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Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.

"I need a ride to the library," says Sam as he closes the refrigerator door.

"No," replies Dean.

Sam spins around.  "What do you mean, no?"

"It's Friday.  You don't need to study."

"But I'm supposed to meet Ha-- um, my study group."  Sam feels his cheeks grow hot and damn it, he's not getting out of this one now.  He sighs and turns his back on his brother, pretending to need a glass from the cupboard.

"Nobody  studies on Friday night.  Not even losers like you."  Dean sits back in the chair and crosses his arms.  "What are you really doing?"

He takes a deep breath and steels himself for the inevitable abuse.  "Going out with my girlfriend," he mutters.

"Didn't quite catch that," says Dean.  Sam doesn't need to turn around to know that Dean has his trademark smirk on his face.  "What did you say?"

Sam turns around.  "I'm going out with my girlfriend."

"Well, I'll be damned."  Dean gets up from the kitchen table and gives Sam a hearty smack between the shoulder blades.  "Little Sammy done found himself a girlfriend," he drawls in an exaggerated redneck accent.

"Shut the fuck up."  Sam twists away from his asshole brother and drops into a chair.

"She as big a geek as you are?"

"Bigger, actually," Sam answers.  "She's in the marching band."

Dean raises an eyebrow.  "Dude, band girls are fucking kinky as hell.  They all act like prudes but get them in bed and they'll do shit you wouldn't think would be physically possible."

Sam rolls his eyes.  "How would you even know that?"

"Junior year, I had that big-ass cast on my arm and I couldn't hunt for four months, remember?"  Sam does.  Mostly he remembers doing Dean's homework for him because he couldn't write very well with his left hand.  "I used to sneak out after you were asleep and meet them at Denny's after the home games.  There was this one girl, Amy or Amber or something...man, she had the biggest--"

"Oh my God, would you shut up?" Sam shouts over Dean's obnoxious commentary.

Dean glares at him.  "Hey, you need to know this stuff.  What the hell are you gonna do when you get her alone?"

"It's not like that," Sam says, looking down at the table.  "We're not...we don't..."

Dean rolls his eyes.  "You haven't even touched her, have you?"

"I have so!"  Sam shoves his chair back from the table and it scrapes the cheap linoleum with a loud screech.   "For your information, I've totally made out with her.  Twice."

"Where?  At the library?"

Sam feels his face grow hot and God, why can't he grow out of that particular tendency already?  "Just that once," he mumbles, not looking at Dean.

Dean grins.  "Never would've thought you had it in you."

Sam jumps up from the chair, nearly knocking it over.  "You are such an asshole," he growls.

"Careful, Sammy...I don't have to drive you to the library."  Dean leans back in the chair and fixes Sam with a smug grin.

"You know what?  It's not even worth it.  I'll walk."  Sam stalks past Dean on his way out of the kitchen.

Dean grabs his wrist, nearly pulls him off his feet.  "Dude, it's three and a half miles.  You're not walking that far after dark."

"I'm not a little kid anymore.  You can't tell me what to do."

Dean heaves a huge sigh and gets that look in his eyes that he usually sees on Dad, right before Dad threatens to use his head for target practice.  "Fine, I'll drive you.  Just quit your bitching already."

Sam smiles.  "I said I'd meet her at seven.  She'll give me a ride home."

"Does she have a name?"

"Hanna," Sam replies.

"Man, even her name is geeky.  No wonder you like her."  

Sam punches Dean in the shoulder.  "Jerk."

Dean doesn't miss a beat.  "Bitch."




"Dean, where's the iron?"

Dean peers at him over the latest issue of Car & Driver.  "We have an iron?"

"We did," Sam says pointedly.  "Remember?  Dad used it to press herbs."

Dean thinks on that a second.  "Try the front closet.  Might be in one of the boxes we never unpacked."  He sits up straighter.  "What do you need an iron for, anyway?"

He knew that question was coming, but that doesn't make it any easier to answer.  He never was very good at lying to Dean, so he sighs and tells the truth.  "The Homecoming dance is tonight."

Dean raises his eyebrows so far they nearly disappear under his hair.  "The Homecoming dance.  You can't be serious."  

"Well, she kind of has to go, because she's in the band and all, and she didn't want to go alone...so she asked me."

"She asked you?  You are so totally pussy-whipped.  Not that that's a big surprise, but really, Sammy, have some self-respect."

"I want to go," Sam replies, eyes narrowed.  "I've never been to a school dance before.  It might be fun."  

"Dances are lame.  And people who like them are even lamer."

"How would you know?  It's not like you ever went to any."

"Damn right I didn't."

"So you can't say they're lame because you don't even know what they're like."

"They're lame by definition."

Sam sighs and decides to change the subject.  "Can you drive with me to her house?"

Dean raises an eyebrow.  "You know as well as I do that you can't drive unless Dad's in the car."

"Yeah, but he's never here, and I don't want to look like a--"

"Total loser?"

Sam glances down at the floor.  "Yeah, sort of.  I mean, she has her own car and everything, and I still have a stupid permit."

Dean's quiet for a long moment.  When he finally speaks it's not what Sam was expecting.  "Where does she live?"

"Indian Hills."

Dean shakes his head.  "No way.  There's always cops on Harrodsburg Road."

Dean's right.  Sam knows a ton of kids who's been pulled over on the road out of town.  If Dad were to find out, Sam won't get his license till he's 18.  So yeah, it's a bad plan.  "Okay, so you'll drive me?"

"Why can't she just pick you up here?"

"She lives in Indian Hills.  You think I want her to see that we live here?"

He expects Dean to give him the usual shit about how Dad does the best he can and it's not so bad, really, compared to the motels but Dean gives him a sympathetic smile instead.  "Yeah, this place is kind of a shithole."

"It's barely a step up from being homeless," Sam replies.

"It's not that bad."  Dean sits up.  "But I get it.  Wrong side of the tracks and all that crap."

"Exactly."

"What time are you supposed to be there?"

"She wants to get to the dance by 7."

Dean nods.  "Okay.  Don't take forever in the bathroom."

Sam doesn't bother to ask how Dean knows he's going to get in the shower.  Sometimes he wonders if Dean's got some sort of weird psychic thing going on or if Sam's just that freaking predictable.

After Sam showers he goes to look for the iron in the front closet.  It's not a big deal, but he wants to look presentable when he meets Hanna's parents.  He doesn't have the money to buy new clothes, so he's making do with his least-worn pair of khakis and a moss-green buttondown that he thinks might have been Dad's at one point.  He knows what Hanna's wearing; she was so excited she couldn't wait to tell him.  She bought a silver glitter top and a black miniskirt.  She said she had to give up her allowance for a month in order for her father to agree to let her wear it out of the house.

He never does find the iron.




Once they're out of town the roads start twisting and turning and it's about twenty minutes before Dean finally speaks up.  "Dude, we're lost.  I thought you said you knew where this place was."

"She told me, but I guess I forgot a turn or something."  He glances out the window at the sunset.  "Give me your phone.  I'll call her."

Dean grumbles a little but hands over the cell phone.  Sam dials her number from memory and hands the phone back to Dean.  "You talk to her.  That way I won't have to repeat everything."

Dean rolls his eyes and accepts the phone. "What's her name again?"

"Hanna," Sam replies.

The phone only rings once before it's picked up. A young boy answers with a bored "Hello?"

"Can I talk to Hanna?"

"Sure." There are a couple of shuffling sounds, then a muffled shout. "Toby!   Phone for you!"

He's still trying to make sense of that when the girl picks up. "Sam?"

"Not quite," replies Dean. "I'm his brother, and I'm trying to drive him to your house but he got us lost."

"Where are you?"

"Comanche Trail, going south."

"Okay, go back to Apache Trail and turn right. Go just past the turn for Hyde Park Drive and it's on the left."

"Thanks. We'll be there in a couple minutes." Dean presses the 'off' button and sticks the phone back in his pocket. "I gotta turn around up here," he tells Sam. Once that's done, he looks to Sam and just says, "Toby?"

Sam blushes a little and Dean bites down on the snicker before it can escape. "Her full name is Tobyhanna, like the town in Pennsylvania. I guess her dad's from there."

"Good thing her dad's not from Intercourse."  Sam glares death at him, but Dean just grins.  He finds the house and parks across the street from the full driveway. He slugs Sam in the shoulder and grins. "Go get 'em, tiger."

"Shut up," says Sam, rolling his eyes. He slams the door and stalks across the street without a second thought, but the minute his foot hits the sidewalk he hunches in on himself and slows down to a near-standstill.  Dean grins and shakes his head. Sam is such a little dork.

The girl he assumes must be Hanna opens the door and Dean has to laugh out loud. She's not even five feet tall, for fuck's sake. She's standing on a step about four inches high and her head just barely reaches Sam's shoulders. Dean works through a series of mental images that make him laugh so hard tears spring to his eyes and he doubles over behind the wheel. It's a fight to get himself under control and an even bigger fight when he inhales the wrong way and ends up nearly choking to death. It almost makes him want to go to the dance, just to see how they're going to get around that.

When he looks up, Sam is heading towards the car. Dean rolls the window down. "What's up?"

"We're going to her friend's house afterwards. I'll call you when I need you."

"No, I'll pick you up here at midnight. Dad's supposed to be home tomorrow morning, or have you forgotten?"

"It's not what you're thinking," Sam protests. "She's not like that."

"I don't care. Get your ass back here by midnight." Dean knows he doesn't have to say anything else. The Friday night "library" trips alone give Dean prime blackmail material.

Sam nods. "Yeah, fine. See you later." He turns and jogs back across the street and climbs into a teal station wagon. Dean snickers when Hanna opens the passenger door for Sam. Yeah, Sammy's never going to live this down.



A loud electronic chirping jolts him into consciousness.  It's his cell phone, which he didn't even remember was in his pocket.  He squints at his watch.  It's 1:30 in the fucking morning.  Who the fuck is calling him?  "Hello?"

"Dean?"

Dean's eyes widen and he bolts upright.  "Hanna?  What the hell?  How did you get this number?"

"You called me before.  I put it in my cell phone."  There's something about her voice that's just...off.  "If I ask you something, will you promise not to tell Sam?"

Dean has enough experience with girls to know that trouble always follows a question like that.  However, his curiosity is fast overtaking his common sense.  "Sure, okay.  What is it?"

"Can you come pick me up?"

That's really not what Dean was expecting.  Not at all.  "Where are you?"

"At my friend Breeann's house.  By the country club."  

That's way on the other side of town.  How did Sam get in with the rich girls?  No wonder he's ashamed of this place, Dean thinks.  But what he says is, "What's the address?"

"You mean, you will?"

Against my better judgment.  "Yeah, sure.  Not like I'm doing anything else."

"You're the best!"  She gives him directions to the house and asks him to hurry.

When he pulls up to the massive house, he's shocked to see her wearing a towel and little else.  She's barefoot, for fuck's sake, and he can see her teeth chattering.  It's barely above freezing.  He jumps out of the car and shrugs off his leather jacket.  "What the hell happened?" he asks as he wraps the coat around her.

"Long st-story," she replies.  Dean shoves her into the passenger seat and leans over her to turn the heat up.  

Once he's back in the driver's seat, he flips the overhead light on and turns to face her.  "I'm not taking you anywhere until you tell me why you're half-naked in the middle of November."

"They have a hot tub," she explains, her voice strangely high-pitched and childish.  "We were having a hot tub party."

And suddenly, it makes sense.  "Was there alcohol at this party?" he asks.  She nods.  "Are you drunk?"

"No, I am not," she answers, enunciating each word clearly.  She sounds offended.  Fuck her.  "I mean, I guess maybe a little.  But I'm not trashed or anything," she adds, drawing out the "a" in trashed like a native.  

"And that's why you didn't want me to tell my brother?"

She shakes her head.  "No.  Well, sort of, but not really."  She slumps in the seat and looks down at her hands.  "I kissed someone else."  

"You're not the first person to do something stupid when they're drunk," Dean replies.

She shakes her head.  "It's not--I didn't--it wasn't even my idea!"   She looks up and Dean can see the tears shining in her eyes.  "Lyndsey asked Ryan to kiss her, and he said he would kiss her if she kissed me, and I said okay 'cause I know she really likes Ryan."

"So you kissed Lyndsey," says Dean, making sure he understood the rambling confession.

"I didn't think it was a big deal!" she cries, and she sounds like a fucking banshee.  He gestures for her to keep it down and she goes on.  "Like, who cares?  It's not like I like her or something.  I mean, I like her as a friend, but that's it!"

"Whoa, slow down.  What are you talking about?"

Hanna looks at Dean like he's an idiot for not knowing.  "I tried to French-kiss her 'cause I thought that's what Ryan meant and she totally freaked out and got all mad and locked me out of the house."

Dean nods.  He has no idea what to say and he doesn't want her to start crying, so he reaches out and puts a comforting hand on her shoulder.  She smiles shyly and looks down at the seat.  A hank of hair, damp at the end, falls down over her face.  He tucks it behind her ear.  Their eyes lock and the next thing he knows her lips are pressed to his and he tastes strawberries and cheap alcohol.

He wants to pull away.  He knows this is wrong, not just because she's Sammy's girl but because she's drunk and fucking sixteen years old, but somehow his better judgment seems to have taken an ill-timed vacation.  Her lips are so soft and warm and she's trying to be all shy and hesitant but he knows she's just teasing him.  She slips a hand out from under his jacket and slides it around the back of his neck, pulling him closer.  Her tongue darts into his mouth, stays a second, and retreats just as abruptly.  He does the same thing to her--see how she likes it.  He feels the corners of her mouth turn upwards and he touches the tip of his tongue to hers, entreating it to follow.  She picks up the hint and slides her tongue into his mouth.   He grasps it gently with his teeth and he feels her startle.  He rubs her back and she quickly settles.   He guides her forward until she's lying on top of him.  He pulls his jacket off of her and tosses it over the back of the seat.  He's acutely aware that the only thing between him and a whole lot of her is a thin piece of terrycloth.  He reaches out and turns down the heat.  They sure don't need that now.  He slips a hand under the towel and discovers that two tiny strings tied in a bow is all that's keeping her top on.

And that's when his upstairs brain slams on the brakes.

He breaks the kiss with an audible pop and gently pushes her off of him.  "Okay, that's...far enough."

"Yeah."  It's more a sigh than a word.  She pulls the towel tighter around herself.

"I'm going to go in and get your clothes," he tells her.  "Stay here."

Her eyes widen.  "You can do that?"

He almost laughs, but he bites it back.  "I don't think your little jailbait friends will put up much of a fight."  He flicks the heat up before he leaves.

The boy who answers the door is a head and a half shorter than Dean.  "I want Hanna's clothes," he says in his best 'take-no-shit' voice.  "And anything else she brought."  The boy gulps audibly and rushes to comply.  He's back in a minute with a pink flowered backpack with "TEJ" embroidered on it.  Dean grabs it away from the kid harder than he needs to and lets the screen door slam behind him.  

He puts the bag in the backseat and smiles at Hanna.  "They won't give you any shit.  If they do, you have my number."  She nods.  

Dean puts the car in gear and pulls away from the curb.  It's a long way to Hanna's house.  After a few seconds, she looks up at him.  "You won't tell Sam, will you?"

Dean snorts.  "Yeah, that's the first thing on my to-do list."

"You're kidding, right?"

He chuckles.  "Yeah, I'm just being a dick.  I'm sure Sam's told you how good I am at that."

"He's never said anything bad about you," she replies.  

"Well, he probably should have."  Dean puts his hand over hers as he makes the right turn.  "Look, we're in this together now.  I won't tell if you don't."

"Deal," she says softly.



"I don't need a ride tonight," Sam tells Dean as soon as he walks in the door.

"Why not?  You break up with her?" Dean asks, glancing at him over the top of the newspaper.

Sam glares at him.  "No.  For your information, she's sick.  She's got mononucleosis, whatever that is."

A flicker of emotion that Sam can't identify lights up Dean's eyes before he snickers and says, "Dude, sucks to be you."

"Why?"

"Because you're gonna get it next month, genius."

"Next month?"

Dean sets the newspaper down and shakes his head.  "Man, you really don't pay attention in school, do you?"

Sam sits down across from Dean.  "What's that supposed to mean?"

Dean shakes his head.  "For a so-called ‘genius', you can be really dumb sometimes."  He leans back in the chair and crosses his arms.  "Mono's called ‘the kissing disease' because it's spread by saliva and mostly teenagers get it.  It takes a month from the time you catch it to actually get sick."

Sam's eyes widen.  "Crap."

Dean grins wickedly.  "Yeah, you're screwed."

"So if it's spread by kissing, how come you never had it?"

Dean shrugs.  "Dunno.  Guess I just got lucky."



When Sam gets home from school, he finds Dean in the kitchen.  The knives are spread out on the table and the sharpening stone is in front of him, but Dean isn't using it.  He's sound asleep, head resting on folded arms.  He reaches over and shakes Dean's shoulder gently.  "Dean, wake up," he orders, voice loud and sharp.  Dean moans a little and turns his head but doesn't sit up.  Sam shakes him again.  "Come on, Dean."

Dean's eyes flutter open.  "S'mmy?" he murmurs.

"What's wrong with you?  Dad would kill you if he saw this," Sam tells him, pushing Dean upright.  Dean doesn't struggle or object and he's dead weight in Sam's hands.  Something is definitely wrong.  He lays a hand on Dean's forehead but doesn't find it overly warm.  Still, Dean's a few shades too pale and there are gray rings under his eyes.

"Go lay down.  I can finish this up," says Sam, picking up the machete that's about to fall off the edge of the table.

Dean shakes his head and stands up, leaning heavily on the table.  "No, I'll help," he says and even his voice is weak.  

"You're gonna hurt yourself," Sam argues.  He turns Dean toward the door and gives him a slight push.  "Go."

Dean walks to the living room in slow motion and Sam hears the springs squeak when Dean flops down on the couch.  Sam gathers the knives and places them back in the case, frowning the whole time.  Dean's obviously coming down with something and Dad isn't due back for another week at least.  It looks like Sam's going to be on nursemaid duty for the next few days.  Great.
 
Sam puts the weapons bag away and decides to start on dinner.  He pulls the big pot out of the cabinet and fills it with water.  He's not much of a cook-that's really more Dean's thing-but he can boil water, which is all you need to do to make spaghetti.  He's not planning to make much since he's pretty sure Dean's not going to be up to eating.  He turns the burner on high and places the pot on it.  He opens the pantry and takes out a jar of store-brand tomato sauce.  He figures they'll only use about half of it tonight, so he measures it out and dumps it in the smallest saucepan.  It takes him awhile to find the strainer.  He finally locates it in the drawer under the oven.

Once everything's heated, he makes up a full plate for himself and a half plate for Dean and heads into the living room to try and wake Dean up.  This time he skips right to rubbing his knuckles on Dean's breastbone and practically yelling at him.  It still takes three tries for Dean to open his eyes.

"Come on, man.  I made dinner."

Dean yawns.  "You cooked?"

"Dude, even I can't mess up spaghetti," Sam replies with a grin.  "It's getting cold.  Come on."

Dean obediently follows him to the kitchen.  He swallows hard and grimaces when he sees the plate and the glass of orange juice next to it.  Sam notices but says nothing.  Dean sinks down into the chair and picks up the fork.  He halfheartedly pushes the noodles around for a minute or two and then sets the fork down.  "I'm not hungry."

"Dude, what's wrong?"  Sam tries to sound casual and not concerned.

Dean shrugs.  "Nothing. I'm just tired."

"Too tired to eat?  I didn't think that was possible." He says it lightly, just teasing, but Dean glares at him and shoves his plate forward.  "Aw, come on.  Don't be like that."

"I'm too tired to deal with your bullshit, that's for sure," says Dean.  His voice cracks on the last two words.  He stands up too quickly and has to grab the edge of the table for support. 

Sam frowns.  "Are you sure you're okay?"

"I'm fine," Dean growls.  "Jesus.  You're worse than Dad."  He pushes the chair in and leaves.

Sam sighs and puts Dean's plate in the sink.



When the alarm goes off in the morning, Sam slaps the ‘off' button and opens the curtain before crossing the room to check on Dean.  He looks awful.  His cheeks are so flushed they practically glow and the shadows under his eyes are darker than ever.  A light sheen of sweat covers his forehead, which is blazing hot to the touch.  That's not the worst part, though.  Dean's glands are so swollen they look like large marbles sticking out of his neck.  Sam's never seen anything like it before.

Sam gently shakes Dean's shoulder.  "Hey, Dean, wake up."

Dean's eyes flutter open and he lets out a long, pained groan. 

"You okay?" Sam asks softly.  Dean's only response is another groan.  He reaches an arm up to block the light, but he's moving in super-slow motion.   "Sorry," says Sam.  He walks back to the window and closes the curtains.

"Thanks," Dean rasps.  His voice is completely shot. 

"How do you feel?"

"How do you think?"  Dean's voice breaks on the third word and deserts him entirely on the fourth.

Sam runs across the hall to the bathroom and fills a glass with water.  He brings it to Dean, who looks at it like it's poisonous.  "You need this, man," Sam tells him.  Dean accepts the glass warily and takes a sip.  His whole face contorts in pain when he swallows.  Sam winces in sympathy.  "Your throat's pretty sore, huh?"  Dean nods.  "What else hurts?"

"Everything," Dean moans.  "I think it's the Martian Death Flu." 

Sam has to smile at the reference.  "Are you gonna be okay if I go to school?"

"I'll probably just sleep," Dean answers.  He lets out a jaw-cracking yawn as proof.

Sam frowns.  He's not really sure he should leave Dean like this.  He sits down on the edge of Dean's bed and lays the back of his hand on Dean's flushed cheek.  "I don't know, Dean.  You've got a pretty high fever.  Maybe I should stay here."

Dean shrugs.  "Whatever."  He yawns again.  Even in the dim light Sam can see that his throat is terribly inflamed.  Before Sam can come up with a response, Dean's eyes slip shut.

Sam sits down on his own bed and tries to make a decision.  He's not sure Dean's right about having the flu.  Sam's more inclined to think it's strep.  He's pretty sure they don't have any antibiotics.  He remembers Dean taking a bunch after the barbed wire incident and he thinks those were the last of their meager supply.  He might have to call Dad on this one.  If Dean needs to go to the hospital, they'll need one of Dad's fake insurance cards.  Sam really hopes it doesn't come to that but he's also realistic.  If there's one thing he's learned over the years, it's that when it comes to matters of illness and injury Dean never does anything halfway.

He glances at the clock.  If he wants to catch the bus he has to start getting ready now.  He looks over at Dean, who's clearly out cold.  Sam frowns.  He really needs to go to trig today; they're starting a new unit and he'll never catch up if he misses it.  After another few moments of waffling, he decides to go for the first half of the day and come home at lunchtime to check on Dean.  He can catch the bus for the work-study students that stops at the grocery store around the corner. 

Before Sam leaves for school he gathers what he thinks Dean might need and sets everything on the nightstand.  He leaves Dean a bottle of water, a bottle of Tylenol, a half-full bottle of cough syrup, a bag of menthol cough drops and the thermometer.  Dean sleeps on, unusually still and silent.  Sam has to look closely to confirm that Dean is still breathing.

When Sam returns four and a half hours later he finds Dean in exactly the same position he left him in.  Everything on the nightstand is untouched as well.  He grips Dean's shoulder to wake him up.  Dean's shirt is hot and damp with sweat.  Sam shakes him roughly.  "Dean, wake up!"

When Dean's eyes finally flutter open, they're glassy and barely focused.  "Dad?"

"No, it's me, Sam."  Sam tries not to look as concerned as he feels.  He picks up the thermometer and turns it on.  "I need to take your temperature, okay?"  Dean looks at him blankly but allows Sam to place the thermometer in his mouth.  When it beeps, Sam looks at the display and frowns.  It's 103.6, way higher than Sam is comfortable with, but not dangerously so--yet.  He opens the bottle of Tylenol and shakes three capsules into his hand.  "Dean, sit up so you can take these."

"Can't," Dean whispers, more breath than actual speech.

Sam looks up in alarm.  "Why not?"

"Can't swallow ‘em," Dean answers.

Sam's eyes widen.  "It hurts that much?"  Dean nods with as little movement as possible.  Sam sighs.  "Give me your knife."

Dean slides the knife out from under his pillow and hands it to Sam.  Even that tiny bit of movement seems to exhaust him.  Sam's moved from "concerned" to "downright worried" because he hasn't seen Dean this sick since Chambersburg and Sam's not sure he can deal with something that serious again. 

Sam crushes the pills with the handle of the knife and scoops the powder into the glass of water.  Dean pushes himself up to lean against the headboard.  New beads of sweat form on his forehead from the effort.  Sam hands him the glass and Dean accepts it in one trembling hand.  It takes him about five minutes to swallow all the drug-laced water.  When he's finally finished, his cheeks are even more flushed than before and he's panting like he just ran a marathon.  Dean collapses onto the pillows and fights to regulate his breathing.  Sam's stomach clenches.  Sam's seen corpses that looked better than Dean does right now.

Sam takes a deep breath and forces himself to focus.  First thing he needs to do is get Dean's fever down.  He goes downstairs to the kitchen and takes one of the cold compresses out of the freezer.  He shakes his head.  Normal people don't have to keep half a dozen ice packs on hand for emergencies.

Dean's still awake when Sam returns, but barely.  He doesn't look up until Sam places the compress on his forehead.  Dean sighs a little and lets his eyes fall closed.  A minute later he's deeply asleep.



Sam startles so badly when the doorbell rings that he nearly falls off the bed.  He's never heard it before, and it's freaking loud.  He runs down the stairs and opens the door.  "Hanna?"

She smiles.  "Hey."

"What are you doing here?" he blurts out.  He knows it sounds rude, but she's not supposed to know where he lives.  He made sure of that.

"You disappeared after lunch.  I wanted to make sure everything was okay."

"But how'd you know to come here?"

"Jenn Cobaugh works in the office.  I asked her to look it up for me."  Her face darkens.  "You're not even going to let me in?"

"I-I probably shouldn't," Sam replies, flustered.  "My brother's sick, and--"

"Yeah, okay," she says, annoyed.  "I got your physics and world lit homework for you."  She pulls a manila folder out of her backpack. 

Sam opens the screen door and takes it.  "Thanks."

"I guess I'll go now," she says, shoulders slumping.  She turns to leave.

"Wait!"  Sam steps outside and grabs her arm.  "I'm sorry.  I didn't--you don't have to leave."

"But you won't let me in your house."  She gives him a small smile.  "Look, I get it, okay?  But seriously, knowing you live here doesn't change how I feel about you."

He blushes and looks down at the battered porch.  "You shouldn't have to tell me that.  I should've known.  I'm sorry."

"Me too," she replies softly.  "I'm sorry you thought you had to hide this from me."  She squeezes his hand.  "You missed a lot in physics.  I can help you with it if you want."

He glances back at the house.  "I don't think you should come in.  Dean really is sick; I wouldn't want you to catch anything.  I mean, you just got back to school a week ago."

She rolls her eyes.  "I'm fine.  What's wrong with him?"

"I don't know.  Maybe strep.  He's got a real bad sore throat and all he does is sleep."

Hanna blanches and takes a step backwards.  She mutters something that Sam can't make out.  He frowns.  "Are you okay?"

She crosses her arms and looks down at the floor.  She shakes her head.  "It's not strep," she says, barely audible.

Sam's confused.  "What?  How?  I don't--"

She sucks in a sharp breath.  "He's got mono," she says flatly.  "The sore throat'll get better in about a week.  He'll just be tired after that."  She hoists her backpack onto one shoulder and runs down the creaky porch steps.

"Wait!  Hanna--"  By the time Sam thinks to go after her, she's already behind the wheel of her car.  Her tires screech as she peels away from the curb.

"What the hell was that?" he wonders aloud.



Sam locks the deadbolt and the chain and carries the grocery bags into the kitchen.  He's lucky they live within walking distance of the store.  He puts the Gatorade and Jello in the refrigerator and sticks the popsicles and crushed ice into the practically empty freezer.  He pulls the last item out of the bag and shakes his head.  If Dean ever finds out about it, he'll kick Sam's ass into the next county.  However, it'll be much easier to give Dean extra doses of liquid Children's Motrin than to crush up pills for him all the time.  And if it works, what's the problem?

He pulls two glasses out of the cupboard, fills one with crushed ice and the other with Gatorade, grabs a spoon out of the silverware drawer, and takes everything upstairs.  Dean's still dead to the world.  Sam sets the glasses on the nightstand and wakes Dean.

It takes a good ten seconds for Dean's glazed eyes to focus on Sam and five more for recognition to dawn.  "Hey, S'mmy," he murmurs.

Sam smiles.  "Welcome back to the land of the living."

"Overrated," Dean rasps.  "How long was I out?"

"Couple hours," Sam replies.  "Sit up.  I brought you some ice chips." 

Dean struggles to a sitting position, pushing himself up on trembling arms.  Sam rearranges the pillows so Dean won't crack his skull on the headboard.  Dean sinks into them gratefully.

"This fuckin' sucks," Dean mutters, accepting the glass of ice chips.

"Don't I know it."  Sam hands him the spoon. He busies himself with folding up the thick quilt and thermal blanket he pulled off of Dean's bed so he doesn't have to see the agonized faces Dean makes when he has to swallow.

Dean's eyelids are drooping by the time he finishes the ice chips.  "Uh-uh, stay awake, Dean.  You need to drink, and then I need to take your temp again."

"Bossy little bitch, ain'tcha," Dean grumbles hoarsely.

"Save your voice, jerk," Sam retorts with a smile.  He hands Dean the glass of Gatorade.

Dean glares at the glass with all the animosity he can muster.  "I hate this shit."

"Yeah, but you're sweating like a pig.  You need the fluids."

"Okay, Dad." 

"You won't get any popsicles until you finish that," Sam teases.

Dean raises an eyebrow.  "You got popsicles?"

"I got banana popsicles."

"Score," Dean replies with an approving grin. 

"See, I'm better at this nursemaid shit than Dad."  Sam starts tidying up the nightstand.

"Yeah, Florence, you totally are."  Dean's halfway through the Gatorade.  "‘Course, that doesn't take much.  Remember Syracuse?"

"Yeah, but how do you?  You were talking to elves!"

"Trust me, projectile-vomiting activated charcoal is not an experience you forget."

"Ugh, God, I wasn't thinking of that."  Sam shudders.  "However, that was not entirely Dad's fault."

"He shouldn't have left the bottle out like that.  He shouldn't have left, period."

Sam's eyes widen.  Dean doesn't criticize Dad unless he's not in his right mind.  "Hurry up, I want to get your temperature before you pass out again."  Dean rolls his eyes, then blanches and puts his hand to his head.  Sam frowns.  "You okay?"

It's a long moment before Dean is able to answer.  "Yeah, ‘m fine."  He takes a few deep breaths.  "Note to self: don't do that."  He drains the glass and sets it on the nightstand.  "All right, Clara, get over here."

Sam picks up the thermometer and sticks it in Dean's mouth.  His temp's down a little--to 103.3--but not that much.  "I'll be right back," Sam tells him, gathering the empty glasses. 

He puts the glasses in the sink and fills the little dosage cup with liquid Motrin.  When he takes it up to Dean, Dean glares at it suspiciously.  "What's that?"

"It'll help your throat," Sam replies, hoping Dean won't realize that he's dodging the question. 

Dean raises an eyebrow but takes the proffered medicine.  His face screws up in disgust this time rather than pain.  "What the hell flavor is that supposed to be?"

"Cherry, I think."  It's bubblegum.   

"That shit is vile."  Dean hands the little cup back to him.  "I'll take the brain-melting fever, thanks."

Sam's eyes darken.  "That's not funny."

Dean looks down at his hands.  "Yeah, I wasn't thinking.  Sorry."  He yawns.

"‘S'okay.  Go back to sleep."  He shifts the pillows so Dean can lie down.  Dean gives him a small grin, then succumbs to the overwhelming exhaustion.



Just after midnight, Sam collapses on his own bed, completely wiped out.  Taking care of Dean is stressful and exhausting.  He has to wake Dean every two hours to give him medicine that barely helps at all.  Dean's fever refuses to drop below 103, no matter how many pills and ice packs Sam gives him.  Waking Dean takes longer and longer each time he tries it, and the last couple of times Sam's not even sure he was fully conscious.

Next thing he knows, somebody's shaking him.  "Sammy, get up.  We gotta go."

Sam reaches up and grabs Dean's wrist.  "Calm down, Dean, it's okay."  Sam pushes Dean off and gets up.  "Come on, back to bed."

"We can't stay here," Dean rasps.  "They're coming."

"Nobody's coming," Sam replies gently, steering Dean toward his own bed.  Dean trembles with the effort of staying upright.  Sam eases him down, easily overcoming Dean's weak struggles. 

Dean reaches under the pillow for his knife.  Not finding it, his eyes widen.  He looks up at Sam, panic evident in his glazed eyes.  "Where is it?"

Sam sighs and grabs the knife off the nightstand.  Reluctantly, he hands it to Dean.  Dean nods slightly and puts the knife in its rightful place.  Then he sinks into the pillows and groans.  "It's too hot.  Why's it so hot?"

"You've got a fever," Sam answers, laying a hand on Dean's forehead.  It's hotter than ever and way too dry.  He grabs the thermometer and puts it in Dean's mouth.  Dean stares at him vacantly, no comprehension in his eyes.  The thermometer beeps.  Sam's stomach clenches when he sees the reading: 104.2.  His vision darkens and for a second he's afraid he's going to pass out.  He can't do this again.

He takes a deep breath and collects himself.  He has to get Dean to the hospital--that's a given.  How he's going to do that is the big question.  Dean can barely sit up by himself; how the hell is he going to get dressed and go downstairs to the car?  Dean may be weak but he's still 190 pounds of solid muscle. 

God, he wishes Dad were here.

He walks over to the dresser and picks up Dean's phone.  Second on the list of contacts is Hanna.  Sam narrows his eyes.  Why does Dean have Hanna's number saved in his phone? 

His suspicion quickly dissipates when he recalls that Hanna's father is a volunteer paramedic.  Maybe he doesn't have to deal with this alone after all.  He presses ‘send' and prays that Hanna will pick up her phone.

On the fifth ring, she finally does.  "Yeah?" she says groggily.

"Hanna?  I need your help."

 

 



"Sam?"

Sam jerks awake, momentarily forgetting where he is.  It takes him a second to remember that he's in the hospital waiting room.  A cute blonde nurse in purple scrubs is standing in the doorway.  He jumps up.  "Can I see my brother now?"

The nurse smiles.  She has really white teeth.  "Yes.  Come with me."

She leads him to a cubicle in the back of the ER.  She switches on a small lamp rather than the overhead light.  Dean's propped up on an exam bed, dressed in blue scrubs and covered with a thin cotton blanket.  He's got IVs in both arms and Sam winces, knowing how much Dean loathes IVs.  But his eyes are clearer and his cheeks are a lot less flushed, so they must be helping. 

"You look good," Sam says, grinning.

"You need your eyes checked," Dean retorts, voice still hoarse and rough.

The nurse takes Dean's temperature and checks his pulse and blood pressure.  She writes on his chart and gives him that blinding white smile.  "Another few hours and we should be able to get you out of here."

Dean grins.  "Thank God.  Nothing against you, but I really hate ERs."

She nods.  "Most people do."  She replaces the chart and checks the two drips.  Satisfied, she squeezes Dean's shoulder.  "I'll be back in half an hour.  Stay out of trouble."

"I'm too tired for trouble," Dean replies with an angelic smile.  She leaves, closing the door behind her.  Dean sinks back into the exam bed and sighs.  "I fuckin' hate IVs," he grumbles.

"Yeah, I know."  Sam moves to the side of the bed.  "But you're feeling better, so they obviously work."

"Yeah," Dean sighs.  He sits forward.  "Hey, Sammy, get me those ice chips behind you."

"It's Sam," he reminds Dean for the thousandth time.  He picks up the cup of ice chips and the plastic spoon and hands them to Dean.  Dean accepts them gratefully.  "So did they find out what's wrong with you?"

Dean's eyes darken momentarily.  He looks down at the floor and says, "Maybe.  I don't remember."

"Because Hanna seemed to think you've got mono," Sam goes on, moving to face Dean head-on.  "Now, how would she have known that?"  Dean clenches his jaw and refuses to look at Sam, which is all the answer Sam needs.  He steps to the foot of the bed and crosses his arms.  "What did you do with my girlfriend, Dean?"

"I didn't mean to," Dean replies softly.  "She kissed me.  I was the one who stopped it."

"Yeah, right.  You think I'm gonna fall for that?"

Dean looks wounded.  "That's the truth, I swear to God.  She was drunk and barely dressed and I didn't want to go to jail.  You can ask her."

"I can't believe you.  You can have any girl you want, but the one time a girl likes me, you have to go and--"

"That's not how it was," Dean protests, but his voice gives out halfway through.  He ingests more ice chips and tries again.  "It was a stupid thing that never should have happened.  I'm sorry.  I really am."  After a few more ice chips, he goes on.  "But come on, don't you think I've been punished enough?"

Well, he kind of has a point there.  Sam's not going to let him off that easy, though.  "You know, Dad would kill you if he found out you essentially incapacitated yourself."

"I did not!" Dean protests, his voice breaking on the last word.  "She wasn't sick then."

"Yeah, well, that's not how Dad's gonna see it.  And he'll really be pissed if he finds out she's only sixteen."

Dean glares death at him.  "What do you want?"

"No dish duty or laundry for a month and you drive me anywhere I want whenever I want."

"Two weeks," Dean counters hoarsely.

"Three."

Dean sighs.  "Done."

Sam grins wickedly.  Dean looks like he wants to be angry, but that would require energy he doesn't currently have.  He yawns so wide that Sam can see that his throat still looks horribly inflamed and painful.  Sam sobers.  "You should sleep," he tells Dean.  Dean nods and lets his eyes drift shut.  For a split second Sam gives serious consideration to the idea of crawling on the exam bed beside Dean and going to sleep himself.  It's been a long fucking day and it isn't over yet.

Sam nearly jumps out of his skin when Dean's phone rings in his pocket.  He answers it quickly, glancing at Dean to make sure it didn't wake him.  Dean stirs a little but stays asleep.

"Hello?"

"Sam?  What are you doing with Dean's phone?  And where the hell are you two?"

Sam swallows hard.  "You're home?"

"Just got in.  I want an explanation, and it better be good."

"We're at the hospital.  Dean got really sick."

"Is he all right?" John asks, immediately softening.  Sam knows John's having the same flashback he did earlier.

"Yeah, he's better.  He had a really high fever; I didn't know what else to do."  Sam's voice shakes, which is stupid because the crisis is pretty much over.

"You still in the ER?"

"Yeah," Sam answers.  "They said he can probably go home in a couple of hours."

"Good, good."  John sounds preoccupied.  Sam guesses he's putting the weapons away.  "I've got a couple things to finish here, but I'll be over as soon as I can."

Sam nods.  "Okay."

"Car's still here.  You call an ambulance?"

"No, I called a friend whose dad's a paramedic."

"Smart move."  John actually sounds a little impressed.  Sam's not exactly sure how to take that.  "Anyway, I gotta get this stuff done.  See you in a little while."

"Okay."  Sam puts the phone back in his pocket.

John strolls in about twenty minutes later.  The nurse isn't finished taking Dean's blood pressure and Dean's just waking up.  His eyes widen when he sees John.  "Dad?"

"Hey, how you doing?"

Dean furrows his brow in confusion.  "How'd you know we were here?"

"I talked to your brother," John answers. 

"You were asleep," Sam explains.

John nods.  He turns back to Dean.  "So, you feeling better?"

"Yeah," Dean replies, sitting up straighter.  "I'm okay.  Sam overreacted a little."

Sam glares at him.  "Yeah, that's why you're hooked up to two IVs.  ‘Cause I overreacted to you having a 104-degree fever."

Dean's eyes widen.  "It was that high?"

Sam nods, breath hitching painfully.  "Yeah.  You scared me, man.  You were pretty out of it."

Dean's eyes darken.  He looks down at the floor.  For a long minute they're all silent.  Then Dean yawns hugely.  Embarrassed, he mutters an apology.

John pats Dean's leg.  "Get some rest--you need it."  He takes a step back.  "I'm gonna see if I can find your doctor."       

Once John's out of the room, Dean turns wary eyes on Sam.  "Why'd you have to tell him?"

"What else could I say?  At least this way he doesn't punish us."

"Yeah, but now he's gonna be all...you know."

"Fussing over you?"  Sam crosses his arms.  "That's kind of his job."

"I hate that shit," grumbles Dean.

"Yeah, but it makes him feel better, so try not to be a pain in the ass."  Sam smiles, letting Dean know he's just teasing.  Dean opens his mouth to say something, but he's overtaken by another huge yawn.  Sam shakes his head.  "Just go to sleep already."

Dean flips Sam off before he complies.

 


A week later, Dean's climbing the walls.  He's a lot better, but still too sick to be out of bed for any great length of time.  He sleeps all night and half the day at first, but that gradually levels off.  Still, the doctor told Dean it could be up to a month before he completely recovers. 

John seems to be planning to stick it out for the duration, which annoys and bewilders Dean.  He kind of understands Sam's anxiety; it had to be hard on the kid to come close to reliving the worst days of his life.  But Dean wasn't remotely sick enough to die this time--even though Sam seems to disagree--so he can't really comprehend what the two of them are so worked up about.  Yeah, it was touch and go there for a couple of hours, but Sam stepped up and got him to the hospital, so Dean doesn't really see what the big deal is. 

He wanders downstairs and finds his father at the kitchen table, making silver bullets.  Dean grins.  "Need any help?"

"You can start on the salt rounds if you want.  Stuff's in the trunk," John replies without looking up. 

Dean opens the battered trunk and locates the shells, the rock salt and the tools.  He sits across from John and tries to figure out how many other kitchens he's done this in.  Probably dozens.  It's a weird sort of comfort for Dean.  He remembers the days when John used to put Sammy to bed and then allowed Dean to stay up and help him fill the salt shells.  He was ten or eleven when John started letting him seal the shells himself.  They were a well-oiled machine in those days.  John and Dean would craft ammunition while Dean quizzed Sam on spelling words or multiplication tables.  It didn't matter that Dean wouldn't always know the answers; Sam was rarely wrong. 

"You going out this weekend?" Dean asks casually.

John shrugs.  "Heard about a poltergeist down in the Valley," is his non-answer.

"You should go," Dean says, not looking at him.  "Sammy and I can hold down the fort."

"You sure?"  The tone is neutral, uninterested, but Dean hears the unspoken question: You're not gonna end up in the hospital again while I'm away?

Dean looks up at John, smiles.  "Totally."  Truth is, he wants John to go so he can finally leave the house.  John went a little overboard with the whole "no strenuous activity" thing. 

"I'll think about it," John replies. 

They work in silence until Dean hears the front door open.  Dean glances up at the clock.  It's not even noon.  He and John exchange confused looks.

Sam appears in the doorway.  He leans heavily against the doorframe.  His face is drained of all color except for the black circles under his eyes.  He glares at Dean.  "I hate you," he announces hoarsely.

"Don't blame me, blame your girlfriend the plague rat," Dean replies without thinking. 

John puts down the mold.  "Sammy, go to bed."  He turns back to Dean.  "You, start talking."

Dean swallows hard, relishing the fact that it hardly even hurts.  "Do I have to?"  John sits back, fixing Dean with his sternest don't-fuck-with-me face. 

Dean sighs.  "It all started when..."






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