Summary: sam is desperate to save his brother from the consequences of dean's deal with the crossroads demon. features angst! also? THIS WAS NOT BETAED. read at your own risk. that is all.

Disclaimer: don't own anything winchestery. alas.


When Dean slides behind the wheel, Sam can already see the change in him. It's in the way he carries himself, the tone of his voice, the way he looks at Sam. He sits taller, shoulders lighter. Ol' Yellow-Eyes is dead. Dad's out of hell. Mom's been avenged. And Dean is ready and waiting to kick demon ass.


The change in Sam is harder to see, and truth be told, Dean's not looking that hard. But if he knew where to look--or what to look for--he'd see it. It's in the way Sam stares at his hands. How his eyes track Dean whenever Dean doesn't know Sam's looking. It's in the way Sam sits in the bathroom, long after Dean's asleep, trying to remember what it was like to be dead. He's searching for answers. For clues. For hope.


There are new rules now. They don't split up for food runs. They get coffee together. When Dean goes to get a bag of chips from the U-Save convenience store, Sam comes with. When Sam pumps gas into the Impala, Dean cleans the windshield. There's been too much separation. Dean sacrificed his life, he's not going to waste time searching for Sam if someone--or something--else comes looking first. Sam doesn't complain. He's always there, waiting, watching. Dean made a crack about him and Sam being Siamese twins once. Having Sam around, always looming, used to bother him. Now he can't imagine wanting anything more.


They hook back up with Bobby a few days later and manage to send four demons back to hell. Dean and Bobby are downing beers over cold pizza, but Sam's not hungry. He sits at the table, lets their words roll off him. He doesn't need to rehash the victory, he was there. And he has other things to think about. Like, five days ago he was dead. Dead. And now he's not. And he can't quite figure out what that makes him. Alive? Undead? His back still twinges. He gets tired. And scared. And hungry. He certainly feels alive. But he just doesn't know. And he can't ask Dean because Dean looks at him like he's the Second Coming and it's not fair.

It's not fair because once again, Dean saved Sam. And now, when Sam is desperate to save Dean because time is ticking by him, no, not ticking, it's running, fucking flying away and there are only so many days left. And each day without an answer feels like Sam's back on his knees in Cold Creek dying all over again. It feels like there's not enough air to go around and every hour that he can't figure this out the panic works its claws in deeper. He has to save Dean. That's all there is to it. He can't fail. He can't. Dean's taken care of him his entire life. Now it's his turn.


Bobby lends them a few dusty grimoires and Sam spends hours pouring over the cramped spidery print. He reads until his eyes burn and his head feels swollen. He reads in the car, in dim motel rooms, in old diners with cracked plastic seats. Dean just rolls his eyes, makes a few wisecracks about how they have plenty of time.


Sam pours the gasoline over the bones, sets the gas can down, and lights a match. He tosses it into the grave and steps back just as the bones and ragged clothes catch fire with a eyebrow-singing whoomp. Dean pulls Sam backwards. "Dude, not so close." Dean's always mother henning him these days. Sometimes Sam can see the fear shining in Dean's eyes. Lying in bed he tries to imagine the shape and feel of the desperation that sent Dean running to the crossroads demon. He's afraid if he doesn't do something soon, he'll know exactly how Dean felt.


It's like Dean doesn't even worry about it. Sam doesn't understand. Doesn't Dean see how the weight of losing Dean is crushing him? Lately Dean needs a crow bar to get Sam out of bed, and once he's up, he's reading. He doesn't just read with his eyes, but also with his fingers, as if there' something hidden, a Braille secret that his eyes don't have the power to find. Surely there's a way to break the pact, destroy the demon, keep Dean alive for the long haul.

He just has to find it.


Sam's obsessed with word puzzles. Anagrams. He tells Dean it's just because he's bored. Dean reminds Sam that's what porn is for, and Sam doesn't even bother with a response. He has a calendar hidden in the bottom of his duffel and he puts a careful black "X" over each day. It's been 70 days so far and he has nothing. Dean shrugs off Sam's worry and turns up Styx on the radio. "Quit your worrying, Sammy, " Dean grins, and he starts singing along. Sam stares out the window and the trees blur by. Just like time.


The sign next to a little thrift store somewhere in Missouri says, "socks, cups, lamps." Sam's brain rearranges the letters into cops suck and palms. He's got a word puzzle book bent over his knee, eyes moving over letters. How many words can he make out of, A DAD EYE OUR? He doesn't try for the number of words, he can see the phrase hiding between the vowels and consonants, mocking him. You are dead. He flips ahead to a word find. The first four words he needs to find are: COAT, EVADE, ANY, SUN. Sam blinks at the words, and his mouth goes dry. He doesn't bother with the search, he already knows the message: You can't save Dean. He rolls down the window and tosses the book out. A gust of wind carries it over the car and into a ditch across the road. Dean gawks at him. "What the hell, dude?"

Sam shrugs, closes his eyes. He wants to say, I can't find the answer. I keep looking and it's never there. But he says nothing.


He calls Bobby every week. At first he feels weird about it. He wonders what Bobby thinks of him, if he still cares about him. He listens closely for drawn out pauses, for the sound of unease. When they're together he watches Bobby's face for signs of discomfort. Or fear. He can't find any. And he wonders if Bobby really is okay with him, or if he's just a better actor than Sam gives him credit for.

They meet Bobby in Iowa. There are signs of demon activity around an abandoned church and graveyard. It turns out the cattle mutilations and desecrated graves were done by a group of high school kids. The kids left the cemetery in a hurry when they got an eyeful of Dean's rifle. They go to a local bar and when Dean goes to take a leak, Sam corners Bobby. "Do you have anything?" Sam asks him.

Bobby sighs wearily, pulls at the brim of his cap. "I've been looking, Sam. But I just can't find anything. I've been trying to figure out how to make some of those bullets for the Colt, but..." he trails off. "I haven't been having a lot of luck."

Sam's lips pull into a tight line and he nods. "Yeah. Okay. Thanks for trying." Sam picks up his bottle of beer, sets it back down. "I love him for doing it," Sam says softly. "But I hate him too. I hate him for making me feel like this." He lifts haunted eyes to Bobby. "I don't know what I'm going to do if I can't save him, Bobby. I can't even make another deal because he won't have a soul." Sam shifts on the stool, one eye watching the bathroom door. "I keep thinking if I kill myself maybe that will break the--"

Bobby's hand snakes out and latches itself around Sam's wrist. "You listen to me, Sam. You ain't gonna fix nothin' by killing yourself. Not unless your goal is to make Dean do something even more foolish than seeking out a crossroads demon. And goddamn it, you stay away from that one too. It's a good thing you Winchesters can hunt because you haven't got a clue about anything else. Dean needs you, Sam. I can't even begin to tell you what it was like when you were...gone."

Sam lifts an eyebrow. "Is that what you call it? When I was gone?" His voice carries a trace of bitterness. "Like on a vacation?"

Bobby's face goes dark and he looks down. "Sam..."

"I was dead, Bobby. Dead. And we never talk about, nobody talks about it, and I don't know what to do. I listened to Dean bitch about Dad all last year, and now he went and did the same thing." Sam pulls his arm away from Bobby. "I don't deserve to be here. None of this feels real." Sam takes a deep breath, lifts his bottle and smashes it on the counter. He picks up a piece amber glass and draws it across his palm. A bright line of blood beads along his life line. He holds his hand out to Bobby. "Is this what makes me alive? Because I can't tell anymore. I thought I woke up from a nightmare, but I didn't. I woke up into one."

Bobby looks ill and he snatches the glass away from Sam. "Jesus Christ, Sam," he chokes. "Stop it." He grabs up a napkin and presses it into Sam's hand. "We'll figure out what to do about Dean. I promise."

Sam watches Bobby's face intently. "Are you afraid of me now, Bobby? Do you think I'm different? Wrong?"

Bobby chuckles weakly. "Only when you start sawing on yourself with broken glass." Bobby rubs at his face. "Listen to me, Sam. You're not the same person you used to be. You know why? Cuz you were a scared kid forced into a life your Daddy thought was for the best. You're a better person now. You're strong and smart, and you look out for your brother. You're a damn good hunter and I'm proud of you. I feel the same way about you now as I did before your vacation," he rolls his eyes. "You and your brother are both pains in my ass."

Sam blinks back tears and chuckles. "Thanks, Bobby."

Bobby takes a pull on his beer and mutters something that sounds suspiciously like damn Winchesters.


"How come you're so obsessed with that Dana Schulps crap?" Dean demands one September morning. They're sitting in the Oak Street Café (fact orate seek) in southern Wisconsin. Dean stares over the top of his newspaper, eyebrows knitted, watching Sam.

Sam flips a word puzzle book shut and slides it into his jacket pocket. "I'm not obsessed," Sam says, and forks a bite full of pancake into his mouth. He watches Dean intently for several seconds until Dean squirms.

Dean sets the paper down. "What?" he demands, annoyed.

"I'll do whatever takes to save you," Sam says.

Dean shifts his focus from Sam's face to the wall behind Sam's head. "Yeah, yeah, I know. And you know what would save me, right now?"

Sam frowns. "What?"

Dean leans forward and pats Sam's arm, a wide grin splits his face. "If you paid the bill."


When Sam sleeps he dreams of hidden messages. He dreams of darkness and sacrificial knives and incantations. He dreams of demons and fire. He prays for the visions now, concentrates as hard as he can, forcing his brain to do something.

He dreams of clocks and calendars and things with wings. He wants to stretch time between his hands, pull it like taffy, into soft long loops of forever. He wants to hold it between his hands until Dean is safe. But when he wakes up in the morning his hands are always empty and time ticks on. And on. And on.


Sam spends two weeks chasing down a rumor that Jim Bowie instructed an Arkansas blacksmith to make a special knife in 1831. The knife was supposedly cooled in holy water and blessed by three priests. Protective runes were carved into the bone handle and the silver blade (rival bleeds) was covered with a fine gold leaf of Latin script. Sam's certain the Latin is a powerful exorcism and outlines a plan to get them to Arkansas without going back to jail.

Dean listens with what he hopes is an open mind. The first step of Sam's plan is to leave the Impala at Bobby's and take an old clunker. The second step involves going to the Historic Arkansas Museum to view the "Arkansas Toothpick collection." The collection includes several models of the bowie knife owned by Jim Bowie and made by James Black. Step three: After scouting the museum and finding the knife, break in without getting caught. Step four: Summon the crossroads bitch and stab her.

Dean leans back in his chair and purses his lips. "There's a problem with that plan," he says. "And I don't like leaving my baby with Bobby."

Sam scowls. "Fine. I'll leave you and the Impala with Bobby. I'm sure you'll be very happy together while I go get the knife myself." He eyes Dean. "So what's the problem?"

Dean rolls his eyes. "Okay, okay. You win. I'll leave the car." He pauses. "The knife does sound pretty cool, Sam. I'd like to add it to our collection." Dean wiggles an eyebrow. "You know, if it really exists." He clears his throat.

Sam's face contorts into his best bitchface. "Dude. What problem?"

"The demon sort of said that if I tried know...break the'd..." Dean trails off, his jaw clenching.

Sam holds his arms out in frustration. "She said I'd what?"

Dean looks away, blinks. "She said you'd die again, Sam. She said you'd die."

Sam sinks down onto the motel room bed. He nods slowly. "Okay. Fine. Then I'll wait until your year's up and then I'll stab her."

Dean bites at his lip. "Do you really think it'll work?"

Sam rubs the back of his neck. "It's worth a try, right?" And he looks so eager, so hopeful (so alive) that Dean has to agree.


The good news is, they get to the Arkansas Historic Museum and back without a hitch. The State cops don't give their rusted Dodge a second look. The bad news is, there is no magic bowie knife. One of the security guards tells Sam it's an old legend that pops up every once in a while to generate publicity for the museum. He points out all the knives in the collection, but there's nothing with a silver blade and gold leaf.

The look on Sam's face is murderous and Dean drags him away from the poor old guard. Sam's fists are clenched and it looks like he wants nothing more than to punch his way into the glass cases and try out one of the antique knives on the guard. "Come on, Sam," Dean whispers in his ear, a fake smile plastered to his face. "We don't want to draw attention to ourselves, right?"

And Sam turns the anger off just like. He shrugs out of Dean's grasp, adjusts his jacket, and nods to the round-eyed guard. Then he turns toward the exit, hands in his pockets, and casually strolls away.

Dean stares after him and then hurries to catch up. He puts a hand on Sam's shoulder to slow him down. "Are you okay, man? You had me a little freaked back there. I'm supposed to be the badass, you know?" He smiles, but his eyes are worried.

Sam glances at him. "No, I'm not okay," Sam grits. "I thought I found a way to save you, Dean. And it's just smoke. Smoke and mirrors and a whole lot of nothing. As usual."

The automatic doors slide open and Sam blows out into the parking lot. "We have time," Dean says, and this time Sam turns his rage toward Dean.

"We have six months," Sam hisses, "six months. That's it. That's all I have left."

Dean coughs. "Technically, I have six months left. And you're pretty much golden." He doesn't mean to make light of the situation, doesn't mean to joke, but it's like his mouth has a brain of its own.

Sam's nostrils flare, his chin tilts dangerously but Dean stands his ground. If it'll make Sam feel better, let him take a swing. Let him take two. Dean has a good idea how Sammy's feeling after all, and he's sorry. But not sorry enough to wish he hadn't made the deal in the first place. A pissed off Sam is better than no Sam at all. "Shut up," Sam barks. "Do you know what it feels like that you won't take me seriously? Do you know what it feels like to see you running at death with open arms?"

Dean tries not to cringe beneath Sam's dark eyes. "Please, Sam. I know this isn't a joke, it's not funny. I...I just don't know how to help. And I never meant to put you in this position. I just...I just wanted you back, Sam. That's all."

Sam swallows, adam's apple bobbing. "I cant't lose you, Dean. Not like this." Sam slumps against the old beater Bobby lent them.. "You've always been there for me. And I don't want...I don't think I could stand it if you weren't."

Dean leans beside Sam. "What do you want to do? We've already been in touch with Missouri and Ellen. Bobby doesn't have anything new. I'm beginning to think we're just going to have to face this bitch and see what happens."

San sighs and runs a hand through his hair. "Yeah," he repeats without conviction. "See what happens."


He barely sleeps now. He locks himself in the bathroom or spends the night in the Impala with a flashlight. He's read the Key of Solomon more times than he can count. He's raided Bobby's whole library of grimoires and he can't find out how to save a soul, much less hide one.

When Sam wakes up in the front seat of the Impala, the sun is a copper coin on the horizon. He blinks, stretches, and turns to see Dean staring in the window at him. Dean looks worried. Sam pulls on a smile. It feels wrong on his face, it feels broken. With any luck (and who is he kidding, he ran out of luck in Cold Creek, South Dakota) maybe Dean won't notice.


He sees the way Sam is slipping, the way he doesn't sleep, the dark circles beneath his eyes. He's literally drowning in research and Dean doesn't know how to help. Dean can feel himself slipping too. He's trying to help Sam find an answer, he is, but every road they go down leads to another dead end.

He made the right choice bringing Sam back. He'd do it again in a heartbeat. Having Sam with him for the past nine months has been worth it. One more day with Sam would have been worth it. He understands Sam's guilt and fear, but no matter how many times he tries to convince Sam he's okay with whatever happens Sam just gives him that look. He can't argue with that look, no matter how hard he tries. So no, he doesn't regret bringing Sammy back, but that doesn't mean he's not afraid to leave him on his own.


They still hunt now and then. Mostly demons, a few spirits. Dean likes the familiarity and Sam's not going to take that away. Not when there's so little time left. He thinks about what the bitch said about Dean trying to break the contract. What if Sam tries to break it and not Dean? Will he still die? Demons lie. Most of the time. Demons lie. Rearrange the letters and it spells misled one. Sam definitely feels misled, lost. He thinks about Ouija boards and Andy. And Ava. They learned to use their powers. Why hadn't he? Because of the demon? Because he was afraid of who (or what) he'd become? Now he's more afraid of what he'll become without using them. In less than two months he'll lose Dean. And he can't bear it. The fear gnaws at his stomach, squeezes his heart. He can't be the only one left. He can't.


"You with me, Sam?" Dean asks. He's digging a grave, face slick with sweat beneath the moon's eye. "How about a little help?" Sam nods and drops down into the open grave. He starts digging at the far end, his shovel searching for the tell-tale clunk of the coffin sleeping beneath dirt. He's with Dean, he tells himself. They're still together, still Sam and Dean, Dean and Sam. But when his shovel hits metal, it sounds like the ticking of a clock.


There's not enough time. Sam stops wearing his watch; he can't stand looking at it. He's got a myriad of texts spread across a worn motel room table. He's been reading about the Egyption ba and ka. He's been researching protective amulets and relics. And he's been meditating.

When Dean's in the shower Sam sits on the worn bed and counts, eyes closed, mind clear. He always counts to the same number, 365. And then he concentrates. He searches for the switch Ava talked about. He thinks about Andy broadcasting porn, contacting Dean, and Sam knows he can reach that same power. He knows he can do better.


It's not really an on-off switch. It's more like a dimmer switch. He sets a water glass on the bed-side table. He imagines his mind as a box. It's empty except for the glass. All he has to do is move the glass from one side of the box to the other. The first time he does it, the glass barely moves. It jerks an inch to the right, water spilling over the rim.

By the end of the week he can levitate the glass without spilling a drop.


Sam sits him down in a rinky dink motel in Peru (pure), Illinois. Sam holds a knife out to Dean, nods for him to take it. Dean's brows furrow. "What am I supposed to do with this?"

"Just take it," Sam says. "I have something to show you."

Dean takes the knife and stares from it to Sam and back again. "Okay. Now what?"

"Watch." Sam moves his hand and the knife arcs out of Dean's hand and into the center of the wall across the room. The silver blade enters the wall with a dull thud. Plaster dusts the floor.

Dean jumps to his feet, shocked. He takes a step back from Sam, stunned. "What the hell was that?"

Sam holds out his hand and the knife yanks itself from the wall and comes to rest in the palm of Sam's hand. "I've been practicing," he says.

Dean swallows. "I can see that."

Sam smiles, but there's no humor in it. "I'm going to save you," he says. It's a promise.

There's a roaring in Dean's ears, an ocean of panic. "What did you do?" he whispers. "Sammy, what did you do?" He can't take his eyes off the knife in Sam's hand.

"I've been practicing," Sam repeats. "Andy practiced, that's how he sent you the vision last year."

"I'll bet he practiced," Dean growls. "So did Ava." His fists clench. "And Jake."

Sam laughs and it's an ugly sound. "I'm not Jake, Dean. I'm your brother, and I'm going to save you if it's the last thing I do."

Dean's anger dissipates into a lead ball of fear in the pit of his stomach. "Sammy. I don't want it to be the last thing you do."

Sam's lips twitch. "And I don't want you to die. Think either of will get our wish?"

Dean sinks onto the edge of the bed. Sam sighs and sits beside his brother. "I can do this, Dean. You've got to trust me. You've spent your whole life taking care of me. This is my turn to take care of you. So let me do it."

"I do trust you. It's just...I'm afraid what this will do to you. Is doing to you."

Sam pats Dean's leg. "I'll be okay." He eyes shift to Dean. "As long as I have you."


They barely talk now. They don't need to; they know each other too well. Their words are in the tilt of Sam's head, the shrug of Dean's shoulder. The things they need to say can't be said in syllables. Their bond is stronger than vowels or consonants. Sam doesn't want to say goodbye, he can't. He won't. Dean's not going anywhere he can't follow.


They sit side by side on the picnic table. The park is deserted. Streetlights glow in the distance like fireflies. Sam clinks his beer bottle against Dean's and takes a drink. Dean pats Sam's shoulder. He leaves his hand there longer than he needs to. He thinks back to the hellish nights Sam lay gray and silent on a torn mattress. Sam glances at Dean, eyebrows raised. You okay?

Dean nods.

Sam hunches his shoulders against the brisk wind and blinks at the lights across the park. They flicker and burst, raining glass on parked cars, and plunge the far end of the park into darkness. A car alarm starts bleating. Porch lights snap on, people peer through windows. Sam studies his hands, thinks, you were dead. You were dead and now you're alive. He flexes his fingers, thinks about the dimmer switch in his head, and grins.


Sam spent the past twelve hours getting Dean ready. Dean's wearing a dozen different amulets, the Seal of Solomon and other protective seals mark the motel room door and walls. Sam painted protective sigils on Dean's chest and back as well. His arm throbs dully where he cut it for the blood. Dean's still a little pissed, but Sam doesn't give a shit. He'll do anything to protect Dean. Anything. Besides, what's a little blood between brothers?

He thinks about the crossroads demon. Crossroads also spells scar doors. Scar makes him think of his back, the livid line there a reminder of Jake's handiwork. Doors makes him think of windows, windows to the soul. There's some old homily that says eyes are the windows to the soul. Sam wonders what his eyes reveal.

The doors and windows are lined with salt. He's got three pistols and several knives. He feels a steady thrum beneath his skin; the dimmer is turned to high. He and Dean sit in silence, listening for the sound of the hell hounds. When he hears the first scratch of claw against door, Sam's ready. Dean's not going to die. He's not going to hell.

Not over Sam's dead body.