Ok, so, first off – I'm not dead, nor have I disappeared never to be seen again. I'm so, so sorry to have kept you waiting this long. There's no excuse, really, other than Real life getting in the way of my fanfiction-life time and time again.

I know I haven't answered any reviews from the last chapter, but ff dot net won't let me reply, for whatever reason. But please know that I read every single one of them, and I am so very thankful for your support and kind words.

I hope you'll still want to read this final chapter. If you're still out there and you find the time to spare, I hope you'll give it a chance!

So, here we go. Thanks so much for coming back.

I hope you enjoy!

Torn and Frayed

Chapter 6

The lights in the room have been dimmed down, the only illumination coming from a single fluorescent light tube set behind a thin wooden visor just above Dean's bed.

Outside the little vault of timeless silence surrounding them, it's night. Again.

The door to the hallway is closed, the nurses finally accepting Sam's need for privacy, giving up on leaving the door open whenever they leave from their hourly 'visits', forcing Sam to get up time and time again to close it once more.

Sam can't handle the open door – constantly being on display, worrying about being spied on in addition to worrying about his brother's well-being. With the door open, Sam had to divide his attention between the world outside their little corner of privacy and his brother bed, and he just can't keep it up anymore.

Maybe he's being paranoid, expects judging eyes on every corner – on him.

Maybe it's him, or maybe it's just the stress wearing him down, but it really doesn't matter. Sam's nerves are worn down to the quick – and if he hasn't made many friends here, then so be it. He doesn't need any new friends. All he needs is for his brother to get better again so they can get the hell out of here.

But to do that – Dean will have to wake up, first.

He should be awake by now.

At least that's what Sam tells himself as he fidgets on his chair for the umpteenth time in…well, pretty much three whole day. He used to be the most patient one in their little family, but even his patience only holds so long. Now he gets restless – impatient. Watching the motionless form of his brother in that hospital bed day in day out is unnerving, worrisome…devastating.

Sam's skin is itching, his leg bouncing incessantly for hours already, the sole of his boot making low, squealing noises on the plastic floor that both manage to turn his impatience up a notch and calm him down with its continuity.

For three whole days he's been sitting here, doing nothing but stare at his unresponsive brother, watching every rise and fall of his chest with hawk's eyes, interpreting every hitch in his breathing, every ever so small flutter of his eyelashes. Those lashes…they stubbornly keep veiling off Dean's eyes, staying closed and tangled up, thick beads of sweat clutching to them insistently, no matter how many time Sam wipes them away.

For three whole days Sam hasn't talked to anyone outside the steady entourage of nurses and doctors that come and go – and even then he's only kept to the barest necessities. He hasn't spoken to Ruby ever since that night…

She's called twice, but there's no phones allowed in the ICU and Sam hadn't really felt like talking to her anyways, so he's ignored her calls. To give her credit, Ruby has accepted his rejection quickly and stopped trying. Besides, Sam has no illusions as to who needs whom more in their relationship, and he is sure Ruby knows that pretty damn well, too.

Sooner rather than later Sam will be the one calling her again, but for the time being…for the time being he has to make do without her around. Sam can't leave Dean's side, not even for a couple of minutes to meet Ruby in one of the supply closets or the toilet, to satisfy his cravings, to help him get through another day.

And the days just keep getting longer and longer.

His flask is half-empty already, which makes Sam more nervous than he's ready to admit. He wants nothing more than to take it out and empty it in one long gulp, still the tremors that have taken over his hands, calm the throbbing beat that keeps drumming behind his eyes. But he can't do it – not yet. He has to ration the amount left wisely, has to make sure he can make it through another day or two before he can't postpone calling the demon again – beg her to meet him.

Hitting his knee on the bed frame because he's bouncing the leg so hard, Sam curses, rubs a heavy hand against the bruised joint.

He thinks he might be sweating. But damn the room's actually really chilly. And it's way too quiet- except for those lights above Dean's bed which give off this constant low, humming sound that grates on Sam's nerves in ways that he's starting to find unbearable. It gets louder and louder, stabbing into Sam's brain and turning his headache up notch after notch after freaking notch.

Already his eyes are watering, and if he didn't know any better, Sam would bet this is the beginning of a freaking vision – only it's not.

He knows exactly what this is.

He manages to resist for minutes, but then it's suddenly too much and he practically jumps out of his chair, pushing it back and over the floor with a loud screech while already searching the headboard of Dean's bed for the switch to turnoff the goddamn, annoying light. But he can't find it, fingers skimming almost frantically over the smooth surface of the panel, groping, searching as the buzzing in his head gradually grows louder and louder and louder still. Already his vision starts to blur dangerously, the noise pushing down reason and just making him…angry.

"Goddamnit…where in god's name…"

Dropping his gaze from the panel Sam frantically starts searching for that little remote that's supposed to be on every hospital-bed, the force as Dean usually calls it with which a patient can do everything from turning on the lights to lifting the headrest of the bed to calling the nurse.

When they'd been younger still Dean had always pretended that the remote had a mute button for little brothers as well, aiming the device at Sam's head whenever he'd said something Dean hadn't wanted to hear. The memory moves something inside Sam's chest and he feels the corners of his mouth tug into a painful grimace, which suddenly freezes on his face as his eyes, instead of encountering the desired remote, are met by a set of glassy, unblinking green orbs.

For a second, Sam freezes.

He literally goes still mid-movements, muscles locking up, his brain practically empty from one second to the next.

Every minute in the past 3 days he's spent in here, waiting, never leaving his brother's side – praying for him to open his eyes and simply give Sam any indication that he's still alive. But now that it actually happens, Sam's is overwhelmed.

He almost doesn't dare breathe, stupidly feels as if caught in the act. Sam doesn't know exactly why he feels that way, what he supposedly did wrong, but the feeling's strong. Definitely pretty damn strong.

And then, within the blink of an eye the spell is broken as Dean's eyes drift close again.

Sam's first notion is to be relieved.

Then he realizes what just happened.

"Dean, hey… Hey," the words leave him in a rush and Sam's surprised to find his voice clogged and hoarse. He sounds desperate, needy.

But he needs Dean to open his eyes again, to look at him. He needs to see his brother's eyes to know he's still there.

"Dean, hey…come on. Come on,"

Dropping the hand from the panel on the wall Sam's afraid to make contact, not sure how his brother will react to his touch. All he knows is, that Dean has to wake up. Now. He has to wake up so Sam can breathe freely again.

"Dean, open your eyes…now."

Dean's reaction to Sam's order is instantaneous, deeply ingrained and sadly predictable.

His eyes snap open, sweat tangled lashes weighing down lids which are swollen with sleep and medication. But this time they don't latch onto Sam. Instead, they dart around furiously, flicking past Sam as if he's not even there.

Sam is left to watch as his brother blinks feverishly – if to clear his vision from sweat dripping into them or out of simple disorientation is hard to tell. They can't seem to focus but roam the room almost frantically, darting this way and that. His throat is working soundlessly while deathly pale and painfully dry lips form unheard words that somehow never make it out in the open.

His face is grey in the diffuse light that fills the room - hollowed out, yet his eyes shine brightly with confusion and fever and wordless anguish. Sam tries to catch his brother's gaze, tries to anchor Dean to the here and now but it's close to impossible since he won't keep still, eyes roaming as if he's searching for something that's clearly not there - and still he's not giving up.

And isn't that just so typically Dean – never giving up, even when the point is more than mute, when everybody else would have long ago given up and set his mind on something else. He's not completely there – maybe not there at all and while he's apparently still too weak to do much besides lie there and look as if he's terrified out of his mind Sam sees his brother's hands lifting off the mattress, fingers starting to claw at something above his chest, groping into thin air.

His breathing gradually becomes more pronounced, little grunts of pain or panic pressing out between tightly sealed lips, eyes wide, pupils blown to impossible proportions.

It takes Sam long – way too long to realize what's going on.

Later he blames it on the buzzing inside his head, the dizziness that threatened to sweep him off his feet; the naked need he's been experiencing for far too long without being able to satisfy his cravings.

When he finally does figure it out, though, when he realizes what kind of nightmare the fever and pain and loads of meds they are pumping into him have thrown Dean into, Sam sobers within the beat of a second.

The sudden lack of noise inside his head is almost deafening.

Dean's trying to claw his way out - out of the coffin.

In the throws of his feverish nightmares before the surgery he's been lost in hell – and even though he's made it through surgery and his fever is finally going down a little, Dean's still not done fighting. He's still held prisoner inside his own mind.

Sam gasps for air at the same time as he reaches to take hold of his brother's frantically searching hands. But Dean is clearly not aware of his surroundings, fighting the lid of a coffin only he can see, lips clamped shut against the intrusion of imaginary soil and dirt and splinters of woods. He fights Sam's hands with startling ferocity, knocks them out of the way to continue clawing at thin air.

He's done it a couple of times in the past; it's no secret that Dean's having nightmares about hell – he even admitted to it already so there's nothing new. But a couple of times Sam has caught his brother lying in bed with his eyes open, trying to dig his way out of that grave – over and over and over again, and no amount of coaxing or yelling had been able to snap him out of his desperate attempts to free himself.

The only thing that ever helped had been patience – and time.

Sam slips back into the chair, scooting closer while reaching out one hand to find purchase on Dean's shoulder, the other keeping its hold on Dean's left hand – the one closest to him. He's careful to avoid the tubes sticking out of the back of Dean's hand and the crook of his elbow, closing his fingers over his brother's with soft but insistent pressure. At first, Dean fights him even more, tendons in his arm straining and coiling, grunting moans getting louder as he fights against the newest addition to his nightmare. But he clearly isn't nearly close to being on top of his game, is weakened by days of raging fever, by surgery and infection and drugs and nightmares too cruel to imagine.

There's no knowing if it's simply his strength giving out or if he actually relents to Sam's help, but after endless minutes his muscles finally quiver and quake underneath Sam's palm as, after one last attempt to dislodge himself from Sam's hold, he finally lets Sam push his arm down. His right arm remains moving, but instead of reaching up he now grabs for the thin sheet covering him halfway up his chest, digging claw-like fingers into the now sweat-soaked fabric and holding on with all his might. The rest of his body stays strung like a bow ready to snap any second, as if ready to bolt.

His eyes keep skipping here and there, his breathing ragged and way too fast.

Right on cue his heart-monitor picks up and Sam's immensely glad that he's turned down the sound earlier. He knows that it will do nothing to calm his brother down if he's assaulted with the frantic beeping of the machine when waking up.

The nurse's station is just a couple of feet down the hall and it will take them 30 seconds, tops, before picking up the alarm. And once they do they'll come storming in, probably forcing Sam to release his hold on Dean's hand, maybe even make him leave the room altogether.

But Sam won't leave. And he knows with absolute certainty that he can't allow anybody else to see his brother like this. This…it's a private moment – a moment not even meant for Sam to see, but most definitely not meant for the eyes of some stranger.

"Dean, hey…come on, man. Stop this - snap out of it. Look at me,"

Sam keeps his voice low, level, the pressure of his hands on his brothers arm steady even though he feels like shaking Dean, forcing him to wake up from his terror. But he knows from experience that it's most important to slowly draw Dean out of whatever dream or fever-induced vision he's dug himself into. Loud and harsh words have been their father's way to handle things and Sam always detested John for the way he commanded them around at times – how he especially succeeded in commanding Dean around. Sure, it had worked, but their brotherly relationship has never been about leadership and obedience.

No matter how many times Sam complained about Dean bossing him around or taking the lead in a hunt, in reality it has never been about standing above the other. It has always been about safety and efficiency. About trusting each other before all else.

Sam hears movement outside, a little ways down the hall. It's the middle of the night, so he maybe has a couple seconds more than during the day, when the nurse's station is fully staffed, but it won't be much longer. Never taking his eyes off his brother's profile Sam forces himself to stay calm, to try and instill all of that calm into his brother somehow. Dean's clearly still trapped inside a fevered body and mind. He needs Sam to keep his cool now.

And Sam needs to do this – for his brother as much as for himself, maybe. He's lost his focus somehow, lately, tends to forget sometimes that Dean is the one he's doing this for – everything.

It started with Dean – him going to hell for Sam, had been about revenge first but has somehow, along the way, turned into something else entirely. Sam is not sure what it is about now, but he knows, suddenly, for a moment of clarity as he watches his brother fight, that no matter what it has become, it might actually not be worth it.

It's not worth it if they are losing each other along the way.

"Dean," Sam whispers again, leaning a little closer. "Hey, man, take it easy. You're safe. You're safe now."

Dean's eyes remain focused onto some undistinguishable point on the ceiling and for a moment Sam doesn't think his brother has heard at all, but then he realizes that Dean's heart rate calms down somewhat, the beeping of the monitor dropping to a less frantic rhythm.

Maybe it's just his strength giving out - the meds pulling him under again; Sam will never know for sure. But he wants to believe that it's him, instead, his presence and touch and calm reassurance that finally make his brother give up the fight, make him close his eyes and drift off again mere seconds before the door to the room swings open and a flock of nurses and doctors come rushing in.

Sam will never know, but he wants to believe that, maybe, all is not yet lost between them.


Over the course of the next two or three hours Dean resurfaces two more times, both times trying to fight his way out of the coffin and his drug-induced confusion. Both times he's letting himself be calmed down by Sam's presence and a few mumbled words of reassurance that are probably meant for Sam's sake only, that never reach Dean's ears after all. But it works, somehow, and that's all that counts, even though Sam thinks he's dying a little inside every time his brother slips out of his grasp again without giving any sign of recognizing Sam or even acknowledging his surroundings.

The third time Dean wakes, he finally stays calm. His hands remain on the blanket, fingers twitching a little but instead of reaching up and away they merely dig into the sheets they are lying on, bunching the material between them as if he's trying to tether himself to the bed. He doesn't say anything, remains staring into space and no coaxing from Sam's part, no begging words of 'please look at me' manage to draw his focus away from that spot on the ceiling he's staring at so intently.

He stays like that for quite a while – long enough that Sam considers calling in the nurse because there has to be something wrong for sure, but just as he reaches for the call-button Dean's eyes slip shut and he's out again.

So Sam waits.

His nervousness – one-edge-ness – fades over the following hours and he just sits there – as he's always done when waiting for his brother to wake up from surgery, doesn't even want to think about how many times he'd done this in the past. It's too sad to really think about it – the countless times of waiting and hoping and waiting some more.

It feels familiar – way too familiar.

At one point, Sam finally falls asleep. After almost four days of being pretty much alert he's now basically dead on his feet.

He's awakened what feels like merely minutes later by a tingling sensation somewhere in the back of his mind, a…feeling…for a lack of better words. It's nothing he can pinpoint exactly, but he knows he's being watched before he even opens his eyes.

Sam waits. He waits for a second to get his bearing and take stock. It's probably one of the nurses, taking the opportunity to seize him up or something.

His head feels clear – clearer, somehow, than it has in a long time. It's weird, in a way – this amount of clarity that just adds to an overall confusion of what exactly he is doing – not here but in the greater scheme of things. If it's all really worth it – this fight, the sacrifices. Because, as sure as anything, losing his brother after just getting him back has to count as the biggest goddamn sacrifice of them all.

Before he can take his despairing thoughts any further Sam decides to end this charade, to man up. Who knows, maybe the nurse is actually worth looking back at.

It makes him smile – internally, thinking how he's channeling Dean now of all times. As if one of the two remaining Winchesters has to keep up the appearance for the women of this world.

Sam doesn't give his observer any forewarning, no chance to look away as he just opens his eyes – gaze as alert as it can be after spending hours resting in a questionably comfortable chair, upper body slumped against the bed his brother is lying on.

There is no nurse anywhere near the bed – nowhere in the damn room.

The only thing Sam sees are two orbs of murky green staring at him.

It's just them.

Him and Dean.

And Dean is awake and looking at him through heavily lidded eyes.

Sam has to fight down the urge to draw back, to snap a sharp comment on Dean's silent observation.

His brother has yet to blink and suddenly it occurs to Sam that, maybe, Dean is in trouble, can't vocalize that he's in discomfort, hurting – dying… There's something in his eyes…a look Sam can't quite place. Something is…off.

Slowly, very slowly Sam pushes himself off the mattress, eyes never leaving his brother's, realizing with a tiny hint of relief that Dean's eyes are actually following him, tracking his movements.

So he's aware, not lost inside his dreams this time.

Sam smiles – actually smiles for the first time in days as he realizes that this might be it; Dean's back – finally.

"Hey," Sam presses out, voice still sleep-clogged, lips dried and chapped from sleeping and not talking to anybody but himself – in his own head.

Finally, Dean blinks. His eyelids flutter for a second or two, the struggle to keep them open apparent in the almost forceful way his brows are pulled up, but he doesn't seem to be ready to let go again. And, secretly, Sam is happy about his brother's insistence. He doesn't know if he could go on – could stay strong if he has to go through yet another hour or more without at least speaking a couple of words with his big brother, without getting at least a tiny shred of hope that Dean will, eventually, be alright again. Or as close to alright as he'll ever be.

But Dean's eyes remain open even though it looks like it's almost more than he is capable of right now. There are small lines of pain – around his eyes and between his brows, lines that haven't been there before, Sam thinks. Well, he's hardly been awake so far, so most likely the painkillers he's on are wearing off.

Sam considers calling the nurse but selfishly decides to postpone it for another minute or two. First he has to make sure he's got Dean back. Really back. Then, maybe, he's going to be able to let his brother go for a little while again.

Dean swallows, his Adam's apple bobbing convulsively, jaw working beneath the three-day stubble that's covering his cheeks and chin and throat. He looks as if he's lost ten pounds, cheekbones and jaw sticking out way too prominently through grayish skin.

"Hey," Sam repeats, forcing calm into his voice as he slides his fingers over his brother's left forearm, the skin underneath his palm clammy and warm. Dean's muscles clench and coil in response to the touch but he doesn't draw back – and Sam wouldn't let go even if he did.

His eyes, even though only half-mast, look strange. There's nothing of the relief Sam expected seeing there, not even the carefully set-up indifference Sam has gotten so used to in the weeks leading up to this. Sam leans forward, propping his free arm up on the mattress to close the distance between them, to let Dean know that he's there. But the motion seems to startle Dean. With a visible flinch he starts drawing away only to be stopped very suddenly and none too gently as his body protests the sudden movement, allowing him no freedom, no leeway.

A sharp breath escapes his lips before he manages to cut the sound short. His eyes squint, lids fluttering dangerously, but he won't allow them to close, keeps them trained on Sam with weary attention.

"Dean, hey…easy man. Just take it easy," Extending a hand, Sam wants to soothe his brother, realizing too late that, given past experiences, this certain approach might not work exactly in his favor. It's a repeat performance of back at the motel, when Sam found his brother, feverish and delusional…

Dean again flinches as Sam reaches for him, but he doesn't move away anymore, his body locked tight.

"Hey, Dean. It's me – Sam. It's me," Sam whispers softly – his voice toned into a level of calm which betrays the nervous fear tightening his own chest.

Dean doesn't move - hardly blinks even; just keeps staring at him.

It takes everything Sam has to not reach out and pin his brother down and shake some sense into him – to make him see. But he does restrain himself, his body aching with the effort it takes to not force this, to stay calm.

Looking into his brother's glassy, feverishly confused eyes all Sam can see there is the need to run, to turn around and get away from Sam - and the only reason Dean doesn't actually do it is because he knows he can't. Right now he physically can't, so he stays right where he is, facing this – his fears. Sam doesn't know what his brother's seeing but he can tell that it's far from pleasant.


Sam can't tell if it's a question or a statement, Dean's voice is too low – too weak to make out the difference.

"Yeah…yeah, Dean. It's me."

Sam tries a smile again, finds it uncomfortable – unnatural almost as it tugs up the corners of his mouth, activating muscles which have been kept immobile for far too long now.

Dean's eyes stay on Sam's face, brows drawn, eyes glassy and confused.

*"No. Not you. You promised."*

The words keep repeating themselves in Sam's head – over and over. Dean's words – spoken in feverish confusion and unimaginable pain in that motel room some…four days ago.

Sam had had more than enough time to think about it since, to figure out what Dean meant – what he saw when he looked at Sam back then. And he thinks he knows, but he'll never be entirely sure – doesn't know if he'll ever want to have his suspicions confirmed, actually.

"It's me, Dean…Sam. I'm right here. You're in a hospital – are pretty damn sick. But you'll be alright. And I'm here…right here,"

There's a thick bead of sweat tracking its way from Dean's forehead down over the bridge of his nose, slipping down the side to run in an abstract trail along the stubble decorating Dean's upper lip and cheek. He swallows, manages to make the simple, automatic act look painful and exhausting.

Sam can feel the muscles of Dean's forearm twist as his fist keeps clenching and unclenching in an almost compulsive motion. At the same time he lifts his free arm, the limb seemingly weighting a ton as he brings it up – almost dragging it over the sheets and up toward his chest. He starts tracing his fingers over his gown – slowly at first but his movements quickly become more agitated, the growing anxiety transferring to his face.

His hand keeps searching his chest, almost tearing at the thin and washed out fabric of his gown.

Sam is lost for a moment, doesn't know what to make of his brother's behavior.

He's supposed to get better, now that they are in the hospital, now that he had surgery and spent days on all kinds of meds that are supposed to help him…

"Dean, what…tell me what's wrong," Sam pleads, desperate.

He leans forward, scoots his chair even closer toward the bed.

Dean's eyes snap away from Sam's face so suddenly, the movement seems way too fast for his weakened body. Following his brother's gaze, it takes Sam only a second to realize what had Dean in such desperation.

The amulet.

Dean's amulet.

Which is currently wound around Sam's neck, dangling out from the collar of his t-shirt, holding Dean's gaze captive.

The hospital staff took it away from Dean before surgery, gave it to Sam along with Dean's other meager personal belongings. Sam knows how much this piece of jewelry means to his brother, can't help but feel a little flattered because – yeah – he gave it to Dean, back then. Dean treasures it ever since, hardly ever takes it off, except for the occasional stint in the hospital – and his time in Hell. Which is the reason he keeps looking for it whenever he wakes from one of his nightmares – uses the trinket to pull himself back into reality.

Not finding it around his neck now…

Reaching up, Sam slowly pulls the cord over his head, sees how Dean follows his every movement with weary eyes, gaze jumping between Sam and the brass head of the horned god.

"You want this back?" Sam asks quietly, holding the trinket out toward his brother.

Dean blinks, swallows, the fight to make himself believe that it's actually, truly real visible on his face as if declared in bright red letters. Sam can't even come close to imagining how real, how vivid his brother's dreams have to be if it's so hard for him to pull free of them again.

"I just kept it safe until you woke up again." Sam explains carefully.

Aware of Dean's still mistrusting scrutiny, Sam reaches out to place the amulet along with the twisted up cord onto Dean chest, nudging his brother's hand until Dean reaches up to close nimble fingers around it, burying it in his fist. Then he closes his eyes for a moment, takes a breath.

When he looks back at Sam, he seems weary still, but the fear has been replaced by relief; relief so palpable, Sam can almost feel it tingling on his own tongue.

So, is this it? Just like that - Dean is back? Sam should be hurt – and he does feel a short pang in his chest as he realizes that it takes the amulet to pull his brother out – that Sam's presence is not enough anymore. There used to be a time when he used to be enough…

"Sam," Dean's voice is still rough, deep and gravelly – but the word in itself is spoken with conviction now, is far from the question it has been before. It's a sigh of contentment that holds nothing of the all too familiar mistrust or indifference that's been coloring every single word spoken between them lately.

"Yeah," Sam replies, mouth suddenly too dry to say much else. "Hey, man,"

"Hey," Dean rasps - whispers, voice barely audible over the slight hiss of the oxygen cannula that's lodged underneath his nostrils. He swallows heavily, runs his tongue over his bottom lip, swallows again.

"You're awake," Sam states dumbly, well aware how stupid that sounds. But it's all he can think of – and he hears his voice almost crack at the last word, can see from the glint chasing through Dean's fever glazed eyes that he's picked up on his brother's emotions as well.

Dean blinks again, takes a freaking eternity to reopen his eyes. Tightening his grip on Dean's left forearm Sam waits his brother out, noting with a burst of relief that, this time, Dean doesn't flinch away, doesn't react in any way at all. And Sam need the contact, would hold his brother's hand even, if it wasn't socially awkward and totally out of place.

"Are you in pain? Dean? Is there anything you need? Anything I can do?"

"Water…" Sam guesses the word more than he hears it and he quickly reaches for the cup of luke-warm water and straw that one of the nurses has left on the nightstand during her last visit.

Dean drinks a couple of sips without even trying to get up or support the cup with his own hands and is left exhausted afterwards.

His eyes keeps sliding closed, but he stubbornly refuses to give in. Sam feels a strange tug of both exasperation and admiration inside his chest.

"Maybe you should just…you have to be exhausted, Dean. And you have to be in pain…want me to get the doc? They've kept you on the pretty good stuff so far…" Sam is rambling, knowing full well that Dean won't agree to him calling the doc in – or anybody else for that matter. To Dean it has always been most important that Sam is there with him whenever he is stuck in the hospital. Sam – not their father. Not even John had been able to keep Dean down if Sam hadn't been there.

Sure enough Dean shakes his head, a miniscule movement that somehow still manages to portray all the insistency Sam is used to seeing from his brother.

Dean's lips are moving again and Sam leans closer, surprised by just how weak his brother really is. And again he feels this terrible, terrible lump form in his throat at the thought of not catching up on his brother's condition earlier, how he'd almost been too late. How he'd walked out on Dean to meet up with Ruby when Dean had been in pain and almost dying…


The water seems to have done little in helping Dean's parched throat, but he is forming words now, even though they're still pretty low in volume.

Sam scoots the chair closer, hitting his knee on the metal frame of the bed, angling himself sideways while maintaining eye-contact. He stays close enough so he can keep his hand on his brother's forearm where he's planted it earlier, far enough away to not crowd his brother's personal space.

"What happened?" Dean asks again, eyes shadowed by long, damp lashes, and Sam feels uncomfortable, nervous.

Does he know I walked out that night? Sam wonders, not for the first time.

Does he know where I've been, what I've done? Did he wake up, alone and in pain while I was out, sneaking behind his back?

Sneaking behind his back to save the world! Another voice inside his head interrupts his moment of self-doubt. Sneaking behind his back to avenge HIM.

It helps – a little, pushing that terribly feeling of guilt a little ways to the back of his mind again. But it's still lingering there, prodding and poking at his conscience, dangerously close to the surface.

"Sam…what…?" Dean starts to repeat, biting the sentence off as his face draws tight, brows meeting over the bridge of his nose.

Misery is bleeding out of his every pore, filling the room with a chill and a smell that's almost impossible to take.

Sam swallows down the bile rising in his throat at seeing his brother in such obvious, open distress.

"You came down with Appendicitis. Or rather, your appendix ruptured...spread this…stuff, like pus, all through your abdomen. You almost…" Sam breaks off, bites his lips as if only now the implications of what happened, what almost happened, truly sinks in. "…they said you were damn lucky you made it,"

His brother almost died.

Died of goddamn natural causes because he was too stubborn to tell his own brother that he was in freaking agony.

"No that's…not possible…" Dean whispers. Apparently he's given up on trying to give his voice volume.

But his eyes are relaying all he wants to say, really, wide and unbelieving and brimming with confusion and pain he can't control, try as he might.

Grabbing the little remote that is dangling off the bed's railing next to Sam's thigh (he's made sure to put it there within easy reach so he doesn't have to start looking for it again), Sam lets his finger hover just above call-button, itching to call the nurse. He should help his brother, ease his pain. But something still holds him back.

"Yeah it's possible you stupid…" closing his eyes momentarily Sam dips his chin, swallowing down the rant of accusations he wants to release on his brother. This, certainly, is not the time.

"Yeah it's possible. I mean, you almost died, Dean. That thing just burst open and filled your inside with pure poison, man. Hell…you had to have felt it for days. A few minutes later and maybe they wouldn't have been able to help you anymore," The words taste sour on Sam's palate, the knowledge of how many times both of them have tethered on the brink already – how both of them have died already…but they're still here. Only, can they really expect to have a never-ending amount of get-back-from-the-dead-cards at their disposal?

How many more times can they cheat death and fate and just go on dodging the proverbial bullet over and over and over again?

Dean swallows drily, eyes still heavy-lidded but skipping in confusion.

"No it's not…not possible," he says with determination and Sam sees Dean's left hand creep across the blanket, going for his abs, fingers trying to find the source of pain underneath the blanket.

With quiet insistence Sam reaches over with his free hand, plugs Dean's hand away from the wound and holds onto it for a couple of seconds until he's sure his brother's given up on trying to reach for it again.

"Yeah it's possible. Hell Dean, you want them to show you pictures? Because I saw you – and I saw the damn thing in a jar – saw what it did to you. It was…Jesus…it was bad, Dean,"

Dean shakes his head curtly, too weak to cut Sam off but apparently unwilling to back down. Sam takes the chance to charge on ahead, not giving his brother time to gather his strength to start a discussion.

"OK, lets recap this, shall we? Because the doc explained the symptoms to me and I'm pretty sure, while you of course didn't find it necessary to share, you've been through each and every one of them."

Dean gives him that look – a mixture between hurt and stubborn pride, but Sam won't be fazed by it. Not now. He's still too damn angry to let his brother get away with it this time.

"You haven't been feeling well for days - nausea, headaches, low grade temperature. The pain started in the middle of your belly and worked its way down toward your right side. The nausea got worse – so did the fever. You haven't kept anything edible inside you for days, the fever climbing to over 105 degrees by the time you were admitted. And if you hadn't been too goddamn stubborn to tell me you weren't feeling well, we might even have been able to figure this one out before you almost died."

Sam can see the wheels in his big brother's head turning, can see him replaying the past days' events as Sam rattles off the symptoms – the short and angry version – to him. But the smug smirk that curls Sam's lips disappears again quickly when Dean swallows dryly, shakes his head again.

"You…you don't understand…"

Sam almost growls in frustration, and he dips his chin low and closes his eyes for a second, praying for patience.

"What? What don't I understand, Dean?"

"'s not possible…cause…" but he doesn't get to finish the sentence.

Instead Dean breaks off, coughs dryly as the exertion of speaking a mere four words proves too much for his battered body. The strain of the coughs almost bends him in half and Sam is forced to watch helplessly as his brother writhes on the bed in front of him, merely inches away yet somehow way out of his reach. Dean tries to turn on his side, tries to curl up his body to protect his abdomen but the wound Sam knows to be hidden underneath the thin hospital gown and the even thinner sheet makes any movement pretty much impossible, tethering Dean to the spot.

"Easy…easy," Sam hears himself chant, barely restraining himself from reaching out and pressing his own hand to the trembling plane of Dean's abdomen. He knows the initial urge to press down on a wound, knows that the pressure will feel wonderful at the same time as it will tear Dean apart. So he does the only thing he can do and hold on to Dean's twisting and coiling forearm – to hold him down as much as to lend him strength.

"Try and relax, man,"

Dean grunts something – something that could mean 'you relax', but maybe the snarky comeback is just wishful thinking on Sam's part, because Dean doesn't look anywhere near up to any kind of retort, let alone a sarcastic one.

"The more you fight this…" Sam starts, bites the sentence off before he can finish it. Because, yeah – the more Dean fights this, the more it will hurt, but it's certainly nothing Dean can control at the moment.

Casting a frantic look around Sam finds one of the spare pillows one of the nurses brought him.

"Stay still," he snaps at his brother, nerves strung tight as he untangles the fingers of one hand from his brother's arm, well aware that, the minute the pressure is off Dean will keep reaching for his belly again.

Quickly, Sam grabs the pillow, putting it on Dean's abdomen. He has to push Dean's hand away to place it on top of the surgery wound, then Sam puts his own hand on top of it, applies the faintest, most feeble pressure. It's far from a perfect solution, Sam is the first to know that, but he also knows that he won't be able to keep Dean's hands away from the wound, not until his brother is more in control again. And using the pillow will take the pressure spread out over a wider area, will not place the whole force on the too fresh sutures and way too delicate area of Dean's lower right abdomen.

Sam remembers watching his brother use this method on their father once when John had come home from a hunt bleeding from a gash in his abdomen.

It doesn't compensate for a good round of drugs to take the pain away for a while, but right now – just like back then - it's all they've got. Sam is not ready to let Dean slip away, is not ready to share his brother with the doctors and nurses and orderlies just jet. So he has to improvise.

He keeps up the gentle pressure, hopes to god that he's not torturing his brother for nothing, that they get to spend some more time together before the next round of meds will knock him out again.

After minutes of tense silence which is only broken by Dean's harsh breathing, Sam feels his brother relaxes a fraction, sinking a little deeper into the mattress again.

"Maybe we should talk about this later," Sam offers quietly, partly relieved to give Dean a way out of this – to give himself a way out of this – and partly disappointed he doesn't have more time with his brother. After days of silently waiting, he just needs more time than this.

Sam shouldn't really be surprised, but of course his brother doesn't go for it. Dean shakes his head, muscle in his jaw jumping nervously, but he puts an almost visible effort into relaxing muscle after muscle.

When he finally lies still again, the occasional shiver still flitting through his body, Sam feels as if all of Dean's tension has transferred to him, somehow. He's more on edge than he's willing to admit, his own body aching in response to his brother's misery.

A little reluctantly, Sam removes his hand, pushing the pillow and blanket aside to warrant a quick, worried look at the white gown covering Dean's surgical wound. No traces of fresh blood, at least.


And just as he thinks that Dean, despite his best efforts and stubborn insistences of staying awake to discuss this, has succumbed to his body's demand for rest again, Dean starts talking.

"Can't be…the appendix, Sam," he breathlessly picks up on the conversation as if they were never interrupted at all.

There are beads of sweat lining the rim of his upper lip, a thin sheen of perspiration making his forehead glisten unhealthily. He cracks his eyes open, focuses on Sam through squinted lids.

"Can't be, because…I had it taken out already."

It takes Sam a moment to catch on to his brother's statement, to ease himself back into the topic.

"What? No, Dean, that's impossible. I saw the damn thing in a jar," Sam leans forward as if physical closeness will make Dean understand, will make him accept the truth.

Dean shakes his head, gathering the strength to contradict his brother.


"Goddamnit, Dean. Will you just, for once, shut up and trust me…"

Sam is about ready to get the hell up and prove his brother wrong, grab those pics from Dean's file – or better yet, bring the disfigured remainders of the ruptured appendix marinated in formaldehyde just to make his brother back down.

How much goddamn proof does Dean need? Can't he just for once in his life shut the hell up and just believe his little brother when he clearly knows what he's talking about?

But Dean wouldn't be his own, annoying self, if he didn't contradict Sam's every word. It would be a first if he just accepted Sam's word, follow his lead…

"I was 8…maybe 9. Dad wasn't home… Only the two of us," Dean swallows, his face twisting, but he goes on undeterred, "I got sick…made you call Bobby,"

Dean's brow is furrowed to the uttermost extent now, pain and misery bleeding out of his very being. He looks frustrated at not being able to form whole sentences without panting as if he's just run a marathon, but at the same time there's something else there, a new strength, fierce and unchecked.

And Dean's word stir something inside Sam – but he can't quite place it. He stays still, fingers against Dean's too hot forearm as he wrecks his brain for the memory he can feel lingering right there, at the edge of his awareness.

"Maybe you don't…'member. You were only a little…squirt…"

Sam can't help but furrow his brow at the dip, but the effort's half-assed at best.



He'd been…yeah, four or so. Dad hadn't been home – gone on a hunt, even though Sam hadn't known it at the time - leaving them both behind. And Dean had gotten pretty damn sick…terribly sick.

At the time he had not told Sam, of course, had kept taking care of his little brother, preparing food, giving him his nightly baths, playing with him - sneaking into the Laundromat at night to wash their clothes without anybody noticing. And then, one night, he'd woken Sam who'd been sleeping in the bed next to his brother, and had asked him to bring him the phone.

"I can't get up, Sammy – not feeling so good. But I'm alright, you don't have to worry, alright? Just…you have to bring me the phone. I gotta make a call…"

Back then Sam had been too small to really realize what had been going on with his brother for days, that he'd been sick and getting sicker by the minute. That he'd been suffering. That he'd been holding it together only because he'd had to take care of his little brother.

Dean had called Bobby, and Bobby had been there hours later, had packed them up and…


It hits Sam so hard, he doesn't understand how he could have ever forgotten.

Bobby had come and packed them both up and driven them straight to the hospital. And then Bobby and Sam had stayed in a waiting room for a long time, one of the nurses bringing Sam coloring books and candy and some toy-soldiers to play with. And then, hours later…Dean in a hospital bed…all pale and looking right out ridiculous with one of those brightly colored hospital gowns they have for kids – with clowns and balloons on it…


A ruptured appendix, to be exact.

Sam remembers the foreign sounding word as it had bounced off Bobby's lips, remembers trying to say it right but getting it wrong time and time again. Dean's appendix had ruptured, he'd had peritonitis – another difficult word for a four-year-old – had spent two weeks in the hospital before being released.

John had come a couple days after Dean had been admitted, Sam remembers that too. They'd all gone to Bobby's afterwards, had stayed at the junkyard until Dean had been better again.


Sam takes a breath that stutters in his lungs, bounces around for endless seconds before being released again with an audible grunt of surprise.

How could he have forgotten? He remembers it all so clearly now…

Dean's watching him tiredly, silently following the display of emotions on Sam's features as he relives the memory.

"Shit," Sam breathes out, realizing that, yeah, his brother is right.

But it definitely is Dean's goddamn appendix that's given him trouble now, more than two decades later. The doctors showed it to Sam – in a glass jar – looking straight out of one of those cheap horror movies. It had looked…gross and surreal and had made Sam throw up a couple of minutes later in the confines of the toilet.

Dean raises a tired eyebrow at Sam, scrunches it down again quickly, his hand once again creeping across the blanket covering his abs.

"Stop picking at that," Sam admonishes distractedly as he swats his brother's hand away again. Sam's other hand is still clamped around Dean's left forearm and since so far Dean hasn't made the slightest notion of shrugging off the touch, Sam is intent to keep it there.

"Has to be…something else…" he offers, voice strained and tired. "You sure they didn't…take out something…that should have staying in there…?"

Sam shakes his head, worries his lips. And then, as if someone switches on a light inside his head it comes to him.

"God, right…Right," he whispers, can't believe he hasn't thought of it before. But then – before he hasn't really questioned the doc's diagnosis. He's just assumed that the whole appendix-issue is as normal as it can be with anyone else. Anyone but Dean.

Because apparently the Winchesters never do anything the 'normal' way. Story of their freaking lives…

"What…" Dean squirms a little and Sam realizes he's digging his fingers into Dean's forearm a little too hard, sees the deep red imprints of his digits against Dean's too pale skin when he loosens them again.

"You…all your scars – they're gone," Sam mutters, wheels in his head still turning as he starts to make sense of it all.

Dean just frowns at him, too exhausted to verbally admonish Sam for his apparent off-the-topic comment.

"Castiel." Sam states, matter-of-factly.

"Don't," Dean starts, stopping to clear his throat before trying again. "Don't call him here, Sam."

Sam shakes his head, a nervous laugh bubbling inside his chest, begging to be released.

"No…I'm not gonna call him. But your scars, Dean. They were gone when you came back from…when you came back, right? The hellhound's wounds were gone along with every other scar you ever had. Every other scar but the…" he gestures toward Dean's right shoulder, barely sees the uncomfortable scowl he gets when mentioning the permanent mark marring Dean's body.

The constant reminder of what happened to him.

Sam runs one hand through his hair, presses a flat palm against the tight muscles of his neck.

"You came back as good as new. No marks, no nothing. So…I mean I never thought about it – we never thought about it, but apparently you really came back…whole again."

And doesn't it all make perfect sense now. Sam finally huffs out a laugh as all the missing puzzle-pieces fall into place.

"I mean the scar from back then – the appendicitis scar – it's gone just like everything else. Every cut or bullet-hole or surgery-scar you ever had. Why would they – the angels…god…whoever - only put you back together on the outside, huh? Why not do it right, rebuilt you from scratch, so to speak, inside out. Put all the original parts back in…"

It's so damn obvious, Sam could slap himself.

Could slap Dean, too, because it would have been a textbook case and together they would have maybe figured this out without letting it get this far – but Dean dismissed it, like he loved to dismiss his physical weaknesses until they came to bite him in the ass.

He'd dismissed it because he'd rather be suffering in silence than talk to his own brother.

Dean frowns, clearly finding it hard to wrap his head around the newfound facts and stay awake at the same time, dig his way through the haze of pain clouding his mind and weakening his body.

"But how…" he grounds out, eyes still pinned on Sam's face even though he clearly is having trouble keeping them open. "How's that even possible?"

"Beat's me, man, it really does. But…it's the only explanation. The only one, dude. I saw what I saw – the doc took the damn thing out. Your whole abdomen was filled with this shit – and you almost died because of it, Dean. There's no doubt, the doc didn't even need to think about it twice. Nothing out of the ordinary. There's no buts, Dean."

And that's simply it. There's no buts and no supernatural causes…well, except for a goddamn angel putting the damn appendix back inside Dean, that is. That's it.

An angel put Dean back together only to make him suffer pretty much the same way he'd suffered as a kid – makes him relieve the whole terrible ordeal – again. Only that, this time Sam is all grown up and really, really should have picked up on his brother's condition instead of successfully ignoring all the brightly lit neon signs right before his eyes.

Sam can see Dean work it over a little more, but in the end he can do nothing but accept Sam's logic – if because it's actually logical, or because he simply is in too much pain to care anymore, Sam doesn't know.

Doesn't want to know, either.

"Should've warned us," Dean mumbles.

"Who should have warned us?" Sam asks, confused.

"Cas. Should have warned us…of the side effects…of the whole resurrection…thing."

"Always said you should come with a damn handbook," Sam offers around a smirk.

The whole situation is breathtaking, to say the least, and Sam's sure he'll – they'll be chewing on it some more, once Dean is up to it. But at the moment they're both too exhausted to keep wondering and pondering.

And they've seen things so much weirder in their line of work, haven't they?

When Dean tries to shift on the bed but ends up groaning – a guttural sound emanating from deep inside him, Sam has to admit that he can't, as much as he wants to, keep this up any longer. Dean can't keep this up any longer. They've already extended this much farther than they should have.

He presses the call-button for the nurse's desk, then leans forward, refastening his grip on Dean's arm and snatching up Dean's other hand before it can get anywhere close to the wound once more.

"Just let me handle this, alright? You relax, take it easy. They said it was a close call, but you'll get better now, you hear me? Another couple of days and you'll feel as good as new. And, hey – this'll make another cool scar, right? A lot cooler than the old one, anyways. This one's pretty damn big – won't fade for a while at least. Gives you plenty of time to take advantage of it – brag to the ladies…"

Dean smiles, tight-lipped but honest.

Right this moment he doesn't look as if he's going to be anywhere near any ladies anytime soon. But knowing his brother, Sam is pretty damn sure Dean will be bouncing back in no time.

Dean doesn't speak again, keeps his eyes open out of stubborn determination until a pretty young nurse bustles into the room, smiling at them a little too brightly, followed closely by the doctor on duty. They get busy immediately, checking vitals and writing in charts, talking to Dean but getting no answers in return. Sam is forced to let go of his brother's right hand but stubbornly keeps holding of Dean's left arm at least, refusing to even move the chair an inch away from the bed. The doctor and nurse just look at him funny, but Sam doesn't give a damn. He's got his brother back – he's determined to hold onto him now.

They check the wound – change the dressing. Sam thinks he's going to throw up again as Dean gasps in pain when they prod and poke at it for seemingly no reason at all but to test Dean's pain-tolerance.

When they are done torturing him and have covered up the wound with a fresh wad of gauze they adjust some of the dials of the oxygen cannula, advising Dean to leave it in for another day or two, just in case. They tell him he still runs a low fever so he needs rest, needs to eat and drink and sleep - and he needs to take it easy.

But when has Dean ever made things easy on himself?

Sam can see his brother shutting them out as they talk to him. The moment they've administered the new round of drugs through the port at the back of his left hand and leave the room, carefully closing the door behind them, Dean fumbles the cannula out of his nostrils, refusing to even listen to Sam's protests.

He doesn't look as if he's comfortable still, the drugs taking forever to take hold. His face remains grey and set as if in concentration, his jaw screwed shut with only that one, stubborn string of muscle jumping whenever he apparently bites back on any sound or sign of discomfort.

But now - as if he's spent too much time looking at his brother already, when waking up dazed and confused – he refuses to meet Sam's eyes. He stares straight ahead, at the ceiling or way beyond, his eyes slipping closed repeatedly when he's either fighting off a bout of pain or is very close to succumbing to exhaustion.

And Sam thinks he knows why Dean doesn't want to give in. He thinks that - for all the things he doesn't know about his brother anymore - this is one thing he still might be able to fix.

"Do you remember that one time – you were 16, I think, and Dad took us to hunt what he thought was a werewolf but turned out to be nothing but a rogue German Shepherd?" he starts, repositioning the chair so he can keep his hand on his brother's forearm and at the same time lean his elbow onto the mattress a little. Propping one of his feet on the lowest part of the pulled down railing of Dean's bed he leans back, relaxing his posture.

He's sitting almost opposite his brother now, facing Dean and he can see his brother's eyes shift to his face before averting his gaze again, his expression relaying his surprise at the meaningless story - hilarious or not. It's a fun little tale – nothing else. Something that happened a freaking lifetime ago.

And it's been ages that they talked about anything else but the apocalypse or Lucifer or Hell or…

Sam relaxes himself, tries to weigh his own muscles down so he can project some of his own calm toward his brother, pull him right along. He uses the story, a shared memory of somewhat happier times, to calm Dean, the only way he knows to make his brother let go a little – forget the terror of the past days or weeks or months and just let go for once.

Dean's still not looking at him, but he's listening, Sam knows, so he goes on.

"We spent days scouting out the forest, well – you and dad did, mostly. Followed tracks and you bragged to me about what a great tracker you were, jabbering on and on about broken twigs and bent leafs and all that. I had to stay behind for most of it but you took me along during that last night. Dad told me to stay in the car when you set out to kill the 'wolf', said you'd found its lair but it was too dangerous for me to come along,"

Finally Dean's eyes flick over to Sam again and while they're glassy from the fever still roaming his body and pain and various meds making their way through his bloodstream they still hold a spark that Sam can't remember to have seen in days, maybe even weeks.

"You cried…when we left you," he rasps and while his voice sounds hoarse and exhausted and pained Sam recognizes some of Dean's old spark there, too.

His tone is a mixture between taunting and loving affection – a mixture so unique to Dean, Sam will never be able to detect that exact same expression in anyone else. It's simply Dean, the same Dean who has driven Sam to exasperation more times than he can count, but has made him feel loved and cared for in ways nobody else has ever made him feel.

It's Dean's way to show affection, to show that he does care, no matter how much he pretends that he really can't be bothered. He never uses that tone on someone he's indifferent to. He never uses it on people he hates. The moment he stops using it, Sam knows from experience, things are going down, hard and fast.

The moment Dean stops teasing and taunting, he doesn't care anymore.

"Didn't cry," Sam shoots back, aiming to sound indignant but he can't quite cover up the smile that creeps into his voice.

He's missed this. The teasing and bantering and…just them. Being brothers. He's missed it more than he realized and it hits him all the harder now – the times they've gone without.

"Blubbered like a baby," Dean retorts drily, the effort to keep his eyes open becoming more and more apparent in the way his brows rise high on his forehead as if they alone manage to keep his lids open anymore.

Sam snorts, shimmies on the chair so he can draw even closer to Dean, his forearm pressed along Dean's hip, fingers wrapped around his brothers wrist.

"Easy for you to make fun of, anyways. You got to come along – gun and all. I was forced to stay behind, in a car, nobody there to have my back."

At that, Dean's expression darkens, grows serious.

"Always had your back…. Wouldn't have left you…if I hadn't thought it safe."

It's a statement spoken so soberly, with such certainty and conviction there's nothing Sam can retort, really.

"I know. I know that." He says somberly.

And he does. He does now – and maybe he's always known, deep down. It just had been hard to remember it at that moment, stuck in the car all by himself, scared shitless that his brother and father wouldn't make it back this time.

"'Sides…was just a dog, after all. Knowing you…you probably would've made friends with it…taken it home and fed it…"

That, again, Sam can't deny.

He leans back, rolls his shoulders, fingers lax against his brother's arm.

For a while, they stay quiet. But while their little conversation has visibly worn Dean out, it also managed to accomplish exactly what Sam has been aiming for. It has relaxed him, helped to loosen up those overly-tight muscles along his arm and shoulders and even his jaw. When in immediate pain, Dean usually locks himself out, shuts himself down so he won't let anything slip, won't let too much of his discomfort show to whoever was there, lurking, trying to sneak a peak. It's something Sam has never been able to fully understand, because clearly Dean is always doing so much better once someone – preferably Sam – always Sam – manages to coax him out of his reclusion and help him ease up a little.

Dean always shared his memories with Sam when he was sick or hurt – memories of their mom, those four short years he'd been able to spend with her. Four years Sam never had. And Sam, in turn learned to dig into other memories to help his brother in times of need.

After about five minutes of watching Dean fight the inevitable pull of sleep and drugs, Sam finally has enough.

"Jesus, Dean. Just go to sleep, alright? You gotta rest so we can spring you from this joint soon." Sam says, well aware that they won't be springing anything for quite a while to come. They will stay right here until Dean is ready, not a day earlier.

Dean doesn't react, just keeps staring at him with this unnerving look of intense exhaustion.

"Stop fighting it, Dean. You need your rest so you'll heal. I'll stay, OK? I will make sure none of those nurses get too close to you while you're weak and defenseless."

"Some girls like 'em…weak and 'fenseless," he slurs, lids almost closed now, only thin slits of green still visible between thick lashes.

Sam knows it's just a matter of time, that not even Dean can fight the meds forever. But it kills him to watch his brother suffer like this. It kills him to see Dean not willingly relaxing himself into Sam's care anymore.

"And you're just…jealous…they find me more attractive…even looking like this," Dean adds after a moment, his voice at least an octave lower than usual.

He's definitely almost gone already, and Sam recognizes the weak attempt at humor for what it is…he knows that cracking a joke, however ill-fitting it may be, is Dean's way of an apology – and a request to be forgiven, too.

"Yeah, you wish," he huffs quietly, then watches with barely concealed exasperation as his brother fights the already long-lost battle with consciousness with one last, valiant effort.

But enough is enough.

"It's Ok to let go, Dean," Sam presses, squeezing his brother's arm for emphasis.

And maybe he's the biggest hypocrite of them all, but for the moment Sam truly means it.

Despite all the times he thought his brother is too weak now, that Hell broke him in ways that can never be fixed again; despite all the times admonishing Dean for not fighting enough anymore, he now really wants him to let go and kick back for a while - give himself time to heal.

Sure - he wants his brother back – the way they were before. Before Hell and angels and demons teaching Sam how to stop Lillith, when the time comes.

And the time will come.

But not today.

Today, it's only about them – the end of the world be damned.

Today, Dean has to get better.

And then finally, after another minute or two of fighting the inevitable, Dean's eyes slide all the way shut and he's out.

It takes a while, even after he's drifted off, until the lines of pain etched into his features smooth out a little – giving Sam the sign he's been waiting for that his brother is once again resting more or less peacefully. Then Sam sits up and reaches over, adjusts the oxygen cannula underneath Dean's nostrils once more, shaking his head at his brother's stubbornness. But it's what keeps Dean going – what has kept him going through so many situations and hard times that would have forced others to their knees more than once. Everything comes with a price, Sam guesses.

For a moment he lets his hand hover over his brother's chest, studying Dean's face for any signs that he isn't really asleep, is trying to trick his little brother. But Dean's not the one who's doing the sneaking around, lately, and he most definitely is fast asleep right now. So, after a moment's hesitation, Sam lets his hand make contact, splaying his fingers wide over Dean's softly rising and falling chest. The amulet is right there, hidden beneath the thin layer of his hospital gown near Dean's heart.

He feels for his brother's heart-beat, steady and strong, lets the steady cadence calm him.

Dean sighs in his sleep, a deep, stuttering breath vibrating against Sam's palm before he falls back into his slower, shallower rhythm again.

And then, because Dean's out for the count anyways, and because there's no one there to call him on it, Sam lets his hand rest there for a little longer. He leans back in his chair and prepares himself for the wait.

Just like old times he feels himself calm down with his brother's presence, his body automatically matching his own heartbeat to the familiar rhythm of Dean's, his breathing stumbling for a moment before it, too, is in synch with his brother's.

This is how it's always been – the only way Sam can suddenly remember. Him and Dean. Even when their father was still in the picture, it has really only ever been him and Dean.

Maybe it's just an illusion, but Sam's suddenly confident that, together, they'll be able to fix this.

They will find a way to put the past behind them, defeat Lilith and prevent Lucifer from rising to walk the earth.

All the things they've already been through – all those times they beat the freaking odds together… And they are still here.

They've chased and killed monsters most people can't even come close to imagining, have survived sickness and injury and unspeakable pain.

In the past 3 odd years they've both died and somehow made it back again.

Dean's been through Hell – literally – and he's just survived his second ruptured appendix in one way too short lifetime.

Whatever's still awaiting them can only pale in comparison with what they've already been through.

The End


So, that's it. A long, long chapter, I know.

I honestly have no clue if it's any good, and if it makes any sense at all.

I guess I just wanted to make sense of Sam's behavior during this season – but I firmly believe that he started out doing what he was doing for the right reasons…and just lost his focus along the way. We all know the show continued differently than this story suggests, but I am absolutely certain that Sam did question his own motives at times – or he would have, if Ruby hadn't been poisoning him – body and mind. Being stuck in the hospital with Dean would have made him see things a little more clearly, maybe – even though it wouldn't have been for long.

So…I owe you all the most heartfelt thank-you for sticking with me and this story for so long.

I still do have another story on my hard drive, waiting to be released, and while I'm still not entirely sure about it, I think I will post it eventually. It would feel like a waste, letting it just rot there, after all. I will have some surgery done next week, and will then have some time on my hands to edit maybe the first chapter and see how that one goes…then we'll see about the rest. Since we've now got Season 7 confirmed, I do have some more time to post it

I think I don't need to say how much your review mean to me, your feedback is what keeps me going. I really hope you'll find some time to spare to hit the little review button and tell me what you think!

Thanks again for reading and I hope to hear from you!

Take care