Author's Note: Finale tag! There's going to be another, because somebody may have asked me a question whose answer she knew I would absolutely have to turn into a story. (Manipulative, much? :P) For now, have this. :)

Other story news… I'm about four chapters from finishing the sequel to Dies Felices. I'll have to give that a rest for a bit because my big bang posting date is on June 10, but I'll hope to have that going soon after. There'll be a couple more tags to S8, and then some general one-shots (the kind that I allow to accumulate on my hard drive and then realize all of a sudden that I haven't posted).

Many thanks to Cheryl for the beta.

Disclaimer: I wish I owned them. Alas.

Summary: What happens in the immediate aftermath of the finale. Tag to 8.23, Sacrifice.


What Happens After

The first clinic they visit is in South Dakota. Sam's struggling for breath and Dean's yelling for help – for anyone – when a couple of nurses run out with a wheelchair. They try to get Dean to stay in the waiting room, and he ignores them because yeah right he's going to be stuck sitting in a creaky plastic chair counting the cracks on the ceiling while his brother's being poked and prodded by a bunch of random strangers.

They start to put an oxygen mask on Sam, and Sam yells and pushes them off because by now he's past thinking clearly. But Dean's there, with a hand on Sam's shoulder and a whisper in his ear and the nurses are really glad they let him stay when Sam quiets down and settles docilely against Dean and lets his big brother strap the mask to his face.

"See?" Dean whispers, as Sam takes deep, but still shaky, breaths. "That helped, right?"

Sam's eyes meet his, wide and terrified, and something ugly twists in Dean's gut. Terrified is he least favourite look on Sammy. He can deal with angry Sammy and bitchface Sammy and frustrated Sammy and puppy-dog Sammy, but terrified Sammy? That's just wrong.

"It's OK," Dean assures him, resting a hand on his ribs.

It's hard to quell the urge to track God down and do some hard talking. Dean gets that the guy had a lot on his mind, but this? Requiring the life of the person undertaking the trials and not saying so upfront? That's not sacrifice. That's cheating.

For a moment, Dean wonders what happened to Naomi. Has she fallen too?

The thought passes. He doesn't have time to worry about Naomi now. He doesn't have time to worry about anything other than how Sam's heart is still thudding dangerously fast against Dean's fingers and where the hell is the freaking doctor?

"Easy," he says, hoping Sam's body will respond to his voice as readily as Sam's soul does. "Easy, kiddo, it's OK. It's all OK."

Sam's heartbeat doesn't slow down, but Sam relaxes a little more, sinking into Dean with a tiny sigh that fogs up the oxygen mask. Dean laughs, and maybe he also tears up a little at the thought of how close he came to losing this kid.

The doctor finally shows up. He pushes Dean's hand off Sam's chest and puts his own hand there in its place, pressing with a force that has Sam gasping and clutching at the bottom of Dean's jacket. Dean glares at the doctor, who shrugs and says, "Broken ribs. They must be painful."

He listens to Sam's breathing and tells Dean that there's no internal injury and Sam will be fine with some rest. Dean points out that Sam's heart is going at about five times normal, and isn't the doctor going to do anything about it, douchebag?

The doctor says it's probably because of the pain.

Dean sighs inwardly. He's treated Sam for broken ribs before. He's treated Sam for worse. He knows exactly what Sam's heartbeat feels like when he's in pain, and this isn't it.

The doctor listens to all that, nods, and says again that it's probably because of the pain. Maybe strong painkillers will help.

Dean helps Sam to his feet and takes him back to the Impala. He doesn't want quacks like that around his Sammy.


The second clinic they visit is in Illinois. It's tiny, but it looks bright and cheerful. Dean thinks Sam needs to be somewhere cheerful.

He helps Sam inside. Sam refuses to go into the exam room alone, so Dean's there, one hand on his brother's back, listening to Sam ramble about how Dean spoon-fed him chicken soup that time when he was four years old and had a cold.

Dean thinks maybe he should take a leaf out of his eight-year-old self's book and start spoon-feeding Sam whenever he tries to get away with eating half a celery stalk for dinner. If nothing else, the embarrassment will make Sam eat like a normal Sasquatch.

He's wondering if the airplane thing actually would work when he hears a throat cleared behind him. He turns his head just enough to see a severe-looking doctor in the room.

"What's wrong with him?" the doctor asks.

It's terse, but maybe he's a good doctor. If he helps Sammy, he can be as terse as he likes.

"He's having breathing problems," Dean says. "And he's nauseous and in a lot of pain."

Sam, a half-smile still on his face from the memory of how Dean had spilled soup over both of them but still made Sam feel better, nods obligingly.

"How much pain?" the doctor asks. "Scale of one to ten, one being no pain at all and ten being the worst pain you've ever –"

"Seven," Sam says without hesitation.

Dean, knowing what Sam's ten is, squeezes his brother's shoulder. The doctor's eyes track the movement with disapproval.

Dean, long past the point where he's going to let some stranger make him feel awkward about giving Sammy the comfort he needs, glares at him.

The doctor sighs. "What about a fever? Has he been running one?"

"He was, but it's gone down."

Dean heaves a little inward sigh of relief even as he says it. He does not want to go through the cold bath ordeal again.

The doctor doesn't look pleased, though, and Dean's a little puzzled by the lack of reaction. Sammy's fever went down, isn't that enough to make any reasonable person feel like Christmas has come in May? Dean would be jumping for joy if he weren't too busy keeping Sam calm.

"It's gone down," the doctor says, sounding sceptical.

"You think it hasn't really gone down?" Dean asks, worried. He hadn't thought of that. "It might just be a temporary thing? I guess – maybe we should check it again in an hour or so?"

The doctor rolls his eyes and reaches for Sam's wrist.

His examination is quick, and five minutes later he's putting the blood pressure cuff back on the shelf.

"Well?" Dean asks, and if he's absent-mindedly stroking Sam's head he'd like to see who's going to call him on it. Nobody else has a Sammy, so nobody else could possibly understand what it's like to almost lose a Sammy. "Can you help him?"

"That depends," the doctor says coolly. "Have you considered the possibility that the problem may be psychological?"

Dean feels Sam's flinch, and he hears the coldness of his own voice when he asks, "Are you saying my brother is insane?"

"I'm saying he clearly has a pathological need for your attention." The doctor's narrowed eyes are following the soothing motion of Dean's hand in Sam's hair. "Maybe this is his way of getting it."

"Come on, Sammy," Dean growls. "We're leaving."


The third clinic they visit is in Kansas.

Sam's running a fever again. Dean blames the doctor in Illinois.

The doctor who comes in this time is around thirty-five, honey-coloured hair pulled back in a ponytail and warm hazel eyes. If Dean didn't have a sick little brother to worry about, he'd have been hitting on her five minutes ago.

"What seems to be the trouble?" she asks.

Dean explains, because Sam's too out of it to do much. About ten minutes ago his breathing got laboured again, and right now Dean's holding the oxygen mask to Sam's face. Sam started out holding it himself, but then he decided that he'd rather clutch Dean's jacket.

The doctor listens, nods, nudges the mask aside and puts a thermometer in Sam's mouth. Sam looks miserably sorry for himself. He jumps in shock when the stethoscope touches his chest, and it's all Dean can do to keep him from bolting.

"I need a blood sample," the doctor says. "I'll have the lab run some tests."

Sam holds out his arm obediently.

The doctor takes it, fingers skimming over his skin and stopping at the needle marks from where Sam drew his own blood to inject into Crowley.

Crap.

Dean knows they're screwed even before the doctor opens her mouth.

"Are you trying to waste my time, Mr. Smith?" she snaps, glaring at Sam.

Sam shrinks back against Dean. Dean reminds himself that it isn't polite to hit a woman who isn't supernatural.

"Listen, doctor," Dean begins.

She shakes her head. "Don't. Don't deny your brother's drug problem. You're only going to make it worse. These are classic symptoms… Nausea, headaches, dizziness. And look at these needle marks… Just a few hours old. I can't imagine how anyone could give themselves that many hits in such a short time." She shakes her head again. "I can recommend a good rehab place."

Dean doesn't even bother to say goodbye as he drags Sam out.


The fourth clinic isn't really a clinic. It's Sam's room in the bunker, and Sam's pliant and cooperative, letting his brother clean the cuts on his face and arms and dab them with antiseptic.

Dean moves on to Sam's hand, to the neat slice through the palm that would have been fatal if it had touched Crowley.

"Too late for stitches," Dean murmurs. "I'm just going to clean it and wrap it again, OK?"

Sam mumbles an acknowledgement and settles his head on Dean's shoulder.

Sam hisses when the alcohol wipe touches his hand, and Dean can't hold back a smile. That's his brother. After everything he's been through, after having been tortured in ways even Dean can't imagine, he still fusses when Dean cleans out his cuts.

"Don't be a drama queen," Dean tells him.

"Dean," Sam says brightly, like he's discovered gravity and he wants everyone to know about it.

"Right here. Do you still feel sick?"

"Yes." Sam's voice is firm; Dean isn't going to get any food into him today.

Dean doesn't think he wants to. They're both tired. There's a crisis on their hands, he knows that. He saw the flashing lights and heard the warning sirens.

Later, he and Sam are going to have to figure out what all that means and where Kevin's gone. Dean doesn't think he was kidnapped; all signs indicate that he left on his own. He probably didn't want to be roped into another round of quests.

Later, though. Much later. When they're both rested and fed and back at a hundred percent, they'll think about saving the world.

For now, Dean just wants to think about how happy he is that he and Sam are here. Alive.

Together.


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