How many times is that now?”
"Are we keeping track now, Dean? 'Cause I'm not the one who keeps getting beat up by girls." But Sam’s knowing eyes caught the wince behind the fading smile, the way Dean stood with his left arm pressed into his side. “C’mon, let’s get that taken care of.” He nodded toward Dean’s shoulder and pulled his brother forward by the sleeve.
“Oh, man. You’re not gonna put that smelly cat pee junk on me, are you?” Dean whined.
“It’s not cat pee, it’s ox musk oil and a bunch of herbs--and, yes, Dean, I'm really gonna put that ‘junk’ on you. It’s the only thing that neutralizes the poison. You rather die a slow and painful death?”
Dean’s face crinkled up as he considered the option.
“Dean,” Sam groused.
“Alright, fine. But if I puke, it’s all on you, man.” He chuckled and nudged Sam with his free hand. “Get it, ‘all on you’?”
Despite his rolling eyes, Sam’s lips lifted in an upward curve. “You’re a regular comedian, Dean. You should try stand up at the Comedy Store.”
Cocking a sideways smirk, Dean said, “You never know, Sammy. Someday I just might.”
Sam did roll his eyes then, mumbling, “Dude, whatever.”
As they trudged back through the brush toward the last known location of the Impala, a light drizzle began to soak their hair and clothing, causing both men to pull their coats tighter and hunch their shoulders against the chilled wind. The last quarter of the trek left Dean trailing Sam by several feet, forcing Sam to cast anxious glances behind him to make sure his brother was still following.
Once they reached the car, Dean gave up the keys with no contest and sank bonelessly into the familiar leather seats, chills from the poison’s fever-sickness already sending small tremors rippling through his extremities and teeth.
“Dude, this stuff’s got one hell of a kick,” he forced through clicking teeth. He winced at the burn racing down his arm and up his neck.
“Yeah, Bobby said it worked fast. Looks like you’re already running a pretty good temp. You’re not gonna hurl or anything, are ya?”
Scowling, Dean quipped, “And ruin my baby’s upholstery? No way. I’m fine.”
Dean scrunched down in the seat and pulled his coat tighter around himself, the chills gaining momentum as his fever soared higher. Sam flipped on the heater full force and shrugged out of his own jacket as he drove one-handed down the road. He tucked his shed coat around his brother's shoulders.
Sam tried not to worry, tried to remember Bobby’s assurance of the poison not being fatal as long as the anti-venom was applied within a few hours—meaning they still had time. But as Dean grew quieter and more pliant in his seat, he found it difficult not to grow concerned.
“Hang in there, Dean. We’re almost to the motel.”
“Hey, you still with me?”
When Dean didn’t answer, Sam looked over. His brother was slumped heavily against the car door, head angled away into the shadows, the only sounds or movement a rapid panting and trembling that didn’t seem like a good thing to Sam. Reaching over and grabbing a fistful of leather jacket, Sam pulled Dean toward him, letting his brother’s head fall into his lap.
There, he pressed the back of his hand to Dean’s brow, cheek and neck. His brother was on fire and his skin was dry--he’d stopped sweating, not a good sign. Dean's lashes fluttered, but refused to stay open. The few seconds his brother did manage to keep them open, Sam knew he wasn’t really seeing. Dean kept mumbling about someone named Susie and 'the best pie ever' and other random incoherent things. He was completely out of it. This was so not good.
Keeping one hand on Dean's shoulder, Sam murmured comforting words when the first pained moans took the place of the innuendo-laced rambling. Dean's tremors rattled into Sam with such force that he began to worry about the possibility of mild seizures. Relief eased the tension noosed around his heart when he saw the motel sign up ahead.
“Finally,” he breathed to himself. “Dean. C’mon, man, wake up.”
Sam shook his brother’s shoulder and then patted his cheek firmly. Dean roused a little and, realizing he was lying in his brother’s lap, weakly pushed at the seat. With Sam's help, Dean made it half-way to sitting, grunting sharply and drawing his injured arm tightly to his side.
“Ya alright?” Sam’s voice was low and full of concern.
Dean nodded once, keeping one arm stiff beneath him, his breath alternating between being held and long pulls through his nose. Scooting out of the car quickly, Sam shot to the passenger's side and threw the door open and caught his brother who had begun stubbornly trying to make his own way out.
“Whoa! Easy, man, I’ve gotcha.”
Levering one arm under his brother’s good shoulder, Sam hooked his fingers into Dean's belt loops and heaved him up. They made slow, stumbling progress toward the door and then inside where Sam deposited his heavy load onto the nearest bed.
“Mmm. Slow and easy, baby,” Dean muttered groggily.
Hastening to keep whatever else might pop out of his brother’s mouth unsaid, Sam roughly shook Dean by the shoulders and spoke loudly, “Dean. Time to wake up, man.”
Rolling his head around and blinking heavy, unfocused eyes, Dean hoarsely asked, “Sam?”
“Where’d Susie go?”
Shaking his head, Sam began tugging off Dean’s wet coat. “You were dreaming, Dean. It’s just you and me.”
“Well, d-damn,” came his brother’s chattered whisper as his eyes began to close again.
“Dean! Stay with me, man. We’ve gotta get you out of these wet things so I can take care of your wound.”
“Mmm-hmm,” was the answer, but Dean promptly passed out, leaving Sam to work off the remaining layers of clothing himself.
Upon seeing the bite marks, Sam winced. Deep puncture holes had already grown red and angry, streaks of infection running down Dean’s left arm and up his neck, clearly marking the path of the poison. Snagging the jar of antidote from his duffle, Sam looked at the spinach green goop with disgust.
“Just great. Awesome, dude, and thanks.” Sam continued talking to an unconscious Dean as if he were still listening. “Just like you to get injured and leave me with the pleasure of poking around in this nasty stuff.” He unscrewed the lid and jerked away, nose wrinkled and lips pulling into a snarl, “Oh! Whew. Man, this reeks.”
Reaching in, he dipped out a good-sized finger full of the paste and began spreading it liberally over Dean’s wounds, doing his best not to gag as his nose was assaulted by the pungent smell. The thick gunk began melting as soon as it hit his brother’s fevered skin and Sam had to work quickly to get the bandages on to keep it in place. He was thankful that the dressings at least helped mute the smell to a tolerable level.
As Sam pulled the blankets up around him, Dean began moving his head against the pillow, moaning, cheeks rosy red and a white ring stark around his mouth. Sam lay a hand on his brother's shoulder and soothed him with whispers and promises, gave a final pat to Dean's chest and stood.
Yep, Sam thought, it's gonna be a long night.
Trying to stifle a face-splitting yawn, he wondered how long. He was bone-tired. Deep, soul-wringing exhaustion had set in and now, with blessed warmth spilling from the room’s vents, he wanted nothing more than to sink into bed and sleep while Dean was quieted. It seemed like an incredible feat, but he knew he’d have to change his clothes at the very least. Maybe a nice, hot shower would be doable. Dean wasn’t going anywhere and Sam had done all he could do for the moment.
Reassured, he stripped off his soggy, frigid clothes, letting them fall behind him as he went, eager to submerge himself under the shower spray. Several minutes and gallons of water later, he emerged from the bathroom, steam billowing out behind him in thick, white clouds. Immediately his eyes gravitated toward his violently shivering brother who had rolled into a tight ball on his side. The blankets had fallen into a puddle on the floor, leaving a nearly naked Dean exposed on the bed. Clad only in boxers himself, Sam padded over and pulled the sheets and covers back over Dean, giving him another pat before resting a hand on his forehead.
Sam jerked away when Dean spoke.
“I know, I know," Sam murmured back. "Let me see if we have any extra blankets in the closet.”
Coming up empty, Sam grabbed his own coverlet off his bed and piled it on top of Dean. Wearily running a hand through his damp hair, Sam lowered himself to the floor next to Dean and leaned back against the nightstand. His body ached for sleep, but his brother needed him.
“Arm’s on fire…s’fire," Dean slurred.
Digging his palms into his eye sockets, Sam stifled a groaning yawn. “Wanna try some Tylenol?”
He was already in motion toward their duffle before the weak nod came. Levering Dean up, he handed over the pills, but when Dean reached for the water glass, he knocked it from Sam’s fingers, spilling it all over Sam’s chest and clean boxers.
“Damn it, Dean!” Sam exclaimed, brushing futilely at the liquid, his brows drawn in irritation.
Squinting up at him, Dean apologized, “S-sorry.”
Sam hung his head, arms falling to his sides. He felt chastised and utterly defeated by the hoarse whisper.
“It’s alright. I’m just tired. Let me change and we’ll try it again.”
Sam carefully helped Dean get the pain relievers down and then slumped onto his own bed. He debated whether or not he should try to sneak in a quick nap. Sitting there blinking gritty, sticky eyes, he noticed his brother’s fever-bright stare fixed steadily on him. The blankets were snugged up to Dean’s ears and his hands were fisted under his chin, holding them in place.
“Dean? You okay?”
Dean blinked and whispered, “Not your fault.”
Sam’s head cocked to the side, confused. “What are you talkin’ about?”
“The girl. Not your fault.”
Oh. “Yeah, man. I know.” The easy answer came swiftly.
“Sam,” Dean persisted, “Not your fault. Did the best we could.”
Puzzled, Sam’s face wrinkled. “You said that already. I know. Can’t save ‘em all, right?”
A fake laugh to go along with the fake sentiment.
“Sammy. I know you.” Despite quaking with his shivering, Dean’s voice was as strong and sure as his message.
The image of the dead girl flashed through Sam's mind, had been burned onto the backs of his retinas. He'd pushed the feelings down, denying they were there, but now Sam’s eyes welled. There had been so much blood.
Sniffling, he asked, “How many are we going to lose, Dean? I shoulda…I could’ve—”
“No,” Dean grunted. “You did the best you could. Not your fault.”
Sam pulled at his nose and dashed away the tears. Blinking, he looked at Dean. His brother looked like death warmed over. Pain lined Dean's pale face and sweat shimmered on his skin even as he shook with chills. The poison from a Barbazu was potent, painful, so the fact that Dean was pushing to do this now showed the importance of it. That it really mattered to him.
Overwhelmed, Sam broke eye contact and looked down at his fidgeting fingers. Nodding mutely, he took in a deep breath and let it out slowly. If Dean believed it that much, then so could he.
Sam looked up, and this time when their eyes met, he allowed his brother’s absolution to cover his wounds. And, he accepted it freely, not turning away.
Slowly, Dean relaxed, his lids falling shut. “Get some sleep. I’ll be fine.”
And, Sam believed it. Had faith it would be so because Dean believed it.
How does he do that? Must be some mystical big brother thing, Sam thought, slipping his feet under the crisp sheet of his bed.
Funny how things in life always came full circle. He’d started out childhood worshiping his brother blindly and relying on him to be everything to him. Now, after all the years between them, both together and a part, he realized he’d never lost that child-like faith in his brother to make everything right.
Lifting his head to say something more, Sam realized that Dean was already sound asleep. Sam snuggled back into his own bed and smiled.
“’Night, Dean,” Sam whispered, then closed his eyes and let the world fall away, safe in the knowledge that Dean would always have his back.
Characters: Sam and Dean Winchester
Rating: T (PG-13)
Disclaimer: Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.
Summary: Sam rediscovers his faith in Dean.
Thanks to Mady and Thru Terry’s Eyes for the speedy beta and to Mady for encouraging me to post it.
Thanks so much for reading!