Disclaimer: I lay no claim to characters of Supernatural--they belong to that evil genius, Eric Kripke. I am making no profit from this story.
The title comes from the poem "And Death Shall Have No Dominion" by Dylan Thomas. Chapter title comes from the song "Fly Like an Eagle" by the Steve Miller Band.
Summary: After a year of increasingly desperate research, Sam finally accepts that there is no way to break Dean's deal. But that doesn't mean he's giving up.
A/N: I'm sure Dean's deal has been done a billion times already, but once a plot bunny grabs hold of me, it won't let go until I write a story to appease it. Any similarities to other SPN fics are purely coincidental, because I haven't had much time to read fanfiction lately, and there is a seriously huge amount of SPN fic out there. It's almost impossible to catch up.
Warning: I have a propensity for bad language, violence, and angst. Expect all three. Spoilers for everything up to and including "Jus in Bello."
There will be portions of this fic that you will have to take with a grain of rock salt. I will invent a bit of my own mythology, take serious liberties with medical procedures, and basically turn reality upside down if I think it will make a good story…while trying to remain true to the characters, of course. If you're looking for a story that was researched as much as a college thesis, then this fic is not for you.
Chapter 1: Time Keeps on Slippin'
Sam Winchester stared at the second hand on his watch. He knew it was all in his head, but it seemed to be moving faster than usual.
A lot of things seemed to be moving faster than usual these days--hours, minutes, seconds... all steadily picking up speed, rushing them towards Dean's destruction.
Tomorrow night. Tomorrow night, his brother was going to die, and there was nothing he could do to stop it.
Sam watched the minute hand shift once more, and he could almost hear the sound of the tiny gears inside grind against each other, screaming at him of another minute wasted. Another minute, each and every one of them priceless, but still, he couldn't make himself get out of the car.
Dean's car, even though Dean had given him the keys last night while they were at some random bar. His brother had casually pulled the keys from his pocket and placed them on the table in front of him. "Never got around to making a last will and testament," he'd said, and slowly shoved the keys across the table toward Sam. Sam had stared at them in horror, and all he could think was that this was wrong, all of it was so very, very wrong.
"Take good care of her," Dean had said, and Sam had raised his head to protest, but Dean had given him this look--part take the damn keys and part please, I need to give you this--so Sam had taken the keys and kept his mouth shut.
Then Dean went off with some girl, and Sam was left alone--and, Jesus, he understood it now, what that word really meant--holding the keys to the second most important thing in Dean's world. (Not the most important thing. Sam knew what the most important thing was. Wouldn't be in this mess and wouldn't be about to lose a brother if it weren't for that most important thing.)
There were two large cups of coffee sitting on the seat beside him in one of those little cardboard carriers, getting cold. Sam was sitting behind the wheel, as he had been for the past ten minutes, watching time tick away.
The driver's seat felt wrong, somehow. It always felt wrong, every time he was in it. Like it was molded to fit Dean. Like it was a part of Dean.
Sam's chest tightened with anxiety. He couldn't stop thinking about Dean and the inevitable. He closed his eyes, but it didn't help, because he would swear that the car even smelled like Dean. Everything about it--her--reminded him of his brother.
If this doesn't work, this car is all I'll have left.
Sam had never been afraid to face his brother.
He'd done a lot of stupid things throughout his life. As much as their lives had always been the opposite of typical, Sam and Dean had gotten into as much trouble as was typical of boys their age. Maybe a bit more trouble than typical, in Dean's case. Sam had been afraid to face his father, Pastor Jim, even Bobby a time or two, but he'd never been afraid to face Dean.
Sam had let Dean sleep late. He told himself that his brother had had a late night and needed the sleep, but it was really because Sam was afraid to tell Dean the plan he had been secretly working on for the past month.
It had been hard to keep it from Dean, not only because he felt bad about hiding things from his brother, but because Dean was damn observant when he wanted to be. Sam suspected that his brother could've practically been a genius if he had ever applied himself, but Dean probably figured there was only room for one geekboy in the family.
Without Dean to rely on, Sam had gone to the only other person in the world he considered family--Bobby. When he'd explained what he had in mind, Bobby had been furious, but Sam had managed to win him over in the end. Bobby began to arrange things behind the scenes so Dean wouldn't find out about The Plan--it had now taken on capital letters in his mind--until it was too late to stop it.
There was only one day left. The Plan was in place, and it was too late for Dean to do anything about it now.
The Plan had to work. It had to, because the alternative was absolutely unacceptable. He would not lose his brother. Not again. He'd been down that road before, thanks to the Trickster, and it was one he never wanted to travel again.
He didn't care how dangerous it was. He was going to save his brother.
Sam gathered his courage, then grabbed the caffeinated peace offering and got out of the car.
It was time to face Dean.
Someone was poking him.
Dean lay face down on the lumpy mattress, head buried under a pillow that held the familiar and comforting smell of industrial-strength detergent, unable to go back to sleep thanks to the poking. He figured he should probably grab his knife, roll over, and gut the sadistic bastard who was poking him. Only a sadistic bastard would poke a man who'd been out 'til three (because, damn, that chick'd had some stamina) and was currently nursing a hangover the size of... whatever state they happened to be in. He knew it was some sadistic bastard and not Sam, because his brother was not stupid enough to poke an armed man with a hangover the size of...Louisiana? He was pretty sure they were in Louisiana.
Dean mumbled something completely incoherent but that Sam accurately translated as, "Fuck off."
Dean groaned, pulling the pillow off his head as he rolled over. "God, what?" he said, pain mixed with exasperation. "Too early in the mornin'..."
"It's afternoon, Dean."
Dean's eyes shot open, though he immediately had to squint against the painful light that made its way through the crack in the curtains. Damn cheap-ass things wouldn't shut all the way.
"Why didn't you wake me?" Dean asked hoarsely, bringing a hand up to cover his eyes.
He hadn't meant to sleep so late. Waste so much time. Time was a precious gift of which he was in short supply.
Sam could've answered that question with the truth, or with a truth. He chose the latter, because he was still working up his courage for the truth.
"'Cause I didn't want to get gutted. Here," he said, smiling slightly as he held out a cup of coffee in one hand and a small bottle of Ibuprofen in the other.
Dean rolled to a sitting position, then took the coffee gratefully, closing his eyes. "You are my favorite brother."
Sam snorted and rolled his eyes, tossing the pill bottle onto the bed beside Dean. Sam moved over to the opposite bed and sat down. His own cup of coffee sat on the nightstand in between the beds, ignored. If Dean had been paying attention, he would've noticed that his brother was radiating tension, but Dean was ignoring him for the moment, too busy concentrating on his caffeine intake.
Sam had his hands fisted in the bedspread so that he wouldn't end up chewing on his fingernails. He kept thinking, How do I tell him? Seconds ticked by--treasured seconds--before Sam finally worked up the courage to say something, even if he didn't have the courage to look Dean in the eye. He folded his hands in front of him and leaned forward, carefully examining the pattern in the worn carpet.
"Dean..." he began hesitantly.
Dean's head felt like it was going to fall off, so he wasn't picking up on the Sam-vibes he usually picked up on. He hadn't even opened his eyes since Sam had handed him the coffee. If this had been back in the day, his dad would've torn him a new one--for the hangover and for the lack of attention--but Sam, awesome brother that he was, brought him coffee.
Even if he'd had ten other brothers, Sam still would've been his favorite, and, damn, wasn't he getting sappy in his last days?
All of this meant that Dean hadn't really heard Sam say his name in that needy, little brother tone. Dean sniffed, which was a big mistake because he caught a whiff of himself. His stomach did a slow roll in protest and he grimaced.
"Ugh. I smell worse than Bobby's truck." Dean pushed himself up off the bed, grabbing the bottle of Ibuprofen along the way. He turned and began to shuffle toward the bathroom, taking coffee and pills with him, muttering "Shower," unnecessarily.
Sam's head turned to follow his brother's progress toward the bathroom. He felt a mixture of irritation and relief, leaning more toward relief. Maybe it would be better to let Dean's headache settle down a little before he started dropping bombshells.
Dean stepped out of the bathroom, feeling a bit better than he had when Sam had woken him up. The hangover was probably down to the size of one of Louisiana's larger counties... parishes? Whatever they called 'em down here. His eyes were a little bloodshot, and he couldn't seem to get them to open all the way, leaving him with a Clint Eastwood-type squint, which worked for Eastwood, but really wasn't working for Dean because, hey, his eyes were one of his best features. Tons of women said so.
As bad as he felt, Sam looked worse.
The past year had been rough on them both. Even though it was Dean that was dying, if you had asked a random stranger to pick out the terminal one between the two of them, that stranger would pick Sam every time. His brother had lost weight, he was entirely too pale, and there were dark circles under his bloodshot eyes. All you had to do was to look into those eyes to see the desperation there.
Three hundred and sixty four days of no answers had taken their toll on his brother. Tomorrow, Sam would be the last of the Winchesters.
Dean knew exactly how he felt.
It was partly because he knew that Dean hadn't said much about Sam's decline or increasingly erratic behavior as the time drew near. He knew that nothing he could say would sway Sam from his course, so it was better to just let him be. Some people might've said that he was oblivious to his brother's pain, but Dean knew the truth, and so did Sam, and that was all that mattered.
Dean had quietly done what he could--reminding Sam to eat his food instead of just push it around the plate, shutting off Sam's laptop when he'd stayed up too late researching, helping read through book after dusty book, letting Sam drag his ass halfway across the country and back in search of an answer. Even though it was killing him to see his brother like this, he couldn't tell Sam to give up, because he didn't want to waste his remaining days fighting about it, and, honestly, Dean held on to the slim hope that somehow, Sam would find a way.
But he hadn't. They'd run out of time.
While Dean had been in the shower, Sam had apparently been wearing a path into the cheap carpet. His brother was pacing back and forth, as much as the small room would allow someone that freakishly tall to pace. His mop of hair had fallen into his face, and he was chewing on the side of his thumbnail like he usually did when he was feeling anxious.
When Dean stepped out of the bathroom, Sam froze in place, with a deer-in-the-headlights kind of look on his face. Then there was this series of facial tics and body movements that usually indicated Sam was practically bursting to say something, but for some reason, his brother was reining it in. Which meant it was probably something Dean didn't want to hear.
Dean also figured that there was a high probability that whatever Sam wanted to talk about could lead to a possible chick-flick moment, and even though he was gonna die tomorrow, no way was he resorting to chick-flick moments. He was gonna go out like a man.
"I want pancakes," Dean said firmly, and it was definitely not what Sam was expecting to hear, because he could literally see Sam's brain screech to a halt. His brother did a double take, then furrowed his brows and frowned--disapproval in the vast catalog of Sam-faces.
"It's 1:30, Dean."
Dean gave Sam a look--a don't-make-me-come-over-there-and-kick-your-ass look in the not quite as vast catalog of Dean-faces. (Dean-faces tended to trend toward badass or, if a woman was involved, come hither.)
Sam swallowed hard. Even though he had a couple of inches on his brother, he knew that Dean was fully capable of kicking his ass nine times out of ten, and his brother certainly wouldn't let a little thing like imminent death stop him.
Maybe it would be better if Dean ate something before he told him about the plan. After all, a hungry Dean was a cranky Dean. He might be more receptive (yeah, right) on a full stomach. Sam cleared his throat, then shoved his hands deep into his pockets so Dean wouldn't notice the slight tremor in them.
"Pancakes it is."
Sam practically bumped into Dean in the parking lot. The younger Winchester had been lost in his own thoughts, revising and re-revising how he was going to tell Dean about The Plan.
Dean was standing in front of the car. Just standing there, staring at it. Dean looked a little lost, standing there with his hands in his pockets… and that was when Sam realized the problem.
The keys weren't in Dean's pocket--they were in Sam's. Just another reminder of how close they were to the end.
Sam stood there beside Dean, hands in his own pockets, a mirror of his brother. His right hand closed in a tight fist around the keys to the Impala, as if by holding onto them, he could somehow hold onto Dean.
Sam didn't say anything. He hadn't said much at all lately, because he'd been on the verge of an emotional breakdown for weeks and had been afraid that it would all come pouring out. In front of Dean. Couldn't have that. His brother was the one that was going to Hell; if Dean could hold it together, then so could he.
"Mind if I drive?" Dean asked, never taking his eyes from the car.
Sam pulled the keys out of his pocket and held them out. "It's your car, Dean."
There was a long moment when the keys hung in the air between them. Dean wouldn't take his eyes from the car, because as much as Sam thought Dean was holding it together, he wasn't. Not really. Dean was hanging on by a thread, but he wouldn't let Sam see. He suspected that, deep down, Sam knew, but knowing was different than seeing.
Dean reached out and unerringly grabbed the keys without looking. "Not anymore."
Dean dug into his pancakes, uncharacteristically silent. Even though his stomach protested, he forced them down. He wasn't really hungry, but stuffing food in his mouth meant that he didn't have to talk. And since he wasn't talking, he could pretend that Sam's whole not-talking thing wasn't bothering him.
Sam was sitting across from him, slumped down in the booth with his shoulders hunched, as if he could somehow make himself a smaller target. His eyes were downcast, staring at the food that he'd been halfheartedly pushing around on his plate for the past five minutes. Sam always got off his food when he was upset.
Dean figured it was guilt. Sam had always been big on guilt. He'd blamed himself for Mom's death, Jessica's... and now this. Of course, Dean had blamed himself for their father's death, but Dean figured that had been completely justified.
Dean frowned at his silent brother, then attacked what was left of his pancakes with renewed vigor. He was not going to feel guilty for making Sam feel guilty about death and Hell and why'd the kid have to go and get himself killed in the first place? Dean was pretty sure that train of thought had made sense, but maybe not, because he still had a bit of a hangover.
He didn't want it to be like this... his last days. He wanted to spend what time he had left with his little brother, be Sam-and-Dean for a little while longer before it became just Sam. Sam-and-Dean, and it didn't matter that other people always put Sam first, because that had always been where Dean put him anyway.
Enough of this shit.
"Sam," Dean said sharply.
Sam's head shot up, and there was that look again--anxious and guilty and oh shit all at once. Something was going on, and Dean had a feeling that he wasn't going to like it. But this was not the time or the place. Problem was, there wasn't a lot of time left.
Time enough, he told himself, but not here. He narrowed his eyes at his brother and said, "Quit angsting all over my pancakes, will ya? You're ruining my appetite, and that is a seriously hard thing to do, dude."
"Sorry," Sam murmured, ducking his head almost guiltily, but Dean caught the flash of relief that had crossed over Sam's face. What the hell was going on with him?
The waitress came to the table with the check and had been about to wish them a nice day, but the words caught in her throat as she picked up on the tension between the two young men. She placed the check on the table in between the two, gave them a quick nod, then backed away and made herself busy elsewhere.
Dean pushed his plate away from him, then glanced at the check. He pulled out his wallet and threw some cash down on the table. He looked up at his brother, but Sam was still tormenting the food on his plate.
Dean sighed. Asking his brother to quit angsting, especially this close to the deadline, was like asking him to quit breathing. Who the hell was going to keep the kid in line once he was gone?
His mouth tightened in a grim line as he forced that thought away. He had to stop thinking about after, because there was nothing he could do about after, and it made him feel so helpless. Dean did not do helpless.
"Let's go," Dean ordered, giving Sam a light kick under the table to snap him out of his funk. Dean got up and headed for the door. He didn't check to see if his brother was following, but he didn't need to. He could feel the wave of tension Sam was radiating pushing at his back.
They went back to the motel, not because Dean wanted to spend his last day in a crappy motel room, but because he needed to talk to Sam and there weren't a lot of places where they could speak freely. He could have brought it up in the car, but he didn't want to risk wrecking his baby. Again. Especially when there would be no one left to put her back together.
The motel was a standard hole in the wall. Sam had wanted to spring for something nicer, but Dean had refused. He hadn't wanted to feel out of place his last night on earth. Aside from his car, these rundown motels were the closest thing to home he knew.
As soon as they were in the door, Dean crossed over to the small table and sat down in one of the chairs, crossing his arms over his chest. Sam hesitated just inside the door, hands once again in his pockets and shoulders hunched. When Dean didn't say anything, Sam walked jerkily over to other chair and sat down. He immediately slumped down, doing the smaller target thing again.
They sat in silence for a while, as Sam was busy having an internal battle with his vocal chords. He just couldn't seem to spit out the words he knew Dean wouldn't want to hear.
Dean could see Sam was struggling with something. It was obvious. Sam's one leg kept jittering up and down, and he was beginning to wear a groove into the tabletop with his thumbnail, which he kept nervously rubbing back and forth.
Dean hated to instigate a chick-flick moment, but he couldn't take it anymore.
"Stop it, Sam," Dean snapped.
Sam's head jerked up, and Dean could see the look of guilt on his face. "What?" Sam asked, eyes wide.
"Stop blaming yourself. It was my decision. My choice...," and at this point, Sam had opened his mouth to say something, but Dean angrily jabbed a finger at him, cutting him off, "... and don't you dare tell me it was wrong or stupid or a mistake. I knew what I was doing, and I would do it again in a heartbeat."
Dean pushed himself up of out the chair and crossed to the window. He hadn't wanted to get into an argument. Not now. But, Jesus, he was dying--dying--tomorrow, and he would have his death mean something.
He took a couple of deep breaths, hoping to cool the simmering anger inside of him. With his back to Sam and once again in control, Dean's next words were so quiet Sam barely heard them.
"Don't make it something less than it was."
Sam smiled sadly. "I wasn't going to."
Dean stared out between the crack in the curtains to the slice of the world he could see beyond the window. He'd been trying hard not to think about it, but he couldn't stop the image that suddenly popped into his mind. Sam, sitting in the very same room, after everything was done.
Dean swallowed hard around the lump in his throat. He turned and leaned back against the window. "We're out of options," he said, stating a fact but really posing a question.
Sam ducked his head and began to fidget again. Dean took this as a confirmation.
"Well…" Dean began, but he had to stop and clear his throat, which was suddenly hoarse with emotion. He moved over to the bed and sat down on the end, leaning forward until his elbows rested on his knees. "I guess this is it, little brother."
"Doesn't have to be," Sam said quietly, still not meeting Dean's eyes.
Dean frowned. "I don't know about you, Sam, but dying and having your soul sent to Hell is pretty much it in my book."
Sam flinched slightly, then finally gathered the courage to look up at Dean. There was this look in his eyes, and it immediately made Dean suspicious.
"What aren't you telling me?"
Sam's eyes flicked away, and he shifted nervously in his chair under Dean's scrutiny.
"Sam," Dean said, and the name was a command.
"You're not gonna like it," Sam blurted, and he could've sworn that his vocal chords had been sucked into a time warp, because his voice cracked like he was twelve.
Dean's eyes narrowed. "Does it involve you dying?"
"No!" Sam said, and Dean was actually relived that he sounded offended.
"Does it get me out of the deal?"
"Not really," Sam sighed, a pained look on his face that Dean had always thought of as Sam in mental constipation mode.
Dean threw up his hands at Sam's evasiveness. "Why don't you tell me what it's really like, then, or do we have to sit here and play Twenty Questions?"
Sam swallowed hard, and his brows furrowed. "It's not a way out of the deal. More like a way around it."
Sam trailed off, and there was more fidgeting and staring at the floor. Dean rolled his eyes. "Am I gonna have to beat it out of you?" he said through clenched teeth.
Sam raised his eyes to meet Dean's, and, Christ, it was the puppy dog eyes of fuckin' doom. Amazing how they'd never lost their power over him. They kept him from following up on his threat.
Sam knew he had to tell Dean, but he just didn't want to. He didn't want to say the words out loud. Saying it out loud would make it real, and it would be real enough tomorrow night.
The memory of all those months when the Trickster had been fucking with him still haunted Sam. Even though, technically, they had never existed, it had been the most horrific time in his life. Ever since he'd come up with The Plan, he couldn't stop thinking about how it had been when Dean was gone. It had been worse than Jess dying. Worse than Dad. It had been Dean dead, and how the hell am I ever gonna live through that again?
They say that when you are close to death, your life flashes before your eyes. It hadn't really happened to Sam when Jake had stabbed him in the back and he'd been dying in Dean's arms. But now that Dean was so close to death, Sam finally experienced that flashback moment. But it wasn't his own life that flashed before his eyes. It was Dean's.
As he looked at his brother, sitting on the edge of the bed waiting not so patiently for an explanation, Sam flashed through his memories of Dean. He saw him as he first remembered him, freckled and quiet and much too young to be taking care of the little one Sam had been. He saw the nine-year old grown up, walking him to his first day of Kindergarten. He saw the teenager, scaring off the boys that had been bullying his little brother. He saw the hero, standing between the innocent and the things that go bump in the night. He saw his savior, selling something far too precious for words to save the one thing that mattered to him the most.
For Dean, it had always been about saving people--family, friends, people he didn't even know. It was a favor that had seldom been returned to him, and even when it had, Dean always seemed to think the cost was too high. It pissed Sam off to know that when Dean weighed his own life against the lives of others, the scales never tipped in his favor.
Which made what Sam had to say even harder.
"You have to die."
A/N: I was going to take a break after completing my Dark Angel story "Gone." After ten months and 181,588 words, I think I deserved one. I was gonna kick back, read some fic, catch up on some sleep, but no such luck. I am seriously afraid that I will be too influenced by the new Supernatural episodes coming up (YAY!), so I wanted to at least get the first chapter posted so that I will be committed to the course I have set for this story. One of these days, I will catch up on all of the fanfiction I have been missing. (And the sleep.)
I am trying something completely new for me by attempting to remain spoiler-free for the rest of season three. Please do not include spoilers in your comments.