A/N – So this one-shot was started simple… because! I had no starting line, no opening concept, just the desire to write a one-shot and to distract myself for a little while with some… something. So I opened a new document, reached out to the keys that have started losing the letters on top of them purely from writing fics, and waited to see what I would come up with. All of that is to follow is simply what came to mind with no rhyme or reason. Hope you like it!

Disclaimer: I have the DVD's, does that count for anything??? Huh?

Sole

Dean Winchester pried tired eyes open as he watched his little brother sleeping fitfully in the bed in front of him. He wasn't comfortable. He was cramped as he sat awkwardly in the crappy chair the motel managers thought suitable enough to put in the measly room. That room had cost more than Dean would normally fork out for a shit hole, but Sam had needed somewhere to sleep… at this point, anywhere with a bed would have done.

Money had been tight. Sam had been injured. Their last dollars had gone on this crappy room and the medical supplies that Dean needed to take care of him. A hunt gone wrong and the only option left to them after Sam had been released from the hospital was to hold up somewhere while they recovered. Dean's back, he knew, was covered in dark bruises, his neck strained from hitting yet another wall with a loud thud that had knocked the wind out of him.

As he slid to the ground in what seemed like slow motion, all he could do was watch powerlessly as Sam had faced the poltergeist on his own.

And all he had wanted to do was rush to his brother's aid, to help him, protect him… but all he could do was watch…

Sam had been tossed around this way and that like a sack of potatoes. He had hit the roof more than once, hit the ground from the ceiling as the poltergeist had released it's hold on him long enough to do even more damage. Then it had taken hold of him again, throwing him into the banister of the stair case. Sam's body had crashed straight through it, turning the solid oak into kindling suitable for a camp fire, and when he had hit the wall beyond Dean had felt bile rise to his throat at the bloody red mark smeared along the white paint where Sam's head had been…

had been, since Sam was already on his way across the room once more! After what had seemed like an eternity, Dean came to his feet, shotgun raised, and fired rock salt through the bastard that was breaking his brother in pieces.

Over the sound of the gunshot, however, shattering glass echoed through Dean's aching head. Even as the unnatural figure disappeared to regroup, Dean turned to see his brother sailing through the stained glass window to fall the two stories to the waiting ground below.

Crying out his brother's name, Dean had rushed to the destroyed window, arriving after the sickening thud his brother's body made when it hit the ground. He looked down to see the crumpled form of his little brother lying on the ground below him. Sam was pale, his body at an awkward angle, and Dean knew that there was little he could do to help him…

It would be another hospital visit for the Winchester brothers, he knew… only this time it was going to be by ambulance.

Sam jolted partially awake, hissing in pain as Dean reached out to him and pressed him back against the pillows gently.

"It's okay, Sammy," he assured him. "Take it easy, you're okay now…"

The poltergeist had been taken care of by Caleb and Joshua two days ago after Dean had finally set foot out of Sam's hospital room long enough to call them. It wasn't a job he could do on his own, he had come to realise, and it certainly wasn't a one-man job. Explaining what had happened, Joshua had enlisted his old friend's help and assured Dean they'd take care of it. They stopped by for a few minutes to let him know it was over, but Dean knew that they had been more concerned for the younger Winchester brother and their presence was more to assure themselves he was still breathing.

Finally breathing on his own, Dean had told them. He had tried to put on the self-assured smile that everyone seemed to expect from him but he knew he wasn't fooling anyone. He looked like crap, dark circles under his eyes, his skin pale and drawn out of concern for the brother that had been lying unconscious for almost a week and his own body had had no time to recover from the battering it had taken. His bruises and sore muscles were merely aggravated by the awkward seat the hospital had provided and that hadn't improved by their move to the motel they were now situated in.

The only thing that had improved was Sam's condition. The hospital had allowed him to go home, warning Dean about the dangers of the head injury he had sustained and yet the only thing that had taken hold of his younger brother was a nasty cold that now assaulted his body. His physical injuries had recovered more than Dean had expected so soon after his release, his head injury showed no sign of complications… but what had him truly worried was the fever that had taken over and the cold that threatened his breathing.

After a punctured lung from the broken rib the fall had provided for him, and the large shard of glass that had wedged itself just above it, Sam had been lucky to survive… and now his breathing sounded laboured once more as a mere cold racked his body.

And the fever made sleeping for Sam nearly impossible as it intensified the nightmares he suffered… and damned impossible for Dean who insisted on staying awake to look for any sign of complication that could suggest the need for another hospital visit.

Dean was so tired… years of taking care of Sam had taken their toll on his mind and body. Years of protecting him from every evil thing in the world. From his father's biting tongue as he raged against his more sensitive son. From anything that could hurt him… years of cutting his meat for him, of taking him to and from school, of sitting with him when he woke from another nightmare, of telling him everything would be okay when they didn't know if their dad was dead or alive – again. Everything that he had done, that they had gone through together, toppled over on top of Dean as he realised how close he had come to losing his little brother.

And that was just not a reality that Dean could face. Ever. He would never survive Sam, it just wouldn't be physically possible. He knew that if something happened to Sam, if he… died… then the pain of the loss would be the crushing blow that knocked Dean's final breath from his body. He would cease to draw breath, be unable to exist no matter how hard he tried to survive. There would be nothing left for him in this world that held nothing but darkness for him but seemed to offer an endless array of colours that entertained Sam – and complicated his life.

Sam… he was so different. He was unique. He was scary smart, that was for sure, and the things that managed to get caught in the younger man's brain had often baffled Dean. He had asked Sam one day about everything he knew…

"How the hell do you know all this?" Dean asked, wincing as he rubbed his temple as Sam finished spilling the multitude of information on yet another haunting they had been called in to hunt.

"Research," Sam answered simply.

"Yeah, but… there's a lot of shit stored up there, Sam," Dean pointed out, indicating Sam's head. "How does it get in there?"

Sam shrugged

"I don't know, there's a lot of crap up there and I don't have a clue where half of it comes from… I just read and research and… I don't know, man, it just is what it is," Sam told him. His answer hadn't even come close to satisfying Dean as he eyed him carefully. Sam had answered so matter-of-fact as if his penchant for learning was no big deal, that it wasn't something to be held in awe, but Dean didn't buy it. He didn't have half his brother's talent for research, and though he would learn enough to get the job done he didn't store all the minor details like Sam did.

"How…" Dean trailed off, realising that he was going to sound like an idiot. Sam looked at him, not missing the question in his voice and Dean sighed. Obtaining information wasn't his biggest problem, sometimes it was retaining it – too busy hurdling one hunt to the next to be able to keep every little thing in order the way Sam had. "How do you stop it from leaking out your ears?"

Sam chuckled.

"Ear muffs," he laughed, whacking his brother on the chest as he slammed the door shut behind them and grabbed the keys to the Impala from the hands of his bewildered brother.

Dean sighed, realising he'd lost one battle already.

"Dean," Sam murmured, turning bleary eyes to his brother. Dean was leaning forward in his chair, instantly on alert for whatever his brother needed. "Thirsty…"

Dean snatched the glass of tepid water from the table and helped Sam sit up a little to sip it carefully. Sam only took a little before exhaustion took over again and he collapsed back against his pillows. Dean put the water back down and grabbed up the thermometer to check his brother's temperature. It wasn't dangerously high, Sam had certainly survived a lot worse, but still he was worried. He was tempted to take him to the hospital but he knew that Sam wouldn't like it.

"Sam…" he began, drawing his brother's gaze back to him.

"No," Sam muttered, rolling away from him a little. "No hospitals…"

"Dude, the pills aren't helping much, your temperature's still up," Dean told him. "Down a little from before but still… I don't like it…"

Sam sighed tiredly and shook his head again.

"No, Dean," Sam insisted again. "No hospitals… I'll be fine…"

Dean sighed, knowing that the minute he saw any signs of his breathing worsening from the laboured wheeze it was already and he'd have his brother in the car and headed to the hospital so fast his head would spin. He glanced at his watch.

"You can have some more pills now," he realised, propping Sam up against the headboard and putting two pills in his brother's outstretched hands. He held the water for him, though, careful not to give him too much in case he choked. The doctor had said that he had to be careful of pneumonia or chest infections. So far they seemed able to keep those possibilities at bay. "I really wish you'd let me get a doctor to check on you, Sam."

Sam leaned back against the headboard, breathing heavily from the effort of taking the tablets.

"It's just a cold, Dean, I'll be fine," he insisted again. That damned Winchester stubborn streak was going to kill him one day, Dean thought bitterly. "Stop worrying so much."

"You could have died not too long ago, little brother," Dean reminded him, his voice gentle but thick with the memory of his brother with machines helping him to breathe. "What do you expect me to do? Roll over and go 'oh well'?"

"That would be too much to ask," Sam muttered, anger flashing through the tinges of fever flushing his cheeks.

"Dammit, Sammy!" Dean snapped, getting to his feet and slamming the glass onto the table hard enough for water to splash on the wood. He moved a few paces away from his brother before turning back, his eyes darkened as they flashed hurt and anger and fear at the sight of his little brother almost too weak to move. "How can you be so damned selfish, you bastard?!?! After everything we've been through in our lives… after everything YOU'VE been through this passed week alone… how can you expect me to just forget all of that and move right along as if nothing happened? You're sick, dammit, and you have only just gotten out of hospital!!!"

Sam opened his mouth to argue but something in Dean's eyes made him stop. Instead he bit his lower lip and Dean saw something akin to guilt cross his brother's features.

"I'm sorry," Sam said softly.

Dean's heart tightened in his chest at seeing how much his words had effected his little brother, but he wasn't done yet. He had to say it, he had to get it out before it ate him alive…

"What about what I'VE been through this week?" he asked, lowering his voice. His words came out as more of a growl though he had tried to soften his tone, but he knew he hadn't hidden the fear and pain he had carried with him while Sam had been hurt, been in surgery, been on a ventilator… been fighting for his life. "Do you even know what I went through watching you like that Sam? Knowing you could die and there'd be nothing I could do to stop it… I couldn't save you, couldn't protect you, I was completely useless! Do you have any idea how I felt?"

Sam's eyes flashed right back at him and he knew the last question had been the wrong thing for him to say, immediately wishing he could pull the words back out of he air and suck them back into his mouth, but he knew it was too late.

"Yeah, I do," Sam wheezed, leaning forward as anger gave him the energy to face his brother. He got to his feet and pointed a finger at Dean as his other arm wrapped protectively across his middle. "You would have felt about the same as how I feel every time it's you lying in a hospital bed… you think I don't know how that feels? You call me selfish! You say I don't understand! You think you're the only one who looks out for this family, but you're not. I watch your back as well, Dean, and it kills me when you're hurt and there's nothing I can do to help you… I feel just as helpless, and yet you think that when you're hurt I just sit around and wait til you're better so you can look out for me again! But that's not the way it is, Dean, not even close! I worry too, man, I pace the halls of the hospital when no one will tell me anything and it drives me nuts! Don't stand there and tell me I don't understand how it feels, because you obviously have no idea that I've been through every damn thing right there with you!!! What happens to you, happens to me and if you don't get that by now then stuff you!"

Dean turned and left the room, stumbling into the bathroom and closing the door as he tried to gather his thoughts and his raging emotions. He wasn't used to Sam talking like that, letting him have it and even though he knew he deserved it, it didn't make the cold hard facts any easier to swallow. He glanced in the mirror, staring at the unforgiving reflection gazing back at him as he realised that he had been a world class jerk not seconds before and wondering how he could fix it.

Sam was right! Dean mentally kicked himself for not realising it before… Sam was sensitive, he took on a lot of responsibility onto his shoulders, carried the weight of the world every where he went, blamed himself for things that he had no control over… he suffered nightmares, and not just about things he experienced, Dean had come to realise. He had started having nightmares about losing his family, Sam had told him suddenly over lunch several weeks ago. Dean had laughed it off and told him that that was crazy, that he was the indestructible older brother Sam had always known and he didn't have to worry about anything ever happening to him… but that hadn't helped Sam any.

"Dean, you don't know…" Sam insisted, his eyes clouding over as he argued his point. "You can't guarantee that you wont walk out that door in ten minutes time and get hit by a car."

"Two things, Sammy… one, I ain't stupid enough to get hit by a car," Dean assured him, a teasing glint in his eye as he kept his tone light in the hopes of making his brother feel better about his latest string of nightmares. "And two, check out the size of this freakin' burger, man… No way I'll be leaving in ten minutes!"

Sam rolled his eyes at Dean, and Dean instantly knew that there was no joking his way out of this one. His brother was really worried and, since there were truly no guarantees in life, he wasn't sure he'd be able to fix it.

"Dean…" Sam sighed. He took a deep breath and Dean saw something darken Sam's eyes even further. He waited, knowing that the next revelation to come was going to be the big one, the one to explain what was going on in his brother's mind. "Last week, when that creature had you by the throat, I would swear you looked scared…"

"Nah, man, no way…" Dean interrupted, honestly. "I knew that you had my back and you're a good shot… no way that thing was going to get a chance to go on breathing…"

Sam shook his head.

"I could just have easily missed, Dean," Sam disagreed.

"Not when my life hung in the balance, little brother, you wouldn't let it happen."

"But I saw it, I saw that moment where you wondered if you were going to make it out alive, I saw you doubting me… and I realised that if anything happened to you…"

"Sam, you wouldn't have let anything happen to me. We watch each other's backs, remember?"

"And yet we still somehow manage to get hurt, Dean… a lot…" Sam reminded him, his voice tense. "I just realised that if something happened to you then I'd have nothing left… you're all I have, you're my family… without you…"

Dean felt his heart plummet to his stomach, realising that this was why Sam hadn't been sleeping. He recognised the fear in his brother's eyes right now as the fear he carried with him every single day… that had eaten away at him his whole life. That no matter what else he had in his life, if something happened to his brother there'd be nothing left.

Nothing could stand up in his life against his brother, he was everything…

"Sam, I'm not going anywhere, I promise," Dean told him, though he knew that it wasn't necessarily a promise he'd be able to keep. "I'm always going to be around. Nothing's ever going to stop me from getting to you… as long as you live, you have my word on that…"

Now, as Dean's reflection taunted him with his own words, he swallowed hard. He knew he had made a promise to Sam never to get hurt and he should have remembered that Sam carried the same fears with him that Dean did. How could he forget that? How could he forget that he was as much his brother's world as his brother was his?

"Geez, Sammy," he muttered, gripping the basin angrily.

He had gotten so used to being the big brother, the hero, that he'd forgotten that Sam was invested in his life too… Sam needed him to survive and not just so he would be there to protect him, but so that he could continue to draw breath without that aching, gut wrenching agony that had racked Dean's body for over a week…

Dean heard a thud in the room behind him and he immediately pulled the door open before he'd even realised that he had moved. Sam was sitting awkwardly on the floor mere inches from the bed with a dumbfounded look on his face as he gazed up at Dean.

"I missed," he announced pitifully, his lower lip stuck in a pout.

Dean would have laughed if he hadn't felt so lousy for the things he had said to his brother. He reached him in two steps and lifted him carefully from the floor, lying him back on the bed and against the pillows. He pulled the covers over him and made sure he was comfortable. The glazed look in Sam's eyes told Dean the medication had taken hold and he rested his hand on his brother's forehead. He felt somewhat cooler and Dean sighed in relief.

Things were looking up.

"Thanks, Dean," Sam murmured as his eyes slid shut. "Better now, big brother."

Dean grinned as tears pricked his eyes. He sank wearily into the seat behind him, smiling at his brother as his breathing evened out and he was finally at rest. The angry words they'd shared minutes before were gone, a distant memory although their purpose had been solidly made. Neither would forget that they suffer together, every bruise felt by each of them and no one narrow escape failed to scar them.

Shifting in his seat, aching muscles reminded him of the misery he'd felt earlier as he struggled with the decision to take Sam to the hospital. He realised that Sam had been right, they would have drawn unnecessary attention to themselves since the medication was finally doing its job. Sam was sipping carefully at fluids to prevent dehydration… that and plenty of sleep would see this cold at bay and if Dean hadn't been so afraid of the pained reminder of the injuries Sam had suffered, the hospital wouldn't even have been up for discussion. It was fear that had driven him to consider it, not a medically sound reason and he knew that now. Even through the fevered haze Sam had been able to recognised Dean's anxiety in an instant…

The muscles aching in his back, Dean leaned forward as Sam began to tense in his sleep once more. He pulled his seat forward and rested a gentle hand on his brother's forehead. The contact instantly calmed his younger brother and he smiled.

That's it, he thought. That's why I do this… that's what makes all of this worth it…

A small smile tugged at Sam's lips as Sam mumbled in his sleep. Though no one else would be able to interpret the muffled words, Dean knew exactly what Sam had said.

"Thank you, Dean…"

He had sounded five years old again and it reminded Dean what was important in his life. Why he got up every day… why he fought the good fight… why he had started hunting in the first place… it hadn't started out as revenge for his mother's death…

Like everything else, he did it for one reason. His sole reason for living…

Sam.

THE END

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