Dean couldn't close his eyes. It kept replaying in front of him, and no matter which way he tried to turn it he still ended up in this hospital room with Sam's lifeless hand clutched in his.
Five days later, after three surgeries, one cardiac arrest and an emergency intubation, all he kept seeing was the moment when Sam's finger closed on the trigger and sent a bullet into the back of his little brother's skull.
After they'd stabilized him the first time, Dean had lunged at the surgeon who'd saved Sam's life and had to be physically restrained, because no it fucking wasn't luck. Sam wouldn't have missed. Sam knew how to take a life.
Sam meant to miss.
He clung to that like it was all he had left, and how dare they try and strip it away with luck.
If someone hadn't been holding him then, he would have fallen, because the adrenaline surging through him was too much – too much blood, his hands not enough to stop it, the hospital an eternity away, the way Sam's head had jerked back – and his legs chose that moment to opt out on the job. He felt his knees give and he grabbed hold of something that felt like someone's shirt as the room swam in dizzy lines.
Someone guided him to a chair and made him sit. Dean dug his phone out of his pocket and dialed Garth with hands that shook, that were still coated in Sam's blood. "What'd I say?" he demanded, pain and fury ripping through his voice. "What did I say to Sammy, Garth? Goddamn it. Why didn't you shoot me? Why didn't you shut me the hell up?"
Sam climbed his way out of the coma five days later, had been awake and alert. Responsive, his chart said. After Sammy choked on the tube in this throat and panicked, Dean had untied the cuffs holding his hands down, cursing himself for letting them do that to his brother. But he was so tired. He just hadn't noticed. He wondered what else he'd managed not to notice.
The nurse holding Sam's chart smiled when she saw Sam's hand in his. "I heard he was awake, that's fantastic!" she said. "He's lucky to have a brother like you who will sit here with him."
It was nothing but a twist of the knife. Dean tried to return her smile and his failed attempt faded almost instantly.
"We've been bringing his oxygen levels down on the ventilator, and he's doing just fine breathing on his own. So we're going to go ahead and remove his trach tube. We do want him to be awake for it though. We'll want to explain to him what to expect. It can be a little bit traumatic sometimes." She smiled again at Dean. "But he'll have you here, so I'm sure he'll be all right."
Dean's hand tightened on Sam's, replaying the moment when the lines on the monitors surrounding Sam had gone flat and he'd been shouldered out of the way by a team that would restart Sam's heart, force a tube down his throat to make him breathe, while Dean could do nothing but shout at them not to fucking hurt him.
It was a joke, a fucking joke. Because of all the people in that room, only he could hurt Sam with so much lethal precision.
"We'll be right in with the equipment. Why don't you see if you can get him up and awake," the nurse said, jerking Dean back to the present, and Dean nodded.
He ran his other hand along Sam's arm, giving it an emphatic pat. "Sam," he said. "Hey, man. Rise and shine."
A flutter of awareness ran through Sam, and his hand twitched in Dean's. He opened his eyes, and immediately looked away.
"Sam." God, his voice sounded tired. "Gonna get that tube out of you, okay? Sound good?"
Sam didn't answer. Didn't look at Dean. Just stared impassively at the wall.
"Okay," Dean said quietly, almost to himself.
A short time later, the nurse returned with a nurse assistant and a cart of suction equipment and other things Dean didn't recognize. She put a gentle hand on Sam's shoulder and explained what she was going to do, how she was going to remove the tube and Sam just needed to stay calm and relax, hold his brother's hand and not tense up. She looked at Dean while she said it as if she naturally sensed that Dean had the power to keep Sam calm, and Dean wondered if that were true anymore, or if he even believed it.
"I'm going to give you something to help with any discomfort," she explained, reaching for a vial, and Sam's hand darted out and seized her wrist, his eyes suddenly gone wide with fear.
"It's okay," she soothed. "It's just an anesthetic. It's standard procedure."
Sam looked over at Dean desperately. Cage, his eyes said. Dean understood.
"He doesn't need it," Dean translated. "He'll be fine."
"But we usually—"
"He has a high threshold." Dean squeezed Sam's hand. "Look, just trust me. There are too many people… doing too many… things to him right now. Just. It's fine. Let's skip the meds."
She set the vial down. She and the nurse assistant moved Sam's bed into an upright position. "This will be over in just minute," she assured him, releasing the strap that held the tube in place and easing it forward.
"Eyes on me, Sam," Dean said. Sam's eyes latched on to Dean and didn't let go.
"Dean? How bad?"
It was the first thing Sam had said since they'd asked him to give his voice a try, and he'd whispered it's okay, it's fine before breaking into a fit of coughing.
His voice was wrecked. It hurt to hear him talk. It reminded Dean of how Sam had sounded after he'd nearly had his windpipe crushed by one of the vengefuls they'd taken down. And it was a question he might very well have asked Dean then, too, after Dean had hauled his ass out of harm's way, stopped whatever was bleeding and set whatever was broken.
He felt a flare of anger, the first glimmer of anything he'd felt breaking through the suffocating web of fear and recrimination in days, and he welcomed it. He needed it.
"Well, not dead, so I guess it depends on what you're going for."
The look on Sam's face hit his anger like a wall of water, and he wished like hell he could take it back.
"Right. Sorry," Sam mumbled, eyes darting to the wall.
"Tell me you didn't mean to do it. Please. Tell me something. Help me understand."
Sam didn't say anything.
"Fuck!" Dean shouted. "You don't get to just check out like this! You owe me more than that. After everything, Sam. Why? You know I was under the influence of that thing back there. I wouldn't have said those things to you if it hadn't been-"
"You meant what you said. And it's all true."
"What, that you got fucking manipulated into freeing Lucifer? That soulless you was a psychopath? You think I blame you for those things?"
"I think you—probably do blame me, yeah. But." He shrugged, looking suddenly small and lost somehow. "Now you have Benny."
Dean frowned, not comprehending. "Benny?"
"You don't need me. Dean. You never needed me, not really. You just clung to me because… I was the only family you had. The best you could do. And I-I've never done anything but drag you down. Hold you back."
"That's not true. How could you think that?"
"It is true."
"I thought you were dead. You weren't dead, Dean, and I left you for dead. What kind of brother does that?"
"Sam…" Dean looked down, then back at his brother. "The kind of brother that does what I ask him to do. For once."
Sam shook his head, wincing as the motion jarred his stitches. "Benny—"
"He helped me, yeah. He had my back. You would have had my back if you'd been there. But Sammy, I'm glad you weren't."
Sam chewed the inside of his lip, making the muscle on the side of his face twitch. "Dean. Don't lie to me. How bad is it?"
Dean saw the fear in Sam's eyes then, how the corners of his lips pulled tight when he said it, and he realized Sam really didn't know. All his trust was in Dean, as it always had been, to tell him he was fine. And Dean hadn't told him he was fine. Dean hadn't told him a thing. He realized then how cruel that was, how out of touch he'd become with what Sam needed from him when it used to be the first and only thing he paid any attention to.
Maybe he and Sam didn't need to be so caught up in each other that they couldn't live their own lives, but it didn't mean he wanted to give that part of himself up, either. And he damn well didn't want Sam to give it up. Was that selfish? Maybe he didn't know what he wanted. Maybe he didn't care as long as it meant taking care of Sammy.
"Fine, Sam, you're going to be just fine. You could walk out of here right now if you wanted to."
"Seriously?" Sam took a deep breath, and all of the tension eased out of him.
It actually took some of Dean's with it. "Yeah," he said, even smiling a bit. "You're a crap shot, always have been."
"Too soon, Dean."
"Okay." He clasped his hand around Sam's again, feeling the surge of warmth and protectiveness he'd been missing. "Okay, understood."