"Some choices we live not only once but a thousand times over, remembering them for the rest of our lives." - Richard Bach

Time Moves On, But I'm Still Here

"I'm telling you, Sam, this job is small fry. We should be spending our time hunting down Bela."

You were right, Dean. You were right.

I was wrong.

Why didn't I listen?

---

It wasn't supposed to happen. He said it was over. At least that's what Sam heard. Maybe it was what he wanted to hear, but it gave him back his hope, a thin wisp of a thread he could wrap around his finger to tether his brother to him and hold on tight.

The trickster snapped his fingers and Sam woke up just like he had more than a hundred times before, only now it was Wednesday. For the first time in months his heart rejoiced and he could breathe again, nice and slow and steady. He thought it was over.

We did it.

Dean's alive.

It meant they had more time.

Time to seek a way out of Dean's demon deal.

Time to travel the backroads on more adventures.

Time to live, to love, to share.

Time to further bond as brothers.

Time… such a precious commodity.

He thought they had at least a few months…an eternity if it meant he had his brother by his side for all those special moments that slip by unaware in the normal course of living, moments that he now knew to pay close attention to.

He wanted to remember everything there was to know about his brother, all his quirks, his sly smirks and cocky remarks, each moment building upon the last to build a mountain of memories that even time itself could not erode; the Himalayas standing the test of time, proud and defiant, daring anyone who trespassed along the treacherous cliffs to ever try to separate the brothers.

Sam knew to take notice, knew the days were growing short so he treasured every last minute with his brother: the memorable, the mundane, the heartfelt and the aggravating. Every single moment unique like a Dean-snowflake, beautiful but fleeting, floating about him in a flurry of emotion and lovingly embraced; Sam now desperate to preserve the frailty of Dean's life.

But for now, he could breathe easier, this nightmare was over.

A reprieve, a chance to relax for just a second before time would hurl them back on that fateful journey toward the end game of Dean's deal.

Before the final nightmare intruded into their lives threatening to permanently rip his brother from his grasp.

It was over.

It was finally over.

Wrong again, Winchester.

On slow-mo replay, the trickster actually said they were out of it…the time loop; said he'd wake up and it would be Wednesday. He swore it, and it was.

He just never promised Dean wouldn't die on that Wednesday, the bastard.

Damn these gods with their fine print, their perverse sense of humor, their lessons to be learned. What sense did this make? What purpose? What?

Why?

Why Dean?

This is so not about killing Dean. This joke is on you, Sam. Watching your brother die every day…forever. How long will it take you to realize you can't save your brother?

No matter what.

Just a picture of what was to come, he said, like Sam needed a freakin' painting of Hell to know what that meant. A dark canvas filled with fiery reds and deadly blacks, a lone figure drawn into the heat of the flames and disappearing into the pit.

It wasn't like Sam needed to know what it was going to be like to see Dean die, to know his soul was doomed to an eternity in Hell. That scenario had already played out a thousand times in his head. Sam had seen a lot over the course of his cursed life, and what he hadn't actually witnessed with his own two eyes…well, he'd seen enough horrors to know what hues to use to color in the line drawing.

It really wasn't that difficult to see into their future.

Time runs out.

Dean dies.

Sammy dies.

Sam might as well be dead.

Simple, unavoidable, destined… without a miracle.

Sam always believed in miracles, especially concerning his brother. He'd seen Dean beat death too many times. He knew his brother's courage, his fortitude, his dumbass luck, and his pig-headed pride. Dean had finally said he didn't want to die; he didn't want to go to Hell. For Dean to admit that, proclaim it to his brother… Well, it had to be a sign, a promise that a miracle was coming. That he deserved one final out.

Sam in response had promised: "All right, we'll find a way to save you."

Still the fear lingered that it would be too little, too late, but as long as they had time on their side he could hope. He could still believe in that miracle. He had to believe in that miracle.

What else did he have?

Then the trickster stole the last precious months of Dean's life and all hope was abandoned.

He knew in the end he would probably lose Dean, that the deal was unbreakable; he just never expected it this soon. The timetable they were already staring down was soon enough, too soon, but this…this was torture, plain and simple. Some omnipotent being pulling the wings off a fly as it sat pinned to a specimen board, desperately struggling to live. The final cruel twist of fate. A tragic reminder their lives were fucked up beyond all hope.

That Dean was doomed and Sam couldn't save him.

Just like the trickster said. The words echoing in a loop in his head.

You can't save your brother. No matter what.

A deal's a deal.

Ain't no getting around it.

Not when you make deals with devils…

No magic fiddle showdown was gonna beat this deal. The Devil may have gone down to Georgia, but here and now…Dean was going down. Going way down south…into the pit.

---

Sam never thought to stay close that morning. Never worried 'cause they'd made it. It was Wednesday, the first day of the rest of Dean's life. Granted, it was destined to be a short life, but not this short…not like this, never like this.

A single shot rang out and Sam instantly knew from the familiar rumbling of his heart wildly thumping against his ribcage, while a lump lodged in his throat choking the breath from his lungs. He knew before he ever turned the corner, as he stumbled down the stairs and raced to his brother's side. The paralyzing fear reverberating through his body like an electric shockwave as his sense memory assaulted him and every death before flashed in his mind.

Dean's eyes were wide in shock, the flickering emerald orbs speaking volumes as the blood filling his lungs drowned him, no time for final words, no chance to say good-bye as his heart slowed and stilled, and the light left his eyes. All the times Dean had died and he never uttered any last words. Never whispered 'I'm sorry for leaving you, Sammy', 'I wish it was different', or 'Take care of the car…she's all yours now'. Never admitted he was scared, not ready, that he had more living to do, more to say, more to be. No final directive or regret, no words of love or fear, nothing except a silent, painful stillness before his eyes fixed and his heart quit beating and the world stopped turning.

Dean was dead and nothing else mattered.

Seconds turned into minutes which clustered into hours and Sam waited, praying, hoping, clutching tight to his brother's limp body as his blood pooled on the pavement and his muscles started to stiffen. Pale skin cold to his touch, but he refused to give up hope, refused to accept the inevitable, refused to let go. Not today, this isn't supposed to happen today… I'm not ready.

Dean hadn't died, he couldn't. Sammy wouldn't let him. I'm supposed to wake up.

You don't always get what you want. Sometimes you get what you need.

What the hell does that mean?

He's one man, Sam. The world doesn't revolve around Dean.

You're wrong… you're wrong. You are so freaking wrong.

Sometimes you just got to let people go…

No… No… Please, God, no…

---

Dean was gone. No recourse, no reprieves, no longer any reason to hope.

All that was left was grief and pain, revenge, destruction and more death.

Brutality and rage… against evil, against the supernatural, railing against life itself…

No reason for safety, no need for caution or concern.

He lashed out at the world, wild and fierce and unruly.

The more intense the hunt, the better.

The greater the danger, the quicker he attacked.

The memories were now strangling him, constantly assaulting him with thoughts of what could have been if only he'd been quicker, sharper, more cunning. How he should have found a way to save his brother. Dean would have found a way…

His mind took him back to the time when Dean had found a way.

---

The months dragged on and the body count rose. Death surrounded him and remained his only ally. He himself now dead, at home among the stench and rotting corpses, no longer fitting in amongst the living. The living only brought more pain, the laughter and smiles, the hope and purpose, the moving forward and living… when all he saw was the past, the hopelessness…darkness and death. All he felt was the anguish of what should have been.

The miles stretched on before him, an endless stream of no-name towns, crappy motels, and empty nights. He talked to no one, except for the rare question, the need for information in the hunt his only interaction with the living. Not even a 'thank you' as he walked away. He had nothing to be thankful for.

As he descended deep into the dark underbelly of the world, he lost sight of his humanity, finally at home within the black caverns of evil. His injuries his only connection to being human, the bullets piercing his chest reminding him that he could die… He might die, if he was fortunate.

The needle his only anchor to the reality of the present as he stitches up the wound after digging the bullet out. The blood on his hands another reminder of the past.., Dean's blood, running red and cold along the wet pavement, turning to deep crimson when it crusted on his brother's jacket as the day turned to black and the jacket never moved, the chest beneath it silent.

The needle now methodically slicing through his flesh, tiny prickling points of pain; his nerve endings reacting subtly to the thin steel gliding through again and again. Fine, even stitches just like Dean used to make, just like he taught his kid brother how to do so very long ago when he and Dad first returned home from a hunt injured. Dad the worst and Dean had carefully shown Sam how he threaded the needle and stitched him up, careful and sure even through the pain of his own injuries that made his hand tremble before he called upon some inner strength, some hidden reserve to finish the job before collapsing onto the bed, his eyes filled with confidence that Sam could now handle his part. Later, admiring the fine, thin scars left behind, assuring his brother how much worse it would have been without the tender care he'd received, smiling when he christened him the new doctor in the house.

The first of many injuries doctored by the youngest Winchester when his family returned battered and bleeding from a hunt; too many repairs of broken flesh and bone, torn flesh and ligaments, fractured flesh and spirits. Too many injuries, too many second-chances, too many times the reaper was held at bay as the Winchester luck and skill defeated evil. Before time finally ran out.

Now the stitches only ensured Sam healed in time for the next hunt. He no longer cared if they were neat and even, no longer worried that the scars marked his body like a ragged road map of his sins. Now he sought out the scars, the more the better. More proof of how ugly and messed up he now was, more evidence that he was damaged beyond all repair. A monster pieced together in a patchwork of pain and hate; a killer, a beast, a thing that only knew how to kill and maim and destroy.

Then Bobby called…again. Sam hadn't taken a call in months, couldn't bear to talk, couldn't stand to hear the sound of his own voice when Dean's voice had been silenced for too long, never to again call out to him…never again going to tease and taunt, never again going to call him Sammy. Sam couldn't bear to talk to Bobby, too many memories, too much guilt and pain.., just too much of everything.

He didn't want to feel, couldn't bear to remember, but the memories lingered, persistently nagging him, resurfacing each night when the adrenaline of the hunt subsided and the emptiness left him no refuge from the pain, never leaving him to his solitude. He remembered how he had wanted to hold on to every single moment with Dean, filing the images of his brother away for later. The Himalayas of memories to hold tight and treasure, but he never expected them to hurt so, to constantly gouge into his gut twisting and burning. He never expected to ultimately hope for a cataclysmic earthquake to topple that huge mountain of moments and just let him be, silent and empty and free.

Sam felt guilty for hoping the memories would fade, for wishing Dean would fall into that numbing black abyss that Jessica had finally surrendered to. If the memories had only brought him that warm feeling of contentment he wanted it would be so very different, but now Dean was haunting the shadows of his mind, silently watching, shaking his head in disappointment at how the darkness had finally claimed his brother. Sam couldn't bear the thought of failing Dean, in life, in death, in who he now was, what he had become.

He was never as strong as Dean. He'd known it, or at least suspected it all along, but Dean couldn't see it, instead insistently saying that Sam was the strong one, that he'd be fine. But Sam had always had his big brother to lean against, to support him, to encourage and guide him. Without Dean he was lost, untethered and floating free, unencumbered by morality or humanity or reason, tumbling downward in a tragic descent toward death… the impending death of every evil creature he encountered or himself… no difference.

I'm going to save you, Sammy, if it's the last thing I do… You hear me?

No, Dean… I don't. I can't hear you 'cause you're gone. You left me.

He only wanted to die and end this nightmare. Take down the trickster and as many other evil sons of bitches as he possibly could before his last breath was snuffed out. It was all he had to live for, killing and the hope that he would soon be killed.

That it would finally be over.

Then Bobby's final call came.

"Sam, it's Bobby. I found him."

Sam never expected to find hope in that phone call. All hope had deserted him months before, burnt black as his darkened heart and left behind amid the carnage. He couldn't even remember what it felt like to hope.

Quietly, it rose up, this stealthy foreign feeling… this hope. He shuttered his heart against it. Knew it was probably false hope, just the whisper of want that would soon grow cold and ugly like everything else in his life. There was no hope; he knew that…

Still, some unexplained force compelled him onward and he answered the call.

---

Bobby smiled when he first saw him. Threw his arms around him and murmured it was good to see him. Whispered that he broke his heart.

Sorry, Bobby…not responsible for your heart. Can't change the facts. Can't change who or what I've become… this is all there is. Sorry.

It was a business transaction.

Whatcha got, Bobby? What do we need? Okay, then. Let's do it.

A gallon of fresh blood. A human bled dry. Sad, I suppose… but necessary.

If there is even a slight chance of getting Dean back, then we do it. No question, no hesitation. Dean means the world. Dean is the world. Surely he's worth one innocent.

Like the last several months, life and death spiral out of control, perverting into a twisted tangle down a tragic trajectory and soon Bobby is lying dead on the floor, a wooden stake through his heart. But it's not Bobby, it's an apparition, a trick…

I know it's a trick.

Bobby? Bobby?! BOBBY!

My heart stirs after months of dormancy and the pain explodes. I was dead to the world and now everything is back crystal-sharp and it hurts…cutting and slicing, jagged bits of glass grinding into my heart, shattering my resolve, leaving me a trembling, shivering mass of pain. It's like watching Dean die all over again, but by my own hand. My heart rumbles in my chest, frantically thumping against my ribcage and my breath gasps out in shock.

Oh, God! What have I done?

Bobby! Bobby!

Just before I collapse to the floor in writhing regret, the body vanishes and I know he's here.

The trickster back to his old games.

If he's here, there's a chance. A chance for Dean.

Slowly I piece my heart back together, allowing one small glimmer of hope. Knowing if this request is denied then it will finally be over. I won't go on after this, I can't… not without Dean.

It's all or nothing.

Dean or…

Please… bring him back. Please.…

I don't understand what the trickster is saying, why he's saying it. The words swirl around me beyond my comprehension. All I hear is the hope whispering, my heart straining to understand what my brain refuses to hear. He's speaking in riddles, abstracts, when all I need is my brother back. All I need to hear is, 'Yes, you can have Dean back'.

He says this all stopped being fun months ago… and he thinks I'm the slow one?

I've never been one to beg, but I'm pleading now. Dean's worth it. Dean is everything and I have to get him back. He's my brother.

He spouts one last cryptic message before snapping his fingers.

"That's for me to know and you to find out."

I wake up to Back in Time with Huey and the News and I've never heard a more beautiful song, even if Dean scoffs at the choice.

I am back in time…

Dean's back.

Living, breathing, teasing…being Dean, and I can't control myself.

My love catapults me out of the bed and I grip him in a firm embrace, just like he hugged me when he first saw me rise from the dead, a mirror expression of that moment. I am holding on tight while he stands there, confused and curious. He knows only a fraction of what's just happened and I can't bring myself to reveal all the details. Just like he did back then, I ask him what he remembers and it is sketchy at best. His memories limited to discovering the trickster and knowing that I was stuck in a time loop. Just like me when I rose from the dead, he doesn't understand what I am feeling; but now I finally understand what he felt.

He sat in a cold room with my dead body, feeling he'd let me down, failed me… failed Dad. He did what he had to do and I finally understand. He would have done anything to bring his brother back and he did.

I would have done anything to bring Dean back and thankfully, I didn't have to. For some unknown reason, the trickster brought him back and gave me a second chance.

And I don't want to waste it.

"Dude, how many Tuesdays did you have?"

"Enough."

Too many…

I honestly tell him I don't remember… I lost count. What I don't tell him is the Wednesday that ended his life and mine too…the day my brother died and my heart shattered. I don't tell him of the long months on the road, killing and dying more with every breath. I can't tell him that. I can't tell him the day he died will live on in my heart forever…long after his demon deal comes due. I will now be cursed with a thousand and more days to remember the pain of losing my brother.

"Hey, you don't look so good. Somethin' else happen?"

I can't tell him the truth…I just can't, so I lie. "I just had a really weird dream."

"Clowns or midgets?" Dean smirks, cocky and bold, alive and safe.

I wish I could smile and revel in the joy of having him back. Maybe tomorrow. For now it's all too real, too painful, too tragic.

I follow him out of the motel room, the room of a thousand nightmares that will continue to live on a thousand times over. One last look and my eyes tear up, bleary and dulled by the pain.

Dean will never understand. He'll only know what I choose to tell him. Only know that he died, never know that I lived for six months after…six long months of devastation and gloom, alone and lost in the darkness. Months that will soon turn to years once Dean's contract is called and the hellhounds come for him.

For Dean, this was just another job. For me, this was the job that brought everything into sharper focus. What the future holds for Dean, and for me, weighed down by the thousand memories I'll relive every day for the rest of my life.

---

Coda:

Death, pain, loss. Both brothers doomed.

For one an eternity in Hell with fire and brimstone.

For the other a lifetime in hell here on earth.

Sam still didn't know what the trickster was trying to tell him. What that illusive lesson was.

Maybe all it could be is to hold on tight to what you have now, this minute, 'cause there are no guarantees. No promises aside from it can all be taken away in a heartbeat. One last, desperate heartbeat before your world ends and Hell welcomes you into the fires.

The End

bjxmas

April 2008

All standard disclaimers apply.

This story was published in May 2008 in the zine, Every Possible Way.

Thanks for reading, reviews would be very nice. Take care, B.J.