All the Time in the World
Sam watched with wonder at his big brother, cleaning and polishing the Impala with loving care as if he didn't have a worry in the world, as if he weren't facing Hell in a year's time.
"I have to save him," Sam thought to himself.
A year. That's all Sam had. He had to figure out a way to break the deal in just a year. He could no more lose Dean than Dean could accept losing him. As much as he wanted to lecture Dean about what he had done, he couldn't. He would have done the same thing.
Bobby walked up beside him and placed a reassuring hand on Sam's shoulder, already knowing what were in his thoughts because there were his own as well. He looked over at Dean and couldn't help, but smile. Their last conversation had been gut wrenching for him. It had been as if his own son had told him that he was going to Hell. It hurt Bobby to watch Dean take such pleasure in buffing the Impala knowing his fate. He looked so happy, so free.
Though a part of him was still grief-stricken at what Dean had done, Bobby also felt an undeniable, fatherly pride for him. He had seen no regrets in Dean's eyes. Bobby knew Dean would do it again in a heartbeat. It wasn't hard to see that. But for Bobby, Dean's selfless act was diminished by the knowledge that both he and Sam didn't have much time left. It was bittersweet to see Dean so unburdened, at least for now, after witnessing what the agony of losing Sam had done to him. He had a tired innocence about him now.
Knowing that their father had done the same for him, and going through all that he had suffered because of that choice, hadn't deterred Dean from doing the same thing for Sam. Dean had thought of it as finally returning the favor his father had paid him, to make his dad's sacrifice mean something. Dean knew that his father would have approved of his choice. Though he had hoped that Sam would never find out about what he had done, Bobby knew that it would have been impossible to keep it from him for very long. Sam had known something was wrong from the start, and after what Jake had said to him, it was all but confirmed. He had just needed to hear the truth from Dean himself. Once he had broken Dean down and had gotten his answers, much to Dean's dismay, the mission had become all about saving him.
"We'll find a way, Sam," Bobby said.
"I hope so," Sam said. "Look at him, Bobby. How can he be so calm about this?"
Bobby smiled again.
"He has all he needs right now," Bobby said simply. "You should have seen him before, Sam. He was a ghost, an empty shell without you."
"But he's going to…" Sam said, unable to bring himself to say the words.
"I know. He knows, too, make no mistake. He's not running from it, but he went through his own kind of Hell when he lost you. First and foremost, his mission was to get you back no matter what the cost. Now that you are, nothing else matters, not even facing Hell."
"I know it's selfish to question what he did, but I can't help it. I mean, when Dad did the same thing, he nearly lost it. Does he really think I'll get over it any better?"
"I don't think he even thought about that at the time. He knew what he had to do and just did it. He couldn't let you die. He so much as told me that. It wasn't in him to accept it. Once he had it in his head to save you, nothing was going to change it," Bobby paused. "Sometimes I wonder if I hadn't left him…maybe I could have stopped him, but I know now, looking into his eyes, that nothing could have stopped him."
"I know and I would have done the same thing," Sam said. "He's saved my life so many times. I have to save him, Bobby. I can't let him die."
Bobby felt a shiver of déjà vu with Sam's words. Dean had said very much the same thing. It amazed him how close these brothers were, how devoted they were to each other. John had done right by them. He had instilled an unbreakable bond between them.
"We'll find a way, Sam, but it can't be by sacrificing your soul to do it. To be honest, I don't think you could now. They know about you and Dean. It's why the demon only gave him a year. They won't be making any more deals. Besides, we have to find a way that will keep the both of you whole. Making deals with demons is never a sure-fire guarantee. There are bigger prices to pay than just your soul," Bobby said with the voice of someone who had long years of experience as a hunter to back up his claim.
Sam nodded and looked over at Dean. He couldn't help but wonder what Dean was thinking.
Dean watched the wax diminish with every careful swipe of the cloth upon the smooth black, mirrored surface, and allowed the joy of the purely mundane task of polishing his "baby" to fill him. He relished in the simple act. It seemed as if he were wiping away all the pain he had felt when he had lost Sam, erasing the scuffs and scrapes on his battered heart. It had taken the worst beating it had ever endured, even more than when they had lost their father, and had barely survived. Still, it had all been worth it. He couldn't regret it. Sam was here, back with him and he wouldn't let anything take away the triumph he felt.
As he continued to buff the Impala, his thoughts strayed to the djinn's false world and how much he had longed to stay in it. Of course, being there with his mom, alive and happy, and with Sam, in love with Jessica, facing marriage and a successful career, had been the real temptations to staying. But, he also remembered the little things too, the seemingly infinitesimal details of the fantasy that had come from his wish as well. He had remembered how just mowing the lawn for his mom had given him a boyish delight. The irony in his mother's words of how he was acting as if he had never done it before had been touchingly funny. He hadn't…ever. There were so many things he hadn't done in his life, things that may not rank in importance compared to saving lives from harm at the hands of evil, but he'd give anything to experience them before he left this world.
Though he had scoffed about living the suburban life, suddenly just then, he had realized it hadn't been the lifestyle of tract homes he had longed for, but the life within those homes. The uncomplicated laughter of children playing in front yards, fearing nothing more than facing their parents with bad grades; the backyard barbecues and conversations where the words, "demons", "vampires", and "evil" rarely entered. Normal. The kind of normal that Sam had always longed to achieve, Dean now understood and longed for himself, but he accepted that it was not the life he was meant to live. Much as he wished otherwise, things had happened for a reason. He still maintained that he didn't believe in destiny, but if there was some kind of plan for him, it was to save and protect Sam so that maybe he could have a chance at that normal life. Seeing Sam alive was worth everything he had done. He would relish in the small mercies he could have, like polishing his Impala, the car that had been passed on to him by his father, and having Sam by his side in the passenger seat.
A year. He only had a year of life left to him and he knew he would spend most of what remained doing what he has always done, the "family business". But unlike the months before, where he had allowed his self-pity to nearly destroy him and Sam along with him, he felt a renewed sense of purpose now. He had seen his father emerge from Hell and save his life. It gave Dean hope that their father might have finally achieved some peace. Hope had come in meager quantities, if it came at all, so Dean allowed himself to feel it. When he had looked into his father's tearful eyes and had seen his proud smile, he knew that he could face whatever was awaiting him in Hell with the same kind of dogged stubbornness as his father had. He only hoped that he, too, would emerge as whole and heroic as his father had. He could live with that fate for his father, for himself, and especially for Sammy. For the next year, he would find and give that meaning to his life he had told Bobby about. He would not squander his time with Sam with any more recriminations over whether the choice he had made was the right one. He knew it had been. It was evidenced in Sam's flesh and blood reality. He would trade his soul a thousand times for that.
"There you go, baby. I'm sorry I've been neglecting you lately. I had to get Sam back, you know. You understand, right?" Dean said with a shaky grin. "I'll hate leaving you behind, but where I'm going, you can't come with me. Besides, I didn't work my ass off to put you back together only to have your paint job ruined."
Dean laughed and then swallowed hard.
"I had to bring him back…I'd do it again."
Dean found tears welling in his eyes as he polished the steel skin of his faithful motorized steed. It had kept him safe and had never failed him until it, too, had been damaged as he had. They both had finally healed. She had come out of it more whole than he had, but both of them would carry scars that could never be buffed out completely.
"God, I'm actually going to miss you, but I'm leaving you with Sam so you'll be safe. He may not treat you as well as I do, but he'll protect you. He won't let you end up in some scrap yard," Dean smiled then it faded. "I'm counting on you to protect him too, 'kay?"
Dean couldn't help, but pour his feelings out to his black beauty. The dam that had held back his emotions for so long had been destroyed when he had lost Sam and until he could shore it back up again, he couldn't stop the feelings from coming.
"You've been there for me from the beginning…just like Dad and just like Sam. We've been through some tough times, haven't we? I hope I'll make you proud," Dean smiled for a second then stared off absently. "Hell, I hope I'll make them proud."
Sam inadvertently heard Dean's conversation with the car as he approached. He stopped and listened then under his breath he said, "You already do."
Dean had decided to take matters into his own hands. He had decided to drive to the local take out place to get food that was more than just microwaveable frozen dinners. He was getting that mini-mart déjà vu he so hated. Sam had offered to come with him, but the memory of losing Sam at that diner was still too raw for Dean. He also needed a few minutes away from Sam's worried expression. Sam had been researching how to save him from moment one of finding out about his deal and how long he had. Dean appreciated the concern, and had let Sam's expressed conviction about saving him at the cowboy cemetery to reassure him that Sam would be with him through this. He hadn't told him then about the "catch" to the deal. Dean couldn't break his spirit like that, not so soon after hearing about the deal. He'd let Sam hope, but he knew he'd have to tell him eventually. He had fully intended to keep the deal from Sam, but once Sam knew, Dean had never expected to feel guilty for putting him through so much. He needed to find a way to tell Sam that he was wasting his time without hurting him. There won't be an "out" for him, not without sacrificing Sam, and Dean would insist that was NOT an option.
After buying the food, he started heading back to the car, unconcern on his face, his hunter's instincts suspended for the simple act of bringing take-out food home. Suddenly, Dean felt something creep into his body. A rising pain that had no source began to envelope him, not enough to completely drive him to his knees, but with a strong enough pull that he had to brace himself against the wall, the bags of food dropped to the floor and forgotten.
"What the –" He muttered, not understanding why he was aflame with pain.
He tried breathing deeply through it, but it wasn't working, all he could get out was short, rapid breaths. He clenched his eyes closed and groaned. He felt himself getting weaker and needed to sit before he fell. He grasped at a nearby bench and dropped his body into it. Only then, did the pain start to subside. He grunted his breaths and closed his eyes again to keep the room from spinning. When he opened them, he saw a young woman with shoulder-length black hair and reddish highlights bending over him, a look of concern on her face.
"You all right?" She asked.
Dean nodded and took in a deep breath.
"I'm fine. Thanks," he evaded.
The woman then smiled, but it wasn't from relief or comfort. The smile had a chillingly malevolent familiarity about it. She bent closer to Dean's ear so as not to be heard by anyone else.
"How does it feel, huh? Dying nice and slow," she asked.
Dean recoiled away from her. He had a look of shock written on his face as her words connected to the one person, the one thing that had wanted him dead from the moment he had sent her to Hell.
"Meg?" He said startled.
"No, it's Sam now, well, Samantha, really, but I like Sam, don't you?" She taunted. "Couldn't resist. I love being a girl anyway."
"You son of a-" He said, his face contorting in anger.
"Don't you mean daughter?" She teased, but then her face became filled with anger. "Thought you could get away with killing my father?"
"I already did," Dean smiled with grim satisfaction. "So, what are you going to do about it? Kill me? Hate to disappoint you, but someone else's beaten you to it, sister."
"So I heard. Oh, but Dean, there are worse things than dying and you're about to find that out. I'm just here to get a front row seat. You see, you're not getting off as easy as your daddy did. Oh no, not by a long shot. You're just not gonna drop dead when your time ends or have some hell hounds rip you to shreds. That would be too easy for Dean Winchester. I'm going to get to watch you die slowly and painfully. In fact, I'm counting on seeing an Oscar-worthy performance."
Meg laughed as she moved in closer to rub her cheek against his.
"I'll be around, Dean," she whispered seductively, "Tell Sam 'hi' for me. Oh, and if you want a last lay before you go, I'll be happy to oblige."
Meg started walking away and Dean was helpless to stop her. The pain had left him too weak to stand and he wasn't packing. As he watched her fade into the crowd, he laid his head back in exhaustion. He had to warn Sam and Bobby. He braced himself up from the bench, testing to see if his legs could hold him up. Once he had himself steadied, he took slow and tentative steps. As more of the pain eased, he was able to get to the car and his head finally cleared enough where he could drive back.
"Meg?" Sam said, shock in his voice.
"Yeh, that's what I said, " Dean said.
He had reported back to Sam and Bobby about his encounter with Meg, but not about the pain he had suffered. Telling them about seeing her was scary enough. He couldn't tell Sam that his trip downstairs was going to be a long and painful road. He knew he wouldn't be able to hide it from him for long, not if what Meg had said was true, but for now, it was more important to protect themselves from her.
"You still have the charm that Bobby gave you, right?" Dean asked, his hunter instincts back in place as well as his big brother protectiveness.
"Yeh, yeh, I do," Sam confirmed.
"You?" Sam asked.
"Did she give you any other clues as to what might be coming?" Bobby continued to query.
"No, just that she wants a front row seat to my stairway to Hell."
"Don't joke about this, Dean. Meg could have a plan with someone else who also escaped from Hell," Sam said.
"I just think Hell wants me and she's the welcoming committee," Dean reluctantly admitted.
"Well, I don't care what she wants, she isn't getting you," Sam said with the conviction that Dean had always admired about him. "Not yet! Not EVER!"
"Sam…" Dean tried to argue back softly.
"I'm going back to researching," Sam said and left the room.
Dean looked over at Bobby with sadness in his eyes.
"I wish he would just stop…there's nothing he can do."
"You don't know that. Not even I know that for sure."
Dean hung his head, closed his eyes and licked his lips.
"Bobby, there's something you have to know," Dean paused. "There was a catch to the deal."
Bobby stared at Dean, wide-eyed, and braced himself for the bad news he knew was coming.
"What is it?" He asked.
Dean swallowed thickly.
"If I renege on it, all bets are off and Sam dies," Dean sighed. "I can't let that happen, Bobby. I won't let that happen."
Bobby shook his head again. These brothers' need to protect each other would be the death of him someday.
"You won't convince him to stop, you know that, don't you? Even if you do tell him."
"Yeh, I know. I'm not expecting him to find anything, but if he does…I'll have to…" Dean took in a breath. "I'll tell him then. I can't take away his hope, not until I have to."
Bobby could only nod. He knew better than to try to talk sense to Dean, especially when it came to Sam. In a way, Bobby wished Dean hadn't told him about the catch. He hadn't wanted his hopes taken away either.
Thanks to Tiffany for beta-ing this story for keeping the inspiration going.