"The difficulty is not so great to die for a friend, as to find a friend worth dying for." - Homer


"What the hell were you thinking?" Dean roughly shoved his brother into the motel room, tossing the duffel of weapons in after him. "Goddammit, Sammy."

"What? You're the only one allowed to be reckless on the job?" Sam responded with a grimace, holding his injured left arm while trying to avoid his brother's wrath.

Damn, are you trying to piss me off? Huh, Sammy? 'Cause you're doing a bang-up job of it!

Dean was pacing, his hand wiping down the length of his face before he turned and confronted his brother, straight on. "Reckless? God, Sammy, try suicidal." Dean was visibly shaking; his face contorted by anger, pain…fear. "You don't have the right to risk your life. You hear me?" he yelled, his eyes wild with terror, the color pushed from his face as he turned white at the prospect of what could have happened. He pressed Sam down to sit on the bed and disappeared into the bathroom. "Get your damn shirt off," he barked over the sound of water running in the sink. He returned with a wet washcloth and a towel, glaring at Sam for not following his orders quickly enough.

Sam defiantly stared back at his older brother as Dean hovered over him.

What are you? A mother hen? You are not my mother, Dean… Hell, you're not even my father.

It quickly became apparent Sam hadn't removed his shirt because his range of motion was impaired and he physically couldn't get it off, his left arm laying cradled across his lap. Dean shuddered at the sight, his fury instantly morphing into regret as he realized just how hurt his brother was, his eyes telegraphing a silent apology for his outburst. He turned tender as he reached out and eased his brother's good arm back and out of his shirt before gently pulling the stained and tattered long-sleeved shirt down his injured arm, carelessly tossing it to the floor to be disposed of later. The t-shirt also beyond rescue, several long claw swipes leaving it nearly shredded; the pale skin just as ravaged as it peaked out from beneath all the blood.

Sucking in a ragged breath, Dean pulled out his knife, wrapping his hand around it in a death grip before purposely expelling a calming gasp as he moved forward, cutting through the thin band at the neck and with a quick rip tearing the t-shirt down the front, making it manageable for Dean to then peal it off of Sam's chest as the sticky blood attempted to hold on.

Now all that covered Sam's chest was blood and sweat, but he would have to wait for the tears because Dean was determined. No tears would fall, at least not while Sam was watching him. Later…when he pondered how close he came to losing him, how this time he wouldn't have had anything to trade… How it would be permanent and real…forever…that's when the tears would inevitably fall, unrestrained and cleansing.

The deep wound to Sam's shoulder was damn bloody and to an untrained eye looked much worse than it actually was…but it was bad enough. Another few seconds or a little lower and… Dean didn't want to think about the 'what ifs'. Dealing with the actual damage was disturbing enough, too disturbing for a man on the brink.

The large first aid kit was plopped on the bed next to Sam, and Dean quickly went to work. Constant mutters twisted his lips as he grumbled under his breath, the steady flow a guttural rhythm disrupted only by a few distinct 'damns' and a disgusted 'holy crap, Sam!' The string of comments intermittently spiced up with more personal accusations of goddamn dumbass, stupid bastard, and freaking idiot that slipped out in frustration as his hands frantically worked at stopping the flow of blood and repairing the damage.

Sam silently sat there taking it, only offering up his own muffled moans and trembling jerks when a spike of pain shot through him, trying hard to maintain that stoic Winchester posturing proving he was above the pain. He knew better than to distract Dean when he had a sharp object in hand. Dean was an expert at stitching up Winchester wounds, having been the main practitioner to their dad over the years. In another life he would have made a fine doctor, aside from his disturbing bedside manner. House has nothing on you, Dr. Dean.

Twenty minutes of dabbing, probing, patching and stitching left Dean's hands red, covered in Sam's blood, his Sammy's blood. He paused for a moment staring at the crimson staining them, seeping into the ridges of his nails and turning a deeper red, almost black, as the blood pooled there. It only took a second for him to snap out of his trance, quickly wiping his hands on the towel and reaching for the bottle of whiskey. He offered it to his brother first. Sam shook his head 'no'. Probably a good thing…he needs to take a couple of pain pills and being the good kid that he is, he knows not to mix pain with pleasure. Dean took a long drag on the bottle. Fire burned down his throat on a path toward the fire in his gut, if only whiskey could extinguish this blaze.

He set the bottle down on the nightstand with a heavy thud and picked up the bandages and antiseptic cream, the last of his duty beckoning as his hands started to tremble. His gut wanted to retch, his throat spasming from the urge.

Sam carefully shifted on the bed as Dean tenderly bandaged his wounds. Hands gentle and almost soft, soothing him with feather light touches as he applied the bandages, adjusting them until they were perfect, compulsively smoothing down the adhesive tape to insure it was secure. Strong hands finally coming to rest against his chest when the job was done; the laying on of hands waiting for the confirmation of the gentle rise and fall of his breathing beneath the patchwork of white. Dean expelling a heavy sigh, low and ragged, as his fingers moved with each breath before reluctantly releasing from the magnetic hold.

Sam looked up into green eyes brimming with tears, the terror that leaped from them piercing Sam's heart for a second and he was sorry…truly sorry. Sorry to be the one causing his big brother such pain, ripping into Dean's fragile facade and delivering this crushing blow. The pain in his shoulder nothing compared to the pain he saw etched within Dean's features, furrowing deeper to consume his soul. Pain Sam had brought in his haste to protect.

Wanting only to reverse the damage, reclaim the confident air he missed seeing in his big brother's eyes, he tried to ease the burden. "Dean, I'm fine."

Silence greeted him as Dean withdrew back into himself as he settled beside his brother. He sat staring at his hands, the fingers starting to twitch as he pulled them into a fist, clenched as if waiting for something to take out his frustrations on, something he could pound to a bloody pulp to ease the terror. The blood still fresh but starting to dry, forming bizarre patterns within the texture of his skin, filling in the rough creases of his knuckles, worn deep into the crevices of his nails. It would probably take another twenty minutes to scrub off all the blood, a lifetime to erase the worry. But Dean didn't have a lifetime, Dean didn't have a year. The time was rushing past, what had once been a trickle now a flood as the spillway opened, each day slipping into yesterday quicker than they could secure it, desperately trying to postpone the inevitable but failing miserably.

Sam jostled his good shoulder against his brother's trying to nudge him out of his funk, trying to make amends. He grimaced as the slight movement tore at the stitches, bringing focus back to his injury.

"Dean, I'm sorry…" He started and stopped as he tried to explain. "It's just, it was rushing you and I had to stop it."

Dean looked up and his eyes flickered over his brother, sad and confused, bewildered and lost. "Why? Why would you do that, Sammy? I'm already dead…" Dean's voice broke, raw hurt rumbling through the pain, still immersed in the terror of that moment, his brother throwing himself in front of a rampaging creature, taking the blows meant for him. "I'm dead, Sam. You don't have to be."

Sam gasped, the truth in that statement screaming out the injustice, the past months finally sucking the fight from him, the months ahead bent on stealing his hope. "Don't say that, Dean… Don't you say that," he pleaded.

Dean squared his shoulders, his voice determined as he looked up, bleary eyes opened up to the reality. "It's the truth, Sam…" He tried to lock onto a smile, the effort falling far short of his normal cocky grin, instead tender and fragile as his dimples flashed and he repeated the words, "It's the truth." He offered a quirk of his lips and a sniffle of his nose as he fought back a torrent of emotions. "Don't you ever do that again? You hear me?" His voice splintering, simultaneously harsh and tender, as he gazed at his brother, all the love his heart held, years of devotion and brotherly care, brimming in those expressive eyes. All defenses lowered, the shields shunted away as the hurt stood before him brazen, unrepentant and unguarded. "Sammy, I'm already dead, don't you go wasting that by getting yourself killed…not for me."

Defiance flared in Sam, anger burning deep in his gut, flashing out like a quick fire, brilliant and all-consuming. He wanted to scream at his brother, shake him from his duty and hold on tight…refuse to let one broken moment at the crossroads dictate the path of their lives. But it was too late to take back a bad deal, too late to end Jake and stop this tragedy before it began. Too late…

A lump lodged in Sam's chest, his physical pain out-maneuvered by his anguish. He found it hard to breath, hard to think…this entire situation impossible and crushing. Seeing Dean so shattered, so small… He couldn't hold on to his anger, not at Dean, not after all Dean had been through…and what was to come. His big brother was already hurting too much, paying too high a price for being who he'd always been, doing what he'd always done.

"Dean, I'm okay."

"This time, Sammy…" Dean looked up, his voice cracking from the strain of years of worry, this last scare simply adding to the pressure, the unrelenting responsibility of protecting his kid brother. "What about next time? What would I do?" Silence followed as both brothers progressed to the inevitable, Dean being the one to give voice to the thought. "What if I'm not there?" I'm not going to be there…

Tears formed in Sam's eyes, one year's time looming within the words. The certainty hanging over their heads, a guillotine poised and waiting to end Dean's life, finally releasing him from his duty and leaving Sam with only the memories and the guilt, the last of the Winchesters, alone with his grief.

This wasn't supposed to happen… This isn't right or fair or…

Sam shuddered through every thought that had pummeled him since he first learned of Dean's deal. Every guilt stabbing his consciousness and assaulting his heart.

"Why did you make that deal? Why would you do that?" Sam asked, heartbroken as he repeated the question he'd pondered every day since Dean first confessed his actions.

Dean again found himself; that lost look instantly gone, pride and certainty replacing it as he smiled. "'Cause you're worth it, Sammy." His grin was radiant, any wistfulness or hesitation vanishing as if it never existed. He slapped his hand on his brother's back as he rose, giving him a short rub up to the juncture of his neck and good shoulder, lingering and applying pressure in a firm grip before he finally released his hold on his brother. He took a step back and turned toward the bathroom, his walk confident and sure. He repeated the words as he disappeared into the bathroom and the water turned on, "You're worth it."

Tears fell from Sam's eyes, his shoulders hunched over as he wept. He bit back the stitch of pain that lanced his chest, that pain he could deal with. His mind now focused on saving his brother, finding that out, repaying a debt he could never repay. Promising himself he would not fail, would not let Dean pay this price. The cost too high. He summoned all his courage, his determination rising once again. Whatever it took, whatever the price…no cost was too great to save his brother.

Softly Sam whispered, "You're worth it, Dean."

The End

"Love knows no limit to its endurance, no end to its trust, no fading of its hope; it can outlast anything. Love still stands when all else has fallen." - Unknown


June 2009

All standard disclaimers apply.

Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed. Take care, B.J.