The FM station has long turned to quiet static, and Sam snores lightly beside him. It’s dark outside, like it always seems to be these days, and the headlights of the passing cars leave starbursts behind his eyelids. If anybody cared to ask, he could tell them the exact number of days he has left to live. They've been branded into his mind.
Eighteen years, four months, and eleven days before Dean Winchester’s time is up:
Sam wheezes rhythmically in the back seat, his stuffed-up nose making his breathing sound unnaturally loud in the quiet of the car. He’s asleep, using a duffel bag for a pillow. He won’t remember leaving when he wakes up.
Dean stares at the dirt under his fingernails, listening so hard that his ears ring. The car’s tire catches a groove in the road and a piece of gravel hits the underbelly.
“You should sleep,” John’s voice rumbles.
Dean’s eyes shift up to his father’s face, and the stony expression is the same as it had been three hours before, when they’d left in a hurry from Lancaster. “Dad, what happened?”
John sighs, and he sounds old, far older than he should. “You can’t save everybody, Dean.”
He knows what that means. It means that Dad was too late, that somebody died. It doesn’t happen often, just often enough to shake up his world.
There’s a long silence, then Dean breathes, “I will. Everybody.” He says it like a promise, a promise to himself and to his father.
John’s shoulders square, and he barks, “You can’t!” sharply enough that Dean flinches. John’s knuckles are white in the pale pre-dawn, silhouetted against the black of the steering wheel. The smell of burning hair and flesh hangs heavy in the air.
Sam moans quietly and rolls over.
Two hundred miles later, John sits in the motel room with his palms pressed against his eyes, and Dean pretends not to notice when his slumped frame shudders.
Sam wakes with a garbled cry, his eyes barely able to open and his voice hoarsened by his sore throat. He makes pitiful sounds and asks for water, so Dean finds some pills and fills a paper cup from the tap. Sam drinks and clutches after his brother when Dean moves away. He gets snot all over Dean’s new shirt when he’s held until he falls asleep again.
Dean doesn’t really mind.
Eleven years, seven months, and twenty-two days before Dean Winchester’s time is up:
Dean grips the handle of the taser tightly, straining to see in the darkness. He’d dropped his flashlight a few minutes before and broken the bulb. All he knows is both Dad and the rawhead are around somewhere, and one he’d better not hit, and one he’d better not miss.
Suddenly his boot connects with something solid, and he nearly falls. A tiny mewling sound comes from whatever it was he tripped over, and he crouches cautiously. Putting out a hand, he feels hair and a face, and his fingers come away warm and sticky. A feeling of dread washes over him, because Sam’s safe in the car, Dean knows he is, but still...
The zapping sound and bright flash of a taser erupts somewhere to his left, and he hears a screech, followed by a triumphant yell from John. Dropping his own weapon, Dean scoops up the prone body on the ground and starts running for the area of the flash.
He hits moonlight halfway there, and he can see what he’s carrying. It’s a little girl, probably seven years old, and half of her face is gone, along with one of her legs below the knee. He can see teeth through her cheek, and a few of her ribs gleam a sickening ivory under her stained purple fleece jacket. She’s silent now, not even crying, but her eyes are watching him.
“Dad!” he shouts, panicked.
John comes lumbering out of a copse, dragging the body of the rawhead behind him. He sees Dean and drops the rawhead’s legs. He starts jogging over, and Dean stops, trying not to jostle the girl too much.
John reaches them, and instantly he looks defeated. “Thought there weren’t any kids round here tonight,” he says, and Dean hears the hopelessness in it.
“I found her over there,” Dean indicates with a shrug of his shoulder, “and she made a sound earlier. We have to get her to the hospital—maybe they can do something.”
John looks at him for a long moment, then takes off at a fast jog back to where Sam and the Impala wait. Dean follows more slowly, cradling the girl against his chest, muttering things like sweetheart and stay with me and it’s gonna be okay I promise. By the time he gets back, John’s slamming the trunk shut and Sam’s pale face is half-pressed against the window. John comes towards him with a syringe, and Dean knows it’s pilfered morphine for the girl.
“If she doesn’t make it,” John explains, sinking the needle into her clammy skin, “at least this’ll make passing easier.” Dean nods, tight-lipped.
They’re three-quarters of the way to the nearest ER when she stops breathing. Sam looks ill. John looks resigned. Dean wants to cry.
He tries to convince John to stay so they can find her family, give them some answers. He wants to buy some flowers for her grave.
They don’t stay, of course. Not past dropping off the body at the hospital and burning the rawhead.
Four years, one month, and nine days before Dean Winchester’s time is up:
Smoke rises from where the holy water splashed on the boy’s skin, and Dean instinctively takes a step backwards. Eyes flash beetle-black for a moment, then Dean starts reciting Latin at a furious pace. Winds pick up, a girl screams in the background, and the demon lurches forward in the chair it’s bound to. Ropes begin snapping and a candlestick whips towards Dean’s head, missing him by centimeters. Finally, however, the boy’s head snaps back and blackness erupts from his mouth like a physical manifestation of agony.
Dean pants for a moment, studying the slumped form in the chair. Long black fingernails wrap around his arm, and he turns to the wide, frightened eyes of one of the club members. “Is it…is it gone?” she asks.
“Yeah,” he responds gruffly, shaking off her hand. He pulls a knife from his pocket and starts cutting through the ropes holding the until-now possessed kid, and all he can think in that moment is these kids are Sam’s age and look at what they’ve done.
A few other girls huddle together, and one of them squeaks, “He killed Marissa.”
Dean can’t help the slight snarl in his voice when he replies, “Well, you did a summoning spell. What did you think was gonna happen?”
“He was supposed to be bound to my will,” the first girl responds tremulously.
“Darling, that shit doesn’t work, especially when the person doin’ it’s some know-nothing goth chick.”
The girl has the audacity to look affronted.
As he opens the door to the Impala, one of the club members races out of the building and screams after him, “What are we supposed to do?”
And in his mind he sees the misshapen form of Marissa, bloodied and broken in the stairwell, some demon’s plaything. In that moment, all he can do is shut his eyes and breathe deeply.
When he opens them again, the only answer he gives her is, “Don’t tell anybody the truth.”
One year before Dean Winchester’s time is up:
Sam’s gone, gone and cold now and the world has already ended. It hurts like a bitch every time he loses somebody, every time he’s just a little too late—but all of ‘em, all of ‘em combined, can’t even scratch the surface on a hurt this big. He just sits there, staring at Sam, wondering at the way the world seems to keep spinning when by all rights it should’ve stopped.
And when Dean gets desperate enough, he lets that idea he has gnaw its way through his doubts and inhibitions. He lets his needs outweigh his sense, and suddenly he stands and heads for the door.
It takes a small eternity for that damned demon to arrive, to taunt him. He loses more time than he wants to lose, but when his lips meet hers he tastes a bit of salvation in the promise of hell.
And when that door opens and Sam’s right there, it’s all worth it.
Nine months, fourteen days before Dean Winchester’s time is up:
He drinks, he fucks, he snaps at Sam for no reason—no reason except he’s scared shitless. And he hates it. Dean gave his soul willingly for his brother’s life, and he has no right to be afraid of the fate that he signed up for. All the same, he doesn’t want to go.
There are two numbers ever changing inside Dean’s head. One scrolls downward impossibly fast, counting the days until the hellhounds come. The other ticks upward so very slowly, listing the number of people he’s saved.
There’s never enough of either.
The radio is still stuck on static, and Sam shifts slightly and sleeps on.