Previously appeared in Rooftop Confessions 2 (2007), from GriffinSong Press
All I Have
K Hanna Korossy
"You don't have to look so eager, you know."
Sam's head swiveled around to stare at Dean in the driver's seat. "I don't look eager."
"Right. So the bouncing leg and the tapping on your knee like you're constipated or something, that's just you on a normal day."
Sam made a face but consciously stilled his leg and hands. "I'm not eager. But, Dean, this is the first lead we've had since…" Dean's face tightened a little. "Since the last time we faced the demon," Sam amended what he was going to say. "This is the first set of portents from Dad's research that Ash has picked up at all. That's gotta mean something."
"Yeah, it means we're going into this thing without the Colt, without any kind of weapon we know works against this thing, frickin' blind, Sam."
"We're not going in blind," Sam corrected quietly. "We know a lot more than we did last time. We've got a portable protection circle," he nodded at the piece of cloth rolled up in the back seat, "and we're not trying to confront it, anyway. We're just going to make sure it doesn't kill any other moms or kids."
"How, Sam? Huh? We're goin' into the middle of a national park—nobody lives there! There's nothing there but trees and water. And probably a trap we're just walking right into."
Sam turned in his seat so he was facing his brother. "Why would it set a trap for us? The demon could find us anywhere if it wanted to—why pull all these strings to make us go out into the middle of nowhere? That doesn't make sense, Dean."
Dean's jaw shifted and he stared stonily through the windshield.
Sam softened his tone. "All right, so what do you want to do, ignore this? Pretend we didn't see the signs and turn around and go home? We can probably still make last call at the roadhouse."
"That's not what I'm saying," Dean said stiffly. "I just think we need to be…careful about this. And, man, you look like you're ready to jump in with both feet."
Sam's heart softened this time. "You're not gonna lose me, Dean, all right? I promise."
Dean finally glanced over at him, eyes shadowed. "Don't make promises you can't keep, Sam."
He didn't have an answer to that. But abruptly Sam wasn't feeling so eager anymore, and he settled back in his seat to count miles in tense silence.
The area Ash had pinpointed was indeed in the middle of nowhere, in one of the national parks around the Colorado River. The roads only went in so far, and Dean reluctantly parked the car as close as possible to their destination. Sam glanced around before he got out, taking in endless trees and the quiet peace of the place. It was a strange spot for the demon to manifest, not quite fitting the pattern of before. But the weather anomalies, the mutilations had shown up there, and Sam knew he was right, they had to check it out. They owed their dad that, and Dean knew it, too.
Sam climbed out and circled back to the trunk, where his brother was already pulling out weapons.
"Bring anything you can carry," Dean said tersely. "Even if regular guns and holy water can't kill it, we might be able to hurt the host enough for it to get out."
"Assuming it's in a host and not materialized."
Dean's eyes flicked up to his. "Right, assuming that."
Sam had already stuffed the protection circle he'd traced from Solomon's Key into his backpack, and now he added his blade, a gun with consecrated rounds, and the bottle of holy water Dean gave him, along with the usual assortment of flares, sanctified oil, an axe, and assorted other weapons. Maybe they were going in blind, but they'd give themselves every advantage possible.
Dean's hand hovered over something, hesitant. "So…you want to try it?"
Sam's attention snapped back to his brother. "What?"
Dean straightened, holding up a marker. "I'm not much of an artist, but with all that freak height to work with, I think I can manage."
"A devil's trap," Sam realized. He swallowed, nodded. "Yeah, that's a good idea—couldn't hurt, right? You do it first, then I'll draw one on you." He was already pulling his shirt off, grateful for the mild weather.
It should've felt stupid, or at least amateur, sitting out in the woods drawing on each other. Like something out of a kid's secret initiation or something. But they had few enough weapons in their arsenal; it would've been stupid not to use everything possible to protect themselves. Dean's face was utterly serious as he sketched out the circles and symbols of the devil's trap on Sam's chest, the lines tingling faintly across his skin, and Sam grew solemn, the weight of what they were about to do settling on his shoulders.
"It might not be the demon," he offered.
"Shut up, you're shaking my canvas."
He did, for about five seconds. "Ash did say only some of the signs had shown up, right? Some mutilated animals, weather-pattern fluctuations, but no electrical disturbances."
Dean made a show of looking around. "I don't exactly see a lot of electrical wires around here, Sam."
"I'm just saying. It might not be…that."
Dean's gaze came up to meet his even as he kept drawing. "Dude, make up your mind."
"I don't know. It's not like I want to face that thing again, Dean. It's just…I want this to be over, you know?"
Dean's eyes were fixed somewhere below Sam's face now, his hand still. "Yeah, I know." He darted another glance at Sam. "I just don't want to lose to the demon again, Sam, okay? I'm running out of family members."
Sam smiled sadly at him. "We'll be careful."
Dean capped the marker, examined his work with a critical eye, then thrust the black pen into Sam's hand. "Done." He started shedding his own clothes in turn.
It was almost impossible to hold a pen with his casted right hand, so Sam drew a slightly wobbly but correct devil's trap carefully over Dean's heart with his left. Dean didn't say a word until he was done.
"Fine." Dean settled back into his jacket. "We ready now?"
Sam drew in a breath, wondering if they ever would be. "Yes."
Dean nodded toward the trail. "Let's go."
They had a few miles to hike. Sam wouldn't have minded it at all if not for the hour of silence that came with it. Dean's shoulders bobbed fluidly in front of him as the older Winchester led the way, loose and comfortable with the exercise like the in-shape hunter he was, but threaded with tension only Sam could have seen. He rethought their plan a hundred times along the way, but every time came to the same conclusion: his brother needed this as badly as he did. Dean was just afraid of losing Sam, and…well, everything came down to that lately, didn't it?
Dean's recent roadside confession played constantly in the quiet of his thoughts. You, and Dad, you're the most important people in my life. And now… Dad's dead because of me. Sam had known Dean was hurting, wasn't dealing, was struggling, but hadn't realized quite how badly or what burden he carried until then. Dean had bounced back soon after, teasing, casual, light again, but the darkness lingered in his eyes and Sam knew it ate at his brother. And he worried.
No, he was scared. As scared as Dean was about losing him, but Sam feared a different enemy.
He speeded his next few steps so he was walking alongside Dean instead of just behind. His brother gave him a long glance but didn't comment, just moved a little to the side on the trail.
"Okay, so, if it is the demon and it's not in the process of cutting someone up and sticking them on the ceiling," Dean looked pointedly at the canopy of blue sky above, "we're agreed, we back off for now and regroup, right?"
Sam nodded without hesitation. "Right."
"I mean it, Sam, no stupid heroics, or you're gonna have me to worry about, not it."
His irritation was on the tip of his tongue, until he flashed back to Dean lying silent and almost lifeless in the hospital. His brother had come out the worst by far from their last confrontation, in all respects, and Sam couldn't argue his wariness now. He nodded. "No heroics. If it comes after you, I'll just take off screaming like a girl." He added a lopsided smile.
"That's exactly what you do," Dean said firmly.
Sam's face pinched. "Then you promise me the same thing."
Dean glanced up at him. "What?"
"No heroics. I mean it, Dean."
A beat passed, Dean studying him. "Fine. We'll both just be a couple of yellow-bellies."
"Sounds good to me."
The two hunters walked on, the weapons in Sam's bag a comfortable weight. Cowards, right. Dean didn't even know what the word meant. But that was why Sam was there, right, to keep him from doing something stupidly heroic?
That, and to kill this thing that had taken most of his loved ones from him. Sam's jaw set, and he strode on, setting the pace now.
The tree line finally broke onto a grassy bank and the wide, frothing Colorado River they'd been hearing for the last ten minutes. Sam looked appreciatively at the scene, the tumbling current and the sun-speckled grass. He hated camping, but this spot almost looked inviting. Certainly nothing about it screamed "touched by evil." Why would the demon manifest here, so far from people? Maybe it had come after some hikers?
Dean had already dropped his pack and pulled out the EMF meter. It squealed and lit up in a row of red, and Dean tilted it toward Sam with a raised eyebrow. Okay, so something really was out there. Sam unzipped his pack in preparation for…whatever, and hefted more securely the salt-loaded shotgun he'd been carrying.
"Okay," Dean said, "now what?"
They should have known better, in their line of work, than to ask questions like that.
The swollen river grew more frenzied, water tumbling and swirling over unseen obstacles. And then it started rising in the middle.
Dean cursed, grabbing at his pack. "Weather fluctuations, dead animals—this isn't the demon, Sam. We've got a water elemental on our hands."
Yeah, he'd figured out as much. Sam was already digging through his own pack, looking for the oil and the flares. Elementals were powerful, nasty, and usually not worth messing with, more mischievous than evil. But mutilated animals probably meant mutilated humans somewhere down the line, which meant they would have to deal with this one, ready or not. Fortunately, an elemental's weakness was its opposite element. And fire they could do.
The river was tented about a dozen feet high now, the bare outline of a vaguely human form visible beneath the pouring water. A pure elemental looked like something out of The Abyss, water shaped by invisible barriers into a humanoid shape. Sam had only seen one once, and the memory had stuck with the kind of horrified fascination nightmares were made of.
"Sam!" Dean yelled, and Sam nodded as he started laying out a wide circle of oil.
"I know," he called back. "Get it out here—I'll be ready."
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Dean venture closer to the river, yelling something at the water elemental. A crash of water was its only response, and Sam lifted his head to trace the arc of a flare as Dean launched it against the being. The flame hissed out as it hit the elemental's form, but the entity lurched back, roaring its displeasure.
"Sam!" Dean hollered again, and Sam nodded to himself. Almost there.
Dean's footsteps approached, crunching through grass and leaves, and Sam moved aside. As if they'd choreographed it, Sam tossed his brother another lit flare as he ignited a third and dodged in the opposite direction. They stood on either side of the circle, waiting.
But the elemental hadn't left the river. It was near the bank now, splashing and keening its displeasure, but it seemed to sense the trap and didn't come out of its safety zone.
Sam's eyes narrowed. They couldn't let this one get away. It would relocate to another body of water if threatened, and they wouldn't know where until it started killing again. And he was really tired of things that killed.
Sam started running.
"Sam, what the—"
Dean's voice was drowned out by the loud rush of water as Sam approached the river bank. Up close, the elemental was a lot more intimidating, a pillar of angry water and midnight-blue eyes. It peered at him like he was an interesting bug that needed squashing, and the foam of the water brought back every drowning nightmare Sam had ever had.
It just made him more determined. Sam narrowed his eyes at the elemental. "You want me?" He drew his arm back and threw his flare, a perfect curve of flame ending smack between those dark eyes. "Come get me."
The elemental screamed, the sound of hurricane rain and pounding waves, and dove after Sam. He didn't wait for it, simply lunged backward to where the circle and Dean waited.
But he'd underestimated the elemental's power when its fury was roused.
A wave of water slammed into Sam like a brick wall, knocking him over, then tumbling him. Sam opened his mouth to yell and found it filled instead, sending him flailing and choking heel-over-tail. His arms shot out, trying to find balance, purchase, or even which way was up, but the water battered his body and sent it spinning, washing away any point of reference. Water filled his mouth again, and Sam sputtered on it as some made its way into his lungs, replacing meager air.
He was drowning.
There was a flare of red somewhere on the edge of his frame of vision, and what sounded like a howl. Dean succeeding, maybe, but the elemental was no longer the threat. Water pushed Sam down, burying him deep, and he realized in some still-coherent part of his brain that he'd been swept into the river.
And then that coherent part gave way to primal panic, too.
He flailed, spat, choked. Felt the sheer terror of being surrounded by something heavy and not breathable. Fought against unseen currents that swatted him one way and the other, not knowing if he was going further down or nearing the surface. Losing his brother, his hope.
The world faded to black.
The soft lapping against his face woke him.
Sam stirred, then jolted up at the feel of water breaking against his cheek. It was all around him, his hands smacking shallow waves as he lurched and sought his bearings, fighting instinctive fear. But he was near the bank, backed up against a tangle of roots and branches and leaves, and his knees brushed mud. Sam yanked himself free of the buttress and crawled weakly out of the water, up onto the muddy bank. There, he leaned on his broken hand, the cast a useless, sodden lump, and vomited up everything inside him.
The watery purge left him even more weak and spent, and Sam crawled forward on wobbly limbs, away from the evil water and the cold, clinging mud and the memory of drowning that pounded through him with the sound of rushing water. His head throbbed, his left arm and side hurt as if he'd been thrown against something, and he was freezing. He'd lost his shoes somewhere along the way, his jacket was in tatters, and the light was dim, night approaching. He needed help or shelter soon, and since the former didn't seem to be around…
"Dean?" he murmured. Then as loudly as he could muster, "Dean!"
No answer. His misery hit a new low. Who knew how far the water had carried him from his brother? For now, Sam was alone.
He was shivering harder, his body trying to generate heat the water had leeched away. If he didn't find shelter soon, he'd become hypothermic. Or collapse, because he was running out of energy fast. Sam dragged his heavy, waterlogged head up, and surveyed the terrain around him.
There. Some bushes with scrub around them. Best option of the limited ones before him. Sam's head sagged again as he concentrated on sliding his arms and legs forward toward scarce cover.
He was near to giving up when he finally hit the bushes, unable to summon what he didn't have. Sam flopped down into the leaves gratefully, cradling his bad hand to his chest and burrowing his exhausted and aching body as deeply into the brush as he could go. Lethargy washed over him from the relative warmth of the vegetation.
He wanted Dean. Needed Dean. Had to find Dean.
But first, he would sleep. It wasn't a choice.
Sam curled himself into the smallest ball he could and stopped fighting unconsciousness.
Morning brought with it little comfort.
Sam opened his eyes dully and stared for a long time at the leaves curled in front of his eyes. It took a while for the sight to make sense and memory to settle back into the cracks. Right, elemental, the river, drowning, and now, alone. He hated being alone.
Dean had to be going crazy.
The thought spurred Sam to unwelcome movement. His body had stiffened in the night from bruises and cold, and every movement hurt as he slowly sat up. His head throbbed in cadence with his heart, and Sam numbly traced the outlines of a lump on the back of his head. He'd been lucky; there weren't any broken bones and no burn and agony of internal bleeding. But it was hard to feel lucky waking up damp and hurting and cold and with no clue where you were.
Sam sighed. Okay, enough with the pity-party. It was time to figure out how to get himself out of this mess.
"All right," he murmured, rising swayingly and glancing around. It was probably mid-morning, judging from the sunlight, about twenty-four hours since they'd parked the car and hiked in. "And of course there aren't any bridges around," he muttered, because that would have been too easy. He was definitely on the wrong side of the river, though. "Not that I know exactly where I am or how far down the water took me." God, his head hurt. Sam squeezed his eyes shut and pinched the bridge of his nose. The shivering had started up again, jarring all his aches to life. Sam wrapped his arms around himself and glanced up and down the river.
"Okay, so I came downstream, I know that much." So, the best plan was just to head back up, going along the water's edge. Hopefully, he'd find a place to cross along the way. Even better, he'd probably meet Dean coming down. It was a plan.
Sam turned himself in the right direction and started walking.
It warmed him a little, but not much. His feet were freezing, though not quite cold enough to mask the pain of crossing rough terrain in socks. His head hurt with every step, and his body was soaked in exhaustion. The weary shivers chattered his teeth and sapped his strength, and it wasn't long before Sam found himself seeking shelter for rest again.
He'd make it, just…slowly. Dean would wait.
Dean would wait, right?
Sam frowned, and pushed himself to start moving again as soon as he was able. Dean would wait, but…no need to make him wait too long. Especially if, you know, it crossed his mind he had nothing left to wait for.
Desperation gave strength where self-preservation didn't, and Sam stumbled on, mind blanking into an endless chant.
Find Dean. Find Dean. Find Dean…
He almost missed it, his foggy mind not quite comprehending the sight. Sam stood, swaying, and studied the construction of wood and iron for a long minute before it connected. Bridge. He'd found his link to the other bank. Sam turned to cross it, dragging his way along the railing.
Okay, he was on the right side. It was only a matter of time now, right?
But the day had slipped by with unnatural speed, to the point that Sam wondered if he'd greyed out during some of it, walking on autopilot. Already twilight was starting to settle in amidst the trees, and that meant frigid cold and dense darkness and no more walking until morning, even if he'd had the strength for it. And he had no idea how far he had left to go.
Would Dean even be out there still? Maybe he'd left to get help. Or maybe he'd just left, certain Sam was dead. The thought scared him in ways his mind couldn't fully process. Surely not, not so soon, not Dean. Not the guy who would go to the ends of the Earth for his little brother.
No, he was there somewhere. Sam just didn't think it likely he'd find his brother before nightfall.
But he kept walking, determined to go as far as he was able before finding some place to hole up for the night.
The weather was thankfully relatively mild or he'd probably be dead by now, but Sam couldn't stop shivering. His feet hurt, and if the wetness he felt in his socks was what he suspected it was, he was leaving a blood trail for any wild animal in the area to find. It was stupid and dangerous, and the only choice he had. Sam let his mind drift from his battered body and stumbled on.
And didn't even realize it at first when he broke into a familiar clearing.
The ring of scorched grass didn't register consciously, but it caught on twenty-three years of instincts, and Sam stopped to study it until he remembered. The elemental. This was where they'd set the trap, where Dean had apparently burned it. This was where Sam had gone in the water.
His heavy head shot up, and he craned in all directions to see his brother.
And, oh, thank God, there he was, crouched at the base of a tree near the water's edge, oblivious to Sam's arrival.
Sam's throat constricted around the name, unable to get it out, and he took a step closer instead.
Moonlight glinted off something metal in Dean's hand, and Sam jerked short. Reassessed with his half-speed brain. Noted the unusual obliviousness of his brother, the defeated slump of his shoulders…and the way he cradled the handgun he held, like it was soothing him.
Sam shivered from something other than cold. "Dean!" he croaked. His voice sounded weak and barely carried a few feet, but Sam cleared his throat and tried again. "Dean."
Dean's head jerked around. They stared at each other a long moment.
Then with a growl, Dean launched himself to his feet and at Sam, crossing the space between them with the fierce grace of one of the feral things Sam had feared.
The rough hands on his shirt, even the slam against the tree trunk didn't hurt. Not like the wild rage in Dean's eyes, huge and dark in the moonlight.
"Where have you been? Where have you been, you—" He bit his lip, like he was trying to keep something ugly from coming out.
"I was…the river took me downstream," Sam stammered, adrenalin strengthening his voice. "I had to walk back."
Another jolt as he was shoved against the tree again. "I've been looking for you for almost two days, Sam. Two days. I thought you were dead."
He'd known that in theory, like an abstract fear that had lingered in the back of his mind. The reality was much sharper, and more frightening. The starkness in Dean's face, the way he'd been holding that gun—he thought he'd lost Sam. And that had left him nothing. A new chill pierced Sam's heart.
He did the only thing he could do. "I'm sorry," he said earnestly, heartfelt.
Dean stared at him blankly for a moment, then released him with a final shove against the tree. "You're sorry." A bitter laugh. "Sure, that should make it all okay, right? I mean, who cares if you almost got killed again because of this…insane quest you're on to follow in Dad's footsteps and have it out with the demon. Might as well make a clean sweep of the Winchesters, right? Mom, Dad, you…" He turned away.
"Dean, don't, please." Sam shuffled a little closer. "I'm okay, but that elemental, we had to destroy it or it would have started killing people, you know that." He couldn't keep up the defense, though, because even saving lives wasn't worth Dean's devastation. Sam dropped his voice, imploring. "Dean, man, the demon didn't get me and it's not going to, all right?" And yeah, he wasn't missing the irony of that assertion after everything he'd been fearing and questioning of late as to the demon's purpose for him.
"No, Sam," Dean said quietly, flatly. "It's not all right." He looked up sideways at Sam, face hard and foreign. "You threw yourself at that elemental like you had nothing left to lose, and if it'd been that yellow-eyed bastard, you wouldn't have even thought twice about it. It would have killed you, and maybe you don't have anything left to lose, but I…I can't…" His eyes fell, his jaw working.
"Dean…" Sam murmured, swaying with sorrow and exhaustion. He'd thought it was getting better, that Dean's grief was no longer so deep and dark, but his brother's acting had fooled even him. Or maybe Sam had wanted to be fooled. He couldn't deny now, though, how fragile Dean still was. Sam was watching him crack.
Dean was staring out over the water. "You know what I was thinking about when I was sitting there?" His sudden change of subject had Sam's tired brain scrambling to catch up. Dean threw him a swift, cold smile that scared Sam to the bone. "I was thinking about how ironic it was. I mean, Mom and Jessica die in fire, the demon gets to Dad. Then here you come, looking for the demon, and you buy it in water. Always have to do it your own way, Sammy, don't you."
Sam didn't say anything, shivering miserably.
"So who cares if that leaves me behind, alone? Somebody's gotta burn the bodies, right? Keep up the family business? Isn't that what Dad gave his life for? Of course, nobody ever asks me what I want—I'm just the good little soldier, right, Sam?"
The hollowness in Dean's eyes stole his air. Sam closed his eyes. "What do you want, Dean?" he breathed.
"I don't want to be the last one, Sam!" his brother erupted. "I don't want to bury you, too! I want Dad and Mom back, and I want to quit carrying this…this weight around, this hole…"
The odd smack that followed snapped Sam's eyes open. He stared, uncomprehending for a moment, as Dean punched the tree again, and again.
"No, Dean!" He snatched his brother's arm on the next backswing, nearly yanked off his feet at the fury of Dean's movement. Dark blood dripped off Dean's hand, and his teeth were bared in a growl as he wheeled around on Sam.
"Let me go."
Dean wrenched himself free, sending Sam staggering, and strode a few feet away before stopping. As Sam blinked to keep him in focus, Dean's head, then shoulders, bowed. His voice echoed his defeat. "I can't do this, Sammy. I can't lose you, too. I'm just barely…" He left the thought hanging.
Sam could fill in the blanks. Would have done so sooner, if he hadn't been so caught up with his own pain and need for justice. He could feel Dean's despair as viscerally as his own—it was his own. And at the moment, nothing seemed more important than easing it a little, promising Dean he wasn't alone and wouldn't be and that Sam would be more careful if Dean would just never look or sound like that again.
But his meager strength was draining fast, and Sam had to lock his knees to keep himself upright. He leaned with his good arm against the tree Dean had attacked, and tried to keep his vision clear enough to see his brother. "Dean, I'm sorry," he murmured. "I shouldn't've jumped in like that, man, I know, and I want to…want to hear you, I'm listening, I'm just…I need to sit down a minute, okay, because I don't think I can…" He wobbled, jammed his hand harder against the tree.
There was a pause. Then a soft, "Oh, God, Sammy," and Dean was there, arms locking around him just as Sam's legs gave way. "God, I didn't notice—you should have said something—I should've noticed…"
Sam's frame had drooped enough for him to settle his forehead against Dean's shoulder, which was surprisingly comfortable. His laugh was buried in fabric. "Don't start."
Dean chuffed irritation, but there was fierce protection in the hand splayed against Sam's chest to keep him upright, the other behind him, wound in his jacket. "Here, let's get you off your feet."
"I can make it to the car," Sam mumbled, but didn't fight it as Dean led him in the other direction, toward the water, easing him down where the ground was relatively flat and soft. Sam blinked, dazed, at the black ring past Dean. "You destroyed it?"
"Yeah, after it threw you into the river." Dean was a paradox, voice hard, touch soft as he worked Sam's ruined jacket off and wrapped him in something more soft and dry and warm.
Sam's eyes felt a little heavier with each layer of warmth Dean added: a shirt, a blanket, a sleeping bag worked underneath him. Dean was careful with his hand, cinching the whole arm against Sam to keep it still. Sam hissed tiredly when the sole of his foot brushed fabric, and his brother wriggled out from under him, settling him flat on the sleeping bag, to take a closer look.
"Huh. Well, you sure did a number on your feet. You're not walking out of here anytime soon."
Sam sighed. "I hate camping."
Dean was gentle, easing Sam's socks off and fishing something out of his pack to dab on the torn flesh that stung and numbed at once. "Just for tonight, Sammy—I'll figure out a way to get you out of here tomorrow," he soothed.
Sam nodded drowsily, listening to his brother's quiet murmur as he worked. He hadn't meant to turn Dean's attention on him, not when Dean was finally talking, but maybe this was for the best. It had backed Dean off the ledge for the time being, turned his focus to something he could fix instead of his own helpless pain. It wasn't a permanent solution, but for now, Sam felt safe and Dean felt needed and neither of them were alone, and that would keep them going a little longer.
When Sam's feet were finally treated to Dean's satisfaction, he moved back up to Sam's head, touching his forehead. "You've got a fever going, too, bro."
He stared at the drying blood on Dean's knuckles and shivered. "The water was cold."
"Yeah, well, maybe you should stay out of it next time." But despite the caustic tone, he was already settling carefully just behind Sam, then zipping the bag shut around them. It was a tight fit, but the snug warmth felt good. Sam didn't realize how much the shivering had hurt until it abated into occasional chills.
"I'm sorry," Sam whispered again.
"Shut up and go to sleep, Sam." Dean's breath was warm on the back of his neck. Sam suddenly felt the weight of the last two days pressing him into exhausted slumber.
Closing his eyes, he let it.
He woke feeling almost as lousy, chills shaking him and congestion in his lungs. Dean's hands were cold on his chest and his back as his brother checked him out.
"I think you're sick."
"No kidding," Sam said miserably.
"Your feet are pretty messed up, too—maybe we should take a few days here. I can go back to the car for supplies."
"Yeah, okay." He drifted off before Dean had even left.
When he woke up again, there was a tent erected next to him and something bubbling on the fire. Dean sat leaning against a tree a few feet away, holding their Dad's journal. His callused and scabbed hand lingered over the pages their father had also touched, eyes over the words. Sam couldn't help remember the similar reverence with which Dean had caressed his gun the night before, and his chest tightened.
"I miss him," he confessed quietly.
Dean didn't look too surprised as he glanced up. "Yeah. Me, too." He got up and retrieved the pot off the fire, helped Sam push up to drink a few sips of hot coffee. The warmth felt good.
Sam watched his brother replace the pot on the fire, then looked down again at the sleeping bag he was buried in. "Where'd the camping stuff come from?"
Dean's shoulder hitched. "After I looked for you for a couple of hours, I went back to the car for supplies. Didn't know what I'd—we'd—need…"
And a sleeping bag was helpful for moving a body. Sam's throat clogged.
Dean cleared his throat and continued in that same conversational tone. "Hiked about twenty miles down, but I couldn't find anything except one of your boots, so I came back up here in case you made it back." A humorless chuckle. "Guess I was probably just ahead of you. I was trying to figure out what to do next when you showed up." He risked a dart of the eyes over to Sam, and it was both hurt and relief to see Dean was being honest. He hadn't given up. Skated along the edge, but fought to keep from going over.
Sam nodded, blinking wetness from his eyes, and swallowed. He cast around for another subject, his eyes landing on the fingers Dean had curled around his mug. "Your hand all right?"
Dean switched off the mug and flexed his fist. "Fine."
Sam nodded again and turned onto his back to stare at the sky. He ached now from illness as well as bruises, but it was tolerable discomfort. His feet tingled with healing and, remembering, Sam's hand brushed his chest where the devil's trap had probably long since washed away.
"It's still there," Dean said, rising and rounding the fire to settle beside Sam. The journal was nowhere in sight now, only a stick in his hand, with which he prodded the dirt. "Not like we're gonna need it anytime soon, right?"
Sam wrinkled his nose. "We might."
Dean was silent.
Sam pushed himself up gingerly with one arm, feeling Dean's eyes follow the movement. His skin still goosefleshed at the bite of the air, his fever not completely gone, but he felt lucid. Still shaken by what he'd seen the night before and understood too well now. "I'm not going to sacrifice myself, Dean."
"Sure looked like it from where I was standing," Dean said carelessly, sending a clump of dirt flying into the fire.
"I don't want to sacrifice myself," Sam amended softly. "I'll be more careful, all right? But I need to know you will, too."
Dean gave him that opaque expression. "I can't promise that."
Sam swallowed, recognizing the truth to that. "You can promise you'll try," he said quietly.
Dean looked away.
Sam knew well the powerful force someone believing in you and loving you could be. "Dean, man, you don't know how to quit. Don't start now. I don't want to bury you, either," he said with burning eyes and a choked voice and more earnestness than he'd thought it possible to feel.
Dean's gaze flicked over to him, then back to the ground. Sam wasn't sure he'd answer, that he'd even acknowledge what they were talking about, until Dean nodded once. "All right."
"Yeah?" Sam said, breathing out shakily as if a boulder had just rolled off his chest.
A glower. "What do you want, dude, a blood oath? 'Cross my heart and hope to live'?"
"No." Sam shook his head. "Your word's enough."
"Well, you better keep yours, too. Because you do anything as stupid as attacking an elemental point-blank again, and you won't have to worry about the demon, I'll be the one who ends you." Cracked and battered and patched, Dean still offered him a half-smile.
Sam's mouth curled in return and he nodded. Trust Dean to show worry through threatening. And for that to make Sam finally feel secure.
"Now, get back in the bag before you get sicker."
"Sorry," Sam said meekly, and slid back down flat. Truth was, that instantly felt better. As much as he wanted out of there, back to the car or, even better, a real room with a real bathroom and bed and electricity, he wouldn't be going anywhere for a while. But his head was clear again, his body mending, and he had Dean to thank for that. He always had Dean to thank.
"Sure you are," Dean muttered in answer to his apology. "Sam, so help me, if I had a nickel…"
Sam smiled tiredly at him, and eased over on his side to face Dean. "Fine, I'm not sorry. Better?"
"Dude, you are sorry."
"Thanks for not giving up."
"Shut up, Samantha."
Sam grinned up at the trees and the cloudless sky above, and thought maybe he didn't hate camping as much as he'd thought, after all.