Dean froze, his eyes still on Sam face-down in the water but all other senses alert to the presence of something, its unseen eyes watching his every move.
"Ah ha," he said to the air around him. "Got you."
He took a purposeful step backwards, away from the edge of the pool.
Suddenly, a breeze picked up out of nowhere, rippling the surface of the water. The water continued moving past the point when it should have stilled after the breeze, shimmering and gathering and pulling itself up into a human form sculpted from water. Long, flowing water-hair framed delicate features and swirling gauzy robes of water surrounded its long, elegant limbs and sinuous body. Dean couldn't help but watch, captivated, as the nymph shimmered into focus in blue and silver like liquid light bonded in female form.
She looked down at Sam and then up at Dean with a puzzled expression.
"Oh, you're not getting anything out of me, sweetheart," Dean assured her.
All at once, her face contorted into a snarl, and she snapped at Dean with sharp teeth bared, her eyes gleaming a piercing blue. Dean stumbled back another step in surprise and reached instinctively for his gun in the waist of his jeans, wondering how he would fight her off, but she never left the surface of the water. She simply glared and snarled at him, twitching, looking between Dean and Sam expectantly.
He noticed that she seemed to be wavering in and out, dimming in brightness, her glances between them growing more and more anxious.
Which was good. Because Dean didn't have any idea how much time had passed and he didn't know how much longer he could keep telling himself he didn't need jump in after Sam.
Then she opened her mouth wide, and wailed.
The wail rose in pitch to a shriek that made Dean wince, and then with final cry and a burst of blue light, the nymph shattered and fragmented into thousands of tiny water droplets, collapsing and raining back down as water into the pool.
Dean wasted no time in plunging forward into the shallow water after his brother. He seized Sam roughly by the arms and flipped him over onto his back as he dragged him toward the ledge, not liking how pale he was or how blue his lips were, or the fact that he wasn't breathing. He knew the spell was intended to mirror death, but this was a little too realistic, and it was just the spell, right? It was just the spell making Sam look like this. It wasn't because he was too late. It wasn't.
Dammit, how much time had passed?
Sam's arms folded over his chest like a rag doll when Dean laid him down on dry ground, and there was nothing in him, no hint of movement or warmth to promise that he was just a spell away from waking up. His head rolled to the side against the concrete, and Dean instinctively put a hand on Sam's cheek and smoothed a hand over Sam's forehead in a uselessly reassuring gesture that he was sure Sam couldn't feel, but he just needed to fix Sam, take care of his brother, that was all he knew.
"Come on, man. Nap time's over," he urged, feeling his pocket for the slip of paper on which he'd written the counterspell.
His stomach plummeted.
His jeans were soaked through, and so was the piece of paper in his pocket. "No…" he said, feeling it slide wetly between his thumb and fingers as he pulled it out. "No, no, no…"
His hands shook as he peeled the folded sides apart that were plastered wetly together, whether with fear for Sam or rage at himself for being so stupid he wasn't sure, and wasn't sure it mattered.
The ink had smudged and bled, and the Latin words smeared together in a confusing mix of possible consonants and vowels. His eyes tightened in concentration, mouthing over the words and trying to tried to remember hearing Sam say them out loud as he wrote them down.
"In extumus…" he read, "transitus… shit." He squeezed his eyes shut and inhaled.
He took his best guess and read what he thought were the right words.
He waited a long moment. "Sam?" he whispered.
Sam remained still as death. Dean's chest constricted with fear.
"Oh dammit, come on!" he shouted.
He tried reading it again, transposing the questionable vowels with plausible ones. Then again. And again.
Help, he thought desperately. I need...
An echo of memory teased the edges of his mind. Sam's voice. "There's… no question of us being brought back, right?" And Bobby's voice answered, "Boy. Do you think I'm that much of a moron?"
He put a hand on his back pocket, felt his phone there through the wet fabric and dug it out, praying that the water hadn't fried the electronics. Miraculously, the screen lit up. He dialed Bobby with his pulse hammering in his throat. "The spell, Bobby," he blurted without context. "The—the counterspell! The paper got wet, and I can't—Sam, he's not, I need you to—"
"Hang on," came Bobby's terse reply.
Dean barely breathed. It had been too long since he'd last seen Sam take a breath.
"Okay," said Bobby, "Say this…"
Dean repeated the spell with the phone pressed to his ear, clutching it like a lifeline, and then held his breath again.
Sam's eyes flew open, immediately meeting Dean's in a mix of confusion and panic. He clutched Dean's arm and convulsed in a fit of coughing.
"Hey. It's okay. 's okay, I got you," Dean breathed, bringing his brother in close. "Bobby-"
"Yeah, that's what I'm here for," the older man said, and if there might have been an idjit tacked on to the sentiment as Dean ended the call, Dean didn't notice.
He helped Sam sit up, and found himself overwhelmed with an odd mix of relief and fury. Some part of him had an irrational urge to punch his brother for scaring the shit out of him, while another urge, just as irrational, was making him want to bury his face in Sam's chest and weep.
"Dammit, Sam," he swore, doing neither, just clutching Sam's arm.
Sam was breathing hard, pressing a hand to his sternum. "Feels like… got kicked in the chest," he wheezed. "What happened, you get it?"
"Yeah," Dean said, his eyes on the ground beside Sam. "Yeah, we got it."
Dean shook his head. "That was stressful."
Sam cocked a grin. "Stressful?"
"Shut up. You had it easy, all you had to do was play dead."
Sam laughed, wrapping his arm around his middle. "Ow."
"Oh, laughing hurts?"
"Dean, don't. Seriously." But he was smiling. And Dean grinned mischievously, then stood and held a hand out to his brother which Sam accepted gratefully.
Sam wasn't sure why he'd thought Dean would want to talk about it. Want was probably too strong a word. He knew his brother better than that.
But he wasn't blind or stupid, and he wasn't a kid anymore. He'd been watching Dean white-knuckling his way through Dad's death, shouldering past anything that felt too raw or real to deal with.
Dean was a bottle corked too tight, and Dean wasn't ever going to uncork his own crap, Sam knew that. He was going to keep shoving it down until it blew.
Maybe what this hunt had given him, then, was an opening. An opportunity to catch his brother in a conversation and pry out a bit of what he was holding on to.
"Coffee," Sam announced, holding up the two take-out cups by way of explanation as he backed his way into the motel room, letting the door swing shut behind him.
Dean grunted in answer. He'd just come out of the shower and was digging through his bag for clothes. He found a white t-shirt and pulled it on over his head.
Sam set Dean's cup down on the table between the beds, and Dean looked over at him and then groaned. "Oh, hell, Sam. What?"
"You have that look, like you didn't just go get coffee. You got the coffee so you could make me sit here and not go get coffee. So what? What is it?"
Sam looked taken aback but slightly impressed at the accuracy.
"You almost died, okay," he said softly, not quite looking at Dean. "And then. I don't know, I wasn't there, I don't know how it went while I was out before you brought me back, but honestly Dean? You seemed pretty rattled."
He did look up at Dean then, and Dean's expression immediately closed off but not before Sam was sure he saw something vulnerable there, just behind the wall. "I just," he tried, "I want you to—"
"Hey, we ganked the monster, Sam. And we're both fine."
Sam looked at him searchingly. "Are we?"
"Yeah," Dean said, all defenses firmly in place. He came over and clasped a hand briefly on Sam's shoulder, picking up his cup before heading across the room in search of a clean pair of socks.
Sam looked down at the cup in his own hands and smiled to himself. "Yeah, right," he muttered. "Jerk."
"Bitch," Dean shot back automatically, and Sam didn't even need to see Dean's face to know that he was smiling too.