Title: The Right Stuff
Summary: The last time one of them got sick, they ended up in the hospital too. Kind of makes you wonder, how tough a guy are you really, if you went up against all sorts of monsters for a living and could still get plastered by a little virus?
First off, to those who read and reviewed my story "Things We Know," thanks much! :) Especially to reviewers PhoenixDragonDreamer, Stoneage Woman, PADavis, Zuimar and Flaming Telepaths. Everything you said just fueled me to keep on going, and also helped to fuel this latest offering. It's just a one-shot, and is not the fic previewed in the afterword of "Things We Know." It's just something that came to me during my morning commute to work, haha. it stuck, and wrote it in a few hours (so I hope that's sufficient warning for you, haha). Anyway, standard disclaimers apply, et cetera et cetera and without further ado:
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The Right Stuff
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The last time one of them got sick, they ended up in the hospital too. Kind of makes you wonder, how tough a guy are you really, if you went up against all sorts of monsters for a living and could still get plastered by a little virus?
The self-doubt was easy to quell, however; even common sense told him he was being grossly unfair. It wasn't that the Winchester men couldn't stand up to a bug; it's just that they tended to suffer through sickness and injury, trudging on until they fell down. Down on the ground they pushed up until their arms gave out, and face on the floor they kept their eyes open until all awareness faded. Anything that came short of knocking them out completely went by unnoticed or unheeded. There was no middle-ground for men raised like warriors; you were either on your feet in battle or out like a light on your back.
There was a kind of honor in it, Sam thought, of him and Dean and their father as wounded warriors. Winchesters tended to look good wearing the blood of monsters, and it was not the first time he had thought of any of his scars as a kind of badge, a symbol of his strength. It wasn't sadism, really, nor was it masochism. It was just... a secret source of pride, and... and belonging, with his brother and father.
This was that thing he could not share with his friends in Stanford. He had a spot inside him that was unshakable and afire, that place where he drew calm from whenever things got rough. The idea of 'I've lived through worse' was always, always easy to say. And then he moved on. And then he lived on.
Some days though, it sure became inconvenient. Especially when it was Dean on the ground and it was him having to drag his older brother's lethargic ass to the doctor's.
"Your shoes are untied," he said, pausing by the door of the motel room. Dean was attired slightly thicker than the usual, making him look heavier and at the same time, quite thin and lost inside his own clothes. Sam had given him the once-over before opening the door – can stand on his own, check. Can more-or-less walk like he was sober, check. Extra layers, as he had grudgingly promised, check... wait, shoes are untied.
Dean looked at him irritably, "It doesn't matter, Sammy." The scratchy voice matched the venomous expression not at all, "You told me to keep warm, I'm warm. You told me we're gonna go see a doctor, I said fine. Now you got me up so let's just get this over with."
Sam sure as hell was tempted to, knew it made a fair amount of sense to just go on out, but there was something about the slight pout, the pained expression on his brother's face that reminded him of Dean as a kid. And so the fixation with the shoelaces stuck, because his brother looked younger than ever, sick and embarrassed and impatient like that.
"The last thing you need right now is to trip on that thing," Sam said, "Especially if there's anything we can do about it."
Dean rolled his eyes, huffed, threw up his hands in helpless frustration, before sinking to a shaky knee and working the knots with quivering fingers. One try, two. Three. He must have been operating cross-eyed in slow-motion. He growled in frustration, coughed when the growl tickled his throat, gasped as the cough stabbed at his chest. The progression from bad to worse was easy to track. He tossed away the now-worse undone laces, sat on his rump on the floor and let Sam push his head between his knees as he tried to catch his breath and regain his balance.
"Damn it, Sam!" he growled in between the coughs.
"Breathe first, dude," Sam told him, mildly, "Then scream at me."
"You are an asshole," Dean gasped, glaring at his brother, and then staring emptily upward at the space where his head had been when he was standing, "Damn, and we just came from up there. Nobel prize-winning idea, Stanford."
Sam's brows furrowed in amusement and worry. "You are a piece of work, big brother."
Dean grunted in assent, before halfheartedly lifting his head and reaching for his shoelaces, again, only half-looking. He sniffed at the congestion in his nose.
"You know what, I got it," Sam said with a light chuckle, pushing back his brother's pliant arms, going down to a knee on the ground across from Dean and weaving his long fingers adroitly over the laces. He felt his brother's eyes on him, and he perforce looked up, and paused from the work.
"Can you do it without looking?" Dean asked, looking blitzed.
"Wha-" Sam asked, before looking down at his handiwork and chuckling, "You mean tie shoelaces without looking?"
"Yeah..." Dean replied uncertainly, as if he was slowly realizing that his question might not have been wholly sensible.
Sam kind of just smirked at him, but held his stare as his hands made quick ribbons of the laces on Dean's boots.
"You'd never think you used to suck at that," Dean muttered, "Tying shoelaces as a kid."
"Yeah," Sam smiled, "Took me awhile to pick it up, didn't it?"
"I was starting to think you were brain-damaged," Dean agreed.
"Yeah well, maybe I just liked it when you did it for me," Sam said with a breezy laugh, "So I wouldn't have to. Besides, you made it look so complicated."
"Did not," Dean snapped, "You were just a little bit slow on the uptake, dude. I was a good teacher. Got you to wipe your own ass, for crying out loud, didn't I?"
"Weird to think of you teaching me about manners and hygiene," Sam teased.
"Ha," Dean said, smiling at him wearily, pausing as if in deep consideration. Sam was just about to ask him to get up again, when he said, "Maybe I did make it seem tougher than it was."
"Hm?" Sam asked, slightly confused but very encouraging.
"Maybe I liked doing it for you," Dean said, "I was running out of Stuff."
"What?" Sam asked, lost now.
"Shoelaces, dude," Dean snapped, as if it was obvious, "Maybe I liked doing it for you, made it seem harder than it was, so you wouldn't pick it up so fast. It was one of my Stuff, and my Stuff was running out."
Sam narrowed his eyes in thought, "Stuff...?"
"Stuff," Dean growled impatiently, as he drunkenly rambled on about mundane, miscellaneous chores. He mentioned putting on clothes, using spoons and forks, reaching for the cupboard, doing homework. And then suddenly it all made sense to Sam.
"You were running out of stuff to do for me," Sam said, feeling his heart expand, and warm.
"Grew up too fast," Dean muttered, "Tall and smart. How annoying is that."
Sam shook his head in amusement at his brother. "You forgot really good looking."
"We aren't gonna start talking about me, are we?" Dean asked with a lazy grin. His eyes were glazed, unsteady, but very much afire.
Sam leaned forward and put a hand to his brow. Dean let him. He skin still felt blazingly hot, still worrisome. It's just that the charm was so disarming and assuring sometimes.
"Maybe in the car," Sam said warily, "Or the waiting room."
"I'm down with that," Dean agreed, looking up blearily as his brother rose effortlessly, and towered over him. If he made any sort of twitch at all to reinforce his intentions to follow, it went by Sam completely unnoticed.
"I gotcha," Sam said, and almost-casually hauled Dean up, one hand to his arm and another to his collar. The vertigo of the sudden movement had Dean's head swimming, and he gasped and hung on by white-knuckled fists to Sam's collar.
"Easy," Sam murmured, "I gotcha."
Dean closed his eyes for a long moment, caught his breath and sought his balance. His grip loosened, but his hands remained where they were. Lifeline, Sam thought, that was what he was tonight, because Dean was quite badly adrift.
"I gotcha," Sam said again, softly, as he put his hands to Dean's wrists, willing them to loosen up. They did, after a beat, as Dean's eyes opened slowly, and settled on his brother's face. He looked beat. Sam lowered Dean's hands to his sides, shifted his position such that he was walking behind Dean with left hand to his brother's left forearm for support, and right hand to the small of his back to steer him forward. Dean lumbered on.
"I put the car right up front," Sam assured him, as he unlocked the motel room door, "Just a couple steps away."
"Good call," Dean whispered.
Sam stood with his brother by the door, felt the night breeze on his face. He closed the door again.
"What?" Dean asked.
"Maybe we should give you a hat," Sam said, thoughtfully, eyes raking around the room, "Something to cover your head with. There's a draft--"
Dean groaned. "Dude. Grab a bowl, a plastic bag, whatever, I'm dying, here. I barely got back up from your stupid shoelaces, I swear if we don't get in the car right now, I'm going back to bed. Anything else you wanna do before we leave? Powder your nose, maybe? Did you bring your purse?"
"Brought a hanger with clothes on," Sam teased, putting a hand up to Dean's collar and shaking him slightly. Dean swayed like a shirt on a wire against the wind.
"God, I'm gonna be sick," Dean gasped, closing his eyes and swallowing tightly, to Sam's horror.
"Sorry, sorry," the younger Winchester said, urgently beginning to turn them back deeper into the room, toward the bathroom.
"I'm good, I'm good," Dean growled, resisting the movement, "Sam, damn it, let's just get out of here and get rid of this stupid bug, all right?"
"Sorry," Sam said, grimacing, "Wasn't thinking. I'm not doing so well at all at this, am I?"
Dean opened one eye, and then another. He turned his head painfully, to face his brother. "What?"
"This was always one of your Stuff," Sam said, as he steered them forward, avoiding Dean's gaze, "You know. When I was sick, or hurt, or upset or even just bored. You just knew what to do all the time."
"Well," Dean grunted as they pressed on, "You were getting too good at everything else, I guess. My job description was running short. Felt like I was getting demoted."
"You did good," Sam said, as he walked to the Impala and leaned Dean against the hood. He hurriedly unlocked the passenger seat, and deposited his older brother to sit.
"I still do," Dean said, joking because that was his way, but his eyes were alight with pride and affection, and the words were truthful.
"Lemme just lock up our room," Sam said, "Sit tight and stay warm here for a bit." He closed the door, and jogged back to their motel room. When he got back to the car and slid into the driver's seat, Dean was already almost completely asleep against the window.
Sam debated waking him up for a long moment (just to ease his own fears), before assuring himself his brother's breathing sounded fair enough, and that the lethargy was normal. He gunned the engine, and turned the heat up.
"You're not so bad yourself, Sammy," Dean breathed, a beatific smile on his face. He did not bother at all with opening his eyes.
"I learned from the best," Sam told him.
"You know it."
April 24, 2008
Thanks for reading. C&C's always welcome!