Sam always got sick the same way--belly first. Dean woke up to the sound of him puking in the bathroom, when they'd both gone to bed exhausted and stone sober, and he knew right then he was in for it. Ever since they were kids, when Sam got sick, Dean got sick.
That probably had something to do with their dad's reaction to Sammy getting sick, which was to go buy cold medicine, popsicles, and a million cans of chicken soup, dump it all on the counter, and split. It was always for some good reason--working to keep them fed, or some urgent job taking him away. Still, it seemed like every damn time, it was Dean who cleaned up Sam's puke for a week and made him take his medicine when he could hardly keep down Saltines.
Sammy was always a bitch when he got sick, too, demanding that Dean do nothing but stay right beside him on the couch watching cartoons. Hell, even when he wasn't puking he wouldn't take that cough medicine unless Dean did a shot with him, and Dean had seen the price tags when his dad brought it home. That stuff wasn't cheap, and half of every bottle wound up wasted on Dean, because otherwise Sammy wouldn't swallow a drop.
Dean rolled onto his side, meaning to go and tell Sam there would be absolutely no popsicles this time around, but he didn't even make it into a sitting position before he started coughing and couldn't stop. He curled up automatically, knees drawing in as he tried to catch a breath, but he just kept coughing and coughing--feeling like he was being stabbed, like somebody had kicked him in the chest a few times, and both those comparisons were way too easy to make.
He was starting to see black sparkles by the time something cool and hard touched his face. Dean looked up far enough to see Sam crouching beside him, holding a glass of water from the bathroom. Dean grabbed it and drank until he had to stop, gasping for breath, but at least the coughing didn't start up again right away.
Of course, once he could breathe he could smell Sam, and his stomach twisted like maybe he was about to regret the water.
"Sam, brush your teeth. And tell me you didn't drink out of that before you gave it to me."
"Yeah," Sam replied, hoarse but smiling a little. "You're welcome."
Sam braced a hand on the night stand and started to push up to his feet, but he wobbled like a tree about to go over. Dean didn't even think; he was just on his feet, holding Sam steady. Sam felt warm--he always ran a fever--and he leaned against Dean a little, but at least he turned his face away. In the light from the window, Dean could see the first sprinkling of tiny bruises around Sam's eyes. Only time they both had freckles was when Sammy had been puking for a couple of days straight.
Dean felt like he'd been kicked in the chest all over again, even though he was breathing fine.
Dean turned, maneuvering Sam toward the bed. "You lie down," he muttered, trying to sound stern when his throat felt like he'd been gargling steel wool. "I'll go--"
But Sam clutched at his shoulder and wouldn't let Dean put him to bed. "No, I--"
"Sam," Dean said, pushing harder, and Sam fell onto the bed where Dean had been lying, making a pained sound as he hit. When he rolled away to the far side of the bed, Dean realized he'd dropped the water glass on the bed when he got up, and pushed Sam onto it. Onto the spreading puddle of water, too--Sam's t-shirt was dark and wet where it had briefly hit the bed.
"Shit," Dean muttered, walking around to the other side of the bed even as Sam pushed himself up to sit. "Sammy--"
"I'm fine," Sam said, like the crappy liar he was, awkwardly rubbing his own back at the same time. "Listen, I'm gonna go to the store--"
Dean actually laughed, or tried to, but he started coughing again on that first deep breath. Sam's mouth went tight and his eyebrows tilted up, See?
Dean just glared at him and went into the bathroom to get a mouthful of water straight from the tap. After, even when he'd stopped coughing and caught his breath, he stayed where he was for a minute, holding onto the sink and waiting for his head to catch up with the fact that the bathroom floor was not tilted at a forty-five degree angle.
Dean gritted his teeth and forced himself upright to face Sam. Sam winced. Dean pointedly let go of the sink.
"Dean, I'm going to go to the store and--"
"No way, Sammy, you stay here."
Sam's mouth went tight again at Sammy. "Dean, I can--"
"You're not getting in my car until you're done puking, Sam. I will go."
Sam made some sort of gesture toward the toilet which seemed to argue that it had been at least five minutes since he'd hurled, therefore Dean should trust him with the Impala. Dean shook his head gingerly and feinted a light punch toward Sam's stomach.
Sam went pale and clutched the doorframe. "Dammit, Dean."
"Yeah, see, you're not getting in my car," Dean muttered, pushing past him. He ignored the dizziness, put one foot down in front of another. The floor wasn't really tilting, so he wasn't going to fall down. He could walk, that was all that mattered.
The fluorescent lights in the grocery store were painfully bright, and Dean had his arms full of canned soup and popsicles before he got to the long aisle stocked with cough medicine. He couldn't figure out what the hell kind was the right one, and then he started coughing and before he knew it he was on his knees with cans of soup rolling away from him.
All he could think as he tried to catch his breath was Dammit, Dad.
Dad had always done this part. Dean was supposed to sit with Sammy when Sammy got sick, and Dad was supposed to show up with a grocery bag full of supplies. That was the deal, that was the way it worked. Even that last time--Sam had gotten hugely, violently sick in the January of his senior year of high school, when he and Dad couldn't be civil to each other for more than ten minutes at a time--even then, as soon as Dad realized Sam was sick he went out shopping and came back with all the right stuff.
After that he'd been gone for five days, hunting ghouls in some town six hundred miles away. Apart from Sam being miserably sick, and making Dean miserably sick right along with him, it had been the quietest, calmest week of that whole winter.
But now Dad was gone, and on top of saving Sammy and maybe killing Sammy, Dean had to manage all the stupid things like dealing with Sam getting sick.
Just then somebody with small hands and pink-polished nails started helping him round up all the soup cans. Dean picked his head up far enough to offer her a charming smile, but she gave him the same smile back that he gave to helpless civilians in over their heads. Pitying. Dean forced his own smile to stay in place by sheer force of will. "You need a basket," she said. "And some of this."
She reached out and grabbed something off the shelf. Pills, so Sammy couldn't complain about how it tasted and demand Dean take some too. And sniffling sneezing coughing aching stuffy head fever so you can rest would probably cover all the bases and shut Sam up in the bargain.
"Thanks," Dean managed, gathering everything back up into his arms. The cold box of popsicles felt good against the burning ache of his chest. She gave him another kind smile when he was on his feet, and started to turn away.
"Hey," Dean said, and his face felt as fever-hot as Sammy's, but he had to ask. "Could you, uh, hand me a bottle of Pepto?" Pills wouldn't do Sam any good if he just threw them up.
She backed up a step, grabbed a pink bottle off the shelf and dropped it into his arms from a safe distance, then took off like--well, like she didn't want to catch what he had. Goddamn Sammy and his germs anyway.
When he got back, Sam was curled up on the bathroom floor, shivering. Dean winced and set the shopping bags down on the floor, flushed the toilet, and pulled Sam into a sitting position. Sam leaned against him for a second and then lunged past Dean toward the shopping bag, grabbing the bottle of Pepto that Dean had positioned on top.
"Oh, thank God," Sam muttered, twisted the top off and chugged the stuff while Dean watched in horrified fascination. Sam never took medicine without a fight, ever.
Sam slumped against the wall, holding the bottle to his chest with one hand, wiping his mouth with the other. It left his lips stained chalky pink, and smelled like peppermint. After a minute, Sam opened his eyes and glanced from Dean to the shopping bag. "Did you get cough medicine?"
"Yeah," Dean said, turning away to fish out the little box of NyQuil. "Here."
Sam shook his head. "You take it."
Dean stared. "Sam, you're not four years old, I'm not taking your medicine with you."
Sam clutched the Pepto possessively. "Damn right you're not," Sam muttered. "But I'm not coughing, so I'm not taking cough medicine. You are."
Dean looked down at the box in his hand, then back at Sam. "No, Sam, I'm fine. You're the one who's--"
Sam started laughing, and it sounded painful and looked worse. "Dean, you've been coughing like that for three days. You're totally running a fever. I bet you're achy as hell and haven't even noticed it, any more than you've noticed anything else."
Dean stared at Sam. "Achy? This is about me being achy now?"
Sam reached out fast, no fake, just poked him hard in his right shoulder; Dean barely registered how badly it hurt before he had Sam's wrist in a tight grip, twisting it away.
"Yeah, Dean," Sam said, tugging until Dean let go. "It's about you being achy. It's about you being sick. It always is."
Dean scowled. "I'm sick because you--"
"No, Dean, no you're not, and you never have been. Do you remember that time Dad took me to the emergency room because I couldn't stop throwing up?"
"Yeah," Dean said. "You yacked on me in the car, Dad in the parking lot, and the nurse in the ER."
"Yeah," Sam said. "Do you remember who wound up leaving that night with a shot of antibiotics in the ass? Because it wasn't me."
Dean glared at Sammy. He'd been twelve. The nurse had been pretty, and the humiliation had been massive. "Yeah, I remember."
Sam made a Well, then face, and Dean shook his head. "You always get sick, Sam, always."
Sam shook his head. "See, that's what I thought, except I went to college and never got sick at all. Not once. Not even when Jess would get sick, which is when I figured out that I got sick because you were, because it was so weird to watch someone else feel sick and not be sick myself. Then I thought I was just making it up all those other times. Faking it."
Dean glanced from Sam's death grip on the little pink bottle to the toilet, and remembered all those other times. He remembered, clear as a bell, three-year-old Sammy crying because he'd thrown up in his bed, all over his pillow and blanket and the cheap stuffed bear from the carnival. "I could've told you you weren't faking it, Sammy."
Sam nodded. "So it's real, it's just not caused by a virus or germs or whatever. It's caused by you being sick."
Dean gave Sam a wary look, but Sam oddly didn't look pissed, just kind of sad. "So you're saying this is my fault."
Sam shook his head. "It's Dad's fault if it's anyone's, actually."
Dean opened his mouth to argue with that, but Sam looked so beat, and Dean couldn't string together a thought more persuasive than you shut up about Dad, which wasn't a fight he and Sam really needed to have yet again. Not right now, anyway. Bathroom acoustics were killer, and now that Sam had pointed it out Dean realized he already had a splitting headache.
"Dean, you were so sick they had to give you an injection of antibiotics and the only thing you or Dad noticed was me puking all over the place. The only way you got cough medicine was if he bought it for me. Neither one of you would notice if you were sick, but everybody paid attention if I was."
Dean stared. "So you puked on me in the car and that was, what, some kind of subconscious judo nurturing thing?"
Sam grinned. His teeth were pink, too. "I guess, yeah. Just take your cough medicine and I promise I'll stop throwing up, all right?"
Dean shook his head, frowning, and not, or not only, because he wasn't going to give in to Sam that easily. Cough medicine made it hard--well, harder--to think, and there was something about this bugging him. "So you're saying, every time you got sick when you were a kid it was because I was sick. Every time?"
Sam looked down, took another hit off the Pepto, and capped it, hands moving almost perfectly steadily. "I think so, yeah."
Dean reached for Sam's right wrist, turned it aside. He hadn't thought to look before, but--there was nothing there. Not the binding mark, not even a real scar from where Bobby had burned him with the poker.
Sam had been immune to that demon plague. Hell, the car crash that almost killed Dean and their dad (did kill them, both of them, one way or another) had hardly put a scratch on Sam. And now he'd never even had a childhood illness, not a cold, not a sniffle, not really.
"I know," Sam whispered. Dean flicked a glance at him and he was ghostly pale, the freckle-bruises standing out dark red on his skin. "I know. But can we just--just take your cough medicine, Dean. For now."
"Yeah," Dean said, converting his grip on Sam's wrist to a hand up, getting them both to their feet. Once Sam was steady, pink bottle still firmly in hand, Dean grabbed the shopping bag. "I got popsicles, but we're gonna have to eat them before they melt."
They wound up sacked out on the one dry bed, the box of popsicles resting between them on the plastic grocery bag. The NyQuil didn't just make it hard to think, it made it hard to keep his eyes open, but Dean pushed past that, tearing open and eating his share of popsicles, letting the wrappers pile up on the floor.
When he looked over, Sam's lips were stained purple instead of chalk pink, and it was just like being kids again--both of them lying on the couch, the familiar sweaty warmth of Sam's body radiating across the small distance. It had always been just this weird, lying around in broad daylight, no chores to do, nothing to hunt. Same old free pass as always: he had to take care of Sammy when Sammy got sick.
"Should be cartoons on," Dean muttered.
Sam passed him the remote.