The trials were on Sam's mind as he lay awake in the dark hotel room, red numbers glowing 5:18 on the clock radio on the nightstand. He could hear Dean breathing softly in the bed beside his, although sleep hadn't come easily for Dean either. If the witch's spell had gotten into Dean's head the way it had his, then Sam had a strong suspicion he knew what all that "other crap" Dean had alluded to so dismissively might be.
It was his "other crap," too. It was a large part of why he needed to be the one to close the gates of Hell.
He glanced over at Dean, still asleep, and brought his thumb over the scar on his hand, remembering when just that simple gesture had sent Dean into protective overdrive because of what it meant, that Hell was winning again. That Sam was struggling.
Dean didn't have a tell like Sam's hand to signal that he was losing his own battle, but Sam could see it just as clearly.
Realizing that sleep was now a lost cause, Sam silently slid out of the covers and moved around the dark room in search of his sweats and a t-shirt. Running always cleared his head. He slipped his tennis shoes on and pocketed his wallet and cell.
He paused briefly by Dean's bed. He lay on his back, one arm thrust up under his pillow behind his head with his face turned toward Sam. There was a crease between his eyebrows as if even in sleep Dean was still on guard. Sam hated to wake him, but he knew better than to just disappear from the room, especially now, with everything they had hanging over them. He reached down and tapped Dean's elbow, then when Dean didn't respond he grasped it and shook his arm gently.
Dean came awake with a start, and Sam held out his hand reassuringly. "Sorry," he said. "Just me. Going running."
Dean blinked and frowned. "Running?"
"Yeah. Be right back."
Sam moved away, toward the door, and Dean shifted, suddenly wide awake. "Wait – wait, Sam. We're in East St. Louis, it's zero-dark-thirty outside!"
Sam paused and looked back at him, his expression clearly asking, so?
Dean groaned and flopped back over, pulling his pillow over his head, and muttered something that sounded like, "Don't get mugged."
The morning air was cool and light, and Sam broke into a steady run after walking just a few paces from their hotel room door. It wasn't the most forgiving path, through gas stations and fast-food parking lots, and around poles that inexplicably cropped up in the middle of sidewalks. But it was straightforward enough that it let him disengage, letting his body fall into a familiar rhythm as his feet contacted with the pavement, air filling and leaving his lungs without conscious thought. He felt a semblance of the peace he'd been missing, and he breathed in deeply, reveling in it.
And then his breath caught in his chest, and he coughed once, harsh and deep, and then again, and then he realized it wasn't going to stop.
His rhythm faltered as he struggled to take in a breath. He doubled over where he stood, pressing a hand to his chest to try and buffer the stabbing force that came with each cough. It dragged every last bit of air from his lungs, each cough more violent than the last, his breath coming in shorter and less effective gasps every time he tried to breathe in.
He saw blood, spattered bright red against the dull hue of the sidewalk. His, he realized, a remote fear of what it meant joining his more immediate panic and almost stealing what was left of his breath.
He must have acted on instinct, because in the next moment he found himself with his phone out and his thumb on the call button for Dean's number.
Then, somehow, he managed to draw in a breath without it hitching on a cough. Then another. He blinked, the black spots in his vision crawling aside and clearing.
Sam looked down at the phone in his trembling hand, realizing that he must have connected the call. He brought it up to his ear. He swallowed and cleared his throat, managing to croak out, "Dean."
"Where are you? What's wrong? Are you okay?"
He cleared his throat again. His knees felt like jello, and he was shaking all over.
"Dean, I..." Come get me, he wanted to say. It's too much. I need help. I can't do this.
But then that would mean Dean would take this on. All of it. And Dean would, as he'd put it, "play through the pain" to the very end. That wasn't an ending Sam could live with.
He needed to be smart about this, for both their sakes.
He took another breath, grateful that it didn't further agitate his aching lungs, and straightened. "I..." he said again, looking around at where he'd ended up. "Was wondering... if I should bring back breakfast."
Dean was silent on the other line.
"Dean?" he prompted.
"Breakfast," he said skeptically.
"There's a Quick-Stop over here. They probably have donuts or something."
Dean laughed. "So you want to jog all the way back here carrying a bag of donuts."
Sam couldn't help smiling in response. "Yeah, why not?"
"Okay then, Lance. Why don't you pick me up a cup of coffee then, too? Oh! And see if they have scrambled eggs and sausage, and maybe some country gravy, and a side of grits."
"You know what? You can get your own damn donut then. A run might help you get your panties out of a wad." Sam had a feeling Dean could hear the smile in his voice as much as he could hear the smile in Dean's.
That was it, he realized. That was why he had to keep going. It was every tiny, insignificant moment he spent with Dean that made his life worth living, and he wasn't willing to give that up. Not again. Not for anything. And he was going to find a way to give Dean his own light at the end of the tunnel.
He brought his shoulder up, wiping off a bead of sweat from his forehead onto the sleeve of his shirt as he walked toward the entrance of the convenience mart.
Might as well start with a bag of donuts.