Another prompt at the spn_hurtcomfort Christmas h/c comment-fic meme. Are we sensing a theme?

Title: Bloody Christmas (I'm really not thrilled with the title. Suggestions welcome.)
Prompt: From pkwench :Sam, Dean, Gen please - Dean insists on taking a job over Christmas, despite Sam's more than a little bitchy/whiny/man-I-just-don't-wanna response. It's a quick in/out/and stab with a vampire, but Sam ends up going down during the hunt and Dean discovers he's burning up. Consequently, they spend Christmas Eve in the waiting room of a small town ER. Bonus points for feverish Sam remembering Christmas with Jess (while missing the hell out of his own dysfunctional family).
Spoilers: Non-specific spoilers for everything up to 5.10. Blink and you'll miss 'em.
Disclaimer: This disclaims like a disclaiming thing.
Usual waffly authorial disclaimer: Still unbeta'd, still spur-of-the-moment, insert lots of wibbling here.

*****

Sam is sulking. Has been sulking for the last twenty miles, and it's starting to set Dean's teeth on edge. This time, he tells himself, he's not going to cave in to his little brother's goddamned passive-aggressive pressure tactics to get him to ease up, Dean, or whatever else is going on in that freakish brain of his. Dean is not pushing himself too hard, no matter what Sam thinks. Absolutely not. There are evil sons of bitches out there who are in dire need of killing, and they don't think in terms of: Well, it's Christmas, so why don't I just leave off committing atrocities so that the Winchesters can get the day off? They just don't. Evil doesn't take a day off, and therefore neither will they, at least not until the damned apocalypse comes, and then Sam can have all the Christmases off that he wants.

Dean really wants to hit something by now, but he settles for cranking up Skynyrd's Street Survivors as loud as it'll go, and sings along at the top of his lungs. He ignores Sam's wince, pretends not to notice as Sam curls in on himself and leans his head against the window, eyes shut. Prissy bitch. At least he's not whining about the music, or whining about being tired, or whining about having to go on a hunt. We're both tired, Dean, we can't go on like this forever. Whine whine whine bitch moan. Dean absolutely does not feel guilty about his decision, doesn't regret vetoing Sam's whining protests. It's like having a girl in tow, always pissy about something. If the job was anything other than vampires, Dean would have just left Sam behind at the motel, but it's always tricky, dealing with a nest. Could be one vampire, could be a dozen, usually somewhere in between, but either way, walking in alone was always risky.

He brings the Impala to a halt about two hundred yards away from the cabin he reconnoitred earlier, turns down the music and thumps Sam on the shoulder, maybe a little harder than he might have done if he was in a better mood. Sam yelps, and Dean does not feel bad about it.

"Wake up, princess!"

"What?" Sam sounds annoyed, but then Sam has sounded annoyed for the past week.

"We're here. Let's move. You want to spend all of Christmas Eve ganking vampires? We're burning daylight, here. Well, twilight, at this point, which is just great. If you'd moved any slower, we'd have been here tomorrow."

"Last I checked, I didn't want to spend any of Christmas Eve hunting vampires," Sam grumbles, but pushes open the car door and gets out, stretching to work the kinks out of his limbs. "And you're the one who had to triple-check the equipment after I already double-checked."

Dean pops the trunk of the Impala, tosses a shotgun to Sam. "Not my fault you've gotten sloppy," he says nastily, and keeps his head down so he won't see the look on Sam's face, braces himself for a retort that never comes, and finds himself kind of relieved. Whatever Sam would have thought up would likely have been cutting and richly deserved. He pulls out a couple of machetes, makes sure his Bowie knife is still in its sheath, and takes another of the shotguns for himself. "All right, let's go. It's a quick in-and-out, easy-peasy. Come on, I'll buy you pie when we're done," he offers.

Sam grunts noncommittally, turns aside to cough into his sleeve, and Dean feels oddly wounded that his peace offering didn't make any more inroads than that. Come on, it's pie.

*****

They sneak up just as the sun sinks below the horizon, and Dean wishes that he'd managed to get them going earlier, but there's nothing to be done now: it's winter, and the sun sets early anyway. Stupid daylight savings time, or whatever. Dean motions to Sam to take the back door, and heads toward the front of the cabin. A quick glance into the nearest window confirms what he saw before: three vampires, apparently not expecting company, because they're in the process of finishing off a victim. The man is beyond help, his throat ripped apart, his eyes devoid of life. He's been dead for a while, by the looks of it —vampires are even grosser than Dean originally imagined— but Dean still feels that stab of guilt every time he finds another dead civilian.

He kicks the door in with one sharp blow from his heel, feels the blood singing in his veins the way it does only when he's hunting these days, levels the shotgun at the head of the nearest vampire and lets loose with both barrels at point-blank range, enjoys watching the thing's head disappear in a red cloud of blood droplets. He drops the shotgun as the other two vampires lunge for him, snarling, whips the machete from his belt and drives them back. He doesn't see Sam, but hears the sound of what's probably a vicious fight coming from the back room of the cabin —shrieks and gunfire— and realizes too late that he miscounted, that he doesn't really know how many vampires are in this nest. God, and he called Sam sloppy.

Then there's no time to think anymore, and he ducks as the closest vampire comes at him, teeth bared, hissing. The machete connects with its throat a moment later and it falls, down but not out, and he's reduced to scrambling back along the floor, reaching desperately for his knife as the third vampire tries to tear out his throat with its fangs. He throws the creature off with a kick that he'd be embarrassed about under any other circumstances, rolls, lands on top of it —vampires are even uglier up close, Jesus— and buries the Bowie in its neck up to the hilt.

The cabin is silent now, eerily so. It's only been a few seconds, a couple of minutes, tops, and it's all over. He lets out a breath he didn't realize he was holding, sets about doing the dirty part of the job. Cutting off a head is nasty, messy work, but by now Dean's had some practice. He gets both remaining vampires done without getting too much gore on himself, scrubs at his shirt disconsolately, realizing it's probably a total loss. No wonder they never seem to have any clothes. He looks up, realizes Sam still isn't there. Probably still sawing at heads.

"Sam?" he yells, heading toward the back. "Sammy?"

He finds him in the back room, on one knee, finishing up with a bloody corpse on the floor. "What?" he looks up at Dean, squinting. He's breathing hard, covered in sweat, and Dean spots another headless body in a corner of the room.

"Just making sure you got 'em all."

Sam pushes himself to his feet, wipes the machete clean with a piece of the vampire's clothing. "Yeah, I got 'em." He turns his head, coughs into his elbow, mops ineffectually at the sweat on his face. "Can we go now?"

"Sure. Vamps are dead, we can go. We definitely have to work on your training, you're obviously out of shape. Can't believe you worked up a sweat over two vampires," Dean mocks, not unkindly.

"Shut up," Sam's still breathing hard, puts out a hand to brace himself against the wall, and suddenly Dean's heart skips a beat. This isn't normal.

"Sam? You okay?"

"I'm f—" Sam folds at the waist, one hand on his knee, the other still against the wall, coughing too hard to finish his sentence. Then, under Dean's horrified gaze, his eyes roll back in his head, his knees buckle, and he collapses bonelessly to the floor.

*****

"Sam!"

Dean is a split-second too late to catch him, kneels next to him, checks for a pulse, for the sound of breathing. He breathes a sigh of relief when he realizes Sam is still breathing, just passed out. Goddamned idiot, gave him the scare of his life. He shakes him by the shoulder, gives him a gentle slap to the face.

"Come on, Sammy, wake up."

Sam stirs, moans quietly. "Told you I didn' wanna come," he manages, a weird sort of half-smile hovering about his lips.

"Jesus, Sam, scare a guy," Dean is too relieved to be all that angry, puts out a hand to feel Sam's forehead. "You're burning up. Did they bleed on you?"

"No."

"Well, thank God for small mercies. Are you hurt?"

Sam struggles to lift his head, lets it fall back after a few seconds, eyes closing. "Don't feel good."

"Dammit, Sam, why didn't you tell me you were sick?"

"I tried... weren't listening." Sam is out of breath, as though he's been running for the past half hour. He starts coughing again, hard enough that he has to turn aside to retch, dry-heaving onto the floor.

It's like a sucker-punch right to the gut. For a second Dean isn't sure that he remembers how to breathe, because that simple statement brings home the truth: that he wasn't listening, hasn't been listening for a long time, and isn't how they got into this mess in the first place?

"God, Sam..." but Sam's eyes have rolled back in his head again, and Dean doesn't have the luxury to feel guilty right now. That can come later, when Sam's not passed out on the floor. "Sam! Come on, I can't haul your stupid giant carcass by myself. Sam! Don't do this to me. Wake up, now, come on!"

He coaxes, threatens, cajoles, bullies Sam to his feet, although he's half-collapsed in Dean's arms, manages by some minor miracle to get him back to the car without both of them falling over, and floors it back the twenty miles they came to the nearest town. Sam slumps in his seat, drifts in and out as they drive. He tries his best to respond to Dean's constant attempts to keep him awake, but he's not making much sense by the time they get to town, complaining of being too hot and too cold by turns, coughing painfully —so much that it makes Dean's chest hurt just to listen to him. They pull into the parking lot of what has to be the world's tiniest hospital, and Dean pulls his brother out of the car, staggering a little under his weight, drags him toward the E.R. doors.

"Hey, can I get a little help, here?"

*****

Thank God for slow nights in small towns. Almost immediately there's a gurney available, and a doctor and two orderlies are helping him to get Sam to lie down, pulling his clothes off. For the first time Dean remembers that he's spattered with blood, looks down to make sure his jacket is hiding the worst of it, thanks whatever powers there are (that aren't actively trying to make his life a living hell, which isn't a lot these days) that Sam looks relatively clean. He doesn't really want to have to explain blood that doesn't belong to either him or Sam to these doctors.

"Sir, can you tell me what happened?" The doctor's name tag reads "Kavanagh," and he looks competent enough, if about twelve years old, all blue eyes and sandy hair and immaculate white coat with a ballpoint pen in the front pocket. He's got the pen in his hand now, poised to take notes.

He makes a helpless gesture, follows the doctor as Sam is wheeled into a small room past the triage area. "I'm not sure. I wasn't... wasn't paying attention. He had a cough for a while, and then he just collapsed, I think from the fever. I don't know." He hates this, hates not knowing what the hell is going on, and God dammit but he should have been paying better attention. This is a goddamned nightmare, is what it is.

"Right. Wait out here, we'll sort out your friend."

"Brother. He's my brother. I want to stay."

Dr. Kavanagh gives him a reassuring pat on the shoulder, and it's all Dean can do not to rip his arm clean out of its socket. Easy, Dean, no mutilating the doctor who's going to be taking care of your brother. "I need to examine him. It won't take long. Why don't you check with the receptionist, get a head start on the paperwork, and I'll call you as soon as I'm done."

Fuming, Dean stalks off to the front desk, snatches the damned paperwork from the frightened-looking receptionist, tries not to scowl too much at her, begins ticking off the damned check boxes and printing the information he pulls off one of the cards he has in his wallet, because there's nothing else he can do, apart from simmer with impotent rage. He has to scribble out three mistakes, keeps glancing up anxiously at the closed door, tries not to bite through his tongue with impatience, eventually drops the whole thing on a chair and paces the length of the waiting room, trying not to lose what's left of his mind.

*****

Finally Doogie Howser comes out, motions for him to come. "Mr. Rossington? Come this way," he takes Dean aside, hanging onto his clipboard. Dean tosses the paperwork at the receptionist, ignores her yelp of protest.

"How is he? Is he okay?"

"Your brother is quite ill, Mr. Rossington. It looks like a flu gone bad. Pneumonia in both lungs. We're going to have to admit him, get him started on fluids and antibiotics. His oxygen saturation levels were quite low, so I've already started him on pure oxygen that while we wait for a bed. Don't worry," he gives Dean yet another pat on the shoulder, doesn't see Dean gritting his teeth, "he's young and healthy, and he ought to pull through just fine. You can go in now, if you'd like."

Dean doesn't need to be told twice. He thanks the doctor curtly, has to stop himself from running through the door to the exam room. Sam is still lying on the gurney, a canula in his nose feeding him oxygen from a small tank. He's pale, sweating, each breath laboured, and Dean feels that terrible clenching sensation that he always feels when Sam is hurt or sick (or dead, his traitorous mind whispers), as though all the air has been sucked out of the room. He finds a chair, pulls it up next to the gurney, but doesn't sit just yet. Places a hand on Sam's chest, just to feel it rise and fall, to feel the too-fast heartbeat beneath his fingers. He reaches out, smooths the sweaty bangs from Sam's forehead, feels the heat radiating from his brother like the sun on a summer's day. Sam stirs beneath his touch, lets out a soft moan.

"Sam?" Dean strokes his face. "You with me, bro?"

"Dean?" Sam's eyes flutter open, and he blinks painfully, as though the light is too bright.

"I'm right here, kiddo, just take it easy."

"Where are we?"

"We're in the hospital. You've got pneumonia, but they're taking care of you, okay?"

Sam coughs, more weakly this time. "'kay." He shifts uncomfortably on the gurney. "Hurts."

"Yeah, I know. You just hang in there, okay? A few more minutes, they're going to take you up and pump you full of the good stuff. You'll be riding high in no time. Just focus on taking deep breaths for me, okay?"

Sam stays quiet for a few minutes. "Is it still Christmas Eve?"

Dean huffs a small laugh. "Yeah, yeah it is. I left your present at the motel, dude."

"You got me a present?"

"Okay, no, but I meant to."

It's Sam's turn to laugh, but it rapidly turns into a coughing fit, and Dean clasps both his hands around Sam's larger one, waits anxiously until his breathing goes back to a semblance of normal. Wonders just what the hell could possibly be taking so long for these freaking doctors to get Sam into a room.

*****

"Jess stayed with me, one Christmas," Sam says suddenly, eyes on the ceiling.

"What?"

Sam's voice is rough, fading. "She used to go home to her family, for Christmas. Except the last one. She surprised me, came back with cookies and eggnog. She even put up a wreath. It was plastic and hideous, but she bought it at this crappy seven-eleven just so I could have a Christmas decoration somewhere."

He starts to cough again, and Dean is just about going out of his mind, wondering just where the hell this is all coming from, trying to get Sam to breathe just by willing it, except of course it's not working. Just for once in his life he'd give anything to have some sort of freak power to just make Sam better, just like that. Of course, that's not how his life works. So instead he strokes Sam's head, doesn't know what to say. Words have never been Dean's strong suit.

"She never really understood," Sam says softly. "She tried to get me to come to her parents' place, every year. Never understood why I wouldn't come. I couldn't tell her... not about you, not about Dad. Not about why we don't... do Christmas. Not really. I couldn't tell her about that time you stole the presents from that family down the street. I couldn't tell her... and I didn't want to, because she wouldn't understand, not really..." he trails off, shivering slightly, hands plucking at the flimsy hospital sheet keeping him covered. "I missed you. She helped... but it wasn't the same."

Dean's hand strays to the empty spot at his neck where his amulet used to hang. Castiel still has it, still searching for Everlasting Freaking God, and the lack of its familiar weight suddenly feels like his heart has been ripped right out of his chest. He scrubs at his eyes, glad that Sam's too out of it to see that he's in very real danger of crying like a girl.

"Dean?"

"Yeah, Sammy?"

"Wh't time's it?"

Dean checks his watch. "Just past midnight."

Sam turns fever-bright eyes on him, awards him the ghost of a smile, reaches for his hand. "Merry Christmas, Dean."