Sam drifted in a semi-doze. He was feverish, achy and worn out; a barking cough kept him up most of the night. He tried to will the bitter dregs of cough syrup that Dean had poured down his throat before he left to get more to work faster, or at least kick in enough to push him over the edge into true slumber; but between the aches in his body and the general uneasiness of being sick and alone, sleep wasn't something that was easy to achieve. Sam heaved himself into a semi-seated position, flipped the pillow over to the cool side and curled onto his side facing the window.
The logical voice in his head reminded Sam that it wasn't like he had never been left alone before. There had been nights when Dad and Dean were out hunting and Sam 'held down the fort' long before he'd turned twelve. And, Sam had been twelve for almost a month now, so being left alone during the day shouldn't be such a big deal, right? It was technically morning even if the sun wasn't totally up. Dean would be right back; in fact, Sam had been pondering when Dean would return for so long that he had to be on his way back to the motel by now. Walking to the 24-hour convenience store wouldn't take Dean much time, and with Sam being such a miserable ball of phlegm Dean wouldn't waste any time on the return trip.
All of the things Sam had running through his head made sense, and it sounded like the truth, so Sam allowed himself to believe it. Just the idea that Dean was on the way back to him was soothing enough to Sam to allow him to drift off. He tried to keep his body still and relaxed, allowing the cough medicine to work, and trusted that when his brother returned with a bag full of replacements, Dean would drug him to the gills and he would get at least a few solid hours of sleep.
Sam must have dozed a little deeper than he realized because the sound of the door rattling roused him. He thought it was odd that Dean was having so much difficulty with the latch, but chalked it up to the fact that his brother probably had his hands full. When the door finally opened, Sam listened to the sound of quick footsteps. Dean went right to Dad's bed and started rifling through the duffel at the foot of it. An odor, similar to the one wafting out of some of the other doors in the motel accompanied Dean into the room.
Instantaneously Sam put a number of things together and made an intuitive leap – Dean would not make so much noise getting in the room, particularly if he was hoping Sam had fallen asleep in his absence; Dean was wearing boots, not sneakers, and the footsteps were all wrong; Dean sometimes smelled like too much cologne, but never BO or pot – whoever just entered the room wasn't Dean.
Adrenaline slammed into Sam's bloodstream eclipsing all of the aches brought on by his illness. He hunched deeper under the covers hoping the pounding of his heart wouldn't give his position away. In a split second any number of possible plans came to mind, but Sam's natural fight-or-flight response worked against the compromise he had with his lungs and he was betrayed by the inescapable need to cough.
Sam's harsh hacking startled the intruder who gave a yelp of surprise. Sam threw off the covers, rolled on to his back and then toward the empty space between the two beds. He knew his time was limited, and his inability to breathe severely hampered any edge the adrenaline in his body gave him.
Sam's feet barely touched the floor before he leaped and scrambled across the other bed. The intruder was somewhere between him and the door, in the gloom of false dawn it was hard to tell where; Sam's best bet was to lock himself in the bathroom and make an escape from there. But he never got that far.
When Sam dove off of Dad's bed hands grabbed him in mid-air. Sam and his assailant's combined momentum caused them to crash into the far wall. The feeling of the unknown stranger's hands on him sent Sam into a complete panic. He fought with every weapon he had – elbows, feet, head – but he was ineffective against the superior size and strength of the man who invaded their room. The stranger held Sam at arm's length pinning him face-first against the wall.
"Hey kid…hey…" The man turned Sam so he was facing him instead of the wall. In spite of Sam's worst fears, the guy didn't seem to want to hurt him. He was actually helping Sam stay on his feet by holding him against the wall. The guy reeked like he hadn't bathed in a month which didn't help Sam's breathing. Sam sucked in whooping gasps of air, trying to calm his spastic lungs and his racing heart, but his body was still working against him.
"You scared the shit out of me, kid." The stranger chuckled, but it didn't break the tension. In the feeble dawn light pooling through the open door, Sam recognized the man as one of their "neighbors". He was a junkie who hung around the corner unit, the one farthest from the office. He was about Dad's height, but thin and twitchy. His grip was surprisingly strong.
"Just give me the money and I'll go. Okay?" The junkie released Sam's left shoulder and dragged the sleeve of his ratty, navy blue hoodie under his nose in lieu of a tissue. He was agitated and full of restless movement. He glanced over at the doorway, anxious.
"Saw the other kid go out. You two are always together. You weren't supposed to be here." He turned his gaze back toward Sam. The junkie was trying to play it cool, but there was an edge to his lets-be-pals smile, a disconnect behind his eyes. "Just give me the money." he repeated. "No harm, no foul…right?"
Sam's coughing fit had passed while the intruder was talking. Though he was shaky he was standing mostly under his own power.
"I don't have…" Sam began.
"LIAR!" Like a switch had been flipped the junkie went from reasonable to crazy. He grabbed both of Sam's shoulders again and slammed him into the wall. "The tight wad, son-of-a-bitch manager in the office only takes CASH!" Sam was alarmed at the frenzied look in the man's eyes. "Your old man must've left you some money! Where is it?"
Without giving Sam a chance to answer, the junkie pulled him forward and tossed him toward the closest bed. Sam landed on his knees with his arms and torso stretched out on the bed. Since the junkie gave him the opportunity, Sam attempted to scramble away, but the guy grabbed him by the back of his t-shirt and dragged him to his feet. "Just give me the fucking money!" A strong arm slid around Sam's chest, lifted him off of his feet and shook him like a rag doll.
Caught once again in the junkie's grip, Sam could feel his chest tighten and he tried to fight before the next coughing fit left him helpless once again. Sam got a lucky hit with an elbow that loosened the arm holding him aloft, and when his feet hit the ground he kicked back with his heel and made a solid connection with a shin. But everything Sam did only seemed to enrage the robber more, and now he was out of time.
His lungs failed him once more.
"FUCKING kid! Just give me the FUCKING MONEY!"
Sam fell forward onto Dad's bed but rolled onto his back so he could see what was coming at him. He was still trying to use his feet to keep some distance between himself and the junkie, but the guy had a serious height advantage and a longer reach. The enraged robber leaned over Sam and grabbed his arms. Sam managed to get one foot up and planted it on the junkie's stomach, but his other leg was caught beneath the guy's knee. The junkie screamed in his face, so furious that he wasn't making sense any more; not that Sam could hear him over the sound of his hacking cough.
Then there was a sound that broke through all of the other chaos. Looking back on it later, Sam would swear it was the sound of an animal about to attack; it made the hair stand up on his neck.
Dean was back.
The junkie never saw him coming.
What happened next was something of a blur to Sam. With a feral yell Dean charged forward, ripped the junkie off of Sam and threw him against the wall where Sam was pinned just moments before. Dean was a wild man, punching and kicking. "You don't touch my brother! You don't TOUCH my BROTHER!"
Sam pulled his legs up onto the bed and curled into himself, coughing so hard that his whole body shook. Other voices joined in the fray; other bodies entered the room. Sam didn't have a clear view of all the new participants because Dean backed up against the bed right in front of him and obscured his vision. Sam huddled miserably on the bed, not quite able to follow the thread of conversation; instead he focused on Dean and listening to his tone.
At first, Dean was angry – that was easy enough to hear; but Sam was surprised by the edge of fear in Dean's voice. There was movement in the room; the moaning and groaning of the bruised and bloody junkie rose and then faded as he was taken away. Other voices remained that were unfamiliar to Sam. It wasn't until the pitch of the conversation changed, inquiries were being made, and Dean's voice took on a wholly unfamiliar tenor that Sam realized that he needed to check back in and participate in the conversation.
Sam didn't even attempt to reach out to the unknown voices. He crawled over toward where Dean was standing, shielding Sam from the rest of the room. Sam grabbed the back of Dean's jacket and used it to haul himself into a seated position. Dean responded immediately by turning and sitting down on the bed facing Sam.
As shitty as Sam felt, Dean looked worse. "I'm fine, Dean." Sam croaked out. "Nothing happened."
"I still think we should take him to the hospital," one of the unknown voices insisted.
"Sammy?" Dean's body was strenuously still, but his hands were restless; he couldn't stop himself from touching Sam's hand, his arm, his chest. The look on Dean's face was heartbreaking to Sam. That's when it finally hit Sam; it hit him right in the gut and twisted hard, what the scene must have looked like to Dean when he walked in. In Dean's eyes was the one question he didn't want to ask but he had to know the answer to.
Sam swallowed hard and scooted even closer to Dean. Sam's chest ached with a pain far worse than anything caused by coughing. Somehow Dean's shirt got bunched up in Sam's fist pulling him closer, but Sam's voice was steady and his eyes were clear when he answered. "He was looking for money. Didn't know I was here. NOTHING happened. I'm a little shaky, but I'm fine." Sam nodded to emphasize his words. "I'm not hurt – in any way."
Dean's eyes searched Sam's the whole time he was talking. There was nothing but truth for him to see. Dean breathed out a trembling "Jesus" and pulled Sam tight into his shoulder. Sam closed his eyes and wrapped his arms around Dean's waist soaking in Dean's solid presence. The other voices went away when Dean insisted that no one needed to involve the police or go to the hospital.
By the time the sun had risen fully, Sam was back in bed after a hot, hot shower and Dean had rearranged the room. The dresser had a new station in front of the door and the shotgun had taken up residence on Dean's lap. Dean was seated on their bed, sitting up against the headboard pretending to watch TV. Sam had no qualms about making himself comfortable tucked into Dean's side; it was Dean's left side, of course, because he needed his shooting hand free.
Sam tried very, very hard not to think about what had happened. He tried to focus on the present – he was safe, Dean was safe, Dad was on his way back and nothing had happened. Not really. The guy was only looking for money – that was it. Dean got back in time to help. Sam was shaken up but fine. He was totally and completely fine.
The logical voice in his head tried to continue that line of thinking, but the emotional, freaked out voice of "what if?" kept butting in.
Under the blankets, Sam drew his knees up to his chest and wrapped his arms around them. He simply couldn't prevent it when tremors started to shake his body. In spite of his fever, Sam couldn't shake the chills.
Dean reacted immediately. The arm that had been tossed casually across Sam's shoulder became comfortingly confining as Dean drew him closer.
Sam released the hold he had on his knees and wrapped his arm around Dean's waist instead. As close as they were, Dean couldn't hide how he trembled inside of Sam's tight grip. Sam pulled the blanket higher, far enough to cover them both. He burrowed his face into Dean's shoulder and squeezed his eyes shut. Dean uttered reassurances that were meant to soothe Sam, but he said them for himself as well.
"It's okay, Sammy. I've got you. Everything is okay."
Eventually, on the tide of cough medicine he consumed before his shower, Sam drifted off listening to Dean's words, taking comfort from the familiarity of them and allowing himself to believe because it sounded like the truth.