Title: Everything Worth Living For

Summary: That being brothers was more than just a word. It was more than a duty, more than a promise. It was what they did, who they were. It was everything. Everything worth dying for. Everything worth living for.

A/N: Everybody and their sister has written S3 speculative fic on how the boys deal with the deal. I've written S3 speculative fic and yet I wrote another one. Why? No one really knows and analyzing it would frighten me too much. Much thanks to sendintheclowns who read the early draft and ended up making it far less sweet and much more angsty. And much thanks to Lisette who took on the arduous task of beta'ing for me and learning just how hard my betas have to work to deal with my sloppy writing :)

Disclaimer: I don't own it, and will never claim to. Though I will always dream.

-o-

It had been four months.

Four months since Sam died.

Four months since Dean sold his soul.

Four months of living on death row.

Four months that Dean had never felt more alive.

Everything was new. Everything was real. Everything was palpable.

Everything was good.

For the first time in his life, he felt truly in control, fully at peace. He had his car, his brother by his side, and a year to do anything he wanted. He killed evil things, dated hot women, and ate good food. After all, he had nothing to lose.

In short, things were perfect.

Well, almost everything, Dean thought with a scowl as he looked at his little brother slouched in the passenger's seat.

Sam had never really been like Dean, at least not in ways that Sam would ever let show. The kid's tendency had always been to brood, to angst or whatever-the-hell Sam wanted to call it.

For Sam, the last four months had been nothing except one big downer. Dean wanted to go out; Sam insisted on staying in. Dean wanted to stay put; Sam wanted to track down some obscure lead that only a freak like Sam could find.

Sam had always been a buzzkill, that much was true, and Dean had always had a little patience with that. More than Sam even realized.

But now…

Now Dean was down to eight months and he sure as hell didn't want to spend those in libraries and in front of the computer.

Dean had sold his soul and the least Sam could do was humor him a little bit better. Sure, Sam let him do his own thing, but he was always guilting Dean with those damn eyes of his, making Dean feel like he had to comply with Sam's asinine requests for time and travel.

It was getting more than a little ridiculous. They'd spent so much time on the hunt, so much time worrying and working and avenging. And he got that Sam wanted to save him, he knew Sam needed to try, but Dean simply couldn't muster the same level of angst that Sam seemed to be working for. If Sam found a way out, then Sam found a way out. There was no point in spending his last year worrying about it.

At first, he'd wondered if Sam's quiet doggedness had been a byproduct of his resurrection. That had worried him, understandably, because Dean had sold himself for Sam, not some approximation of him. And no matter how alive he felt, the doubt that maybe he hadn't saved Sam after all was something he had a hard time shaking.

Sam sighed, and Dean reigned in the urge to groan.

Sam's newfound volatile and dark nature wasn't because he came back wrong. It was because he came back the same old Sam and had just found the pinnacle of reasons to brood.

Well, not anymore. This would have to change, and as far as Dean was concerned, there was no time like the present. Especially since Dean liked this town. The food was good and there was this cute little red-headed waitress who was just to die for. Dean grinned at the thought.

Sam, however, didn't see much point in staying, though truth be told, Sam didn't see the point of much of anything anymore, except dinking around on the laptop.

Dean just wanted to live this year. Sam just wanted to mope.

He didn't expect anything less from his brother, but that didn't make it any easier to swallow. His time was ticking, fleeting, fading, and he'd be damned if he wasn't going down in a blaze of glory.

Chewing his lip, Dean pulled into the motel, putting it in park. He watched as Sam got out of the car, his head lowered. The kid always needed a haircut, but it seemed even longer lately, less well kept. His skin was paler than it used to be, and there was a pronounced hollowness in his cheeks. Sam didn't even fill out his clothes as much as he used to.

Sam needed this as much as Dean did, even if Sam couldn't see past his own fears to realize it. Dean had always looked out for Sam, and the present was no exception. It was time to shake Sam from this, once and for all.

All it would takewas a little creative persuasion. After all,Dean did hold all the cards. Getting Sam to stick around town for another day wouldn't be so hard. And Mindy was worth it. And if he was really good (and he was Dean, so of course he was) he might even be able to drag Sam out on the town for some fun too.

"You think we can stick around for a bit? Relax?" Dean asked, trying to sound nonchalant as he unlocked the motel room.

The younger brother shook his head, a little distracted. "I want to check out something in Reno," he said. "There's this library there--"

Dean rolled his eyes. "--that has some ancient spell you think could work," he finished sarcastically. "I've heard it, man."

Sam glared. "Excuse me for wanting to save your life."

"Dude, I sold my soul for you," Dean said. "The least you could do is let me have some fun."

Sam blanched, looked visibly ill.

"Lighten up, Sammy," Dean said, patting his brother on the chest. "You're taking this crap way too seriously."

"So that's how it's going to be then?" Sam asked, his voice cold and his jaw set.

Dean just looked him over. The kid had a serious bitchface going on. "How's what going to be?"

"This," Sam said, nodding simply. "This year. You get to sit around making jokes, living it up. Doing all the things you've never taken the time to do. Taking all the chances you want because you're going to die anyway?"

Dean considered this, all too aware of the pain in Sam's voice. Sam was falling apart, and Dean was not one to neglect his brotherly role. They both needed this. "Sounds about right. We can only do so much, and we've got to enjoy the time we have."

Something quivered in Sam's countenance. He jutted his jaw out, licking his lips evenly. "And that's that?"

"Dude, lay off the estrogen," Dean said, keeping his tone light and airy. He could usually cajole his brother out of any mood he was in. He breezed past Sam and collapsed onto his bed. "We're going to have to block out Lifetime from now on, aren't we?" He reached haphazardly for the remote on the night stand. Just a little more, he thought, and he'd have Sam right where he wanted him.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Sam struggle, his gaze going down and a tremor traveling up and down his body, twitching in his jaw. He swallowed, andthen laughed, nearly imperceptibly. "Don't," he finally choked out.

His brother's voice was so broken, so strained, that Dean put the remote down again. This may be harder than he anticipated. "Don't what?"

Sam's eyes rose, shining and desperate. "Pretend like it doesn't matter," Sam whispered.

The older brother hesitated, uncertain of where this emotion was coming from. Sure, Sam was emo, but downright emotional? Hardly. The kid barely cried when his girlfriend died, so this was highly unusual Sammy-behavior. For an instant he wondered if the demon had been right after all. "Like what doesn't matter?"

"Your deal," he said.

Dean rolled his eyes, huffing back against the headboard. "I thought we already went over this, Sam."

Sam nodded tightly.

"Then why are we still talking about it? What's done is done. Maybe it wasn't the smartest thing, but you were dead," Dean said. "What else was I supposed to do?"

"I can try to accept why you did it," Sam said. "But I can't accept this."

"Accept what?" Dean asked, his frustration mounting. Since when did Sam have to speak so cryptically?

Sam just shook his head. "Back at Stanford you told me you don't want to do this without me," he said, his voice low and shaky. "But, Dean, I don't think you understand. I can't do this without you. Not now. Not after all of this."

Dean sat up, swinging his legs to the floor. "Dude--"

"No, Dean, you don't get it. Every time you act like it doesn't matter, like it's no big deal, it's like you don't trust me--"

"You're being ridiculous," Dean cut him off. If being a Winchester had taught him anything, he knew how to lighten the mood. And Sam's mood could seriously use some lightening. "I'm not doing anything but trying to spend the year in style."

Just like that, before his eyes,something broke inside of his brother. "Dean, you're going to die because of me!" Sam exploded. "Just like Mom, just like Jess, just like Dad. Just like everyone! What the hell am I going to do, Dean?"

At his brother's words, Dean's smile faded along with the quip on his lips.

Sam's eyes beseeched him once more, wet and round, pleading for answers, pleading for absolution. "I need you to trust me; I need you to fight for me. You're willing to sell your soul, to die for me, but you're not willing to live for me? How can you be completely at peace when I'm going to spend the rest of my life regretting everything I've ever done? God, Dean, how--how--"

That was all Dean could make out, all Sam could say, before the tears overtook him. Sam's head was hung, his body curving over with the sobs, so strong that he sank to the bed behind him.

Dean just stared, dumbstruck. He had known Sam was upset, known that Sam was stressed, but he hadn't realized just how bad it had been.

Sam needed him. He'd always operated on that assumption, but he'd never considered how deeply Sam needed him.

Watching his brother cry on the motel bed, Dean realized with a dark clarity that Sam would never recover from his death. No matter how Dean tried to sugarcoat it, no matter what promises Dean tried to make Sam give, Sam would die just as much as Dean did the minute he went to hell.

He'd done this to his brother. He had backed his brother into a corner and then made light of the hopelessness of the situation. He had saved Sam's life only to take all meaning away from him.

He'd never blamed Dean, not once in all of it, not after their dad died, not when Dean couldn't get over his father's sacrifice. Sam had shown him nothing but strength.

He'd broken his little brother's reserves down to nothing, and now Sam was falling apart in front of him.

It took another long moment with his heart in his throat before Dean remembered how to move. It was awkward, maybe uncomfortable, but he found himself next to Sam, his arm reaching tentatively around his brother.

In the instant of contact, Sam pulled away, sharp and jerky. "Don't," he hissed. "Just…don't."

Dean swallowed hard, feeling his stomach churning. "Sam—"

Sam just shook his head, refusing to look up. "Just go see your friend, okay?"

"Sam—"

Wiping his eyes, Sam looked up, and Dean's heart threatened to break. Sam looked ready to topple, thin and wavering. His face was still wet, eyelashes clumped together and his eyes red.

Dean had spent the last four months living. Sam had spent them dying.

"Just go, Dean," Sam told him, his voice quiet, breathless. "You earned it after all."

Before Dean could muster a response, a reply—anything, Sam was moving toward the bathroom. "I'm going to take a shower. We can stay as long as you like. If you don't want to come back until morning, I won't worry."

The door closed behind Sam before Dean could even register what his brother had said. He sat on the bed, mouth gaping. He heard the shower run before it really hit him.

Sam was still sacrificing for Dean. Sam was giving Dean everything he had, even when it hurt Sam more than words could convey. The kid was even living up to theWinchester standard of no emotion.

Sam was putting Dean first, which his brother had done more often than Dean liked to admit.

Sam was living for Dean even when it broke everything inside of him, and all Dean had been willing to do was die for Sam. But when it came to the moments, to the real sacrifice, to day in and day out, Dean had failed in every way possible.

But he still had eight months. Eight months to make it right. Eight months to prove to Sam what Sam had proven to him all along; that brothers stick, that sometimes love isn't getting it right all the time but knowing how to be there when it counted, knowing how to say sorry. That sometimes selflessness and selfishness are closer than they seem, that sometimes, in the end, it was about what the other person needed.

That being brothers was more than just a word. It was more than a duty, more than a promise. It was what they did, who they were. It was everything. Everything worth dying for. Everything worth living for.

Eight months had to be enough to learn how to live again.