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An Act of Deliberation by NovembersGuest

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Story notes:

This story has been finished and posted elsewhere for a while, but I'm gonna go through and clean it up a bit and repost. However, this version will be unbetaed--so there may be some simple oversights. For original version, see my LiveJournal.

Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.

Chapter notes:

Warning: Semi-graphic references to suicide. Contains spoilers through season two.

An Act of Deliberation

Chapter 1: A Glimpse of the Future

Alone in another rag-tag, worn down motel room, Dean Winchester sat on his bed, his Desert Eagle .45 sitting lax in his grip. In his other hand, a bottle of Jack, still a quarter full. He stared vacantly at the dismal brown paneling across from him. His chest rose and fell with each quivering breath as he studied the lines and color patterns of the wood grain, shoulders slumped with defeat. Although Dean hadn't blinked, a solitary tear washed down the side of his scruffy cheek and tumbled off his chin. He hadn’t shaved in more than a week and his beard was now darkening his face with a mixture of reddish-brown and blonde hairs—adding to his rumpled, forlorn appearance.

"I'm sorry, Sammy," he said, voice rough and cracking at the edges with desperation.

Dean gripped the gun forcefully, bringing the Eagle’s barrel to his temple. He hesitated for only a split second, then, pressing his lips tightly together, grimaced in resolution, scrunching up his brow and wrinkling his nose. Time stopped and he squeezed the trigger, loosing the bullet and sending it tearing through bone and flesh--the missile finally burying itself into the opposite wall. Dean fell back, his arm going limp at his side as he gazed unseeingly at the ceiling above. The light faded from his green eyes--the last of his salty tears spilling down the sides of his face and mixing with the spattering of blood. His soul ebbed from his body into the waiting arms of the next life, stealing with it all essence of what made him Dean and not corpse.

Bolting upright in the bed, Sam's chest heaved as sweat dripped into his eyes, blurring his vision.

"Oh, God," he whispered softly, brokenly.

Sam whipped his head toward the other twin, eyes searching for a familiar lump. Sprawled out on his stomach, limbs draped over the sides, lay Dean. Sam could hear the soft sounds of breathing that indicated Dean was, indeed, asleep and nothing more.

A nightmare, just a nightmare, thought Sam.

But, not.

Guiltily, Sam shoved that idea into the far recesses of his mind. It couldn't be--he refused to acknowledge the possibility. Dean would never…could never…

With a shake of his head, Sam abandoned the impossible thought in favor of a trip to the bathroom. He slipped from the warmth of his bed and padded quietly across the carpet into the small restroom. Leaving the door open and the light off, he leaned over the sink, one hand bracing his weight while the free one turned on the water. He splashed his face with shockingly cold water, but that did nothing to chase away the image of his brother lying dead, a pool of dark, red blood making a bizarre halo around his head.

"God, Dean," he breathed, running his hands through his shaggy hair.

"What?" a familiar voice intruded.

Sam jumped and spun toward the doorway. Standing behind him, body heavy with weariness, stood a very rumpled, grumpy looking Dean.

"Geez, Dean! Don't you knock?" Sam exclaimed, one hand covering his racing heart.

"Dude, the door's open. What's your problem?" Dean asked, blinking and squinting his eyes in the dimness.

Then, taking in his brother's drained face and the guilty way he was fidgeting, Dean crossed both arms over his chest and shifted back onto his heels. He knew Sam well, so he waited--observed.

Sam could feel the weight of Dean’s scrutiny.

"I hate it when you sneak up on me like that," Sam answered, shifting his face away from his all too keen brother.

"Sneaking? Since when is taking a leak 'sneaking'?" Dean let that hang for a moment and then said, voice full of big brother intuition, "Nightmare or vision?"

"Huh?" Sam answered stupidly.

Frowning, Dean spat, "Don't jerk with me, Sam. You know what I'm talking about."

"I, uh... I'm not…sure," Sam helplessly stammered.

Dean stared his sibling down from under drawn eyebrows, making the question a flat statement as he said, "You're not sure. Okay, Sam, what's up? What are you not telling me, because, dude, you so know the difference between nightmares and visions."

Looking back at Dean, really looking, Sam found himself thinking, You look so worn down…so tired. How can I tell you this, Dean? How can I possibly put more on your shoulders?

Dean hadn't slept much since their dad's death and ever since Oregon, things had gotten worse. His brother had been drinking heavier than usual, suffering from terrible nightmares that left him sweaty and shaking in the middle of the night. Dean had tried to hide it from Sam, but he knew just the same. Sam feared for the toll it was exacting on his brother. But, Dean being Dean refused to share the load, wouldn’t talk about the nightmares or acknowledge that he was unraveling a little more everyday. The last thing Sam wanted was to saddle his brother with another thing to worry about. Besides, maybe if he didn't say it out loud, it wouldn't be real.

"Look, Dean, it was probably nothing. Okay? Let's just get some sleep while we can—I’m bushed. Aren’t you?”

Maybe if they hadn't been out so late the night before, maybe if the desire for sleep hadn't been so strong, Dean would've pushed it. But Sam could see all his brother wanted was to fall back into bed and let unconsciousness claim him, at least for a few more hours.

"Whatever, man," Dean said as he brushed past Sam and into the bathroom.

Relieved, Sam flopped back into his now cold bed, lay on his back, closed his eyes and willed sleep to come. But all he could see was blood--so much blood--and his brother's sightless eyes leaking tears long after the soul had fled. It haunted him, tore his heart and made him sick to his stomach all at the same time.

God, he thought again, what could ever make Dean do such a thing?

Things had been rough lately, but in the scheme of things, just another chapter in a legacy of loss and pain.

But he knew, Sam knew, this was no nightmare. He just hadn't quite made up his mind to accept that he knew.

As his skin crawled with memory, he heard Dean climb back into his own bed, the springs of the old mattress squeaking in protest. Once his brother's soft snores punctuated the quiet room, Sam allowed himself to open his eyes and turn his head toward Dean. Studying his brother's face in the gray light from the window, Sam noticed how the shadows played softly across his brother's profile and made his eyes seem like endless hollows. Sam shivered and squeezed his eyes shut.

Just my imagination, he thought. It’s not real.

But he couldn’t help turning away from Dean, putting the image behind him, before he could allow himself to relax into sleep once again.

The next day shone down on the brothers in all of its springtime glory. The sun warmed their bones and their spirits—the earth seemed to have awakened at its touch. With blue sky above and rich, earthy smells coming from below their boots, both men hankered for a proper breakfast--their stomachs rumbling sharply while their mouth watered in anticipation.

As they walked across the street toward the local Mom and Pop restaurant, they basked in the beauty of nature, a soft breeze tickling their senses and ruffling their hair. It was the kind of day that made men's hearts light, swelling with contentment. Worries were put on pause and everyone seemed to be smiling. Some were whistling or humming softly under their breaths as they shuffled past the brothers--even the birds chirped happily, dizzily dancing from tree to tree in celebration.

Sam ordered the blue-plate special of scrambled eggs, sausage, hash browns and a tall orange juice while Dean asked for the ham steak, biscuits with gravy, hash browns and a tall coffee--strong and black, just the way he liked it. Dean was scanning the newspaper bylines for anything that sounded like their kind of 'weird' as Sam scoured the internet, both looking up when the waitress passed by, hoping she was bringing their orders. She smiled kindly as she sashayed past them to the next table, delivering the food to someone else.

Dean met his brother's eyes as he said, "Damn, they must've had to slaughter that pig. What is taking so long?"

Sam’s mouth quirked into a dimpled grin as he snorted,"All I asked for was the eggs. How long does it take to scramble an egg?"

"Yeah, well, maybe they're waiting on the chicken to lay 'em first," Dean shot back. "Hope they remember to wash the chicken crap off the shells."

Sam's face screwed up in disgust as he said, "Gross. Man, Dean, why you gotta say things like that?"

Dean simply shrugged and smirked down at the newspaper sprawled out across the table.

"Hey, you were the one traumatized by our up close and personal with farm life."

Sam shook his head, but said nothing.

A few minutes later, Dean scowled as he folded the paper and put it away, saying, "Dude, there's just nothin' going on out there. I've got nada, what about you?"

Sam just grunted and shook his head, his eyes still fixed on the computer screen as his fingers nimbly danced over the keyboard. Then a tap at the mouse pad, and another as he continued his search.

"Huh," Sam said, his eyebrows rising.

Dean looked up, his own eyes going wide with curiosity and anticipation.

"Ya got somethin' there, Sammy?"

"Uh, yeah...maybe."

Dean watched his brother's eyes flick back and forth across the screen, his brows drawn in concentration. Then Sam swiveled the laptop around for Dean to see as he began relating what he'd been reading.

"Looks like Albuquerque, New Mexico has had a rash of unexplained deaths in the last six months, all male." Sam's gaze darted around the small dining area and then settled back on his brother. "Could be a Woman in White or a succubus…whadda ya think?"

"Local authorities just list the deaths as suspicious, no hints as to cause of death--that's pretty vague…could be anything," Dean replied, eyes still glued to the screen.

"Yeah, but, Dean, all men? In the same locale? What are the odds?"

Seeing their waitress coming toward them, the younger Winchester snapped the laptop shut and deposited it on the seat beside him.

"Okay, yeah, it's weird. But, is it our kind of weird?" Dean asked as the waitress set their plates in front of them.

Sam smiled nervously at the girl with the dark ponytail as he kicked his brother under the table.

"Ouch! Dude, that hurt," Dean yelped.

When the girl's attention slid to Dean, Sam threw his brother the brows up, wide-eyed, 'Dude, not now' look.

"Can I get you anything else?" she asked, eyes darting back and forth between the two of them.

"No, thanks," Sam answered quickly and was relieved when she moved on to the next set of customers sitting three tables away.

"Spaz, much?" Dean grumped.

Ignoring the caustic remark, Sam went back to the problem at hand, leaning closer as he took a bite of egg.

"So, what else have we got--we just gonna sit around here in podunksville until something drops into our laps?"

Dean rolled his eyes and took a long swig of coffee before saying, "Okay, alright, we'll check it out. If we leave as soon as we're done, we'll be there by nightfall."

Satisfied, Sam nodded, then gestured toward Dean's plate.

"So, how's the ham? Fresh?"

"Lip-smacking. How's the eggs? Oh, man, Sammy, what is that?!"

Sam's eyes flew to the spot where Dean's fork pointed and swallowed hard as he inspected the suspicious off-colored spot. Then, just to prove a point, Sam scooped it up and shoved it in his mouth, chewing and groaning with pleasure, licking his lips.

"Mmmm, good. Want some?"

"Nah, but thanks for the offer," Dean said, putting up a hand palm out.

"Relax, Dean. It's just a clump of pepper or something."

"Yeah, you just keep telling yourself that, college boy," Dean smirked, digging into his gravy-slathered biscuits.

Sam shot back, "Hey, Dean?"

"Yeah," Dean asked, eyes questioning as he looked up. Sam's mouth was wide open, displaying his partially chewed eggs mixed with a little sausage.

"Oh, that's just gross, man. And you call me childish."

Sam laughed at his brother's grimace and the rest of the meal was finished in relative peace.


Chapter end notes:

All my whole-hearted thanks to Mady Bay and Tidia for their awesome beta skills.

Thanks for reading!

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