A/Ns: Okay, time for the real fun to begin. Y'all ready?

Review Replies: Thank you all so much for the encouragement in your comments! You all are super sweet, and I appreciate each and every one of you. I may be struggling, but I'll make it through!

Chapter Warnings: Tee-hee-hee! [insert no good dirty rotten smile here]

Actual Chapter Warnings: Attempted suicide is mentioned repeatedly in this chapter in graphic detail. Please proceed with caution.

-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-

The Road So Far (This Time Around)

Season 2: Chapter 83

-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-

"You," Dean hissed, immediately putting himself between Azazel and his brother. Didn't matter if the body behind him was breathing or not. This demon wasn't laying another hand on Sammy. Not while Dean still lived.

"Me." The doctor – Azazel – smiled widely, eyes sliding back to their human brown.

"Bring him back!" Dean all but shouted, reaching for the gun tucked against his back. It wouldn't do any good against a demon, but Dean didn't care. He'd empty the entire clip into the bastard anyway.

"Oh, right away, kiddo," the demon agreed, raising his hands in placation as if Dean needn't shout. "Just as soon as you give me the juice."

The blood in his veins froze to ice. It sent a shiver through his whole body, crawling down his spine and rippling through his skin. Shit. Shit! This wasn't… this wasn't how it was supposed to go down. Not now. Not in some hospital in Podunk Ohio, not during some mundane case with friggin' goo of all things.

Yellow goo. A stupid, pale yellow goo that smelled like sulfur.

Dean sucked in a breath, realization flooring him and taking every single organ with it. His jaw dropped with them, lips parting in stunned, horrified understanding. Azazel never needed a battle royale to kick off the Apocalypse. He just needed Sam dead, and Dean should have been prepared for that.

But he wasn't. He absolutely wasn't, and now he had no time to think.

'Cas.' The hunter slammed his eyes shut, fingers curling into fists as he put his all – every inch of soul – into that desperate prayer. 'Cas, I need you. We need you! Right fucking now!'

A breeze, barely discernible as wind and more like a presence, passed through the room. No, not the room – his head. Like a brush across his senses. A feeling. Dean's ears popped and he opened his eyes, expecting to see the angel in all her trench-coated, butt-kicking, life-saving glory. But Cas wasn't there. The room was empty save for him, Azazel, and the corpse of his brother.

The hunter hissed, hand reaching up to his chest as it ached so sharply he wanted to double over. But he dropped his hand, quick as he caught it rising, and kept his spine straight against the sudden pain. He wanted to rub at his sternum, to tell Chest Cas, 'yeah, no shit there's a demon nearby. Kinda noticed for myself, thanks, buddy.' But he resisted. The last thing he wanted to do was call attention to the angel in his chest. Not in front of a demon. Not in front of this demon.

As the silence stretched, Azazel waiting patiently, a smug little victory smirk all over his stupid Harvard Medical face, and no angel swooped in for a rescue, Dean started to worry.

'Cas? Uh… Castiel? Buddy? You got your ears on, right? Please tell me you have your ears on!'

Cas was awake, now. She should be able to hear him. She'd promised, even before the healing trance, to keep her ears on. To be ready for something just like this.

Azazel took a step forward, body language definitely screaming it wasn't going to be just one, and Dean staggered back to match it. The hard edge of the O.R. table pressed against him and, on instinct, he reached back to put a hand on Sammy. Yellow Eyes wasn't getting him. Not without going through Dean.

Which, shit, right, that was kind of the whole point, wasn't it? Despite his worry for Cas, who either couldn't hear his prayer for some reason or was being blocked from getting in (and shit, shit, shit, why hadn't Dean thought of that? Of course Azazel would take steps to ward this place against angels. He'd planned it all; he knew this was the closest hospital, knew Dean would have to take Sammy here. Shit, shit, shit!), Dean had to shelve his concern. He had more immediate problems at the moment.

Azazel took another step. "Still waiting, Dean-o. All you've got to say are the magic words, and poof –" he waved his hand, mimicking the motion of a wand – "Sammy's back. Good as new."

God, he was so screwed and he knew it. Because Dean didn't know how to not make this deal. He'd had two years. Two years to come up with an alternative, an out, anything to stop this from happening, and he'd failed.

Cas had been his plan B. He hadn't come up with a plan C.

"You promise me. Right now."

The hunter's gaze drifted from Azazel to the not-so distant past of Bobby's salvage yard. To a dented and beat up Impala and a crowbar in his brother's hands.

"If I die, at any time, you let me stay dead."

He'd promised him. He'd promised Sammy that he'd do nothing, and now there was nothing he could do. Because he'd promised he wouldn't do it. Only…. Even now, with Sam behind him, beneath his hand, still and unmoving (and god damnit, how many times was he going to have to go through this in one life?), Dean wasn't sure how to keep that promise. He didn't know how to live without his brother. Ten extra years. Months, days, and minutes of borrowed time. A dead man's time. And he still hadn't learned.

"If eating a bullet…"

His gaze shifted to the gun in his hand. The weight was so familiar, like an extension of his arm itself. The metal was comfortably warm from the heat of his palm, a little slick with sweat but ever sure in his grip. It was his favorite. The twin to Sammy's. One of the very few gestures his dad had ever made that meant something to him, even now.

Slowly, like a man lost to time, unaware as it moved around him, Dean clicked off the safety and raised the firearm.

"…keeps you from bringing me back…"

He lifted that gun and fired every round but one into Azazel. The demon took each bullet with hardly the blink of an eye. As silence settled heavy in the room once the deafening bursts of gunfire finished echoing off metal tables and paneled walls, Azazel dusted off the hole-spattered, white coat. He spared the hunter a truly pitying glance.

Dean gritted his teeth. He wanted to kill this son of a bitch so, so badly.

"You can take your anger out on me all you want, kiddo," Azazel said calmly, as if he'd expected the futile rage. Dean's blood boiled beneath his skin. "It's not going to bring him back. Only one thing can."

The hunter's hand shook around the hilt of his gun, shook against his brother's arm. He'd promised. That day they fixed up the Impala, that day he spilled his guts – spilled five years of the worst memories of his life – he had promised his brother that no matter what, he'd let Sammy stay dead.

"I'd rather you be in Heaven with me, than both of us here, starting the end of the world."

"Yeah," Dean finally spoke, head bowed and voice full of grit. The words tasted like sulfur on his tongue and burned like hellfire. "I remember."

The man from the future lifted his gaze, eyes blazing with the kind of ferocity demons in Hell had learned to fear. He stared Azazel down, that bastard who had killed his mother. His father. And now his brother.

Dean lifted his favorite gun, barrel digging into his chin. He closed his eyes and pulled the trigger.

-o-o-o-

He came to with a gasp, sitting upright in a bed he didn't remember going to sleep in, in a motel room he didn't remember paying for. The radio beside him was blaring music – Foreigner – at a truly annoying volume, and Dean kind of wanted to throw it across the room.

"It feels like the first time."

What the hell.

"Feels like the very first time."

What the hell.

"Morning, Sunshine," Sam's voice came from what sounded like the next bed over and something caught in Dean's throat. Lodged there with the kind of intensity that almost made him throw up.

The older Winchester's gaze snapped to his brother so fast his neck popped. There was Sam, on the other mattress, fully dressed and pulling on his shoes. He looked too amused to be a corpse.

"Sammy?" Dean muttered almost hollowly. No, it… it couldn't be. Sam was….

"It feels like the first time. Feels like the very first time."

The hunter glanced at his surroundings. Ugly wallpaper, flimsy furniture, god-awful sense of interior decorating. Yup, standard motel room. He glanced down at the bed he was sitting in, covers still draped over him.

Huh. That… that had been one hell of a dream, Dean thought, still a little shaken.

"And it must be the woman in you, that brings out the man in me-"

He turned and jammed his finger against every button on the alarm clock until it stopped crooning Lou Gramm at obnoxious levels.

"You alright?" Sam asked, this time the amusement in his voice replaced with the stirrings of concern. He dropped his foot, laces fully done up, and watched his brother with a wary eye.

"Y-Yeah," Dean managed to spit out, kind of stumbling over it on the first attempt. He cleared his throat then shook his head to clear it, too. "Yeah, fine. Weird dream."

Sam let out a huff of a laugh and, with amusement full back in control, asked, "Clowns or midgets?"

Dean glared at him. "Har har. Bitch."

"Hey, it's your material. Jerk." Sam stood from the bed, still smirking as he walked into the bathroom.

And yeah, alright, Dean probably deserved that. Not that he'd ever admit it. The older Winchester was slow to climb out of bed and paused once he had. He stared at the mattress: the ugly brown comforter that had been more itchy than warm, the tussled sheets that suggested a night of rough dreams, and the pillow, still indented from the weight of his head.

Man. What a weird dream.

-o-o-o-

As they entered the diner around the corner, Dean started to wonder if he'd lost it. Just flat out gone crazy. Or maybe had one of those Bermuda Triangle moments. You know, the ones where people swore they dreamed about a conversation that happened the exact same way the next day, but didn't have a psychic bone in their body? Creepy, one-off shit like that. Maybe he'd wandered through a hotspot or something.

Darla was wearing the exact same pink uniform (not that surprising, really. She probably had to wear it every day), and greeted them in the exact same manner, coffee pot in hand and already pouring. Dean's chest ached at the sight and he rubbed his sternum with a grimace that definitely caught Sam's attention. The waitress left and Dean nudged his full-to-the-brim cup a little further away from him, stomach churning.

"You feeling alright?" Sammy asked, and both Dean's head and gut did an unpleasant spin of déjà vu. He dropped his hand from his chest, despite the fierce ache.

"Yeah. Rough night." The older Winchester glanced around the diner, checking every pair of eyes he could see. All human. No yellow in sight. He rubbed at his chest again, internally muttering to Cas to knock it the hell off already. It was just a dream.

A fucked up dream, maybe, but just a dream.

"What'll you boys be having?" Darla asked as she swung back by, coffee pot no longer in hand, but hand on her hip. Dean frowned at the disconcerting weirdness that was this morning. Definitely a psychic hotspot or something.

"I'll have the California Omelet with a side salad, please."

Sam handed over his menu with a warm smile. The waitress turned to Dean to take his order, but he was staring at Sam, wide-eyed and in a way that left the younger Winchester suspecting he'd miraculously grown a second head.

(Because, Sam was sure, he'd ordered a salad for breakfast and his brother was a child.)

He pulled a face. "Dude, what?"

Dean blinked at the accusation (not even a question, really) and just shook his head. Psychic hotspot. Had to be, he thought, as he muttered that salad was not a breakfast food (because he couldn't help himself), before turning to Darla. "I'm, uh, I'm good. Nothing for me."

It was Sam's turn to frown, but Dean ignored it. The way his stomach was flip-flopping in confusion, trepidation, and general what-the-fuckery, meant breakfast – no matter how greasy, fluffy, or caffeinated it might be – was right out for him.

"You sure you're alright?"

This time, Dean shook his head. Because no, he wasn't. "Something's weird."

Sam straightened. "Weird how?"

'Like, weird, Sam!"

That earned him Bitchface #6 ('Why me?')

"You're going to have to give me more to go on than that, Dean. Weird is kind of our Tuesday."

Dean pulled his head back, caught off guard. "Wait, it's Tuesday?"

"What?" Sam was definitely staring at him now, confusion overcoming any earlier concern. "No, it's Sunday. Dude, are you sure you're alright?"

The bell above the diner's door rang with new customers. Darla called out a half-hearted greeting, and Dean got a weird feeling in his gut. Well, a weirder feeling, anyway.

A kid – no more than four or five – came barreling down the aisle between the counter barstools and the booths. Even as the child's dad called out for him not to run (Dean's stomach now curling inward from the déjà vu), the little tyke tripped.

Dean shot out an arm, more on instinct than anything actually thought through, and managed to snag the back of the kid's shirt just as he went down right next to their table. The boy made a little 'grk' of a sound as Dean kept him from falling by clothing alone. The hunter stared at both the kid and his grip on him, eyes wide, just as surprised as anyone.

"Whoa, uh… nice catch!" the father of the boy said as he caught up. The kid got his feet back under him and Dean, still somewhat stunned and also confused as hell, released the boy's shirt. The dad put a hand on his son's back, both comforting the child and smoothing out his scrunched up clothing. "What do you say?"

"Thank you," the boy mumbled, pulling at his tee which had, admittedly, rucked up around his neck on the grab. He cast a quick, fleeting glance Dean's way, cheeks already red from the exertion, excitement, and nearly-averted tantrum. "Sorry."

"It's, uh, it's alright, kid," Dean found himself saying, voice a little hollow. He cleared his throat, trying to shake that dream (which was now starting to feel less like a dream) and the fog it brought into his head. "Just, uh, slow down next time, yeah? Wouldn't want you to get hurt."

The father gave a grateful smile and nod to the Winchesters as he nudged his son forward. The family went on their way to the last booth in the row and tucked into the table fairly quietly. Dean stared at them way longer than was probably appropriate. He only snapped out of it when Sam gave a little cough to clear the awkward silence.

"Nice reflexes," the younger Winchester offered with a half-smile, but he couldn't quite mask the concern. He knew something was off with his brother, he just didn't know what.

'That makes two of us,' Dean thought as he stared at Sammy, going too long without blinking and knowing it.

Because it hadn't been reflexes. It had been…. He'd…. The hunter shook his head, because knowing it was going to happen due to a psychic dream was impossible. At least for him. He didn't have premonitions – awake or asleep – no matter the lies he'd told so he could hide out in this timeline. But it clearly hadn't been a normal dream, either.

Which meant it was something else.

Panic flooded Dean, his heart picking up a notch or two after skipping a nice, long beat. If it wasn't a dream, then what happened next…. The man from the future swallowed what felt like a throat full of glass. He glanced around the diner once again, meeting every pair of eyes he could and checking for yellow. Expecting yellow.

If that dream hadn't been a dream, then Azazel was here, in this town, watching them. He'd laid a trap, Sam died, and Dean killed himself to avoid making a deal. So Yellow Eyes must have brought him back, to make Dean live it all again and this time make that deal. The demonic bastard was just fucking with him.

Yeah, well, two could play at that game and Dean Winchester was nobody's bitch.

He stood from the table abruptly. Sam leaned back, surprised by the sudden movement, and raised a questioning eyebrow as Dean dug out his wallet.

"Let's get out of here."

"Uh…" Sam glanced around the restaurant, looking for whatever had spooked his brother.

Dean, misreading that look as a 'but we just ordered…?' form of concern, threw some bills down on the table. He wouldn't be dissuaded, already heading for the door. "Come on, I'll buy you breakfast on the road. It can even be healthy, you freak."

The younger Winchester scrambled to follow. "On the road?"

"Yeah. Goo's not all that important." That little bell above the door rang again as Dean stepped outside. "There are better cases out there. Let's find one of those."

Sam missed a step as he followed, but caught himself pretty quickly. The look on his face was a mixture of surprise and absolute bafflement. Tone matching the expression, he admitted, "I didn't think you were awake last night when I told you about this case."

"What? No, this morning–" Dean cut himself off, realizing that they hadn't discussed the case this morning. At least, not this morning. "Uh… no, right, last night. Sure. In the car."

The older Winchester gave a cursory glance to the left and right – not even looking or really seeing the road he was about to cross – before stepping into the street. Behind him, Sam was actually struggling to keep up. Not because of his long legs, but more his sheer confusion as to why Dean was booking it, double time.

But what Sam didn't know was that they were getting out of this town and they were doing it immediately. Dean could and would explain the whole mess to his brother once they were safely a mile or two (or a hundred) away from that hospital, that ice cream shop, and any sulfuric yellow goo that might be hiding in this fucked up town.

"Dean, what the hell!" Sam's complaint came from behind him as he stepped into the road. "Will you slow down and talk to me?"

The sound of tires screeching caused Dean to flinch and spin all at once, heart squeezing in panic. But no amount of speed, reflex, or terror could save Sam from the car that barreled into him, speeding through the stop sign it should have obeyed.

"Sammy!"

The younger Winchester hit the ground hard and Dean flinched a second time at the sound of a head cracking against pavement. Sam rolled several times before coming to limp stop of dead weight and broken bones. The car lurched to a halt just feet in front of the downed Winchester.

Dean's knees hit the asphalt next to Sam with punishing desperation. His hands shook over the bleeding body below him, hesitating for fear of causing more damage. The worry only lasted a moment before he was scooping his baby brother into his arms, best he could.

"Sam! Sammy, open your eyes. Come on, don't do this, damnit. You're fine. You're gonna be just fine." Dean's voice cracked, frantic brain and clenched gut refusing to believe the words coming out of his own mouth. He knew they were lies. He shook Sam regardless, wary of the broken bones and bleeding cuts, but trying to get his brother to wake back up. "You can't die on me, you bastard. You can't."

The creak of a car door and footsteps – too slow and too calm for the situation – drew Dean's attention. His gaze locked on the approaching man. A man he didn't recognize, had never seen before, but instantly hated. A man with eyes that shifted yellow as he lowered a pair of sunglasses from his face.

Dean's chest lit with an inner fire that ached and burned and begged to be rubbed at.

"Well, well, well," Azazel tsked, looking down at the bleeding, broken Winchester and the brother holding him close. He gave a little shake of his head, tucking those obnoxious sunglasses into the breast pocket of his polo. "What a shame."

Dean pulled out his gun in the span of a blink and managed to get one round off before the demon was on him. Azazel grabbed his wrist with one hand, splintering the bones with a simple twist. The hunter cried out in pain even as his weapon was plucked from his lax grip and tossed to the side, where it clattered against the curb.

"I don't think so, Tiger." The demon gave Dean an admonishing look, like a parent scolding a mildly misbehaving child. He even waggled a finger in the hunter's face before releasing his wrist. "Not this time."

"Go to hell," Dean spat out through a clenched, shaking jaw. He curled his shattered forearm to his chest, the other hand still clutching his brother to him.

"Would love to! Why don't you come with?" Azazel grinned, showing off yellowing teeth. He held one hand out, as if the hunter might actually take it. "You could follow in, say, a year or so?"

Dean's jaw clenched even tighter, teeth squeaking in protest. "Go. To. Hell."

Yellow Eyes sighed dramatically, putting that hand on his hip like a disappointed soccer mom. "Ah, well, I'm sure you'll change your mind eventually. It's a lonely world out there, Dean. How long do you think you'll make it without your brother?"

Trembling limb still clutched to his chest, Dean folded over Sam, as if to somehow put himself between the younger Winchester and this demonic bastard. Azazel didn't seem phased. Instead, he fished what looked like a business card out of his other breast pocket, dusted it off – the damn thing had a bullet hole in it from Dean's one, errant shot – and leaned over the two men. Dean tried to draw back, to take Sam with him, but he had little leverage to do so.

Azazel tucked the card into the front pocket of Sam's bloody flannel. He patted it twice and Dean wanted to strangle him until those yellow eyes turned red with petechial hemorrhaging.

His chest was burning, like he was having a god damn heart attack. And yeah, Cas, he got it. He knew there was a fucking demon nearby. No effing shit, man.

Sam was bleeding out in his arms, again. Azazel was just waiting for him to make that deal – condemn his soul and the whole damn planet – again. And he still had no recourse. No plan. No options. And so very little control.

'If eating a bullet…'

Dean wanted to kill this son of a bitch, this murdering demon who dared touch his brother. Who dared kill him, again. Who dared try to dictate Dean's future. His fate. He knew he couldn't kill him, though. Not with what he had on hand. He could punch him, of course. Wanted to, so bad he was shaking with it. But he knew all that would do was break his other hand, and he couldn't afford that. He needed that hand.

'…keeps you from bringing me back…'

The man from the future used his one good arm to reach under Sammy's body, wrapping fingers around the gun tucked in the waistline of his jeans. Before Azazel could react – those pale eyes already tracking the movement and the shift in Sam's limp body – Dean drew the firearm and tucked it right under his chin.

"I'd rather you be in Heaven with me, than both of us here, starting the end of the world."

This time he didn't look away. Didn't close his eyes. He watched those yellow pupils dilate. Watched those eyes widen in surprise.

And then, with a trademark Winchester grin and a wink, pulled the trigger.

-o-o-o-

He was dreaming.

The lake was calm, the breeze gentle and refreshingly cool, leaves drifted across the surface, and rippling reflections of fall colors created a scene of pure serenity. His line was cast, bobber bobbing, fish just waiting to be caught and reeled in.

Dean turned to the space next to him, expecting his angel to appear, but Cas was already there and too close. A hand landed on his arm, the grip urgent. The hunter's eyes fell to it in surprise.

"Dean."

Green met blue. Cas was staring at him, eyes wide, face close. Dean couldn't look away.

"It's not–"

The fish tugged on the line.

-o-o-o-

He came to with a gasp, sitting upright in a bed he didn't remember going to sleep in. Dean rubbed at his chest, a residual burn there from a dream he couldn't remember having. The radio beside him was blaring Foreigner, just as loudly as the morning before, and this time Dean did throw it across the room.

"It feels like the first time. Feels like the very first time."

The cord snapped free from the outlet, the device shattering against the opposite wall. Lou Gramm's voice cut out with a burst of static and the clatter of broken plastic.

"Uh… okay." Sam's voice drew Dean's attention to him, dragging out the word with confusion and hesitation. "Rough night?"

Dean just stared. Stared at his brother who was alive once more. His bones weren't shattered, his skin wasn't broken. His eyes were full of life, concerned and off-kilter as they currently were.

"Um… Dean?" Sam stood from the bed, one shoe only half-tied. "You alright?"

The older Winchester clambered off the mattress and pulled his brother into a too-tight hug, gripping his back with alarming desperation.

"Dean?" Sam's voice was more than just a little disturbed now, but he raised his arms in return, awkwardly comforting his brother back. "Uh… you're starting to scare me, here."

Dean pulled away, but kept one hand on Sam's bicep, the other curled into a single raised finger, which he pointed at his brother. His eyes were too wide and his smile too tight. "You are not leaving this room. We are staying right here until it's tomorrow."

Azazel might think he was fucking with him, but Dean wasn't wasting this. Whatever this was. That yellow-eyed bastard probably thought he was forcing the older Winchester into making a deal or reliving Sam's death over and over again. But what he didn't realize was that every time he brought Sam back, he was giving Dean another chance. Another chance to save his brother, to keep him alive.

At least until he came up with Plan C or Cas finally found them.

"Um… okay." Sam's eyes darted between Dean's finger, waggling inches away from his eyes, and the slightly-unstable expression beyond it. "But, uh, what's so special about tomorrow?"

Dean finally pulled back. "What day is it today?"

"Sunday…."

"Then tomorrow is Monday, and Monday isn't Sunday. That makes it special."

Sam was staring at him like he was crazy and, well, he wasn't wrong to. Dean probably had lost it, considering he'd watched his brother die twice now and yet the sasquatch was currently upright and breathing. And also staring.

"Right… so… uh, coffee, then?" The younger Winchester stepped back, still eyeing Dean warily. He glanced at the door, like the answer to why they couldn't go outside might lay just beyond it. His gaze returned to his brother, eyebrow rising in question. "If we're not getting breakfast?"

"Coffee sounds great," Dean agreed with a relieved smile, still a little too crazed. He glanced around the hotel room, already mapping out the extreme warding they'd need to make sure Azazel couldn't reach them inside.

Sam, meanwhile, was already headed for the little kitchenette that came with the room. There was a small coffee pot and brewer they hadn't bothered using before, in part because it was practically a guarantee the grounds would be awful, but mostly because they always grabbed breakfast at the nearest diner or cafe anyway.

The younger Winchester grabbed the machine's plug and reached for the outlet.

Dean spun around – hand reaching for a gun that wasn't on his boxer-clad hip – as the lights above flickered, the air sizzled with electricity, and his brother made a noise no healthy, not-dying human being should ever make.

Sam hit the ground seconds later, body still twitching from the electrocution that had stopped his heart.

A knock – cheerful and playfully patterned – sounded on the motel room door and Dean didn't even bother opening it. He just retreated the three steps he'd made it away from the bed, reached under his pillow, and pulled out his gun.

-o-o-o-

The lake breeze was cool against his face. The water was calm beneath the dock. Cas's grip was tight around his arm.

Those blue eyes were so close, voice deep and panicked.

"Dean–!"

-o-o-o-

He came to with a gasp, sitting upright.

"It feels like the first time."

Dean ripped the cord of the alarm clock clean out of the wall from his spot on the mattress, covers still wrapped over his legs. Then he got up and stomped over to the kitchenette. Grabbing the coffee maker, Dean raised it over his head and slammed it into the ground, smashing it into a dozen pieces. Just for good measure, he gave the thing several hard stomps.

"Um…"

The older Winchester turned around to face his not-dead brother, alive and well, one foot still propped up on his own mattress, shoelaces in hand.

"So… we're going out for coffee, I take it?"

-o-o-o-

Darla was still in her pink uniform, coffee pot in hand. The bell above the diner door still chimed and the kid still came running. Dean caught him, the father chided him, and Sam just stared.

"Nice reflexes-"

"It wasn't reflex," Dean bit out, anger levels leaving him practically vibrating in the booth across from Sam. "I knew it was going to happen."

The younger Winchester frowned, giving his brother a once over. "What do you mean? Like, your timey senses?" His eyes lit up in contemplation and he shifted in the booth, leaning forward a little. "Have we done this before?"

"No," Dean shook his head, then hesitated, "I mean, not no. Yes, but not– it's not a future thing– we didn't do this, but we've done this before."

Sam just stared.

"Look, we've done this before, right?" Dean practically growled, his frustration and inability to communicate going hand-in-hand. He gestured agitatedly around them. "Like, all of this. Foreigner, the diner, the kid. We've done it all before."

Sam's voice was slow and measured, his tone uncomprehending. "Like… you've lived through it already."

"Yes!" Dean let out a too-relieved noise that registered more on the hysterical side of the scale, glad his brother was finally getting it.

"Okay…. How is that not your timey senses?"

The older Winchester growled, low and irritated, in the back of his throat as he threw his hands up. "I didn't live through this in the future, okay! But we lived through it yesterday."

Several other patrons of the diner glanced their way awkwardly, the restaurant now significantly quieter at Dean's unusual – and loud – outburst. Sam cleared his throat, ducking his head and shoulders slightly in an effort to draw less attention as he avoided catching any of those stares.

"Alright, so, uh…" The younger hunter gestured with his hands just barely raised off the table, hoping to calm his brother down even if he had no idea what Dean was currently talking about. Or upset by. "You're… re-living the same day?"

"Yes!" Dean hissed, both relieved Sam was finally on the same page yet annoyed with how long it had taken. "Three times now I've woken up and it's Sunday. Three times now we've gone through the day, looking for fucking yellow goo-"

Sam opened his mouth.

"And no, I wasn't awake last night when you told me about the case." Dean didn't miss a beat, and Sam's mouth snapped shut. "But you've told me about it today. Three damn times. And three damn times you've-"

He abruptly cut himself off, looking away from his brother as all three deaths flashed before his eyes. It wasn't something he ever wanted to see again. And yet, Dean was starting to worry there'd be more of it to come.

"I've what?" Sam asked, straightening. It wasn't hard to pick up on the sudden tension in his brother's frame.

"Died, okay?" Dean looked back up, gaze sharp and angry but also haunted. "Three times, you've died. And then Azazel shows up."

The blood drained from Sam's face in the span of about two heartbeats. He didn't move for several long seconds, frozen to the spot. "What?"

The man from the future couldn't hold his brother's gaze, eyes darting away again.

"Did you…?"

"No," Dean bit out harshly, head snapping back. "Jesus, no. I shot myself. Every damn time, Sam. I shot myself, like I promised."

"But then how-" It was Sam's turn to cut himself off, relief at Dean keeping his promise somewhat short-lived as realization straightened his spine and widened his eyes. "Azazel's been bringing you back."

The younger hunter quickly hunched back down, gaze darting from diner patron to staff, looking for yellow eyes. Dean didn't bother telling him not to. He already knew Azazel wasn't in this building, but that wasn't going to be any consolation to Sam. It hadn't been any consolation to Dean.

"What do we do?" Sam whispered, dragging his gaze back to his brother.

"I don't have a clue," Dean muttered, shoulders sagging. The muscles under his skin were all buzzing with angry, volatile energy, but his bones felt heavy with something too close to defeat. The hunter rubbed at his chest, the skin there tight with residual ache. "I've tried keeping you alive, but we don't even have to leave the motel for…"

He trailed off and this time Sam didn't push. He could guess the outcome well enough.

"What about Cas?" The desperation with which Sam asked it – the fear and worry not for himself, but for his brother – made Dean want to have better news on that front. Cas hadn't just been his backup plan. She'd been Sam's too.

"I've tried." Dean shook his head. "Either she doesn't have her ears on or Azazel's keeping her away somehow."

The hunter didn't want to consider a third option, that Azazel had captured or even killed the angel. Dean was sure he'd know if that had happened. The Cas sitting behind his sternum might be aching pretty much non-stop at this point, but it was the familiar ache of something wrong, not something dead. Not something missing because it was gone. Cas might be in trouble, wherever she was, but she was alive. Dean was sure of it.

She just… couldn't get to them right now. Which meant they were on their own.

"So, you wake up after I die?" Sam asked, bringing Dean's thoughts back to their current problem. The question was asked tentatively enough to be sensitive of the situation, but the curiosity in his tone meant that big brain of his was already at work on the problem.

"After I shoot myself," Dean corrected, just a little bitterly.

His brother gave him a look that was part sympathy, part apology, and part 'man up'. Dean wanted to glare, but honestly didn't have the energy.

"So, try not shooting yourself this time."

The older Winchester blinked. Then baulked. Then got a little pissy that Sam was just accepting that he was going to die by the end of the day. And then, after all that, Dean actually thought about what Sam was asking him to do, and started looking a little green around the gills.

His brother was asking him to let him die and just… live with it.

Dean's stomach churned at the thought, because that was everything he'd been trying so desperately to avoid. For two years now.

(More like two decades.)

"I mean, obviously don't bring me back," Sam was quick to say, probably misreading the wide range of facial expressions Dean was currently going through like a playlist set to shuffle. "But if the day resets when you kill yourself, then… don't do that."

"But you'll be dead." He said it like it was the most obvious thing in the world. A big part of the very simple equation that Sam and his big ole brain were somehow missing.

The look his brother gave him in return made it perfectly clear he hadn't missed anything.

"Yeah, Dean, I know."

"But, Sam–"

"What other choice do you have?" the younger Winchester countered immediately, still pinning him with that look.

Dean just shook his head, because no. No. That wasn't a plan, it was… it was…. Okay, Dean didn't have a word for what it was, other than impossible.

Which wasn't quite right, now was it? He'd managed it once, for a year. A hellish year, for the most part, but Dean had sort of made it through. He could maybe do it again. And just viciously push down any and all thoughts about how fucking miserable he had been for that year and how he never, ever, wanted to live through that pain and grief and self-loathing again.

"It won't work," Dean said instead, still adamant that letting his brother just… rot wasn't a viable choice. "They'll just pile on. Hell will keep coming and they'll start adding bodies, Sam. I can't… you can't ask me to make it through that."

For his part, Sam did look damn apologetic about having to ask for just that. "If you have another idea, I'm all ears, Dean. It's not like I want to die. But you can't keep repeating the same day over and over again. Something has to change."

The older Winchester didn't have an answer to that, much as it killed him. Angered him. Made his blood fucking boil and his gut sink like lead and his chest burn. Because the only other option was to end the world, and Dean couldn't bear that responsibility twice. Not knowing he was doing it this time.

But he also had no idea how to willingly do what Sam was asking, either. How to just… keep going.

"Okay," he muttered. Dean shrugged his shoulders helplessly, hating every part of this so-called 'plan', but Sammy was right. What choice was there?

"Dean, I'm not…" Sam sighed, shoulders hunched around his ears in his own brand of defeat. "I'm not asking you to give up, okay? Find Cas, figure out a plan and… I don't know, bring me back later if you can. But if you can't…. It's okay, Dean. Really. It's okay."

The man from the future hated that voice. That sympathetic, understanding, knowing tone that Sam took with anyone in pain. In mourning. He hated it. He hated everything about it, about this, but he didn't have any better ideas.

So he grumpily agreed to at least give it a shot.

-o-o-o-

Sam died six hours later in a hospital O.R. from an allergic reaction to mystery goo. The doctor's eyes slid yellow and Dean didn't shoot himself.

-o-o-o-

He made it four weeks.

They had a hunter's funeral, attended by Bobby and Andy, Ellen and Jo. Cas never showed back up and Dean couldn't find her, no matter all the tricks and knowledge he'd dragged with him from the future. Even Crowley didn't have a lead. The angel was just gone, and Dean started to worry that maybe Azazel had gotten to her somehow.

The small wake they held at Bobby's after the funeral was fitting. What Sam would have wanted, the old hunter said. There was booze aplenty and memories shared, some somber and others filled with the life Sam no longer had. Dean hated every second of it.

He didn't call Jess. He couldn't be the one to tell her that Sam– That he had failed. Failed his brother and failed her. So he just didn't call. He also figured if she ever found out, she'd probably hunt him down and skin him alive for leaving her in the dark but… maybe it was better that way. That was what Sam would have wanted: Jess, away and safe and out.

Dean spent the first few days after at the Salvage Yard, but it didn't last. Everyone was too quiet. Too cautious around him. Too… pitying. He couldn't handle Andy's sad looks or Bobby's lack of gruff. And he didn't even like the dog, who also seemed intent to console him.

So he left.

Azazel showed up at least once a day – on hunts, in diners, one time as a fucking cop who pulled him over – and every day, Dean said no. And every day, Dean didn't shoot himself. He found hunts and he killed with excess and he drank and he didn't sleep.

And then he'd rinse and repeat.

About the time Dean realized he was still killing himself, just slowly, he got it into his head that he might as well speed up the process if that's where it was headed. It had taken four weeks to get drunk enough to think about it and four weeks to be wretched enough to follow through with it. To reason out that putting a bullet in his brain meant getting a second chance at saving Sam.

A fifth chance. Whatever.

And if it didn't work – if he didn't wake back up on that Sunday morning four weeks ago – well, then it would be over either way and no real loss there, right?

Dean didn't even have to get up from the kitchenette table. He'd kept a gun on him twenty-four seven since Sam's death. Probably not a healthy idea, but it wasn't like a hunter was ever all that far from one, anyway.

He tucked it under his chin, the spot familiar even weeks later, and pulled the trigger.

-o-o-o-

"It feels like the first time."

Dean now hated Foreigner, which was a real damn shame. Another notch in Azazel's belt, he supposed. But Sam was alive and tying his shoes on the other bed and Dean thought, 'maybe this time.'

-o-o-o-

"So… you're re-living the same day?"

"Yes," Dean answered without even looking at his brother, instead watching Darla serve a customer at the counter. His name was Andre, he owned the mechanic's shop just down the street. It was a death trap. Literally.

"And… it's not a timey sense thing?"

At this point, Dean didn't even know why he was explaining it.

"No."

So long as they went to the diner, Sam didn't die in the morning. So long as they interviewed witnesses about yellow goo, Sam didn't die in the afternoon. But it didn't matter what they did in the evening. If they warded a motel room top to bottom with every inch of supernatural knowledge Dean had, or cleared outta dodge in the Impala at ninety miles an hour (or at a very safe twenty, or really at any speed in between), or investigated the damn glitter goo without getting close enough to inhale. It didn't matter. Sam died before it ever became Monday. Dean could never save him.

And he never made it long without him, either. Not when a second chance – an opportunity to make it right, to save his brother – rested in a single bullet.

Or whatever weapon was on hand, really. Azazel started getting creative after the first few attempts, taking any and all weapons out of the equation at every opportunity. But Dean had enough experience with Djinns to know the drill. There were a lot of readily available things you could use to off yourself.

Explaining it all just made everything harder, really. If Dean didn't say anything, Sam let the day carry on and he lived longer. Which gave Dean more time to come up with another plan that would inevitably fail. Explaining it took time, energy, meant Sam generally fought him at every turn (well-meaningly, of course, but Dean knew all the possible outcomes here, so what was the point?), and all-in-all got him nowhere.

Yet there he was. Explaining it to his brother once more.

"Yesterday was Sunday, today is Sunday, and, most likely, tomorrow will be Sunday too."

Dean didn't bother mentioning Azazel. He knew where that conversation went – every time – and this time he'd rather skip to the end. Skip seeing the fear in his brother's eyes as he said Azazel's name. To be asked, again, if he'd sold his soul. And (to his ever increasing annoyance) see the pure relief in Sammy's eyes when he told him no, he'd put a bullet in his brain instead.

The kid could at least show a little horror at the number of times Dean had committed suicide for him. They were broaching real Romeo and Juliet levels of commitment here, and Dean didn't do chick flick moments, damnit..

But instead of the reaction Dean was expecting – a hushed and worried discussion about what they could do next, because that's what had happened every single time – Sam surprised him.

"Like Groundhog Day," the younger Winchester supplied, almost offhandedly. A frown formed between his big brows. "Or, well, a dark, twisted version of it."

Sam was still trying to wrap his head around what Dean was explaining to him. Because it sounded… well, not unbelievable, because he was sitting across from his time traveling brother, but still pretty unbelievable. Except Dean was also clearly freaked out. And pissed. And also trying to hide how freaked out he was.

So, this – whatever this was – was really happening. Sam had an easier time accepting that than he might have two years ago, even if wrapping his head around it wasn't the easiest. The question now was, who (or what) had the power to stick his brother in some sort of demented time loop.

"What?"

It was Dean's turn to stare at Sam for the first time in… well, a long time.

The beanstalk of a man shrugged self-consciously, unsettled by the intensity of that stare. He raised an eyebrow, perhaps a little defensive considering the movie they were talking about and the fact that Dean could quote it beginning to end, and had. All the time. For years.

"You know, Groundhog Day, where Bill Murray has to repeat the same day over and over again because he's stuck in a-"

"Time loop."

Dean's breath left his lungs like someone had just sucker punched him.

"Yeah, I know the movie, Sam. But living the same day over and over again…."

His tone was definitely dismissive (fed by several weeks of Sundays at this point), which furthered Sam's frown. But Dean had trailed off, leaving the younger Winchester to just stare, both expectant and completely confused.

"Yeah…?"

Dean's gaze snapped up, locking on his with an urgency that left Sam's heart pounding and body flooded with adrenaline. That was the look his brother got before they usually had to run – or fight – for their lives.

"What day is it?"

The adrenaline came crashing down in a wave of pure bafflement. Sam frowned at the question, asked with the kind of seriousness one didn't usually use with the days of the week. Not to mention, Dean had just gotten done telling him exactly what day it had been yesterday, was today, and would apparently be tomorrow.

"Sunday."

"Not Tuesday." It wasn't a question. It wasn't really a statement either. It wasn't even aimed at him, Sam realized, as Dean's gaze drifted back off to the distance. When he continued on, there was a disbelieving scoff to his words. "A hundred Tuesdays. And I never got to listen to Asia again."

Well, now Dean could add Foreigner to that list.

"Son of a bitch!"

Sam just stared, but Dean was elated. Pissed the hell off, but elated. He had finally found his plan C.

-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-

A/Ns: I am so ready for the barrage of yelled "I KNEW IT. I TOLD YOU I KNEW IT, SILENCE!" Bring it on ;)

I hope you all enjoyed reading this chapter as much as I did writing it. I seriously think it's been my favorite one to tackle so far. At first I was a little worried about having to re-write the same thing over and over again (how do you keep that from getting repetitive?) but it ended up a really fun challenge!

Fun Fact #101: Dean was only going to spend, like, five Sundays in the loop before he caught on because that Future knowledge should really come in handy SOMETIMES. But as I wrote it and he got so desperately ingrained in the Azazel red herring, it just went off on it's own. Suddenly it was many, many Sundays and also several weeks of not Sundays (which might line up with the original timeline but definitely wasn't in my blueprints!) But that boy is dense when revenge gets involved. And, also, five Sundays would have been entirely not-verbose, so really, who here is surprised? *eyes the Muse* I blame her.

Gabriel: I know some of you will have questions (like, why? And how? And also WTF, Silence!) and we'll get to all those thoughts in the coming chapters. Where this story is going for Gabriel's character arc meant that Mystery Spot couldn't happen in Season 3 or in the way that it went down in the original timeline, but I couldn't just let it go either. It had to make an appearance in this story, there was no question about that. So I took Mystery Spot Gabriel's mindset and threw him into this timeline's moment, then asked "whatcha gonna do, hmm?"

Then let him and the muse have at. Which... saying it out loud now, was probably a terrible idea XD

Reviews: I am so, so, so, so excited to share this chapter with you and it will kinda break my heart not to hear from you all about what you thought (does not have to be positive, btw!) Please take a moment to drop a comment!

Up Next: The next chapter is written, though I have some friends coming to town next weekend so it'll be posted in two weeks!

Cheers,

Silence

Update - 09/14/22: My undying, unending, depthless apologies for the unexpected delay in getting you all your next chapter! I ended up with some serious OT time to finish the latest movie, which left me exhausted and stressed. Then I jetted off to the east coast literally the same day I ended on the show, to spend time with my neices! Who are both sick. So now I'm sick too D: I haven't been doing much but sleeping and entertaining toddlers. It's been a lot, and there has been noooo writing in the middle of all that.

Once I've recovered, I will try to get back on track! Thanks for hanging with me everyone, and continued apologies for this COVID/post-COVID lack of routine updating. I miss the days of routine writing and posting sooo much.

Cheers,

Silence