Summary: Post 8x23, Pre 9x01 – Sick, Hospitalized Sam / Worried, Big Brother Dean – Dean had supported all of Sam's weight as he had carried the kid toward the ER, the double doors automatically sliding apart as the brothers had approached. Dean having barely cleared the entrance before he had started yelling for help...

Disclaimer: Not mine

Warnings: Usual language, plus spoilers for seasons eight and nine

A/N: Today (09/27/13) is my three-year anniversary on this site.


Throw me a lifeline...give me a shot at the night...'cause I feel like I'm losing the fight. ~ The Killers


The steady rhythm of the monitors filled the room as Dean sat beside Sam's bed; his elbows on his knees, his hands clasped between his legs as he watched his little brother sleep.

Barely 48 hours having passed since they had arrived at the hospital.

Barely 48 hours since Dean had lifted a gasping Sam from the muddy churchyard and had loaded his brother into the Impala.

Barely 48 hours since Dean had hauled ass down the back roads and highways with Sam's head in his lap; his own hand resting on his brother's chest as he had tried to monitor the kid's ragged breathing.

"Almost there," Dean had predicted about their proximity to the hospital; his worried gaze having frantically flickered between the road and his kid brother stretched across the bench seat. "Just stay with me, Sammy. Stay with me..."

Sam had blinked up at him but had said nothing; his oxygen too precious to waste on speaking.

Dean had nodded his understanding, even as he had desperately wanted to hear Sam's voice.

"It's okay," Dean had soothed, had grabbed Sam's shaky, clammy hand and had carefully raised it to rest on the kid's chest.

Seconds had ticked by as Dean had pressed harder on the gas pedal; having known the Impala was already running at maximum speed but having been desperate – so fucking desperate – for her to go even faster.

She had tried; the classic Chevy's engine having revved with the extra jolt of fuel and then having leveled out at a marginally faster speed.

Dean had smoothed his hand over the steering wheel in silent praise of his best girl and then had refocused on Sam.

"You're doing good," Dean had told his brother as the kid had continued to rest against him; Sam looking at him upside down while drawing one painful inhalation after another. "Just stay with me, Sammy..."

Sam had stared back, his eyes wide and panicked as following that order became harder by the second; as breathing became harder by the second.

"It's okay," Dean had soothed his brother once again even has he had clenched his jaw against the urge to cry.

Because nothing was okay.

The angels were falling from the sky.

Sam was falling apart.

And nothing was okay.

"I'm gonna fix this," Dean had quietly promised and then had paused; his hand still covering Sam's hand, both resting on the kid's heaving chest. "All of this," he had added as he had caught glimpse of falling light in the rearview mirror, had been reminded there was more to mend than just Sam's rapidly declining health.

Dean had sighed.

Because as usual, there was a lot of shit to fix.

But first...Sam.

Dean had sighed once more and had squeezed Sam's hand; his fingers briefly lacing with his brother's, conveying more than words could.

Sam's fingers had twitched in his grasp.

More seconds had ticked by.

More miles had passed beneath them.

Somewhere behind them, more angels had fallen from the sky.

And then Dean had finally spotted it - the hospital sign glowing like a beacon on the horizon.

He had smiled his relief.

"We're here," Dean had announced as he had turned into the parking lot and had glanced back down at Sam. "Just stay with me, man. Just keeping staying with me..."

And miraculously, Sam had.

Sam had managed to continue wheezing one breath after another, sounding as though he was breathing through a clogged straw...but breathing nonetheless.

"Atta boy, Sammy..." Dean had encouraged as he had haphazardly parked the Impala at the entrance of the ER and had snatched the keys from her ignition. "Just hang on..." he had told his brother as he had released his hold on Sam's hand, had carefully repositioned the kid's head on the seat, and had climbed out of the car.

Dean had watched his brother through the Impala's windshield as he had crossed to the opposite side.

Sam had continued to sprawl on his back across the bench seat, his drowsy gaze landing on Dean when his brother had opened the passenger door and had reached for him.

"Alright, Sammy. Here we go..." Dean had warned and had gently eased Sam up and out of the front seat.

Once on his feet, Sam had immediately sagged forward.

"Whoa. Easy..." Dean had urged and had shifted where he stood on the sidewalk, had tightened his grip and had maneuvered Sam beside him; had supported all of his brother's weight as he had carried the kid toward the ER.

The double doors having automatically slid apart as they had approached.

And Dean having barely cleared the entrance before he had started yelling.

"I need some fucking help over here!"

Predictably, all eyes had turned toward him and his brother.

"Now!" Dean had ordered as he had felt Sam completely lose consciousness beside him; his little brother having collapsed against him; his kid boneless, unmoving...and most terrifying – not breathing.

Dean could still remember that moment even as the next few hours had been a blur.

A whirlwind of doctors and nurses and specialists and monitoring equipment and paperwork and questions and blood panels and tests...all ending with Sam finally being admitted to the hospital.

And now here they were.

Two days later...here they were.

No closer to an answer than when they had first arrived.

The doctors still baffled.

The specialists consulting other specialists.

The hospital chaplain dropping by and advising that if Dean was a praying man...then perhaps now would be a good time to do so.

Dean had snorted rudely and had told the chaplain to leave.

Because Dean had once been a praying man, but now...

Dean sighed, blocking out the memory of Cas and instead reliving the past 48 hours spent watching and waiting for Sam to get better...even as Sam had gotten progressively worse.

Dean's little brother's condition spiraling downward at an alarmingly rapid rate as Sam's organs began to fail and his systems began to shut down.

Lights out.

So long, farewell.

Have a safe trip home 'cause this show is over.

Continuing to sit beside Sam's bed, Dean clenched his jaw against the reality, refusing to let that happen...but still not knowing how to prevent it.

How to stop the effects of the trials, how to stop Sam from slipping away...

Dean didn't know.

He didn't fucking know.

And if he didn't figure it out soon, it would be too late.

If it wasn't already too late...

Dean stood suddenly, feeling on the verge of a breakdown, and moved to the window. The big brother staring out at the darkness from the fourth floor of the hospital as he remembered; remembered how tonight had been a relatively uneventful evening until Sam had suddenly started shaking two hours ago.

Yet another sign of his little brother's body in crisis, yet another sign that came out of nowhere to remind Dean that he had no control over this.

Sam was at the mercy of whatever was inside of him.

Just let it go...

As if it would be that easy.

Dean had been foolish to think so, had been foolish to tell Sam so.

And Sam had been foolish to believe him.

Because it was clear now that Sam couldn't just let go of whatever was pulsing through his system...but instead, whatever was pulsing through Sam's system had to let go of him.

And that didn't seem likely.

The renewed realization of their situation had punched Dean in the stomach earlier that night as he had sat beside Sam's bed and had watched in horror as Sam had continued to shake.

The big brother having seen Sam seize before but never getting used to it.

The tiny tremors that had initially run through Sam's body intensifying in strength as the monitors had increased in tempo and volume, screaming out their warnings at a deafening pitch as Sam had flailed on the bed.

"Oh my god..." Dean had murmured as he had stood, had felt like he was trapped in a dreamlike déjà vu before snapping into action. "Hey!" he had called over his shoulder into the hall. "A little help in here! He's seizing!" the big brother had yelled over the din as he had reached for Sam.

"I know..." Lori had replied as she had breathlessly rushed into the room with two more nurses entering behind her. "We heard the monitors."

The whole damn floor had heard the monitors.

The whole damn floor had heard Dean's little brother falling apart.

"Sir, please step back..." one of the nurses had told Dean, her push surprisingly firm against his chest.

Dean had scowled, had refused to budge from his brother's side. "Like hell I will," he had sharply countered and had shifted his attention to Lori, Sam's primary nurse.

Lori had nodded, had been with Dean long enough over these past two days to know how fiercely protective this big brother was over his little brother; to know that Dean knew how to take care of Sam; to know that Dean would be an asset in this current situation instead of a hindrance.

"It's fine. He can stay," Lori had assured the other nurse about Dean as she had reached for her patient still seizing on the bed.

The other nurse had looked doubtful but had said nothing, realizing there wasn't time to argue.

Because Sam had continued to violently shake as if his body was in the process of self-destructing.

In three, two, one...gone.

Just let it go...

Dean had swallowed as his own words had echoed through his mind and then had blinked as Lori had called his name, had suddenly realized the nurse was giving orders.

"Yeah..." Dean had answered and had done as he was told.

Because Dean knew how to take care of Sam...but he didn't know how to take care of this.

Didn't know how to fix this.

Didn't know what the fuck he was going to do if whatever this was took Sam with it...instead of letting Sam go.

Minutes had passed – feeling like hours – before the monitors had slowed and Sam had finally quieted.

"Thank god..." one of the nurses had murmured as Sam had once again laid motionless on the bed and the other nurse had nodded in agreement.

Dean had kept his hand firmly wrapped around Sam's wrist, hating how shaky and scared he had felt as his eyes had scanned his brother.

Sam hadn't moved.

Dean had sighed, had increased his grip around his little brother's wrist as if he could keep Sam with him just by holding on tight.

As if it worked that way.

As if it was that easy.

There had been a flurry of activity around Sam for several more minutes before the other two nurses had left the room.

Lori had stayed, had glanced at Dean from the opposite side of Sam's bed.

"What happened?"

Dean had snorted at the question. "I think you know."

Lori had nodded. "Well, yes..." she had replied, had seemed slightly annoyed by Dean's tone. "I know that Sam had a seizure. But what happened before that?"

Dean had paused, had tried to remember any warning signs Sam might have shown prior to convulsing.

But no...

"Nothing," Dean had reported. "He was just laying here."

Just like Sam had been doing for the past 48 hours...

Lori had nodded again.

Dean had narrowed his eyes at her silence. "What?" he had demanded, suspecting the nurse was withholding information about his brother.

Lori had shaken her head. "Nothing."

"Bullshit," Dean had bluntly countered. "You know something, so let's hear it. What? Why did Sam seize?"

Lori had shaken her head once more. "I don't know," she had attempted to dodge. "So much is going on with him. It's hard to tell the exact reason."

Dean had stared at her, had wondered how often the nurse had used this strategy and if such vague answers usually satisfied other patients' family members.

Because it wasn't working on him.

Dean would stand here all night until she told him what was going on with Sam.

He had nowhere else to be.

Lori had stared back at her patient's brother, had seemed to sense Dean's frustration.

"Well..." she had sighed, had paused as she had shifted where she stood and had considered all the possibilities for Sam's seizure. "Sam's urea and creatinine levels were elevated in the last blood panel we did, as well as his potassium...so an electrolyte imbalance could've caused it. Or he could have been suddenly hypoxic from his steadily decreasing O2 sats. Or he could be developing pulmonary edema from the acute renal failure, which would make it more difficult to breathe...which could've led to hypoxia...which could've then triggered the seizure."

Dean had continued to grip Sam's wrist as he had stood beside the bed and had listened to the nurse's theories, had kept his expression neutral even has his heart had hammered in his chest.

Because Sam was so sick...

Sick and dying...and Dean couldn't stop it.

"Plus, we can't forget about the thrombocytopenia..." Lori had mentioned as though everyone knew that word and what it meant.

Dean had blinked at her.

"…which means there aren't enough platelets in Sam's blood," Lori had further explained. "...which is a direct result of his blood infection and is leading to the excessive internal bleeding."

She had paused.

"And then there's Sam's Factor V...which is a protein of the coagulation system. Those levels are off along with a few other things which would indicate that Sam's also beginning to show signs of acute liver failure. But that's common in situations like his and occurs in 50% of acute renal failure patients and would also lead to – "

" – shut up!" Dean had snapped, his voice echoing in the hall; the big brother suddenly unable to listen anymore about Sam's body breaking down. "Just...shut up," he had growled. "Jesus..."

Because Dean didn't know which was worse – not knowing...or knowing.

Lori had blinked at him, had pressed her lips together and had shifted uncomfortably as she had continued to stand on the opposite side of Sam's bed.

"I'm..." She had cleared her throat. "I'm sorry."

Dean had ignored the apology.

Because it was useless.

It was just words.

And Sam didn't need words.

Sam needed a miracle...and Dean had no fucking clue where he would get one.

Dean had sighed, had felt irritated and pissed...at Lori, at himself, at the entire situation

"Won't the CT scan tell the cause?" he had finally asked.

Because Dean needed answers.

He needed to know what the seizure meant in relation to the trials.

First the coughing.

Then the blood.

Then the fever and fatigue.

Then the disorientation and unsteadiness.

Now this...

Was it all related?

Was it another piece of this impossible puzzle Dean was supposed to solve in order to save his little brother?

Lori had nodded, regaining her composure. "Possibly..." she had replied about the most recently scheduled test in Sam's plan of care. "But the orders weren't for a head CT. They were for a - "

" - I know," Dean had interrupted and had sighed at the reminder.

Lori had sighed as well.

"Anyway...it doesn't matter now," she had gently informed and had rushed to futher explain as Dean had cut his eyes at her. "We're not transferring Sam downstairs for additional testing until he's more stable. For now, he just needs to rest. We've replaced the nasal cannula with an oxygen mask to help increase his O2 sats."

She had gestured at Sam's face covered by the plastic mask.

"And although he'll probably end up on a vent later, right now we're just trying to keep him stable and wait for Dr. Bennett to arrive to see how he wants to proceed."

Dean had nodded at the plan. "Where is he?"

"He's coming," Lori had replied confidently about the doctor. "I've paged him. He's coming."

"So is Death..." Dean had told her and had glanced around the room at the familiar unseen presence.

Lori had shaken her head frantically. "No. Don't say that. Don't think like that."

Dean had said nothing.

Because she wouldn't understand.

She didn't know.

There had been silence as Lori had stared at Dean – clearly at a loss for what to say – before she had checked the monitors surrounding Sam and had quickly left the room.

"Call if you need me..." she had told Dean and had disappeared into the hall, closing the door behind her.

That had been over two hours ago.

Dean sighed, shaking his head to clear the memory as he moved from the window back toward the bed; his gaze flickering to the monitors before coming to rest on his sleeping brother – his dying brother.

Dean sank back into the chair, back into his thoughts.

Reminding himself that over the years, he had learned one of the most important lessons there was when it came to Sam – wait and see.

If Sam was in one of his moods, just wait and see how long it took him to snap out of it.

If they were arguing, just wait and see how long it took Sam to get over it.

If the kid was sick, just wait and see how long it took him to recover.

It was true with just about anything.

The old adage being right – that time often had a way of working things out, of making things better.

And yet now, rather than diminishing the hurt, time only seemed to sharpen the pain.

Because there was no time to wait and see.

Sam was not snapping out of this or getting over it or recovering.

Sam was too weak, was too sick...was dying.

Dean's little brother was slipping away, and the emotions Dean felt were so strong it was as though his soul actually spasmed with unbearable sadness and grief.

And while Dean had been in this emotional territory before, now the weight of his heartache seemed to crush him as he watched the person he loved most fade day by day, hour by hour.

...and there was nothing Dean could do to stop it.

Not one fucking thing.

Suddenly overwhelmed by emotion, Dean leaned forward; resting his head on Sam's bed, inches from his brother's arm.

"I can't lose you again, Sam..." Dean whispered into the mattress, his hands fisting the blanket in anger. "I just can't..." he confessed brokenly as the soft sound of his weeping penetrated the room's silence, a slow-growing release of anguish that knew no boundaries, no comfort.

Minutes passed as Dean's own desperation and fragility in that moment began to unnerve him. The oldest Winchester allowing tears to slip through his lashes, feeling them glide warm and wet down his cheeks while he silently cried, releasing a flood of emotion that rarely surfaced.

Several more minutes passed before Dean drew a quiet, shuddering breath. The big brother pulling himself together and then becoming aware of a feather-light touch on his head.

Dean froze, slowly glancing up to see that Sam had opened his eyes just a slit and was watching him.

Dean watched back, holding his breath.

Forty-eight hours having passed since Dean had last seen his little brother awake.

Sam blinked at him, drowsy from illness and fatigue and medication.

Dean waited, not wanting to ruin the moment.

Sam's eyes dipped closed, internalizing his strength as he slowly reached toward his face, grabbing the oxygen mask and pushing it down so it hung awkwardly around his neck.

Dean frowned but resisted the urge to scold, knowing Sam needed the extra help to breathe...but the big brother also unapologetically eager to hear whatever Sam wanted to say.

More than 48 hours having passed since Dean had last heard his little brother's voice.

Sam opened his eyes and inhaled a noisy breath.

"Love you, too..." he finally whispered in reaction to Dean's breakdown.

Dean huffed a startled laugh, his little brother always being a sappy little shit; always seeing right through him, always hearing what Dean didn't say.

And Sam knew exactly what Dean's tears meant.

He always did.

Dean quickly wiped his eyes and nodded in response, unable to trust his voice but confirming that yeah...he loved this kid.

Dean loved this kid - his kid - so fucking much it hurt.

And although they rarely spoke of such things, it was nice to be reminded that Sam loved him right back.

Dean smiled.

Sam tried to smile in return but winced instead as the heat of pain radiated through him.

Dean's frown returned as he sat up straighter, reaching for his brother and palming Sam's forehead; his fingers splayed on fever-warm skin beneath damp bangs as his thumb gently rubbed back and forth between Sam's eyes.

"S'okay, Sammy..." Dean soothed, his voice wet and hoarse from lingering emotion. "It'll pass," he promised about the wave of pain searing through Sam's veins. "Just let it pass..."

Dean swallowed at the eerily familiar advice.

Just let it go...

But Sam didn't seem to notice, instead sighing in response.

Dean's little brother comforted by his big brother's touch as he closed his eyes once more.

Silence settled between them, the rhythmic beeps of the monitors the only sound filling the hospital room.

Seconds ticked by before Sam opened his eyes, moving restlessly on the bed as he wheezed and coughed.

Dean cringed at the harsh sound, his hand still resting on Sam's forehead as he grabbed the oxygen mask around his brother's neck with his other hand.

"Here. You need to keep this on, Sam..." Dean lightly admonished, moving the mask toward Sam's face but pausing when Sam turned away.

Dean sighed at the stubborn gesture.

"Sammy..."

"M'sorry."

Dean's frown deepened as he shook his head in confusion.

"For what?"

"This."

Dean shook his head again, denying Sam's claim to blame.

"It's okay. Not your fault, Sam."

It was Dean's fault.

Dean's fault for not undertaking the trials.

Dean's fault for not knowing what to do.

Dean's fault for failing his brother in so many ways...

Dean sighed, shaking off his dark thoughts and focusing on Sam.

"C'mon..." he urged, once again trying to place the oxygen mask over his brother's face. "You need to wear this. Bad shit happens when your oxygen drops too low. Really bad shit..."

The kind of really bad shit that scared big brothers.

"M'sorry," Sam repeated, breathless and hoarse. "For scaring you..." he clarified, easily reading Dean's expression.

Sam's eyes closed briefly.

"I know you hate that."

"It's alright, Sammy..." Dean soothed, his voice quiet; not wanting Sam to worry about anything, especially him. "I'm alright."

Sam's eyes cracked open again as he smiled weakly.

"Liar."

Dean chuckled softly at his mouthy, pain-in-the-ass little brother; his heart constricting as he stared into Sam's tired, bruised eyes and carded his fingers through the kid's floppy, sweaty hair.

"Hey..." Dean growled, scowling in mock irritation even as one corner of his mouth turned up. "Who you callin' a liar, bitch?"

Sam blinked in surprise, equally stunned and touched by Dean's words; unsure how long it had been since they had exchanged those unconventional but familiar terms of brotherly affection...but knowing it had been too damn long.

Sam's smile lingered, only having breath for his expected one word response.

"Jerk."

Dean snorted and felt his throat tighten with emotion.

A comfortable silence settled between them, Sam's smile dissolving as pain returned.

"I'm tired," he whispered, wheezing a sigh and closing his eyes.

"I bet you are," Dean agreed, wondering if Sam remembered everything that had happened; if Sam remembered anything about the past 48 hours.

Because Dean couldn't forget.

"Go back to sleep."

Sam gave a slight nod at Dean's words.

"Y'staying?"

"Dude. What do you think?" Dean countered his brother's ridiculous question. "Of course I'm staying, Sammy. It wouldn't be fair to deprive the nurses of my company."

Sam hummed a response.

Dean smiled softly. "Besides...if I left, who would make sure your stubbron ass kept this on?" he asked, repositioning the oxygen mask over Sam's face.

Sam swallowed and sighed, breathing deeply for the first time in several minutes.

Dean nodded his approval and leaned back in the chair; stretching his legs in front of him as he tried to relieve the stiffness that had settled in his muscles.

After a few moments, Sam sighed again.

Dean watched him, knowing his kid wasn't sleeping; he was thinking.

The big brother shook his head at his predictable little brother - Sam sick and exhausted and close enough to wave at Death...but his mind still buzzing.

Dean sighed and leaned forward, preparing to speak when Sam beat him to it.

"D'n..." Sam called, the word slurred from fatigue; his voice muffled by the mask, his eyes still closed.

Dean's response was instant. "Yeah, Sammy..."

Sam's hand fluttered, motioning toward his face.

Dean scowled but lowered the oxygen mask.

"Sam. I mean it, man. You can't keep talking. You need to leave this on and rest."

Sam opened his eyes and shook his head weakly.

"No. Hafta say something."

He swallowed.

Dean waited.

"Do something for me?"

Dean leaned closer to his brother, Sam always having his complete attention whenever the kid used the combination of this expression and this tone.

"Name it, Sammy."

Anything for you, kid.

Sam moved restlessly on the bed; his breaths beginning to come in short bursts, the pressure in his chest increasing painfully.

"I need you to promise..." Sam swallowed again. "Promise me..."

Dean nodded slowly even as a feeling of dread rose in his stomach.

"What, Sam?"

Sam stared at his brother, tears welling in his eyes and then spilling over, gliding down his cheeks.

Dean's heart twisted. "Hey..." he soothed, rubbing his brother's arm as he reached to thumb the moisture from Sam's flushed cheeks.

The big brother always being able to tolerate anyone's tears but Sam's.

"C'mon, Sammy..." Dean murmured. "It's okay."

"No," Sam denied and then swallowed. "M'sorry."

Dean shook his head. "You don't have to keep apologizing, Sam."

"I know. S'just..."

Sam hesitated as tears continued to rim his eyes.

Dean smiled encouragingly, his thumb slowly rubbing the crook of his brother's elbow, mindful of the IV.

"It's just what, Sammy?"

Sam blinked, jarring loose fresh tears.

"M'scared, Dean."

Dean clenched his jaw at the confession.

Because he was scared, too.

So fucking scared...

"Scared for you..." Sam clarified, the last word strangled by barely contained emotion.

Dean narrowed his eyes and tilted his head.

"Me?"

Sam nodded.

Dean shook his head again. "No, Sammy. Don't worry about me," he dismissed. "You need to focus on you. You need to get better."

Sam swallowed noisily. "M'not getting better, Dean."

"You will," Dean snapped, his tone harsh from fear and anxiety and panic. "You hear me? You will."

"Won't," Sam stated simply as fatigue pulled at him, as his breath teased him. "And you...you know it. The trials..."

His voice faded.

Because there was nothing left to say.

"The trials" summed it up.

Dean clenched his jaw.

Sam swallowed again. "I know when...when the time comes you won't let me go. Or...you'll do something...something stupid."

Dean stared at his little brother; his eyes shining with emotion as his heart slammed in his chest.

Because Sam knew him too well.

They had both been in similar situations before.

Had both done stupid things for each other.

Had both refused to let the other go.

Now was no different.

And Dean didn't want to have this conversation, didn't want to make promises he knew he wouldn't keep.

"P-promise me..." Sam whispered anyway, his hand seeking his brother's.

Dean instantly reached back, his fingers lacing with Sam's as he grasped the kid's hand, palm against palm.

"Promise what, Sam?"

...as if Dean didn't already know.

Tears welled again in Sam's huge eyes.

"Promise me you'll let me go."

Just let it go.

Just let it go...

Dean bowed his head and pressed their clasped hands to his forehead.

"Sammy. Don't ask me that. "

"Dean. Please. Please...promise."

Dean said nothing, his harsh breaths mixing with the wheezes of his brother and the constant hum of the medical equipment surrounding Sam's bed.

Words echoing within.

Just let it go...

Like Dean could ever do that.

No.

Anyone who knew Dean knew how much he loved his little brother; knew that Dean would do anything for Sam – but not this.

He couldn't promise this.

There was no way Dean was letting Sam go – certainly not now after everything they had been through. After they had finally started to be brothers again; after they had finally said everything that should've been said years ago.

Dean wasn't letting Sam go.

Not now.

Not ever.

Dean lifted his head, stubborn determination flooding his heart.

"No."

"Dean – "

" – no," Dean repeated, shaking his head for emphasis. "It's you and me against the world, remember? And I'm not letting you leave me here alone in this shithole."

Sam shifted on the bed, coughing as he became more agitated, and then flexed his head back, pushing hard into the pillow as he tried to draw a deep breath.

"But...Dean...I...you..."

"Hey. Easy..." Dean lightly scolded as he stood, releasing Sam's hand and slipping the oxygen mask over his brother's chin, then carefully settling it over the kid's nose and mouth.

Sam didn't resist.

"Deep breaths, huh?" Dean urged, still holding the mask in place and checking the monitors around Sam's bed. "C'mon, buddy. Calm down. You're okay."

"No."

Sam shook his head; his legs moving beneath the sheets, his hands bunching the blanket as fresh tears appeared.

"Not okay," he sobbed, the mask fogging. "M'not...o-okay."

Sam's brave front completely crumbled.

Dean's heart completely broke.

"D'n..."

"I'm right here, Sammy..." Dean soothed, feeling his heart twist even tighter at Sam's expression and tone. "I'm right here, man..." he repeated as he lowered the bedrail and gently pushed against Sam. "Make room," the big brother ordered, being mindful of the wires and IV lines as he settled beside his kid just like they were still at home.

Lori or the doctors or whoever could bitch all they wanted about hospital rules forbidding visitors to sit on patients' beds.

But Dean knew his little brother...and this was what Sam needed.

No matter how old or how freakishly huge Dean's little brother got, this was what Sam responded to when he was sick or upset – Dean's touch.

And sometimes just holding the kid's hand didn't cut it.

"C'mere..." Dean whispered as he lifted his arm and felt Sam immediately lean toward him; his little brother curling against his side, Sam's head resting on his chest.

Dean shifted on the mattress to find a more comfortable position and resituated the blankets around his brother as Sam sighed shakily in a mixture of tears and exhaustion and leaned more heavily against Dean.

Dean smiled affectionately and was reminded of all the times they had sat like this, of all the times he had held a sick Sam.

...only this time Sam was sick in a way that wouldn't get better unless Dean figured out what the hell to do.

And Dean didn't know what to do.

Dean sighed, lightly resting his chin on Sam's head as he rubbed his little brother's back and listened to the kid's breaths slowly level out.

"Better?"

Sam's head moved along Dean's collarbone, his hair tickling Dean's neck as he nodded.

"Good," Dean praised.

He paused.

"Now you listen to me..."

He paused again.

"I know you're sick. And I know you feel like shit. And I know you're so tired you just wanna stop fighting. But Sammy...you can't. You hear me? You can't stop fighting. Because I cannot lose you. Not again."

Dean glanced down, seeing Sam's eyes were closed but knowing his brother was still listening.

"You wanna know why?"

Dean didn't wait for a response.

"Because you're the reason I get up every morning, Sam. It's all you, little brother. Even when you're moody and bitchy and piss me off so damn bad that I wanna punch you in the fucking face, you're my reason, Sammy. There ain't no me if there ain't no you."

Dean's hand covered his brother's.

"So, here's the deal, kiddo..." Dean announced, using a nickname for Sam that he hadn't used in years. "I'm not giving up, so you're not giving up. 'Cause I'm gonna figure this out, Sam. I'm gonna figure out whatever the hell we gotta do to beat this. But I need you to do your part. I need you to fight just a little while longer, Sammy. And hell...if you don't wanna do it for you, then do it for me. Fight for me, Sam. Okay?"

Several moments passed before Sam swallowed and drew a labored breath behind the oxygen mask, his fingers twitching as he weakly squeezed Dean's hand in response.

The words as clear as if Sam had actually spoken them.

For you...okay.

Dean smiled softly. "That's my boy..." he murmured and squeezed Sam's hand in return.

Sam shifted and coughed.

Dean rubbed his brother's back. "Easy, Sammy. Go to sleep..." he urged, a plan beginning to take shape as Dean suddenly realized what he needed to do, who he needed to contact.

Of course.

He should've thought of this 48 hours ago.

Should've already made the offer.

Should've already sealed the deal.

Dean sighed, annoyed that he had already wasted so much time.

But he nodded now as his plan became a decision.

Because this was going to work.

It had to work.

Dean glanced down at Sam finally sleeping against him.

"It's gonna be okay, Sammy..." Dean soothed, holding his brother a little closer as they sat beside each other in the hospital bed. "Everything will be better when you wake up."

Dean smiled at the familiar words, having said them so many times over the years to a sleeping Sam...but having never meant them as much as he did now.

Everything will be better when you wake up.

Dean rested his head against Sam's and closed his eyes.

"I promise," he whispered...and hoped Sam would forgive him.


FIN