Sam stared at the white pill bottle as it rolled from side to side at the edge of Dean's bed. The rumble of the Impala's engine filled the small room suddenly and then faded, signaling Dean's exit. Sam listened to the room return to its silent state before huffing out a ragged and weary burst of oxygen. His muscles still ached and he couldn't breathe well, his airways clogged and his lungs heavy. The Ibuprofen Dean had given him had already started to sooth the headache that was pummeling his brain; the sweat leaking from his pores had lessened, the fever burning his skin temporarily subdued by the analgesic. But he didn't have time to rest right now, not when he had a job to do: if Dean wasn't going to take care of himself, Sam was going to have to take care of things for him.
"He'll probably end up getting that Icy Hot for me instead of himself, too. Damn jerk. Might as well make him his own," Sam said aloud to the empty room as he carefully eased himself into a sitting position. Every nerve in his being was screaming for sleep: the flu virus swimming through his blood was working overtime, planting seeds of fatigue inside every cell of his body. Sam's hair whipped side to side as he shook his head in an attempt to replace the feeling of inertia pestering him with a sense of alertness. It didn't work. Instead, a bout of dizziness hit him once he stood up, leaving him to fight through the slight delirium as he treaded tiredly into the bathroom.
The rush of warm water from the tap was uncomfortable to his fevered skin, but at the same time it was strangely satisfying as it ate at the chills attacking his frame. Soaping up his hands and washing them clean, Sam stole a glance at himself in the bathroom's mirror. Sam cringed at the sight. His skin was pale, but the dark purple circles that were splashed underneath his eyes and the bright red flush painting his cheeks gave him the appearance of a creepy, haunted china doll.
A tickle squirmed its way into Sam's throat, pulling his attention from his reflection; swallowing convulsively, the younger man fought the urge to cough. The fewer germs he put into the air, the less chance Dean had of catching his flu, said chances being extremely high already. "That's the last thing Dean needs right now. All that coughing would just mess with his ribs," Sam thought as he swiped two hand towels from the bathroom's rack and made his way back into the main room. Pulling the heating pad out of a bag, Sam drew his brother's sheets back, placing the pad on the mattress and plugging it into the wall. Scooping up the fallen pill bottle, he gently shook a couple out onto a napkin and placed the painkillers and a bottle of water on the nightstand.
"Just need to fill up the ice bucket and I'll be done," Sam rambled to himself, sitting on the edge of his bed so he could lace up his boots. The familiar task was more difficult than usual, his watery eyes distorting his vision, but he managed. Wrapping the bottom half of the ice bucket with one of the hand towels from the bathroom, he made his way out of the room in search of the ice machine.
Sam's breath heaved in his chest as he trudged down the motel's open hallway. The air had been cooled by the rain and the drop in temperature sent stinging sensations crawling in his throat, causing him to double his efforts to choke down another coughing fit. His stride was slowing with each step, the chilled and rainy weather taking its toll on his already taxed airways, but Sam's shoulders straighten once he spotted the ice machine. "Well, at least it isn't too far from our motel room," he thought as he ducked the ice bucket under the dispenser, shivering as rainwater seeped through the cracks in the motel's awning and sprinkled his shoulders and back.
Sam let out an unstable breath as he placed the now-full ice bucket next to the pills he had set out for his older brother. Quickly wrapping some of the ice in a washcloth, he placed the homemade icepack on top of the open ice bucket. Mission accomplished, Sam flopped over onto his mattress and, burying his face under his arms, let loose the string of coughs that had been building up in his throat. The fit caused his already sensitive eyes to sting and water flooded from his tear-ducks to sooth the prickly sensation. A couple of sneezes punctuated the end of the coughing spell, and a chill from his rain-dotted shirt wisped over his body. "Well, at least the flu isn't caused by being out in cold weather." Sighing, Sam turned over onto his back and tore off his damp shirt, tossing it at his open duffel. Body worn out and joints stiff, the younger man let his frame sink into the semi-comfortable mattress beneath him, satisfied with the preparations he had laid out for his hurting older brother.
Flu-born exhaustion pulled his consciousness into the silence of sleep, rendering him oblivious to the missed call banner blinking on his cell phone.
"Damn bitch. I knew he wouldn't stay in the room," Dean said underneath his breath, flipping his phone closed.
Dean had been back on the road with his brother for a while now, hunting and searching for their father. Neither of them had caught the flu during that time, and while Sam was away at Stanford, Dean had not been as steady as he should have been with keeping cold and flu remedies stocked. But a few years' hiatus due to Sam's participation in an institution of higher learning had not left Dean inept when it came to dealing with illnesses. Dean was Sam's caretaker; being separated for a few years would not hamper his ability to know what his brother needed in order for him to regain his health. After all, Dean himself got sick, and even though he and John had, at times, taken separate hunts, he was also there to watch over his father when he fell ill. Needless to say, it had not taken him long to pick up what he would need in order to take care of Sam.
It was, however, taking him a long time getting back to the motel. The roads were slick and dreary, wet weather seemed to attract insane drivers to asphalt just as a light beckons a moth to its grave. After being cut off for a second time, and shooting the bird more than once, Dean finally made it back to the motel in one piece, the Impala's tires squealing as she sped into the parking space in front of their room. The room Sam never should have left. Grabbing the plastic bags he had set in the passenger's seat, he thought, "Damn it, dude. You know better than to go out in weather like this when you're sick." A sharp pain cut into his side as he eased out of the Impala, causing him to still his movements. Standing next to the opened driver-side door, Dean could see over the bench seat and into the Impala's back. His brother had left his leather jacket in the car. After waiting a beat to regain his composure as the pain in his sides dwindled, Dean swiped his jacket from the back before slamming the Impala shut and trekking towards the door.
He was pissed that Sam had done exactly what he told him not to do. Locked in a motel room, Sam was safer than walking around in a parking lot, like he had been in Minnesota.
"I'm gonna kick his ass," Dean thought as he swung open the door.
Dean's eyes reflexively landed on the form of his brother. Sam was lying on his back, half on and half off of the bed, as if he had been sitting and decided to lie down in the same spot. His shirt was discarded and laying on top of his open duffle. Dean frowned when he saw that Sam's hair was not sticking to the sweat on his face, but was actually somewhat damp. An annoyed burst of air rushed past Dean's lips at the sight. "Perfect. Watch your fever spike now. Good job, there, pal," Dean internally cursed at his brother, but his mental rant died quickly once he stepped further into the room. His bed was turned down and a heating pad was placed neatly atop the mattress. Two painkillers were aligned on the nightstand; next to the pills was a sealed bottle of water. A full ice bucket, along with a makeshift icepack, was placed parallel to the pills and water so that the arrangement of the three items formed a triangle. "You always were OCD," he muttered as he placed the plastic grocery bags onto his bed and pulled out the cough suppressant he had bought for Sam.
The bed dipped slightly when Dean sat next to his brother. "Sam," Dean said, landing a light jab onto his brother's shoulder. "Hey—wake up."
Sam's lids parted slightly at Dean's prodding, but he didn't fully wake up: before Dean could completely free his little brother from the tight grip that sleep had on him, Sam's coughing reflex kicked into gear, throwing him into a coughing fit that burned his throat and had his lungs starving for air. Hovering just beneath cognizant awareness, the feeling of suffocation sent confusion ripping throughout the younger man's veins, and he automatically started curling in on himself in order to brace against the panic bombarding his system. A strong hand wrapping around the back of his neck stopped him from folding in on himself, and he felt his head being tilted backwards; the sudden change in angle sent Sam's brain bumping against the back of his skull. He gnashed his teeth against the debilitating dizziness hounding him, and his clamped lips pushed the coughing spell back into his esophagus, causing his chest to heave while the fire in his lungs doubled in intensity.
"Sam! Open your mouth."
Sam unconsciously parted his lips when Dean's words cut into his sleep-clouded cognition, but his head reflexively jerked back when he felt something cool hit the back of his throat. A numb sensation quickly spread over his tongue and esophagus, and the burn in his lungs faded as he instinctively drew in deep, greedy gulps of air. Coughing bout over and the fire burning inside of his lungs extinguished, Sam stilled, and Dean realized that he was going to lose the tug-o-war he and sleep were decking out with Sam. Dean tossed the cough suppressant spray onto his bed, but before he could open his mouth to rouse his brother, he felt Sam shiver against him.
It was obvious Sam was sleep-talking to himself, but that did not matter to Dean. Giving Sam a firm shake, Dean gruffed out, "Yeah? That's because you went outside in the rain, you dumbass."
Sam's eyebrows scrunched and his eyelids fluttered. "Huh?"
Rolling his eyes, Dean gave his brother another shake, and said, louder, "You went out in the rain, college-boy. That's why you're cold."
The pseudo-conversation started to turn the gears in Sam's head, and before he realized it, he was staring up at Dean's concerned face, his head pillowed in his older brother's lap. He quickly noticed that the skin around Dean's eyes was pinched, a sign of discomfort and strain. "Dean. You take the pills I put out for you?"
Even though Sam's voice was heavy with sleep, the impatience lacing his words was unmistakable, and the tone caused Dean's concern to fade, leaving in its wake the annoyance he had first felt when he'd realized that Sam had left the relative safety of their motel room. Gripping Sam by the shoulders and easing him off of his lap, Dean slipped off the bed and said, "Dude. 'You jonesing for a fight?" Dean tossed Sam's legs onto the mattress a second time, the change in position causing his brother to face-plant into his pillow; pain shot up Dean's ribs at the movement and a grunt formed in his throat, but he swallowed it down. Not wanting Sam to notice, he quickly turned from his kid brother and took in a couple of deep breaths in order to soothe his sides; once the throbbing abated, he started fishing through the grocery bags he had dumped onto his bed. "'Cause you're about to get one," he finished gravely as he sat back down next to his brother, Icy Hot patch in hand.
Sam glared at the Icy Hot patch and thought, "Knew he'd only get it for me," before deadpanning, "Your ribs would break in half before you'd even get a swing in."
Sam grunted out a pained and surprised gasp when a loud whap echoed throughout the small motel room, the Icy Hot patch landing hard on the small of his back via Dean's heavy palm. Clearly not expecting the insidious attack, Sam gritted his teeth and involuntarily jerked, fighting the urge to knee his older brother in the stomach. "You're lucky your ribs are busted or I'd nail you one right in the gut…" he internally cursed, muscles crawling against the stinging sensation that was blossoming inside the nerves dotting his back.
"Huh. Would ya look at that? Ribs're still in one piece."
"You're a dick—"
"Yeah? You're a stubborn ass." Dean's voice was harsh, and Sam tensed when Dean placed his hand on Sam's back again, but he loosened when Dean started smoothing the Icy Hot patch across his skin. Feeling another chill run through his brother's flesh, Dean added, "I told you to stay in the motel room, not go out in the rain and get some ice."
Sam dug his face from the semi-fluffy enclave of his pillow and turned his head towards his brother. "I told you I was going to get some."
Dean's eyes narrowed and he drew his lips into a thin, pink line; he did not like having his own words thrown back at him. "You're a real smart ass, you know that? There's a difference between me going out to get ice with a few bruises, and you going out in the rain with the flu."
"Dean, c'mon, man," Sam's voice was slow, thick with fatigue. "The cold and rain can't give someone the flu. You know that. And the ice machine isn't even that far from our room."
"Sam, you already have the flu. You're tellin' me that screwing around out there won't make it worse?"
Dean was surprised when Sam answered him with silence, the younger man giving the older brother a remarkably pathetic look that was most likely a failed attempt to stab his brother with The Bitch Face. Sam possessed an independent streak that rivaled that of anyone's Dean had ever known, including their father; Sam's lack of response and diminished strong willed nature revealed how depleted the flu had left his baby brother in both body and mind. His energy was obviously drained. Dean picked up the glossy overtone of Sam's irritated, raw eyes before he turned his head from his brother and returned his face into the warm, dark depths of his pillow. Deflating a little, Dean continued to needlessly flatten the Icy Hot patch over his brother's back, the gentle motion a not-so-successfully masked gesture aimed at comforting his brother, but he stilled when Sam puffed an aggravated sigh against his mattress and mumbled something unintelligible into his pillow.
Dean's eyebrows creased, unable to understand his brother when he had a mouth full of synthetic stuffing. "Hey," Dean nudged Sam's shoulder and rolled him partially onto his back, pulling his face away from the bed. "'You sayin' something?"
Sam's chest suddenly expanded before he could answer, and quickly shrugging Dean's hand from his shoulder, he let loose a string of wet sneezes that had his eyes welling up and trailing water down his pale face in seconds flat. Catching his breath and unfolding his arms from his face, he answered, "It was the least I could do."
Dean had backed up considerably while his brother had been busy expelling ungodly amounts of snot from his system, but when his brother's tired words cut through his ears and sunk into his brain, he immediately pushed himself closer to his baby brother, his thigh parallel to his kid brother's trunk. Dipping his head lower, towards his brother, he asked, "What'd you say?"
Sam instantly knew that he was treading on dangerous ground, but he also knew that he could hold his own against his brother if pushed, even if he was sick: he'd tried to apologize to Dean the other night; he might as well try again while he had his brother's attention. Signing, he repeated, "I said it was the least I could do."
Sam's eyes fell from Dean's face and moved to his older brother's side. Following the path of Sam's gaze, Dean straightened, a look of exasperation falling across his face. Leveling his voice, he warned, "Sam, that wasn't your fault."
"It isn't? Dean. Last time I checked, I was the one who got jumped by those freaks."
"No, Dean. You're not going to tell me if I hadn't gotten jumped, none of this would have happened," Sam said as he waved an arm angrily in the direction of Dean's ribs. His voice shuddered out the last word, voice box unable to handle the rising timber of his tone.
Dean grabbed Sam's flailing arm and pushed it down and away from his ribs, tucking it along his side. Locking eyes with Sam and tightening the grip he had on his little brother's arm, he said, "Sam, let it go, I'm done talking about it. I said it wasn't your fault. I don't wanna hear it."
"Dean, you didn't want to hear it yesterday—"
Dean's fist slammed into the nightstand so quickly that neither he nor Sam had enough time to register that Dean had let go of Sam's forearm. The violent maneuver shook his ribs, and Dean buckled slightly forward when the sensation of knifes sliced up each of his sides. The air filling his lungs froze, the spasms attacking his muscles stopping him from expanding his chest.
Sam immediately stilled, combating the urge to jump from the bed, grab the painkillers he had set out for his brother, and shove them down his brother's throat: any sort of movement could jar his brother further, and he did not want to increase his brother's pain. "And you call me the stubborn ass," Sam thought at he watched Dean's face—which he had turned from his brother— flush red with both pain and embarrassment.
The quiet coating the room's atmosphere was tainted when Dean let loose a shaky exhale, the pain subsiding enough so that he could take a breath.
"'You done convincing me that you're not hurt? Or that you don't need help?"
Dean's fist unraveled and lifted from the nightstand, and he swiped the abused appendage across his face. He felt insecure enough that his kid brother had been marked game while he had bled his bladder, dick in hand; Dean did not want to discuss the issue further, since there was nothing to discuss: he'd screwed up his job and now Sam was blaming himself for his own mistake.
"As long as I'm around, nothing bad's gonna happen to you."
An exasperated, yet resigned growl cut through Dean's throat. "Knock it off, would ya?" Dean could feel his defenses solidify as hard as stone around him, the need to escape from the present conversation bordering on overpowering. "Damn it, Sam. This isn't about you," he added in frustration as he pushed himself from Sam's bed and towards his own, creating an imagined distance from the conversation by forming a real one with his brother.
Silence settled upon the tiny motel room again, but Dean could practically hear the gears turning inside of Sam's head. Sick or not, his little brother was nothing but a freakishly giant, human-sized brain. Dean knew it was only a matter of minutes before Sam opened his mouth and started yapping again, so he tried to buy himself some time by rummaging around the supplies he had gotten Sam, searching for something he could use to permanently seal his brother's mile-a-minute cakehole.
"Dean… you know you can't make me wait outside the bathroom for you from now on, right?"
Not expecting that response, Dean immediately turned towards his brother, surprise coloring his face. "Sonuvabitch, way to live up to bein' psychic, pal," Dean thought as he dipped his head forward and shrugged his shoulders downward, silently and defensively asking, "What?"
Lifting his hand towards the motel window and then letting the limb drop softly back to the mattress, Sam said, "It's not about me getting ice, you didn't want me getting close to the parking lot, like in Minnes—" Sam's jaw snapped shut when Dean wrapped his hand underneath Sam's chin. Startled and annoyed by the gesture, and almost biting his tongue in the process, Sam clutched his brother's wrist in-between his fingers, ready to throw his brother's hand off, but stopped as soon as Dean waved the tiny plastic bottle of eye drops in front of his face.
"Easy, tiger. Your eyes look like that beach ball Ben Stein was holding in that commercial."
Sam halfheartedly rolled his eyes at his brother's deflection. Tossing Dean's hand from his face, Sam eased up the bed and leaned against the headboard, knowing that his brother would be unable to lean down to give him the drops, but would be stubborn enough to try. Placing his hand on Sam's cheek, Dean tilted his head back and dropped the solution carefully into each of his brother's eyes. Sam stared, unblinking, into his big brother's face as he worked, and Dean could practically feel Sam's gaze bore into his psyche. It was unsettling to say the least, and wondering what Sam could see there, Dean found himself finishing the task quicker than he had intended.
Twisting the cap onto the bottle, Dean was stopped from tossing it back into its respective grocery bag when he felt a tug on his shirt. Looking down, he saw that Sam had entangled his fingers into the fabric, and his mind raced back to a time when a fun-sized Sammy would yank and pull on his shirt, whining to be picked up.
"Dean, those freaks couldn't hunt me 'cause you got there."
Those words tore Dean from his flashback and landed him into the present. Sam was looking at him, his watery eyes embedded deep within a pale face streaked with spilt saline solution and natural salt water. The knot in his chest loosed, although not completely: Sam's words were laced with unspoken need, and above everything, Dean needed to be needed, especially by family and most specifically by Sam. Sighing, Dean reached over and picked up the painkillers on the nightstand and popped them into his mouth, swallowing them down dry. Glancing back at his brother, Dean saw that the corner of Sam's lip was raised slightly. Grunting, Dean said, "Spare me, would ya?" as he planted his hand on Sam's forehead and gently slipped it down his baby brother's face, wiping the saltwater and eye drops from his cheeks. Dean smiled internally when he felt Sam relax fully underneath his hand, knowing that he had lifted a weight from his brother's shoulders as well.
Clearing his throat and wiping the wetness covering his palm onto his jeans, he asked, "Your stomach still bothering you? I bought you some tomato soup if you're up to it; skipped out on the rice since there's nothing to make it with."
"It's not bothering me much anymore, but I'll skip it anyway. Thanks, though."
Nodding, Dean slipped Sam's boots off. "All right. C'mon. Lie down and get some rest," Dean said as he somehow managed to pull down Sam's comforter while the younger man was still situated on top of it. Snagging his leather jacket, he draped it over his kid brother's back and chuckled when Sam wrapped it tightly around his shoulders, partially covering his face within the worn leather. Dean dipped his fingers underneath the jacket and curled his palm around his brother's neck, keeping his hand planted on Sam's warm skin even after the kid's eyes drooped and his lids closed.
"We should have gone to Vegas."
Dean smiled. Apparently, the apple really doesn't fall too far from the tree.
A/N: As you have probably already noticed, I made a mistake in the title. "Stray" is technically supposed to be "fall," but I like this wording more in comparison.
This took me a long time to finish, basically since I had a hard time trying to fix the situation, and I still don't think its up to par; but if I kept trying to change it, I probably wouldn't have ever gotten it posted, and I never want to leave a story unfinished.
Hope you guys liked it!
Constructive reviews are welcomed.