When Sam slept right through a pit stop, Dean knew something was wrong. Sammy falling asleep in the car was perfectly normal-lately it seemed the only time Sam slept at all was on the road-but he always woke the moment Dean tapped the breaks.
After filling the tank, he climbed back into the front seat and looked Sam over carefully. Sam's head rested on the window, pillowed against a spare shirt. His dark hair nearly hid his eyes, but it seemed to Dean that the shadows beneath them were deeper than they'd been even that morning. Sam's cheeks were entirely too pale beneath his tan.
Just then, Sam finally stirred. He brushed absently at his bangs, drew in a breath, then let it out in a burst of coughing.
Well, no need for further detective work. His little brother was sick all right.
"Airplane germs, huh? Didn't I tell you flying is dangerous?"
Sam responded with bitchface #13-"I would kill you, but that would require me to move."
Dean grabbed a Coke and threw it at him. With a hungry growl, the Impala took off.
Sam dropped off again quickly once they got back on the interstate, but two hours later the sun was sinking fast, and the car's cranky heater couldn't compete with a December night in Ohio. Dean would have to find a place to stop soon, bed-phobic Sam or no.
He settled on a halfway decent chain, a bit above their usual digs, but probably worth it. Sam woke as the car stopped, blinking fiercely. "Where are we?"
"Super-8, Seville, Ohio."
"Wh-" Sam pinched his nose. "Did you..." And three quick sneezes burst out.
"Just staying the night, Sammy."
Quickly Dean got a room key and shoved his brother in the door. Sam immediately dug out his laptop and began typing.
"Dude, we just got off a case. What could you possibly be working on?"
"Just, ah, writing up some notes... achoo! It's, sniff, it's a very unusual case, really...achoo! A new twist on demonic behavior, and I want to make sure I don't forget anything imp-." He put a finger under his nose and twisted around in his seat, hunting for the tissues.
The box bounced off his forehead. Sam picked it up, then blew his nose. He sniffled again and resumed typing. A moment later, he was interrupted by another violent coughing fit, flopping back in the chair at the end of it.
"You want first shower, Sammy?"
"Um. Sniff. Okay." He closed the laptop.
Sam wandered out of the bathroom in a towel, wet hair slicked back. He grabbed a clean t-shirt and hoodie and sat back down in the desk chair, eyes on the TV. Dean had tuned into an action movie they both liked to make fun of.
Fifteen minutes later, Dean was dressed again, the level of tissues in the box had dropped alarmingly, and Sam was huddled deep in the chair, shivering.
"Dinner? Maybe some Burger King?"
Sam pressed his lips together tightly and shook his head.
"Sam, seriously, go to bed."
Slouching like a puppet hanging from one string, Sam complied.
"That tissue box isn't gonna last much longer at the rate you're going through it, so I'm going to see if there's a store open around here at... 7 pm. Is there anything you want to eat?"
"Not really," he mumbled, voice already beginning to fade.
By the time the shivering stopped, Sam was running a pretty good fever, and between that, his underlying exhaustion, and the drugs Dean shoved into him, he fell asleep more easily than he had in weeks.
Dean pulled out the weapons bag. Eyes still on Sam, he disassembled his pistol and pulled out the cleaning kit. The guns hadn't seen much use recently, so their stock of ammo was intact, but he'd need more holy water soon. Maybe he could "borrow" some from a church in town, the real priest blessed stuff tended to work better than Dean's homemade version.
His phone rang, and Dean quickly ducked into the bathroom to answer before the ringer could wake Sam.
"Caleb! Hey, have you heard from my Dad?... Yep, still missing...Werewolf? Montana? Ah, wish I could, we're in Ohio right now, and Sam's decided to get sick...Sure, will do."
Dean slipped back into the room. Sam lay flat on his back, snoring softly. The parking lot lights filtered through the thin curtain, casting shadows over his face.
In the years they spent apart, Sam had put on ANOTHER inch of height, and had finally begun to fill out a bit. His face had firmed and hardened. Where strangers once looked at the Winchesters and saw a young man and his kid brother, they now saw a pair of men, and dangerous ones at that.
Sam handled himself like a born hunter on that airplane, almost singlehandedly exorcising a demon that had killed hundreds, while Dean had... Less said about that the better.
If only Sam could outgrown some of his anger at Dad.
Weapons maintenance done, Dean made a last check of the locks and salt lines and then climbed into his own bed. Outside, sleet rattled against the window. Between the last job and the long drive, he'd grabbed only minutes of sleep in the past two days, and, still listening to the sound of Sam's steady breathing, he barely had time to pull up the blankets before falling asleep.
He woke to the sound of an explosive sneeze. Sam had climbed out of bed and was staring intently at his computer once again. The lights were out, and his face was lit only by the glow of the computer screen. One hand hovered over the keyboard as the other groped for the tissue box.
"Hey, Sam, I know you like to get an early start in the morning, but isn't, ah, 1:30 am pushing things a bit?"
Sam startled and all but jumped out of his chair, knocking the tissues off the table. "I was awake, thought I'd try to find us another hunt." He picked up the tissue box and blew his nose with a wet, gurgling sound. His eyes darted rapidly around the room, seeming afraid to be still.
Here we go again, Dean thought. Couldn't the kid's brain give him a break long enough for one decent night of sleep?
"There's an ice storm going on out there, Sam. My baby hates icy roads, and I am not taking her out until the roads are clear and the salt has had a chance to wash off."
"Oh." The caged ferret act continued. Sometimes Sam liked to walk after the nightmares, and when he couldn't do that, he got antsy.
Sam headed for the window-or tried to. After two strides, he stopped abruptly and clutched at the wall, blinking rapidly.
Dean got out of bed and headed over.
"Seriously, Sammy, lie down before you fall down."
"I'm fine, just stood up too fast."
Vision apparently clearing, Sam reached the window and pulled back the curtain.
"See? Ice storm. I'm not making this up. Now, it's the middle of the night, it's sleeting, we're not working a job, and you're sick. Is there any reason for you to be awake right now?"
Sam glared at his brother blearily. And sneezed.
Dean was confused. The carefully measured Sudafed, cough syrup, and whisky he'd poured into Sam should have kept him asleep for at least 6 hours, at least, they had...Back when Sam was about forty pounds smaller and had next to no alcohol tolerance. Of course.
Okay, just need to scale it up by, ah, twenty-five percent. Everything but the Sudafed, that'd just keep him awake.
Now, how to convince twitchy post-nightmare Sam to actually take more meds and lie down again?
Dean sat down on his bed, facing Sam's. "So, how do you think that demon took up the "airplane" gig anyway?"
Sam weaved back over to the bed and put himself in Dean's line of sight, grabbing the academic question like a lifeboat. "He might have specialized in-eh-sinking ships, and-eh-moved up in the world." Sam rubbed at his nose as Dean bounced the tissue box off his head. "Or maybe-etchoo-he possessed someone who just happened to take a flight, and then saw a way to spread more pain and chaos." Sam's voice rose slightly. "I wonder if there's a..." and he broke off into a coughing fit, flopping down against the pillows at the end of it.
Dean knew his cue, and reached for the bottles. "Time for another dose of Winchester Cold Syrup, Sammy."
Sam was still running a fever on top of weeks of sleeplessness, and his little burst of agitation had worn him out again. He didn't even notice that Dean had altered the dosage.
Sam once more dropped off to sleep, this time with his upper body propped almost upright against a pile of pillows. Dean found himself unwilling to follow suit, though a few hours of rest had barely put a dent in his own fatigue.
The voice message Jerry had pointed out to them was proof-Dad had disappeared of his own volition, leaving the family business to Dean. But even after spending half his life hunting at Dad's shoulder, Dean knew he was still no match for John Winchester, less a man than a force of nature.
He'd just have to be good enough.
A/N: I do not endorse Dean's approach to medication, but these ARE the guys who stitch up each other's wounds with dental floss in dubiously cleaned motel bathrooms...
The recalculated dosage kept Sam out until morning, and Dean woke before his brother, feeling reasonably well rested.
As the winter sun peeked through the curtains, Sam shifted suddenly, fists tightening as another nightmare began. Within seconds, his eyes snapped open and he shouted out Jessica's name.
Here we go again, Dean thought. "Morning, sunshine."
Sam stared at him, glaze-eyed and panting.
"Breakfast? There's a diner just up the street."
Sam didn't answer immediately, as his face scrunched up and three quick, harsh sneezes came out. He blew his nose, then began talking rapidly.
"Gread idea. Lebbe get dressed, den we cad hit the road. I bean, we've god a lead on Dad, right? At least we dow he's alive, but..."
As he babbled, Sam sat up and began searching for his jeans.
Ah, one of Sam's favorite techniques. "Maybe if I talk fast enough, you won't notice I feel like crap."
It really wasn't any more convincing when he was twenty-two than it had been when he was seven. Especially when his voice sounded like that.
"One minute, Sammy." Dean dug the thermometer out of the first aid kit, the fancy quick-read ear kind in case it had to be used on someone who was unconscious or disoriented. Or just being a bad patient, not that any of the Winchesters would ever do that.
Sam saw the thermometer coming and turned away, covering his ear. "Cobe on, you don't hab to do dat. I'b fide, just got a code."
Dean waited a moment.
"If you're gonna be dat way about it, fide."
Beeep. Dean checked the display, then turned it toward his brother.
"Yeah, Sammy, you going out today? Not happening."
Sam leaned back against the headboard and folded his arms. "Dis roob's boring."
Translation: "If I stay in bed with nothing to do, I'm going to have to think about stuff." Sam's body needed more rest, but his freaky brain wasn't about to let him have it.
Okay, battle plan. More meds, this time Sudafed and cough syrup only, breakfast, most likely from the motel lobby, and distractions, in the form of his computer and the TV.
Maybe Sam would even be willing to watch something decent.
Sam Winchester was not a happy camper.
Despite having spent what seemed like most of the last 24 hours asleep, he still felt exhausted. His head was throbbing, his throat burned, and he couldn't even speak without sounding ridiculous.
Dean had finally gotten tired of his crankiness and gone out, allegedly to get some food for them. The TV still played in front of him, but he didn't have the faintest idea what was on. The laptop lay closed beside him on the bed. Research beckoned, but his arm refused to move further than the tissue box.
It was just so damned cold outside the blankets, that was all. Just as soon as the room warmed up a bit...
Sam was nowhere in sight when Dean returned with dinner, but there did seem to be a large lump in the middle of Sam's bed, with a pillow pulled over its head.
"Hey, Sam? If you don't like the TV show, you can turn it off. You don't have to hide from it."
The lump shifted, and an arm appeared briefly before vanishing again as its owner curled up more tightly.
"Sammy? You in there?"
"Cold," he muttered.
Well, that wasn't a good sign. Dean grabbed the thermometer and yanked back the pillow-hat, ignoring Sam's faint protest. 103.4, and, judging by his shivering, still rising.
Dean rose and dug through the medical kit again, hearing as he did John Winchester's voice. "Fever helps fight infection. Don't try to reduce it unless it gets dangerously high." Sam wasn't in dangerous territory yet, but he was heading there fast enough to justify breaking out the Tylenol, and keeping a closer eye on him.
Sam swallowed the medicine without complaint, wincing a bit as the pills scratched his throat. Dean followed it up with an ice pop, which would both ease his throat and help cool him off a bit.
Soon, the shivering stopped and Sam stretched out from his ball-shape into something more comfortable-looking. Soft congested snores announced he'd fallen asleep. Still watching Sam with half an eye, Dean pulled his sandwich out of the bag and started eating.
As Dean was crumpling up the wrapper into the trash, Sam stirred. One hand brushed irritably at his face, and he mumbled something. It might have been "demonic," or possibly "detergent."
For feverish Sam, either was equally plausible. "Go back to sleep, Sammy. I'll fix it."
Dean's words seemed to settle him, but only for a few moments. "Go back to sleep," Dean repeated. "It's okay."
Again, Sam got twitchy once the room was quiet.
"Well, okay. I wasn't planning on bed for a while." Dean grabbed the newspaper he'd found at the diner and began reading. "Cleveland city council rules that..."
Their third morning in Seville, Dean woke before six to find Sam already dressed and packing. He was still sniffling a bit, but he was gathering items and stuffing them into his duffel with no sign of dizziness or weakness.
With the fever gone and the coughing subsided to the point Dean no longer had an excuse to drug him heavily, Sam had apparently given up on sleeping in beds once again .
Still, Sam's health was as good as it was likely to get anytime soon. And with the weather clear outside, there was one sure place to get the kid to sleep-the open road, just like when he was a baby.
"Check this out, Sam. The paper says some guy up in Toledo died when his eyeballs exploded out of his head. Sounds like it's right up our alley, eh?"