SPN || PG-13 || Sam, Dean, gen || ~780 words
"Choose," Death says to Sam.
"Choose," says Death.
Sam looks up at the ceiling where Jess is pinned, spread-eagled, abdomen sliced open and the flames frozen mid-roar like a horror movie on pause, and then he looks to the floor by the dining table where Dean is lying, spread-eagled, abdomen sliced to ribbons and face lifeless.
"I said choose," Death repeats in a slow deadpan.
Sam's throat tightens up like it's the poltergeist with the lamp cord all over again, like sandpaper's been taken to it and scraped until all the soft tissue is raw and bleeding. How can Death – how is Sam supposed to –
Jess, with her open smile and un-callused hands, her kinky outfits and weekend sweatpants, her lame sense of humor and razor wit. Jess, who gave him all the things which he'd given up his father and Dean for.
Dean, with his sleazy smile and oil-stained nails, his leather jacket and cheap faded clothes, his lame sense of humor and practicality. Dean, who still always tries to give Sam everything he can't have for himself.
"Choose," says Death for a third time, "or you won't have either of them."
Jess, who hated confrontations and never-not-once asked Sam about his scars, why he never talked about his childhood, why he kept a nine-millimeter in the back of their closet.
Dean, who could only ever say I love you with a punch to the shoulder or by throwing himself into the line of fire.
Jess stares down from the ceiling in unmoving judgment and Dean's marble eyes stare blankly into nothing. Sam is standing at a crossroads and doesn't know what will come out when he opens his mouth, a word or a scream or the black bile of guiltangerhatred.
"Dean," form his lips. The lamp cord snaps and he can take wet, rough breaths again while Jess burns on the ceiling, ashes falling like grey, silent snow. Why, Sam, the ashes whisper.
Sam wakes up to a water-stained ceiling and Dean watching him over the top of a newspaper.
"Why'd you let me fall asleep?" Sam asks. The words come out gravelly but he's half surprised that they managed to get out of his throat at all.
"'Cause I'm an awesome brother," says Dean, and adds too casually, "So what did you dream about?"
That Jess died because he hadn't loved her enough. "Lollipops and candy canes."
Dean snorts. "Yeah, sure."
While Sam's getting the kids out of the basement, Dean goes after the rawhead alone and is such a goddamn fucking idiot that he manages to electrocute himself. It's one thing to have the nebulous idea that they're probably going to die before the age of thirty, but it's something else entirely when a doctor can point to a date on the calendar and say with practiced sympathy, I hope you have your affairs in order.
When Sam is honest with himself, which isn't all that often, he knows he's got this tendency for tunnel vision and it takes some serious shit to make him get his head out of his ass. So the doctors say that Dean's got a couple weeks to live, a month at most, and suddenly Sam remembers a man that wasn't a man but something so old it was going to reap God himself. He feels blindsided and breathless and lightheaded, can't decide which adjective fits best when he sees his larger-than-life big brother hunched over in one of Sam's own hoodies.
And Sam has a choice. Stay, let Dad and the demon get further away as he waits uselessly for Dean to die; or go, leave Dean in the more experienced and capable hands of nurses and finally chase after revenge and a conclusion over twenty years due.
"All right, well, looks like you're gonna leave town without me," Dean says with such a faked edition of his usual humor that Sam wants to punch him. "Hey, you better take care of that car or I swear I'll haunt your ass."
Except it's not really a choice at all.
"I'm gonna die. And you can't stop it."
"Watch me," says Sam.
When Sam buries Dean on the side of a highway, he thinks that his choice to save Dean from a heart attack (to stay with him and not Jess' memory because, yeah, he loved her but she wasn't, she just wasn't) is what led to Dean whoring himself out to Hell for eternity. That Dean died because Sam loved him too much. Good intentions and all that.
Now Sam makes the other choice, and Ruby smiles behind his back.