Dean sees the glint of moonlight catching the silver blade in Sam's hand and he wonders, prays, his brother will be fast enough. As he struggles against his bonds, tugging at the rope encircling his wrists, he feels his flesh tearing and the burn as the unforgiving restraints rip the skin from his arms.
Desperate to give Sam as much cover as he can, he does the only thing he can think of. He screams obscenities at the hag and grimaces when she turns to face him. At least Sam is in the clear now, he thinks as he suddenly gets a face full of fetid breath and an up close view of those rotting teeth.
Dean watches Sam out of the corner of his eye, careful not to tip the hag off to his brother's presence. But his attention is drawn back to the vile creature in front of him as cold, cold hands place themselves on either side of his head. Ice from her fingers permeates his skin and flows through his veins. He can't help the shudder, can't help the gasp that escapes his lips, can't help flinching backward as far as he can to escape her grip.
She's laughing now, although from where Dean is hanging it's more of a cackle and the sound of it vibrates through his skull. He doesn't know how he manages not to pass out there and then. He can see Sam creeping forward, slowly, silently and he knows he just has to hang on for a couple more seconds. Thing is, he suddenly realises, making eye contact with the hag, she knows it too. He can see it in the smile she's giving him and the ice in his veins hits the pit of his stomach like an atom bomb.
With the speed Dean's come to expect of her, but which takes Sam completely by surprise, she's got Dean in front of her, her talons digging into his neck and her chin resting on his shoulder in a parody of a lovers' embrace.
"I see you, my pretty," she caws and Sam's heart stops. "Don't hide in the shadows, child. It's very lonely there. Come and join your brother." And she pushes her hand up, forcing Dean's head back until all he can see are the stars twinkling in the sky.
Dean hates being at a disadvantage. He has every faith in Sam to get them out of this but he's tired and he's hurt and now he can't see what his brother is doing. But he's still got his ears and he can hear Sam shuffling through the undergrowth. He wants to keep his baby brother safe and suddenly getting himself out of here doesn't seem so important any more.
He takes a breath, readying himself to tell Sam to stay where he is but the hag is one step ahead of him. She cants her head sideways so her lips are almost touching his ear.
"Keep quiet, boy," she warns him, digging her nails into the flesh on his throat, piercing the skin and drawing blood. "Your brother's life depends on it," she says, leaning forward and licking the blood off his neck, causing Dean to shudder in disgust.
And by then it's too late anyway. This 'looking out for your brother' business of theirs, it cuts both ways and as far as Dean can tell, Sam has broken cover. The hag releases her hold on his neck and his head falls forward. In the moonlight he can see Sam standing in the centre of the clearing, head held high, defiant and strong. Sam looks directly at him and everything that needs to be said is conveyed in that single look. Sam's not going to give in, or run. Not until Dean is free and the hag is dead.
She's moved forward, in front of Dean and even though she's got her back to him, Dean knows she's smiling. She's gloating, he thinks. She thinks she's won. But she doesn't know the Winchester boys, doesn't know what they'd give for each other.
She raises a withered arm and beckons Sam to her. But he shakes his head. Does she really think it's going to be that easy? Dean can see her shoulders tense at his brother's refusal and tries hard to stifle a laugh. Sam's been here for what? Five minutes? And he's already pissed her off.
"What's the matter, child?" she asks. "You can't be afraid of me, surely? Not a poor old woman like me." She shakes her head and steps back again, putting a hand behind her, resting it on Dean's chest, sending chills coursing through his body and he finds it impossible not to shiver.
Sam sees his brother react to her touch and he frowns. Dean tries to reassure him but the hag's hand seems to be getting colder and he's finding it hard to breathe. His eyes fly open in sudden panic. She stealing his breath and he can't do anything to stop her.
"Sam," he manages to gasp, as the darkness of the night encroaches on his vision and a buzzing in his ears drowns out any response his brother might be making. He can see Sam's lips moving but he can't hear the words.
Suddenly Sam drops to his knees and the pressure is gone. Dean gulps in air as if it was going out of fashion and shakes his head. "Sam, no," he pleads, breathlessly.
Sam looks up at Dean and offers a faint smile of apology. The silver blade is lying harmlessly on the grass between Sam and the hag and Dean knows Sam is prepared to sacrifice himself. He'll kick his ass for this trick later but the priority right now is to get to the knife and finish this once and for all.
He pulls experimentally on the ropes around his wrists again. It's a futile effort and all he accomplishes is a few more burns and a little less skin. He can feel the warmth of fresh blood dripping down his arm and he wonders if he can reach the hag with his feet. Mathematical calculations have never been his strong point but if he can get her to move back a little he reckons she'll be in kicking range.
But he needs to act quickly. She's moving away from him, further out of reach and nearer to Sam, who is still kneeling passively on the grass watching her out of sad, apologetic eyes.
"Hey," he shouts. Or tries to. It comes out as a hoarse croak, barely audible in the night and the hag shows no sign of hearing him. He twists left and right, losing his footing in the process and falling. His fall is halted by the ropes holding his arms together and he grunts in pain as his shoulders bear the brunt.
It's painful, but it has the desired effect. Both Sam and the hag are watching him intently, Sam with concern and the hag with glee. Through the haze of pain he glares at Sam, willing him to get the message. He's doing this so his brother can get to the knife, gut the hag and get him out of this mess. It's no small relief when, as the hag turns her back on him, Sam shuffles along the ground in the direction of the fallen knife.
The hag is enjoying Dean's display of pain and, for him, remarkable lack of co-ordination as he tries to get his feet back under him. He scrabbles around, trying to regain his balance, his plan falling to pieces when she's back in his face and she's full out laughing this time.
She's enjoying Dean's predicament so much, she's forgotten about Sam, edging nearer and nearer to his goal. As she runs her hand up Dean's arm, wiping the blood off with her finger, she gives him a pseudo-sympathetic look, before baring her teeth. And as she grips his head, digging sharp nails into his scalp, Dean's shouting at Sam to hurry up.
Then her body is crashing into his, forcing him off his feet completely so he's dangling by his wrists. Her hands release his head and slide down his face, gouging his cheeks on the way down. And then she's on the ground, silver blade sticking out of her back and Sam's hands are on his torso, steadying him and setting him back on his feet.
The relief he feels as Sam cuts the rope suspending his arms is short lived as sensation creeps back into his limbs, nerve endings jangling as the blood flows down to his hands. He flexes his fingers tentatively as Sam frees his wrists and then Sam's hands are ghosting over his head, through his hair, down his chest. He half-heartedly slaps Sam's ministrations away and immediately stumbles, swaying gently until Sam grasps his elbow.
"C'mon, dude," Sam mutters, pulling Dean away from the already decaying body. "Let's go home."