It's been a long time since I've written anything, I know, but I'm in my last year at school now and even I was shocked by the sheer amount of homework I was getting…so you should be warned that there will probably be huge gaps between updates of this story…

This story is I think slightly different from what I've written before but as always there will be lots of angst, serious injury, the old Winchester family conflicts, Sam being a hero against all odds…I don't have a chapter count yet but when I do I'll let you know.

The title comes from Nickelback's Savin' Me (which I do not own).

Sam is 15 in this story, Dean is 19.

I tried throwing coins into a magic well. I tried selling my soul at a crossroads. I even went to hell and back again…but I still don't own Supernatural.

The Last One Standing

Chapter 1:

The old cottage spiked against the night like a fungus or growth, surrounded by close-pressing trees and bushes. It seemed completely cut off from the modern world, all but for the gleaming, distinctive black Chevy Impala parked outside it in the shadows of the porch. At that moment the front door creaked open and two boys stepped warily out, shivering slightly at the rush of cold. The older and taller carried a shotgun: his fair hair was short and spiked and his green eyes wicked. He glanced behind them into the shadows of the cottage before ushering his companion out in front of him, never taking his watchful, protective gaze off him. This younger boy was lanky and wiry, his unruly chestnut hair falling into his face, but in his eyes was an expression as sharp and mature as that of his older brother, and in his belt gleamed an unsheathed clasp knife. Suddenly he stopped, crouching down to inspect something on the floor of the porch.

"Oh come on, Sammy, you still can't tie your shoelaces?"

"Dean," Sam whispered. "Look-" He pointed to a triple-pointed star scratched into the wood. "I've seen that symbol before. I think we should tell Dad."

Dean groaned. "Sam, it's simple. We've checked the house, so we go out back and help Dad burn the bones of the goddamn spirit. Then we get out of here and hopefully get outa here before sunrise. Come on-"

Sam rose unwillingly, his eyes fixed on the symbol, unconvinced, but followed Dean round the back of the cottage to where their father stood panting slightly and leaning on his shovel over a freshly-dug grave. Sam felt his shoulders hunch slightly under John Winchester's fierce dark gaze, as if defensively: they weren't exactly on the best terms at the moment.

"You checked the house?" John rapped out.

"Yessir," Dean replied. "Nothing else to find."

"Except-" Sam began, but John sighed heavily, cutting him off. "What is it now, Sam?"

Sam scowled at his feet. "There's a hoodoo symbol I think I recognise on the floor of the porch. I think it's-"

"It's nothing," Dean muttered. "You're being paranoid."

Sam gritted his teeth. "You asked," he mumbled.

"Don't you cuss at me!" John snapped. "My God, is it too much to ask for a little respect from you? First you kick up a huge fuss about coming in the first place, some fool idea about seeing your friends, and now you just carry on being childish and selfish about the whole thing. I'm sick of this, Sam."

Sam looked up, eyes burning. "You asked if we found anything. Well, I found something and just 'cause Dean doesn't think it matters I'm being disrespectful? How is that fair, Dad?" He saw the explosion of rage in his father's face, saw the effort John made to keep calm, and fear rose within him, mingling with his anger: he should not have said that.

"Go and wait by the car," he ordered Sam. "I don't want any more of your cheek tonight." Sam didn't move, frozen by the injustice. "I said go, Samuel!"

Sam turned on his heel and stormed back to the car, seething, fists clenched, wanting to curse his father into oblivion. Behind him, Dean turned a little awkwardly to John.

"You know, maybe we should check out that symbol," he said uneasily. "I mean, just to make sure…"

John swung away back towards the grave. "Don't encourage him, Dean. He's gotta learn sometime that I won't stand for his stupid rebellions." He was already sprinkling lighter fluid across the twisted bones in the grave, and Dean flung down his lighter, igniting the skeleton into a grotesquely-human shaped fireball. Sam, leaning against the Impala with his hands thrust deep into the pockets of his hoodie, shoulders hunched against the cold, saw the flames leap up and sighed, casting his eyes to the earth as sorrow filled him like a toxic smoke.

He just couldn't work out what he was doing wrong. How he could never please his father, whatever he did…of course he hadn't been happy to miss the study group he had planned with some of his friends from school, but he hadn't fought that hard. He'd come, hadn't he? He had just let his dad know along the way that he wasn't happy with it. And then thinking he might actually impress John by being conscientious in his hunting, taking note of every detail…and somehow all it earned him was yet more scorn. It wasn't fair, and Sam was fast losing his ability to distinguish whether it was his fault or his father's that they could not get along.

Then suddenly he frowned. A flickering shape was flashing steadily towards Dean and John by the edges of the grave-their backs were to it, they could not see it. A spirit-it had to be the spirit they were hunting, the one that was meant to be already burning.

"Dean!" Sam yelled, lunging forwards. His older brother turned, surprised; his face fixed in horror at the sight of the spirit directly behind him, and at that moment Sam cannoned into him, knocking him aside. The ghost whirled, slashing wildly with the rusty knife in its flickering hand, and Sam felt the dead cold blade connect, slicing, felt a streak of pain along the forearm he threw up to shield his face, and stumbled back: there was a shot and the spirit fell back, hissing.

"Sam!" It was Dean's voice, panicked. Sam looked up, his arm stinging fiercely, scattered red globules of blood, and found himself beside the porch. He did not hesitate but stumbled up the steps, dropped to his knees, seized his knife and drew it hard across the triple-pointed star in the wood, breaking the symbol-the ghost gave a kind of anguished howl and flashed out like a light extinguished. Sam sagged back, panting, grasping his injured arm with his other hand, and at that moment Dean reached him and dropped into a crouch beside him.

"Sammy, you okay?"

"Yeah," Sam replied. "Yeah…" His eyes flashed past his brother to his father, standing metres away and scowling. Sam looked up into John's face with a mixture of apprehension and hope-this proved he was right, didn't it? His dad had to be proud of him now. Had to. But John's expression darkened as he noticed his youngest son's attention on him.

"Dad?"

"What is it you want, Sam? Congratulations?" John snapped, and strode away towards the Impala. Sam's face fell but Dean did not even notice, fussing over the gash in his arm. "C'mon, let's get outa here, I can't believe you did that, Sam, you're not supposed to put yourself in danger like that, you could've gotten yourself killed…" He dragged Sam to his feet, and only then turned to look down into his little brother's face.

"Sammy?"

"Why's he still mad?" Sam asked hopelessly, his hazel eyes wide and pleading on Dean's face. Dean sighed-he was just no good at dealing with these emotional moments of Sam's.

"Maybe he thinks you were going all 'I told you so'?" He made an effort to lighten the mood. "It's not so far-fetched, little b*tch."

"Jerk," Sam returned half-heartedly. "I wasn't."

"Yeah," Dean muttered. "I know." John pressed the horn at that moment to hurry them along, and Sam opened the rear door and slid inside without another word.

"Dad, I gotta take a look at Sam's cut, can you pass the first aid box?" Dean asked nervously, but John made a noise of exasperation. "Dammit no! He can wait till we get home, can't he? He's not gonna die because you have to wait an extra ten minutes to fuss over him, Dean!" Sam, behind John, drew in his breath slightly at the scorn in his father's tone, and Dean glanced briefly at him before tentatively disagreeing.

"But I think it's…"

"Get in the car, Dean. Sam's had enough attention for one night."

Dean hesitated, uncertain under his father's hard, unforgiving stare, then he dropped his head and nodded. "Yessir." He went round to the passenger door and climbed silently inside as John started the engine, trying not to look in the mirror and risk catching sight of the hurt, sorrowful hazel eyes reflected from the back seat. They drove back to the motel that was their current home in total, crushing silence.

John immediately settled down in front of his laptop, not looking at either of his boys, apparently focused on their next hunt already, while Dean forced Sam to sit down on the edge of the bed and cleaned the long cut on his arm with a number of antiseptic wipes from the first aid kit. Sam made no sound, though it must have hurt like hell-his mouth tightened when Dean probed the wound, but he made no other sign of pain. The bleeding had almost stopped by now, though the edges of torn skin looked red and inflamed.

"Don't think you'll need any stitches this time," Dean told his little brother, winding a strip of clean white bandage tightly around the kid's arm and fastening it with tape. "For once, klutz." Sam nodded: he looked very pale, and somehow Dean did not think he could blame the injury this time. "Sam-you know you shouldn't have done that, right?" he said awkwardly. Sam looked up in surprise. "Done what?"

"You jumped in front of me. You got hurt protecting me from the spirit, Sam. You shouldn't have done that."

"Why not?" Sam asked in confusion. "You'd have done it for me."

Dean made a frustrated noise. "Yeah, but…that's my job, Sam. I'm your big brother, I'm meant to take care of you."

"Goes both ways, Dean," Sam insisted, his gaze stubborn enough to be reminiscent of their father. Dean sighed.

"Well-don't do that again, okay? It could've been much worse."

"For you," Sam interjected. Dean scowled.

"Sam-" He shook his head. "You should get some sleep. You've got school tomorrow and it's nearly three in the morning."

"'Kay," Sam whispered. "Thanks, Dean." He stood up and went to retrieve his backpack from the corner so he could get changed, and made for the bathroom, locking the door behind him. John had not looked up the entire time, and Dean suddenly found himself nervous and awkward at being alone with his father.

"I'm gonna turn in myself," he said to the room in general. "I'll shower tomorrow morning."

"Fine."

"So what did you find?"

"Nothing yet. Could be a skinwalker over in Montana but I'm not sure yet. I'll ask Bobby."

Dean nodded. "Yeah…only you promised Sam we could stay till the end of the semester."

John shrugged. "He'll just have to suck it up for once if there are people need saving. He's spoilt enough already."

Dean wanted to object, to say that Sam wasn't spoilt in the least, that he put up with a lot, that just the occasional question or unorthodox suggestion did not make him demanding or spoilt or selfish…but he said nothing. It had all been said before and would make no difference this time. John was angry with Sam, and as always there was nothing to be done but wait for him to settle back into his usual state of exasperation and vague perpetual annoyance with the kid.

….

Things did not improve much the next morning. Sam was roused at five to run laps around the parking lot for an hour, his arm stinging and his head aching from lack of sleep. When at last he was finished there was barely time to shower and dress before grabbing his backpack and heading off to school, all under the unforgiving stern gaze of his father. Sam tried not to think about any of it as he walked to school, knowing that it was just going to hurt too much-he tried to concentrate on the day ahead, on his own life outside that of his family, his other world that more than anything he wanted to be the one he could live all the time. He had English that day, one of his favourite classes: they were studying Macbeth and he had decided it was his favourite Shakespeare. And seeing his friends, just spending time with them and being accepted by them, that made him feel like a real person.

"Sam! Sam!"

He turned, entering the school gates, to see Mike running up behind him, a huge grin plastered across his face. "Hey, how was that family outing? Sucks you couldn't make it to the study group, we coulda done with your help!"

Sam shrugged, a bad taste in his mouth. "Yeah, I'm sorry. My dad, you know…"

"Yeah," Mike said fervently. "I get you. But listen, we had this great idea last night. The weather's meant to be good this weekend so me and Adrian and Tom, we thought it'd be cool to go camping down by Airman's Creek before the winter sets in, you wanna come?"

The first thing Sam felt was excitement-it would be amazing to go camping with his friends, and his instant reaction was of elation-he would love to go. Next second, however, he was jolted back to reality-there was no way his father would allow it.

"Oh jeez…I wish I could, Mike. I really, really do. But my dad…he's kind of mad at me right now and I don't think he'll let me…"

"Dude, your dad never lets you do anything!" Mike sounded really indignant and Sam felt anger kindling in his heart-kindling at his father. He hung his head. "I know," he muttered. "I know." He looked up again suddenly, determination gleaming in his eyes. "You know, though, I'll ask him. I'll ask him tonight." He tried to smile. "You never know, right?"

Mike grinned, the light in his eyes returning. "He better say yes! It won't be the same without you, Sam."

"He'll say yes," Sam said absently, almost desperately. "He has to…"

"Absolutely not!" John exploded, seeming in his fury to tower over his teenage son like a looming monster in the cave of their motel room. Sam straightened his head and tried to seem strong.

"But why not, Dad? It'll be perfectly safe and it's only for the weekend…"

"I don't believe this, Sam!" John snapped. "You completely mess up last night's hunt, you cheek me every time you open your mouth, and now suddenly you want a privilege like going off with your friends on holiday? I can't believe you have the gall to even consider this!"

"Dad-please-it's just camping-it's not like you'll need me here all weekend-"

"You're not going, Sam, and that's final, you understand? You're going to stay here, you're going to train and you're going to research, and I want no arguments. Is that understood?" Sam said nothing, staring mutinously at the floor-quite suddenly John's hands were on his shoulders, shoving him back against the wall as he yelled into his son's face: "Isaidisthatunderstood?"

"Yessir," Sam whispered, shocked. John released him and turned away-Sam immediately made for the door of the motel room, suddenly desperate to be alone, to be outside in the fresh air-to breathe free of the hatred filling his temporary home. He slammed the door behind him but did not wait to find out if his dad would call him on it: he was already running off down the hall.

Sam made a split-second decision as he ran, a decision born of anger and frustration and sheer reckless Winchester obstinacy. He pulled his cellphone from his pocket with shaking fingers and selected Mike's name from his contact's list, breathing hard to try and calm his fury before his friend could detect it. The dial tone beeped five times before Mike picked up.

"Sam?"

"Hey," Sam said, trying to sound as casual as possible, though his heart was still racing with passion. "Just wanted to tell you I can come camping this weekend after all…"

"Oh, really! That's great!"

"Yeah…oh, I gotta go. See you tomorrow?" He had just seen the Impala pulling up in the parking lot, Dean at the wheel. He did not feel he could face Dean right then, not after this deception. And in any case Dean must not suspect anything.

"Yeah, sure. See you. Wow, I'm so glad you can make it!" He hung up, and Sam slid his phone back into his pocket, heart thumping wildly with an intoxicating mixture of anticipation and anger, and guilt.

Well, that gets it going-I guess it's fairly obvious that this camping trip is going to end badly… Please let me know what you think if you'd like me to continue this story!