"Ta-da," Dean rasps and Sammy opens his eyes to see a big rectangular cake with a candle stuck in the middle put in front of him. "Happy birthday, Sammy." Dean lights the candle with a flick of his lighter, snapping it shut as he turns away to cough, sounding like there's an angry rattlesnake caught in his chest. Dean recovers and turns back, sitting down across from him. "Go on. Make a wish."
Sammy refocuses on the skinny red candle, the bobbing flame above it; he's been saving this wish up for months. When he was four, he'd wished for a pony, and it had come one day while Dean was in school and Dad was fussing with the car, and he'd gotten to play with it and ride it and name it Boston before it just faded away when it was time for Dean to come home. His wish at eight had lasted a whole week, seven days in which everything he ate tasted like the food at Pastor Jim's church cookout - hot dogs and Lay's potato chips and root beer floats and cherry pie - even when Dad spooned out beans from a can three nights in a row.
Sammy draws his breath in to blow out the flame; it's a ritual and has to be done just right. This place has wide open spaces, so maybe this time Boston can stay, can meet Dean. Dean smiles, then slumps down so his arms are on the table and his head can rest on top of them. He coughs again, trying to muffle it in his sleeve, but that makes it sound even worse, all that phlegm trapped with nowhere to go except back inside Dean, and Sammy suddenly hates this. Dean'ssickloveDeanonlymeandDeanforeveran
Dean stomps on the floor and thumps the table and cuts two big pieces, and they stuff themselves full of chocolate cake and caramel frosting.
An hour later, Sammy stands outside the bathroom door with his fists clenched, listening to Dean throw up.
Sammy's not dumb, not a baby anymore - he's in the double digits now - and he figures out from what Dean isn't saying that Dad didn't leave enough money for both food and medicine, even though he knew Dean was sick when he left. Dad was right there when that stupid spirit dragged Dean into the cold lake by the fishing cabin she was haunting. Dad should have realized that Dean laughing and telling the story through chattering teeth didn't mean he was okay. Dad should have known.
When Sammy grows up, he's never going to be like Dad. He's not going to make Dean pretend anything. He'll always know.
It's May in Alabama, not exactly soup weather, but that's all Sammy can think to do since the drugstore's at the other end of town and Dean's not all the way better yet. He fixes the cup of chicken noodle and takes it into Dean's room, but Dean's fallen asleep again, flushed and sweaty and curled up tight on the bed. Sammy sets down the mug and puts his hand on Dean's forehead, trying to feel for fever, but he doesn't know how hot Dean should feel. Dean is the one who knows how to do all this stuff, when to make soup and how to check for fever, and how much sleep is too much. Dean would figure out a way to get clear across town to get medicine for his brother.
Dad, what's more important than Dean? Sammy thinks, feeling mean and totally justified. Nobody loves Dean like he does. He puts the soup away for later, hoping it'll stay in Dean's stomach once Dean finally drinks it; it's scary to watch Dean push away food.
Boston still hasn't shown up, but at least Dean's sitting up straight on the couch now, not slumping like his head weighs more than his neck can take. He's not sweaty or flushed or anything, and his eyes are back to watching Sammy like a hawk. "Put the tape in, Sammy," Dean says, his voice finally strong and steady, snuggling into the blanket and sighing in contentment as the opening credits roll. "John McClane's awesome, right?"
Sammy fakes a nod as he sits next to his brother. For his money, Dad and Dean are way more badass than Bruce Willis, who just runs around barefoot. Plus, he's totally going bald. Still, Sammy's glad that Dean looks better, and if Die Hard is the medicine Dean wants, he'll go along with it and not say a word about the number of times he's already had to sit through it.
Dean crows, "Dude, I fucking love this movie!" like it's totally new to him. The words go through Sammy with a weird wiggle and Dean's hand clamps down on his knee, urgent and clammy.
"I - I think I'm gonna hurl," Dean says, and Sammy looks up at his brother's suddenly green face.
"But you were fine just a second ago!" he protests, arguing instead of helping Dean fight his way out of the blanket's folds.
Dean just scrunches his eyes tight in fierce concentration, and his cheeks go back to their normal pink. "False alarm," he says, shoulders sagging in relief. "Think I'll just close my eyes for a minute, okay?"
"Yeah, sure." Sammy gets up to find his book and settles back down next to Dean and opens up A Wrinkle in Time. He loves Aunt Beast.
Dean's eating PB&J without the J, and Sammy's never understood the point of that; peanut butter glues his mouth shut, and jelly's the only thing that counteracts that. But Dean likes it that way, likes having a mouth full of extra chunky peanut butter and washing it down with cold milk. As long as Dean's actually eating again and not horking it back up, Sammy's not going to complain. He's run out of soup and all that he can make are sandwiches and anything that comes in a Chef Boyardee can.
He's finishing up his own sandwich when he hears a familiar crinkle. He looks up to see Dean opening a packet of Twinkies, holding one out to him. It's soft and spongy and sweet in his mouth.
"Mmmm," he hears and looks across the table to see Dean practically French kissing his Twinkie. "There's nothing better, Sammy," Dean says between gross little licks.
"D'you know Twinkies were originally banana-flavored?" he asks as he sucks his fingers clean, remembering the trivia Mr. Hamill had on the board the last day of school.
"Dude, are you trying to ruin this for me?" Dean's got a big glob of white icing at the corner of his mouth. "The beauty of Twinkies is that they don't taste like anything because they're completely artificial," Dean continues, solemn as a professor, then croons, "and I lo-o-o-o-o-ove them."
Sammy feels funny when he hears the words and wonders if he's getting sick, now that Dean's finally better. Stupid Twinkies, made of greasy chemicals. How can anybody love -?
Before he can blink, all those chemicals reverse themselves in Dean's throat and Dean's hunched over in his seat, one arm still on the table as he twists and vomits all over the kitchen floor.
"Gross," Sammy mutters before trotting off to get some wet paper towels. Dean's never getting over this bug.
Sammy keeps reading while he passes the book on caring for horses from his right hand to his left and digs in his pocket for the key. The door opens silently and he steps through and shuts it behind him with his foot. Dean's terrible music is no longer playing and all the knives, whetstones, and polish have been put away, so maybe he's cooking dinner or out in the backyard practicing with the crossbow. Before Sammy gets more than three steps in, he hears a strange, breathy sound, like the one Dean had made when his side got ripped open last summer. He jerks his head up and tries to figure out where the sound is coming from.
He tiptoes down the hall to the bedroom, knapsack heavy against his back, and sees Dean sitting on his own bed, making that weird sound over and over. Miranda Dixon's got her legs wrapped around his waist and her hands all over his bare chest. Sammy tries not to choke on his own tongue at the sight of the smartest girl in school on his brother's lap in her bra and jeans, then inches forward. Dean looks kind of dazed, like he doesn't know what his body is doing, and Sammy figures Miranda has to be something really bad if Dean's forgetting all of his training. There's holy water in the fridge. He sets his knapsack down silently, scurries off to get it, and comes back to find Miranda sucking on Dean's mouth so that it's red and wet.
Dean's got his eyes closed, so Sammy can't even signal to him, and when Miranda moves on to his neck, they stay shut. Sammy can hear both of them mumbling about how good this feels, but Dean's hands keep clenching helplessly into fists behind Miranda's back. Sammy's unscrewing the cap on the bottle when he hears someone say "love" and he feels like he's swallowed a twenty-pound rock; his own fists clench, one right around the little bottle of holy water, and Dean turns green.
Sammy can't believe his eyes, but Dean just starts to spew. He looks shocked and miserable, and the vomit is just pouring out of him. It splats right in the crack between Miranda's big demony boobs, and she's shrieking and trying to get off the bed and Dean's just clutching his stomach like he's praying for his life to be over.
Sammy darts in, tries to rub soothing circles into Dean's back, but Dean's shaking too much for Sammy's hand to stay on him. Miranda's eyes get even bigger when she sees him, and she grabs the shirt she'd thrown to the ground and bolts out of the house, still screaming. He never even got to throw holy water on her. Sammy turns back to Dean, who's slumped against the wall.
They sit there in silence for a moment before Dean starts to pull the dirty sheets off his bed. He stuffs them in the washer and heads for the bathroom. He's foaming at the mouth with toothpaste, and he catches Sammy's eye in the mirror; around his toothbrush, he says, "We gotta get out of this place. There's something in the air here," and Sammy can't exactly dispute that.
The phone rings just then and Dean spits so that he can answer it. Dean says, "Yes, sir," and hangs up. Coming back into the room, his hands still dripping, Dean says, "We're leaving. Let's get packing." Sammy thinks of his library books and the big backyard Boston would have loved but tries to be glad for Dean. At least somebody's wish is coming true.
"Where are we going?"
"Boston," Dean says, and Sammy resolves to be a little clearer next year.
As always, I'd love to hear what you think.