An oracle concerning Dumah:

Someone calls to me from Seir,

"Watchman, what is left of the night?

Watchman, what is left of the night?"

The watchman replies,

"Morning is coming, but also the night.

If you would ask, then ask;

and come back yet again."

Isaiah 21:11-12

Seven days until the deadline for Dean's one-way trip to hell, Sam finally figures out how to save his brother's life. On that day, Dean nearly dies.

Turns out it's not a coincidence.

Sam, wired from too much coffee, too much adrenaline, and a countdown that makes him want to howl in frustration every time a new hour registers on his watch, has slipped out of the hotel room just after dawn. He doesn't go far, just around the corner to lean up against the wall and call Bobby with relative privacy. Said relative he wants privacy from being Dean, of course. Luckily, he has Bobby on speed dial because his hands are shaking so badly that it would have taken him ten minutes to punch in the number correctly otherwise.

The thought please oh please oh please oh please is running through his head, chugging and revving, wheels spinning, steam hissing and screaming like a demonic freight train, when Bobby answers. And Sam knows, he just knows from the tone of Bobby's voice – the warm, tired, happy tone, that Bobby has found the information they have both been seeking for so damned long. Good information, this time. The right information. Sam hardly remembers the conversation. He's sure he spoke, stumbled out some sort of choked "thank you", but for the life of him he can't remember what he said. He doesn't remember hanging up the phone, or how he ends up sitting on the pavement, ass throbbing from the hard fall, his head knocking back against the brick wall. None of it matters. He remembers the important thing. The important words. They are branded on his brain:

Joseph Sidley

1344 Millhouse Road, #57

Boston, Massachusetts

Joseph Sidley. The key to Dean's salvation.

When Sam hears a door shut around the corner, he climbs to his feet, struggling to calm his galloping heart, and wiping his sweaty palms on his jeans. Time is in short supply. Now, he has to figure out a way to ditch Dean for a few days without Dean getting suspicious.

From where he's standing, Sam sees that the shutting door has been Dean's doing. Dressed and freshly showered, his duffel on his shoulder, Dean is heading for the Impala. Suddenly, he stops, swaying, his hand rising to his forehead. His duffel slides off his shoulder and he sinks to the ground, landing on his hands and knees, back hunched as terrible coughs wrack him.

"Dean!" Sam cries.

He reaches his brother in moments and grips Dean's shoulders, trying to steady him as he shakes and coughs like he's trying to expel a lung. Sam looks with horror at the pavement underneath Dean's bent head: pavement splattered with dark, thick gouts of his brother's blood. After what seemed like an eternity, his coughs quiet.

Dean leans back on his heels, chest heaving as he struggles to breathe. His face is weak and pale, and a long shiny stream of blood hung from the corner of his mouth to stain his shirt.

"S-s-s-am," he stutters, looking dazed and exhausted. His voice sounds quiet and defeated. "Sorry, Sammy. I think my time's all up."

Then his eyes roll back in his head and he slumps over into Sam's arms.

--

The next four hours are one long, extended nightmare. Sam alternates between sitting in the hard plastic chairs of the hospital ER, hands clenching and unclenching, head throbbing, to pacing down the sterile hallway, past listless, slumped wheelchair-bound patients.

Sam had no sooner pulled up to the ER's entrance, tires squealing, before the hospital attendants rushed out to haul Dean, boneless and frighteningly white, from the Impala's back seat. They dumped him on a gurney and whisked him behind closed doors. Sam hasn't seen him since.

When a nurse at last comes to get Sam and guide him to the doctor's office, Sam knows the news wouldn't be good. He keeps flashing back to the last time he'd been in a doctor's office, listening to the man tell him that his brother was dying.

The news isn't any better this time.

"I'm sorry," the sad-faced Indian doctor says. "We've managed to stop your brother's bleeding, but I'm afraid that's all we can do for now. He's a very sick young man. Frankly, he should have been in treatment. He's been having symptoms for some time now, but he tells me that he didn't want to worry you about them."

Sam feels as pale as Dean had looked. "What do you mean, symptoms?"

"Weakness, fatigue, loss of appetite, persistent coughing."

Sam thinks back over the last few weeks. Damn it. He should have known, he should have questioned his brother. Heknows how secretive and heedless of his health Dean can be. Especially now, with the hourglass running out.

"He, uh, he told me that he'd had the flu."

"All these are common symptoms of his condition. Unfortunately, many people ignore the symptoms until it's too late."

"Condition?" Sam hears himself say, voice cracking.

"I'm afraid your brother has Stage 4 lung cancer, Mr. Wilson."

The room begins to swim in slow, nauseating circles. And Sam can't breathe, he just can't breathe through the tightness in his chest, the squeezing of his heart. The doctor goes on, saying something about pain management and blood transfusions and hospice because He'll be most comfortable there, Mr. Wilson. Most comfortable for the time he has left.

Two weeks at the most.

Afterward, a tiny, soft-voiced nurse leads him down a confusing maze of hallways to Dean's room. Dean lays asleep and motionless, dwarfed and shrunken by the huge bed, white sheets and white pillows and his white, colorless face. The contrast of his eyelashes, dark and long, make him look all the more fragile.

Sam sits in the chair beside the bed, holds his brother's cool, limp hand, and cries for twenty minutes.

Then he calls the local hospice and made arrangements for his brother's care.

--