Sam follows the smears of blood across cracked, hard-packed earth, winding under dying mesquites and around thorny bushes. At the end of the trail, lying in the dirt with one arm outstretched and a bullet hole in his back, is his brother.
- - - -
Forty miles from the Texas-Mexico border, fifteen feet from hell. They're hunting a chupacabra. It's insanely hot—Texas-in-mid-August hot, which makes sense considering that it's, well, Texas in mid August. Dean's wearing only a gray t-shirt and jeans but he's sweat-soaked anyway.
He takes long measured steps, his path winding to avoid thorny scrub brush and scattered cactus. Dust puffs up to cover his boots; it already covers everything else in sight. Dry summer even for here, the locals said. Dean never thought he'd miss Wisconsin so much.
The few stubby, rough-barked mesquite trees are gray and dying, with only a few clinging brown leaves. The whole world is gray; if he stands still long enough he can almost hear everything parching, withering, crackling brittle in the heat. Dean's half-surprised the whole landscape doesn't just spontaneously combust. At least that would get rid of the chupacabra, he thinks, and laughs humorlessly.
He's parching with the rest of the world, skin flushed fever-red with heat and barely sweating anymore, so he pauses to take a drink of lukewarm water from his canteen. He wonders if Sam has found anything yet.
Someone shoots him in the back. He doesn't hear it, but he sure as hell feels it.- - - -
“You idiot,” Gordon Walker will snarl at the young hunter later that evening. “You shot the wrong Winchester!”
- - - -
Dean needs Sam to find him.
He still has his canteen, but at the rate he's losing blood, staying hydrated will soon be the least of his worries. The bullet went straight through, left a big freakin' hole just under his left collarbone. Meant for his heart, but missed. Lucky him.
It's hot and getting hotter and he's bleeding out. He's going to die right here, one hundred fifteen degrees in the shade (of which there is none), right here in the dust and thornbrush because some worthless coward shot him in the back and he really needs Sam to find him.
- - - -
Sam doesn't know how he knows; he just does. He didn't hear anything, see anything, even smell anything, but there's something... something...
He stops, looks south where Dean headed when they split up. A sudden puff of wind stirs up dust, as cool as a blast furnace, rattling the skeleton limbs of a dead mesquite.
Something's wrong. He needs to find Dean. The chupacabra can wait.
Sam heads south.
- - - -
If Sam doesn't come, Dean will have to go to him.
He knows he needs to head north, but everything's a little hazy and he's not completely sure which way is north. The sun is directly overhead so he can't use it as a compass. In the end, he takes his best guess and shoves to his feet with a suppressed groan. He takes three steps and his legs wobble, crumble.
He goes down hard into dust and thorns, choking on a scream. He lies there for a moment, breathing, fighting down the pain. There's no way he's getting to his feet again, but if he stays here he'll drift off and Sam will find him dead. That's not an option.
He puts his head down and starts to crawl.
- - - -
When Sam discovers the trail of blood, everything slows down and he can hear his heartbeat pounding in his ears. Even before he reaches the end of the trail, he knows what he'll find.
He turns Dean over and green eyes blink sluggishly up at him, pupils dilated. There's blood everywhere, oh God so much blood, and Sam peels off his sweaty t-shirt to press against the wound. Dean winces a little but not as much as he should.
"Found me," Dean says with a fading smile. "You found me, Sammy." His skin is hot and dry to the touch, and his gaze is beginning to wander. He needs help yesterday.
Sam raises the canteen to Dean's lips and he drinks, then mumbles be careful... bastard might still be out there. Sam nods, kneels, his bare back and shoulders already reddening in the harsh sunlight. He slips his arms beneath his brother's back and knees and lifts. Dean's head lolls against Sam's collarbone and Sam is reminded again that Dean is heavier than he looks. Blood slides warm and thick across Sam's bare chest; Dean's faint breaths brush over his shoulder.
Keep breathing, Dean, Sam begs, squinting his eyes against glare and dust as he heads back toward the car. Please just keep breathing.
- - - -
Dean won't stay awake. He's sprawled across the back seat, bloody and dying, and that’s a scene Sam never wanted to revisit.
It's like an oven in the car. Sam's back sticks to the driver's seat and sweat keeps running into his eyes. He looks at Dean in the rear-view mirror, yelling over the rush of air through open windows: "Stay awake, Dean! Look at me, dammit!"
Dean's eyes blink slowly shut and open again, and Sam says without thinking, "Hold on, okay? Hospital's just twenty minutes away." He half expects Bad Moon Rising to blare from the silent radio.
Dean drifts and fades with eyes open, hands resting limply on his chest while blood clots on the seat beneath him. He weakens steadily and all Sam can do is drive faster.
- - - -
It's close. It's way too damn close. Dean has lost too much blood; he's severely dehydrated; there's internal damage. They work on him for a long time, and when the doctor finally comes out wearing a reassuring smile, Sam's legs won't hold him up anymore.
He collapses into a chair and rests his heat-flushed face against cool tile.
Dean’s alive. Dean’s gonna be okay.
- - - -
Gordon Walker was furious at the young hunter. The kid had managed to blow the perfect opportunity. If not for a werewolf-inflicted broken leg, Gordon would have gone himself, but he sent the kid instead. That’s a mistake he won’t make again. It’s been two months, and Gordon’s leg is healed. He needs a new plan, is confident he’ll find one.
Gordon drops his cigarette, crushes it with the toe of his boot, and looks up just as a tall, dark shape silently separates from the shadows. Gordon automatically goes for a weapon, but light glints off the gun barrel pointed directly at his heart. He stills, holds out his hands carefully.
Sam Winchester steps into the light. He looks at Gordon, tilts his head slightly sideways, and his lips curve in a cold smile.
“You really shouldn’t have shot my brother,” he says.
- - - -
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.
Spoilers: Through 2.10 Hunted, after which it goes AU.