It should be noted that I have nothing against Wincest, but everything has its place, and its place is not in this story. Of course if you are wearing slash-tinted glasses you can see it here, but it's not intended.
Thanks to everyone for all of your wonderful reviews. I wouldn't have finished without your support. Thanks to Starliteyes for her infinite patience as well.
Till Death Do Us Part
"Are you kidding me? Where could they have possibly gotten handcuffs?"
Ellen took that as her cue to slide out the back of the room, escaping into the corridor. Even as frustrated as she was with the Winchester boys, she hadn't quite yet washed her hands of them. However, there was no way she was going to fess up to owning the cuffs that were now currently gracing their wrists. She decided that a tactical retreat to the cafeteria was best, leaving the doctor and Bobby to sort it out.
The night nurse had found Dean before Bobby and Ellen. Once the nurse had realized that her patients were bound together she had immediately paged their doctor, who had been sleeping soundly in his own home next to his very lovely wife. He was, of course, reasonably upset at the intrusion.
It took him an hour to get to the hospital, and in that time the nurse had placed a sterilized mask over Dean's mouth and nose in an effort to keep him from becoming infected. Neither boy stirred as she checked their vitals and drew blood.
Being as efficient as she was, the nurse also sent an orderly on a scavenger hunt for anything that could separate the two men. He returned, disappointingly empty-handed, without either a key or bolt cutters. The nurse, whose mouth was now pressed into a firm line of irritation, told him to go buy a cutter at the nearest hardware store, whereupon the young man responded smartly that there were none open at such a late hour.
The woman's chocolate eyes narrowed and the orderly straightened his stance in response. Bobby, who was watching the exchange very closely, thought there was a very Gray's Anatomy vibe to the whole thing. Not that he would know anything about that, or that Denny fellow who reminded him of someone, though he just couldn't put his finger on whom.
They were about to square-off when the doctor walked in, looking far too groomed for a man who had been forced from his bed at such an ungodly hour. Bobby grimaced and took a step back further into the room and out of the way.
One look at the brother's bound wrists and the doctor became a notch less composed.
"Why on earth would they do something like that? Do they have a death wish?"
This time the doctor's outburst was directed at Bobby, who shifted uncomfortably at the attention. He shrugged nonchalantly, unsure on how he should answer the question. After all, the reason that the two boys were laid up in the hospital in the first place was just a whole mess of insanity, and there was no way that the older hunter was going to explain the details to the doc.
The doctor slashed his hand in the air at Bobby's disappointing response. It didn't really matter anyways. What they needed to do was to find some way to separate them.
"Nurse, call the police station."
The doctor's head swiveled dangerously on his neck and he pinned the nurse to the floor with beady eyes. Bravely, the woman stood her ground with only the slightest tremor.
"Where else do you propose that we get a key?"
The woman's eyes widened in response, and she nodded quickly. "Oh. Yes, of course." She glanced meaningfully at the orderly who darted away to do her bidding, grateful to be out of the room and away from the sniping doctor.
The woman approached cautiously, holding out a stack of charts.
"While we were waiting, I took the opportunity to check their vitals."
The doctor snatched up the brother's charts with a glare, and flipped one open, expecting the worst. He scanned the pages, his mouth screwing up into a mix of confusion and frustration.
"It says here that their conditions are improving. Samuel's breathing has evened out and his temperature has dropped. "
He shuffled the charts around, flipping open Dean's.
"His blood work shows a decrease in white blood cells. The infection that was building in his kidneys has nearly dispersed."
The doctor snapped the files closed, and stared at the two unconscious brothers.
"This doesn't make any sense."
"Sir, if I may."
The doctor scowled at the nurse, but made no move to shush her.
"What if it's similar to co-bedding? You know, where siblings take comfort in each other's presence."
The doctor's scowl turned into an icy frown, and the nurse ducked her head.
"That's ridiculous. That theory only works for ill newborns who have shared a womb. These are two full-grown adult males."
Bobby stepped forward, clearing his throat. He had his dirty, gray ball cap twisted up in his hands, but his blue eyes didn't even flicker as he met the doctor's disdainful gaze square-on.
"These boys have been sharing the same room, sometimes the same bed, for nearly their entire lives."
The doctor and the nurse both shot Bobby a shocked look that had him flushing beet red.
"Not like that! They're brothers. They work a damn dangerous gig, and the only people they can rely on to watch their backs are each other. Sleeping would not be easy for them if they were alone. Even unconscious they would be waiting for an attack. However, if you keep them together, they are going to get the rest that they need to heal up."
Bobby shot the doctor his best pleading look, which was pretty damn pathetic, but soon the nurse joined in and batted her concerned eyes at him. The doctor looked down at the irrefutable proof in his hands that the brothers had improved once they had settled in together, his lips pursed in consternation.
The doctor gave the brothers one more long, appraising look that ended in a resigned scowl before turning on his heel to exit the room. Bobby could hear him ordering the nurse to monitor the patients closely and if there were any negative changes to separate them immediately.
Bobby stepped up to Dean's bedside, his hat still twisted up in his meaty hands. He could see the lax set to Dean's jaw, and it wasn't until that moment that he realized for the last week it had been tight, even while unconscious. Now that he was next to his brother, his entire body was relaxed.
Sam no longer looked flushed, and Bobby could see a healthy color returning to his cheeks. It wasn't lost on him that Sam had turned his head so he was facing his big brother, his fingers stretched along the edge of the bed as if reaching for Dean.
"I got to hand it to you boys. Even knocked out, you drive people crazy wherever you go."
Bobby chuckled a bit before leaving to ferret out the boy's yellow-bellied mother who had left him alone to deal with the hot-shot ass of a doctor.
It was deep into the night. The hospital floor was still with only a couple of nurses on duty and the on-call doctor napping in the quiet room. Hours after being reunited with his brother, Sam's breathing had evened out until he no longer needed a respirator. Dean's vitals had improved and he was in no danger of seizing, so his heart monitor had been removed. A police officer had arrived hours earlier to remove the handcuffs, but the nurses kept their beds pushed close together, whispering the whole time about how loyal and handsome they were.
Their room was silent except for the brother's light, even breathing and the faint echo of the nurses as they chatted about the latest Survivor episode. So when Sam's breathing hitched, Dean instinctively woke up, his green eyes flickering to the side. For the first time in days the brothers were conscious at the same time, but that was no reason to have a big, emo-girly moment. They were Winchester men after all.
"Nightmare?" Dean's voice was raspy with misuse, and he could still feel the burn in his esophagus where the demon had forced its way down his throat.
Sam's pupils dilated and it took a minute for him to gain his bearings. It was too dark to be a hotel room and he didn't recognize his surroundings. It was the antiseptic smell that clued him in on the fact that he was laying in a hospital bed.
"Yah. I dreamed that I died and you went to Hell."
Sam's voice was steady, but his hand crept out from beneath the thin covers. He reached out, wrapping his fingers around Dean's thick wrist, feeling the steady beat of his brother's pulse.
"Never happened, Sammy," Dean responded softly, taking comfort in his brother's warm fingers around his arm.
Neither of them felt the need to mention that Sam had died briefly or that Dean had been a heartbeat away from being a meat puppet forever damned. They could swap tales later, after they were healed. Dean would skew his story until he sounded completely heroic and never even close to being in danger. Sam would claim that he couldn't remember a thing about being dead, even as the faces of his mother, Jess and Madison flashed through his mind.
For the moment, both brothers were satisfied that they were alive, not possessed or in danger of going to jail, and were finally together. They sat quietly, until Dean's raw words shattered the silence.
"I can't do this again. Dad is dead, mom is gone. You are all I have left, Sammy."
They had learned long ago that the darkness was meant for confessions. In the harsh light of day, neither of them would admit their fears or insecurities, but at night, when they lay side-by-side, they had often told each other their deepest secrets. When Sam had gone away to school, the comfortable ritual had been lost, but the rules had not been forgotten. What was said in the dark stayed in the dark, and it absolutely was not allowed to be used as fodder for brotherly ribbing in the daylight.
"Same here, Dean. You are all I've got too."
Dean shifted in the darkness, and Sam knew that his brother disagreed with his statement. Dean always thought that Sam had more going for him than he was willing to admit. Sam had the ability to make friends, and to endear people to him within minutes of meeting them. Sam could make a family, a home, anywhere he chose to go, while Dean could never find that sort of easy freedom.
"Promise me that you won't die again," Dean murmured quietly, almost to himself, but Sam heard him.
"Promise me that you won't put yourself between me and danger again," Sam shot back.
Dean didn't reply and Sam fidgeted under the silence, his momentary flash of anger dissolving away into sadness. They were both asking for promises that couldn't be fulfilled.
"Everything dies, Dean," Sam quietly told the night.
"I know that."
"I'm going to die someday." Sam pushed, and under the cover of darkness, he could feel Dean vibrate with tension.
"I'm not stupid, Sam," Dean's response was justifiably scathing, but Sam didn't let it deter him.
"You have to promise that when that day comes you'll let me go. Don't ever trade yourself for me again. Do you understand?" Sam tightened his grip on Dean's wrist, expecting him to pull away in anger, but his brother remained still beneath Sam's hand. This, at least, was a promise he could extract and expect to be fulfilled.
"Yah, I know. It's just--" Dean sounded so defeated that something clenched, hot and tight, in Sam's chest.
"What?" Sam whispered, almost afraid to hear what Dean would say.
"I can't…I don't want…You are all I have left, Sammy."
They sat quietly shoulder-to-shoulder, listening to each other's breathing. The shrouded darkness of the room only solidified what they both already knew. They were alone in the world, with only each other to rely on. No one could truly understand them, not even Bobby or Ellen. They were the last Winchesters standing. No one knew what it was like to be them.
"Yeah." Sam paused, thinking hard before he spoke. "I don't want to be without you either, Dean, but we are going to die and in this line of work it's going to be sooner rather than later."
"The demon is dead now. Maybe you could---" Dean sounded desperate, and the hackles on the back of Sam's neck rose at the tone.
"Get back to the normal life you've always wanted."
Sam sighed deeply, knowing this conversation was long in coming.
"And what about you, Dean?"
"What about me?" Dean's bewilderment broke something inside of Sam. When was it that Dean had ended up so fragmented? So worthless in his own eyes that he felt he didn't deserve the happily ever after he was so intent on getting for his brother.
"Are you going to settle down with me? Open a garage or something?" Sam was back to pushing, and Dean started shifting away again.
"Nah. That normal shit isn't for me." Sam could see beyond Dean's words to the meaning beneath them. Dean wasn't normal, and normal was never going to accept him. "Saving people, hunting things. That's what I do."
There was a significant pause, and Sam could feel a hole where words were left unsaid.
"But?" he asked.
"I just wish---" Dean didn't finish, but a light bulb went off brightly in Sam's head.
"That people would thank us more?" Sam finished, asking for Dean what he couldn't ask for himself.
Dean shrugged, and Sam could feel the flutter of his forearm muscles beneath his fingers. Though Dean had tried to slide away, Sam had retained his grip on his brother's wrist. Sam wasn't ready to let him go. He thought maybe he would never be ready to do that.
"I'm not going to do it you know," Sam blurted out, and he could feel Dean's confusion.
"Sam." Dean drew out his brother's name, as if by deeply intoning it he could change Sam's mind on the matter.
"No," Sam snapped out, interrupting Dean. "I'm not going to leave you. We are in this together, until the end."
"Sam, this is the end. The yellow-eyed bastard is dead, and we put a pretty sizable dent in the demon population this year. We could get you a new life, a new identity."
"Dean," Sam echoed his brother's long drawn out sigh. "I've been thinking about it."
"Why you've never settled."
Dean shifted again, and Sam tightened his grip.
"What do you mean?" Dean asked uncertainly. Sam swiped his thumb over Dean's fluttering pulse comfortingly.
"Well, there's the obvious guilt. If you stopped hunting who would die because of it?"
"Everyone has a choice." Dean was mutinous, rebuking his own argument now that it was being used against him by his brother. He wanted Sam to have a normal life, but the same want just didn't apply to Dean.
"Yah, but if I knew that by walking to the store I would have the chance to save some kid in the street from being run over by a drunk driver, but instead I decided to drive and avoid the entire thing. And because I wasn't there to push him out of the way of the car that kid dies, what kind of choice is that?"
"Sam, life doesn't have to be about sacrifice. If you know that you have to die to save that kid then you should get into your car and drive the other way."
"Oh, yeah, Dean? What would you do?"
The silence in the room was heavy, and there were no more arguments to be made. Dean would walk down the street and save the kid every damn time, and smile while doing it.
"Besides, that's not the real reason, is it?" Sam barreled ahead, ignoring Dean's flinch.
"If you settled down in one place, then you run the risk of meeting someone like Carmen."
"Hey, Carmen was hot," Dean deflected, but Sam ignored him.
"You told me that you could have loved her," Sam said softly, a whisper in the dark.
Dean's response was even softer, barely heard above their quiet breathing.
"I never told you this, but when I was with Jess, I was scared all the time. I would freak when she was out after dark by herself or home alone. I used to trail her around campus to make sure she was safe. She never knew, and if she did she probably would have called me a stalker and ran as fast as she could the other way, but that didn't stop me. It was like I was obsessed with making sure she was safe."
That was a confession he never expected to make. Not long after meeting Jess he realized that he couldn't stand the thought of her being hurt. A lifetime of seeing the monsters in the dark made him jump at every shadow that shifted. During their time together he had been hyper aware, placing himself between her and the door at all times, walking her to the library or to class. She thought he was sweet and protective, but she never realized that he would wake up at night and obsessively pace through their small apartment, checking hidden salt lines, and staring intently at the darkest corners of the room.
"Yah, but Sam, you knew what was out there in the dark."
"Exactly. How are we supposed to live when every night we expect to see the women we love burning up on the ceiling? Don't tell me you haven't thought about it. With Cassie, with Carmen," Sam's voice was accusing and finally Dean was able to shift far enough away that he dislodged Sam's hand from his wrist. For a split second Sam panicked at the loss of contact, but he quickly recovered, his keen ears honing in on the sound of his brother's breathing, and his dilated pupils making out the darker lump of Dean's body beside him.
"How are we supposed to have normal, knowing what we do? How can we let our wives walk out the door without us to go grocery shopping, to PTA meetings or to work?"
"Speak for yourself, Sammy. There are just too many women out there for me to settle down. No one woman can satisfy, Dean Winchester." Dean smirked smugly, but his words rang hollow in the dark room.
"What about kids, Dean?"
Dean swallowed hard at the question, and he tried to ignore the vision of them as children, riding around the countryside in the Impala.
"What about them?"
"Do we raise them like dad raised us? Constantly moving around. Weapons training. Hand-to-hand. If you have a daughter, Dean, will you teach her to wear a low cut shirt to hustle pool?"
"Hey, don't talk about my kid that way." Dean tried to joke, but Sam was at full steam.
"Or do we teach them nothing and send them off to school unprotected?"
"Sam, you need to shut up with all this moral dilemma crap and do what makes you happy." Dean snapped sharply, finally fed up with Sam's dead-end scenarios of a bleak, hopeless future.
"What makes me happy, Dean, is being with my brother, my family. I'm not doing anything without you and if that means hunting until the day we die, then so be it."
Sam's unspoken words were loud and clear, piercing the shroud of darkness that encased them. They would stay together, watching each other's backs until the day one of them fucked up and ended up on the wrong side of dead. On that day, they trusted the other to do the right thing and take the body out for a salt and burn. Once the flames burned down, whoever was left standing would take out their favorite gun and say goodbye to the darkness one last time before moving on into the light.
"This is so fucked up. Don't you ever think?" Dean mumbled, but Sam had no problem hearing him.
"That maybe we are so twisted up together that we can never be pulled apart."
"Yah," Sam whispered his assent, while staring at the distant ceiling.
"That's not normal." Dean intoned and Sam snorted.
"It's like you said, Dean. Our family is as far from normal as you can get."
"Yeah, but I wouldn't trade it for the world."
Dean reached out across the beds and wrapped his fingers around Sam's thick wrist, his fingers seeking his brother's strong pulse. Sam smiled at the darkness, flashing his teeth at their natural-born enemy and their only friend.
"Me neither. Family is all we got."
"If you think that I'm going to wear one of those broken heart necklaces now, you are sadly mistaken, little brother."
Sam laughed in the dark, the heaviness in his soul lightening a fraction.
"C'mon, Dean. You know you want to be my BFF."
"Your what?" Dean shot back, clearly stumped.
"Best friend forever."
"Dude, the fact that you know that makes you the biggest girl ever."
Dean removed his hand from Sam's wrist, but he didn't feel the loss as profoundly as before. Sam knew that his brother was at his side, alive and healthy, and that's all he really needed out of life.