Sam blinked blearily and glanced down at his watch, as he was awoken from an uncomfortable catnap by Dean shifting. It was 8 am; he had been awake when dawn had broken a good couple of hours ago and he silently cursed himself for falling asleep again. Stretching stiffly, he yawned, knowing his first job this fine morning was to seek help; not just seek it. Find it.
He had spent the night holding his brother tight, listening to every one of Dean's harsh, pained breaths, subconsciously comparing each to the previous one; listening for any kind of change or deterioration. It was just before dawn; the last time he had heard Dean's voice, that Sam's gnawing concern had racheted up a notch when Dean had begun shifting fretfully and murmuring between his pained breaths. Sam thought he'd heard his own name mentioned a couple of times, but couldn't hear what was being said.
He leaned in closer; "hey dude, what is it? You need something?"
Dean whispered again, the only word that Sam caught was his own name.
"You thirsty?" he softly rubbed Dean's arm, "c'mon man, what's wrong?"
Dean shifted again. "Where S … S'm?"
Sam's brow furrowed, "where am I? I'm right here, Dean…" he reassured softly, his hand moving up to rub his brother's unkempt hair, "hey Dean, why don't you look at me, then you can see where I am."
Dean blinked slowly, but otherwise didn't move, "tell … S-s'mmy … breakfast."
Sam stared at him, "Dude?"
"e-eat … his break … fast; oth'wise … late f'school …"
Sam's heart sank.
"Hey Dean, wake up man, you're dreaming…" Sam whispered, hoping against hope it was, indeed, a dream.
Sam turned to pick up the water bottle and offered Dean a drink.
Dean shook his head. "S'mmy … needs'is … breakfast…" He panted harshly for a moment, "get … hungry a'school …"
Gathering Dean in as tightly as he dared, he spoke softly as he tried to reach his confused brother; "Hey Dean, knock it off; you're scaring me, man."
He looked intently into Dean's face, trying to make some kind of connection with the empty, half closed eyes; trying to see past the dark smudges beneath them, the sickly grey pallor which had leeched any trace of colour out of his face, the tightness across his brow and lips formed of constant pain. He carded his fingers through Dean's hair, "I don't go to school any more dude;" he murmured softly, "I'm way too big an' ugly for school now."
Dean 's mouth worked around his rasping gulps; "need t'find … S'mmy …" it was with deepening concern that Sam saw the blue tinge had set in again around his lips.
He pressed the water bottle to Dean's mouth, taking small comfort when he drunk enthusiastically, pausing between each heaving breath until he had emptied half the bottle.
Sam felt Dean's head sink into his neck as he watched the pale rays of the morning sun spreading upwards over the foothills, heralding a warm and bright start to the new day. A day that would bring the help that Dean so desperately needed.
Sam would make sure of it.
His mind began to race through all the things he would need to do. Dean had taken a turn for the worse; that much was certain. Sam had known he would deteriorate without the medical help he needed, but he hadn't counted on the deterioration being so sudden, so terrifying. Now he realised he couldn't be away wandering the landscape looking all over for help that might not be there - he had to be a swift as possible, and his guessed his best chance was to try to find that elusive cellphone signal.
That's all he needed; a cellphone signal; that's all. Just one stupid pissy little bar.
They weren't that far from civilisation; it wasn't like they were on Mars or anything. He scanned the trail and guessed if he climbed up one of the foothills that might prove to be his best chance of finding a signal long enough to call 911. If not, he might at least be high enough to scan for any signs of life.
Of course, what his injured hip would have to say about doing that was another matter. It had been drifting between tingling numbness, burning pain and throbbing ache all night, becoming so immobile that he was reduced to walking in a kind of stiff legged shimmy, but he didn't give a crap. He would climb the damn hill in handstands if that's what it took to get the help Dean needed.
Sam watered Indiana, ruffling the his smooth forelock as he did so, then left the gentle horse with whispered orders to look after Dean until he got back.
Kneeling down beside Dean, Sam placed a hand on his neck and his heart lurched as he looked into the unfocussed green eyes; they stared dully back through him, squeezing tightly closed with each painful breath. They barely registered his existence.
"Dean" he whispered, "hey man, wanna drink before I go?"
His brother's face registered no flicker of response as he continued his long and fading battle for breath.
That was all Dean could focus on now; his world had shrunk to each pained, wrenching breath that he could force into his body, trying to fight against the dwindling supply of oxygen which was gradually shutting him down.
It took a desperately long time before Sam could bring himself to leave his brother.
"I'm just going to take a walk up that hill there to try and get us some help," he murmured, bending low to look directly and closely into Dean's face, seeing his eyes closed; "you gonna be okay?"
Sam wasn't sure if the barely perceptible nod was a positive response or simply gravity working on Dean's sagging head.
"I'm not gonna be long, okay? And you'll be able to see me right until I get to the top. " He reached and laid a palm against Dean's cold clammy face, taking care not to touch the bruised grazes from the original fall; and took a deep breath, "don't you go doing anything stupid when I'm off up there, you hear me?"
His thumb absently traced the curve of Dean's cheekbone, as he blinked back tears. "I couldn't do that Dean;" swallowing hard as he fought to compose himself, "don't make me come back and find you …"
For a moment the only sound was a series of harsh wheezing breaths, before Dean's eyes finally lifted to meet Sam's. The merest spark of acknowledgement flickered across them before they closed again.
Sam began the long trek to the top of the hill, moving as swiftly as he could. Every step he took felt like a red hot iron skewering his hip, but he soldiered on, stumbling over the loose shale, turning every few strides to look back down at Dean.
With virtually every step of his laborious journey, he checked his cell, growing more frustrated and scared by the second; "c'mon … c'mon … pick up a signal you sonofabitch …"
He was about three quarters of the way along the track heading towards the crest of the hill when he turned to look down on Dean once more. Another fruitless check of his mobile; he sighed … sure he was high, but the mountains blocking the signals around him were a heck of a lot higher.
A darkness began to bear down on him, a sense of overpowering hopelessness and despair, as he turned to look back at Dean's unmoving figure once more. As he stared down, he saw something out of the corner of his eye, something which drew his attention.
A flash of colour.
Way below him, along the trail, Sam guessed, about a kilometer from where Dean lay slumped against the log were two figures in red overalls.
Sam stopped and stared, blinking against the sunlight; barely able to believe what he could see. Relief engulfed him as he opened his lungs and screamed at the top of his voice …
"HEY … YOU GUYS … OVER HERE …"
The two figures had already reached Dean by the time Sam had scrambled clumsily back down the hill. Falling over twice, he presented himself to them with he knees torn out of his jeans, the blood from one of his grazed knees staining his shin.
"Parks Authority Search and Rescue;" the taller of the two men introduced himself, "I'm Jim, this is Allan. What's your name, buddy?" Sam noted that Allan was already on his knees in front of Dean, monitoring his desperately heaving chest, pressing two fingers against his neck.
Sam panted wildly, and doubled over leaning his hands on his knees; "I'm Sam; oh God … thank God; you gotta help my brother, Dean; he got a collapsed lung and a broken collarbone." Jim reached out, grasping Sam's elbow to steady him.
"Okay Sam, Dean's in good hands, Allan there's a paramedic;" He smiled, looking Sam up and down, "are you okay? You look a bit banged up yourself." he added.
"Uh, yeah, whatever ... I'm good …" Sam responded absently, watching as his barely conscious brother received Allan's confident attentions.
"He started getting delirious this morning," he called across, "then he stopped being able to talk altogether." Sam's voice tailed off into a plea. "Please help him … please. Look, he can hardly breathe."
Allan strapped an oxygen mask onto Dean's face, and folded his stethoscope away, looking up at his colleague. "Severe respiratory distress; this guy needs immediate hospitalisation."
Jim looked up at Sam. "We've got an ambulance truck about a mile up on an access track, that's about as close as we could get; you up to walking, Sam?"
Sam nodded, then stopped "what about Indiana?" He gestured over to the tall chestnut who stood patiently beside the log, curiously overseeing Allan's efficient examination of Dean.
"We brought a horse trailer too."
Sam blinked, hesitating; "I don't understand; how did you find us? I couldn't call anyone - couldn't get a signal on my cellphone."
Jim stepped past Sam to help Allan manoeuvre a telescopic stretcher down on the ground next to Dean.
He looked back to Sam as he worked; "the authority got a call late last night from the wife of a farmer to say that she had good reason to believe two campers who had rented two of their horses had gotten into serious trouble out here." He slipped his hand under Dean's shoulders as Allan took his ankles and the two men hoisted him onto the stretcher.
"They knew you were planning to come out on this part of the trail; and seemed to think you'd got into trouble with the rogue cougar that's been killing the livestock recently."
Sam stared at him, confused. "Uh, rogue cougar? Uh, yeah, the rogue cougar..." He watched Dean being strapped onto the stretcher, "yeah, um … damn thing killed one of the horses, that's how Dean had his accident." he stepped back to allow the two men to lift the stretcher; "we killed it," he added, "shot it in the head; it - um - crawled away to die. No idea where it's body is."
"Sounds like you did everyone a good service then; it won't be giving anyone any trouble any more," Jim responded with a heave as he and his partner lifted the stretcher.
Sam swiftly untethered Indiana, and set off after the two men as they carried the stretcher smartly along the track toward the truck, racking his brain to try to work out how the farmer's wife could possibly know they had got into trouble.
The ambulance truck pulled up outside a bustling ER, and Dean was carried urgently through it's swinging doors by their two rescuers.
As Sam limped through the door behind them to see a swarm of medical experts descend upon his brother, he finally succumbed to the overwhelming relief of seeing Dean in the good hands of the people who would mend him.
He smiled and crumpled slowly into a dead faint.