Disclaimer: For the sick pleasure of myself and others. No copyright infringement intended.

A/N: This ficlet is a response to spuffy girl's prompt for a hurt/comfort meme over on LJ: 'When Sam was younger, he has stress induced asthma attacks. He has his first one in years after 'Lucifer Rising.'"

Warnings for high melodrama and angst :D

This New Pain
by wave obscura

It starts in the car as they're speeding away.

Thank Christ for their pathetic immortal ears. Lucifer—holy fucking christ in hell, fucking Lucifer—cut his "I have arisen" monologue short after Sam and Dean's heads had damn near exploded. He was gone in a rush of white light. Gone in search of a vessel, maybe.

Doesn't matter now. What matters and what is truly scary is that they're both still alive, which is something neither brother had really counted on.

Might be worse this way, Dean catches himself thinking, and he knows he shouldn't let shit like that inside his head but, stealing glances at his brother, sunken-cheeked and worn threadbare by evil, it's hard. It's hard to keep the thoughts away.

Dean drives like cops-be-damned and like the fucking world is ending because ha-fucking-ha, guess what, officer? It is. And Sam's head is thrown over the back of the passenger seat, one hand flush against his chest.

At first Dean thinks maybe he's trying to will his heart to stop racing— because Dean's heart is sure fucking racing—or that maybe he's just brooding hard enough to make his chest ache, like he used to, like a million years ago when they were both different people.

But then the Impala's roar becomes background noise and Dean swears he can hear wheezing.

They stop at the first shit motel they come to (cause why not? there's probably no hiding from Lucifer), and Sam spends an hour sitting on the front stoop by himself. He doesn't say a word but he tenses up so bad when Dean comes near him that it makes Dean… yes. It makes him feel afraid. Afraid of his goddamn little brother.

So he stays inside.

It's after four in the morning when Sam slinks back in. He sits at the edge of the bed all hunched over and won't look at Dean. He's swallowing a lot, shoulders lifting with each breath.

"Sam?"

Dean tries to make it sound like he cares, like he's Big Brother, but goddamn he's so out of practice that it sounds like he's asking "What was your name again? Sam Something-or-another?"

Sam just shakes his head. It's not long before his shoulders are bunching together so tight you could crack something hard between the blades and there's a weird, prolonged little whistle on the trail of each of his exhales.

"Sam?" Dean says again. At least this time he sounds somewhat nervous, like he knows who he's talking to and like maybe he cares.

Sam coughs once, twice, dry and voice-y, sort of like he's trying to clear his throat. But when he inhales something stops, and he chokes, and then he's coughing again.

"Sam what the fuck?"

Dean tries to measure his voice just so, so that it sounds like he's saying what the fuck about the coughing and not what the fuck about everything else.

Sam waves his hand in front of his face, no big deal, and leans forward a little more, has another go at taking a full breath.

And then it's over, he goes full blown, a mess of wheezes and whistles and coughs and in between that very, very little breathing.

"Sam are you…? What the hell?"

Sam looks up through his bangs and gives Dean an angry little smile. "Just… asthma," he heaves.

"Asthma? Sam, it's been—"

"—bad... since… Sep… tember…"

"Shit." Reflexively Dean's hand flops on Sam's back, like his brother is choking or something, and Sam jumps, batting him away.

"Don't…" Sam gasps. "Don't… worry… nothing…"

"You got an inhaler somewhere?"

"Duff… ull."

"Alright. Alright. Okay. Let's see." Dean tears the duffle apart, clothes fluttering everywhere, until he finds his brother's battered bag of toiletries.

Sam takes the inhaler, dented and chewed because it's a fucking thousand years old. Shakes his head again. "N—new."

Dean digs farther, until he's like fucking Mary Poppins with his arms in the bag up to his elbows and finally his hand closes around a white and blue pharmacy bag.

"Here. Here-here-here, Sammy. Here."

Sam takes a hit and bows his head, closes his eyes. Dean counts to ten for him.

"Better?" Dean says when Sam lets out the breath, which is wheezy and congested but a breath all the same. He doesn't expect an answer right away. For long minutes he crouches there, his hand hovering over Sam's heaving shoulders and he's moving it back and forth in what would be soothing, petting motion but he remembers—remembers when Sam was just a little kid. He never liked being touched when he couldn't breathe. Made him feel strangled.

This used to happen a lot. After hunts. When Dad was sleeping. When Sammy thought Dean was sleeping. The attacks were always like Sam's private thing—something he wanted to work through by himself. Dean hated that more than anything. There was nothing, not a fucking thing he could do.

So he would get up and sit next to Sammy on the bed. Listen to him struggle. Sit in the dark and feel helpless.

After ten minutes Sam's still working far too hard to breathe. He's getting tired, fast, and the wheezing is getting harder and harder to hear, which is a bad fucking sign because Dean can tell by the convulsive rise and fall of his chest that his breathing is speeding up and getting shallower. He's moving less and less air.

"Don't, Sam," Dean says, "Don't… just try to slow it down, okay? Slow breaths—as big as you can manage."

Sam doesn't respond. His eyes are pointed down and blank with concentration. Every so often he closes his eyes and moves his lips and Dean wonders if he's praying.

"Sam, take another hit, okay? I'm gonna heat you some coffee. That helps, doesn't it?"

Sam nods almost imperceptibly.

Dean runs out to the Impala, where there's still a half full mug of coffee sitting on the passenger floor board. It's from two, maybe three days ago but it'll have to do. He runs back in and shoves it in the microwave, paces a short path back and forth while it heats.

Sam is getting noisy again, but this time instead of rhythmic wheeze-cough-wheeze-cough it's sporadic, panicking gasps for air. He's having so much trouble that he's using his voice now, audibly groaning as he tries to suck air in and out.

"Hey." Dean kneels so he can look at his brother's face. "Take another puff. I got a hot cup a coffee for you. Take your medicine again, drink this."

"Deeeean." Sam sucks his brother's name down his throat, a growl, really. Like a demon splashed with holy water.

"Don't talk, Sammy. Just take your inhaler again, huh? Okay? Please?"

"Sorr—sorr," Sam exhales.

"Don't Sam. I got some coffee for you, that's gonna help you feel better. Just breathe."

"Dean—"

"Sammy," Dean warns. "Breathe."

Sam shakes his head. He coughs, dry, strangled and quick, like a paper bag popping, and then he's quiet. His chest is still and his eyes are rolling.

"Sam, goddamn it."

Dean doesn't want to do it, but Sam hasn't given him much of a choice. Pulling his brother up straight, Dean slaps him flat-palmed on the stomach, just below his rib cage. Startled, Sam exhales, chokes, pulls in a feeble breath.

"Sam don't—don't—don't do this to yourself—you didn't know what you were doing, okay, you didn't know."

Sam is starting to lose consciousness, eyes glazing and his body is taking over, struggling for air on autopilot.

"Sam, take another hit. Take another fucking hit—please. It's okay. Don't do this to yourself, man, please. You're not a monster, okay? Don't do this to yourself. Sam? Sammy? Please."

Dean takes his brother's hand, the one holding the inhaler, and guides it to his brother's mouth. Sam makes a noise like wind through a Wendigo lair and Dean pumps the canister three times. Sam falls against Dean and holds his breath. Dean counts to ten.

And then Sam breathes, slowly and tentative at first like tip-toeing and then he's gasping, loud and wet and labored but they're much closer to full lungfuls and the color is returning to his face.

"That's it, Sam." Dean kneels on the floor, lifts his brother's arms over his own shoulders, Sam's forehead against his, and his breathe is hot and sour on Dean's face.

"There. Breathe, Sam. You can breathe. It's okay. Breathe… breathe."

They stay that way until Dean's back twinges with pain, until Sam is still coughing damply but moving air just fine.

After long, long minutes Sam straightens up, covers his face with his hands and then his shoulders are shaking with sobs.

Dean rubs his back, mutters nonsense, because he knows the sound of his brother's pain. The attack scared him shitless.

"You're okay now," he babbles, "You're okay. It's over. Over now. You'll be okay."

But after a while Sam's tears become more audible, become something else. Darker and desperate and angry, tears of guilt and shame and untouchable self-loathing.

"You shoulda let me…" Sam whispers, his voice tattered, "I'm his, now or later. Doesn't matter. You shoulda just let me go."

Dean says nothing. There's nothing to say. This isn't something he can fix by coaching or comforting or guns of fists. He knows that. This isn't something he can fix at all.

So he sits next to Sam in the dark and feels helpless.

:::

The end.

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