This story was written for this prompt, which I think I first saw on mad_server's Sneezy Boys with Colds comment meme last year (I think, I'm not entirely sure). I put as much sneezy/sick Dean in it as I could but as usual, it got away from me and there are other things as well: Stanford era, gen. Flu-ridden Dean's been dosing himself up but good in order to keep his sickness from bothering angsty!John. Sooo, they're out stalking/sleuthing/hunting, and quietness is key, 'cept Dean forgot his last round of meds/nasal spray and starts sneezing like a motherwhatzit. John's all, seriously SERIOUSLY? and Dean's all, nnngh. If Dean gets smacked around a bit and maybe keels over in the car after, and John's all, bless, and making with the forehead feels, I wouldn't be morally opposed. Or immorally opposed. Okay. I wouldn't be opposed.


It started out simple enough. They'd finished up one hunt - a poltergeist in Michigan, fucking up some family's previously normal life - within a few days and, as far as hunts went, it was about average, even a little boring when Dean thought about it - not that he ever wanted to start viewing what they did as "boring," or start getting complacent about the situations they faced, no matter how uncomplicated they might seem. That's when shit happens, people start getting hurt. Or worse. That had been drilled into his and Sam's heads ever since Dean could remember, and it made a lot of sense, given what they'd seen and lived through.

But regardless. There was no denying that this kind of case was something they'd done before, countless times, so they'd known what to expect, what they'd gotten themselves into. Everything had been textbook: get inside the house, talk to the witnesses, so on and so forth.

And everything had gone according to plan.

Except for one thing.

Sam wasn't there, had been five weeks gone to California.

So however how textbook, how straightforward the damn hunt had ended up being, nothing could ever be called "simple" again.

No sense in thinking about all that, Dean told himself, more than once.

Much as he'd been doing every day for the past five weeks.


It started out simple enough - a scratchy throat, low-grade fever, general feeling like crap. A fucking cold, Dean thought, when he woke up the second morning after the poltergeist job, his nose running, his throat prickling. Great, that's all I need.

But he'd deal with it. He had no choice. He never had, of course, but now, with Sam gone, there was definitely no excuse for slacking, including some irritating head cold. And while they might've been between hunts at the moment, John was looking, was always looking. More so since Sam had left, like he was on some kind of mission, like he needed to fill some - void - that Sam's departure had brought on. John didn't say any of this out loud, but his brooding silences and short, clipped answers were confirmation in themselves. Neither he nor Dean mentioned Sam but the heaviness of his absence spread endlessly between them, a gulf they tiptoed around, a blanket they silently wrapped themselves in, anger on one end and longing on the other.

Nothing to be done about it, Dean thought, more than once, and God was he getting tired of this whole, 'not-thinking, not-talking-about Sam' thing he was constantly trying to engage in. It was what it was. He wasn't angry, like his father, but he was bothered, missed Sam way more than he'd prepared himself for. He'd thought he'd done a decent job hiding it, though. What else was there to do? Someone had to be the one to move forward, accept things they way they were, so Dean did what he could, backed off from his father when things were particularly tense and scrambled to do what needed to be done before John had to ask. It probably wasn't the greatest way to live, but then again, Dean thought, when had any of the Winchesters ever gone and lived the way they were supposed to?

But damn, in addition to feeling like crap that Sam was gone, did he really need to be getting sick on top of it?


They landed in Indiana and even though the weather was pleasant, had inched over to Indian summer warmth, Dean couldn't stop shaking, kept his heaviest jacket on even though the temperature crept toward sixty, his shirt soaked with sweat even as he stuffed his hands in his pockets and shivered. Okay, so maybe the low-grade fever had gone up some and entered uncomfortable territory. Dean rummaged through their shit and came up with a decrepit bottle of aspirin and popped a couple. And maybe it took the edge off everything, but given that his throat still hurt and he felt weak as a newborn kitten, Dean had his doubts.

"Found something," John told him, when he got back from checking out of their motel. "Guy at the front desk let drop that there's been some trouble near here. Might be something similar to a werewolf, from what he was saying. We're going to look into it."

Dean nodded, cringed inside, not knowing until that moment how hard he'd been hoping they'd have to lay low for a couple of days while John tried to find something. Because he was truly beginning to feel like shit, in more ways than one. Mostly having to do with the funk his dad had sank into since Sam had left, but now including the very real physical shit he could feel coming on.

"The lunar cycle's not right," Dean said. Not that it mattered, if his dad wanted to take up a case he would do it whether the signs matched up or not.

"You sayin' you don't want to look into it?"

And there it was. "I'm saying it might be something beside a werewolf," Dean said. "I never said anything about not wanting to check it out."

A short nod from John. "That's good. I've already had one of you bail on me. I don't need to deal with that again. But you might be right," he adds. "We'll see when we get there what the situation is."

One of you. An indirect knock on Sam, the veiled reference about him taking off. Dean was exhausted from it, all the dancing around they did about all this, all of John's digs about Sam and Sam leaving. Not to mention how his dad seemed to think Dean wasn't on his side anymore, like he was guilty of leaving just because Sam had blown out of there.

No wonder he couldn't get any decent sleep. Even when he was trying not to think about Sam and Sam being gone, he had his dad there to constantly remind him of his absence.


"Research?" Dean said. They were in their motel room, had just been looking over newspaper articles for the past year that dealt with the four suspicious deaths that had taken place in the surrounding woods and fields. "We know it's not a werewolf. What's there to research?"

He'd woken up with a rasping voice after a restless night of broken sleep and various trips to the bathroom to either drink water or wipe his streaming nose with the cheap motel toilet paper, but when he tried to clear his throat it didn't do anything but shift all the crap stuck in his chest, which made him cough up a mess of - something. If John noticed he didn't let on, but chances were decent he hadn't picked up on it. Those kind of things - his boys getting sick - flew under his radar, always had. But that was fine - Dean didn't need anymore of his father's attention focused on him right now anyway.

"Just because we know what this thing isn't, doesn't mean we know what it is. I need you to pull up any info you can on what it could be, based on what we do know. You might as well start at the local library, see what you can find out there."

Fuck. Dean groaned inwardly. Rarely did he spend time looking stuff up, at a library or anywhere else. That was Sam's thing - he loved that sort of shit, was more than willing to spend his free time researching, preferred it to going out and doing the actual tracking and hunting. He was good at both, but he liked the book part of it, where as Dean couldn't be bothered.

Unless he was forced.

"What're you going to be doing?" Dean asked, when they were getting ready to part ways. He knew the first thing he'd be doing, before any trip to the library or anywhere else - heading somewhere to get coffee, to try and wake himself up, maybe ease the soreness of his throat.

"I'm going to go out and see if I can find anything where the bodies were. We'll meet back here at six."

It's not really how they did things, this parceling out of the case like this, but what could they do? Sam wasn't there, wasn't going to be there and this was the way it was going to have to be done, at least in the foreseeable future.

Yeah, Dean thought, just as he was about to slide into the driver's seat, but not before sneezing twice all over his jacket sleeve, realizing too late that he'd forgotten to bring along any of the crappy motel toilet paper with him. Sam was MIA and he was stuck doing his shit, on top of his dad being annoyed and pissy and now with the added bonus of getting sick. He tried to wipe the snot off his jacket, but only succeeded in smearing it around into the fabric. Not that it fucking mattered.

The library was decent sized, as far as libraries went, but about ten minutes in, Dean was ready to haul out of there. I'm no good at this research shit, he thought, after he'd sat at one of the computers and aimlessly started typing in things he thought might be relevant to what he and John were trying to hunt. It didn't help that his head was aching just above his eyes, and he was sweating one minute and then shivering five minutes after shucking off his jacket or that his continual sniffling was earning him several glares from the people around him, but mostly, this was Sam's gig, looking all this stuff up and then finding the information they needed, and that was the long and short of it. Dean was a hunter, not a damn - frat college boy like Sam had turned into and this was all bullshit, how all of this had turned out, he and his dad hunting this way, half-assed, pissed off, sidestepping all these issues that his dad had with Sam leaving, trying to do Sam's job all the while missing him like Dean would miss his right arm if it was suddenly gone.

He gave up around hour two, right after he ducked into the restroom and emptied his streaming nose into a hastily balled up wad of the chintzy library toilet paper, most of it disintegrating all over his fingers, an ungodly combination of snot and shredded bits of paper. There wasn't anything else to use, not unless Dean could figure out a way to blow his nose with the air dryer, so he gave up. He didn't know how he was going to go back out there anyway, not without being given the side eye by everyone while he sneezed and hacked his way through some research he didn't even know where to begin on. Of course, Dean couldn't just up and abandon everything - he wouldn't dream of it, his dad wasn't going to give a shit about any excuses Dean might have as to why he hadn't found any information but, more importantly, Dean wouldn't be able to forgive himself if he just half-assed it and something happened because he couldn't pull his shit together and do a little bit of fucking research that a middle-schooler could probably handle.

But he couldn't deal with going back and futilely sitting at some computer, not with how lousy he felt, so Dean went outside, tried - and failed spectacularly - not to sneeze, and cursed yet one more once he'd realized he forgotten to grab something to wipe his nose with yet again.

Fuck it. He pulled the collar of his jacket up to his face, sneezed a third time and sniffed as much crap back as he thought he could without gagging himself.

Then he went and called Sam.


Sam's damn voice mail.

Dean should've known - it was the middle of the day, Sam was probably off in a class, listening to some boring-ass lecture or doing whatever it was college students did. "Hey, it's me," Dean said, when Sam's voice had finished telling him to leave a message and the beep had sounded. "I need you to help me find something out about a spirit or a monster that has to do with the Miami Indian tribe. It's kind of like a werewolf, the M.O is similar. I've tried looking online but I didn't have a lot of luck. Call me back."

There was more he wanted to say, but he'd barely gotten that in before being cut off. He considered calling back and saying more, but then he'd looked up and caught sight of a Walgreens a little ways down the opposite side of the street, and for Dean, that cinched it.

He didn't know why he hadn't thought of this sooner. Well, he did know - Sam was the one who kept up on this shit, tried to make sure there was stuff in the kit for the rare times one of them needed to medicate - at the very least an extra flask of whiskey and some aspirin and when luck was running on their side, a stash of illicitly obtained painkillers or antibiotics.

And now, Sam wasn't here.

Just one more thing he was going to have to start taking charge of, now that he was the only Winchester son left to get the job done, Dean thought, as he headed across the street, zipping up his jacket against the cold.

And, fuck it all if the thought didn't depress him just a little bit more.


Dean shivered, coughed, and winced at the brightness of the lighting as he pushed his way into the crowded store and made his way into the cold and flu aisle.

And was immediately confounded by the sheer number of remedies lined up in front of him. He'd never realized, until that moment, how many different cold and cough and flu meds were out there. Medicines for colds with coughs, colds with sinus pressure, colds with sore throats. Wet coughs, dry coughs, hacking coughs, cough suppressors, cough expectorants. Adult cold medicines, children's cold medicines, medicines for daytime or nighttime. Some with pain relievers added in, some without. Some that came in pill form, liquids, powders, sprays and capsules. As far as Dean was concerned, his own symptoms fit into just about every category in front of him, and his head began to hurt even more than it already did. Fuck it, he thought, and finally pulled a random bottle of thick, red syrup from the shelf, not even bothering to see which symptoms this particular brand of medicine treated. Anything had to be better than nothing.

Sam wouldn't get this. He always said pills were easier to carry around, easier to take when you had to run around all over the place. Tasted better, too.

He put the liquid back, retrieved a box of capsules instead, and tried to search the fine print for which symptoms this particular brand covered, but the lettering was so tiny and his eyes were watering and sweat was beginning to pour down the back of his shirt, so he gave up, decided to just go with whatever these capsules were. Sure, fuck it, why the hell not? Something has to be better than nothing, right?

He was back outside, trying to pop one of the damn things out of the blister pack, ready to wash it down with the bottle of water he'd bought when his phone rang.


"It's a skin walker," Sam said. No hello, no greeting of any kind, no 'how's-it-going-Dean' or anything else that could be mistaken for idle chit-chat. In fact, he sounded kind of rushed, like he didn't have a whole lot of time to talk. "I checked out the Miami Indian lore as much as I could and I'm pretty sure that's what it is. Or, at least that tribe's particular version of it."

"That was fast," Dean said, unscrewing the cap of his water and taking a drink, trying to rid his voice of the raspiness. "And I'm fine, thanks for asking."

"Hey, the message you left me wasn't exactly loaded with warm fuzzies either. If I remember correctly, you said, "I need you to find this out for me. Which is what I did."

He wasn't mad - Dean could hear that he wasn't, and just the sound of Sam's voice, the give-and-take that had effortlessly fallen into place between them lifted something within him, something he hadn't really acknowledged was there until that moment. "Yeah, thanks," he said. His voice cracked again, despite the water, and he coughed, tried to get it to work right. "Anything else I should know?" he asked, when he was reasonably certain he could talk again.

Sam gave him the rest of the info, waited while Dean fished out a piece of paper and pen from his jacket and wrote the shit down. Everything was business-like and to-the-point, but Dean hadn't expected it to be any other way. Really, he was feeling too crappy to sit and engage in any sort of niceties anyway.

But that didn't mean he wasn't glad as hell to hear Sam's voice.

"That'll help," Dean said, as soon as he was done writing. "I tried looking but there wasn't much information."

"It was there," Sam said. "You just have to know where to look."

There's no criticism in the words at all, just Sam being Sam, and the ache at knowing he was so far away hit Dean right in the gut. "Yeah, right," he said. He cleared his throat, more to get his thoughts together than get rid of the snot stuck in there, but either way, it gave him time to pull it together. "Anyway. Thanks."

"You're welcome," Sam said. He still sounded slightly rushed, and Dean could hear a lot of noise in the background, people talking and other assorted mayhem. "Look, I'd better go. You be careful, all right?"

"I always am, Sammy."

"No, I really mean take care of yourself, Dean. Especially because I'm - you - I can hear how sick you are. Just - watch yourself."

Especially because I'm not there to watch your back.

"You too, Sam. Be - careful, I mean." Though what Sam needed to be careful about in his new life, his non-hunting, non-threatening life, Dean didn't know.

Still. Old habits died hard. Telling Sam to be careful was as innate to Dean as breathing.

Just as, apparently, knowing Dean was sick even though Sam had spent less than five minutes on the phone with him and no mention of it had been made. That kid always did know before me when I was getting sick, Dean thought, just as he opened his cold/flu capsules and shoved them into his mouth, swigged down the water.

It was a truth that comforted and saddened him all at the same time.


This went on for the better part of a week, the whole dosing himself with the crapping cold medicine he'd picked out, John seemingly oblivious - as always - to anything unrelated to the case. Whether or not the medicine was working was up for debate - it seemed to work in a kind of half-assed way, knocked the edge off everything so that Dean could grab a couple hours sleep here and there without having to cough or shiver his way through it. He couldn't take it unless he was going to try and sleep because it knocked him out and the last thing he needed was to be drowsy while they were hunting so whether John was onto him or not, Dean didn't know and really, he felt so lousy most of the time he wasn't actually sure he even cared anymore.

John had seemed more - relaxed - once Dean gave him the info - Sam's research - once he knew what they were dealing with, how to go about taking care of it. "It makes sense, it being a skin walker," he told Dean, looking over Dean's hastily scribbled notes. "People have said they think it's been some kind of snake attacking. All we have to do is wait for the last quarter moon, which is when it comes out, does its killing."

Waiting for the last quarter moon would take a few days. Waiting a few days when Sam was still with them meant Dean and Sam would have the place to themselves while John went off and did - whatever it was he did. Hit up the bars or start looking into the next case, depending on his mood, where they were, a whole bunch of ever-changing factors that neither he nor Sam could ever really figure out. This John, though, was around Dean continuously, like he was afraid to let Dean out of his sight, afraid that Dean might suddenly decide to head to the other side of the country and - do what Sam did.

Bug out.

Dean tried to be on board with this sudden change in his dad's behavior - having him around this much would've been a dream come true not that many years ago - but having him underfoot also meant that Dean had to be up, be on, be ready for action. More tracking, more investigating, more digging around, more whatever. And normally, Dean was cool with that, except for one thing.

He felt like he was dying.

His sleep was all fucked up because while the flu meds helped him sleep, John had him up - had both of them up - at three every morning, so they could tromp through the damn woods and poke around for the lair of this thing. It was the only time, according to legend, that they could find it, in its snake form and while Dean got that they had no other option, he couldn't figure out a way to take the meds, kick the damn cold or whatever it was out of his system, get any kind of decent rest and hide all this shit from his father. Well, the hiding it from John - that seemed to be about the only thing he was able to pull off. Everything else?

Was fucking Dean over.

But, no matter. He stumbled along, took the medicine when he needed to, did what he was told and hid most of the symptoms pretty well - though how he was able to do it, Dean had no idea, given how he knew he looked, how he fucking sounded. The fever rose and fell but never completely went away, and no matter when or how much of the drugs he took, he still had times when his voice was hoarse enough to be noticeable or he ended up having to leave the room so he could go and have as discreet a coughing fit in the bathroom as possible. "You getting sick?" John asked him, after one of his less-than-quiet ventures to hack up assorted bodily fluids into the toilet.

It was his first reference to this whole - sickness shit - and Dean could hear how pissed he sounded. "Just a cold," he mumbled. "I'm fine."

"You look like crap," his father said, and that was that, he turned his attention to other matters. It was kind of funny in a way - when Sam said that shit to him, it was always because he was concerned or worried, his way of covering that up.

When his own father said it - well, Dean couldn't decide. It didn't carry any kind of concern or teasing in it. Just harshness, a sharp edge that sliced neat and quick.

It was fine. Dean was used to it.

What he wasn't yet used to was not having Sam around to soften that hardness.


The cool air was fucking with him.

Or, more specifically, was fucking with his breathing, the wind making Dean's throat tickle and pulling at his already raw chest. Without any kind of warning he coughed, earning himself a glare from John. Deservedly so - they were supposed to be quiet and here Dean was, making about the worst kind of sound a person could make in their position.

They were back in the woods, the usual three in the morning fuckery, but this was it - the moon was in the last quarter, and this was the night they had to kill the skin walker/snake creature, unless they wanted to wait another month.

He hadn't taken any of the medicine tonight, knowing he had to be awake and not sluggish, not for this. But he'd barely slept, had tossed and turned with the fever and stuffed nose and of course, the always-present cough.

And now, the price to be paid for not taking the medicine and not getting any real rest might be him giving them away with his flu-related noises.

He coughed again because, goddamn, it wasn't like he could help it or anything. He was a mess and that was just the long and short of it.

John stopped in his tracks and by default, Dean did as well. They were still far enough away from the lair so that any noise they had to make would be better made now, if it had to be made. Dean coughed one last time as hard as he dared, muffled it into the sleeve of his jacket until he felt like he dared give his father the go-ahead. "You done?" His father's voice, though barely above a whisper, was a low, hard pop, much like a gunshot.

Dean nodded, didn't dare speak for fear of setting himself off again and they continued on in silence, their feet not even rustling the leaves on the ground. He willed himself to breathe slowly, so as not to have the cool, humid air irritate him. It was taking all his effort and concentration, just to fucking breathe without coughing and by the time they landed near the spot where the skin walker was holed up, he knew - despite his Herculean efforts - that he was screwed.

The first sneeze rushed out of him before he had a chance to really - try and stifle it somehow, and even to Dean it sounded like the loudest sound in the world. John spun around, but he wasn't just glaring - there was a horror on his face that Dean couldn't miss, a combination of shock and disbelief that he wasn't sure he'd ever seen from his father before that moment. He caught the second sneeze in the hem of his jacket, but when he looked up his dad was silently mouthing his name, and while he didn't make a sound, there was no mistaking John's - displeasure - over the situation.

Dean could only shake his head. He understood the implications of all this, how he was about to fuck everything up, but he had no recourse. He had to sneeze - well, really, he had to cough but he'd been trying not to do that so - this was what happened when he was snot ridden with some kind of - virus or whatever the hell it was - and he was taking care of himself in some half-assed way. Nothing was new, this was how it always was, to some degree or other - half-assing things, especially the things that pertained to himself - but that didn't mean Dean was going to be able do anything about what was going on in the here and now.

He sneezed soundlessly a third time into his jacket and didn't even bother, just waved his father on with his free hand. John grabbed hold of his arm, forcing Dean to look at him. He took Dean's knife and slid his own into Dean's hand and by a series of slightly complex hand signals and jerks of his head, made Dean understand that John would keep going and Dean should wait here until he got back, and don't let go of the knife and kill the damn thing if it came around. Dean was pretty sure his dad also gestured, oh, yeah, and stop with all the damn sneezing as well, but it was hard to tell, what with Dean having to actually sneeze again before nodding his assent.

John was already gone, seamlessly threading his way across the wooded floor while all Dean could do was watch him go.

And, of course, sneeze into whatever part of his jacket he could scramble for the quickest.

He's had a lot of low moments in his life, no question. He's also had a few where things were - kind of funny in a sick, twisted sort of way.

And this might just be one of those that's a fucked up combination of the two.


He never felt or heard the skin walker until it was on top of him, and then it was too late. He'd been sitting quietly, the coughing and sneezing finally at a standstill - at least for the time being - and while Dean couldn't say he was relaxed, he was at least - content to just catch his breath and get it together enough to go and find his dad.

The only sound Dean heard was the thin, high buzzing in his head, courtesy of his unattended fever, so if the thing gave any sort of warning, Dean missed it - missed everything until he was being thrown through the air, the knife clattering out of his hand and onto the ground and wouldn't his dad be pissed about that on top of everything else, Dean disobeying Rule Number One, Don't let go of your fucking weapon no matter what, and landing on his back at the base of some kind of tree.

He barely had time to be startled, and then the thing was on him, and while it was a snake, Dean could clearly see that it was, it was some kind of snake with claws, more like a serpent, and it began raking them toward Dean's face. He managed to roll away and the thing missed, but this was why he shouldn't drop his fucking weapon, and he knew there was no way, as weak as this damn sickness had made him, that he would be able to keep this up indefinitely. Not that he wouldn't try but where the hell was his dad?

The serpent thing pinned him by the wrists, straddling him for fuck's sake, and ran its claws across Dean's right shoulder and collarbone, tearing clear through his jacket. Goddamn, was all he had time to think, and then the thing was a weight on his chest, making it impossible to breathe and just as spots began swimming across his vision, Dean vaguely heard something, the sound of someone running in the dried leaves, the blessed sound of a knife splitting open skin, the flick of a torch being lit and the smell of something pungent filling the air, some kind of herb or spice or something. There was a flare of flame and then it was over, the only sounds being Dean trying to catch his breath and John saying his name as he roughly pulled him up. "You hurt anywhere?"

"No," Dean said automatically, and then remembered the claws, his shoulder. "My shoulder. Just a flesh wound." He could feel the blood flowing beneath the shredded material, but he just wanted to get up and get out of there. "Help me up."

His father pulled him to his feet, but as soon as he let go of him, Dean nearly fell forward, would've landed on his knees if his dad hadn't grabbed him. Now, there was a new development - passing out on top of everything else. Except Dean didn't know if it was from the shoulder wound or being sick or some other unseen shit going on. Anything was possible.

"Damn it, Dean, why didn't you tell me you were this sick?"

His dad was still hanging into him, and that was just - embarrassing. "Didn't - I didn't know it - I thought it was just a cold." Even to himself he sounded like he was lying - which of course, he was - and to ice the cake his fucked up body chose that moment to give him up, the effort of talking and breathing at the same time too much and he pulled away from his dad as best he could so he could cough up the crap that seemed to be endlessly pooling in his throat or his lungs and spat it onto the ground, all the while painfully cradling his useless shoulder against himself.

Yeah, he was in terrific shape.

You could've gotten yourself killed. You and Dad both.

Jesus, but he wanted Sam here right now. Needed him here right now.

"Bullshit," John said, even before Dean was done hacking and spitting. "This didn't just come on overnight. You've been sick for awhile. How long?"

"What does it matter?" Now that he could actually breathe again, the urge to defend himself pushed through, even though Dean knew the sarcasm wasn't going to go over well. "You killed the thing and it turned out fine."

"It's not fine," John grumbled, and pulled Dean's jacket open and examined the wound before Dean even knew what was happening. "Nothing about this is fine." With the jacket hanging off his shoulders, both of them could see the blood soaking Dean's shirt. "Shit. Where was your knife?"

"I - lost it on the ground." Any attempt on Dean's part to be defiant deflated out of him right then and there. Really, what was the point? He'd fucked up and he was sick and he could barely keep to his feet. Whatever bitching John might do, Dean more than deserved.

"I can't do anything about this here. C'mon, we need to get back."

It wasn't a far walk back to the car but it was suddenly hard for Dean to walk - or at least move at a normal pace - and John ended up half-dragging him along the path, the only sound being the occasional curse that passed from his dad's lips. Dean couldn't decide if he was mad at Dean, the situation, something else entirely or all of the above, but he didn't have any time to contemplate it because they were at the side of the car and John was leaning him against the passenger door.

"Stand here, and don't move," John said, and then he was round the back of the car, rummaging in the trunk and still muttering curses just loud enough for Dean to catch in between his own coughing and attempts at trying to catch his breath.

When he came back, he had a rag or piece of cloth or something, and he quickly lifted Dean's shirt and pressed it to the still-bleeding gash before he took Dean's hand and pushed it against the cloth. "Hold that there as tight as you can. I can't do anything else until we get back to the motel."

The ride back was nearly silent, and Dean was slipping into unconsciousness before he knew it, the combination of the fever and the blood loss catching up to him. He didn't notice himself going out until John's sharp voice prodded him. "Dean."

"Hmmm?" He didn't bother to open his eyes - why should he, he was tired and felt like garbage and the hunt was over so why couldn't he be left alone for just a few minutes?

"Stay awake. We're not back at the motel yet."

So what? Dean didn't get why that mattered, and he allowed himself to drift again. "Dean!" This time, his name was said with a little more force, and there was a hand palming his forehead on top of it. "Did you hear what I said? Don't fall asleep."

Dean had to force himself to open his eyes, but he did get them back open. "All right, all right." He lifted his head up a little, squinted out the window and tried to wake himself up. "Jesus." But then he sneezed, three times out of fucking nowhere - or so it seemed - and he tried to rein that in, stifle all of it into his virtually-destroyed jacket so he didn't piss John off anymore than he already had, but he couldn't really manage it, not while he was trying to hold the rag to his bleeding shoulder, and by the third sneeze he could feel the wound opening back up, the pull on it from him sneezing and trying to breathe making the blood seep down his arm. "Shit," he said when he was done, because now in addition to the blood there was snot streaming from his nose and trickling down the back of his throat, but he swallowed down the urge to cough because that was clearly going to fucking kill his shoulder if he did that, and settled for clearing his throat as best he could and wiping some of the snot onto his sleeve.

It would have to do, at least for the time being. But Christ, what a mess he was.

John glanced at him, and then reached over and pressed his free hand against Dean's, the one loosely clutching the rag beneath his jacket. "Hold that tighter," he said. "You're bleeding all over." He jostled Dean just the slightest. "Hey, you with me?"

"Yeah," Dean said, and managed to press the cloth to his shoulder a little tighter. It wasn't the worst injury he'd ever had, not by a long shot, but the way his dad was acting, Dean would've thought he was at death's door. And really, now that all was said and done, it was just - himself who was hurt. Sam was fine. His dad was fine. At the end of the day, that was all that mattered, as far as Dean was concerned.

Neither of them said another word the rest of the way, even the muttered cursing at a halt. The silence continued even as they pulled into the motel parking lot and got into their room. This was familiar territory - too familiar - a dance they'd participated in more times than they could count, so the quiet and practiced moves were a comfort in a way, a respite from the tension and the cursing of earlier.

Dean got his jacket off and immediately began shaking with chills, his eyes closing despite his efforts to keep them open. He could hear his dad rummaging around, getting out the stuff he needed to fix the wound in his shoulder but he didn't speak either; he didn't need to, and he knew it as well.

When he was ready, John handed him the whiskey bottle and waited until Dean had taken a healthy swallow from it and didn't even say anything when the burning liquid made Dean cough, just quietly stood until Dean handed the bottle back to him.

The wound was long and deep, three separate tears and the bleeding took awhile to get under control before John could even begin stitching it up. It wasn't horribly painful - Dean had felt worse - but it was the fever that was getting him, making it hard for him to stay with it. "Stay awake," his dad would say, every time Dean would start slumping over. "I'll be done in a little bit." It was the only thing he said, even when he had to stop and wait for Dean to get through a coughing fit, just took his hand and quietly pressed it against Dean's still bleeding shoulder and sat still while Dean leaned forward and hacked his brains out for the millionth time.

By the time John was finished and had poured more whiskey over the freshly stitched wound and smeared the last of the antibiotic ointment they had over it, new light was filtering into the room and Dean couldn't stay awake another minute. The moment his dad released him, was cleaning up the mess, Dean curled up on his good side and fell asleep, not knowing, not caring what was taking place around him.



He'd been brokenly dozing- that much he knew. But fucking hell, it hadn't been for long enough, it hardly ever was, and Dean was having a hell of a time waking himself up. He shifted further into the bed, tried to drown out whatever it was trying to bring him into consciousness. "Dean, get up."

There was no way to ignore a command to wake up from his father, there never had been, and Dean forced himself to roll over and open his eyes, painful as it was. "What?"

His voice was wrecked, pretty much a croak. His shoulder was on fire, a fact made immediately apparent when he'd rolled over, and he felt like he was breathing through a thick puddle of muddy water. "You need to take these," his dad says, and then he was hoisting Dean into a half-sitting, half-slumping position and sitting next to him so Dean wouldn't fall over. "Then you can go back to sleep."

He held out some pills and some water and a cup with some kind of red liquid in it. "Aspirin and medicine for that cold. And some Vicodin for the shoulder."

Dean swallowed the pills and peered into the cup with the red drink. "What the hell is that?"

"Cold medicine, like I said."

"That's not the kind Sam would get." The words were out before Dean knew he was going to say them; once there, they hung between them, some sort of fine balance that they somehow haven't reached until now.

"Sam's not here. This is the strongest stuff I could get without seeing a doctor. And you need it, so take it."

Sam's not here. That was really the whole damn issue wasn't it? There was no arguing with his dad, there rarely was, but Dean could hear that there wasn't any fight in his father's voice, that that had gone out of him - at least for now - and all he wanted was for Dean to take the damn medicine.

So Dean did, without protest, and once more slid between the bedcovers and fell into some kind of - sleep. His fever was high, though - even Dean could tell that it was, and it was taking awhile for all the meds to kick in and let him sleep, and at one point he opened his eyes and saw John standing at the window, wearily running his hands through his hair and at another moment Dean dreamed of Sam - or rather, couldn't remember where Sam was, if he'd been here earlier, or if he'd been there at all.

"Dad, is Sam okay?"

He knew he'd be able to sleep if could just get the answer to that question.

And then his dad was right there next to him. "Sam's fine. Nothing to worry about. Go back to sleep." His hand was on Dean's forehead then, checking the fever. But then Dean's eyes closed again - everything was just so fucking heavy, a damn weight to it all - except for his dad's hand on his forehead, pushing his damp hair back. That wasn't a weight or anything heavy, that was Go back to sleep, Dean and Sam's not here but I am, it was coolness and light, release and security all at the same time, and while it had been forever since Dean had felt this from him, and it could very well be forever until he felt it again, for now it was enough - more than enough - and it was what allowed him to begin letting go.