What He Missed
Dean sneezed just after mile marker 87. Sam didn't know if it was just one sneeze, because he might have missed some sneezes when he'd been asleep for the past hour or so, despite the rock music blaring through the Impala's speakers. But he sat up in the seat and stretched as well as he could without putting his hands through the window or punching Dean in the face. “Bless you,” he said through a strong, breathy yawn.
Sniffing against the side of his hand, Dean gave an appreciative shrug. Then he resumed singing along with the song on the radio. Sam listened for a moment, smiling, then he joined in at the chorus.
“All the wants you waste. All the things you've chased...”
This was what Sam had missed for all those years he'd been at college. He hadn't missed Dad's orders. He hadn't missed spending most of his life on the road in this car. He hadn't missed waking up every morning in a different dingy motel room. He definitely hadn't missed hunting. But he had missed being with Dean like this. There was no one he was more comfortable with in all the world. He'd only been back on the road with Dean for a few weeks now, but it was almost like he'd never left. Certainly, the music hadn't changed any.
“Just want one thing, just to play the king. But the castle crumbled and you've left with just a name. Where's your crown? King nothing.”
Dean sniffled through the next few lines of the Metallica song and Sam glanced out the window, seeing mile marker 90 up ahead. “Dean, are you feeling okay?”
“M'fine,” Dean said, giving his nose another rub.
He looked fine. He acted fine. Apart from a few little little sniffles, he even sounded fine. And so Sam was never more convinced that Dean was getting sick.
Next up was more Metallica, ACDC, and Kiss. It wasn't until halfway through a Styx song when Dean held back what looked like another sneeze. He crushed his nose beneath his fist then, when that didn't seem to work, he scrubbed it hard back and forth against his nose. Then his hand found the steering wheel again as he gave up.
“You're fine, Dean?”
“Shuddup. We're not stopping tonight.”
They passed a blue road sign featuring fast food joints that were at the next exit. Up ahead, he saw another sign that listed the gas stations. “Hey, pull off up there. I'll run into the store for you. There's this new medicine I tried when--”
Sam looked over, but Dean was looking straight forward, out at the road in front of them. His hands gripped the steering wheel hard. “Shut. Up. Sammy.”
Maybe it was too soon to talk about Stanford. Or maybe it was always going to be too soon. Even though he was sure medicine was the best thing for his big brother, Sam did what Dean thought he wanted and shut up. Sam didn't say a thing when they stopped for gas and Dean dropped a handful of balled up fast food joint napkins in the trash by the pump, having blown his nose for the past fifteen minutes straight. Sam didn't speak up when Dean pulled off on the shoulder because of an uncontrollable sneezing fit. And Sam definitely didn't say 'I told you so' when they stopped at a motel for the night instead of driving straight through.
* * *
Even though he refused to admit it to his little brother, Dean was pretty sure that he was dying. After ghosts, demons, werewolves and a hundred other monsters, it looked like the thing that was going to finally do him in was a little sniffle.
“hehh-Uhfshuhh! EhhShuhhh!” Dean could barely lift his head off the pillow, and the pillow was starting to get damp in front of him from so much sneezing. “ehhhhhhFishuhhhhhh!”
He needed a Kleenex. But the box was, like, eight whole inches away. That was impossible to get to from beneath the blankets he had managed to burrow under. There was no way in hell he was going to risk getting chilled just because his nose wouldn't stop running. “Sniff! Snifffffffffff!”
“Dean, blow your nose.”
Dean closed his eyes and sniffed again. “Sniff!” He heard the car keys jingle. Ever since Sam had taken them off him, Sam was always coming and going. At first, he'd told Dean why he was leaving. But, by now, he just left whenever. Dean was pretty sure Sam was mad at him. Sam didn't want to be here, trapped in a motel room with a useless brother. Sam wanted to be back at Stanford. He'd mentioned college often enough over the past few days, and each time it made Dean feel like crap. He felt like just telling Sam to take the keys and go if he wanted to leave so badly. And every time he heard the keys jingle, he wondered if that meant Sam wouldn't come back.
But Sam did come back each time. He came back with a Kleenex box Dean couldn't get to now. He came back with burgers and fries that made Dean feel sick to his stomach. He came back with a thermometer he couldn't get into Dean's mouth long enough because of all the sneezing.
“ehh... eh-hehh... hehhhIHSchhhhhhh!” His head spun now every time he sneezed, so he kept feeling lightheaded, like was floating, for minutes afterward. Then he became aware of his nose wet and running. The only thing he could do was turn his head and rub it against his pillow. But the cotton fabric against his nose irritated it. “heh-heh-Ihkshuhhhh!”
His head spun again, this time mainly because he was pulled, tugged upright. Dean tried to pull his eyes open, but the moment he did, everything holding him up gave way and he fell right back down again. His head thumped painfully as it hit the damp pillow. He shivered uncontrollably as the blanket slipped down off his shoulder.
He wanted to yank it back up, but all he could do was hold his arms to his chest and shiver.
Then he felt himself being pulled up again. “You're as weak as a kitten, aren't you?” Sam said, his voice soft and light, like a whispered laugh. “Lean into me. I'll hold you up. There we go.” Dean felt blankets wrap around him once more, bringing a heavy warmth. Then he felt Sam's hand run up and down his back. “There we go.” Dean's side pressed against Sam's front. He tried to pull away, tried to lie back down, but Sam wrapped an arm around his shoulders. “Not yet. I need you sitting up so you can swallow something for me.”
Sam's fingertips touched his lips, easing them open. In went a pill, huge and bitter. But then there was a cool and smooth lip of a cup and sweet, cold water. A little dribbled down his chin, but he swallowed most of it. And then it happened all over again—another pill eased into his mouth and another gulp of water washed it down the hatch. This time, though, he coughed as a little too much got in and tried to get down his windpipe. And he shivered at how cold the water was.
He was pressed closer to Sam, and Sam's hand went up and down his back once again. “Sniff! Snifffffffffff!” Dean wanted to rub his nose against something, but there was nothing except for Sam's shirt. Dean considered that option, wondering how long it would take before Sam kicked his ass for doing that--in this condition, probably not long.
Tissues pressed against his nose. “Com on, Dean. Blow your nose.”
Dean wanted to protest, to refuse. But... tissues. Closing his mouth, Dean exhaled as best he could through his stuffed-up and perpetually runny nose, shuddering a little as he did so.
Sam shook against him, which made Dean's head hurt a little. Then he realized Sammy was chuckling, laughing at him. “Seriously? Is that the best you can do? That was the most pathetic blow ever, Dean.”
Dean grunted and bent his neck back a little. He wasn't sure how to indicate to his brother that he wanted to try again, but then a new batch of dry tissues met his irritated nose again. This time, Dean took the deepest of breaths and forced it out so hard through his nose that his ear popped. He didn't care; he kept blowing until there was nothing left to blow out.
Another rub of his back told Dean he had done well. Then he was eased back down, blankets and all. But his head met with an unexpectedly dry pillowcase. He shivered as his cheek rubbed against the cool fabric. The bed sagged, and the covers flipped back briefly. Sam shuffled under the covers with him, keeping his distance but bringing with him so much warmth in the form of body heat that Dean stopped shivering almost at once. Dean only managed to stay awake another few minutes, but Sam had tissues to his nose the whole time, wiping or just staying put with a thumb and forefinger on either side of his nose in case he needed to sneeze or blow again. Which, of course, he did. “ehhhYihshmphhhhhh!”
* * *
“What the hell was that you gave me?”
From the edge of Dean's motel room bed, Sam looked up from his laptop to see Dean shuffling back from the bathroom. The shower had put color into his cheeks and he looked like himself again after that shave. His nose was bright red, but that wasn't going to go away overnight, especially not while Dean still had his cold.. “Medicine,” Sam said, closing his laptop. “Aspirin for the fever and this new stuff I found out about at college. I had a bad cold my first semester during finals week and my roommate gave me that stuff. It's good, right?”
“Hell yeah,” Dean said with so little congestion in his voice. “That stuff was amazing. Glad you learned something useful at Stanford.” Dean sat down on the other side of his bed, leaning back against pillows and headboard. After the shower, he'd gotten dressed. But the broken-in pair of jeans and the couple layers of shirts didn't look all that warm.
Sam got up and rifled through his own bag for a minute, finally pulling out a big, black hoodie. The thing was a little big and baggy on him, but Dean practically swam in it. Before he could take it back, though, Dean had stuffed his hand—holding a tissue—into the front pouch. With a happy sigh, Dean closed his eyes. “S'good to have you back, Sammy. Sniff! Sni-uhhh... uh-IhhhYuhmwffffffff!” He sneezed into the sleeve, and only afterward did he pull his hand out of the pocket to wipe his nose with the tissue.
Sam hadn't missed this either—the fighting through colds and flus because saving people was more important than their own health. He hadn't missed being woken in the middle of the night to hear Dean's or their dad's snores, either from illness or the onset of a bad hangover. He hadn't missed giving up his warm, comfy clothes to his big brother because Dean refused to buy himself such things and then being forced to watch as Dean got snot on them. But that look Dean gave him now, the one that said he was grateful Sam was there, the one that said he was okay now but he'd never have gotten through this without Sam's help, the one that said he never wanted Sam to leave, that was what Sam had missed.