Summary: It hurts to admit, even to himself, but he's running out of hope, too. He's met nothing but dead ends, has no solutions, not even a lead. And Sam just keeps getting worse.

Disclaimer: All SN things bright and beautiful, the Kripke made them all.

Notes the first: Thanks to Faye for the lightning-fast beta.

Notes the second: Today is Refur's half-year birthday in the SN fandom. If you haven't read her yet, you've been missing out! Not only is she incredibly gracious and kind and talented and FUNNY as all hell, but she has been writing fic like a madwoman for the last week off prompts she solicited, in effect giving us presents for her half-birthday. Which has been pretty darned cool. So this fic is a little thank-you, this time letting Refur be the one to pick the prompt.


Horseshoes and Hand Grenades

"Ash, tell me you've got something." His voice sounds desperate, even to his own ears, and he doesn't care.

"I'm sorry, man. I searched every source I could think of. There's nothing."

"There's got to be." It's not so much a statement as a plea. "You don't understand. They're killing him."

They're killing him.

"Listen, dude, I –" Ash breaks off, doubt and regret in his tone. Like he thinks there's no hope but can't bring himself to say it. Dean wants to punch him. "I'll keep looking. I'll call you if I find anything."

Dean presses a hand over his eyes. "Yeah. Alright." The phone's shut off, then dropped from nerveless fingers. It hurts to admit, even to himself, but he's running out of hope, too. He's met nothing but dead ends, has no solutions, not even a lead. And Sam just keeps getting worse.

Beside him, Sam moans, twisting on the bed. "Red house. Shutters. Have to . . . have to . . ."

"Sam. Sammy. It's okay." He brushes Sam's hair back from his forehead, watches his eyes track something Dean can't see. He doesn't see Dean, hasn't in days. Four, to be exact. Four days that have been one long nightmare that needs to end now.

Sam cries out like a wounded animal, back arching. "Don't . . . stop him . . . No . . ."

Dean dabs at the blood trickling from Sam's nose, from his ears oh God, tries to keep him from falling off the bed.

Four days since Sam touched that damned necklace. And it wasn't even supposed to be the necklace. It was the sword that was cursed, that they'd come to steal, to purify. The necklace had been an accident – a table jostled when he cut a corner too close and Sam reached out to keep it from falling, to hold back metal from a smooth wood floor and maintain silence.

The reaction had been instant, Sam dropping to his knees, crying out, the necklace still gripped in his hand. Dean had to pry his fingers from it—it was like they were fused—and even then, it hadn't made a difference. Sam could barely stand, words tumbling out all but incoherent. "Trees. A lake. He's drowning. It's . . . pulling him. Get him out."

Two more visions by the time Dean rushed him back to the car, and Dean only knew because he changed to her and then them. Nothing he'd tried snapped Sam out of it and Dean had floored it back to their motel, necklace in his pocket, knowing this was not good, not good, definitely not good.

Four days of Sam thrown from one vision to the next, no respite, limbs pulled taut in constant pain, eyes blinking open to stare uncomprehendingly and then falling shut again, squeezed tight, brow furrowed.

And then he'd started bleeding.

"Break it. Don't take any . . . not enough." Sam's thrashing restlessly, hands batting feebly at Dean's.

He doesn't know how much more Sam can take. How much more he can take. He's called everyone – gone through Dad's journal and Sam's emails and contacted every person they ever knew, hunter and not. No one's seen the necklace before. No one knows what to do.

"Dean . . . help . . ."

Tears bite at his eyes but he won't give in. He won't give up. "I'm here, Sammy. I'm right here. I've got you. You're okay." Automatic reassurances from a lifetime of nightmares—normal nightmares—and they feel useless. They feel like lies.

Sam's back arches again and he makes a horrid sound, some black amalgamation of a scream and something strangled that makes the hair on Dean's neck stand up. "Sam!"

He's shuddering now, convulsing . . .oh God convulsing, head jerking back and forth, arms and legs flailing. Dean's never seen a seizure, but this is one, there's no doubt, and he's racking his brain, trying to remember what to do. In the end, he just holds Sam's head, willing his grip to stay loose when what he wants to do is pull Sam to him and hold as tight as he can.

"Please Sam, please, oh God, don't do this, please Sam, stay with me Sammy – " He shaking almost as hard as Sam is, certain his brother is dying in his arms while he can do nothing, nothing to save him.

The seizure seems endless, though it lasts only minutes, and when Sam sags all at once, still and boneless, Dean doesn't understand what's happened. Sam can't be dead, he can't be and it's not until Dean feels a pulse beneath his trembling fingers that he realizes he's shouting.

Sam is limp as a rag doll, makes no response when Dean says his name, touches his face, presses a hand to Sam's chest to make sure he's breathing. But he is breathing, so Dean does too, a shuddering gasp that feels like it's the first breath he's ever taken. He's not sure if this is a good thing, Sam's unconsciousness. And he's praying it doesn't last long. But after four endless days of Sam agonized and babbling, the sudden peace feels almost like a miracle.

He tugs Sam close, spoons around him. Sam may be taller by a good four inches, but in Dean's arms, he feels so small. Fragile. He never wants to let him go.

--oo--

Sam doesn't remember much of what happened. He wakes an hour after the seizure, disoriented, dehydrated, voice nearly gone, aching like he's had a bad case of the flu. He's weak for days afterward, drained, like all the energy has been sucked out of him. Dean thinks maybe it was.

He can't recall any details from the visions, but every once in a while he gets a flash like a bolt of lightning across his brain. Dean watches him flinch and tries not to say anything, but doesn't hide the fact that he grabs Sam's arm and holds it until the pain is gone. Every time.

If Sam never has a vision again, it'll be too soon.

They never find out what it was about the necklace— what made Sam so susceptible (though they both have their suspicions), or why it stopped (though there are some gift horses even Dean won't look in the mouth), or why it did what it did in the first place. A curse is the most likely culprit, but Sam has some theories about spirit conduits and tools of divination. Frankly, Dean couldn't care less. He just wants it gone.

Because they don't know, though, they don't know how to dispose of it. Some objects gain more power when they're destroyed, and Dean's not taking any chances. Bobby agrees to let them bring it to him, says he has some consecrated ground it can be buried in. Between that and Bobby's other wards and protections, they hope it will be enough.

They buy a case for it – a lead one Dean stumbles across at a pawn shop. "It worked on Kryptonite." He laughs at his own joke, but there's no humor in it.

Sam carves devil's traps on both the inside and the outside, every plane. Dean drops the necklace in and solders the lid shut in Bobby's shop. They anoint the box before they bury it.

Dean still feels its presence when they sit down to supper. By the disquieted expression on Sam's face, he does too—a pulse like the tell-tale heart. They rush through their goodbyes. Bobby just waves, understanding.

They won't be back this way for a while.

They're both quiet as they hit the interstate, speeding down I-29 toward Nebraska.

"Is there a moral to this one?" Sam's words are teasing, but his eyes are serious, and Dean knows he's hoping for an answer. Dean doesn't have one.

"You need better taste in jewelry," he says instead.

Sam grumbles and rolls his eyes, but he gets it, Dean can tell. The knowledge doesn't make it any easier.

Too close. Too close a call for mere bad luck and Dean hates that. It's the worst part of the job, knowing they could be brought down—almost were—by nothing more than happenstance. And Sam's more vulnerable now than ever; they both know it, even if they never talk about it.

"I'll wear gloves, next time." Again, teasing. And again, serious. There's a flicker of something in Sam's eyes and Dean reaches out instinctively before he realizes it's not pain, but resignation and determination all in one—just like Sam, to never have just one emotion at a time.

Next time.

He's just grateful there will be one.

Fin