Because of the Amazons
by wave obscura
If only they could have just driven off into the sunset. If only it could have ended happily-ever-after that way, with the gleam of the bumper, the exhaust and blue sky and maybe even Sam's hand out the window, surfing a warm breeze.
But there's nothing like that, instead just more highway and more highway and more highway and more highway and driving driving driving east east east, where Sam's head begins to ache and then pound and then throb and then stab.
Luckily there are bottles of meds scattered all over the car; he barely has to move to wrap his fingers around something that should totally obliterate a headache. Still, the pain is so bad that he gropes sightlessly until Dean leans over and drops two pills in his hand.
"That'll knock it on its ass," Dean assures him.
Except it doesn't. Sam begins to sweat, and then he can't open his eyes. He's crying and his sockets feel bone dry.
"Sammy?" Dean says from the driver's seat. "What's wrong with you?"
The fever's back, that's what's wrong. Sam drowses and shivers for miles. He wakes every few minutes to the sound of Dean trying to dislodge something stubborn from his lungs. It's holding on for dear life, so he growls endlessly around it.
Dean chokes Sam's name. "Sam? I need a hand."
Sometimes when it's really tough Dean needs a fist to the back. But Sam's no help, he can't do it, he can barely move.
Soon they're driving faster, making more turns. Sam rubs his forehead against the cool window and he must have started babbling because Dean drives even faster, honking and cursing and coughing.
Sam starts to wonder if this is really his new life, here with Dean, on the road, or simply some delerious cloud, a layer of delusion. Maybe he's lying in the king-sized bed he bought with Jess, the pillow top mattress and the 600-thread count sheets they got on sale at Walmart, the Walmart off the interstate that they snuck into at 3 a.m. because they felt guilty for shopping at the root of all evil and wanted to hide their social irresponsibility from the prying eyes of their fellow students.
Maybe he's in that bed now, with Jess keeping an eye on him, making sure he gets lots of fluids and rest, and maybe Dean has passed away somewhere without them ever having seen each other again.
He didn't even quit his job, his ridiculous bullshit campus job as a desk jockey in the legal services office where he stacked paperclips in the magnetic holder and did homework and sometimes picked his nose when he thought no one was looking. He hadn't quit his job or emailed his professors to say sorry, I'll never be back to class again.
He can still smell Stanford and Jess on his clothes, maybe still in his nostrils. And it hurts.
He wishes he could stop his mouth from moving. He really doesn't want Dean to hear any of this.
They keep driving.
Sam's delirium delivers him a shitty motel room fifteen years ago, on Valentine's Day, where himself-as-a-child is contemplating a box of Alf valentines and a sheet of ice cream cone stickers. Short Circuit is on the TV, a robot with animatronic eyebrows, a single woman of the 80s who lives in a huge house on the ocean by herself.
Dean-as-a-child is sitting on his knees, bent forward on the floor to the right of the TV. He's having an asthma attack. To stay calm he presses two fingers to the dent where his chest and neck meet, and that helps him breathe better.
He's having a really hard time, though, he's miserable, he's been fighting this all night and nothing's helping and Dad's gone so no hospital, no emergency room, not unless it's an absolute emergency.
Sam-as-a-child doesn't really notice his brother's distress, though. He is far more worried that his Alf valentines will appear lame to his classmates, who will have valentines from more popular TV shows and movies.
And he questions the relationship between Alf and the ice cream cones. Alf eats cats, not ice cream. Surely his friends at school will notice the disparity and laugh.
"Sammy." Dean's brows clash together with misery. He squirms and repositions the two fingers. Dad once explained why Dean does this- it makes his throat smaller, or something, makes it feel like he's taking in more air. It's a trick, nothing else.
"Take another hot shower," Sam whines, because he doesn't have time to deal with his brother, he has to figure out where to place the ice cream cone stickers so that they make sense with the pictures of Alf and his family. Then he has to think of personalized messages to write on each and every valentine, messages that will make or break potential friendships.
"Turn off... the TV... Sam...?"
"I'm watching it."
Dean makes a frustrated noise and goes to the window. He bends over the sill. He forces a few coughs- he does that when he can't breathe because sometimes it'll get better, if he can get whatever's stuck in there to come up. But they've done PT already and his lungs are cleared of mucus. The asthma doesn't care if the lungs are clear or clogged, though. The asthma does whatever it feels like.
Dean moves from the windowsill to the bed. From sitting on the bed to his hands and knees, head dangling between his shoulders, ribcage rising and falling. Pacing back and forth in front of the beds. Back to the right of the TV. He takes a hit from his inhaler, not that it's going to make any difference because he's already hit it ten times tonight.
Sam observes this memory, this scene, in his adult delirium, like an out-of-body experience. He can see his young self fretting over the valentines, totally oblivious as Dean circles the room again and again in helpless suffering. And he understands his childish indifference because it was just one of a thousand times Dean felt sick or couldn't breathe.
What he doesn't understand, though, is why Dean is so upset, why Dean doesn't just use his neb, which always kills the asthma when nothing else works.
Then he remembers, with force, like someone took him by the back of the head and shoved his face in truth.
There was no medicine. It was gone, so was Dad, and Sam didn't care.
Sam-as-a-child makes a face at his stack of valentines. They have to be perfect, these valentines, or he's positive his whole life will just end.
Adult Sam snaps out of his delirium then, for just a moment. Dean-as-adult envelopes him, flannel and gravely lungs, hauls him up a sidewalk or maybe a drive way, either way it quivers and rocks under Sam's feet and his whole body trembles.
"This is Sammy," Dean says to someone else. "This is my little brother."
Sam's eyes open hours later. He's lying on a sofa and can tell by the thick quality of the air that it's nighttime. Across the room on the opposite couch, a woman straddles Dean, butterflied panties and what Jess would call a "cami." A long red braid falling down her back. She fingers the button of Dean's g-tube with long white fingers.
"I'm glad you got it," the woman says. She sounds German, like a German who's been in the country for years. "Look at you now. Fucking look at you."
Sam closes his eyes.
"Sam," the woman's voice says.
"You had a little relapse, but your fever is gone. Wake. Drink. Be quiet, your brother is resting."
His eyes fly open. He smells coffee. The woman surprises him by being in her mid-forties, at least. Her face is carved, freckled, lined, beautiful. She sits on the coffee table, white legs crossed, still in her butterfly panties and her hair frizzes in a halo around her face, the way Jess's used to.
He squeezes his eyes closed.
"You miss her," the woman says, "it will get better. Soon you'll hardly think of her at all. Sit up. Drink."
Sam clears his throat, which is burning with the shit in his lungs. He gropes for the cup of coffee in her hands, takes a sip. He wonders what time it is. It feels like afternoon. Which means Dean hasn't-
"Don't worry," the woman says, "he had treatments this morning, again this afternoon."
Sam lugs himself up so that at least one foot is touching the floor. Maybe the fever's gone but he still feels disoriented, like he can't get his bearings.
He sips the coffee again, blinks a few times and studies her. She's dressed now, suddenly, or at least she's wrapped in a robe. Behind her, Dean is fast asleep, fully clothed. The light across his face is orange, like sunset.
The coffee tastes organic and expensive. He can tell by the buzz outside that they're in a city; a glance out the window and he knows they're in a tallish building. The apartment smells faintly of incense, long gone but lingering in the fabric of the mismatched furniture.
The place is reminiscent of Bobby's house, only much smaller, with bookshelves on every wall, books that looked ready to crumble to dust.
Sam feels greasy and dry all at once. He wonders again what time it is.
"It's nearly seven," the woman supplies.
"Are you reading my mind?"
She smiles. "Nothing so high-tech."
"But you're a psychic."
"I'm a nurse."
Alright fine. Sam gives up, looking over her shoulder at Dean. "He should have oxygen when he sleeps."
The woman stares at him. "What did I just say, stupid boy? I'm a nurse."
She hates him. He can feel it radiating off of her.
"Right now Dean's health is good," she says.
Sam shakes his head. "Look, ma'am-"
"When his health is good, why be cautious? Celebrate with him. Help him enjoy it."
"It is not good. You have no idea-"
The woman throws up a hand to silence him. He doesn't know why, but he closes his mouth.
"Instead you do the opposite." She sips at her own coffee, and shakes her head. "He thinks the world of you. I can't say I agree."
Sam reels for a moment. "And who are you?"
The woman nods at Dean. "He comes to me when he's ill. When he can. I take care of him."
Her mouth quirks. "Since he was of legal age."
"Do you have a name?"
"Of course I do."
She moves to Dean's couch. With her long white fingers she rubs at Dean's chest. He sighs but doesn't wake. "You want him to get a transplant."
"New lungs. A healer. Anything to make him well. Anything."
"Of course I do."
Sam doesn't even want to know what she's getting at. He thinks it's probably time they get the fuck out of here. He gulps the rest of his coffee and stands.
"You're always the drama queen," she says, "Sit. Finish your coffee."
Sam doesn't know why, but he sits. "Who the hell are you?"
The woman shakes her head: you're hopeless, and slides her hands down Dean's back, up to the nape of his neck. "It's important for him, to have hands at his back. I hope you understand this. He doesn't know another way to be loved."
Dean brow furrows a little, as if he's in pain.
"He's not hurting," she says, the moment after Sam's done thinking it.
Maybe she's not reading his mind, but she's sure as hell doing something.
"This is my whole point, Sammy," she continues. "You should try to listen. Sometimes relief hurts just as badly. Maybe worse. Do you understand?"
"No. Not in the slightest."
The woman laughs at him, practically scoffs. "This is because you think you understand suffering. The truth? Not even the first inkling. Listen to me, if you can. No healers. No operations."
"Why?" Sam plonks his coffee cup down hard on the table and immediately feels dramatic but goddamn. "Why in the fuck not? Why should I just let him die?"
"I've told you. More than once. You don't listen, you don't have ears. Go ahead, try to save him. There is no keeping a fool from his destiny."
And that seems to be that. She briefly curls her lip at him, then turns soft eyes on Dean.
"Sweetheart," she whispers. "Your brother is awake."
Dean slides his hand over hers, sighing.
"He's fine," the woman says, as if Dean asked a question.
Sometimes Dean's first few waking breaths make him choke. When he leans forward to cough, the woman is ready, holding her now-empty coffee cup under his mouth. She claps him on the back exactly where Sam knows his brother would need to be clapped, with the exact force he would need, and when Dean finally begins to cough up the gunk, she watches him not with disgust or pity or even curiosity, but with a look of blank necessity, as if she's witnessing something she's witnessed a hundred, maybe a thousand times.
She looks back at Sam. "If you can find a way to stop making this about yourself-"
"Em." Dean's eyes fly open, and he speaks sternly. "Leave him alone."
The woman, Em, apparently, turns his gaze to Dean. "I tell you and tell you. You think too much of him."
Dean smiles, squeezing her hand. "And you say you have The Gift."
"I say nothing."
"Tell him to sleep, will you?"
"You should be the one sleeping," she says. "Soon your brother will run you ragged. Right into your grave. And the stupid bastard won't even know it."
Dean seems to find this amusing. "Please, Em. He's sick."
Em sighs monumentally. She turns to Sam. "Try to hear me, Sam Winchester. Try. And sleep."
Her long white fingertips flutter dismissively in his direction. Sam's eyes grow so heavy he can't keep them open. All the energy drains from his body like someone pushed an off button, and he slumps over so hard that he bashes his head on the framing beneath the padding of the sofa.
But things don't go black, exactly. It's more like transition between one scene and the next, blinking in and out of two places at once, an awkward mesh of sleep and wake, sleep and wake, sleep and wake.
He wakes like someone ripped him from sleep, almost against his will, one minute blackness and the next his eyes are wide open. It's daytime again. There's bacon sizzling somewhere, the smell of it makes his stomach contract with stabbing hollowness.
There are voices talking low from the direction of the kitchen.
"...so fucking hard to find," Dean is saying. "Why you gotta torture me like that, huh?"
"You can eat it," Em answers. The sizzling goes intense for a moment-she must have flipped the bacon. Moisture gathers on Sam's tongue. He is starving.
"I can't, Emmy. He won't understand."
"Who cares if he understands? You must eat."
"I don't know know how to explain-"
"-explain that you want to eat without pain."
There's silence for a moment. Dean apparently doesn't have an answer.
"Tell him," Em says. "He's awake. Listening."
Sam hears Dean's hurried footsteps into the living room. "Sammy?"
It's not until Dean is helping him sit that he realizes how weak he is, in fact he nearly topples forward onto the floor, remaining upright only because Dean's hand is across his chest.
There's something different about Dean. He notices it right away, but can't quite put his finger on it.
"Morning," he croaks, smiling.
"Morning," Dean says, "that was quite a relapse you had, Sammy. Damn."
"I feel a little better."
Dean lifts him onto shaky legs.
Em is fully dressed now, green scrubs with black and white pandas somersaulting across her blouse. She smiles acidicly at him, sipping from a coffee cup in one hand and flipping a pancake with the other.
"Good morning," he says politely. The bacon is piled up in the middle of the kitchen table. He eyeballs it ravenously.
"Morning," Em says.
"Sammy, Em, Em, Sammy," Dean says, taking his seat.
Sam's about to demand a more detailed introduction when he notices- Dean's color has changed. He's been pale with darkly-tinged lips since the beginning of time. Now he's flushed, almost pink.
"He looks good, no?" Em says. "I'm better at PT than you, that's why."
Sam blinks. "Have I done something to offend you?"
"Not yet. But you will." Em nods at her own comment, dumping a pancake onto his plate. "He hears his body best. Not doctors. Not websites. Certainly not you."
Sam thought Dean was pink before- he turns almost pastel, frosting on an Easter cupcake.
"Christ, Em," he says. "He's been helping me with that shit since he was a little kid."
"You have a strange definition of 'help,' my dear. Eat. You cannot live on bananas." She pushes the plate of bacon at Dean.
Dean scowls at the food, and makes no move to eat it.
Sam does the math quickly in his head- fruit equals simple carbohydrates, which equals easy digestion, which means-
"Are you out of enzymes, Dean?"
Dean's cheeks go pinker with guilt. Em lifts her teabag in and out of her cup. "Just tell him the truth. Your Sammy is an asshole, my dear, not a moron."
She drifts to the kitchen window, which looks out at nothing but the rectangular gray slab of another city building, pausing to cup Dean's face in her hand for just a moment. Dean stares down at his plate with a pained, almost angry expression on his face.
"You're kidding me," Sam says. "How did you let this happen?"
Dean continues to stare at his food. And then Sam figures out what's different, besides Dean's color.
He hasn't coughed, not once in ten minutes. Not even little suppressed coughs. And his breathing is quiet, normal. Which isn't always unusual. But now, when he's still recovering? Sometime isn't right.
Em turns around, wiping moisture from her eyes. "I'm late for work, Dean. Tell him. Explain."
Dean licks his lips. He picks up his fork and cuts a wedge out of the stack of dry pancakes, then rests both the fork and the food on his plate. "I have some left. But they're expired. I uh- they're not any good."
Sam nods. He's got a piece of bacon between his thumb and forefinger, all it would take is one quick movement to get something into his stomach. He is so fucking hungry. But he puts it back on his plate. "We'll have to find a clinic. Or get you to an ER."
"We can make it to Bobby's in two days, if we drive in shifts. Until then I'll just have to eat whatever I can eat."
Em waves her long white fingers. "Or I can help."
"How?" Sam demands.
Em gives him that I-hate-you-more-than-life-itself look again. She goes to Dean, slides her hand across his stomach. Dean winces, drawing in a tight breath. His hand captures her wrist, as if he's going to stop her from touching him. But then it falls away.
After a moment, Dean takes a big bite of his pancakes. He holds the food in his mouth, looking pained again, staring down at the plate like it's some kind of sin.
"Emmy," he says, looking at her. A conversation passes between them, something Sam can't translate, expressions he's never seen before on his brother's face.
"Dean," she says.
"Please," Dean says. "Emmy. Do it."
Without warning, her long white fingers are on Sam's forehead and he feels himself going in and out again, in and out, wake and sleep.
And then just sleep.
To be continued.