The deer grazed peacefully, chewing at the tender dew-covered grass carpeting the forest floor, unaware that her life would soon be cut short by a striking arrow. The young hunter who wielded it took aim and she collapsed to the ground with a soft thud.
Dean looked around warily before going forward to check out his kill. It was forbidden to poach the king's deer, a crime that carried the death penalty.
He was a crack shot with a bow and his aim had been true, the animal had felt nothing. Dean didn't target the heart as the majority of hunters did, he always took a head shot; a part of him sorry to have to kill such a tame animal but he had a responsibility to his family whose stock of food was reduced to zero.
He worked quickly, if the gamekeepers caught him, he'd be dangling high on the king's gallows.
His heart missed a beat as he heard a rustling in the undergrowth but his fear morphed into anger as he saw the tousled head of his younger brother peeking out from the shrubbery
"Sam," he hissed. "What are you doing here? I told you to stay home. You know how dangerous this is!"
"If it's dangerous for me then it's dangerous for you too," Sam declared mulishly. "I can give you a hand Dean. Together we can carry the deer back. You know it's too heavy for you alone."
"Go back Sam. I'll carve it up and take what I can," Dean answered angrily.
"Right." Sam scoffed. "As if that's not more dangerous, hanging around just waiting to get caught. I'm here now. We'll take it back and work on it at home. That way we'll have extra meat to share out with other families."
Dean shot a furious look at him.
His brother was a stubborn little shit who never listened, following him about into the most dangerous of situations, but now that he was here they might as well do as he said.
"Come on then," Dean sighed. "But when we're safely back home, I'm gonna string you up for coming after me!"
Sam nodded, a smile playing around his lips; he knew that Dean wouldn't lay a finger on him, he was just worried.
The brothers were as close as any two siblings could be. Their father had been caught and killed four years before while doing exactly what Dean was doing now, and a few years later their beloved mother had died, never managing to get over the death of John, her husband.
The boys had been left on their own and Dean had taken his job of looking out for his little brother as a holy crusade, protecting him more fiercely than a tiger its cub.
The brothers heaved the animal onto their shoulders and started out towards home.
Sam was seventeen, four years younger than Dean. Recently he'd gone through a growth spurt making him roughly the same height as his big brother and though his limbs were skinny and gangly he had a wiry strength that belied them.
Even together however, the journey back was an obstacle course as trying to make their way through the trees side by side with the heavy animal draped over their shoulders wasn't easy.
They were in sight of the one-roomed cottage they called home when a rough voice rang out. "Poachers. Over here men!"
"Dean, gamekeepers!" Sam's voice took on a note of panic. "What are we going to do?"
Dean cursed, they had nearly made it home scot-free.
He started to shrug the animal off his shoulder. "Leave the deer, Sammy. We've got to get out of here, if they catch us there's no way we won't be hanging from our necks."
Sam loosened his hold and the deer thudded to the ground while the noise of running feet came ever closer.
"Come on," Dean whispered, his hand grasping Sam's forearm. "We can't go home, it's the first place they'll look. We'll have to hide in the forest."
"Not now, Sam! Save your breath for running, This isn't the time for talking!"
He yanked Sam along behind him and only let go when they found themselves beyond the clearing where their cottage stood, delving into the obscurity of the forest on the far side.
They made their way forward as fast as they could.
Dean and Sam were familiar with the vast woods. They'd grown up in the clearing and their father had passed on all his experience of the woodland life, but a hidden tree-root was always a danger to a running man and in fact Sam tripped over one and went down with painful yelp, a hand going to his left ankle.
"Dean, Stop. I think I've sprained my ankle," Sam panted as he lay rocking on the ground.
Dean threw himself down beside him, pushing Sam's hand away and running inquiring fingers over his brother's leg.
"Sam, we can't stop now. They're still on our tail," Dean replied desperately, a terrible vision of Sam hanging on the gallows forming in his mind.
Sam looked up at him. "I'm not going to be able to outrun them, Dean, not like this. You go on and save yourself, brother."
Sam's eyes took on the expression of a wide-eyed hound-dog, an expression that usually got his big brother to capitulate to his wishes but this time Dean wasn't going to dance to Sam's tune. "You're frigging joking, Sam. There's no way I'm going to leave you here."
Sam huffed. "Then we're both going to die."
"We're not going to die, Sam," Dean retorted. "I've got a plan." And he proceeded to share with his sibling.
"But Dean…." Sam objected.
"Quiet Sam! There's no other way."
A few minutes later three gamekeepers almost fell over Sam who was propped up with his back against a tree trunk, a hand clutched around his ankle.
"Well, well, poacher," the leader smirked. "You'll soon find out what happens to peasants like you that dare to plunder His Highness' deer. A pity though that a handsome lad like yourself has to end his days on the gallows."
"Yes," another joined in, leering evilly. "Maybe we can have some fun with him before we drag him back to the royal prisons."
That was the last thought to flash though the man's mind as an arrow took him in the forehead, swiftly followed at lightening speed by another two streaking to their targets.
Dean quickly shimmied down the tree he'd been perched in and went to check that the men were dead.
Sam was gazing up at him with a mix of compassion and relief in his eyes. "I'm so sorry, Dean. You've never had to hurt anyone before," he said softly.
"Don't be Sam. They were going to drag you off to prison. I did what I needed to protect you."
"I thought you were only going to aim at their legs. Why did you kill them, Dean?" Sam asked.
Dean pulled his little brother up and secured his arm across his shoulder.
"They threatened you, Sammy. They were going to hurt you, put their hands on you. They deserved to die." Dean declared his voice hard. "Anyone who lays a hand on you has to answer to me."
"It works both ways, Dean," Sam declared softly, making sure his elder brother understood.
Dean had killed to protect him. Sam would do no less.
"What will we do now?
"We'll go back home," Dean replied. "If these three were the only ones to see us then the danger is over. We'll go back, retrieve the deer and pretend that nothing has happened. If not we'll take to the forest."
The brothers made their way forward together, one helping the other. Whatever was waiting for them, good or bad, they would face it together.