The sound of something falling jolted Sam from sleep. But his eyes were open before he was really awake and it took him a few seconds to get his bearings. He grunted, rubbed his eyes, and looked toward the other bed. Empty. Adrenaline surged, waking him the rest of the way, and Sam was on his feet. The something that fell was Dean, who was huddled in the doorway of the bathroom, trying to gain his feet again. Sam hurried over.
"Dean? What's wrong?"
Dean reached out drunkenly, trying to grab the door frame. "Can't a guy go t' the bathroom?" he slurred.
Sam crouched. "You fell. You okay?"
Dean nodded, then mumbled, "Never mind," and crawled the rest of the way to the toilet. There, he hunched over the bowl and vomited. There wasn't much, given that he'd thrown up earlier, and soon Dean was dry heaving. Sam put one hand on his back and filled a glass from the sink with the other. Dean's stomach was insistent on being empty and kept him at it for a few minutes before Dean collapsed against the tub, body trembling from the effort. Sam flipped on the light but turned it off again quickly when Dean winced and shielded his eyes. The light from the bedside would have to be enough. Sam handed Dean the glass and sat beside his legs.
Dean drank the water, gasping between gulps, then let the hand holding the glass fall into his lap. "Ah, Christ, Sammy. I feel like I've been on a bender."
He certainly looked like he had. His face was pale and pasty and his eyes were bloodshot. He had the uncoordinated flail of someone three sheets to the wind. Sam wondered what exactly that barb had left behind. He took the glass from Dean's loose fingers. "Do you want some more water? Or something else?"
Dean looked at him, alarmed, then hauled himself over the toilet again, throwing up the water he'd just drunk. Well, that answered that question. It was serious if Dean couldn't even keep water down. Dean slumped against the tub again, panting. Sam wet a washcloth and began to blot the sweat from Dean's face. The elder swatted clumsily at his hand. "Cut it out," he grumbled. Sam just grabbed the swinging hand and held it down, continuing to wipe off Dean's face and lips. "Sam!"
"Shut up, Dean."
Dean made several attempts to sit or stand but each was thwarted by his weakness and intoxication. Sam finished and dropped the cloth in the sink, then gripped Dean's arm and hauled him to his feet. Dean swayed. "I can walk, dude," he groused before tipping dangerously to the right.
"Oh, I can see that," Sam shot back. He looped Dean's left arm over his shoulder, carefully avoiding his right side, in an imitation of actions earlier that night. He moved slowly, giving Dean time to make each step, which seemed to require a lot of concentration.
"Get off me, man. I can do it."
"Shut up," Sam sighed, continuing to walk him to his bed. Despite Dean's weak resistance, Sam got him to bed, lying on his left, and covered him with the sheet. Sam rested his hand briefly on Dean's neck, feeling the cool and clammy skin. He then carefully covered Dean with the blanket.
Dean muttered, mostly unintelligibly, but Sam heard, "I swear, I'm never drinking again."
Sam patted his arm and managed a ghost of a smile. Once Dean was settled, Sam tried more detailed research. But the demon was an obscure species and not readily found on the Internet. Sam examined one of the quills from Dean's coat. It felt sticky until Sam looked at it under a magnifying glass and found the surface lined with fine, hair-like barbs. He also noticed a small hole in the end of the quill. "Great," he mumbled, typing "porcupine" into Google. Turned out that porcupine quills were barbed and hollow as well, dispensing a little toxic substance to deter any continued attack. While the toxin wasn't poisonous (in fact, mildly antibiotic), it could have a slightly narcotic effect. Which could explain why Dean seemed drunk. Once the barbs were in the skin, the body heat of the victim cause them to expand somewhat. Between that and the barbs, no wonder it had been so hard to get out.
Of course, this hadn't been a porcupine they'd been dealing with, but a nasty, bad-tempered demon. No telling what kind of further reactions Dean might have. Groaning with fatigue, Sam grabbed the first aid kit and went to the bed. Dean was out, so he carefully lifted the sheet and blanket to reveal his back. He peeled back the bandage. The wound was inflamed and red, a bit swollen, and not looking good. Sam smeared some more antibiotic ointment on a new pad and taped it into place. Then he went to the vending machine a few doors down for a Coke. He had a feeling it was going to be a long night.
Sam jolted awake, startled by the voice and the fact that someone was shaking him. It didn't help that the room was pitch dark.
"Sam. We have to go."
"Dean?" He could see the outline of his brother hunkered down by his chair. Sam had nodded off in front of the computer, long enough for it to go into sleep mode. Dean's hands were poking and patting him, restless, insistent. "What's wrong?"
"We have to go now."
Suddenly alert, Sam swung his legs toward Dean, listening for any sounds of danger. Then Dean…skittered away. He didn't stand and walk, he scuttled in the same crouched position. And in his entire life, he'd never seen Dean do that unless he was frantically scrambling away from something intent on eating his face. "What's going on?"
"Shhhh!" Dean went still, head cocked. "Do you hear that?"
Anxiety began to gnaw at Sam. He stood and went to his brother, reaching down to touch his arm. Dean yanked his arm away as if burned. "No! You can't go! They're outside!"
Something was definitely wrong but rather than flounder in the dark, Sam went to the night stand and switched on the lamp. Dean's reaction was violent. He howled, slapped his hands over his eyes, and dove behind the bed. When Sam went to him, Dean was curled up tight, rocking slightly, his eyes still covered.
"Dean? It's okay. It's me." Sam crouched and tentatively touched his brother's back. Dean flinched but remained where he was. Again, Sam lay the flat of his hand on Dean's back. The elder's skin felt like a hot furnace and was sticky with sweat. Sam tried to pry Dean's hand away from his eyes but Dean only muttered and rocked more. Sighing, Sam checked the bandage. There was a dime-sized dot of rust colored dried blood so Sam carefully peeled back the tape. The wound was angry and livid with tiny spider veins of red fringing the edges of it. Oh shit. That couldn't be good.
Sam retrieved the first aid kit from the bedside table and another bottle of alcohol and began to clean the wound. Dean didn't seem to notice, remaining in his fetal ball, mumbling and rocking. When Sam gingerly pressed the skin around the wound, some translucent fluid leaked out. i Definitely not good. /i He considered stitching it but decided that whatever was in there needed to come out. He put some more anti-biotic ointment on a pad and redressed the wound. He then bent lower, putting his head close to Dean's.
"Hey. Dean. Can you hear me?"
"Those fuckers will cut you every time! I told him!" Dean hissed.
"Dean! I need you to focus, okay?" He tried again to pull Dean's hand away. "Come on, Dean. Look at me."
"It will eat your eyes!"
What..? "The light hurts your eyes?"
Dean nodded furiously and rocked harder. Okay. That made some sort of sense. Sam didn't want to deal with his hallucinating brother in the dark, so he flipped on the bathroom light and shut the door most of the way. He then turned off the bedside lamp. The room plunged into gloom save for a knife of weak light cutting across the floor. Sam knelt again. "Okay. I shut off the light. You can sit up now."
Dean tentatively peeked, wincing at the little bit of light from the bathroom but he relaxed visibly. With lots of coaxing and cajoling, Sam got Dean unbunched and sitting upright on the floor, back against the bed, legs thrown out in front of him. Every movement took a lot of convincing on Sam's part, almost as though Dean was terrified. And as long as Sam had known his brother, he'd never known him to be terrified of anything. Dean was running a fever. His breath, when he finally calmed down, was shallow and rapid. So was his pulse. He was pale except for a flush high on his cheeks and his eyes were glassy, pupils pinpoints. No wonder the light hurt his eyes. Sam checked him over carefully, ticking up the symptoms. Dean murmured wordlessly, occasionally looking around as if he'd heard something. It was a state Sam had never, ever seen him in and it was freaking Sam out.
"Dean, let's get you into bed." Sam grabbed Dean's arms, trying to grip him through the sheen of sweat.
"All gone," Dean sighed mournfully. "All of them. Gone."
"Come on, man. Help me," Sam grunted, changing his grip and lifting. Dean remained immobile, his face suddenly grief stricken.
"I can't. Not all of them." The hitch is the voice is what got Sam's attention. He knelt down again in time to see a huge tear well then spill down Dean's cheek.
"What's wrong?" he asked gently.
Dean just shook his head and stared past Sam. Another tear fell. Sam felt a weight settle in his chest. He put his hand on Dean's shoulder and his brother mumbled, "I need them and they're all gone." Something was breaking Dean's heart and, by proxy, Sam's. His throat was threatening to close up around the huge lump forming. He reached forward and clasped his hands behind Dean's back and after positioning himself, he hoisted. Dean was dead weight in his arms. Sam lay him down as carefully as he could. Dean sniffled as Sam flicked out the bedclothes and covered him, gently tucking him in. Once settled, Sam placed his hand on Dean's forehead, feeling the heat radiate through his palm.
This is so not good…
It took almost 30 minutes, but Sam got Dean to sleep. He sat on the other bed, watching his brother, and trying to settle his shattered nerves. He'd seen Dean sick. The worst was a case of stomach flu that they shared in high school. He'd seen Dean injured. Each of them has stitched each other and dug various things out of various wounds. He'd even Dean seen dying, cracking jokes and shrugging off Sam's help to battle the notion of impending death. But Sam had never seen Dean like this and it rocked him to the core. To give himself something mindless to do, he took the opportunity of quiet to rinse out the ice bucket and make a few trips to the ice machine. Sam had no idea what kind of poison or venom he was dealing with or how to fix it.
It was the middle of the night (early morning next day, actually) but Sam broke down and made a few phone calls. After talking to a couple of people, Sam ended up talking to the person he should have called in the first place, Joshua. He was so rattled from stress and fatigue that he almost laughed when Joshua told him what he was dealing with.
Unfortunately, there wasn't anything to be done. The nargothe demon they'd killed was poisonous and Dean had received a large dose through the poison delivery system—the quills. There was no antidote, no cure, nothing to be done but try to keep the fever down and wait it out. No wonder Dean was hallucinating. He was poisoned and his brain was cooking from the fever. Joshua warned Sam away from any hospitals. The venom would show up as unidentifiable on toxicology screens and there would be a lot of explaining to do. If things got dire, of course go to the ER. Otherwise, just wait it out. The venom usually wasn't fatal. Usually.
"Take care of your brother, son. Shouldn't be more than 24 hours. Call me and let me know you're both okay."
"I will. Thanks." Sam cut the connection and fought the urge the hurl the phone against the wall.
Dean muttered fitfully. Sam went to the bathroom and filled the ice bucket with cold water and then added some ice from the sink. He grabbed a washcloth and went to the bed where his brother was moaning and shifting. Sam soaked the cloth in the ice water and wiped Dean's face. He then refreshed it and folded it, laying it across his forehead. He took a couple of ice cubes and rubbed them on Dean's neck, hoping to cool the blood running up the carotids up to the brain.
The next few hours were more of the same. Dean mumbling, his thrashings becoming weaker and weaker. After Dean kicked off the covers for the third time, Sam just left them on the floor. Remembering something he'd heard when he was young, Sam dampened another cloth with the alcohol and rubbed Dean down, hoping the evaporation would help cool the fever. But instead, Dean just became quiet and his temperature soared. Sam had one more trick to try. If this didn't work, he was going to pack Dean into the Impala and find the nearest emergency room. A fever this high for this long wasn't good.
Once, when Sam was 7, he got scarlet fever. The Winchesters were in the back end of beyond, some far removed little burg that didn't even have a doctor's office let alone a hospital. Sam didn't remember the event but his father told him later that at one point during the night, Sam's fever reached frightening levels, so John had immersed him in an ice bath which did the trick. Sam's fever broke and he was sitting up, drinking juice and soup the next morning.
Sam started a bath with cold water and did a few runs to the ice machine again, the ice in the sink long since melted. When the tub was half full, he went to Dean's bed. The breath was whistling shallowly in Dean's throat and he was deathly pale aside from an almost rash-like rosiness to his cheeks. His pulse was steady but faint he practically glowed with heat. Sam gathered him up awkwardly and carried him to the bath room. It was hard to wrangle Dean's weight in the tight confines, but Sam got his feet in the water and the rest of Dean settled on the edge of the tub. He didn't want to just plunge Dean into the icy bath, shocking his system. So with a lot of grunting and protesting back muscles, he eased Dean into the tub a bit at a time. It was a small space which helped keep Dean somewhat upright. Sam knelt by the tub, using the ice bucket to scoop up water and pour it over Dean's torso. He wasn't sure how long to keep Dean in and his hands were soon cold. But the eventually the ice melted and the water became tepid. Sam rubbed his hands together to ward off the chill and applied one to Dean's forehead. He seemed cooler. His face wasn't as red and his breathing seemed easier. Sam laid one of the towels on the floor and pulled Dean from the tub to the towel, drying him quickly before dragging him back into the room. He replaced the soaked dressing.
The fever broke just as cool dawn light poked through the cracks in the drapes. Sam used the washcloth to wipe the rivers of sweat away as Dean's body burned off the last of the venom. Soon the sheets and pillow were soaked so Sam hoisted his brother out of the one bed and put him in his own. He also stripped off Dean's boxers and threw a sheet over his waist. More for the laundry pile. By the time housekeeping tapped on the door, Sam was wrung out and rubbery from fatigue. He didn't let the maid in but gladly accepted fresh sheets, towels, and more pillows. He stripped Dean's damp bedding and settled on the floor between the beds with a new pillow and a blanket.
Sam didn't really sleep. He napped. Every sound from the roar of a passing truck to the slam of a car door in the parking lot made him shoot up, awake and alert. Dean slept through all of it, shifting positions slightly in his sleep but out like a light. Sam's stomach rumbling menacingly and he realized he hadn't eaten in almost 24 hours. He checked Dean and risked a run to the vending machines where the least objectionable thing was a package of trail mix and cranberry juice cocktail. He sat on the stripped bed, eating and watching Dean. The mattress was dry, so he made the bed and fell onto it, eyes shut before he was even settled.
Someone laughed, loud and raucous, and Sam was instantly awake. The daylight was sharp and golden, fading to sunset already. Rubbing his eyes, Sam went to the bed where Dean slept. Dean smelled sour and rank, but his respiration was normal, as was his pulse. When Sam shifted him to get a look at the wound, Dean grumbled in his sleep. The bandage was stiff with blood and pus. Sam peeled it away with a grimace. The wound itself, however, looked better. It was still red and puffy, but not nearly as bad as it had been the night before. Now, a scab was forming over the hole and Dean would soon have another scar in his collection. No doubt to be used in the pursuit of some unsuspecting young woman in a bar in their future. A bright new white bandage was soon in place.
Dean muttered over an hour later, crawling from unconsciousness as Sam absently flipped through the channels on the television. Sam looked over and watched as Dean struggled to open his eyes. Sam swung his legs over and sat on the edge of the bed when Dean finally succeeded. He bent over, one elbow on a knee, the other arm reaching out to press a palm to Dean's forehead. "How are you feeling?"
Dean blinked, a bit confused, and grunted, "D'joo get the license of that semi that ran me over?"
The crack made Sam smile, nearly giddy with relief. "I guess that means you're feeling better."
"No," Dean grumped, burrowing into the covers more. "I'd have to die to feel better."
"You still feel sick?"
"Sick. Ha. I feel like someone's kicked the shit out of me."
"Well, it sort of did."
"Nothing. Let me get you some water."
"I'd rather have a beer."
Sam snorted and shook his head. "Let's see if you can keep the water down first, okay, big guy?" Sam fetched a glass from the bathroom and when he returned, Dean had an odd expression. He looked up at Sam, bed clothes tucked up to his chin.
"I'm naked. Why am I naked, Sam?"
"It's a long story. Here." He held out the glass until Dean started to struggle to sit up. Sam set the water down and sat on the bed to help him. Dean tried to protest, but he was too weak and worn out. He gulped down the water and fell back on the bed, sighing from all the effort. He fell asleep again quickly, resting comfortably and even snoring lightly. Sam fell asleep in the other bed watching the news.
Sam woke first. From the sounds outside the morning was well underway. Dean was in the next bed, curled up on his left side, snoring, just his hair and eyes visible. Sam stretched, craning his neck to ease a crick that had formed from his odd sleeping position. A shower was the first order of business and after he was clean and dressed, he felt human again. He snagged the car keys and went up the road to a coffee shop where he got a vegetable omelet and coffee for himself and some juice and broth for Dean. He smiled on the way back to the motel, imagining his brother's protests. Considering the nausea from the days before, simple and easy food would be the way to go.
Dean hadn't moved when Sam returned, so he ate his breakfast and watched some CNN. Around 10:00, Dean stirred. He grunted when he turned the wrong way and aggravated the wound. Sam popped a straw into the cup of juice and helped him drink. After Dean had managed half the juice, Sam got him sitting up, back against the headboard. Dean's hair was manic, sticking in every direction, and he still looked tired. But at least his color was normal again. Sam coaxed him to drink the rest of the juice.
"I smell coffee. I want coffee, man."
"Drink this first. You need the vitamins and calories." He poked the straw into Dean's mouth.
After the juice, Sam cracked open a bottle of water and held it under Dean's nose. When the other tried to protest, Sam informed him, "You're dehydrated. You need the fluids. Now drink it." Dean grumbled but complied.
And, as Sam suspected, the fluids did help. Dean didn't want anything to do with the broth and insisted on coffee, threatening to find a Starbucks in his birthday suit if he had to. Sam finally gave up and told him to go take a shower. Dean was still wobbly on his feet but refused to let Sam help him. "Dude, I'm naked. Hands off." Instead, Dean took tiny steps and used every stick of furniture between the bed and the tub to get there. While the water ran, Sam stripped the sticky sheets and remade it with clean ones. Dean emerged from the bathroom, a little winded for all the recent activity. He plopped into a nearby chair, towel around his waist, and finally agreed to some of the broth. When Sam offered to help him get dressed, he shot Sam a look that Sam was very grateful wasn't lethal. As it was, he reluctantly allowed Sam to replace the bandage on his back. It took a while, but eventually Dean was dressed and standing somewhat unsteadily in the middle of the motel room. "Okay," he panted. "Let's go."
"Coffee. I need coffee. And we need to blow this town and find our next gig."
"Okay, slow down, Dean. How about we work on the coffee first? See how that goes?"
"I'm not an invalid, Sam," Dean snapped, taking a shaky step. "Gimme the keys."
"Yeah, no. I don't think so."
"If you want coffee, let's go get coffee. But I'm driving." Dean opened his mouth, sharp retort ready, but Sam head him off at the pass. "Unless you want me to carry you to the car."
"Fine," Dean growled, hobbling to the door, muttering darkly about pushy little brothers and the fact that he was perfectly all right and he couldn't understand what the fuss was about. Sam just smiled and locked the motel room door behind them.