OK, so I'm a snot ridden biohazard again, and I am not amused. Most other people are, however; my red, drippy nose seems to be very entertaining to spectators.
Anyway, I couldn't miss this opportunity to make myself feel heaps better by tormenting poor Dean :D
So herewith for your reading pleasure; icky, snotty Dean ...
IN SICKNESS AND IN STEALTH
Word Count: 4,500
It started slowly at first.
Tiny, imperceptible changes; the sort of things that only Sam would notice.
First of all, there was the running. Despite Sam's long, loping gait, Dean could outrun him every time. When they were running towards (or occasionally away from) some nasty supernatural freak, it was always Dean, with stocky powerhouse legs pumping like pistons, who arrived at their destination first .
Dean did not rock up at a laboured trot, a minute and a half after Sam, wiping his glistening brow and blowing like a Kentucky Derby winner.
Then there was the snoring. Dean's snores were, even by Sam's admission, cute. Soft, rhythmic snuffles which sounded like a sigh if he was on his back, or a muffled huff if he was on his belly, occasionally punctuated by an indignant snort when he inhaled his pillow as he was occasionally wont to do. Sam knew that whenever the volume or the pitch increased, that was a bad sign.
When it got the point that Sam thought he was sharing a room with a rutting elk and had to cream Dean with his pillow to shut him up, he knew that trouble was on the way.
There were other signs, the flushed face, the surruptitious pinching of the bridge of the nose, knuckling of the chest and the sneaky Paracetamol popping when Dean thought Sam wasn't looking, Sam couldn't help but smile at his brother's naivety: he still, after all these years, hadn't grasped the fact that Sam had eyes in his ass when it came to his brother's welfare.
A string of childhood illnesses in infancy had left Dean with a slightly weakened constitution; It wasn't that he got ill often, but an illness which would lay Sam low for a couple of days could floor Dean for a week. Dean hated the fact and absolutely refused to acknowledge any sign of weakness, pushing his body to and often beyond it's limits, much to Sam's constant annoyance.
Sam had perfected the art of spotting early symptoms in his brother. What he hadn't perfected was the art of coaxing Dean to take it easy.
Sam wasn't happy.
He glanced at his watch. 8.30 am. They had been holed up in this crappy motel in this crappy one-horse town for nearly a week now, looking into the haunting of a crappy apartment block by a particularly crappy poltergeist. The crappy information Sam had managed to uncover at the monolithically crappy local library had led them on an infuriatingly crappy wild goose chase which a by then undeniably sickly Dean, with his crappy, bullet-headed stubbornness, had flatly refused to sit out, and they had eventually found the dead dude's crappy grave in a totally different cemetary (a crappy one, no less) to the one indicated in the town's indescribably crappy records. They had ended up digging up the grave in the pissing rain well after midnight, and as salt 'n' burns went, it was about as crappy as they got.
Dean had looked in worse shape than the cadaver by the end of it all, and that dude been dead a hundred and thirteen years.
Sam was concerned. Dean would normally have been up a couple of hours by now, but he was still sparked out on his bed. Sam regarded the vision of loveliness sprawled untidily across the bed on his front, mouth agape, a small drool patch on the pillow under his chin, left arm hanging off the side of the bed, fist clutching a snotty tissue. Sam stood at the sink, sipping his coffee an listening to the gluey sound of his brother's laboured breathing.
There had been talk around town of a nasty flu' bug doing the rounds. The library was full of those public information posters about not sneezing over people and washing your hands after you've hawked a headful of mucus into them. They clearly weren't doing the trick if the bug was doing the rounds. duh!
He crept over to the side of his brother's bed, and squatted down next to the sleeping form, and ghosted a hand over his brother' forehead. He could feel the heat without actually touching.
He leaned in closer to Dean, listening to the sticky, laboured breathing.
He jerked backwards. His brother was awake; glassy, bloodshot eyes looking up into Sam's face with an unreadable expression.
"Uh, morning' dude" smiled Sam.
"You're freakin' me out - pervert," came the reply.
"Sorry", said Sam with an embarrassed smile, "it's just, uh, you didn't sound so good".
"At least I don't sound like a woman, Samantha." Dean did illness with such good grace and dignity.
Sam knew when it was time to back off. He headed over to the kitchenette to prepare Dean a cup of brown sludge which, in this place, masqueraded as coffee.
Dean was attempting to rise. "I'm goin' to take a leak", he announced gruffly, "wanna come and watch?"
"No thanks, I'll pass," Sam replied lightly
After a couple of abortive attempts, Dean swung his legs over the side of the bed and eased himself upright. He rested his arms on his knees and sat, hunched and stiff, as his head spun from the sudden change in position.
He shivered, but felt a bead of sweat trickle down the side of his nose. "How the hell can I feel hot and cold at the same time?" He rubbed his chest, not realising Sam was watching his every move, "chest feels like it's full of cement," he thought; "dammit, it's just a sniffle you great girl - pull it together, drama queen". He sucked in a painful, rumbling breath through clenched teeth.
"Need any help?" Sam's voice drifted across the room.
"Don't make me hurt you".
Dean rose to his feet, and swayed a little. He shut his syes tightly. Sam put his coffee cup down, ready to dive across the room if needed, but was mildly relieved when Dean made it to the bathroom in a game attempt at a straight line without incident.
Sam busied himself folding his clothes, and watching Dean's coffee go cold, as he listened to the hiss of the shower.
Suddenly he thought he heard something that made him stop in his tracks.
He walked over to the bathroom door, "Dean?"
Again, the barely audible voice, "Sam …"
Sam tried the handle, thankfully Dean hadn't locked it.
"Hey, dude," Sam said timidly, scanning the steamy room.
The voice came from the shower stall.
Sam yanked the curtain aside, peering through the mist of steam, forgetting any pretensions of modesty or privacy, and froze.
His brother was slumped in the corner, gazing up through the steam with heavy-lidded, unfocussed eyes.
"Sammy", he whispered, "Can' stand up any more ".
Sam gaped in shock at the crumpled body in the corner of the shower stall, still being battered by the rapidly cooling jet of water; quickly switching it off, he stepped into the shower and crouched down next to his brother. He wiped Dean's soaked hair back off his face.
"Wha'dya mean you can't stand up - what happened?" he asked, fingers working their way down to the back of Dean's neck.
"legs went wobbly" Dean replied economically, looking up at Sam, relishing the feel of Sam's strong palm against his neck, "slipped - now I can't get up. Dizzy".
"Did you hit your head?" asked Sam.
"No" replied Dean, hazily, "fell on my ass".
Sam smiled. Well,excuse me if I don't kiss it better then!" Then his expression turned serious; "have you hurt your back?" He couldn't help but notice how Dean was sinking heavily into the strong, kneading fingers working the nape of his neck.
Dean stared vacantly at Sam for the longest time, as if the question was difficult to process.
"Don' think so; back ached anyway". Sam did a quick visual scan of his brother's body to check for any grazes or reddening bruises, but saw nothing to cause alarm.
Noticing that Dean was shivering, Sam reached back out of the shower stall for a towel; his long arms came in handy time and time again. He managed to catch the edge of a large threadbare towel in an indeterminate shade of grey, and wrapped it over his brother's huddled body. This satisfied the twin purposes of giving his brother a little warmth, and affording him a small amount of dignity.
"Do you ache anywhere else?" asked Sam, still massaging the back of Dean's neck - the motion was clearly having a soporific effect on his brother, and Sam knew he had to get the elder Winchester into bed. "Legs" slurred Dean, leaning heavier and heavier into Sam's strong fingers, "chest, shoulders, er, neck, head, jaw, - and - um - feet, hands …", "OK dude, I get the picture," Sam interrupted. "Anywhere that doesn't ache?"
Dean thought hard, his brow furrowing; "hair?" he answered eventually.
"Right, Dean, let's get you up and dried off."
Without word, he pulled the towel away, and slid his arms under Dean's armpits, pulling him tight to his chest and linking his hands over his brother's back. Dean yelped indignantly at this invasion of his privacy, but, allowed himself to be hoisted upwards into a standing position, as Sam rose to his feet.
Sam manoeuvred Dean around until he appeared to be standing under his own steam, then loosened his grip, guiding his brother to sit on the closed lid of the toilet. Grabbing another lavishly unattractive towel, Sam began to dry his brother off, starting at his dripping wet hair.
When Sam removed the towel, Dean looked like a small spiky animal had taken up residence on top of his head. Sam stifled a laugh, then continued to work his way down the wet, shaking body.
The vigorous rubbing of the towel appeared to wake Dean up a little; this had the unlovely effect of causing him to become his usual charming sick self while Sam was drying him off. When Sam worked across his chest; it hurt. Down his sides; it tickled. At his hips; Sam was enjoying this altogether way too much which proved beyond all reasonable doubt that Sam was, in fact, a woman.
Sam endured his brother's snarking with a smile and good grace; he was used to it; he was concentrating more on using the towelling exercise to try to ascertain a better idea of his brother's state of health.
Dean was cool and clammy, trembling continuously, but had felt unusually hot in the bed this morning; the trouble was, he had just come out of a hot shower which had been in the process of turning cold, and now he had been sitting in a steamy bathroom, so his temperature would be out of kilter at the moment, so Sam decided he would leave it a while before he checked.
Sam could hear Dean's breathing, and he didn't like it. It sounded strained and compromised, his chest heaving with each laboured breath and pained cough. He also noticed his brother was suddenly listing sideways, and pressed a hand against his shoulder to gently coax him back up into an upright position.
Dean looked up at him, his tired green eyes teary and unfocussed again, blinking rapidly.
"C'mon dude, lets get you back into bed", Sam fussed cheerily, kneeling down and trying to work a pair of boxers up Dean's still clammy legs.
"Don' need bed" slurred Dean; his whinge-a-thon during Sam's ministrations had clearly wiped him out.
"Sure you don't", smiled Sam, "fancy a nice salt 'n' burn instead?"
Dean looked bemused, eyes huge, "have you found us a job?"
Sam shook his head, smiling at Dean's endearing confusion, "c'mon Champ, sleep time for you".
He heaved his brother into a standing position, arm around his waist, Dean leaned heavily into Sam, his forehead nuzzling into Sam's neck as the younger Winchester led his rubber-legged brother over to the nearest bed and set him down, sitting on the edge.
"Drink and meds" said Sam, holding out a glass of water and two Paracetamol. Dean took the tablets obediently and chased them down with a sip of water. A cough erupted as the tablets went on their way, sending a trickle of water down his chin onto his bare chest.
Sam gently wiped the trickle from Dean's chin with his thumb, and from his chest with the palm of his hand; he took the glass back, placing it on the bedside table.
"It'll be here for you later, bro', when you wake up".
"mmmmmm, sssssammy" came the response. Dean's eyes were closed, and Sam realised he was practically asleep, sitting up.
Sam cradled Dean's head, as he shifted him further onto the bed, and laid him back, piling pillows behind him to elevate his head and chest, and pulling the comforter up to his shoulders.
Sam pulled up a chair and placed it beside Dean's bed. He reached out and slipped his hand under Dean's neck again, and began to gently massage as he had done when he found Dean in the shower. Dean's face softened at the touch.
After a few moments, Dean shifted unconsciously with a sigh and rolled onto his side, trapping Sam's hand under his cheek. His arms fidgeted out from under the comforter and wrapped themselves tightly around Sam's arm at the wrist and elbow, reeling him in. Dean let out a soft huff of contentment across the back of Sam's wrist which indicated he wasn't planning to go anywhere soon.
Sam ran his free hand through his hair and looked down at his sleeping brother with amused concern. It was only 10 am, his coffee was on the other side of the room on the draining board, likewise his laptop was on the table at the foot of the bed and, to cap it all, he needed the bathroom. It was going to be a long day!
Sam glanced up at the clock; well over an hour had passed since his arm had been kidnapped. He sighed.
He had to try to extricate himself from his brother's grip soon, he was becoming increasingly concerned about the heat radiating from Dean's face, he really should have checked his temperature already, and also … if he didn't take a leak very soon, he was going to pee himself.
He tried to unpeel Dean's fingers from his elbow, gently lifting each one and trying to shift his arm slightly out of their range as he did so. He had almost completed the exercise when Dean shifted again, grasping fingers finding the elbow again.
Sam sighed, and began to squirm uncomfortably - there was gonna be another stain on this carpet real soon if he didn't get to the bathroom, like, now. He tried again, lifting his brother's fingers one by one from his elbow and trying to wriggle his arm out of Dean's reach. It seemed to work better this time as the elder Winchester huffed and tucked his forearm back into his chest, but there was still Dean's iron grip around his wrist to take care of.
Dean's movement made Sam become more aware of the pins and needles in his fingertips which were still squashed under Dean's face.
He winced as he wiggled his fingers to try to coax some blood back into them, and was surprised when Dean's head jerked with a soft snort, his brow and nose wrinkling as he murmured something that sounded like "geddoff".
Sam grinned; he had an idea.
With his free hand, he reached over and gently brushed Dean's uppermost earlobe with his fingertip. Dean flinched and let out a squeak; releasing his grip on Sam's wrist, bringing his hand to his face trying to dislodge the irritation, Sam slipped his hand away, almost free when Dean's hand flopped back, trapping him once more.
Sam tried again, the lightest fingertip brush to Dean's exposed ear; this time his head and hand jerked enough for Sam to slip his hand free.
He stepped back, out of Dean's range. "Right", he thought; "priorities … pee, thermometer, coffee!"
Sam heard the bed creak as Dean shifted with a breathy sigh. He peered around the bathroom door to see his brother fidget restlessly, blindly groping around on the mattress trying locate Sam's arm.
He was washing his hands at the bathroom sink when he heard a rustle as the sheets and the comforter were kicked off the bed, a moment later, there was a loud untidy thump and a startled squawk as the bed's occupant followed them to the floor.
Sam dashed back into the bedroom to find his brother, in an impressive tangle of arms and legs, sprawled on top of the pile of sheets and blankets on the floor beside the bed. Helooked up at Sam with bewilderment in his dazed green eyes. "Wha …?"
Spluttering in his attempts not to laugh, Sam crouched down beside his brother, "you fell out of bed, dude".
Dean looked as if he was about to say something. All that came out was "oh".
"C'mon man, you need to get back into bed". He slid one arm under Dean's back, making a mental note of how hot and clammy his skin felt, the other under Dean's knees. Rising with a grunt, he lifted his brother back onto the bed.
Dean groaned and coughed, irritable and shaky after his fall, and Sam took the opportunity to shove the thermometer into his open mouth.
Sam pulled the sheets back onto the bed, and arranged them into some semblance of order, hindered somewhat by his fractious brother trying to kick them off, protesting grouchily around the thermometer that he was too hot.
Sam withdrew the thermometer, resisting the urge to stab Dean in the head with it, and checked the mercury – 101.9; warm, but no cause for panic just yet. Dean's breathing, on the other hand, was still sounding ragged and very unpleasant; the coughing and the laboured heaving of his chest also proving all was not well.
"You'd stay cooler if you kept still" nagged Sam; he cupped Dean's head in his hand and tilted it upwards, lifting a glass of water to Dean's lips. Dean drank woozily, his eyes never leaving Sam's face for a moment. He was trying for an angry glare, but ended up looking slightly cross-eyed.
"You sound awful" Sam announced.
"don' sound awful - jus' a cough" Dean countered, coughing up his last sip of water.
Sam ignored him. "You need antibiotics."
"Don' need nothin' - jus' a cough; stop fussin'". Sam gritted his teeth; telling Dean what a moron he was wasn't going to make anything better right now.
Sam handed Dean two Paracetamol tablets, "they'll help lower your temperature" he said, holding Dean's head while he helped Dean take some water with the tablets.
Sam laid Dean back down, and set about making his brother more comfortable. Filling a bowl with cool water, he grabbed a facecloth from the bathroom and sat down next to his now dozing brother.
He dampened the facecloth and gently dabbed Dean's forehead and face with it. Dean shifted slightly, but his sigh did not suggest discomfort, so Sam continued, running the cloth down Dean's neck and across his throat, shoulders and collarbones. Dean murmured softly, turning his head to face Sam, although his eyes remained closed.
Sam dampened the cloth again and pressed it against the back of Dean's neck. "How's that feel, bro'?" he asked with a smile.
"mmmmmmmmm …" was the response.
He moved the cloth down, rubbing slow gentle circles over Dean's chest, refreshing the cool cloth, and running it under his arms and down his sides. Dean squirmed under the touch, but nothing in his movement or demeanour suggested the sensation was anything other than pleasant and soothing.
Dean inched closer to Sam as he worked the cloth lower, across Dean's midriff. "Hey dude" laughed Sam, "don't go falling off the bed again!"
Sam placed he bowl and facecloth on the floor and pulled the abandoned sheets up over his brother's body. Dean snoozed contentedly, his face pressed hard up against Sam's thigh, his soft, congested snores muffled against the grubby denim. Sam smiled and leaned back against the headboard.
"I'm not taking them; I don't need them"
"You are just about the worst patient on the planet," Sam snapped, trying to force a stir-crazy brother to stay in bed. After a relatively peaceful night, punctuated only by the occasional coughing fit, Dean had woken up in full-on pain-in-the-ass mode. "Your chest sounds awful," Sam went on, "just because you don't feel hot any more doesn't mean you're better".
"Nothing wrong with my chest" huffed Dean, crossing his arms across the offending chest.
"Of course not," Sam countered, "breathing like you're snorkelling through custard is a great way to impress the chicks I suppose".
Dean made a whiney, exaggerated impression of Sam's lecture.
"Dean, this macho 'pretending I'm not ill' crap has got to stop." Sam stood to full height, hands on hips. "You do this every time; run yourself into the ground and make everything far worse than it would be if you just rested for a day or two".
"I don't need to rest," grunted Dean, "I'm fine."
Sam threw his arms in the air with exasperation, "I give up" he yelled. He threw a bottle of pills onto Dean's bed. "Broad spectrum antibiotics," he stated matter-of- factly. "The ones you liberated from that clinic in Vermont". If you have got a chest infection brewing, these should deal with it. "If they don't, then we'll have to think about seeing a medic."
"It's just a cough Sammy."
Sam's face darkened. "Oh, yeah, just a cough," he snorted. "Do you remember the last 'just a cough' you had?"
"Can it Sammy," warned Dean, stoney-faced.
"It turned into 'just a chest infection' if you recall," goaded Sam, his arms in full windmill-mode, as Dean glared at him.
"I remember the midnight dash to the ER which ended up with, now what was it? Let me see ..., oh, that's right, full on pneumonia with a generous dose of pleurisy just to liven things up".
Dean was no longer glaring. Sam was pushing the right buttons; it had been one if the worst, most frightening experiences of Dean's life. It had been equally frightening for Sam, and he was furious that Dean had apparently refused to learn from the experience.
Dean sat in his bed looking down into his lap though a blur of tears. The memory was terrifying.
"Do you remember the fun we had Dean?" Sam continued, "coughing up blood, the pain … jeez, Dean, that chest drain was a riot, wasn't it?"
"Finished?" Dean looked up quietly. Sam saw the unshed tears in his eyes.
"Dean" Sam softened, and sat on the bed next to his brother, "I can't go through all that again" he choked, "I can't sit there watching you going grey, gasping for breath, drowning in your own lungs" he picked up the tablets, "I can't do it again". He handed them to Dean.
"If you won't take them for yourself, take them for me. Please."
There it was. Dean's achilles heel; and Sam knew it.
Dean snatched the tablets and shook one out into his hand.
"If it'll stop you whining," he muttered unconvincingly.
"Still doesn't mean I'm sick."
"Of course not," replied Sam with a knowling smile, "preventative measures."
"You're still a woman."
Sam grinned, "that would explain why you were cuddling me when you were asleep."
"You lying snot" growled Dean, "I do not cuddle dudes, especially my own brother - that is just WRONG!"
Sam took immense delight in showing Dean the photo he had taken on his camera phone of the mighty Dean Winchester lying asleep with the face of an angel, clutching his little brother's arm like his life depended upon it.
Dean lunged for the phone, "GIMME THAT …" he yelped.
"Oh no," Sam leapt back and waggled it in front of Dean's face, "if I see any of those tablets left over by the end of the week, this is straight on the email to Bobby!"