A/N: And here is the final installment! The response to the last chapter wasn't as good as previously so I hope you are all still on board and enjoying this story;-) Thanks so much to all of you who have reviewed and favourited and a special thanks to those of you who faithfully reviewed every chapter – your kind words were what kept me going;-) I hope this chapter lives up to your expectations!
Disclaimer: Nope. Still don't own 'em.
Sam hated hospitals. He hated the smell, he hated the loss of control, and above all he hated the way people spoke about you as if you weren't there. I mean sure, his eyes might be closed, but that didn't mean he was brain dead OK? He heard every word that the doctor said to Dean. Every word. And there was nothing he could do about it because his eyes felt like they were weighted down with lead and his limbs might just as well be paralysed for all the good they were to him right now, and he felt exhausted. He had felt for a while like he wasn't getting enough oxygen, but had written it off as his overactive imagination, which had had plenty to feed it with the anaphylaxis scare. Now he knew that he hadn't imagined it at all. His lungs weren't working properly and this might only be the beginning. He sensed Dean's fear at the news and that only served to increase his own anxiety. He could be dying. This could be the end. And all he wanted right now was to speak to his brother, to open his eyes and say he was sorry, it was all his own fault and could Dean ever forgive him? But he couldn't. Because his lungs were heaving and his vocal cords were slack and he couldn't open his eyes. Come to think of it, being brain dead might be the better option.
~ O ~ O ~ O ~
Dean watched as hospital staff bustled around his brother, slipping new bags of fluid into the IV drip in his arm and replacing his oxygen mask with a non-invasive ventilator. If need be, they would intubate him later, but right now the non-invasive machine was better, as there was less chance of infection, and with Sam's compromised immune system, the last thing he needed was another infection to combat.
He felt helpless sitting by as the staff worked efficiently around Sam's bed. The doctor had tentatively told him that this should work, Sam should start to get better, but there were no guarantees. After all, he should have started to get better a while ago, but things hadn't really gone according to plan, had they? Typical Sammy, always bucking the system. Dean smiled ruefully and a little bitterly. The doctor was right. There was nothing they could do now but sit and wait. And Dean had never really been the patient type.
~ O ~ O ~ O ~
Dean woke up with the prickly feeling that someone was watching him. Sitting up with a start, he hastily rubbed the sleep out of his eyes and looked around him, hunter senses on the alert. Seeing no threat in the immediate vicinity, he turned his head towards the bed, where two sleep-dazed hazel eyes were staring back at him.
"Sammy? Are you awake?"
His little brother nodded his head slightly against the pillow and reached his hand up towards the ventilator, with the obvious intent of removing it to talk. Dean rushed to stop him.
"No, Sammy, don't do that. You need to have that on because your lungs aren't working properly."
Sam's forehead wrinkled and he moved his hand back again. Dean grabbed his wrist and gently forced it down on to the sheets. "I know it's uncomfortable Sam, but you've gotta leave it there for now, OK? Just for now." Sam nodded reluctantly.
Dean squeezed his brother's hand and let it go. "I'm gonna go call a doctor to check you out OK? I promise I won't be long."
Sam nodded again, hazel eyes blinking slowly. Dean smiled at him reassuringly and left the room.
~ O ~ O ~ O ~
"Well, there's been a definite improvement since I looked at him last."
Dean had fortuitously managed to find the same doctor who had seen Sam before. The man had carefully examined Sam and was tentatively hopeful. Dean pressed him for more details.
"How are his lungs though? Can he come off the ventilator yet?"
"Well, his blood pressure is normalizing nicely and his fever is down, so it looks like he is responding well to the vasodepressor drugs I gave him and to the new antibiotics. I think it would be safe to take him off the vent and put him on the mask again. We can monitor his progress from there. Obviously we don't like to keep patients on ventilators longer than we have to."
Dean nodded, relief flooding his being. Sammy was on the mend! He would soon have his little brother back, in one piece and annoying as ever. The doctor met his eyes and gave a small smile. "Like I said, your brother's a fighter. While there's life, there's always hope, and clearly your brother has something to live for."
Dean felt himself flush even as a warm feeling curled in the pit of his stomach. Because that was his job. It had always been his job. To make sure that his little brother had something to live for.
~ O ~ O ~ O ~
Sam watched as his brother visibly started to relax. The worst was over now and it really was just a matter of time before he was well enough to leave the hospital. The ventilator was gone and the mask back in place and Sam could feel the difference in his body. His lungs felt lighter; there was no longer a heavy weight on his chest, and for the first time in days he felt awake and aware of his surroundings.
Dean looked over at him and smiled tiredly. "How're you feeling Sammy?"
Sam reached up and pulled the mask away slightly so he could answer. "A bit better. I'm not going to be running any marathons any time soon, but I can breathe which is more than enough for now." The air caught in his throat a little as he said that and he coughed. Dean's eyes shone with concern, but he quickly hid it behind a smirk. "Well at this rate, I'm going to have to carry you out bridal style, dude."
Sam's lips twitched in response. He knew things were on the up and up when Dean started making jokes again.
"By the way Sam," Sam looked up as he heard the sudden seriousness in Dean's voice, "Now that you are with us again, well relatively speaking at any rate, there's something we need to talk about."
Sam frowned, unsure where this conversation was headed. Dean met his eyes and Sam saw a brief flash of anger behind the concern there.
"Why didn't you tell me about your cut, dude? I mean I know I was out of it for a while there but we still could've caught this a hell of a lot earlier if you had just thought to mention it." Dean's voice took on a bitter edge. "How do you expect me to look out for you when you can't even look out for yourself?"
That stung, but Sam understood that now that the crisis was past, all of Dean's pent up fear and sense of helplessness was coming to the surface like pus from a lanced abscess; his anxiety from the past few days was being released in the form of anger and frustration and Sam instinctively got that. That didn't stop the insidious guilt from curling in the pit of his stomach however. Because, much as it hurt to admit it, Dean was right. Even though he had had other things on his mind at the time, he should have said something. In their line of work distraction got you killed more often than not and his Dad would have torn a strip off of him for his failure to take care of things. As it was, Dean's rebuke, whilst still firm, was much more gentle than he deserved. That didn't stop the tears from coming to his eyes though, probably induced by exhaustion as much as anything else. Sam felt even more foolish as he tried to blink them away without Dean noticing.
~ O ~ O ~ O ~
Dean did notice however, and felt his heart twist within him at having put them there. He knew though that he had to say these things even if he didn't like it anymore than Sam did, so he steeled himself to finish whilst trying to soften the blow as much as possible.
"This can't happen again Sammy. I-I can't-I won't let it. From now on, you show me every little cut and let me decide whether or not it's important OK?"
Dean could feel Sam's rebellion from where he sat as a stubborn look came into his little brother's eyes and he moved his hand towards his mask so he could object more verbally. Dean raised his own hand to preempt him.
"I know it sucks Sammy and believe me, I don't like it any more than you do. But humour me, OK? You're my little brother and I need to be able to take care of you. And I can't do that if you don't let me."
Dean saw the fight gradually fade from his brother's face as he contemplated Dean's words. After a couple of minutes, he silently nodded and Dean felt the tension he hadn't even realized he was feeling ease out of his muscles. They could do this.
~ O ~ O ~ O ~
Two weeks later…
Dean sat on the bed of yet another amorphous green motel room, cleaning the guns. Sam had been out of hospital for over a week and a half now and was doing better each day. The cut on his leg was almost fully healed and he was well on his way to being his usual emo self again.
The bathroom door banged open and Sam emerged, half dressed and with a serious expression on his face. Dean tensed automatically in response, big brother senses on the alert.
"What's the matter Sammy? You look like someone ran over your laptop."
Sam frowned at Dean's remark, mouth drooping in a slight pout. "Well….you know how you said I should tell you about every little cut I get?"
It was Dean's turn to frown. Surely Sam couldn't have hurt himself badly in the bathroom? Mind you, his klutzy little brother was capable of anything….
"Yeah – well did you?"
Sam turned mournful hazel eyes on him, forehead creased slightly, and Dean felt like a brute for ever making a joke about it. "I'm sorry Sam. What's wrong?"
Sam turned his head slightly so his jaw was facing Dean. "I think I cut myself shaving just now. Wanna see?"
Dean felt a sense of confusion and more than a little annoyance. Surely Sam hadn't taken his words that literally? Dean looked up at his brother feeling baffled, only to see Sam's soulful expression smoothly transform into a gleeful smirk. The giant geek had been playing him!
Dean mustered what dignity he had left and gave the only response he felt such behavior deserved. "Bite me, bitch."
And as Sam's smirk turned into a full on grin as he gave the traditional little brother response, Dean knew that things were finally back to normal. Well, Winchester normal at any rate.
A/N: Well, that's all folks! I do have an idea for another fic rattling around in my head at the moment, so if and when it comes to fruition I hope to see you all again! In the meantime, it would mean the world to me if you would let me know what you think of this chapter/story in a review – last opportunity!