RATING: pg 13
GENRE: gen, h/c
SPOILERS: season 1, soon after "Scarecrow"
CHARACTERS: dean, sam
A/N: written an ice age ago for the hoodie time fever fic meme for a partial fill of a prompt: "some ridiculous combo of pneumonia/sinus/ear/throat infection/whatever else ~speaks to you~."
SUMMARY: sam cares for his ridiculously ill brother, and reminisces about the old days.
The complicated voices of PBS news anchors weave their way through the plastic slats of a 1985 Zenith television set. Dim lighting disguises the brown stains on the ceiling and neglected windows slowly admit the brittle-cold air of Peoria, Illinois. A wrought iron nightstand with a chipped white paint-job separates two beds and atop its glass surface a collection of crumpled tissues have amassed aside a few orange prescription vials, Tylenol, a half eaten piece of white toast and a large bottle of red Gatorade, two-thirds full.
The box of tissues has found itself crammed fast between the mattress and the headboard of the bed on the right, a white tuft dangling out from the corner in surrender. And while the other bed remains neatly made and empty, this one bears the miserable, fever-ravaged and uncharacteristically feeble body of Dean Winchester.
Sam crouches down at his brother’s side and holds a clean rag he’s wrung in cool water to Dean’s forehead. He’s curled up like an injured animal, barely responsive to Sam’s voice and touch. But his eyes flutter a little and Sam watches hopefully as he tries to focus past the angry blood vessels that have snaked their way across his sclerae.
“Hey. Can you hear me?” Sam asks, because Dean’s hearing comes and goes.
Dean nods and closes his eyes. His nose twitches and he takes in a ragged, wet breath. “Ghuuuzzzch-ushhhuk!” The sneeze triggers another fit of coughs so tempestuous that in order to keep him from falling off the bed as he twists under the pilly, bog-green sheets, tossing to and fro in some misguided attempt to force the fluid from his lungs, Sam needs to reach out and brace him by the shoulders.
Through the thin white t-shirt, Sam can still feel Dean’s skin baking itself, withholding the relief that comes with a breaking fever. It’s like waiting for rain in terrible drought, when there’s nothing left but empty stomachs and foreclosed mortgages.
Dean tugs meekly at the sheet tangled round him and Sam is able to help him sit hunched on the edge of the bed as coughs vibrate up his spine like clangs on an enormous gong.
“Uhghhh… Fuck,” is the first thing Dean’s said in over 12 hours.
Sam pulls their camp blanket from the foot of the bed and tucks it around Dean’s shoulders, keeps him upright because he knows Dean will lop over otherwise.
“I know, man. You’re seriously redefining what crap feels like, huh?”
Dean doesn’t answer, just tilts his head slightly and squeezes his eyes shut against the throbbing in his ears. Sam lets his hand slide around to the base of Dean’s neck, and taps it softly.
“We’re gonna check your temp again, okay? Then how ‘bout a few more of those awesome yellow pills.”
Sam holds the brittle glass rod under the orange glow of a reading lamp, counts four lines past the 100 mark. The fever is always worse this time of night, when, if things like bacterial pneumonia had any understanding of fairness, they would back the fuck off and let people sleep.
Of course, it’s not just the pneumonia that robs Dean of his rest. It’s a middle ear infection in both ears, what looks like the beginnings of conjunctivitis and the lingering exhaustion that comes with hunting through a case of bronchitis that Dean couldn’t be bothered to do anything about until it turned into this mutant plague that he woke up with a few days ago. There’s something perversely impressive about a body that can multitask that many sicknesses.
By all rights, Dean should still be in the hospital. But hospitals aren’t somewhere Winchesters can linger. So as soon as Sam had gleamed what medication Dean’s doctor was giving him, he’d swiped a prescription pad and secreted his brother away before the phoney insurance info bounced back. By some miracle, Dean had managed to stay on his feet long enough to make it across the parking lot.
Now Sam’s the closest thing to a doctor Dean’s going to get. The only one with the power to get Dean back to himself. And there’s no way in hell Sam’s going to fuck that up. Especially after Burkettsville, and such a close call that never would have happened in the first place if only Sam had realized that they need each other, that Dean needs him, more than they need to find Dad.
“Sam…” Dean whispers, and he’s wheezing badly, struggling to take in air. Sticky tears fill up his bloodshot eyes, shine with fear and exhaustion.
“It’s okay, man. You’re okay.” But he’s really not. And Dean’s struggle against the fluid in his lungs is now becoming more fierce, more desperate. He writhes against the thin bedsheets, tugs at his t-shirt and begins to cough choked, rumbling coughs, worse than before because Sam can tell he’s struggling for air.
Sam pulls Dean up out of bed and drags him into the bathroom, gentleness forsaken for speed. He helps Dean sink into a heap on the ceramic floor, blasts hot water from the shower, and shuts the door. All the while Dean coughs and coughs and coughs.
He sits next to his big brother Indian style, faces the wall Dean’s backed up against as if sickness has cornered Dean there like something they’d hunt. He presses his head to Sam’s shoulder, and his coughs vibrate through Sam now too. Dean’s fingers cling desperately to Sam’s shirtsleeves, Sam steadies Dean against him with a firm hand at the base of Dean’s neck and they wait for the steam to work its magic. Sam feels like he might just start hyperventilating himself, until the coughs become more infrequent, and Dean’s body becomes a heavier mass, muscles relaxing as he gradually sinks into Sam’s lap.
It’s a hard moment to process. Dean’s never been one for proximity. Not like this. Not since they were both very small and still shared a bed for cheaper motel rates. All Sam can do for a while is stay very still and listen to the shower beating down against the beige tiles until the surroundings drag up a memory of another time like this one, where Sam’s part was much different, but Dean’s was much the same.
He gazes down at what he can make out of Deans face, half crushed into Sam’s thigh and the crook of his own elbow. A flushed cheek and a sticky, half-open eye are all Dean’s willing to give to the world at this point.
Distractedly piecing together his thoughts, Sam let’s his hand rub the curve of Dean’s back. “Do you remember,” he starts. “You were sick like this once. When I was in 4th grade. Dad stayed home for almost two weeks.”
“Yeah,” Dean gasps, still trying to catch his breath. “Got mono. From Tiffany Sandopholis.”
“Was it worth it?”
Sam smiles. “I used to be jealous of you for that, you know.”
“Tiffany?” Dean croaks, rolling over a little so that his face is no longer hidden. He rubs at his puffy, red-rimmed eyes and tries very hard to make eye contact.
Sam takes Dean's wrist, guides his hand away from his face. “Not Tiffany, you dog. Hang on." There's one more facecloth left, rolled up in a little basket next to the sink. Sam gently helps Dean off his lap and guides him over to the counter under the sink. Leans him up against it and doesn't let go of Dean's shoulders until Dean nods and absentmindedly itches at an eye again.
Sam runs the facecloth under cool water and continues, "Dad. Dad stuck around for you, man. When I got sick, he barely batted an eye. Never stopped him from heading out the door.”
“He knew you could handle it,” Sam explains, as if he agrees with the assessment.He folds the cloth in three and smooths it across Dean's eyes. “Knew you could take care of me. Couldn’t trust me to take care of you though.”
“You?" Dean shakes his head, coughs and shivers a little. "J-j-just a kid.”
“Yeah. Just wish he’d had the kind of faith in me he always had in you, you know?"
“Wasn’t so great. I c-c-c-c-coulda used his help,” Dean admits, his teeth chattering, his face suddenly pale.
“Hey. Jeeze, Dude," Sam whispers, tossing the wet rag in favor of rubbing his hands up and down Dean's shoulders. "Kinda how I feel about now.” Dean's head droops like he can't hold it up anymore and Sam reaches for his forehead. It's hotter than before, and a few beads of sweat are forming.
“You're d-d-d-d-doin'...” Dean starts, but the shivers sap all he's got out of him, and he groans softly as Sam draws him in tighter against his chest and pulls them both up onto their feet.
"You're okay," Sam assures Dean, who is damn close to whimpering in Sam's arms as Sam helps him stumble across the motel room. "Think your fever's finally decided to break."
Dean's bed is a mess so Sam leads him to his own, contorts himself so that he can pull down the covers while still keeping Dean steady. Dean manages to crawl under the sheets under his own steam, and Sam hovers overhead, readies himself to do something, he's not sure what. Dean just keeps dishin' out the symptoms and Sam keeps takin' 'em.
But not much happens. Dean twists around a bunch, uncomfortable in his own skin, but settles for a moment and takes a breath. "You're doin' alright, Sammy," he says.