Word Count: 2463
Warnings: no warnings
Summary: Hunting alone doesn't always work out as well as it's supposed to.
In hindsight, he really should have had a better rescue plan.
Dean slams a hand against the bars of the cage in anger, wincing as the contact reverberates through the bones of his arm. He drags his hand across his scalp, brushing his fingers through his hair, and huffs a sigh of frustration.
Behind him on the floor, Sam groans quietly in pain and murmurs, "Dean... stop..."
That's all it takes for Dean's focus to shift. He twists around, taking the three steps across the interior of the cage to where Sam is sitting on the concrete, back against the wall and a hand pressed to the scrap of Dean's shirt covering the bite mark on his neck.
"How're you doing, Sammy?" Dean asks as he crouches down in front of his brother, tugging Sam's hand away as he tries to get a look at the wound. It's hard to see clearly in the dim light, but when he gently touches the skin around the puncture, it feels like it's mostly stopped bleeding, sticky with slowly congealing blood.
"...mmm?" Sam responds sluggishly, angling his head up to look at his brother in the thin sliver of moonlight shining through the dirty window across the room, beyond the bars of the cage.
"You still with me?" Dean repeats, pushing Sam's bangs away from his face.
"Yeah, I, uh... m'okay." Sam nods slowly, but Dean can feel him swaying slightly, the blood loss taking its toll.
"Just hang in there," Dean reassures him, turning on his heels to settle on the concrete floor next to his brother. "We'll get outta here soon."
Sam leans his head back against the rough brick wall. "How?" he asks skeptically. He's been drained of enough blood in the past couple of days that just sitting upright is starting to become a challenge. Dean's got no weapons on him, having been stripped of anything useful -- lockpick and cell phone included -- when he'd been knocked unconscious and dragged down here after his ill-fated rescue attempt had gone south.
Dean's silent for a moment, running through possible scenarios in his head. They all end badly. "...I'm working on it."
Sam snorts derisively. "Good. That-- that's very reassuring..."
They sit there in silence for a while, in the gloom of the unlit basement. Dean listens carefully for any sounds of movement above them, but the vampires must have gone out hunting again, hungry for more victims to add to their blood-on-tap basement stash. With the huge cage spanning one whole side of the room, he and Sam are basically the latest additions to a nasty-ass vampire version of a wine cellar.
The nest had been a surprise, really. Both of them had thought it was one lone vamp, picking people off on the outskirts of town. All of the stories they'd heard from witnesses only mentioned one guy. And when Sam had disappeared three days ago, Dean couldn't figure out how one vampire had gotten the drop on a hunter as good as Sam.
But when he'd finally tracked it down, he'd been caught by surprise just as much as Sam had been. Who knew there were vampire triplets out in the world?
Being ambushed by three vampires instead of one was not what he'd been expecting. And the brief battle that had ensued had been just as disorienting, until Dean wasn't sure which one of them he'd already tried to take down.
He sighs at the memory, then winces as one of his bruised ribs twinges at the movement. Drumming his fingers restlessly against his leg, he tries to think of what to do if the vamps come back downstairs, how he can take them by surprise, maybe, get himself and Sam out of there quick.
"Dean..." Sam groans breathlessly, pulling him away from his thoughts, and he turns to look at Sam. His brother is swaying dangerously, chin tucked to his chest, and Dean quickly reaches out a hand to steady him.
"Whoa, whoa, Sammy, easy... easy there..." he says, just barely keeping Sam from toppling over. "Y'okay?"
"Dizzy..." Sam whispers, and sags bonelessly against his brother, drained of his last reserves of energy.
"It's okay, I gotcha. I gotcha," Dean murmurs, tucking Sam against his body and wrapping an arm around him. His head falls limply against Dean's shoulder, his breathing shallow. Dean can feel Sam trembling underneath him, his skin cold and clammy.
"Jesus, you're freezing," Dean says, carefully shrugging out of his own jacket while keeping Sam stable. He wraps it around his brother's shoulders, rubbing a hand up and down Sam's arm through the material in an effort to keep him warm. Even way down here in Texas, the February chill is setting in as the night goes on, and it's not doing Sam and favors.
"Just stay with me, buddy," Dean continues his stream of reassurances. "Stay with me a little while longer, and we'll get out of here. I promise."
He hopes it's true. Right now his best bet is that Bobby will wonder why he hasn't called lately and come looking for him. Bobby had spent the past two days combing through info and contacting other hunters, trying to help Dean figure out what the hell had happened to Sam. But South Dakota's a long way away, and even if Bobby comes after them, it'll be a while until they can expect any kind of rescue.
Dean just hopes Bobby's smarter than he had been and brings backup with him.
He feels Sam lean a little more heavily against his side and cranes his neck to try and get a look at his brother. It's almost impossible in the darkness. Sam's head is still pressed against Dean's shoulder, and the moonlight dims as a cluster of clouds slides across the night sky, making the already shadowy room even darker. "Hey, Sammy, you're not falling asleep on me now, are you?" he asks.
Sam becomes a little more alert at the question, taking a shaky breath before he mumbles, voice ragged and tired, "Yeah... m'here..."
"Good. You'd better stay away. I'm gonna get bored just sitting here if you pass out on me," Dean answers, going for levity in the face of a crappy situation.
Sam chuckles almost inaudibly, his shoulders trembling under Dean's grasp.
"Hey, Sammy?" Dean asks, trying to keep his brother focused.
"Yeah...?" Sam whispers.
Dean's quiet for a moment before he asks his question. He keeps his voice soft, not angry of accusatory, just curious. "Why'd you go after the vamp alone, huh? I coulda backed you up, man. What were you thinking?"
Sam shifts slightly under Dean's arm and he hears him exhale through his nose, taking a few steadying breaths before he replies. When he does, he sounds remorseful, but there's something else there, underneath. "I'm sorry... I should've waited for you. But I jus'... wanted to see if I could do it. Alone." He pauses, then murmurs, "...'Cause..."
He trails off, and in the darkness and quiet, Dean can feel the countdown clock ticking away inside his chest, the inescapable fact that in a few months his year will be up.
It follows him like a shadow, unnoticed but ever present.
Because sooner than either of them want to accept it, Sam will be alone. Just Sam, without Dean. For good. And not because of some badly-planned solo hunt, or a Tuesday that never ends the way it's supposed to. This is because of Dean and the deal he made. The deal he has to live with, and die with.
He clears his throat, breaking the silence and trying to push aside the thoughts of his inevitable trip downstairs.
"It's okay, I get it," he says quickly, patting Sam roughly on the leg before he changes the subject, trying to steer them away from the lurking darkness. "Hey, did I ever tell you about my first solo hunt?"
Sam shakes his head and lets out a pained breath. "Don't think so... when was that?"
Dean sighs, counting back the years in his head. "Okay, so this was... what, five, six years ago? Whatever." He waves a hand, brushing away the details. "You'd just left for college a few months earlier. Dad and I, we were hunting a lot. I think he was trying to keep his mind off of things, y'know? You two hadn't exactly left each other on the best terms."
Sam nods in mute agreement against Dean's shoulder, hair brushing against Dean's neck.
Dean continues, rubbing a hand reassuringly up and down his brother's arm, as much for comfort as for warmth. "So, we're hunting pretty much non-stop. And it's fine. Saving a lot of people, taking care of some nasty monsters. We were just starting to go after a chupacabra in New Mexico, and then he got word of something going on up in Montana. Weird stuff kept happening in this old farmhouse. Sounded like it was just your standard-issue haunting, right?"
"Mmm-hmm," Sam murmurs. "Guessing that's not what it was..."
"Nope," Dean chuckles. "So he sends me up there after it on my own. And it turns out it was a very angry, very powerful poltergeist. Damn thing nearly killed me a couple times while I was trying to gank it. And, you know, not a lot of backup out in Montana. So there I was, trying to figure out what the hell I was gonna do about this thing. I mean, I couldn't just leave it to keep killing people."
"...Did you call Dad?" Sam asks, pulling Dean's jacket tighter around himself. The temperature feels like it's dropping, and Dean wishes he had something warmer to give his brother, but he doesn't. The best he can do is try to keep Sam distracted.
"Hell, no," Dean scoffs. "I called Bobby."
"Ha," Sam laughs weakly. "Good plan. Shoulda done that... couple hours ago..."
"D'you wanna hear the end of this story or not?" Dean says in a mock-scolding tone, throwing a glare down at his brother's tangled hair before he settles back in and continues. "So Bobby shows up right as this thing's gearing up to start killing people again, and he had a few tricks up his sleeve that I'd never even thought of. Together we managed to trap it inside a salt circle, and Bobby knew this incantation that weakened it enough for us to take it down. I woulda been dead if he hadn't been there."
"And what happened... when you got back to Dad?" Sam asks, raising his head slowly.
"Man, what do you think happened?" Dean sits up a little straighter, spouting off the line like it's automatic, practiced. "'Yes, sir. Just a haunting. I took care of it. Everyone's safe.'" He laughs, slapping his brother on the arm, which causes Sam to groan softly. "Sorry. But was I gonna admit that I was in way over my head? To Dad? Hell, no."
Dean hears Sam exhale a short, wry laugh as he replies, "Yeah, I can... understand that."
"Anyway," Dean says, "My point is, don't be dumb like me. Don't go in alone. Have somebody to back you up. Just because you think you can handle it on your own, doesn't mean you should."
Dean pulls away from the wall, twisting so that he can face Sam instead of sitting next to him. With both hands on his brother, still holding him upright, he hunches down, trying to get a good look at Sam's face. "Hey, promise me, okay? Or I swear I'll find a way to come back and haunt your ass." He smiles, even if his brother can't see it in the dark.
It's quiet for a moment, the only sound Sam's labored breathing. Dean waits for an answer.
"Good. Now we're gonna get out of this basement, get you a nice blood transfusion, and keep fighting the good fight. Whaddaya think?"
In response, Sam leans slowly forward until his head is back on Dean's shoulder, and lets out a long, exhausted sigh. "...how's that plan coming...?"
"Quiet. I'm thinking."
* * *
Five Months Later
It all happens so fast. There's a rush of movement and the definite sound of a knife slicing through flesh, and a body falls to the floor beside him. He uses the distraction to push away from the guy who'd pinned him to the wall, gasping in a lungful of air as he's released.
"Take the girl and run!" he hears from across the room.
He does, hurrying over to gather the little girl up in his arms and haul her out of the house, away from the carnage. Behind him, the sounds of fighting continue, and he knows he can't leave it like that. He dashes out the front door, checking that the coast is clear before he leaves the girl in the front yard, commanding her to stay put.
He runs back in, just in time to see the big guy still up and fighting. Reaching out a hand, he focuses all his energy on that one point and pulls, from somewhere deep inside. After a few moments, the big guy drops to the floor in a cloud of black smoke and Sam wipes the blood from under his nose, chest heaving with exertion.
Ruby stumbles away from the wall, back on her feet, and presses the back of one hand to her bloody mouth. "Sam," she pants, taking a step toward him.
"I'm okay," he says, nodding as he catches his breath. "Thanks."
He moves across the room, bending down and picking up the knife from where it had fallen to the floor during the fight. Flipping it in his hand, he holds it out to her, waiting until she grasps the hilt in her hand and takes it from him. If he's going to have backup, she's gotta be useful, just in case there are any more demons waiting to ambush them.
He thinks about what she'd said, about how killing Lilith on his own was a suicide mission. About how it's not... what he would have wanted. Maybe she's right. Maybe it would be.
He turns away from her and heads out of the house, leaving the bodies behind them. As he goes out the front door, Ruby right behind him, he says quietly, "You were right. What you said, earlier, about..."
He trails off, and whe he looks over at her, Ruby is staring back at him. She's giving him a look that's familiar, but the wrongness of that look on her face sends an ache of grief through his chest. He pushes it down, striding away from her, not looking back.
They've got work to do.