Betas: souleswanderer and summerholt
Word Count: 2,978
Spoilers: Vague spoilers through season 6
Disclaimer: If I owned it, it'd be a hell of a lot happier.
Summary: Dean is sick and delirious and clingy and Sam is awesome but also a bit at a loss. Also, Dean has a lot to say. Apparently fever can do that to you.
A/N: Written for the Dean-focused hurt/comfort challenge at hoodie_time.
Dean tracks his movements around the small motel room, green eyes honing in like lasers as Sam drops his duffel bag on the other bed. Sam doesn’t know if he should ask, or if he even has the right to ask because there’s a whole heap of stuff Dean’s not telling him about when he was running around without a soul. Sam wants to call him on it, to tell him secrets never got them anything but a boatload of trouble and deals they never should have made, but he keeps his mouth shut. He can see things pretty clearly from the glass house he’s standing in.
“How are you feeling?” Sam asks, pretending to find his dirty socks concealed in his bag incredibly interesting. They’re going to need to do laundry soon.
“Fine,” Dean mutters as he rubs his glassy eyes. Always the same answer, never wavering and forever constant. It’s one of the few things that haven’t changed.
“You sure? You look like –“
“I said I was fine,” Dean growls as he snatches the remote control from the bedside table and switches on the television. It ends the conversation as effectively as if Dean walked out of the room and slammed the door closed. Sam won’t push because there’s no point. Most of what they say to each other is complete bullshit anyway. But there was a time he would have demanded answers, when he would have held him down, a hand pressed to his forehead and fingers wrapped around his wrist, mapping his symptoms like clues for a case.
Dean coughs, rusty and wet, like an old car struggling to turn the engine over. Sam winces, aching to do something, anything to help. It’s been awhile since they’ve stocked their medication kit, and that’s something he can do. It’s better than watching his brother suffer in silence, watching Dean scrutinize him like at any second Sam is going to spontaneously combust and there won’t be a damn thing Dean can do to stop it.
He grabs the keys off the table, and Dean struggles to sit up, eyes wide as the sheets pool at his waist. “Where you going?”
“The store,” Sam says. “I’ll be back in a bit.”
Dean opens his mouth, and for a second Sam thinks he’s going to say something, he’s going to ask him to stay, but Dean waves him off with a grunt, and Sam can hear his violent coughing after he closes the door.
He makes a conscious effort not to hurry because Dean’s made it abundantly clear he doesn’t need or want his help. He’s gone less than an hour. Fuck Dean, anyway.
He opens the door quietly in case Dean’s asleep, and after he drops the bag from CVS on the table, he turns to find the bed empty. The bathroom door is open and the small room is dark. The shower stall is dry, and it doesn’t take an investigator to realize Dean is gone. Without his car. Dean's cell is on the bedside table mocking Sam with its obviousness.
“What the hell, Dean?” Sam mutters.
Dean’s not in the lobby, and the clerk hasn’t seen him. He’s not in the diner just up the street or the bar around the corner which Sam is particularly surprised about. He’s starting to worry. Okay, he’s passed worried. Dean has no business being out of bed, and there’s always the chance he didn’t leave willingly which means he left unwillingly, also known as someone or something took him, and considering their history, that means nothing good can come of this.
Luckily before Sam can imagine Dean bound and gagged in a variety of compromising positions, he finds him sitting on the steps of the library nearly a half mile away from the motel looking relatively coherent and unharmed. Dean’s talking to a scantily clad woman who’s probably pushing forty but trying for thirty considering the caked on makeup. His hand is above his head and he’s gesturing wildly as the woman looks on, a gentle smile curving her hard features. She’s obviously a hooker, but Sam knows they’re not discussing business. Dean could do better anyway. He shakes his head, pushing that thought away.
“Dean,” Sam says, struggling to keep his voice even as relief battles frustration. “What the hell, man?”
Dean glares at him, pushing to his feet, an eyebrow raised as if he’s trying to decipher some particularly difficult Latin, and Sam slows to a stop in front of him.
“Dean?” It’s gentle because relief eventually wins out.
Dean pokes Sam in the chest, his body swaying forward with his outstretched hand. “I’ve been looking for you.”
Sam blinks at him. “For me? Why?”
“He has –“ the prostitute nods – “been looking for you. He was just telling me what you look like.” She shifts her glance to Dean, sculpted eyebrow raised. “You were being generous with your description.”
“I told you I was just going to the store,” Sam explains. The woman glares at Sam as if he’s done something wrong, and he finds himself rushing to justify his actions to a complete stranger. “I said I was coming back.”
Dean cocks his head to the side. He looks like he’s struggling for words and what he settles on is, “You were gone.”
The woman’s eyes narrow, and Sam barely resists wilting beneath her disdainful gaze. Not that it matters, he doesn’t need affirmation from complete strangers.
Dean sways to the left, and the woman grabs his arm and presses her other hand to his forehead. “Sweetheart, you’re burning up,” she says gently as she slides her hand down to press against his cheek. “You need a doctor.”
Dean shakes his head and takes a step back when he starts to cough. This little trip has sapped his waning energy, and Dean needs to be in bed resting, not out chatting up hookers on the steps of the local library.
“And that’s our cue,” Sam says as he steps closer to Dean. He rests his hand lightly on Dean’s shoulder; pressing just enough so Dean registers he’s there. “Thanks for your help, ma’am.” It’s a polite dismissal.
“Her name’s Tiffany,” Dean wheezes.
Of course it is. “Thanks for your help, Tiffany,” Sam amends with a smile that he hopes sends the message step away from my brother right the hell now.
Tiffany chews on her lip which leaves red lipstick on her teeth. “You sure you’re okay?”
Dean pats her shoulder a few times. “Yeah, Sammy will take care of me.” He pauses, considering, and Sam takes a moment to regroup. “Fucker owes me after all. I used to clean up his puke all the time.”
“Nice, Dean,” Sam grumbles as he starts guiding Dean back to their motel room. He should have brought the damn car. He considers leaving Dean with an order to stay put while he gets the car, but considering this evening’s charades, Dean will probably decide on another search and rescue adventure and Sam will spend the rest of the evening trying to track him down.
“Well I did,” Dean mutters.
Sam nods, holding on to Dean a little tighter when his steps start flagging. “Yeah, you did.” It takes nearly thirty minutes to make it back to their room at the snail’s pace they’re keeping. Sam unlocks the door and lets Dean go in before him. Sam turns to lock the door and he’s holding his breath when he asks, “So are you going to let me take care of you now?”
Dean doesn’t say anything, and Sam sighs, pressing his forehead to the door. It shouldn’t be this hard. He swallows, takes two seconds to mentally collect himself, and with a final nod he turns around…and nearly collides with Dean who’s standing roughly two inches from him.
“Holy crap, Dean!” Sam screeches as he pushes himself flat against the door.
Dean lifts his eyebrow, fever-ridden eyes still assessing him with lightning fast accuracy. “You smell different.”
Sam was expecting a crack about his slow reflexes or at least a ‘Did I scare you, Princess?’ “I smell different?”
Dean nods. “Yeah, you do.” He shrugs and ambles to the bed, kicking off his shoes as he goes.
Sam watches him carefully, wondering if this is something he should bother pursuing or just chalk it up to Dean’s fever-addled brain trying to process the world while it’s slowly cooking inside Dean’s thick skull. In the end, Sam’s curiosity gets the better of him. “What do I normally smell like?”
Dean shrugs one shoulder as he pulls the covers back and collapses on the bed. “I don’t know. The Impala, I guess. Cheap detergent and old books.” He fiddles with the edge of the blanket. “Me.”
Sam laughs nervously. “I hope I smell better than that.”
“I like the way you smell.” Dean’s quick to respond, too quick. Like his brain to mouth filter is turned off. Dean acts like he says everything that comes into his mind, but he doesn’t. He’s way too smart for that, no matter what tough guy, I could give a rat’s ass persona he’s trying to play. “Except when you were slurping down demon blood. Made you smell funny.” Dean’s nose crinkles, and he grabs a wad of toilet paper on the nightstand a second before he sneezes. “Made you act funny, too, but we’ve covered that.”
He should say something, apologize maybe or ask Dean what the hell he’s playing at, why he’s bringing that up now. Sam does what neither Winchester is good at; he leaves it alone. He pulls out the cold medicine he picked up at the pharmacy, opting for the Nyquil because Dean needs to sleep, and Sam might be avoiding this new honesty thing Dean’s got going, but, hey, Dean’s sick and needs to rest.
He pours a little over the recommended dosage into the small plastic cup and carries it to the bed. “Drink this.”
Dean eyes the green liquid warily. “Dude, I’m not drinking that. It looks better than it tastes. Not even sure how that’s possible.”
“Come on,” Sam encourages. “You need to take this. You’ve got a fever, and this will help.” All of this Dean knows, but Sam says it anyway because talking is a whole lot better than the elephant that’s been in the room since Sam’s soul came rolling back into town.
“Why didn’t you get the gel caps? I always got you the gel caps when we could afford it. Even stole them a few times when we couldn’t.”
“That’s ‘cause you’re a better brother than I am,” Sam replies easily. It’s easy because it’s the truth.
“You’re so full of shit,” Dean scoffs, taking the cup from Sam and tossing the liquid back like he would a shot. It goes down easily enough and Sam passes him a bottle of water with the cap already off. Dean slurps the water down greedily, and Sam moves to the other bed. He switches on his laptop, and doesn’t say anything as Dean continues to watch him. He’ll be out like a light in less than hour anyway.
Sam’s stretched out on the bed, his laptop resting on his thighs as he softly taps the keys to bring up Google. He pulled off his shirt a few minutes ago after Dean insisted he turn off the air condition.
“I used to count your ribs.”
Sam jerks his head to the right, peering at Dean’s still form huddled under the blankets. “What?”
“I used to count your ribs,” Dean repeats softly, apropos of nothing. His voice is thick, heavy, but he sounds awake enough.
“Okay.” He lets the word stretch and hang in the air. When Dean doesn’t say anything else, Sam shrugs and goes back to his research.
“Ruby must have been a hell of a lay.” He giggles like he just made a joke.
“What?!” Sam says, much louder than necessary in the quiet of their motel room.
“She must have been good in the sack. Lots of experience, ‘ya know? Fucking disgusting if you ask me, but the you can’t tell me she didn’t pick up a few tricks in-“
Sam cuts across him. “Shouldn’t you be sleeping? You want more meds?” He shoves his laptop aside and goes to the table to pick through the medications he bought.
The bed creeks as Dean sits up, and Sam turns with a bottle of Nyquil in one hand and a package of Theraflu in the other. “What are you doing? Stay in bed.”
“Just wanted to see,” Dean mumbles, eyes blinking as he tries to focus.
Sam waves the medication in Dean’s direction pointing out the obvious. He stares at the packages in his hands, has a ‘what the fuck am I doing?’ moment, and drops them back on the table. The last thing he needs to do is overdose his brother because he’s too chickenshit to deal with Dean’s fever induced rambling.
He walks past the beds to the bathroom. He’s pulling the door closed when he hears a dull thud. Sam’s at Dean’s side faster than you can say Christo.
“Dean, what the hell, man? What are you doing?” He drops to one knee next to Dean who’s on his knees on the floor.
“The fucking floor won’t stop moving.”
He grips Dean’s biceps. “Bed on three, okay?”
Dean nods and allows Sam to take most of his weight when he reaches three. Once Dean’s resettled, Sam stares at him helplessly.
“Did you need something? Bathroom? Water? Anything?”
Dean shakes his head. “Couldn’t see you.”
Sam’s eyes widen. “What do you mean… I was going to the bathroom. That’s all.” All bullshit aside, Sam knows they’re codependent. He’s learned to live with it. More than that, he’s learned he can’t live without it, but this is a little excessive.
“I couldn’t see you,” Dean repeats. “Been so long since I’ve seen you.”
It’s like navigating a minefield, but Sam has a feeling what Dean is referencing. “And before? What were you seeing before?”
“Not you.” Dean grins, all teeth and angles and it’s painfully beautiful. Sam wants to grin back if for no reason than Dean’s smiling, carefree and warm. “But now you’re you again so it’s all good.” He pats Sam’s chest, letting his hand linger over Sam’s heart. “I’m glad you’re you again. Have I said that? I meant to say that.”
“Um. I’m glad I’m me, too.” It’s better than the alternative. It’s better than being high on demon blood. It’s a thousand times better than trying to navigate this world without the one constant in his life. Unfortunately reality comes crashing back by way of an overfull bladder. “But I’ve still gotta piss.”
Dean glances at the bathroom door like it’s a thousand miles away. “Maybe I could come –“
Sam rushes to reassure him. “I’ll just leave the door cracked. Keep talking. I’ll listen.”
“What should I talk about?” Dean asks after Sam leaves his side for the bathroom.
“Whatever you want,” Sam replies through the open door. As soon as the words leave his mouth, he wants to kick himself for not guiding the conversation to safer topics – favorite pizza toppings or something mundane like that.
Dean stumbles a few times, mentioning Cas and burgers and a liquor store, but it’s disjointed and Sam struggles to follow him. After that, he finds some kind of verbal stride and doesn’t stop. He talks about Bobby and playing hide and seek in the salvage yard. He talks about Dad and being able to shoot a can at fifty yards. Dad was proud that day, and Dean recalls his face like it was yesterday, yelling that’s my boy. He talks about things that don’t matter like burger toppings, and things that really do matter, like what it means to keep his family safe, keep them together.
Sam switches the light off before he settles on his bed. He figures Dean will wear himself out soon enough, but his voice is continues in the darkness, only pausing to cough occasionally. It’s a struggle to stay awake, sleep tugging on the recesses of his mind.
There’s a brief pause and Sam thinks finally as he presses his face against the pillow.
“Why’d we stop sleeping together?”
Sam’s awake instantly and stunned to silence, his voice dying in his throat. The answer is simple in its complexity. Because Dean sold his soul and went to Hell. Because Sam got hooked on demon blood. Because of the apocalypse. Because Sam jumped into the pit and came back without his soul. And now? Because neither one of them knows how to make the first move, because they don’t know how to bridge the gap they’ve spent over three years building.
“And by sleeping, I mean fucking.”
Sam manages to scrape together enough of his voice to reply. “Yeah, I gathered that.”
“C’mere,” Dean whispers. It’s soft like an invitation, but there’s no hesitancy.
There are a million things Sam should say, apologies, perhaps, or maybe excuses, but he finds himself standing over Dean’s bed with no idea how he actually got there, but knowing without a doubt that there’s no place he’d rather be. Dean pulls back the covers and Sam slips between the soft sheets without thinking.
Dean rests his hand on Sam’s stomach like it belongs there, like they never stopped, calloused fingers sending shivers down his spine.
Sam swallows as heat pools below his stomach. “Dean, I don’t think you’re up for…”
Dean’s hand shifts, sliding down his side as nimble fingers ghost over each rib with practiced ease. “Go to sleep, Sam.”
Sam eventually drifts off, unable to fight his exhaustion any longer, and Dean aligns his breathing with the silent count in his head.