When he returned with a good supply of ice and a couple of extra pillows Dean was lying still, his eyes closed, but obviously still awake by the sound of his breathing.
"Dude, I'm back. How are you doing?" Sam asked softly.
"Just peachy, Sam," Dean mumbled into the pillow.
"I got you some extra pillows. It won't hurt your back so much if you prop yourself up a bit."
Dean grunted as Sam positioned the pillows so that he rested half on his side, the pillows under his chest. "You're freakin' me out, man. You gonna get a little nurse's outfit next?"
"Just trying to help," Sam said quietly.
He found a couple of plastic bags in the bottom of his bag and poured generous portions of ice in each. Then he wrapped a couple of thin motel towels around the bags and sat back down on the edge of Dean's bed. "I'm putting the ice packs on now, okay?"
Dean sharply drew his breath when Sam applied the first pack and uttered a string of curses.
"Now, now, is that any way to talk in front of your little brother?"
"Bite me!" Dean gasped. "Shit, Sam, that's cold!"
"It's supposed to be cold. That's what takes the swelling down."
"Well, thanks, Florence Freakin' Nightingale."
Sam applied the second pack lower down the back, over the bruised kidney. When he'd finished he hesitated a moment, then laid a hand tentatively on his brother's neck. He felt the muscles beneath his fingers tense for a moment, but Dean didn't speak or push his hand away.
"I'm sorry, Dean," he said softly.
"For… what happened. For the way you're feeling."
"Sam, don't, okay."
"If you want to talk about it…"
"Sam, I know. I just… not now, okay?"
The tremor was back, stronger this time, and to his shock, Sam could tell that Dean was close to tears. Dean, who he remembered crying only once, as a kid. Dean, who had seemed like nothing fazed him up until the past few months, when emotions usually kept firmly locked inside had begun seeping out.
It frightened Sam, seeing his brother so out of control, and because he knew it probably frightened Dean, too, he backed off. "Sorry."
"And stop saying you're sorry."
"Sor…" Sam clamped his mouth shut, squeezed Dean's neck once and removed his hand. But he stayed where he was, close to his brother, but not touching. He wasn't sure how long he sat there, just watching Dean, before Dean spoke again.
"Dad made the right decision. Whatever I… if I… you know I'd always choose you, right?"
Sam felt a lump form in his throat. "Dean…"
"Sammy, you and me, we're good, okay?"
Sam hadn't realized how much he had needed to hear those words until he felt the ripple of released tension flow through him. It was selfish -- Dean was the one suffering here – but it was important that things be right between them.
There was so much he wanted to say, but he knew that right now Dean couldn't cope with hearing any of it, so he simply said, "Yeah, Dean. We're good. But Dean…"
"Don't push it, Geekboy."
"Hallmark moment's over. Go to bed, Sammy."
Dean's voice was drowsy but there was a note of humor in his tone that lifted Sam's spirits further and gave him hope.
"For the love of-"
"My name's not Sammy. It's Sam. Okay?"
There was silence for a long moment. Then an amused grunt. Then, "Whatever, you freak."
Sam grinned. "Right back at you, jerk."
There was no reply this time and after a few moments, Sam heard Dean's breathing even out as the combination of pain, medication and exhaustion sent him into a much-needed sleep.
Sam carefully pulled the blankets up around his brother, but didn't move from his position. He'd just wait awhile until the ice began to melt, and then make up a couple more packs. He sat and watched Dean sleep, wishing he could turn back the clock and stop this day from happening, suddenly overwhelmed by a feeling of protectiveness towards his brother.
Sam knew that this was far from over. Dean was hurting and clearly feeling guilty about it. That wouldn't go away overnight and they would have to talk about it sometime. Their father was going to talk about it; Sam would make sure of that.
Somehow, he was going to make this right for his brother. But he and Dean, they were good. And at this moment, that was the only thing that mattered.
It's possible that there will be a sequel to tie up some loose ends. I haven't decided yet!