Title : Running out of days

Author : unplugged32

Rating : PG13 for language

Category : gen, angst, h/c

Characters : Sam, Dean

Disclaimer : Not mine. No money being made, no harm intended

Spoilers : Up to and including 3X15

Summary: "Please, what, Sammy? Please go inside before I catch a cold? Do you realize how ridiculous that sounds, worrying about the sniffles or post-nasal drip?" There was no anger in his tone, no bitterness, just a stating of the facts as they were. Coda of sorts to 3X15.

Author's note: 'Running out of days' is the title of a song by 3Doors Down, from the album 'Away from the Sun'. Special thanks to serenitysangel for quickie 5-minute beta. I wanted to get this posted before the finale so try and overlook any bad grammar/typos and if you like the story, say hey;) Also, this is set in May 2008, because in 3x14 we were given a date stamp of April 26th (at the phone company, on Stewie's computer) so I figured that early May was about right. Ashtabula is a real city in Ohio and the historical/weather information should be correct because I used 3 websites to verify my facts. If you're from Ashtabula and you see any discrepancies, feel free to correct me!

Running out of days

It wasn't supposed to be snowing in Ashtabula, Ohio in May but that's exactly what it was doing when Sam jogged into the motel parking lot at 5:30 am, frantic, looking for the Impala, and by extension, his missing brother.

A thin layer of white dust covered Dean's beloved car, and Sam quickly wiped the driver's side window clean with his bare hand, peering inside for some sign of his older brother. The empty bed had been bad enough, the empty car now had him scared shitless. The night before they'd left Erie in a hurry, unsure if Bela had disclosed their location or not, heading west towards Bobby, nowhere else left to go. They hadn't gotten far though, nether of them awake enough to drive on towards Cleveland as they'd planned and Ashtabula had seemed as good a place as any to stop for the night. Dean had been tense, exhausted and Sam could see that his brother was also clearly disturbed over Bela's fate, regardless of his parting words to her. The girl had been self-serving, ruthless but Dean wasn't, no matter how hard he tried to pretend that he was. And with Dean facing down the very same end, Sam knew that his brother wouldn't wish that on anyone, not even on someone like Bela.

Sam's jaw clenched and he backtracked towards their room, pulling his jacket up around his face. He'd left the room in only a t-shirt and sweats, grabbing a jacket as an afterthought, his frozen hands stuffed into his pockets as he looked up and down the dingy row of rooms for Dean. He was about to go and question the night manager when something caught his eye at the end of the building. A slide, a set of swings just beyond. It was a long shot but Sam hurried towards the playground… hoping.

The dimly-lit playground had seen better days. Even with snow partially covering the wide, wooden seats of the swings, Sam could see the paint was faded and peeling, the chains rusted, a step missing from the dented slide. There was a see-saw, the seat broken on the side that was up in the air, a long, lean figure lying back against the cracked wood of other side, feet crossed at the ankles, hand locked behind his head. How he was balanced like that, all 6'1", 180 pounds of him on that narrow plank, it seemed impossible. Sam approached his brother cautiously, unsure of his mood and unwilling to engage in an argument.

"Dean."

"Hey, Sammy," Dean replied softly, eyes shut, wet face turned upwards, snow in his hair and falling quietly onto his damp jeans, the frozen flakes melting and slowly soaking into his faded Henley. He was wearing Sam's Nikes, the laces untied and trailing onto the frozen ground. At that moment he looked so much younger than his 29 years, despite the heavy stubble on his jaw and the purple rings under his eyes. Sam winced and felt yet another part of himself shatter at the bitter reality of the end of his brother's abbreviated life.

"Dude, what are you doing out here? It's fucking freezing, you're gonna get sick or…"

"Did you know that Ashtabula means 'river of many fish'? It's an Algonquin term," Dean said, cutting him off.

Sam sighed and moved to lean against the rusted metal frame of the swing set. "And you know that because…?"

"This was also a stop for the Underground Railroad, a pretty important one as a matter of fact. Used to help slaves escape to Canada, take them by boat across the lake."

"What's with the history lesson, Dean? And can't we do this back in the room, cause your probably gonna have pneumonia tomorrow."

Dean didn't budge, didn't even open his eyes. "Ashtabula is part of the snow-belt, gets like 100 inches a year because of something called the 'lake effect' but technically it's way too late in the year for snow. This is probably some freak weather phenomenon linked to Global Warming or something like that."

"Ok, that's it, you're hammered, right? Come on, dude, we can still get a few hours of sleep before we leave for Bobby's…" Sam said, pushing off the metal frame and moving towards Dean. "Seriously, man you're gonna get sick if you don't get out of those wet clothes."

"People actually move here for the snow; sounds crazy, but it's true."

Sam's mouth turned up into a knowing half-smile. "Now I get it; you've been at the motel pamphlet rack again, haven't you?" Sam said, shaking his head. "Couldn't sleep?" he asked his brother softly, hoping he would open up to him instead of supplying him with more inane local facts.

Dean was silent. When he shivered, Sam had to fight the urge to take off his jacket and offer it to him and boy, could he just imagine how his brother would react to that.

"Dean, please…"

Dean's eyes opened slowly, blinking against the frozen wetness on his lashes. "Please, what, Sammy? Please go inside before I catch a cold? Do you realize how ridiculous that sounds, worrying about the sniffles or post-nasal drip?" There was no anger in his tone, no bitterness, just a stating of the facts as they were.

Sam sighed and dug his hands into the pockets of his sweat pants. "Ok, forget it, I was just worried about you, I woke up and you were gone and…"

"About that," Dean said slowly. "What're you doing up anyway?"

Sam grimaced. "Um, I had to pee?"

Dean nodded. "Couldn't sleep either," he said knowingly. "Go back to bed, Sam, we've got a lot of driving in front of us today."

"Yeah, right back 'atcha. I'm not driving all the way to Bobby's, dude, so if you don't mind, can we just both get some sleep?" Sam told him, trying to sound convincing. In reality he didn't give a crap if he drove for three days straight as long as Dean followed him back inside.

Dean let out a long breath and dropped his feet to either side of the see saw, pushing himself off the rickety wood and got to his feet slowly. "You're such a friggin pain in the ass, you know that?" There was no malice, just Dean doing the exasperated older brother thing he did so well.

Sam smiled crookedly. "Yeah, I do. Come on," he told Dean, who was moving like a 90 year old man with arthritis in every joint. "Hey, you ok?" he asked, tempering the worry in his tone. Before Dean could reply, Sam spotted two dark stains on the back of his brother's Henley, and he didn't need to touch it to know it was blood.

"Dean, you're bleeding," Sam told him calmly, resisting the urge to push his brother's shirt up right there in the parking lot to have a look.

"It's nothing," Dean scoffed, taking slow, unsteady steps towards their room. "Must've cut myself on the broken glass when that psycho shoved me into the wall. "I'm ok, Sam, just fucking tired, that's all."

Sam opened the door to their room and pulled Dean in behind him, pushing him towards the bathroom.

"Dude, what the fuck?" Dean said, annoyed, shoving Sam's hand away.

"Take off the wet clothes so I can see those cuts," Sam said, tossing his own damp jacket aside. "And please, just please, don't argue with me," Sam told him wearily. His head was ready to explode with thoughts of infection, pneumonia, frostbite, things that could possibly take Dean away sooner than the precious three weeks he had left.

Dean grumbled but obeyed, much more compliant than Sam would have expected. But the reason for Dean's unexpected cooperation became obvious as soon as his clothes hit the floor; Dean was freezing.

Sam grabbed a clean pair of sweats from Dean's bag and a Henley, practically shoving his brother towards the bed. It took a shivering Dean two tries to slip the pants on, and four to successfully pull the shirt over his head. Sam stopped him from pulling it down over the gashes on his lower back, covering them with a clean towel before pushing Dean forward on to his stomach and bringing the blankets up to Dean's chin.

"Don't move," Sam told him wearily, changing out of his own wet pants into a pair of soft, worn-out shorts, the only clean thing aside from jeans that he could find in his bag. "Jesus, Dean, just how long were you sitting out there in the snow?"

"I have no idea," Dean replied sheepishly, his shivering slowing to slight tremors, "It was…I don't know, peaceful, you know?"

Sam felt his gut clench painfully, the image of Dean on the seesaw with his face turned up towards the light snowfall burned into his head, another bitter-sweet memory for Sam to carry with him when he would be alone.

"Anyway," Sam said, clearing his throat, "if you've warmed up I gotta get a look at those cuts."

"OK," Dean said simply, clearly in no mood for arguing with his brother. He didn't protest when Sam pulled the blanket down and immediately went to work cleaning out the two long gashes on his lower back, didn't say a word when Sam poked and prodded to make sure there was nothing stuck in the wounds before he applied some antibacterial cream and closed them up with some extra-large adhesive bandages.

"Ok, you're good," Sam said softly, putting everything aside before he covered Dean again, switched off the light and flopped down on his own bed. Outside the sun was timidly peeking through the grey sky and snow continued to fall. It was after 6, and he was wide awake but Sam had no desire to go anywhere, not until he was sure Dean was ok, maybe got a few hours of sleep.

"Thanks, Sammy," Dean said after a while, breaking the silence, his tone…weary.

"No problem, dude."

"You know, you said something yesterday, something that really…well what I want to say is that…"

Sam turned on his side, his gaze meeting Dean's. "What, Dean? Tell me."

Dean shifted carefully, wincing, until he was facing his brother. "You said that I couldn't stop you, from doing what you wanted, and ain't that the truth," Dean said with a soft chuckle. "You got that stubborn streak from Dad. You were always more like him than you were willing to admit."

"Dean…"

Dean sighed. "Just let me finish, Sammy, it's important."

The boulder that had settled in Sam's gut a year ago suddenly felt weightier than ever. "Ok."

"You know, if we don't kill her…Lilith…before my time is up, you're gonna have to do it. Because that bitch is never gonna give up, Sam, never. She's gonna hunt you down until she finds you and kills you and won't that just make everything we've been through pointless," Dean told him, his tone dead serious. "You stick with Bobby, he'll back you up, keep you safe, but you've got to do it, Sammy."

Sam swallowed the lump in his throat, closed his eyes briefly against the burn starting behind his eyes. "I know."

"And you can't trust anyone, bro, only Bobby and Ellen, maybe Jo, but no one else. You hear me? Stay away from that bitch Ruby or any hunters who say they can help you because we've seen first hand how fast another hunter will turn on you," Dean told him firmly. "And when it's over, Sammy, promise me one thing, dude, just once thing."

"Anything," Sam said, the word flying out of his mouth automatically.

"Promise me you'll put this dead-end life behind you, start over, try and live normal, maybe even go back to school."

"Dean, it's never gonna be over, you said that yourself a long time ago," Sam replied dully, his heart shattering. "And knowing where you'll be, what you'll be going through, how can you expect me to just go on like nothing's happened? You're not gonna die in a car wreck or of a heart attack, Dean, and just move on peacefully," Sam told him, one tear sliding down his face, followed by another. "Even…after, I'm always gonna be looking for a way to save your soul, Dean, and please, just please don't ask me not to."

Dean sighed and turned till he was lying on his back, a grimace spreading across his haggard features. "Stubborn kid… never could get you to listen," he said tiredly.

"Yeah, so don't bother trying now," Sam told him, smiling through his tears. Hope and despair fought each other for the upper hand, tying Sam up in knots as he rubbed the back of his hand over his face, trying his best to compose himself. "Besides, we still have three weeks and I have no intention of letting you go, so this conversation is pointless."

"Yeah, you're right," Dean said, but Sam knew he was humoring him. "Anyway, I hope you're still not pissed at me over Dr. Slice'n'dice, cause dude, what he was doing was just wrong."

"Yeah, I know. But his formula was really interesting science. I wonder if it could have helped people, you know, with terminal illnesses or heart disease or…"

"No, Sammy, no friggin way could that freak's research ever do anything but create monsters. I'm not sorry he's out of commission. He was a murderer, dude, and a pretty sadistic once too."

Sam said nothing. There was nothing to say, the feeling that this was the one that got away was still too raw in his mind.

"You know, about Bela…" Dean began, his tone suddenly bitter. "She knew we could have helped her, we saved her ass the last time she was in trouble…"

"As harsh as this might sound, it was her own fault. And you saw her go into the hotel, she wasn't coming for tea, Dean, she was there to kill us."

Dean nodded slowly. "I know. It's just really fucked up. She was a heartless bitch but she didn't deserve to go to hell."

Sam rose and swung his long legs over the side of the bed. "Neither do you, Dean, and that's why I'm not gonna let you." Sam said with conviction.

"Yeah, ok, just as long as you don't do anything stupid. Because if you do, so help me, Sam, I will kill you myself and at this point, don't think I won't," Dean told him, his tone like steel, that dangerous glint that Sam knew so well in his bloodshot eyes.

"Whatever."

"I mean it, Sam, nothing that constitutes welching and no soul swapping and no…"

"Yeah, yeah, I get it. Look, it's 6:30, and it's obvious that neither of us is getting back to sleep so we might as well get breakfast. And to be honest, I wouldn't mind putting a few states between us and Erie, PA as soon as possible."

Dean lifted himself slowly, wincing slightly. "Amen to that, brother. There's a diner next door, let's see if they've got pie…oh, and ice cream of course."

Sam laughed, real, heartfelt laughter that pushed aside the doom and gloom, even if only for the moment. "Ice cream and pie for breakfast?"

Dean smiled, some of the weariness fading away as he did so. "In England they eat baked beans for breakfast, in China they eat rice, in Vietnam they eat soup, in India they eat potato curry…"

Sam put up both hands to stop him. "Jesus, how do you know these things? Don't tell me there was a 'Guide to International Breakfast' on the motel pamphlet stand."

Dean chuckled softly and looked around for a clean pair of jeans. "And in America they eat ice-cream and pie for breakfast, end of story."

Sam's smile faded slightly. There was a real possibility that soon there would no more mornings like this, no more silly brotherly banter, no more arguments over porn on the laptop, no more deep discussions about breakfast in Timbuktu. The vise around his heart tightened yet another inch, but Sam was careful to keep his game face on.

"Pie sounds good, Dean," Sam said finally, when they were ready to go. "I think I'll have some too."

Dean turned to him, his expression softening to something Sam couldn't read and he felt his breath catch. "That's great, Sammy. We'll get two different kinds and we can share."

Sam swallowed the lump in his throat and nodded, following his brother out the door. Outside the snow had stopped and what was on the ground had already begun to melt. Dean locked the door and they turned towards the diner, walking silently past the quiet playground, the broken seesaw as it was as hour earlier, the seats of rusted swing-set covered in a thin layer of slush and Sam's heart felt as frozen as the tiny daisies peeking out of the snow-covered ground.

End