RATING: PG 13
GENRE: gen, h/c
SPOILERS: season 4
CHARACTERS: Dean, Sam
A/N: written for the again but with more colds comment fic meme, for the prompt: "Dean's sniffles morph into a soul crushing ear ache in the middle of the night. His head is fish bowled, his balance is off, he can breathe, and, of course, he has a fever." also, this fic exists in the magical season 4 where Sam is a good boy and doesn't drink demon blood and gives a crap about his brother.
SUMMARY: not only does dean have to deal with the worst mutant cold ever, but he also has a new phobia to contend with at the doctor's office, thanks to 30 years of being tortured in hell. sam does his best to help him through it.
Sam thinks it's a nightmare at first. Dean hasn't been too good at hiding them since he confessed to enjoying his 10 year stint as a torturer. And Sam tries not to think about the content of said nightmares when he shakes Dean awake from them almost every night.
But this is different. because when Sam crawls out of bed and grabs Dean's shoulder, Dean isn't tense like he usually is. He rolls over like a wet log, limp, groaning, already half awake. And then Sam remembers; that day, Dean'd been blowing his nose almost nonstop. And it looks like whatever bug he has just stepped up its game.
Dean's arm curls up around his head, the soft inside of his forearm pressed against his right ear. He starts to cough and Sam can hear the congestion deep in his lungs, cavernous and sharp like stalactites. Afterwards, Dean squeezes his eyes shut and presses hard against his ear again. "Sam... just... go to bed," he whispers, puffing the words out, defeated.
"Come on, man. I can't sleep when you're like this," Sam tells him, presses a hand to Dean's forehead. "What's wrong?" Okay. Dean's raging fever, for one thing.
Dean groans and pulls his knees up to his chest, sneezes into the ugly beige blanket, "HUUUKtcheuoooo! AHHHsheeeeew! Uuuuggggh..." His eyes open a crack, only to glare at his pillow like it did this to him.
Sam whisks a couple of tears off Dean cheek, shakes his head. "Shit. That's rough," he says, gives Dean's back a quick rub. "Okay. Hang on, champ."
He rummages through the first aid supplies and finds a couple of Tylenol 3's from... before. They'd come in pretty handy when Sam was hunting by himself and he may have been a bit more reckless than usual. Fucking sue him. He thought his brother was dead. He shakes the thought of it, no, the memory away, and heads back to Dean with the drugs and a small glass of water.
It's tough getting Dean in a position that's vertical enough to take them. He's pretty much against the idea of moving at all and when Sam tries to shift him around he lets out this heart-clenching whimper that's so shockingly small and pathetic Sam immediately lets go of him like a freakin' hot potato.
"Okay. Okay. Crap." What now? Sam rakes his fingers through his hair, takes a deep breath. And then he does something that could be considered kind of gross. He pulls Dean's discarded Slurpie straw out of the trash and rinses it off in the sink. Whatever. Sam's got a feeling that whatever germs are in that trash can have got nothing on whatever's kicking Dean's ass right now. Two minutes later, the pills are in Dean's mouth and Sam's holding the straw to his lips as he takes a few sips, and none's the wiser.
Sam's foray into dumpster diving turns out to be barely worth it though. Dean's fever doesn't abate and whatever the hell is wrong with his ear/right side of his brain is still fucking killing him.
And Sam's getting antsy.
"Hey. Hey, Dean?" Sam whispers, his hand curled around Dean's arid neck. "We need to get you to a clinic or something. I don't even know what to do for you, man."
Dean nods, then coughs and the whole room vibrates.
It's early morning and the clinic is tiny, housed in what looks like a repurposed old post office, with a mural on the wall, chipped on the edges, depicting the four seasons and a tall marble counter at the back of the waiting room. The receptionist turns out to be the nurse too, and after just a few minutes she swoops down on them where they're waiting awkwardly in a couple of mismatched wooden chairs.
"He's ready for you, sweetheart," she says, a chubby arm reaching around Dean's shoulders, a hand under his elbow, in much more of a hurry than is called for, seeing as the place is empty. "Up you go."
"He's dizzy," Sam sputters as he tries to help Dean up from his end. Dean bats his hand away though, and before Sam has a chance to say anything else, his brother is gone, disappeared through a door behind the huge counter space.
Right. Definitely a post office.
His knee jumps up and down and he picks at a hang-nail on his thumb, keeps glancing over at the door. He shouldn't be nervous. He's not. It's just that he has this thing where, since Dean's started to open up to him about Hell, Sam's starting to feel more and more useless. Like everything is just so outside his fucking depth. Including the stupid earache/fever arena apparently, where he's now totally out of the loop. Again.
Caught up in his pity-party, Sam's startled by the sound of a cough. Not Dean's sick cough, but a forced one, meant to capture his attention.
A skinny, moustached man with silver hair is poking his head out the door that Dean's behind somewhere, wiggling his equally silver eyebrows at him.
"I'm guessing you're Sam," he says, waving him over without hesitation.
Sam nods, nearly knocks his chair over bounding out of it, terrified for no good reason.
"Is my brother okay?" he asks, already inches from the older man.
"I'd love to find out," he sighs. "Maybe you can give me a hand?"
He leads Sam into the small exam room where Dean is perched on the edge of a paper-lined bed, hunched over with his head in his lap and his hands flat over both his ears. Even from across the room, Sam can tell he's shivering.
He makes his way over, squints down at Dean and lets a couple of fingertips graze across his knee. "What happened?"
"He won't let me near him, not with any of my instruments anyways. As soon as he took a gander at that otoscope, he grabbed my arm. Kid is not lacking for strength, I can tell you that much."
For a minute, Sam is flabbergasted. Dean? Afraid of an otoscope? It sounds completely absurd. Until Sam turns the word "instrument" over a few times in his head. Lets his imagination go places he really doesn't want it to go. Places where instruments are used not to make you better, but to make you worse and worse and worse, until there's nothing left of you at all. And suddenly, the fact that Dean doesn't want anyone sticking something in his ear makes all kinds of awful sense.
Sam clenches Dean's shoulder, whispers, "Jesus," and Dean peeks up at him, eyes begging to leave, end his embarrassment.
"Do you know anything about this?" the Doctor asks, rubbing his arm where Sam supposes Dean grabbed it much harder than he'll probably ever admit to.
"I... I think so. Just give us a minute, Doc."
The doctor nods and takes a step back, but he doesn't leave the room, and Sam gets down on one knee so that he's at Dean's eye level, lays one of his hands right over Dean's smaller one where it's still guarding his ear.
"Hey. You can do this, man."
Dean lets Sam guide his hands away from his head, sits up just a little and stares at the floor. "Feel li—KWAAAtchouuu! NIAAAshwaaa!—like a fucking idiot."
"Well, you aren't. Christ Dean, this... this can't be easy," Sam tells him, not just referring to this stupid exam, but to every god damn day that Dean's been back, struggling to act so normal when he's clearly a massive wreck. "I'm sorry."
Dean looks right at him, hangs on to the connection there for a few long seconds, and Sam wonders if he understands or if it's just a fever-induced trance.
"Ear hurts like a bitch," he finally says, and Sam smiles a little. If Dean's deflecting, it means there's something to deflect. And that's something at least.
Sam nods and calls the doctor back over.
Sam has to give the man some credit. He's taking this all in stride for someone who's half Dean's size. At any hospital with more than two employees, Sam's pretty sure they would have called in a couple of bulky orderlies instead of the even more physically intimidating brother. Thank God for one-stoplight towns.
Sam stands aside as the doctor comes toward them, letting the man and Dean face each other directly. He has a tongue depressor in hand—and Dean twitch when he spies it—but instead of trying to shove it in Dean's mouth, he hands it to him.
"How's about you do the honors, hmm?"
Dean stares down at the little wooden stick like he's deciding if it's a viable weapon. "Seriously?"
"Gotta start somewhere, son. And that throat of yours sounds a little raw."
Dean swallows hard, runs a free hand over his neck as if suddenly struck by the power of suggestion. And when he finally holds his own damn tongue down with the glorified popsicle stick, Sam almost laughs. But he sees the way Dean's eyes lock onto the doctor's as he points his pen-light down Dean's throat and nudges his chin up and down, Recognizes the distrust, the fragile edges of panic. And it's not funny at all.
"A little inflammation, but nothing too bad," the doc says as Sam reaches for Dean's back.
Dean drops the stick to the floor right then, and takes a tight fist to his troublesome ear, and Sam doesn't even have to think before he's sandwiching his brother's torso between his splayed hands. It's just instinct. Dean groans quietly and Sam feels him list sideways, lose his balance.
"Crap," Dean whispers his eyes shut fast against the abrupt pain. Looks like the painkillers are wearing off big time. And even though Dean's not really any sicker than he was back at the motel, it's harder now, to see him like this, under the bright white lights, exposed in a way Sam didn't even know he could be.
Sam sends a pleading look the doc's way, who says, "It's okay. Lie him down," almost as if he expected this to happen, and Sam helps Dean lie awkwardly on his hip, a fisted hand still rubbing uselessly at the side of his head.
"I guess we need to take a look at that ear."
Dean's too weary to participate anymore, but he's cognizant enough to know what's next, and he shakes his head just enough for only Sam to notice.
"You gotta do this," Sam whispers. "You... you want me to, I dunno, hold your hand or something?"
"Mmm... M'not a freakin' girl," Dean grunts. But as soon as the ototscope is a foot or so away from his face, he makes a grab for Sam's wrist and their fingers interlock like freight cars.
After barely making it through the ear exam, and once the doctor's moved on to the thermometer, Dean gets this weird look on his face like he's gone catatonic or something, like he's mentally hibernating in order to survive this whole ordeal. It makes things easier, but it scares the crap out of Sam.
When the doctor slips a stethoscope under Dean's shirt and asks him to take a deep breath, and Dean obliges, Sam actually feels relieved that Dean is still aware of his surroundings.
The whole thing only takes about ten minutes, but it feels like hours. And when the doctor snaps off his latex gloves, Dean's eyes soften a little and close, and he lets go of Sam's hand.
The doc scribbles on a prescription pad, rips the page off and hands it over. "Ear infection. Probably started as an earache from the nasty cold he's got going."
Sam nods, spots his brother as he drags himself from the bed without help in a last ditch effort to recoup some form of dignity. The doc seems to catch on, decides to address him like a grown-up.
"You'll need antibiotics for a few weeks. Keep taking ibuprofen for the pain and fever, fluids for the cough and you should be fine."
"Thanks," Dean says, a firm grip on the edge of the bed, but he's standing. "And I- I'm sorry. About before," he adds, rubbing his forehead.
The prescription note crinkles in Sam's hand as he holds it tighter, trying to bear the idea of Dean apologizing for anything.
"Not worth mentioning, son. I used to work over at the State pen. Seen plenty worse. Even got a couple teeth knocked out for my troubles."
He doesn't ask if Dean's been in jail or the army or what. Just lets it go at that, and smiles at them as they leave like everything went swimmingly, and it makes Sam want to cry because it's people like this that make their world so much harder to live in. Regular folk. Nice folk. The kind of people that will never stay. Only smile and wave goodbye.
Dean crawls into bed back at the motel, swallows a million pills and a half-quart of OJ, and Sam is afraid to talk to him because it's so fucking easy to say the wrong thing when Dean is exposed like this. And sometimes Sam's not sure if it's Dean or him, if maybe he's just that shitty at this stuff that Dean's so good at. Saying just the right thing to make it okay.
He just wants to help his brother and it shouldn't be this hard. It shouldn't.
It's hard getting Dean to let him sit on his bed, it's hard convincing him to use the hot water bottle, to let Sam hold it to his ear when the drugs just aren't strong enough. It's hard to let him finally drift to sleep, when Sam knows what's waiting for him on the other side.
So maybe Sam doesn't sleep that night. Maybe he just sits there at Dean's side and waits for a sign, any sign, that Dean needs to be woken. And at 2 am when the creases between Dean's eyebrows appear and he lets out a grunt and then a soft moan, a quiet "I won't..." Sam wakes him, gently, and Dean presses his brow into Sam's thigh.
And that night, maybe Sam saves Dean from Hell.