She won't stop crying and it's making Dean nervous.
Sam left two hours ago, saying, I'll be back soon, Dean, as soon as I can, but I've got to find us a way out of this one, okay? There's something. There has to be something. Dean has stopped telling him there's nothing to find, because Sam never listens to him anyway.
Never hears a goddamned word he says.
"You're such a brave young man," she's saying, and Dean forces himself to meet her eyes.
Her husband has his arm around her, and he's biting his lip; doesn't know what to say, Dean realizes. Hasn't got a fucking clue. Dean can relate.
"I'm just glad they're alright," Dean tells her. He sounds weak and he hates it. She starts crying again. "Look, you don't owe me anything. I would have done it for anyone."
"Bless you," she says, and grabs his hand. "I'll never forget what you and your brother did."
The husband leads her from the room and Dean turns back to the television. He doesn't know what she's so upset about. He's just a stranger. All he did was save her kids.
Anyone would have done it.
He manages to do everything but tie his shoes before he gets caught.
Alice, his personal favorite, crosses her arms and narrows her eyes. "And where do you think you're going?" she asks him.
Dean puts on his best effort, gives a smile that's not quite up to standard, but still does the trick. She melts instantly, and she's the one they call a Nazi.
"My brother and I are going home," Dean tells her earnestly, as though he actually has one. It's one of the harder lies to tell. "I don't want to die in a hospital."
"Oh, honey," she says. She even ties his shoes, and puts him in the Taxi herself.
Dean is just glad that dying hasn't taken away his charm completely. He isn't good with pity, but he's used to women falling at his feet.
Sam insists he get some rest before they leave to see this specialist, whatever that means. Dean lies on the bed, but doesn't bother to undress or even close his eyes. It's too much effort, and he'd just have to get dressed again.
Sam is tapping away on the laptop. Contingency plans, he says when asked. Just in case.
Just in case the specialist doesn't pan out. Dean doesn't bother to remind him that this is the end of the line, because Sam's actually smiling, actually believing, and he'd rather spend his last days with his brother like this than watch him fall apart when he finally realizes there's nothing he can do.
False hope is a dangerous thing, though, Dean knows. He still remembers the early days and the black magic; when John still thought there might be some way to get Mary back.
But a broken heart is a broken heart, and Sam should know that better than anyone.
Sam leads him into the diner and won't let him shrug out of his grip. Dean doesn't like the glances he draws. He's used to being the center of attention, but this is different, and when he smiles at the waitress the smile she returns looks uncertain and sad.
It's like they all know he's counting down the days.
"You should eat something," Sam says. He's been saying it for two states, but Dean's still not hungry.
He orders soup, anyway, just to get him off his back.
"We're almost there, now," Sam says.
"Where are we going again?" Dean asks, and stirs his spoon around the bowl, making currents in his chicken soup.
"Nebraska," Sam says, but won't meet his eyes.
"A hospital, or something?" Dean asks.
"Eat your soup," Sam tells him.
Dean knows he should sleep the rest of the way, but he watches the landscapes out his window instead. He won't be getting another chance to see them, and he can always sleep when he's dead.
"Cremation," Dean says.
Sam startles at his voice, jerking the steering wheel and nearly driving into the other lane. Luckily, there hasn't been anyone else on this road for miles. "What?" he asks, and he sounds way too young.
Dean hates it when Sam sounds like that. It makes it harder to leave him behind. "I want to be cremated," Dean says. "I'd rather not turn into some whacked out ghost searching for revenge against electricity, or something."
"Dean," Sam says, firmly, sounding disconcertingly like their father now, and not young at all. "You're not going to die."
"Well, just so you know," Dean says, and puts his sunglasses on. "Cremation."
Sam doesn't respond, and when Dean glances at him, his eyes are fixed on the road ahead. "I'll still find a way to haunt your sorry ass, though, if you screw up my car."
Sam doesn't laugh this time, either. Dean doesn't really expect him to.
Dean never thought he would see death coming.
He always thought it would be quick. A miscalculation on a hunt, a demon that catches him off his guard, a poltergeist with better than average aim. It doesn't take a human body very long to bleed out, if it's hit in the right place.
He doesn't know what to do with the time. He doesn't really need to get his affairs in order. Legally he's dead already, and there's no reason to write a will if there's nothing to leave behind. Sam gets what little he has. That's a given. No need to write it down.
The tent hovers in front of them as Sam puts the car in park, and Dean feels sick, less to do with his failing body than his mind. False hope. Sam was going to kill himself with it.
No way would some crackpot in a tent know how to fix him.
And if he could, well, that would be more worrying still, because Dean had learned early on that nothing ever comes without a price.
It's the cold that brings him to his knees. The whole room drops sixty degrees. It goes dark and when he comes back, gasping, Sam is already there, lifting him up, and something is watching him from behind Le Grange.
Sam is begging him to say something, so he whispers with sick realization, "we never should have come here."
The Reverend frowns, hands lowering slowly. "Aren't you healed, son?"
He can hear his heartbeat, steady and regular, no longer erratic, no longer threatening with every single beat to stop. He's just not sure healed is the right word for whatever's happened here, because he's never been this cold.
"God," Dean says, shivering. "We should never have come."
Sam pulls him to his feet, saying his name, over and over, trying to get him to meet his eyes. "Dean? Dean? Dean?"
"Did you see it?" Dean asks. "Did you see--"
"I need to get him to a doctor," Sam says, apologetically, and everyone watches as Sam half carries him from the tent. "But thank you, Reverend," Sam doesn't forget to say, "thank you..."
Sam wears that damn goofy grin the whole way back to the motel. He watches Dean at least half as much as he watches the road, and never once says 'I told you so.' He's completely blind, Dean realizes. He doesn't want to know.
All Sam can think about are the doctor's words. There's nothing wrong with your heart. No sign there ever was.
Dean is still breathing oddly. It's habit now to be careful when breathing in, and he's thinking it's going to be a hard one to break. Breathing is supposed to be one of those things that just happens automatically, but once you start thinking about it, it has trouble faring on its own.
"You're alright?" Sam keeps asking. "Really, you're good?"
"I'm fine, Sam," he says, but he's not, exactly.
Because he can't forget the doctor's words either. Just yesterday, a young guy like you, twenty-seven, athletic; out of nowhere, heart attack.
Dean stopped believing in coincidence years ago.
They decide to split up to cover more ground.
Dean goes to the Reverend and Sam goes to track down the friends of the recently deceased. It's the first time Sam's let him out of his sight since he left the hospital, and he thought he'd be grateful to get away from all the hovering and the staring and the questions, but he just feels exhausted and anxious instead, like something is tapping at the back of his head, whispering answers he's not ready to hear.
Layla tells him she probably has six months, and Dean watches her leave, thinking about how she could have more; years, even, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty, maybe, if he and Sam just get back in the Impala and don't look back.
Only Dean has less faith in good than he does in evil, and he knows he can't walk away now.
It's why he's not surprised when Sam says the clock stopped at 4:17 where Marshall Hall dropped dead, or when Roy Le Grange tells him that he has a job to finish.
Dean feels it coming; the cold creeps in again, slowing him to a stop, and the lights flicker out one by one. He turns back around and it's there.
Sue Ann sent it after him. He really should have seen that coming, in hindsight, because someone playing God would be interested in this type of poetic justice. He stopped Layla getting fixed. Now he'll be used to fix her.
He should run, he knows. He should dodge it best he can until Sam can set it free, let it find it's own course, and reap only those that are meant to be dead.
Except he is meant to be dead. He looks it right in the eye and doesn't move.
It's a weird sensation, just standing there unarmed, because there's something inhuman in front of him, after his soul, and for the first time in his life Dean isn't trying to fight it.
It's still dark when they make it back to the motel, and Dean's been driving the whole way on autopilot. His whole body aches, and the moment he steps out of the car his legs give out, and he crashes gracelessly to the ground.
Sam is there instantly, his wide terrified eyes searching him for something horrible that he's missed. "Dean? What's wrong? Are you hurt?"
Dean blinks at him, not quite getting the question. "She's gonna die," he tells him.
Sam frowns. "The reaper, Dean," Sam says. "Did it touch you?" Dean manages a nod, and Sam's eyes go cold and vacant, the way John's eyes always did whenever he used to do something wrong. "How long did it have you?"
Dean shakes his head again, and tries to pull away at the same time Sam reaches for him. "Don't know," he says, and tries to smile, "they stop time, remember?"
"Why didn't you just outrun it, Dean?" Sam asks, and his voice is oddly calm. It sets warning bells off in Dean's head. Sam's only ever calm before a storm.
"It caught me off guard," he says, and he's still a little dizzy, but he's just drained. That's all it was, and Sam shouldn't waste his worry. He didn't give enough to make her better, the reaper never had the chance.
"The hell it did!" Sam yells. "You let it catch you."
Dean closes his eyes, and lets Sammy drag him to his feet. "Yeah, but you stopped it."
"Damn it, Dean," Sam says softly, but doesn't yell again as he helps him to the room.
He sleeps until almost one, but when he wakes up he feels normal for the first time since this all started. He scrubs a hand down his face and that's when he notices Sam, watching him with narrowed eyes, sitting cross-legged on the opposite bed. "What?" he asks.
"You were going to let it kill you, weren't you?" he asks quietly. "You were just going to let it."
"Don't do this, Sammy," he says. Sam doesn't really want to know, but Dean has his suspicions he's already got it figured out. Sam's always been the smart one.
"You bastard," he says, and he sounds exactly the same as he had when he said 'watch me', all control and unshed tears and grim determination. "Don't you get that I need you?"
"You don't need me, Sammy," Dean says, quietly, and it hurts to hear it out loud, but it doesn't make it less true. "Never have."
Sam just looks away, and it's not like him to back down from a fight. After a moment, he says, "I used to lie to myself about that, too."
Dean lies a lot to a lot of people about any number of things and never looks back, never thinks of it again, never wonders if maybe it's wrong; but this is different, and for Layla, he keeps his word.
He prays for her. He prays every single night after Sam is asleep. He prays every time he finishes a job, or walks across a room without hurting, and thinks it should have been her that was saved instead the entire time.
He even goes to church once, putting his trust in the hallowed ground.
Five months and three days later she's dead. Dean decides it's easier to be a skeptic. Faith has never done him any good, and he's not as strong as her.
He only believes when the miracles happen, and sometimes not even then.