Dean watched Sam warily out of the corner of his eye as he passed through the library on his way to the kitchen. He'd been watching him for the past hour or so since he'd seen Sam rubbing his eyes as he studied one of the volumes from the Men of Letters library. It was a telltale sign the kid had either been reading too long, or he was getting sick. And since it had happened within 5 minutes of opening the book...
Dean paused at the table. "I'm going to make some dinner. You want anything?"
Sam looked up and Dean's stomach sank. His eyes had that glassy, sleepy look. "No, I'm fine. Think I'm gonna turn in a little early, I'm kinda tired."
Dean nodded and reached out to feel Sam's forehead.
"Dean!" Sam shoved his hand away. "Can't a guy be tired?"
Dean shrugged and continued on to the kitchen. He made a sandwich and ate in silence, worry tugging at his thoughts. He always worried about Sam, but this was bigger than his usual worry. It had been almost two weeks since they'd "gotten rid of" Zeke. Dean pushed that particular thought to the back of his mind. All he was concerned about now, and all he had been concerned about since that day was whether or not Sam was really ok... whether or not Sam was fully healed, or if Sam would stay healed. He's been watching for signs of decline in his brother and frankly, had almost been expecting it. He'd just been expecting it sooner.
But Sam had seemed fine. He had even seemed to be getting stronger. They'd handled a few simple cases, they were starting to really settle into the bunker, they'd gotten Cas to come back... everything seemed ok. And there's the problem, Dean thought sourly. When have things ever been ok for us for very long?
He washed off his plate when he was finished eating and headed back towards his own room. It was too quiet, so he figured he'd turn in, too. Sam was asleep, Cas had gotten involved in some volunteer work and wouldn't be back for several days, Kevin was meeting up with Garth in a town few states over to follow up on a possible lead for further translation of the angel tablet, and unless Dean wanted to go talk to Crowley, he was all by himself.
But as he neared his room, he could hear Sam talking. He continued down the hall and stood outside his brother's door. It took only a few seconds for him to recognize the sound of Sam having a nightmare. He hesitated only a moment to see if Sam would just fall back to sleep, but as soon as he heard Sam let out a soft whimper, he stepped inside and knocked on the door frame.
Sam's eyebrows knitted together in fear as he tossed towards Dean's voice.
"Sam, wake up!" Dean stepped inside and turned on the light.
"D-Dean?" Sam squinted and looked around the room, dazed.
"Yeah. Hey... you awake? You ok?"
Sam sat up against the pillows rubbing his eyes and trying to still his ragged breathing. "Uh... yeah. Yeah, I'm awake. I was... I was dreaming... I guess."
"Yeah, no kidding," Dean said as he stood beside the edge of Sam's bed. "I could hear you all the way down the hall."
Sam pressed his palms up against his eyes and groaned.
Dean reached over and felt his forehead again. "You sure you're feeling ok, buddy?" he asked, his tone turning worried as it had at dinner time when Sam had announced he was going to bed at 6:00.
Sam swatted his hand away. "I'm fine, Dean. I'm just tired."
Dean scowled. "Yeah, you look like a million bucks right now."
Dean shook his head turned towards the door. "All right, get some sleep then. Hey, you haven't heard from Kevin, have you? Thought he would have called by now."
Sam shook his head. "No. You know how he gets when he's on to something. He's probably wrapped up in whatever Garth found for him to work on."
"Mmm..." Dean hesitated before leaving. He looked back at Sam. He hadn't been able to tell from touching him if he had a fever or not. If he did, it wasn't very high. Yet. "Look, Sam. You gotta level with me here, man. Are you really ok?"
Sam's shoulders sagged a little and he sighed. "I feel kind of... off. But really, I think I'm just tired, ok?"
"Yeah, all right. I'll... see you in the morning then."
"'Night, Dean." Sam watched as his brother left the room, leaving the door open just a crack. He leaned back against the pillow and closed his eyes. He knew Dean was worried and he knew why. He tried not to think about how he was feeling. It's just exhaustion, he kept telling himself. He tried hard not to think about the fact that aside from not coughing up blood, he was starting to feel exactly the way he felt when the trials had started. No matter how many times he told himself this was nothing, a little voice somewhere inside kept telling him it was starting all over again and no matter what they did, he was just going to end up feeling like crap until his body just couldn't take it anymore.
And while that was bad enough, it was a different thought all together that was fueling his dreams. Once the idea had registered that he might be heading back down a path that could lead to his death, his mind continually drifted back to Cold Oak and what had happened to Dean after selling his soul. Once that train of thought got started, it was pretty hard to stop it. That was an event that was seared into his mind and would never go away. He found most of the time it sat dormant in the back of his memory, but sometimes something would trigger it to come forward and he would have a hard time getting it stashed away again. Like right now.
He sighed wearily and closed his eyes, trying to think about anything besides hell hounds.
A few hours later, Sam sat bolt upright. He drew in a quivering breath, tensing as strong hands gripped his shoulders. "Dean?" it came out in a hoarse whisper as he took in his brother's face. He felt like total crap. He was definitely getting worse.
"Yeah, I'm right here... you were dreaming again." Dean had never made it back to his own room. He'd headed back to the library and basically paced between some open books on the table and checking on Sam.
Dreaming... Sam tried to still his breathing and stop shaking. Dreaming, dreaming, dreaming... he repeated to himself. Not real, not real... but it was real. It had happened. And what if it all happened again? The way he was feeling compounded with the horror of reliving that day, even in a dream, was more than Sam could take right then. He just felt so awful.
To Dean's complete shock, Sam dropped his head into his hands as a few tears escaped the corners of his eyes.
"Oh, Sam, hey,hey-hey... no, Sammy-" Dean took Sam's face and tilted it up to meet his gaze. "What is all this? Huh?" Dean's voice was soft as he thumbed a tear off Sam's cheek.
Sam ducked his head to avoid his brother's scrutiny. "I- I don't-" he shook his head, unable to get the rest of the sentence out.
Dean still had hold of his face and he began to feel Sam's forehead again. Sam was trembling. "Kiddo, you're shaking. And burning up. You've definitely got something going on here."
As Dean pressed his hand up against Sam's cheek to gauge his temperature, Sam leaned into his touch slightly and closed his eyes. That's when Dean knew he was not going to get anymore stubborn-Sammy attitude. When the kid would start leaning into him instead of pushing him away, he was really a mess. Sam's breath hitched as he tried to choke back the sudden onslaught of tears.
Dean shook his head, pulling Sam towards him and the minute he did, Sam fell into his chest, trying with everything he had but failing not to let out a sob as he clutched Deans t-shirt. Dean rubbed his back gently and whispered to him. "Ok, it's ok, Sammy... it's ok. You're all right."
Dean tried to sound convincing as he gently rested his chin on top of Sam's head. He was trying, but the truth was, he was terrified. It was starting all over again. He knew it, and he could tell Sam knew it too. This was just how things went in the world of a Winchester. He ran his hand gently over Sam's hair, feeling the tears soaking through his t-shirt and the heat radiating from his little brother's body.
After a few minutes he could feel Sam start to settle down a little. His breathing evened out and he only shivered a little every now and then.
"S-sorry..." Sam said as he slowly began to pull himself together. He leaned away from Dean, keeping his head down and wiping his eyes. His energy was completely gone. He could barely stay upright anymore . "Don' feel good..."
Dean rubbed his arm lightly and tilted his head, trying to meet Sam's eyes. "Yeah, I know you don't..."
"I'm just... I'm tired of feeling sick..."
"I know, Sammy."
Sam finally looked up at Dean, his watery hazel eyes rimmed with red as he voiced what they both had been fearing. "I feel... kind of... kind of like before...like during the Trials." and I'm scared that this is all happening all over again and I don't know if I can do this and big brother, please make it better...
Dean heard every unspoken word as he lifted the covers up a bit and motioned for Sam to lie down. Sam obeyed, sliding weakly down until his head was resting on the pillow.
"What's it feel like?"
"Headache, tired. Everything's hurting and I feel nauseous."
"No coughing, though?" Dean asked, rubbing slow, gentle circles on Sam's stomach.
"No," Sam said, closing his eyes and letting out a small appreciative sigh.
"This feel ok?"
"Mmm." Sam nodded.
"Good. We're gonna figure this out, little brother. We will. You're gonna be fine."
Sam opened his eyes again, and Dean did not like the look of doubt he saw in Sam's face . He began to realize that he was going to have a tough time convincing Sam when he was having trouble believing it himself. What if he'd gotten rid of Zeke too soon? What if there was just no fixing the damage that had been done from the trials? Maybe no matter what they did, Sam's body would always return to the damaged state it was in at the church and continue to decline until...
Nope, Dean told himself. Not an option. He swallowed hard and looked down at the bed. "Sam," he said carefully, stifling every last bit of worry he had before looking up to meet Sam's eyes. "We will. I'm not going to let anything happen to you."
He smiled a little as the look on Sam's face grew more trusting.
Sam nodded then, his eyelids drooping.
Dean reached up and pushed Sam's hair off his forehead. "Close your eyes and get some rest. You'll feel better if you get some sleep. I'm gonna go get you a drink and something for the fever all right? You close your eyes and I'll be right back."
Sam did as he was told and Dean went to gather his medical arsenal.
He wandered back to Sam's room about ten minutes later with Tylenol, Gatorade, some Saltines, a bowl of water and a washcloth. He set everything down on the nightstand and pulled a chair up beside Sam's bed. He only intended to close his eyes for a minute.
He woke an hour later to a rustling sound. Sam was tossing and turning in his bed. Then the whimpering started. And then-
"Dean! DEAN, NO!"
Sam gasped, his eyes opened as he looked frantically around trying to take in his surroundings which had suddenly changed. The hellhounds. He knew they were coming, he just couldn't see them. Or were they? Had Dean made the deal yet? His mind was so clouded with sleep and fever that he couldn't process all the thoughts rolling around in his head. Dean. Dean! He had to warn him- or save him, or-
"Buddy, what are you dreaming about?" Dean asked quietly, sitting in front of him and holding him by the shoulders.
"Dean..." Sam tried to yell, but it came out as more of a strangled whimper. He tried to get the words out, but he couldn't still the panic rising in his chest long enough to formulate a coherent sentence. "Dean, don't- you can't- I"
"Sam... Sammy calm down, it's ok, come on. Deep breaths, kid, deep breaths-" Dean kept his voice as calm as he could as he held on to Sam. He gripped the back of Sam's neck and held on to one arm while trying to anchor his gaze, but Sam's eyes were all over the room. He was radiating heat like a furnace and clinging desperately to Dean's shirt as tears streamed out of his glassy, red rimmed eyes.
Sam swallowed back a sob, almost choking on tears as he just kept talking over his brother, frantically begging him not to go through with the deal. "No- Dean, don't let them take you- you can't go-"
Dean pulled him into his chest then and cradled his head in the crook of his neck, holding him steady as Sam trembled and sobbed on his shoulder. "Sammy..." he whispered. "Little brother, I'm not going anywhere. I'm not leaving you... Slow it down, buddy. Deep breaths. I'm here, I've got you."
"I don't want them- t-to take you... I'm so sorry, Dean. Please don't..."
"Saamm...shhhh... Nobody's gonna take me anywhere. We're safe... ok?" Dean didn't know what to do other than to keep holding him and whispering to him. He forced back his own tears as best he could. Every soft sob that came from Sam ripped right through his heart. "Oh, buddy... we gotta get this fever down."
Eventually, Sam seemed to settle a bit, or perhaps he had just run out of energy. "C'mon, Sammy... you're ok. Just a bad dream. It's all right."
Sam's breathing began to even out, and Dean could feel him taking careful, measured breaths between sniffles.
"That's it... that's my boy," Dean murmured. "Just relax. You're ok." Dean let him sit there for a few minutes to regain his composure before pressing him further for what he needed to know. "You ok, now? Huh?"
Sam nodded, but couldn't lift his head from his brother's shoulder.
"We gotta get some Tylenol in you, bring this fever down." Dean cringed inwardly, knowing that if this was what he feared, Tylenol wouldn't really help.
Sam just breathed.
"Sammy...You never answered my question..."
Sam swallowed and tried to sit back. He managed to lift his head about an inch before it fell back where it was. "Mmm?"
Dean gave him a gentle squeeze. "Just stay put, you're all right. Your dream, what was it about?"
There was a long pause during which Dean wondered if he would have to fight for an answer, and Sam tried not to let the panic overwhelm him as he remembered dreaming about hellhounds coming for his brother. Again. He sighed, knowing Dean was waiting for an answer and honestly, Sam was too tired for anything but the truth.
"About you...and when... the h-hellhounds..." Dean felt Sam shudder and swallow back more tears that threatened to start up again.
"Hey, hey... easy. All right..." Dean tightened his grip on Sam and ran his hand over Sam's head. "Sam, why are you thinking about that? That was a long time ago."
Sam made a soft strangled sound, like he was trying to say something but couldn't. But after a minute and a couple of breaths, he asked, "What? Do you think I'm... just going to forget that?"
Dean rubbed his back. "No, Sam. I know you're not going to forget it." His voice was tinged with regret. "But why are you dreaming about that now? I'm fine, that's all over, Sammy."
Sam shook his head his voice breaking. "But what if..."
"Ok, let's stop right there," Dean interrupted, suddenly realizing where the conversation was headed. He gently lifted Sam off his shoulder, moved back so he was facing him and cupped his chin. "Look at me."
Sam reluctantly met his brother's gaze. Dean buried the anguish he felt seeing tears in those eyes as he continued. "You're going to be fine, little brother. Ok? We're gonna get you through this, whatever it is."
"What if-" The puppy dog eyes were out.
"No," Dean almost had to break Sam's gaze. That look just killed him sometimes. "Sammy, 'what if' is not going to happen. Now, listen- this is what we're gonna do right now. We're gonna bring your temperature down, and you're going to get a little rest. Tomorrow we'll see how you're doing and we'll take it from there, ok?"
Puppy dog eyes still there... what else does he need? Ah... "And I'll stay right here with you, ok?"
Sam finally looked down and nodded. This meltdown had taken more energy than he had to give.
Dean reached over and wet the cloth in the bowl of water. "We're also gonna clean up this face... all right?." Dean wiped Sam's eyes with the cold water. Sam just leaned into him and didn't fight it. "That's it... feel a little better?"
"Ok. Let's get you medicated and off to dreamland. The good dreamland, though, got it? No more of this hellhound crap." He handed Sam the pills and the Gatorade and again, Sam took it without argument.
Dean pulled the covers up over his brother and propped himself up on the pillows beside him. He wasn't too surprised when Sam rolled over and curled up right next to him. Dean lifted his arm and Sam pressed his head up against Dean's side. Dean lowered his arm to Sam's shoulder and rubbed his back affectionately. He shifted a bit trying to get comfortable. "Sammy, we gotta get you a different mattress, dude. How do you sleep in here?"
"Don' know... jus' do..." Sam mumbled.
"Do you want to move to my room for tonight? Sam?"
There was no answer.
Dean smiled sadly and ran his hand gently through Sam's hair. "No more bad dreams, ok, Sammy? Just sleep. Everything's gonna be all right."
I'm getting so good at lying, I'm starting to scare myself, Dean thought.