fixes in time

"I can give you what you want," the woman said, "but of course, there is a price." Lapped in waves of silk and hair, she seemed untouchably remote and strange, as much a creature of legend and fairytale as any of the things Dean hunted.

Of course, the things they hunted were all horror underneath, but it wasn't going to be like that with this woman. Dean had checked with people. (But not with Bobby. Bobby was kind of hardline about some things, and he didn't want to open a whole box of hurt.) This woman was harsh and she was arbitrary, but she wasn't evil: she wasn't like the crossroads demons or any of their family. She was just . . . different.

"Of course there is," Dean said boldly. "I wouldn't expect anything else. Tell me what it is and I'll meet it."

"For your brother to lose the demon blood addiction . . ." She traced one of the patterns on her cushions with the tip of a long-nailed finger. "Easy enough. The price is that it's never offered to him. Will that do?"

"That'll be great," Dean said, taken aback by how utterly simple it was. "And that's all?"

"There is one more thing," the woman said.

The woman was totally perfect. It was so much of a contrast to the way that Dean and Sam were these days that it was painful. Perhaps the angels could have helped, but Dean didn't want their fucking help. They hadn't been there for Sam when Dean had been dead. Nobody had been there. And Sam had pushed himself over the edge and then burned the ladder after him. He'd gone down like a fucking house of cards and Dean had nobody to blame for it but himself, because he'd been gone and Sam had been alone.

And now Sam sat there and let himself be jerked around like some sort of doll, and there wasn't any Sammy behind his eyes any longer.

Well, fuck that. Dean had found someone who could help. He'd found this woman. He'd pay whatever it took.

"I need you to fix things," he said. "I need you to make it so that I didn't leave him alone. It doesn't matter if I cheat Hell. They're cheats anyhow. I paid my soul to have Sammy alive, but this isn't alive, so they've already gone back in the deal."

"That makes perfect sense," the woman said sadly, toying with her glass of whiskey. "And I can do that, certainly. A bargain broken is a bargain broken. But there will be a price."

"I'll pay it," Dean said.

The woman nodded. "Then there will be no bargain. And - there is one more thing."

The dead could be brought back. That was a fact.

Dean wasn't going to try selling his soul to the demons. Also a fact. Demons - the yellow-eyed demon in particular - were the ones who'd set this up, who'd got Sammy killed. They wouldn't just send him back again.

So he'd come across the world, following clues like breadcrumbs, to this house in - in somewhere, he was fuzzy about the details when he tried to remember - where this woman in pretty robes with a cleavage to die for promised him that she could bring Sammy back, oh yes, if that was what he really wanted. There would just be this little price thing involved.

"A price?" Dean said. His head swam with possibilities.

"It just takes one little tweak," the woman said, "and what has been will now have been something else. And it'll always have been that way. You get there that little bit earlier because you weren't somewhere else."

Dean was already nodding before she'd finished. "Yes. Yes, I can do that -"

"And," the woman said, "there is one more thing."

"What do I want?" Dean said. "I want Sammy to come to his senses. He thinks that he can manage on his own, but he's so fucking wrong. I've talked to Gordon, I've tried to explain to him that Sammy isn't some kind of fricking Antichrist, I don't know where he gets these ideas, but he won't listen and there's nobody else I can talk to. Dad's dead. I don't know any other hunters. It's just me and Sammy and Gordon, and if Sammy doesn't smarten up then he's going to get us all killed."

The woman sighed. "And the vampires don't help, do they?"

Dean looked at her suspiciously. "How do you know about the vampires?"

She waved a graceful, long-fingered hand. "It's my business to know."

Dean took a long breath, centering himself. "Okay. Look, if Sammy hadn't got these crazy ideas after Dad died - if Dad hadn't died -" He couldn't help the note of begging in his voice. "They say you can fix anything. Can you fix that?"

"For a price," the woman said. "A price, and a single thing on top of that."

Dean had followed the other ghosts to the woman's house. He had seen them go in. He hadn't seen any go out. When he entered, it was with the Colt's comforting weight in his hand. That stayed with him, whether he was alive or dead.

She was waiting for him in a lavish lounge all hung with silks, with cushions piled on the floor like marshmallows.

"I hear you do requests," he said.

She raised an eyebrow. "Where did you hear that?"

"The other ghosts told me." He didn't point the gun at her. Yet. "I need your help."

"Your brother," she said, and raised delicate fingers to her mouth to cover a yawn. "Oh, don't look so surprised. Word gets around."

Dean tasted anger and desperation. "It's not his fault!" he yelled. "He's - he was just trying to help me when I wanted him to help find Dad, he's not to blame! And now he's -"

"Killing people," the woman said, "and ghosts, and vampires, and anything that reminds him of the brother who died in his place. And your father can't stop him."

"So I have to," Dean said. "I have to save him. You can do that, right?"

The woman sighed and lowered her head. "Yes. Yes, I can do that. You aren't even going to ask the price, are you?"

"The hell with prices," Dean said. "Save my brother."

"Very well," the woman said. "It'll cost you the world. And a pair of ice skates."

"I don't get it," Dean said.

"You never do," the woman answered.

She met him at the door, her long silk gown trailing behind her, one hand clasped loosely round the neck of a whiskey bottle.

"I hear you can do anything," Dean said.

She sighed. "I can, but sometimes it hardly seems worth the effort. How does your brother need saving this time?"

"That's a very specific question," Dean said suspiciously.

"It has a very specific answer," the woman retorted. "What do you want this time? Is he to be spared from the demon possession fever? Does his girlfriend live? Does your mother live? Does your grandfather live?"

Dean stood there blinking. "Wait, you mean you can fix all that? You just wave your hand and everything gets fixed?"

She threw the bottle at him.

He ducked.

"Listen," she said, slowly and patiently. "I could spend the rest of my life fixing the world to make it the way that you want it to be, and it will never be good enough for you. There is a flaw in the world, Dean, and it has your shape, because Sam cannot be saved so long as you keep on sacrificing yourself to save him, and he sacrifices himself to save you, and so on, world without end. The two of you make a hole, and the darkness comes in. Do you understand?"

Dean frowned. "All I'm understanding is that you're saying you can't help."

She leaned against the doorway and sighed. "You're right. I can't help."

"Then I've got no business here," Dean said, and turned away.

"There is a price," the woman said.

"For what? You didn't do anything."

"Call it a consultation fee," the woman said. She opened her hand. Something like a pearl shone in the hollow of her palm. "A thousand visits, a thousand memories, and a thousand prices. Go back to where we started and try again. But don't try me. You're hell on my alcohol bill."

Dean frowned. "Hey, wait just one moment -"

"Sammy," Dean said, "we have to talk about this demon blood thing. You have a problem. And there's nobody but you who can fix it."