Hoisting his fractious and increasingly immobile brother back onto Hannibal hadn't proved as much of an ordeal as Sam had feared. Hannibal was far too occupied with a particularly delicious patch of clover to care much about the cursing figure, clumsily grappling his way up into the saddle courtesy of a brotherly leg-up.
Sam reflected as he nursed his aching jaw; a memento from where Dean's flailing boot had caught him a haymaker. He was sure he'd have an impressive bruise there by the morning, and he was quite sure a tooth was working itself loose too. Peachy, just peachy.
The horses maintained a lively pace; switching back and forth between a brisk walk and a leisurely canter as they progressed deeper and deeper into the mountain pass; the crunching of their hooves over the barren rock-strewn track, a backtrack to the intermittent conversation of their riders.
The Winchesters had been riding for a few hours and had lost track of how many miles they had travelled, but they were clearly deep into the mountains, and that meant they were close to the chupacabra's hunting ground.
Dean had spent the first portion of the ride complaining about his sore ass, unswerving in his belief that he was almost certainly going to need skin grafts. Sam noted, with relief, that he had finally gone silent on the subject. That either meant that his ass had gone numb under this morning's onslaught and wasn't hurting any more or that he had realised the whining wasn't achieving anything and had given up. What's more, Sam didn't care about the reason; he was just grateful for the peace and quiet.
As they continued, the pass wound deeper and deeper into the valley, the mountains looming up either side of them, bathing them in shadow and bouncing the echoing crunch of the horses hooves from side to side.
The lush vegetation of their morning's campsite had gradually thinned away, replaced by sparse brush and isolated outcrops of spiky gorse, which clung forlornly to the rocky foothills.
Sam's eye wandered, taking in the bleak moonscape; his mind occupied with thoughts of where they could camp and how they would feed and water the horses tonight. He pondered the hunt; the chupacabra could be anywhere so they needed to be prepared. His hand strayed down to grip the barrel of the rifle tucked securely under Indiana's surcingle.
He looked across at Dean who appeared lost in his thoughts, rocking uncomfortably in the saddle, scanning the track dead ahead over the rhythmic nod of Hannibal's shaggy head as he clung grimly onto the horn of the saddle.
A heavy rustle suddenly shook the bushes ahead of them and the brothers glanced at each other, instinctively reaching for their weapons. As they did so, a young buck elk burst out from the brush; it's side gashed open, blood pouring down it's legs. It scrambled across the track ahead of them, running stiffly and awkwardly, as if only three of it's four legs were functioning properly.
Both horses squealed in shock and recoiled violently; Sam lurched, letting out an involuntary gasp as he was flung sideways out of the saddle. Landing heavily on his hip, he rolled back to avoid Indiana's stamping hooves, groaning as a bolt of pain shot through his thigh.
Hannibal had shied, also flinging Dean sideways, but committing the cardinal novice rider sin, Dean hung on grimly as the panic crazed animal wheeled and fretted beneath him.
"Dean, let go," Sam stumbled painfully to his feet yelling across to his brother, "jump off, Dean; jump off …"
But Dean was numb to anything except his panic at this unfamiliar and terrifying situation. His feet had slipped out of the stirrups and in an instinctive attempt to beat the pull of gravity, he flung his bodyweight forward, the horn of the saddle digging hard into his ribs as he tightened his grip around Hannibal's neck, his hands grabbing fistfuls of mane in a desperate attempt to stay on board. As his body slipped further and further down the side of the saddle, he tucked his legs up behind him, his feet gripping ferociously into Hannibal's sensitive flanks, distressing the frightened horse even further.
Hannibal tossed his head violently, yanking the reins out of Dean's hand and given freedom of his head, he took off at a frantic gallop.
"Dean…" Sam screamed after him, watching the bolting horse disappear along the track. He set off to run after it, so he didn't lose sight of Dean, but he could manage little more than a stiff-legged limp; Indiana trailed along behind him, trotting on the end of the reins that Sam had somehow managed to keep a hold of as he fell.
Hannibal, increasingly disturbed by his unbalanced rider, bucked and swerved sharply to free himself of Dean's desperate grasping attempts to stay on, and Sam watched in horror as Dean tumbled backwards across Hannibal's flank, slamming heavily into a large rock as he fell. The speed of the tumble sent him cartwheeling across the dusty, rock-strewn track, before coming to rest as a spreadeagled tangle of limbs in a swirling cloud of dust.
Half running, half hopping as fast as his rapidly stiffening leg would allow, Sam stared at the inert shape on the ground ahead of him, coughing on the drifting dust which hung in the air as he approached.
As he reached his brother, Sam dropped Indiana's rein, leaving the horse to his own devices. He dropped to his knees next to his brother, sucking in a gasp of pain as his hip screamed in protest.
Dean was conscious, but dazed; dirty grazes blackening his right cheekbone and jaw, caused by the roll across the ground Sam guessed. He was attempting to rise, but Sam placed a hand flat on his back to prevent it.
"Stay down dude," he said gently; "I wanna check you over first." He had noticed Dean was panting heavily, Sam wasn't sure if that was pain, adrenaline or any other, more concerning, reason.
He ran experienced hands along Dean's spine, pressing either side of the vertebrae, moving down from the nape of his neck. He could feel the muscles in his brother's back flexing as he tried to move, but the weight of Sam's hand prevented it.
Dean mumbled quietly, Sam could feel the breath rumble through his brother's hunched back and bent lower to hear what Dean had to say.
"S'my, where Han'bal?"
Sam shook his head, "don't know dude; he disappeared off down the trail."
"migh' get hurt…"
"I'm sure he hasn't gone far," Sam reassured his brother, "he's probably already found some tree to eat," he smiled, slipping a hand under Dean's chest, and helping him to sit up. He took note of a sharp hiss of pain at the movement.
It was then he noticed Dean's right arm, heavily grazed through his shredded jacket sleeve, cradled protectively against his chest.
Sam leaned in to support Dean's shoulder; "where does it hurt, dude?" His question more of a device to check Dean's responses than to actually get an answer. "Arm…" Dean whispered with a breathless flinch, looking up at Sam, "arm an' shoul'er…" Sam reached up towards Dean's right shoulder, but he saw the problem before he felt it; a ragged dent across Dean's collarbone.
"Crap" Sam sighed.
Dean blinked as his eyes watered in the settling dust, and he swallowed hard as Sam gently pulled down the neck of his T shirt to see the deep bruises already blossoming over and beneath the broken bone.
He closed his eyes, face tightening in pain, "need t'go fin' Han'bal…"
Sam shook his head, "he'll be fine; I'm callin' help first; I'll go look for him when it gets here."
"Won' get signal;" Dean gestured up to the mountains with his good arm, "mount'ns."
Sam's stomach lurched; he hadn't thought of that. He looked at his cell to see that Dean was right, there was no signal to be had at all. "crap again!"
Sam took a deep breath in an attempt to stay calm. First things first, he would need to make Dean comfortable; he could worry about what to do next afterwards. he rubbed Dean's back, "c'mon dude, I'll make you a sling and get you cleaned up." He easn't giving Dean a chance to debate the point.
It was then he remembered the first aid kit was in Hannibal's saddlebag.
"crap, crap, crap!"
He squeezed Dean's good shoulder, "dude, I'm going to have to find Hannibal and bring him back - he's got the first aid kit."
"I won't be long;" Sam added, "you gonna be okay?"
Dean nodded again and rolled his eyes, "yeah, I'll be fine", he snorted, still short of breath, "you just take care o' m'little fat buddy when y'find him; he's scared."
Sam grunted as he staggered to his feet, "I promise," he smiled, stretching his stiff leg to try to work some flexibility back into it.
"Your leg hur'?" Dean frowned when he noticed Sam's discomfort.
Sam shrugged, "nothing much - just a bit stiff…"
Dean's frown deepened, but he reluctantly realised he wasn't going to be getting any more information; "bring my M & M's - I wan' chocolate." He called hoarsely after his brother's receding back.
"Bite me" Sam yelled back over his shoulder.
"No, I wanna bite them…" Dean muttered, wincing as he tried and failed to shift his position.
Indiana, who had been paying no attention to the drama going on beside him, glanced up from the unappetising clump of gorse he had found and whittered softly to the injured man.
Sam had been walking about twenty minutes, using the exercise to try to ascertain the damage to his hip. He guessed it wasn't broken or dislocated, just heavily bruised, but that still meant he had inflammation, pain and immobility to look forward to.
He let out a deep sigh; of all the places to be stranded and injured. Damn Winchester luck, it couldn't be in a busy Main Street with a cellphone signal and a hospital half a mile up the road.
He was jolted out of his thoughts when he saw something laying across the track way ahead of him; he stopped, bemused, and squinted at the huge, pale brown lump.
As he approached, he realised with horror what it was that he was looking at and stumbled backwards, doubling over as he vomited into the sparse brushwood.
Hannibal's throat had been torn open.