Surviving Is Just Step One

Author: Cheryl W.

Disclaimer: I do not own any characters or any rights to Supernatural, nor am I making any profit from this story.

Summary: By the time Sam figures out that trekking through a forest, looking for a Wendigo, is the last place on God's green earth Dean wants to be, it's too late to turn back. No Slash.

Author's Note: I had this whole list of things written here to tell a little more about the elements of the storyline but they really gave too much of the story away so I'll just hope that you like the story as it comes together. This case comes up right after Sam gives up on Amelia and Dean cuts off his connection with Benny but things aren't all forgiven and smooth between the brothers.

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Chapter 1: In the Dark

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Rule #1: There's always something out there in the dark waiting to eat you.

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Sam's not a fool and he knows his brother better than anybody else on the planet. He knows his brother probably better than anyone knows anyone else, period. Which is why he knows Dean's acting squirrelly, even for Dean. And that's saying a lot.

But would the jerk tell him what's got him all on edge? No. Course not. So he's left doing what he's always had to, watch his brother, make sure he doesn't go off and do something reckless and be ready to slip behind his brother's barriers the instant Dean lets them down for a millisecond.

Which, by the way Dean's grumbling as he stows their gear into a duffle bag, isn't going to happen in the near future. Sam almost sighs. But the next second, he takes his life in his hands, steps up beside Dean and asks, "You alright?" eyes locking on his brother's profile.

Dean's gruff, almost indignant, "Yeah" isn't reassuring, especially since Dean didn't give him eye contact, actually slammed his precious Impala's trunk and then moved away from him, slinging the bag on his shoulder as he went.

From past experience, Sam knows how futile it would be to press Dean in the mood he's in so he simply zips up his jacket and takes the path his brother has already forged through the forest. And it's almost wrong that he's hoping there really is a Wendigo lurking because, if this is a snipe hunt, he's not sure Dean won't just shoot something out of aggravation. 'Hopefully not me," he thinks before he smirks, knows Dean would get a kick out of his little brother's whine. And the thought that he might amuse Dean almost has him running a bit to catch up to Dean, until he sees the taut set to his brother's back, knows that mirth isn't going to come so easily, not today.

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Dean's pacing the circuit of their campsite like a caged animal, eyes always on the forest and Sam swears he sees the glint of steel in his brother's hand. But Dean knows as well as he does that a knife would be useless against a Wendigo.

"Food's ready," Sam calls the short distance to his brother.

"Not hungry," Dean replies without pausing in his prowl of the camp, or sparing a look at Sam.

"You have to be. All you had was a granola bar for lunch." Which wasn't weird, right? Just because Sam chowed down two sandwiches and Dean nibbled on what he usually deemed rabbit food. Yeah, back to the notion of Dean acting squirrely.

His back to Sam, Dean drawls, "What can I say, it was really filling." But he hears Sam getting up, approaching and braces himself for whatever speech his brother's about to unleash on him, tries to head if off at the pass. "I'm not hungry. Don't make a federal case about it." His eyes on the darkness, on the trees, ears straining to hear something, anything moving in the underbrush.

Coming to a stop at Dean's shoulder, Sam doesn't spare a second of his attention on the forest, has it all focused on his brother. Besides, Dean's watching the forest with enough intensity for both of them. "What is it?" he gently asks, knows there's something dark lurking behind his brother's edginess.

Dean turns to the north, thinking he heard something, distractedly mumbles to Sam, "What is what?"

"You've been on edge ever since this case came up," Sam points out, makes sure to not accuse, to not appoint whatever's going on with his brother as weakness.

But Dean paces away, grumbles, "Excuse me for not looking forward to another Wendigo encounter. Last one you and I encountered had me on a hook, ready to cure me into beef jerky..or man jerky."

And Dean's trying, he is, but the lightness, it's not holding water with Sam. And Dean's utter failure to even come close to fooling him, it's a worry. "I know. I was there," Sam solemnly reminds, wasn't going to ever forget the feeling in his gut when Dean went missing, when he knew the Wendigo had him. Months afterwards he woke up in a cold sweat with memories of falling into that shaft and finding Dean hanging there, not moving. Except sometimes his dreams didn't stick to the prewritten script, had him rush to Dean's limp form, shake him…and notice his brother's throat had been severed by one brutal swipe of Wendigo claws.

Sam's next attempt at lightness is more for himself than Dean. "Don't worry, if it comes down to it, I'll save you again."

But his humor falls flat, doesn't even provoke a sarcastic sneer from Dean. In fact, it doesn't even earn him Dean's attention. Its dismal proof that whatever's going through his brother's head, it's not going away with a few lame jokes. Stepping directly in front of Dean, Sam blocks his brother's view of the forest, gets as far as uttering an entreaty of "Dean…" before Dean yanks him back. And he's not sure if the rough manhandling is to get him out of Dean's line of sight or is a protective gesture by his brother to keep him behind him. But either way, it's startling…and unsettling, speaks of something Dean rarely shows: Fear.

Suddenly that same emotion gathers in Sam's gut like volcano lava, and it has nothing to do with a Wendigo. "We're pretty far from where the attacks happened but we can put the Anasazi protection around our campsite," he suggests because he'll do anything to soothe his brother, to help Dean lose that manic energy that seems to be building inside him.

But Dean's not reassured by the idea, recriminates instead, "And if it's not a Wendigo, whatever's out there coming to rip our hearts out will catch us with our pants down."

It's the way Dean says it, the ferociousness, the surety of his tone, the indisputable belief that something is out there, something merciless, something hungry, it makes Sam forget for a moment that he's a hunter, that he's not supposed to quake at the thought of whatever's in the dark. When that logic returns, he strategizes, "Ok, we'll take turns being on guard. I'll take first watch."

"I'm not tired," Dean announces, eyes latching onto the darkness, never on Sam.

Sam dares to slip closer to Dean, wishes he had the courage to reach out, touch Dean, ground him, get him to look at him. "You're not hungry. You're not tired and apparently you're not up to telling me the truth," a testiness to his tone that he hadn't meant to incorporate but something good comes out of it because Dean's actually looking at him.

"What truth?" Dean asks, wonders what he's missed. Suddenly knows it's time for him to pay attention to whatever Sam's saying because truth was important between them now, at least they were both trying to make it important.

Sam frowns because Dean's tone is more confused than confrontational. "What's got you so spooked?"

Dean's eyes frost over into a glare and his voice is an insulted growl, "I don't get spooked, Sam."

Sam's not dumb, knows a warning shot when he sees one, so he backs down, restates, "Fine, not spooked but you're something, Dean," and there's an entreaty in there, sympathy, understanding, even need.

Dean's suddenly back to his night watch, goes to continue his perimeter sweep. He takes about two steps before he notices that he's got a 6'4" shadow. Stopping, he turns to Sam, practically turns on Sam. "Where are you going?"

"Whatever you are," Sam simply confesses, figures if Dean wasn't going to open up, the least he could do was keep Dean company.

Dean nods toward the fire, toward the kettle over the flames. "Go eat, Sam."

"Not unless you do," Sam counters, not stubbornly but with conviction. Knows how to play this game, even after all these years.

Anger gathers in Dean's eyes. "Are you kidding me?! That stopped being cute when you were eleven, Sam."

"Cute?!" Sam huffs at his brother's misapprehension of his actions, then and now. "I did it so you wouldn't give me all of our food while you went hungry!"

There's more of a vulnerable crack in Dean's voice than a snap, "What?!"

Shaking his head, Sam knows he shouldn't be surprised Dean never figured it out. His brother always was oblivious when it came to his own needs, of when someone was trying to take care of him. Still was. "Dean, I wasn't as naïve as you thought I was. I knew you rationed our food when Dad was off hunting. Sometimes you didn't eat anything but you always made sure I did."

Dean's brow is creased, he's half way between being touched and being torqued. "So your little temper tantrums about the food sucking, that you wouldn't eat it unless I had some too…."

Sam shrugs. "It wasn't tactful but it got the job done."

There's almost a note of pride in Dean's retort, "You're a friggin' conman. At age nine."

Sam's smile is unrepentant. "Runs in the family."

Dean concedes with a snort, "Yeah, that it does."

Sam steels himself a moment before he takes the plunge, tests the waters. "So, can we eat now?"

But he loses Dean's eye contact again to the forest.

"Sam, I have to…" Dean gestures to the encompassing darkness, as if its answer enough.

"We'll both keep an ear out, ok? We'll eat quietly," Sam negotiates, tugs on Dean's arm until Dean finally moves, goes with him and claims a spot around the campfire. They eat in companionable silence but Sam doesn't miss Dean's furtive glances into the forest. Looking at the bowl in his hand and not his brother, he says, voice so quiet it barely reaches Dean. "It's not about this being a Wendigo, is it?"

Dean sighs, wants Sam to just drop it, is starting to realize that, at this point, the only way that might happen is if he makes it an order. "Sam just…"

But Sam makes his own ending to the order. "…ignore the fact that you're so tense I think you're going to break something?! No, I'm not going to do that." Hates that Dean's jaw clenches and that Dean looks two seconds away from standing up and taking a stroll into the woods that seem to be calling his name, and not in a good way. So he pulls out the big guns, admits what he hasn't so far, maybe even to himself. "I chose hunting. I …I chose you."

At Sam's declaration, Dean's eyes fly to Sam's. Dean hadn't trusted to make that leap in logic when Sam didn't go back to Amelia. Knew his brother's decision could be in spite of him.

It's both heartbreaking and heartwarming, Dean's shock at his statement, at the truth. Sam hopes it means Dean will ease up on his barriers. He risks it all by asking him to do just that the next second. "Can't you just…let me back in a little bit? Trust me enough to tell me what's wrong?" And he knows what he's asking, how huge it is, even if Dean doesn't know he knows.

When Dean's jaw jumps and his brother's hands tighten on his knees, Sam tries to school his features, to not let his disappointment, his hurt show that Dean's not quite there yet, won't open up to him. So he drops his eyes, doesn't want Dean to see the moisture starting to gather in their depths but they snap up when his brother utters one word.

"Purgatory." The word doesn't come out like Dean had intended it to, comes out like a croak, like a confession. Like a dirty little secret he didn't want anyone to know about. He takes a chance and shoots a look to Sam, Sam who's suddenly pale, hasn't said anything, maybe won't.

The word rips the air from Sam, and he's swallowing down a sick feeling in his gut. Somehow he knew it would lead to this, Dean's place of exile. And it's the last topic Dean opens up about, well, at least to him. To Cas, to Benny, even to friggin' Garth or Kevin, with them, it's not a forbidden topic. And as pissed and hurt as he is by that inequality, he knows this is his shot, maybe his only chance to change that. "Memories?" he hazarded and there's fear in his voice, because he's dreading Dean's answer, has been dreading the details every moment of every day since he knew he had unknowingly left Dean there.

Instead of making a verbal reply, Dean's eyes hold his and he gives a small nod. And Sam suddenly worries that's all he's going to get and it's not going to be enough. But then Dean speaks again, his voice hoarse, like he's been without water for a week, "Forest. It was all forest. No sun, no nature, just had two light settings: gloomy and pitch black."

Sam's breathe catches and he's silently cursing himself for not having had this conversation with Dean before. 'Cause where do I end up dragging my traumatized brother? Into a friggin' forest! Sam, you suck!' And he can't bear all the recriminations, not upon his shoulders, wants some of it to fall elsewhere. "Why didn't you tell me this?!"

Dean's gaze is suddenly calm…nope, dull, like his tone. "You didn't ask."

And that's so like Dean! "I was giving you space!" Sam thunders, should have known that tactic was bound to fail. "But like always, you just burrow deeper into your own head instead of telling me anything."

There's a spark of retaliation in Dean's demeanor, and his words are bitter and harsh. "Yeah, because you seemed real interested in where I went off to. And your sympathy…wow…really makes me wanna open up, break out the Purgatory stories. What did you say about when I was pissed you didn't look for me, "Well you're Ok." No harm, no foul, right, Sammy?"

Sam flinches, can hardly believe he was that callous. "Ok, I was a jerk."

"You think?!" Dean snaps back but is now ready and willing to take the gloves off. "Is that what I said to you when your hell wall came down? When you shot at me because you thought I wasn't real?!"

Shame colors Sam's face, drenches his soul. Dean's support verses his own….There's no way to make amends for his shortcoming. "You're right, I screwed up. Big time."

"Yeah, you did," Dean coldly agrees, stands up and walks away, into the forest that a moment ago he seemed to fear.

'Well that's a testament of how lousy he finds my company' Sam miserably thinks, watches as the night seems to swallow Dean up whole.

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Dean's only a few hundred feet from Sam, from the fire, but it's like they don't exist now. Now with the trees looming over him, the light nearly gone, the quiet…it's just as he remembers it. Like it was that first night….

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Turning away from Cas, trying to shut out the angel's 'I'm afraid we're much more likely to be ripped to shreds', Dean stared out at the dark forest he had been dropped into, didn't like the red eyes glowing back from the darkness. Felt the fear that he was chastising himself for feeling, grow. "Cas I think we better…" he started, but Cas wasn't at his back, was nowhere in sight.

"Cas!" he shouted, his voice not even echoing in the thick silence of the woods encompassing him. But another sound reached him, reverberated through his chest….low growls, the crunch of something making its way through the forest…heading his way. And beyond the small circle of trees, there was a little open plain. He could see things streaking by out there….and other things pursuing them.

Pulling Ruby's knife from his jacket, he clenched onto it, pretended that his hand wasn't shaking as he contemplated holding his ground. But thinking of Cas' description of where he was, it made him think better of the idea. 'Every soul is a monster. This is where they come to prey on each other for all eternity.'

No one could hold out for eternity…he knew that better than anyone. After all, he was the guy who only lasted thirty years in Hell before he sold his soul for real.

So he opted for a choice Hell never gave him: He ran.

And like any good monster, they chased him.

There was no strategy, no plan, no anything, all he had was the idea to run, to not trip over the above ground roots, to skirt around any monsters in his path, to keep ahead of the pack. But one thought he couldn't shut out and wished he could because it was the most selfish one he had ever had. Because it wasn't Cas that he really missed having at his side. It was Sam. And him wanting Sam in this horror show with him?! That certainly made him the worst brother …ever.

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TBC

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Thanks for reading and I would love to know if you are enjoying the story so far.

The storyline will consist of Dean present day with Sam and Purgatory flashbacks that will include Benny and Cas. So if you're up for that, I hope you'll tune into the next chapter.

Have a great day and a Happy Easter!

Cheryl W.