Sam can feel his feet starting to drag as he turns off 191 onto Abrams. It's like trying to walk through deep mud, though he's on perfectly stable, dry macadam, and the heavy summer sun just weighs him down even more until the only thing keeping him going is the promise of the cool dimness of the bunker.
Time stretches a bit, what should be five minutes turning easily into two hours, the sweat running freely down his spine and pooling in his armpits, elbows, knees, stinging a little in his eyes until it all evaporates away. His insides feel bloated, his skin too tight. Dean likes to go on about the dangers of heatstroke, but this is the first time Sam's ever thought he might have a point, and it's a small relief to finally step off the road and up under the half-dead trees that line the dirt ruts leading to the bunker.
A crow yells at him, and he looks up to count how many there are, drilled-deep reflexes winning out over his utter exhaustion. Seven--but he can't think straight, can't remember his augury. He'll have to ask Dean. Dean will know.
For all that he'd been longing for the bunker's protection from the heat, the dry coolness bites at him, so that it feels like his skin might split from the shock of the change. By the time he's staggered down the stairs he's already started to shiver, muscles locking tight and throat seizing up in protest.
"Dean," he croaks, does his best to clear his throat and tries again. "Dean." This time he gets some volume, but if Dean's anywhere further than the kitchen Sam's sunk. He can feel himself wobbling as he crosses over to the map table--there's no way he has the strength to search through the halls for Dean, probably can't even make it down the remaining set of stairs safely, and now his stomach's decided to mutiny along with the rest of his body. "Dean!"
"Something the matter?" Dean sticks his head around the doorway just in time to see Sam spew all over the floor and his shoes. It doesn't make anything feel better, and Sam has just enough time to think bleakly that they're brand new shoes and their dad is going to kill him before he's throwing up again, and the leftover stringy bits of mucus are enough to trigger a third round of misery.
Then he's in a chair, somehow, bent over at the waist so he can clearly see just how thoroughly he's ruined his khakis as well as his shoes, and smell it, too. The back of his throat starts to knot up again, but then there's a comforting hand against his forehead, guiding him upright, and Dean's setting a kitchen mixing bowl in his lap. He hugs it to him like it might ward off further rounds of vomiting.
"Rinse and spit into the bowl," Dean tells him, pressing a cup of water to his mouth and he does and it helps a little, but his stomach's still doing a slow and awful roll. His nose is full of snot, but Dean magically knows that too and hands him a wad of tissues after taking the cup away.
"I'm sorry," Sam says, suddenly furious and halfway to tears because this is easily the worst moment of his life.
"Yeah, well," Dean says, taking the bowl and tissues away and giving him a fresh bowl to hold. "I told you going outside was a bad idea." He starts scrubbing at Sam's ruined pants. "Not the first time I've had to clean up this sort of thing." And Sam wants to ask when, because the last time he'd thrown up he'd been nine and very proud of himself for doing it tidily in the toilet. But it seems safest to keep his mouth shut, so he closes his eyes too and clutches the bowl and tries not to listen to the schlichy noises being made by what Dean's doing.
Eventually Dean removes Sam's shoes and socks and makes him stand so the pants can come off as well. By that point Sam's shivering too hard to feel embarrassed by any of it--he's just deeply grateful that Dean's taking care of it all so he doesn't have to try to deal with it on his own.
"Here we go, Samwise," Dean says, looping his arm around Sam's shoulders. "Let's get you to bed before we have another round of this."
Bed sounds wonderful, but Sam jerks back a step. "No--no, I can't," he says, because what if he misses the bowl and pukes all over his rug, or his favorite books, or in the sink and the drain gets clogged and his room smells like puke forever? "Can I sleep in one of the guest rooms? Please?"
Dean studies him for a long moment before taking Sam's shoulder again. "C'mon--I have a better idea." He leads Sam down the steps and past the kitchen, around the corner, and down the hallway towards the labyrinth of empty bedrooms--but he stops at room eleven, which must be wrong, because that's Dean's room. They used to hang out there all the time, because Dean has the only sofa in the entire bunker, but Sam hasn't been in it for months, maybe even a whole year--hard to convince Dean that Sam's room is private and off-limits if Sam keeps invading his.
Not that it's worked--Dean still comes in to collect dirty plates and swap out his bed linens every other week. He says "Sure," whenever Sam asks him to leave it alone and then just waits until Sam's busy somewhere else to do the cleaning.
So Sam allows himself to be propelled into the room, and it's like stepping back into childhood--the landscape on the wall that Sam used to pretend was a magic window, the shelf behind the bed that's overflowing with disintegrating paperbacks from the library book sales, the spot on the rug from when Sam spilled hot chocolate. "Easiest way to keep an eye on you," Dean says. "Dad's supposed to call sometime this evening, but I can just pick up the line here when I hear the main phone ring down in the crow's nest."
He folds the sheets down on his bed and looks at Sam expectantly. And normally Sam would balk--he's fourteen now, and that's way too old to be hiding out in his big brother's bed, but he also feels like his insides are about to turn themselves inside out--and they do, ten seconds later. It's worse this time, his abdominal muscles already sore from the first round of hurling. The texture of the pizza he'd eaten at the Blackners’ is so unpleasant as it comes back up that it makes him gag and heave a couple more times even after his stomach's finished for the moment.
Dean's there again with tissues and water, but he looks a bit green himself as he takes the half-full bowl away from Sam--who holds his breath until it's gone, to be safe. "Just don't do anything until I bring you another bowl," he says and all but runs out of the room.
Sam waits a moment longer to make sure everything's going to stay put, then lurches from desk chair to the room's sink so he can scrub his face and rinse his mouth more thoroughly before tentatively making his way to the welcoming bed.
The mattress is old enough that there's a deep groove on the side where Dean prefers to sleep, but it's warm--his legs and feet feel like sweat-sticky blocks of ice--and smells like Dean, which helps displace the lingering odor of stomach bile and partially-digested cheese. He means to stay awake at least until Dean gets back, but every part of him feels heavy, even his eyelids, and before he realizes it's happening, he's asleep.
He wakes up disoriented and then panicked, but Dean shoves a clean bowl into his hands before anything awful can happen, and then it's the last of the pizza, and he'd known at the time he was probably eating too much, but Mrs. Blackner had smiled at him fondly when she'd told them all to dig in, there was plenty, and so he had--figures he'd have to pay for it later.
"Don't brood," Dean says when he comes back with a replacement bowl, resting his hand against Sam's forehead.
"Easy for you to say." Sam scowls up at him, but doesn't pull away--better this than a thermometer. "You're not the one stuck in bed feeling like he's been peeled inside out."
"Well, then." Dean purses his lips in the way that always makes Sam feel like a complete disappointment. "If you need a distraction, how about all that Latin homework you've been ignoring." And Sam groans and flops back against the pillows for dramatic effect, but he doesn't really mind Latin so much. Better than Greek and Hebrew and German, or the Enochian Dean keeps threatening him with when he gets a bit older.
He expects Tacitus or Aquinas, as usual when Dean's feeling put-out at him, but instead it's good old Pliny, with bears sucking their paws and stinky weasels battling basilisks--and he'd translated all this years ago already, so it's more like a memory game than actual homework and they wind up debating just how effective weasels would be against basilisks, which then turns into a discussion of modern strategies for taking out a basilisk minus the weasels, and when Dean finally asks if he feels up to some soup for dinner Sam's shocked to realize it's been a couple hours since he last noticed how miserable he feels.
"Chicken noodle soup," Sam says, and then considers the status of his insides. "Minus the chicken and the noodles, maybe." So he has broth and a cup of jello, and they eat together on Dean's bed, with only one warning against spills. It makes Sam feel like he's nine again, but ... well, maybe nine hadn't been so bad, really.
The TV's rabbit ears don't work outside of the main rooms, so instead Dean reads him The Maltese Falcon and it really is like being nine, though Dean doesn't bother to cut bits out like he had when Sam was younger. And he also doesn't stop at eight-thirty because that’s not Sam's bedtime anymore, just keeps on reading through Sam Spade's various mishaps and betrayals and every time he scrapes out by the skin of his teeth. Sam leans in a bit closer with each escape, until he's curled up with his head against Dean's shoulder, half-dreaming the scene as it unfolds, the bitter disappointment when it's revealed that the mythic falcon is really just gold paint over lead.
That's when the phone rings, of course, Dean instantly snapping to attention; by the second ring he's diving for the phone on his desk, book discarded by Sam's knee, some of the pages crumpled from being dropped.
"Dad?" And there's always that tone to his voice when he says it, like there's something cracked open inside him. "Yes sir. We're fine." And Sam wants to deny it, wants to say that he's deathly ill and force their dad to come back and take care of them, the way all his friends' dads do--but if he did, he’d be stuck inside all the time translating Aquinas and Enochian, and Dean would be busy doing research instead of reading him mysteries, and he wouldn't be curled up in Dean's bed convalescing because he never would've been able to go over to the Blackners’ and eat too much pizza in the first place--
So he bites his lip and listens silently as his brother tells the lies their father wants to hear so he can stay away a while longer.
"Next Thursday?" Dean says, and "yes sir," again, and when he hangs up he sighs, shoulders dropping. He sits there for a long minute.
"I think there's only one chapter left," Sam says eventually, and Dean sighs again, but climbs back up onto the bed next to him. It's not so comfortable as it was before, but Dean wordlessly smooths down the bent pages and finds their place again.
"It's a fake," he reads, and the story spins to its uncertain ending from there, and they fall asleep over it, side by side. Sam throws up one last time in the middle of the night, but Dean's there with the trash can just in time.
Dean's always there when Sam needs him.