"Sammy."

He glanced up from where he sat on the bed, his eyes filled with the tragedy that seemed to echo like a thick steady chain through his life, always keeping him moving, forcing him to carry on. Yet it was now more than ever that the chain seemed to entwine itself into his life, trapping him, suffocating his thoughts until all that he could think of was the future that undeniably, was going to happen.

"Sammy?"

Dean told him not to think about it. That in the end, it would all be ok. But how could it be? Dean was getting the easy way out. For Sam - well, he'd have to relive these unconscious memories forever. If felt almost as if he were drowning in a nightmare, because the truth was, he couldn't cope without his older brother by his side.

"Sam!" A hand gripped his shoulder roughly and shook him out of his reverie. Sam glanced up sharply, his eyes flaring with annoyance from being distracted, broken from his ponderings, bought back to the vicious reality that swarmed his world. At least in his mind, he could pretend. He could act like everything was ok, dream up ideas that Dean wasn't going to die in just a couple of months, and that there wasn't absolutely nothing he could do about it. In his mind, it was all safe and enclosed. He saved Dean over and over. They would be fine.

Of course they wouldn't be.

"Jeez, are you having some sort of emo moment or something?" Dean rolled his eyes, removing the leaden weight of his hand once more from Sam's shoulder and stepping back into the dusky shadows. There was the click of a gun - Dean was obviously loading up again. "Let's get back on the road."

Reluctantly, Sam opened the passenger seat door of the Impala, his mouth quivering precariously before he finally pulled himself together. Suck it up, he reminded himself bitterly, this is no time to be weak. You have to be strong. For Dean.

But Sam was tired of being strong. He was so god dammed tired of everything, that giving up seemed like as good an idea as any at the worst of times. Immediately, he felt guilt wash through him, cleansing the poisonous thoughts from his mind. Dean had given up everything to save him, and how was he going to repay his brother? By throwing it all in? By getting himself killed? He heaved a sigh and dared to catch a glimpse of Dean through the corner of his eye. His brother's hand automatically stretched out to switch up the volume dial, as if he knew Sam was about to say something.

"Dean."

Dean paused and threw him a withering look before casting his eyes quickly back on the road. "Yeah, what is it?"

"I don't know if I can do this."

Another roll of the eyes. It hurt Sam to know Dean wasn't even taking him seriously. The older man's knuckles whitened as he tightened his grip on the steering wheel, pushing down to edge up the speed on the accelerator. The Impala pulled away into the luscious cream of dusk which was fading quickly into night.

"Suck it up, Sam. I'm not in a mood for any chick-flick moments."

Sam glowered and felt his mind blur with a dazzle of anger, before returning his gaze to the window, watching blankly as the greenery rushed by, seething in affront and rage. Dean tossed him a glance and laughed.

"Don't throw a tantrum on me, lil bro. Remember, I've only got a few months left. I want to make the most of my life."

"It's always about making the most of your life, isn't it?" Sam chortled sourly, eyes remaining stubbornly on the window. "That girl you just screwed was "making the most of your life". The girls you shack up with every night is just to "make the most of your last moments"." He scowled viciously, folding his arms angrily across his chest. It hurt him to know that Dean would rather waste his last precious moments with some blonde bint rather than with him.

"Whoa, what's got your pants in a twist?" Dean laughed, before realising his brother was thoroughly serious. He sighed, an immediate note that he was settling down, that this conversation was getting serious. Sam knew he should have taken that as a warning but somehow, now they were here, at the point of another argument, he couldn't help but to push on.

"You are so god damned selfish, you know that?"

Dean blinked. "Selfish? I think you're forgetting the reason why you're still here, Sammy boy -"

"-Yeah, because you couldn't face going through this life alone! Because you're tried! I've heard it all before, Dean, and unmistakably every single excuse is framed with the word "you". What about me, Dean? How am I supposed to go on without you? It's hard enough knowing I can't help you get out of this mess, but then after that -" he broke off, gasping for breath. "There's just a black void, Dean. When you're gone, there's nothing. You think this is easy for me? Were you even thinking of me when you brought me back, or was it always about yourself, and what you wanted?"

Dean retorted immediately, his laugh mocking and still rolling his eyes. It caused Sam's hand to knot into a fist of fury.

"Oh, that's rich, coming from you. Selfish? Who's the one who ran off to college because Daddy wasn't giving him the life he wanted -"

"-That's not fair, Dean," Sam added loudly, his own voice toppling Dean's rebuke. A snarl rose in his throat and he stared ahead of his out of the windshield, watching the sun sink behind the horizon and the clouds swiftly move with greedy blackness to swallow up the last of the light. "This isn't about college, this is about you dying. Are you seriously trying to compare that to my education?"

Dean just laughed darkly before falling silent, and his hand automatically reached for the volume dial again. Quickly, Sam swatted him away. A pause fell between the two Winchesters, and predictably, it was Sam who broke it.

"I've been thinking. I've come up with a theory . . ."

"Don't."

"The demons. We play them off against each other. I trade my life for yours - I seal a deal giving me a year so long as you stay alive. That way, neither of us -"

"It won't work."

"You haven't even given it a thought -"

"I'm telling you, it won't work, Sammy."

"Why not?" His jaw was set into a stubborn grimace, his eyes flashing a challenge. Dean raked a sigh and rinsed large hands through short hair.

"Because it just doesn't work like that - it's too easy. And don't even try it. I can't risk you dropping dead -"

"Oh, and what, I'm supposed to risk nothing for you? What do you want from me, Dean? To sit around and pretend its all ok, that you're not going to die and that everything is just gonna be fine? 'Cause it's not, and I'm not a kid anymore. You might be able to deceive yourself, but not me."

"Oh yeah?"

"You're scared, Dean."

"No, Sam," his brother contradicted him. "I've never been so relaxed in my life."

They drove on for the rest of the journey in an ear-splitting silence. The hum of the Impala's engine that was usually pleasant was now sickening. Sam couldn't stop imagining the idea of all this one day being gone, faded just into painful memory. His fist clenched again and he could feel his nails sink into his hands, blood pooling his palms. Gritting his teeth he repressed a snarl of distress and hopelessness. Dean didn't understand. He wasn't the one who'd be left behind, who would be left alone.

They pulled in at a motel, the lights forming the swell of a bright yellow pattern across the tarmac. Dean got out the car without saying a word, and reluctantly, Sam followed, waiting for the familiar snapping of locks as Dean secured his precious car, before leaning back against the metal frame and sighing. The tension was thick inside the air, almost as if daggers were grating against the pair of them, reflecting off conflicting feelings. Sam shoved his hands into his pockets and hunched his shoulders a little against the cold.

When the sound of Dean's departing footsteps had faded into the dusty car park, he straightened and regretfully followed. Truthfully, he'd rather have spent the night driving, falling asleep as Dean remained ever-awake at the wheel, searching for their next hunt. They were on their way back to the place they had for a brief time in their childhood stayed remotely well in. That was, until what happened to their mum -

Sam broke the thought off, feeling his gut twist painfully. It was better left from his mind. It was less agonising that way.

Clutching the bag containing his laptop over his shoulder, he tried to brighten his spirit's a little with the thought of research on their latest job. The ghost haunting the highway in the state was said to be one of the most dangerous around. Hunters had attempted to rid the road of it, but it always resorted in further casualties. Knowing that this would be gratifying as a distraction, Sam's hopes brightened a little as he made it inside the motel. Dean, apparently, had already checked them into a room, and he tossed Sam the keys in a stony silence on his way back down.

"Food," he offered shortly as explanation, making his way back out to the car. "Want any?"

"No."

"Sam -"

"I'll see you upstairs, ok?"

His brother sighed and relented, and Sam gradually found his way to the room, slinging his bag down on the bed and glancing around quickly. There was a small kettle not far off, with a couple of sachets of coffee. Nescafe. He cringed. He hated that stuff - where was the Kenko? A smile twisted icily onto his lips at the idea of having a preference in coffee, and setting the laptop up and then aside, he filled the kettle with water and set out two mugs, heaping the granules into them and not bothering to get all anxious over the lack of milk. Soon enough, he was seated at the small desk, surfing the Internet for more details and sipping nonchalantly at his coffee. When Dean entered, he tried to remain callous to the scent of food as his stomach demanded it. Regretting his decision built only upon annoyance, he listened jealously to the sound of Dean's teeth against the take-away, the older man having already settled himself on his bed.

"Sam -"

"I'm busy, Dean," Sam snapped in response, his voice lacking tolerance. His fingers drummed faster on the keyboard and he heard the chair creak as he pushed his back against it. "Or are you not interested in hunting this spirit?"

Dean muttered a "fine then" and carried on eating. Grimly satisfied, Sam kept up his displeasure which was easily fuelled by hunger after a day on the road. However, after an hour or so it grew tiresome ignoring Dean, and switching off his laptop he decided to turn in for the night. After routing out a toothbrush in the cramped bathroom, he scrubbed his teeth, stripped down to his boxers and found warmth inside the duvet, but not warmth inside his heart. It was painful, not talking to Dean, knowing he was wasting precious moments of time by this act of silenced immaturity.

"Dean?" he murmured faintly when the light had gone out and the sound of his brother's breathing had not yet grown heavy yet with sleep.

A satisfied smirk spread across Dean's face and he turned, the pale wash of moonlight highlighting his face. "Finished your tantrum, Sammy boy?"

Sam gritted his jaw before relaxing with a sigh. "I'm sorry. I just - I can't stand the thought. Of going on without you. Alone."

Dean nodded and sat up. He stretched and walked over to the window, and Sam watched him keenly, his eyes trailing over the milky smooth body that seemed to have been mastered with such perfection. Harbouring such incestuous thoughts, he felt his breath hitch in his throat when he spoke again.

"You're right. I was being selfish."

Dean laughed. "Yeah. So am I."

Dean moved off towards the bathroom and Sam pulled the pillow closer to his face, burying his head firmly into it. He didn't want to watch Dean, for his thoughts to be clouded with loss and desire to hold his brother close to him, to never let him slip away. Why was everything so hopeless? A slow tear tracked its way down his cheeks, just as Dean reappeared from the bathroom. Sam stifled the sob that strained to leak from his throat, knowing it would be selfish to put Dean through hassle. After a while, Dean spoke.

"Sammy?"

"Hmm?" was all he could manage, trying to suppress the tears from his voice.

"I'm sorry too."

"For what, Dean? For saving my life?" He felt hurt race through him, powdering his thoughts with the cloud of uselessness.

"For everything you've lost. Mum, Dad, Jessica . . ."

"Dean -" he broke off, his voice slightly cracked. "Don't."

"And now me. I'm leaving too. But you have to carry on Sam - you have to be strong, for all of us."

Sam laughed and felt the tears leak all the stronger, pushing their way in silvery rivers that flooded his now rather pale face. He brushed them away frantically, his heart pounding with pulsating agony. Every breath Dean took seemed almost as if it would be his last.

"I can't stand it - watching you and knowing -"

"Hey, ssh." Dean was immediately at his side, the bed creaking under his weight. Sam sat up quickly, fiercely trying to fight the tears, but finding they flowed all the more freely with every word he spoke.

"What am I going to have left, Dean? Nothing. It's just gonna be me, and hell, I know it's selfish but I'm so scared . . . I can't carry on, not with you gone as well. Dean, please don't leave me -"

Dean gripped him suddenly, arms snaking quickly about his brother's form to pull him close, to embrace him, careless that he always used to make jokes of these moments, like being sappy and girlish. He felt his brother's tears pool onto his bare shoulder and held him closer, feeling the pain burn from Sam's body with such a heat it was horrifying. He was leaving - he was going to die and leave his baby brother.

"Hey," he joked lightly, "what you talking about getting nothing for? You get my car. And you better look after her or damn it I'll haunt your arse."

Sam laughed, a breaking sound that was precarious and swarmed with uncertainty, but it was a laugh, and that allowed the weight of guilt to lift from Dean's shoulders a little. He brought his head back, gazing strongly at his brother with a fierce determination written across his face, knowing how good it was to feel his brother's warmth, to know he was safe and alive, no matter how much his heart was hurting. He passed him a weak smile and brushed the hair firmly from Sam's eyes.

"It's gonna be ok Sam, I promise."

"How can you know that Dean? How can you even say that, when we both know you're gonna be gone? Of course it's not gonna be ok . . ."

His fingertips brushed lightly against Sam's wrist, patterning invisible spirals there before his eyes locked intensely with the younger Winchester's gaze. "You've got to promise me you won't give up, Sam. I want those salt lines checked everyday, I want you to find someone to marry and have kids with, I want you to end up in college. You can't sink into this - it's exhausting."

A smile found Sam's lips and he shook his head slowly, tears salty and visible in the damp light. "Then promise me you'll let me try at least to save you."

Dean's mouth tightened into a thin line and he looked severely into his brother's eyes. "I can't do that, Sammy . . ."

"Why the hell not?" Angry now, he pulled back sharply. "You've always been the one protecting me. Now it's my turn."

"Sam -"

"No, Dean! I'm not a kid anymore. You're my brother and there's no way in hell I'm gonna sit back and watch you die."

"Sam," Dean whispered, his voice lower now as he pulled his brother closer to him, the warmth of Sam's back pressed lightly by the touch of his hands pouring swiftly into him. He rested his brow lightly towards the younger's brow and whispered a sigh. "You can't go chasing demons for me. I won't let you risk yourself."

"I'm already risking myself Dean, knowing what's going to happen to you. Just, let me try and play the big brother for once. Trust me."

Dean sighed, feeling the strength of his brother's beating heart thundering through his skin. Sam, always seeming so precarious, always the one he had to look out for . . . Could he in turn allow for that role to be changed? It would be nice to feel some protection, loving eyes watching his back, but at the same time, he was so ready to give up, to give in. Opening his eyes, he found Sam looking strongly into them, the warmth of hope there to agonising to destroy.

"Ok, Sammy," he shook out a breath and with reluctance formed his agreement. "I trust you."

Trusted him with his life.