Summary: Post 8x19 – Sick Sam / Big Brother Dean – One day, Sam would give the amulet back to Dean; had already decided to return it before the third trial...just because and just in case. Just because Sam loved his brother, just because he believed in second chances...and just in case he didn't come back.
Disclaimer: Not mine
Warnings: Language (of course) and general spoilers for season eight
A/N: Because I miss Bobby...because I miss the amulet...because I love H/C, especially when it involves a sick Sam and a protective big brother Dean...and because this story was actually started before Third Time's A Charm. And since it was already begun, I decided to go ahead and finish it. But after one more frolic in amulet fluff, I'll be heading back to the flooded ditch of Busy Signal.
Take a little piece of my life for safe keeping. ~ Candice Jarrett
The photo had caught him by surprise as it had slipped from between the yellowed, musty pages of one of Bobby's old books – one they had stashed in the Impala's trunk after Bobby had died...just because and just in case.
Just because they still loved that old man and just in case...well, just in case.
Hunters could never have too many books around.
And this one was an ancient book of Latin and lore that hopefully held a clue about the last trial; no book was left unread these days in that pursuit.
But this book was definitely not a scrapbook – so what the hell?
Dean blinked at the photo lying face down on the floor, momentarily hesitant to pick it up.
Because this was obviously personal, something Bobby had kept hidden just for himself; something worth hiding from the rest of the world, something that needed the protection of an old book and an old hunter.
Looking at the photo seemed like intruding.
But then again...Bobby was gone.
It wasn't like he was around anymore to grumble and growl about the boys never giving him privacy...though Dean wished the older hunter was there to do just that.
Bobby would've liked the Batcave.
Dean twitched a sad smile, still staring at the white back of the photo resting on the floor at his feet and realizing this was ridiculous.
It was just a damn picture.
Pick it up.
They had shit to do.
Dean nodded in agreement with himself and transferred the old book to one hand; his finger between the faded pages, keeping his place as he crouched; the movement attracting Sam's attention from across the lamp-lit room.
Sam glanced over his shoulder as he sat at the table hovering over his own ancient book; one he had snagged earlier in the evening from the massive collection archived in the Batcave.
"What?" Sam asked; his voice hoarse, his throat raw from the constant coughing; the symptom having become remarkably worse after the recent completion of the second trial.
Dean didn't respond as he stood to his full height; his expression reflecting the strange melancholy of a happy memory as he stared at the photo he held.
Sam frowned at his brother's silence. "Dean..."
Dean shook his head in disbelief at the treasure he had found without even looking. "Well, I'll be damned..." he murmured before his gaze flickered to Sam.
Sam's frown deepened. "What?" he repeated, too exhausted to stand but turning in his chair to more fully face his brother as Dean walked toward him.
Dean said nothing but continued to smile like a kid who had found a prize at the bottom of a cereal box; a prize he had assumed was gone – long gone – and yet here it was, hidden between the pages of an old book.
Sam's mind sluggishly buzzed with possibilities, but nothing surfaced; fatigue and sickness continuing to take their toll, dulling his acuity.
...which was annoying as hell to a smart kid like Sam.
Sam sighed and cleared his throat. "What's that?" he asked, nodding at whatever Dean was holding; at whatever had fallen from Bobby's book and had floated to the floor seconds ago, landing with a soft scuff; at whatever had unexpectedly brightened Dean's mood.
But again Dean said nothing, instead handing the snapshot to Sam to speak for itself.
Sam tilted his head – confused but intrigued – and accepted the photo...then swallowed against the mixture of emotions that instantly swelled in his chest.
Because there they were...a 12-year old Sam frozen mid-laugh as he looked up at a 16-year old Dean who was smiling down at his kid brother, his arm around Sam's shoulders as they both stood in front of the Impala in the middle of Singer Salvage.
A different time and a difference place, both literally and figuratively.
It seemed like yesterday.
It seemed like a lifetime ago.
It seemed like a good reason to cry.
"Wow..." Sam breathed, blinking at the sting of tears as he swallowed once more against the ache in his chest that had nothing to do with the physical effects of the last two trials.
"Yeah. Wow..." Dean agreed about the emotional impact of the photo; an impact made even more powerful by recent events; the brothers having set Bobby's soul free to Heaven almost two weeks ago.
There was silence.
Dean shifted as he continued to stand beside his brother and vaguely gestured toward the photo Sam held. "You remember that day?"
Because Dean did – could still hear the laughter of a bony, too-small-for-his-age, 12-year old Sam squirming beside him; could still feel the warm metal of the Impala's door against his back and the heat of the summer sun on his shoulders; could still see Bobby on the opposite side of the camera, growling at them to pose, dammit.
Dean chuckled softly at the memory, wondering what had made the older hunter think he and Sam had experience posing for pictures since doing so wasn't something they had been used to...and that was sad on so many levels.
But that day – that day had been a happy one.
Dean nodded. "It was a good day," he announced about that Friday afternoon caught on film, about that captured moment staring up at them.
"It was a normal day," Sam amended; that detail still important to him even now all these years later.
Dean blinked, his gaze sliding from the picture to his brother, surprised by how much such a simple statement struck him.
Sam glanced up.
Dean smiled, continuing to stare at his brother as he nodded. "Yeah, Sammy. It was."
Because Sam was right – it had been a normal day. A rarity in their lives when they had just been kids; kids at their Uncle Bobby's house one summer afternoon doing what kids did; laughing and joking and half-ass posing for pictures while Bobby had tried to figure out the features of his new camera and John had been away on a hunt several states over.
It had been a normal day, a safe day.
And Dean would give almost anything for Sam to have another day like that – for the kid to be happy and healthy and safe.
But it seemed those days were gone.
The best they could hope for now was that Sam would survive the final trial and then maybe stop coughing up blood after that.
That would be good enough for Dean.
In fact, that would be really fucking great if his little brother was not only alive at the end of these trials but healthy as well.
Because Dean was sick of Sam being sick; sick of hearing the kid cough; sick of seeing the kid's blood stain his lips; sick of lying awake at night, counting the kid's wheezed breaths just to make sure Sam was still alive.
Dean was sick of it.
All he wanted was for Sam to be okay.
That was all he had ever wanted...and yet he so rarely got it as his little brother seemed to be in constant danger.
Sam glanced up at him again from where he continued to sit in the chair; 30-some years old and yet still able to look like a kid with those wide eyes.
Dean shook his head fondly and tried to smile, tried not to let Sam see how worried he was about him.
But Sam knew anyway.
"It's okay," Sam assured and would've sounded more convincing if his voice hadn't been quiet and hoarse; if he hadn't swallowed like talking hurt; if he hadn't sighed like speaking was too much effort.
But Dean nodded.
Because that was what they did these days; both brothers alternating between telling each other those two words – It's okay.
Only sometimes Dean would say you're okay and would look straight at Sam; willing the kid to believe it, willing it to be true.
Maybe one day it would be.
Sam smiled; the expression as weak as his face was pale.
It twisted something deep within Dean's chest.
But the big brother smiled back. "You're okay," he told Sam, because it had been at least an hour since he had reminded his kid of that.
You have to be okay.
Sam swallowed and nodded.
Yeah, sure he was.
There was silence, both brothers once again staring at the photo Sam continued to hold; reminded of a summer afternoon when everything was okay...little brothers included.
Dean briefly closed his eyes, wondering why it was only after a moment was gone that you realized how precious it was.
"Hey..." Sam suddenly called, attracting his brother's attention. "You remember how Rummy kept trying to get in the picture? And how Bobby kept yelling at him and then yelling at us?"
The question transformed Dean's smile from forced to genuine; indeed remembering what Sam was describing – remembering how that old dog was the reason Sam had been laughing, the 12-year old having thought the entire scene was more hilarious than it had actually been.
But in that moment, Sam had been healthy and happy and safe...and god, please let another moment like that come again for this kid.
Because after everything, Sam deserved it; hell, Dean deserved it.
They both deserved to be fucking happy, dammit.
When would it be their turn?
Dean sighed, his finger slipping from between the pages of Bobby's old book as he set it on the table and crossed to stand behind Sam instead of beside him; both brothers once again staring in silence at the picture.
The colors having faded over the years; the corners bent and the edges crinkled from frequent handling – Bobby having not only kept the photo but having obviously looked at it numerous times.
It spoke volumes.
"He loved us, you know..." Sam commented, saying the kind of sappy crap he could always be counted on to say.
But Dean didn't roll his eyes or snark in the way he usually would.
Because Sam was right – Bobby had loved them like they were his own...and they had loved him right back.
Blood made relatives...but trust and loyalty and love made family.
And Bobby Singer had been family to Sam and Dean Winchester.
The hole the older hunter had left in their lives when he had died was as huge and gaping and unfillable as the one John Winchester had left.
But the hole Sam would leave in Dean's life would be worse – Dean knew from experience – and the big brother refused to let that happen again.
Other people could come and go, but Dean's kid was staying with him.
There was silence.
Sam glanced up at his brother; sensing Dean's heavy thoughts, knowing Dean was as scared as he was about how their story might end.
Sam swallowed. "Dean..."
Dean's attention flickered to his brother. "Yeah, he did..." he agreed, belatedly acknowledging Sam's statement about Bobby's love for them, and offered his own proof of that truth. "Did you see the bottom?"
Sam frowned and then refocused on the photo he held; his gaze following Dean's finger as it pointed to the bottom right corner.
My boys, 1995 – scrawled in Bobby's unmistakable handwriting.
Sam huffed a tearful laugh in response and swallowed, giving a watery smile to his brother as Dean patted his back.
"Don't be a girl, Sammy..." Dean admonished, though there was no heat to his tone and his own voice shook with emotion as he tried to lighten the mood.
"Don't be a dick," Sam countered in typical little brother sass and then laughed again when Dean promptly flipped him off. "Nice," he replied dryly and lifted the back of his hand to his mouth as the laugh threatened to end in a cough.
Dean narrowed his eyes at the familiar gesture, knowing what Sam was trying to prevent...and knowing that never worked. "Hey. You okay?"
Sam glanced at Dean, nodding even as he began to cough and turned to cover his mouth with the crook of his elbow.
Dean inwardly cringed – never getting used to that deep, wet sound rattling in his brother's chest – and continued to stand behind Sam, watching and waiting and expecting to see blood any second.
Because that's how this routine worked – Sam coughed, blood appeared...Sam coughed again, more blood appeared...and 'round and 'round it went until his brother was exhausted and pale and breathless.
This was a daily – sometimes hourly – occurrence in their lives since the first trial had been completed; blood-producing coughs serving as just one sign that Sam's body was becoming thinner, weaker, sicker.
The only difference was that Sam was honest with him now – showed Dean the blood instead of hiding it; openly coughed and choked as it filled his throat and mouth; admitted to Dean that he felt like crap instead of trying to smile through it.
It was the honestly Dean had asked for, had demanded of his little brother – but it hurt so fucking much to see his kid like this.
Dean clenched his jaw, freshly hating that Sam was enduring this...especially since this was supposed to be on him, not Sam.
Dean sighed, reigning in his thoughts and pulling himself together to focus on his brother still sitting in front of him.
"Easy," Dean soothed as Sam continued to cough, each fit lasting at least a minute when it struck. "Just take it easy, man. It'll pass..."
Sam's only response was a wheezed inhalation between one cough and the next.
"Breathe, Sammy..." Dean urged, reaching for his brother; his hand briefly squeezing the back of Sam's neck before settling on the kid's shoulder in silent support and comfort.
Coughs echoed through the Batcave; Sam's back arching beneath Dean's hand as he leaned forward, bracing himself against the table, his arm still covering his mouth.
Dean continued to wait, his thumb rubbing back and forth over Sam's shoulder; silently comforting his kid while staring at the photo now resting on the table since Sam's body was too busy trying to cough up its lungs to be bothered with holding a picture.
But the snapshot was there, mocking him.
Reminding him of what had been lost.
Of what could still be lost.
Dean clenched his jaw – because fuck that...Sam wasn't going anywhere – and shook his head in further denial.
Sam inhaled noisily.
Dean cringed as his brother then coughed once more, the sound as deep as before but wetter this time.
...which was never a good sign.
Suddenly needing to see Sam and not just hear him, Dean slightly crouched beside his brother, ducking his head for a better view of the kid's face.
"Sammy. Look at me."
"M'fine," Sam gasped, the coughing gradually becoming less frequent. "M'fine," he repeated, lowering his arm from his mouth; his voice raspy from abuse and wet from the residue of blood that coated the back of his throat and clung to his tongue.
Dean's eyes scanned Sam's face, watching as his brother swallowed hard.
"M'fine..." the kid said again.
To which Dean snorted and arched an eyebrow, silently calling bullshit.
Because experience had taught that if Sam had to say that he was fine more than once, then the kid wasn't fine.
Not to mention the slurred words and hoarse voice...
Or the blood smudged over Sam's lips and splattered on the plaid fabric of his long-sleeved shirt.
Dean shook his head.
His kid was a mess – a sick, brave mess.
Sam blinked up at his brother, recognizing Dean's suspicious tone. "M'fine."
"Yeah, you sound fine..." Dean agreed dryly, his expression reflecting his worried sarcasm. "You look like shit," he added. "But you sound just fine."
Sam glared weakly. "Bite me, Dean."
Dean chuckled at the usual comeback, always encouraged if Sam had the energy to be a snarky little bitch.
Sam twitched a smile as well, wiping the back of his hand across his mouth and wrinkling his nose at the remnants of blood that smeared across his skin.
"I wonder how much longer this is gonna last..."
The question sounded rhetorical, but Dean knew that Sam wanted him to answer, knew his little brother was seeking reassurance that he wouldn't be this sick forever.
But Dean couldn't promise that...because Dean didn't know.
He didn't know.
Dean sighed, reminding himself that Sam deserved the same painful honesty that he had asked the kid to give him.
"I don't know," Dean replied, watching as Sam rubbed the blood on his hand across the thigh of his jeans; the kid's clothes constantly stained with red these days, even though they hardly ever went on hunts anymore.
There was irony in that, though Dean didn't have the energy to look for it.
Dean sighed again, patting his brother's back before tugging at his shirt. "Go change," he told Sam, hating to see the kid's blood like this. "Or do you want me to go get you a fresh shirt?"
Because sometimes Sam could make the trip down the hall to his room...and sometimes he couldn't.
"No, I'm good," Sam assured, sounding like crap.
Dean snorted but didn't dispute his brother's claim. "Good," he agreed. "Go. And if you take longer than 10 minutes – "
" – you will come find me," Sam finished, having heard that speech numerous times over the past few weeks as his condition had steadily declined.
And he knew that Dean wasn't bullshitting.
If Sam took longer than Dean thought he should take to do anything, his big brother would unapologetically intrude to check on him, rarely even knocking before busting in.
"What the hell, Dean? Ever hear of knocking?"
"Fuck that shit. What's taking so long? Are you okay?"
And as annoying and frustrating as that sometimes was, Sam didn't actually mind.
It felt good to be protected, to be loved, to be taken care of...especially after everything he and Dean had been through.
"Hey..." Dean called, scattering Sam's thoughts.
"I'm going," Sam replied, knowing that was what Dean was checking – whether Sam had changed his mind about going to his room.
Dean nodded and watched his brother.
Sam sighed and pushed himself to his feet, holding himself steady at the table and feeling Dean's hand hover at his back as he gained his balance; the dizziness of blood loss always making itself known when he changed positions.
"You good?" Dean asked when Sam finally pushed away from the table.
"Mmhmm," Sam hummed, too focused on remaining upright and walking to form actual words.
"Ten minutes..." Dean reminded, watching his brother slowly disappear around the corner; listening as the kid shuffled down the hall and entered his room.
Dean glanced at his watch and then turned, following the maze of hallways in the opposite direction from their bedrooms and entering the kitchen; grabbing a bottle of water from the fridge before snatching a fresh roll of paper towels from the counter.
Because Sam needed to hydrate...and Dean didn't want to see any more of Sam's blood on the kid's clothes.
It was one thing to see his little brother's blood due to an injury sustained on a hunt...but it was something entirely different to see blood that Sam had coughed up.
That meant the hurt was deep; was unreachable and unhealable; was beyond even an angel's repair.
And Dean didn't like being reminded of that fact.
The big brother swallowed against the emotions that threatened to choke him and shook his head; refusing to allow his thoughts to turn darker and choosing instead to focus on taking care of Sam.
"Damn right," Dean agreed heartily with himself and returned to the main room of the Batcave, pausing long enough to listen for his brother down the hall.
Sam's sluggish movements bumped and thumped, ungraceful and uncoordinated – but who the hell cared? He was still moving under his own steam.
"Atta boy, Sammy..." Dean quietly praised his brother; his kid sick and exhausted but still on his feet.
Dean nodded proudly, reminded that if Sam was powered by anything, he was powered by stubbornness.
And Dean was counting on that trait to keep his brother going, to help Sam get through this last trial.
Dean sighed, crossing to the table and setting down the water bottle before ripping off a paper towel and wiping the area where Sam had been sitting; the area that had tiny pinpricks of blood splattered on the polished wood.
Dean clenched his jaw as he cleaned, so fucking tired of his kid being this sick.
"Soon..." Dean whispered and held that promise in his heart.
Because soon this would be over; soon Sam would be well.
God, please let it be soon.
Dean sighed once more, tossing the blood-smeared paper towel into the nearby trashcan and glancing up as Sam appeared around the corner, wearing more layers than before and looking more exhausted than he should.
"You okay?" Dean asked as Sam paused, briefly leaning against the edge of the wall as if he would fall otherwise.
Sam nodded even as he swallowed and coughed, then swallowed again. "Is it cold in here?"
It was familiar question.
One that Dean was skilled in dodging.
"Ice on the fringe is so damn frosty..." Dean sang, repeating the lyrics of an annoyingly catchy rap song they had heard a few weeks ago at a gas station.
Sam rolled his eyes, even though it made him dizzy. "Oh my god, Dean. Shut up," he laughed, knowing his brother was trying to distract him – because no, it wasn't cold in here.
It was just Sam feeling yet another effect of illness, yet another effect of constantly coughing up blood.
"You shut up," Dean countered, knowing he had accomplished yet another successful distraction. "That song kicks ass."
Sam snorted, carefully pushing away from the support of the wall and crossing back to the table. "You don't even like rap," he reminded his brother as Dean came alongside him.
Dean shrugged as he matched Sam's steps to remain within reach of his brother should the kid need his help.
"True," Dean agreed about not usually liking rap. "But I like that song. Hell, we were poppin' tags before it was cool."
Sam laughed again; then coughed, swallowed, and smiled at Dean as Dean reached for him – his big brother no longer able to resist the instinct of supporting a sick little brother who was almost too weak to even cross the room.
Sam's smile lingered as he felt Dean's hand securely wrap around his thin bicep. "I can walk by myself, you know..."
Dean nodded. "Good for you," he returned dryly and pretended not to notice when Sam leaned more heavily into his grasp as he led his brother to the table.
Sam sighed, settling into the chair from earlier. "Thanks."
Dean winked at his brother and then motioned toward the water bottle he had sat on the table before just grabbing it himself. "Here," he told Sam, opening it and shoving it at the kid. "I want at least half of this gone. And then it's bedtime soon."
Sam arched an amused eyebrow at the orders. "Dude..."
"Don't 'dude' me," Dean replied. "Wise older brother," he proclaimed, pointing at himself. "Sick little brother," he countered, pointing at Sam. "...which means I win."
Sam pulled a face, not really following that logic. "Yeah, okay. Whatever..." he commented, shaking his head before drinking his water like a good patient.
Dean quirked a smile, thankful that Sam usually tolerated his nervous rambling these days.
There was silence.
"And the next time you try to cough up your lungs, use the paper towels, not your shirt...got it?" Dean fussed at his brother. "I don't need more laundry to do."
Sam nodded. "Got it," he agreed, knowing laundry had nothing to do with Dean's request.
"Good," Dean responded and gave Sam a once-over as the kid sat in the chair blinking up at him.
Sam watched as his brother then crossed to the opposite side of the table, sitting down across from him and reaching for the photo that had been forgotten in the midst of Sam's earlier coughing fit.
There was more silence; Dean staring intently at the snapshot as he noticed something he hadn't noticed before...but was now completely focused on – the amulet hanging around his 16-year old neck.
Dean shook his head in regret.
Because god, he missed that ugly-ass thing.
With everything else going on these days, he had forgotten just how much he had missed it...until now.
Dean sighed and shook his head again, freshly pissed with himself for having thrown it away all those years ago in that motel room.
Sam swallowed his mouthful of water and frowned at Dean across the table. "What?"
Dean glanced at Sam, saying nothing but turning the picture to face his brother; his finger positioned to point out the amulet.
"Oh..." Sam responded and then glanced away, suddenly finding the far wall especially interesting.
Dean narrowed his eyes; Sam's reaction confirming what he already knew – that the subject of the amulet...and of what Dean had done with it...was a sore one; one that cut to the core of his little brother.
But there was more.
It was no surprise that Sam was touchy about this topic, but there had always been something else. A certain edge of suspicious behavior that pointed to one thing for a big brother used to reading his little brother – and that was especially evident now.
Sammy had a secret.
And Dean felt confident that he knew what it was, had always known deep down.
Because Dean knew his brother...and there was no way in hell that Sam had walked past that trashcan that day and out of that motel room without first retrieving the amulet from where Dean had impulsively – cruelly – thrown it as the kid had watched.
Dean sighed. "I'm sorry," he suddenly told his brother. "I never should've done that."
Sam glanced at him and shrugged, clearing his throat before taking another sip of water.
Dean nodded, knowing that Sam knew what he was referring to and understanding that this was how Sam operated when the kid was upset over something...even if that something had happened years ago.
There was silence.
"But I know you still have it," Dean announced, staring at his brother from across the table.
Sam remained quiet but shifted in his chair, twisting the water bottle in his grasp; his hands becoming wet with condensation and sweat.
Dean twitched a smile, reading his brother like that proverbial book. "I know you still have it 'cause I know you," he continued. "And there's no way you walked out of that room without it."
Sam coughed lightly and then cleared his throat. "Maybe I did," he countered. "Maybe I left it because I knew you didn't want it anymore."
Dean shook his head. "You know me better than that, Sam."
And Sam did.
Sam knew that Dean had been pissed and hurt; knew that their lives had been so incredibly twisted and fucked up during that time before the Apocalypse; knew that Dean had regretted tossing the amulet the second he had done it; knew that Dean had wanted it back.
Sam sighed and coughed again, inhaling a shaky breath before swallowing.
Dean frowned, watching his brother for any other symptoms.
But Sam seemed fine...at least for now.
The silence stretched on.
"I know you still have it," Dean finally repeated. "And I'm not asking for it. That's not really my place after what I did with it." He paused, saying those words aloud hurting more than he had expected. "But I know you still have it, Sammy. And sometimes I wonder where you're keeping it."
Because Dean had looked for it more than once...but had never been able to find it – so what the hell, Sam?
You sneaky little bitch.
Dean quirked a smile.
Sam did the same before resuming his poker face and shrugging. "I don't know," he said, the comment clearly a dodge. He paused. "But maybe it'll show up again someday."
Dean laughed, having his answer and deciding to let it go.
Because he could wait.
Hell, he had waited this long.
"Yeah, maybe..." Dean agreed, holding Sam's gaze before glancing back at the photo he still held of him and his brother.
Sam allowed his smile to return.
Because he did have the amulet; had dug it from the trash even as Dean had impatiently blown the Impala's horn at him that day; had tucked it in the pocket of his jeans and then had shoved it to the bottom of his duffel later that night; had constantly moved it from one location to another over the years, sometimes even carrying it with him when he needed the reassurance of his brother.
In fact, Sam had it right now; had carried it with him since that first day he had coughed up blood; had drawn comfort from it and could feel its familiar outline against his hip in this moment as it rested in the folds of his left pocket.
But one day, Sam would give the amulet back to Dean; had already decided to return it before the third trial...just because and just in case.
Just because Sam loved his brother, just because he believed in second chances...and just in case he didn't come back.