Author's Note: Set season 8, post 8x19, but no major spoilers for it. Honestly, I heard this song the other day and could not get it out of my head. It just . . . I don't know, has this sad quality to it? Then, I got to thinking, "Hey, don't the boys have a record player in the Batcave?" and this is the end result of that thought. Before anyone asks, yes, updates for everything else are coming, but I got exhausted after my little trilogy excursion and I just needed to write something after seeing the latest episode.

"Don't count stars

Or you might stumble,

Someone drops a sigh

And down you tumble."

Jo Stafford, "It Could Happen to You"

Some days, it's not too bad.

Yeah, he coughs—come to think of it, there's not an hour that goes by when he doesn't cough—but if it's a good day, the blood that his body expels is minimum at the least. If it's a really good day, the tissue will just be speckled and Sam can pretend that it's his imagination conjuring up the blood that he sees. He can pretend that nothing's wrong with him. On good days, he jokes with Dean like they both don't have a care in the world. On good days, his brother will make dinner and they'll sit at the table—an actual table like an actual family—and he'll be able to keep everything down and appreciate the food while his brother tries to brush off the fact that deep down, he can cook. They'll drink a beer and talk about things that they want to do someday. On good days, there's the promise of a better tomorrow just waiting for them around the bend.

On good days, there's hope.

Then, there are the bad days.

These are the days when he can barely breathe because it feels like his lungs are trying to push themselves out of him and his ribs feel like they're cracking because of the severity of his cough. Blood covers everything and his head gets this odd lightness in it. He can't stand on his own for longer than five minutes, not that the cough would let him do so anyway. On bad days, panic reigns in Dean's eyes, though his brother tries to keep it under a façade of charm. Sam can see through it though—he can see how truly scared Dean is to see him like this and if Sam had the breath, he would reassure his brother that everything will work out in the end. On bad days, Sam lies in bed and focuses on breathing while Dean alternates between "Hang on, Sammy," to "What can I do?" That's the worst part and Sam knows it's the part that kills his older brother. There's nothing Dean can do to make things better. There's no monster to go out and kill, there's no magical cure to be found—it's just Sam dealing with the weight of the trials and Dean, who can only help lessen the burden and not take it away completely.

Today is a bad day.

Today, Sam has managed to drag himself to the kitchen, only to plop onto the solid wooden chair of their dining room table. Lacking strength, he lies forward, letting his burning skin feel the cool wood of the table below him. It soothes the pounding in his head, if only for moment. Dean is out, getting groceries and that thought brings a worn smile to Sam's face. His big brother—his macho, I-don't-do-chick-flick-moments-Sammy brother was out doing something so utterly domestic as getting groceries; groceries that he would then use to make a wonderful, homemade dinner.

"S'funny." Sam wheezes, the words whistling out from him as his lungs protested. He should call Dean and if he had the energy, he would move to grab his cellphone on the kitchen counter, but as it was, he had no remaining energy to give. His head throbs in time with his heart—this actually reminded him a lot of the migraines he used to get after his visions—and he knows he isn't pulling in enough air because he was lightheaded.

Calling Dean was what he should do.

Resting on the table is what he does do.

It's not like he's dying—not yet, his mind adds grimly—and he doesn't need his big brother to slap a Band-Aid on something and make everything better. While comforting, that didn't work anymore, not in this case. All Dean could do was ease the symptoms; he couldn't spare Sam the pain.

That was fine with the youngest Winchester though. For once, he wanted to be the one to carry the burden that so often had been placed on Dean's shoulders. He could see the light—a world free of demons—and he was determined to take Dean there too. It was no surprise to the youngest Winchester that his older brother had seemed a bit suicidal after coming back from Purgatory. He had been risky and it had scared Sam. He had just gotten his brother back—after a year of being so sure that he was dead and gone to a place that he could not save him from—and to see Dean throw himself into the fire as if he wanted to get burned . . .

It was one of the reasons Sam insisted to be the one to do the trials. There were a lot of reasons really, but keeping Dean safe had been number one followed closely by, atoning for not looking hard enough for Dean. To be fair though, Sam had thought Dean had died and left him behind in a world where everyone he knew was dead. He had thought he was the only one left standing. Wouldn't that be fitting after all? Wouldn't that be the best way for the universe to go and say, "Take that Sam!"? To have endured Hell, only to be abandoned and forced to live in a friendless world—yeah, that was cosmic justice for you.

Amelia had come along and tried to patch him together again. They had both been broken and together, they found a reason to keep living. If he hadn't met her, Sam knows he would've put a bullet into his brain. That would've been dramatic irony too. He would've died, only for Dean to show back up again. It was a lot like Romeo and Juliet if you thought about it . . .

There's blood on the table, which is odd considering Sam doesn't remember coughing. Nevertheless, it's there and he should clean it up, because Dean will be pissed if he sees it.

Dean will be scared if he sees it.

Sam is pretty sure—99.9% sure if he goes with the research he dug up from Web MD and the few favors he called in from a few doctors that owe him—that he is going to die. He wishes that wasn't the case—it's not like he wants to die; he wants to live and be with Dean and maybe, for once, enjoy life. You know, maybe go on a vacation? Or do something other than hunt and worry about the world?—but if he is going to die, he's going to die knowing that he closed the gates of Hell. He's going to die by his brother's side, watching as Crowley gets trapped forever. The last image he'll see is his brother's face, beaming with pride.

Is it an idealistic wish?

Of course.

He's learned that death is never what you expect. Death you saw in movies or TV shows sugarcoat it. Actual death is never what you would picture it. He's died before in his brother's arms and he never got a chance to say his last words. Death is sudden, abrupt. You don't see your life flash before your eyes. You don't get to have that moment where absolution is given.

Death is like the wound that Jake gave him—sudden and painful.

Leaving Dean behind is the worst part though. His brother didn't even last three days before he sold his soul for his life and with the gates of Hell closed, there won't be a Crossroads demon to deal, which is kind of the point of Sam dying in the first place. Part of him wonders if Dean will follow him—a thought that sends the worst kind of pain through his system—and part of him naively wishes that he wouldn't die at all; that it will somehow work out in the end.

There's more blood on the table, almost the size of his fist now and Sam lifts his head up to look for the tissues. He needs to clean this up before Dean gets back. He doesn't want to see the hidden fear lurking in his brother's green eyes, not today.

Sam, you're damaged in ways even I can't heal.

Castiel's words haunt both of them. For Sam, they only confirm what he has long suspected, but for Dean, they're a wake-up call, a sign of only bad things to come if he doesn't figure out a way to save Sam.

But saving Sam would lead to the gates of Hell remaining open and well, they can't do that. Not after all that they've accomplished, not after all the sacrifices people have made for them. To stop now would be turning their backs on everyone who has ever helped them, to anyone who has ever died for them.

No, stopping isn't an option.

Each day that passes, Sam can feel his life slipping away, like sand through his fingers. If he's honest with himself, it's scares the shit out of him. He never wanted to be martyr, but fate has cast him in this role. If he dies to protect his brother—screw the world, Dean is only person that matters—then, he's okay with dying for that.


Dean's back; Sam can hear the keys jingling in his pocket as he closes the door behind him. He wants to call out to greet him, but he doesn't have the energy. He can't even remember how he got here in the first place. All he knows is his head hurts and there's too much blood on the table. His brother's boots hit the kitchen floor and Sam lazily tracks him as Dean places the bags on the counter, not seeing him yet.

"D'n." It comes out weaker than he intended and much softer, but it's all he needs. His older brother immediately finds him and there's only a brief moment of shock before the groceries are tossed aside and Dean is pulling Sam towards him, lending him strength to take bigger breaths and move his head.

"Bad day?" Dean asks, tight lipped, a war of emotions taking place inside him though an outside would swear that they saw nothing but cold indifference on his face. His brother's eyes triage him as his hands search for any external sign of injury, though they both know that there's none. It's Sam's body that has declared war on itself and this isn't a war that Dean can win for him. Aside from the Tylenol for the headache, there's no medicine to administer, not that Sam could keep it down anyways.

"Yeah." His voice is rough and he feels all of five years old again, waking from a nightmare to an empty room save for Dean in his bed. His brother's presence has always been able to soothe him and even now, it magically seems to help. His lungs seem to expand more and he suck in some sweet oxygen. His head doesn't pound as much and his heartbeat isn't so rapid. Maybe it's wishful thinking or maybe Dean's been right all these years and he does have a big brother superpower.

The thought brings a smile to the youngest Winchester's face.

"How do you feel?" Dean asks in a measured tone because Sam knows full well that his older brother can see the blood on the table, can understand how Sam is getting worse by the day. He masks his panic not only for Sam's sake, but also for his own. His whole life, he's made things better. Bully on the playground? Dean pummels him. This time, it's Sam's body that's making him sick. There's no way to fight that.

"Dizzy." He replies honestly, letting his head rest on his brother's shoulder. Normally, Dean wouldn't stand for this kind of "girly" moment. Normally though, Sam wouldn't be coughing up blood on a daily basis.

"Just relax," Dean coaches, slowing his own breaths so that Sam can follow his example. "We'll get you to bed and you'll feel better."

It's a lie needed by both parties.

"D'n?" His eyelids are heavy and he wants nothing more than to sleep right here, but there's something bothering him, something he needs Dean to know.

"Yeah, Sammy?" His brother's body tightens just a little as if he's afraid of what his little brother will say.

"M'not gonna leave you," He's fading fast in his brother's arms, the exhaustion catching up to him and pulling him to the calming darkness. "M' gonna fight." They've beaten worse odds before and came through the other side, somewhat intact. Bottom line, Sam will fight for his brother. Dean gives him strength to see past the light at the end of the tunnel.

He'll fight to stay with Dean.

A chuckle reverberates through his brother's body as strong arms pull him upwards. The next thing Sam knows, he's tucked into bed and there's nothing but numbness and delicious warmth surrounding him.

"I'm not letting you go, Sammy," His brother voice whispers. "Not again."

Then, he leaves and Sam lets himself drift. He can hear Dean cutting up vegetables for a dinner he probably won't be able to keep down. Cooking is an escape for his brother now and Sam will try to eat. A woman's voice sings from a record player they managed to dig up. It's not Metallica or anything Dean's used to, but Sam's caught him singing a few times under his breath as he cooks. Her voice is full of longing and while Sam can't make out the words, he feels her pain.

This life . . . this somewhat domestic, everyday routine they've got going on here, is what Sam will fight for. He's not going to give up. He'll borrow some of Dean's "never say die" attitude and keep pushing forward.

Even though the odds are against him, for Dean he's willing to do anything.

For Dean, he'll go down swinging.

Author's Note: I really like how this piece came out and I hope you did too. Please review if you have a second!