Author's Notes: This takes place right after "Faith." I loved the episode and thought they did a wonderful job with it. This was just something I wanted to write, completely brotherly fluff. Enjoy.
On Borrowed Time
Sam opened the door to their motel room only to find Dean laying slouched on his bed, shoes kicked off, one arm resting on his stomach, the other behind his head. Any other time, Sam could have thought the position was the epitome of relaxation, that his brother was taking it easy, mind at ease, completely fine and ready for something to do. But any other time, Dean wouldn't have had that look on his face. It was the look Sam hadn't seen his brother shed since they'd driven for almost three days straight, trying to get as far away from that faith healer, from that deceived town, from Layla, as possible. Dean had been uncharacteristically quiet since then. His sarcastic humor and witty remarks had been dulled down, almost dry. Dean was troubled, and Sam knew he'd been the cause of it. But as much as he hated seeing Dean like this, as much as he knew that somewhere deep down he understood why Dean was upset, Sam couldn't find it in him to regret anything he'd done.
Dean had been dying. Not in danger of dying, not coming close to dying, he had been dying, inevitably dying. The doctor's words when Sam had demanded that there had to be something they could do were, "All we can do is make him comfortable." And Sam had just stared at the man. Stared at him like the man had confessed to murder. Sam wouldn't accept it. He never would of accepted it, not until he heard the screech of a flat lining heart. And even then he would have thought there was a way to stop it. Dean and death did not go together. Not until Dean was an old, old man with a happy life behind him and no regrets. Only then, when his brother had gotten everything he'd ever wanted, would Sam be willing to let Dean pass gently. But never like this. That was why Sam had taken him to the faith healer, and that was why after everything they'd found out about the man and his wife and the reaper, Sam still had no regrets. Dean was still here. Sullen and broody, but here. Sam couldn't ask for anything more.
But that didn't mean he couldn't understand, and even feel a bit of sadness, for where Dean's sullenness was coming from. Dean had been saved, but at the cost of someone else's life. Someone who had been healthy, happy, undeserving. Of course Dean would be upset. Sam would have been worried if he wasn't. Dean was a righteous man, even if sometimes he acted like a complete ass. He would have never gone through with it if he had known the consequences. Sam hadn't known what was going to happen, but he couldn't help think that even if he had, even if he'd known someone else would die in place of his brother, he would have still gone through with it. It was selfish, he knew. But this was Dean. His last life support. Dean dying was not an option.
Sam set the keys and his jacket down on the table, glancing at his brother who had yet to acknowledge his presence in the room. He knew his brother was still a bit miffed at him. He wasn't mad, at least not at Sam. And though Sam had done everything he could, and would continue to do everything he could, to make it up to Dean, he knew that it wasn't himself that Dean was angry with. Dean was angry with life. He was angry with morals, with being forced to do the right thing, with their inability to turn the other cheek, with people who played God, and if he ever believed, with God himself. They'd done the right thing. Dean had even asked him that, and Sam knew that he'd have to try and convinced Dean again and again that they had. He didn't think his brother would ever be satisfied. This one was going to stick with him, probably all his life.
"I did some more research on those highway murders you said looked interesting," Sam said, watching Dean expectantly. His brother didn't even blink, but Sam knew he was listening. "It looks like our kind of gig. If we left in the next hour or so, we could be there in a couple days. If you drive, maybe even a day." Sam tried to joke, but his brother still didn't look away from the television. Sam sighed and decided to press on. "We'll know more once we get there. There's only so much you can get off the internet, but I think we've got everything we need. It looks like a pretty easy job. A ghost probably. Maybe even a lady in white wannabe. That was fun the first time around. We can just stick with rock salt and I'm going to suggest we ban anything that gives off an electric charge…"
"You ever seen this movie?" Dean's voice broke off Sam's rambling. He looked hard at his brother and then looked at the television. It was a black and white movie that looked pretty old. He didn't recognize it. But Dean looked so serious at the moment, Sam knew his brother was initiating the talk Sam had prayed he'd let them have. He walked over to his bed and sat on the edge, facing Dean but his head turned towards the television.
"No," Sam said and looked at the side of his brother's face. Dean looked thoughtful, his brows furrowed, eyes wide and glossy. He's surpassed the sullen emotion, he'd now drifted into the realm of upset and depressed. "What is it?" Sam asked quietly.
"I watched it once when I was a kid," Dean ignored Sam's question. Sam forgave him instantly, knowing his brother was trying to let Sam know what was going through his mind. Sam would let him direct this conversation. Hell, he'd just sit back and listen if that's what Dean wanted. Anything to help get his brother back to that cocky smart ass Sam had missed over the past few days. "I didn't really like it the last time I saw it. It's kind of hokey." Dean let out a forced chuckle. Sam just watched him, knowing his brother was aware of the scrutiny, but he couldn't do anything else. Sam was afraid to look away, afraid that he'd lose this chance. "But it's not so bad now. It kind of fits."
"I was never one for the black and whites," Sam said with a half smile. He gave a silent hoorah when he saw Dean's lips curl up for a second. It was a shimmering reflection of the brother Sam knew. He was coming back. They just needed to get beyond this discussion and Dean would be back again. It's how his brother worked. He'd brood and sulk for a few days and then he'd jump right back, having internalized all his emotions. Sam knew that one day, all those bottled up emotions would get to be too much and would come back in a furious explosion. But since Dean had come to pick him up from Stanford, he'd noticed that every once in a while, Dean would let a few of them leak out, like he was relieving the pressure. Sam hoped this would help too. He wasn't looking forward to the day when Dean let them all go at once. It wouldn't be pretty.
Dean sighed, letting his breath out slowly in preparation for what he was about to say. It was difficult for his brother to say things like this, Sam knew to be patient. "It's a good story," Dean whispered. "It's about this old dude whose dying and the grim reaper comes to take him away. But the dude tricks the grim reaper into getting stuck up in a tree. That's pretty lame," Dean snorted, his laugh half-hearted. "But, while it's stuck up there, there's no death in the world. People who are supposed to die, don't. You swat a fly and it just gets up again and buzzes off. The dude thought it was such a good thing. No death, no goodbyes." Dean suddenly bit his bottom lip and Sam resisted the urge to put a hand on his arm. Dean didn't like the touchy feely unless you were a woman. Especially if he thought it was out of pity, which he had a tendency to get confused with love and affection.
"Yeah, that sounds good," Sam whispered, watching his brother's face twitch. Sam felt a lump form in his throat when he realized his brother was so goddamn close to crying. Part of him wanted Dean to just let it out, to just cry. It was human, he wouldn't judge him. But another part of him urged Dean to hold it back, because he knew once Dean started, Sam would too and then they'd be two blubbering idiots who couldn't finish this desperately needed conversation.
"It does, doesn't it?" Dean finally got out. His eyes had yet to leave the television. "Well, the dude thought so too. But, just because there's no death, that doesn't mean there's no sickness, no pain. And the grim reaper knew that too, I mean, he's the fucking grim reaper, you don't mess with that guy." Dean took another long breath. "So he tricked the dude's grandson into trying to get something out of the tree. And the little guy climbed up on the fence and leaned over, and he fell off. He got hurt. He was in so much pain, but because there was no death, he couldn't be relieved."
Sam felt tears stinging at his eyes. Of course this movie would come on now, of all times. Like a sharp smack in the face for his brother. He could see why it was upsetting Dean so much. "Sounds like a good movie," Sam whispered when it didn't look like Dean could go on. It took him a moment, but Dean stopped sucking on his bottom lip and nodded with a shaky breath.
"It is," he answered quietly. His eyes fell from the television so he was looked at his socks. But Sam didn't think he was actually seeing anything in this room. His mind was back on Layla, on all the people who had died for someone else. "The dude came back and found his grandson. And there was nothing he could do. So he went out to that tree and begged the grim reaper to just let him die and to not take his grandson. And you know what the grim reaper said?" Sam shook his head, not sure if Dean could see it or not. But he didn't trust his voice. "He said that he can't change who lives and who dies. He said the only way to help him is to let him die. So the dude let him out of the tree and then he died, along with his grandson. But they were happy, you know?"
"Dean," Sam starting, shaking his head slightly. He didn't know what to say. Yeah the movie was sad, and obviously his brother had watched it at the wrong time, but what could he possibly say to convince Dean that this hadn't been like that? None of this was Dean's fault. He didn't know anyone would die. But he couldn't get his words out before Dean continued.
"Do you know what the title of this movie is?" he asked, his eyes turning slightly to the side to look at Sam's knee. Sam watched him, fighting off tears again. He shook his head quickly. "On Borrowed Time." Sam let out a breath. Now it made more sense. "That dude was living on time he wasn't supposed to have. And look what that got him." Sam had to stop this train of thought before Dean convinced himself of too much.
"Dean, this isn't like that," he said gently, watching Dean's face twitch again. His brother let out a wry laugh and laid his head back, staring at the ceiling.
"Yeah it is," he said so softly Sam almost didn't catch it. "I'm living on someone else's time, Sammy. None of this is supposed to be happening. I'm not supposed to be here."
"Yes you are," Sam demanded, surprising himself with how stern his voice had been. "Dean, yes you are," he said again, just to make sure his brother heard him. "I don't know if I believe in God, or if all of this really was just a hoax and the guy was doing things at random, but he picked you, Dean. Out of everyone else in that room, he picked you to heal. That's got to mean something. Someone out there wants you to have this life. I'm not the only one who wants you to stick around." Dean's face crumbled and his brother turned his head away from Sam. "Look, Dean, I'm sorry if you're mad at me for all of this…"
"I'm not mad at you," Dean whispered. "You did the same thing I would have done." He turned his face back and finally Dean's eyes met Sam's. Sam could see the hurt still lingering there. His brother bit his lip again before saying, "I just don't understand why it was me." Sam shook his head with a slight frown. He didn't understand. "You know, Layla's mom said something to me."
Sam's eyes scanned Dean's face. He hadn't known that. "What'd she say?" he asked.
"She asked why I deserved to live more than her daughter did," Dean said it bluntly. Sam felt his stomach drop. So there is was. He knew his brother had those thoughts, but he hadn't known someone had actually said them to his face. He felt anger build up inside of him and he was suddenly glad that they'd decided to get away from that town. "I didn't really have an answer for her. I still don't. Sammy," Dean shook his head and frowned, looking utterly lost. "I don't understand why I came out of all this fine and now two people are dead and one's dying because of me."
"Dean, this isn't your fault," Sam stressed, watching Dean's eyes roam over his face. He tried to look as sure of himself as possible. Dean seemed to think it over for a second before he smiled a bit. The smile worried Sam, it didn't look like one of Dean's normal ones.
"I didn't run away from him," Dean said, looking Sam straight in the eye.
"Who?" Sam asked. He knew he wasn't going to like the answer.
"The reaper," Dean answered and Sam sucked in a breath. He'd thought something had happened to his brother the night they'd finally stopped the reaper. He'd seen Dean's picture on that black altar. He knew the reaper would go after him, but when they'd met up at the car, Dean hadn't said anything. He'd looked winded and tired, but Sam hadn't pressed. "When he was healing Layla, it came after me and I didn't do anything. I just…stood there." Dean snorted again and sat up with a sigh. "I knew it was her disease. And…" Dean paused, looking confused again. "I don't think I would have done anything to stop it."
"Dean," Sam said firmly, having heard enough. He scooted down on the bed so he cold see Dean's face. "I don't know what to say to make this right." Dean turned to look at him, obviously surprised by the words. "But all I can tell you is that I wouldn't have been able to do this, any of this, by myself." Sam's voice cracked and he paused for a second, watching Dean's face soften. "I need you here, Dean. And when you were in the hospital, you looked so…accepting of it all. I couldn't let you give up like that."
"I didn't want to die, Sam," Dean said softly. "But I didn't want to give you hope in something that couldn't deliver."
"That's not your choice," Sam said, the anger evident in his voice. He watched his brother look away and shake his head. "I don't give up easily, Dean, you know that. But, saying you would have given your life for a girl you just met…"
"For a girl who deserved to live," Dean interrupted. "More than I did."
Sam sighed in frustration and actually reached out and shoved his brother, who looked shocked, but also mildly amused, which Sam guessed was a step in the right direction. "You don't get to choose that either. You said yourself we can't play god. We don't get to choose who deserves to live and die. Dammit, Dean. I didn't work so hard to make sure you lived just so you could go ahead and die again so willingly." Sam knew his voice was raising and trembling, but he couldn't help it. Dean wasn't suicidal, he knew that, his brother wasn't that stupid. But he was self sacrificing, and that was just as bad.
Sam was surprised when he heard Dean laugh. A whole, healthy laugh. He watched him, wondering what the hell he found so funny. Finally, Dean shook his head and scooted back on the bed, smiling at Sam. "You really are the nagging wife of this relationship, you know that/" Sam just stared at him before he chuckled and smiled. Welcome back, Dean. His brother's smile faded into something softer, but there was still happiness there. He looked content. "You don't have to worry about that, Sam," he said. "I'm not saying that I won't jump between you and a demon." Sam felt his heart swell at that. Dean could be a tender doofus without even realizing it. "Or that I won't risk my life to save someone else's. But, I know it's different now."
"Different?" Sam asked, watching his brother cross his legs at the ankles and look back at the television.
"Yeah," Dean nodded. "I'm not supposed to be alive and kicking right now," he continued before Sam could argue again. "But I am. I know what was sacrificed to make that happen. I owe it to a lot of people to stick around for a while and make it up to them, you know?"
Sam nodded with a soft smile, trying to push back the tears again. Boy did he know. "So you better stick around then," he said, watching Dean's smile widen.
"I plan to," he said and suddenly Sam realized that his brother was back. The sullen, broody man he'd been dragging around for three days was gone. This hallmark moment had stored him away for a rainy day and had brought back his brother. Sam had never felt so relieved. Dean nodded towards the television and Sam turned to look. It was the ending of the movie. The old man and his grandson were walking hand in hand towards a grassy scenery. "I'm on borrowed time."