Dean dug deep into the sand, grasping and pulling, throwing it over his shoulder, clawing it around his knees, until finally his fingers touched something cold.
Dean's actions suddenly slowed. There was no longer a need for haste. He had found what he sought.
The torch light flickered as Sam's hand wavered, leaning closer and peering over Dean's shoulder. "Is that it?"
Dean nodded, not looking up from his treasure.
A bark in the distance caught Sam's ear, and grabbing Dean's shoulder, he pulled him to his feet. "Move!" Sam started to run, and quickly realised Dean wasn't following. "Dean, let's move."
It took a moment, but to Sam's relief, Dean began to run, tucking the keepsake deep in his pocket as he passed Sam.
They found the Impala parked exactly where they had left it. It would stand to reason it should be there, but Sam always knew in this line of work, it would never surprise him if they returned to find the car gone. Demons were cruel bastards; hence the name. They enjoyed playing wicked games, especially when it came to the Winchester brothers.
To Sam's surprise, Dean threw the keys at him. "Drive," he grunted.
Dean never let him drive; the Impala was his baby.
Sam floored it, wheel spinning away from the merging shadows which were erupting from the trees all around them, some ran at them on all fours, looking like dogs but moving like gorillas. Others walked slow, knocking into each other as they side-stepped the landscape of trees and rocks. Sam spied them all, dozens of them, through the rear view mirror.
He rounded the bend at warp speed and realised he'd been holding his breath. He exhaled and glanced over at Dean. He was holding the item in the palm of both hands, rubbing it gently with his thumb. It seemed like a pretty tender motion, and Sam suddenly knew where Dean's mind had gone.
"We agreed to use it for Ruby," he told him. Dean didn't reply, he just continued to stare at it, thumbing it, not with curiosity but affection. "Dean, did you hear me?"
"I heard you."
"You're not planning on using it for – someone else." Sam tried to make it a statement rather than a question. "You know what Cas said-"
"I know what Cas said!" Dean snapped. "Will you freaking drop it?"
"I know what you're thinking."
"Oh, really? Then why don't you tell me?"
Sam hesitated. What if his initial thought was wrong, and by mentioning her name, he planted the thought rather than dispelled it?
"Cat suddenly got your tongue, Sammy?"
"We agreed to use it for Ruby."
"And who else do you think I'm going to use it for?"
Sam watched the road ahead; the trees and stretch of concrete appearing suddenly in the headlights only to vanish in his periphery just as quickly. He was doing one hundred and ten. Stepping on the brake gently, he adjusted their speed, the danger left far behind them.
"I think you're considering Jo, Dean, and that worries me." Dean didn't respond. Sam glanced over to see Dean stroking the lump in his hand again. Sam looked back at the road, then at his brother. "You are, aren't you? Christ Dean, are you crazy?"
"It was just a thought...just for a second."
Sam swerved the wheel and braked, bringing the Impala to a screeching halt at the side of the road. He left the engine running. His hands remained gripped on the steering wheel. He couldn't believe Dean was considering it for Jo. To bring her back would destroy what she had meant to Dean. He may never have openly admitted it, but everyone knew...they could all see it; sense it whenever they were in the room together. It had started out as flirtation, but Sam knew had she survived, Jo would have been meant for Dean.
He couldn't allow this mistake to happen. Dean wasn't thinking clearly. Sam spoke in a whisper, "You know what Cas said-"
Dean interrupted him once more. "I know what Cas said!" He slammed his fist on the dashboard. "But what if he was wrong?"
"Has Cas ever been wrong before?"
"No!" Dean sounded indignant. He didn't want Sam to be right. "But there's always a first time."
"You sound like a girl."
"Bitch," Dean muttered. Sam smiled but the tension was still palpable.
"She wouldn't be the same, Dean."
"I know that!"
"She wouldn't be the same."
"It brings back something darker, something sinister, that badass side to you that lays dormant inside. This thing," Sam indicated Dean's hand clutched tightly around the stone, "it will bring her back, but not the part of her you want."
"I know that."
"So why consider her at all?"
Dean took a moment to reply. Sam knew he was lost in a memory of Jo; he wondered which one.
"How can I not consider it?"
"Because she would be evil, and how can you want that for her?"
Dean turned to face him. "She would only be as evil as she was capable of being, and I knew her, Sam, I knew her and she wasn't capable."
Sam watched the myriad of emotion pass over his brother's face. It was hard for him to express his affection for anyone, but for some reason unknown to Sam, it was more so for Jo. Dean had never said he loved her. They had all just known.
"Everyone has a dark side," Sam said.
"You'd know all about that!"
Sam knew it was only a matter of time before Dean referred to his past mistakes. He never missed an opportunity to remind him.
"Yes, I do know, which is why I can tell you she wouldn't be the Jo you once knew."
Dean's hand shook around the rock, he bowed his head. "I have to at least try. This – need to do it is too strong to ignore."
Before Sam could protest, Dean leapt from the car. Sam grappled for his door handle, slamming it behind him to chase after Dean.
He hadn't run very far. In fact, he had stopped completely.
Sam skidded to a halt beside him. "Dean," he tried to catch his breath, "don't do this. We agreed it was for Ruby."
"And why that bitch and not her?"
"Because we need her! She was already evil, how much worse could it get?"
"She can be here, with me. She can be brought back and I can help her-"
"And for what, Dean, for one year with her? Are you willing to watch her die again? And who's to say she'll last a year? What if you can't make her see she used to be good and strong, and she won't help us? What if she becomes what we hunt? Not only would you have to watch her die, you might have to be the one to do it!"
Dean turned away, but Sam wasn't finished. "She will never be in your life, Dean. She will never be able to stay."
Dean threw Sam's hands off, his face an angry scowl. Sam knew he was close to being punched, but he continued on regardless. "She died, Dean, and this thing," Sam pointed at the stone, "is a temporary fix. No matter how hard you wish, or how hard you try, she will not make it through."
"I can't use it on that Hell whore! It's a waste of something good."
Sam reached over and covered Dean's hand with his own. "It's not that good. It doesn't make all your wishes come true."
"So what...what Sam? I'm supposed to just walk away from this opportunity?"
Sam removed his hand. He didn't speak because Dean already had his answer.
Dean contemplated what he would feel if he made the wish for Jo and she walked from the shadows towards him. He knew it would bring him to his knees if she smiled at him one more time, or frowned, or cracked a one-liner like she always did. She never failed to call him out, every time. He had missed her voice, he craved it like air.
But then his mind cleared and he knew her smile would not be sincere, but more like a sneer. Her voice would not be soft with affection but mocking with cruelty. She would look like Jo. She would not be Jo.
For just a second he let his memory take him back to the day she had died. To the moment when the store exploded, and as the heat scorched at his back, he knew she was really gone. He allowed that emotion to punch him in the gut. Even with time, the pain never lessoned. It didn't matter how much this stone and its ability to grant his wish, albeit temporary, compelled him, he knew that day had been final.
She wasn't coming home.
Dean held out his hand to Sam, dropping the stone into his palm. "You better summon Ruby. We're wasting time."