Dean's got a toothache. He's trying to be stealthy about it, trying to keep Sam from figuring it out, but just because he's been at Stanford for a few years doesn't mean Sam forgot everything about his brother. He can see the tiny winces every time Dean chews, the subtle way he shifts his jaw while they're in the car, the wrinkles at the corner of his mouth that deepen every time he rides out pain. Besides, the constant ordering of soup (tomato rice and chicken noodle and split pea) is a dead giveaway, even without the other hints.
"Which tooth is it?" Sam asks at a diner in Wisconsin. Dean's blowing on a spoonful of tomato basil soup, and he scowls up at Sam from beneath furrowed brow.
"Don't know what you're talking about," he mutters, slurping loudly. Sam sighs.
"Dean, come on. I know that you've got a toothache, you know I know, so why don't you just tell me already?"
Dean's jaw tics and he mutters under his breath.
"What?" Sam asks, not sure if he was being cussed out or actually answered.
"I said fucking all of them," Dean hisses.
"What? You can't have-"
"It's like my whole jaw, Sam, back of the mouth especially. Hurts like a bitch."
Sam sits back in his seat and looks appraisingly at Dean for a second.
"What does that mean?" Dean demands, pointing his spoon in Sam's direction.
"Did you ever get your wisdom teeth out?"
"My wisdom teeth?"
"You haven't. Because, let me guess, Dad was too busy? You couldn't take the time out of hunting? Your welfare wasn't important enough to-"
"Sam. Shut. Up," Dean growls. "Can't you give it a rest? We don't know where Dad is, for fuck's sake, and it's not like they bothered me before. Just- just give it a rest."
Sam doesn't say anything, clenching his jaw and avoiding eye contact with Dean. His brother sounds tired, and frustrated.
"So. I'm guessing you got yours out?" Dean asks. It's an olive branch that Sam's happy to receive.
"Yeah. My first winter break, actually. It was really funny because I was staying with my friend Greg, and his mom made the absolute best turkey, but I couldn't eat it-"
He looks up and sees Dean playing awkwardly with his spoon, an insincere smile plastered on his face.
"Uh, I'm sorry Dean, I didn't mean-"
"No, it's fine. Continue," Dean says, grin widening. "What happened next?"
"Nothing," Sam says. "That was the story. There's nothing else to tell."
Dean pushes his soup away and stands up.
"Piss poor story, Sam."
Dean spent the first Christmas after Sam left alone in the Impala wrapped up in a silver emergency blanket and nursing a bottle of whiskey.
Of course Dean's teeth are impacted, and badly, so the oral surgeon opts for completely putting Dean under rather than just numbing him up. Dean's pretty pissed about the whole thing and has been taking it out on Sam for the past few days, snarling and snapping even more than usual.
"I don't want to get my fucking teeth pulled, Sam," he whines the night before the surgery.
"Dean. This'll stop your jaw pain and you'll feel great in a few days. It's worth it, okay?"
Dean looks less than convinced. "We could be out helping people, but instead I'm gonna be stuck sitting around, high on painkillers with bloody gauze hanging out of my mouth."
"Yeah, well, better than you being so distracted by pain that you screw up and get someone killed," Sam says, going for the jugular. A look of shame mixed with indignation flashes across Dean's face, and he scowls.
"As if I would do that," he mutters, but he doesn't complain –too much- for the rest of the night.
When Sam got his wisdom teeth out, he spent his recovery at a friend's house with a nicer bed then he'd ever slept in and home-cooked meals every evening. He still spent most of his nights wishing Dean was there to tease him and mess up his hair and make fun of him for being a pansy.
"Look, I'll just hang out in the waiting room until you're done, okay? Couple hours, in and out. Piece of cake."
Dean gives him the finger.
"I hate you," he mumbles, shuffling behind the surgeon toward the room.
"Love you too, Dean!" He yells, then settles into the waiting room with a book.
Once, when Sam was in school and Dean was checking up on him, Sam had practically sliced his thumb off while cooking curry and they'd had to go in to fix a few tendons or something. Dean had hung around in the waiting room, pretending to be waiting for someone else, for the whole surgery. He'd left as soon as he'd heard it went well.
"I'm just…I'm just confused, Sammy," Dean mumbles as Sam guides him to the car with a firm hand on his back. "I don't- what's going on?"
"You just got your wisdom teeth pulled, Dean, it's just the anesthesia," Sam answers, hiding a grin. Whatever the surgeon used to put Dean out, it's got him way out of sorts. Dean's cheeks are swollen and puffy, and gauze is poking out at the corners of his mouth, blood tingeing the edges.
"I don't understand, Sammy," Dean says, his lower lip wobbling. Sam sighs and turns the key in the ignition.
"You're okay, Dean. We're just going to hit the store so I can get your prescriptions filled, okay?"
Dean nods slightly, eyes welling up with tears. The doctor warned that emotional reactions weren't uncommon with this kind of anesthesia, but Sam is still torn between laughing at his brother's confusion and feeling guilty about it.
"I'll get you some yogurt too, okay Dean?"
"Don't like yogurt," Dean says. Normally it would've been said stubbornly; now, Dean says it as if he's about to burst into tears. He probably is.
"I'll get you the key lime pie kind. You love it."
"Okay, Sammy," Dean says quietly, resting his head against the seat. "I'm really confused."
"I know, Dean. Just relax," Sam says as they pull into the drugstore's parking lot. "I'll take care of it and be out soon."
"'Kay, Sammy," Dean murmurs again, his eyelids dipping drowsily.
Sam grins and heads into the store.
Sam knows Dean loves key lime pie yogurt because when Dean was fifteen and got his tonsils out, it's all he would eat besides milkshakes and pie. At Stanford, Sam had always kept a few cups in his refrigerator, just in case.
When he gets out, something is way the hell wrong. Dean's slumped over in the seat, his face red and sweaty, and he's breathing in shuddering, uneven gasps.
"Dean? Dean, talk to me. What's going on?"
Dean looks up with heavy lidded eyes, and Sam can see that his arms look strange, twisted so that his fingers are pointing toward the ceiling. Dean's face is scrunched in pain. Sam puts a hand to Dean's arms and realizes that his brother's muscles are clenched, spasming under Sam's fingers.
"Hurts, Sam," he slurs. Sam grimaces and presses trembling fingers to Dean's neck, feels his shaking echoed in Dean's erratic, jumpy heartbeat.
"Shit Dean, I'm calling 911," Sam says, fumbling through the pamphlets the surgeon gave him and dialing his phone.
"Sam, no. Sam. What?" Dean's muttering to himself, a confused jumble of words that are frighteningly slurred.
"Just hang on, Dean," Sam says, blurting Dean's symptoms as soon as the 911 operator picks up the phone.
"And he's just had surgery?" The operator asks once Sam's done word-vomiting.
"Yeah," Sam says, resting his hand on Dean's leg in an attempt to soothe him.
"I'm sending an ambulance to you. You need to get him out of the car and in the recovery position. Do you know how to do that?"
"Yes," Sam says impatiently.
"Good. Get him in that position and stay with him until the ambulance arrives. I want you to stay on the line but put the phone down while you move your brother, then get back on with me, okay?"
"Okay," Sam says, setting the phone down. "Hey Dean, I'm gonna get you out of the car, okay? I don't want you cracking any jokes about this, either."
Dean mumbles something unintelligible and sort of turns his head in Sam's direction, which Sam realizes is the most acknowledgement he's going to get. He eases Dean out of the car and he is panicking though he's trying not to, about how hot Dean feels. Because Dean's gotten fevers before, spiked them all the time when they were younger, but this is hot.
"Dean, Dean, stay with me," Sam says, stripping off his shirt and balling it under Dean's head. "Just hang on."
He grabs the phone out of the car and puts it on speaker phone next to Dean's prone form, then sits next to his brother, rubbing firmly at the clamped muscles.
He doesn't know what the hell this is.
"Sam, any change?" The woman asks through the phone.
"No, no, but he's so hot, holy shit he's hot, and his muscles are tight and what the hell is this?"
He doesn't hear the woman's response because Dean goes into a seizure, muscles locked and convulsing, a combination of blood and spittle trickling down his chin. Sam is yelling at the 911 operator and watching helplessly, and Dean is twitching, twitching, twitching, and Sam hasn't been this scared since he woke up with the ceiling on fire and blood on his face.
Dean got sick when he was on his own, spent a few days hacking a lung out in the motel and watching 'Hogan's Heroes' on TV before he finally buckled down and stole some fever reducer and cough suppressant from the supermarket. The suppressant only made things worse, and one day he'd woken in a hospital instead of the motel room. His first thought was Dad and then Sam, but it was just a maid who'd found him passed out and shaking with fever. He got better and signed himself out and kept hunting like nothing had happened.
A few people approach Sam as he cradles Dean's jerking form, but Sam snarls at them to back the hell off and they do, hands raised and eyes wide. When the EMTs get there, Sam backs off just enough for them to work and keeps one hand on Dean's heated head, kneading through the sweaty hair and telling himself that Dean's still alive and this is okay and everything's going to be fine.
The ambulance attendants let him ride in the back with them, so he grips Dean's hand tightly and closes his eyes so he doesn't have to see them shove a tube down Dean's throat and jam needles into his arms. He half hopes that Dean will wake and come up swinging, loudly demanding to know what they think they're doing, but he just lays there, pale and limp and far too corpse-like for Sam's liking. Sam closes his eyes again and reminds himself that Dean's still alive and the hospital will figure out what's wrong and everything is going to be rainbows-and-unicorns-fine.
Sam had nightmares, sometimes, when he was at Stanford. Usually it was that he ran to class without realizing there was a test, or sometimes it was showing up to the wrong place and being unable to go to the right classroom. Sometimes, though, it was that his phone rang in the middle of the night and his dad was on the line, telling him that it was Dean, that he'd gone out like a hero, like a fucking hero, that he'd saved countless lives. In his dreams, Sam had always cried and said that he didn't care how many lives Dean saved because he hadn't saved his own.
He'd always woken sweaty, dried tear tracks on his cheeks.
The doctors tell him it was some malignant hyperthermia thing, but it might be okay because they'd caught it before Dean's kidneys shut down or he went into cardiac arrest, which isn't really all that reassuring to Sam, not when he felt how hot Dean was-is - and held him while he seized. He looks it up on Google the first chance he gets and pukes into the hospital bathroom when he realizes how damn close Dean came to dying and how it was basically his fault for forcing Dean into the surgery and how his brother is still hotter than a freakin' inferno.
"This wasn't your fault, Sam," a nurse says as she checks Dean's ventilator and adjusts the cooling blanket draped over his body. "This is rare. You couldn't have known."
Sam doesn't say anything, but he thinks I should have and blinks back tears as guilt threatens to swallow him up.
Dean, for his part, lays there still and quiet, red-faced and gaunt with dark circles under his eyes like bruises. The doctor said it should only be a day, two at the most, before they know if Dean will make it, but he's 'cautiously optimistic' because of the lack of kidney or heart shutdown. Still, the seizures lasted a bit longer than they're comfortable with, and Dean could have permanent brain damage, and the fact that he's on a ventilator isn't all that reassuring. Not to mention the fever that's still tearing through Dean's body in numbers like 106 and 107 that Sam knows usually mean death.
A few hours of watching Dean and feeling the heat pour off him like steam, Sam finally breaks down and calls Dad. He leaves a passionate and slightly angry voicemail and ends up perched next to Dean's bed, his brother's hot limp hand cradled in his own, waiting for Dean to wake up, waiting for Dad to call.
Dean called Sam once a week at first, kept him up to date on what was going on, but mostly just listened to Sam tell stories of parties and tests, great grades and hilarious cooking disasters. At the time, Sam never noticed the slightest hint of longing in Dean's voice, but since then he's realized it had been there the whole time, hidden beneath dirty jokes and teasing insults. But back then, Sam never noticed and eventually got so caught up in his perfect life that he stopped answering his phone and forgot about Dean.
Sometimes, Sam can't figure out how Dean still loves him and protects him after all the crap he pulled. Sometimes, he doesn't feel worthy.
Two hours after his fever finally drops below 100 degrees, Dean wakes up pissed. Sam takes it as a good sign and calls for a nurse as Dean tries to yank the ventilator out of his throat.
"Hang on Dean, we'll get that out," he says, grinning. Dean glowers at him, arms crossed over his chest. Sam hands him a pen and piece of paper, and Dean writes sloppily, his muscles still exhausted from the trauma of the past few days. Sam takes the paper back and snorts at the scribbled words: fucking teeth.
"Yeah, yeah," Sam says, shaking his head to cover the shaking of his voice. "I'm sorry. I didn't know you'd react to the anesthetic and I shouldn't have pushed-"
He's interrupted by Dean snapping and impatiently holding his hand out for the paper. Sam forks it back over and waits a few seconds before it's shoved back into his hands.
Not your fault. Bitch.
"Jerk," Sam answers with a grin.
The doctor comes in and takes the ventilator tube out. Dean retches and coughs, then looks at Sam with watering eyes.
"Glad you're okay, Dean," Sam says, feeling a weight lift off his chest. He pictures sunlight and the Hallelujah chorus busting out over his head and smiles widely at the image, and he might even tear up a tiny bit as Dean frowns, because a few hours ago, he wasn't even sure Dean would be Dean. A second later his brother coughs hoarsely and shakes his head.
"Still a girl, huh, Sammy?"
Sam laughs and scrubs at his eyes.
"Yeah," he says. "Yeah, I guess so."
Stanford never felt like home, even when he was with Jess and everything was seemingly perfect. No, Sam found home in crappy motels and long car rides and stupid prank wars, Dean's old tapes and the smell of leather and gasoline.
It had taken him too long to realize that home was less of a place and more of a person. He didn't intend to forget again.