They're taking a break from the heavy, hunting a simple poltergeist, and it was after the job is done that Sam realizes.
Dean is on a spiel about Mormons, in the middle of a crowded café, in Utah. Oblivious to his surroundings and Sam isn't sure whether to cringe or smile at the people at the next table or join Dean in the mocking. It was Utah, after all.
But Sam realizes and it hits him hard. He hasn't thought about the deal going on three days now. In the beginning, he'd thought about it every minute of every day, even when Dean was smiling and laughing and he was joining in, it was there. Then it drifted towards every hour of every day, then every four days before being lulled into a thought in the back of his mind, coming out every now and then in wild spurts of panic and fear, then settling into something he knew as calm.
It's been three days, three whole days in the middle of Utah with barely nothing to do besides take down a ghost formally known as Clare Hooper, and he couldn't spare a thought. They're nearly half way there, Sam has no plan, not even a notion on how to save his brother, and Dean is grinning. Sam identifies it as his everything is fine grin and he wonders if maybe in Dean's mind, it really is fine.
Dean has eight months to live and he's talking about Mormons.
Sam had fought with Dean, with Bobby and Ellen and most of all, he fought with himself for the first few days of coming back. It was a hard thing to deal with, the hardest thing of his new life, and his old life too. They were kind of one and the same, because despite the scar on his back and the ticking clock on his brother, they really were the same.
Hadn't been at first. There had been a touch of fear and anger here and there, which lead to the fighting and other things that Sam tried not to give thought.
Sam had felt the first inklings of self loathing sneak in when Jake had stared in horror and mentioned spinal cords, and Dean hadn't quite been able to meet his eye.
He'd fought the loathing, just like he'd fought everyone else, because finally, he was starting to understand what Dean had gone through after Dad.
He was going to save Dean. There were no ifs, ands or buts, just fact. He has to save Dean. Because Dean had saved him. He wasn't going to forget that, not like he had in Utah for those three days.
They're in Boston now, taking care of a werewolf. Dean has avoided any mention of werewolves and leg humping, because since Madison it suddenly wasn't that funny anymore.
Sam kind of wants to hear it.
He tells Dean that, after, nursing a bottle of beer in his hands and bumping the empty ones with his elbows. And he tells Dean about the first few days of his new life, because these sorts of heart to hearts poured out during extreme drinking conditions.
Dean is only on his third beer when Sam explains about the fear anger he'd felt, what it had lead to, and with only six months to go, Dean was listening. He smiles once Sam was done, puts on his best Yoda voice and says, "Fear leads to Anger. Anger leads to Hate."
Sam decides to help his brother finish the quote and listen to Dean explain why Jar Jar really was a cool character, because that's what you do during extreme drinking conditions.
Henricksen catches up to them in North Carolina, while they're investigating a few mysterious deaths. Its dumb luck they don't get caught, for the first time in forever, Sam reads the map wrong and they end up ten miles back from where they're supposed to be, where Henricksen and his crew are waiting. Dean calls him a dumbass at first, then calls him just Sammy after his mistake becomes a good thing. Sam knows it's a good thing, he's gonna keep Dean out of jail sure as hell as he's gonna save Dean's life.
They get the hell out of Dodge, figure that someone else can take care of the case for once. Sam suggests that maybe they should ditch the Impala and Dean is back to calling him a dumbass.
The plates get changed, again, and Sam knows it's probably not enough, but he keeps his mouth shut and they're back to Sammy.
Dean looks at Sam sometimes, really looks at him when he thinks Sam is distracted or pissy or sleeping. There's five and a half months left and Sam is starting to read those looks as Goodbye.
Sam doubles his research time, and barely sleeps.
Sam knows he looks like hell, Dean's told him more than once.
Not so much with words, but the simple glances that Sam can trace back to when he was four years old and fell off his bike bad enough to rip some skin.
There's worry and panic and a sense of resignation, because just like when he was four and got straight back on the bike, Dean knew that Sam wasn't gonna be deterred.
Sometimes the look will change, and Sam could recognise that one from when he was five and was asking why they didn't have a mommy.
There's a silent plea for Sam to let it go, but he keeps his eyes glued to the computer screen and his ear to the phone, looking for something, anything to save Dean's soul.
Sam mostly ignores the looks, because there is only five months left and they have nothing, and Dean is back to resignation.
He asks if Sam is going to finish his chicken, and takes it before receiving an answer.
Dean gets himself close to disembowelled in Nebraska, by some crazy manwho isn't even close to being a demon.
Sam thinks his brother was being reckless and tells him that, but Dean isn't much for caring when his internal organs are begging to be exposed.
They play patch up back at the hotel, because Dean is too stubborn and too wanted by the feds to visit a hospital. Sam can't argue, because he's just as wanted – Dean argues that as well, even though he's bleeding half to death, because it's always a competition between siblings.
Sam is torn between thanking God and thanking the would be disembowler, because the guy was a crap shot and Dean's vital organs are safe for the moment. It's a simple case of stopping the bleeding and stitching the wound and listening to Dean bitch and moan the entire time. Sam isn't sure whether to glare and tell his brother to shut up and take it, because he was the one being reckless, or just be glad that Dean is still around to bitch and moan.
He settles for a less than gentle jerk of the thread currently stitching up Dean's midsection, and immediately feels guilty when he hears his brothers groan.
But they only have four months, and time spent with Dean's blood on his hands is time that could be spent finding a fix.
The way they're going, Sam is sure they will need a freakin' miracle
They have always taken turns getting hurt and this time is no different.
Sam gets himself strangled by something that resembles the Creature from the Black Lagoon and possibly smells just as bad. Sam sees stars, then tinges of black before his vision is clear and Dean's grabbing his shoulders, his face, his arms. The monster is up in flames and Sam and Dean hug like it's the first few weeks of Sam's new life again. Dean had been so clingy, yet reserved about the whole thing.
They move on, Sam with bruises around his neck, and go to Missouri. The person, not the state.
It comes as a surprise to learn she had managed not to foresee her own death a few weeks earlier and Sam knows he should feel upset – he does, but not in the way that's right. All he can think of is how she might have saved Dean.
They head to Missouri, the state this time. Dean lets Sam drive for the first time in a long while. He muses about how they still haven't seen the Grand Canyon.
Sam says they'll get there, if not in the three and a half months they have left, then sometime after the deal is broken.
Dean cranks the music up.
Sam doesn't sleep that night, just like the night before, and more than likely the next night.
Dean slept easily last night, all deep breaths in and out, and Sam had heard his brother sleep enough to know that he wasn't faking. He'd listened, laid out in bed, and stared at the ceiling.
Tonight he was sitting on the covers, still listening, but staring at Dean.
Dean doesn't snore.
Sam had always found that surprising; their dad had snored, on the occasion that he got a little shut eye, and Dean just seemed like the type. But he'd never once heard his brother snore, and that was a lot of nights not to hear something like that.
But Dean was all about the deep breathing and for the longest time at Stanford - a few days at least, but it felt like the longest time – Sam hadn't been able to sleep without hearing the breaths four feet to his left. Or right, depending on whether Dean felt picky about bed selections.
Dean prefers the left, and Sam prefers not to argue about hotel beds.
They have a month and a half left, and Sam listens to Dean sleep, all deep breaths in and out.
Ava was able to control the demons with her mind, and Sam is sure he can too.
Dean doesn't seem to think so, is still stuck on Sam not being like the rest of the psychic kids. For one thing, he's still alive.
Sam knows as well as Dean does that he's the same as the others, living not withstanding. Dean knows as well as Sam that attempting to control a demon, specifically one that's coming to claim a life, could result in Sam ending up . . .
Dean won't say the words, and for once, Sam decides against filling in the blanks. But he does know. He doesn't want Dean to live and be left to kill his all of a sudden evil baby brother. Because Dean wouldn't, couldn't do that, and even if he did, Sam knew he'd just find another way to bring him back.
Dean is just like that.
They cross demon control off the list, along with all the other options that fizzled into nothing. With only a month left to go, Sam is about ready to shoot something.
Ash might have been able to figure something out, but he's long gone by now. Dead on the same day as Sam.
Sam pesters Bobby again, knowing full well that he won't have anything new, because there's only so much you can find out in a day.
Bobby's as remorseful as ever, but has nothing and wants to talk to Dean. There's something in his voice, a slight hitch that's been there for the last eleven months and sixteen days, but it's stronger today.
Sam hands the phone over and Dean's pretty cheerful, talking about everything ranging from the weather to Sasquatch sightings, even to that pretty little blonde thing Dean banged over in Jersey.
Dean hangs up after fifteen minutes, hands the phone back to Sam before heading to the bathroom, and they both know that talking about everything under the sun was Bobby's way of saying goodbye.
Sam is back to watching Dean again, this time through blurry eyes because he's got nothing. It's amazing how quickly a year can go, even when there's a war going on.
A year just isn't enough. Sam is sure that not even ten years would be enough; he's that selfish when it comes to Dean.
Dean has his eyes closed, but his breath is shallow and Sam knows he's awake. With only three days left, it's almost a sure thing.
"I'm sorry," Sam whispers. He hates how small his voice sounds in the darkened room, and hates how Dean keeps his eyes closed. Sam knows he's not pissed, but with only three days, Sam needs Dean to respond, to comfort him. He's that selfish when it comes to Dean. "I was so sure . . ." Sam tries again, the words hitching in his throat. "Dean, I'm sorry."
"It's okay, Sammy," Dean finally says and Sam starts to cry. Dean says something else that Sam misses, but he thinks it might be "Good bye." It's too early for goodbyes though, so he probably just says "Get some sleep."
Sam doesn't and Dean doesn't, and after an hour or so, they both give up and pack their things.
They've headed to Lawrence by default, and aren't quite sure what to do once they get there.
There are a lot of awkward silences, half started sentences, and Sam doesn't know what to say. What do you say when your brother has a day?
Sam finally suggests they head to the bar, so Dean can pick up. Maybe grab a burger and chilli fries on the way. He isn't sure whether to be surprised when Dean says no and grabs the remote.
Dean finds an old episode of ThunderCats by chance and they settle back to watch in their cheap hotel room, because Dean won't even fork out a few extra bucks to stay somewhere fancy for the night.
"You used to love that show," Dean says once it's finished. Sam just nods, it's all he can do, and brings up the cheeseburger and chilli fries again, minus the bar and hook-up.
They get back to the hotel, and Sam half expects Dean to forlornly stroke the Impala's hood and say good bye. Dean just rests his hand on Sam's back and they head inside, crappy food in hand and bad TV to watch.
"We never did go to the Grand Canyon," Dean says, and it's not remorseful or angry, just matter of fact.
Sam doesn't say anything, just feels his eyes burn as he stares at the ground. "You should go sometime," Dean continues.
Usually, Sam might respond with a "Damnit, Dean" or maybe "I'm not going without you" or even just a simple "Shut up, you idiot". Today he chokes out, "I will," because it's what Dean wants to hear.
They sit in silence for a while, back to awkward. Sam knows Dean is fighting for the right words, they both are, but Dad didn't raise them to do the heart to heart thing well.
Later, Dean is cleaning his gun out of habit and Sam gets up to grab himself a beer. He turns to Dean, asks, "You want one?" Dean looks at him in horror, and Sam knows he didn't hear the question; saw something completely different on Sam's face.
It's time, and they haven't hugged in months.
"You know," Dean starts suddenly, before Sam can break the hell down, "when Mom was pregnant with you, she was sure you were gonna be a girl." He laughs. "Man, I was so pissed. I didn't want a sister, I wanted a brother." There's a stretch of silence, before Dean shrugs and tacks on, "I just remember that."
"Dean . . ."
"You should go."
Sam shakes his head no, because Ava could control the demons and suddenly he doesn't give a damn about the could-be consequences. "I can fix this."
Dean stands and Sam is so sure he's going to get a hug, but Dean stops three feet in front of him, gun still in hand. They look at each other, and Sam says, "I will fix this."
Dean nods, bites his lip and looks down, fiddling with the gun in his hand.
Sam wakes up with two hours missing and a pounding head. There's a memory of Dean with the gun, maybe hitting him with it, but Dean wouldn't . . .
He's locked in the bathroom, and Sam remembers what day it is.
Sam slams into the door three times before there's enough room to slide through. One of the beds has been pushed up against the door. Sam might have laughed.
He observes the bedroom with eyes still bleary; it's torn apart, the door is standing half ajar, scratches in the floor. Dean is lying there, and there's blood, but with his hair mussed and his face peaceful, Sam thinks he looks all of fourteen.
Sam burns the corpse, burns his brother that night, way out in the woods with his tears neatly at bay. He watches the flames, thinks of his fathers' funeral, and misses Dean at his side. He wishes for a proper burial, but Dean got that in St Louis and try explaining that one to the people. The smell of smoke and death sticks to him, and Sam doesn't shower that night, or the next.
It takes a couple of days, but Sam knocks on the door of his old house, Dean's ring fit snugly around his left pinky finger. Jenny is still living there and she moves from eternally grateful to compassionate. Sam receives a tight hug, a whispered apology and he lets a few tears slide.
Jenny opens her backyard for Sam, lets him make a gravestone of sorts. It's not much – a few piled up rocks because Sam doesn't want Jenny to be burdened – and it's not enough.
Sam stands there for a long time, staring and having half assed notions of other gravestones that belong there. Mom, dead since '83, Dad, gone almost two years now and Dean, just three days.
The three gravestones would look good together, perhaps even with a fourth tacked on at the end. Sam, dead today.
Sam entertains that though for only a moment before dismissing it completely. He takes out Dean's amulet, knows he's meant to leave it there, perhaps bury it in the grave or hang it from one of the rocks. It's the right thing to do and he's already got Dean's ring.
Sam leaves with the amulet around his neck.
To hell with right thing to do; his brother is gone and Sam has always, always been selfish when it comes to Dean.