Everything felt bright, harsh and over exaggerated. From the luminescence of the fifty-year-old overhead bulbs to the way the yellowing papers of the book he was unsuccessfully trying to read felt under his fingertips. Even the light breeze coming from the ventilation system of the bunker made his overheated skin crawl. Like a million razors cutting into his flesh, yet every time he glanced to his exposed skin there was nothing there. And don't even get him started on how the forced cheerfulness that his brother was desperately trying to uphold grated against his thin-stretched nerves. Too loud. Too damn loud. He buried his forehead into his left palm, his thumb circling his temple, trying to ease an oncoming migraine.
"You gotta eat something, Sammy…" Dean pleaded with a tray of tea and crackers in his hand, worry clear on his face as he watched his giant of a younger brother sitting hunched at the library desk over one of the many books scattered around him, the wool blanket Dean had placed on his feverish form somewhat askew on his shoulders.
This was the third time he had asked within a span of twenty minutes, each with a different approach. First, he just bounced in, a smile on his face, encouraging Sam to eat. Then came the tough love, a gruff huff just like John would have handled it, and finally he settled back into the role of the overly concerned big brother, who felt utterly helpless and useless as he watched his ailing sibling taking the weight of the world on his shoulders yet again.
The trials were killing Sam. There was no other way around it. An otherwise perfectly healthy thirty-year-old suddenly coughing up blood cannot be normal. Yet both of them denied the implications wholeheartedly, reassuring each other that they just had to push through the third one. That everything would magically right itself once God's final test was done and over with, and Sam had closed the Gates of Hell for good.
It's not like they could go to the hospital and say 'Hey, my brother here is mysteriously falling apart from the inside because of a quest set upon him by the creator of the universe himself. Do you have something for that?' The psych ward would not help matters for sure. Castiel's nagging comment about even him not being able to heal Sam crept up into Dean's mind unbidden, but he pushed it away as fast as it came, opting for optimism. Only one more to go. Soon it will be all over.
"Still not hungry," the younger hunter muttered, failing at keeping his irritation out of his voice as he turned the page, even though he didn't have an inkling of a clue what he had read just ten seconds earlier. His concentration was utterly shot.
Admittedly he felt like crap, and as a matter of fact, way more crap than the trials should have called for. Something else was amiss. The low-grade fevers, the occasional – although blood producing – cough, and headaches he had gotten used to over the weeks. He could even function through them. But not today. Today the world was a hazy blur, punctuated by chills, hot flashes, and an insistent scratch at the back of his throat, spreading all the way up to his sinuses, making every breath he took itchy, adding to the oversensitive effect the outside world had on him.
Maybe pushing himself so hard two days earlier to work on Charlie's case with Dean hadn't been such a great idea after all. Especially walking into a hospital full of germs when they went to check out where all those payments from the hacker went. Or maybe fighting two Djinns in a dingy abandoned warehouse did the trick.
The notion that his immune system might also be shot with everything else the trials were changing in him should have at least crossed his mind. But no! Sam Winchester was a stubborn son of a bitch, just like the rest of the Winchesters, so there was no way in hell he would have stayed behind when their friend, who was almost like a little sister to them, was in trouble.
"At least drink some tea," Dean nudged the tray closer as he sat down in the chair next to Sam, his brows furrowed at his brother's sass but kept his remarks to himself.
Tea wouldn't hurt, Sam supposed. He had to stay hydrated after all. A trip to the hospital for IV fluids was the last thing he needed. He pushed the books away from himself and reached for the mug, almost wincing at how hot the handle felt even though rationally he knew that it was just fine. Dean beamed at him approvingly, and Sam almost rolled his eyes at his brother's internal victory cheer (or dance) that was surely going on in that head of his.
Sam lifted the cup of hot liquid, blowing on it to avoid scalding his tongue when the inhalation of the rising steam sent that itch in his nose into overdrive. He barely had the presence of mind to set the mug back down on the table before his breath hitched.
"Hehh…" he turned to the right, away from Dean, the knuckles of his right hand hopelessly trying to rub the urgency of the sensation away.
"Sammy?" Dean probed with concern, unaware of his brother's inner struggle, only noting that the tea that one minute was seemingly welcome was abandoned in the next without explanation, and Sam was now hunched over even more. Was he in pain? More than usual these days? "What's wrong, man?"
"Give… hiihh… me… huhh… a frigging minute, Dean!" Sam snapped at him, trying to shake off Dean's hand that he had placed on Sammy's shoulder in a comforting gesture, but which only made his oversensitive skin feel like a million tiny needles were thrust into it. With his angry outburst, the need to sneeze went away for a second, only to come back with a vengeance in the next.
"Whoa, don't need to be so snappy!" Dean backed off with his hands up, watching his little brother with a mixture of annoyance, concern, and curiosity.
"Hah...TkchEwwww!" he sneezed into his cupped hands under his mop of hair, and suddenly everything started to make a bit more sense to Dean.
"Gesundheit," the older hunter acknowledged, although prematurely. His little brother wasn't done yet.
"Haetktshshsh… 'kichshshsh… h'tshew…" Sam's head bobbed up and down, unable to control anything as his body gave into the all-consuming sneezes.
"Someone's on a roll…" Dean couldn't help feeling a bit amused at the display Sammy was putting on, even though he was sure as hell this couldn't be a good sign.
Sam sent him an irked glare, his hands never leaving his face before his eyelids fluttered into a pre-sneeze expression again. "Hksh… heh'ktshoo… heh… hihh… ugh… stuck…" he rubbed his nose irritatedly. There were few things he hated more than stuck sneezes even if getting them out did nothing for his increasing headache. Sam sat his head down on his forearms on the table, exhaustion overtaking him suddenly.
"Okay, I think it's to bed with you, mister…" Dean declared a few seconds later, gently trying to get Sam vertical so that he could move him to his bedroom.
"Yeah, I think you're right, Dean," Sammy agreed in a tired whisper, shocking his brother to the core with his admittance of defeat.
Something was wrong, but Dean was certain this one he could do something about. Even if they couldn't cure trial ailments, tomato-rice soup, tea, rest and lots of tissues did wonders to a cold. Not to mention maybe a bit of Hey Jude or even a chick flick if he felt really generous.
"Seriously, Sammy… only you can catch a cold at the worst possible times," Dean sighed, remembering all those instances when Sam got sick right before their dad would have finally taken them out on a hunt, ultimately leaving them at the motel, Dean charged with taking care of him. Or when Sam was supposed to have a date the next evening in his senior year in high school, ending up having to cancel because he couldn't stay upright with a fever of 103.5.
"Shut up, jerk," Sam huffed indignantly, but the corner of his mouth quivered despite all his misery at the truthfulness of that statement.
"Come one, bitch. Let's see if Mom's secret recipe is still as effective as it used to be," Dean patted him on the shoulder, still not noticing the barely veiled wince of the 6'4 guy next to him.
"Still not hungry, Dean," Sam replied with an eye-roll at that way too obvious attempt to stuff food into him, even if it meant soup, shying away from the touch and making an effort to get to his room without assistance.
"Hih'KSHteeew" that one stuck sneeze crept up on Sam without warning just as he staggered back into his room, Dean close on his tail, there to catch him if a dizzy spell made him fall.
"Bless," was all he said before pulling back the covers from the bed an ushering Sammy there to lie down.
"Dean, I'm not an invalid," Sam huffed, tired of the constant motherhening. His voice was ever so slightly more muffled than usual, not enough to impair his speech or mess up his consonants, but you could tell he was getting more congested by the minute. "I wanted to change into something more comfortable anyway."
The jeans and long sleeve shirt he was wearing provided way too much more friction than his fevered skin cared to endure at the moment. He was contemplating whether his sheets were soft enough to allow him to shed everything minus his underwear and still be comfortable or settle for some well-worn and soft sweats and T-shirt.
"Okay," his brother allowed, stopping and giving him space to do his thing.
"Do you mind?" the ill hunter raised his brow in a frown at Dean, silently gesturing him to leave and give him the privacy he so craved.
Of course, they had seen each other naked – or almost naked – throughout their childhood. Not to mention, post hunts if one of them needed stitching up in places that were normally covered by clothes, but it wouldn't have been Sammy's first choice to start stripping in front of his brother if he could help it.
"Yeah, uhm… you do that…" Dean rubbed the back of his head in embarrassment from obviously overstaying his welcome then gestured with great momentum towards the door. "I gotta go step out and do a supply run anyway. I don't think we have any cold medicine in the first aid kit."
And with that he exited the room, not waiting for Sammy's reactions to his awkwardness. The taller guy sighed a bit in relief. He wholeheartedly hated the fuss, but also knew that Dean only worried because he obviously cared. Although that didn't automatically mean that Sam wanted to be taken care of.
As he stood there a trickle of congestion started to run in his nose, and Sam sniffed hard to avoid it dripping since he was out of tissues. That supply run was honestly overdue. Sam was hanging onto a thin thread of hope that somehow he will be able to keep this cold out of his chest. Who knew what would happen if he started coughing because of this too. Pneumonia for sure.
He turned around to open his dresser where the coveted articles of clothing lay, but even this seemingly normal sideways motion upset his precarious balance, the fluid in his inner ear being too sensitive like everything else with him these days. His head swam with the sudden dizzy spell, and he was barely able to grab onto the side of the furniture to keep himself upright.
"Fuck," Sam cursed under his breath, shutting his eyes closed, head hanging low between his shoulders, willing the spinning to stop.
And it did. A minute or two later. Only to worsen when suddenly he sneezed. "Hae'kshshsh"
Taking everything even slower this time, Sam got the sweat pants he had in mind out, but forewent the shirt, and climbed under his covers. He had half a mind on assessing his own condition, noting every little sensation that was off so that he could monitor the progression of the illness, but he was out faster than the speed of light before he could even begin to take inventory.
Given that there were no windows in the bunker – at least on the fun levels – and Sam didn't bother with putting up a clock in his room, he had no way of knowing how much time had passed when he next woke. But enough it seemed for Dean to get back, who was now settled into the armchair in the corner of his room, reading. Busty Asian Beauties. For the love of…
"Dude, if I find any funny looking stains on that sofa…" Sam mumbled his half-assed threat groggily with a deep frown, barely holding himself up on the elbows. The thought of his brother jerking off by his side while he was asleep made him sick to his stomach.
Wait a minute… no… he was literally feeling nauseous. Not extremely so, not enough to actually make him sprint for the bathroom, but enough that the queasiness left him feeling uncomfortable. He swallowed with a deep breath trying to gain back control over his body's reaction.
"Good thing you still got your funny bone…" Dean quipped back with a smirk, folding the magazine closed before placing it on the side table on his left. His expression told Sam that there was going to be a dirty joke in there somewhere and he groaned in preemptive disgust.
"Please, don't…" the sick man pleaded, though he should have known it would be useless.
"…Er," the older brother grinned, going with the laughter cures everything approach. Too bad their sense of humor was on two different planes of existence, especially when Sam wasn't feeling well. "See what I did there?"
"Ugh," Sam slumped back into bed, covering his eyes with his arm in an attempt to block out the outside world along with Dean's snickering. "What time is it? How long was I out?"
"Just after 2 PM, so maybe four hours or so," Dean replied, his tone going back to its neutral, although worried pitch, hearing how rough and raspy his brother's voice was. "I brought some medicine, but you can't take those on an empty stomach."
Sam knew what Dean was doing. This was approach number four. Appealing to his logical side. They both knew that they absolutely, most definitely, unquestionably were not in a position that allowed them to let this illness get out of hand. That meant taking the medication without a fuss. And apparently eating beforehand. Clever son of a bitch.
If only the thought of food didn't make Sam's stomach go into a twisted knot. He swallowed thickly again, but this time it caught on his sore throat, inducing a small cough. Thankfully it wasn't that bad, but it still had Dean glancing at him with even more worry.
"Dean…" Sammy tried to explain his predicament, but was cut off before he could elaborate.
"Just soup, maybe a bit of toast if you can manage. That's all I ask," his older brother reasoned firmly.
"I'll… try," he conceded tentatively.
"Good. Back in a sec," Dean sprung from his place and practically ran out, probably worried that if he took too long, the resolution wouldn't hold out. Fortunately, he already had everything cooked up while Sammy slept, so he just needed to heat the soup up and pop some bread in the toaster, fresh and warm.
When Dean returned to Sammy's room, his brother was sitting up against the headboard, hunched forward over his cupped hands.
"Ah'ktshEEW" Sam looked up blearily, his mouth still hanging half open, probably anticipating another one, although it seemed to be holding out on him. Dean set the tray down on Sam's bedside table then leaned in and lightly flicked Sam's nose with his index finger. "What are… hehh…" his confused and slightly butt hurt expression was priceless, and it did seem to do the trick, so Dean was unapologetic. "Heh'ktshew… hi'ksh… aksh…" he sneezed, the last two barely a whisper before his breath hitched again loudly. "HEAP'KTSHEEWW… Ugh… that was mean." That last one actually hurt.
"Better for them to get stuck?" Dean arched one of his brows at his younger brother.
"No…" Sam agreed begrudgingly before blowing his nose in one of the tissues from the box that seemed to have magically appeared on his nightstand when he wasn't looking. He reached for the tray with the soup to place it on his lap, but his hands shook wildly with the effort, almost spilling the tomato-rice soup all over himself.
"Ah-ah-ah, let me do it," the older hunter sat down on the side of the bed after taking the tray away. Scalding himself by accidentally dumping the thing on himself would have been the absolute negative highlight of Sammy's day.
Sam rolled his eyes but let Dean spoon-feed him like he was a five-year-old or something. Humiliating as fuck, but somehow it still felt comforting. What else was family for, if not taking care of each other when they were at their worst?
"Guess the gun test is sort of a moot point now," the ill brother commented in a sour mood after the first spoonful. Surprisingly, once the soup made it to his stomach and settled, the nausea eased off a tiny bit. Maybe the stomach acid was making him feel off in this regard the whole time.
"Don't worry. You'll be back on your feet," Dean declared, no doubt seeping into the statement.
Sam ate in silence after that, though he could only manage maybe half of the bowl and three bites of toast. Dean was ecstatic nonetheless. This was more than he could achieve in days.
"Okay. Ibuprofen. Lozenges. Cough syrup. Dayquil. Nyquil. Nose-spray," Dean laid the whole selection out onto the nightstand from the plastic bag that was apparently down beside the bed.
"Did you buy the entire cold-flu aisle from the drug store?" Sam peered up at him, a teeny-tiny bit amused.
"Shut up," Dean huffed – he didn't know what they might need so he bought whatever he could think of, alright? – but secretly was happy that he managed to get at least a ghost of a smile on that way too pale face of his.
Sam eyed the medicine for a few seconds, then opted for the Nyquil. Might as well get some more shut eye.
Sleep was far from restful. Despite the medicine, Sam's symptoms were progressively getting worse, his fever spiking and his nasal passages starting to get so blocked that he could only breathe through his mouth.
At one point he started to drift back into consciousness, feeling absolutely miserable. His senses were muffled like he was cut off from the rest of the world by a bubble, leaving him just with the acute awareness of his throbbing head, the pressure in his sinuses radiating towards his eyes and ears and daggers in his throat. Sam couldn't really tell which way was up or down, his limbs felt tingly, not quite connected to the rest of his body. All in all, it freaked him out a little bit.
"Dean…" he mumbled, half-awake, not even opening his eyes, but still searching for his brother. Dean could fix anything.
"Yeah, Sammy?" came the instant reply from somewhere on his right. Or did it? He wasn't sure.
Anyway, satisfied that he wasn't alone he quit struggling to try and drag himself back to full consciousness. For about ten minutes or so, when the nagging feeling that nothing's changed and something should be done about the way his body was feeling right now crept back up.
"Dean," Sam tried again, his eyes fluttering open for just a second before he closed them shut again, the light coming from the bedside lamp too bright.
"I'm here, buddy, what do you need?"
The question left Sam feeling confused. What did he need? He couldn't think or formulate an acceptable answer to that. But maybe if he could somehow relay to Dean how exactly he was feeling at that moment, his brother would know what to do.
"I like trains," Sam muttered seriously.
"Come what now?" Dean glanced at his ailing brother, perplexed.
Sam frowned as if expecting something to happen, which ultimately never came.
"I like trains…" he tried again more emphatically though it seemed like even repeating this small phrase took all the energy out of him.
Just as a test Dean placed the back of his hand against Sam's forehead, only to find that he was burning up. That explained a lot. Delirious in fever. Although being high as a kite on cold medicine wasn't out of the question either. Only an hour had passed since he took it. Though that time frame should have been enough for the Nyquil to start working on that fever.
"I bet you do, Sheldon," Dean gave Sam's shoulder a light, comforting pat, but even that was too much for him. Sam flinched at the touch, his face contorting slightly into a grimace. Somewhere along the lines, his feverish mind figured it out, probably Dean's sarcastic teasing did the trick, that Dean was not making the connection he was. And since when did Dean know about The Big Bang Theory anyway?
"'S a video… on YouTube…" Sam began, pausing there to collect his thoughts. "Funny animation… kid says it… then pfffsht… gets hit by a train." In his mind, it made complete sense. He was hit by a train. He even moved his arm, although listlessly, to try and imitate the oncoming train to demonstrate.
Dean watched him with furrowed brows for a few moments, reminding himself that his brother was delirious and making fun of him was not going to help the situation. Instead, he made an effort to try and decipher what he was getting at.
"Are you trying to tell me you feel like you got hit by a train?" the older hunter tried tentatively.
"I knew you would understand!" Sam sighed in relief, curling up on his side, content that everything would be miraculously solved now.
He heard some shuffling around, the rustling of a plastic bag, a latch opening, like someone was looking for something.
"Come on, Sammy, open up," Dean's voice was right above him, and when he complied, a thermometer was stuck into his mouth.
The tip of it was way too cold, and Sam wanted to protest and pull away, only he had absolutely no energy to do so. Later the instrument beeped, and it was way too loud but also muffled and sort of distorted at the same time. For Sam, the world was a weird place to be in at the moment. The thermometer was taken away, and oh boy was he glad because he couldn't really breathe with that thing in his mouth.
Dean looked at the display with a deep, deep frown. He was used to seeing around 100-101 on it in the past couple of weeks, sort of became the norm after the second trial, but 103.6 was way too high in his opinion. He got a few pills out and a glass of water before turning back to his brother.
"H'MpfKSHoo" Sam sneezed tiredly into the pillow, too conked out to cover or to care how wet it was.
"Man, that's just gross," Dean made a face before yanking a couple of tissues out of the box and cleaning him up a little before trying to coax him into a sitting position so that he could take some antipyretics. The fact that Sammy squirmed away from practically any touch with a childish whine was not helping the situation. Of course, by now Dean realized that his skin felt too sensitive because of the fever, but that didn't solve the situation at hand. "Work with me, buddy, I need you to drink these."
After a few seconds, Sam stuck one of his hands out from under the cover, searching for Dean's and let his brother pull him up into a sitting position. Sam squinted the glass of water in Dean's other hand.
"No apple juice?" he asked, hoping that would have a better chance of washing away the funny taste from his mouth than plain ol' water.
"I'm not giving you whiskey with medicine," Dean declared, though very hypocritically of him. He couldn't count the number of times he drank alcohol with various medications.
"What?" Sam blearily glanced up at his brother, totally confused. How did whiskey come into play again?
"Never mind," he shook his head in disbelief. It was like talking to a five-year-old. "Guess I have to go the store again. Take these with water till then."
Juices weren't on top of his list when he ran out five hours ago. Come to think of it, maybe more tea filters would come in handy too. And tissues. There was no such thing as too many tissues. Who knew how long this cold would last given the general state Sam's health was in.
"Okay…" the ill hunter took the pills and drank them, before sliding back down, drowsiness taking over almost instantly as he held onto his pillow tightly. "Don't forget… your pie… I always forget your pie," he mumbled on second thought.
That one little sentence almost made Dean's eyes water. Sick and all, Sammy still had space in his mind to think about his big brother's needs. Friggin' kid.
The moment was broken by Sam's messy, congested and very tired sneezing. "Hi'kSHOUM… heh'kchoo…"
"Oh, for the love of..." Dean exclaimed, but still got the tissues to wipe the nose of his brother just like he did when Sam was still a little kid.
An hour later Sam woke up alone in his room, wet – although now warm – washcloth on his forehead. He felt a smidge better than before, probably thanks to his fever lowering, though the congestion in his nose was really bothering him. Four wads of tissues later that problem was temporarily fixed. He drank the rest of the water on the nightstand, then realized that he really needed to pee, so he clambered out of bed and staggered to his bathroom.
When he came back out, Dean was still nowhere to be seen, so Sam went searching for him in the bunker. He really should have brought a blanket or something with, because not a minute later shivers started cursing up and down his spine from the cooler air in the hallways. He never put on a shirt since going off to bed either. And the stone felt really cold under his feet too. Right. No shoes or socks.
"Hhii'SHshieew" Sam sneezed into the crook of his arm now that he was lucid enough to pay attention. Dean catching this cold, and both of them out of commission could have disastrous consequences. Just imagine if a case rolled in this minute?
Never mind that even he did catch it, Dean probably wouldn't be so run over with it. Contrary to Sam, Dean's immune system was just fine, thank you very much. But that didn't occur to Sam at that moment.
Sam stumbled into the kitchen when he heard the opening of the bunker door echoing through the hallways. A few moments later the sound of Dean's boots drew closer, and he entered with his eyes glued to his phone, not noticing Sam there. Until he sneezed, that is.
"eh'tktSHoum" Sam caught the explosive sneeze in his palms, bending over with the force of it.
Dean practically jumped a few feet back, absolutely startled by the sudden noise. The bunker was starting to make him complacent, his trust in the place's defenses and warding muddling his hunter instincts while there. Also, he was certain that Sam would still be sleeping in his room, so his presence in the kitchen came as a complete surprise.
He almost dropped the shopping bag in his right hand in favor of reaching for his gun at the back of his jeans but stopped mid-motion when he realized it was just Sam and his sneezy cold making the ruckus.
"Sorry," Sammy offered, his voice muffled by his cupped hands he was hiding the messy outcome of his nasal outburst.
"Geez…" Dean exhaled exasperatedly, setting the spoils of his errand on the table with a bit of a shaky hand as he came off of the unused adrenalin rush. "What the hell are you doing barefoot and shirtless in the kitchen, moron? Do you want to catch your death?"
The older hunter proceeded with yanking his flannel shirt off – he had a T-shirt underneath anyway – and tossing it to his brother. Who didn't even so much as reach to catch it, the shirt falling prone on the table between them. Dean – noticing his brother's predicament – took a new box of tissues out of the shopping bag, pulled a few tissues out, offering them to Sam, which he gladly took.
"Just came to get something to drink," Sam said with an audible sniff before wiping his hands and giving his nose a good blow. He didn't put the shirt on though, too rough on his skin.
"Yeah, I got that apple juice you wanted, Sleeping Beauty," he offered, rummaging around the grocery bag for that too.
"Why would I want booze?" the ill hunter looked up, baffled. I mean, trial sickness, cold, all sorts of medication and all, mixed with alcohol was surely a recipe for disaster, right?
Dean muttered something very unfriendly under his breath about fevers and hazy memory before getting the juice box out of the bag and placing that in front of Sam too. "No, Sammy, actual apple juice."
"Oh," Sam glanced between the carton of juice and his brother, still having no recollection of asking for it. "Thanks, I guess."
Dean sighed. Getting mad was unquestionably futile, though a bit more gratefulness would have been nice. Sam's persistent utter shirtlessness didn't evade his attention either. Nor the fact that without the clothing you could really start to see how much weight he had lost in the last few weeks. Not that Sam had much fat to lose to begin with. Their lifestyle, the constant physical exertion, left them very lean and fit. So the gaunt look of his skin, sticking to the muscles – also affected by the weight loss surely – made Dean's heart clench.
"I'll bring you some in a minute," he offered gruffly, a bit irritated yet worried tone Sam had come to know so well recently. "Get back into bed before I freeze over from just watching you shiver."
And thankfully Sammy didn't put up a fight about it. Dean glanced back at the text he was just typing before the distractions.
Important. If you can please come by the bu
After a few seconds of contemplation, Dean discarded the draft. Cas was busy and rarely answered these days. There wasn't a guarantee that he could help anyway. Maybe the trials compromised the healing of other illnesses too. Things weren't that bad to get desperate yet.
When he got back to his bedroom, with the help of the walls at times to keep himself upright, Sam put on the softest shirt he owned and socks for good measure before climbing back into bed, because Dean had a point. He was just too out of it to think earlier when he had left the room.
As promised, just a few short minutes later Dean came in with water, apple juice, and even tea, just so that Sam could have a selection of fluids, and also added crackers to the mix.
"Given that you are coherent, I'm guessing the fever is better?" Dean asked his brother after setting the tray down.
"I think so, though I don't know," Sam admitted, and was met with a thermometer shoved in front of his face.
"You know the drill," was all Dean said as he sat down in the armchair that had become his sentry post.
Sam took it in his mouth without a word, watching Dean while they waited for the results. His brother was tired and worried that much was evident, but something else must have been on his mind too, because when the instrument beeped it didn't even seem to register with him.
"102.1," Sam said aloud, putting it back with the rest of the medical supplies, which finally caught Dean's attention.
"Yeah, that is technically better. But still too high," Dean frowned. Especially with the amount of antipyretics Sam had already taken. Maybe he really did need to call Cas. What could it hurt?
"I can… hiihhh…" his breath hitched, his nostrils flaring with the oncoming sneeze, but not quite enough to send him over the edge, so he tried to continue with his train of thought. "I could… take… ehehh… somethin' …eh'tshiew… else… hi'hktpshoum… heh'pSHEW…" Sam sneezed into his elbow before Dean shoved a few tissues his way.
"You done, Sneezy?" Dean teased as he regarded Sammy's expression flutter back into its pre-sneeze state. He hadn't understood anything from what Sam was trying to say, his voice too breathy and muffled by the sneezes and congestion.
"HA'KtmSHIEW-uhh…" came one last very forceful sneeze, followed by a wet gurgling nose blow. "As I was saying, I can take more medicine if you are that worried."
"You already had the Nyquil and two Ibuprofens not too long ago, so that's a no," his brother informed him. With the trials straining his organs – his liver surely too – risking even the slightest overdosing was not worth it. What to do? They could resume the cool washcloth routine, though Dean wasn't sure if it was helping at all.
"When did I… never mind," Sam paused mid-sentence, realizing that he must have been awake just not lucid sometime earlier, which would explain the worry, the wet washcloth and everything else that seemed off compared to what he remembered last.
"Just sleep, Sammy," the older hunter sighed.
"Not that tired actually," the ailing man disclosed. Well, he was. Sort of. Just not sleepy tired.
"Yeah? That's a new one," Dean commented incredulously. In the past two weeks, Sam had been practically passed out twelve to sixteen hours a day, always yawning when he was up. "What do you want to do?"
Sam paused for a moment, thinking. Something mindless or funny would be nice. For some reason trains were on his mind, which instantly made him think of Sheldon Cooper from that sitcom.
"TV show? Big Bang Theory?"
Dean had to laugh out loud. Something must have stuck subconsciously from the earlier wakefulness.
"Sure, man," he smiled as he pushed himself up from the armchair to hunt down one of their laptops.
"Not tired my ass…" Dean muttered quietly as he glanced to his side, away from the laptop screen.
A mere one and a half episodes in, Sam was already snoring loudly, leaning heavily on Dean's side, which was most likely unintentional on his part, their relationship was kind of strained at the moment. The sight would have been adorably endearing if it weren't for the immense amount of heat pouring off his skin, a painful reminder that Sam was awfully unwell.
Dean felt a strong urge to ruffle his hair in a sort of comforting, yet teasing manner, like he did when they were still kids, but resisted, not wanting to disturb his sleep. Instead, he chose to carefully readjust the blanket on Sammy's shoulder.
Despite his efforts, Sam stirred a bit, coughing lightly towards his chest before blinking up at his brother. Awkward embarrassment was evident on his face as he pulled away.
"I don't mind being your pillow, dumbass," the older brother chuckled. He would be Sam's crutch without any questions asked, anytime, anywhere.
When they got so awkward around each other, Dean didn't know. Too many breaking points to count. Yet they always bounced back. They were brothers after all. But realistically Dean knew Sam was shutting him out again because he chose to shoulder the burden of the Trials alone.
Much to the older hunter's surprise, Sam relaxed back against him, glassy eyes on the screen again.
"What did I miss?" he croaked hoarsely, congestion becoming more and more evident in his voice with every passing hour.
"Nothing much, but apparently flags are fun," Dean remarked sarcastically with a roll of his eyes.
"Huh?" Sammy glanced towards him, utterly confused. He must not have seen this episode yet before, which came as a great surprise to Dean.
As an explanation, he just clicked to the beginning of the episode so his brother could watch Sheldon's gawky attempt at making vexillology interesting with Amy's assistance.
"Did you know that the flag of Mozambique features an AK-47?" the younger Winchester muttered out after that segment was finished, frowning at the laptop as he watched the rest of the geeky silliness unfold, seemingly his mind not that into it.
"Seriously, Sammy?" Dean snapped his head to the side with a bewildered expression. Only Sam could pull out random facts out of his ass, even when his brain was slowly cooking.
"Yeah, seriously," he mumbled, the sardonic tone completely flying over his head in his current state, crediting his brother's incredulity to the people of Mozambique for the idea to put a firearm on their coat of arms.
Dean's scowl deepened. The fever caused by the Trials hasn't been making him as fuzzy as this stupid cold, Sam was usually quick to notice when his brother was teasing him. Sneakily Dean slid his hand onto Sam's forehead again, only to be shaken off with an annoyed grunt. Though that small touch was enough to note that it didn't seem warmer than before, Dean wondered if enough time had passed to shove an Aspirin or something down Sam's throat, since the Ibuprofen obviously had no effect.
"I'm fine," the younger hunter irately mumbled, then snapped forward with an unexpected sneeze, not even able to cover. "He'KTSHEEW"
"Dude, gross!" Dean exclaimed, noticing that Sam had managed to spray the screen of the laptop.
"Sorry," the ill guy sniffed, his eyes apologetic in a huge puppy dog eyes kind of way, before burying his face behind a wad of tissues, shifting away from his brother.
Dean grumpily snatched a few from the box too and began cleaning the screen of the electronic device. He wished he had thought of hand sanitizers when he was out, but he wasn't going to make another trip for just that.
He placed the notebook down in the armchair he had been occupying earlier and slid off the bed to go and wash his hands because he needed to stay on top of his game to take care of Sammy, so catching his was absolutely out of the question.
When he got back to the room, the older Winchester had a feeling that movie time was over given how Sammy was snuggled back under the blanket, so Dean wrung the washcloth from the basin on the floor and placed it on Sam's forehead.
"I'll check back on you in like an hour or so, okay?" Dean asked, uncharacteristically softly from him.
"Mm, sure," Sam mumbled, almost claimed by sleep again, his eyelids heavy. Dean was about to leave the room when suddenly he spoke up again. "Thank you."
Dean's eyes softened even further, touched by his brother's words.
"Anytime," he replied as he quietly closed the door behind himself.
Once outside Dean fired off that text to Castiel anyway, even knowing that the angel most likely wouldn't come, and despite the fact that their last encounter had been one of the scariest experiences of his life. Cas almost killed him, under the brainwashing of Naomi. Bashed his head in too many times to count. Still, Dean felt the need to try, hoping that the angel had fully snapped out of whatever was going on with him at the time.
That hour was spent with all sorts of domestic activities that truthfully Dean welcomed because it meant they had some sort of permanence. Dishes, laundry, cooking. When he had been living with Lisa and Ben, doing yard work, like raking leaves gave him the same sort of normalcy and comfort. None of these were needed in a motel.
What he absolutely did not want to walk in on when he returned to Sam's room was him hacking up a lung, and yet that's what he got, so he instantly wished he had never left in the first place. Then he would have been there to help, and might not have gotten so out of hand. Sam was curled up on his side, tissues pressed to his mouth, face contorted from the pain.
"Easy there," Dean hauled him into a sitting position quickly to ease his breathing, taking the brunt of his weight as he let him lean back against him. He almost started praying to Cas to show up right that second, when finally the fit started to subside.
"M'fine…" Sam gasped. "Just Trial stuff."
"How can you tell?" the older brother inquired, sincerely interested.
"Dry cough," he said simply.
"Yeah, that's how every chest infection starts off," Dean grumbled irritatedly.
"I know… but it just feels different," the younger hunter sighed, unable to really describe it. At least he was sure there was no congestion in his chest, it was just a need to cough without seemingly having a cause.
"I still reserve the right to stuff you with cough syrup," Dean conceded, taking the slightly bloody tissues from Sam to hurl into the trash can by the bed.
Sam chuckled, his mind conjuring vivid images of Dean actually stuffing the entire bottle of medicine into his mouth, along with the bottle. He let himself sag further against Dean, and they would have tipped over if it weren't for the headboard behind his brother.
"This feels nostalgic," Sam commented wistfully.
"You mean when you were six or something with pneumonia and couldn't sleep in any other position than with your back propped against me?" Dean clarified though honestly there wasn't really any other instance his little brother could be talking about.
"Yeah," he nodded. "You even got Dad to abort a hunt that time, didn't you?"
"Yup, he wasn't thrilled, to say the least," the older Winchester rolled his eyes. More like furious that Dean dared to call him, going off on a tirade about risks, distractions and what constituted as emergencies. That is until Dean just cut him off and told him that Sam had a fever of 104.5 and probably pneumonia because he was coughing so bad, and they didn't have any money left for medicine. He was ten, seriously considering to break into a pharmacy if their Dad hadn't shown up by the next day.
"I was so delirious that when he barged in all angry, for a moment, I thought he was a monster and we were done for. The only thing that kept me from panicking was the fact that you were right there behind me, relatively calm and just holding me," Sam rambled on, resting against his brother, soaking up the familiar feeling of comfort.
"You never told me that," Dean mused, recalling that Sammy had jumped a bit when the motel door swung open with a loud bang, John barging in, practically guns blazing, but he just hadn't realized how distorted the world must have felt to his brother back then.
"Never came up," the younger hunter just shrugged.
"At least he brought antibiotics…" his green eyes flickered with an idea. "Maybe those wouldn't be such a bad idea now either."
"Colds and the flu are viral infections, antibiotics are useless," Sam threw in this marvelous piece of knowledge out there with a tone that suggested duh.
"Preemptive measure," Dean countered since Sam's general state of health just begged for a secondary infection.
"Suit hiii…" he trailed off, breath hitching, and this time he had enough time to snatch tissues from the box by his legs, leaning forward as he anticipated the sneeze. "your… self… eh… hep'TSHOO… hik'SHEW… hee…"
"Bless you," the older brother said, even though Sam didn't seem to be finished yet, and winced slightly at how painful those sounded.
"I'mb so dode wid dis already…" he mumbled into the tissue, completely congested from the snot that was loosened with the last two, his nose still tickling desperately. "hek'TSCHOUM…"
"I know," Dean tried to sound reassuring as Sam blew his nose, rubbing his back soothingly, but truthfully he wished this to be over already too, and they have been only going at it for half a day.
"Bless," Dean replied out of reflex, but yet again Sam seemed to just go on and on, sneezing.
"I… can't… hii… stop… hi'kti… hkshsh… heh'tsh…" Sam sneezed in small staccato, trying to contain their force somewhat because his throat was hurting like hell from the earlier harsher ones. His eyes were watering now from the incessant tickle, and he knew there should be at least one more. He craved some sort of relief from this torture so much.
"Done?" Dean tried hopefully.
"Ndo…" the desperation was so evident in that one strangled little sound that Dean really felt sorry for his little brother. "He'PTSCHOUM"
"Rudolf would be proud," the older Winchester couldn't help but tease Sam when he caught sight of his face. His nose was practically glowing under the abuse as he blew it once more, then rubbed it until the last of the itch dissipated.
"Shud up," Sam sniffed as he threw a glare at his brother over his shoulder, breathing through his mouth partially, because his nose was getting too blocked up, despite the fact that he had just blown it.
"Maybe when you can say that properly," Dean smirked. Bantering Sammy meant he was fully himself, which was a good sign.
"Can'd I just sleep undil dis is over?" the ill brother sighed tiredly.
Dean glanced at his watch.
"I guess, you could take some more Nyquil now," he allowed lackadaisically, hoping very much that this time Sammy would be able to rest a bit more.
Nyquil induced loopiness had to be one of the funniest things invented by mankind. Although why Sam was fighting off sleep, Dean had no idea. A few minutes earlier he had been begging to be able to just sleep through the whole ordeal of this cold. Now, he was curled up on his side, watching cat videos on his laptop – that was turned sideways to give him a better view – grinning and giggling at the antics of the cute animals like a schoolgirl between sniffling and dabbing at his runny nose. Occasionally, the younger Winchester even looked up with eager, if not slightly dazed eyes, begging his brother to come see the source of his entertainment.
Alright, Dean had a confession to make. He might have dosed Sammy up just a teeny tiny bit more than the recommended amount. The older hunter honestly hoped that would result in instant drowsiness and sleep. Should have seen this coming though, it literally wouldn't even be Sam if he didn't cross Dean's plans somehow, even if unintentionally.
Dean actually wasn't all that happy with the situation, despite the amusement his brother's childlike glee might have brought him. Just the mere sight of cats had a phantom itch going in his sinuses as if the dander was actually present in the room with him. Stupid allergies.
So he let his brother be for the moment, leaving the room with plans to make yet another supply run. One that would involve either tracking down a doctor willing to prescribe antibiotics without seeing the patient or breaking into a pharmacy to get the ones the doctor would have recommended. Oh, and hand sanitizers. Can't forget the hand sanitizers. He started to feel like a glorified errand boy, but damn him if he wasn't going to do everything in his power to cure his brother. Even if it was just a cold that was in his power to cure. Or at least ease. With one last glance at Sam, who still seemed pleasantly occupied, Dean headed out.
Night had fallen, painting the sky in gorgeous deep purplish blues, the first stars beginning to twinkle in the east where it was the darkest, just the thinnest slice of a crescent moon rising in the southeast. Being nearly 11 PM, no doctor's office would be open by now besides the ER. That left the hunter's quest easier so to speak. No need to cajole people into doing morally questionable things when he could just sneak in and out, taking what he needed without detection or harming anyone.
Some innocent lock-picking, fake information scribbling, and signature forging later, Dean was one prescription richer, heading towards the pharmacy in Smith Center when a shadow moving way too fast to be natural caught his attention in one of the alleys to his left. It was just a split of a second, and he was sure no one not trained to notice this kind of stuff would have seen anything, but it was definitely there.
Brows furrowed, he slowed Baby, on the look out for anything peculiar as he parked at the side of the street. There were no reports of mysterious deaths around the area as far as he was aware, but that didn't mean that nothing supernatural lurked about. But seriously, here? And now? Not that monsters had any idea that the Winchester's base of operation was in the smack middle of the continental U.S., or that the timing couldn't have been worse. The situation also left the older Winchester woefully unprepared since he had no idea what was hiding in the dark in this particular instance, and no way to find out before heading into the thick of it either.
Gun carefully tucked into the back of his jeans, Dean exited the car, going to the trunk to get some additional gear as his eyes scanned the street while his mind sifted through the possible creatures that were likely to turn up in an urban setting and also possessed super speed. Vampires were a likely culprit, so the hunter was sure to grab a machete just in case. The phase of the moon wasn't right for werewolves, and the chance of a pure-blood was slim, but with all the different creatures that were vulnerable to silver, not taking a silver knife would have been foolish so Dean shoved one of those into his utility jacket too.
The older Winchester closed the boot as quietly as he could, making his way inconspicuously but gun ready to the alley that had caught his attention in the first place. He knew that whatever was going bump in the night in this instance could be long gone from this particular spot by now, but he had to check anyway. If he found nothing, then he would go home and do a more thorough search through the news and police databases tomorrow, but it would be preferable to take care of this tonight. Before the monster had a chance to actually kill someone.
The back street was empty lest the few grungy, dark green dumpsters that belonged to the businesses on either side. After checking behind and inside of each, Dean cast his eyes upwards to ascertain that no unpleasant surprises waited for him from that direction. Nada. Nothing. A fire escape led to one of the roofs in a zig zag pattern, but not a soul hiding there either. Still, the hunter just had this feeling – his Spidey-senses tingling if you must – that was telling him that something was amiss.
Not even a second later, someone – or rather something – attacked him from behind, throwing him with great force into the side of the dumpster to his left, his temple connecting hard with the corner.
Meanwhile back in his room in the Bunker, Sam's mirth with all that are cats quickly faded, the distinct lack of a brother entering his consciousness, making him confused. Staring at the monitor for too long had also left him enervated and with the beginning of a migraine. The ill hunter rubbed at his tired eyes which did nothing more than making them itchy and watery.
In turn that translated to a tickle deep in his sinuses. Sam sighed, knowing very well where this was going and not liking it one bit.
"Heehh…eh… he'tshew… he'kshsh… ugh…" he sneezed tiredly to his side into the pillow. His head was completely full of snot, and somewhere in the back of his mind, he knew he ought to do something about it – preferably with some tissues – but he utterly lacked the energy to act on that instinct, instead snuffling hard.
A shiver ran up his spine, and he pawed feebly for the edge of his blanket to pull it closer around his shoulders despite the fact that the clothes on him and all this other fabric around his body felt stifling and rough on his skin. Sam just felt chilled to the bone. Although that didn't last long. He had probably dozed off for a few minutes, after which he woke feeling overheated and sweating. In response, the younger Winchester kicked off the covers.
Sam couldn't get comfortable no matter how hard he tried. He had turned on to his back from his side, trying to cool off, but it caused the congestion to shift in his sinuses.
"Hi'ktshi… hkshsh… heh'tsh…" three sneezes erupted from him before he could even cover, making him realize that blowing was inevitable now, evident by the trickle of drainage leaking from his nose. Sam sat up, fighting against dizziness as he reached for the box of tissues, pushing a wad of them to his nose right in time to catch a big one. "He'KTSCHOUM"
It was so harsh that it had left his throat even more sore than it was before as he blew his nose. But at least now that he was upright he could breathe a little better, the cottony fog on his mind lifting just a tiny bit.
Taking advantage of being already halfway to standing, Sam decided to take care of his pressing bladder. All the tea Dean had forced him to drink had finally made it through his system. Not that he blamed him for it, but the task of making it to the toilet unassisted suddenly seemed like an insurmountable challenge. The younger Winchester wondered briefly where his brother had gone off to before taking a big breath to prepare him for the exertion of getting fully vertical, which only led him to cough. Hard and painfully. And it wasn't just the dry cough of the Trials either. Not much, but he felt a bit of congestion lower in his airways shift with that cough. That was not good. Maybe he ought to tell Dean about that once he got back from wherever he was.
Once he caught his breath again, he braced himself to take another shot at getting up to pee. This time succeeding.
"Son of a bitch…" Dean grumbled under his breath as he entered the Bunker an hour later, wishing that he had gotten something stronger for his splitting headache than an Advil. After dispatching the vampire that had attacked him to Purgatory, bandaging up his bleeding head wound and getting the antibiotics for Sam from the pharmacy, he had made his way home, though at a slower pace than usual. Maybe seeing double occasionally had something to do with that. He didn't want to risk ending up in a ditch with the Impala.
"Deand…" Sam's stuffy and groggy voice from the bottom of the stairs greeted the older Winchester, making him jump slightly. He hadn't noticed him.
"Sam… geez… you gotta stop doing that," Dean gasped as he made his way down the stairs with heavy steps, appraising his brother's current state of health with squinted eyes. For someone barely standing on his feet, Sam was quite stealthy. Or maybe it was just Dean too out of it to pay attention to his surroundings. "What are you doing out of bed?"
"Is that blood?" the ill hunter asked with eyes wide, ignoring the question as he noticed the darker patch on the left shoulder of Dean's coat. Then the butterfly bandage at his brother's hairline caught Sam's attention. "What happended to you?"
"Oh, this? Nothing just bumped my head on the decklid," Dean lied instantly, not wanting to burden Sam. He's got enough problems of his own at the moment.
"Hehshoo…hekshoum… hi'ktsch…" Sam sneezed into the palm of his hands suddenly, staggering slightly as his head swam. Dean rushed to steady him, struggling with his own vertigo for a moment before he caught his brother's elbow, ensuring that the both of them stayed on their feet.
"Bless you," the older Winchester offered as his brother reached a hand out behind his back to find the wall and lean against it. "Come on, let's get you horizontal again and some antibiotics in you."
Based on the heat he could feel radiating off of Sam, some Tylenol or something else for the fever too.
"Deand…" the younger brother repeated breathily with eyes clenched closed, sniffling as he fought against the drainage that threatened to leak from his nose.
"Yeah?" Dean asked, growing desperate to get Sam back to bed before he lost all energy to stay upright. He wasn't sure he would be able to carry him back to his room at the moment, having precarious balance himself too.
"Dond't lie to mbe…" Sam suddenly glared at him with tired but determined eyes. Even with sweaty hair sticking to his forehead and dark circles under his eyes, Sam looked like an undeterrable force of nature, demanding answers.
Dean gulped, nodding as he contemplated his options. He was sure Sam wouldn't let this go until something akin to the truth was revealed so he might as well speed up the process. The sooner Sam went back to bed the better. "Just a lone vampire three towns over. Took care of it, nothing to worry about. Unlike a stubborn little brother, who is plenty to worry about."
The frown didn't leave Sam's features at hearing that. If anything it morphed into his patented bitch face. Though he did let Dean weave a hand behind his back to support him as he guided him back towards his room without a word.
Once Sam was safely back in bed, dosed up on all sorts of pills and with a cool washcloth on his forehead, Dean finally let out a sigh of relief. Not that there was much to be relieved about, given his brother's 103.2 fever. And the reprieve didn't last very long either. Once all brotherly caretaking duties were out of the way, the headache and constant sense of dizziness quickly converted into nausea, prompting Dean to bolt out of the room towards the bathroom.
As Dean prayed to the porcelain goddess, offering his lunch as a generous sacrifice, he heard shuffling footsteps enter the bathroom, then someone settling down beside him on the floor.
Sam had been kind of suspicious that something was off about Dean from the moment he saw him at the top of the stairs upon his return. He had been just a bit too unsteady on his feet to be normal. Plus the fact that apparently, Dean hadn't heard the loud coughing ring through the halls as Sam approached and was startled by his presence once he had called his name had raised all sorts of alarms in Sam's mind.
Of course, that all could have been written off as exhaustion, which wouldn't have been odd with having a seriously ill brother to take care of, were it not for the gash on Dean's temple that he so adamantly tried to play off as nothing. Dean suddenly paling and turning all kinds of shades of green and running for the bathroom was the last clue the younger hunter needed to put the picture together finally.
His brain was half way to boiling itself, excuse him for being slower on the uptake than usual. But now that he was aware, he was going to make sure Dean was taking care of himself as much as he was taking care of Sam.
Damn it, the older Winchester thought during a small lull in his upchuck. He would have really wanted to hide this particular little predicament from his brother. That freaking vampire getting the jump on him was not one of his proudest moments for sure. Suffering the consequences of it should be his own problem too. Especially with his hunting partner being practically incapacitated too. But before he could say anything to throw Sam off the scent, another wave hit him so hard that for a moment he wished he was dead instead. This was utter torture. His head felt like it was splitting in half, starbursts dancing at the edge of his vision. And he was tired. So fucking tired. He just wanted this to end already.
"So which lie are you goigg to feed me?" Sam asked in a quiet, raspy tone after he settled down on the hard floor enough to know that he wouldn't topple over in the next minute. He had half a mind to rub Dean's back with a light, comforting touch but opted against it. Partially because he wasn't sure how Dean would react to the touchy-feely approach, secondly, he was almost certain that he wouldn't be able to keep his arm lifted for long enough to actually achieve his purpose. "Stombach bug? Had too mbuch to dringk?"
"Both?" Dean joked with a smirk once he got some reprieve again, though it was clear that this little episode had him utterly exhausted if the way he had laid his head down on the toilet seat was anything to go by. The older hunter was a bit of a germaphobe and would have never willingly made contact with something so repugnant with his face if he could help it.
"Nice try," he looked at Dean's pale, sweaty features unamusedly. "I mbay be feverish, but ndot stupidd. Recedt head traumba andd vombitigg still equal congcussiond…"
"Oh, shut up," the older brother jibed dismissively even though deep down he knew it was the truth. Being too caught up in pretending, he missed the way Sam trailed off, his breath catching just a little bit as a tickle in his nose made more and more a nuisance of itself.
"Plus… you'd ndever get… huhhh… hambbered out of your mbindd whilehehhh… while… I was... hihh... I…" the younger hunter to tried get through his sentence before he lost control. Clearly, that was an exercise in futility. His nose twitched, his eyes fluttered closed as he lost the battle of wills against the itch.
"Sam?" the older Winchester finally noticed that something was off, glancing toward his brother at the exact time when he buried his face in his palms, mouth already hanging half-open to accommodate the sudden intake of breath.
"Hehhhhh… hektcheew… huhEshshsh… hae'kchsheeewwww-uh…" Sam glanced back up with bleary eyes, fumbling with one hand in the pockets of his sweatpants for a tissue, while he covered his face and the snotty mess present there with his other.
"Okay, we are done sitting on the cold tiles," Dean declared once Sam was done with blowing and cleaning himself up, clambering up from the floor. Not without great difficulty but he managed to keep himself from hurling again as the change in altitude redoubled the nausea he was experiencing, and extended a hand to his brother to help him up too. He also tried to pointedly ignore his disgust at the grossness of touching Sam's hands that had just been blasted with a liberal spray of germs.
At least, there was the hand sanitizer… Oh, no. The hand sanitizer. He had totally forgotten to buy some between having his head bashed in and getting fake prescriptions filled, meanwhile internally worrying about getting caught in the fraud.
God, they were a complete and utter mess.
Sam didn't protest to the offered assistance to get him off the floor. Honestly, he wasn't sure he would have made it on his own without his brother's strong pull that helped against gravity. Though it was forceful enough that the younger Winchester even overbalanced a bit, almost falling against Dean, threatening to bring them both down again with a painful thud. Fortunately, he managed to catch himself on the sink, hanging his head to rest on Dean's shoulder for just a minute. The way up was just a tad too quick for his liking.
"Sammy?" the older hunter inquired in an almost panic, taking a step back to lean against the sink and have something to take the brunt of their combined weight while bringing an arm up hastily around Sam's side to make sure he didn't fall. Feeling the immense heat pouring off his brother's skin at the side of his neck was not helping with that sense of alarm either.
It had been eons since his brother had actively sought him out for any kind of comfort. Not that Dean hadn't done plenty to discourage him over the last few months. Ever since the whole Purgatory fiasco, Benny and Amelia, there were a lot of unsaid grievances between them that made the show of brotherly support kind of awkward – and sometimes even unwelcome from the other side.
There had been a short period of time when Dean had thought they had gotten past the mutual hurt. Then the Trials started, and it had become evident that Sam had retreated back into his shell again, shutting him out while he tried to shoulder all of the burdens alone in a misguided attempt to demonstrate to Dean that he was trustworthy. Committed to the family business, so to speak. Meanwhile, Dean was progressively getting more and more freaked out about losing his brother for real this time.
"I'mb goodd," Sam muttered breathily. "Just dizzy."
Tell me 'bout it, Dean groaned internally but wisely kept his mouth shut. Worrying his brother was not going to help.
"Think you done with the chick flick moment then?" the older Winchester said out loud instead, in a humorous attempt to get his brother to stay upright with his own strength because he was about five seconds from his knees buckling if he had to continue to bear both of their weight.
Despite everything, Sam chuckled at the very distinct Dean-ism that had left his brother's mouth. He had missed these lighthearted, bantering moments, to be honest. In general, everything had been just so freaking intense these past few years, they barely ever had time to just be in peace and be brothers. Unfortunately, he was given no chance to reminisce further about the good old times, since the air caught just the wrong way in his throat from the way his head was hung forward, eliciting an instant coughing fit. The younger Winchester quickly pulled away from his brother, finding support with one hand on the opposite wall, covering his mouth with the elbow of his other arm, not wanting to infect Dean and hoping he wouldn't hear how congested he sounded.
"That definitely sounds worse than before," the slightly shorter hunter remarked with furrowed brows, his concern for his brother clearing the growing fogginess on his mind some. Having a mission to focus on did miracles.
You had just shoved antibiotics down my throat, not much more could be done, Sam thought to himself on the inside, shrugging bone-wearily on the outside. At least no blood on this go around.
"Guess time for that bottle of cough syrup," Dean sighed as if reading his brother's thoughts and dead set on contradicting them.
Sam frowned and shuddered at the mere memory of the foul tasting syrup. Of course, the bodily reaction was interpreted as being chilled by the older Winchester, so he pushed himself away from the sink, happy to find that his balance remained intact for the time being and began to gently guide his brother towards the door to get out of the bathroom finally.
"Quit touchigg mbe," Sam huffed in half-hearted irritation, shaking Dean's hand off of his elbow with the ferocity of a butterfly wing flutter.
Wouldn't have been a challenge to keep his hold, but Dean let go anyway because he was aware of his brother's discomfort, and just rolled his eyes at his stubbornness when Sam had to instantly catch himself on the wall the moment the small support Dean had been giving was gone. The older brother had a lesson of his own to learn too. Concussion + Eye-rolling = Bad idea. It made the hallway swim a little, but he managed not to fall over or trip up over his own feet. With some more luck, maybe Sam hadn't even noticed a thing.
Or maybe he did because the first thing his freakishly tall younger brother did once they got to his room was to have Dean sit down on the sofa, while he pawed away with squinted eyes at the bandage at the edge of his forehead, assessing the damage.
Dean winced the second his fingers touched the tender area.
"You're an idiot you kndow that right?" Sam huffed, not articulating the rest of the monologue that was on his mind. You could have an epidural or subdural hematoma, bleeding into your brain, forming a dangerous blood clot… Have a stroke… Die… He thought alone almost made his breath hitch with panic.
"I'm okay, Sammy," Dean snapped back because he didn't want to go there. "Sit down before you fall on me."
Sam, despite his raging fever, was not giving up until he got to the bottom of the seriousness of Dean's injury. He was grateful to Dean though for having relocated their first aid kit earlier in the day into his room because now he didn't have to find the energy in himself to go hunt it down for a small flash light. Small blessings in an otherwise shitty situation.
"Look at mbe," the younger brother ordered, clear from his tone that he was not taking no for an answer. With some barely audible fuming about pushy brothers and his reluctance evident from his tensed shoulders aside Dean did oblige in the end without much fuss.
The fact that Dean's pupillary response was symmetrical when he flickered the light in front of his eyes eased Sam's mind a bit. Also the lack of slurred speech, unconsciousness, convulsions or seizures. Agitation was almost a guaranteed given where his brother was considered, so that didn't much raise a red flag. The vomiting and decreased coordination were worrying him though. Did he need to take Dean to the hospital? That was a daunting task in itself because he wasn't sure he would be up to driving at all, much less the Impala.
"Stop with that," the older Winchester grunted, pushing the light out of his line of sight, though there was significantly less bite to his bark. Sam was just worried. A feeling he was familiar with too, just the other way around. If he showed that he was fine, his brother would stop worrying. Yeah, right. When did Sam's reassurances ever stop Dean from worrying?
"Double visiond?... Weakdess ond onde side?... Deand, talk to be..." Sam rattled off symptoms he knew he was supposed to check for, desperate to make sure his brother wasn't dying. Meanwhile, he didn't even realize his own balance was wavering.
Dean noticed though.
"Geez, quit fussing, Sam, just sit the fuck down," he clambered up, pushing Sam back two steps until his calves met the edge of the bed, right when his breath started to hitch.
"I'mb… hehh'kshoum… haeh… hahkchshshsh… hahkchoum!" Sam's head bobbed up and down with each sneeze, pushing his precarious equilibrium over the edge, allowing Dean to finally get him off his feet.
"Glad we agree on that," Dean grumbled, measuring a dose of cough syrup out for his brother while he was busy blowing his nose. "Drink."
The younger Winchester threw him a dirty look, but accepted the little plastic cup and downed the medicine in one gulp, hoping that would lessen the inevitable shudder that would follow. It didn't.
"You cold?" the older hunter briskly asked, still peeved a little by the manhandling his barely lucid brother was able to put him through.
"Ndo, that stuff is just ndasty," Sam sighed, rubbing his tired eyes. He was barely running on fumes, but he was fighting against sleep with all his might, holding onto the side of the bed with clenched fists.
"Just freaking lie down already, okay?" Dean pleaded, his tone almost desperate when a minute later Sam still refused to go down. His younger brother just shook his head. "Why not?" he quirked his brow.
So stubborn. Mules could take lessons from Sam. Seriously.
"Cand't sleep," the sick man offered the short and rather uninformative but obviously nonsensical answer.
"I beg to differ, you look dead on your feet… or rather… ass," the older Winchester remarked sternly, not amused at all.
With the slow and heavy blinks he was receiving as a response, he was giving Sam maybe a minute or two tops before he crashed. And Sam better be horizontal before then because Dean really didn't want to mop him up off of the floor. He wasn't sure he would be able to, quite honestly. The room finally just now stopped spinning for him, but he had a feeling that bending down would bring it back with a vengeance.
"Ndo. You cand't sleep with a fresh cogcussiod…. After vombitigg… Risk of aspirationd…" Sam explained drowsily, interrupted by a huge yawn of his own. "Gotta stay awake to mbake sure…"
"No, all you have to make sure is that you get better. Now go to sleep before I knock you out," Dean insisted, practically pushing Sam down by his shoulders. He was met with barely any resistance at all, and he would bet a hundred dollars that Sam was deeply asleep by the time his head hit the pillow.
Dean wearily lowered himself back into the armchair, rubbing one hand down his face, wishing the throbbing pain in his head away. Also contemplating whether calling reinforcements in had become paramount yet or not. Castiel, of course, never got back to him, doing who knows what and where. Good for him. One thing was for sure though, if Cas was stuffing his face with burgers at Biggerson's, while the brothers in the Bunker were on the verge of proverbial – and literal if Sam's temperature was anything to go by – meltdown, Dean was seriously going to fuck him up.
That is if he managed to stay awake for it. Dean kept nodding off, each time startled back to consciousness with a jolt by the memory of Sam's panicked instructions and warnings of risks associated with concussions popping into his mind, despite his nausea having eased significantly now that he wasn't moving around much. The fact that he absolutely loathed the idea of leaving his brother without any kind of supervision also didn't help matters. Sam's lightning fast progression with this illness – supposedly just a mere cold – was way too fast for it to be normal. What seemed like only a sore throat and a few sneezes here and there that morning – barely dampening Sam's ability to still mill about and do their research, trying to figure out what the next trial would be, even if at a reduced speed – was now a plethora of symptoms pointing more to a very severe case of the flu. There weren't many ways this could escalate from here and neither option filled Dean with anything but dread. Pneumonia… fever induced coma… death…
Especially since all signs pointed towards Dean not being up to the task of doing anything for Sam once he went from barely able to stand to not at all. And it's not like he had that many people to call on should the need arise.
Dean missed Bobby something crazy right about now. Sure they had the Bunker now, which was as close to permanence as they had come since… well, ever since Mom died, but it in no way substituted for the support the gruff hunter and his house in Sioux Falls used to mean to them. Sure the water pressure here was great, but it was still only the two of them, with no one else to rely on.
Cas was… unpredictable and generally unreliable to say the least. Not that the angel wouldn't be there for the big stuff – Apocalypses and such – but the mundane struggles… those were utterly left to the two brothers to deal with.
Jody lived a bit too far away to call on for trivial matters like sicknesses, and she had her to job to worry about anyway. Not to mention that Dean was always reluctant to drag her into the chaos of the Winchester life. Who knows when something ugly decided to take a swipe at them.
Charlie… Charlie had just left not even three days ago. Was she still around? Topeka was a mere three hours away. Had she dealt with her mom yet? But Sam was awfully evasive about the Trials and his condition in front of her. Maybe he didn't even want to be seen like this. Weak, falling apart.
And that pretty much finished off the list. Kevin was still missing, and even if he weren't, the prophet would have been better off on Garth's boat in hiding. So yeah… that was it. Everyone else they had ever cared for was dead. And even if not, honestly who did they used to have such a relationship with that they would have felt comfortable with showing this much vulnerability around them? Ellen and Jo? Maybe, though probably not.
God, this is depressing, Dean sighed, resting his head on the back of the sofa as he stared at the ceiling, willing that train of thought away. With the concussion, his emotions were just a tad too raw to go down this rabbit hole.
Somewhere between the muddled swirling thoughts and Sammy's soft snores sleep did manage to claim him finally around 2 AM, providing some much-needed rest. The issue at hand could wait until the next day.
Dean was startled out of his dream, he could already not remember the details of. Something having to do with angels and demons for sure. The next second, hands were frantically shaking Dean's shoulder, trying to rouse him.
"What? Lea'me alone," the older Winchester grumbled, listlessly attempted to push that hand off without opening his eyes. Way too early for this ruckus.
"Thagk God," came the relieved exhale from his right that finally caught Dean's attention. There was such desperation in the voice that he couldn't ignore it.
He struggled to peek through his eyelids, the world out of focus for a little while, but he still managed to make out his brother's hunched form over him. Unbeknownst to Dean, Sam had been trying to wake him for over a minute now, and each second that passed with success having made him more and more frightened for his brother's life.
"What's the time?" Dean asked groggily, straightening in his seat. He had a crick in his neck, and the remnants of a headache were still bothering him, but honestly, he felt a lot better than before. Maybe all he needed was a good dose of rest.
"Ndinde," Sam supplied the answer. His voice was so congested that Dean barely made out what he was saying.
"What?" he quipped back with squinted eyes. He needed a coffee or a hundred right about now, just to start the day even though he slept way more than he was used to.
"Ndinde, ind the mborndingg," the younger hunter repeated, without much more clarity. Despite the stuffiness, he didn't quite as shaky as the day before either. There was a fraction of more color to his complexion too, much to Dean's relief.
"Sorry, what?" Dean smirked, throwing the question back despite having guessed what Sam was trying to say the first time around too. Sick or no, little brother's were just too fun to tease. Especially, when they already seem on the mend.
Sam sighed exasperatedly, giving up, and looking utterly peeved with his brother as he straightened up. "Ndot funndy."
"The fact that you have the capacity to be upset about it begs to differ."
"Jerk," Sam muttered irritatedly, surprisingly, that word not getting muffled by the stuffiness.
"That's the spirit, bitch," Dean huffed a laugh, missing Sam's rather obvious pre-sneeze face as he stood up.
Though apparently, Sam wasn't aware of what was about to happen either, because it caught him utterly off-guard.
"Huhshshsh-uh…" he ducked his face to the side, but not quite able to cover the entirety of the spray with his hands.
"Dude, what the…?!" the older Winchester exclaimed indignantly as he felt some of that wetness land on his arm, effectively any and all brotherly bonding thrown out the window. He was not finding the situation funny at all anymore.
Sam looked back up sheepishly, though somewhere in the back of his mind he felt this was karmic justice for his slightly germaphobic brother.
The antibiotics did their thing alright, Sam was sort of better a few days later, at least where his head cold was considered. The congestion, sneezing eased up. The cough he had never progressed further but stubbornly remained though, and something shifted with his Trial ailments too after this little episode. His fevers stayed just a little higher each time, sapping even more of his strength with each passing day.
When Dean tried to keep the tentative agreement, they had seemed to reach while Sam still sick, regarding eating – quite unsuccessfully – Sam had confided that the Trails were transforming him.
"This isn't a cold. Or just a fever, or whatever it is you're supposed to feed to make all better. This is part of it all. Those first two trials... they're not just things I did. They're doing something to me. They're changing me, Dean," he said in a tone that suggested he had accepted whatever his fate would be from here on out.
That should've been Dean's warning that this could not end well.
Or when Sam ran a fever of 107, and he had to dunk him in a bathtub full of ice water while they were on the hunt for Metatron.
Those should've been the signs that Sam couldn't possibly make it out of this alive, and he should just shut this whole thing down no matter how tempting closing the Gates of Hell sounded.
Yet it Dean stubbornly believed and went along with the process right until the very end, where nothing short of a miracle could save Sam.
Guess good thing that the angels got cast out of heaven, huh? 'Cause that was nothing short of a miracle, and possibly the only thing capable of saving Sam was an angel possessing him. How handy for suddenly a bunch of them to be milling around aimlessly on Earth.
Too bad Dean had to betray Sam's trust to actually see that plan through.
Still, he would have done it a thousand times over, because there isn't anything, past or present, that Dean would put in front of Sam! Ever.
He is the only one he has got.