Summary: Post 8x16 – Sam coughed again, tasting the bitter tang of copper in his mouth, and then wiped his lips; the gesture too familiar as he had tried to keep this hidden from Dean over the past few weeks. And now the secret was out. But apparently the secret was worse than even Sam had known because the coughing had never been this bad; the blood had never been this much.
Disclaimer: Not mine.
Warnings: Usual language and general spoilers for events in 8x15 and 8x16
A/N: A one-shot born of the E/O Challenge word-of-the-week: Eden.
Sorry about the blood in your mouth. I wish it was mine. ~ Richard Siken
It had been a long time since he had been lucky enough to have this dream – the-stripper-named-Eden-who-looked-like-sinful-perfection-in-a-G-string dream.
And he had to admit that it was a nice distraction from all the shit currently hitting the proverbial fan in the wakeful world.
She was a nice distraction, suggestively thrusting her curvy hips in his direction as she slid off the Impala's hood to continue her routine while Led Zeppelin blared in the background.
He licked the whipped cream off the fork he held and smiled around his mouthful of pie as he watched her dance just for him.
Her hands slowly, smoothly gliding down her toned body; her tanned skin glistening with a shimmer of sweat; her fingers reaching for the black satin G-string that was only moments away from being on the floor.
His smile widened in anticipation.
Damn he loved this dream!
"Dean..." she called, just like she always did at this point in the dream before the G-string came off...only it was different this time; her lips moving but the voice belonging to someone else.
Dean blinked at the intrusion – the voice unexpected but not unfamiliar – and frowned at the implication.
Because out of all the times he had experienced this dream, this part had never happened before and was going to be awkward and weird as hell if Sam was suddenly showing up.
His appetite gone with that thought, Dean set his fork beside the half-eaten slice of pie as Eden spoke again.
"Dean..." she repeated, her mouth moving but the voice still belonging to Sam. "Dean..." she said once more with lips that were now stained red by more than just lipstick.
"What the hell...?" Dean blurted; his frown deepening as he abruptly stood from the table and took a few steps back, simultaneously confused and repulsed while watching one of his favorite dreams slowly dissolve into a gory nightmare.
Eden continued to dance, seemingly oblivious to the blood filling her mouth, painting her lips, and coating her chin as she finally removed the G-string and tossed it in Dean's direction, aiming the black satin thong like a slingshot...just like she always did.
In fact, everything in this dream was just like it had always been.
But the blood that was practically spewing from Eden's mouth – that was new. That was different. That had never happened before tonight, so what the hell?
Was there a hidden message here? Some kind of deeper meaning that his subconscious was trying to tell him?
Dean narrowed his eyes as he continued to exist and think inside of his dream.
Was this a sign? Was this supposed to mean something to him?
Dean shook his head in denial even as Eden's blood still flowed from her mouth.
This was more likely just the kind of fucked-up shit his mind produced post-Purgatory, even when he was asleep.
It wasn't like this hadn't happened before – his scarred psyche ruining good moments by conjuring disturbingly bizarre alternate realities.
Blood-covered scenes like this – playing out only for him – had been a daily occurrence when Dean had first gotten topside.
But he hadn't experienced an episode like this in months; had finally mastered the art of keeping those tendencies in check while he was awake; had assumed he was over it; was recovered and cured...or whatever the hell.
But as he continued to watch Eden dance completely naked in front of him as if nothing was wrong – as if blood wasn't steadily spilling from her mouth and staining her skin – it became apparent that Dean was wrong.
He wasn't recovered or cured or whatever the hell. His fucked-up mind had just reverted to being a sneaky sonuvabitch and was allowing those tendencies to resurface in his dreams.
And wasn't that super fantastic?
Dean glared, pissed even in his dream, and sighed harshly, vaguely wondering why he had heard Sam's voice earlier.
That was just another level of weird, and Dean could feel himself moving restlessly beneath the sheets; could feel his body trying to wake up and escape whatever the hell this dream had become.
Still asleep, the sound of coughing erupted behind him, and Dean turned, instantly losing interest in the stripper and instead glancing over his shoulder, expecting to see Sam in the shadowy edges of his dream.
Because only his brother coughed like that, especially these days; that deep, chest-rattling cough that had first developed when Sam had been sick with a cold a few weeks ago and had stubbornly lingered ever since.
That cough that was apparently so ingrained in their lives now that it followed Dean down into his dreams.
Maybe that was a sign – a sign that Dean needed to finally play the big brother card, call Sam on his "I'm fine" bullshit, and haul his brother to the doctor.
After all, any kid who constantly sounded like that – like he was literally going to cough up his lungs at any second – clearly wasn't as okay as he said he was...not that such a revelation was a surprise to Dean.
A guy didn't spend the majority of his life as a big brother without learning every single tell his little brother had – those unconscious, barely noticeable behaviors that gave Sam away every time.
And Dean had been silently observing and cataloging each one.
He had even called Sam "cagey" a couple mornings ago when he had walked in on the kid washing something down the sink's drain in an obviously panicked frenzy and had known that Sam had realized just by his simple comment that the jig was up; that Dean knew – and had known for weeks – that something was brewing with Sam, just wasn't quite sure what.
For his part, Sam had offered no answers that morning; had instead shrugged and had changed the subject...and Dean had let him.
Because if there was any comfort to be had in this situation, it seemed that Sam wasn't hiding information as much as he didn't have information; didn't know what he was dealing with, either.
But the kid had been uncharacteristically quiet over the past few days, which meant Sam was worried about himself...which only made Dean more worried, too.
Dean sighed, feeling himself beginning to float in that hazy space between asleep and awake, and cringed as the cough came again, closer and louder than before.
Dean shifted on the mattress, instinctively knowing that he was hearing a distressed Sam and becoming increasingly aware that his brother wasn't in his dream – thank god...especially this dream – but was coughing in the real world, was choking and gasping down the hall.
In the milky darkness of the dream behind him, Eden continued her well-rehearsed routine onstage.
The music continued to blare.
The pie continued to wait.
But in the room next to his, Sam was calling Dean's name inside yet another cough.
And even a naked stripper couldn't make Dean stay in this dream; couldn't distract him from the urgency that something was wrong with his brother, that Sam needed him.
In the next instant, Dean startled awake, immediately sitting up in bed and staring into the darkness around him; knowing he was home – was in his room in the place he had affectionately nicknamed the Batcave – but always feeling momentarily disoriented whenever he awoke here; still more used to motel rooms than this place.
Dean sighed, beginning to see the familiar outlines of objects in his room as his eyes adjusted to the dark, and then blinked at the sound of his brother coughing down the hall.
Dean shook his head. "Jesus, Sam..." he commented – because it sounded the kid had freakin' TB or some shit – and tossed back the sheets on his bed, rubbing his hand over his face as he stood.
Sam coughed again, and Dean didn't bother to grab his robe or his slippers as he crossed to the door of his room with renewed urgency; knowing Sam would probably bitchface him and give him shit for going to check on the kid like he was five-years old.
But Dean also knew he would be unable to silence his internal big brother alarm until he saw his brother for himself and made sure the kid was okay.
And if Sam wanted to give him shit for that later, then fine.
But right now, Dean needed to see his brother; needed to confirm that Sam was alright because he had meant every single word when he had told Sam that all he needed was for Sam to be safe...and healthy and happy and all the other things "safe" usually meant.
Dean nodded in agreement with himself and then snorted at the anticipated reaction he would receive from his brother when Sam saw him standing in the doorway of his bedroom in the middle of the night like a worried mother. The kid would undoubtedly respond with something bitchy but sappy, delivering that perfect combination that Sam had mastered with little brother perfection over the years.
As Dean stepped into the hall, Sam coughed again – the sound literally echoing throughout the large expanse of the Batcave – and Dean was instantly done with this shit; was letting his brother sleep in the next morning because the kid couldn't seem to get enough rest these days and was then loading Sam in the Impala and taking him to the nearest clinic.
Because enough was enough.
It wasn't natural to cough like that for this long. And even though Sam was suffering in silence like a good Winchester, Dean was sick of watching his brother feel like shit.
"This ends tonight," Dean vowed quietly as he walked down the hall, the floor cold beneath his bare feet, and approached Sam's room, not surprised to see a sliver of light filtering beneath the closed door.
Because with all of that coughing, of course Sam was awake.
And of course Sam was being a brave little soldier and trying to ride this out by himself.
Dean sighed and shook his head fondly, knowing he would probably have done the same if he had been in Sam's position.
Both brothers knowing each other would offer support but both usually being too damn stubborn to seek that help; instead convinced they could handle the situation on their own and not worry the other.
Dean shook his head again. "Sammy..." he called as he stood outside the kid's door.
Sam's only response was a cough.
Dean cringed, slightly alarmed that his brother sounded even worse than he had just a few minutes ago. "Sammy," he said again. "Listen, man...I'm coming in, okay?"
Though it wasn't a question; Dean wasn't waiting for Sam's permission to enter as he pushed open the door and felt his heart momentarily stutter to a stop at the sight that greeted him in the dimly lit room.
"Holy shit," Dean blurted, frozen in place as he stared at his brother sitting up in bed.
Because holy shit – there was blood fucking everywhere.
Staining Sam's lips, smeared over his chin and down his neck and on his hands and across the sheets and holy shit...holy shit.
Dean's heart hammered erratically as panic spread through his chest, strangely grateful that reality had colored his dream and had caused him to wake up because Sam clearly needed him.
Sam stared back at his brother, relieved to finally see Dean, especially since he had been calling for him over the past few minutes.
But Sam felt his own heart drop at his brother's hissed curse, terrified of the fear he had heard in Dean's voice...and even more terrified by the stunned silence that had followed.
Because Dean's expression confirmed what Sam had already figured out – this was bad.
This was really fucking bad.
And Sam knew he should say something now, should try to explain.
But the effort of speech abandoned him as he could only focus on the sharp and constant pain in his chest, coupled with the icy chill of rising fever and the evasive tease of oxygen shallowly filling his inflamed lungs.
Sam coughed again, tasting the bitter tang of copper in his mouth, and then wiped his lips; the gesture too familiar as he had tried to keep this hidden from Dean over the past few weeks.
And now the secret was out.
But apparently the secret was worse than even Sam had known because the coughing had never been this bad; the blood had never been this much.
Sam swallowed and then coughed once more, choking on the blood that clogged his throat. "D'n..." he gasped as he had done several times since he had first awoke, again swallowing against the residual taint of blood still clinging to his tongue.
"I'm right here, Sammy," Dean assured, having crossed the room as Sam had slurred his name. "I'm right here..." he repeated, standing beside the bed and reaching for his brother.
Sam flinched away from Dean's touch as another harsh cough erupted from his chest; the swelling fear as intense and crippling as the pain itself. "Oh god..." he moaned and blindly reached for his brother.
Dean was instantly there.
Sam felt the mattress sink beside him and knew that Dean was now sitting on the bed with him, facing him.
"Sit up," Dean was telling his brother as the coughing came again, harder this time so that Sam curled in on himself and slumped to the side; his body completely drained of strength from the exertion of constantly coughing, from the alarming loss of blood that resulted, from the increasing heat of fever.
Sam moaned again, the sound too close to a whimper for Dean's liking.
"Easy, Sammy," Dean murmured, lifting his brother and holding him upright. "Let me see," he ordered, not quite sure what he was looking for but just needing to see the kid's face.
Sam stared back at him; his bangs damp with sweat and clinging to his forehead; his eyes weak and squinted with pain; the lower half of his face smeared with blood and saliva.
"How long?" Dean asked, his tone surprisingly gentle and free of judgment as he continued to grip Sam's shoulders to keep his brother upright on the bed beside him. "Sammy. How long?"
Sam swallowed. "A f-few weeks," he responded breathlessly. "But not..." He swallowed. "Not this bad." He swallowed again. "Dean, I swear. Not this bad."
Dean nodded at the expected news, believing his brother and remembering the times Sam would cough over the past few weeks and then would quickly wipe his mouth as he turned away before Dean could see what had stained the kid's lips and hand; remembering walking in on his brother frantically washing something down the sink a few mornings ago.
Something like blood he had coughed up.
Dean sighed. "Ah, Sammy..."
"I know," Sam gasped, the two words almost a sob. "M'sorry."
"Shut up," Dean told his brother with no heat in his words.
Because Dean didn't blame the kid for this. He knew damn well he would have also tried to keep this a secret from Sam if the proverbial tables had been turned; wouldn't have wanted to worry his brother and would've clung to the possibility that maybe this would pass, maybe this would get better on its own.
But that obviously wasn't happening.
That never happened.
Shit just got worse in their world, which led to big brothers waking up to find their little brothers choking on their own blood.
Dean briefly closed his eyes.
Because this – all of this – was supposed to be on him, not Sam. He was the one who should be suffering right now, gasping for breath and covered in blood, not Sam...never Sam.
There was a beat of silence.
Dean opened his eyes and focused on his brother as he continued to hold the kid up on the bed. "Since the first trial?"
Sam blinked, hesitant to respond but his eyes instantly misting with unshed tears at the question since he knew Dean was going to blame himself for this.
Dean sighed, having his answer in Sam's reaction but wanting to hear it from his brother. "Sammy..." he pressed. "Tell me. Has this been happening since you ganked that hellhound?"
Sam swallowed with effort and then nodded, the movement jerky and uncoordinated from fatigue.
Dean nodded as well, clenching his jaw as a mixture of emotion swelled within, making his own chest tight.
"M'sorry," Sam apologized again. "I – "
" – I know," Dean interrupted, still surprisingly calm.
Because he had known; had known something was going on with Sam since that first trial and had allowed Sam to play this his way.
"Fuck," Dean cursed bitterly.
Sam laughed, the sound breathless and strained but genuine. "Yeah, pretty much," he agreed before doubling over in another round of coughing.
"Shit," Dean hissed, hating whatever the hell this was, and pressed the already stained sheet to Sam's mouth to collect the bright red blood the kid was freshly coughing up.
When the spasm passed, Sam folded against his brother, slumping into Dean's chest with a grunt; his body shaky and spent from the excruciating hacking; his throat blistered and raw.
There was silence as Dean gently wiped his wrist across Sam's mouth and chin to clear away the excess blood not already on the sheet. "You're a fucking mess," he told his brother, affection and panic in his tone as the kid rested against him.
Sam hummed his agreement and swallowed, almost gagging on the blood still coating the inside of his mouth.
There was more silence.
Dean could feel Sam's heart hammering from physical distress and Dean's did the same but for a different reason – because what the hell were they supposed to do now? How the hell were they going to make this better?
There only seemed to be one option.
"I'm gonna call Cas," Dean suddenly announced.
After all, it wasn't like he hadn't been praying to the angel every night for the past week on Sam's behalf. And they sure as hell could use his help now.
"No," Sam instantly responded to Dean's plan.
Dean frowned. "Why?"
Sam shook his head against Dean's shoulder as he continued to rest against his brother. "He c-can't help me."
Dean's frown deepened at the implication that Sam had already called on the angel and had been turned down. "How do you know?"
"I just do," Sam answered vaguely and sighed as if he literally didn't have breath to further explain.
Dean resisted to the urge to argue, knowing Sam didn't have the strength to engage in a verbal battle right now. "Fine," he allowed and announced Plan B. "Then I'll find another hellhound and kill the sonuvabitch myself this time and take this off of you."
"No," Sam refused again.
"Dammit, Sam..." Dean growled. "This is not a fucking democracy. You don't get a vote. I'm not letting you choke on your own blood and suffocate or whatever the hell is going on here. You hear me? You don't get to leave me. In case you forgot, you are my happy ending, Sam."
"And you're mine," Sam responded, one hand gripping his brother's black t-shirt while the other gripped the grey fabric of his sweatpants. "You don't get to leave me, either."
Dean blinked and swallowed, having never thought of it from that angle.
"We can do this t-together," Sam insisted breathlessly. "I can still see light at the end of this tunnel, Dean," he assured.
And wasn't that just like Sammy to say even when the kid was struggling to breathe and was covered in blood he had coughed up over the past 20 minutes?
Dean swallowed again. "Sammy..."
"I can," Sam stubbornly vowed about seeing that light. "And I'm gonna take you to it. I promise. But...but I can't take you to it if you leave me before we get there."
Sam continued to desperately grip his brother's shirt. And even in the darkness of the dimly lit room he could see his hand was bloodstained, could still taste the appallingly metallic coating of blood on his tongue.
"Dean..." Sam called and knew he was suddenly breathing too fast and too shallow as he tried to catch his breath. "Don't..." He swallowed painfully. "Please...don't...leave me."
"I'm right here, Sam," Dean replied, a sense of dread growing as he recognized Sam's breathing pattern. "Dude, c'mon. Relax. I'm not going anywhere. And you're gonna hyperventilate if you don't chill the fuck out."
Sam nodded – because he knew that – but he couldn't manage a deep inhalation, and he felt himself beginning to panic. The tightness in his lungs made his chest feel like it was going to explode, with each breath seeming faster than the last, spurred by swiftly migrating pain and the icy clutch of fear as both crawled up his throat.
Sam dug his fingers into Dean's shirt, into his brother's sweatpants; saw his blood smeared on the fabric of both; felt sweat track down the side of his face.
"Sammy..." Dean called.
But Sam didn't respond. Each labored breath becoming critical, one painful inhalation after the next; his throat raw with shredding pain; his ears roaring as unconsciousness threatened.
Dean recognized the signs. "Hey. Stay with me, Sammy. Deep breaths, man. C'mon..."
Sam nodded that he heard his brother and pressed his head harder into Dean's chest, desperate for strength as his breath continued to tease him with evasion.
"I...c-can't...breathe," Sam gasped, vaguely aware of Dean shifting beneath him as he continued to lean against his brother.
"Don't give me that shit," Dean snapped, opting for tough love. "Hey. Listen to me...less freaking, more breathing, huh?" He cupped his brother's chin and drew Sam's head up so he could look straight into the kid's panicked eyes. "Sam. Slow breaths...one at a time...in and out." His hand dropped to Sam's chest, trying to slow his brother's breathing, to adjust the flow of oxygen by the weight of his hand. "In and out...in – "
" – and...out," Sam wheezed.
Dean smiled softly, squeezing the back of his brother's neck in silent encouragement.
They sat there together on Sam's bed as several moments passed.
And then several moments more before Sam finally felt a lessening of pressure in his chest.
Miraculously, precious air flowed into his lungs; longer this time, expanding without as much pain.
Sam made a guttral sound as his pulse thrummed in his temples, his heart pounding. His bloodstained fingers still hooked into Dean's shirt and sweatpants, the fabrics bunched in a vise-like grip.
"That's it, Sammy," Dean soothed, keeping his voice calm and encouraging. "You're doing good, man." He brushed Sam's damp bangs away from his eyes and briefly palmed the kid's overly-warm forehead. "Have you had this fever the whole time?"
Because surely Dean hadn't failed to notice that...
Sam shook his head. "No," he replied, his breathing slowly returning to normal. "Just since I woke up."
Dean nodded, wondering if this new symptom was a new clue.
There was silence, only the sound of Sam's ragged breaths filling the room as the brothers continued to sit beside each other on the bed; the walls bathed in the soft light of the bedside lamp.
Exhausted, Sam closed his eyes and leaned heavily against Dean.
Dean accepted the kid's weight without complaint, leaning back against the headboard and closing his eyes as well, silently praying to Cas in the privacy of his own heart and mind.
Several seconds passed.
Dean opened his eyes – his prayer completed – and rubbed his brother's back with gentle, firm strokes that conveyed what words couldn't. "Sammy?"
Sam didn't answer, feeling too drained by fever and coughing, too weak from blood loss to even open his eyes. Only half awake, he was vaguely aware of Dean's fingers massaging the back of his neck, and he sighed as knots of tension melted from his shoulders.
Sam leaned closer into his brother's warm, solid chest; not caring that he was way too old to be doing this and would probably have to endure teasing later about cuddling like a girl.
But that didn't matter now.
Dean was here, and that was all that ever mattered to Sam.
Sam just had to endure a little longer, just had to successfully complete these trials to make sure that Dean stayed here – here with him instead of sacrificing himself.
"I can do this," Sam whispered, knowing Dean would realize what he was referencing. "Just stay with me..." he pleaded quietly. "Just believe in me..." he added before allowing sleep to claim him.
Dean smiled softly, continuing to support his little brother as Sam slumped bonelessly against him, and then clenched his jaw as tears unexpectedly stung his eyes.
Because only Sam could do this; only Sam could say something – something so simple – that struck to the core of Dean's heart.
Dean sighed. "I do believe in you, Sammy," he told his sleeping brother, even as he stared at the blood-covered sheets and wondered how the hell he was going to fix this; how the hell he was going to get Sam through these trials alive.
Right now, he had no fucking clue.
But they had laptops...and journals...and a few connections with other hunters still alive in this world. Not to mention a whole freakin' Batcave full of books and knowledge.
There had to be an answer.
There had to be a way.
And Dean was going to find it.
After all, they were legacies.
The last of their family who had survived damn near everything that had ever been thrown at them, and they damn sure weren't going to let their asses get kicked by these trials.
They were going to do this together.
They were going to survive together.
Just like they always did...
Dean nodded in agreement with himself and held his brother a little tighter, feeling fiercely protective. "I believe in you," he told a sleeping Sam once more.
And he meant it.