Disclaimer: For the sick pleasure of myself and others. No copyright infringment intended.
A/N: Just a little one shot so my writing muscles don't atrophy.
By wave obscura
At first he was just walking a little funny, shrugged and said, "Dunno, Dad. My knees are kinda sore."
By the end of an all-day hike through the mountains, though, he was limping twenty paces behind his father and brother, swiveling obscenely like his legs wouldn't bend.
Dad, being Dad, didn't notice until the hunt was over; smoke was still wisping from the pistol when he turned to Sam and said, "Where's Dean?"
They found him a few hundred feet into the woods, panting against a tree. "I don't know what's wrong, Dad. My knees. My fucking knees."
Then the sun went down and Dad carried Dean out of the woods and into to bed, where he growled low in pain while Sam ran back and forth trying to sooth the swollen joints with wet rags warmed in the microwave.
Idiopathic juvenile arthritis, a doctor told them once, complements of his ridiculously bowed legs. Maybe.
It didn't really matter because Winchesters would never use such a geriatric word.
Even now, when they talk of it at all, Sam calls it "your thing," as in "you need something for your--thing?" And then he gestures awkwardly, sometimes in the general direction of Dean's legs, sometimes just wags his arms up and down like a dancing marionette.
Dean's "thing" comes and goes. Mostly for months, sometimes over a year. Sometimes so long they forget.
Sometimes it flares. Sometimes a little, sometimes so bad that Dean will stay in bed all day, breathing loud into his pillow.
Like today. It's colder than a witch's tit outside and Dean has been sitting in front of the TV rubbing at his knees for the better part of an hour.
"Roseanne is on," he's chanting, "Sam, Roseanne is on, it's marathon. You always liked Roseanne, didn't you? You have a crush on Jackie. Crush on Jackie—Sam, maybe we should watch it, maybe we should keep this room a little longer. Maybe we should stay another night. Do you want to stay another night?"—he swallows thickly—"I think we should stay another night."
Sam looks up from his laptop. "Is it gonna rain?" he says.
Their unofficial code. If Dean wants help, he can play along. If he doesn't, he can play stupid.
Dean tries to straighten his knees and goes white.
"Yeah. Fuck, man." With his knuckles he makes circles above his kneecaps, face pinching up with pain. "It's gonna fucking pour. It's gonna fucking pour."
"What to you need?"
"Gimme... gimme something. Anything. Shit."
Sam returns a moment later with a bottle of painkillers and a sandwich. "Gotta eat with it."
"This is fucking unfair, Sammy," Dean ignores Sam and the bottle and the sandwich. He rocks back and forth, digging his fingers into the flesh of his thigh. "I mean, don't I do enough? Isn't it good enough? Feels like something's fucking chewing—you know what I mean, like chewing? I just can't believe, I can't believe... seriously, it's hilarious, like funny ha ha." Dean laughs humorlessly as if to demonstrate.
"Hey. Take it easy. You're freaking out."
"I don't know why the fuck you're so calm!" Dean's eyes are big and hysterical. "Cause this is it, Sam, this is the one that's gonna cripple me and it's your ass that's gonna have to lift me on and off the toilet the whole rest of your life and that's probably what you want, isn't it?"
"How come I got all the bad genes, huh? How come I get the bad knees and the fucking bad back and—and all you get is—is—is—fucking gas and fucking—fucking probably premature ejaculation or some shit and at least that doesn't hurt like a fucking bitch, Sam, and let me tell you something, you'd fucking freak out, too, because it's like out of nowhere like a fucking beehive in my knees and they're breeding, Sam, fucking breeding like fucking bunnies, Sam. Bunnies."
Sam's heart pinches with pity, it does, but he still has to press his lips together to stop from smiling. "Okay, Dean. Okay. Here, take this for now and I'll look in the trunk, see if we have any of that shit the doctor gave you. You'll be fine. You're gonna be fine."
"Nah, I took that already—get off me with that fucking shit!" Dean knocks the sandwich away with a little irritated whine and pops the pill in his mouth.
"Where's your heating pad?"
Dean shakes his head. "Fucking covered in mud and fucking grave dirt cause I told you, Sam, I fucking told you—"
"—Okay. Okay. Well. I could go to Walgreens and get you a new one."
"Nuh uh," Dean reaches up for Sam's shirtsleeve. "No. No. I don't want you to leave. I mean, I don't wanna heating pad. No."
Sam takes a bite of the sandwich. It's egg salad and it's good.
"Then let me help you to bed."
"No, fuck no, I can walk my—jesus christ—just, can you just gimme a minute?" Dean groans through his teeth. "Fuck."
"Sure, dude. Sure. Just tell me when." Sam swallows another bite and drifts back toward his computer.
Dean folds himself over his knees and hides his face in his elbows, rocking himself from side to side. Sam pretends to look at his laptop.
After a few minutes Dean sits up, looking at Sam with utter disbelief. "You're always hovering, Sam, always fucking hovering, and you-you-you never… you never…" and then hides his face again. "I just don't—I just don't get it, Sam. I don't. I don't know. Oh, God."
Sam doesn't have an answer either. Well, he does—medical explanations flood his mouth but he forces himself to bite them back. Instead he goes to Dean, squeezes his shoulder.
Dean looks up at him all wide-eyed and helpless, looks up at Sam like why does God let bad things happen? And Sam just has to laugh a little.
"Dean," he chuckles, "this is gonna pass, alright? Let me help you to bed. You can take a nap and when you wake up it'll hurt a whole lot less, okay?"
"Don't fucking talk to me like that," Dean barks.
His brother lifts his eyebrows and says, sheepishly: "You promise?"
Dean reaches up for Sam's shoulder and braces himself to be carried.