The Mighty, They Fall Hard
Oh, the mighty, they fall hard, and Sam knows better than to ignore the warning signs of the onset of the downward spiral. Of course, drawing attention to the warning signs is even worse, so he has to find the delicate, fine line between.
Sam stops on the way out of the convenience mart, squints at where the Impala is parked across the lot. It's the middle of July in the Midwest, but Dean is huddled on the bench seat in one of his flannel-lined coats, dug out of the guts of the trunk while Sam was hitting the head.
Under an unrelenting afternoon sun, he lays a palm on the hot roof of the car and stoops to gape at his brother through the open window, beads of sweat running between his shoulder blades. "You're cold?"
Dean shrugs. "What about it?"
Sam rolls his lips over a grin. "Nothin.' Shove over. It's your turn at the wheel."
Dean sniffs and burrows deeper into his coat. "Yeah. You can drive 'til we stop for the night."
"Okay." Sam yanks open the door and drops onto the seat, tosses a handful of candy onto Dean's lap. "They were out of peanut," he says, pointing to the brown bag of M&Ms in the mix.
Dean makes a face at the mess of rapidly melting chocolate in his lap and shoves it all aside. "Thanks, but no thanks."
"You don't want candy? You? Don't want candy?"
Dean shoots him a glare, and Sam figures he's teetering on that fine line. "Guess not."
Yeah, Sam figures he's got about five hours to find a room for them to hole up in to ride this one out, before shit hits the fan in a very rare but incredibly real way.
Dean crosses the room and falls face-down onto the bed furthest from the door, a sign in itself of his relinquishing control to Sam for the near future.
Sam drops his duffel bag to the spread of his own bed and sighs. "You want the boots off?"
"Don't touch me."
Dean squirms a little, trying to toe the heavy boots off himself, but he's not going get very far with the way those mothers are laced and tied. Ready for combat, for sprinting, jumping, stomping. A little foray with sloppy, feverish twitching certainly isn't sending them to the floor.
"You sure you don't want help with that?"
"Bite me, Sam."
It starts with a sniffle.
A sniffle, and then a cough, and then a lot of stupid, stubborn refusal to take so much as one aspirin, and now two very, very long days later Sam is woken by his cell phone. Which is not necessarily unusual, but when he focuses on the screen, he's pretty sure it reads Dean Cell 3, and Dean is asleep in the next bed. Or, is supposed to be.
Sam rolls and squints into the dark, confirming there's at least a person-sized lump under the covers, even if he can't easily identify any parts that for sure belong to his brother. "Dean. Are you…calling me? From the other side of the room?"
"'M callin' in sick today," his brother responds, raspy and blanket-muffled and chuckling at himself. "Doin' it nice and proper. Thought you'd appreciate that, Sammy."
Sam drops his cell to the bedside table and drags himself up on an elbow. He kicks the rest of the tangled covers off of his feet and all the way to the floor. The small room might as well be a sauna, it's so baking hot. "You sound like ass, man. Ass that got caught in a wood chipper."
"That was kinda poetic, Sammy." Dean's voice is not dissimilar to a rock scraping against a chalkboard.
Sam pulls himself fully out of bed and goes to the thermostat. "You turn this up after I went to sleep?"
"Hell yeah, I did. It's like a friggin' meat locker in here."
Sam shakes his head. "You stay in bed today, okay? Go ahead and take that sick day. You're kinda gross right now."
Dean coughs long and pathetically, makes a face and swallows back whatever he's managed to dislodge, which pretty much only proves Sam's point.
Sam always keeps a novel or two in his bag for such occasions, rare as they are. Horror or mystery, but nothing too dense. An enjoyable quick read. Dean is supposed to be sleeping, but he's being far too noisy for that to be the case.
The strangled sounds coming from across the room are similar to how Sam would imagine a pug with a cold would sound, if the pug was also a lifetime smoker. He sets the paperback on his knee, barely into the third chapter. "Can you even breathe?"
"Nope," his brother rasps. "I died a few hours ago. I'm the ghost of Dean Winchester, and I'm here to haunt your ass into next Wednesday for not letting me ever freakin' sleep."
Sam's not going to go so far as to say Dean can't be threatening; oh, hell yes, he can. Just not right now. Right now he's a little more than six feet of pathetic misery covered in sweat and snot who can't figure out if he's too hot or too cold. And Sam might be on the verge of cabin fever. "Okay," he says, "but just til next Wednesday, right?"
"Sammy, I swear to God." Dean coughs harshly enough to bring himself jackknifing off of his bed. He groans and thrashes, violently tossing his covers aside. "Can you turn the damn heat off, Sam? I'm melting over here."
It's been difficult to interpret everything Dean's saying without the benefit of consonants, but Sam figures he's getting the hang of it.
Sam's just happy they aren't responsible for the utilities in this dump, because the dial of the thermostat's been moving between 63 and 77 so often, they're likely to short out the system for the entire motel. There's something bright and cartoony on the TV for Dean to watch when he isn't drifting off into restless, snore-riddled sleep, something that doesn't require an excess of brain cells working at full capacity.
Every time he swallows, Dean whimpers like a dog who got caught in a slamming door, and he's chain-sucking from an economy-sized bag of cherry flavored cough drops.
Sam sighs and sets his book aside once more. Nine hours, and he's made it halfway through Chapter Seven. "You want some more water?"
"I wan' some beer."
"Sorry, bro." Sam peeks at his watch, runs the calculations. "You're already doubled-up on the cough syrup. I'm not throwing beer into that equation just yet."
Dean throws his head back against his pillows and groans miserably. "Then just shoot me, Sammy."
"You're still a ghost, right? So, the rock salt then?"
Dean glares. "Don't you think that's a little redundant?"
"Pulling out the four-dollar words." Sam raises his eyebrows. "I'm impressed."
"Stop bein' a bitch and get me a beer."
"Say it nicely."
"I'm just saying, Dean, I'm gonna need a little motivation to come anywhere near you right now without full hazmat gear."
"For starters, don't call me bitch, jerk."
Dean rolls his eyes toward Sam and blinks heavily. "Princess Samantha, may I please have a beer."
Sam bobs his head and takes a long drink from his own bottle. "No, you may not."
"Get me some food."
Sam's own stomach growls its agreement of Dean's latest demand. "Sure. You want soup?"
"Hell no, I don't want soup. You know how you should've figured out I don't want soup? Because I said get me some FOOD. Soup is not food. Soup is like…food's dirty bathwater."
Sam cocks his head. "That was kinda poetic." His callback goes by unnoticed and unappreciated, and he tosses the last of the clean, folded laundry to the bedspread with a sigh. Even did Dean's and everything. "So what do you want? A steak? Chili cheese fries? Those sound like things you wanna try swallowing right now?"
He's expecting a joke, sets it up perfectly. Dean doesn't rise to the occasion, just coughs pathetically.
Oh, my God. "What about some pie?" Sam offers as a compromise.
Dean's eyebrow twitches with interest, but his glassy eyes stay plastered on the bright television screen.
Halfway there. "With ice cream?"
"Okay," he says meekly.
"Okay." Sam bobs his head. "I'll be back."
"Can you turn up the thing again? It's freakin' freezing in here."
Dean's coherent, snappish request for dinner had lulled Sam into a false sense of security. He should have known better.
A furnace blast of heat rushes out of the room when Sam pulls the door open, and after trudging through the dry heat outside, he can almost FEEL the air he's moving through. He wrinkles his nose. "You warmed up yet, Dean, because I don't think I can…"
Dean is OUT, rolled up in blankets despite the heat in the room with his face pressed into his pillow, drooling a puddle and snoring to wake the dead. His right hand is tucked suspiciously under his pillow, and Sam shoots a quick glance at the weapons bag on the floor by the door to confirm it's been rifled through.
He drops the bags of dinner to the tabletop. Well. Shit.
Feverish, disoriented Dean is good for a laugh, but feverish, disoriented, ARMED Dean is going to put a hole in one of the walls. Or Sam.
He approaches cautiously, stops at the foot of the bed and jiggles the mattress with the toe of his shoe. Nothing. He takes another step closer. "Dean?"
Still nothing again, save the snoring.
Sam swallows and creeps closer, reaching tentatively with an outstretched hand. He can FEEL the heat that's coming off of his brother.
Dean comes up off the bed before Sam actually touches him, takes a sloppy swing with the gun he's got in hand.
Sam easily ducks away from the pistol, grabs it from his brother's loose grasp on the way down.
"Exactly," Sam answers. "I'm just gonna put this" – he holds up the Beretta – "and all of the rest of the guns in the trunk, okay? At least until you're feeling better."
"I feel fine, Sammy."
"I know you do. Even so."
"D'you bring me my pie?"
"Yep. And I'll get it for you as soon as I make sure anything you could kill me with is locked in the car."
"Can you turn the thing down again?"
Oh, the mighty, they fall hard.