A/N: In my happy fanfic world Sam never died, so Dean never made his deal and yadda yadda yadda never happened. The boys are their current ages in this fic and I'm not above using cannon or events from any of the four seasons aired to date, excluding the parts that have to do with the yadda yadda yadda. This fic is completed, I'll post a part every day or so. It was published in Ashton Press's Route666 last year.
It started simply enough.
A twinge in his throat, nothing more, but after a few days swallowing was difficult. Hiding it required more and more creativity. Sam could've kept the painful swallowing a secret on its own but more came along after the twinge. Next, there were the watery eyes. He somehow managed to keep them contained and skated under Dean's radar…Sam-dar. However, things didn't stop there. Sam wasn't that lucky, though he'd hidden orange juice and cold pills from his brother for three days. The slight cough he'd stifled in the shower was a harbinger of what was coming, he was sure. The simple fact was he was, fast approaching the time he'd have to confess to his brother. He couldn't share a motel room, and definitely couldn't share a car, with the man and keep the fact he wheezed every few breaths a secret. Sam worked on perfecting his sulking so he didn't have to talk and let Dean hear the roughness from his throat.
Staring out the passenger window, watching trees whiz by, Sam's already droopy eyelids drooped further. If he owned up now, within the hour he'd be tucked in some warm, soft bed, brought soup and coffee, maybe, if he was a very cooperative patient, a movie or book. All of which sounded so very good. He'd also spend the next month, maybe three, being scrutinized for every hitched breath, every twinge, every off sound to his voice. If Dean thought Sam was sick, even mildly so, he was relentless in his pursuit to be sure Sam got well. Not that Sam minded so much, but he felt guilty. Dean battled tooth and nail to keep Sam from ever returning the favor. Dean would drop dead before he admitted to feeling under the weather. Sam would have to drop dead to avoid the constant monitoring, worry, and the horror of Dean stuck in one spot for too long until he felt Sam was well enough to travel.
A tickle at the back of his throat built until it consumed his entire mouth and throat. The pressure behind his eyes rose steadily. Sam scrunched his nose, pressed his lips together tightly and pinched his nose between a finger and thumb. He willed his eyes to stop watering and held his breath. Maybe it would pass. Or maybe it would fight for freedom, with a vengeance.
He was so screwed.
Maybe if he just held very, very still Dean wouldn't notice? One hand out against the dash, the other against his face, Sam cracked his eyes open, turning his head just far enough to the left to glimpse Dean. Dean's eyes slid as if on oil to Sam, shaking his head slightly. Right hand reached out, fished under his seat and dropped a box of tissues onto Sam's lap.
"Thanks," Sam croaked. He ducked his head and looked sideways at his brother.
Dean glared back, left thumb tapping the steering wheel impatiently. So much for the soup. Sam tried a lopsided grin. Dean scowled and glared. Book wasn't going to happen either.
"I hope you've been taking some vitamin C or something while you've been trying to hide that for the last week. And if you blow snot all over the upholstery you're walking till you dry up."
Maybe some soup. "No I won't." Grinning and opening the tissues, Sam pulled some free and wiped his nose before turning on his most endearing little brother, sappy eyed, hero-worshipping expression. "And dude, watch the road!" His voice shot up a few too many octaves. "I don't want to splatter all over the windshield."
"I always watch the road. When was the last time I splattered you on anything?" Dean shot back, jerking the wheel slightly to put the car back on the road. Definitely no book. The movie was looking iffy too.
He yanked more tissues to his face in time for the liberation of another sneeze. Really, really so very screwed. "Just a cold." It sounded lame even to Sam's ears.
Dean snorted, right hand reaching out again, this time aiming for Sam's head. He could try to avoid it, but there was only so far from Dean's scrutiny he could get in the car, and Dean would take his temperature at gun point if he thought it necessary. Dean believed in tough love. Brushing away Sam's bangs, Dean's hand flattened on his forehead then moved down to press for a few seconds along his cheek. 'Cause, yeah, there was often a lot of temperature change in those few inches.
Sam waited it out patiently. It was no use fighting or trying to push Dean away…Dean had guns and would use them. His brother's hand moved away with another shake of his head and a grumble. Dean patted Sam's chest, letting his hand rest there for a minute before returning to the steering wheel. Definitely the soup was happening.
"There should be somewhere to stay coming up; we can wait a few days. Lakeview will still be there next week."
Things were on the upswing for the movie. "There's no reason to put it off. We'll still have research to do. It's just a cold. I can have a cold there as well as anywhere else. You said we should be there by late afternoon."
"At least get in the back; stretch out and be more comfortable."
Sam hadn't been able to stretch out in the back seat of the Impala since he was fifteen. "I'm fine here."
"Don't want to." Now he was sulking and pouting in earnest. Ever since the Impala became Dean's and their father traveled in his truck Sam had ridden up front with Dean. He didn't like the back seat. He liked being up front with Dean. Explaining to his brother he really did feel like crap and being close enough to said big brother for him to be able to check for a fever made him feel better would be impossible. The amount of teasing he'd get from that would be immeasurable.
"Come on, you can get some rest…"
"No!" he sneezed out and coughed. It might have had more impact without the sneezing and coughing.
Dean huffed and grumbled some disgusted noise. "You sure are a cranky bitch when you're sick."
Sam glared out the window, having too little oxygen getting through to his brain to formulate a snappy comeback. The fact was Dean was right, he did get cranky, and irritable, and downright mean when he was sick. It wasn't Dean's fault. He was just trying to help. If he just kept his mouth shut for the next couple of days, he'd avoid smashing his brother's heart into small pieces. Be nice to Dean.
"Let's just get there, okay? Please? I'll get all the rest and guzzle all the juice you want, but at least we can get something constructive done, too. More people don't need to die because I have some sniffles. Once a week someone drowns on the same patch of lake with Lakeview in the middle. We've only got a few days before there's liable to be another one. Besides, then you'll have something to do. You hate being cooped up with nothing to do. You'll drive us both nuts."
Dean looked over at him. Sam looked back for a few seconds then jerked out another convulsive sneeze.
"Bless you," Dean grumbled, reaching over and giving Sam's arm a rub. Maybe he understood after all. "You know, some of those people, they weren't so nice."
"Thanks." Sam leaned his head back, closing his eyes, comforted by the thought there would be soup, a movie, and a book. Mostly comforted by the thought there was a brother around who cared enough to make him comfortable until he was well again. "I know that, but they didn't deserve to die either. Not like that. They needed to go to jail." Sam shivered. "Sucked under the water, not able to breathe. Man, that's gotta be one of the worst ways to die."
"Sort of like smothered in snot?"
"Nnngh." Sam closed his eyes, let his mind drift through twists and turns, not actually awake, not asleep either.
At no time in his life when he'd been sick, really truly sick, had Dean not been there. Other than the once or twice he'd had some minor sniffles at Stanford, Dean had always been there. Dean always made sure Sam ate, drank enough, had clean sheets, and medicine. Being sick when he was younger meant spending hours wedged against Dean's side, Dean's hand resting on top of his head, either being read to, maybe playing a video game, or watching something on TV. Being sick had never been an overly traumatic thing for Sam because Dean cared for him.
Dean had been the only person who ever cared for him. Their father had provided. Dean had been the caretaker. Jessica loved him, did nice things for him, helped him when he'd been feeling out of sorts, but even she'd never cared for him the way Dean had, still did. Would their father or Jessica die for him? Say and honestly mean it? As much as he'd loved them both, as much as they'd loved him, even the fact he had to ask that question gave him the answer. There was only one person who'd die for him. One person who he'd ever said out loud he'd die for; one who'd ever said it to him. They were both sitting in the front seat of this old car.
He'd loved Jessica, and she him, but even as he'd shopped for an engagement ring he knew, on some level, she wasn't going to be forever; it wouldn't last. Yet, when it came to his brother, Sam knew one thing with absolute certainty: Dean was here to stay.
It sucked, he decided, being twenty-five and sick, feeling crappy and achy, because what he wanted most was to wedge against his brother, watch TV, and be read to until he could sleep. But then, even when he literally wasn't, he really was wedged against Dean, kept safe by someone who cared in every sense of the word.
Fingers pressing gently to his neck brought Sam from his mental meanderings back to awake…mostly awake. "M'goo…just a 'old 'ean." His mouth was sticky, making words difficult. "Don' need to check ma pulse."
Pushing up until he was sitting, rather than half sprawled across the seat, he felt Dean's shoulders bob in time with soft chuckles. Wondering what Dean might have shoved up his nose or propped on his head Sam blinked slowly, clearing his vision and turned his head to Dean. "Sorry, guess I dozed off for a few minutes."
"Hummm." Dean nodded out the front window. The radio was just loud enough to be heard.
Frowning, Sam stared at the sight; it confused him. The bright sunny sky of earlier was now streaked with golds and purples, the sky darkening, a few brighter stars already popping out. Letting out a deep, long, tired sigh he straightened further, shaking his head, trying to clear out the fuzz and cobwebs. It didn't work. "What time is it? Where are we?" Feeling disoriented—to him it was as if only a few minutes had passed.
"Just outside Lakeview. You slept all day. And that's about the fifth time I checked to see you had a pulse."
Sam stared at him, ran one hand through his hair a few times, sneezed, coughed and reached in the back for a bottle of water from the small cooler they kept back there, finding orange juice. "Oh. You stopped?" There hadn't been juice in there before.
"Thanks for the juice." He cracked one open and poured it down his throat. It felt good, cool against his hot flesh.
"Sure. I got you grape, too. There's a sandwich."
He fished around for the sandwich. He wasn't hungry, but he knew telling Dean so would be useless. Dean had guns and would insist Sam had to eat anyway. Resistance was futile. The grape juice made him happy. It was his favorite. Chewing the sandwich but not actually tasting it, Sam took a better look around.
"There's a motel a few miles back, but I wanted to make a stop first if you feel okay for it."
"Yeah. Sure. No problem." Sam's voice cracked, raspy; his throat had that raw, sandpaper sliding over rough wood feeling. Bits of muscle lining his throat caught and pulled against each other.
They pulled into a car parts place—not one of the chain kinds, but an owned and operated by, old style kind. Climbing less than agilely from the car, Sam stretched and twisted. All sorts of his parts popped and cracked in protest. His muscles screamed at him, his joints throbbing.
"I'll just be a few minutes, wait here."
"Naaa…I need to move or I might not be able to." Offering his brother a half grin, Sam stuffed the rest of the sandwich into his mouth and trailed behind Dean into the store.
Sam nodded to the man behind the counter, leaned against the same counter, and dipped his head side to side, trying to ease the ache in his neck. He idly watched Dean meander the aisles, picking up this and that, stopping to read some labels, do the occasional comparison, but of what Sam had no clue. Waving half-heartedly toward Dean, he felt the need to explain themselves to this man. "My brother; waiting on my brother."
The guy nodded, and went back to reading a magazine. Sam glanced around. There were pictures of various types of vehicles, old and new, on the walls, a framed magazine cover of a car and adverts for brake work. Dean sauntered up a few minutes later, arms loaded, a big smile on his face. Sam often wondered who he loved more—him or the car.
"Hey there, how you doing today? I need some spark plugs, decent ones, for a '67 Impala…you got anything besides what's out on the shelves." Dean asked the store clerk.
The guy cracked a huge grin, closed the magazine and came to life. Obviously he'd found in Dean a kindred soul. Sam yawned. While Dean and counter guy debated which were the best spark plugs to use, Sam clustered the other items on the counter, one arm circled around them, pulling them out of the way of other customers. Dean concentrated on the car parts being offered. Sam concentrated on not falling asleep on his feet. He muttered an explanation to a few people coming in that his brother needed spark plugs, which sounded obscene so he decided shutting up was the best course of action.
The bell jangling heralded another person coming in. Sam turned disinterested eyes on him. The hair on the back of Sam's neck rose, and a shudder he had no prayer of stopping, or even slowing down, coursed a path straight down his spine. The new arrival, a man about Sam's age, give or take a year, with a shock of brown, unruly hair that curled in multiple directions at once, nodded and smiled at him. He had a "freight train coming at him" look to his eyes. Sam was barely able to meet his gaze and nod back. For reasons Sam couldn't identify, this guy freaked him out in a way few rarely did.
Without missing a beat in his conversation Dean partially turned and quirked an eyebrow, eyes scanning Sam. Apparently satisfied Sam wasn't going to blow up, melt down, or vanish into thin air, he returned to selecting car parts. Counter guy disappeared into some back room.
"You okay?" Dean asked. "You looked like you might pass out for a second."
Sam watched as creepy guy carried some containers to the counter. He set them down, saying hello to Dean. Sam tried to swallow, but his throat was too dry, too constricted. He had to make a conscious effort to stop from taking a few steps to his right to stand behind his brother. Probably sensing some change in Sam's stance, Dean gave him another curious look and did sidestep a bit closer to Sam before sweeping the store with a more casual than it was gaze. At long last, counter guy returned with Dean's requests.
"Hey Ed, you don't want to use that crap. The only good thing about it is it's cheap." Counter guy spoke to the creep.
"You're just trying to get more money out of me," the creep, Ed, replied.
"He's right, man, that stuff will wreck your engine." Dean picked up a container and wagged it back and forth in one hand for a few seconds. "This stuff is the absolute best."
Sam wished this guy would shut up, pay for his stuff, and leave. Better yet, he wished Dean would shut up, pay for his stuff, and leave. There was no basis for it, but Sam didn't want his brother talking to this guy, Ed. Dean made friends easily, people liked him, and he liked them. He fit in anywhere. Sam was less at ease around others, and rarely engaged them in idle chatter unless he had reason to or wanted information. He fit in nowhere. Dean, Ed, and counter guy were now in some heated debate over whatever was in the containers, though all three were smiling. Sam was nonexistent to two of the three, which was fine by him. Dean however, was forever focused on his brother, even if he appeared not to be. When Sam actively repeated to himself he could not step over and hide behind his brother, Dean moved again, gathered his other items, and sidled up to the counter, making himself a roadblock between Sam and the other two men.
After what seemed an eternity, Dean's purchases were paid for, bagged, and Sam was being nudged on his elbow and guided out the door. Taking one of the bags, Sam followed Dean across the parking lot, casting a few glances back at the two strangers in the store. Dean stopped to put the bags in the car trunk before sliding into the driver's seat, patting Sam's knee.
"Sorry to take so long. Let's find you a nice warm bed."
Sam sneezed, nodded, and hacked.
A half hour later, they were checked into a motel. Sam dragged himself behind Dean into their room, dropping the duffel and bags he carried onto the table. He stood between the beds, watching Dean move about the room. The covers of Sam's bed were pulled back. Stopping in front of Sam, Dean cocked his head to the side, smiling a bit.
"Sam, go to bed." Dean checked his wallet.
"Where you going?"
"To grab some food, I'll be back in a few."
"Going to play pool, find a game, too?"
Smiling softly, Dean shook his head, "No way, kiddo. We're good for a few days." Dean pushed against Sam's shoulder with one finger, dropping him to the bed. When Sam simply sat there, staring up blankly, Dean huffed a sigh. "Sam, take your jacket and boots off. Get under the covers." Not waiting, Dean tugged on Sam's jacket, helping him out of it and hanging it over a chair.
Shrugging out of his outer shirt, kicking off his boots and jeans, Sam wriggled under the sheets and blankets. Dean pulled them up higher on his shoulders, patting his arm. Eyes slipping closed, Sam managed a "Thanks."
"You be okay for a bit? I won't be long."
Sam nodded and yawned, asleep before Dean had the door to their room closed.
The diner he found not too far from the motel was busy; it was still dinner time. Perching on a stool near the counter, Dean scanned the menu, then the specials board. He settled on getting Sam some soup and a cold sandwich; some stuff just didn't reheat well, and the odds of Sam being awake and coherent enough to eat everything when Dean got back were slim.
Swiveling on the stool, Dean sipped some coffee, leaned back against the counter and took in the diner. It was a typical place; families, people alone, couples on dates, teens, elderly—same picture, different diner.
Dean's eyes wandered the posters and travel brochures lining the wall beside the door, a smile spreading slowly over his face. Maybe this place wouldn't be so bad. They might stick around after they cleared up this case, or at least he'd have something to entertain himself with other than watching Sam drip snot and sleep. Slipping from the stool, Dean thumbed through the brochures, and picked up a thin book, flipping through it.
Turning back to the counter at the sound of his name, Dean smiled at the woman there, "This too." He tucked the book under his arm, the brochures between the bags in the cardboard carrier. "Thanks…Kim."
"Hey, thanks again for the advice on my car." A young man, Sam's age, hung over the pass through from the kitchen. He wore a stained white jacket and hair net.
Dean grinned, always happy to talk cars. "Sure thing. How's she running for you?"
The kid shrugged, "Eh, I don't know, still got a funny ping-knock. Where's your friend?"
Ducking his head to cover the smile sneaking across his face, "Sammy's my little brother. He's back at the motel, sort of under the weather. We'll be in town a few days. Maybe I can help you out with that pinging-knocking thing." Setting his food on the counter, Dean grabbed a napkin and scribbled his cell number on it. "Let me know if you need an extra hand."
"Brother, huh? That's cool. Don't see too many brothers spend a lot of time together." The kid, Ed—Dean finally grabbed his name from somewhere in his head— pocketed the napkin.
Dean shrugged. "I never paid much attention. Anyway, it's just us. We travel a lot."
"Ever been to Sherman's Campground near the Finger Lakes?"
"Yeah." Dean smiled patiently. "A few times. Nice area. Anyway I gotta go, get this back to my brother while it's still hot."
"Hey, I appreciate the help. Enjoy dinner."
Tapping the counter with two fingers, Dean said, "Thanks." He juggled his food and reading material, slipped out the door past a few incoming customers, and got to the car without incident.
Dean repeated his juggling act while pushing the keycard through the slot beside their motel room door, kicking the door shut behind him before crossing to the table, incredibly proud of the fact he'd gotten from the diner to the motel room without losing a drop.
"Where you been?" Sam grouched, sneezing out the last word.
"Bless you." Dean crossed the room with the container of soup, setting it on the nightstand. "I told you I was going out for food. I think you were out of it just enough to not remember."
"Took you a long time," Sam mumbled, shoving himself up farther and leaning back against the headboard.
"The place was crowded. It was only like forty minutes. I got ya vegetable beef and a turkey sandwich."
Sam coughed, muttered something totally unintelligible, and sneezed again. He looked miserable, and Dean didn't blame him for being cranky. He'd been grumpy as a kid when sick and never really outgrew that tendency. Dean learned long ago to ignore most of what Sam said, letting it roll right off.
He shoved a spoon into Sam's hand, and the soup into his other hand. "Eat." Reaching down, he pulled the top off the container. Turning away long enough to dig a bottle of cold medicine from his duffel, retrieve his own food, a chair, and the book he'd bought, Dean settled himself between the beds. "Sam, if you dunk the spoon into the soup, then put it in your mouth, it goes much easier."
At least Sam's hand got the spoon moving.
"Look what I found at the diner." Dean held the book up, wagging his eyebrows at Sam. "We are on Lake Champlain here, Sammy."
The spoon stopped halfway to Sam's mouth; he cocked his head to one side, eyebrow arched. "You've got to be kidding."
"No, Sam. This town, Lakeview, is so named because of the lovely view of Lake Champlain." Reaching out, Dean nudged Sam's hand with the back of his own. "Keep shoveling."
"Please tell me you don't think sea monsters are real," Sam garbled out between sneezing, coughing, and swallowing soup.
"I don't know about sea monsters. We're by a lake, not the sea."
Sam rolled his eyes. "You don't actually want to look for this thing, do you? We got a case to work on."
"Now we have two." Dean grinned. Shifting his plate from his lap to the nightstand he opened the small book, scooting his chair closer to the bed so he could show Sam the pictures. "Check it out. According to this, there are a hundred and nine miles of shoreline around Lake Champlain. Earliest sightings date back hundreds of years or more, and both local Native American tribes, the Abenaki and the Iroquois, have legends about a large, serpentine creature inhabiting the lake. The Abenaki called it Tatoskok."
Taking the bottle of liquid cold medicine from Dean, Sam gulped some. "It's a local myth Dean, a big fish."
"How come when it's a spook or funky mind altering herb, myths and legends are believable? Did you know there are similar legends about such creatures all over the world? People have been seeing these things for centuries. Some going back as far as 600 A.D. Scotland has Nessie, the Great Lakes have Bessie, China has Kanasi. Hundreds of such creatures have been sighted."
Sam didn't look impressed. He finished the soup and slid back down in the bed.
"Check this out, Sammy—there's been Plesiosaur fossils found near Loch Ness in Scotland."
"So now we're hunting dinosaurs?" Sam rolled on his side, burrowed farther under the blanket, plumped his pillow a few times, and craned his neck to see the picture Dean was holding out to him.
Dean ignored him and continued reading. "Reports appeared in the newspapers for the rest of that century. In July of 1883 the Clinton County sheriff saw 'an enormous snake or water serpent,' which he estimated to be twenty-five to thirty-five feet long. In 1887, a farm boy spotted the creature 'making noises like a steamboat' a mile out in the lake. That same year, a group of picnickers near Charlotte, Vermont, reported seeing an animal seventy-five feet long and 'big around as a barrel' out in the water."
"Uh huh." Sam yawned.
"Hey, don't get too comfortable, snot-boy. You need to take a shower and brush some germs off your teeth. You can save your sandwich for later."
"In 1977, a woman on vacation with her family, Sandra Mansi, snapped a photo of what she described as a prehistoric animal when they stopped along the shore of Lake Champlain. Sandra noticed some 'turbulence' in the water. As she watched, a huge creature with a small head, long neck and a humped back rose out of the lake. The head, which was eight feet above the surface, moved from right to left. To Sandra it appeared to resemble a prehistoric animal.
When her husband returned, he saw it too. Alarmed for Sandra and their children's safety, he got them out of the water and up the six-foot bank. It was at this point Sandra took the photograph with her Instamatic camera. Moments later the creature seemed to sink back into the lake, perhaps startled by a motorboat that was approaching. The whole sighting lasted six or seven minutes."
"You're not going to make me go out in some little dinghy after a sea monster, are you?"
"Lake monster. You believe ghosts are real."
Sam took the box of tissues Dean tossed at him, blew his nose, and coughed. "Uh, that's because they are, and I've seen them."
Flipping the page, Dean continued. "Here, listen to this. Investigations continue at Lake Champlain. Cryptozoologist Roy Mackal visited the lake in 1981 and suggested the creature might be a surviving Zeuglodon, also known as a Basilosaurus. This was a primitive form of whale which had a long snakelike body. It matches the description of many of the reports, but not the Mansi photograph. The fossils of such a creature, thought long extinct, were discovered near Charlotte, Vermont, just a few miles from the lake. Port Henry, New York has a Champ day. Dude, that's not too far. We should go."
When he got no answer from Sam, Dean put the book down, attention turned to his brother.
"You're taking a shower and brushing your teeth as soon as you wake up." Dean pulled the blanket higher up on Sam's shoulders before wiping bangs that were getting greasy and stringy away from his eyes. If there'd been a video game to pry from Sam's fingers it would have been just like when they were kids. Sighing, he returned to his book, looked down at the words and pictures, then over at Sam, sleeping soundly.
Honestly, had he just read his twenty-five year old brother a bedtime story?
Ed Wakeham finished his shift for the night and waited at the bus stop. Hopefully, when he got paid this week he'd be able to finish repairs on his car and could drive to work. He watched groups of his coworkers leaving the diner, laughing and talking amongst themselves. They were polite to him, said hello, but never asked him to join them.
Neither of the Winchesters remembered him. It didn't surprise him, though he'd never be able to forget them, and recognized them immediately in the parts store. It'd been his second to last summer at Sherman's Campgrounds, before his life fell apart, when he'd met the Winchester brothers. Sam, Sammy was what everyone called him then, had turned eleven in the early spring, Ed—he'd been Eddy, back then—was going to turn twelve in late summer, making him nearly a year older, though people tended to think Sam was older because he was taller.
Ed wasn't surprised neither Dean nor Sam recognized him. Back then he'd been a foot shorter and nearly a hundred pounds heavier. Chunko Eddy, that's what the other kids at the campground called him, but not Dean. Sam barely spoke to him at all, being quiet, nose always stuck in a book. He'd never been mean to Ed, but had never really been friendly, either.
Something had sure registered in Sam when he'd seen Ed walk into the car parts store though. He'd been prepared to see the Winchesters; having recognized the black Impala. There couldn't be two cars like that. Ed thought Sam might just pass out when he strolled through the door, purposely making eye contact, and still intimidating Sam, though it was obvious Sam didn't know where the intimidation came from.
He'd tried so desperately to fit in with them that summer, but there was no room for him.
This time around, he'd make sure they made room for Ed in their lives.