Like Riding A Bicycle
Summary: Set in Season 1. Sam is sick for the first time since reuniting with his brother. Dean isn't sure if it's still his job to take care of him and Sam isn't sure he should ask.
A/N: This was done by special request for Kathryn Marie Black who wanted some sick Sam and Big Brother Dean for her birthday. Here it is, all wrapped up in angst! Enjoy the fic and have a wonderful day.
A/N: Editing services provided by Ericka Jane, the best beta in the west!
Disclaimer: I don't own or profit from Supernatural. I just have some fun.
Sam was sick and Dean knew it. What Dean didn't know, was if it was still his job to do anything about it.
When they had stopped at a motel after driving endlessly for hours in deafening silence, Sam had a wracking cough and could barely stay on his feet. It had been four months since they buried Jessica, four month of futile searching for their father, and now it seemed the residual grief and the on-going frustration were taking a toll on his little brother.
In the face of it all, Sam, who had always been the open and forthcoming one, remained stubbornly silent. Even as they drove side by side in the close confines of the Impala's front seat, Dean was forced to admit that the distance between them had become overwhelming. So much so, that Dean had no clue what the hell to do with a sick Sam.
This wouldn't have been an issue during the first eighteen years of his brother's life, but now it posed a major dilemma. In the past, Dean's response would have been instinctive. For anything from a nick on the finger to a major hunting injury, big brother did the first aid. For illnesses that could be handled without the intervention of the formal health care system, big brother did the medicating, the soothing and, where necessary, the coddling.
However, in the post-Stanford, to-hell-with-family, I-can-make-it-on-my-own era, Dean felt no compulsion to volunteer any assistance. Sam had already rejected him in every way that mattered, and he wasn't going to risk further rejection by offering to help now.
So even as he heard Sam's wracking coughs, his sneezing, his laboured breathing, and his obvious discomfort, Dean turned over in his bed and pulled a pillow over his head to drown out the sounds of his brother's infirmity. As the night wore on, he resisted the urge to get up, administer medication, offer comfort, or even just sit there with Sam until he fell asleep.
If his brother wanted help, he could ask for it. If not then, it was just as well and Dean would leave well enough alone.
Although he had been sick countless times in his short and eventful life, this time Sam Winchester knew he was going to die.
The pain and grief of burying his girlfriend, the endless frustration of months on the road without being able to find his father, and his inability to reconnect with his big brother had left his resistance low. A simple Flu, something he'd often been able to shake off, had taken him down for the count. His limbs ached, his head was throbbing, and fever had him bordering on delirium.
Most of his life, whenever he'd been ill, Dean had always known exactly what to do. In the face of every childhood and teenaged illness and injury, Dean had been a calming, soothing presence, always reassuring Sam that no matter how bad it seemed, it would be O.K.
But all of that had been before Sam left for school, essentially telling his father and his brother that he was better off without them. He would never forget the hurt and betrayal in Dean's eyes when he had said he was leaving. Now, more than four years later, he still saw fleeting glimmers of that pain whenever he looked at his brother. He couldn't reasonably expect Dean to care for him with the same level of devotion after he had hurt him so badly.
So, even as the shivers and the coughing wracked his body and the constant pain grew unbearable, he wouldn't ask his brother for help. If he asked and Dean refused, or showed even the slightest reluctance or hesitation, it would cause pain no medication could cure.
Weakly, Sam pulled the covers up to his chin and prayed for relief.
The voice sounded so feeble that it took Dean back a good ten years to his brother's adolescence, when Dean was all Sam wanted if he was in any kind of distress.
Less than a second later, Dean had thrown off his blankets, switched on the bedside lamp, and moved to sit on edge of Sam's bed. His response to his brother's cry had been instinctive, and the distance and the awkwardness between them were all but forgotten.
"What is it, Sammy?"
Sam looked up at him with tired, unfocused eyes. "I feel awful, Dean."
Seeing his little brother lying there shivering, looking so weak and vulnerable, totally blurred reality in Dean's mind. He reminded himself that Sam wasn't a little boy anymore; he was a grown man who had made it clear that he was capable of making his own choices. But in the face of illness and pain, his twenty-two-year-old brother had called out for him much like he did when he was twelve. And when Sam called, even if Dean was sleeping, he would hear and respond.
Leaning towards Sam, Dean touched his brother's neck with the back of his hand and reflexively pulled back when he felt blistering heat.
"Oh crap Sammy, you're burning up."
Then, Dean was on his feet and heading for the bathroom to get a glass of tap water. He helped Sam to sit up and sip, and his brother felt like dead weight in his arms.
"Do you have anything on you? Aspirin or Tylenol?"
"I took the last of it just before I went to bed."
"I'm out too," Dean admitted, not relishing the thought of leaving a fever-riddled, weak Sam. But the alternative was even less comforting. "Sit tight, little brother," Dean eased Sam back down onto his pillows. "I gotta go and get some meds."
Sam nodded, helplessly, trembling even as Dean arranged the blankets over him.
"I promise I won't take long," Dean said.
He ruffled his brother's hair affectionately before he left.
The moment his brother was gone Sam wanted to wail for him to come back. All his life, whenever he had been sick he'd only wanted one person: Dean.
Even with John's best intentions, he had never been able surpass Dean as Sam's preferred caregiver. John had comforted him like a father: briskly and efficiently, hoping to achieve the best result in the shortest possible time. Dean had always comforted him like a mother: patiently, soothingly, indulgently, with every touch saying 'take as long as you need, I'll be right here.'
He remembered once when he had been nursing Jessica through a bad bout of flu, she had mumbled something about wanting her mother. At the time he had been offended that all his care and compassion had left him wallowing in second place. Then, when Jessica generously passed her flu onto him, Sam had spent every moment of his illness lamenting the distance between him and Dean.
It was the little things that Dean had learned over a lifetime of looking after him, that Jessica couldn't possibly have known or even understood. Like the fact that he'd had trouble swallowing tablets when he had just become a teenager, so Dean had always crushed his Tylenol and mixed it with orange juice and honey to mask the bitter taste. Even when he had learned to dry swallow tablets two at a time, Dean had still given him honey, juice, and crushed pain killers whenever he was sick.
When Jessica had handed him two liquid-gels and a glass of water, the sense of loss was so cutting that Sam could have cried. He felt even worse when she had fed him two spoons of liquid cough medicine, having no way of knowing that Vicks Vaporub was the only thing that really quelled his hacking when he had a bad cold. He'd buried his longing for Dean in the same deep, secret place he'd buried all his feelings for his family while had been away. But as grateful as he had always been for all the comfort and nurturing Jessica had lavished on him whenever he'd been ill, she had always remained a distant second.
Shivering and sneezing, Sam burrowed under the blankets and waited for Dean. Even without the medicine, the fact that his brother had been so eager to help, in spite of everything, made him feel better already.
Dean entered the drug store at a sprint, grabbed a shopping basket and went straight to the isle with the cold and flu medications. An entire control panel of feelings, instincts, and reactions, which had been dormant for the last four years, had suddenly been reawakened.
He was a big brother again.
And his little brother needed taking care of.
A million memories came back to Dean, memories of caring for Sam, getting him through illnesses, comforting him through pain, being needed, being depended on, and never letting his brother down. Very early in their childhood their father had conceded that Dean had the magic touch when it came to Sam. And while John had always done his best to give his sons whatever comfort or affection they needed, he knew well and accepted that Dean was Sam's first choice.
As he contemplated the shelves, Dean bypassed all the colourful cough syrups, grabbed the Vicks Vaporub, and tossed it into his basket. The mass of new wave painkillers made his head spin, but he combed the shelves until he found the plain old extra strength Tylenol tablets, and added that to his stash.
At the check-out, he asked the cashier for directions to the nearest 24-hour mini-mart.
Relief washed over Sam like healing waters when the door opened signalling his brother's return. Dean disappeared into the bathroom for several minutes and then approached Sam's bed with supplies in hand. With his eyes half-closed, Sam struggled to lift his head and position himself to swallow whatever medication his brother had brought for him.
Instead, Dean gently raised Sam up from the bed, and then laid him back against the headboard so he could comfortably sit up. Lightheaded from the movement, Sam closed his eyes and leaned his head back, breathing deeply.
"Drink this," Dean said, sitting on the bed facing Sam and holding the glass to Sam's lips.
When Sam tried to lift a weak hand to hold the glass, Dean gently pushed it back down to the bed. "It's O.K," he reassured. "I got it."
Sam tilted his head forward and sipped, and almost sighed ecstatically at the familiar taste of orange juice mixed with honey masking the bitter tang of crushed Tylenol. He emptied the glass and then barely held back a sob when Dean briskly wiped his mouth with a tissue, and then pushed his bangs away from his face.
Dean put the glass on the bedside table, picked up a tube, and flicked back the plastic lid.
"Is that what I think it is?" Sam asked weakly.
"Vicks Vaporub," Dean announced squeezing a dollop of lotion onto his palm. "And there've been great advances in medical science; it's unscented now," he sniffed the substance with a mischievous smile. "At least the room won't smell like an infirmary."
Sam sighed as his brother rubbed the medication on his throat and even offered his feeble assistance when Dean pulled up his T-Shirt to apply it to his chest. Four years and a million hurts later, Dean hadn't forgotten.
"I see you haven't lost your nursing skills," Sam said tiredly as Dean straightened his shirt and then snapped the Vicks tube closed.
Dean breathed a little easier as he watched Sam relax under his soothing care. Four years and a million hurts later, taking care of his little brother just came naturally.
"I see you're still a girl," Dean retorted good naturedly. "And, a baby girl at that."
The remark was so uninhibited, so them, so ... Dean, that Sam laughed out loudly, not caring that it cost him another round of coughing.
"Easy," Dean put a hand on Sam chest and rubbed gently.
Sam didn't know if it was sickness or relief that rendered him uninhibited but he leaned forward, laid his head on Dean's shoulder, and wrapped his limp arms around his brother's back.
"I missed you," was all he could say and he didn't care if he sounded as a mature as an infant.
Dean held himself rigidly trying to control the sudden onslaught of emotions as he realised his brother was reaching out. After the years of separation and the months of distance and uncertainty, Sam was reaching out in the only way knew: heart on his sleeve, cards on the table, guts on the floor.
Dean sighed roughly, deathly afraid he would start to cry. When he returned the hug, he squeezed his little brother, rubbing his back and stroking his hair. He felt a dampness spreading across his shoulder and he realised that Sam was crying.
"I know," he said reassuringly as he tightened his embrace.
Sam didn't want to move. He didn't want to end the contact and couldn't bear to break the connection. Dean understood, but his brother was dead weight in his arms and practically trumped sentimentality.
"You need to get some rest, Sammy," he gave Sam's shoulder a reassuring squeeze before easing him down onto the pillows. "It's O.K.," he said pulling the blankets up to Sam's chin and then smoothing them down. "I'll stay right here until you fall asleep."
Sam nodded tiredly. There was so much he wanted to say to Dean but he didn't have the energy to even stay awake, much less utter the words. "I'm so glad," was all he could manage in the end, "I'm so glad you didn't forget while I was gone."
Hearing all that was unsaid, Dean smiled. "I guess it's kinda like riding a bike; it always comes back to you."
A faint smile crossed Sam's face before he drifted off into a deep sleep.
A/N: This story kicks off "the Bicycle Verse" so if you enjoyed it you can check out the other stories in the series, "Sickbed Confessions", "You Watch My Back, I Watch Yours" and "What Never Will Be".