This story was previously published in the zine, Every Possible Way (2008), Agent With Style
K Hanna Korossy
Every day, he got a little bit closer. Learned a little more, added to his mental notes of what to avoid. If he just got enough of the list down, they could still beat this. The hope—the belief—was the only way he kept himself sane.
Simple toiletries were deathtraps. Dean had busted his head open in the shower, electrocuted himself with the razor, and choked on toothpaste. So far he'd dressed without a fatality, but Sam was keeping a close eye on his tie and belt, and the weapons he usually tucked away on his person.
Going out for food was also fraught with danger. Besides breakfast at the diner—and the less said about that, the better—Dean had been held up, been locked in the freezer when they caught the diner cook skimming, had slipped in the puddle left by a guy washing the windows of the Burger King, and Sam still wasn't sure what exactly had happened in the KFC bathroom. Dean wasn't allowed to go out for food anymore.
Driving anywhere in the car was out of the question, actually. A simple cross-town trip one night had ended badly when Dean spotted the town judge, of all people, dressed in a bunny costume in the window of his house, and had crashed the car into a telephone pole in his surprise. Death had been instantaneous, going by how quickly Sam had found himself awakening in bed after.
Other people were unpredictable liabilities to be avoided. Calling Bobby only netted them voicemail, and after the cell shocked Dean into falling over and hitting his head against the nightstand, they didn't try reaching anyone again. Ditto with attempting to leave town. Sam had never realized just how many hazards there were on the road.
Even Sam's decision one morning that they should stay in bed for the day, more out of being unable to face Dean dying again than out of any kind of coherent plan, hadn't lasted long. Sam would have asked who on earth could manage to strangle themselves with sheets, except, apparently, Dean could.
And he'd never, ever tell anyone about the few times he'd killed Dean accidentally, although he would never forget a single moment.
So Dean kept dying. And Sam got a little more frenzied every day, more terrified and exhausted and numb and crazy. But his brother had to be right that the only way out of the loop was to make it to midnight with both of them—read: Dean—still alive. And so, the thought Sam rose with every day, the only reason he could make himself get out of bed at all, was that maybe today he'd avoid every trap, every possible danger out there. Maybe today he'd stop seeing that bewildered look in Dean's eyes right before the life went out of them.
And then Dean bit into a taco, one they'd had delivered in, and frowned. "Do these tacos taste funny to you?"
Sam's queasy, knotted stomach took a nosedive.
Dean was already rubbing his stomach when Sam finished his well-practiced sit-rep. His brother's eyebrows had climbed almost to his hairline and had yet to come down, but even though Dean clearly thought he was nine kinds of crazy, he wasn't arguing. In fact, Sam knew the look that was crowded in with the doubt: sympathy. Because whether he believed Sam or not, he could see Sam was really upset, and that was a reality Dean could understand.
"Okay," he said slowly. "So, we just go to a hospital. They should be able to…pump my stomach or something." He grimaced at the thought, but his hand was rubbing harder over his belly now and his face had gone a little pasty.
Sam sat on the bed across from him, a bed he never bothered to make anymore nor found any rest in. He shook his head. "Toxins can already be in your blood. If it's going to be over before midnight," Sam swallowed, "it's probably something fast-hitting." And, he didn't add, if Dean was going to die, Sam wanted him with him, not in an impersonal hospital room.
Dean was chewing on his lip. "No cure?"
Sam shook his head mutely.
There was a moment, then Dean gave a bark of laughter. "So this is it? Food poisoning? Not exactly how I wanted to go out, dude."
Sam mustered what he was pretty sure was a sickly smile. "If it's any comfort, you've been shot trying to stop a hold-up and hit by a car."
Dean perked up. "Really? A car? Was it—?"
"No, it wasn't cool like in the movies," Sam said shortly.
Dean's eyes sobered, studying him. "You're serious, aren't you? Every day, I die?"
Sam hunched into himself. No matter how many times it happened, how temporary he knew it was, it still hurt. "Yeah."
"And soon as I die, you wake up."
"You're sure? I mean, there's no question this isn't a dream or hallucination or something."
"Christo," Sam said softly, as he leaned forward and whacked the side of Dean's head.
The hand left his stomach to press against his head. "Ow! Sam, what the—?"
"Does that feel like a dream?" Sam asked. He dug his wrists between his knees when he realized he was shaking. "Dean, I've watched you die forty-seven times already. I wouldn't say it if I wasn't sure."
Dean nodded distantly, eyes somewhere past Sam's head, the heel of his hand kneading his abdomen now. "Okay. All right. So…" He suddenly looked back at Sam, smiling, small but quiet. "You wanna go get me a soda from the machine outside? I mean, just in case a car jumps the curb and gets me on the sidewalk or something?"
Sam blinked. Somehow, he'd expected more of a fight. "Uh, yeah. Sure." He stood, hovering uncertainly a moment, rolling his eyes when Dean reached a dollar bill to him. "I've got it." He headed toward the door, uncertain and not sure why.
Until his eyes fell on the weapons duffel just inside the threshold, and something new went cold and hard inside him.
Sam turned back sharply. "No, Dean."
Dean cocked his head. "No soda?"
Rage, pure and raw, flooded him. "You think, what, you'll just take care of it while I'm out? Gunshot to the head, Dean, or maybe a knife?"
Dean's expression didn't shift at all. "Soon as I'm gone, it resets, right? Why wait, dude? Just gimme a minute, Sammy." It was said gently.
Sam's jaw trembled, and he stalked back to Dean with just a few strides. "No! No, damn you, we're not doing this, Dean. Don't you think I've thought about it, just blowing your brains out first thing in the morning, not go through the agony of waiting, seeing what it'll be this time? But when does it stop, then? How many times do you think I can survive seeing you die, or knowing you…" Sam choked on the words. Because in forty-seven Tuesdays, it had never been Dean's choice, never this conversation.
And despite the agony of waiting, it had always been too fast, not too slow.
Dean stared up at him a moment. Then he reached up a hand—clammy, it was already clammy—and clasped it around the back of Sam's neck. "Okay. We'll fight it then." He shook Sam lightly, like a bitch its pup, and offered a shade of his usual cocky grin. "We only have to make it, what, another…ten hours? Piece o' cake, man."
It should have been all manner of bravado and jinxing, but just like forty-six other times, Sam found himself believing Dean.
That was the only other thing that was keeping him sane.
He knew the TV schedule by heart, already knew when Simpsons would be on and Oprah and grainy reruns of The A-Team.
Sam was on his brother's bed, sitting up against the headboard with Dean lying down next to him on his side. His breathing was irregular, and Sam had been watching the color drain from his face for the last half-hour, but Dean hadn't said a word that wasn't related to what they were watching.
"Dude, don't." Dean sounded a little breathless, but still strong.
Sam swallowed and nodded, gaze returning to the TV.
"Dad liked Hannibal."
Sam startled back against the wall. "He did?"
Dean's mouth curled a little. "Said he was a good leader."
Sam scoffed a little at that, but this wasn't the time to talk about Dad and leadership. "Remember when you used to pretend you were Face?" Before they'd started actually living the con life.
"Remember when you used…t'sound like Murdock?"
The protest was on his tongue—mad Murdock had always appealed more to Dean than to Sam—but the catch in Dean's voice registered first. Sam frowned, leaning over him. "Dean?"
His brother groaned, shoving weakly at the sheets. "Sammy, gonna hurl."
Sam scrambled for the trashcan that had already been prepared, climbing over Dean's body even as he held a shaking shoulder with one hand and the receptacle with the other. He settled down on the edge of the bed, Dean's knees bumping his hip as his brother contracted into a ball. Sam talked low to him until Dean relaxed back into the pillow, looking almost as white as the linens. His eyes were bloodshot and pained as they returned to Sam, but there was fight in them.
Sam wriggled his nose, keeping emotions back. "Dean, I can…we've got enough morphine that you don't have to be awake for this."
Dean gave him a small smile. "Tired of me…already, Sammy?"
But it was said with such affection, Sam couldn't answer past the lump that rose in his throat.
"Hey." Dean patted Sam's kneecap. "'M still here. And I'm gonna be…here again, right?"
Sam nodded wordlessly.
"Good. Right. So…" Dean cleared his throat. It rattled. "We can do this. But…s'okay if it gets to be…too much for you, all right? I understand. Do what you gotta do, dude." And the look he gave Sam left no doubt what he meant.
Sam bit his lip hard to keep from breaking down completely.
"Hey." A strengthless backhand against his leg. "Wonder if this counts as part of my year?"
And Sam didn't know whether to laugh or sob.
He'd been wrong before. The daily waiting and rubber band-snap deaths weren't Hell. This was.
"Try to breathe slower, Dean," Sam coached quietly as he rubbed the washcloth over and down the pallid face. "Hyperventilating's only gonna make it worse."
Dean made a skeptical noise, but he had no more energy for sarcasm than that. "Can't get…worse'n— God! Sam-my." His voice hitched on the last, twisting into a whimper as his body curled even tighter into itself.
He almost crushed Sam's hand that was pressed against his belly, trying to massage it. It seemed to help a little, and a little was all Sam could hope for anymore. But he kept trying, kneading in careful circles while he bent low to talk to Dean. "You want it now?"
Sam closed his eyes, forehead brushing his brother's temple. "Dean…," he whispered.
Dean groaned, body shaking. The sheets he was wound in were wet with sweat, but he kept burrowing into them in search of relief. "No." He shook his head, or maybe it was a spasm. "No, Sam."
Sam's face folded, but he nodded and reached for the washcloth again. "All right. Just try to relax then, okay? I'm here." Dean had to know that; his hands were locked around Sam's leg in a bruising grip, pride left long behind. But helpless to do anything else, Sam repeated the few words he knew would bring comfort to his brother. "I'm here, I'm not going anywhere. It'll be over soon."
Soon being the operating word. It was…not even three hours since Dean had calmly offered to kill himself to save them both a lengthy death. Whatever he'd gotten from that damned taco was roaring through him like a freaking steam locomotive. By the time The A-Team ended, he was too weak to sit up. Another hour, and he'd started hacking up blood, body constantly cramped with pain.
It was then Sam had repeated the offer of morphine…or the gun. But while Dean didn't fight him on anything, the blanket permission still standing—do what you gotta do—he wasn't going to choose it. Dean didn't have it in him to go down without a fight. Not with Sam still at his side.
Dean whined low in his throat, a ragged, wounded sound, and pawed at the hand Sam had clamped against his stomach.
"Easy, Dean, ea— Oh, God." Panting had become retching again, and he angled Dean to the side of the bed again, hand cupped against the sweat-slicked hair and forehead. Sam didn't even bother with the trashcan anymore, just watched the bloody saliva dot the carpet, then bent to whisper in Dean's ear. "It's okay. It'll be okay. Gonna be over soon, man, just…"
What, hang in there? Sam's throat hitched. When had he started wishing for Dean's death? His eyes strayed over to the weapons duffel again, then he squeezed them shut. He couldn't do it. Couldn't do that, but…
"Let it go, Dean, all right?" Sam murmured. "Don't fight it."
Dean's fingertips ground into his thigh as his body jackknifed.
Sam dashed an arm across his brimming eyes. "Don't fight, please. For once in your life, don't fight for me."
He might as well have been asking for it to be Wednesday already.
"…believe I knew every question. They thought I was some kind of child prodigy or something." Sam huffed a soft laugh. "Didn't even try to tell them there isn't a lot to do besides read when you spend half your childhood in a car. Although, Jess—"
Dean groaned weakly, head rolling on the pillow.
Sam peeled the compress off his forehead. "Getting hot, huh?" he said softly, dunking the material in the basin on the nightstand and wringing it out before replacing it. "That better?"
One or two of the pained grooves in the map of Dean's face eased.
"I know," Sam whispered, sliding knuckles over skin that had grown drawn and grey the last hour. "Not much longer now, Dean. I'm gonna wake up soon."
A cough turned into a feeble choke, and Sam slid an arm under the limp weight of his brother, turning him onto his side, letting the pooling blood drain out, then wiping his mouth with the edge of the sheet. The line between Dean's brows deepened, a soft hiss of sound escaping bloody lips. It sounded like an "S." Sam.
"I'm here." Sam worked one of his hands into Dean's limp one lying on top of the covers. Sometime while he'd been away at school, his hands had grown bigger than his brother's, but they still fit, the few times Dean had been worried enough to take Sam's. "I'm here, big brother."
Dean's lips moved soundlessly, closed eyes pinched with pain even in semi-consciousness.
Dusky, dying beams of sunlight streamed in through the half-closed blinds, playing over Dean's hollowed eyes and sharp cheekbones. There'd never been time before for this, for death to really settle in to stay: it had been all ambushes and lightning-fast attacks so far, Dean gone almost before Sam could grasp it. No time for good-byes and mourning and this deep-set anguish before it was morning and Dean was back again and Sam could almost fool himself into thinking it was all a nightmare.
Never time to make it past denial, to anger and depression and bargaining and the pain.
Dean shuddered, his suffering a soft sound, all he had strength left for.
Sam changed the compress again, keeping his eyes carefully averted from the weapons duffel. Wondering idly what would happen if he killed himself. Would the loop just repeat again? Maybe start offing him every day? He almost longed for it, except there was no way he could do that to Dean. It would kill his brother just as surely as Tuesdays in this godforsaken town were.
Dean's eyes flickered open, staring dully at Sam as an involuntary tear rolled down into his damp hair.
Sam kicked off his shoes and eased himself behind Dean, wrapping an arm across the rigid abdomen. This was the comfort of his childhood: not his dad's lap or his mother's caress, but his brother's arms after a nightmare. He curled around behind Dean, felt the flutter of fading life under the cool skin.
"I'm here. I've got you, man. I won't let go, so you can if you want. I'll be waiting, Dean."
His brother's breathing hitched.
Sam closed his eyes and buried them in the nape of Dean's neck, tears getting lost in the sweat of dying battle. "I won't let go."
And he didn't until Dean did, his final breath sighing out of him as the sunset dwindled outside.
Sam just clung tighter and wept.
"…heat of the moment…"
Sam's eyes shot open, and he gasped in air that was free of sickness and blood and the damp chill of death.
Movement caught his eye. He turned his head slowly to find his brother tying his boot on the edge of the other bed. Dean—whole, alive, healthy—grinned at the sight of Sam, and opened his mouth to speak.
The rush of emotion was no more controllable than a tidal wave. Sam barely had time to turn away from Dean before the first sob broke out of him. He clamped his jaw shut, trying to hide his crumbling state.
There was a moment of silence, only that idiotic song filling the space between them. Then suddenly the music clicked off and the bed dipped behind Sam. A hand cupped warm and steady over his shoulder. "Sam? What's the matter with you? You okay?"
He was too busy trying to breathe through the sorrow and pain and relief that gushed out of him to do more than shake his head against the pillow. His body tightened like a bow from the pressure in his chest.
"Sammy?" Dean's voice had fallen, strong and worried about him. "Are you hurt? C'mon, bro, you're freaking me out here."
But he couldn't stop even for that, just felt himself crack open a little wider, weeks of grief demanding release.
Dean made a small grumbling sound, then an arm wormed under Sam. "You're getting too big for this, Sasquatch," he muttered, but he dragged Sam's heaving form up against his own. "Hey, if this is because I made fun of your hair yesterday…"
With a laugh that bordered on hysteria, Sam threw an arm over his brother's shoulder, buried himself in Dean's willing shoulder, and hiccupped out his tears.
"Sam…" Dean pressed the back of his head, gave his back a few helpless pats, then apparently decided he wasn't going to get anything more out of Sam for the moment and just supported him in silence, body stiff with worry.
Sam wept until he was empty, heavy and dull against Dean's wet clothes. There was a moment of déjà vu—the thought drew a wet almost-chuckle from him—to Dean sweating, dying. And then memory retreated self-defensively. It was a new day. A new start.
A new way for Dean to die.
Sam knotted his hand in the back of his brother's shirt, eyes pressing tight against an unbearable truth. If he didn't see it, it wasn't there, like when he was a kid. And right now, Dean was there, safe, alive.
The tears were slow and silent this time.
"Hey." Dean's shoulder hitched gently under him. "The flood over yet?"
Sam's head rocked up and down a little.
"Is…this about Jessica?" Dean asked carefully.
Sam couldn't help the laugh this time, even if it still sounded a little wild. He finally drew away from Dean, feeling his brother's reluctance to let him go. Swallowing hard, Sam slumped against the wall, tipped his head back, shut his eyes. And then, voice hoarse and breaking, he told Dean everything.
Everything except the gun.
There was a long silence. Then, disbelieving, "Forty-eight times?"
Sam croaked a "yeah."
"Huh. How…?" Sam pried an eye open and turned his head just enough to look at Dean, who quickly shut up. "So…you've been up for seven weeks straight?"
Sam's brow furrowed. He hadn't even thought of that. "I-I think I…I don't know, reset somehow, too." It wasn't like he'd eaten much in all those partial days, either. And his stomach would be a sieve by now from all the acid.
Dean nudged him. "Yeah, well, your head's not resetting—no wonder you're cracking, dude. You've gotta be wiped."
Sam scoffed; yeah, that was the only reason he was losing it. But now that Dean mentioned it, Sam didn't think he had the energy left to stand, let alone walk and talk and think. The edges of his thoughts ran like warm molasses, and his head ached from tears and grief. "I can't sleep," Sam muttered, prying his eyelids up. "Dean, you'll—"
"Listen, Sam, I'm just gonna sit right here, okay?" Dean said, pointing to the other bed. "I won't go anywhere, won't even move, all right? No getting myself killed until you get up."
It was so ridiculous and painful and Dean, that Sam sputtered a tearful laugh.
Dean shook his leg. "Hey. You start again and I'm gonna bitch-slap you, dude. I'm not even kidding."
Sam sighed, rolling down to his side, flat on the bed. He felt Dean pull the blanket up over him, his palm warm on Sam's back even through the layers.
"We'll figure it out, Sammy," Dean said quietly.
Sam's chest tightened. How many times had Dean promised him that already? "I know," Sam whispered back, because he still needed to believe it. The release had only put the promise of insanity off, not erased it.
His back was patted, then the bed creaked as Dean rose, the other one rustling as he settled on it. Sam knew if he opened his eyes, he'd see that same look of mixed doubt and worry Dean had given him every other time they'd had this talk. But he would do this for Sam, and that was enough.
He fell asleep to Dean's quiet breathing, like he hadn't done in far too long.
"…heat of the moment…"
Sam peeled his eyes open, staring groggily at the ceiling. It felt like he'd been pulled from a deep sleep.
Memory filtered in, and Sam swallowed a groan; apparently Dean had either gotten impatient or had managed to off himself with sheets and blankets again, maybe the knife under the pillow. So much for not getting himself killed until Sam woke up.
But Dean had managed to stay alive long enough that Sam had gotten some rest. Weariness no longer fogged his head, and his body didn't feel like he was underwater. Still drowning, but Sam thought he could swim for a while again now.
"Rise and shine, Sammy!"
Sam opened his eyes and turned his head to see Dean grinning at him.
He took a breath and pushed himself up. It wasn't like he needed to keep going much longer; they'd figure this out any day now. Sam returned his brother's smile wanly. And at least he didn't have to do it alone.
He got up, and faced the new-old day.