A/N: As ever, Sarah_Ellie has rescued me from myself because she is an awesome beta. This could maybe be Sam/Dean-ish if you squint.
Sam felt the cold prickle of fear slide down his neck, making his breath quicken and his heart race, and yet his hands were steady on his gun. The house was too quiet, too still.
And he had to find… something.
Stairs and hallways, that's all there was in front of him, all leading down, down, down… so down he went, stepping carefully on the stairs that looked like they wanted nothing more than to break under him.
The further down he went, the more he became aware of an ominous crackling sound. It reminded him of the sizzle those electric prongs from old science fiction movies made. He cocked his head to listen, and immediately the sound seemed to grow louder, buzzing in his ears.
He grit his teeth as all his hair stood on end; the air around him thick with electric charge, but he pressed on.
By the time he reached the bottom, the sound and the charge were starting to become painful, and his hands had started to shake on the grip of his gun.
The basement was divided, rotting, blackened planks barely holding up the feeble pseudo walls. Sam followed the blue crackle of electricity, squinting at the sparks of light that flashed before his eyes.
He stepped forward, leaning cautiously around a doorframe to look at the source.
His gun dropped from his suddenly numb fingers and he gasped, forcing himself through the entryway.
"Dean!" He tried to shout. He gripped his throat when the electricity in the air seemed to latch onto the sound of his voice and follow it back to his mouth, cutting off his words with a painful jolt.
Dean was standing in the center of the electric storm with both hands clenched over the center of his chest. Sam's own heart twisted in pain at the blood on Dean's shirt, dripping down from between his tight fingers and staining his clothes.
His face looked lost. Dean's eyebrows were drawn tightly together as he looked down at his chest in confusion; skin pale and sickly in the crackling light.
"Dean!" Sam tried again, braced for the pain of the shock this time. He groaned when it came- worse than before- but it made Dean look up, the perplexity on his face lingering for a few moments. It was as if he didn't recognize his brother.
"I'm sorry, Sam," he finally said, giving Sam a long, loving look before unclenching his hands and letting his arms fall limply to his sides.
"No!" Sam yelled, jerked forward through the pain as Dean immediately collapsed, boneless as a rag doll as he hit the floor.
He grit his teeth as ribbons of electricity sizzled across his skin and his knees buckled. He hit the ground hard beside his brother, and looked down with sickening horror.
Dean's chest was empty; a gaping, blood-lined hole where his heart should be and Sam screamed, begging Dean's empty, glassy eyes to come back...
Sam woke with a start, gasping in a panic. Tears dripped from the corners of his eyes and dampened the hair at his temples. He forced down the sob threatening to tear out of his throat and bolted upright; casting a fearful look to the bed next to him in the dim light.
He squinted at Dean's shadowy form; willing his night vision to improve enough to make out his brother's features. He could tell by the curve of his shoulder that Dean was curled slightly onto his side facing Sam. He tried to listen over the pounding of the blood in his ears for Dean's usual, heavy breath.
He couldn't hear anything.
"Dean?" Sam breathed as fear tightened in his chest, and he shoved his blankets off haphazardly as he bolted out of bed.
"Dean!" He said a little louder, tugging the blanket down to press his palm against Dean's chest.
Dean woke with a start, gasping thinly and struggling to free himself of the blankets as his fight or flight instinct kicked in, and Sam's knees buckled with relief.
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry!" Sam panted, kneeling beside the bed and pressing his face into Dean's shoulder shakily. At the sound of Sam's voice, Dean went still, the fear of being woken up by the unexpected touch leaving him in a rush, "I just- I had this dream and when I woke up I couldn't hear you breathing, and I just-"
"Sammy, Sammy, take it easy," Dean rasped, his already unsteady heartbeat fluttering painfully harder in his chest from the kick of adrenaline. He pressed shaky hands on his brother, one gently stroking the back of Sam's head. His fingers combed through the shaggy hair carefully, and the other curled around his shoulders, "Calm down."
Sam shook his head stupidly, screwing his eyes shut tightly against Dean's shoulder. He could feel the unsteady beat of Dean's heart against his palm; his hand still pressed to Dean's chest and fingers curled in the fabric of his nightshirt.
"Still here, Sammy," Dean assured him quietly, and Sam's insides twisted with guilt. He should be the one reassuring Dean; the one offering comfort instead of taking it. Dean was the one who would die if this healer wasn't the real deal.
Sam forced his breathing under control by taking deep, calming breaths that warmed the fabric under his mouth.
"It was only a dream, Sam. Come on, go back to sleep, we've still got a lot of driving to do in the morning," Dean encouraged, gently squeezing the back of Sam's neck.
"Don't think I can," Sam confessed, "Keep thinking you're going to stop breathing on me."
Dean was quiet for a few moments, stroking Sam's hair some more before gently tugging on his shoulder.
"Come on, come up here," Dean said gruffly, and Sam lifted his head to look at him.
"I said get up here," Dean repeated, reaching over to the other side of his bed to jerk the covers down, and Sam moved before Dean could change his mind, standing and fumbling onto the bed.
He slid under the blankets carefully, a respectful distance away from his brother but still within arm's reach.
"Go to sleep, Sam," Dean ordered, settling down again and pulling the blankets up over his shoulders. He moved delicately to curl back onto his side, as he had been before Sam woke him.
Sam nodded at Dean's back, and tried to close his eyes and go back to sleep. Dean was right, of course; they had several hours of driving to do and he would need to be the one to do them, so rest was important.
Sam dozed in and out of sleep, fitful and hazy, but flashes of the dream kept churning through his head, the sight of Dean's lifeless face, his open, empty chest. Every time he jerked back to wakefulness he strained his ears for the sound of Dean's breath, frightened every time by how hard it was to hear, his brother's breathing shallow and small.
By the third time Dean's empty eyes in his mind's eye woke him, he couldn't help but slide his hand the couple of inches across the mattress, pressing his palm to the curve of Dean's ribs.
Dean was roused by the touch, and husked a disgruntled, "What?" over his shoulder.
"Nothing, sorry," Sam murmured, withdrawing his hand and shoving his face into the pillow with a frustrated sigh.
He tried to put it out of his mind, listening to the flick... flick... flick... of the old clock radio's plastic numbers rotate through the minutes, the low hum of the heater, the drip of the faucet in the bathroom.
He counted out the sound of the minutes passing on the clock instead of sheep and tried to doze. He almost managed it before he jerked awake again, the sizzle of electricity from his dream almost following him back to wakefulness and he suppressed a groan into his pillow frustratedly.
He listened for the hum of the heater and the drip of the sink again to distract him and instead was struck by the eerie, frightening lack of sound coming from Dean.
Sam reflexively reached out to touch Dean, and his brother was startled out of sleep again.
"Jesus Sam," Dean breathed in a growl, tilting his head back, "Why do you keep doing that?"
"Sorry," Sam could feel his face flush, and was grateful for the darkness as he pulled his hand back, "I can't hear you breathe and it's freaking me out."
"Oh for God's sake," Dean grumbled, reaching back suddenly to grab Sam's hand and pull him forward. Sam's eyes widened in surprise when Dean wrapped Sam's arm around his chest and pressed his palm over his heart, like he was tucking a blanket around himself, "There, you can keep tabs on me, alright? Can we go to sleep now?"
Sam froze for a moment, unsure of what to do, before tentatively pressing forward against Dean's back, adjusting his elbow into a more comfortable position.
A few minutes of silence passed, Sam feeling the subtle inhale and exhale of Dean's chest and his fluttery heartbeat against his palm.
"Why can't I hear you breathe?" Sam asked after a few moments, "I've always been able to hear you breathe at night."
"Yeah, well, deep breaths aren't really an option for me right now, Sam, I can't really help it," Dean grumbled sleepily, and Sam swallowed, daring to press a little closer.
"Does it hurt?" he asked in a near whisper, and Dean gave a small sigh as he adjusted his head on the pillow subtly.
"Yeah, Sam," he answered just as quietly. Sam clenched his jaw, pressing his chin against the back of Dean's neck as he swallowed thickly.
Dean's smell filled his nose; his brother's natural scent mixing with the smell of their cheap laundry detergent and Dean's shampoo.
He'd grown up his whole life with that smell. From the time they were very small, sharing a bed and using Dean as a living teddy bear all the way up until he left for Stanford. Dean's scent was a part of the air he breathed, all day, everyday- saturated into the leather of the Impala, mixed in with his clothes in the laundry- and suddenly the stark prospect of losing that for good was staring him in the face harder than ever.
"I meant it when I said that you better take good care of my car when I'm gone," Dean said suddenly, catching Sam off-guard, "Just so you know."
"And I meant it when I said that I wasn't going to let you die," Sam replied immediately, and Dean shifted slightly, leaning back a little so he could tilt his head to the side, towards Sam.
"Sam, I'm actually being serious here," Dean growled, and Sam bristled.
"So am I. I'm not letting you die."
"And if this little field trip to Nebraska doesn't pan out and they can't help me?"
"Then I find another way," Sam insisted, and Dean gave a small huff in answer.
"I can't lose you too, Dean," Sam interrupted, "I can't."
Dean was quiet, and Sam watched his dark profile. He wished desperately that he could see Dean's face properly, but didn't dare to turn on a light.
"You don't need me, Sam," Dean said softly, "You've never needed me. You were perfectly happy before I barreled back into your life and dragged you into this mess again."
"Jesus, Dean," Sam snapped angrily, and Dean flinched. He immediately felt guilty, and pushed on in a rush, "You're all I've got left, of course I need you."
"Right," Dean answered with a snort, turning his head away again. Sam's stomach twisted when he realized Dean had interpreted him all wrong.
"I've always needed you, you idiot," Sam said desperately, "You're my brother. I love you, being at Stanford didn't change that."
"Well, you had a funny way of showing it," Dean answered gruffly, and Sam suppressed the anger boiling in his gut at the remark.
"I wanted to leave hunting. I never wanted to leave you. Ever. I asked you to come with me, more than once, in case you forgot about that," Sam reminded him hotly.
"You just wanted me to come with you to piss Dad off," Dean bit back at him. Sam's jaw literally dropped, and he stared agape at the shadowed back of Dean's head in hurt disbelief.
"Dean, how- how can you think that?" Sam finally pulled himself together enough to whisper, and Dean huffed.
"It's not hard, Sam. You hated him, so you wanted to punish him, and I was the only bargaining chip."
"What? No! Dean, no," Sam pushed up on his elbow, pressing a little harder against Dean's back as he stared at the black outline of Dean's head on the pillow, still turned away from him, "I wanted you to come with me because you deserve better than this. You deserve to be safe, someplace where you don't feel like you need to have a knife under your pillow. That's why I wanted you to come with me. Do you know how much I worried about you? Every time my phone rang I was afraid it was Dad calling to tell me you were dead."
Dean was silent after Sam's little speech, and Sam swallowed, laying back down slowly.
"We should sleep," Sam mumbled after a moment, when it seemed pretty clear that Dean wasn't planning on speaking again, "Sorry for bringing it up."
There was quiet for a few minutes. Sam forced his eyes closed, counting out Dean's heartbeats and breaths under his hand and trying to sleep.
"What do you think I would have done out there?" Dean suddenly asked, and Sam opened his eyes again in surprise.
"What do you mean?"
"I mean, what would I have done, if I had come with you to California? While you were off writing term papers and sleeping with co-eds or whatever?"
Sam didn't answer at first, biting his lower lip nervously at the thought of all the half-formed dreams he had had about those days. Dreams he hadn't really thought he would ever share with Dean.
"Whatever you wanted," Sam finally said, "I know school was never really your thing, but there's so much you could do. Build stuff, fix cars, hell- get some acting gigs out in San Francisco. We lie for a living, you could turn into a proper actor in no time."
Dean gave a snort, and even Sam had to grin at the thought. He was going to say modeling, but even with a fatal heart condition he didn't doubt that Dean would find a way to beat him up for that.
"The point is, you're smart enough and determined enough that you could find something worthwhile, something you'd love and be fantastic at. There's so much in Palo Alto you would have loved, Dean, it would have been amazing for us to be out there together."
"You think so?"
"Know so," Sam smiled, "The co-eds, for instance. I imagine you would have worked your way through the sorority houses in record time."
Dean couldn't help but chuckle at that, and Sam's heart loosened with relief a little now that they had steered the conversation out of painful waters.
He was surprised when Dean moved, twisting gingerly onto his other side and settling again, putting them face-to-face; so close their noses were almost brushing. He even allowed Sam's arm to stay draped over him, elbow bent to keep his hand spanned across the side of Dean's ribcage, marking the expand and collapse of each small breath.
"Aw, come on, be honest with me Sam," Dean said, and Sam could tell by his tone that Dean was wearing his trademark smirk, "You're really the one who worked through the sorority houses, weren't you?"
Sam chortled, and he knew Dean was still grinning.
"Well, there was this one spring break..." he said jokingly, and Dean laughed again, giving him a gentle shove.
"You'd better not be teasing me!" Dean exclaimed, "Come on, Casanova, I want all the gory details!"
Sam couldn't help but laugh, shaking his head subtly, "How do you even know who Casanova is?"
"Dude, I read, I know stuff!" Dean defended himself, and Sam snorted.
"There's a porn based on him, isn't there?"
"I am insulted!" Dean attempted to say innocently, and Sam laughed, squeezing his arm a little tighter around Dean in a gentle hug. His brother harrumphed in mock indignation before dropping the act and chuckling to himself as well.
Comfortable silence fell for a few minutes, and Sam let his eyes slip closed as their breath shared the small space between them. He couldn't lose this. Not now. Not when they had just started to be them again, had started moving in rhythm again. They were just remembering how to really love each other.
"You're going to be ok, Dean," Sam murmured softly, "even if I have to give you my own heart to use."
"You know, Sammy, if you want to be my Valentine, one of those paper hearts would do," Dean tossed back, trying to derail what Sam was sure he was defining as a "chick-flick" moment.
Sam was having none of it.
"I mean it," Sam insisted seriously, "Nothing I wouldn't do for you."
He heard Dean swallow before answering quietly, "I know, Sammy. I know. Go to sleep."