Title: In the Long Run
Summary: For the current fic challenge. Prompt by klutzy_girl: "Sam ends up getting sick with a cold three times in a seven week period. There's a hospital trip at one point."
Warnings/Spoilers: Through season 2. Language.
Disclamier: I'm a college student. I don't own anything.
Author's Note: I kind of stretched the definition of "with a cold," but hey, the best parts are when they're Really Fucking Sick, right?
It's been a rough couple of weeks for Sam, what with that whole “Surprise! I might have to kill you!” thing, and Sam's response to stress is the same as it was when he was a little kid: he gets sick. It's like the second he's not actively fighting to stay healthy, he gets bombarded, and isn't that just fitting for the kid who ends up the damsel in distress on every damn hunt? Everything bad is always gunning for Sam, seems like, and a case of the sniffles is sort of a best case scenario in the wonderful world of Winchester.
They don't talk much about it, because what the hell is there to say about a cold? Sam was sort of a sickly kid, so they have a rhythm worked out, and after a year (and two colds already) back together with Sam, they know what they're doing. Sam gets first shower every night when they're back at the motel, and Dean gives his forehead a quick touch a few times a day, nothing constant, nothing fretful, Jesus, just to make sure the fever stays low. When they're doing a supply run, Dean grabs Nyquil along with his six-pack and waits patiently while Sam takes twenty hours to choose what flavor of cough drop he wants.
(And so what if Dean is a little more vehement with the care taking than usual? Sam's jumpy as fuck because he thinks Dean might have to kill him, the least he can do is tug the blanket over Sam's shoulders when he goes to sleep, you know? And, yeah, he looks so fucking pitiful rubbing his nose with his cast.)
Still, the cold gets worse rather than better, and harder and harder to talk around. Sam's sleeping all the damn time and getting soup instead of salads and leaving a trail of tissues behind him like Hansel (Gretel) planning to find his way back to bed. When he wakes up too hoarse to croak out both syllables of 'hello' on a rainy day so cold that Dean really does not fucking understand how it isn't snowing, that's kind of the last straw.
“You want to stay in today?” They're hunting a spirit right now, nothing complicated, a salt and burn, but tracking down the bones is proving to be a bitch and a half. But it's nothing Dean can't handle on his own. Sam's mostly been along for the entertainment value on this one; it doesn't really take two guys to ask the sheriff about cemetery layouts, but it is a lot more fun when your sick little brother can't get a sentence on without sneezing and tries to sing along to the radio in some fractured ghost of a voice (and maybe those feverish smiles make the day a little better, so fucking what?).
Sam coughs into the elbow of his ratty sweatshirt and says, “I'm feeling better.”
“I'm thinking maybe that's bullshit.”
“It isn't.” He rubs at his sinuses. “I sound worse but I'm feeling better.”
“No one's even going to let you into their house without a hazmat suit.”
Sam starts to talk but then pulls his legs up and stifles a load of sneezes into his knees.
“You're being very convincing, here, Sam.”
Sam laughs a little, fuck this kid.
“How's the fever?”
Sam palms his own forehead and says, “Can't tell,” and of course you fucking can't, Sam, that's not how fevers work. Dean sits down on the bed next to him and puts one hand on his forehead and the other on the back of his head.
“Sick kid,” he says.
Sam sneezes, rough and ugly, then touches his fingers to the base of his throat.
“All right, you're staying in. Sleep. No research. No porn.”
Sam puts up exactly zero fight, which is a sure sign Dean's making the right call on this one. He lines up Sam's meds, grabs the kid a cup of water, and sets an alarm on his phone to remind him to call in a few hours and jots BRING HOME TEA (LEMON) on his palm so he won't forget.
He puts a hand on Sam's cast and gives it a little shake on his way out the door.
When he calls mid-day to tell Sam the exciting story of the time Dean found absolutely no goddamn leads, Sam's sleepy as hell but has more of a voice, so there's that. Dean returns after The Exciting Story of Dean Finding No Leads: The Sequel to find Sam snoring on his stomach, his meds dutifully taken, his temperature written down at regular intervals, and his arms wrapped around an extra pillow like it's a fucking stuffed animal. The anal-retentive little chart tracking his fevers shows he's been improving all day.
He wraps a hand around Sam's rib cage and shakes him gently. “Hey, kid. Tea.”
Sam blearily blinks at him a few times, then makes the connection between cup and for me? and his face lights up like Dean is fucking Santa Claus. And the next morning, when Sam's eighty percent better, Dean feels pretty damn proud of the both of them.
Except he stalls at eighty percent. Overall, he's fine, but when they're chasing a chupacabra in Washburn and he's winded in half his usual time, Dean can tell he's frustrated. But he's been well for all of a week and a half and it's fucking cold out here, so it's not like it's unexpected, right?
So Dean makes a big fucking deal out of Sam finding cases and Sam taking out bad guys and Sam doing whatever other Samly shit he does, and he can see Sam side-eyeing him wondering since when him finishing his breakfast is worthy of celebration, but fuck him, you know? If he had a sick kid, he'd be doing stupid shit too.
Except Sam isn't sick.
But sometimes, looking at him still run down, looking at him falling asleep three hours too early, looking at him ordering soup at every fucking diner, that's kind of hard to remember.
So when he wakes up a week later with a fever, it's almost a relief. He's definitively sick, and that's something they can work with.
But it's not like last time. Sam's shivering from head to toe and flinching away from his sweat-soaked sheets, so Dean helps him up and guides him into Dean's bed. He's pliant and sleepy, rubbing his eyes with both hands, and he hasn't said a fucking word.
He rests a hand on Sam's forehead and shit, he's really damn hot.
“How bad is this?” he says, softly.
Sam shrugs and pushes his face into the mattress, and Dean doesn't need a thermometer to know this is the sickest he's seen Sam in a long time. Since before Stanford, definitely.
That doesn't mean a thermometer wouldn't be nice.
“Hey, c'mere.” He rolls Sam on his side so he's facing him, rescuing his broken wrist from where he's trapped it under his chest. “I'm going to do a drug store run. You want anything besides the usual?”
Dean gets a sad little headshake that makes him feel like Sam does want something, he's just not willing to open his mouth and ask for it.
“Throat bad, kid?”
A shrug and then a nod.
“Okay. I'll get drugs. I think you churned through all the Nyquil last time we dealt with this shit,” Dean says, and immediately feels kind of guilty because of how obviously worse Sam feels this time around. This isn't the same thing.
Sam burrows into the arms of his sweatshirt.
“I'll be back soon. Try not to fall apart until I get back?”
Another nod. Good kid.
Yeah, but Dean gets back and Sam's doing that feverish wandering thing, pacing in anxious circles in front of the beds, and at least he didn't leave the room like he does sometimes when he's sick, and Dean has to track him down and find him half a mile away with no shoes on. This Sam doesn't look like he'd even have the energy to make it to the hallway.
“Whatcha doing, Sammy?”
Sam looks at his hands, then up at Dean and croaks out, “I don't know,” and Christ, he's hoarse. He's throat-full-of-gravel hoarse.
“Youuu have a fever. C'mon, sit.” He plants Sam at the foot of the bed and holds up the brand new thermometer, but Sam doesn't take it and doesn't open his mouth, just gives it these wary glances like he thinks it might be the monster behind their next hunt or some shit (when, really, they're between cases, so there's no reason not to rest up, so take the fucking thermometer, Sam).
“Hey,” Dean says. “What's wrong?”
Sam swallows and immediately winces, and oh, okay. He doesn't want to open his mouth that much.
“Do this for me and I'll leave you alone,” Dean says, and Sam nods heavily and slowly opens his mouth. Dean's going to take a flashlight to that throat later, but for now he just gives the kid's cheek a pat and slips the thermometer under his tongue. Sam's still antsy and agitated, like he always is when he has a fever, and sitting still's rough on him. Dean sits next to him and lets Sam twist his fingers up.
A speck under 103, so yeah, this sucks.
Sam gives a painful-sounding sneeze and immediately clamps his hand to his throat, and just fuck sick kids, okay, because Dean doesn't like feeling anxious like this, doesn't like it one fucking bit, and it's this twitchy feeling in his stomach that only shows up when Sam is sick (or when he thinks about killing him, turns out, isn't life exciting?).
He puts Sam to bed with a dose of Nyquil he practically has to beg him into swallowing, and he spends the day scanning newspapers and pretending not to watch Sam for the sweat that would indicate the fever breaking.
It doesn't come.
Two days later, Sam's no better, with a fever that never drops below 102 and headaches that leave him panting, and Dean finally gives up and suggests a doctor. Sam thinks about it and then nods, because Sam's a fucking superhero, it turns out, and he's just this good little patient in the waiting room of the clinic, filling out paperwork and sniffling into the scarf Dean insisted he wear (because it's fucking cold and Sam's throat is sick, come on).
The doctor looks at him for all of thirty seconds before sticking a swab down the kid's throat that he even says is unnecessary because he obviously has strep, so did he really have to stick the thing in him and make him gag? And they knew it was strep, thanks, they do in fact have an internet connection, Dean was just hoping Superhero Sammy could kick the thing's ass without help.
But they get some antibiotic syrup because his throat's too sore for pills, and the doctor says he'll feel better in a few days.
“All right, drama queen,” Dean says, giving Sam's hair a ruffle on the way back to the car. “Now you've got to get well. This has been quite a production.”
“Shoulda just shot me like a horse,” Sam says. Half the syllables stick in his throat, but it's enough.
Dean looks away.
They don't talk the rest of the way back to the motel.
The antibiotics help. By the next week, Sam's voice is almost all the way back, even if he does have to rub at his throat every few sentences. His energy level's finally back to normal, and if not for the lingering lost voice and low fever, Dean would think he was all better.
They deal with a spirit in Maine and investigate what looks like a shifter in Connecticut but turns out to just be a serial killer, good times. They catch wind of a werewolf and head West, stopping at gross motels and eating greasy diner food and poking each other with their forks and kicking each other under tables and arguing about who gets the first shower and everything seems to be coming up roses or whatever the fuck.
And then Sam starts coughing.
It's this dry thing at first, nagging, and even though Dean knows he fucking shouldn't be coughing--it was on the list of symptoms for strep, the one that sealed the deal for Dean: no fucking coughing—he lets Sam convince him that it's just the last of the bacteria leaving his system or whatever the hell. He gives Sam some antibiotics he finds lodged in the trunk that are probably expired or fermented or whatever the fuck medicine does but Sam is sick and Dean has to make it better, and apparently he's really shitty at it, so yeah, if Sam really is getting sick again, he'll be giving him all the fucking medicine again.
“I'm okay,” Sam says, not in a don't fuss over me way, in a don't fucking freak out way, because they're driving through Illinois and maybe Dean got a little uncomfortably close to running into some midwesterners because he was busy glancing at his coughing kid, fine.
It's not that the cough is that bad, it's that Sam's still got a throat that sounds (and looks, Jesus) like he tried to gargle cut glass, and each of these weak little coughs is fucking killing him. Basically, he has some damn nerve to say he's okay when he's sitting in the passenger seat with his forehead against the window and one hand permanently anchored to the base of his throat.
“Yeah, you're just peachy.”
Sam takes a breath that sounds congested, and wow, Dean doesn't like that one bit.
“I don't know what this is,” Sam says after a minute, in this strangled voice, and if that doesn't kill Dean's hostility, nothing will. “I don't know what's going on,” Sam says, and, yep, that'll do it.
“You want to sleep in the backseat?”
Sam shakes his head and coughs more, grip tightening around the base of his throat.
“We need to stop?”
Sam shrugs at this, and Dean reaches over and doesn't even have to make contact with Sam's forehead before he feels the fever pouring off him.
“Yeah,” he says. 'We're stopping.”
Sam doesn't argue.
He's 103, which they should probably just assign as his new normal temperature at this point, goddamn it, and shivering under the thin motel blanket. Dean runs a washcloth older cold water and distinctly remembers watching John do this for a very sick Sammy, sponging a panting kid while Dean sat at the foot of the bed and held onto the tops of Sam's socks and wondered if his baby brother would die from the fucking flu. He remembers John's hand on top of Dean's head, telling him don't worry, Sam's strong, nothing can hurt Sammy.
He shuts off the tap and hears that Sam's coughing again, but it's different now, deeper and wet, and it sounds like it's trying to scrape his throat clean, and as nice as that solution sounds, Dean doesn't guess that it's feeling too good for Sam.
Sure enough, when he steps out of the bathroom Sam's curled up tight, one hand around his throat (like fucking always, when was the last time Sam's throat didn't hurt, seriously) and the other, the casted one, pressed against his chest as best he can, eyes squeezed shut.
He's kind of past the point of teasing. Dean nudges him over with his hip and sits on the edge of Sam's bed. He folds up the washcloth and holds it to Sam's temple. Sam breathes out and nods a little.
He coughs just a little, nothing productive. Enough to hurt. “Uh-huh.”
Dean doesn't know what the fuck else to do—they don't have cough medicine, because up until two days ago, Sam wasn't fucking coughing—so he just sits there and cradles Sam's cast a little and watches him cough and shiver.
“I'm sorry about this, Sam.”
Sam opens an eye and gives him a small smile.
“We'll stay in tomorrow, okay? Full moon's not for another week. We've got time. You still feel this shitty, I'll bring you to some clinic and be like fix hiiiiim.” It's supposed to make Sam laugh.
It just gets another one of those weak smiles and a croaked out, “Sunday.”
“Fuuuck. Where do sick people go on Sundays?”
Sam shrugs and the coughs and coughs and fucking coughs, and God, that's got to hurt, and Dean hears something rattling and he doesn't need to dig to take his temperature again to know the fever hasn't fucking budged.
And Sam doesn't have enough hands (and certainly not enough functioning ones, Jesus) to hold his chest and his throat and cover his mouth, so Dean “shh shh shh”s him and lays one of his hands over Sam's diaphragm and presses his other sleeve against Sam's mouth for him to cough into. Sam gives him this little nod that's probably supposed to be grateful but he's coughing too fucking hard for Dean to concentrate on anything the hell else.
He grips Sam around the ribs through the fit and as soon as it's done moves his hand to Sam's temple and whispers, “Okay, it's okay, you're okay.”
Sam sniffles and nods and Dean takes his sleeve away from his mouth.
“Can you drink some water for me, get some Nyquil down?”
“Yeah,” Sam says, or mouths, pretty much. He hasn't relaxed his grip on his throat. Dean pours meds and brings water and it takes Sam a while, but he chokes it all down.
“You're so fucking good, kiddo.”
He sleeps ragged and hard, like he has for most of the past two months, because that's how he sleeps when he has a fucking fever, and yeah, any time that would like to break, that'd be nice. The wet, miserable breathing is new, as is the hand that stays clamped around his throat even in his sleep, but at least he's sleeping, and sleeping means not coughing, and not coughing means Sam's going to be okay (he doesn't know when the fuck this became a rule, because Sam's been not okay a fuck lot longer than he's been coughing, but Dean's the big brother and that means he gets to make shit up, and it means Sam has to get well).
Four hours later, that cough explodes back into Dean's world, and seconds later there's a hot hand on his arm shaking him awake, like there was any fucking chance he wasn't getting up.
Sam sits down heavily on the edge of Dean's bed and coughs, and it's worse than before, long and clogged and horrible like someone's shoved a whole tray of ice cubes down his kid's lungs and they're choking him and freezing him and hurting him, hurting him. Sam's grabbing these weak breaths when he can, his good hand still gripping his neck like that's going to fucking do anything other than suffocate him a bit faster.
Dean multitasks by holding him up with a hand on his forehead, and yeah, no thermometer necessary, they've definitely hit Not Fucking Okay degrees.
“ER. Can you stand up? ER, now.”
Apparently, sick people go to the ER on Sundays, that's the answer, and apparently everyone in Peoria is sick, who the fuck would have known, because it's packed, Dean-sitting-next-to-some-sick-stranger packed, Sam-sitting-next-to-some-sick-stranger packed, and judging by the guy with the clearly broken leg who says he's been waiting for three hours, Sam and his cough and his fever have a long wait ahead of them, and Dean's tempted to say fuck this and bring his sick kid back to the motel and take care of him there, because at least there's a bed there instead of these hideous hospital seats where Sam can't even lean into him without taking an armrest to his sore ribs.
But he doesn't say fuck this, because Sam's fever is spiking and the cough is tearing through him so loudly that the other people waiting have stopped glaring at him like he has the plague and just look sorry for him, and isn't that a trip, fifty sick people looking at this kid who a few week ago had just a sore throat like he's on his goddamn death bed (which he so, so, so is not).
Dean's getting pretty good at telling Sam's fever with just his hands, and if that isn't a sign of what a shitty winter it's been, he's not sure what is. The fact that Sam's hovering around a hundred and five is a nice cherry on top, though.
So the fever and the cough are having a battle to see which one can scare Dean the most, and then Sam starts crying, so congratulations, fever and cough, second and third place for you.
“Hey hey Sam. Hey hey hey Sammy.”
He wipes his cheeks and takes a ragged breath, and that makes him cough, of-fucking-course, and God, he's just completely fucking wrung out, and that means it's time for him to get the fuck away from all these goddamn people before he (or Dean) has some kind of nervous breakdown.
But that's just not possible, so he does the next best, thing, which is to wrap an arm around Sam's back and bring him close and into his chest until he's hidden under Dean's coat, cheek against his chest.
“This okay?” he says softly.
Sam nods and coughs and coughs into Dean's t-shirt and Dean rubs his back and glares at anyone who looks like they're thinking of sneezing anywhere the fuck near them and stares up at the clock and counts minutes and hates everything in the whole world except for this gasping, sniffling, coughing coughing coughing thing held to his chest.
Two hours later, Sam's fingernails are turning purple, and waiting is immediately over.
Pneumonia on top of strep throat. Even the doctor is impressed.
Sam's a champ and does well on oxygen, which is good because Dean doubts they could get a straw, never mind a tube, down that throat, and he leans against Dean's shoulder while they do blood work because the no-cuddling ship has fucking sailed so yeah, Dean tucks the kid under his arm and makes sure the oxygen mask's on tight enough and bothers a nurse about the fever.
Sam gets codeine and IV antibiotics and hand against his cheek while he sleeps.
Dean gets fifty loads of paperwork and finally, finally, a little relief.
They spend three days in the hospital and another two playing hospital in a slightly-above shitty motel while Sam sleeps and coughs (less, so much less, and his throat is all pink and healthy and okay) and Dean feeds him soup (do you know how worried the doctor was? Dean gets to fucking feed his kid soup if he wants to, fuck off).
Four days after that, Sam's takes his first shower without Dean waiting outside the door in case he fucking collapses, and when he comes out, Dean clears his throat and looks up from the laptop and says, “Do you know how much this hospital bill would be? Assuming we had any intention of paying this hospital bill?”
Sam sits on the foot of the bed and rubs his head with a towel, and look at him, doing normal shit that healthy people do. “How much?”
“Like, twenty-five thousand dollars.”
“Shut the fuck up.”
“I'm completely serious.”
“You know what this means, right?”
Sam raises his eyebrows.
Dean moves to sit next to him and gives him a jab in the ribs. “You're an investment.”
He looks at Sam's face and sees that he gets it.
“So you better make it worth it,” Dean says. He taps Sam's shoulder with his knuckles. “You better stick around for a really long time.”
Sam smiles at him.