Summary: Written very late for the hoodie_time tags challenge. I got "measles" as one of my prompts and I swear I'd written a "measles" prompt before but wherever I wrote/put it, it's gone and I went with this "measles" thing. I wanted to think outside the box and write something other than Dean with some sort of respiratory-ish illness but I'm not capable of that, or so it would seem. So, this is what you get from me - sick Dean with tons of respiratory symptoms - maybe too many, in hindsight - because I MUST. *sigh.*

A/N: This is gen/AU-ish in that certain things are canonically represented in this story but not necessarily how they went down in the actual Show, regarding timeline, characters and the situations they were in. And, as always, I'm big on the hurt and not so much with the comfort (though it's there, just kind of subtly).

As far as warnings - spoilers for episodes 5x21, 5x22 and the first half of S6. Characters include Sam, Dean, Lisa, Bobby, Castiel.

Disclaimer: Don't own, lay claim to, make profit nor intend any harm. The writing is purely for my own perverse pleasure.


The first time it happens - that Dean gets sick - he's living with Lisa and Ben. Right after Sam - leaves. Of course, Sam doesn't "leave," not in the technical sense - leaving implies that he can go and come back at will, and that isn't what Sam has done, but it is the only way Dean can look at it, can face what has happened.

But regardless of the semantics, the facts remain: Sam's been in the Pit and Dean's been at Lisa's. Often maudlin, more often drunk and - for fuck's sake - sick with some kind of illness that Dean doesn't even think is all that serious until he's been struggling with it for over two months, give or take.

It starts out like a cold, just some crappy, head-and-chest thing that comes on in early January, kind of out of nowhere but not really - it is, after all, winter, and people are sniffling and sneezing and spreading their damn germs everywhere. It's flu season, and this is what Dean, at first, thinks he has - when he bothers to give it any thought at all, which doesn't happen until he's been coughing and wheezing his way around for almost a month and Lisa voices her concern one night during dinner - food that Dean's listlessly pushing around on his plate more than anything - about Dean's cold. Sickness. Whatever the hell it is. "I think you should go in," she says. "You don't seem like you're getting any better."

Such a loaded statement, that - You don't seem like you're getting any better/I and Dean can't keep the bray of sarcastic laughter from creeping out. IYou don't seem like you're getting any better.

Yeah, Dean thinks. Exactly.

But before he can push the thought away or - worse - say something that he'll want to take back the moment he says it - he ends up in some kind of coughing fit that leaves him hacking and gasping into his napkin, unable to really catch his breath, forcing Lisa to bring him water and half-pat, half-rub him on the back while he slowly pulls himself together. "See?" she says, when he's wiping his streaming eyes. "You just proved my point. You sound awful and this has been going on way too long."

"Just a cold," Dean grumbles, but all the coughing and gasping for air has irritated his already fucked up respiratory system, and he ends up sneezing all over his shirt sleeve, which makes him cough up more - something - which completely invalidates his "just a cold" statement. "A really shitty cold," he amends, just before he blows his nose into his already soggy napkin.

And the thing is, Dean thinks it is just a cold. True, it's been going on longer than he remembers any kind of cold he's had in the past - few and far between as those were - but it hasn't been so bad that he can't push through it. He doesn't feel great, not by a long shot, but he's made it into work every day, managed to keep doing what he needs to do, only with the addition of some kind of vicious cough he can't seem to get rid of.

"I'll be fine," he tells Lisa, and whether she believes him or not is immaterial because she lets him be, knows she isn't going to be able to tell him anything - at least, not at this juncture - and he muddles around for another couple weeks or so, still dragging his worn ass to work, still popping a fever every now and again, the annoying cough still hanging on. No, Lisa doesn't say anything, just gives him looks and gentle suggestions, which Dean sometimes takes but more often ignores. At least until one night, when he can't fall asleep for all the coughing, and Dean gets up to keep from waking Lisa - though he suspects she's awake, after all, who the hell could sleep through all that - and goes into the bathroom where he proceeds to cough and gasp until he actually ends up puking and worse yet, unable to catch his breath once he's done spewing. Lisa comes in, gives him water and a wet rag and rubs his back while he tries to pull his shit together even as he's hanging over the damn toilet, trying to breathe and cough and not puke all at the same time. Eventually, the heaving subsides and the horrible coughing lessens but the gasping is still there and Lisa takes the damp cloth from him and starts wiping his face, tries to get him to slow his breathing down even as he sees the grim tightness around her eyes and mouth. "I'm - okay," he says, before taking in another panting breath that's more a gasping cough than anything else.

"Don't," Lisa says, and at first Dean thinks she means, "Don't talk," but one glance at her face and he knows it's more than that. Way more. "This isn't normal, to be sick this long, to cough hard enough that you puke and can't get your breath. You're going to the doctor's as soon as it opens. Maybe the emergency room tonight if this keeps up."

"No damn - ER," Dean says, and while he means it, he knows she's just as serious as he is and his protests are meaningless.

He ends up half-right; they manage to stay out of the ER but right at daylight, Lisa's up and calling him in sick at work, then dialing up the clinic's phone number at thirty seconds past seven, the official time the place opens its doors. Dean doesn't bother fighting her on it- what's the point, he's sick, sick enough to need some kind of medical intervention, and he isn't going to be able to derail her on this.

Not that Dean wants to. Not really. He's tired - exhausted - from not sleeping well and not eating right and generally being sad and fucked up over Sam. Not to mention the whole 'not-breathing right' thing from the night before. The weeks before, actually. So he goes with Lisa to the clinic quietly and voluntarily - something he can't remember having done in the past - though the exhaustion and one hundred and one degree fever might be playing a role in all of this as well.

They're ushered in on time -a first, in Dean's experience with doctors and clinics - and the diagnosis is given both promptly and with a dose of bemusement. "It appears that you may have pertussis," the doctor - Doctor Something-or-Other - tells them, after they've taken a history, listened to his lungs, Ilistened to him cough, and choke and gasp for breath, of all fucking things. "I'll want to do some blood work, see if we can narrow things down a bit, but there've been outbreaks all over the state, and with what you've told me, I'm pretty sure that's what you have."

Lisa makes a concerned, tsk-king noise that sounds worried and pissed off, all at the same time. Dean, though, doesn't have a clue, doesn't have any idea what "pertussis," is. Maybe vaguely - something he's heard of but what it is - he doesn't know. "Whooping cough," Lisa says, when she can speak herself, when she notices that he's not getting it. "You've got whooping cough."

She's thinking about Ben. Even in his fucked up, addled state, Dean gets it - gets that whatever he has, this "pertussis," or "whooping cough," she's thinking about Ben and how it might affect him, first and foremost. "It's - serious?" he asks, because for her - for them - he needs to know.

"Well, it can be," the Doctor says. "But for a healthy, young adult like yourself, it's more of a nuisance. My guess is you're already on the downside of this and will make a complete recovery. But it's good that you came in, so we can track this, who you might've caught this from, and hopefully keep it from spreading."

"It's contagious, then?" Again, he's asking for Lisa's sake. And Ben's. Of course, the idea of spreading - anything - to anyone is anathema to Dean, but the thought of hurting either of them is - well, unthinkable.

"Yes," the Doctor says, not looking up from the computer he's stuffing Dean's medical history into. "But going by how long you've been sick, I think anyone you've been in contact with would already be sick by now, if they were going to catch this. My guess is you've picked this up from someone at your - stepson's - school because you either haven't been vaccinated properly or you're simply not immune. It happens. It's how these things spread among adults, among whole communities."

Your stepson's school. Never mind that Dean hadn't been near Ben's school or friends or anything remotely related to either in months. Improperly vaccinated? Okay, maybe - though Dean is pretty sure it is - was - Sam who didn't necessarily have all his immunizations, given the lifestyle they'd been thrown into when Sam was six months old. The subject had never come up with John unless a school requested an immunization record, and by the time that needed to be dealt with, they'd usually been long gone, onto the next job. Really, it was odd that Dean would come down with this now, when no one else around him was sick, had been sick or even appeared like they were about to get sick.

Nobody, that is, except Dean.

It's odd. Hinky, even. And Dean tries to be reassured when they're sent on their way with antibiotics - "Probably won't help but can't hurt," - the Doctor says - cough syrup and instructions to basically, "wait it out," even though the cough could be with him for "six to eight more weeks."

"What?" Dean demands - croaks - when he hears that. "But I've been sick that long already."

"It's not called the 'One Hundred Day Cough for nothing," the Doctor says, and fuck it, if he doesn't sound like he's both concerned and smirking as he says this.

And that's, exactly, what ends up happening.

It's not the worst thing in the world - being dragged to Hell by a goddamn Hellhound, holding Sam while he died at Cold Oak - those things count as "unbearable," but having this whooping cough or "pertussis," or whatever - sucks all the same. Lisa is great, cooks him his favorite foods to entice his appetite, gently nudges him to sleep earlier than he'd normally go, and just - generally sees him through, soothes him through his cranky moods and short temper even when he wakes both of them in the night with his coughing and gasping and swearing for what seems like - one hundred fucking days.

But, eventually, Dean does get better. His immune system is kick-ass - for the most part - and with her care, and his - genetics - the bullshit sickness fades away. A fluke, Dean thinks, once he's back to feeling "normal," - which, in this time and place means not choking on his own phlegm and freaking out everyone around him - and he's back to living his life -

His life without Sam -

An anomaly. Something weird and fucked up, probably because he's been stressed, what with losing Sam and taking on this new life and being exposed to germs and shit associated with kids. Dean gets it.

And he uneasily writes it off.

Because he doesn't know how to do it any different.


The next time Dean gets sick, Sam is back - well, technically, he's "back," - he's physically present and all - but with the tiny proviso that he's now soulless. Dean had known that the person who'd arrived from the Pit wasn't Sam the moment they'd reunited. A reasonable facsimile to those who didn't really know him, but the Sam that emerged from Hell is not the brother Dean raised, the brother Dean knows better than he knows himself. It's Sam but it's not, and for the time, as much as it tore at him, this knowledge that Sam was damaged in some way from whatever happened Down There - that he's here but he's really gone - there wasn't nothing Dean could do, at least nothing that he was aware of.

At least not until after the whole vampire thing in Illinois, the realization that Sam was willing to give him up, that Sam didn't have his back in the way that he once did, and once Dean beats the piss out of Sam, he gets Castiel on the scene pronto, no fucking around, only to have Cas diagnose Sam as having no soul. It's a relief to have Dean's fear confirmed - that this isn't really Sam, but it's a nightmare as well because, fucking hell, Sam without his soul and what does that mean for Sam's future and how the fuck are they going to redeem it?

It's right in the midst of all this bullshit that Dean gets sick again, could do with a damn diagnosis of his own, is laid out with nearly the same damn symptoms as he had with the whooping cough crap when he was back at Lisa's. He ignores everything as long as he can - a good five or six days - because he just doesn't have time to sit around and pamper himself through some cold or whatever the hell it is. At one twisted point, he thinks that he might be relapsing with the whooping cough thing - what with the same pattern of snot and coughing and fever he's got going on - and he almost gives Lisa a call - not that she'd want to hear from him, but Dean doesn't know what else to do, Sam is goddamn Isoulless/I and Dean is stumbling around with a fever and runny nose and cough again and he really needs something to give.

That "something" ends up being his own body. Sam is gone - and once again, Dean is forced to muse on the truth of that statement, only this time Sam is back physically, but he's gone in a far more important way - the most important way, as far as Dean is concerned - after the third day, off somewhere with Samuel or one of the Campbell douche bags - in Dean's opinion, they're all bad news - and Dean is on his way to Bobby's to try and figure out the whole Alpha thing - or something, at this point, he's not sure of anything that he's supposed to be doing, either with Sam or without Sam or for Sam or hunting or anything, not with how crappy he's feeling and how it's so damn reminiscent of how he felt when he was sick at Lisa's and how simple everything was back then, when she was doing all the worrying and caretaking and how he really, really didn't know how good things were until he no longer had them.

He gets to Bobby's, and walks in unannounced - which Dean knows is both unprecedented and suicidal, but he's so tired from driving, and utterly worn from the alternating chills and drenching sweats he's endured the past few hours, that all he can think about is finding the nearest horizontal surface and going there, if only for a couple of minutes, to get his crap together. He doesn't know what's wrong, just knows that he feels worse than he did with the whooping cough shit and doubts very much that a cold would make him feel this way.

"You sick?" These are the first words out of Bobby's mouth, once Dean's lets himself in and hoarsely croaks out some kind of warning/greeting so Bobby doesn't shoot him or stab him, thinking he's some sort of intruder or creature or both - though to give him his due, he does have a knife in one hand and a container of holy water in the other.

Dean holds his hands up, as if surrendering which, in a kind of fucked up way, he is. Putting his hands up throws his balance a little, though, and he staggers just the slightest, but enough that he needs to grab onto the back of the nearest object - Bobby's couch - to steady himself. Bobby's frown deepens, and he sets the holy water and the knife down. "You all right?"

"Just a touch of the flu," Dean rasps. This is what he's convinced himself he has, though "a touch" is perhaps an understatement. "I'll be all right."

Bobby motions him to sit before going into the kitchen and coming back with a glass of water, which Dean gratefully takes and drinks from, though the relief on his sore throat is temporary. "Where's Sam?" Bobby asks.

Dean shakes his head. "Off with Samuel. Or something. Said he had something he needed to run by him about the Alpha stuff and he'd meet us here." There's more to say, more to think about, but at the moment, Dean's brain is too foggy and he needs to give in to the hacking cough that's been trying to work its way out of his lungs yet one more time. When he's finished with the coughing fit and wiped his streaming nose on his sleeve, he drains the rest of the water, and catches Bobby raising his eyebrows at him.

"That cough don't sound good," he says.

Goddamn, but Dean feels like crap. "Yeah, well, it seems to be my new thing, getting sick like this every few months."

"You takin' anything for it?"

Dean shrugs. "Just the usual." And at that, Bobby gets back up and rummages around on his desk, brings over a bottle of whiskey, pours a hefty drink into Dean's glass. "Go on," he says. "Get a little rest. You need it. Nothing so urgent going on that it can't wait."

That's not entirely true, but Dean is too done in to argue the way he usually would. He downs the whiskey and leans his head against the back of the couch, unable to keep his eyes from slipping shut. "Not long," he slurs, already feeling himself going out. "I mean it."

"I'll wake you in a couple hours," Bobby says, sliding the glass out of Dean's fingers. "Get some sleep, you'll feel better."

And Dean's out before either says another word.


When he wakes, the sun's high in the window and Dean is flat on his back, soaked through his clothes, head throbbing and his back aching like someone's thrusting a knife into it.

For a moment, he isn't sure where he is or why he feels like he's on the verge of dying.

But he still somehow manages to pull himself up, the movement exacerbating the ache in his back and shifting the crap in his chest so that he's forced to spend the next thirty seconds trying to cough it up. The noise he's making must alert Bobby, who comes and stands in the doorway. "Time is it?" Dean asks, when he can catch his breath and form full sentences. Or close to it. "You were supposed to wake me." His voice is shot, and he's dizzy as hell, can barely keep his eyes open against the sunlight streaming in. He's trying to sound pissed but he's too ill to feel anything but - sick.

"Tried, to," Bobby says, and even though Dean's having a hard time focusing, he can see that Bobby's studying him from across the room. "You'd wake up but you were - out of your head. You don't remember?"

"No." Though Dean does think he remembers dreaming something or other, and he knows whatever sleep he got was restless and unhelpful. "Not really."

"Huh." Bobby is still staring at him. "You feelin' any better?"

"Maybe," Dean lies. He doesn't want to give any thought to how he feels - too much examination will force him to admit he feels worse than ever. The flu. It has to be. "Sam call?"

"No." Bobby moves closer into the room, peering intently at Dean, which is beginning to annoy the shit out of him. "You should eat something." Then he stops, frowning. "Kid, what's that on your face?"

Dean automatically touches the sides of his face, rubs his palm across his forehead. He has no idea what Bobby's talking about but whatever it is, it can't be worse than how he's already feeling. Without a word, he gets up and staggers his way over to the wall mirror.

His face is covered with a lacey web of bright red spots. Dots even, that smatter his forehead, his cheeks, his chin. "What the hell?" Dean leans in closer, pulls his shirt collar down, only to find more spots running across his neck. "What is this?"

"Something get at you?" Bobby asks, coming to stand next to him. "What was the last case you were working on?"

"The vampire thing," Dean says, absently. "But this isn't that." He grips the sides of the table beneath the mirror, afraid he might pass out. "At least I don't think it is."

"That's it then," Bobby says. His voice is grim and not to be messed with, Dean can tell that much. "Whatever is wrong, we're going in and getting a second opinion. We don't have time to be second-guessing about all this right now."

"Bobby, I don't want to go to any doctor, or whatever it is you have in mind. It's not a good idea." There's always a chance that something will happen at a visit to some sort of medical facility, where there's access to police and computer records and documents that could be difficult at best and incriminating at worst.

And then, just to add fuel to his own fire, Dean doubles over and pretty much coughs all over himself, the whole exertion of it making him see stars when he's finished.

"Yeah," Bobby says. "You're going." He grips Dean's arm like a vice, leaving no room for argument. "You're with me, boy, amongst people who - are friends. Now come on. I don't have all day to mess with you. But I will, if I have to."

And once again, because he feels like shit and is sick and Sam is fucking gone and he can't put up the fight he wants to, Dean allows someone else to run the show.

It's a sort of replay, in some ways, of the whooping cough/doctor-visit-with-Lisa scenario that Dean engaged in a few months back, but it's also not the same in many respects. They visit an emergency room, for starters, instead of a clinic, and while whoever it is taking care of him ushers him into a room quickly and without a fuss, that's about where the similarities end.

Bobby stays out in the waiting area, and Dean sits on an exam table, back to shaking with the chills, trying not to cough and spew his snot everywhere, while a nurse pokes and prods and takes his temperature, fires off questions, duly notes the previous bout with the whooping cough.

But when the ER doc comes in and sees the rash - which is spread all over Dean's chest and back - things change up in a hurry. There's a flurry of activity, people putting gowns and paper masks on - including slapping one of the damn things on Dean, which he really doesn't appreciate - and wheeling some kind of cart outside the room and putting a sign on the door. They swab his throat - which nearly makes him puke - swab his nasal passages, draw his blood, ask him even more questions even as he sits there, shivering and trying to catch his breath from the coughing all the swabbing shit is setting off. "What's going on?" he finally demands, after they've brought in some forms for him to sign - permission forms for more tests and insurance and admission forms for - for what looks to be at least an overnight stay.


"It's just the flu, isn't it?" Deans asks. But he already knows it isn't, that it's more, much more. "I didn't have to go to the hospital when I had whooping cough or whatever it was."

He's desperate - none of this seems like it should be real, and it definitely doesn't seem right, especially because Sam isn't here, isn't making sure that all off this is necessary and - what it should be. "I can't - stay here," Dean finishes. Because he can't.

Not without Sam.

"Mr. Winchester," the Doctor says. "I'm not sure if you understand how serious your situation is. It looks like you have a case of the measles. You're very sick and you're very contagious. You need to be admitted for at least a day or two so we can get the situation under control. And measles in adults is nothing to fool around with. On top of that, we really need to know where you might have contracted this, and who you've been in contact with, so we can try and contain the spread of it as quickly as possible."

And that's how it starts - or really, if Dean thinks about it - how it continues on, the pattern started in Indiana with Lisa and the pertussis and being sick with something most adults don't get sick with and now this - this, measles business.

He's admitted to the hospital - what choice does he have, if he's carrying around some kind of sickness that he can spread to everyone else -

Sam, Bobby -

Then he can't very well go exposing everyone out there. He's placed in isolation, all sorts of precautions in place to ensure that the spread of the disease is minimized. They let Bobby in briefly, gowned and gloved and masked up, looking scarier than some of the things they've hunted. "I need you to find Sam," Dean says. They've been running IV's into him, things to hydrate him and bring down the fever, even something to soothe the damn cough, but he still feels like hell, like he's living in some sort of nightmare. He knows Sam won't be able to do anything, but still. He needs Bobby to get him here, sooner rather than later.

"I'll call him again," Bobby says, voice muffled behind the mask. The "again," can only mean Bobby's been trying to reach him and having no luck, but Dean isn't up to contemplating that at the moment. "Don't worry kid, he'll be here as soon as he can. It'll be fine."

But it's Castiel who comes, and diagnoses him - well, not really "diagnose," the medical people have already done that - but lets Dean know what's going on.

He stirs to someone saying his name and he knows it's not Sam's voice - probably some nurse wanting to take his blood pressure or temperature or something - and it takes him a moment to wake - whatever they're pumping into him is knocking him out but good - so when he does fully come up, Dean isn't sure he's not dreaming. "Cas? Where's Sam?"

"I don't know," Castiel says. He leans forward a little, frowning. "How do you feel?"

It's the exact same question he put to Sam when he was trying to discern what was wrong with him, and Dean starts a little. "I'm - not good. Better - I think -" He takes in a quick breath to test it out, and while his chest and his back still hurt, he doesn't launch into any sort of coughing jag, which is a plus in Dean's book - "But I'm sick. With the damn measles. I thought that was something - not that common."

"It's not," Castiel says. "At least not in industrialized nations. It was declared eradicated in this country in two thousand."

"So, what the hell is going on, then? Why is this happening to me?"

"As far as I can tell, it's a remnant from your - run-in with Pestilence."

Dean can hardly believe what he's hearing. Pestilence. Fucking Pestilence of all things. "What? That Horseman with the ring that made us sick? How is that possible?"

"It appears he's - left you with some kind of curse, one that leaves you sick with illnesses that are - somewhat out of the norm."

"Then get rid of it."

"Dean, lower your voice. This isn't a conversation meant for public consumption."

"Consumption," Dean snorts - and then coughs - bitterly. "I suppose that's what I'll come down with next?"

"Anything is possible," Castiel says. "Look, Dean - I'm just as unhappy about this as you, and I'm working on getting rid of this - leftover from that time, but you'll have to be patient. Nothing he - gives you will be fatal. Just a sort of - calling card - from those days. It's how Pestilence works, how he spreads disease and plague and misery and such. But I'm certain anything he sends you won't - kill you. Make you miserable, certainly. But you'll be okay."

"How long is this going to go on? Dean whispers. "Forever?" Then another thought hits him, one even more chilling. "What about Sam? He was there with me, got just as sick as I did. Is he cursed or whatever like me?"

"Sam is immune. Without his soul, there's no way to put him through this. He could certainly be felled with the physical symptoms of illness, but that's it - without his soul, the emotional and mental anguish that often accompanies physical sickness would be absent, and the emotional distress is a very real part of why Pestilence - does what he does."

"Then maybe I'll just - be as emotionless or whatever - as Sam is. Then Pestilence won't be able to get his jollies out of making me sick all the damn time."

"It won't work," Castiel says, standing. "Because your soul is very much intact. And Pestilence knows that. I Iam/I sorry, Dean. I'll do my best to look into things but with all that's going on in Heaven, well - my time is somewhat limited."

Of course it is. So now, in addition to Sam being soulless, and this whole Alpha-monster bullshit, and not having Lisa and Ben anymore, Dean's got one more thing to add to his plate. And not some little thing, something where his health, of all fucking things, is threatened.

The only bright spot - and it's tiny, but Dean will take any little flicker at the moment - is that at least Sam won't have to put up with this - not that he'd apparently give a damn, at least according to Cas - but regardless, at least Dean will have one less thing to worry about, at least concerning Sam.

Yeah, he's reaching. But for now, it's all Dean can do.

Sam does come, right before Dean is cleared to leave the hospital, shows up completely dutiful and clinical, says and does the appropriate things which isn't anything new or different since he's returned without his soul, but at least it somehow seems okay for this situation - things related to medicine and disease and the like. The medical staff sends him on his way with instructions as to what to look for, complications that could arise from all this. They aren't able to track down where he might've picked up a stray case of the measles - no other case in the entire state has been reported, nor in Illinois, where Dean had been. The consensus from everyone is that they may have dodged a bullet, what with Dean getting medical attention so quickly, and the fact that everyone whom Dean has been in contact with is still symptom free. Yeah, Dean thinks. No worries there. I'm the only one Pestilence has set in his sights. But, of course, he doesn't say anything to anyone because what the hell is he going to say and not end up in the nut house?

So, he stays quiet, tries to be grateful that it's not any worse. It is, after all, just being sick, something that doesn't normally register on Dean's radar, and he has no intention of letting it start now, Pestilence curse or not.

And he leaves Sam out of it. Because they have way more important things to concentrate on, the least not being getting Sam his soul back. And as far as Dean is concerned, that trumps everything.

The third - and last - time Dean gets sick, he and Sam are in Ohio, and Sam has his soul back. Of course, there are other issues because of that, Sam's memories of Hell and what that could do to him, for starters - but despite that, despite the endless obstacles they'll likely be facing - are always facing - Dean is just too relieved that Sam is back and it's the real Sam, not some horrible, robotic version of him.

He doesn't even realize he's getting sick again; there's been too much going on and just as he'd promised himself after the measles debacle, Dean doesn't give thought to when he might get sick again or what he might come down with. There's no point, and more importantly, he's been way too busy thinking about other things. So, when he starts feeling worn and unwell, he barely notices. Doesn't even entertain the idea that he's coming down with something. Feeling worn and not well is par for the course, had been even before Pestilence came onto the scene. Even when the unwell feeling slides into more - not being hungry, his back and neck aching uncomfortably no matter what position he's in - Dean manages to brush it off. He's been sore and not wanted to eat plenty of other times, and it's always passed.

"You're not eating," Sam accuses him at breakfast, a few days after all this has started, and Dean's been listlessly sipping on a cup of coffee, his plate of toast untouched. "What's up with that?"

Sam's here.

"Nothing." Dean shrugs, and even that motion makes his neck and shoulders twinge painfully. He's not concerned - at least not much, and definitely not for himself. He's managed to keep all this leftover Pestilence-curse crap off Sam's radar so far, and he intends to keep it that way.

But that doesn't mean he isn't happy to see that Sam is actually noticing that something might be wrong with him, that Sam is paying attention -

That Sam is back.

"Just not hungry," Dean says. "I'll be good."

"You sure?"

"I always am," Dean says, and it's an answer he's spouted off before, in way worse situations, an answer that he's been - for the most part - able to back up.

Little does he know some of that is going to shift for him.

The fever is the next thing to take hold of him, about eighteen hours later when he and Sam are wending their way through the glorious state of Ohio. Dean can barely drive - he knows he's not himself - the aches and exhaustion are quickly turning into the shaking chills that he's become all-too familiar with the past year - but he gets him and Sam to a hole-in-the-wall motel in some rinky-dink place outside Dayton - before falling into bed. "Tired," he tells Sam. It's so unlike him, and the worry and astonishment on Sam's face is unprecedented, at least in this kind of situation. "I'm okay," Dean manages to insist. "Just need to sleep for awhile."

"Dean -" It's clear Sam knows better, that there's way more going on but that's all Dean hears, all he can say - he really is exhausted and can't do anymore except bury himself under the covers and try to sleep through whatever the fuck is going on with him now.

But whatever it is that he's trying to fight off doesn't let him get any rest, and Dean spends the next few hours trying to doze through the worst chills he's ever experienced. "What's going on with you?" Sam asks, when he sees how hard Dean's shaking, how it's enough to actually rattle the bed. His voice is a cross between Lisa's concern when he had the whooping cough, and Bobby's gruffness when the measles had come on, and to Dean, it's like music to his ears - that one sentence said in that way - the way Sam would've talked when he was Sam- is enough to soothe the physical misery of the fever right out from him. "Don't know," Dean says, and it's sort of true - he isn't exactly sure what the hell is going on, at least specifically. "Picked something up somewhere."

And Sam gets more blankets, piles them over Dean, forces some Advil and water into him, gets his laptop and props himself on the other bed to wait it out. Dean feels like absolute hell, no question, but the fact that Sam is here, is really here this time makes it somehow bearable, and he manages to finally drift off into a restless doze.

His fever breaks before midnight - one minute Dean's shaking through another bout of the chills and the next he's flushed and panting and throwing all the covers off his drenched body, his head feeling clearer than it has in awhile. "Hey," Sam says. "You want me to get you something?"

"No, I'm all right," Dean says, and while he can get to his feet, the fever has left him weak and exhausted, and only Sam jumping up and catching hold of him keeps him from hitting the floor. "what do you think you're doing?" he asks. "Just - relax for a minute. You're sick."

"I feel better," Dean says, and by some miracle, he actually does feel - well, not normal, maybe not even good but he feels - less sick than he did a few hours before. "Must be some twenty-four hour thing or something."

"Your fever's broken," Sam agrees. "But you probably shouldn't push it. Stay there and rest and I'll go and get you something to eat."

Sam's back. "I really think I'm okay," Dean says. "Just tired. By tomorrow I'll be fine."

And he really believes this. Whatever just hit him must not have been Pestilence-related. Anything's possible, Dean reasons, while Sam's out rustling up soup and ginger ale or whatever it is that Sam thinks is good for a twenty-four hour virus. Maybe it's over, the curse of Pestilence or whatever, now that Sam's - back. After all, Castiel hadn't really known what the parameters of the whole thing were, maybe the thing had been broken somehow and this was just a garden-variety, non-Pestilence related illness.

And Dean is convinced of this until thirty-six hours later, almost to the fucking second, when the fever comes creeping back as they're inching their way through a blinding rainstorm in central Iowa. He goes into full denial mode and tries to ignore it, but by the time he's gotten them through Des Moines, he's miserable and barely able to drive, and he knows that he's wrong - this is some Pestilence leftover, yet again, and he's going to have to take some kind of action here.

"I thought you were better," Sam says, when Dean pulls into the first motel he spots off the interstate. Dean hasn't said a word about feeling crappy, and apparently, he hasn't had to.

Sam's back.

"No," Dean says. He cuts the engine, takes the keys from the ignition and holds them out to Sam. "I'm going to check in here for a few days and wait this out. I want you to go on and get started on the case. Call Bobby if you have to, or Rufus. I don't think you'll need to but -"

Sam is gaping at him like he's grown two heads. "Why would I do that?"

"Because," Dean says. His head is aching so he can barely think - all he really wants is to lie down, wrap himself in every available blanket and close his eyes. "I'm not going to be able to help with this right now, not until I'm better."

"O - kay," Sam says. He still hasn't taken the keys, is pretty much ignoring them dangling in his face. "But that still doesn't explain why you want me to leave you here."

"Because I'm sick." He waggles the keys one more time and Sam finally takes them without comment.

"Yeah, I get that," Sam says. "What I don't get is why you think it'd be a good idea to leave you here alone."

Other than Castiel, no one else knows about the Pestilence curse - Dean hasn't let on, hasn't had any need to. "I don't want you to get sick," he finally says.

"That's nuts," Sam says. Clearly, he thinks it's Dean's fever talking - which, Dean realizes, is not that far-fetched, given how quick he can feel the fever kicking in, how sick he's about to become. "If I get sick, I get sick. But I'm not going to leave."

"Yeah, you are," Dean says. "We're not arguing about this."

"You're right, we're not," Sam says. He looks almost amused, but he also looks like he's not going to be fucked with, either, a Sam Winchester specialty look that Dean hasn't seen him muster since -

Long before he lost his soul -

"Damn it, Sam, I know what this is and you're just going to have to trust me on it when I say you'll be better off getting out of here for awhile." He's dizzy and beginning to pant, isn't sure how much longer before he'll - fall over.

"Then clue me in because I'd sure like to know what the hell you're talking about."

"It's Pestilence. From when he made us sick that first time. Cas said - it's some kind of curse - or something - and there's nothing I can do when I get sick from it."

Sam looks like he can't believe it, like this is all just a product of Dean's fevered brain. "Well, like you said, I was there for that and I'm not cursed. I haven't had anything - not even a sniffle - for as long as I can remember."

"You wouldn't have," Dean whispers. "Cas said you were immune - wouldn't feel such a curse because you were - soulless."

Sam's goes quiet, his face stilled into a look Dean can't read. "But I've got my soul back."

"That's what I'm trying to tell you," Dean says. "Now that your soul's back, you might be at risk to catch - this. Or maybe pop back up on Pestilence's radar, and get your very own post- Apocalyptic curse. And I can't risk that, Sam. You're better off getting far away from me when this thing happens."

Sam looks at him in wonder, and doesn't say a word. He opens the door and gets out of the car and Dean thinks he's going to do what he's asked - leave him alone for the duration of this, go off and get his own room or - well, who knows what. And then suddenly, his own door is being yanked open and Sam is gently pulling him out before Dean has a chance to do or say or even Ithink/I anything. He's too stunned - and too ill - to protest until they get into the room. "Sammy, I can handle this myself. It's happened - before."

"I know you can handle this yourself," Sam says. "But you don't have to. I don't want you to. Now shut the hell up and lie down."

I'm not going anywhere.

Whatever it is that Pestilence has laid on him this go-round, it's the worst thing yet. Dean can't even think past the claws of the fever digging into him, can only lie in the bed, shaking. He's never felt so physically awful, except maybe when Pestilence was killing him, and so he has no choice but to lie down despite the fact that he can hardly cope with the sheer misery he's in, despite his worry that this is going to get to Sam.

He tries to inventory his symptoms, just for kicks, but all that seems to be present is the horrible fever. At least there's no cough or rash this time around, which Dean thinks he could be grateful for, if he weren't so busy dizzily leaning over the side of the bed and splattering puke all over the damn floor. But there's no helping it, no stopping it - it's the fever, he knows it is, it's high enough that the chills are turning him inside out, making him sick to his stomach.

Sam cleans the mess, gets everything situated and, even as Dean's fever continues to rise. He knows he'll get through it - but what it'll take, Dean doesn't know. He can't think past trying not to puke again, and trying to somehow keep Sam from going through this.

At one point, he pulls himself up, unwraps the tangled bedclothes from his body and has one foot on the floor when Sam is there, gently holding him by his shoulders. "Hey," he says. "You're not going anywhere. Lie back down and let me figure out what's going on here."

"Sam." His voice is barely there, and if Sam wasn't holding him up, he'd be on the floor. "Please."

He means to say, Please don't stay with me, I need you to go, I need you to be safe. I don't want anything to happen to you.

"Right here, Dean. I'm not going anywhere." He braces Dean so he's leaning against Sam's shoulder. "Just hang on."

And Dean does.