Two Minutes to Midnight
A/N: For KKBELVIS, to say thanks for being awesome. (Toby's still carrying around the wee sheep, and, yes, we will use the handprint kit, just as soon as we find a moment to do it. Hugs and best wishes!) I'm sorry I couldn't write a happier story for you – this isn't my usual style but the idea just came to me and I had to follow it.
That said, I have to warn that this is a death fic. It goes AU after All Hell Breaks Loose and explores the idea of the crossroad demon only offering Dean one day with Sam.
"One day. Take it or leave it. And I'll give you a whole year, just out of the goodness of my heart."
"No... No, just... if he only gets a day, then that's all I want."
"So eager. Suit yourself, Dean-o."
Dean was acting weird. Sam couldn't put his finger on it exactly. Obviously it had something to do with the miraculously healed wound on his back but when he asked Dean had just grinned, a strained, faded version of his usual smirk, and said, "Magick, Sammy. Don't look a gift horse in the mouth," and Sam had heard the underlying, 'Don't ask me about that, Sammy. You don't want to know,' loud and clear.
Sam had some theories, of course. There were a number of things that could fix an injury like that, some good and some bad, and it was totally his intention to find out what exactly Dean had done (because someone had to make sure his brother wasn't getting in over his head) but... the way Dean had hugged him was enough to give him reason to wait. The relief that had soaked Dean's being, that bled into Sam at the contact, told Sam that what had happened, it had been bad, must have been close-to-dying bad, and if Dean couldn't bring himself to talk about it just yet, well, Sam could hold off on the questions.
Pushing Dean never worked anyway. So Sam was silent (mostly) and looked for clues and tried to piece it together himself. There was something desperate and on edge in the way Dean moved and talked, the way he blocked Sam's questions about Jake and the Yellow-Eyed Demon and why they were doing nothing when it seemed obvious to Sam that something big had gone down and maybe something bigger was about to go down.
Dean was acting weird, and Sam told himself that he was waiting his brother out, but a part of him murmured that maybe he was scared of what he'd find out if he pushed.
"Do you trust me, Sam?"
"Yeah, but shouldn't we -"
"Sam! Do you trust me?"
"Then trust me when I say, all this... all this crap, it can wait 'til tomorrow."
Dean drove two hours to this small diner that Sam remembered them stopping in a couple of months back. He didn't usually remember specific diners because they ate at so many different ones every week. They all tended to get rolled up in his head into a single generic diner, where there was always a waitress Dean hit on called Mindy or Cindy or Wendy or any two syllable name ending in a 'Y', and there was always a young couple flirting a few tables away and an overweight trucker type sitting by himself in a corner booth. The people were the same, the menu's were the same, the décor, the coffee, all the same.
But Sam remembered this one because the burgers had been perfect; the meat not dripping with grease, the salad fresh and the buns weren't stale. Dean had raved about the pie all the way to their next gig and they sold what Dean called 'girly' coffee, the kind Sam liked, not just standard coffee and milk. So, yeah, it was good, but two hours of driving good?
Sam raised his eyebrows at his brother. "Any particular reason we drove all the way here?"
Dean looked at him and he still had that strange mixed expression of desperation and something else that Sam couldn't figure out.
"I wanted some pie," he said simply, propelling Sam towards the diner with a hand on his back.
Sam shook his head, perplexed, added 'excessive physical contact' to his mental list of Ways Dean's Acting Strange but just said, "You're worse than a pregnant chick with a craving, you know that?"
"But... we never have days off."
"Well, we're having one now."
"Are you sure this is the best time for it? 'Cause Dean-"
"Stop thinking so much, Sammy."
Dean seemed content to spend most of the day in the Impala, driving apparently aimlessly and breaking his own rule by letting Sam pick the music, and, though it wasn't particularly odd for Dean to enjoy spending hours in the car, Sam added it to his list anyway.
Dean kept the conversation light, managing to draw Sam into debates over which cartoon character he'd prefer to sleep with (Dean's choice; Lois Griffen, because apparently she's pretty kinky) and what the first guy who milked a cow was thinking and, surprisingly, what he thought was really going on on LOST (Sam hadn't realized that his brother had noticed that he still followed the show, let alone Dean watching it himself).
After a few hours of this... Sam hesitated to call it bonding, and added the brotherly moments to his list also... Dean pulled in at a bar, slightly more upper class than usual, meaning it wasn't full of smoke so thick you could barely breathe and the usual motorbikes – and accompanied tough biker types – were absent.
Sam knew that their cash supplies were dwindling, so he figured Dean was keen to hustle some pool but surprisingly, Dean waved off any potential challengers, spent what Sam guessed was probably their last bit of money on whiskey shots for the two of them, and they played pool for fun. Sam couldn't even remember the last time they'd done that.
His list was getting longer but he still wasn't reaching any conclusions.
"Are you sure there's nothing going on that you need to tell me about?" he asked, leaning on his pool cue as Dean lined up his next shot.
"Dunno what you're talking about, Sammy." Dean feigned oblivion, concentrating on his task.
Sam chewed his lip hesitantly. "You'd tell me, right? If it was important?"
Dean's shot missed by a fraction of an inch. He stood there for a moment, tracking the ball's rebound across the table. Worry gnawed fitfully at Sam's stomach.
"Sam..." Dean started, and his voice broke on the word. He coughed, clearing his throat, and ran a hand over his face. Sam clenched his pool cue tighter.
"I'll explain everything tomorrow," Dean said finally, looking up from the table. His haunted gaze almost made Sam flinch. He felt his breathing hitch. "Okay? Tomorrow. Just... lets have one good day. Please?"
Dean never said please. Sam nodded mutely and didn't ask again.
"I'm just saying, is all. Just... that's where I'll be. And Bobby, uh... Sam will be with me, too."
"Sam...? What did you do, Dean? What'd you do? Dean? Dean!"
When it got dark Dean drove out into the middle of no where, Sam asleep in the passenger seat.
Dean liked driving at night, on half-forgotten roads. Without any other traffic and only the light of the stars it was easy to pretend that the world was compacted down into the inside of the Impala, that it was just him and Sam, his foot on the accelerator and the heavy tones of his music.
He parked at the top of a look-out, so secluded and far from civilization that he wondered why anyone had bothered to set it up, unless it was made for moments like these.
Dean took a moment to breathe, hands still clenched on the steering wheel, before he took the opportunity to watch Sam undisturbed, to memorize the details, the way his hair fanned over his face, the faint scar under his right ear from an angry poltergeist when Sam was 17, to take in the gentle rise and fall of his chest in the moonlight.
Time was ticking down. Dean reached over to shake his little brother awake.
Sam blinked slowly, frowning slightly as he took in their surroundings and Dean's hand, still on his shoulder.
"No motel room?" he asked, raising an eyebrow.
Dean grinned easily, or tried to anyway. "No, not tonight. C'mon."
He was out of the car before Sam could ask any more questions, pausing to snag the six pack from under his seat. Hoisting himself up onto the hood of the Impala, he didn't have to look to know that Sam was following. Instead, he gazed out at the land stretched before them, the dark empty roads, the lights of a distant town and the deep black sky sprinkled with stars.
He passed Sam a beer and opened one for himself and they sat there for a long time without talking.
"We've saved a lot of people," Dean said finally, surprising himself.
Sam seemed thrown by the comment, too. "Yeah, I guess."
Dean turned to his brother, suddenly desperate for more than vague acknowledgment.
"No, really." He gestured with his beer can to the world laid out in front of them. "There's people, so many people, who are alive because of us. Because we... we gave up everything for them. That means something, Sam. That has to count for something."
Sam looked from the stars to Dean, uncertainty flickering in his eyes. "You're kind of freaking me out, Dean."
Dean deflated slightly, running a – not shaking, nope, definitely not – hand through his hair. He took a long gulp from his beer to calm himself – Stop scaring Sam – and looked back at the stars.
"I'm just saying," he said. "We did good."
Sam nodded slowly, brow furrowing the way it did when he was trying hard to work something out, but all he said was, "Yeah, we did."
Dean could feel his brothers gaze searching his face for answers he wasn't prepared to give and hoped he was managing to keep his expression sufficiently neutral.
"Why do you keep doing that?'
"Looking at your watch. You got somewhere you need to be?"
"No. Got everything I need right here, Sammy."
Two minutes to midnight.
Sam was half-drunk and already listing to the side. It wasn't hard for Dean to throw an arm over his shoulders and pull him closer.
"Light-weight," Dean teased gently, easing them both back so they were stretched out over the hood, backs against the windscreen.
"Shuddup," Sam muttered, but he leaned into Dean's hold anyway, head resting on his shoulder.
"It's been a good day," Dean said aloud, nodding as if to confirm it to himself. "Just you and me, Sammy."
"Yeah, it has," Sam murmured. He was falling asleep against Dean's side but made an effort to blink his eyes open, looking up at Dean through a curtain of hair. "You're gonna explain all this to me, right? Why you've been acting like this?"
Dean put his hand to the side of Sam's face, drawing him closer, tucking his head under his chin.
"Of course, Sammy," he soothed absently, smoothing Sam's hair."Tomorrow. I'll explain everything. Don't worry about it now."
Dean cleared his throat, blinking back the sudden moisture in his eyes. "I love you, Sammy. You know that, right?"
Sam huffed a small laugh, "Now who's drunk?"
"Seriously... yeah, I love you, too, jerk."
Dean closed his eyes, sucking in a deep breath. Beside him he felt Sam's chest rise and fall and fail to rise again. He could hear howling getting closer and closer.
And he couldn't bring himself to regret a thing.