Please welcome SandraEngstrom2 to the story. She has taken on the mantle of my beta—Chuck bless her—and any improvements you might notice in grammar/spelling are down to her. Thank you, Sandra. I feel I should add a Kleenex warning to this chapter. It has a trigger warning for uncontrollable sobbing—or maybe that was just me.
Dean threw open the car door before Bobby had even finished pulling up at the bar.
"Baby! I missed you!" he hollered, running a hand over the smooth chrome of the Impala's hood. It looked like Sam had been keeping up his end on the bargain by taking care of her. She'd been waxed recently, and the dust that swirled around hadn't found a home on her paintwork.
"You two need a moment alone?" Bobby asked as he climbed from the Chevelle.
Dean grinned. "We're just getting reacquainted, Bobby."
"So I see. Here I was thinking we'd driven all this way so you could see your brother again."
Dean knew Bobby was still pissed at Ellen for leaving him out of the loop where Sam was concerned, so he didn't take his grouchiness to heart. Besides, Bobby had a point. As awesome as it was to see his baby again, it would be nothing compared to seeing his brother.
He looked up at the building they'd come to. It was largely wooden in structure—despite the fiery fate of the Roadhouse—and a large sign declared the name as Bill's. Though it was late and there were no other cars around other than the Chevelle, Impala and a crapped out Ford, the lights were burning in the windows, as if there was a party happening inside.
If there wasn't already, there would be soon, Dean thought. He was back from the pit, his brother was here, there was a lot to celebrate.
Bobby straightened his cap and made towards the door and Dean followed. As Bobby lifted his hand to pound on the door—he was still obviously pissed—the lock disengaged and the door opened. Dean grinned as he saw Jo and then his smile faded as she stepped into the light and he caught sight of her face. There were tear tracks drying on her face, and her mouth was twisted with regret. What worried Dean the most was the fact that, though she surely knew the story of what had happened to him, she showed no shock at seeing him returned from the dead. Which meant she was expecting him.
"You okay, Jo?" Bobby asked.
She shook her head and stepped back so they could come inside. Dean entered and looked around the bar. It was brightly lit but empty and clean. It didn't look like they'd been open for business that day. Ellen stood at the opposite end of the room and she looked even more wrecked than Jo.
Dean wasn't stupid. He didn't have Sam's LSAT scores, but he was plenty smart, and best of all, he could read people. He knew something big had happened and he had a sick tightening sensation in his gut that it was something to do with Sam. Knowledge was supposed to be power, but he didn't feel powerful in that moment; he felt weakened and brought low by his suspicions.
"Ellen, what's happened?" Bobby asked.
Dean wanted him to retract the question. He didn't want to know the answer. He didn't want his suspicions confirmed. Something had happened to Sam, but if no one spoke it, it wasn't real. He could pretend his brother was just beyond that door waiting for him. They would hug and Dean would ream Sam out for making him worry, but they would be together and they would both be okay.
Ellen came forward until she was standing in front of Dean and she reached out to touch him. "Dean, I'm so…"
Dean jerked away from her, shaking his head. He didn't want to hear what she had to say. He just wanted to see Sam. He put on a beaming smile. "So, where is he?"
Ellen swallowed thickly. "I'm sorry, Dean."
"No!" Bobby's exclamation was breathy and quiet, but it cut through Dean like a knife.
He shook his head. This was all a misunderstanding. Sam was fine. He would be right out. He was just taking a minute. You needed a minute when your brother came back from the dead; Dean knew that for a fact. He would be lurking just behind that door now, maybe a little wet around the eyes, taking time to compose himself before he saw Dean.
"What happened?" Bobby asked.
"He made a deal," Jo said.
Dean felt something heavy slide into his gut. It was the weight of realization. Sam had made a deal. That was how he'd been brought back. His stupid brother had made a deal. No wonder he was hiding behind the door. He didn't want to face Dean.
"It's okay," Dean said, speaking loudly so Sam could hear him too. "Well take care of it."
Ellen looked at him sympathetically and shook her head. "It's too late, Dean."
"'Course it's not. We'll fix it. I'll fix it. Won't be the first time I've had to clean up one of Sam's messes." He looked to the door, waiting for his brother to step into the room, with his shaggy hair and what was sure to be a repentant expression. He would know he was in trouble, but he would also know Dean would fix it. That was his job. He looked from Jo to Ellen, a smile across his face. "Where is he anyway?"
Bobby sniffed noisily and Dean's gaze snapped to him. There was wetness in Bobby's eyes and his expression was haunted. "Dean…"
"No." Dean shook his head. "He's okay, right, Ellen? He's fine. He's just scared I'm gonna kick his ass."
"I'm so sorry, Dean," Ellen said gently.
"No!" Dean shook his head jerkily. He didn't want to hear her apologies; he just wanted his brother to show himself to take his ass kicking like a man. "You're wrong. He's fine."
Ellen blinked and a tear slid down her cheek. "They came for him at midnight."
It was the tear that did it. There was no reason why that should have reached him when nothing else could have, but it did.
The realization that Sam was gone hit him like a wrecking ball. He'd known it from the second he saw Jo's tears that it was because Sam was gone, but his mind refused to accept it. He groaned and bowed at the waist.
Sam gone. Sam dead. It was too much to take in.
Someone was talking to him and tugging on his arm. He allowed himself to be led to a chair. He sat with someone's shaking hand on his shoulder and someone else kneeling in front of him, cupping his face in their warm palms. He looked up into Jo's deep brown eyes and his heart broke, because he saw the truth there. Her eyes were no longer alight with the excitement of life. She had seen and done things since he last saw her that had changed her. And those things had been Sam.
"What happened?" he asked in a hoarse voice. It seemed all power in him had been stolen by the tragedy of his loss.
"He made a deal," Ellen said. "Last night."
Only a night ago. When Dean had woken, scared out of his mind, in a pine box in the ground, Sam had probably been walking away from the crossroads. When Dean had been clawing his way out of the ground, lungs burning and heart sure that he was going to die again in the attempt to get free, Sam had been driving. The long hours Dean had spent walking through the wilderness, looking for a road to follow, Sam had been… What? What had Sam done with his last day on Earth if it hadn't been to look for his brother? He would have known where to find him. He would have known where Dean would have gone. Why hadn't he been waiting at Bobby's for him?
He wasn't aware that he'd asked the question until Ellen answered him. "Because he wanted to save you. After everything you'd done for him, he had to save you."
Dean bowed his head and a tear slipped down his cheek. Sam had saved him, but he'd never wanted to be saved like this.
"Where…" Bobby's voice was unsteady and he cleared his throat roughly. "Where is he now?"
Dean looked up. Until that moment he had been at a loss as to what he had to do next. Now, he knew. He had to see his brother.
"He's in his room," Jo said softly. "I can show you."
Dean got to unsteady feet and followed Jo through the door that he had been convinced had hidden his brother. He was right in a way. Sam was behind it but not in the way he needed him to be. They came out in a long hall. There were three closed doors leading off it and an open door at the end that led into what looked like a kitchen. Jo came to a door in the middle and she eased it open.
Dean took a deep, hitching breath as it creaked open. He knew what he was going to see behind there, and he wasn't sure he could bear to see it again. It felt like a lifetime ago that Sam had breathed what would have been his last breath in a dark, muddy road in Cold Oak. Dean had held him then as the life bled out of him and then he had carried him back to a cabin in the middle of nowhere. There, he had cleaned up his brother, putting him in clean clothes, and he'd laid him out on the bed. Would he have to carry out that heart-wrenching task again? Would he have to clean and thread Sam's unresisting arms into a clean shirt, chosen because it looked the most comfortable when he was beyond comfort or discomfort, dressing him in what he would wear for the rest of time?
Jo let the door open only a couple of inches and then she stepped back. "Do you want me to…?" She let the question trail off.
Dean shook his head. He wanted to be alone with his brother. That was the way it always was for them. People came and went, like Bobby, Ellen and Jo, but really, they only had each other. Now, Dean had no one. He was alone in the world.
Jo touched his arm and then turned and left him alone.
Dean closed his eyes for a moment, summoning strength, and then stepped inside the room. Sam was laid out on the bed. A blanket had been pulled up to his chin, and with a tightening in his guts, Dean realized that was there to hide the marks of his violent end. If not for the pallor of his skin and the fact his chest was unmoving, it would be possible to believe Sam was sleeping. Someone had cleaned him up already. Dean wasn't sure whether or not that was a good thing. In a way, it was good, as it saved him from needing to tend to his brother's corpse again, but on the other hand, it denied him the chance to fulfill his brother's last needs.
"Dammit, Sammy," he said softly. "Why'd you have to do this?"
He dropped to his knees beside the bed and laid a hand on Sam's arm. He looked into Sam's face and he noticed the expression for the first time. He'd heard people talk about how dead people looked peaceful or happy, and he'd mainly put it aside as bullshit people said to make themselves feel better. Sam didn't look peaceful to him. He looked satisfied. His features had frozen in the expression of satisfaction Sam must have worn as he'd died. That meant, while he was in unbearable agony, drawing his last breaths, he had been happy with what was happening. No, happy was the wrong word; he'd been satisfied.
Tears filled his eyes as he stared at Sam and slid down his cheeks. He made no effort to halt their flow. There was no one to see him, and even if there were, who would think less of him for crying for his loss?
He stayed there on his knees, taking time with his brother, for a long while, long past the point at which his knees stopped protesting against the contact with the hard floor. It seemed absurd that he had aches and pains now, when his heart was already in overwhelming agony. He heard the others talking from the bar, but he paid no attention to them until he heard his name mentioned.
"You think Dean's ready for it, Mom?"
There was a heavy sigh. "I don't think he'll ever be ready."
Dean pushed himself to his feet and, casting his brother a look of regret, he plodded into the bar. "Ready for what?" he asked.
Jo started as she caught sight of him and she chewed her lip, looking thoughtful.
"Ready for this," Ellen said, holding out a white envelope.
Dean took it and turned it over in his hands. It was addressed in Sam's neat hand to him. Without looking at anyone, he turned and walked back to Sam's bedroom. There was a chair beside the bed, and he sank down onto it. He didn't tear into the envelope; he opened it carefully as if avoiding its injury. This was his brother's last gift, and it deserved to be treated with care. Pulling out the single sheet of paper inside, he wiped at his eyes and began to read.
I don't know how to start this letter. I don't know how to put into words all that needs to be said.
If you're reading this, you have found Bill's and you know what happened. I am gone, and this time, there's no coming back. The thought of you standing in the bar, reading this letter, makes me equally happy and sad. I am happy because it means it worked, and I saved you, but it also means I am not there with you.
I know you're probably angry, and I'm sure Bobby is too. Tell him I'm sorry that I couldn't spend these past few months with him, but he would have stopped me doing what's right. Don't be angry at Ellen and Jo. For their part, they never knew I would succeed. I got lucky.
If I worked things out well enough, it should take you a few days for you to find Ellen, and I will be salted and burned and beyond your reach to retrieve. Don't be angry with her. I made it this way for a reason. I didn't want my body to tempt you to try to save me. I can't be saved, Dean, not this time. This time I was the one that did the saving. With this deal, I have finally made a choice Dad can be proud of.
Now for the mushy stuff that's going to make you groan. I love you, Dean. I always have, even when I wasn't there to show it. I am grateful for everything you ever did for me. No one knows what you had to give up for me better than I do. You won't have to give up anything else.
Go on. Live your life. Hunt and save people or rest and save yourself. Whatever you do, make sure it makes you happy. Life's too long to be miserable, Dean.
Dean folded the letter carefully and put it back inside the envelope. Tucking it inside his pocket, he looked down at his brother. "Didn't work out quite how you planned, did it Sammy?"
One part of his brother's great plan had failed. He wasn't supposed to be here for a few days yet. Sam had underestimated Dean's ability to track him down. Sam's body was not yet salted and burned, and Dean was going to sure it stayed that way. They wouldn't even need to bury him. He was going to find himself a crossroads and make a deal. Sam would be back where he belonged and Dean would be back in the pit, where he belonged. He had no place in the world, not without his brother. Sam was the good one, the one that deserved life. Dean was tainted now. He had been since the day he accepted Alastair's offer and switched from tortured to torturer.
Dean took one last look at his brother, absorbing the sight of him, as he would never see him again, and walked back into the bar.
Bobby, Ellen and Jo were seated around a table, each with a glass of whiskey in front of them. As Dean came in, they looked up. Bobby got to his feet and crossed his arms over his chest.
"Leave me alone, Bobby," Dean said before Bobby had even opened his mouth to speak. He could see the words brimming in Bobby's eyes and he didn't want to hear it.
"I will not," Bobby said firmly.
If Dean wasn't so lost in his grief, he would have been amused to see the resolve in Bobby's eyes. As if what Bobby thought mattered to him now. "I'm asking you to do something for me, Bobby. Let me be."
"I will not," Bobby said again. "I'm done listening to what you Winchesters want from me. I left you alone before and you went and made a deal. I left your brother alone and he did the same damn thing. I'm not making the same mistake again. There's a boy in there, dead"—his voice broke—"because I gave him what he wanted—space. I won't see it happen again."
"Then you know why I'm asking," Dean said. "I want you, all of you, to leave me alone so I can make this right." He pointed at the door. "My brother is lying there, dead. His soul is in Hell suffering, all because of me. If you think I'm going to leave him to suffer—"
Dean's words cut off as the bar door swung open and bounced off the wall. Dean spun on his heel and saw an unfamiliar woman standing in the doorway. She was young, with long, dark hair and russet skin. She would have been beautiful if not for her crimson eyes.
"Round and round the Winchesters go. Where they will stop, no one knows." She laughed. "Well, no one but me."
Dean reached back into his pocket for a weapon then realized he wasn't packing his usual armory. Since being sprung from Hell and finding his brother dead, he hadn't had a chance to rearm himself. Ruby's knife was who-knew-where and Dean was without even a bottle of holy water to defend himself.
Ellen and Jo had jumped to their feet at the demon's arrival, but as far as Dean knew, they were just as unarmed as he and Bobby were.
"What do you want?" Bobby growled.
She tapped a manicured finger against her chin. "You know, it's so strange to be asked that question. Usually it's mine to ask. Now, let's all sit down and have a little chat." She flung her arms out and Jo, Ellen and Bobby were forced into the chairs they had vacated. Dean was left alone standing in the middle of the room.
"Well, well, Dean Winchester." She walked in a circle around him, examining him like a horse dealer brought a new nag. "You should be on bended knee, thanking me right now."
"Yeah?" Dean said with bravado. "And why's that?"
"Because it is thanks to me that you are free."
Realization settled over Dean like a too tight cloak. "You made the deal with Sammy." His hands fisted at his sides.
She came to a stop in front of him and she smiled. "I did. It was the best deal of my life."
Dean lunged at her with his hands outstretched. He didn't care that it was a pointless attempt or that the demon was possessing some poor young girl, he was going to choke the life out of the demon or die trying.
With a lazy wave of her arm, the demon sent Dean flying back until he hit the wall, hard. His eyes blurred for a second and he felt a sickening pain in the back of his head, but all he cared about was the demon striding towards him. She looked supremely satisfied by what she had said so far, and judging from the wide curve to her lips, she had more to say.
"Now, Winchester, let's talk this through."
"Leave him alone," Bobby said through gritted teeth. He was struggling to right himself, but the demon had him held fast.
"Wait your turn!" the demon snapped, turning on Bobby. "I'll get to you in a minute." She straightened the folds of her short skirt, and smiled at Dean. "So, widdle Deany Winchester wants to make another deal. Hard luck, sweetheart. We're all sworn off making deals with Winchesters now. Most of us were before, but Sam had just the right sob story to pluck at my heartstrings. Poor Sammy, alone in the world after his big brother took the fall for him, trapped in a world that he didn't want anymore. You can't imagine how his pain called to me. And his tears…" She sighed. "I had to do what I could to help him."
Dean didn't want to hear about Sam's pain, not from a demon. He knew it must have been bad for his brother after he'd died, but he refused to believe he'd gone crying to a demon. He was too strong for that.
"If you're sworn off making deals with Winchesters, why did you deal with Sam?" Ellen asked. "He searched for months. What made you different?"
The demon tilted her head to the side. "See, she asks the right questions. You want to stay close to this one, Dean. She'll be able to take care of you now little brother's gone." She looked across at Ellen. "The answer to your question is simple. It's a family business. I owed the Winchesters, and when Sammy came to me, I was only too happy to make a deal. I want them to suffer."
"What did we ever do to you?" Dean asked. "Other than dedicate our lives to ending your kind, of course."
"It's a family thing, Dean," the demon said. "You destroyed my family, therefore I destroy yours." When she saw that Dean was still clueless, she went on. "Azazel. Yellow-Eyes. My father. You killed him."
The demon snarled. "Of course that's the only one of us you know. My damned sister. She got the glory while I—"
"Got the hand-me-downs and chores," Bobby said. "Sorry for ya, really."
The demon closed her eyes for a moment, seeming to summon patience. "Meg was the weapon my father needed to find and trap Sam. I was the family provider. I kept the fires of Hell stocked with souls. We all had our roles to play."
"And I killed your pa," Dean said. "I'd say sorry, but I think we'd both know I wouldn't mean it."
She sneered. "And I killed your brother. I'd say I'm sorry too, but I couldn't keep a straight face doing it. Truth is, your brother was the best deal I ever made, even though it's going to be the end of me. I got my revenge. Sammy is burning already, and you have to go on alone. It's perfect. My revenge is finally complete."
"You say this is going to end you?" Bobby said thoughtfully.
She nodded. "I broke the rules. None of us were to deal with a Winchester. I am officially a wanted woman. I can almost hear the hounds calling me home. One more thing before I go," She turned to face Dean. "I can tell what's going on behind that Cro-Magnon brow of yours. You're thinking you can make a deal to get Sammy back and you can return to the rack. You're wrong. I am the last of my family in the business of making deals. The others toe the line."
Dean shook his head. It didn't matter what this abomination said, he was going to get his brother back where he belonged.
The demon shrugged. "Fine, don't believe me. You'll see soon enough anyway. Now, I have to go. There are a couple of Hellhounds baying for my blood, and knowing my luck, they'll have followed the stench of your gas-guzzler right back here like I did. Dean, enjoy your life, I'm hoping it's a long one. The rest of you"—she looked into Bobby's eyes—"make sure he buries the corpse before it starts stinking up the place." That said, she sauntered out of the door.
The second Dean was released from his position pinned against the wall, he crossed the room to the door. He could see no sign of the demon anywhere, but he thought in the far distance, he could hear a hound baying at the moon.
Thank you all for the overwhelming response to chapter three. I am still shocked there are so many of you prepared to give this story a go. If you enjoyed the chapter, please take a moment to let me know what you think. Constructive criticism is very welcome. I am new to the Dean-verse and anything you can think of that will improve the story will be much appreciated.