Disclaimer: I own nothing.

Author's Note: This is a (really, really late, I'm sorry) birthday present for SandyDee84, who wanted a what-if for the S10 finale, in which Sam strikes a bargain with Death to go back in time and reap Sam irrevocably at Cold Oak.

The story goes backward in time year by year from 2015. Just in case it gets confusing. Also, I've disregarded the two missing years (Sam's year in the Cage and Dean's in Purgatory) while putting down the dates, since that's what the show seems to have done.

Many thanks to Cheryl for the beta.

Summary: AU for the S10 finale. Sam strikes a bargain with Death. Death goes back in time and reaps Sam permanently at Cold Oak. In exchange, there are no world-ending crises, and a lot of their friends are saved from dying. But for Dean, it doesn't matter how many other people are alive. The world's still empty without Sam in it, and the knowledge that Sam's waiting for him on the other side is all that keeps him going. Or: the epic love story of Sam and Dean, told in letters.

Warnings: Major character death. It isn't particularly dark compared to some things I've written, and I think it's hopeful. That said, it is intense, and I made myself cry a time or two while I was writing it. If that bothers you, please proceed with caution. Spoilers through to the end of S10.

Where Death Has Set His Seal

The better days of life were ours;
The worst can be but mine:
The sun that cheers, the storm that lowers,
Shall never more be thine.
The silence of that dreamless sleep
I envy now too much to weep.

(George Gordon, Lord Byron)

Extract from Dean's letter to Sam, May 2, 2007


I wish I could kick your ass right now. I really, really do. Because, you know, if I could kick your ass, that would mean you were here – or I was there.

What were you thinking, Sammy? Did you really think this would make me happy? Did you think there was even the slightest possibility that I could ever, EVER be happy again when I found out what you'd done?

"You understand what you're saying, I hope?" Death wiped grease from his fingers and drew himself up to his full height, somehow, suddenly, taller than Sam. "If I do this, Sam, there are no take-backs. There are no do-overs."

"I understand."

"You will be dead. Permanently."

"I know. But if I do this… the rest of it works out, right? Azazel doesn't get any special kids, Dean doesn't go to Hell, Lucifer stays locked up, no Apocalypse, no Leviathan, Cain doesn't pass the Mark to my brother… nothing."

"Status quo, Sam. You have my word."

"How do I know you'll keep it?"

"You'll just have to have some faith in me, won't you? I don't break my promises. Anyway, I don't see how it could be worse than the present situation." Death held out a hand. "But I'll be nice. You can keep your memories of this timeline, and I'll give you regular updates on your brother so you can see the difference. Do we have a bargain?"

"Wait… What about Dean?"

"Dean will be fine. I'll make sure of that. No early hunter's death. No getting his entrails pulled out by a vengeful ghoul. Dean will live a full life."

"And he'll be happy?"

Death shrugged. "Your soul is linked to Dean's, so it's possible he'll retain his memories as well, or that they'll come back to him over time. I don't deal in emotions, Sam. I deal in life in death. Do we have a bargain?"

"Fine." Sam took Death's hand. It was warm and dry.

"Good." Death shook his hand briefly and released it. "Time to go, Sam Winchester. I sincerely hope I won't be seeing you again."

Dean Winchester stumbled into the bunker.

It never got easier.

It had been ten years.

Ten years.

And each day was an eternity of grief and pain and loss.

Sure, there were times when he forgot, times when he managed to lose himself in the adrenaline of a hunt or a woman's arms. But eventually he remembered, and then he felt even worse for having forgotten, however briefly.

"I saw Charlie today," he said out loud. "She's still alive. It's weird, Sammy, I should've been happy, because I remember how horrible it was when she died."

There was no response, of course. Even if Sam could hear him – Dean liked to believe he could – he couldn't answer.

"Yeah," he went on anyway, "it was horrible. I was horrible to you, wasn't I? I said some… some awful things. Is that… is that why you did it? Did you think I meant it?"

Dean sank into a chair at the library table. It was so ironic. It was so stupid. Sam was the one who'd loved this place… who had loved this place, in that alternate reality that felt like a memory of a dream. Dean could remember Sam sitting across this very table and smiling at him. He could remember when he'd been able to hold out his arms and have them full of little brother, warm and alive.

But the library was unbearably silent, Dean's arms were empty, and he hadn't seen Sammy smile for ten years.

"I didn't go talk to her or anything," Dean said. "I couldn't. She's alive, and you're dead, and I hate her for it. I know it's not her fault, but I just couldn't bear to look at her being all happy."

He was about to get to his feet again when he saw the envelope on the table.

"Huh. So today's the day, is it, Sammy? I'd forgotten."

It was a lie, of course. Dean never forgot. He'd once thought the second of November would be the worst anniversary of his life, with memories of seeing his house and his life and his mother turn into ash. But he would take that a thousand times over, if it meant he wouldn't have to remember the pain of seeing the light go out of Sam's eyes.

The second of May. How poetic.

Dean opened the envelope.

Sam's letter to Dean, May 2, 2015

Hey, big brother.

Nice job with that poltergeist last week.

I know you're probably beating yourself up about the werewolf thing in February, but don't. You've been incredible. You survived ten years. You survived, and you kept hunting, and you still help people. I couldn't have done it.

I'm proud of you.

Be safe, Dean.

I love you, and I remember.


Extract from Dean's letter to Sam, May 2, 2007

And I KNOW you did it for me, and that just makes it worse. I know I've bitched about how awful our lives were and how great it would be not to have the world ending on us all the time, but… I never wanted it like this.

I DON'T want it like this.

Sam flicked through the channels on the TV.

He'd lost his sense of time up here, but he was pretty sure this was the right day. The TV was a much easier way to watch Dean than the bowl of water trick Missouri had shown him.

That had been a shock, realizing Missouri Mosley was dead. She hadn't been killed by a monster, though. She'd slipped in her bathroom, hitting her head on the edge of the tub as she went down. Sam's sacrifice couldn't undo freak accidents.

He'd learnt the TV trick himself. He couldn't watch anyone else, none of his friends, couldn't see what was happening to the world. But he could watch Dean. Sam wasn't sure why it worked, but it did.

When Sam finally found the channel he wanted, he settled down to watch.

Dean watched Kevin Tran and his girlfriend sit together under a tree with their books spread out around them.

It was almost finals week.

He wondered if Sam would ever have finished college. He was Sammy, so he probably would have. Kid couldn't bear to leave anything incomplete.

Of course, he'd left Dean's life incomplete. He'd decided that Dean didn't need him and made a deal with Death, not thinking for a moment of how Dean was supposed to fill the endless empty days with something other than violence and alcohol.

Dean shut his eyes.

He didn't know why he'd come here to torture himself. It wasn't like he could do what he wanted to do, which was punch Kevin Tran right in his smiling face. He was alive at the cost of Sam's life, and he neither knew nor cared.

When he opened his eyes, the envelope was sitting on the dashboard.

Dean almost tore the letter in his haste to get it out. Once he had it, he smoothed it carefully and spread it on his knee.

Sam's letter to Dean, May 2, 2014

Hey, Dean.

I saw you at that bar last week. Well, I saw the beginning, anyway. Would've had to bleach my brain if I'd watched you past that fifth shot.

I'm glad you're OK, Dean. I mean… in that other reality, at this time you were going crazy with the Mark of Cain and I almost lost you. If me dying was the price for avoiding all… that… then I'd do it again in a heartbeat. I hope you know that.

Take care of yourself, big brother.

I love you, and I remember.


Extract from Dean's letter to Sam, May 2, 2007

And if you did this to punish me, Sammy, well… Congratulations. You succeeded. I know I was a jerk to you, but I didn't deserve this. Nobody deserves this. You had no right, Sam. You had no right to do it without telling me. You didn't even give me a chance to explain!

You know what makes it worse? I don't know what it'll be like when I see you again. I don't know what I'll be like. I don't know if I'll still be someone you want to know.

And make no mistake, Sam: I AM going to see you again.

"Look in the water, honey," Missouri said, tilting the bowl. "Look in the water and think about Dean."

"Does this really work?"

"Never worked for me without something physical to link it, but I've never seen anything as strong as your bond with your brother. Keep looking."

Sam stared into the clear water. He could see the floral pattern on the bowl, the tiny ripples that formed when Missouri tilted it or swirled the water, the white rim with its narrow green stripe.

"Come on," Missouri urged. "Empty your mind and just think about Dean."

Dean looked sadly at the little chocolate cupcake with its swirl of buttercream frosting and single candle.

Sammy's first birthday in the bunker. His first birthday in anything resembling a home. Of course he'd had birthdays with Jess and Amelia and they'd probably been normal, but…

Dean swallowed past the lump in his throat and blew out the candle.

"Happy birthday, Sammy."

Jo had called that morning, wanting to know if he was OK. She knew better than to ask if he wanted to drop by to see her. Dean hadn't seen Jo and Ellen for years.

Jo had remembered what day it was. Not because it was Sam's birthday but because it was Dean Mopes By Himself Day.

According to Jo, every day was turning into Dean Mopes By Himself Day.

Dean had tried to explain it to her, but how could she understand? She'd never had a little brother. Her little brother had never bargained for his own death thinking she'd be happier without him.

Dean didn't think he'd ever be able to forgive himself. He didn't want to forgive himself. All he wanted was –

He saw the envelope under the cupcake, sitting there as though it had always been there, though Dean knew it hadn't. With trembling fingers, he reached for it.

Sam's letter to Dean, May 2, 2013


You found the bunker! Good job! And you met Aaron. He's a nice kid.

I've figured out a lot more about how this place works now. It's a lot easier to get around than I thought it would be. I still wouldn't do it all the time, but…

I miss you, Dean.

I mean, it's nice here, but it's boring. There's only so long you can visit other people, and only so long you can keep reliving the same moments before you wish you could kill yourself again to get away.

But don't go blaming yourself, because I don't regret a thing. I would do it again, if I had to. I would. It's boring, but it's peaceful, and that's a lot.

I love you, Dean, and I remember.


Extract from Dean's letter to Sam, May 2, 2007

At least, I hope I'm going to see you again.

You know how hard it's going to be? I never thought about where I was going before, whether it was Hell or Heaven or nothing. I never cared. But now the only way I'll ever see you again is if I get to Heaven too.

I don't know if I'll see you again.


Sammy, come back. Please. I can't do this without you. You have to come back.

Right on schedule, Castiel showed up at the door.

"Here's your letter from Death," he said unemotionally, handing Sam a folded square of paper. "You must've been someone special. I've never known Death to communicate with souls in the afterlife before."

Sam studied the Angel. He had the same form as before, Jimmy Novak's blue eyes and trench coat, but there was no hint of recognition in his expression. No Apocalypse. No sword of Michael, no vessel for Lucifer, no Angels on earth trying to bring about the end of the world.

Sam wondered if any of the Angels had any idea what had happened, if anyone knew other than him and Death.

Did Dean know? Did Dean miss him, or think of him at all? All Sam had was that one letter Dean had given Death to give him, when he had tried and failed to make a deal after Cold Oak. Years had passed since then, and Death only ever told him facts about who was alive and who was dead and which disaster had been averted because the world no longer had Sam Winchester in it.

Sam handed over his sealed envelope.

He didn't know if Dean even read them. He hoped so, but he didn't know.

Just as Castiel was about to shut the door, a familiar voice said, "Hey, little brother – I'll handle this. You can go on your way."

Sam turned to the newcomer. "Gabriel."

"In the flesh. Or not." The Archangel shrugged, stepping through the doorway into Sam's bedroom and shutting the door in Castiel's face. "It took me a while to figure it out, Sammy, but I did in the end. Nobody tricks the Trickster."

"Don't call me Sammy."

"So, Sammy," Gabriel went on, "you did a brave thing. I mean, don't get me wrong, it was monumentally stupid. But it was brave. I remember a time when we rewarded things like that."

"You're… here to reward me?"

"I'm here to teach you some tricks."

Dean stared at the whiskey in his glass.

Today he would've gone to Purgatory.

He would have gone to Purgatory a hundred times over if it could have brought Sammy back. Days like today, he couldn't make himself believe that it would ever get better, that he could possible earn Heaven and have Sam still be his soulmate.

Dean thought that would hurt more than anything else, if he eventually did die and go upstairs and found himself in a Heaven by himself because Sam didn't want him anymore.

Bobby was alive.

That had hurt, too. Dean hadn't been prepared for how much it would hurt. He'd been at Bobby's the day he'd woken and realized that today, today Bobby would have died of a gunshot wound.

Bobby was alive because Sammy had died.

He'd teared up as he'd explained it, because Bobby was the only family he had left. But Dean couldn't bear to see him again, not when he was alive at the cost of Sam's life.

Bobby had understood. He knew Dean loved him, and he knew that love was nothing compared to how, even after all these years, Dean felt about Sam. He'd hugged him and said goodbye, and Dean had got in the Impala and driven until he couldn't drive anymore.

He heard a rustle of paper, and turned to see that someone had slid an envelope under the door.

Sam's letter to Dean, May 2, 2012

Hey, Dean!

You'll never guess what happened! Gabriel came to see me! He knows – it's so weird – and he taught me a couple of things about Heaven. Not a lot, but enough to start finding my way around. I think I'll be able to visit people soon.

I heard you left Bobby's. I'm sorry about that, but I understand. I don't think I could've stayed, if…


Don't mope too much, big brother.

I love you. I remember.


Extract from Dean's letter to Sam, May 2, 2007

But, man, that's not going to help, is it? You're not coming. I can't sell my soul because none of the demons can get to you, and even if they could, they're too afraid of Death to trade where he's put an embargo.

Tell me how I'm supposed to do this, Sam. Tell me how I'm supposed to live the rest of my life without the person who makes life worth living.

Sam could still remember Hell. He didn't think anything would ever wipe those memories from his brain. But it was muted, washed out, not like the vivid technicolour horror that had once filled his mind.

That was a plus, and a huge one.

In the other world, he could never have known true peace. He realized that. He'd shoved his memories of Hell aside, learnt to work through them, learnt to ignore them, but they were always there, chipping away at him. He hadn't realized how much subconscious effort he put into staying sane until it wasn't necessary anymore.

Death had told him that in this world, Samuel Campbell had never been brought back. Crowley had never been important enough, Castiel hadn't cared. Nobody had twisted the lesson of free will into the mockery the Angel had made of it when he had opened the portal into Purgatory and released the Leviathan.

No Leviathan.

No Dick Roman. No Purgatory for Dean.

Sam sighed. He'd given up a world of misery for peace. He didn't know if it was worth it, or if he'd made the right choice, but… He'd done his best.

Dean had briefly considered going back to Lisa. Briefly. For about five seconds, before the idea had turned his stomach.

Lisa was a great woman, and Ben was a wonderful kid, but it had been a mistake to go to them at all. Not because he was a hunter – you could get out of the life, if you really tried. It had been a mistake because he'd only gone to Lisa when half his soul had been ripped away and he hadn't cared what happened to the other half.

So… pretty much the same situation as now.

But it had been a mistake, and Dean wasn't going to make that mistake again.

Nope. Tequila was going to help him just fine. If by help you meant make him even more miserable and sick and longing for Sammy.

He found the envelope on the table next to the tequila bottle between one shot and the next, and took it with fingers that were trembling because of more than just the alcohol.

Sam's letter to Dean, May 2, 2011


I miss you, man.

I'm sorry. I wanted to make you feel better, because I know you and I'm sure you're trying to drown your sorrows, but… I just can't. It's been so long. I need my big brother.

But don't you dare try and get yourself killed, you hear me? I need you to be happy even more than I need you with me, Dean. Just… Just promise you won't forget me.

I love you, big brother. I remember.


Extract from Dean's letter to Sam, May 2, 2007

The problem is, Sammy, you're the one who makes me a good person. You're the one who makes me WANT to be a good person. Without you, I've got nothing. And I'm scared that when I finally die, even if I do get to go upstairs, even if we do still get to share a Heaven… You're going to be ashamed of me.

And I don't think I could take that.

No Lucifer.

Lucifer was still in the Cage. He would always be in the Cage.

No Cage.

Sam stared out the window at the perfect blue sky with just enough patches of cloud to relieve the monotony.

It felt so weird. He remembered everything that had happened, remembered going day after day after day until he lost count. Decades had gone by for him, and even though he knew that Dean was numbering the time in months, even though he knew it was ridiculous, he'd wondered if Dean had forgotten him.

He wondered that now.

Sam wanted his brother to move on, of course. He wanted Dean to be happy.

He just… Didn't want to turn into a footnote in Dean's life, the little brother who went off to college and then came back and hunted with him for a couple of years and got himself killed by turning his back on an armed enemy like an idiot.

Sam sighed, shrugged, and reached for a book. There wasn't any point worrying about it.


Today would have been the worst day of Dean's life.

Today would have been the day Sam jumped into the Devil's Cage, and Dean would spend the next eighteen months having nightmares of his brother being tortured.

Instead, the worst day of Dean's life had been three years ago, and he was probably going to spend the rest of his life having nightmares of Sam dying in his arms.

He'd called Ellen and Jo a few weeks ago and told them he couldn't see them anymore. He'd spoken to them occasionally, and they'd been a large part of how he'd survived since Sam died, but now they were just more people who were alive because Sam stupidly sacrificed himself, and there was a part of Dean that couldn't help hating them for that. He loved Ellen and Jo, they were good friends, but if it came to a choice between them and his baby brother…

Dean clutched at his amulet.

The metal was reassuring against his fingers, a reminder that Sam had been real, Sam had given him this, Sam had loved him and trusted him.

Sam had wanted him to live.

Something rustled in his jacket pocket when he moved to reach for a beer, and he knew even before he reached in that it was his letter.

Sam's letter to Dean, May 2, 2010

Big brother,

Sometimes I sit here and wonder if you ever think about me.

Don't get me wrong. I don't want you to mope, and I do want you to have a life. Get out of hunting, find a girl, have some kids… You deserve it, Dean, and the world's not ending. Not anymore. The ghosts and ghouls and monsters anybody can deal with.

But that's not really you, is it? I don't want you to do anything you don't want to because you think it'll make me happy. Just… Be happy, Dean. That's all I ever wanted.

I love you, Dean. I remember. I always will.


Extract from Dean's letter to Sam, May 2, 2007

Now I know you, so I know there's going to be a time when you're getting all emo and mopey worrying that I've forgotten all about you. And then feeling guilty for feeling emo because you want me to accept your death and move on.

I don't know how long it'll take, but I know you'll get there.

So I'm telling you now, because I don't know if I'll ever be able to get another letter to you – that is NEVER going to happen, Sammy. I promised Dad I'd protect you, I promised Mom I'd protect you, and if I didn't know you'd be upset if I killed myself, I'd be up there with you doing it now.

But you remember I'm coming to look after you and keep you safe. It may take fifty years – or maybe just five, who the hell knows with hunters? – but I'm coming. And I had damn well better find you in one piece when I do.

No demon blood addiction.

Sam couldn't help the little laugh that bubbled up inside him at that. The demon blood was gone, and all the horrible stuff that had come with it, Ruby, Dean not trusting him, Lucifer… all that was gone too.

He'd died. He'd died on his twenty-fourth birthday, for the good of the world, and world neither knew nor cared. But Dean knew, and that was all that mattered.

The latest letter from Death was open on the table. Death couldn't enter Heaven – or maybe he just didn't like to – but he'd kept his word so far. There was always a letter delivered to his door, assuring him that Dean was alive and unhurt and another crisis had been averted.

Sam felt more at peace than he ever had in life.

"Huh," Dean muttered, seeing the envelope on the dashboard when he got into the Impala. "I forgot the date."

It was a lie he'd taken to telling himself. He could never forget the date. It was seared into his brain, the most perfect and most horrible of days. The day twenty-six years ago when his baby brother had been laid in his arms by a smiling nurse, and the day two years ago when –

Dean blinked back tears.

He remembered how angry he'd been with Sam when he'd freed Lucifer – no, that wasn't right. They'd both freed Lucifer, breaking the first and last of the sixty-six seals, but Sam had taken the blame and Dean had let him. Dean had made it worse. Dean had made Sam miserable.

Dean would break every last one of those goddamned seals himself, and say yes to Michael, if it would mean getting Sam back.

He'd actually tried to track down Adam. Tried to tell himself that he still had family, even if he didn't have Sammy. He'd gone as far as watching his house for a couple of days.

But the sight of Adam daring to be alive and happy when the most important person in the entire world was dead had made Dean so furious he'd had to clutch the steering wheel to keep himself from getting out of the car and punching Adam right in his smiling mouth.

Dean hadn't bothered to talk to him after all. What the hell did he matter? He wasn't Sam.

He opened the envelope and pulled out the single sheet of paper.

Sam's letter to Dean, May 2, 2009

Hi, Dean.

Death has Castiel on permanent letter-duty. Can you believe it? He doesn't remember me, of course – doesn't remember anything. It's weird. He keeps squinting at me like he thinks he should know me but can't figure it out.

You know, I think we made a mistake trying to take free will to the Angels. I've met them. They're not… well, they're not equipped for it. They don't care about things the way people do, they don't love the way people do… they don't have big brothers the way people do. They're supposed to have compassion for humans but most of the time it seems more like condescension. Probably best to leave them as they are.

Are you hunting wendigoes? Remember that wendigo hunt we went on… It seems like forever ago.

Jess is still dead. Death wouldn't include her in the bargain. Or Dad. I'm sorry about that… But I did the best I could. Not easy to deal with someone who has all the cards, all the money and all the chips.

I hope you're not doing stupid things without backup. Take care of yourself, big brother.

I love you, and I remember.


Extract from Dean's letter to Sam, May 2, 2007

I don't even know what else to say, Sam. We've never been big on words. You always knew how I felt, you knew it better than I did.

So you probably know how I feel now.

And don't tell me it'll get better, Sammy. This isn't the kind of thing that goes Denial and Anger and Whatever the hell and then everything's fine. This is where I wake up every day for the rest of my life and start to ask if you want breakfast and remember that you're not there and hate the world.

My point is, I'll live, since it's what you wanted, but all I really care about is getting to see you again.

Dean would have died.

Sam would have watched Dean be ripped to pieces by hellhounds, and hugged his body and felt like the world was ending.

This was better than that.

Everything was better than that.

Sam looked at the date on his cell phone alert, flashing to remind him that Death's letter was due, and whichever Angel came to deliver it would also take Sam's letter to Dean.

Sam grabbed a sheet of paper and a pen. He didn't really know what to say. He just knew that Dean had to be miserable, because Sam had been spared the pain of his brother dying in his arms, but Dean hadn't. So Sam had to try to cheer him up.

His cell phone rang.

Dean reached out blindly to shut it off. Even barely online, his brain knew that today was a bad day, a terrible day, the worst day ever. Sam had died a year ago today, and Dean just wanted to stay asleep until the day was over, maybe stay asleep until his whole life was over and he woke up with Sam again.

The phone kept ringing, shrill and annoying.

Dean grabbed it and threw it to smash against the wall. He rolled over, trying to get back to sleep.

Something rustled under his pillow.

Dean fumbled for it, and found a plain white envelope. Cheap motel stationery. On the back, in achingly familiar handwriting, was his name.

Dean's throat burned. Sammy had remembered.

Sam's letter to Dean, May 2, 2008


I know you're still upset. I'm sorry, I really am. If I'd seen another way, I would have taken it. But this was best for everyone.

I know you're still upset, but you're surviving, and that's something.

I'm proud of you, Dean. I don't think I said that enough, but you should know. You made me who I am.

I love you, big brother. I remember.


Extract from Dean's letter to Sam, May 2, 2007

You don't know how much it scares me that I might not see you. Death told me about the whole soulmate thing, but… Life changes people, right? I mean… What if I change so much that you don't WANT to be my soulmate?

Don't you understand, Sammy? Horrible things happened to us, but I survived them because of you. Without you I don't know if I can survive even a normal hunter's life without getting twisted into something awful.

Sam's world faded out in a haze of pain and cold and mud and Dean's arms around him –

And then he was on his feet, pain gone, and next to him Dean was still on his knees in the mud, holding his body and screaming his name.

Sam reached out, remembered too late that he was dead now, and his fingers passed right through Dean. Dean didn't even notice. He collapsed onto his rear in the mud, Sam's body still clutched tightly in his arms, and sobbed like the world was ending.

Sam's throat burned. He'd never meant to hurt Dean with his choice.

"Time to go, Sam."

Sam turned to see Death watching him. "You came for me yourself? I'm honoured."

"You should be. I have a lot of calls on my time. What can I say, Sam? I like you. But we can't stay."

"Wait. Isn't there some way I can… talk to Dean or something? Please. He'll go crazy. I just need to tell him I'm OK and… and everything."

"I'll make sure he knows whatever he needs to know, Sam. Don't worry about that."

"Please. Just… I just need to talk to him for a minute."

"No, Sam."

"I did this so Dean would be happy. You have to let me make sure he's at least at peace!"

"You can't talk to him."

"Can I text him? Email? Anything?"

Death sighed. "Demanding little insect, aren't you? Fine. Write him a letter. I'll see that he gets it. Now hurry up."

"Sorry, Dean," the demon said, and she did sound sorry. "I was going to deal with you, but there's been a change of plan. Sam's soul is off limits. Nobody can touch it – not us, not the Angels, nobody. He's free and clear for good."

"What? No! How is that even possible?"

"It is possible when I'm involved." Dean turned at the sound of the voice, looking suspiciously at the man he saw. He'd never seen him before – and yet he looked oddly familiar.

"Who are you?"

"My name is Death. Your brother made a deal with me. His life – permanently, no dealing his death away, no bringing him back, no disruption of the natural order – in exchange for which several crises never come to pass and you continue to live the safe and happy life you've been living all this time."

"Safe and happy?" Dean asked incredulously. "I'm a hunter."

"Trust me, you've been safe and happy. You're going to go on being – well, safe. I warned Sam I couldn't promise happy. That's up to you."

"No." The ground was dropping away from under Dean's feet. He'd never really accepted that Sam was gone, always knowing that he was going to come to this point, to the crossroads and the demon. "No, you don't get to do that. Is this – is this some kind of bargaining chip to get me to offer you more? Because this is a low move, even for you guys."

"I'm not a demon, Dean. I am Death."

"How do I know you're telling the truth?"

"I have a letter from Sam for you."

The man – Death – held out a white envelope. Dean took it. His name was on the back, in Sam's handwriting.

"What did he do?" Dean whispered, staring at envelope, at DEAN written in Sam's untidy scrawl. "Why?" He looked at Death. "What's coming that's so horrible Sam thought he had to die to prevent it?"

"The possible end of the world. Several times. Potentially thousands of deaths. Maybe more. Terrible things happening to you, and I think that's what Sam wanted to prevent, even more than he wanted to save the world. You should never deal with demons, Dean."

"Wait – please. Please. I'll do anything. Anything you want. You want a life, take me instead. I don't even want ten years, I'll go with you now. Just please bring Sammy back."

"I'm sorry, Dean. No. But if it makes you feel better, I expect you'll see him again."

Dean shut his eyes for a second, forcing back tears.

Then he opened them and said, "OK, just… Can you answer some questions for me? And maybe take a letter to Sammy?"

Death hesitated, but finally nodded. "I like your brother, so… just this once."

Sam's letter to Dean, May 2, 2007

Hey, Dean.

I'm sorry. I guess you know by now what I did and I know you're probably mad, but… this is for the best, Dean. Trust me.

I don't know how much you remember about what the other reality was like, or how much Death will tell you. But I can tell you it sucked. This is better for everyone. And it's a price I'm more than willing to pay.

I want you to be happy, Dean. I want you to live.

I'll see you again in the end, I promise.


Extract from Dean's letter to Sam, May 2, 2007

So here's the deal, Sam. I'll do what you want – I'll live, or try to, and I won't go on any suicide missions or eat my gun. But you have to promise me that when it's over, when I die and if I manage to get let into Heaven, we'll be sharing it just like he said.

Promise me you're not going to decide I'm not good enough for you if I end up doing stupid things without you to stop me.

And promise me you'll remember I love you more than anything in the world. Promise me that, Sam, because it's always going to be true.


I'm almost afraid to ask, but… What did you think? Good? Bad? Please review!