A/N: This story is dedicated to Dennis, the best guy a girl could ever have. He not only puts up with my little obsession, he encourages me. He reads my fic, betas, offers insight into "man" behavior, helps with titles (Feral is all his fault), enjoys a little (or, luckily, a lot) of hurt and knows more about metal than Dean. And if that isn't enough, he shared a hotel room in LA with three crazed fangirls, went to the convention with me and—best of all—totally challenged Jared to Guitar Hero, and Jared's reply? "Bring it on." Sadly, there was no chance for that epic battle, it would have been awesome, someday perhaps! So, for all that and so much more this story is for him. Happy Birthday! Special thanks to TraSan. Story is set Season Two
It was a nearly perfect late spring day. The sun was shining, there was a soft wind, warm without being hot, carrying the scent of the thousands of roses planted along the roads. The window of the Impala was down and Sam was enjoying the soft day as he drove towards the motel. The scent of pizza filled the car, blending with the roses, for some reason reminding Sam of a trip when he was seven and he and Dean had spent the night in the Impala waiting for their father and Bobby to return from a hunt.
Sam sighed, unconsciously slowing the car as he got closer to the motel. Dread began to burble up through his chest. He pulled the car into the spot outside the room and grabbed the pizza and beer, hoping it would be enough to distract his brother. Sam walked slowly towards the room, resting his head on the door, not ready to face it all, hoping against hope that something had changed since he went in search of food. Coming back to the motel was getting increasingly difficult, knowing what was waiting for him. I can't believe it's only been a week…
A jubilant shout from Dean drifted through the door. Sam banged his head against the portal and then opened it, walking into the room. Dean looked up at him, grinning. "Hundred freaking percent, Sammy! 'Bang Your Head', played perfectly by Dean Winchester, Guitar God." Dean chuckled. "I beat the whole thing on medium."
"Lighten up, Sammy, maybe after we eat you'd like a little face-off?" Dean stood and walked over to the small table.
"Please?" Dean asked, his eyes shining.
Sam sighed, his brother got so much joy out of the stupid game, but he had to admit to himself he regretted ever going into that store a week before.
One Week Earlier
It was the kind of store that Sam could get lost in for a week. Books lined the walls, infusing the air with their distinctive scent. Tables were covered with myriad items from around the world. Sam had settled down on a small stool between a bookcase and a counter covered with amulets and other protective talismans. With a happy sigh, he pulled another book off the shelf and thumbed through the brittle pages.
"You about ready?" Dean's voice broke into his reading.
Sam looked up, blinking for a minute to focus his eyes. "I thought you went to get coffee?"
"I did. Two cups and five donuts. I thought you'd be ready by now…"
"Just a little longer. I've found a few things I think we could use," Sam said, pointing to the box he'd been adding items to for the last three hours. "There were some interesting weapons in the back," he added, hoping to distract Dean long enough to finish searching through the store.
"Fine, fifteen minutes, Sam, no more," Dean grumbled and wandered towards the back of the store.
"Yeah, okay," Sam said, dropping the book in his box and grabbing another off the shelf. Several minutes later, he picked up his box and wandered to the next table. Sam poked through the various items, adding a small spell book to his box and moving on.
"Hey, Sammy, check it out." Dean suddenly appeared beside him, Sam looked up from the book he was reading. Dean had a box in his hand. "I can't believe it."
Sam blinked. "What?"
"Guitar Hero One, Two and Eighties, two guitar controllers and a PS2." Dean shoved the box into Sam's hands and pulled each item out to show Sam.
"Okay." Sam said dubiously, looking into the box.
"For thirty five bucks! One game, all by itself, is more than that." Dean chuckled and picked up the box. "Good thinking, coming in here. You ready? What's in your box?"
"A few books, one of them is a facsimile copy of James' Daemonologie, In Forme of a Dialogue. Do you know how rare that it? I also found several talismans, one or two odd ones, might come in handy and…"
"Guitar Hero," Dean said, walking to the counter. Sam followed and put his box beside Dean's. The store keeper smiled and rang up their items. Dean paid with cash, he'd won it the night before playing dart, chuckling over his find the whole time.
"Enjoy," the store keeper said as they left.
"Oh hell yeah," Dean said with a smile. "I can't believe it. Talk about luck."
"I didn't think you liked video games," Sam said.
Dean looked at him, a disapproving frown on his face. "Sammy, Sammy, this isn't just a video game, this is freaking Guitar Hero."
"Okay," Sam said, looking over at his brother.
"Just look at Guitar Hero One—Sabbath, Ozzy, Pantera, Motorhead. Number Two, more Sabbath, Dethklok, Guns 'N Roses. The Eighties one has Dio, Poison…"
"Yeah, okay, I think I've got it," Sam said, smiling in spite of himself. Dean hasn't been this excited about something for a long time.
"Let's get a pizza or something and go back and try it out."
"How about we head back, you can set up the game and I'll run out and get some food?" Sam suggested.
"That's even better, by the time you're back everything should be ready to go."
By the time Sam dropped Dean off at the motel, he was beginning to suspect letting Dean buy the game was a huge mistake. The thought of being trapped in a small room with Dean and some of his favorite bands on an endless loop was as appealing as facing an invading army of slime mold. Actually that might be more fun…
Sam found a local restaurant and ended up getting a rotisserie chicken and salad. On the way out, he noticed a strawberry pie on the pie rack, and ended up getting that as well. Food is the best distraction. Sam headed back to the motel. As he parked, he could hear music drifting out of their room. Sam sighed and opened the door.
"Dinner," he said, walking into the room.
"Just let me get through this one," Dean said. "I made it through the first two sets on easy already."
"Okay." Sam put the food one the table and waited. The song ended about three minutes later.
"Let me play just one more and I'm through this set," Dean said, glancing over at Sam.
"The food will get cold."
"Not in one song, Sam." Dean turned his attention back to the game.
Sam started in on dinner two songs later. By the end of the next set, Sam had finished a piece of pie as well and was surfing the net, hoping to find information on their latest hunt. From the information Bobby had given them, at first he'd thought they were dealing with a shtriga. It fit, perfectly, until they had found out that only one victim was a child. The rest were scattered in age from eighteen up to fifty. They all fell into a coma, then slowly degenerated, finally dying after five days. The doctors were stumped. Sam had spoken to three different physicians, and none had any idea what was happening. Encephalitis was the general consensus but the symptoms only partially matched the diagnosis.
"Hey, the food's cold," Dean said, sounding annoyed.
"It's been sitting there for two hours, Dean," Sam replied, equally annoyed.
"Really? Sorry, I just wanted to get all the way through on easy." Dean looked across the table. "What are you doing?"
"Researching." Sam sighed. "I'm not sure what we're looking for…"
"You don't think it's an epidemic of some kind? Like Dr. Woods said?" Dean smirked at Sam.
"No, doesn't make sense." Dean frowned. "If it were all kids…"
"Shtriga, right, but it's not, and I can't find a common denominator. It would be helpful if we could talk to them."
"Or their families," Dean added.
"Yeah, but except for the kid, they were all living alone at the time."
"That's not really helpful." Dean pushed the chicken aside and grabbed the pie.
"No, not really. Bobby's right, there's something supernatural going on, I just can't figure out what it is."
"Yet, Sam. You haven't figured it out yet." Dean grinned. "Want to start on two with me? I thought I'd go all the way through each on easy, then go back and try medium. We could take turns…" Dean said in the cajoling tone he used to get whatever he wanted from his brother. It always worked.
Sam closed the laptop. "Okay, Dean, but just a few songs."
The sound of Sam's phone woke Dean. He groaned and pulled the pillow over his head. Dean heard Sam answer, his voice calm, professional. It must be the hospital. They'd identified themselves as physicians from the CDC, and the hospital was keeping them up to date on the victims of the "epidemic."
"Dean?" Sam said. Dean ignored him. "Dean?" Sam shook his shoulder.
"Drew Harrison just died."
Dean looked out from under the pillow. "What?"
"That was Leo Woods, he said…"
Dean sat up, blinking tears out of his eyes, the light streaming through the curtains seemed overly bright. "Like the others?"
"Yeah." Sam sighed, Dean heard the frustration in his brother's voice. "There's only one left at the hospital."
"There are no new victims, though, right?"
"Well…" Sam hesitated.
"What?" Dean stretched, groaning as he rolled his neck.
"Stiff neck, I must have slept wrong." He looked at Sam. "What?"
"There's a cycle. If I'm right, it will start up again soon."
"When?" Dean stood, rubbing his neck, trying to make the stabbing pain to go away.
"Today or tomorrow, someone should start getting sick. The acute symptoms will take a little longer."
"Is there any way to know who's next?" Dean asked.
Sam shook his head. "There's no pattern to the victims that I can find. Not age, not gender, not location. Nothing to tie them together."
"Okay, I'm going to take a shower, then let's get breakfast."
"Your call, geek boy."
After they ate, they headed to the hospital. The doctor told them he had no idea what was going on. Most of the symptoms pointed to encephalitis. "Except for the fact there's no evidence of viral infection, the lumbar puncture is clear, they don't respond to anti-virals or antibiotics," Dr. Leo Woods said, running his hands through his hair. "I don't know why. Do you two have any idea?"
"Nothing," Sam said, shaking his head.
"Then we're going to lose Jefferson, too, aren't we?" the doctor said more to himself than aloud. "Two days and he'll be dead, too, and nothing I can do about it. Damn."
"Is there anything else you can tell us?" Dean said, absently rubbing his wrist. I think I played a little too long last night. I should have heeded the warnings about taking a break for my wrists. Won't mention it, though, Sam would never let me live it down.
"Nothing new. Most of the symptoms match, but not all. There doesn't seem to be any cause, but they are still dying. Harrison makes twelve, when Jefferson goes it will be thirteen—at least that's all of them." He sighed. "For the time being. We'll probably get someone new in three or four days. That's how it goes. We had a bunch come in at once this last time, but usually it's one dies, three or four days later someone shows up in the ER with the acute symptoms, two days after that, coma. Five days after that, death. Every single one and I have no answers. Nothing. Bupkess."
"Thank you," Sam said quietly. Dean knew his brother was responding to the near-despair in the doctor's voice. We know how it is, people dying and nothing you can do to stop it. But maybe we can. "Keep us informed, Leo."
"Sure, Sam, thanks. If you hear anything…"
"We'll call." Sam stood. Dean smiled at the doctor and trailed after his brother. "He's right, Dean, Jefferson is going to die unless we can find out what's going on."
"Let's go back to Harrison's apartment, look around again?" Dean said as they walked out of the hospital. He blinked in the bright sunlight.
"We've been there three times. You think we'll find anything new?" Sam pulled a notebook out of his pocket. "There was nothing there, books—nothing out of the ordinary, TV, DVD, game console, stereo, nothing that looks odd, nothing that screams 'supernatural'."
"Yeah, I know." Dean ran a hand across his face. His head was starting to hurt. "I just keep hoping… Three dead since we got here, another on the way and if you and Woods are right, someone new within a week."
"Why don't you drop me off at the library, I'll get back on the research."
"I'll go break into Jefferson's house. We've only been there once and we were in a hurry. I told you asking the landlady to let us in was a bad idea. She followed me the whole time we were in there." Sam grinned at him. "Shut up, Sam."
"I didn't say anything."
"Yeah, right." Dean pulled the car out of the lot, twisting his body to look to the left.
"Dean?" Sam was frowning at him. "What's wrong?"
"I told you I must have slept wrong. I think I pinched a nerve in my neck or something."
"Okay." Sam looked at him for a moment longer. "There's the library, be back at five?"
"Sure, we'll stop and get some food and head back to the motel. Play a little Hero before bed."
"A little, Dean, not five hours tonight, okay?"
"Buzz kill," Dean said as Sam got out of the car. He turned the stereo up as he pulled away, happily singing along with "Bark at the Moon." That's supposed to be on Guitar Hero One. Maybe on medium? I'll have to find it tonight. Dean sighed. If I go through Jefferson's house fast, I could get a few hours of the game in before I go back to pick up Sam.
Alex Jefferson lived in a small four-plex, luckily the apartment was the furthest one from the landlady's. Dean picked the lock and walked into the small living room. He wandered through the apartment, looking for anything that might give them an idea of what was happening. Dean ran a finger along the bookshelves, checked through the guys DVDs and games, looked at his CD collection, went through the kitchen. Everything he could think of—but there was nothing. Not surprised, there was nothing before. He looked at his watch. Still a couple of hours, back to the motel and a little Hero, I think. I bet I can get the rest of the way through two before I go to get Sam.
Dean pulled up at the motel ten minutes later. He grabbed a coke and settled down in front of the TV. Two hours and no Sammy sighing. Dean grinned as the game loaded, anticipation tingling along his spine, making his hand tremble a little as he waited. He started with a couple of the songs they'd played the night before as a warm up, then started working his way down the list. He finished the last song of the last set and sighed. All over. Dean got up and put the Eighties disc in the game and settled back down after glancing at the clock. Half an hour till I pick up Sam, I can get a few in. He was nearly bouncing with impatience as the game loaded. When it finally did he relaxed a little.
"Where the hell were you?" A very angry voice interrupted the game sometime later. Dean glanced up, surprised he hadn't heard the door open, judging by the dent in the wall, Sam must have opened it with more force than was needed.
"What are you doing here? I was going to pick you up."
"Two hours ago, Dean. You were supposed to pick me up two hours ago."
"What? No, I just started…" He stopped as he noticed the clock. What the hell? He's right. I should have known, how many songs did I go through? "Sorry."
"Sorry? Sorry, Dean?" Sam shouted. "I waited, I called…" Sam took a deep breath. "And you're sitting here playing Guitar Hero? What the hell is wrong with you?"
"Sam…" Dean said quietly, breaking in before Sam could start up again. "I…Sorry," He repeated, setting the guitar on the bed. "I'll buy you dinner at that steak house." Dean realized his hands were shaking. I can play a little more after dinner. Sam was frowning at him. "Ready?"
"You think dinner can…" Sam muttered sulkily.
"Food fixes everything, Sammy," Dean said, walking to the door and looking at the wall behind it. "Think housekeeping will notice that hole you put in the wall?"
Dean watched the anger drain out of Sam, his brother suddenly looked sheepish. "Sorry," he mumbled. "I called and you never answered. I…uh…" Sam shrugged and walked out. Dean pulled out his cell phone. Okay, if I'd called him twenty times and he didn't answer, I would have panicked, too. And then I'd be pissed as hell at him.
"Sam, I'm sorry, I didn't hear the phone," he said as he dropped into the car. "Did you find anything?"
"Not much, there was a similar 'epidemic' thirteen years ago in Oregon." Sam sighed. "Same thing. Small city, people coming down with the symptoms of encephalitis—headache, fever, photophobia—and then coma and death, the doctors never figured it out. I called Bobby, he remembered it, said dad had looked into it, thinking it was a shtriga, but he didn't find anything."
"How many people that time?"
"By the time it was over, more than thirty had died."
"So, whatever is doing this isn't done yet." Dean sighed as he pulled into the lot at the steak house. "Great." He rolled his neck, trying to loosen up the crick that was still there. "Want to play a little Guitar Hero when we get back? Take your mind off the case?"
Sam looked at him and rolled his eyes. "Dean…"
"Ah, come on, don't hold this afternoon against me, Sammy. Just a few? We could play cooperative. Number Two and Eighties have cooperative mode. It'll be like that band we formed."
"The band we formed when you were eleven?" Sam chuckled. "When you found that guitar in a dumpster?"
"Yeah." Dean smiled at his brother.
"You knew three chords, and the guitar had five strings." Sam smiled. "I remember you made me the bass out of a broom and fishing line."
"It even almost worked. Drove dad nuts," Dean said, laughing.
"Yeah, until he accidentally left it all behind at Bobby's."
"Yep. So, just think, tonight Sound Chaser plays again."
"You still remember the name?" Sam laughed as he looked over the menu.
"Sammy, you always remember the name of your first band. It's like your first girl…"
"You remember the name of your first girl?" Sam asked, his eyebrows up.
"Oh yeah, Heather. Hot. My first hot Heather, in fact." Dean reached for the glass of water and noticed his hand was shaking, he also caught Sam's look as his brother noticed the same thing.
"Maybe we should give Guitar Hero a rest tonight, Dean."
"Nah, I'm fine, I just need to remember to take a rest now and then." Dean smiled. He sighed and rubbed his head, it was starting to throb. I need to eat, I haven't had anything since breakfast.
"Okay, but not as long as last night."
"Sure thing. Thanks, Sam."
Four days and we're no closer to an answer than we were then. Sam sighed. At least no one else has come down with it. Alex Jefferson had died the day before, Sam and Leo Woods were waiting for another victim to appear, because, as Woods had told Sam, "It doesn't make sense it would just stop now." Sam knew that as well. There were more than thirty victims the last time, there were more coming. They just needed to wait, it was only a matter of time. Sam sighed and picked up his beer.
"Are you done with your pizza?" Dean asked, Sam looked up at his brother
"Are you ready to play?"
Sam looked across the table at Dean. His brother's hands were shaking and his eyes had the glassy look Sam was starting to recognize—Dean was getting anxious to play. "Okay, Dean, but maybe only a couple of hours? You played a lot of the afternoon."
"I want to get five stars on everything before I move on to hard," Dean said in the excited voice that accompanied all discussions of Guitar Hero.
"I know, you've mentioned it once or twice." Sam smiled. Dean stood and stretched. Sam noticed his brother grabbed the back of the chair to steady himself. As Dean settled on the bed, Sam took a long look at him. Dark circles under the eyes, but he hasn't been sleeping much since he got the game. His hands start shaking about an hour after he stops playing, then stop when he plays the game again. Dean was rubbing the back of his neck. He's complained about sleeping wrong for the last few nights. I'm just tired, I worry more when I'm tired. It's just, I don't know, I have a feeling of impending doom. No matter how he tried, he couldn't shake the feeling that something was wrong. Sam sank down onto his bed and picked up the game controller. Dean grinned at him, one leg bouncing as the game loaded.
They played two songs and Sam looked over at Dean as his brother chose the next one. There was a smile of pure childish delight lighting Dean's face. That smile was the reason Sam hadn't accidentally run over the game eight or ten times with the Impala. Dean so rarely got the chance to relax and enjoy himself, Sam was willing to put up with the game a little longer. Although, if I hear 'Balls to the Wall' one more time today, I might accidentally run over that disc once or twice. The next song started and Sam turned his attention back to the game.
"Damn," Dean said suddenly.
"What?" Sam said without taking his eyes off the screen, notes were flying at him as he tried to keep up with Dean.
"I must have allergies or something," Dean sounded annoyed. Sam glanced over at his brother while playing a long note.
"Dean!" He was off the bed and back with a towel in his hands before Dean could elaborate further. Sam held the towel over Dean's nose and used a corner to wipe the blood off Dean's face.
"I'm okay," Dean muttered from under the towel. "Dry air or something, that's all."
"How long has this been going on?" Sam asked, checking to see if the bleeding had stopped. A drop of blood trickled down, Sam pressed the towel back against Dean's face.
"A day or two. It's nothing. Remember when we were in Arizona? My nose bled all the time," Dean said, trying to push Sam's hands away.
"It didn't just start bleeding for no reason." Sam checked again. "But it looks like it's stopping."
"Good, I'll start the song over."
"Two songs, then we'll stop. Promise." Dean smiled. "Pleeeeeeeeeeeease?" He put a little whine into the word.
"Okay, fine Dean, two more songs." Sam looked over at his brother. "And I never sounded like that."
"Shut up, Dean." Sam laughed.
Dean's nose started bleeding again as they finished the second song. Sam put the game away as Dean held the towel against his nose. "Check my nose," Dean said, the words muffled by the towel. Sam walked over and checked, Dean's nose had stopped bleeding a little but…
"My god, Dean!" Not good, not good. "I'm going to call Leo."
"I don't need a doctor."
"Your eyes are bleeding." Sam gently turned his brother's head. "And your ears." Sam's heart was slamming against his rib cage, every nerve screaming PANIC! as he looked at his brother.
"Huh, they are? Think it's the headache doing that?" Dean asked as Sam wiped the blood off his brother's face. "Can you get me a couple aspirin or something?" Sam dug out the first-aid kit and fished out the Tylenol. He handed them to Dean and walked to the bathroom to get his brother a glass of water. When he got back, Dean had moved and was leaning against the back of the bed. He'd gotten under the covers. Sam could see he was shaking, the blood still trickling over his face.
"Here," Sam said, handing Dean the water. He sat down on the edge of the bed and put his hand on Dean's forehead. "You're burning up, Dean."
"Yeah, I know." Dean looked at him, his eyes bleak. "Sammy?"
"I figured out who the next victim is."
Oh god, oh please, oh no. "You?" Sam said calmly.
To Be Continued