Against the Branding

IMTheresa

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A/N: KazCon, the fan convention held in Lawrence, Kansas this summer, sponsored an author auction as part of their charity auction. My high-bidder was Tammy and she wanted for a Wee!Chester story. This is has gotten her seal of approval and I wanted to share it with everyone here. Thanks for bidding on me, Tammy!

A total of $2,562 was donated to the National Lung Cancer Partnership in honor of Kim Manners.

Disclaimer: The officially licensed merchandise is my only claim to Supernatural ownership. No infringement intended.

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Chapter 1

Sam Winchester was having a good day. He'd found out earlier that he'd aced a trigonometry test the day before and was now having fun touring the Field Museum in Chicago. He'd never been to such a big museum, and he had to admit that even after being inside for almost two hours, he was still a little intimidated.

He and his family actually lived in Merrillville, Indiana, but it was only about an hour from Chicago by car, and the school district planned several field trips to the city each year. Sam had gotten enrolled in school just in time for the trip to the Shedd Aquarium a few months before.

He had no idea how long his family would live in the small house his dad had found, but Sam thought it was one of the best places they'd ever lived. The neighborhood was nice enough, and the house didn't look like it was about to be condemned. He liked his school, and had even managed to make a couple of friends. Of course, he knew not to let them get too close, but he still liked having kids his own age to hang around with. He'd always spent a lot of time studying, but with his older brother working at that garage, he'd had more time to himself than he liked until he started to spend time with Rick and Andy.

The two other boys lived nearby, they had a lot of the same classes and all were interested in making good grades. They also liked the same kinds of books and movies, and Sam thought the other two were almost as good at Chess as his brother. There was a fourth boy who spent time with them, but Tim's family seemed even more secretive than Sam's, and they saw him mostly only at school.

After a guided tour through some of the museum's exhibits, the students were taken to the reserved lunch area. They'd all had to bring bag lunches, and after collecting theirs, Sam and his friends chose seats together. They talked about what they'd seen, and what was still in store for the afternoon.

"You guys want to go see that new Lost in Space movie this weekend?" Rick asked.

"Yeah, it looks pretty cool," Andy said.

"I don't know," Sam hesitated. "I think it looks lame."

"Oh, come on. It's something to do," Rick insisted.

"I guess. What about you, Tim?"

"I have to ask my folks."

Sam nodded. He should probably talk to Dean before committing himself too, but he figured his brother would be working anyway.

"We have that big history test next week," Rick reminded them. "How about after the movie, we do some studying?"

"Yeah, okay," Rick agreed. "Can you at least study with us, Tim?"

"I'll have to let you know."

Sam glanced at Tim as he picked up his sandwich and bit into it, his expression neutral. Sam couldn't think of one time that the group had hung out at Tim's house. They'd even been to Sam's, even though his family had more than their share of secrets. He wondered what went on behind the closed doors of Tim's house, and hoped that it was nothing too bad.

After lunch, there was another guided tour through more exhibits in the giant building, followed by a fairly quiet bus ride back to Merrillville. The school day ended before they got back to the school, but there was a line of cars parked at the curb where parents waited for their children to return from the field trip. Sam scanned them as they passed, but he didn't see his brother's Impala.

Their dad had given it to him for his birthday the previous year, but had continued to drive it until only recently when he got a new truck. The Winchester home was less than a mile from the school, but Dean was almost always there to pick Sam up.

"Want a ride, Winchester?" Rick called as Sam started for the street.

Sam looked around again, thinking he may have just somehow missed the big black car. "Yeah, sure. Thanks."

"Hi, Sam," Rick's mom smiled as he crawled into the backseat. "Did you like the museum?"

"Yes, ma'am. It's a lot bigger than I thought."

Rick got into the front seat and closed the door. "We should go back some time."

"Yeah, that would be great," Sam agreed. He didn't think it would ever happen, though.

"Is your father still out of town?" Rick's mother asked with a glance into the rearview mirror.

"Yes, ma'am. He should be home in a few days, though."

"And your brother? Is he at work?"

Sam knew Mrs. Carver wasn't prying. Well, maybe she was, but she meant well. She wasn't trying to pull information out of him for any other reason than because she was concerned. Sam might be 15, but she didn't know how well he'd been trained to take care of himself. She didn't know about the stash of weapons in the house, or about Sam's advanced hand-to-hand combat skills. Sam had to suppress a smile when he wondered if she'd be more worried if she knew the truth.

"Dean should be off tonight," Sam said. "But the garage doesn't close until 6, so he might not be home yet."

She pulled into the empty driveway. "You have a key, right?"

"Yes. Thanks for the ride."

"No problem."

"See you at school tomorrow, Rick."

"See ya, Sam."

Sam got out of the car and pulled his house keys from his backpack. He opened the door, then turned to wave at the Carvers. Mrs. Carver waved back before slowly backing into the street. Sam went inside, closing and locking the door behind him before he continued further into the house.

He was sure Dean had told him he'd pick him up after the field trip, but it was clear that his brother wasn't home. Sam dropped his backpack next to the couch and walked into the kitchen. His cereal bowl was still in the sink, not that he thought Dean would have done the dishes. He grabbed a can of soda from the refrigerator and checked the answering machine for messages. There weren't any.

Sighing, Sam went back to the living room and took his history book from his backpack. He didn't really have any homework, but he figured he'd get a head start studying for the history test. He saw his cell phone in the pocket of the backpack; he always had it with him for emergencies, but never turned it on at school. He did now, and found he had no messages.

Setting it on the coffee table in front of him, Sam got comfortable on the worn couch and opened the text book. He'd barely gotten started reading when he heard the familiar growl of the Impala's engine. Sam felt more relieved than he should have – there hadn't been any reason to worry about Dean.

"Hey," Sam said as the front door opened.

"Hey. Sorry I wasn't at school when you got there. I had to work late."

"That's okay."

"Did you eat?"

"No. Can we get a pizza?"

"Make the call. I need a shower." Dean walked past him and dropped some money on the coffee table.

The brothers sat together on the couch after the pizza had been delivered, watching television, talking and eating. Sam noticed that Dean didn't seem his usual self, and he ate much less pizza than he normally did. He didn't ask any questions; Dean wouldn't open up unless he wanted to. Sam also thought his bother's interest in the Field Museum was odd. It wasn't that Dean didn't care what Sam did – Sam figured he cared more than a lot of older brothers – but Dean seemed more willing than usual to listen to Sam talk about things that didn't normally hold a lot of fascination for him.

"I've got some studying to do," Sam said once he was finished eating. "I'm gonna go to the bedroom."

"Okay."

Sam glanced at Dean, still a little concerned, but he didn't say anything. He took his books and headed down the hallway.

The house had only two bedrooms, but some of the places they'd lived before just had one. They'd also lived in motel rooms, and even fairly recently, the brothers had had to share a bed. Sam didn't mind sharing a room with Dean. It had never really been any other way, and he liked having his brother nearby.

Sam expected Dean to come into the bedroom later, but he woke up to find the other bed empty. He didn't remember intentionally going to sleep; he noticed the lamp was still on and he was fully dressed. He glanced around the room, and according to the clock on the bedside table, it was almost 3am.

Sam flung his legs over the side of the bed, and felt something other than the floor under his feet. Looking down, he saw his history book and figured it had fallen and the sound of it hitting the floor was what had awakened him. He picked it up and set it on the desk as he walked past.

He could hear the television on in the living room, but when he got there, he saw that Dean was sleeping on the couch. Sam took the remote from the coffee table and lowered the volume. If he turned it off, the room would have been plunged into darkness. He thought about it for a moment, then went to the bedroom to get a blanket. He covered his brother and turned off the TV. Satisfied that he wouldn't wake, Sam went back to bed.

The next time Sam opened his eyes, the sun was coming through the window. He looked at the clock; the alarm would be going off in a couple of minutes. He decided not to wait, and he turned it off before getting out of bed. He stopped mid-step when he heard Dean in the bathroom. It sounded like he was throwing up.

He stood outside the door for a few moments, but decided it would be better not to hover. He was back in the bedroom when Dean walked in. Sam could see he was pale and was moving slowly.

"Time for you to be up already?" Dean asked, his voice a little rough.

"Just about. How long have you been awake?"

"Not long. You'd better get into the shower," Dean said and laid down on his still-made bed.

"I heard you," Sam said quietly. "Are you okay?"

Dean looked a little surprised. "Yeah, I'm fine. It's nothing."

"Did you drink last night?"

"No, I was here all night, remember?"

"You can drink here, too, you know." Sam had seen their father drunk a lot when he was younger, but not so much lately. He didn't like it when Dean got drunk, but he really hated it when Dean experimented with drugs. He didn't think it had happened often, but Sam knew he'd done it more than once when their father was out of town.

"I didn't drink," Dean said.

Sam watched him for a moment, then stood up. "I'm gonna get ready for school. I'll walk."

"I can take you."

"That's okay. You don't look so good."

"I always look good," Dean said as Sam walked past him.

-----

Once Dean heard the water running in the bathroom, he rolled onto his side and wrapped his arms around his midsection. He felt horrible; the vague pain he'd had in his gut yesterday had exploded overnight. He was pretty sure he had a fever, too.

He'd hoped Sam wouldn't hear him throwing up, but he couldn't stop it. When he'd first woken up, he thought that something had attacked him – he'd never felt a burning in his abdomen like he did now. Throwing up had made him feel a little better, but he wondered how he was going to make it through a day of work.

Dean liked his job. He liked working on cars and his boss was great. Jackson reminded Dean a lot of his dad….at least how he wished his dad was more often. He used to love working on the Impala with his father. Most of the time spent under the hood included a lot of laughing and smiling. His dad didn't laugh and smile so much any more, and Dean missed it.

Dean's eyes were closed tight when Sam came back into the room. He heard his brother's footsteps, and the sound of drawers opening and closing. He knew that Sam was perfectly capable of getting himself to school, but he still felt guilty. Sam almost never had to walk to school, and even if all he was having for breakfast was cereal, Dean would at least get the bowl out of the cupboard for him. He knew it was stupid, but he'd taken care of Sam his entire life, and it was a hard habit to break just because Sam was tall enough to reach the bowls for himself.

"Dean?"

Dean opened his eyes to see Sam sitting on the edge of his own bed, putting on his shoes.

"You need anything before I go?"

"I'm good, thanks."

"Uh-huh." Sam clearly didn't believe him.

"You get breakfast?"

"Yeah."

"Lunch money?"

"Yeah."

"I work until 6 again tonight." Dean ignored the look Sam gave him. "You'll have to get yourself home."

"Okay. You sure you can work?"

"Don't worry about me."

Sam stood up. "Whatever you say."

Dean knew that Sam paused in the doorway before turning to go, and when he heard the front door close, Dean rushed to the bathroom and threw up again. He took something for nausea, and after a long shower, felt a little better. He didn't try to eat breakfast, and didn't even look at the coffee maker.

Dean made it to work, but after only an hour had to rush to the bathroom. He was splashing cold water on his face when his boss opened the door.

"This ain't a hangover." Jackson was older than John Winchester by a good 10 years, but he carried himself the same way and had a similar no-nonsense personality. Except, Dean realized, Jackson was a lot more gentle than his dad.

"Probably just the flu or something," Dean said, looking at him in the dirty mirror that hung over the sink.

"If you're sick, what are you doing here?"

"There's work to do."

"Not in your condition," Jackson said kindly. "Go home, Dean. Get some rest, get yourself well and don't come back until Monday."

"But –"

"Listen to your boss. And stop at the drug store on your way home."

Dean was about to protest, but didn't think it would do any good. Besides, he knew how to follow orders. "Okay. Thanks, Jackson."

"Your dad home yet?"

Dean shook his head.

"You call me if you need anything, okay?" Jackson put a hand on Dean's shoulder.

"I will."

-----

Dean drove home, not sure there was anything at the drug store they didn't already have at the house. He wasn't entirely sure he wouldn't fall over in one of the aisles, anyway. He barely made it inside before the pain in his side flared. It hit him so suddenly that he would have fallen to his knees had he not been so close to the couch.

He managed to lie down, but it wasn't long before he was in the bathroom. The rest of the day was spent between there and the bedroom, and by the time Sam got home at 3:00, Dean was very sick.

He heard the front door open and Sam calling his name, but Dean couldn't make himself respond. He heard Sam coming down the hallway, and then his voice from the doorway. If Dean hadn't happened to be facing that direction, he wouldn't have been able to see the concern on his brother's face. He gathered all the strength he could muster. "Hey. How was school?"

"Why aren't you at work?"

"Jackson sent me home. There wasn't much going on."

"You're sick." Sam sounded certain.

"Little under the weather is all. Don't worry about it."

"Yeah, right. Dean, come on. I can see you, all right? I know you're sick. Have you taken anything?"

Dean looked at Sam for a moment. Even though he was a little blurry, his determined expression was evident. Dean realized he had no choice but to be honest with him. "Nothing much has helped. I can't keep it down long enough."

Sam moved into the room and sat on the edge of the bed. He put his hand on Dean's forehead, and Dean couldn't manage to push him away. "You're burning up. I'll be right back."

Dean thought he might have fallen asleep before Sam got back. He realized there was something cold on his face. "Sammy….?"

"It's just a cold compress," Sam said, suddenly sounding much older than his 15 years. "When did you throw up last?"

"I'm not sure," Dean said. "I haven't been keeping track of the time."

"Have you tried to eat or drink anything?"

"Just some water earlier." Dean couldn't remember the last time he'd been sick, but he was sure Sam had never had to take care of him. He was surprised at how adult he sounded, and how gentle his movements were.

"You hurt anywhere? Your stomach?"

"Sometimes. Mostly I just feel sick." Dean desperately wanted to put on his game face and pretend everything was okay, but he couldn't seem to stop himself from being honest.

"Where does it hurt?"

"Sam…."

"Where?" he asked again, sounding firm.

"It's hard to pinpoint," Dean said. "My side, I think?"

"It could be appendicitis."

"Okay, Chicken Little."

"I'm serious, Dean."

"It's probably just food poisoning."

"From the pizza? I'm not sick. What else did you eat yesterday?"

"Jackson bought everyone sandwiches for lunch. I had ham." Even the thought of food was making Dean queasy.

"Anyone else have ham?"

"Jackson did. He's fine, though. Maybe it's just the flu."

"We gotta get this fever down," Sam muttered. Dean saw him dip another cloth into a bowl of ice water. He didn't protest as Sam wiped his arms with it. "You might need a doctor."

"You know that isn't an option."

"We might not have a choice." Sam lifted Dean's t-shirt and wiped down his chest. Dean closed his eyes, not sure if he didn't want to see anything because of how bad he felt or that his little brother was giving him a sponge bath. "You should try to take some Tylenol. I'll go get it."

Once Sam was back in the room, Dean took the pills he offered. He only drank enough water to get them down, then settled back into the pillow while Sam replaced the cold compress. A few minutes later, he rolled onto his side as a fresh wave of pain overtook him.

"Sammy…."

Sam suddenly appeared on the other side of the bed with a trash can. "Here, Dean."

Dean leaned over the side of the bed, retching into the metal container. There was nothing left in his stomach, but the pain was incredible. He lay with his head still off the bed while Sam took the trash can away. Dean heard water in the bathroom running, but Sam was back at his side quickly.

Dean was shaking and his head was beginning to hurt, but he didn't want to move. He felt Sam rubbing his back – just like Dean used to do for him when he was little.

"Dean, this isn't the flu. You need a doctor."

"Sam…."

"We have the fake insurance cards. Dad set it up for emergencies."

Dean didn't say anything and Sam continued to rub his back. Dean concentrated on the small circles Sam's hand made, and though he would never admit it, he felt somewhat soothed. "Let's give it some more time."

"You threw up less than five minutes after swallowing a tiny bit of water. You need a doctor."

"Look, I –"

"You'd take me if I'd been throwing up all day."

Dean turned his head to look at his brother. He was right, but that still didn't mean he was going to let Sam take him to a doctor.

"Where are you car keys?" Sam asked.

"What?"

"Your car keys. I'm taking you to that urgent care place near the mall."

"If I'm not better in the morning…." Dean felt Sam lift up the back of his t-shirt, and a moment later he felt the cool cloth.

"You think you could stand up long enough to take a shower?"

"I don't think I want a cold shower."

"Not cold," Sam said. "Lukewarm. A cold shower could shock your system."

"Yeah." Dean looked at him from the corner of his eye. "Where'd you learn all this?"

Sam shook his head, his expression saying he thought that was a dumb question. "From you."

-----

Sam started the water in the shower, then helped Dean to the bathroom. Even with Sam holding him, Dean was too weak to stand for very long. There was no stopper for the tub, but Sam had shoved a wash cloth into the drain opening so the bathtub could with water. He helped Dean strip down to his shorts, then steadied him while he got into the tub and sat down.

"Lay back. Get as much of you in the water as you can." Sam told him. "It's not too hot or cold, is it? The water?"

Dean shook his head as he submerged himself as much as possible. "It's fine."

Sam put a hand on his brother's shoulder; his skin felt hot. Dean looked at him with gratitude.

"You're probably dehydrated. If you can't keep water down, there's no way you're gonna keep anything else down. There's only one way to fix that."

"Maybe once the fever is down," Dean said.

"Yeah. Maybe." Sam was doubtful, but it was possible.

Dean was in the tub for just over fifteen minutes when he started to drift off. Sam kept an eye on him, his hand not leaving his shoulder. He was worried, but he knew the Hunter credo – doctors and hospitals were a last resort. He was pretty sure they'd end up seeking medical care, though.

"Dean," Sam called a little later. "Wake up, Dean. You need to get out of the water now."

Dean's eyes fluttered open. He didn't seem to know where he was.

"You with me?" Sam asked with a smile.

"Yeah," Dean ran a wet hand over his face. "Yeah."

"Let's get you dressed and back to bed."

Once Dean was back in the bedroom, Sam helped him put on clean clothes and then got him under the covers. "How do you feel now?"

"You won't believe me if I say better, so why ask?" Dean had a glint in his eye.

"You wanna try some water?"

Dean's expression clouded. "I don't think so. I actually do feel halfway decent right now, and I don't wanna mess that up."

"Yeah, I know, but you need fluid. And now might be the best time to get the pills to stay down."

Dean looked uncertain, but after a long moment, he nodded. "All right."

Sam patted his leg, then went to get the water and medicine. Once Dean had swallowed it and a little water, Sam moved the clean trash can to the bedside and moved to his own bed to wait.

"Hey, Sam?" Dean called, sounding as if he was only moments from sleep.

"Yeah?"

"Did you salt the doors and windows?"

Sam cocked his head to one side. They usually only took that precaution when they weren't staying in a place long enough for more subtle protection schemes. They hadn't used salt in the house since the first week they'd been in town.

"No, why?"

"Just do it, okay?"

"But we have –"

"I thought there was something around here earlier."

Sam figured that had been because of the fever, but he knew better than to discount anything. "Something like what?"

Dean didn't respond, and his steady breathing said he'd fallen asleep. Sam waited for a few moments, then went to do as his brother had asked before he settled in the hallway to watch Dean. Sam was afraid even walking into the bedroom would disturb him, and he wanted Dean to sleep.

When he heard the phone ringing an hour later, Sam rushed to the closest extension. "Hello?"

"Hey, Sammy, it's Dad. How are things going there?"

Sam sat down on his father's bed. "Dad."

"I called your brother's cell phone, but got his voicemail. Is he still at work?"

Sam glanced at the clock on the table next to the phone. It was almost 6:00. "Um, no, Dad. He's here."

"What's going on?"

"Dean's sick."

"What do you mean, he's sick?"

"He's sleeping now, but he's been throwing up all day. He has a fever, and…."

"And what?"

"He has a pain in his side. I'm afraid he has appendicitis. He called me Chicken Little when I said that, but –"

"No, it's a good guess, Sammy. I want you to get him to a doctor."

"I told him that, but he didn't want to go. I got him into the bath, and I think that brought the fever down. He took some Tylenol about half an hour ago, and he hasn't thrown it up. Maybe I'm wrong, but he's never been this sick before."

"See how he is when he wakes up," John Winchester said. "If you think he needs to see a doctor, get him to one. You know where the insurance cards are?"

"Yes, sir."

"And you know how to handle the questions?"

"Yes, sir."

"Good boy. I'm just about finished here, but I'm at least a day and a half drive from you. I'll probably get on the road tomorrow. You doin' okay?"

Sam wanted to tell his dad to come home, but instead he sat up straighter. "Yes, sir. I'm all right."

"You sure?"

"I'm just worried about my brother."

"Look, I'll get home as soon as I can, okay? In the meantime, I know Aidan isn't too far away. I'll call him and see if he's available."

Sam was surprised, but glad his father had offered that option. "Thanks, Dad."

"Yeah, in fact, let me call him now. I'll call you back in a few minutes."

-----

Aidan Prichard was a good friend of the Winchester family. John found him when he was twelve years old; hiding in the basement of his parents' house after they had been killed by demons. He took the frightened boy to Jim Murphy, where he stayed until he was eighteen. He lived in the children's home run by the pastor's church, but Jim recognized his special ability and stayed very involved in the boy's life.

Aidan wasn't psychic, but he could often see things that others couldn't. He saw ghosts and other spirits before they manifested and he could generally sense when a spirit or demon was nearby. Trained primarily by John, he could also hunt and kill almost any supernatural creature that existed. John was never sure if he thought of Aidan as another son or as a younger brother, but he was always welcome in his home and he was one of the few people he trusted with his sons.

John knew Sam was more capable of handling a crisis than most boys his age. He was probably more capable than men twice his age, but if Dean really was sick enough for a doctor, the 15-year old was going to need help.

"Hey, John, long time no hear. How's it going?"

"There might be a problem at home. Where are you?"

"Not that far. I was going to drop by –"

"Would you be able to head that now?"

"Uh, yeah. What kind of problem?"

John told him what he'd learned from Sam, and Aidan immediately agreed to drive to Merrillville. "I'm maybe four or five hours away. I had a job in Detroit."

"A hunt?" John asked, knowing that Aidan earned money as an artist.

"No. I had a meeting with an indie comic book company. They want me to work with one of their writers."

"That's great, kid. I'm proud of you. Are you sure you can get away?"

"Yeah, the meeting is over. I've got some drawings to work on for them, but I don't have to be here to do it. We're meeting again in a couple of weeks."

"Thanks, Aidan. I'll get home as soon as I can."

"Sure, John. Let me give Sam a call to –"

"I want to talk to him again. Can you give me about five or ten minutes?"

"Yeah, no problem. I'll just get packed up, and I'll call him from the road."

-----

Sam ended the second call with his father, relieved to hear that Aidan was on his way. He was also glad that Dean was still asleep, and seemed to be peaceful. He didn't want to disturb his brother, but he also didn't want to be too far away. He stayed in the hallway, knees up to his chin, the telephone handset next to him. He talked to Aidan for a few minutes, but when the call ended, he felt a little lost.

He thought back to what Dean had said about thinking something had been around the house. Of course it was possible, but Sam thought it more likely the cause had been Dean's fever. Still, he walked around the house to make sure the salt lines had not been disturbed before he returned to his spot in the hall.

Sam wasn't sure how long he was watching his brother from the hallway when Dean started to groan. He was on his feet immediately, hoping Dean would stay asleep. Instead, his brother's eyes opened and he rolled onto his side, reaching for the trash can.

Sam sat down on the edge of Dean's bed and put a hand on his back. "It's okay, Dean."

"What time is it?" Dean asked once the vomiting stopped. He rolled onto his back.

"Almost 8. You slept for about two hours, but I can tell the fever is up again."

"I don't feel so good, Sammy."

"I know."

"I think there's something really wrong."

Sam felt a sharp coldness in the pit of his stomach. "You wanna go to the doctor?"

Dean looked at him. "No, but I think I need to."

"Okay, Dean," Sam struggled to keep his voice steady. "Dad said I should take you to the doctor, so….Where are the car keys?"

"In my coat, out in the living room."

"I'll get your shoes. Stay here."

Sam helped Dean with his shoes, then put on his own. He got the insurance cards from their dad's dresser and slipped them into his back pocket. The walk to the car was slow, and Dean threw up again outside, but they finally got on the road.

Sam wasn't old enough for a driver's license, but he had a fake ID and Dean had taught him to drive as soon as his feet could touch the pedals. John had taught Dean to drive young, too, just in case he was ever too hurt to get the family to safety. Sam was nervous behind the wheel, but that was more because his brother was sick. He knew how to drive and he knew how to get to the urgent care center.

There were only a few other cars in the parking lot when Sam pulled the Impala into a spot. It had taken less than 20 minutes to get there, and Dean's eyes had been closed the whole way. That had added to Sam's nervousness, because Dean always paid attention when Sam was driving his car.

Dean leaned on Sam heavily as they walked into the lobby of the clinic. Sam got him settled into a chair near the door before approaching the counter. After talking to the receptionist, he glanced around the room before returning to his brother with a clipboard full of papers to fill out. There were three other people scattered around, but none of them seemed to be as sick as Dean.

It was half an hour before Dean's name was finally called. The nurse told Sam he couldn't stay with Dean while he was being examined, so Sam stepped out into the parking lot and slipped his phone out of his pocket to call his father. He wasn't too surprised to get voicemail. He left a message, then called Aidan.

As soon as he heard his friend's voice, Sam lost the last of his composure. He sank to the ground, and found he couldn't speak. He didn't know what Aidan was saying to him, but the calming tone helped him to pull himself back together.

"Dean's with a doctor," Sam finally said.

"What happened?"

"He woke up and threw up again. His fever was back….he told me to take him to the doctor."

"Look, Sam, I'm going as fast as I can, okay? I'll be there soon. You can hold on until then, right?"

"Yeah, sure," Sam wasn't at all positive he could, but he knew he had no choice.

"Is there anyone there you can call to stay with you?"

"I don't want to, Aidan. I'll be okay."

"I'm making good time, Sam. And Dean's gonna be fine."

"I know."

"Did you call your dad?"

"I got voicemail."

"Are you sure you'll be okay until I get there?"

"Yeah," Sam said quietly. "I'll be okay, but I'm kind of scared. Dean doesn't get sick, man."

"I know."

"Look, I'm outside and I want to be there when the doctor is done with the exam. I'll call you when I hear something." Before hanging up, Sam gave Aidan directions to the clinic in case they were still there when he got into town.

Back in the lobby, Sam sat down and looked around. No one seemed to be paying attention to anyone else. The few other people were watching television, looking at magazines or staring into space. Sam looked toward the TV screen. He had no idea what was on, and could barely hear it, but he watched it anyway.

It was an hour later when Sam heard someone calling his name. He looked toward the voice and saw a woman in a lab coat coming toward him. She introduced herself as Dr. Hopkins, and despite his worry, Sam was amused that his brother had been examined by an attractive female doctor. She sat down in a chair across from Sam, and put her hands in her lap.

"I'm glad you brought your brother in," she said with a kind smile. "He needs to be transferred to a hospital, though. He told me you thought he might have appendicitis, and turns out you were right."

"Do I need to take him to the hospital?"

"No, we've arranged for an ambulance. It should be here any minute, and it will take him. He said your dad was out of town on business. Do you know how to get to Memorial?"

"Yeah," Sam said, trying not to show his nervousness. "Can I see my brother before the ambulance gets here?"

"Sure, I'll take you to him." She stood up and Sam followed her down the hall. "He's been given a mild pain killer and it's probably made him a little drowsy."

Dean was in a small room, lying in a hospital bed. His eyes were closed, but they opened when Sam moved closer. "Hey, Sammy." His voice was soft.

"Dean…." Sam stood next to the bed, and glanced toward the doctor. She smiled encouragingly before leaving them alone.

"Looks like you were right," Dean said with a slight smile.

"I guess so."

"Doc said it was a simple operation and I'd be out of the hospital in a day or two."

Sam didn't respond, and was surprised when Dean reached for him. He moved closer and Dean held onto his wrist. "You gonna be okay?"

Sam laughed. "You're the one having surgery, and you're worried about me?"

"I got people taking care of me."

"Aidan's on the way. Dad called him. And Dad said he'd be home soon, too. You still hurt?"

"Not so much. They gave me a shot."

Sam looked at the IV. "Looks like I was right about dehydration, too."

Sam felt Dean squeeze his wrist, and looked back to him. "How far away is Aidan?"

"Probably another couple of hours."

They looked toward the door when a nurse came in. "The ambulance is here."

Dean squeezed Sam's wrist again. "It's gonna be okay."

"Dean….you don't have to worry about me."

Dean smiled. "Yeah, right."

Sam stood in a corner of the room while his brother was loaded onto a gurney and taken out of the room. He walked with him through a hallway and out the back door. They had another quick moment before Dean was loaded into the ambulance.

-----

Once Sam got to the hospital, he had no trouble finding the information desk, but since Dean had been brought in so recently, it took the person behind the desk a few minutes to find him. "He's going into surgery very soon," she said to Sam. "He hasn't been assigned to a room yet, but go to the surgery waiting room. There's a volunteer in there, and she can give you more information."

Sam followed her directions to the surgery waiting room, then spoke to the volunteer who sat behind a small desk. She explained that once a surgery was complete, she got a phone call so she could relay the information to whoever was waiting. The doctor would then come to speak them while the patient was moved to the recovery room. She would also be informed when a room assignment was available.

"It's going to be at least a couple of hours before I know anything," she told him. "The cafeteria is still open, and the food isn't too bad. You have anyone else with you?"

"Not yet," Sam said, getting tired of the question. "He's on the way."

"Your father? Or another family member?"

Sam hesitated for a moment. "Yes. Older brother."

She smiled. "Good."

Sam nodded, then decided he'd go to the cafeteria. He wasn't really hungry, but it would be something to do other than sitting in the waiting room. He bought a soda, and was sitting at a table near a window when he got Aidan's call that he was in the hospital parking lot. A few minutes later, Aidan was sitting with him.

"I told the lady in the waiting room that you were our brother. I didn't know if the doctor would talk to anyone other than family." Sam told him.

"Have you eaten tonight?"

"I'm not hungry."

"That isn't what I asked you, Little Dude."

Sam hated that nickname, but Aidan had been using it for as long as Sam could remember.

"I'm gonna see what they have. Why don't you come with me?"

Sam knew that wasn't really a suggestion. He nodded and followed Aidan to the counter. Without asking, Aidan picked out a turkey sandwich for Sam. He chose the same for himself, and after grabbing a couple of sodas, paid for the food. They went back to the same table and Sam picked at his sandwich.

"He's gonna be okay, you know," Aidan said. "It's a routine operation."

"Routine for them. Not for Dean."

"True enough," Aidan agreed. "But he's going to sleep through it."

Sam glanced at him, a little annoyed that he wasn't more worried.

"Come on, Sam. I know you're concerned for your brother, but he's going to be fine."

"Yeah, well, I'll feel better when the operation is over and he's awake."

"Can't disagree with that," Aidan said. "I know you're worried and scared, but not eating isn't going to help Dean."

Sam nodded, but didn't pick up the sandwich.

"Humor me, Sam."

He sighed, and took a single bite.

-----

Sam and Aidan were in the waiting room when the call came that Dean was out of surgery, and a few minutes later, a doctor came to talk to them. Sam was relieved to find out the surgery went well and that no complications were expected. The doctor also said that Dean would probably be moved to his room in just over an hour, but would be groggy for the rest of the night until the anesthesia wore off.

"When can we see him?" Sam asked.

"You can see him briefly once he's in his room."

A few minutes after the doctor left, the call with Dean's room assignment came. The volunteer reiterated what the doctor had said about it being at least an hour before Dean was brought in, but said they could go to the waiting room in that area.

"You want to head on up," Aidan suggested. "I'll go outside and give your dad a call."

Sam shook his head. "I'll call him."

"Okay. I'll meet you in the waiting room." Aidan put a hand on Sam's shoulder, then pulled him into a hug. At first Sam resisted, then put his arms around his friend.

-----

Sam was surprised to have a voicemail from his father when he turned his phone on after getting to the lobby on the first floor. The message said he was leaving the job unfinished and was coming home; he expected to be there sometime Sunday morning. Sam dialed his dad's number and was relieved when he answered.

"Hey, Dad. Dean's out of surgery. The doctor said he's gonna be fine."

Sam heard his father sigh in relief. "That's great news, Sammy. Have you seen him yet?"

"He's still in recovery. The doctor said we could see him for a few minutes when he was in his room."

"We? So, Aidan is there?"

"Yes, sir. He got here a while ago."

"Good. You doin' okay, kiddo?"

Sam hesitated. "I was really worried, but I'm better now."

"I'm really proud of how you handled this, Sammy. It sounds like you did everything just right."

Sam wasn't used to compliments from his father, and it wasn't easy to respond. "Thank you."

"I know you're going to want to stay at the hospital all night, but most likely Dean will sleep. You should be in your own bed."

"I…."

"Don't give the nurses a hard time, Sammy, okay? If they tell you to leave…."

"Yes, sir," Sam said reluctantly.

-----

Aidan slouched in an overstuffed chair in the waiting room. He was tired, but knew he still had at least a few hours in front of him without sleep. No doubt Sam wouldn't want to leave the hospital, even if he couldn't stay in Dean's room with him.

Alone in the room, he let his eyes close part way. After a few minutes he heard whispering and opened his eyes, assuming other people had come in. He was still the only person in the room. Looking at his watch, he saw t was after midnight. Glancing toward the hallway, he saw nurses behind the desk, but they were too far away to hear their voices. He figured he'd drifted off and the voices had been the start of a dream.

Aidan eyed the vending machines across the room, then stood up and walked toward them. He was suspect of any coffee that came out of such an apparatus, but needed the caffeine. He'd just sat down with a cup when he heard the whispering again. This time when he looked around, he saw vague shadows near the door.

He wasn't immediately concerned; spirits were common in a hospital and he didn't sense anything particularly sinister coming from these, though that wasn't really one of his skills. He could sometimes get a vibe from them, sort of like reading body language. He sipped at his coffee and looked at his watch again, wondering how long Sam was going to take.

Aidan didn't want to stare at the shadows, but he kept an eye on them, and it seemed they were doing the same to him. He started to feel a little uncomfortable, but it wasn't much longer before Sam finally joined him.

"You get a hold of your dad?"

"Yeah, he's on his way back. Should be here Sunday morning."

"He finished the job?"

"No, do you believe it?" Sam sat across from Aidan. "Any word yet?"

"Not yet. You doin' okay?"

"I'll be better once I've seen Dean, but I'm okay." Sam looked at him. "Thanks for coming, man."

"Any time, Little Dude."

-----

Sam was anxious when more than an hour passed without Dean being brought up from recovery. Aidan spoke with one of the nurses and was assured there wasn't a problem, there were just fewer orderlies working the shift than during the day and that sometimes caused a delay in moving patients around.

He thanked her, then glanced down the hallway toward the room Dean would occupy. He saw what he thought were the same random shadows from the waiting room before. They'd disappeared soon after Sam had come in from talking to his father.

Aidan watched them for a few moments, and was sure they realized they'd been spotted. That understanding was nothing he could have explained, but he knew it to be true nonetheless. They vanished, and Aidan returned to the waiting room where Sam looked at him anxiously.

He related what the nurse had told him, and briefly considered telling him about the spirits; quickly thinking better of it. It was almost 1:30 before Dean was brought to his room. One of the nurses informed Sam and Aidan, telling them that Dean was still very drowsy and would no doubt go right to sleep after getting settled in.

"Can I stay with him until morning?" Sam asked.

The elderly nurse – at least she seemed so to Sam - smiled kindly. "He won't even know you're there, Sweetheart. It would be better for everyone if you go home, and come back when visiting hours start."

Aidan put a hand on Sam's shoulder. The younger man looked at him, and Aidan pulled him closer. "She's right, Sam. Let's go in and see him for a few minutes, then go get some sleep. We'll all be fresher in the morning, and you'll be able to do him more good then."

Aidan knew that Sam wanted to protest, but after a moment, he only nodded. They walked down the hall to Dean's room and Sam immediately moved close to the bed. Aidan glanced at the monitor and the IV bag before focusing on Dean's face. His eyes were closed.

"Dean," Sam whispered, leaning close and putting his hand on his brother's arm. "You're gonna be fine, okay? The doctor said so."

Dean's eyes fluttered open. "Sammy?" He was hoarse from the breathing tube that had been inserted during surgery and he seemed very hazy.

"Yeah, it's me. Aidan's here, too."

"Hey, Slick." Aidan moved to Sam's side.

"Hey," Dean glanced around the room. "What happened?"

"You needed your appendix out," Sam explained. "Do you remember being sick?"

Dean looked thoughtful. "Oh. Yeah."

"It's really late," Sam said. "The nurse doesn't want us to stay. She says you'll sleep and we can come back in the morning."

"Okay." Dean's eyes closed.

"We'll be back as soon as visiting hours start, okay Dean?" Sam said, sounding a little uneasy.

"You should get some sleep," Dean said quietly. "Take care of my car."

Aidan saw Sam's small smile. "I'll see you tomorrow, okay?"

"Yeah."

Aidan patted Dean's leg. "Me, too."

Aidan gave Sam a few more minutes, then put his arm around his shoulders. "Come on."

He hesitated, but a moment later Sam left the room without protest. Aidan didn't notice the shadows hovering down the hall.

"Why don't you let me drive us to your place?" Aidan suggested when they were in the elevator. He saw Sam's discomfort. "We can take the Impala if you'd feel better."

"Yeah, okay." Sam nodded. "I can drive, though."