I'm glad part one went over well.

This is not a deathfic.

This part reaches a conclusion. Whether it is an END is up to interpretation. As I said, this is the lead-in to another story.

By the show's timeline season 3, and this story, would end sometime in November 2008.

I own nothing, reviews craved.

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Chapter 2

The next few months went by too quickly. Dean's road trip consumed massive chunks of time, and Sam woke up one morning, realizing that he was truly happy. Maybe for the first time in his life.

They'd been to the Grand Canyon, slipped across the border to Tijuana---an exploit made more exciting since they were on Federal wanted lists---and seen, toured or otherwise experienced every landmark and tourist attraction in the Western United States, starting with Hoover Dam. They'd found some that were not even listed on maps.

Hunting was all but left behind. About a month after Dean convinced Sam to simply live, Bobby had asked for help with a water demon in the Great Salt Lake. They'd gone. They were loyal to their friends. That is, until Sam had almost drowned trying to exorcise the bastard. They'd beaten it, sent it back to Hell, but Dean had declared them officially retired. He'd told Bobby that he wasn't about to risk his brother's life again after that near-disaster.

So, they left. The weapons and hunting tools were placed in storage, under a false identity that would allow either of them to retrieve it. Only a few necessities, items for self-defense, remained into the trunk. Better safe than sorry, after all. They'd made a lot of enemies over the years.

Then, one day, Sam woke up, and found Dean sitting against the headboard of his bed, staring at him. His eyes were wet.

"Dean, what is it? Are you alright?"

Dean smiled, but it wasn't a pleasing sight at all. "Happy Columbus Day, Sammy."

Sam blinked at him for a moment, not comprehending. Why the hell is Columbus Day important? Dean looked away. Sam stared at his brother, trying to piece together some reason Dean might be upset today. Columbus Day was a non-religious holiday. Last day off before Halloween for postal workers and the like….

It hit Sam like a freight train.

Columbus Day. October 8th.

They only had a few weeks left. And they hadn't found anything that could save Dean.

Oh, God. OhGodOhGodOhGod... Nononono!

Sam couldn't breathe.

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Sam was hyperventilating, and Dean had to grab him before he fell face-first off the bed. He pulled his pale, thrashing brother back against the headboard and shoved his head between his knees. All the worry lines that the joy of the last few months had erased seemed to reappear instantly. Sam looked like he'd aged ten years in just a few minutes.

"Calm down, Sammy. Just breathe, man," he whispered. It took Sam a few minutes to recover, so Dean just waited, letting reality crash down on his little brother, and hating himself for not being able to think of anything comforting to say. He just softly repeated the reminder to breathe.

As soon as he could lift his head again, Sam leapt right back into researching, picking up where he left off as if it hadn't been five months.

If anything, it was worse than before. That first week, he might have slept an hour a night, on the nights he slept at all. Dean's protests fell on deaf ears.

He finally resorted to slipping Sam sleeping pills in place of headache medicine. Dean didn't care if it pissed Sam off, he wasn't going to watch his brother kill himself just weeks out from...

Sam reacted to it better than Dean figured he would. Which is to say that Sam didn't seem to notice at all. He woke up the next morning, and went right back to what he'd been reading.

But there was nothing to find.

The night before Dean's last day was the worst.

Sam had been withdrawn all day. The frantic reading and note-taking slowed to a sporadic and almost disinterested pace. Sam dozed off occasionally, and even those brief periods of sleep brought an onslaught of nightmares and visions. The first he'd had---or, at least, that Dean knew of---since they'd stopped hunting. Visions of Dean's death, he was almost certain. Sam looked awful, but he wouldn't talk about them.

Sam started drinking about mid-day. Dean joined him for a while, but, for the first time ever, he couldn't keep up. Sam was talking---mostly reminiscing---and laughing, at least, even though it sounded like borderline hysteria. The subject of Dean's impending demise didn't come up. Dean decided not to intervene. He'd buried himself in a bottle on occasion. Denial was a Winchester trait.

He called Bobby, telling the older hunter where they'd be the next day, and asking him to make sure Sam went home with him. And to lock up all the liquor for a while. One John Winchester in the family was enough.

That night, when Dean came back from getting them food, he found Sam slumped against the wall of the shower, with the .45 Dad had given him when he was nine-years-old pressed to his temple. Dean tried to be surprised, he really did, but the way Sam had been headed...

Plus, I never did get around to making him promise not to...

He stepped cautiously into the bathroom, watching Sam watch him. Sam spoke first, alcohol slurring his speech.

"I tried. I tried, Dean, I swear..."

"I know you did," Dean answered quietly, slowly sitting down beside Sam on the edge of the tub, "I know. You made me proud, Sammy."

His brother apparently didn't agree, from the way he shook his head. The look of failure was written all over his face. "I'm so s-sorry..."

Dean carefully held out his hand, motioning for the gun. "Give that to me Sam, please."

For a moment, Sam didn't move, he just sat there with tears streaming down his face. When Dean was about to ask again, he suddenly thrust the gun, grip first, at him. Dean took it, and chuckled.

Sam glared. "What?"

Dean felt bad for laughing, but it was just too damned funny. "Sorry. I'm just glad you're too drunk to tell."

Sam blinked, confused. Dean took pity and explained.

"I hid all the bullets a few weeks ago, Sammy. The gun isn't loaded," he pulled out the empty clip and held it up for inspection.

Sam frowned, his inebriated brain clearly having some difficulty processing the news. Then he rested his head against the tiled wall with a sigh. "Sneaky jerk."

Dean slid an arm under Sam's shoulders and pulled him to his feet. "Time for bed, bitch."

His brother protested loudly, but his drunken limbs weren't capable of fighting, and Dean maneuvered him into the bed without much trouble. Dean placed a trash can by the bedside, in case Sam's body decided to reject the alcohol, as it normally did, then slid onto the bed beside his rapidly dozing sibling. He leaned over Sam's ear.

"Don't be sorry."

Sam mumbled something unintelligible. Dean propped his head on his arm and watched Sam slip deeper into sleep. His brother was in agony, Dean knew, but there was nothing they could do to stop it. They were out of options. They were out of time.

The night hours crept by slowly. Dean was grateful for that. He watched Sam sleep, and even though he was tired himself, he wasn't sleepy. Bone-weary maybe.

He noted the differences in Sam's features. His weight had bounced back, once Dean had gotten him to live a little. His face was drawn, though, tense even in a drunken sleep. Worry lines creased his face. Dean hoped those would recede with time. Sam needed to move on. The hunt---the crusade---Dad had sent them on before they were old enough to understand had taken too much, crushed too many dreams, and Dean prayed---yes, really prayed---that Sam could soon, finally, let it go.

Sam had a few nightmares that night, none powerful enough to wake him, but enough to get Dean to pull the younger man closer, draping one arm around Sam's---too broad…when did Sammy grow up?---shoulders and place his hand over his heart. It beat steadily, strong. Dean took pride in the fact that his sacrifice had restored this heart to life. Sam deserved it. Sam deserved so much more.

Dean allowed himself a moment of fear. He didn't know what was going to happen the next night. He wasn't keen on discovering what Hell was really like, either, for that matter. And he didn't know what Sam would do. Would Sam do something stupid, like trade his life back in to the demon? She'd left that possibility open, and Sam knew that. He could only hope that Sam wouldn't remember…or, failing that, wouldn't remember soon enough to do anything about it.

Sam soon settled enough that Dean could get off the bed without waking him, and he used his brother's soft snores as cover to move around the room. He made a few final phone calls. Missouri, Ellen, a few others. The calls were short. What was there to say, really?

He snagged Sam's phone off the dresser, checked the old number, and made one call to New York. Someone had to look after Sammy's future and, for the next fifteen hours or so, Dean was still the big brother. He still had a job to do.

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Dean's last day went quietly enough. Sam was hung-over, but not sick, and Dean was glad he'd asked Bobby to keep the kid sober for a while...he didn't need to keep up that trend.

They talked about old times, a lot, and he even got Sam to smile once or twice. He broached the subject of Sam living with Bobby for a while, and the younger man didn't reject it outright even though he immediately changed the subject. Dean ended up writing a note instead, outlining what he thought Sam should do. He made sure it was clearly a suggestion, and not an order. He didn't want his last wishes to feel like a debt.

As far as any kind of Last Will went, his was short and to the point. Take the car, and live your life. Maybe even forgive yourself once in a while.

All too soon, it was time.

They headed out to the crossroads---Dean wasn't one to wait around---and parked the car. The demon would be along soon. Bobby was waiting in his truck about a mile back, with instructions to wait about an hour and then collect Sam. He didn't tell Sam that part. He didn't want his brother to feel he needed to put on a strong face. They'd repressed a lot over the years…maybe it was time for the masks to go.

He felt more than saw Sam turn to him, the raw desperation radiating off of him. Dean knew what he'd say before he said it.

"Let's go back to Bobby's. We can lock the place down, salt, devil's traps…that hoodoo Gofer Dust that George Darrow used... We can hold it off until we find something---"

"We already looked, Sammy," Dean whispered, gently, "It's time."

"No. No, goddammit. We can---"

"Sam..." Dean cut in, looking over at the seething younger man. For a moment, he was surprised, expecting to see the young boy he'd been seeing for the past few days…the one he remembered so clearly. Instead, he saw Sam as an adult. The responsible, battle-hardened hunter that he and his father had created; the heartbroken, but ferociously protective brother he'd trusted his life to for three years. He saw the last Winchester, still defiant after so many defeats.

His voice softened, "Thanks for not giving up on me."

Sam, shivered, looking like he was going to shake apart. Dean reached out and placed his hand against Sam's neck, feeling the racing pulse beneath his fingers. He'd make the deal all over again. It was worth it.

He tried to control the quake in his own voice when he spoke. "I want you to do something for me."

"Anything..." Sam whispered fiercely.

"I want you to wait a few days, then call Sarah. She had the hots for you, for some reason. I think she still does," he grinned when a ghost of a smile moved Sam's mouth.

"Dean, you know---"

Dean cut him off, knowing the only thing on Sam's tongue would be about Madison, and it was long past time that Sam forgave himself for that.

"Don't argue, just call her. I'm not asking you to elope," he shrugged, "'course that'd be pretty cool. You could name one of your kids after me." Sam's smile came out this time.

"I'd name them all after you..."

Dean laughed. "That's gonna make Christmas confusing..."

Sam looked down, trying not to laugh, but failing.

"And I want you to remember something, too..." Dean said.

"What?"

Dean paused, trying to look like he was going to be profound, reeling Sam in. He'd always been good at that. "Remember, that you're an annoying little bitch, and that nobody likes you."

Sam blinked for a moment, blindsided, then burst out laughing and crying at the same time. He threw his arms around Dean and pulled him into a crushing embrace. He burrowed his face into Dean's shoulder and whispered as if divulging a secret.

"I love you, Dean."

Dean tensed, almost instinctively. He reminded himself about the time for masks dropping…or whatever he'd told himself that afternoon. There was no more time to appear macho. This was his last chance.

He hugged Sam back, hard.

"Likewise, Sasquatch."

Sam choked back a sob, another shiver racked his body, and Dean held on tighter. "Don't be afraid, Sammy."

"Well, this is touching," a female voice interrupted.

Dean cringed, knowing the voice must belong to the demon.

Time was up.

END OF PROLOGUE

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This will continue in a longer story. The premise?

Sam's destiny has never been written in stone, he'll have to chisel it there himself.