Characters: primarily Sam and Dean, a touch of Cas and a guest co-star
Warnings: the odd swear word, melodrama, and spoilers for Season Eight (specifically 8x07)
Summary: Based ladykorana's prompt at ohsam: "When they picked Sam to be the one to use the demon bomb, no one considered the effect it might have on the traces of demon blood still in Sam's body. At first, Sam just thinks he's getting sick like he usually does around this time of year, but it eventually becomes apparent that something more is seriously wrong. Dean calls Cas for help."
Notes: Kudos and endless gratitude go out to monicawoe and tesserae_ for once again whipping my prose into shape. They are my magic feathers. Any mistakes remaining occurred after they touched the fic. Characters and universe borrowed from Kripke and company. Concrit ALWAYS welcomed!
When Sam returned to the cabin from “clearing his head”, it didn’t look like the walk or fresh air had done him a damned bit of good.
He’d made his decision. Sam had chosen to jump back into The Life instead of wallowing in Amelia-scented domestic bliss—and for that, Dean was skeptically thankful—but there was still a lot of thinking going on beneath all that hair; Dean could tell by the earthquake lines across Sam’s brow and the way he kept taking sighing breaths as through drinking down air in gulps. As though he was trying not to drown on dry land.
Sam had warmed up canned chili on the stovetop for the both of them, but he didn’t eat. He watched TV next to Dean until just after midnight, when his chin dropped to his chest and he fell asleep.
There was a time when Dean would’ve taken this opportunity to do something stupid to Sam’s hair or snap embarrassing photos with the camera on his phone. Felt like a century ago, when they were very different people. When the world was—well, it hadn’t ever been simple, but at least their direction was clear.
Dean took the half-empty beer from Sam’s hand before the bottle tipped. For a minute, he just watched him, vaguely annoyed. The older Sam got, the less he looked like Dad. He didn’t resemble John, Mary or her father, Sam’s namesake. Somewhere back in the gnarled Winchester family tree there must’ve been boney, dark-haired brainiacs with a penchant for pulling bitchy expressions. It was weird, but somehow fitting. Sam was a whole ‘nother animal that Dean used to pretend to understand.
Now, he couldn’t even pretend.
He debated coaxing Sam into a bed but really, there was little point. The twin bunk mattresses had all the give of a pile of dirt and were so old, they dipped in their centers and forced sleepers into swaddled semi-fetal positions. If Dean was too tall for that kind of inhospitality then Sam had to be plain miserable.
So he hauled up and let Sam have the couch. He bullied him sideways with a push and noted how warm he felt, even through the shirt. As a rule, Sam did run a few degrees hot but this was toastier than the norm.
Dean was torn between considering this fitting payback and out-and-out worrisome. He’d spent an entire year stuck in Purgatory without hand sanitizer or a friggin’ aspirin after a long sunless day spent dodging monsters, yet Dean never once got so much as the sniffles. Sam runs around in a dusty warehouse for an hour and winds up with ‘the vapors’. Dean still reserved the right to fret, though, because when it came to Sam, he was hardwired to worry. Hell, that’s the way he leaned when it came to anyone he found himself caring about; he still felt traitorous pangs when he thought of Benny.
But Dean swallowed past the bitterness at the back of his throat and grabbed a moth-eaten blanket from a cupboard to pull over Sam, boots and all. He collected the dirty bowls and bottles and put them in the kitchen sink to deal with tomorrow. And then he went to bed.
Come morning, as colorless light cut through the voids in the log walls, Dean dragged himself from his crater in the mattress and found Sam still sleeping. His skin was fish-belly white except for spots of fever on his cheeks. It was official; Sam had the God-damned flu.
“Sam. Sammy, get up, man.” He wasn’t being unkind, he told himself. Sam would need to be vertical to take Tylenol and force down some water.
Sam disagreed, as Sam was apt to do. He cracked an eye and wheezed his objection, shrugging deeper under the blanket and pulling it off his feet, which were dangling over the end of the couch anyway.
“Five minutes and you’re getting the Nurse Ratched treatment, sunshine.” Fair warning, Dean reasoned. He rooted through the first-aid stores noisily and came back with pills, a bottle of water, and an actual pillow so he could wedge Sam upright. “Okay. Rise and … rise.” Dean flipped back the blanket and felt heat roll off his brother. He almost wished they owned a thermometer, just out of morbid curiosity.
Sam shuddered violently and groaned, curling forward and snugging his hands between his thighs like he was freezing, which he clearly was not. Dean was about to squeeze his way under Sam’s shoulder to force the issue when Sam began coughing, gagging. Dean stepped back just in time to avoid the nasty that rocketed out of Sam’s mouth. Red nasty. Dark red, like old blood.
Dean dropped the pillow as fear sent prickling fingers through his system. This was no fucking flu.
“S-sorry,” Sam managed.
“S’all right,” Dean said. But he was lying.
Sam lurched off the couch to the barely-there bathroom, and Dean was so glad for the indoor plumbing he could’ve shot rainbows from his ass. He wished Sam had had the presence of mind to shut the door, though, because no one ever enjoyed the sounds of hurking but at least he’d made it to the toilet. Hot diggity.
Dean waited just a few moments for a lull before peeking in. Sam was braced over the commode, gasping, his t-shirt plastered to his back and sopping with sweat. Maybe the fever had broken already? Could they really be that lucky, and this was just some 24-hour thing? Dean sincerely doubted it. ‘Lucky’ and ‘Winchester’ were never two words used in the same sentence.
“Dude,” Dean said carefully, “is there something I can—”
Sam tried to wave him off but as soon as he lifted an arm, he lost his equilibrium and tipped over, his head aimed directly for the sink. Dean shot forward with a full body-check and nearly jumped back again. It almost burned to touch Sam. He thought he heard a sizzle, or maybe that was just Sam hissing or the gasp of Dean’s own breath; it all happened in a blink.
“Whoa, whoa. I gotcha, Sammy. You’re okay.” Maybe if he said it aloud, it would be true.
Sam didn’t appear to be listening. He was too busy losing any ability to stay on his feet and he sagged in Dean’s arms, dead weight. They both slid to the floor, all snarled limbs. The heat was unmistakable and wrong, and Dean peeled off as soon as Sam was propped into the corner. He stared as his palms, which were flushed red and stinging, biting back an expletive aimed at God.
“D-dean, what’s …” Sam’s head lolled back against the wall, legs at sloppy angles.
“I dunno but, but you just hang in there. We’ll fix this.”
“Shut up, Sam.”
Sam exhaled hard, and Dean could’ve sworn he saw steam, smoke, something vaporous drift from his mouth.
Dean stood up and turned a circle as though getting his bearings, as if taking in the entire room would somehow reveal an answer. He dragged his hand over his face—shit, now he was sweating—and Sam made a miserable attempt to stand, but all he managed to do was weakly thud his boots against the toilet bowl. His hair hung in wet tendrils, stuck to ashen skin. He looked up, and he was scared; Dean saw it on his face. He also noted, to his mounting panic, a bright flicker in Sam’s pupils, like when headlights hit a deer’s eyes. A shimmer.
No, wait. Embers. Like hot coals.
It struck Dean like a fist. For whatever implausibly mad reason, Sam was roasting from the inside.
Dean dropped to a crouch and began tearing at Sam’s shirt, buttons be damned. “Okay, Sammy, this isn’t gonna be a walk on the beach but you’ve gotta play along, you got it?”
“But I’m not … that kinda girl …” Sam had the balls to crack wise and Dean almost punched him. That was the last coherent thing Sam said before Dean hauled him, nearly naked, into the shower.
The water hit Sam with a sharp hiss, a fucking searing sound, and suddenly steam filled the bathroom like a train, but it wasn’t the water because the water was ice-cold. Heat bled off Sam’s back and into Dean’s torso where they were pressed together, kept upright by Dean’s arms and sheer force of will.
Dean felt Sam’s back arch as he fought for breath, saw his hands slapping at the shower walls for purchase. His struggles made for a difficult dance, Dean’s wet boots squeaking and slipping, the plastic curtain tangling in Sam’s legs. Nearly ten strange, hot/cold minutes passed before Sam began to calm, his breathing finally settling into normal draws. His teeth might even have been chattering; Dean’s certainly were.
With no small amount of contortion, Dean managed to reach around Sam and cut off the water. Sam still wasn’t fully supporting himself and his gaze, glassy and heavy lidded, hovered on some empty middle ground over the toilet. Though Dean’s muscles were burning with strain and a flood of lactic acid, he wasn’t gonna drop Sam, wasn’t gonna let him fall. Not this time.
Dean lifted his beer, staring through the bottle’s distortion. His soaked boots were sitting by the open window, trying to dry. Wasn’t close to cold enough to justify a fire, but the cabin still smelled like smoke.
He could hear Sam breathing from across the room; it sounded like a bellows, sucking in and laboring out. Every few beats, he swallowed and coughed, convincing Dean he hadn’t dropped from sleep into a coma. Dean went to drain the last of his beer but found it already dry.
Dean rocked out of the sagging chair and went for his third beer. Probably his third, maybe his fourth. He cracked a dozen ice cubes from a tray and put them in a dishtowel for Sam. They’d have to make a food run soon; a row of cans sat on the shelf over the stove but there was a limit to how much pickled beet and fried Spam Dean was willing to bear.
He padded sock-footed to the couch, where Sam was stretched out on his side, facing away from the room. He’d kept kicking off the quilt and was down to wearing only boxers. The air around him was noticeably warmer and Dean thought maybe his boots would dry faster sitting next to Sam. Not so funny, but, yeah.
“Hey. Hey, Sammy.”
No response. Dean sat on the edge of the couch and rolled Sam to his back, swiping greasy hair off his face. There were fine lines running from the corners of his eyes and bracketing his mouth, jaw shadowed, the skin of his chest wrapping tight around bone and muscle.
At first, Dean thought he was just being alarmist but now he was sure: Sam looked markedly worse. His nose and cheeks were still flushed but the rest of his skin had bleached to gray and he wasn’t sweating anymore. Jesus, he was just lying there, dehydrating.
Guilty, Dean put his beer aside. He set the bundled towel on Sam’s forehead.
Sam’s eyes shocked open wide.
“Yeah, sorry, man. How’s Sleeping Beauty?”
Dean hadn’t realized he’d been trying to smile, faking hopefulness, until Sam’s gaze drifted past his shoulder to focus blearily on the ceiling, and Dean’s entire body wilted.
“She’s still up there, Dean.”
Dean took a deep breath of overheated air. “Who, Sam?”
“Get her down.”
“I just. Who? Get who down?”
“I’m sorry, so s-sorry.”
“Is it Jess?” He was stabbing in the dark, but it seemed logical.
“I’m sorry, Mom. Don’t ... it won’t last long. Fire spreads fast. So fast.”
“Oh.” Dean pulled the towel away from Sam’s face, the ice already melted. He glanced over his shoulder just be sure, because you never knew. You never knew. “I will, Sammy. I’ll get her down.”
Sam almost smiled, and his bloodshot eyes drifted closed.
Dean watched Sam barely breathing, twisting the towel in his hands but whatever water was wrung from it evaporated on contact with Sam’s skin. This was not an earth-born illness, and no amount of human remedy was going to provide a cure.
He stood up and walked purposefully to the front of the cabin. Grabbing the aerosol can of paint left on the table from last night, he disabled the glyph on the door and stepped outside. The late-day sun threw long shadows from the lodgepole pines across the ground. The world looked like one big jail cell.
Dean paced the porch, the planks creaking under his weight.
“Cas. Cas, I know you’re up there. Somewhere. If you’ve got your earbuds in, man, I hope you can spare a minute. For us, for me. For Sam.”
He paused, waiting for the rush of invisible wings.
“He’s dying, Cas. I think Sam’s dying.”
The wind shushed through the treetops.
“God, I’m beggin’—”
The air changed, and a flash of beige appeared at the corner of Dean’s vision. Cas was still dressed in his careworn overcoat and couldn’t seem to get his tie to lay flat. His shoulders tugged wearily.
Without a word, Dean turned and led the way into the cabin, stepping aside to allow Castiel to pass. When he neared Sam, Cas flinched visibly.
“Brimstone,” he growled. “The stink of the Abyss.”
Dean circled ‘round, and he knew he looked angry. He was angry. “But why? I mean, what the fuck? What’ve we done to deserve Hell this time? He can’t be possessed—”
“Correct. He isn’t.”
“Then what the fuck?” Dean was running out of the energy to be polite, let alone original.
Castiel reached his hand out and hesitated. Warily, he pressed his palm to Sam’s forehead. There was no flashy, whiz-bang effect, but perhaps Sam’s breathing eased slightly. But then, that could’ve been wishful thinking, too.
“Something has been … activated,” Castiel said.
Dean stood there with his mouth flopped open. “I don’t … could you be any more terrifying?”
Castiel turned a thunderous glare Dean’s way. Apparently, yes, he could be more terrifying. “It would appear whatever residual infernal taint your brother has carried with him, all these years, has been triggered. My guess, it was the—” he made a vague gesture with his hands “—‘bomb’ we used at the warehouse, to incinerate the demons. When we rescued …” His voice trailed off.
“Yeah, okay, so fix him.”
Castiel set his jaw firmly and Dean supposed, for whatever reason, the angel was disgusted by Sam all over again, but then Cas’ hard expression thawed. “I’m not in the business of healing demons, Dean. I’m sorry. I can attend to Sam’s human qualities, but that which belongs to Hell, I can only destroy.”
“So, so destroy the demon part. That’ll leave him 100% human, right?” When Cas didn’t look up from Sam’s motionless form, Dean stepped forward. “Right, Cas?”
“What? What ‘no’?”
“I’m sorry, Dean. It will leave him dead. The infestation is too thorough. It was a part of his every cell, though dormant. But now—”
“—but now it’s activated.”
“Yes.” Castiel sounded truly downhearted. As well he should, Dean decided.
Dean found his hands opening and closing, opening, closing; he wanted to put a fist into someone’s face. He’d long since grown accustomed to the idea that life wasn’t fair. Life God-damned sucked, nothing figurative about it. But this … this business between him and Sam … it was only half-drawn. They were edging towards acceptance, if not understanding, and Dean wasn’t prepared to surrender that to some stupid happenstance, blind misfortune or no.
“I take it God is still AFK?” he fairly snarled.
The angel blinked, either confused by the acronym or pitying Dean’s anger, probably both. “Yes. But I have faith—”
Dean cut him off with an upraised finger. “Just. Don’t.”
Castiel stood silent for a moment. Dean stared daggers.
“But I might be able to try something,” Castiel murmured.
“You do remember the last time that happened, right? You ended up staring at your shoes and drooling for weeks.”
“I don’t think that will happen this time.”
“You don’t think …” Dean raked fingers through his hair.
Castiel fished a Sharpie from the depths of his coat pocket, grabbed Dean’s restless hand, palm upwards, and began writing on it. “I need these things. Go.”
“Can’t you use your angelic Google-fu and get ‘em in a blink?”
“Dean.” Castiel’s eyes were wide and deadly serious. “I cannot risk leaving your brother. It’s dire.”
Dean had no snappy retort to that. He jerked a nod, grabbed the car keys, and left.
The components weren’t actually that difficult to find. Dean knew several of them lived in the cellar of Rufus’ cabin and those that didn’t, he begged from his contact on the Blackfeet reservation just east of Whitefish. Took him almost two hours, most of it travel time. When he returned to home base, dusk was staining the world blue and ominous. A soft glow burned from inside the cabin.
Dean got out of the Impala, the door whining, a grocery bag of assorted magical tchotchkes and a bottle of Jack tucked under one arm. His hand was almost on the latch when the front door jerked open. He dropped the whiskey.
“Hiya, Deano!” The demon sounded almost tickled pink to see him. “Can’t hold your liquor these days, huh?”
“Meg.” Just a statement of fact. He couldn’t claim to be happy about it—and he was, in fact, quite unhappy about the loss of the whiskey—but they were in the throes of an uneasy truce with her, so he bit his tongue. “Thought Crowley had you locked up tight in Hell’s Big House.”
“Oh, Cassie baked me a cake and put a little ol’ file in it.” When Dean donned a face full of open skepticism, Meg tugged at her jacket sleeve and feigned a pout. “Hey. He owed me big, okay? And now he owes me bigger …”
“Sam.” Dean shoved past her, eliciting an accusation of “asshole”, and threw the bag on the couch. Cas was gone; Sam was nowhere to be seen. “SAM!”
The toilet flushed and Dean, decorum be damned, threw open the bathroom door. Sam had managed to get himself all tucked away before the intrusion. Condensation fogged the inside of the window and the tarnished old mirror, and the air was distinctly humid.
“It is customary to knock,” Sam grumped. He was still pale and wrung out, frowning down at Dean, but he stood on his own and was dressed in clean clothes. His hair even looked freshly washed.
Dean sandwiched Sam’s cheeks with his palms. Warm, but just Sammy-warm. Not might–as–well–be–walking–on–the–sun warm. “Holy shit, you scared me.”
“And this right here isn’t scary?” Sam’s words came out mushy.
Without apology, Dean dropped his hands to his brother’s shoulders. “How you feeling?”
“Still thirsty. Damned flu.”
“Yeah. Damned flu.” Dean felt a tiny ping of unease at the base of his brain. “So where’s Cas?”
Sam’s brows pressed a crease between his bruised eyes. “Cas was here?”
That tiny ping became a claxon.
“Yeah and—” Dean whirled around to the front door, which was shut tight and empty. Of course the bitch was gone.
“Dean? You okay? You’re not getting the bug, are you?”
Dean watched Sam as he squeezed past, making for the kitchen and a bottle of water from the icebox. “Uh, no. Nope, just. Yanno.”
“Cas must’ve healed me up, huh.” Sam hummed speculatively but let it go at that.
Dean, trying very hard to stuff back dread, picked up the towel Sam left on the floor and hung it by the old leather strop that used to hone straight razors back in the day. He didn’t think Rufus ever actually owned a straight razor, but there was one sitting on the back of the toilet, half-hidden under a box of Kleenex.
“Sam, did you shave?”
“Um, do I need to? Are we expecting company?”
Dean heard the television click on and the groan of the old couch springs, the rustling of a paper bag.
“Hey, what is all this shit?” Sam hollered.
Yeah, Dean wondered, his palm slick with sweat and fading ink as he picked up the razor. What is all this shit? What is all this ever-lovin’ brown hot steaming shit? A wild goose chase, that’s what it is.
The air felt thick as it pulled into his lungs.
There was blood on the blade, and ten dollars said it was Meg’s.
Dean picked up the razor, avoiding even the slightest contact with anything red, and rinsed it in the sink. He dried the blade, folded it, slipped it in his pocket. Four steps took him back into the main quarters of the cabin.
“You sure no one was in here?”
“We’re in the middle of nowhere and warded nine ways to Sunday.” Sam leaned back against the cushions, staring hard. “What’s going on?”
Dean fingered the smooth metal handle in his pocket. They didn’t want to be on Crowley’s radar. They didn’t have a panic room. Why couldn’t they just be human for five fucking minutes?
He exhaled and tried to find the words to break it to Sam.