SUMMARY: It's a Supernatural Christmas Carol. Dean stubbornly clings to the belief that making the deal with the Crossroads Demon was the right thing to do, until he's visited by three spirits who show him how much Sam needed him in the past and still needs him in the present and one possible future.
DISCLAIMER: Nope. Don't own Supernatural. Still playing in Kripke's sandbox. Not making any money so I'm allowed to play, even though he isn't. Sigh.
A/N: This is the final chapter of this three-part story with Mary showing Dean one possible future in store for Sam.
This story is dedicated to the gang at SFTCOL(AR)S for welcoming a newbie so warmly and to TraSan whose wonderful Weechester story Angels at Christmas fed the plot bunny that led to this tale.
This final chapter contains one f-bomb and slight spoilers for A Very Supernatural Christmas.
CHAPTER THREE: CHRISTMAS YET TO BE
Dean blinked away the dizziness that suddenly washed over him, then realized his surroundings had changed yet again.
He was no longer in a motel room but in what looked to be an old factory or warehouse. Litter and dust blanketed the floor of the room which was empty save for cans and boxes piled in one corner and an old stacking table and single chair. The door on the far side of the room, Dean noted with interest, was barricaded from the inside. Large windows lined one wall, the peeling paint of the frames and thick layer of grime on the glass telling him the place had long been abandoned. The room was silent except for a slight hissing sound he couldn't quite place.
Glancing around the room, Dean's eyes widened when they came to rest on the tall figure slumped against the wall in the corner.
It was unmistakably his brother but this hunched figure was barely recognizable as the Sam he knew. Sam had let his hair grow even longer and now wore a scruffy beard and mustache much like their dad's.
"What's with the Serpico-look, Sam?" Dean muttered as he moved toward his brother. "You're way too tall to double Pacino."
As Dean got closer, Sam's appearance was even more shocking. His eyes were dull and lifeless as he stared through a small, cleared patch on the grimy glass. Exhaustion painted dark shadows underneath his eyes and etched deep lines in his no longer youthful features.
Dean turned to Mary, who walked up beside him. "How old is he?"
His mother smiled sadly. "He turned 30 on his last birthday."
Dean blanched. The past seven years had taken their toll on his brother. He looked a decade or more older than he actually was.
Sam pushed himself wearily from the corner. Dean noted with alarm how stooped he was. Of all Sam's insecurities growing up, his height was never one of them. He'd been thrilled when he'd outgrown Dean – an honest-to-God first for the Winchesters' second son. But this man, this stranger, seemed determined to hide from the world by folding in on himself.
Sam stared down at the half-empty bottle of Jack Daniels swinging from his fingers, twisted off the cap and took a swig straight from the bottle. If he felt the burn of the alcohol, it didn't register on his face. He dropped the bottle cap absentmindedly as he crossed the room toward the table, a clear indication there would be nothing left to re-cap by the end of the night.
Dean's chest tightened as he realized Sam was wearing Dean's old leather coat, a coat that now seemed far too big for this worn-down version of his little brother.
Sam sank wearily into the small chair beside the table, took another swig of JD then banged the bottle down on the table in front of him. He stared unseeing at the bottle as he allowed the alcohol to dull his pain and his thoughts.
Dean's eyes blazed angrily as he turned from his brother to Mary. "What the hell happened?"
He waved his hand at the room they were in. "This was not supposed to be his future. He was supposed to find himself a hot wife, raise a couple of cute kids and tell'em bedtime stories about their hell raiser Uncle Dean instead of that Humpty Dumpty crap." His voice broke as took in Sam's haggard appearance. "I didn't save him for….for this……."
Confusion clouded his green eyes as he looked to his mother for answers. "Why...why would he just ….just give up."
Mary shook her head. "He didn't, honey – he fought back for a long time; trying to save you – trying to get you out of Hell. But evil fought him every step of the way, and there was no one to back him up. He's tired, Dean. He's had enough."
Dean clenched his jaw as guilt washed over him. "But they said they'd leave him alone, they said…" His stomach roiled at his own naiveté. Demons lie. He knew that better than anyone.
Mary walked over to Dean, grasping his hand in hers as she turned to face Sam. "They did leave him alone, Dean. Completely and totally alone. One by one, they took away everyone he ever loved, every friend he ever made."
Dean's stomach lurched again at Mary's words.
"Everyone's gone?" he asked quietly. "Bobby?..."
Mary nodded, her grip on Dean's hand tightening. "Bobby was killed shortly after they took you. Then Ellen. Then Missouri. Jo disappeared about six months after her mother."
Dean's voice was barely audible. "What about his friends from Stanford? He stayed in touch with them. Why didn't he…."
Mary shook her head. "You remember Rebecca Warren and her brother Zack?"
Dean nodded as he thought back to meeting the Warrens, and the shape shifter that had left Zack charged with murder and Dean dead in the eyes of the law.
"They were killed driving home to visit their parents in St. Louis. Other hunters, other friends - different circumstances, same result. Everyone Sam could turn to was taken from him violently."
Dean's mind was reeling. How had everything got so fucked up? He had given up his life to save Sam, not condemn him to a different kind of hell.
"It's my fault. I should…."
"Don't you dare." Mary grabbed his chin, forcing his eyes to meet hers. "That is exactly what evil wants; to mess with your head until you're so crippled by doubt and self-loathing that you are no longer a threat, that you'd throw yourself into Hell willingly believing it's the right thing to do.
"It's not, Dean. And it never will be. That's why I'm here. To tell you to fight. Fight to stay with Sammy. Fight to save him from this kind of future." She ran her hand gently down the side of Dean's face, worry breaking through her anger. "There's a way to break this deal, Dean. Working with Sam you can find it. You just have to be willing to fight."
Without warning, the window where Sam had been standing just moments earlier exploded, sending a shower of glass fragments into the room. Dean instinctively jumped in front of Mary, wrapping himself around her to protect her from the jagged shards.
"It's okay, Dean." Her voice was muffled against his chest. "It can't hurt us. We're just observers here."
Dean nodded, relaxing his hold on his mom and quickly turning his attention to Sam. This was Sam's reality and the explosion could most definitely hurt him.
But Sam was still seated on the chair, eyes fixed on the bottle of JD on the table in front of him. There was little outward evidence he'd even heard the window shatter let alone be hurt by the explosion of glass. Dean walked over to Sam, crouching beside him as his eyes darted over his brother, looking for any sign of injury. Sam was virtually untouched, a faint scratch across one cheek, just above his beard, the only evidence he'd been anywhere near the breaking window.
Dean smiled softly as realization hit. Luck had nothing to do with Sam escaping injury; Sam was expecting company, knew they would come in through the window and had moved himself out of harm's way.
Dean slipped easily into hunter mode, scanning the room expertly. Thick lines of salt lay in front of the barricaded door and every window - except the one that had just blown out. Sam had left his expected visitors only one possible entry into the room The table he sat at had been placed just outside the blast radius to avoid any shrapnel when whatever or whomever he was expecting came bursting through.
Dean's smile widened. "Nice to see you haven't lost your touch, Sammy. You're still…." His voice died out when movement near the broken window caught his attention. He turned to see a tall redhead standing on the sill.
She jumped easily into the room, long hair falling in front of her face as she landed with catlike grace. Broken glass crunched underneath her leather boots as she walked across the room toward Sam. She smiled at him, blue eyes glittering coldly. "If you were anyone else, Sam, I'd say you were getting sloppy, leaving one window unprotected like that." She perched herself seductively on the edge of the table. "But you knew I was coming and just wanted to make things difficult, didn't you? You do realize we're six stories up and there's no fire escape?"
Sam took another swig of JD. "The room has a door. You could've knocked."
The woman's eyebrows arched in surprise, casting a glance at the heavily barricaded entrance. "And you'd have answered?"
Sam studied the last inch of liquid remaining in the bottle. "You'll never know."
He lifted the bottle to take another drink but the woman angrily smacked it from his grasp. The bottle flew through the air, exploding on impact when it hit the far wall, the whiskey inside creating an abstract pattern in the thick dust that coated the cement blocks as it trickled down toward the floor.
Sam was on his feet with a speed that surprised even Dean, especially given how much alcohol he'd recently consumed. He pulled the Colt from inside his jacket and had it pointed at the woman before he was even fully standing. He smiled, but it was not the warm, goofy smile Dean knew and loved. This smile was hard and cold.
Sam cocked the gun, slowly, deliberately, keeping it trained on the redhead. Dean's eyes widened at his greeting. "Howdy, Meg."
She exhaled dramatically as she stood, arms raised in mock surrender. Her blue eyes suddenly turned coal-black as she shook her head at Sam. "That name is so last-decade. Keep up, Sammy. I'm Tess now."
Sam's eyes narrowed. "I don't give a damn what you call yourself. This ends tonight. No more cat and mouse. No more innocent lives stolen. You die. End of story."
Meg pouted. "But what about pretty little Tess here? She's an innocent victim in all this. The Sammy Winchester I know and love couldn't take an innocent life."
Sam's words were flat and cold. "Keep up, Meg. That Sam died at Cold Oak."
Dean's knees almost buckled. He would have fallen had Mary not wrapped her arm around his waist, offering support.
Meg sighed, shaking her head at Sam. "Such a drama queen." Her nose wrinkled in disgust as she looked around the room. "You really should find better accommodations, Sam. It stinks in here." Her eyes widened as she suddenly recognized the overpowering smell. "This place smells like gas." She tilted her head suspiciously. "What did you do, Sam?"
Sam's voice was steady. "I told you. This ends now. You and I have stayed at this dance far too long."
Dean couldn't smell gas but his hunter's eyes had earlier seen two gasoline cans thrown amongst the trash in the corner of the room. He now traced the slight hissing he'd heard earlier to a broken pipe on the wall just behind Meg. He wasn't sure which version of 'gas' the demon was referring to but neither led to any pleasant outcome he could think of. He looked from Meg to his brother to Mary. "What the hell is he planning?"
Meg's frown deepened when she noticed white stains on her leather boots. Slowly, mindful of the gun still trained on her, she bent down to brush off the white powder. She looked up at Sam, an admiring smile spreading across her face. It wasn't just broken glass crunching under foot. It was rock salt.
"Why Sam. Aren't you a clever boy. You set this whole room up as an auto-pilot salt and burn. One little spark and 'boom.'" Her eyes narrowed. "But since we both know you don't salt and burn a demon - that would be me - I can only surmise you plan on blowing yourself up at the end of tonight's festivities."
Dean had quickly arrived at the same conclusion. His brother had no intention of walking out of that room alive. The Colt would take care of Meg. But the minute the gun was fired, any spark from the old gun would ignite the fumes from whatever gas was leaking into the room. The resulting explosion would engulf the whole room in a purified fireball, obliterating Sam and leaving no body for evil to co-opt, no spirit to wander aimlessly. Sam would simply cease to exist.
Meg shook her head at Sam. "This is a little extreme, don't you think? Not to mention suicide is a sin that condemns your soul to Hell." She tilted her head quizzically. "You think you can handle Hell, Sammy?
Sam smiled coldly. "You think Hell can handle the Winchester brothers reunited?"
To Dean, it was like all the air had suddenly been sucked from the room. His heart pounded against his chest, his throat constricting to the point he could barely breathe. He stared horrified at Mary, searching her face to see if she had known what Sam was planning.
She had. That was the very reason she had brought him here; to show him where Sam's life would end if he didn't fight to get out of the deal.
Dean's plea to his mother was barely a whisper. "Don't let him do this."
Mary cringed at the desperation in Dean's voice. "I don't have the power to stop him, Dean. Not here." She grasped his face gently in both hands. "But you do. By finding a reason to live, to fight, you save yourself and you save your brother. The future is not set. You can still change things."
Dean's eyes widened as he saw Sam's finger begin to squeeze the trigger on the Colt. He broke from his mother's hold and ran towards his brother. "No, Sam…Don't…."
The crack of a single shot from the Colt disappeared inside a much bigger explosion.
Dean heard himself scream his brother's name. What he didn't expect was to hear his brother's voice answering him.
"Hey, hey, hey. Dean! It's okay. You're safe. Relax."
Dean's eyes snapped open. His heart was hammering against his chest with a ferocity that threatened to break his ribs. Sam's face hovered above him, swimming in and out of focus. As his vision cleared he realized he was lying in bed in their motel room. Sam was sitting on the edge of the bed beside him.
Dean sat up quickly, grabbing Sam's shirt, hands fisting in the worn flannel and pulling him close. His breathing was rapid and shallow as he fought to get the words out. "Don't do it, Sammy. Don't. I'll fight this."
"Dean, please." Worry mixed equally with confusion in Sam's voice. "You're hyperventilating. If you don't relax, I'm gonna have to put a paper bag over your head."
Now it was Dean's turn to be confused but he instinctively followed his brother's instructions. His breathing gradually slowed and deepened.
Sam smiled, patting Dean's arm. "Good. Now you wanna give me my shirt back?"
At Dean's puzzled expression, Sam nodded his head toward Dean's hands. They were still holding tightly to the front of Sam's shirt. Dean swallowed. Images of the Sam from the future tumbled through his head; the dull and lifeless eyes, the weary, slumped posture. He tried to reconcile that man with the one now sitting beside him, eyes burning bright with concern.
Dean didn't let go of his brother's shirt. He pulled his brother closer and locked him in a tight hug.
"Dean, I….." Sam stiffened, surprised by the unexpected show of affection, but then relaxed and returned the hug, patting his brother on the back. "You're okay. You're okay."
As Sam felt Dean relax, he pulled gently from the hug, again looking worriedly at his brother. Dean offered a small, embarrassed smile in return.
Sam reached over to the bedside table, grabbed a glass of water there and offered it to Dean. Noting the slight shaking in Dean's hands, Sam steadied the glass as his brother took a few sips. Dean nodded gratefully when he was done.
Sam returned the glass of water to the nightstand then gently pushed his brother back onto his pillows.
Dean again nodded his thanks. "You okay, Sammy?".
Sam smiled, puzzled. "I'm fine, Dean."
Dean stared at him suspiciously. "Really?"
"Yeah, Dean. You're the one whose been out of your mind with fever for the past two days. You scared the crap out of me."
Dean frowned. "Huh?"
Sam smiled patiently. "You've had a really high fever. I'm guessing you picked up some bug when you got thrown into that swamp in Georgia. Took a few days to germinate then grew into a full-blown fever two days ago. You've been in and out of consciousness, mostly out, since. Delirious most of the time too."
Dean's frown deepened. "I say anything I shouldn't?"
Sam grinned. "If you did, I have it on tape and safely stashed away for future use as blackmail material."
Dean smiled tiredly. "Bitch."
Sam clapped a hand on Dean's shoulder." You've been through a lot. You're exhausted. Get some sleep. We'll talk again when you wake up."
After the dream, or whatever it was, he'd just been through, Dean wasn't sure he ever wanted to sleep again but his body had other ideas. He was asleep before Sam even stood up.
Sam's worried expression returned as he watched his sleeping brother. The fever had been bad. Only the thought of his brother waking up in shackles had stopped Sam from calling 911. He'd slept little over the past two days, forcing fluids and pills down Dean's throat whenever he was conscious enough to take them; he'd dragged Dean from one bed to the other as he stripped off sweat-soaked sheets and replaced them with fresh linens he'd begged from motel housekeeping; and he'd lost count of the number of trips he'd made to the motel ice machine for ice to use in cold compresses to try and bring down Dean's temperature.
But most frightening was the delirium that left Dean in a terror-fuelled panic and Sam feeling completely helpless. The delirium was at its worst just before Dean's fever broke, when he'd screamed out "No, Sam…don't..." Sam wondered if Dean would remember anything if he asked him about it.
"Probably not," he mumbled to himself as he flopped on his own bed and fell into a long overdue and much-needed sleep.
But Dean did remember. He clung to the memories of that Christmas when they were kids, while trying desperately to purge the Yellow-Eyed Demon's taunts and the sickeningly brilliant way Sam had planned his own death.
When Dean woke again, hours later, Sam was already up. Dean lay quietly watching his brother move about the room. It was busy work, bundling up the soiled sheets and damp towels, collecting up food and drink containers and other garbage scattered about the room, but order gave Sam purpose, made him feel like he was accomplishing something. He'd nursed Dean through this illness but the bigger task still lay ahead: breaking the deal without either one of them ending up dead. Sam didn't know it yet, but Dean was about to become a lot more co-operative in making it happen.
Dean wrestled with his guilt over the burden he'd unwittingly handed to Sam; his fever-induced nightmare had allowed him to feel first-hand the kind of terrifying helplessness his brother must have felt every day since he made the deal. His own devastation over Sam's death had led to the deal in the first place but somehow, in the twisted logic of Dean's mind, it was different when Dean was the only one dying because he wasn't supposed to be here. Now he wasn't so sure. Not if his fall into Hell led to the hellish future he'd seen for Sam. He couldn't live, or die, with that.
"How ya feelin'"
Dean suddenly realized Sam was watching him intently. The emotional armor Dean wore daily slid quickly back into place.
"Better. More like crap than road kill."
Sam rolled his eyes. "Nice Dean. Think you can handle something to eat?"
Dean's stomach lurched at the thought. He shook his head.
"Fine, then at least try and keep this down." Sam twisted the cap off a bottled sports drink and dropped in a straw. He put it down on the bedside table while he helped his brother sit up, adding the pillows from his own bed to Dean's so he was fully supported. Once Dean was comfortable, Sam handed him the sports drink. "Drink it slowly, but finish it. You need the electrolytes."
He grabbed a bottle of pills from the bedside table, dumped out two and handed them to his brother.
Dean looked down at the pills. "What are these?"
Sam shrugged. "Just ibuprofen, man. The way you keep squinting and rubbing your temple, I'm guessing you've got one mother of a headache."
Dean nodded, swallowing the pills. "You force anything else down me?"
Sam frowned. "Just a couple of broad-spectrum antibiotics we had in the first-aid kit, hoping they'd kill the bug you picked up. Why?"
Dean scrubbed a hand over his face. "Just had some really weird, um, dreams, that's all."
"Like what?" Sam sat on the end of Dean's bed waiting for his answer.
Dean's eyes narrowed as he tried to decide what to tell Sam. It had likely been a dream and nothing more. And God, he wanted it to be a dream, one that could be explained away as fever playing havoc with deep-seeded fears and memories. But in the bizarre world they lived in, he couldn't be sure. And the alternative was far more terrifying
Dean smiled at Sam, shrugging off his brother's concern. "I kinda had a visit from the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future. Really bizarre shit, ya know?"
Sam rolled his eyes. "That's hardly surprising, Dean You were watching A Christmas Carol right before your fever spiked. Why you insist on watching it every time it's on TV I'll never know. You can practically recite the lines along with the actors."
The Alistair Sim classic had been one of Dean's favorite movies. Had been. Past tense. Dean cleared his throat. "Don't worry, Sammy. I think I'm cured of that nasty habit."
Sam stood up and stretched. "Good, cause when you're feeling better I think I've got another gig lined up for us, something right up your alley."
Dean was intrigued. "What?"
Sam grinned. "How does serial-killer chimney sweep sound?"
"Like a surefire B-movie blockbuster."
Sam laughed. "Good. It's up in Michigan so, um, just let me know when you feel up to it and we'll hit the road."
Dean frowned as he got his first really good look at Sam since waking up. He shuddered at the early stage beard and mustache Sam currently sported. "Sammy?"
"You need a shave."
Sam's brow furrowed as he stared at his brother incredulously. "Dude, cut me some slack. I've been looking after you for the past two days. Shaving has not exactly been at the top of my priority list."
Dean shrugged weakly. No way could he tell Sam the real reason for his intense dislike of Sam's facial hair. "I know, it's just, uh, this Miami Vice thing you've got goin,' it's not a good look for you."
Sam shook his head. "Whatever, dude." He studied Dean intently. "I would like to clean up though. You think you'll be okay for 10 minutes while I jump in the shower?"
Dean rolled his eyes. "Yeah, dude. I think I can handle laying down on the bed all by myself without getting into too much trouble."
Sam grinned, grabbing his duffle to pull out fresh clothes and toiletries. Absentmindedly, he ran his fingers through his hair, briefly revealing the still healing scar where he'd been hit by the broken beer bottle in the recent bar fight.
Dean swallowed, the Yellow-Eyed Demon's words still weighing heavily on his conscience.
Dean shuffled guiltily. "How's your head?"
Dean huffed impatiently. "Your head, Sammy. The one those meathead bikers almost bashed in. You okay?"
Sam frowned. "That was almost two weeks ago, Dean. I'm fine. It's you we need to worry about – especially if you keep asking weird questions like that."
Dean's eyes followed Sam as he crossed the room toward the bathroom. "Sam?"
Dean chewed on the word for a moment. "Sorry."
Sam raised his eyebrows, complete befuddlement painted across his face. "Sorry for what?"
"That you got hurt…."
Now it was Sam's turn to sound impatient. "What the hell, Dean? That wasn't your fault."
"Yeah, it was," Dean interrupted. "I'm the one who insisted we go to that bar. I'm the one who challenged those bikers to a game of pool….
"Because," Sam cut in, "we had a grand total of five dollars and 29 cents cash between the two of us and just a little more than that available on our one active credit card. When we need cash, you hustle pool. That's what you did."
"But nothing. You won fair and square." Sam grinned. "And for once you didn't even rub their faces in it."
Dean shrugged. "Well, they were pretty big…"
Sam snorted. "And that's all it was, Dean. Too many guys, too much to drink. I zigged when I should have zagged. End of story." He smiled. "Like a wise man once said, 'It's a dangerous gig."
Dean quirked an eyebrow. "I think I was referring to the supernatural bad guys when I said that, Sammy."
Sam shrugged. "We need money to live or we can't fight bad guys, supernatural or otherwise. All part of the same deal from where I'm standing." He scratched his chin then pointed to the bathroom door. "We done here? 'Cause you're right, this beard is starting to itch. I need a shower and a shave like yesterday."
Dean smiled, waving his hand dismissively. "Go make yourself pretty, Samantha. Just save me some hot water. You're not the only one who reeks around here."
Sam returned his smile. "I was gonna mention you were a little ripe, but it's not nice to kick a man when's he's down."
Dean threw off the bed covers. "If you're gonna keep yappin', I'm takin' the first shower."
Sam's "Not gonna happen" was muffled as he disappeared into the bathroom and the door slammed shut.
Dean smiled, scrubbing a hand over his face. He slid off the bed so he was sitting on the floor next to his duffle bag. When he heard the shower start running, he pulled the bag closer, unzipped it and reached inside. He pushed his clothes out of the way to get to one of the small, zippered inner pockets. Sliding open the zipper he pulled a small, folded piece of paper from inside. It was yellowed and creased with age and the edges tattered but when Dean unfolded it, the image still made him smile. It was the picture Sam had drawn for him as a present when he was seven years old, the picture showing Sam and Dean and the Impala.
Dean traced his finger over the stick figure image of himself, his arm thrown protectively over Sam's shoulder. He glanced from the picture to the bathroom door and back again.
"Don't worry, Sammy," he said quietly. "We'll figure this out. I won't leave you alone."
A/N: Thanks so much to everyone who followed this story. I had a blast writing it and hope you did reading it. Most of this chapter was written before I saw the awesome Christmas episode so I couldn't believe it when one of Dean's gifts to Sam was shaving cream. Fits in perfectly with this story. Pure coincidence, but I'll take it! Please let me know what you think. I love hearing your comments. Thanks again for reading.