Summary: Sam gets sick, and somehow that's the least of their problems.
Characters: Sam, Dean, Bobby, OC
Disclaimer: After the latest PCA fiasco, the networks don't deserve them. Come live with me, Sam and Dean! I will take very good care of you, I promise! ¬_¬
Warnings: Spoilers up to 7.09, but more heavily focused on early Season 7
Neurotic Author's Note #1: This is an attempt at a prompt by the lovely and talented vail_kagami for the Sam-focused h/c challenge at ohsam. The prompt ran thus: Sam got hurt or sick or has another Hell-related breakdown. The Leviathans are on the lookout for them, they are officially-dead serial killers, and so Dean and Bobby deal with it the usual way: The panic room may be gone, but the new place has a basement and that'll do just fine. Eventually they have no other choice but to get a doctor, though - and that doctor is more than shocked to find someone in that state stored in a basement. He's even more shocked when he learns that it's not the first time. I don't really care how it happens, I just want someone to chew Dean and Bobby out for their way of dealing with Sam when he should be in a hospital.
Neurotic Author's Note #2: I'm not super happy with how this turned out, but I think I've been staring at it for so long I've gone cross-eyed and I am no longer able to be objective about it, so I'm just going to post and hope for the best.
Neurotic Author's Note #3: This isn't actually an outsider POV, but there is an OC. That's about as close as I got to the original prompt. /o\
It's Bobby who notices it first, which is a first in and of itself. "Your brother ain't looking too good," he tells Dean. Sam's asleep in the back seat, head resting against the window, breath leaving clouds of fog on the glass that fade almost immediately as he inhales. His hands are clasped in his lap, thumb resting against the scar on his palm even in sleep.
Dean shrugs. "Yeah, well, what do you expect? He's got the Devil on surround sound in his noggin. Anyone would look like crap."
Bobby rolls his eyes. "Don't make me smack your smart mouth, boy. I mean he's sick. He's been coughing for two days straight back there."
And, okay, that was probably deserved, because Dean usually pays attention to this sort of thing. In fact, he's spent nearly thirty years on and off paying such close attention to Sam that it would take a microscope for him to get any closer. Except that it's been hard, lately, paying attention to Sam. Because every time he looks now Sam is staring off to the side at something that no one else can see, or rubbing the scar on his palm or, God help them all, talking to someone who isn't there. Although he's been keeping everything but the palm rubbing to a minimum these days, which is a small mercy. So Dean figures he can't really be blamed if he's not engaging in the same scrutiny he used to. He unscrews the top of his flask and takes a swallow, grateful at least that he had the presence of mind to refill it this morning.
"Not the first time we'll be hunting with a cold," he says curtly. "It's not like we can ask this wendigo if he'll just hold off on killing campers while we get Sam a room at a nice hotel and feed him chicken soup until his sniffles are over."
"No need to get snippy," Bobby keeps his eyes on the road. "I just thought I'd mention it, seeing as how you're too busy wallowing over there."
"Fuck you, I am not wallowing," Dean snaps. "And I wish you'd stop with the goddamned lectures about my state of mind. I am as fine as I'm going to get. The world is trying to end, again, and once again, it's up to us to fix it. Since we've got nothing except a couple of bottles of house cleaner and a plucky attitude, I vote we go kill the thing in the woods that's been eating people until we come up with a better game plan."
"Boy, you're ornerier than a wet badger. What exactly do you think we're doing, here? Going on a picnic?"
Dean sighs and slumps in his seat. "Sorry," he mutters, and consoles both of them by taking another swig from his flask.
The hunt goes about as well as can be expected —right up until it doesn't. They spend two miserable days walking through the woods, getting soaked through by a steady drizzle of rain that starts falling about ten minutes after they leave the car and never really lets up. They've got rain jackets, but apart from that they all look like drowned rats, and after a day Dean's newly-healed leg is aching fiercely and Sam is having trouble keeping his constant, hacking cough quiet, no matter how much cough suppressant he swallows. The wendigo is a canny old bastard, runs them in circles for the better part of a day after that before they track it to its lair in yet another abandoned mind shaft to take it out, but that's not before it tries to rip Bobby's head right off his shoulders. Dean's too far —or that's what he tells himself, anyway— there's no way he can fire off his flare gun without accidentally getting Bobby at the same time. He clutches the gun in his right hand, clasps his wrist with his left in a futile attempt to keep his hands from shaking, and thinks longingly of his flask even as Sam is yelling out a warning and throwing himself bodily between Bobby and the monster.
The wendigo's claws flash out right as Sam manages to knock Bobby to the ground, and Sam goes spinning in the wrong direction with a cry of pain, arms comically akimbo as he falls. He rolls, leaving behind a crimson trail in the rotting leaves, and Dean's heart makes a determined leap into his mouth at the sight. The shot is clear now, though, so Dean brings the flare gun to bear, pulls the trigger —and misses. The flare goes wide, buries itself in a dead tree a dozen yards beyond the creature and fizzles out. Dean curses, fumbles in his belt for the spare, but by then Sam has recovered. He yanks his flare gun out of his belt ("You end up shooting your own ass off, Sammy, don't come crying to me."), rests both elbows on the ground from a prone position, and buries a flare in the wendigo's chest. It goes up in flames with a bellow of rage, and Dean can only watch as Bobby staggers to his feet and beheads it with a machete, just for good measure.
"Sam, you okay?" Dean tucks the empty flare gun in his belt (it's empty, okay? What?) and hurries over to where his brother is making a really ineffectual attempt to get back up. Dean kneels next to him, moisture seeping into the knee of his already-soaked jeans. "Hey, easy, let me take a look."
He pulls up Sam's jacket and shirt, breathes a sigh of relief. "Okay. Okay, it's not that bad. He clocked you good, you're going to need a lot of stitches, but you're not going to bleed to death. You with me?"
Sam's eyes are glazing over, but he nods, struggles to sit up. "'m good," he mumbles. "D'we get it?"
Dean huffs a laugh. "Yeah, you got it. Bobby, we got enough in the kit to stitch this?" he asks, surveying the lacerations that start at Sam's right side just above his hip and coil with a nasty twist almost all the way to the middle of his back.
Bobby comes to squat next to him to survey the damage. "Yeah." He nods. "Gonna be a bitch to get it all closed up with this rain coming down, though."
Sam's breathing shallowly, blinking as raindrops fall into his eyes. "It's fine. We can use the mine shaft, it's dry there. Help me?" he reaches out to Dean with one hand, and for a second all Dean sees is the shiny pink scar on Sam's palm, marred with dirt from the forest floor.
No one can help you, he wants to tell Sam, but that's not what Sam needs to hear right now. He gets Sam stitched up, clumsy crooked stitches because his goddamned hands are still shaking, and he's pretty sure that this isn't going to work anyway, because they don't have antibiotics or even enough antiseptic for this. Sam coughs as Dean strips away his jacket and shirt, swallows hard and keeps himself as still as possible while Dean works.
After that, it's a long, miserable trudge back to the car, still in the rain. Sam manages well enough at first, hunched over a little on himself but otherwise walking on his own without so much as putting a hand out to steady himself. Soon, though, his steps begin to falter, and the third time he trips over some unseen root he loses his balance and sprawls face first onto the forest floor. When Dean hauls him back to his feet, he's shivering with fever, teeth chattering, lips turning bluish.
"Should have told me you were feeling sick," Dean says, brushing his hand against Sam's forehead.
"I thought I—" Sam's eyes cut to the left, then he coughs into his sleeve. "Sorry."
"We'll push through back to the car. No use making you sleep out here in the wet. Come on," Dean pulls Sam's arm over his shoulders.
To his credit, Sam does make an effort to push through, even if by the end his knees are buckling every few steps, and he's resting most of his not inconsiderable weight on Dean's shoulders. What's more worrisome, as far as Dean is concerned, is when he starts talking back to whatever it is he's always seeing out of the corner of his eye. It's an indecipherable mumble at first, but eventually Dean starts making out a few words here and there, and none of them are reassuring in the slightest.
"What's he saying to you, Sam?"
Sam shakes his head. "Not important. Not real."
"I know that. Do you?"
Sam just coughs and mumbles something that Dean thinks isn't aimed at him. It's hard to tell in the rain, but he's pretty sure Sam is running a fever. There's no arguing with the voices in Sam's head, though, so he just hoists Sam further up on his shoulders and tries to pick up the pace. By the time they're back at the van Sam isn't making sense at all, catches Dean on the jaw with his fist, even though Dean is pretty sure he wasn't the target of the blow. There's no way they can keep going like this, not if Sam's out of his head.
"I know a place nearby," Bobby says, once Dean has Sam quieted and under a blanket in the back seat. "It's not much, just a hunting cabin, but it's got a basement and a generator and I got a friend nearby who can take a look at him."
Dean's leg is aching, and he rubs at it almost unconsciously. "We need to lock him down. We can't afford to have him take off like this. He'll hurt someone —or himself."
Bobby nods grimly. "We'll manage."
The cabin is little more than a hole in the ground, but it's better than sleeping in the van. Sam struggles a little when Dean manhandles him into the basement, but Dean's pretty sure Sam isn't seeing him, isn't seeing anything except the damned Devil and whatever other horrors exist only in his mind. Bobby unfolds a cot and shoves the head up against the wall —easier if they need Sam to sit up at some point— and spreads a blanket over the thin, filthy mattress. Sam is slumped on the bottom step, head against the wall, hair plastered to his face with sweat and the remnants of rain water. Dean tugs on him, trying to pull him to his feet by his elbows.
"Come on, Sammy. Time to get you lying down, so you gotta get up first. Get up!"
"I'm not going with you," Sam tells a spot over Dean's shoulder. "I'm not going, you're not real!"
It takes both Dean and Bobby to budge Sam after that —kid's a damned mountain now— but they get him down onto the cot without anyone getting injured. For a few minutes it seems like Sam will stay put, but before Dean can even get around to breathing a sigh of relief he's up again, trying to get away from some nameless horror, and Dean can't even bring himself to feel bad when he rummages through what's left of their gear in order to pull out the cuffs. Sam doesn't react when Bobby cuffs his ankles to the cot, but he winces and whimpers quietly when the metal digs into his wrist, then lies very still. Dean pushes himself to his feet, heads toward the stairs.
"I'm going to get an hour's shut-eye. Can you watch him?"
If Bobby's surprised that Dean isn't insisting not only on taking the first watch, but on being the only one to take watch, he doesn't say anything. Dean ignores the throbbing ache in his leg just long enough to make it upstairs and get the flask from his duffel bag, then drops onto one of the two really lumpy beds that are apparently a fixture in the tiny cabin, along with a rickety-looking wood-burning stove for which there's mercifully several cords of wood stacked under a tarp outside. At least they won't freeze to death. By the time he rolls over to go to sleep, the flask is empty, and he can't bring himself to care.
When he goes downstairs again —three hours later, but no one's counting anyway— Sam is halfway unconscious, coughing in his sleep, and Bobby is about three steps behind him. He leverages himself out of the folding chair next to Sam's cot, claps Dean on the shoulder.
"You want me to call in my contact now? He sounds pretty bad."
Dean shrugs. "Yeah. Guess so."
"You sit with him," Bobby nudges him forward. "It ain't me he wants with him, I can tell you that. I'll get some grub going, too, see if I can't get that stove to work."
Beside him Sam shifts on the cot, tugging at the restraints. It's too much like all the other times, Dean thinks, resting his chin in his hands and watching him. No matter how many different ways they try this, it always comes back to this, to Sam chained up in Bobby's basement. To Dean sitting next to his cot and wondering if he'll ever wake up again.
Sam just twists on himself, bloodied shirt riding up to reveal the hasty patch job Dean did on his back and side, and even from here Dean can see the signs of infection spreading out from under the bandages. He shouldn't be surprised, not really, but somehow he always is. It's like a pattern he doesn't know how to break.
"Every time I fix you, you just break again," he tells his brother's unresponsive form. "And each time I do a piss-poor job of it. It's like the damned laundry, you know? Every time you think you're done, the clothes are dirty again, and they never really get as clean as they were before."
Sam cracks open an eye, and to Dean's surprise he smiles. "Did you just compare me to a domestic chore?" He turns his head aside to cough. "You suck."
"Yeah, well, metaphor isn't my strong suit. How you feeling?" Dean shifts his chair closer to the cot, holds up a small cup full of cough suppressant for him to drink.
Sam swallows the liquid, lets his head drop back on the cot and his eyes close. "Really bad. It hurts when I cough, and I can't stop coughing. Sorry."
"Don't apologize. Bobby's calling in a favour, we're gonna get you checked out. How bad is it?"
Sam keeps his eyes closed. "Dunno. I'm really hot and... it's not —it's just harder to tell the difference."
"What, Lucifer?" At least Sam is lucid right now. Small mercies.
Sam nods. "I'm tired, sorry."
"Seriously, stop apologizing. Go to sleep if you're tired."
But Sam's already out, the only sign he's still alive a rasping intake of breath every few seconds and the occasional clink of metal handcuffs as he pulls at them, even in his sleep. Dean's flask is empty again before he knows it, and once he's gone upstairs to refill it, it feels like too much work to go all the way back downstairs again. He sits with his back against the wall, flask in his lap, fingers clasped around it loosely, eyes drooping. Bobby doesn't say anything to him, steps outside to make the call to his contact —or maybe he goes to find a payphone or a shortwave radio, Dean doesn't really know or care anymore.
He must fall asleep, because the next thing he knows he's starting awake from a nightmare —he doesn't remember what it was about, but the sour taste of blood and bile in his mouth tells him it was a nightmare— to the sound of the front door opening. Bobby steps aside to let in a middle-aged black guy with what looks like an army-issue medical kit.
"Thanks for coming, George. I owe you one."
The guy named George snorts a little. He's tall, has at least an inch on Bobby, the hair at his temples has turned white. He's definitely not a hunter, though —Dean can see his stomach hanging over his belt, the result of years of beer and inactivity, most likely. "Yeah, after this we might be even, at best. I figure I owe you more than you owe me. Who's this?" he jerks his head at Dean, and Dean is too damned exhausted and fed up to take offence.
"That's Dean. He's not your patient."
"Right, because I can tell that from his healthy complexion. You going to help?" he asks Dean, "or are you too drunk?"
"I'm fine. You just woke me," Dean gets to his feet, glad he doesn't look as shaky as he feels. "You a doctor?"
"Medic. Can't remember the last time I did a side job for a hunter, but I guess old habits die hard. So where's my patient?"
Dean scrubs at his face with one hand. "Downstairs. What do you need me to do?"
George shucks his jacket and tosses it over the back of a chair. "Depends on what state he's in. Bobby, you can make yourself useful and boil some water. Always comes in handy, even when you think you won't need it."
Bobby grumbles something under his breath about not being a damned nursemaid, but the alacrity with which he sets about putting water on the crappy stove belies his words. At a nod from George, Dean leads the way down the stairs, leaving Bobby to his preparations. The stairs creak under their combined weight, and it's not until George makes a face and sweeps a cobweb away from just above his head with his arm that Dean realizes just how filthy the basement really is. It's been so long since they actually stayed anywhere clean, he's just gotten used to having a layer of dust and grime on everything.
"Nice place you got here," George says drily.
"Yeah, well, they were all out of rooms in the five-star hotel we looked at," Dean snaps. He goes to crouch next to Sam's cot. "Hey, Sammy, cavalry's here. Cavalry's a grumpy guy with an army med kit, but it's the best we can do. Besides, what with hanging around with Bobby all day, I figure you're used to grumpy. Sam, hey, wake up now. Gotta get you checked out."
Sam stirs a little on the cot, eyelashes fluttering, then his gaze lands on George, who's setting out his equipment on a tarp on the rickety work bench that's the closest thing to a table down here. "Dean?"
"Same as ever," Dean forces a little levity into his tone. "That there is George, he's here to take a look at you. I need you to not freak out, okay?" He steps aside to give George some room, only to be met with a disbelieving stare when the medic catches sight of the handcuffs.
"You serious? I thought he was your brother."
As if on cue, Sam starts pulling on the cuffs again, eyes tracking something that isn't there. "No," he says to whatever he's seeing. "No, that's not right, I don't believe you."
Dean shrugs. "Doesn't mean he's not safer like this. Sam," he reaches out and grabs Sam's hand, pressing his fingers into the scar. "Sam, focus. Let George take a look at you, okay?"
Sam's head jerks toward him. "Is he real?" he asks, and Dean wants to punch something. Maybe Sam, or a wall if there's nothing better to punch. He settles for squeezing Sam's hand hard enough to hurt.
"Yeah, he's real. You let him help you, you got it?" He steps back when it looks like Sam might just be enjoying the new source of pain a little too much. The last thing he needs is for Sam to start trying to hurt himself on the off-chance that it might make his imaginary friend leave him alone for a while.
"Can we lose the cuffs?" George asks, and manages to make the question sound like an order.
Dean shoves one hand into his pocket, wipes the other one over his mouth. "Yeah, not unless you really have to. It's —he's not safe."
George is checking Sam's pulse, two fingers pressed to his carotid artery, staring at his watch, but he snorts. "He's too weak to sit up. How unsafe can he be?"
Sam opens his eyes. "You should... leave them on," he says, breathless just from the effort of talking. "Not safe... I could hurt you. Hurt everyone..."
"All right, we'll keep 'em on for now," George agrees, but it's obvious he doesn't approve. "You," he says to Dean, "out. My patient and I are going to need a little privacy. I'll call when I need you."
Dean opens his mouth to protest —no way is he going to let some old guy boss him around and keep him away from Sammy— but a look from the medic tells him that would be a bad idea. "I'll be right upstairs."
"I bet you will."
Bobby doesn't say anything when Dean makes his way up the stairs, keeps silent even when Dean drops back down onto his bed and unscrews the top of his flask. Dean isn't even sure what the hell he's doing anymore, but the burn of the alcohol going down goes a long way to making him not care as much. He can hear George's voice through the floorboards, rising and falling steadily, though he can't make out the words. More worrisome, though, is that he can't hear Sam's answers at all, and he can't tell if it's because Sam is talking too quietly or because Sam is unconscious (or dead, his mind supplies treacherously) and simply can't answer. He takes another drink from the flask, finds himself wondering if Bobby would even care if he went right for the bottle instead. It's not like they're going anywhere tonight, after all. He should probably have put down salt lines, he thinks belatedly, but he doesn't move from where he's sitting. Salt lines won't keep out the Leviathans anyway, if they somehow do manage to find them here. It hardly seems worth the trouble of getting up to do it now.
Bobby disappears down the stairs a few minutes later, or maybe it's later than that, Dean has lost track. He does hear him stop about halfway down, and there's a flurry of whispering. It sounds like George was on his way back up anyway. At least having them this close makes it pretty easy to overhear what they're saying, not that George is making any attempt to keep his voice quiet, although it seems like Bobby is, for once. It's funny, thinking of Bobby as the discreet one.
"I don't know what you're playing at here, Bobby," George says, voice still low. "You call me in because you tell me this kid of yours is injured, but you and I both know that's the least of his problems. What the hell is going on?"
"It ain't what it looks like," Bobby answers, and Dean wonders just what it looks like, anyway.
"Yeah? How do you know what it looks like? That kid down there needs a hospital, not some damned hole in the ground with mould growing on the walls. If you want him dead, you should go ahead and put him out of his misery."
If you wanted your brother dead, you should have killed him outright.
"We ain't got a lot of options," Bobby says grimly. "We got Leviathans on our asses, and you may have noticed Sam ain't exactly playing with a full deck. We bring him to a hospital, we may as well tie him up like a prize hog and serve him on a silver platter to them monsters."
George blows out an exasperated-sounding breath. "Where's his brother? I want to talk to him, or is he too sauced to make sense?"
For a minute Dean considers staying right where he is. The bed is pretty comfortable, and the whisky has warmed him up a little, and it seems like a lot of trouble to get up when George is only a few paces away from him. He drops the flask onto the mattress, pushes himself to his feet, is kind of surprised when the room doesn't stay entirely still. Maybe he's had more to drink than he thought, or maybe it's just because he hasn't eaten yet. Whatever. He makes his way to the top of the stairs.
"I'm right here. And I can hear everything you're saying, thanks."
George directs a glare at him, which Dean thinks isn't really fair. If Dean had been talking behind someone's back, he'd at least have the good grace to look a little embarrassed about it, after all. "All right, then. If you think you can spare a moment, I want to talk to you about your brother. How about you come downstairs? And bring the key to those cuffs while you're at it."
The keys are already in his pocket, so he just hangs onto the rickety railing on his way down, keeping his eyes fixed on George's slightly stooped shoulders. Sam is exactly where he left him, his shirt stripped off and fresh bandages covering the gashes left by the wendigo's claws. He's out cold, head lolling to one side, each breath crackling loudly in his lungs. Dean makes his way over to him, drops into the chair next to the cot and gives him a careful once-over.
"What'd you give him?"
"Nothing. Can't give him a sedative in his state, his breathing's compromised enough as it is."
"So how is he?" Dean clasps his hands in his lap to keep from reaching out to grasp Sam's arm, just to reassure himself he's still there. He doesn't like the sound of 'compromised' much, either.
Dean's head snaps up. "What?" That can't be right. Sam isn't supposed to die, that's not how these things work. "It can't be that bad. I mean, the wendigo clocked him pretty solidly, but the cuts weren't that deep, and we cleaned them... the infection can't be that bad already, can it?"
George snorts. "You think I don't know a dying man when I see one? It's not the wound that's the problem here, son, it's the pneumonia. What he needs is a hospital, fluids, antibiotics and a respirator. Instead what he's got is a filthy cellar full of mould spores, no heating, and handcuffs. You've been feeding him a cough suppressant, I'm guessing?"
"That's what he's been taking," Dean corrects, defensive in spite of himself. Sam's been trying so damned hard to keep himself together lately, it's unfair that this crabby old bastard is suddenly there being all holier-than-thou about how Sam's coping.
"Well, that's part of your problem. So here's what I'm going to do. I'm going to make some recommendations, and if you follow them, you maybe have more than a snowball's chance in Hell that he'll come out the other side. Otherwise, you may as well start collecting firewood. That's what you hunters do, isn't it? Salt and burn?"
That's the final straw. "Just what the hell is your problem?" Dean snaps. "Bobby asked you to come out here as a favour because my brother's sick. Are you going to help or not?"
"My problem?" George gives him an incredulous look. "My problem is that I am doing you both a favour, and I'm seriously wondering if I'm doing my patient any favours by helping you. I've seen POWs treated better than this, son. You see this?" he reaches down to grasp Sam's hand, and moves the cuff up his arm to reveal the bloody mark it's left on his wrist, the wound already red and puffy around the edges. Dean winces in spite of himself. "Not looking too good, is it? You put someone in four-point restraints in a hospital, kid, and you know what you get? Nurses checking the restraints a minimum of every thirty minutes to check they're not hurting themselves, and that's with padding and bandages. You've got your brother cuffed to a metal cot. I don't care if he was trying to strangle you in your sleep: you couldn't have done a better job if you'd wanted to add more infections and trauma to the equation."
Dean rubs a hand over his mouth. "I just..." he trails off.
"Yeah, 'you just,' I know," George sneers. "So here's what you're going to do. You're going to uncuff him. Then you're going to clear him out of this damp cellar and put him somewhere warm and dry where he can sit up before he drowns in the fluid from his own lungs. You're going to stop giving him any kind of cough suppressant, because that's what got him into this mess to begin with. He needs to cough, and you need to let him, even if it interrupts your precious beauty sleep. When he's settled somewhere better, I'm going to clean out these wounds and bandage them properly. He's teetering on the edge of sepsis, and if he goes over that edge he's definitely going to die. Right now I'd say his odds are fifty-fifty, even with antibiotics. Got it?"
Dean swallows hard. "Yeah, I got it."
George drops several bottles of pills in his lap and a folded sheet of paper. "I've written down dosages and timing for you. You get him set up comfortably, and I'm going to go upstairs and take Bobby up on that offer of a drink before I do something we'll all regret." He gives Dean a last look like he's something gross that he just scraped off the bottom of his shoe, then stomps back up the stairs, leaving Dean alone with his thoughts and his unconscious brother.
Dean blows out his cheeks, turns back to Sam. "Was it that bad?"
Predictably enough, Sam doesn't answer, but he does stir a little at the sound of Dean's voice, then twists on himself in order to cough harshly, his wrists pulling at the cuffs keeping him locked in place. Shit. This is exactly what George meant. Dean reaches into his pocket, yanks out the keys and removes the handcuffs as fast as he can get his hands to move.
"Come on, we're gonna get you out of here, okay?" he shakes Sam's shoulder. "I just need you to wake up long enough for that. Sam, wake up," he pats Sam's cheek when shaking him doesn't work. "Sammy."
That gets Sam's attention. He moans quietly, then turns on his side away from Dean and starts coughing again, so hard that Dean doesn't know how he's managing to draw breath. He lets his hand drop between Sam's shoulder blades, rubs in circles while Sam coughs and coughs and doesn't breathe and coughs again. When Sam does manage to suck in a desperate, gasping mouthful of air, Dean keeps rubbing circles on his back.
"Better?" he asks, and Sam rolls back over to stare at him with eyes that are glazed over with fever.
"Hey, you with me?"
Sam nods, but the confused look doesn't leave his eyes. He looks down at his hands, flexes his fingers as if he can't quite figure out how they work. "Why'm I not locked down?" he rasps, and Dean narrowly avoids twitching at the suggestion.
"Yeah, no. You can't even sit up on your own, I don't think we need to worry. You seeing anything?" And by 'anything,' they both know he means 'Lucifer.' Sam shakes his head, though. "Okay, good. Come on, George needs to wrap up your wrists."
Sam shoves himself upright, lists dangerously to the side until Dean catches him, alarmed at the heat coming off him. "'s he coming back? I don't wanna get up," he complains.
"Quit bitching, Samantha. We're getting you a way better bed than this, and nice clean bandages, just so long as you help me haul your heavy ass up the stairs, okay?"
Sam doesn't answer, but he lets Dean help him up, leans heavily on him when his knees buckle. "You sure? I don't... don't know if I can—" he breaks off with another coughing fit, and Dean just rolls his eyes and pulls him along.
"Yeah, well, we'll cross that bridge when we come to it. Just —whatever the Devil tells you to do, you ignore it, you hear me? No wandering off, or anything stupid like that."
Sam doesn't answer, but Dean's willing to take it as a win. Getting him up the stairs is a bitch and a half, and by the time they get to the top Dean is out of breath and sweating and more than a little grateful when Bobby and George step forward to help. Bobby's moved the bed Dean was previously occupying as close to the stove as it can get without burning the place down. Sam's struggling to stay conscious, but it's a losing battle, and eventually Dean gets fed up and places a hand over his brother's eyes while George bandages his wrist, ignoring the way Sam jerks in surprise.
"Go back to sleep," he tells him sternly. "You're not helping anyone by staying awake heroically, or whatever."
"Not a hero," Sam mumbles, wriggling under his hand and provoking an exasperated smack on the hand from George. "Not what I wanted."
George is done in minutes, moving quickly and efficiently, and Bobby drags him outside along with one of his last bottle of rotgut, presumably as a thank you. Sam has lapsed back into the same semi-conscious state as before, and even now that he's propped up on all the pillows and packs that they could wedge behind him, his breathing still sounds awful, even to Dean's ears. Now that he's paying attention, Dean is a little amazed he didn't notice how bad it was before. Sam must have been hiding how sick he was, is the only conclusion he can draw, stupid contrary little bitch. Because hiding illness is so damned constructive. It's exactly the sort of thing they don't need, more secrets and more lies.
After that, it's all about waiting. Contrary to popular belief, Dean is pretty good at waiting. He's been waiting for one thing or another all his life, when you think about it. So after George leaves he sits next to Sam's bed and waits while Sam coughs so hard that he throws up, monitors his fever as it rises and falls —never low enough for his liking— and finds himself praying to a God he knows for sure has flown the coop that he's not going to have this taken away from him too. Sam doesn't respond much to his voice, wakens now and then just long enough to swallow the pills and water Dean presses on him, but mostly he just lies still and struggles to breathe. It's almost a relief, Dean thinks guiltily, because it seems like whatever was plaguing him while he was awake, it's gone now. No more Devil dancing around in his peripheral vision.
Bobby hands him a glass of bourbon later on that night, or maybe the next night —it's not like Dean is really paying attention to the passage of time anymore except to time dosages— but Dean barely hears him when he mutters something about turning in for the night and how Dean should think about doing the same. Instead Dean feeds the stove again and tucks another blanket more securely over Sam's chest, drains the glass and sets it aside. There's no sense in drinking enough to get to sleep, not when Sam's in danger of drowning in the fluid from his own lungs.
"Why didn't you tell me how bad it was?" he asks at once point, just low enough that he won't be heard under Bobby's snoring.
To his surprise Sam's eyes snap open at that, surprisingly clear for all that he's still running a fever high enough to fry an egg on his forehead. "I wanted you to stop looking at me like that," he says, though it comes out more as a wheeze than as actual words.
"Waiting for the other shoe to drop," Sam's eyes slip shut again almost immediately, like he's too tired to keep them open. "'s exhausting, you know."
"You keep waiting for me to go nuts..." Sam stops to cough again. "I mean, more nuts," he amends. "I just wish you'd... figure out if you trust me or not and then just go with that, already. Tell me if you want me to stay or go."
"Don't be stupid, of course I trust you," Dean snaps. Much to his annoyance, Sam just makes a shrugging motion and coughs again.
And the thing is, Sam's right. It's annoying, how often Sam is right, when it comes down to it. "It's not that I don't want to trust you," he says after a minute. "I do. I just... you gotta understand, a few months ago you were shooting off rounds at an invisible Lucifer. You say you're fine, but we both know you're not. I mean, how often do you see things that no one else can?"
Sam huffs a painful-sounding laugh. "Since I was twenty-two, Dean."
Dean snorts. "You know what I mean, smart guy. You hallucinate every single day. How'm I supposed to trust that you're okay when you won't tell me if you're not?"
"Because I said I'd tell you if I wasn't?"
"And you've never lied about that before."
"So you don't trust me."
Dean manfully doesn't kick the bed his injured brother is lying on. Instead he picks up the plastic water bottle and holds it to Sam's lips. "You sound like your lungs are disintegrating. Drink this, okay?"
"Dean," Sam chokes around a mouthful of water.
"Sam," Dean mimics nastily. "Seriously, shut up. Take your pills, drink your damned water, and stop poking at me on this, okay? You're always at me, poke-poke-poke. It's not just about trust, and you know it better than I do. You just... God, I don't know. I'm not going to kick you to the curb just because you're half a step away from Loony Toons. I think we both know how well we do when we're apart, so you can leave off with the martyrdom, okay? I'm not leaving you, you're not leaving me, got it?"
"That the best you can do?"
"That's the best I can do," Dean sighs. But he reaches for Sam's hand, presses his thumb against the smooth scar on his brother's palm, and Sam smiles wanly.
"Okay, I can live with that."
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