Dodging the Bullet
by Maygra
(2,939 words -- all audiences)

(for sxeraven who wanted a post-Ferryman chick-flick moment)

Coda to Don't Pay the Ferryman

Visiting hours were long past over, but Dean didn't really have any problems getting inside either the hospital or up to the critical care unit and the one nurse that looked like she might give him trouble, was totally taken in by the story that he just wanted to check on his little brother, because I almost lost him today.

It probably didn't matter that it was both true and sincere and Dean didn't much care as long as she bought it.

He'd left his father sleeping although Dean doubted that his slipping out of the small apartment his father had been renting for the last few months had gone totally unnoticed -- but it was possible. His father looked every bit as tired and old and worn down as he probably felt and if nearly losing Sam hadn't put another few grey airs on his head, then Dean was going to have to do a few tests just to make sure it really was his father.

Because Dean was pretty damn sure he'd picked up a few premature ones of his own today.

The CCU was roughly hexagonal in shape, the units separated by partial plexi and metal walls, privacy ensured by curtains and flimsy-looking but soundproof doors. Slipping into Sam's room, he was as silent as he could be because honestly, he didn't want to wake Sam up, although the doctor said they had him loaded up on some pretty hefty painkillers after the procedure to remove the fluid around his heart.  There wouldn't be some massive scar, thank God, because despite every other scar Sam bore, Dean wasn't sure he could take one that cut directly into his brother's heart. From what he'd gathered (and he hadn't really been paying that much attention) they'd just kind of punched a syringe into Sam's chest and drawn the fluid out and Dean could see the remnants of it, even from the door; a thin clear line leading from under the gown Sam wore, draining off a vaguely pinkish fluid.

Otherwise, Sam looked pretty okay, or no worse than he had with fading bruises and dark circles under his eyes from the lack of sleep, but he was breathing on his own and other than the drain and a couple of monitors the only other thing attached to him was an IV line, with a smaller bag of what Dean supposed was a painkiller. It was nearly empty.

For the longest time Dean just stood there, inside the door, not moving, feeling a little stupid but also compelled to be here. The urge to come here had struck him while he'd been lying down, trying to get some sleep of his own, and he'd dozed a bit. And he and his father had talked a bit, but neither of them were quite ready to talk about all of it just yet, and talking wasn't something they did well anyway. Especially with Sam not there, even though Dean was pretty sure his brother had been at the top of both of their minds and his name on the tip of both their tongues all evening.

And Dean had woken suddenly, just after four a.m. and he couldn't swear there was dread or warning or even a premonition, but he'd woken up and for some reason remembered that most critically injured people tended to die in the wee dark a hours of the morning. Successful procedure or not, Dean wasn't entirely clear on how much of this was a miracle of modern medicine and how much of it might be a miracle of different sort but miracles or not, his brother was still hurt and as far as Dean knew he was still missing part of himself and likely would be for a long time to come…

He'd never forgive himself if he got careless now. He wasn't sure he'd be able to forgive himself even if he were careful. That was going to take some time. Maybe the rest of his life.

Of all the things Dean had been prepared to save Sam from, he really didn't have any idea how to save Sam from himself. And it wasn't even that he didn't understand the impulse or instinct, because Dean was pretty quick to throw himself in the line of fire when the situation called for it and sometimes the odds weren't so great.

Sam was no coward, but this time around, he'd been almost eager to do it and Dean didn't know what to do with that -- wasn't even sure if he'd ever have to deal with it again, but chances were he would, Sam being Sam.

He dropped his gaze, studying the scuffed and worn toes of his boots.

So damn close. So very damn close and it hadn't been anything Dean had done, or his father; luck or grace or mercy or something. Payback maybe.

Sam made a noise -- nothing dire. Not a whimper or a moan, more like he was trying to clear his throat, but his left hand -- the one without the IV -- moved and Dean glanced up and saw the smaller bag was empty, but Sam shouldn't be waking up that fast.

He moved anyway, because Sam's fingers were kind of plucking at the blanket and the bed like he was looking for something.

And even so, Dean checked to make sure Sam's eyes were still closed before sliding his fingers around Sam's, always surprised at how long Sam's fingers were, though his palm was less wide than Dean's. Some teacher somewhere had once said Sam had the hands of pianist.

It made Sam a good archer, as little as he liked it. Helped him when he climbed, when he threw knives, although Dean wasn't sure it had anything to do with the length of Sam's fingers as much as the steadiness of his hands.

And right now his hands were warm and though he didn't grip Dean's hand tightly, his fingers did curve around Dean's hand like that had been what he was looking for.

Dean used his other hand to rub at his eyes. He was more tired than he thought and glanced around, then hooked a foot around a stool and pulled it toward him so he could sit.

Ten minutes of that and he was forced to admit he was a total sap and he was incredibly glad Sam wasn't awake to see it, because he'd never hear the end of it. And hard on the heels of that he thought. if this was what it took, Sam could tease him mercilessly until they were both putting their teeth in glasses of water at night.

And that made him almost smile and also maybe really want to cry, because Dean wasn't sure they'd ever -- either of them -- reach that age. Live hard, die young, had always sounded like such a cool philosophy until it smacked you in the face.

He didn't want hard for Sam, and he didn't want young. He wanted him old and cranky and griping all the way.

The nurse came in and Dean pulled back only to have Sam's hand tighten on his just slightly. She looked like she wanted to say something, but then she only smiled and checked the monitors, and the fluid output, and then swapped out the smaller bag but she didn't replace it.

"Is he gonna need more?" Dean asked her quietly, because Sam was actually stirring now, maybe because of her activity, but Dean was afraid it was pain.

"This is an antibiotic. We're being careful with the pain meds -- don't want his heart working any harder than it needs to," she said and grabbed the pitcher by the bed. "He's probably going to be thirsty if he wakes. I'll refill this. You want some coffee or anything?"

"That would be great," he said, with a genuine smile, not even flirty -- well not at the moment. But she was kind of cute, and he watched her leave.

"Her name's Ginny."

Dean whipped his head around fast enough to make him wince. Sam sounded worse than he looked, voice kind of raspy and raw and he swallowed, eyes flicking to the bedside table.

"She went to get you some fresh water," Dean said and tried to pull back -- there was a sink in the room -- but Sam's hand tightened on his. "Hey, just getting you some water," Dean soothed.

"'can wait," Sam said and his eyes drifted closed again but his grip didn't loosen even when Dean brought his other hand up to encase Sam's hand in both of his.

Ginny came back with water and coffee and a cup and straw and she helped Sam drink while Dean sipped the coffee which was pretty bad, but strong and not so hot it burned his mouth.

"Shift change comes in around seven," she warned him quietly and Dean nodded.

"You could take her to breakfast," Sam said when she was gone.

"You trying to set me up, there, Sam?"

"Figure I owe you one," Sam said and it was obviously a struggle to keep his eyes open.

Dean set his coffee aside and folded both hands around Sam's again and shook his head. "Naw, you don't owe me a damn thing, Sam."

"I know what you did."

Even drugged and in pain, Sam had that gaze that cut through Dean and reminded him that Sam always saw through his bullshit, but most of the time he let Dean get away with it. Didn't force him to talk about things he didn't want to, or make him admit things Dean didn't want to voice. For awhile there, Sam had let so much slide by, Dean wondered if his brother no longer knew how to read him or just no longer cared, and he'd a have understood either, but the latter would have hurt a little. But he hadn't asked because it seemed a little selfish to expect that from Sam when he'd lost his girlfriend and the life he'd wanted in one fell swoop.

"Sam, I didn't do a damn thing -- there wasn't a lot…" [anything] "…I could do."

"You let me go," Sam said quietly.

You let me die, was what that meant, and Dean felt his throat tighten because Sam said it with such gratitude and such wonder, like it was some kind of gift when really, it had been the last thing Dean wanted to do.

"I know that was hard…"

Dean pulled his hand away and reached for his coffee. "Well, you didn't leave me with a lot of choices there, bro'," he said and he didn't mean to sound so angry but he was. So angry, his hand shook. So angry, he couldn't look at Sam for a moment and he'd have pulled his other hand away too only Sam wouldn't let go when Dean gave it a test try, but then he did and Dean gripped the railing instead. "You just need to know…there's only so many times I'm gonna watch you try and kill yourself, there, Sam. One of these times, you're going to succeed." Like you already have.

"Probably," Sam said.

Dean wanted to hit him. Or shake him, or yell at him or something. "Well, that's great, Sam. Go out in a blaze of glory? Is that the plan? What is it with you?" he hissed and only barely remembered to keep his voice down. "To give up that easily. Is it because of Mom or Jessica? What? You think your life is worth any less than theirs? You think that's what they'd want for you? Or what Dad wants? Or Me?"

Sam reached up and his fingers spread over the back of Dean's hand, the veins on Sam's hand stark and the tendons tight. There was color in his cheeks and a flash in the green eyes that spoke of Sam's only barely banked anger. "Kind of the pot calling the kettle back, isn't it? Why didn't you shoot me?"

Dean stared at him. "What? Shoot you? Why? To end it faster?"

"At the asylum. Why didn't you shoot me? Or just knock me out when you first came down?'

It took Dean a moment to even home in on what Sam was talking about. "I wasn't sure."

"You were sure enough to come downstairs with an empty SIG," Sam said evenly. "What if I'd aimed for your head, Dean? Or your face," Sam said and his face was flushed as he struggled to push up on one arm, to sit up, and the monitor behind him started beeping. "I could have killed you. You almost let me. Why?"

"I can't believe you are bringing this up now," Dean said. "I wasn't sure, okay? I thought you might…that you would…that you'd be…" he stopped and looked away. Swallowed.

Be stronger. That Sam would resist, that he could, only Sam was right, in a way, because the gun had been empty.

And he'd emptied it in case. Just in case.

"I'm not stronger than you, Dean. I'm not…strong like you."

"Bullshit, Sam…"

"No. I'm stronger with you, and it doesn't have anything to do with souls or courage -- because I'm not a coward, but I'm not…I don't know how you do it. And I know you've said it and told me, but…" Sam drew a ragged breath and Dean had to look and he couldn’t say he was surprised to see tears starting to leave pale paths over Sam's flushed face.

"Aw, damn it, you're such a girl sometimes," he said but he found a box of tissues in the table drawer and handed one to Sam, but didn't take one for himself, though he was probably going to need one in a minute. He rubbed his eyes and his face and then reached over to use his thumb to wipe at a line of moisture on Sam's cheek that he'd missed, and then took a deep breath. "It would kill me to lose you, Sam."

"No, it wouldn't," Sam said softly and met his eyes. "Hurt you, yeah, and I never wanted that. I don't want that. But this wasn't something you could do for me, and I know you wanted to. That if you could have figured out a way, you would have. And if you had…I'd have let you. But there…there wasn't. And you let me go. And you don't hate me for it."

"Sam…" Dean started and he didn't reach for a tissue, only wiped angrily at his eyes but he wanted to see Sam, and he wanted Sam to look him in the eye. "Hating you isn't even on the auxillary list of what I feel for you. I can't even think of anything you could do…ever, that would make me hate you. Jesus, Sam…"

He should be able to say it; it was only a word. A little short one at that, except it wasn't enough and never had been enough to cover it all.

So he caught Sam's hand again, and he pushed the dark hair off his forehead, and made himself smile. "So, if you're going to keep playing noble hero, I guess I'm gonna have to get better at pushing you out of the way, huh? We're gonna have to get you body armor for the take downs you're gonna have to deal with, punk."

"I'll try to dodge a little faster," Sam said on a chuckle and squeezed Dean's hand again. "I love you and I promise…I'll try not to be so quick to give up. I don't want to die just yet, Dean. I really don't, just sometimes…living is harder."

"I know," Dean said and he did. Even without the string of losses behind him. And Sam was wrong on that count. He was plenty strong. Strong enough to go his own way. Strong enough to reach for dreams Dean was halfway afraid to even have, much less try for. Strong enough to love and mourn the loss of it.

Dean was stronger with Sam too, but he'd already known that, because you never fought so hard as you did when you had something -- someone -- to fight for. .

"You should rest," he said and after a second Sam closed his eyes again and the flush faded from his face.

And he thought he would wait for Sam to fall asleep again but it was oh-dark hundred and while Dean thought Sam would be okay, it was entirely possible the end of the world could come in the next five minutes and it was stupid to be better able to face that than to say something so simple to his brother.

So he leaned over and kissed Sam's head. "Love you too, Sammy. Always will," he said and Sam didn't say anything but Dean knew he'd heard him, but it was just as easy to ignore the renewed moisture spiking Sam's dark lashes as it was to ignore his own blurred vision.

The world didn't end in five minutes but Sam fell asleep anyway, and Dean couldn't regret saying the words because, one way or another, someday the world would end and on too many of those days leading up to it, he'd forget or be too tired or too angry, so Sam wasn't likely to hear it every day.

But Dean would say it, but not always with words.

Some days it would just be enough to sit on a hard stool, flirt a little with a pretty nurse, and watch his brother sleep.

And tease Sam later about drooling.



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