Another oldie. From a comment fic. Dean gets meningitis. Sam is there. Minor language. Approx. 4500 words. I do love fan fic dot net but fucking hell, the formatting issues I encounter here are - otherworldly. Any errors encountered are - mine. Unlike the Winchesters and anything involving SPN - most definitely NOT mine.

/

They're in Chicago when it all goes down.

They've just gotten rid of a coven in northern Illinois and are exhausted - and that's what Sam thinks is wrong at first, that Dean is just worn out from the hunt, but it ends up being more than that.

So much more.

/

The first thing Dean does when he gets up that morning is pop a bunch of Tylenol. Sam doesn't get it - they hadn't been drinking the night before and there'd been no physical encounters with anything that would explain why Dean is suddenly downing painkillers. But Sam stays quiet, knows if he asks, Dean will get pissed and likely keep his mouth shut.

But that doesn't mean Sam doesn't push it to the back of his mind for future reference.

/

Breakfast is a wash.

Dean orders a plate of pancakes and steak - the special - with a side of hash browns and whatever - and then takes one bite, drinks half a cup of coffee and then makes a hasty retreat to the restroom. He gives no explanation when he returns, but Sam knows he's sick - has just gotten sick, anyway - by the ghost-like pallor on Dean's face, the ring of pain around his sunken eyes. "Breakfast doesn't taste good?" Sam asks, raising his eyebrows.

Dean shakes his head, grimaces. "Feel like I've been on a week-long bender."

They both know that's not the case, but it's a clue that something's off, that and the earlier Tylenol popping. "You want to hang around a little while?" Sam prods. "Sleep it off?"

Dean shrugs. "Maybe." And that he's agreeing to it, to sticking around when the job is done so he can sleep more means he's really feeling like crap. He rubs his forehead and winces. "I've got this bitch of a headache that I can't get rid of.

"Sam drives them back to the motel, Dean propping his head against the passenger window in what looks like an attempt to ease the pain in his head. "Might be the flu," Sam says. "I don't know what else it could be."

Dean grunts in what might be assent and falls into the bed the moment they get inside, takes just enough time to shrug out of his coat and yank off his boots. Then he's out, asleep before he has the chance to pull the covers over himself.

Of course, every great once in awhile, they get sick. It doesn't happen often, but it does happen, and when it does, they usually go down hard. The last time Dean had been sick, they'd ended up in some emergency room in Seattle because Dean's sore throat had gotten so bad that he couldn't swallow, couldn't even drink water so he'd become dehydrated and needed a few hours on a saline-antibiotic IV to get back on track. So, yeah, Sam thinks, remembering as he goes and takes care of renting the room for another day, grabs some juice from the vending machine and hangs up the Do Not Disturb sign. It's been awhile but Dean was probably due, and at least he didn't say his throat was sore like last time and maybe it's just a twenty-four hour thing and sleep is all he needed. Still. Sam can't shake the unease sliding through him as he pulls the blankets up over Dean, who's shivering even as he sleeps. Dean with strep had been awful - he'd been miserable and uncomfortable, but he'd also been cranky as hell, surly and uncooperative even as he was denying anything was wrong with him, intent on letting the world - and Sam - know that he wasn't feeling well even as he tried to fight it. Sam doesn't know what to make of this Dean, one who's giving in so readily to something so seemingly minor - at least for now.

Sam just knows he doesn't like it.

/

"It has to be some kind of flu," Sam says. It's the fourth time he's said it, more to reassure himself than anything else because, frankly, he's getting worried as hell.

Dean's lying on the bed, shivering hard enough to shake it despite Sam laying every available towel and blanket over him. "One helluva - flu," he gasps out, and then lifts his head and pukes into the trash can Sam put next to him after Dean had spewed twice over the side of the bed. Not that he had anything in his stomach to really bring up, just the water that Sam keeps forcing him to drink, but it's like Dean's too weak to get himself into the bathroom.

Dean leans back onto the bed with a groan. "I wish my fucking head would stop hurting," he says, and Sam grabs the Tylenol, shakes a couple out and holds them out to Dean. "Can't, Sammy," he says. "I don't think I can keep anything down right now."

So Sam fashions an icepack out of the ice bucket liner, a washcloth and some ice, gently rolls Dean over and lays the cold pack across his forehead and eyes.

"Wha's that?" Dean murmurs sleepily, grasping at the rag. "Sam?"

"It's okay," Sam says, with a calmness he doesn't really feel. "It's to help your headache. And your fever. Just go to sleep and hopefully when you wake up you'll be feeling better."

And even though he doesn't know it yet, Sam couldn't be more wrong.

/

It isn't the sound of Dean puking that pulls Sam awake - though Sam thinks at first that that's what's going on, Dean puking again - but something else, something even more horrifying that brings Sam around from his broken sleep.

Dean's whimpering - keening - like a wounded animal, the sound so guttural and raw that it makes the hairs on the back of Sam's neck stand on end. He's up and over at Dean's side in a second, nearly knocks the lamp over in his haste to get the light on. "Dean, what is it?"

Dean's eyes are open but if he recognizes Sam he doesn't let on, is shaking from either the fever or - something else - and when Sam presses his hand to Dean's forehead it's blazing, a dry heat despite how damp his hair is. "Dean, come on. I need you to talk to me."

"Sam?" Relief that Dean recognizes him is short-lived when Dean starts pulling on Sam's shirt, actually clutching at him like he's a lifeline. "Something's wrong," Dean says.

"Do you feel worse? Are you going to puke again?" Dean's starting to slump toward the floor and it's all Sam can do to hold him up.

"I can hardly see you."

/

The wait in the ER is interminable.

It's a big hospital, busy as fuck, and the triage nurse immediately determines that Dean's not critical. "Sounds like a migraine," she says, barely looking at them, sounding both harsh and falsely cheerful at the same time. "Just have a seat in the waiting area and someone will be with you in awhile."

"Awhile" turns into almost three hours.

The good news is, Dean's vision seems to clear a little and he can see - somewhat - though the light seems to be affecting him and he can't really keep his eyes open. He's not really asleep, will mumble an answer when Sam rouses him, but he's not completely awake either, will doze off, his head slumped against Sam's shoulder, Sam's jacket in a loose tent around Dean's head and shoulders in an effort to cut the light and noise.

Sam's never been more worried in his life.

Dean being hurt on the hunts they've done - none of those touch this, this Dean who isn't all there, who can't even sit up without Sam supporting him, who keeps giving that whimper of pain like some kind of wounded - animal.

"Sam, I think I might - be dying."

It's a whisper - so much so that Sam nearly doesn't hear it, but he does hear it, and when he looks at Dean's pain-stricken face, sees him curling up in one big grimace of misery, Sam knows he means it.

It's the last coherent thing Dean says for a long time.

/

"Mr. Windom, we normally don't allow anyone in during a spinal tap. It's a sterile procedure and we find it works better if - family members wait outside."

They'd finally been taken into an exam room - or, if Sam's honest with himself, he'd finally bullied his way into one once Dean had said he was dying, and some doctor named Morgan who looks younger than Sam - and definitely younger than Dean - had come in after another wait and looked Dean over. To his credit, he didn't mention anything about some fucking migraine - had, in fact, gone into the hallway once he'd taken a look at Dean, asked Sam a couple of questions, grabbed a nurse and started barking out orders for this test and that - whatever. "I think it might be meningitis," he'd said to Sam. "We need to do a lumbar puncture to find out for sure."

Which is what they're about to do right this second. "You just said "normally," Sam says. He keeps his voice quiet because, really, yelling isn't going to help and he's going to be in there with Dean one way or another, sterile procedure be damned. "Consider this an abnormal situation, then and let me come in."

Maybe because he knows things have already been screwed up, the doctor gives in. "Not squeamish about blood or needles or anything like that?" he asks as he hands Sam a gown and a mask.

If you only knew. "Not at all. What I'm squeamish about is letting my brother go through something like this by himself."

"All right, then." The doctor nods in what Sam thinks is approval. "Let's hope this will tell us what's wrong with your brother."

/

Dean can't do it.

He's aware, awake enough to hear what's going on and he tries to follow the directions he's being given - curl up on his side and bend his head forward - but his neck is too stiff and he twists away with a moan when they try to position him.

"Do we really have to go through with this?" Sam asks, when it's apparent Dean can't do what they want. "Can't you just treat him for the meningitis without the test?"

"We already are," the nurse says. "But we really do need to know which strain he has so we can make sure he gets the most effective antibiotics."

"Let's sit him up," the doctor says. "We'll try it that way." And they try and get Dean to lean forward against a table, hold onto it so they can get at his spine that way but he's either too weak or too delirious to hang on and he keeps falling to the side before they can get anything started.

"Let me hold him," Sam says, and they look at him like he's in another world, but don't argue, just get Dean sitting up in the bed with Sam facing him, Dean's arms wrapped loosely around Sam, his head pressed into Sam's shoulder. "Tighter, Dean," he says, when Dean flinches at the lidocaine needle going into his back. "Hold on to me as tight as you can."

And somehow, even in his half-conscious state, Dean somehow does. They get the needle in his back and get the spinal fluid to drip into some tube even though Dean is half-conscious at best and clinging to Sam like he's a lifeline.

Which Sam is.

/

Until now, this day, Sam hasn't ever really given thought to what the phrase "going to hell in a hand basket" might mean, if it fucking means anything.

But now - now he gets it.

Because that's the way things begin to go the moment they come in and tell him that Dean has Meningitis B - the most deadly form of meningitis there is and suddenly, where they couldn't get anyone to pay attention to them as short as an hour ago, now people are coming in from everywhere, there's a flurry of activity, the doctor who did the spinal tap getting on the phone demanding they get a bed in the ICU right now, the nurse hooking and unhooking shit so they can move Dean, the admissions person clambering in so Sam can sign a bunch of forms - and it's in the middle of all this rushing around that Dean has his first seizure.

Going to hell in a hand basket. A very good way to describe what happens in those moments as the staff literally drops everything they're doing and try to get everything under control, get Dean stabilized. They hastily but firmly usher Sam out of the room, no chance for him to stay for this, this is an emergency situation and they can't be distracted worrying about some family member getting in the way. Sam goes out with the girl trying to get their info but he's not listening to her, can't answer any questions while he's glancing at the closed door every two seconds, willing it to open or at least hoping to hear something going on behind it, some positive sound that Dean is fucking all right, and he's pretty sure he uses their real names instead of the "Windom" on the fake insurance card, but that's the least of Sam's worries right now.

The only damn thing he cares about is what the hell's wrong with Dean and how they're going to fix it.

/

Bacterial meningitis, like they thought. Except there ends up being more to it than that - Dean briefly going on a ventilator because of the seizures and brain swelling and possible kidney failure - or something, Sam doesn't know exactly, knows he listens when people tell him what's going on but that most of it doesn't register because it's so far from what they do, what can and does usually happen to them.

It's an ICU, so they aren't supposed to let Sam into Dean's room for more than five minutes every hour.

Sam stays for a half hour every hour.

They let him.

He sleeps in a chair just outside Dean's door - if one can call what Sam does sleeping - when he's not in Dean's room. One of the nurses tells him there's a room with a bed just down the hall but Sam doesn't want it, it's too far from Dean's room and Sam can't see him from there. They bring him a more comfortable chair, a pillow and a blanket, help Sam set up his makeshift bed so he can be as close to Dean as possible.

Dean is knocked out, for the most part, but if he stirs or seems like he's agitated and restless in any way, Sam goes in and sits with him, silently wills him to be all right.

Dean in an ICU unit, on a vent, isn't something Sam's never experienced before.

That doesn't mean Sam has grown used to it.

/

Dean's recovery is tedious. He's only on the ventilator thirty-six hours but they have to wean him from it, then get him off the seizure meds, and then a few days later there's a brief side of hospital-acquired pneumonia that means fucking around with the antibiotics again, but eventually he's moved out of the infernal ICU room into a regular room and Sam thinks how fucked up it is that he's so damn happy about this, Dean getting into his own room but there it is, it's what their lives have become and Sam won't apologize or feel bad about feeling so joyful that Dean is going to be okay.

Of course, it's not without its - problems. Despite the fact that Dean seems neurologically all right, there are still after effects. He still gets confused at odd times, doesn't remember where he is or what's happened. His talks with Sam are peppered with references to other people Dean thinks were in the room with him, both real and imaginary; one night he's talking to Sam and they're ten minutes into the conversation before Sam realizes that Dean thinks he's talking to John about the hunt he and Sam have just finished up. Dean had gone to sleep after that and when he'd woken up he'd been back to himself, hadn't made a reference to that particular conversation but it had unnerved Sam a little, given how Dean had been skimming the edges of permanent brain damage just a few days before.

There are other things, physical things as well - his balance is all off, and when the nurses get him out of bed and try to get him walking around, he gets dizzy and light-headed. "It's like the floor is coming up at me," is how he explains it, and some of it might have to do with the fact that he still doesn't have sight in his right eye and has to wear a dressing over it. There's talk of a physical therapy schedule being set up and Dean balks at this, is peevish and tired of being stuck here as it is, doesn't want anymore visits and schedules and tests when he's already put up with endless needles and tubes and meds and other assorted bullshit. And Sam gets it. He does.

Because no one gets Dean better than he does.

/

They go for their first walk - the first time Dean's back on his feet - almost ten days after Dean first entered the hospital. The nurses are against it but encouraging all at the same time. "It'll be fine," Sam assures them. And it will. He knows Dean, knows what Dean is up for, how far he can go with him.

He get Dean out of bed, attached to an IV, a hospital gown and paper bathrobe loosely wrapped around him. "This is a fucking joke," Dean mutters, when he starts shuffling forward, Sam at his elbow.

"You want me to get a wheelchair?" Sam asks, smoothly.

"Fuck that."

And Sam has to smile at that, the first smile he's managed in days. Maybe even weeks. "Quit bitching, and let's go then. You want to get out of here, don't you?"

"Yeah, yeah," Dean says, and he inches forward until his balance is thrown off, the after effects of the sickness and the loss of vision in his one eye and just being so damn weak making him list to the left until he's practically falling over. Sam takes his arm, leans into him. "Fucking get off me," Dean says, low enough so no one else can hear.

"Fine," Sam says. "I'll have Gina get you that wheelchair."

"I don't need a fucking wheelchair."

"You want to fall on your face? Be stuck in bed for another week? Stop being such an ass and let me do this." And somehow, Dean begrudgingly allows Sam to take him by the arm while he slowly - oh, so damn slowly, limps along, dragging his IV behind him. It takes them almost fifteen minutes to walk the length of the hallway, and Dean's cursing and out of breath when they get to the end, but he manages to walk without losing his balance, and Sam carefully eases him into one of the chairs set out by the window. He's still not really over the pneumonia he somehow picked up and when he starts coughing, Sam goes into the little kitchenette-thing and gets him a glass of water. After a bit, Sam leans down and holds his arm out and Dean glares at him before rolling his eyes and reluctantly taking hold of Sam's arm and allowing him to help him to his feet. "You're probably enjoying the hell out of this, aren't you?" Dean grumbles, once they're on the way back to Dean's room. He stops for a moment, unknowingly tightens his hold on Sam while he coughs and wheezes, tries to get it together. "Weird freak that you are," he gasps, when the fit is over and he's caught his breath.

And the thing is, Sam is enjoying this - not that Dean is sick, that he nearly fucking died but this - Dean letting himself lean on Sam like he course, he'll never tell Dean that.

/

Everything eases back into a sense of normalcy. Somewhat. It's a give and take thing, but it ends up going in the right direction. Dean's lost over ten pounds but he's finally able to eat real food. He still has the horrendous cough from the pneumonia that leaves him breathless and hacking up green crap into a bunch of tissues once in awhile, but the fever's gone and he doesn't need any extra oxygen.

The day comes when he can walk without the IV attached to him, when his sense of balance is restored, when he's strong enough to get around on his own.

Without Sam.

They release him when the only thing left from all of this is the blindness in Dean's right eye. The staff is cautiously optimistic but it's an unknown - whether Dean will ever regain full sight in that eye - but the truth is, no one knows and it's something they'll have to wait out.

For Sam, it's a no-brainer. If this is all that's left from the awful time, Dean's loss of sight in one eye when it could've been infinitely worse - Sam can live with this.

He'll take Dean whatever way he can have him.

It's late afternoon when Sam drives them out of there, and heads toward the motel he's rented, something a little bigger and more upscale than what they're used to. It'll be more money and that will cause its own set of problems, but Sam doesn't care, just knows that Dean needs to be somewhere clean and comfortable, needs to really take care the next few weeks so he doesn't relapse or have any more complications.

And Sam's going to see to it that that's what happens.

Dean hasn't said much about any of this - hasn't asked about what comes next or questioned anything that's already gone on. But now, as Sam drives into the dusky Chicago night, Dean suddenly flips the visor down, studies himself in the mirror. "This eye patch isn't so bad," he says. "It definitely can't hurt when we're hunting, me looking like a badass. Plus chicks dig that on a guy, that whole pirate-Jack Sparrow thing."

"Jack Sparrow didn't wear an eye patch," Sam says. The patch itself is mainly because Dean's still slightly sensitive to light - wearing it isn't necessary. As for the hunting comment - well, that's a whole other subject. Sam knows Dean's going to keep hunting, that he'll have to tie him down just to get him to finish recovering, that being sightless in one eye isn't going to stop Dean from doing anything.

Not that Sam would want it any other way.

"But you're right," Sam adds. "It looks pretty cool."

"Damn straight," Dean says. He flips the visor back up, settles himself against the seat like he might fall asleep.

"Tired?" Sam asks.

"Yeah, a little."

"Go to sleep. We have a little ways to drive."

"I don't know. Maybe." But already, Dean's eyes are closed and they're quiet for a bit, and Sam thinks Dean's out.

"Sam." Nope, not out.

"What?"

"When I was there, in the hospital, did - was there anyone there? I mean, not the doctors and the nurses but - anyone else?" They'd told both of them at the hospital that this would likely happen, that Dean wouldn't remember much of what had happened, would have questions about things that had either happened or that he thought had happened. It was all totally normal for someone who'd been as sick for as long as Dean had been, to not be able to piece together everything that had gone on. Sam knows Dean's referring to John - he'd mentioned him a lot during his most delirious moments - but he also knows Dean knows that John wasn't there, couldn't have been.

But he also knows Dean's wishing it were true, that he's got some kind of longing for him right now, for whatever reason."No," Sam says. "No one else was there. Just me. I'm afraid that's what you're stuck with. Just me."

"Considering how much you've done for me," Dean says. "I wouldn't have it any other way."

It's as close to gratitude and admiration and affection that Dean will give, and Sam knows this all too well, but he smiles to himself for what seems like the first time in weeks as Dean slips into sleep.

This is Dean here and alive and with him.

And Sam wouldn't want it any other way, either.