Title: Toxicodendron Radicans
Summary: Sometimes it takes a while for injuries to show up after a hunt. Hurt!Dean, of a sort.
A/N: I had this one started on my hard drive for quite a while, and then spn_summergen came along and dante_s_hell asked for hurt!Dean and it seemed like the perfect opportunity. It also fills the "job-related trauma" square on my hc_bingo card (but what wouldn't in this fandom, amirite?) .Thanks to morganoconner for the beta job.
It wasn't until Denver was in the rearview mirror and the snow-capped Rocky Mountains were looming up all around them that Sam first noticed it.
Dean had always been good at hiding his smaller hurts: the odd bruise or scrape would go unnoticed until Sam caught a glimpse while he was changing or when a piece of clothing briefly rode higher or lower than it should. He'd grumble at Dean for not telling him, Dean would growl back that it wasn't a big deal, and they'd move on.
Somehow, this seemed different.
It could be mosquito bites, which meant there was nothing to worry about. They'd both been subjected to a host of the insects back in Illinois, the product of three nights of chasing a creature that most people thought didn't exist through a surprisingly expansive Midwestern forest. Sam had been absently scratching his forearms all the way across Iowa until Dean had threatened to tie his arms behind his back. Not that that stopped Dean from taking the occasional rub at the back of his neck or his forearms.
But Sam could read his brother pretty well. And something wasn't right.
The mosquito bites were fading now that they were a few days away, but Dean kept reaching down to rub at his left shin, right where the jeans he'd tossed in a Peoria dumpster had been shredded by the claws of the piasa. The supposedly mythological thunderbird had been all too real to them, six feet tall with a wingspan of the same and sharp talons that had reached out for the Winchesters as they turned from hunters into hunted in the short span of a few seconds.
Of course, Dean had taken the brunt of it, since Sam had been reciting the words in the lost Myaamia language to drive away the beast. The lines had already faded from the rough claws Sam had felt graze his bare arms as he ducked out of the way. From Dean's increasingly vigorous movements, though, the place where he'd been attacked was still bothering him.
Which meant it was now bothering Sam.
They swung off the interstate and onto Route 6, and Sam could swear he heard Dean breathe a sigh of relief at leaving the freeway behind. There wasn't much choice about taking it through Colorado and Utah without going a couple of days out of their way, and the urgent call they'd gotten from California told them they didn't have days. The old friend of their father's they were on their way to see had made it clear that the spirit in his old mining town in the Sierras was ratcheting up the violence, and any time spent on back roads was likely to result in more deaths. Dean had reluctantly agreed to take the straight-line drive from Illinois, but sometimes he slipped off the freeway for reasons that weren't entirely clear to Sam.
They were climbing above the interstate, tight switchbacks growing closer together on the highway that used to be the main route through the Colorado Rockies before the Interstate was bulldozed through. Sam noted with alarm that Dean seemed to be reaching down to his shin with growing frequency, regardless of how much the road was curving ahead. "Hey, you okay there?" he finally asked as gravel crunched under the tires as they took one hairpin a little too wide.
"Yeah, fine," Dean brusquely replied. "Gorgeous country, isn't it?"
"Uh, yeah," Sam answered, looking out the passenger window at a crystal blue lake far, far below. Then they swung around another sharp curve and he almost yelped. "You do realize that we're just going from one freeway exit to the next by the long route, right?"
"Yeah, and avoiding a five-mile tunnel by doing so." His brother cast him a quick glance. "I am not driving with tons of rock above my head held in place by some sprayed-on concrete."
"Dean, the tunnel's been there for longer than we've been alive." Sometimes Sam thought his brother's deep familiarity with the illogical side of the world tainted his view of things a little too much.
"Yeah, exactly. How long do you think it's going to hold together?"
Sam shook his head and looked back out the side window. "Longer than us if we go off the edge," he muttered.
"What was that?" Dean demanded.
"Nothing. Just keep your hands on the wheel, okay?"
Dean shot him a grumpy look before ostentatiously wrapping both hands around the steering wheel. He kept them there for the next couple of switchbacks. Then, as the road started a broad curve to the left with nothing but empty air to their right, he reached down again for his leg.
"Dude, the wheel!" Sam lunged over and grabbed the steering wheel. The Impala wobbled slightly as it went around the curve, Sam's eyes firmly fixed on the yellow centerline instead of the sheer dropoff to the right.
"Dude, your hands!" Dean slapped his hand back off the wheel and eased up on the gas. "What's gotten into you?"
"I could ask you the same thing," Sam retorted. "Given how you keep touching yourself."
"Excuse me?" That got the indignant tone he was expecting, and yep, there went the eyebrows.
"You keep scratching your leg. What's wrong with it?"
"Christ, Sam, it's just an itch. Keep your panties on." They sailed around a switchback, thankfully on the inside, Dean steering easily with one hand around the tight turn. "Enjoy the view or something."
Sam clenched his jaw and looked back out the window. It was a gorgeous view, all right, and if he turned his head far enough, he wouldn’t have to see Dean's distracted driving. But if they ended up going off the edge of a cliff, he would have one big "I told you so" for his brother.
They made Grand Junction by nightfall, the last major outpost of civilization before the long, empty drive across Utah and the even emptier expanse of Nevada. The Balanced Rock Motel was a tidy two-story structure with a yard of brown cinder rock and a view of train tracks across the street. Two coal trains rattled past in the time it took for Dean to check them in. Sam saw no sign of the balanced rock in question, but for all he knew, it had fallen years ago and only the name remained.
They ate and showered and flopped down on their respective beds to watch one of the Police Academy movies. Well, Dean was mouthing along with every word of dialogue; Sam occasionally caught a glimpse as he looked up from his laptop where he was hunting for information on the gold mining town where they were headed. He was also keeping half an eye on Dean, watching how often he reached under the covers to scratch.
Finally, Sam decided enough was enough. "Let me see your leg," he demanded.
"My leg's fine," Dean muttered, absently scratching away.
Sam lunged over and threw back the blanket before Dean could stop him. "Hey!" Dean shouted, but Sam had already seen the huge red area on his shin.
"Dude, what is that?" he asked, leaning closer for a look. "It's bright red."
"That's 'cause I was scratching it." Dean shoved at Sam's shoulder, putting him off balance for a minute.
"You've been scratching it all day." Sam tried the conversational tone he used to get witnesses to open up to him. "Must be really bothering you."
Dean shot him a look that said he knew full well what Sam was doing, and it wasn't going to work. But he said, "Fine, take a look if it'll make you feel better."
"How generous of you," Sam muttered, kneeling next to the bed and carefully taking Dean's lower leg in his hands. He peered closely at the red welt that was at least the size of his palm, noting the pattern of two distinct streaks and a fainter, third line. "Might be chiggers."
"God, I hate those things. Can't stand the idea of something crawling around under my skin." Dean reached down toward the irritated shin, and Sam pushed his hand away. "What? It itches."
"Give me a minute." Sam looked more closely at the mass of red skin. There were three darker, purplish-red spots in the middle and a whole host of smaller red bumps clustered around the edges. "You know, I don't think it's chiggers."
"You sure? I remember you getting them all over your legs that time we chased a spirit through the prairie in Nebraska. You were scratching for weeks." Dean shook his head. "See, this is why I don't wear shorts. Never know what's going to latch on to your legs."
Sam straightened up. "I don't think anything latched on to you, Dean. This rash is clustered around one spot, right? With chiggers or any other kind of mites there wouldn't be these broad marks on your skin, there'd be little red lines from the tracks they make when they're burrowing – "
"Okay, okay, I get the point." Dean held his hands up. "Enough with the burrowing and the digging. What do you think it is?"
"I think it's poison ivy."
There was a pause. Then Dean tilted his head forward and said, "Excuse me?"
"Let me check." Sam went back to his laptop and did a quick search, ignoring Dean's mutterings. He soon found some outstandingly disgusting pictures that put Dean's leg to shame, but he also found enough information to make him pretty positive that this was what they were dealing with.
"Definitely poison ivy." Sam turned the laptop so Dean could see one of the images that most resembled his leg.
"No way." Dean folded his arms over his chest, hand twitching like he wanted to scratch something. "We haven't been in the woods for a week."
Sam shook his head and kept reading the web page. "Huh."
"What, huh?" Dean's voice was starting to get a dangerous tone.
"Oh, just that if you've never been exposed before, it can take up to fifteen days before the allergic reaction sets in. Starting with red skin and mild itching."
He looked up to see Dean staring at him. "You mean it's gonna get worse?"
"I thought it wasn't bad," Sam shot back.
Dean rolled his eyes. "It's not. Just makes you all annoying with the mother hen act."
"Whatever." Sam thought back to the last time they had been in the woods, back in Illinois. "It must have been when we were fighting the piasa. You didn't run into any three-leafed plants?"
"Dude, I was kinda busy keeping the three-inch teeth and the four-inch claws away from anything valuable."
Like me, Sam thought, but all he said was, "Okay, but we weren't on bare ground, right?"
"It was a friggin' forest, Sam. There were plants everywhere." Dean drew his leg up and scratched at his shin.
"Don't do that," Sam ordered.
Dean's fingers paused. "Does it spread the itch?"
Sam scrolled down the web page. "Uh, no. Not at this point."
"Good." Dean's nails scraped across his skin, and he let out a sigh of relief along with some muttered obscenities.
Sam shook his head. "We should get some ointment and bandages so you don't scratch your skin off." He clicked on a link and read some more, about how to avoid the plant (too late now) and what exactly the physical effects of contact were. Finally, he said, "Urushiol."
Dean's head whipped up. "Is that the name of the demon that's behind this? 'Cause I'm telling you, this is not poison ivy."
Sam snorted. "No, it's the name of the oil the plant secretes. If you come into contact with the leaves, that's what your skin reacts to." He thought back for a moment, remembering his heart-stopping fear when the piasa's claws had slashed through Dean's clothing. "Probably after the thunderbird clawed your jeans open, you must have brushed up against something. That would explain the lines."
Dean cleared his throat. "What about the little bumps on the back of my knee?" When Sam stared at him, he twisted his leg around so a line of small red bumps became visible.
Sam frowned. "Do they itch, too?"
Dean paused with a considering look on his face. Then he glared at Sam. "Now that you mention it, yeah."
Sam tried to hide a smirk, but from the way Dean's glare deepened, he figured he hadn't managed it. "Some of the urushiol probably spread up your leg when you took off your pants. There might still be more of it that shows up later."
"Son. Of. A. Bitch." Dean hung his head and muttered something about how it better not have spread anywhere higher than his knee.
Sam barely managed to stifle a snort. Then he clicked to the next web page and grimaced. "Looks like we're going to have to make sure we're stocked up on gauze next week."
"Why?" Dean asked sharply.
"Um, after a while, it doesn't look like red bumps anymore." Sam rotated the laptop so Dean could see the picture. "It merges together and starts to ooze this clear fluid. And if half of your shin was exposed…"
"Ugh, that's disgusting." Dean shuddered and turned away. "This whole thing is freakin' ridiculous."
Sam pushed aside the laptop. "Man, I don't get you. You wouldn't say a word if you were gushing blood from that leg, but a little allergic reaction and you freak out."
"Aw, come on, Sam, it's poison ivy! Ten-year-olds get it at summer camp. Not – "
There was silence. Then Sam gently teased, "Not big bad hunters like you?"
"Damn straight," Dean muttered.
Sam bit the inside of his cheek. He sympathized, he totally did, but he still wanted to snicker, and he knew Dean would kill him for it. "Just keep it covered so you don't damage the skin with your scratching and so it doesn't ooze all over your jeans. It'll go away in a week and a half."
"That is disgusting," Dean retorted. "You so owe me for this."
Sam had no idea how he could possibly be responsible for Dean getting poison ivy, but if that made him feel better, he could let it slide. "Whatever, man," was all he said, kicking back with the laptop to resume searching for news articles on the Sierra gold mining country.
The next morning, they were sitting at a diner overlooking the same train tracks that had kept Sam up half the night with one low rumbling train after another. He yawned and hoped for coffee in the next sixty seconds so he didn't faceplant into the formica table.
"Morning, boys." The waitress who sashayed up to their table was young, blonde, and perky in more than her attitude. "Kerri," her name tag read, pinned neatly over what Sam had to admit was a nice set of…apron ties. "What can I get you?"
Without turning his head from the menu, Dean eyed her up and down before bestowing a winning smile in her direction. "Coffee, sweetheart," he said in his warmest tones. "And the special for both of us." If he hadn't just been bitching at Sam sixty seconds ago about the indiscernible dent that Sam might have put in the door of the Impala when he opened it in the narrow parking space a moment ago, Sam might not have been so annoyed at the excessive amount of charm he was putting forth.
"Sure thing," Kerri replied with lowered eyelashes that made Sam roll his own eyes. "Wheat or white toast?"
Dean lowered the menu and practically fluttered his own eyelashes at her. "Whatever you think is best, darlin'."
"You'll have to excuse my brother," Sam broke on, leaning forward slightly. "He's got this…well, there's this rash that's been bothering him pretty bad. He keeps having to find ways to distract himself so he doesn't scratch it and make it worse."
The waitress's eyes widened before she scribbled on her notepad and beat a hasty retreat.
The glare Sam got from across the table was strong enough to keep him from smirking, but he mentally gave himself a point. If Dean was going to be itchy and cranky for the next week and a half, Sam was going to have to get his jollies somewhere.
Nevertheless, he slipped a bottle of calamine lotion into their motel bathroom that night, knowing that Dean wouldn't say a word in acknowledgment, since calamine lotion was something ten-year-olds at summer camp had to suffer through.
When the next morning, half the bottle was gone, Sam kept his mouth shut. Not even to point out the dried pink streaks on the back of Dean's hand.