"Maybe it's bronchitis. Heck, maybe it's lung cancer," says Phil, who is undoubtedly the shittiest doctor in all the world.
Which isn't much of a title really. Phil may well be the only doctor in all the world, so far as Dean knows. He's certainly the only one in their little group of survivors. There's a nurse, Ally, and you'd think having the two of them would be a blessing but whenever someone's sick, they both say the same thing. Apparently, medical supplies make the medical staff and without x-rays, MRIs or medication, Phil and Ally are pretty much useless at everything aside from guessing what the sick person is going to die of.
The hospitals are all infested with zombies, what with the morgues and all the dead and dying patients – all un-dead now, and tearing each other apart when a human isn't stupid or desperate enough to wander in and become lunch.
The shopping mall that the small community calls home had a pharmacy but it was cleared out long before anyone decided that this would be a good place to live, save for a stack of pregnancy tests and an assortment of hair dyes. The mall is big and has security gates. It's probably the safest place anywhere so, of course, as soon as they're settled in and starting to relax, Sam gets sick.
"It's not so bad, Dean. It's probably the 'flu or something," Sam says, all croaky and flushed and sweating into the sheets of his bed - yeah, shopping mall even has beds. It could have beg en perfect – and Sam, how exactly do you catch the 'flu when there's no one around to give it to you?
He doesn't ask, because he figures you can't and it's not going to calm him down at all to have someone say that out loud and acknowledge that whatever is wrong with Sam, it ain't the 'flu.
Sam crumbles into another coughing fit. Dean can see his chest sucking in through his thin t-shirt, desperate for air.
Phil turns to Dean with all his medical knowledge and experience, and shrugs.
Definitely the shittiest doctor ever.
"It's not the 'flu, Sam. Having the 'flu means that you eventually get better."
Sam's quiet for a while, aside from his hideous breathing – whistle in, wheeze out, cough cough cough – sitting up against the wall which seems to help a little, only thing that does.
"Don' think it's the 'flu," Sam whispers breathlessly. "Hurts. Lung infection?"
Dean chews his lip. "Maybe."
They have no antibiotics – hell, they don't even have painkillers, they have nothing. A respiratory infection is a death sentence and they both know it. It's been two months since Sam got sick and he's getting worse. Can't stand up without getting dizzy, can barely eat because he doesn't have enough breath, can't sleep because his coughing keeps them both awake all night. The circles under his dull eyes are impossibly dark next to the pale clammy skin and he's dropped weight he can't afford to lose. Everyone here is thin but in the last two months Sam has turned skeletal, all sharp edges and blue-veined papery skin. Sam keeps trying to say goodbye. Dean needs to do something.
(But what the hell is he supposed to do?)
Screw it. There is something he can do. Sam would beg him not to with his last breath if he had to but tough shit, Sam, you're unconscious.
He's going to go find some antibiotics.
Sam would kill him if he knew, but he doesn't, and the zombies might do it for him. If they do, Sam won't be around to be mad about it anyway. Either way, Dean figures he can't lose. He sees this going two ways: Either he gets the antibiotics, makes it back and they both live, or the zombies get him and they both die, which is far better than watching Sam do it alone.
Dean finds Ally in her room, an old gift shop, beaded curtains over the door and a random assortment of knick-knacks on the shelves.
"I'm going to get medicine," he announces, no need for small talk.
"Dean-" Ally shakes her head. She doesn't seem surprised, just disapproving.
"I'm going," he cuts her off. "I just need you to look after Sam until I get back."
Ally sighs. She's young, maybe just mid-twenties, though she seems older. Maybe everyone here does, after what they've all lived through so far – the outbreak, the chaos, the loss of everything that used to make their world make sense – but Ally was working Emergency Rooms long before patient zero came along, and it makes her seem older than most.
"Dean, he's really sick. I don't know, even if you find antibiotics..."
"Can you keep him alive until I get back? That's all I'm asking. Just don't let him die without me."
Ally sighs. "I'll try, but Dean, if you go out there, the zombies-"
"I can handle it," Dean says, feeling despair creeping up his throat anyway. "Ally, I have to go. I have to try. If, if I don't make it back... just don't let him die alone. Promise me."
Ally sits by Sam's bed and watches him deteriorate, listens to his breathing become more and more strained. She waits for Dean or she waits to keep her promise to him. Whatever comes first.