Just a short one-shot, set somewhere in season 3. The deal has already been made.

This just popped into my head last night and I went to write it down…I'm just gonna post it now before I get all obsessed and reread and rewrite it over and over again…

The usual disclaimers still apply, unfortunately ;-)

Memories to keep

The dreams came in regular intervals now, the closer it got, the more frequent, it seemed. A different one every night, still they all left him trembling with despair.

He had tried to fight off sleep for a while, but even Dean Winchester could only go so far without rest, even he was not strong enough to stay awake for two weeks straight.

What he didn't get was why…so many whys and not one of them he could find an answer to.

Why now?

Why this?

Why him?

Sammy was the one to have the freaking visions, the dreams, not him.

Not him.

But of course, there was no way for Sam to know. No way for him to remember.

Not one night of peaceful, undisturbed sleep for over a week now. Before that, it had only been every other night or so. Now there was no relief anymore.

Dean lay awake for hours, fighting off exhaustion and the sheer need to rest his tired body and mind. Killing that poltergeist last night hadn't exactly helped to make him feel any more relaxed and not tired anymore.

Slowly, Sam was catching up on it, too. His little brother usually had the sleep of the righteous, so thankfully so far he hadn't woken. But he wasn't stupid, far from it. Sam could read the signs as well as a book, knew his big brother better than himself, probably. There was no way to miss the purple smudges underneath Dean's eyes anymore, no way to not acknowledge the way Dean moved as if in slow motion, almost fell asleep at the diner last night, too. How he was not in the mood to go for a beer and some pool after, either.

Dean had been afraid that a beer would be wearing him down even more, would make him even sleepier than he already was.

There was just one little problem…one part of him dreaded the nightly visits of the dreams, hated the way it twisted his brain, made him feel weak and spent as if he'd just dug three graves in a row. But then there was this other part of him, this tiny piece of his mind that…didn't. That wanted to go back there, wanted to revisit, to remember.

Man, you are one sick, twisted fuck…

Dean looked over at his brother, sprawled across the bed next to his in an awkward tangle of too long limbs and twisted blankets and smiled. A sad and painful smile and he wished that he wasn't as intend on keeping himself closed off the way he did. That for once he would be able to let Sammy in, tell his brother what was bothering him.

He knew, just knew that Sam would understand, would probably crave to be let in, even, but somehow…

It was important to Sam, especially now, to find out as much as he could, to milk Dean for information, for memories to keep. But there were some things that Dean might just keep to himself. Something to hold on to.

Even if it hurt like hell.

Even if he knew Sammy deserved to know.

He had no idea if, where he was going, he'd be able to remember, to keep his secrets a secret. And that scared him. He'd tucked away the pieces in his mind, for as long as he could think. Something to keep him company, to make him real, somehow. He'd built up those walls for his own protection, so nobody would truly see him. And now he was scared that whatever was going to happen to him, whoever was going to have a go at him…that they'd use it against him, would take his memories, his hopes and dreams and twist them to hurt him, to break him.

Maybe that was what hell was all about.

Either take the memories away from him or use them against him…make him remember. Right now he couldn't decide which one was worse.

He blinked back tears that threatened to spill, cursing himself, got up to go to the bathroom to splash cold water onto his face. Back to the bed after a couple of minutes, feet resting on the floor between the two beds, upper body bent slightly forward with his elbows resting on his knees.

Watching Sam sleep. Trying to take it all in. Storing it away, even though he knew he might live to regret it later, when the fear gripped him.

Again.

Not that it ever left, not really, not anymore. Ever present, more and more so as time wore on. It was simply that sometimes he was better at dealing with it…and sometimes he just wasn't. Sammy the only thing keeping him sane. This stubborn, deeply engrained need to protect his little brother, to keep everything that could hurt him at bay. Even now, after all this time. Now that he should know better than to think that he could, at all.

So little time to figure this out.

A year had sounded like a long time, at first. A good enough deal, well worth the price. Had made him believe that he could figure everything out until…

He had considered writing a diary, of sorts. Write down his memories and thoughts and leave them to Sam. Something to remember him by. Something to make him understand…everything. But that had sounded kind of cheesy, something out of a soap opera, maybe. Definitely not something Dean would do. Sam, maybe, but not him. And he could just see Sam cracking up over it, so he had finally decided against it.

Talking to Sam would have been the most logical thing, but then again…that would sure as hell freak his little brother out. Big time. Dean just wasn't known to be the heart-spilling kind of guy. He needed to keep it together, for Sammy's sake, at least. Would need to find an outlet every once in a while, though, whenever he couldn't take it anymore, whenever he could get away from his little brother. Punch something maybe, or maybe scream. Anything to let off some of that tension, the pressure threatening to crush him.

He'd be alright then, he was almost sure of it. Almost…

Maybe it wasn't that big of a deal, anyway.

He felt his eyes drop shut, braced himself in the last second, pushing himself back onto the bed, back resting against the headboard. Still keeping Sam in sight, still drinking in every detail, the lax set of his brother's jaw, the way his right foot dangled off the mattress. The way he smacked his lips and turned his head around in his sleep while his right hand sprawled across his chest, fingers unconsciously scratching at something underneath his light grey t-shirt.

God, he would miss that. Everything, his brother snoring or drooling when asleep, his almost incessant babbling when awake. His presence, even when he wasn't physically there at all…

Would miss the sleepless nights, even, when he had nothing to do but watch Sam sleep. He'd even miss the dreams, he thought…depending…

Depending on what would happen…what they'd do to him.

If he'd be able to remember anything at all.

He shuddered, goose bumps covering his bare chest, his arms. He picked up the blanket, drew it tightly around himself.

He just couldn't stop shaking. Couldn't stop thinking, either.

Dean remembered some of the breathing exercises his dad had thought him, so long ago that it wasn't even true anymore. Exercises to help him relax when being stitched up, when getting a shoulder or elbow popped back into its socket. When waking up after a nightmare, right after mom…

He closed his eyes and concentrated. Breathing, in and out, fighting back the panic threatening to grip him and pull him under. The fear that gripped him tight.

He was going to die.

He was going to hell.

The weight upon his chest was crushing, confining and he wanted nothing more than to wake Sam, beg him to ride it out with him.

Wanted nothing more than to get up and run away from it all at the same time, leave everything behind once and for all.

But of course, he did nothing the like. Did nothing at all. Just sat there, breathing.

Going to die, going to hell…leaving Sam alone…alone…

Countless minutes, or maybe hours later exhaustion finally won.

Dean drifted off, heavy breaths still rattling his chest, exchanging his waking nightmare for the dreaming one.

---___---___---

The whole house smelled like cookies. He woke from his early afternoon nap to the sound of soft music downstairs and this awesome smell of cookies wafting up the stairs. He scrambled out of bed, hair still mussed from sleep, rubbed at his eyes and trudged downstairs in his bare feet, gripping his stuffed puppy tight in his tiny hand.

Mom was in the kitchen, his back to him, standing at the counter kneading some big lump of dough. He could see the bow of the apron that was tied on her lower back, the apron dad had given her last Christmas. The one with the funny head of a dwarf on it, a huge chef-hat on top of its pointy dwarf-head. Dean had always loved that apron, it had always made him laugh.

His mom shifted her weight from one leg to the other, straightened her back and pressed one hand against her lower spine, huffing a little, leaving traces of flour behind when she pulled away again. She then wiped some wisps of long, blond hair from her forehead, tucked them back behind her ear and reached over for another egg to add to the bowl in front of her.

Dean shuffled forward, his bare feet tapping lightly on the cool linoleum of the kitchen floor and at the sound of that his mom finally turned around. Immediately a smile spread across her face, her beautiful eyes softening even more as she abandoned her work to get down to her knees, her arms welcoming him into a tight embrace.

He slumped forward into her arms, held her tight, his face pressed into the soft skin of her neck, hands reaching around her, digging into her hair.

She smelled of chocolate and strawberries.

"Hey baby, awake already? Did you sleep well?"

Dean nodded, face still pressed against her and she ruffled his hair, started to tickle his back which always made him giggle. He pulled away from her then, taking one step back and put his right hand on top of her round belly, right above the bellybutton.

"Hey baby...how are you? Have you been taking a nap as too?"

Mary laughed at that, took his hand to move it over towards the right side and he could suddenly feel a pretty hard kick that pushed against his hand through his mom's tummy.

"No, he hasn't been sleeping for a while now. Has been kicking his mommy all the time."

Dean watched, enthralled, as the skin beneath his fingers moved, rolled around and finally settled in a slightly askew position again.

"Does it hurt you?" he asked carefully, not able to draw his eyes and hands away though.

"No Dean, not really. Your brother is just a very active baby…it feels more like I have eaten a bit too much and now my tummy is rumbling and growling all the time…"

"How do you know it's a boy?" he asked her, gently prodding the lump with a finger, watching it kick back out at him.

"I just know…the way he's raising hell in there. Definitely your father's son, baby."

"Did I kick you like that, too?" he asked, the childish innocence in his voice making her smile again.

"No, Dean. You actually were always very quiet. Only tickled me a lot, in there, made me laugh. Just like you do now!"

He seemed to be satisfied with that answer and she laughed out loud, that soft, melodious laugh that he loved so much about her, ruffled his hair again before pushing herself back to her feet, her back against the cupboards.

"What do you say…you wanna give me a hand? Your dad should be home in an hour and I'm sure he'd like some still warm cookies for dinner."

Dean nodded eagerly, pulling over a chair and scrambling onto it. He pushed his mom's helping hand aside. He was a big boy after all, he could do this by himself. Together they got to work.

---___---___---

Dean woke with a start, his neck snapping with the force he pulled it off the headboard with. Immediately his hand flew upwards, kneading at the hot, burning sensation that spread from the base of his skull down to his shoulder. He kept his eyes tightly closed until finally, after minutes it seemed, the pain passed and he could move his neck again.

A different dream every single, goddamn night. Small domestic scenes like the one just now.

Baking cookies with his mom.

Going to his first baseball game with dad.

That one time they'd gone camping and he and dad had caught that huge fish that they'd had for dinner that night. He hadn't hated camping back then, that had come later…

The day they had brought Sammy home from the hospital, all bundled up and warm and soft…

Rocking his baby brother in his arms, trying to remember all the words to the lullaby his mom had taught him, while she sat next to him, helping him along with her soft, warm voice…

He moved his hand away then, running it over his eyes, wiping away the infuriating wetness he found there. Down his face, feeling the slight stubble on his cheeks and skin, his throat, which worked feverishly underneath his sweaty skin. He didn't think he'd made a sound, though, at least nothing major enough to draw attention, but he couldn't be sure, the blood still rushing loud in his ears, like a freaking storm.

He carefully checked the other bed to his right and let out a sigh of relief when he found Sam still out cold to the world, oblivious to his brother's torment.

"No, Dean. You actually were always very quiet. Only tickled me a lot, in there, made me laugh. Just like you do now!"

Huh, now. Kind of hard to imagine him ever being like that. Making someone laugh, genuinely happy… Maybe this was just some sick imagination of his mind, something he so desperately wanted to see and hear, wanted to believe.

When in reality, he didn't want to remember, right?

The dreams too vivid to be just conjured up by his sick and twisted brain, right?

It didn't feel like those times, when you see a picture or something and then you start making up stories, voices, sounds to go along with it. Not that they had many pictures left…hardly a handful from that time before…almost every memento lost in the fire that had taken mom, their life. Their past and future, too.

God, he needed to get out of here.

But leaving Sammy…he couldn't do that.

Sneaking out of the room was not an option. He'd done it once, right when the dreams had started, had snuck out and sat in the car for hours, lost in his own misery. Sure enough, he'd fallen asleep, lulled to rest by the comfort and home of his car, only to find a slightly freaked out Sammy, still in his sweatpants and nothing else, pounding on the drivers-window in the very early morning hours. Almost giving him a heart attack, too, but of course Sam had just simply panicked upon waking up and finding his brother gone, so he couldn't really blame him, not entirely. It seemed that Sammy did get a little bit obsessive about keeping him close lately…

Carefully Dean threw the blanket aside, gripping it again immediately when the chill of the room crept up on his sweaty skin, drawing the fabric over his shoulders and quietly heading towards the bathroom.

He couldn't even count the hours spent there anymore. Hours and night spent in places like this, slightly varied depending on which motel they currently stayed at, which town they were hunting in. But it didn't really matter. By morning, his butt would hurt from sitting on the cold tiles of the bathroom floor, his head feeling two sizes too big, much like when he'd been drinking too much. Only that he hadn't not lately.

He'd tried that, too, hadn't helped, though. Only made it worse, made waking up harder.

He'd usually just sneak back into the bedroom, tired and exhausted, before the sun came up, would slip back underneath the covers and at least pretend to sleep before his brother woke up. Sometimes he'd even succeed, catch another hour or two of undisturbed rest before he'd be roused again by an annoyingly rested and blissfully oblivious Sam.

Even though lately, he was pretty sure that Sam knew.

Didn't know, of course, not the whole extend of it. But he suspected something, for sure. But, to his credit, so far Sam had contained himself from bugging Dean about it, which meant a lot, knowing his pain-in-the-ass–ask-questions-until-he-spills-his-guts little brother. Even though Dean was pretty sure that the storm was still to come. And then there would be no holding Sammy back anymore.

But how could he explain this to him? How to tell him that now, that his freaking hourglass was running out, he suddenly dreamed of a life long past, a life buried and forgotten.

A few months ago he would have treasured those memories unquestioningly, would have soaked up every last ounce of information, would have begged for more. Sure, it had always hurt, but still it had been good, kind of.

He didn't know why now this was suddenly bothering him so much, why it hurt more than anything to remember. No bad memories, not one of them. Not one single event he dreamed of dated after his mom's death, all he saw, all he relived were situations from before…when they had still been happy, had still been a family.

He made it to the bathroom, closing the door just in time before his stomach heaved and he slumped down in front of the toilet, holding on, riding it out. When it was over, he backed up against the bathtub, head resting on the edge, breathing and shaking.

Why was this so hard? Why did it make him feel more spent and hurt than every horrible nightmare he had ever had? Shouldn't he be happy, thankful for the memories?

Why now? Why make him remember now…now that it was too late?

His chest hurt, tightening with every breath…again.

He didn't think he'd be able to do this anymore. How do you live with a time-bomb ticking away inside your head, day in day out? How do you keep up the appearance, stay strong and confident when inside all you want to do is scream like there was no tomorrow?

He wanted out, out of that damn deal so badly, it physically hurt. But the next minute he chastised himself, felt ashamed for even thinking that, because getting out of the deal meant sacrificing Sam.

That had been the demon's words: If you try and welsh or weasel your way out, the deal is off. Sam drops dead, he's back to rotten meat in no time.

And he couldn't let that happen.

There would be no point to go on anymore, not for him.

He'd done the right thing, no regrets, right? He'd saved Sam, gotten him back and in turn had saved himself as well…even if it had just been for one short year. Only a year left together and still it was worth it, better than spending the rest of his life alone…

He hated himself for being so weak and selfish, for wanting out, just because he was too weak, too much of a coward to face this.

To face hell.

Sam couldn't know. Not ever. How to put this into words, anyway? How to explain that you are scared out of your mind, but if given the choice again, you'd not hesitate, not one second?

He wasn't sure if Sam would break at his confession, be consumed by guilt, or if it would make him stronger, would force him to be strong for his brother's sake. Just no way to know.

What to do with the memories?

Maybe…maybe he should share them, after all. Maybe they would help Sam get through this, once he was gone. Would give his little brother something to remember, to hold on to. Not just this last year full of hope and despair and pain and hunts and failure…

He'd taught Sammy everything the kid needed to know. Always. Had given him everything he had. A lifetime of giving and sharing and simply being there. So maybe those memories were just the last thing for him to give, his legacy.

Maybe he could give Sam something more important than the knowledge of how to kill a wendigo or a werewolf, the best pick-up-lines, how to clean your guns and keep your knifes sharpened.

He could give him a past, a life before the one he remembered. A family Sam never really had.

Once he was gone, there would be no one left for Sam. No one to look out for him anymore.

God, that thought hurt more than anything. More than the thought of dying…

Dean decided, then and there, in the latest of an endless string of anonymous motels, just as many cold and impersonal bathrooms, that he'd give it a try. That he'd stop fighting the dreams, stop banging himself up over it. He'd at least try to welcome the dreams, soak them up, write them down. Keep his own journal, something besides hunting techniques and history of evil, spells and charms and magic formulas.

And once his year was up, he'd make sure Sam would get it. If they didn't find a way out…

Maybe it would make Sam understand that it hadn't always been like this. Would make him see that there was a reason behind all of this, that Dean had always had something to hold on to. And just maybe it would provide Sam with an anchor when he threatened to crash, something to balance him, however contradictory that sounded.

He felt the resolve strengthen him, give him new purpose. He felt better than he had in a long time. His whole life he'd been afraid of not being able to give enough, mean enough to someone. Had always fought to keep walking the line.

Fear would still grip him, would try to break him, but he would fight it with all his might. For his own sake as much as for Sam's. He didn't want to spend the rest of his life, literally, being afraid, hiding from himself, from Sam.

He didn't want to spend the rest of his life alone.

Dean got off the floor, quietly slipping back into the room to get back into bed. Might as well start right now.

Not much time left.

Way too little to spend it on the floor of a grimy bathroom, away from Sam.

He'd go out and buy some journal tomorrow, something he could easily hide from Sam's view until he was ready to give it to him.

So that was settled then, that was what he was going to do, cheesy or not. Dean would give Sam the most important thing he ever owned, had given it to his little brother all his life…his love and compassion.

The only thing left to give now were his memories…

The end

AN:

So, what do you think? I hope it's not too pathetic and "straight out of my head…", because my head just might be a bit messed up right now…

These one-shots do appeal to me and I like reading them, but they are damn hard to write. I hope I got my point across, though, for whatever it's worth…

Thanks for reading and please remember…review if you liked it!

Thanks and take care!

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