Author's note: Just a scene that popped up and wouldn't leave me alone. Curse those plot-bunnies…

Warning: As this is supposed to be a surprise for someone it has not been betaed, whatever mistakes you might find purely belong to me. Quite contrary to the characters, I neither own Dean, the roadhouse nor Sam, they all belong to someone else. The title comes from Metallica's Nothing else matters (1st line, as I'm sure you will have noticed) and I was listening to this song while writing this scene, it kind of fits the atmosphere perfectly.

05/19/09 Edit: Thanks to AnickaMarie this is now beta-read, all remaining mistakes are my own. Thanks a lot for helping me with this! =)

Summary: Sam's in trouble and Dean isn't there… Or is he? – One-shot, set somewhere in the 2nd season.

Dedicated to my best friend (and beta-reader) ko-chan. Get well, soon!

So close, no matter how far

The roadhouse wasn't as crowded as it had been during the day, most hunters had already left the bar and headed to wherever they felt at home. The music playing in the background had changed to some softer rhythm and Ellen had to grin at Ash's latest choice, I'd do anything for love from Meat Loaf was not something she was used to listening to. A genius he might be, but his taste in music was… scary. She continued to wipe away the grease and other stuff her customers had left on the tables, stopping briefly when she heard a car approaching.

A few moments later the door was opened and a now familiar figure shadowed her doorstep. Sam Winchester stepped inside and scanned the room briefly before his eyes came to rest on her and he smiled. "Hey, Ellen."

She smiled back. "Hi Sam, back so soon? Did you get it?"

He nodded briefly and held up a brown paper bag. "Yeah, he was right where you said he would be. Strange guy though."

She grinned. "Yep, that's Mike for you, wouldn't want to meet him in a dark alley but he'll get you whatever you need. Heard anything from your brother yet?"

Sam sighed softly and nodded, then shuffled towards the counter, sinking down onto one of the chairs with a weary sigh. "Yeah, he's on his way back, staying in some motel for the night. Said he couldn't find it, guess Ash will have to track it down… again." A hand came up to rub at his eyes and she didn't miss the tired slump of his shoulders.

"Are you okay?"

He blinked open one eye and looked at her blearily. "Yeah, I'm fine, just a headache…"

She moved behind the counter and poured him a glass of water, then placed it in front of him. He eyed the glass for a moment then lifted it, taking small, tentative sips. She was surprised at how young he looked at the moment, all tired and worn out, not at all like the hunter he had been forced to become. Some maternal instinct she could have sworn she had reserved only for her daughter whispered at the back of her mind and she sighed, lowering her voice. "You should go to bed, Sam…"

He raised the glass towards his forehead and leaned against it and she could actually see some of the tension leave his body as he sighed softly. "Sounds great…"

"I'll get you some water and something for your head…" she offered and squeezed his elbow softly, watching him as he nodded briefly and got to his feet, swaying for a moment. She almost reached across the bar to steady him but he found his balance and headed towards the back door. The rooms at the back of the roadhouse were not the most comfortable ones, but at least they all had a clean bed and a door to lock behind oneself. Sam disappeared in the small hallway and she continued to throw what was left of her customers out into the darkness. Ash had once again passed out on the pool table, snoring away happily, and she tossed him a blanket.

Thankfully they had a pretty well-assorted first aid kit which, over the years, had grown into a medicine cabinet, stuffed with painkillers, bandages and even a few surgical instruments. Most hunters would rather die than admit themselves to a hospital and they had more than once patched up bullet wounds or other injuries. In fact, she was quite content with what she had learned about first aid and treating a headache was something she would have been able to do with both hands tied behind her back.

She found the pills she was looking for, shut the cabinet and poured another glass of water.

The door to Sam's room was closed and she knocked softly. "Sam? I've got your water…" The only answer was a pained groan and she opened the door, peering into the dark room, the only light was coming from the window. Sam's body was a dark shape against white covers, as far as she could tell he had not even taken off his jacket. Ellen knew better than to enter a hunter's room without announcing her presence, those guys were too fast and deadly. This one on the other hand was anything but, he was lying on his side, both of his arms wrapped around his head, his breath coming in soft, short gasps. "Sam?"

He flinched at her voice and shifted slightly on the bed. "Dean?" he whispered in a strained voice and she frowned, shaking her head although he couldn't see it.

"No, Sam, it's me, Ellen…"

"Ellen?" He sounded confused and she kneeled next to him, putting a hand on his shoulder, feeling his muscles tense beneath her fingers.

"Yes, Sam, Ellen… the roadhouse, you remember? You're staying here for the night."

"Where's Dean?" She frowned when she realized just how young and lost he sounded and she instinctively reached out to place a hand on his forehead, checking his temperature then sighed softly when she discovered he was running a slight fever. She was about to ask him about his headache but he tensed suddenly, groaning low in his throat, folding in on himself. "Get… Dean…" he ground out between clenched teeth, then whimpered miserably.

This was no headache, she was pretty sure of that. She rose from her crouch next to the bed and hurriedly rushed towards her telephone at the counter back in the bar. Dean picked up his cell on the third ring, sounding as if he had just fallen asleep. "What is it?"

"It's me, Ellen. Listen, Dean, it's Sam, he has some kind of headache…"

A soft curse and then Dean's voice interrupted her, "Where is he?"

"In bed in one of the guestrooms. He came in a few minutes ago and went straight to bed, he said it was 'just a headache'."

"Have you checked on him?" He sounded worried and she could hear him move around on the other end of the line.

"He has a temperature and he's in pain, he told me to get you."

Another curse, then he took a deep breath, his voice tense as he continued, "Get back to him, take his cell and call me, I need you to do some things for him… please… It's in his jacket…" She didn't ask him how he could know that but simply hung up and went back into the guestroom.

Sam was still clutching his head, groaning with every breath he managed to wheeze in. She bent over him and called his name softly, running a hand soothingly over his arm before she searched his pockets carefully, pulling out his cell phone. This time Dean picked up the phone even before the first ring had ended. "Ellen?"

"Yes, I'm here, what does he need?"

"Get him out of that jacket and under some blankets, but be careful, he can't handle movement at the moment… Better get a bucket, just in case." He was still moving around and she could hear him packing things into a bag.

"How did you know he is still wearing his jacket?" She asked quietly as she reached down to extract Sam's arms from the sleeves as carefully as possible. The younger man tried to help her as best as he could, but once he was free his arms returned to his head and he groaned weakly.

"Because he always is, he usually just collapses onto the bed, dead to the world…" Dean mumbled, distracted, then snapped back to his instructions. "Ellen, do you have painkillers? Tylenol or something like that? He left his in the glove compartment…"

She grinned at that. "Dean, Ash is a permanent resident here, and even if he wasn't, I'm running a bar…"

"That's good… He won't be able to keep anything down now, but he might be able to swallow something later… Listen, get him some water please and something cold for his head. But ask him first, sometimes it only makes it worse."

"On my way…" she mumbled and left the room after spreading a blanket over her patient. "Dean, how serious is this going to get?" she asked softly as she prepared a washcloth.

Dean sighed wearily and she could hear a door close. "I don't know, sometimes it's just headaches and a fever, sometimes he feels so light-headed and nauseous that he loses everything he's eaten that day… did you get the bucket?" A car engine roared to life.

"How often does he get these… headaches?"

"Depends on his visions… Twice a week or nothing at all for a whole month, you never know. God, I hate this freaking psychic stuff." He sounded extremely frustrated, but when he spoke again his voice was quiet, if a little tense. "Keep an eye on his temperature… And keep the lights out."

"Will do…" she murmured quietly and slipped back into the dark room. Once again she knelt next to the bed, trying to make out Sam's face but it was too dark to see anything but a few shapes. "Sam? Would you like something cold for your head?" she whispered quietly.

"Dean?" He still sounded confused, then groaned as a shiver ran through him.

On the phone she could hear Dean's worried voice. "It's the shivers, isn't it?"

"Yes, I think so…" She bent over him and put a hand to the back of his neck, once again checking his temperature, pleased to notice that it had not increased. "The fever hasn't changed…" she murmured, then smiled when Sam leaned into the touch, his tense posture relaxing fractionally.

"Good, that's good. Ellen, could you sit with him for a bit? I'm on my way but it's going to take some time…" Dean's voice was soft, pleading. She didn't know if it was a coincidence but Sam grew restless again then, turning his head in her direction wearily.


She squeezed his neck softly. "Hey, sweetie, lie still, he's going to be here soon." Acting on her instinct she sat down next to him on the bed, careful not to jostle him, trying to soothe him with her presence and smiled when she could feel his body relax against her.

On the phone Dean sighed softly. "He gets all cuddly when he's sick, it's kind of embarrassing…" His voice didn't hold any embarrassment though and she could tell he was trying to save his brother's face, she could clearly hear the worry in his voice.

Then Sam started moving again, trying to lift his head, moaning in pain at the movement. "Shh, easy there, Sam, relax…"

Dean was silent for a moment, then spoke. "Hey, Ellen, put me on the speaker, please, but keep the noise as low as possible, okay?"

It took her a moment but then she found the right button. "You're on."


Dean's voice sounded strange over the small speaker, but Sam reacted to it, groaning a weak, hopeful, "Dean?"

"Yeah, Sam, it's me. How are you feeling, dude?"

"Lousy… head h'rts…" he ground out, still trying to lift his head towards the cell phone.

"Yeah, I know it does. Listen, Sam, I need you to listen to Ellen, all right? She's going to take care of you."

Sam's movements stilled for a moment and his head slid back down onto the pillow. "Ellen?"

"Yeah, Ellen, you know her, Sammy, tough chick, the roadhouse, almost bit my head off once…" She couldn't suppress a grin at that, glad that the darkness around them covered it.

Sam was silent for a long moment, then breathed a tired, "Yeah, Ellen…" and relaxed against the covers, leaning into her hand once more. She squeezed his neck softly and rearranged the blanket he had dislodged.

"Sam, try to get some sleep, okay? Ellen's going to stay with you for a while, you need to rest."

Sam tensed at his words, but didn't have enough strength left to raise his head. "Don't--- go… D'n…" he slurred, fighting against the exhaustion she could hear in his voice.

"I'm not going anywhere, Sammy, you know that. I'm right here…" Dean's voice was low, soothing. "Listen, Sam, let's make a deal, I'm going to keep talking and you'll try to catch some z's? Can you do that for me?"

Sam seemed to think about it and then mumbled his agreement, shifting slightly on the bed to get more comfortable. Ellen put the phone down somewhere next to Sam's head and leaned back, watching him for a long moment. He was already drifting, relaxing against her as he listened to his brother's voice.

"Remember when we were hunting that ghost back in Texas? I could have sworn it was the trickster all over again, I mean, come on, there's no way I would ever do that to her, right? And the look on your face when you saw that clown… Priceless, I'm telling you…"

That night neither of them got much sleep, Dean kept talking until she could hear the familiar growl of the Impala in front of the roadhouse and she watched over Sam until Dean slipped into the room and took over. He reached over and turned off the cell, squeezing Sam's shoulder as he sat down where Ellen had sat just a moment before.

"It's okay, I'm here now, Sammy." A fuzzy mumble was his only answer.

She watched from the door and was about to close it when Dean's soft voice drifted to her. "Thanks, Ellen."

Ellen smiled into the darkness. "Any time."