"Go to the store today, Dean, and get some cough syrup. You sound like crap." John tells his son, not looking up from the assortment of weapons that he has laid out on the kitchen table.
Dean doesn't reply, he just coughs wetly into the crook of his elbow and shuffles unsteadily past the table, sliding bonelessly onto the sofa in the living room of the shabby rented apartment.
Sam watches his brother surreptitiously from behind his chemistry textbook but Dean's eyes slip closed and he doesn't even seem to notice.
"He doesn't need cough syrup, Dad," Sam hisses, dropping the textbook. "He needs to go to a doctor. He's been sick for weeks!"
John levels his dark eyes on his youngest son for a long moment, then goes back to cleaning the gun he has clutched in his hand. "He's a grown man now, Sam. If he needs a doctor, he knows where to find one."
"You shouldn't be out in this, Dean!" Sam yells over the noise of the wind. The rain is hammering down in icy sheets and Sam pulls the spade easily out of his brother's shaking hands. "Dad should have made you sit this one out!"
"I'm fine, Sam." Dean replies, reaching to snatch the spade back, but the ground under foot is nothing but slimy mud and he loses his footing and slips backwards. Before he knows it, he's flat on his back on top of a casket and the sides of the grave they have just spent the last couple of hours digging open, begin to slide in on him.
"Dean!" Sam yells, scrambling over the edge as his brother coughs weakly and tries to push himself up and out of the mud and it's not until Sam jumps in after him and heaves Dean out of the hole that he feels the heat radiating off his brother's body.
"You can't go on like this, Dean." Sam pants, trying to pull Dean to his feet so he can get him back to the car.
"I'm fine, Sam. I just slipped. It's wet..." Dean replies, not looking at him.
Sam grabs his brother's arm as Dean's legs threaten to fail him and he shakes his head.
"Dude, you are so not fine!"
Dean finally emerges from the bathroom, red eyed and wobbling and Sam jumps up from the chair, ready to grab him.
His cheeks are flushed against bone white skin and Dean scowls, batting his brother's helping hand away. "Get a life, Sam," he croaks. "Stop being such a girl. I keep telling you I'm okay."
Sam scowls back. "Dude, I know there's a mirror in there. Why don't you try looking it? You look like crap."
Silence fills the car as Dean drives to the local Walgreens. He hasn't even attempted to play one of his tapes and winces every time the sunlight hits the windshield. Sam has just about chewed his nails down to the quick.
A quick scan of the pharmacy section finds the Robitussin and Tylenol and Sam throws in a couple of packets of vitamins in the basket with them.
"You want anything else while we're here?" Sam asks quietly. He's tried nagging and it's getting him no-where with his stubborn brother – time to change tact.
"I could drink some pineapple juice," Dean murmurs, rubbing a hand under his shirt. They can both hear the wheezing, crackling noises that his lungs are making.
"Sure thing." Sam nods, taking the basket out of his brother's hand. "Why don't you wait in the car and I'll pick up some candy too?"
"You planning on staying on that sofa for the rest of your life, Dean?" John asks as he goes round the room, shoving various things into his duffel.
Dean cracks open an eye. "No sir." He murmurs, coughing into his sleeve.
"Good," John replies. "Because there's washing to be done, and the apartment need's tidying up. You think you and your brother can manage that while I'm gone?"
Dean murmurs something vaguely affirmatively sounding, wincing at the sudden stab of pain in his chest, and sinks back into the cushions. He barely even feels it when John drapes the blanket from the back of the sofa over him.
"I'll be back in a week or so, Dean. There's some cash on the table. Do not spend it on beer."
"No beer..." Dean agrees, letting his eyes fall closed again. "Be careful."
When he opens his eyes again, the apartment is dark, and he's freezing cold and alone.
Dean pushes the special fried rice around the plate with his fork until Sam can't take it anymore.
"That's it, man. Enough!"
Dean drops the fork, startled, and looks up at Sam with huge, wounded eyes. "What the hell, Sammy?" He croaks.
"If you don't call the clinic tomorrow, I'm gonna take you to the ER by force. You aren't eating, you can hardly keep your eyes open and you look like the friggin' walking dead."
Dean opens his mouth to argue then dissolves into a coughing fit that leaves him red faced and ready to puke. He also can't quite seem to catch his breath.
Sam grabs him some water, pats him on the back, and calls him every curse word he can think of.
Sam opens his eyes to a silent, empty room. He's been so used to hearing Dean's wheezing over the past few nights that it's the absence of it that wakes him.
"Dean?" He calls softly, rubbing sleep from his eyes. His brother's bed is empty, blankets all over the floor.
In the distance his can hear the bathroom fan that comes on with the light whirring softly, and he pads out of the bedroom, down the hallway, and stops outside the bathroom. A thin bar of light escapes from under the closed door and he knocks gently on the plywood. "You okay in there, Dean?"
"Sam..." Dean croaks in reply, his voice barely more than a whisper and that's all it takes for Sam to push his way into the small room.
Dean is slumped up against the bathtub, grey faced and drenched with sweat. Dark shadows stand out like bruises under his eyes and Sam doesn't know if it's the fluorescent light, or a reflection from the tiles, but Dean's lips look blue and when he starts coughing again, Sam has to hold his arm to keep him upright.
"That's it, Dude." Wrapping an arm under his brothers and dragging him upright. "ER now, or I'm calling you an ambulance."
"N-no... Ambulance..." Dean gasps, leaning heavily on his brother as they stumble back down the hall.
Depositing his brother onto his bed, Sam throws on some jeans a sweater, before forcing a pair of boots onto his brother's bare feet and wrestling him into one of his own hoodies. Dean feels like he's on fire, shaking and miserable, but at least he isn't arguing. He isn't doing much of anything except struggling to breath.
"How long has he been like this?" The pretty young doctor asks Sam as she folds Dean forwards to listen to his lungs. He already has an oxygen mask strapped to his face and an IV dripping fluids into the back of his hand.
Sam swallows under her scrutiny. "Um, he's been sick a couple of weeks. Only bad like this for a day or two..."
The doctor lays Dean back against the pillows and writes something in his chart. Then she turns to look at Sam, her face softening as she really sees him for the first time. Sam is tall, but his baby face and puppy-dog eyes give away his real age every time.
"Is he your brother?"
Sam nods, unable to tear his eyes off the way Dean's fists are winding into the blanket beneath them. He looks scared and sick and like he wants to be anywhere in the world but on that gurney.
"You have anyone else around at home? Mom? Dad?" The doctor asks again, a little more gently, and Sam nods, swallowing nervously. He wasn't a little kid anymore and Dean was now legally an adult, but they'd had so many run-ins with well meaning authorities over the years that it was hard not to feel the usual trepidation.
"Our dad's away on business," Sam eventually answers. "Is Dean going to be okay?"
The doctor nods. "Your brother has pneumonia. We'll need to do a chest x-ray to make sure nothing else is going on, but that's what it looks like. So I'm going to start him on some IV antibiotics, get some fluids into him and if he responds to this treatment, he should be feeling better in a day or two."
"Not staying here for two days..." Dean groans from the gurney, trying to pull himself up and Sam pushes past the doctor to get to him.
"Shut up, you dumbass. I told you, you were sick." He snaps, pushing Dean easily back down and the doctor looks doubtfully from one Winchester to the other.
"I'm going to leave you two to it, okay. The nurse will be with you shortly."
"Great..." Dean murmurs as the doctor leaves and Sam settles himself into the chair beside his brother's bed.
"You okay?" He asks after a few minutes of listening to Dean struggle to pull air into his lungs.
"No." Dean replies, his voice no more than a breathy whisper. "But thanks for, you know, caring."
Sam smiles and punches his brother lightly on the arm. "Dude. You are such a girl sometimes..."
First posted on FF.net back in March 2010 as a Birthday surprise for Mad Server. It's the first part of a 9 part collection, but it works as a totally stand alone story too.
1. 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.
2. As much as I wished I owned Dean, I don’t... I just like to play with him.