Title: With Gravy
Genre: gen, loosely S2 casefic (sort of), hurt/comfort
Characters: Dean (POV), Sam, a family of four
Word Count: ~3600
Summary: The problem with saving people and hunting things in caves is then you have to get out of the cave. You need to get everyone out of the cave. Easier said than done.
Notes: Written for sillie82, who wanted fic about Dean downplaying an injury and Sam taking care of things. I'm not sure if this is exactly what you wanted (Dean downplays an injury to people who aren't Sam), but I tried! <3
He's on the ground. It was a stupid mistake, a moment of distraction. There's nothing heroic about it.
Someone above him--babbling. Spanish. Then save me save me save me.
Dean thinks, Fuck.
But she says--has been saying--"You saved me."
It's done, then.
Dean closes his hand around his gun, closes the other against the gash on his stomach, and closes his eyes.
"Oh god," says the woman. "Are you okay?"
Someone takes his gun, and Dean's thoughts roll back to Oh, fuck, because there's just something about this woman that makes him feel like she shouldn't be armed. Nerves and triggers don't mix.
But then someone's dragging him up by the forearm--Sam, Dean thinks, when his legs stay a little too boneless and he crumples against Sam's legs. Definitely Sam's legs.
"He's okay," Sam assures the woman. "Everyone is-- Everyone is going to be okay."
"Hey," says Sam. "I need you breathe. Come on--there we go. Breathe. You're gonna be okay."
The instructions aren't meant for Dean, but he takes them anyway. He figures it's solid advice.
His vision swims--which is an impressive thing, in the dark. The light from Sam's flashlight bounces in his mind like a firework. He's top-heavy, like his brain is liquid, threatening to spill.
Dean's hand pulls away sticky. Clotting--good sign. The way his heart's racing--not great. Poison, definitely. The lore suggested; Dean confirms.
"Dean," Sam whispers. Too quiet--Dean can barely hear it. Maybe Sam didn't say anything at all. "Dean, we need to get them out. Now. This woman's at like, t minus zero to meltdown."
Of course she is. They're in a cave, miles from free air. Somewhere, there's a dead thing splayed out, a couple bullets heavier. Who knows what it looks like--Dean never saw it. The lore didn't come with pictures. Of course she's freaking the fuck out.
"--Other ones?" Dean wheezes.
"Kids are fine. The guy--broken leg. Compound fracture," Sam answers, voice tight, because Sam's freaking the fuck out, too. Or adrenaline high. They've been at the job so long Dean's not sure there's a difference any more.
"Fuck," Sam says.
Is Dean okay? Sam said Dean was okay. Sam promised that woman he was okay. So Dean has to be okay.
Rule number one when it comes to hunting--or maybe hunting shit in caves, or dealing with people in caves, or--something? Dean's sure it's rule number one of something: Don't let them panic. Do whatever it takes. Just don't, for the love of god, let the civilians panic.
Or maybe that's horses. Never panic horses.
No, people in caves.
Deep breath. "Jus' give me--"
Dean's not sure what he wants. A second? A hand?
(A quick death.)
"Rear-guard," Sam says. "Make sure no one lags behind. Dean, I need--"
Sam's not sure what he needs.
"I need--fracture guy--I need to go deal with fracture guy--"
Sam needs to go deal with about fifty billion other things, too. Like that woman, who stopped breathing when Sam stopped coaching. Dean can hear her croaking gasps as her body kicks from zero to hyperventilation. Or the kids.
Sam swears again.
"Rear-guard," Dean confirms. "Right behind you."
The start of this was stupid. But this part? This is heroism.
Sam's the only one with a flashlight.
Thank fuck for small tunnels, because Dean doesn't think he could walk straight without the walls close on either side of him. Nausea hits with a vengeance, and with nothing to focus on but dark, he's powerless against the dizziness.
Dean tries to make do with the patter of tiny frightened feet--three kids. Well, one kid. Two toddlers. Babies, really. A dragging shuffle--Sam and fracture guy. And the woman--the slap of her flip flops against slick rock.
For a moment, Dean forgets how to hold his gun. It stops feeling like a gun, and becomes something else. Panic jumps down his spine, his heart's off to the races. His gun becomes a gun again. He's wide awake again, alert.
Pathogenesis--that's the word he wanted earlier. That's what it's pointless to try and guess. The lore never got that far. He has no idea where this is headed, or how much time his body has.
Dean starts to spiral, like an insect down a drain. He steadies himself against the walls.
Pathogenesis: Hard, fast. Not good.
The thing--whatever it is--feeds on kids, though. Small bodies, tiny hearts, instant death.
Dean is not a child. He's not dead. All the kids are alright. Him and Sam? They're doing good.
The tunnel stretches on and on, and all Dean hears is their footsteps getting heavier, sloppier. One kid cries. The woman cries. The man's leg doesn't quite clear some jutting rocks, and he weeps. Dean knows that's what he hit because a minute later Dean slams straight into it, too. It feels so much better sprawled out on the ground like that that Dean envies the monster. He wishes someone would do him a solid and put a few rounds in him, too.
But Dean's the only one with a gun.
They're doing so good.
Sam's reassurances are starting to sound half-assed. It's hard to sound soothing when you're gulping air. It's hard to sound anything when you're gulping air, really. Like that time Dean walked in on--was it Evelyn?--and more of Sam's ass than Dean's ever wanted to see.
Sam hadn't been shouting reassurances then, but they'd sounded just the same. Mostly gulping. Dean snorts. Curls his lips against the memory.
But hey, Dean figures if Sam can go at it like that in the bedroom and live to tell the tale, Sam can get them out of this goddamn snake of a cave.
One of the kids--a girl--won't stop talking about food.
Tostones--she misses them. She wants the ones with the garlic on top. Or kimchee. Kimchee and gravy. With a biscuit! It turns into a song. Mournful lament, full-on telenovela theme. Kimchee, kimchee, kimchee with graaaaaavy.
Between the noise and the nausea and the thought of anything with gravy, Dean feels like his stomach's really not living up to its reputation.
(And a biscuit!)
Then he realizes there's only one pair of little girl feet.
For a lurching second Dean's not sure how he managed to lose two fucking kids at the same time, but then he finds the woman. Runs into the small of her back. Her shoulders, engaged--arms arching wide. A baby on each hip. She's still crying, but she never stops walking.
Speaking of heroism, Dean thinks.
But irrespective of their little war party and its bushels of plucky heroism, Dean only makes it through another few minutes before the gravy song at a little girl's pitch in the whorl of a dizzying tunnel he can't see gets the better of him. He hangs back and tries to puke as quietly as possible.
Because he's fine. Everyone's fine. And between him and Sam, there's no reason this family shouldn't feel protected.
They have him and Sam. They're safe.
"He's gonna lose that leg."
"It's not your fault."
Dean doesn't know what he's saying. Of course it's not Sam's fault; Sam never said it was.
Flashlight. Slick with blood, just like Sam's hands. It's one of those moments that make you feel real fucking stupid in the middle of a job--Sam trying to deal with his pants without his belt. His belt, strapped tight above some other man's knee.
The guy's gonna lose more than his leg if they can't get out soon. They're doing everything wrong for him, his stupid leg. There's no way they could have done the right thing. Dean would know--after all, there isn't a first aid manual in the world that says, "For poison, go for a rigorous hike." But here they are.
"Dude, you're shaking."
Dean feels Sam's hand close around his shoulder. Yeah, he knows he's fucking shaking. From the sound of Sam's voice, he's not surprised, either. He knew Dean was hurt. But they can't let those people know. Can't be hurt. Can't show fear. Hope is the only thing keeping their legs going. (Don't panic the horses.)
This isn't helping Sam's panic--his hand on Dean's shoulder like that. Shivering. Pulsing with every sharp, erratic breath because everything, everything hurts and he can never get enough air. Sam feels so good against him, though. He feels so good.
Then Sam takes the flashlight back, shines it in Dean's face.
"Jesus f-- Sam--"
Sam's hand keeps hold of Dean a little too long. If Dean's heart weren't pulping itself against his ribs, it would sink, because he's pretty sure that only means one thing: They've got a long way left to go.
"We should keep moving," Dean says.
Sam doesn't let go.
"Mariana," Sam says into the darkness ahead, "you should be with your husband."
Mariana bursts into heavier tears.
"Mariana, can you help him?" Sam asks.
One plop, then another. She puts her babies down. Scuffling. Her husband hisses as she heaves him to his one good foot.
Put your arms around me, papi. She cries.
Smart, Dean thinks. Re-arrange the war party. Mariana, husband. Give them some time together. Give Sam more movement, freedom to fight anything that comes slinking after them. He takes Dean's gun again. Relief from duty.
(Sam's gun--it's wherever Dean's flashlight is. Miles away now, maybe further.)
"Take the babies," Sam tells Dean. "Set the pace. Whatever you can m-- Whatever, okay?"
Dean would roll his eyes if the world around him weren't already rolling. Sam doesn't want him getting left behind. Doesn't want to turn around and realize Dean stopped, could not continue. Doesn't want to lose his brother. Dean's pretty sure he could've kept up with a dying guy on a broken leg.
"Other direction," Sam prods.
"The way out. It's the other direction."
Dean has babies in his arms. He doesn't remember picking them up. He must have lost his bearings when he did.
"Dean, I promise it's the other direction."
Sam sounds desperate.
"I heard you," Dean says. He meant to say I trust you. Well, he meant to say, It's not like I don't trust you. Jesus, Sam. Right up until he realized he doesn't, actually.
He did, 100%. But then Sam started bringing promises into the mix and now he's not so sure.
He's fine. Everyone's fine. Everyone is going to be fine.
you are safe
you are safe
you are safe
"Can we go faster please?" says a little girl voice.
"Please," she says, "I'm scared."
If this guy was gonna do what was best for his family, he'd tell them to leave him behind. Leave him and his doomed leg and let Mariana get the kids out.
Maybe if he had more experience with this kind of thing--the whole cave thing, the poisonous monster thing, you know--that's what he'd do. Dean honestly doesn't think that it's occurred to the guy that might be an option. All the better, 'cause where him and Sam are concerned, it's not. But you get used to certain status quos, and that's what dads do for their kids. They take the hit.
Again, Dean would know.
But whatever Sam's peddling, it's clearly working, because this dad thinks they're all gonna be okay.
And see, that's where this gets complicated. Because Dean knows what's best for this family, even if Papi doesn't. Papi's slowing them down; Dean is slowing them down. They're gonna need to face that. Or at least Dean is--the only thing keeping him up is inertia. If he lets his knees buckle, he's not going to get back up.
But if that happens--if Dean tells Sam, take the kids and the wife and go--then the illusion breaks, and it all goes to shit, and no one gets out of this alive. Sam's not the only peddler in this cave. Dean's an excellent read of people, and this much he knows. These ones need the illusion of hope.
So really, there's two options: No one gets out alive, or no one gets out alive.
Dean wonders what that would be like. To live a life so far from the shadows you don't even know when it's your good day to die.
But maybe he's not giving Papi enough credit. Dean doesn't want to die for this, either. Not like this.
"Sorry," he says to the babies in his arms. Not even for you.
Sam would never let him, anyway. What's best for this family, what's best for their family--not actually the same thing. Maybe Sam didn't believe him back in Oregon, back with Croatoan, when things were reversed, and it was Sam begging to be left behind. But Sam does now. Fuck him for ever doubting.
Dean rests his head against cold black stone.
Keep standing, he reminds himself. Keep standing.
The babies jostle awake, join in on everyone else's crying. Drown in out with screeching wails. Dean realizes he's no longer standing.
Sam yells, over the wailing, "Nobody move!"
And--whoa--then Sam's at his back. Out of nowhere. Holding him up, so he doesn't crush the babies (and he must be hallucinating these babies because this is absurd, right? This is absurd, even the word--'babies'--it's a weird word, right?)--
"Dean, pull it together," Sam rasps. "Dean, please. Please--"
Dean closes his eyes. Pulling was the problem. There's nothing left to pull. It's like when you pull that loose thread and suddenly your whole shirt goes to shit.
Dean throws up again.
"Shit," says Sam.
"Yeah," Dean agrees. Spits bile.
"We're almost there," Sam assures him.
Sam has no way of knowing that.
"I'm fine," Dean assures Sam.
Sam takes the babies anyway.
Reshuffle the war party: Mariana, husband. Sam, babies. Which means--
"Dude, you're not handing that little girl a .45."
"She misses"--a shaky breath--"the ricochet's gonna kill someone. Never mind the recoi--"
"Dean," Sam interrupts. "Dean, please just listen to me."
Had Sam been talking?
Cold metal in his hand. Gun.
"Don't miss," Sam says. His words are measured--maybe calm. But Dean knows Sam's not calm. He's just dead fucking tired.
When the babies quiet, Sam announces, "Everything's fine. Dean and I just consulted--we're almost there. We're really close."
Doom masked by the crying of babies. That's a new one. Dean's pretty sure they're not being reassuring anymore, though. Now they're just lying.
You put your life on the line for total strangers, Dean thinks to himself. On the daily--life on the line. You make them believe in their safety, no matter what it takes. (What it takes out of you.) It's never enough, though; no matter what, it's never enough.
On good days these days, guilt is the only thing Dean can feel. Today is not a good day.
The nausea's back--short respite after puking. This stomach cramps in on itself. He gives up on ever getting enough air.
It's Mariana's turn. She pumps her husband's chest. Sam forewent the rescue breathing, but Mariana doesn't. It doesn't matter--Papi's not going to make it.
It could still work, Sam argues, breathless, it could still work--you're not stopped to stop unless--
"Sam, stop." He's supposed to say more, Dean's supposed to say more--but he can't.
"Stop," he repeats.
Papi's lost too much blood. He's in too much shock. Threw a clot, maybe. Whatever--he stopped breathing. And Dean doesn't see him starting again. Not gonna start his heart like that, either. Not unless this cave's got an AED handy. And even if it did, they can't carry him out. Not all that way, and not like this. Not even Mariana, no matter how hard she's willing to try.
"Papi?" asks the little girl.
"Papi needs rest. They will come back for him," says Mariana. Mariana, who hasn't stopped crying all night. And maybe that's good. She was crying then and she's crying now and the little girl, her terror is no different now than then. Even though Papi.
"We will," Sam agrees. He's turning Papi over, face down. Dean hears the dead thunk. The rustle of fabric as Sam takes Papi's shirt. Then one of the babies gurgles in its new coccoon. The babies must be getting hypothermic, then.
Sure. If they make it out alive, they'll come back for the body.
Dean thinks, Sam will come back for all the bodies.
He doesn't shoot at first. Can't tell for sure if-- If there's anything. If he's not turned around again. If maybe it's Sam. But the claws at his shoulder--that's not Sam.
One, two, and--last bullet--three.
A thud. The blood spatter burns, corrosive. So everything about this thing is poison.
Good to know.
The adrenaline high bypasses Dean completely, like he isn't even worth the fare. Skips straight to feeling the sickest he's ever felt in his life--and he's died twice already.
He thinks, if he could remember what it felt like--basement, rawhead; Yellow Eyes, ripping out his chest--it would feel like this.
"Did you hear that?" Sam asks, breathless. Breathless for so many reasons, though this time--is it relief?
Judging by the babies--renewed screeching--yeah, everyone heard his shots.
"No, the sound--" Sam says. "The sound--it was different. The exit, we're close. We're actually--"
"You weren't pretending," says the little girl. "I thought maybe--"
Papi, face-down far away. Half-naked and very fucking dead.
Yes, they'd definitely been pretending. But hey, flap your arms hard enough, and sometimes you fly.
Then--another sound. Claws clacking, a quick skitter across the rocks. Not the sound of flying.
"I know," Sam says, and draws his knife. Drops the flashlight and lets it roll toward Dean.
"Mariana, take your children and run. Now!"
Sam, the dark, and a knife fight.
Dean wants to grab the flashlight, finally get a visual on this thing, but he can't make his fingers move, much less his arm. He's sinking into rock, becoming it. He feels the monster--or part of it--crawl right over him. Dances away, actually. Maybe it smells its brother's blood. Knows it's not safe with Dean. Knows what Dean did, and stays away.
Dean doesn't smell blood--not Sam's, anyway--but that sound finds his arms. He pushes, rolls. On all fours.
Blood, he thinks. It scares them. That's the key. These monsters want to live.
Sam cries out again. Metal clatters against stone.
That's their difference, then. Well, that, and a couple dozen legs. But mainly: These monsters want to live. Dean wants vengeance.
You hurt him, I'm gonna fucking kill you, I'm gonna-- I don't run, I'm gonna-- Dean shouts. Or wants to. He doesn't shout anything. Can't breathe. Monsters don't speak English anyway--effort wasted. You hurt my brother and I'm gonna--
Dean feels sharpness--at first, no pain--as his hand lands on the knife, caught between the uneven surface of the cave, edge bared.
Sharp knife, Dean thinks. Good job, Sam.
He can't make his hand close. Take the knife, take the knife, his brain screams at him, and he can't.
He shouts, "Sam!" It comes out a croak. But Sam comes, anyway.
Sam's blood spatters warm into Dean's hair, onto his hand. But Sam steadies himself against Dean, grabs the knife. Dean's limbs collapse beneath him as Sam crashes down hard, and then--something heavier. Dean feels something slither, spasm, slither, against him. Then blood--lots.
He's not sure if it's the monster's or Sam's, just feels Sam's back against his, heaving like a motorboat. (Like a--
Sam's either dying or very much surviving.
When Sam starts laughing, Dean still can't tell.
Dean comes to with a broken rib he wishes he'd known about before he tried to breathe.
"Long time," says Sam. His words shudder, and so does his body against Dean's. He chuckles weakly. "No one was around to tell me to stop."
Dean presses the bruising on his chest. "How long have I--"
Dean passes out again.
When he comes back, Sam is trying to drag him to his feet. But Dean slips--he slips and he doesn't realize how far until his head cracks against stone.
"Oh fuck--" Sam gasps. Heaves. Pukes.
Dean's had a lot of wishes in this cave of wonders, but being able to get out of the way of that is up there. (Below "don't let the kids die," above "make the pain stop.") Wish not granted.
"Fuck," Dean echoes.
"The lore was right about the poison thing," Sam pants.
Almost everything. The lore was wrong about almost everything. As usual.
"We're gonna get out of here, Dean. We are."
And is Sam right about everything, or wrong? Dean can't remember.
The little girl is waiting for them at the mouth of the cave, one baby wailing on either side. It's how Dean knows they're out. It's not any lighter, or any easier to breathe. The sound is different, though. The sound is piercing.
This time when Sam pukes, he has the decency to aim.
"Lila, what are you doing here?" Sam asks. "Where's your mom?"
When did he learn her name?
"She went for help," says Lila, hoarse and shivery. "She told me to wait for you. She says to rest, not walk anymore, and wait for you. Because she can still walk, and she will run for help."
"She told me to say you're safe, 'cause we're not going to leave you. You saved us, and now we're gonna get you safe, too."
We're gonna get you safe.