A week passed at Bobby's.
Ellen left to find Jo the day after they got back, with promises to keep an ear to the ground and an eye out for anything that might help with any of ther their many, many problems. Even though the burden of knowing that a whole army of demons had escaped from hell on their watch was bad enough and would have warranted immediate action, demons were the least of their problems in Dean's book.
All he cared about was saving Sam – the world could go ahead and screw itself for all he cared. If … no … when Sam was back to his old self, then he might find it in him to give a damn about hunting down and killing as many of those sons-of-bitches as he could before his expiration date came up at the end of his year. Until then though, his priority was clear and he wasn't about to give up on finding a solution, even if every sign pointed to only one terrible outcome.
Dean watched as each day Sam's body broke down more and more, and he grew more desperate than ever to find a solution. By the end of that week, Sam's skin had lost almost all of its elasticity and taken on a dark, wrinkled appearance while it clung tight to his thinning muscles. Sam's previous muscular build was wasting away.
While the bloat that usually comes with decomposition never happened as Sam had feared most, probably because he was still able to move around and release whatever gases might build up inside of him, most everything else he had been worried about started to happen. No matter how much he tried to wash – Sam gave off the distinct and powerful odor of death, and it got to be so bad that Sam took to staying outdoors almost all of the time.
The problem with his exposure to the outdoors, however, was trying to keep insects that were attracted to his decaying flesh from finding a new home on him. The only solution they had found to that was to douse him daily with liberal amounts of insect repellant and insecticide, which did little to help with his odor issues.
Those problems aside, the most distressing development of all had come only hours ago as Sam called out for Dean from his almost permanent perch on the front porch bench. Dean came hurriedly, hearing the panic rising in Sam's voice and when he made it to his little brother's side, he found his brother stumbling across the porch, his hands stretched out before him as his eyes - God, his eyes – stared out sightlessly, completely covered in a thick, white film. Sam was completely blind.
They knew it was coming – Sam's vision had grown hazier and hazier with each day, but the reality of it all had taken them both by surprise, and all Dean could do was guide Sam back to the bench and hold him as he sobbed without shedding any tears.
Guilt and helplessness held Dean firmly in a vice grip. Each night he went to the crossroads after Sam fell asleep and repeated the process of trying to summon the demon, but the bitch never showed. And Dean knew that she never would – he didn't have anything left that hell would want. His soul was already forfeit, but he had to do something … he couldn't just sit around and watch Sam slide further and further away.
Because it wasn't just Sam's body that was being destroyed, but his soul as well – the longer his body decayed the less of 'Sam' Dean saw. He was trapped in his own body and it was only a matter of time before it shattered his mind or drove him insane.
And Dean had been the one to heap this misery on his brother ,all because Dean had been unable to live with the thought of going on without Sam … of being alone.
He had been such a fool. The only thing he had given Sam was a future far more horrifying than his death ever could have been.
Sam sat on the bench that had almost become a permanent extension of his body – a body that he couldn't kill and couldn't fix – a body that was becoming less of a body and more of a useless sack of bones with each passing minute.
And useless he was. As soon as he and Dean had made it back to Bobby's from the cemetery in Wyoming, they had both worked on finding solutions to each other's problems; Sam researching anything he could get his hands on about crossroads deals and Dean working through all of the lore on reanimation that Bobby had. But after a couple of days, Sam's vision had grown steadily worse to the point where he couldn't make out the words on the pages and his smell issue had become so embarrassing that he did his best to keep out of the house and away from everyone.
And now – he couldn't see at all. He knew that many people that went blind usually had their other senses to compensate, but in Sam's case, his other senses were fading slowly and steadily as well. The general numbness he had felt at the beginning had grown until he couldn't tell hot from cold, or even feel anything touching his necrotic skin. His hearing was skewed as well and though he could still hear, everything sounded like it was coming from far away. Even Dean's voice speaking directly into his ears was muffled and hard to understand.
Taste was right out. His tongue was dried out too much for it. Not that it mattered anyway – eating was kinda a moot point when he couldn't digest food and it would only rot in his silent stomach.
His decaying voice box and chronically parched throat had also made speaking an almost impossible task, and he gave up trying to make himself heard any longer. All he could manage was to work a pen or pencil, but even that was growing steadily pointless since he couldn't see and he could barely feel the pencil he was holding enough to know that he was writing anything legible.
Perhaps the once sense he was glad was fading was his sense of smell. The stench of death that hung over him had been overpowering at first – so pungent that he dare not venture inside the house and ruin Bobby's home with it. It was bad enough being outside and having to deal with it traveling up his own nose, but he really didn't want to do that to Bobby and Dean. Yet somehow, the two men still came and sat with him and talked despite his malodor. After a few days, the smell seemed to dissipate, but Sam wasn't certain how much was due to just his nose decaying out of his head, and how much was the actually smell of decay fading from his body.
His situation reminded him a lot of a book that he had been assigned to read in high school about a soldier in World War I that lost all of his limbs and had his face blown off so he could no longer speak, see, smell or hear, and when he finally found a way to communicate by beating his head against his pillow in Morse code, the only thing he said was 'kill me'. But unlike the character in that book, Sam couldn't even hope for death – he was already there – his soul stuck and unable to move on.
There was only his mind to remind him that he was still alive, but even then he wasn't really living; he just existed. He wasn't even aware of the passage of time as he could not see the sun rise or set, or even really feel the heat of it on his skin. All he knew was there were times when he slept and times when he was awake and the separation of the two was becoming harder to differentiate, making it hard for him to discern dream from reality.
The only thing that kept him from going utterly and completely insane was Dean. He could occupy his mind for hours on end with trying to find a solution to Dean's crossroads deal. Sam hadn't managed to make much headway into his research before his body completely betrayed him, but what he had learned had been a solid beginning and gave him much to think about.
He had half-formed plans, but none of them – especially the one where he went to the crossroads himself and offered his own soul in exchange for Dean's - had much chance of success. For one thing, being blind he couldn't drive, and second of all, asking Dean or Bobby to take him to a crossroads to attempt something like that was about as likely to happen as his brother becoming an airline pilot.
And that alone was the most frustrating thing about it all – being so helpless.
At least he could walk and move, but even that was pointless – where would he go? Sometimes it helped to walk back and forth on the porch, as the pacing would help ease those times when anxiety got the better of him and made his thoughts race out of control, but even that was becoming more difficult as his muscles shriveled away and the tendons connecting his bones shrunk and made his joints stiff.
So really – there was nothing else he could do, but sit there and pray that God might show some mercy on him and answer the message he tapped out with his fingers onto the wooden armrest of the bench.
Bobby sighed, his heart heavy as he looked out the window and saw Dean take a seat next to his brother on the bench. Sam turned his head towards Dean, his white eyes staring out into nothing. Dean placed a hand over Sam's tapping fingers, his face filled with a dawning horror as he came to the same conclusion Bobby had earlier when he realized what Sam was tapping out in Morse code.
Had these boys not endured enough grief already? Did they have to go through all of this crap as well? Bobby knew there wasn't much that he wouldn't do for those two, but he wasn't sure what to do anymore. He had tried every contact, every possible lead, but no one had heard of anything like this before, much less had a solution for him.
He was at a dead end – pun intended, he thought bitterly.
Bobby watched Dean place his other hand on top of Sam's head and start to ruffle his hair, only to pull back a moment later in infinite sadness as his hand came away with several tufts that had come loose from the shrinking skin of his scalp.
Dean's shoulders slumped, but his other hand never left Sam's.
Shit … I can't take much more of this.
Feeling his insides twist, Bobby closed his eyes, willing the lump in his throat to quit trying to turn him into a blubbering woman.
So do something, you old bastard. Get off your ass and fix this … you know that there's one way to make that happen, but you're just too chicken shit to try. It's not like you were going to see the pearly gates of heaven anyway …
Bobby opened his eyes and chanced another glance out the window. Sam's head was now on Dean's shoulder and though most of his face was turned from Bobby's view, it was clear that Dean was allowing his silent tears to fall freely down his face as he believed no one could see him.
That expression on Dean's face alone sealed the deal in Bobby's mind. He wasn't going to let those boys— his only family – be destroyed. Not if Bobby Singer had anything to say about it.
The twin headlights of Bobby's truck were the only illumination he had to work with, but it was sufficient for what he needed to do.
He worked quickly and set everything up as he had planned and buried the box that would summon his one chance to save his boys.
Huh … his boys.
How many times had he reminded himself that they weren't his kids – that he was more like a close uncle if anything, but the more he searched inside, the more right it felt to think of them as his own flesh and blood – his sons. Certainly he was no John Winchester and that man would always be their father, but John was gone now. The bonds that tied him to these two were stronger than anything he had felt before – even the love he had had for his wife hadn't felt anything like this. Was this what it felt like to be a parent? He didn't know – he had convinced himself long ago that he never wanted to be a father and he had been far too terrified that he'd end up like this own old man, so he had dismissed the notion.
He couldn't deny it any longer. Those two orphans were his as much as they had been John's and he could die a happy man now that he admitted to himself how much they meant to him.
Bobby didn't have to wait long before he felt a charge in the atmosphere around him that made the hairs on the back of his neck stand at attention. He spun around and found himself standing several feet away from a smarmy-looking, dark-haired man in a black suit.
He hadn't been expecting a male demon. All of the crossroads demons he had heard of before had been women, but this one was clearly there to do business. Bobby squared his shoulders and prepared himself to negotiate.
"Bobby Singer." The demon began in a husky, British accent, "I've heard a lot about you."
"I guess you have me at a disadvantage then. Who are you? You're not your average, run-of-the-mill crossroads demon, are you?"
The demon smirked as he spread out his hands, "Guilty as charged. The name's Crowley and I'm what you might call a … regional manager of sorts. I gave the girl that usually works this area the night off so we could have a little chat. I assume you called because of the Winchesters, yes?"
"Sounds like you already know the score, so why don't we just skip the chit-chat and do this thing already."
"Impatient much?" Crowley huffed then rolled his eyes and threw up his hands, "Sure, why not? It'll save us both some bloody time. So I'll bottom-line it for you, Bobby. We both have something the other one wants, but just like any trade negotiation, we need to both agree to the terms before we seal the deal. So why don't you start us off and tell me what you want."
"I want Sam whole again – his body alive and mind intact, and I want Dean out of his contract."
"Oh, is that all?" Crowley asked sarcastically, "So what … no world peace, end of poverty, or cure for cancer to add to your altruistic demands?"
"That's all. No more, no less. I'm willing to pay whatever you charge."
"Yes, yes, yes … but no doubt you'll want to put this all on credit with payment of your soul due in ten years. Am I right?"
Crowley shook his head in an all-too-contrived affectation of sorrow, "Sorry, Bobby, but I only grant one wish at time and you only have one soul to trade, and even that one is a little on the … how shall I put it … on the scratched and dented side? One doesn't get to trade in a used Ford Pinto for a brand new Lamborghini, you know – it just wouldn't make good business sense. So here is my counter offer: I'll give you a choice – you can either have me fix Sam up good as new or you can buy back Dean's soul before I sell it to the highest bidder in hell. All of that for the low, low price of your immortal soul, which I'll expect payment of in five years – not ten … I think we both know you'd never make it that long anyway."
Bobby glared, "You can't be serious."
"I know … it's very Sophie's Choice of me, isn't it?" Crowley admitted flippantly, "But what can I say … I rather liked that movie. So, which will it be? Which one do you love more? Sam or Dean?"
Bobby gulped – this was one contingency he hadn't considered.
On one hand, this Crowley guy was Sam's only chance at survival, but choosing him over Dean meant that Dean's deal would still be on and his trip to hell would come in a year's time. But if Bobby chose to free Dean from his deal, then Sam would forever live in his own kind of hell.
He was damned either way, but he needed to get the best out of the deal as he could. In a year's time Sam would most likely be destroyed not only in body, but in mind and if he chose to get Dean out of his deal over his brother, Dean would never forgive him. They'd still have a year to try and get Dean out of it somehow and with Sam whole and alive, the chances of that happening jumped exponentially, but there was no guarantee they could save him.
Fucking balls …
He needed to think fast and come up with a third option.
"I'm waiting, Bobby. I don't have all night." Crowley grumbled impatiently, checking his watch in annoyance.
Bobby snarled in response, still stumped over how to proceed. He just couldn't choose.
Crowley sighed dramatically, "Well … I guess you're not interested, so I'll just be on my way …"
The demon turned and began to walk away.
"Wait!" Bobby called out.
Stopping and turning around with a smirk, Crowley headed back towards Bobby, "Changed your mind then? Did you decide which boy to save?"
Bobby shook his head, "I can't …"
"Oh I know … the angst is almost overwhelming isn't it?"
"Go to Hell."
"Sure … As soon as you make up your bloody mind!" Crowley growled, but a moment later he threw up his hands in a gesture of mock defeat, "Fine … you know what? I'm tired … you're tired, so let's just stop wasting each other's time. Now … unless you have something of value other than your soul to trade, I suggest you make a choice in the next ten seconds or I'm gone."
"What do you mean something valuable other than a soul?" Bobby asked, hoping that the demon was about to suggest that he had something he'd be willing to trade.
Crowley pointed to Bobby's rusty pickup truck, "Well … It's certainly not that thing."
"The Colt." Crowley finally admitted.
"What? I know you Yanks can barely speak English, but I think you know what I'm talking about, don't you?"
"Why would you want it?"
"Think about it," Crowley continued, speaking to Bobby as if he was an imbecile, "Hell is kind of a crazy place right now after good 'ol Yellow-Eyes bought the farm, and that left us all down there with a real vacuum in the powerbase. So, it's chaos basically, and it's every demon for himself. However, if a certain demon had the one weapon in the universe that can kill his competition … Well, he'd be one pretty powerful S.O.B., now wouldn't he?"
Bobby had locked the Colt down tight after Dean killed the yellow-eyed demon but he had taken it out of his safe and brought it along, just in case he should need it. Sure, it was out of its special, magic bullets and mostly useless to him and the boys, but he had taken it with him in the hope that if things got hairy he might be able to bluff his way out by pretending it still worked.
But this Crowley guy obviously wanted it badly whether it worked or not. Bobby didn't like the thought of that much power in the hands of any demon, let alone this one, but he had very few options left.
"If you knew I had it, why didn't you just offer a deal for it in the first place?"
"Where's the fun in that? I had to make you sweat a little, didn't I? After all, I wouldn't be much of a demon if I didn't do evil things every now and then – I've got a reputation to uphold. Now … before I can make any kind of deal, I need to see the gun."
Bobby sighed and pulled the colt out of the waistband of his jeans and held it up. He hadn't planned on it ever leaving their possession, but if it saved Sam and Dean ...
Recognition that the gun was indeed the coveted, demon killing Colt flitted across Crowley's face, followed by desire and want, "So … that's where you've been keeping it hidden?" He asked sarcastically, "I can see why no one could find it – that's not a place anyone would have wanted to search."
"You fix Sam and tear up Dean's contract, and you'll get the gun. Seems like a pretty fair trade to me."
"My God, you are thick, aren't you, Bobby? I told you already that I need something in exchange for each boy." Crowley came back, exasperated, "So, if you agree, I get both your soul and the gun. Deal?"
Bobby swallowed and thought of Sam's decaying body and Dean's soon-to-be-tortured soul. Losing Sam the first time had been hard enough, but losing both boys – one to the hell and the other to the torments of his mind was unbearable.
"Fine." Bobby muttered, "I'll do it."
"Finally," Crowley agreed, opening his mouth to spray a shot of breath freshener into it as he sauntered over to Bobby then grabbed him by the shoulders, "You got yourself a deal as soon as we sign the contract."
Two minutes and the nastiest kiss in the history of all kisses later, Bobby was minus one soul and one magical, demon killing revolver, but he had gained so much more.
He then went home to his boys.
Dean didn't realize he had fallen asleep on the bench outside until something that he could only describe to himself a 'weird' sensation ripped across his body like a brilliant flash of lightning, there and gone again just as fast. He woke with a jolt and looked about blearily, trying to regain his composure and bearings until he was fully alert again.
He wondered briefly about what it was that had driven from him such a deep sleep, but all of that quickly became unimportant as a new sensation registered in his fuzzy, sleepy mind - this one much more pleasant
Sam's head still lay on his shoulder, the weight of it heavier than he recalled before he fell asleep, but what really took all of Dean's attention was the warmth he could feel radiating from it and seeping through his shirt, warming him from the outside in.
Dean's hand shot up and went straight for Sam's forehead. The touch of smooth, warm, healthy, and very much alive skin met his fingertips, and he almost yelped in surprise and overwhelming joy.
Sam made a little sleepy, groaning noise in his throat then buried his nose in to Dean's chest, his eyes stubbornly refusing to open as he slept on his big brother and sighed contentedly while drawing in deep breaths that tickled the exposed skin of Dean's neck.
On any other normal day, Dean might have been a little uncomfortable with all of this snuggling, but right then he didn't give a damn and he laughed happily as he clenched Sam tight against him, feeling the regular thump, thump, thump of his heartbeat.
Sam stirred then, his eyes fluttering open then darting up to Dean's face with confusion at first, but it passed just as quickly as it came and his clear, hazel eyes, no longer blocked by cataracts, widened while a smile spread across his face in wondrous amazement.
"I can see … I see you." Sam said, then realizing he had spoken for the first time in days, his grin beamed even brighter until his dimples became so deep that Dean had to laugh himself.
Sam shot up and jumped to his feet, holding his hands out for his inspection and marveling at the revival of his flesh. He raised his hand up to his chest next then checked his pulse.
"Oh my God, Dean. I'm alive." Sam stammered, at a loss for words that could adequately describe his emotions, "And I don't stink … how did you …?""
Dean felt his smile drop a little, knowing that he wasn't the one that had brought about this transformation. "I didn't do this, Sam."
"I dunno, but I have a feeling that he does," Dean stated, pointing to the truck pulling up the driveway and parking in front of the door.
Sam looked at Dean and his face went from elated to worried in a flash, "Bobby …?"
Dean quickly jumped up from the bench and joined Sam in a race down the porch steps to meet the older hunter as he climbed out of his vehicle.
Bobby took one look at Sam's healthy glow and his usually gruff face brightened. He clasped Sam on the shoulder, "Hey … looking good, kid."
Dean stepped up, feeling a little queasy about what Bobby must have done in order to bring Sam back to his old self, "Bobby …"
"I'll explain it all, okay?" Bobby replied, cutting Dean off before he could question him any further, "But first, let's get inside," he suggested, eying Sam, "All of us – no more sleeping outside for you."
It was still very early in the morning and well before sunrise, yet Bobby appeared to be energized as he moved about the kitchen and started making a breakfast that would have put Paula Deen to shame. Bacon, eggs, and even a mess of pancakes were soon cooked up, and dished out between the three men gathered in the kitchen.
Sam watched Bobby prepare the food and felt his empty stomach give a rumble in anticipation – God … he couldn't remember the last time he ate and his newly restored body was begging for nourishment. His mouth watered, but he was thrilled at this new development – he was back – whole and apparently very, very hungry.
Dean was growing impatient, expecting some answers while Bobby refused to answer until the meal was served and they were all sitting at the table. Sam thought Dean might burst a blood vessel given how violently the vein in his forehead throbbed, but once he was handed a plate full of bacon and many his other favorite foods designed to skyrocket cholesterol, he calmed down a bit. Sam marveled at Bobby's way of soothing the savage beast. Now, if only Sam could learn how to cook …
Sam grinned and watched Dean enjoy his breakfast as he too dug into the plate of eggs and bacon and savored each flavorful bite in near ecstasy as they hit his newly reawakened taste buds.
Dean appeared appeased by the food, but once half of his plate was gone, his impatience at Bobby's lack of forthcoming answers drove him to start questioning again, "C'mon, Bobby. Spill …. How'd you do it?"
"Alright … here goes …"Bobby started, explaining his meeting with a demon named Crowley who agreed to restore Sam to his former, alive self and free Dean from his contract, all in exchange for the Colt.
Dean was furious at first. Losing the Colt again was a huge blow and with all of the demons that escaped from hell when the devil's gate was opened, it could have come in handy as they tried to track them down. But, Bobby reminded Dean that the Colt was out of bullets and Bobby didn't have a clue how to make new ones that would work.
"So that's it?" Dean asked, eyeing Bobby with a critical eye as if he didn't completely believe that Bobby was telling the whole truth. Sam felt that Bobby was holding back as well, but Dean beat him to the next question, "No deal for your soul? We're supposed to believe that this Crowley dude only wanted the Colt in exchange for both me and Sam?"
Bobby got up from the table, taking the empty plates with him to the sink, clearly avoiding the issue.
Sam felt his insides twist, "There was more, wasn't there, Bobby?"
Bobby kept his back to Sam and Dean as he started washing the dishes, but he refused to speak.
"Dammit, Bobby." Dean growled angrily, "You did it too, didn't you? You're such a hypocrite, you know that? You gave me the ass-chewing of my life when I made my deal then you go and turn around and do it yourself?"
Bobby dropped a plate into the sink with a loud clatter, spun and then pointed an angry finger at Dean, "Now you listen here, boy … Yeah … I sold my damned soul, but I at least I managed to buy myself a few more years than you did. And look at me … I'm a hunter well past his shelf-life and if I do by some miracle manage to survive another five years before my time is up, then I at least have some time to figure it all out. Crowley didn't say that welching out of the deal would hurt either one of you, so I count that as a win. And it's my soul … a soul that was probably hell bound anyway."
"Bobby –"Sam pleaded.
"No. Don't you guys get it? There wasn't any other way – if there had been, I would have done it. But I wanted to do this. You two are …" Bobby's voice shook with emotion that neither Sam nor Dean had ever heard from the older man before, and he swallowed hard before he could go on," … you two are worth it and you're the best chance we all have of saving the freaking planet from whatever hell has planned for the human race. So yeah … I felt it was a good deal – a better deal than I could have ever hoped for."
Sam and Dean exchanged brief looks, neither one of them able to find any words to counter Bobby's argument. Both of them knew how it felt to love someone so much that they'd gladly sacrifice everything for them, but neither of them had realized that Bobby had felt that way about them as well. It was humbling to say the least and Sam felt suddenly unworthy of it.
He had demon blood in him. Would Bobby have willingly given up his soul if he had known that about him – if he knew that Sam might one day turn? He'd already done some pretty scarily cold things and Jake's pleading face came immediately to his mind. Sam had given in to his anger when he killed him and it scared him how easily he had lost control. What if Bobby had sacrificed his soul for a monster that by all rights should be dead and gone?
Sam determined right then and there that he wasn't going to let Bobby down and he wasn't going to let the man he considered family go to hell. Screw destiny and whatever demonic influence might possibly be lurking within him. The yellow –eyed demon was dead and hopefully that meant that the demon blood he dripped into Sam's mouth as a baby was dead too. But more importantly, he wasn't going to go 'dark side' if he chose not to. He could still decide his own fate and he wasn't about to allow himself to go down that dark path.
He had a clear mission; save Bobby and kill as many demons and evil SOB's that got in his way.
Dean cleared his throat in an obvious attempt to reign in his feelings, "Okay …" He started with a husky crack in his voice, "So … we got five years to figure out how to keep you outta hell. I guess that gives us a little bit of time."
Bobby nodded, "Yeah … there'll be time to pull my ass from the fire later, but for now we still have a whole army of demons out there, and who knows what their endgame is. So …" Bobby leveled his gaze on Sam and Dean with determination and the smallest hint of a grin, "We got work to do."
Sam nodded in complete agreement. They certainly had a very long to-do list and none of it was going to be easy, but they'd get it done – they didn't have any other choice.