It's always Florida, and it's always witches.
They were in Pensacola – the deepest into Florida either of them are willing to go - for three days before Dean figured out the pattern of bullshittery that's going on. It takes another two days to find the eye of the storm; a girl (okay, a 500-year-old girl) who has decided to make the city her own personal, real-life version of Doctor Sexy, MD, complete with Evil Twins, Kidnappings, People Returning from the Dead, and more Bastard Children than any one city should have, even one in Florida. Killing her only takes one day more, and Dean counts it as a rare witch-ganking win as he points the Impala north, not realizing he's been added to her list of guest stars.
The first hit is hard, and out of nowhere. Dean is midway through Queen of the Highway when he suddenly jerks the Impala off the road and nearly into a ditch; he's out the door and retching before Sam can process they've stopped.
"Dean! Dude, what's going on?" Sam bolts from the car, skidding to a stop next to his brother.
Dean had emptied himself of everything but his stomach lining and was still heaving. "Hex….bag…see…" He waved a hand back toward the Impala.
Sam tore the car apart while Dean got himself under control, mostly, but came up empty-handed.
"Dammit, Sammy, there's got to be one."
"I'm not finding it. Maybe it's a bug, or that godawful breakfast burrito you insisted on this-"
"Shut. Up." Dean looked slightly green again.
"Sorry, god, I'm sorry. Anyway. It could be something completely non-witchy."
"I guess. I feel like shit anyway," Dean grunts in reply, tossing the keys to Sam. "I ache everywhere; maybe it is just the flu. Get us the hell out of Florida."
It's not the flu.
Sam makes it all the way to Memphis before he's forced to stop. Dean is curled tight in the passenger seat, breath ragged, and Sam has to practically carry him in to the motel room. Dean is doing his best to move under his own power, but it's a losing battle. "I hate witches," he says, trying to sound like he's making a joke.
Sam winces at the rasp, but can't help wishing he had a dollar for every time he's heard that. God knows they'd be able to stay at better motels; the King's Court is threadbare at best; the heater barely works and the hot water isn't much better. Frustrating, because what Dean needs now is heat, and comfort, and Sam hasn't got much of either for him. None of their painkillers have helped at all, even the good stuff, and Sam is running out of ideas.
Dean continues, voice sounding more harsh with every word.
"I hate them, Sammy. I hate their obsession with body fluids and their freaking earth magic and their soap opera lives –" He breaks off with what would be a sob coming from anyone else. "I hate them." He's down to a whimper, now, an honest to god whimper, and that just kills Sam. He hates witches, too; almost as much as he hates not being able to take care of his big brother.
But maybe Castiel can.
Sam isn't sure if it's his hours of whispered, shouted, cajoling, begging prayer, or Dean's increasing moans of pain, but eventually there's the familiar rush of wings and Cas steps in to the room. As always, his eyes go straight to Dean.
"Thank god," Sam sighs. "We really need your help, Cas. He's been hexed, and I can't find the damned hex bag anywhere, and he's in so much pain – can you do anything, or get us to Bobby's, or something?"
"What the hell do you mean, no? He needs you."
"I don't have enough power to do either of those things, Sam."
"Then I guess the next stop is a hospital."
"It's a Mystery Disease, Sam; the hospital won't do any good." Dean, ever alert to Cas's sudden appearances, startles Sam. He sounds worse than ever, but struggles to his feet. "We have to find that fucking b-" His eyes roll up, the trembling in his muscles becoming spasms, spasms becoming a full-on seizure. Sam leaps for him, holding his shoulders, aware there's really not much more he can do. Castiel follows, and gathers what Grace he can as Sam guides Dean back down to the bed.
"I will try." As he touches his fingers to Dean's forehead, Dean stills. Sam looks up, grateful, and Castiel's hand falls away. He looks surprised. "I used no power, Sam."
Dean is no longer seizing, but the lines of pain on his face are still pronounced, and his muscles are tremoring again.
Sam wipes his face with a washcloth, then hands it to Cas. "Here – you do this a while; keep his fever down. I need to see if can find that hex." Cas takes it, looking both concerned and confused. "What will this-" but Sam is already out the door.
Cas sits hesitantly next to Dean, and places a hand on his shoulder. Dean sighs, settles, and some of the pained look recedes.
When Sam returns, hands empty, Cas gets up. Dean immediately cries out, eyes open but unseeing. "What did you do?" Sam demands, taking his frustration out on the nearest standing thing. "He was fine." Sam soothes as best he can, but nothing is quieting Dean. Cas comes up next to Sam and runs a hand through Dean's hair, and he instantly stills.
"I thought you said -"
"I don't, I'm not using any power. There is no Grace here."
"Well there's obviously something, because- take your hand off him." Sam is demanding, and a little scary.
Cas startles, but faces him down. "I'm not hurting him, Sam."
"No, I mean move away; I want to see what happens." Castiel steps away from the bed, and Dean's distress increases obviously. "Stay there – wait. I hate to do this to him, but I need to see."
It isn't 15 minutes before Dean is writhing; Cas moves in to relieve him, unable to watch his suffering, but Sam stops him, just to be sure. When he finally lets go, and Cas can rest his hand on Dean's chest, the effect is just as abrupt as before – it's as though a switch has been flipped.
"Huh. Hope you don't have any plans that don't involve holding hands with my brother for the foreseeable future, Cas; you're gonna need to stay with him while I find that damned hex bag."
Cas looks at Sam; for a long minute Sam thinks he might refuse, but then he looks down at his hand on Dean's chest, and moves it to where Sam knows the imprint of his hand still remains, will always remain.
"I will stay."
They bundle Dean back into the car, and Sam breaks enough rules of the road to keep them in Alabama jail for a long time, if they got caught. They don't. Dean sleeps three of the five hours, and then wakes up abruptly. He's disoriented, which is unsurprising, but means he's also cranky as hell. They try to explain where they're headed and why, but it's not sinking in.
"I need to pee, Sam, stop the damned car." Dean winces as he moves, looking sideways at Cas's hand on his arm.
Cas slides out of the seat behind him once the car stops. "I can do this myself, dude, I don't need you perving behind me."
"I'm not…I'm keeping you from pain, Dean."
"No, you're being a pain. I can find my dick on my own, thanks."
Cas removes his hand, and Dean collapses to his knees on the side of the road, going down so fast even Cas' reflexes aren't enough to save him.
"He told you so, Dean," Sam says, as Cas lifts him to his feet again.
"Jesus, what the fuck was that?" Dean stutters, looking wild-eyed.
"Mystery Disease brought on by that witch? You told us yourself, remember?" Sam is looking concerned, checking Dean's eyes as though he hit his head and not his knees in his fall.
Comprehension dawns. "Fuck, I really really hate witches."
"Yes, Dean. Now pee, and stop yelling at Cas for touching you, and let us get back to Pensacola so we can find that bag."
"I'd like to find that witch and gank her again, just for funsies," Dean growls. Cas is as discreet as he can be, but never takes his hand off of Dean. "If either of you tell anyone about this…" he threatens, as they get back on the road.
"Who would I tell, Dean? And what would I tell them?" Cas tips his head, eyes slightly confused.
Sam looks at them in the rear view mirror. "Shut up, Dean, or I'll take a picture right now and send it to every hunter we know. It's not Cas's fault most Mystery Diseases require True Love's To-" Sam breaks off as Dean throws a bag at him; luckily it's empty of everything but ketchup packets.
"Shut up and drive," he grumbles – but he leans in to Castiel's side, thighs touching, head on Cas's shoulder. "You're a real bitch, you know that, Sammy?" But Dean doesn't shake Cas's touch away – not when Cas presses a kiss to the top of his head, not even after they find the bag, tucked into the hotel room they left, and burn it to ashes in the parking lot.
Sam has the backseat all to himself as they hit the road again.