Title: A Vivid Reminder of his Death

Disclaimer: Sadly, no ownership here.

Warning: This is a death fic. Here'd be angst.

Summary: Set after the events of Season Two, All Hell Breaks Loose. As Sam's trying to deal with the ramifications of being stabbed by Jake at Cold Oak and the deal Dean made to save him, what should have been a routine hunt changes everything. (Written for Ramoniciu back in October '08 - normally I don't write or read death!fic, but she provided such a detailed story description, I couldn't help but run with her ideas.)

A Vivid Reminder of his Death

-o-

Now

The blood bubbles up Sam's throat, warm and metallic, slipping past his lips and running down his chin.

It's getting harder to breathe, each shallow gasp scarcely enough to inflate his lungs. His vision darkens with the struggle, but the pain is relentless, refusing to allow him to drift into the darkness.

He lets his body sink into the warm arms embracing him, holding him firm, a tight band refusing to let him go.

The pressure on the gaping wound on his side is increased, and the pain is excruciating. He wants to push Dean's hand away and escape the unrelenting agony, but Dean grips him firmly as he tries to staunch the crimson flow.

He can feel Dean's warm breath on his face, but it's not enough to keep the cold at bay. Fine tremors start running through his body as the heat begins to seep away, leaving an icy emptiness in its wake.

The feeling is all too familiar, a painful memory that he can't shake free. Was it only months ago that Dean held him on the cold ground in Cold Oak?

-o-

Then

The events of Cold Oak haunt him.

He wakes up from a restless sleep with a sudden jolt, breath panting, heart pounding, and body slicked with sweat. Vivid images flash across his mind, dreams or memories he's not quite sure.

He recalls the pain of being stabbed, sharp, like a white hot dagger being thrust into his body before being pulled free. Things get fuzzy after that, like he's watching the event unfold at the end of a long dark tunnel, and he's moving further and further away until only a pin-point of light remains.

Then, nothing.

The nothing scares him. The thought of being nowhere, without place or body. He strains to take his mind back to that moment in time when his life stops, to remember what happened next, but all he gets is flashes of light and dark which make no sense. Surely he thinks, heaven or hell, he'd remember. When his head starts throbbing in time with the rest of his body he gives up, shakes free of the memory, and forcibly shifts his mind onto other thoughts.

He looks across at Dean, sprawled out in sleep on the adjacent bed. He watches the even rise and fall of his brother's chest, and for a moment, he feels envious that Dean can find such peace. Then thoughts of the deal and the demon come rushing back, and he knows this is all a facade. There is no happy ending, no peace – not if you're a Winchester.

Taking a deep shuddering breath, he looks away. He focuses on regulating his breathing, closes his eyes, and feigns sleep until the morning light whispers in to the room.

Dean sleeps on, oblivious, but Sam feels like he's been counting sheep for endless hours before he finally gives up. With a weary sigh he finally pulls himself out of the tangled mass of sheets, feet hitting the cold floor as he stumbles into the bathroom and quietly closes the door.

Twisting to peer in the mirror, he can just see it, the rigid line of raised scar tissue in the centre of his back. Running his fingers across the scar, he closes his eyes and remembers the feel of the knife entering his flesh, pushing in, twisting.

It's only been a few days, but the scar already looks years old, a familiar fixture against his tanned skin.

Dean doesn't want to talk about it, doesn't want to look, taking it so far as to shift his gaze away every time Sam removes his shirt. They're playing a game of pretend. Pretending that Sam didn't die and that Dean didn't make a deal to bring him back. But it's always there, in the undercurrents, bubbling just below the surface of their seriously fucked up lives.

A hot shower brings a flush to his cheeks but does little to chase away the deep weariness that has a firm grip on his body. Real rest continues to evade him and each day the lethargy is harder to chase away. He needs to keep going though. He needs to save Dean.

When he steps back into the main room, towel slung low around his hips; Dean is swinging his feet onto the floor and rubbing the sleep out of his eyes. He honestly hadn't expected his brother to be awake for another couple of hours yet, and the small motel towel suddenly seems way too revealing in the growing light.

He grabs his shirt off the back of the chair and quickly pulls it on, worn cotton sliding over bruises and scars, hiding the vivid reminder of his death.

If Dean wants to pretend, he can pretend, but that's as far as he'll go. Dean's time is ticking away and that's just something he can't ignore.

-o-

At first it's just a small twinge, the muscles in his lower back contracting ever so slightly, and if it were anywhere else, something Sam probably would have ignored. But he rubs his fingers against the scar, smoothing out the angry skin until the discomfort disappears. When he doesn't feel anything else, he ignores it, wondering if the pain's just psychosomatic, a reminder of what his life has cost.

The rest of his body isn't doing much better. Getting thrown across the yard by Jake has left him with mottled bruises across his back and abdomen and a constant throb in his injured shoulder. He rotates the joint and feels stretched ligaments pull over bone, muscles straining to hold in place an arm that feels way too heavy. He bites his lip against the pain and keeps quiet; shooting a sideways glance at his brother to make sure the twinge went unnoticed.

There are more important things to worry about, and if Dean can pretend that Sam never died, then Sam sure as hell can pretend that the pain doesn't exist.

He can't stop searching though, for an answer to Dean's deal, and if the pain in his back is a subtle reminder that he shouldn't be looking, well then he'll take it as an impetus that he's closing in on an answer. In the meantime, he'll happily follow Dean's lead and keep on pretending that nothing's wrong, that he didn't die; that his only brother didn't sacrifice everything to give him life.

-o-

The bruises gradually start to fade, but his mind refuses to let the memories rest. He shoots furtive glances at his brother as they drive down an endless road, and he can't help but wonder if Dean has questions too.

Steeling himself for a rebuff, he lets voice to his concerns. "Dean, when I was," Sam swallows the lump in his throat as the word 'dead' refuses to slip past his lips, "gone." Sam glances at Dean and sees his brother grimace at his words. He pushes past Dean's discomfort and continues. "Where do you think I was?"

"You were with me Sam."

"I'm not talking about my body Dean. I mean, you know, heaven or hell, or some place in between?"

Dean glances sideways at his brother. He doesn't want to have this conversation. Not now. Not ever.

"Dean?" Sam prompts.

"What do you remember?" Dean finally asks.

"Nothing really. I mean, it's all sort of jumbled up, like I'm just getting flashes of something, something I can't quite grasp."

"You're back now, that's all that matters." Dean grunts.

"But don't you wonder Dean? I mean, people talk about going into the light, seeing their family waiting for them and all that sort of stuff."

"You been watching too much of that John Edwards crossing over crap, if you ask me."

"I'm serious Dean. "

"Yeah well, so am I. What's done is done Sam. You need to let it go."

Sam thinks about the deal, the scar on his back, the residual pain, and knows he can never let it go. Never forget.

The facts are simple. What's dead should stay dead. Making deals, changing fate - that was something they shouldn't have messed with.

-o-

They move from town to town, hunt to hunt, the Impala eating up the miles on the highways.

Dean's on a mission, determined to chase down every whisper of supernatural activity in the towns they pass through. Their pace is relentless, scarcely leaving them time to think, let alone time for Sam to research Dean's deal. But maybe that's the plan. Dean is already living every minute like it's his last, like his fate is inevitable, but that's something Sam can't bring himself to accept. Deals can be made. Can be broken. He needs to believe that.

-o-

A decade old murder. A body hidden in a barn. Another restless spirit needing a little Winchester nudge to move on. With clenched teeth, Sam listens with half an ear as Dean runs over the plan for their current hunt one more time.

"Soon as we're inside, we need to move fast." Dean nods towards the decrepit barn. "I have a feeling old Percy ain't gonna take too kindly to us digging up his bones."

"That's if they're there."

"What, don't trust your own research now Sam?"

Sam shrugs. "I'm just saying, after all this time…"

"After all this time, that's one seriously pissed off spirit." Dean finishes, looking at the barn assessingly. "And that's one seriously crappy looking barn. How the hell is that thing still standing?"

"Doesn't look as though it'd take much to tear it down." Sam mutters, letting his eyes drift across the barely standing barn, surprised it wasn't bowing under the stiff breeze gusting across the barren landscape.

Looking back at Dean, Sam couldn't help his weary sigh of resignation. "There's no telling where the body is buried Dean, we could be searching for hours. Why not just torch the place? Old Percy ain't going to haunt the place if there's nothing left to haunt."

"Says who Sam? You willing to take that risk?"

"Not like it hasn't stopped you before." Sam thought back to the house they'd torched to get rid of the Tulpa, even as he reached across to take the shovel that Dean was holding out.

"Yeah well, there's a body in there somewhere. The old guy deserves a decent salt 'nd burn."

"You sure you're okay? I mean, it's not like you to pass up an opportunity to torch something."

"Just trying to show some respect Sam."

Sam barely managed to hold back a smile. "Sure Dean."

"Yeah well, this place'd go up like a chimney. Last thing we want is to start a grass fire or be caught up in it." Dean runs his fingers over the trunk of the Impala. "All that heat 'nd smoke'd be hell on the paintwork."

Dean grabs the shotgun and duffel bag and heads towards the barn, shooting a quick glance over his shoulder to make sure that Sam is following.

-o-

As he steps inside, Sam lets his eyes wander around the desolate space, defined by rotting timbers and abandoned equipment. The barn is damp and decrepit, the whole structure a monument to times past. Through the gaping hole in the roof he can see the sky, clear and blue, the vivid color a stark contrast to his drab surroundings.

It's going to be like searching for a needle in a haystack, and the irony is not lost on Sam as his eyes scan the bales of hay stacked ten high against the rear wall.

The floor is compacted earth, strewn with hay and farming equipment, and as he scuffs his boots on the dry dirt, he can't help but acknowledge that a body could be buried anywhere within the vast space. He takes a deep breath and follows Dean into the heart of the building.

Sam stands by his brother's side, watching as Dean pulls the EMF meter out of his jacket pocket and switches it on. Dean scans the area around them, and they follow to where the signal is strongest. When the readings fly off the chart they feel confident they have the right area.

-o-

They take turns digging, one wielding the shovel while the other keeps watch. It's slow laborious work, but no more than they expected. Small mounds of dirt pile up as they excavate the area, searching for the elusive bones.

Sam holds the shotgun at the ready as he watches Dean drive the shovel repeatedly into the dirt to dig out one more hole, adding to the numerous they've already dug. It's almost as exhausting to watch as it is to dig and Sam hopes they find something soon. He's tired and thirsty, his back aching from the manual labor.

The muscle spasm comes on unexpectedly, radiating along Sam's lower back and lingering for longer than he can hold his breath. He bites his lip until it fades; glad Dean's too preoccupied to notice. He puts the pain down to too much digging, all to ready to pretend if it means he can push the symptom aside.

The lingering pain reminds him though - of where he should be, what he should be doing, and how the clock is ticking down on Dean's deal. With each hunt, time is slipping away, and suddenly what they're doing seems of little significance.

"Sam?"

Sam blinks and looks at Dean.

"Your turn." Dean hands him the shovel and takes the shotgun.

Sam digs.

When the shovel finally hooks on something large, Sam knows they've hit pay dirt.

He scrapes away at the dirt, revealing the pale bones buried in the shallow grave. He keeps at it until the whole skeleton is revealed, and he can't help but feel a moment of pity for the man that once was.

And then all hell breaks loose.

The temperature drops as the wind picks up, visibility fading as the dust swirls around them.

"Sam!" Dean warns, and Sam drops, a round of rock salt shooting off above him.

Sam searches frantically through their bag for the lighter fluid and salt, his body being battered by flying debris he cannot deflect.

Dean is firing off round after round of rock salt, buying him the time he desperately needs.

He sprinkles the salt and accelerant liberally over the bones before pulling the matches from his pocket. As he's striking the first match, something hard slams into his side, stealing his breath, and dropping the match is as much reflex as it is intent.

As the flames erupt, the barn stills, wind fading away to nothing as the flames lick into the air.

Sam draws in a shuddering breath and looks down at his side. His shirt is torn; the ragged fabric already stained dark red. He puts a hand to his side, feeling the sticky wetness.

-o-

Dean can't stop the bleeding.

The blood is everywhere. Coating his fingers, his hands.

His arm aches from the pressure he's exerting, but still he presses down hard against Sam's side.

"Dean?" Sam whispers, the bitter tang of blood slipping past his lips.

"Shhh Sammy. Hold on okay, it's not that bad." The words tumble from Dean's lips, sparking off memories he'd rather forget.

"'s 'kay Dean. I know." Sam coughs; fine specks of vivid red blood spraying from his mouth.

"Shhh Sam, don't talk."

"'s better than last time."

"Hey, just hold on okay."

"This time …this time I get to say goodbye."

"No Sam, don't do this, it's gonna be alright. Just breathe, I need you to breathe."

"'m not afraid."

"Sammy no, not again. Don't you do this. Don't you leave me. I can't fix it this time. You hold on okay? Everything's gonna be okay. You just hold on. I just …please Sammy; I just need you to hold on."

"Love you." The soft words escape with Sam's breath, barely audible, but they pierce straight through Dean's heart.

-o-

Dean wraps both arms around his brother.

Wide tracks of tears streak the dirt on his face as he rocks rhythmically, back and forth with his precious cargo.

He doesn't know how long he sits like that, with Sam's weight cradled against his chest.

The sunlight slowly fades, shadows filling the empty spaces.

He reaches for the revolver nestled in the small of his back.

"Love you too Sammy."

He holds the familiar weight in his hand and closes his eyes.

End.

-o-

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