Summary: Post Season Eight – Sick Sam / Big Brother Dean – Every day had been the same since that rainy night. Their world now reduced to each other and the Batcave and nothing else. And strangely enough...that was fine. Let the world save itself for once. Dean had other priorities. The only thing that mattered was Sam.
Disclaimer: Not mine
Warnings: Blink-and-you-miss-it spoiler for season five...and more obvious spoilers for season eight along with usual language
This is not the end. ~ Mumford & Sons
It had been a long day stacked on top of a week of long days just like it.
Every day the same since that rainy night.
Their world now reduced to each other and the Batcave and nothing else.
And strangely enough...that was fine.
The angels could fall and everything could burn because Dean was done.
After all these years, he was finally done.
Fuck the world.
Let it save itself for once.
Dean had other priorities.
Because the only thing that mattered – that ever mattered – was Sam.
And Dean's little brother was right here.
Broken and miserable, alternating between congested breaths and blood-producing coughs...but Sam was here. Was often restless and clingy as his fever fluctuated and the all-consuming pain left him speechless.
But Sam was here.
After a week of this, Sam was still here.
And there was nowhere else Dean would be.
Calls were ignored; messages were unreturned; emails were deleted; and visitors could knock until their knuckles were raw.
But the world was not allowed here. Was not allowed to touch Sam and was not allowed to distract Dean from taking care of his little brother.
Dean blinked at the sound of Sam's hoarse voice, always surprised but encouraged when the kid felt well enough to speak.
Sam sighed, seeming to consider if he had the endurance to keep talking beyond just calling his brother's name.
Either way, Dean would take it.
Would never tire of hearing his kid say his name. Could still remember the first time Sam had said it as he had unsteadily toddled across a motel room and straight into Dean's embrace.
"Good boy!" Dean had praised as he had hugged his little brother and had felt Sam's pudgy hands fist his shirt. "You did it! I'm so proud of you, Sammy!"
And to this day, that was still true.
Even after everything, Dean was still proud of his brother.
So fucking proud of this kid.
This kid who had been willing to sacrifice himself again to save the world...and to prove himself to his big brother.
Dean swallowed against a pang of guilt at the thought and smiled down at Sam as he continued to wait.
Sam sighed once more, sounding as defeated as he looked.
Dean shook his head. "Hey. It's okay, man."
And it was.
If Sam didn't feel like talking, he didn't have to talk.
Dean didn't need conversation.
Dean just needed his little brother.
Everything was okay as long as Sam was still here.
As long as Sam was lucid enough to know that Dean was with him, was right beside him.
Everything was okay.
"You want some water?"
Sam's gaze flickered to the glass on the bedside table, knowing part of his exhaustion was caused by dehydration and chronic blood loss...which was why Dean was always pushing water.
"Let's drink some water..." Dean suggested as if it was such a fun thing to do that he was planning to partake as well. "It'll make you feel better."
Sam snorted weakly at the prediction – because nothing made him feel better.
Nothing except the proximity of Dean...and he already had that.
Sam's big brother having set up camp in his room over the past week; Dean always sitting right beside him, always within reach; always touching him and reminding him that he wasn't alone.
If it was Sam's fight, then by extension it was Dean's fight, too.
And right now, it seemed like Dean was fighting harder than Sam could.
That's what big brothers did.
They fought for their little brothers.
Sam smiled softly, watching as Dean reached for the water glass and brought it towards him.
"Don't mention it..." Dean dismissed good-naturedly, knowing his brother was thanking him for more than just water. "If I was thanked every time I was caught being awesome..."
His voice trailed off, implying such a scenario would result in a lot of gratitude thrown his way.
And he deserved it.
Dean deserved so much.
Sam hoped he knew.
If he had the energy and the breath, Sam would tell him so.
"Here we go..." Dean announced, carefully slipping his arm under Sam's shoulders and helping him sit up. "Small sips," he reminded, his hand hovering over the top of the glass, gripping both sides while steadying the straw between two fingers and holding it against Sam's chapped lips.
Sam did as he was told, taking measured sips and closing his eyes as the wet coolness spread through his dry mouth and soothed his throat shredded raw from the constant coughing.
Several seconds passed before Dean pulled away the straw.
"That's enough for now," Dean warned, thumbing water from Sam's chin before it could drip on the sheets. "We'll see how that does and then maybe you can have some more later."
Sam opened his eyes and wrinkled his nose, knowing exactly what his brother meant.
That if Sam didn't throw up the water, then he could have more.
But Sam's track record wasn't too good with that, so...
"Don't worry. I'm prepared," Dean informed like a good Boy Scout...or more accurately, like a good dad who had experience taking care of a sick kid. "I've got it covered."
And Sam didn't doubt that.
Over the past week, Dean had moved most of the entire Batcave into his room.
"I've still got the bucket right over here..." Dean added, tilting his head toward the floor.
And that was nice.
Nothing like brotherly bonding over rounds of puking into a bucket.
Dean shrugged, completely unfazed. "Wouldn't be the first time..."
Sam wrinkled his nose again and sighed, still supported by Dean as his brother returned the glass to the bedside table and then turned back to him.
"Alright, Cleopatra..." Dean teased as he resituated Sam in the wallowed nest of pillows and blankets. "Anything else you need, Your Highness?"
Sam smiled weakly. "Shut up."
Dean chuckled, always thankful for their moments of banter.
Those moments were so scarce these days.
"You shut up," Dean predictably shot back and then smiled. "But seriously, man..." he continued, his gaze sweeping over his brother. "You good?"
Because if Sam needed anything, Dean would make it happen.
Just say the word, Sammy.
But Sam only hummed his response, a drowsy version of "yes" as his eyes dipped closed.
"Good," Dean praised, because it was the small things these days.
And if Sam was good, then life was good.
"It's like I told you...water makes everything better."
"No," Sam countered quietly, his eyes still closed. "Brothers make everything better...especially big brothers."
Dean snorted at the sappy comment but swallowed against the emotion that instantly clogged his throat whenever Sam said shit like that.
"Oh, god. Don't start..." Dean groaned, even as he affectionately brushed Sam's bangs from his eyes and palmed his brother's forehead, judging the kid's fever to be about the same.
Meaning Sam was too fucking hot.
Sam shifted beneath the coolness of Dean's touch. "What time is it?"
Dean didn't even look to see. "Around midnight."
"Is it still raining?"
"I don't know. Maybe..."
Dean didn't keep track of the weather.
Let the world drown.
Sam sighed, turning his head toward Dean. "You should get some sleep."
"I'm fine," Dean replied, his body having learned long ago that sleep was unnecessary when there was a little brother to tend and take care of. "You're the one who should get some sleep."
"All I do is sleep..." Sam returned, sounding vaguely pouty like a toddler fed up with naptime.
Dean quirked a smile, fanning his fingers through the sticky strands of Sam's sweat-damp hair but saying nothing as he reached for the washcloth soaking in the bowl on the bedside table.
The table resembling the Impala's trunk in the way it was stocked with just about everything they could possibly need.
Dean nodded his approval and singlehandedly squeezed the excess water from the washcloth; a trick perfected from usually having a sick little brother clinging to one arm and thus preventing a double-handed squeeze.
Most parents knew this trick.
Even John had demonstrated it once, having reminded Dean in that rare moment that their dad had indeed been a dad...and not just a hunter.
Dean sighed, vaguely wondering what their old man would say about all of this – and then deciding he didn't want to think about it.
Because what John thought was irrelevant.
John was gone...along with so many others.
Sam was still here.
And Dean intended to keep him.
"Damn right..." Dean murmured, having always been a possessive sonuvabitch when it came to Sam, and smoothed the washcloth over his brother's fevered skin.
Sam sighed as the cool fabric swiped under his bangs and down his jawline, resting on one flushed cheek and then the other.
Dean smiled, watching his brother turn his face into his grasp. "Go to sleep, Sam."
Because sleep was what Sam's body needed to heal.
And one day – one day soon – Sam would wake up healthy.
Dean would pray for that if there was anyone to listen.
Dean shook his head at the uselessness of that thought and glanced down at Sam, knowing his brother was still awake but was at least resting.
And that was good...but how long could they go on like this?
Dean scowled at the unwelcomed question, sometimes annoyed by his inner dialogue, and arched an eyebrow as Sam suddenly opened his eyes.
There was a pause, one brother staring at the other.
"Sammy. What's wrong?"
His brother's instant tears startled Dean more than they should have.
"We need to talk."
Only nothing good ever came from those four words...especially when those four words were paired with such an emotional reaction.
"Okay..." Dean allowed, feeling his stomach twist with dread as he dunked the washcloth back in the bowl on the bedside table. "Let's hear it," he told his brother, wiping his damp fingers across his jeans as he refocused on Sam.
Though Dean already knew he wasn't going to like whatever Sam was about to say.
Because Sam had that look.
That look he always wore whenever he had been thinking about something serious for a long time and had finally decided to voice it.
And although Dean's little brother was pale and his eyes were bruised and his face was thin, Dean would still recognize that look anywhere.
Sam inhaled a shaky, shallow breath. "Sometimes it takes the most courage to know when something is over."
Dean narrowed his eyes and tilted his head.
He wasn't going to like this.
"No matter how much you love it...or how much you would miss it...or how much you think you couldn't live without it. Sometimes you just...you have to know when it's time to just..."
Let it go.
Those words were as clear as if Sam had said them.
Their meaning even clearer – that Dean had to have the courage to let Sam go.
That's what Sam wanted to talk about.
But there was no fucking way Dean was talking about that.
Not now...or ever.
"Sam – "
" – sometimes you just..."
Sam attempted to interrupt but paused, his brief burst of energy evaporating as the effort of speaking left him breathless.
Not that Dean was surprised.
Everything left his little brother breathless when the kid was this sick and weak.
And Sam had been too sick and too weak for too long; had been right when he had said that whatever this was...was in him.
The fiery agony burrowing deeper by the day as it invaded and claimed every part of Sam's body as its own.
...which meant there was no recovery from this, no getting better.
No reversal instructions engraved on a tablet.
No miraculous cure hidden in ancient books.
No bargains to strike and no prayers to pray.
They had tried all of that.
But this was the end.
Completed or not, the trials would be the end of Sam.
Over the past week, that realization had silently dawned at different times for each brother...but they both knew it.
Only now it seemed Sam thought it was time to say it.
Because Sam was a sappy little shit.
Having always been a drama queen, Sam liked to give deathbed speeches that Dean refused to accept; would always offer wisdom and bravery bathed in tears that made something twist sharp and deep in Dean's chest.
And that was exactly where this one-sided conversation was headed.
Dean had been in this emotional territory before and sighed at the familiar ache in his chest, clenching his jaw against the impending sting of truth as he waited.
Never rushing Sam these days. The kid taking as long as he needed to eat, speak, breathe...while Dean waited, thankful for every second his little brother was still alive to make him wait.
Because soon enough the waiting would be over.
Dean inwardly flinched at the stab of pain those two words inflicted, the muscles in his jaw bunching even tighter in denial.
Because Sam wasn't going anywhere...not without Dean, anyway.
That was their deal.
Dean sighed again and shifted on the mattress beside Sam. His back against the headboard as one leg brushed alongside his little brother while the other dangled over the edge of the bed. His sock-clad foot propped on the corner of the cot he usually slept on these days.
The big brother keeping vigil day and night.
Because Dean wasn't going anywhere, either...not without Sam, anyway.
It was them against the world.
And if Sam was gone, Dean would be right behind him.
Just like he had always been.
From Flagstaff to Stanford...to hell and heaven...to death and beyond.
There was no place too far.
Dean nodded his agreement and then blinked as he realized Sam was watching him.
The big brother frowned, his concern instantly flaring.
Because maybe Sam had fallen silent for a reason other than being tired and breathless.
It was a relative question when your little brother was burning from the inside and coughing up blood every hour.
But it was a question Dean asked at least every half hour, unable to stop himself from doing what big brothers did best – check on little brothers.
"Sammy..." Dean called when the kid didn't respond. "Answer me. Nod or something."
Sam twitched a weak smile at his bossy, worried big brother and nodded that he was okay, his dark hair whispering over the pillowcase.
Dean nodded as well as his gaze once again swept the length of his brother, visually searching for any signs of something more wrong than it already was.
But Sam seemed the same.
No change...for worse or better.
Dean sighed – simultaneously thankful and disappointed – and then felt his frown deepen as Sam closed his eyes and shifted restlessly on his back, as if the kid still thought he could somehow squirm away from the pain within.
"S'okay..." Dean murmured and grasped Sam's reaching hand, his thumb rubbing back and forth over his brother's fever-warm skin as he waited for this wave of pain to pass uneventfully...or for Sam to cough up blood.
Because these spells always ended one of those two ways.
"S'okay..." Dean repeated, twisting slightly as he continued to sit beside Sam and reached for a fresh towel on the bedside table.
His big brother sixth sense predicting this was ending in blood...in three, two...
"Easy, Sammy..." Dean soothed as his brother began to cough and gag, experience allowing him to quickly but carefully maneuver Sam to a more upright position.
Sam's bony shoulders curled forward as he continued to cough into the towel Dean held against his lips, staining the white fabric with blood and spit.
"It's almost over," Dean promised, holding his brother against him as the kid coughed. "Almost over..."
...which was easier to believe when seconds didn't feel like hours.
Sam gasped surprisingly loud as he struggled to breathe.
Dean cringed his sympathy, hating it when even breathing sounded painful for his brother.
"There you go, Sammy..." Dean encouraged. "That's better. More breathing, less coughing. C'mon...just like that dude says in Water Boy, huh? 'You can do it'."
Sam gave a strangled laugh, the sound weak and wet, at Dean's attempt to imitate that character's accent.
Dean smiled, pleased that he had distracted his brother...at least for a moment.
"Hey. Don't laugh. My impression is fucking awesome. 'You can do it'."
Sam groaned at the repeated phrase and then coughed once more before inhaling another ragged breath and sagging against Dean, held secure in his brother's embrace.
"Easy..." Dean urged, accepting Sam's weight. "Just breathe and take it easy, little brother..."
The words wrapped around Sam like a favorite blanket, familiar and warm.
Dean was familiar and warm.
And Sam loved him.
Sam loved his big brother so much.
"Just take it easy..."
Sam swallowed and nodded, his head lolling on Dean's shoulder.
"Hey. Look at me. Let me see..." Dean ordered, angling for a better view of Sam's face as he rotated his wrist to flip the corner of the towel over the blood-soaked fabric and used the opposite side to gently wipe Sam's mouth and chin.
Sam closed his eyes, too weak to keep them open; trusting his brother to take care of him and knowing he would have already collapsed back on the bed if Dean wasn't still holding him up.
"You're okay," Dean soothed his brother, even though Sam was a shaking, exhausted mess leaning against him. "It's over."
And it was over...until the next time.
And the next time.
And the next time.
"I hate this," Sam whispered and opened his eyes to squint at Dean within inches of his face.
There was a brief flicker of unguarded emotion in Dean's eyes at his little brother's confession, Sam's broken tone almost breaking him.
But Dean clenched his jaw, refusing to give in.
Staying strong for Sam.
Always staying strong for Sam.
"I know, Sammy. Me, too..." he agreed about hating every second of Sam's misery and gave a final gentle swipe across Sam's face before tossing the towel to join the others on the floor beside the puke bucket. "But hey...at least you didn't throw up this time."
Because the intensity of Sam's prolonged coughing usually led to Sam puking.
"Yeah, well...not yet," Sam countered about not throwing up and released a shaky breath followed by an audible swallow.
Dean arched an eyebrow, judging Sam's comment to be more cranky little brother than an actual warning of what was to come.
But just in case...
"Fine, Little Miss Sunshine..." Dean quipped about his brother's grumpy mood and held Sam with one hand while rearranging pillows with the other. "You can sit up for a few minutes. Though I'm hoping you're all talk and no action..."
Because Sam desperately needed to stay hydrated.
Sam hummed his agreement and swallowed again as Dean eased him back, situating them both alongside each other among the bank of pillows now lining the headboard.
Silence settled between them as Sam rested against his brother, Dean's arm still around him, holding him tighter than either of them would admit.
"Dean. I..." Sam shuddered and swallowed. "I can't keep doing this."
"Yes, you can," Dean immediately answered.
Knowing it was unfair for him to say that.
Because Sam was in constant agony.
And Dean hated that.
He fucking hated it.
But he was unapologetically selfish about this.
Because the alternative of giving up was unacceptable; life without Sam was unimaginable even though he had experienced it before.
"Yes, you can..." Dean repeated more quietly and squeezed his brother's shoulder. "Sammy. I mean it. I'm right here with you. You can do this."
Sam's breathing changed in that subtle way it always did when he was fighting tears.
Dean blinked against the sting of his own.
"Sammy. C'mon, man. You're gonna be okay. We're gonna figure this out."
Because Dean had promised that.
In the middle of a church in the middle of nowhere, he had promised his little brother they would figure this out.
They just needed longer than a week.
"There's nothing to figure out," Sam replied, his words hitching with his shallow breaths. "And I can't...I can't do this anymore."
"Bullshit, Sam," Dean snapped, pissed at the thought of his brother slipping away, of these trials breaking his kid. "You don't get to give up. You hear me? In case you forgot, we go together…or we don't fucking go. And guess what? I'm not ready to leave this shithole world, which means you're not going anywhere, either."
Dean paused before continuing.
"I am not losing you, Sam. I am not letting you go quietly into the bright light, so you can just forget that shit and shut the fuck up about it!"
Sam blinked wide-eyed as he continued to lean against his brother, hearing and feeling Dean's hammering heartbeat.
Sam swallowed, saying nothing as he processed his brother's words; his congested breaths filling the silence to mix with Dean's rapid, rant-fueled breathing.
But Sam understood Dean's outburst.
He understood his brother's anger, sensed Dean's worry and fear.
Because Sam had always felt the same whenever something or someone threatened to take Dean away from him...even when that something or someone was Dean himself.
Sam understood what it was like to ask your brother to hold on for you, to refuse to let him go.
Sam understood love when he heard it.
And because Sam loved his brother just as much as Dean loved him, he would hang on as long as he could.
He had already lasted a week.
He could last at least one more.
Pain made you stronger.
John had always said that.
And maybe Dean was right.
Maybe they would figure this out somehow.
If anyone could do it, Dean could.
Little brothers believed big brothers could do anything.
Sam swallowed against fatigue and tears and the ever-present urge to cough.
"Fine," he agreed about not giving up and not letting go.
Sam paused, shifting against his brother and smiling tiredly as Dean stared down at him.
"But you never let me do what I want."
Dean blinked at the unexpected reply and then gave a startled laugh at his little brother being a little brother.
Because how many times had Dean heard that over the years?
Dean chuckled, thankful for Sam's response in more ways than one.
"Big brothers know best, Sammy..." Dean reminded, just like he always had whenever Sam had made that claim.
Sam's smile lingered at the familiar comeback, sighing as he closed his eyes and sagged more heavily against Dean.
"I promise I'm gonna figure this out," Dean assured, resting his chin on top of Sam's head and knowing his exhausted kid brother was moments from sleep. "You're not gonna be sick forever, Sammy. I promise. I promise I'm not gonna let you down."
Because Sam was wrong if he thought he was the only one who had ever let down his brother.
Dean knew that he had let down Sam just as often.
But not now.
Not this time.
Dean was going to fix his little brother.
No matter what Dean had to do to make it happen, Sam was going to get better.
Sam was going to be healthy again.
"I promise..." Dean whispered to his sleeping brother and rubbed Sam's back, more determined than ever to deliver on that promise.