Dean was as unsteady as Sam had ever seen him, rolling from one bowed leg to the other like he was on the deck of a pitching ship and not on the flat, stained linoleum tiles of their latest palace. Sam held his place in A General Historie of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pyrates, squinted until his eyelashes formed a gauzy veil over his vision, and looked at Dean, picturing him with a parrot on his shoulder, the most fearsome pirate on the high seas. Sam snorted. Not with Dean's motion sickness. And definitely not if Dean insisted on being called Long Dong Dean, or something equally classy.
Sam went back to his book, and about three seconds later, heard a curse that Blackbeard might not have known, but definitely would have approved of. Orange juice was dripping off the counter like a bright waterfall, the gross pulp Dean loved somehow adding to the illusion. The carton and paper cup were both tipped on their sides, and Dean was sweating, his eyes closed.
"What are you trying to do?" Sam asked, as he slipped in the orange puddle, finally locating a roll of paper towels. "Dad said to park your ass on the couch until you're not sick anymore."
Dean's forehead was ghostly pale, but his cheeks were bright with too much color. "Just needed a damn drink," he rasped truculently, before succumbing to another round of wet, phlegmy coughs.
"You are so disgusting right now, I can't even tell you," Sam said, wringing the paper towel out over the sink and going back for round two. "I'll get you your damn drink - just go sit down."
"Such language!" Dean pressed the back of one hand to his own forehead like a Victorian maiden on the verge of a decorous swoon, and Sam narrowed his eyes, sure that the pose was only to keep him from feeling Dean's forehead to gauge his fever.
"You want me to carry you?" Sam threatened with an eager grin, and Dean's show of amusement sharpened.
"With those twigs, bookworm?" Dean scoffed, poking childishly at Sam's arm. "At some point, you're gonna have to stop growing this way" - a finger pointing at the dingy ceiling - "and start filling out." Dean flexed his own bicep by way of illustration, then had to muffle a sneeze in his sleeve. "Gross," he announced when he lifted his head and surveyed the wet patch on the cloth. Dean heaved as big a sigh as his battered lungs could manage. "I'm goin', I'm goin'."
Why exactly Sam had thought that Dean would be easier to take when he was (a) sick as a dog, (b) bored out of his mind from the lack of hunting, and (c) seriously delusional (did he really think Vanna White was blinking answers in Morse Code?) seemed like one of the great mysteries of life only a few days later. The sticky August heat wasn't helping anything either.
Dean had nothing to do but lie on the couch and try to rest his lungs, not to mention the rest of his body, which hadn't escaped without its usual beating. He couldn't clean the weapons - Dad had taken them to finish the hunt. He couldn't drive anywhere - Dad had taken the car too. He couldn't even read, because his head was filled with too much fluid to make sitting up and reading tiny type on onion-skin paper both seem like really bad ideas on their own; together, they were an insurmountable obstacle.
For whatever reason, torturing his brother - ringing a little bell and demanding to be waited on hand and foot - never seemed to enter Dean's mind. Sam didn't quite know what to make of Dean's streak of stubborn independence, but was thankful for it anyway. He bet Dean could come up with some really creative ways to play helpless; maybe he was simply biding his time and waiting for a more appreciative audience.
Sam stole a glance at his brother, only to find Dean frowning intently at the TV screen, looking way too much like Dad for comfort. They didn't really look alike, most of the time, though everyone else said they did. But the way Dean's forehead was wrinkling, his hunched posture, and the fact that his eyes could pass for lasers in their intensity all added up to a stellar impression of Dad, Mr. One-Track Mind himself.
"What?" Sam asked cautiously. Maybe Dean was evaluating his innards, trying to figure out if another puke session was in the cards, and he wasn't really watching TV, just staring in that direction. "You okay? You need the trash can closer?"
Dean didn't say anything; his eyes stayed fixed on the screen even as he groped for the box of tissues and then honked into one.
Sam watched for a minute, betting silently that he was the one who was going to have to collect all of Dean's used tissues and then disinfect the apartment for the eleventy billionth time, before he realized that Dean really wasn't going to answer. Whatever. If Dean wanted to watch the news, he was more than welcome to it; at least it wasn't porn. Sam sank back into the couch cushions and opened Freud's Interpretation of Dreams.
He didn't get very far before Dean turned the TV off with the remote. Sam looked over at his brother. Dean was swaying just the tiniest bit, in tight concentric circles, but he was grinning too, from ear to ear. "Dude," Dean said, his voice still sounding more like Barry White's than his own. "I found us a hunt."
"For the last time," Sam sighed, "it is not suspicious, let alone illegal, for a news program to have a man reporting on the weather instead of a girl." That peanut butter toast lying on the plate balanced on Dean's stomach looked really good.
Dean took a large bite but didn't let that stop him from a rebuttal. Okay, the peanut butter toast suddenly looked a lot less appetizing. "Have you seen the weatherman?" he asked, or at least that's what Sam figured he was saying through a mouthful of Skippy Super-Chunk.
"No." Sam willed himself not to blush. So he didn't pay attention to the weather. So he had a little bit of a crush on the lotto girl, who came on a full fifteen minutes before. Whatever. "And he's not just a 'weatherman'; he's a trained meteorologist."
Dean rolled his eyes, but kept his mouth shut, chewing. Sam was grateful for small favors. Dean made a big production of swallowing and washing his throat clean with some lemonade. "Yeah, yeah, I'm sure it's totally manly, but my point is, he's not a man."
Sam gave up on ever having a normal conversation with his brother. "Okay, I'll bite. If he's not a man, what is he?"
Dean smiled, pleased as punch that Sam was playing along. "Took me a while to figure it out, too, Sammy. He's a shapeshifter."
Sam laughed, until he realized Dean wasn't laughing with him. Then he closed his eyes, wished for strength, and reminded himself that Dean was not to blame for the so-called "thoughts" running through his head; it was probably fifty percent Dad and fifty percent medication. And maybe a little bit the humidity.
Dimly, he heard Dean's voice, still more like sandpaper than honey. "Sammy? What's wrong? Why're you banging your head against the table?"
"I can't believe you don't believe me!" Dean burst out, looking so betrayed that Sam nearly recanted.
"And I can't believe that someone with your marksmanship can keep missing the trash can," Sam retorted, scooping up all of the crumpled tissues ringing the garbage can and then washing his hands with two full squirts of soap.
"My gut never lies, Sammy," Dean said dramatically, bopping his belly with a tight fist.
"Really? Cause it seems like it did some rethinking about that peanut butter toast," Sam snapped back; trust Dean to come down with about eight different things at once, probably to make up for the long stretches of time when he was disgustingly healthy and obnoxiously chipper to boot.
"Sam," Dean said, his hand drifting between them uncertainly, "don't you trust me?"
Low blow. Because even at his worst, Dean was not the type to hallucinate monsters. If he thought the weatherman was a real threat, then the guy probably was.
"Let's go," Dean said.
"Yeah, okay," Sam said, steeling himself for what was undoubtedly going to be a long afternoon. "Wait, where?"
"This is - there are no words for this, Sammy," Dean hissed.
"You want to just go back home?" Sam offered, because it wasn't like he was dying to keep Dean upright for another few hours.
"No," Dean scowled. "I just can't believe you don't have any friends in this town who could've picked us up."
"The bus will take us right to the studio where they film the news," Sam said composedly; Dean would've had no problems with public transportation had there been even one hot girl on the bus. There were girls, all right, but one was fourteen or so, with braces that winked every time she shot Dean what she probably considered a come-hither smile, and the other one - well, the other one couldn't have been more than twelve, and kept looking suspiciously at the two of them over the top of Harriet the Spy. Sam didn't really blame her; Dean's leather jacket seemed totally unnecessary given the season.
"Now," Sam said quietly, "tell me what you've figured out."
Dean shot a suspicious look at their neighbors, but there was enough music coming from people's headphones that Sam thought they'd be okay. "The guy predicts sun and high temperatures every single day," Dean started, holding up one finger.
Sam restrained himself from pulling the cord to signal that he'd be getting off at the next stop. "It's Texas in August, Dean! Of course it's going to be hot!"
The younger girl had put down her paperback to scribble furiously in a little Mead marble notebook, and Dean shot him a glare that meant keep your voice down.
"There've been thunderstorms and dust storms that he hasn't bothered to say anything about," Dean rebutted. "That's what made me think. He predicts sun everyday because that's part of his schtick - he's Steve 'The Sun Guy' Simmons. And that means," Dean held up a second finger, but used it to poke Sam in the chest, hard, "he can wear sunglasses on camera all the time."
"Wow, that's totally incriminating," Sam said, rolling his eyes twice, in case Dean missed the first go-round.
"It is, smartass, because if you'd ever seen what a camera does to a shapeshifter's eyes -"
"Dean," Sam interrupted. "When the hell have you ever even seen a shapeshifter?"
"Remember the principal at your last school?" Dean asked around a cocky grin as Sam gaped in horror. "Good times, good times."
"Wow," Dean said, pitching his voice just loud enough to carry to the bored-looking guard standing by the revolving door. "You sure are lucky to be interning at a place like this."
The guard barely looked at them, just waved them through, and Sam nearly stopped dead in his tracks, astounded that Dean's sheer cheek had won them through again. His luck was going to run out at one point, and why couldn't it have been here, when this wasn't even a real hunt, and the only thing at stake was Dean's credibility? Which was already strained by his claim that a shapeshifter would have no higher ambitions than being a weatherman on the local news.
No one bothered them as they made their way down the halls toward the news studio. Dean planted himself by a table that held a wide variety of donuts and got a hand between Sam's shoulder blades and pushed. Sam spun around to glare; Dean already had half a maple-frosted donut in his mouth, and his cheeks were bulging to accommodate it, but his eyes were scanning their surroundings relentlessly.
Sam wandered, nodding politely at everyone who nodded at him, wondering what exactly he was supposed to be doing while Dean indulged in some minor gluttony. He figured he would blend better if he looked busy, so he picked up a clipboard and frowned purposefully. And then he saw a red light go on above a closed door, and he hurried over to investigate. ON AIR, it said, and there, just on the other side of the glass wall, was Kelly Ann Kilmer, drawing the balls out of the drum to determine the night's winning lotto number.
Just before the last number was drawn, Sam heard an eardrum-shattering scream. He tracked it back and found a woman in a pinstriped navy blue suit looking down with horrified eyes at a gelatinous mass on the floor. Steve "The Sun Guy" Simmons's sunglasses were floating on top.
Sam was really going to have to speak to Dean about discretion one of these days.
The time for that little chat was long past, as Dean already had an arm around Kelly Ann, soothing her and telling her she had nothing to worry about. It was probably a prank, and Sun Guy was fine, and would she excuse him for just one moment?
"Dude, it's done," Dean reported, with such unholy glee that Sam almost lost his train of thought.
"What the hell was that goop on the floor?"
"Shapeshifter raw material?" Dean shrugged. "Don't know what you'd call it, but I guess that's what they revert to between shapes. More fun than Silly Putty."
"Dude, that's just nasty." Sam looked at his brother, noting that Dean looked healthier than he had in weeks. "C'mon, let's get out of here."
"That's not the exit -" Dean said, as Sam headed for a door. Sam heard him in time to keep himself from barreling through it, but too late to avoid meeting the lady in the navy blue suit.
"You Sam, the intern?" she asked briskly. She stared at him when he couldn't come up with an answer. "Nod for yes, shake your head for no."
"Yeah, this's Sam," Dean said. "A real meteorological expert."
"Great, because you're on in ten, kid," the lady said.
"Break a leg, Sammy," Dean said, and Kelly Ann, standing next to him again, gave Sam a thumbs-up.
"This is ridiculous, Dean!" Sam hissed, shuffling through a sheaf of papers with charts and numbers that made no sense to him at all. "I don't even know how to read these!"
"Weren't you saying that this gig is a no-brainer? All you gotta say is 'hot' and 'sunny' and smile at the camera, dude."
"Then you do it," Sam said, shoving the fistful of papers against Dean's chest.
"Oh, I can't," Dean said, coughing delicately into a closed fist.
Kelly Ann popped up again, out of nowhere. "Good luck, Sammy!"
"Alright," growled Sam. "I'll do it. But you are never to mention this ever again, you got it?"
"Whatever you say, Sammy Sunshine."
Man, it was hot under the lights. And he had the feeling that his hair had suddenly sprung about a thousand cowlicks, zits were popping up on his face as he stood there, and there were sweat stains at his armpits. He was never going to listen to Dean again.
The guy at the camera started counting down from five, then pointed at Sam when he silently hit "one," and Sam smiled to buy himself some time. He couldn't quite bring himself to look at the camera, choosing instead to focus on a particularly interesting patch of floor.
"It's going to be hot tomorrow, with highs in the -" he blanked on the number he'd read, and substituted what it felt like under the lights - "low triple digits." He was rocking a little on his feet, and he stepped back to point to the map. But everything was backwards, so that it read properly on camera, and he got confused. "Lots of sunshine," he said instead. "Very hot."
He could see Dean out of the corner of his eye, standing near the camera man, but apart. None of these people knew what Dean had saved them from. It was time for him to do his part too, and at least warn people of what was out there. "Very hot, but if you feel a sudden chill, ever, if there's ever cold air where there shouldn't be any, run."
There. That should help; spirits were the most common thing that they had to deal with, and could be pretty easily avoided. He looked over and found Dean glaring at him. So apparently spilling the beans, even to protect people, was a no-no. "Um. To . . . to get your blood pumping . . . running is good for your circulation." He jogged in place a little to demonstrate, and Dean looked appeased, even smiled at him.
Sam grinned back, and finally relaxed. He looked right into the camera. "It looks like it's going to be another beautiful day here in Lubbock."
As always, I'd love to hear what you think.