Summary: Pre-Series – Severely Allergic Sam / Big Brother Dean – Dean ignored the surrounding crowd; completely focusing on Sam as he continued to hold his brother in his lap and then jabbed the EpiPen into the kid's leg.

Disclaimer: Not mine.

Warnings: I guess the topic could be upsetting if you've experienced this (a severe allergic reaction); but otherwise, just the usual language

A/N: I have an EpiPen, and I'm incredibly thankful that (thus far) I've never had to use it. But Sam, on the other hand, is not so fortunate.


...take a bite; you could lose your life... ~ Brand Nubian


It was one of Dean's favorite times of day – mealtime.

In fact, because there were actually three official times of day that people were supposed to stop what they were doing and eat, Dean sometimes reconsidered his position on religion.

Maybe a Higher Power did exist after all.

And because It wanted Its children to be happy, It had ordered the natural progression of the holy trinity – breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Dean quirked a smile as the thought once again crossed his mind – because it made perfect sense – and then felt his smile widen as he spotted what he had been looking for over the past 20 minutes as he and Sam had cruised along the back roads of America.

There in the distance – like an oasis in the middle of the desert – was a beacon of hope shining in the dusk of approaching night.

Dean nodded his approval at the promise of nearby food, even though the diner's sign was faded and leaning more than it should so that its flashing red arrow didn't quite point to the location of the roadside restaurant anymore.

But that was fine.

Dean had an excellent sense of direction – especially when food was involved – and found the diner in less than ten minutes.

"Yahtzee," Dean commented with a smile and steered the Impala off the highway and into the gravel lot; the classic Chevy's headlights shining the way as Dean eased her into a parking space right in front of the eatery's door before glancing at Sam across the bench seat.

Dean stared fondly at the familiar sight of his brother curled up against the Impala's passenger side door; the 12-year old having been sound asleep for the past 100 miles or so since they had parted ways with John – their dad crossing state lines to chase a lead on the yellow-eyed demon with the promise of returning in a few days.

Dean had nodded as they had stood on the side of the road a couple towns back; because that was what John had expected him to do.

But even now, Dean doubted John's promise was true.

And based on Sam's scowl and uncharacteristic silence before he had fallen asleep, the kid had doubted it, too.

Because if their training had taught them anything, it had taught them that experience was the best teacher.

And John's sons knew from experience that they would be lucky to see their dad in the next few weeks, not days.

But...whatever.

For better or for worse, this was their life.

And as long as Dean had Sam along for the ride, he could truthfully take or leave John.

Although Dean figured he might change his mind about traveling companions if Sam got any moodier with age...

Dean chuckled quietly to himself; his smile lingering as he continued to watch Sam sleep beside him; still finding it hard to believe that his little runt of a brother was actually going to be 13 in a few weeks.

Of course just looking at Sam, most people figured the kid was around ten...which Dean rarely let his brother forget, especially when Sam got "too big for his britches" – as Bobby Singer would say – and was being his moody, preadolescent self.

...which pretty much described Sam's temperament since the kid had woken up that morning – and John's sudden departure to chase yet another secret lead had only made things worse.

Sam had remained silent as they had driven away from John; had pulled his hands inside the sleeves of his grey hoodie and had wrapped his arms around himself as the Impala had rumbled down the highway.

Several miles had passed before Sam had finally fallen asleep in the passenger seat, and Dean had been relieved; hoping a nap would improve his brother's disposition much like it did back when Sam was younger.

But there was only one way to find out...

Dean sighed, inwardly bracing himself as he prepared to wake the dragon.

"Hey, Sammy..." Dean called; switching off the Impala's ignition and waiting a few seconds before reaching across the bench seat to nudge his brother. "Sam..."

Sam instantly stirred under Dean's touch; shifting and turning to look at Dean; blearily blinking as he unfolded himself in the seat and sat up; rubbing the back of his right hand over his eyes as he stared through the windshield at the diner's dingy exterior.

"Where...?" Sam asked; his voice quiet and slightly hoarse with sleep before the rest of his question was lost in a yawn.

Dean smiled. "Diner," he answered simply, wondering if his brother would ever look older than a sleepy toddler when the kid was first waking up.

Sam yawned again, pushing his bangs out of his eyes as he blinked at Dean. "Why?"

Dean snorted at the obviousness of that question. "Because it's time to eat," he replied – his words freshly arousing his hunger for dinner – and opened the driver's side door. "Let's go..." he called to Sam as he exited the Impala.

Sam wrinkled his nose – more sleepy than hungry – but did as he was told; climbing out of the Impala as well and joining Dean on the cracked pavement surrounding the diner's entrance.

"I'm not hungry," Sam told his brother, squinting in the lights that shone from the diner's large windows; the painted words on the glass flaking so badly it was hard to tell what they were meant to advertise.

Dean rolled his eyes at Sam's usual announcement at mealtime – that he wasn't hungry – and often wondered if his little brother would be so picky and generally resistive to food if the kid hadn't suffered through so many food allergies over his 12 years of life.

Milk had been the first of Sam's allergies – which had been all kinds of fun – and then eggs, wheat, tree nuts...and the list seemed to constantly change as Sam got older.

Some allergies were thankfully outgrown – like milk; while others stubbornly stuck around – like eggs, wheat, and tree nuts. And still others threatened to join the crowd – like that one time last month when Sam had experienced a particularly nasty outbreak of hives after he had eaten fish...even though fish had never previously bothered him.

Dean frowned at the memory of that night; still able to see the huge, inflamed welts that had practically covered every inch of his brother's skin as Sam's body had severely reacted to whatever it suddenly didn't like in fish.

Sam had been so miserable that night that he had literally cried himself to sleep as Dean had sat beside him on the motel bed; soothing his brother while standing by with an EpiPen in hand and praying it wouldn't be needed; that the prescription-strength antihistamines he had given Sam would work instead.

And thankfully, they eventually had.

Because although Dean would always do whatever had to be done for Sam, it never got any easier for him to essentially stab his brother in the thigh with an EpiPen...even if doing so was to deliver life-saving medication.

Dean clenched his jaw; remembering six months ago when he had been forced to do just that after Sam had eaten a brownie that had been made with walnuts...which the waitress had failed to mention – and Dean had failed to notice – before Sam had taken a bite.

The waitress had simply shrugged. "Sorry," she had said, as if that could make everything better – as if Dean hadn't already told her multiple times about his brother's food allergies – and then had proceeded to stare at Sam as the kid had gasped for breath.

Dean shook his head; freshly pissed at that incident...and freshly reminded to be on guard as they entered the diner tonight – because Sam's safety was his responsibility, not some random waitress's.

And although Dean could feel the slight weight of the EpiPen as it currently rested in the pocket of his leather jacket, he had no desire to use it or to end up in the emergency room with a little brother whose own body was trying to suffocate itself.

Dean inwardly shuddered at the thought; because Sam's last bout of anaphylactic shock may have occurred six months ago, but it still felt alarmingly fresh.

"Dean..." Sam called; watching his brother and stuffing his hands in the center pocket of his grey hoodie; feeling the EpiPen he had stashed there and knowing Dean had one as well – because they never went anywhere without at least two...especially not to a restaurant.

Sam scrunched his face, remembering the last time they had actually had to use one of the EpiPens, and suddenly felt anxious; because he didn't want to go through that again.

Sam sighed, staring up at his brother as they continued to stand on the cracked pavement. "Dean. Did you hear me? I said I'm not hungry."

Dean blinked down at his brother; knowing the kid's intention – to say he wasn't hungry in an attempt to avoid food altogether.

Nice try.

"I heard you," Dean responded, opening the diner's door and motioning for Sam to enter. "I was just ignoring you."

Sam scowled. "Nice."

Dean chuckled and slung his arm over Sam's narrow shoulders as the kid passed by him; playfully shaking his brother as they crossed to one of the diner's booths along the far wall.

"Stop it," Sam irritably snapped and shoved Dean away even as he smiled at Dean's rough affection; always basking in attention from his big brother.

Dean was unfazed by Sam's supposed annoyance and tousled Sam's floppy hair – still slightly disheveled from sleeping in the Impala – before sliding into the booth's seat as Sam did the same on the opposite side of the table.

Dean reached for the stiff laminated menus sandwiched between the napkin holder and the salt and pepper shakers; handing one to Sam as his brother glanced around the diner's interior.

Dean followed Sam's gaze – taking in the usual décor of such a roadside establishment, along with its patrons scattered at other booths and tables – and then focused again on the menu; eagerly scanning his options.

"I'm starving," Dean announced; his attention immediately drawn to the double bacon cheeseburger listed in the middle of the menu. "What are you getting?" he asked his brother, glancing at Sam as the kid sat across the table from him.

Because that was part of their mealtime routine – Sam discussing his food choices with Dean for his big brother's ultimate approval that whatever the kid planned to eat would (hopefully) not set off an allergic reaction.

"Sam..." Dean called again when his brother didn't respond. "What are you getting?"

Sam shrugged, shifting on the cracked green vinyl of the booth's seat as he slouched in his hoodie; obviously less enthused than Dean about choosing his dinner.

Dean sighed, knowing that gesture, and prepared to do battle. "Sam..."

"I don't know," Sam responded – his tone dangerously close to a whine – and pushed at the edge of the menu like he didn't want to fully touch its sticky, greasy surface as he slid it further away on the table.

Dean instantly slid it back; nonverbally communicating that not ordering was not an option.

Sam glared. "I'm not hungry."

"Which is bullshit," Dean asserted, not even blinking. "Because I know you are."

Sam shrugged again, which only confirmed Dean's statement.

Dean narrowed his eyes. "Sam..."

"I ate lunch," Sam defended.

"Barely," Dean corrected; knowing Sam's lack of appetite at that meal had less to do with the kid's food allergies...and everything to do with John's announcement that he was going to leave as soon as lunch was over.

Dean arched an eyebrow, waiting on his brother.

Several seconds passed with Dean staring at Sam while Sam stared at the edge of the table.

Dean sighed harshly; instantly done with this game. "Sam..." he began and then paused when one of the diner's waitresses approached.

"Evening..." she greeted and smiled, though the expression only made her look even more worn down and exhausted; her limp ponytail and faded makeup testifying to her long day spent on her feet.

Dean returned the waitress's smile despite his frustration with his brother. "Hey, there."

"Thank you for coming in tonight," the waitress told them; her flat tone indicating she really didn't care if they were there or not...but since she was supposed to say that, she did. "Y'all ready to order?" she asked; her gaze flickering from Dean to Sam as she palmed her small notepad.

Sam continued to stare at the table.

The waitress frowned; her pen hovering in preparation to write. "Sweetie..." she called to Sam.

Dean maintained his smile; resisting the urge to kick Sam under the table. "We're still deciding," he smoothly told her. "Just give us a few more minutes..."

The waitress casted another concerned glance at Sam but nodded. "Sure thing, honey."

"Thanks," Dean replied; holding his pleasant expression as he watched the waitress disappear behind the kitchen's swinging door before narrowing his eyes at the kid sitting across the table from him.

Sam didn't react.

...which somehow pissed Dean off even more.

"Sam..." he growled warningly; knowing his brother would recognize his demand in just that one word...and wondering why something as simple as ordering dinner always turned into such a huge fucking deal.

Sam was silent for a few seconds more; avoiding Dean's eyes as he continued to pick at the edge of the menu. "I don't see anything I want," he finally responded; his voice quiet and defeated.

...which translated to "everything I want has something in it that I can't have."

And that realization would never stop sucking.

Dean immediately softened. "Sammy..."

Sam shook his head and sighed.

Dean did the same – wishing Sam could relax and eat anything he wanted just one day of the kid's life – and returned his attention back to the menu in front of him; freshly determined to find something his brother could eat.

Because the kid was already scrawny enough...and Dean sure as hell wasn't going to let him get any skinnier.

Sam watched his brother – knowing exactly what Dean was doing – and leaned back in the booth; his short legs nervously swinging on the edge of the seat as he waited; wishing mealtimes made him happy instead of anxious.

But pretty much every dish had at least one of his food allergens – eggs, wheat, tree nuts, or fish – hidden in its ingredient list if the recipes were analyzed.

Which meant every meal was always stressful; trying to remember which questions to ask and worrying about whether the waitress would remember to leave off the requested item...or if she would leave it off, but the rest of the food would somehow still be contaminated with a food allergen while it was in the kitchen.

Sam sighed; preferring to be hungry than to be constantly worried about what he ate and wishing Dean would just leave him alone.

Not that Sam expected that to happen.

"Hey..." Dean called, pointing at the upside-down menu Sam had left on the table across from him. "How about..."

But Dean's voice faded as he realized that was probably not a good choice.

"Never mind," he said distractedly and continued searching the limited menu.

Sam quirked a know-it-all smile; because he had looked at the menu, too, and knew there was nothing for him to safely eat. "I told you."

"Yeah, well...good for you," Dean retorted dryly and then pointed again at Sam's menu. "How 'bout this?"

Sam leaned forward; briefly reading the item's description before wrinkling his nose in rejection.

Dean frowned. "Why not?"

"It might have fish in it."

Dean arched an eyebrow and glanced again at the menu. "Seriously?"

"It might," Sam insisted; sounding upset just thinking about the possibility.

Dean nodded. "Okay," he soothed; reluctant to push the issue given Sam's reaction to the last fish the kid ate; because neither he nor his little brother wanted to relive that experience anytime soon.

"Maybe I'll just drink some water..." Sam suggested.

"And maybe you'll eat some food, too..." Dean countered, pinning Sam with a hard stare. "I'm not Dad," he reminded his brother. "I'm not letting you out of this just because it's easier than listening to you bitch."

Sam scowled but said nothing; unable to argue against those truths – that he bitched more than usual when it came to eating...and that John would often uncharacteristically relent on the issue to avoid yet another battle with his youngest.

There was a beat of silence.

"Sorry," Sam apologized quietly, staring at Dean from across the table. "I don't mean to be a pain. I just – "

" – I know," Dean interrupted; because he did.

His life had been affected by Sam's allergies just as much as Sam's had, and he knew what was at risk every time the kid ate; one bite having the potential to literally cause a life-or-death situation.

Sam nodded and sighed – seeming to relax a little more – and then directed his attention back to his own menu before pointing at Dean's. "What about this?"

Dean read the line beside Sam's finger. "That might be okay," he allowed and read the line again describing the salad. "If you leave the eggs off..."

Sam nodded. "I know."

"And it doesn't say anything about nuts, so that's good..." Dean praised.

Sam nodded again. "So I can have it?" he asked; his tone hopeful...because Dean had been right earlier – he was kinda hungry.

Dean read the line a third time; thankful that at least the kid was getting some protein from the chopped ham that supposedly topped the salad.

"Dean..." Sam prompted. "Can I?"

"Yeah," Dean finally responded. "We'll just need to double-check what's in the dressing."

Sam nodded once more, knowing the routine. "I can get it on the side like last time."

Dean nodded his agreement; remembering when Sam had ordered a salad a couple nights ago at another diner...and how surprisingly well that meal had turned out.

"Alright," Dean told his brother. "Let's go with that."

Sam smiled – always liking it when Dean referred to them in plural...because what affected him affected Dean, too – and felt even more relaxed now that they had found something he could eat.

Dean quirked a smile as he watched Sam from across the table; pleased that the kid seemed more settled...and amused that his 12-year old brother was turning into quite the salad eater; even though that wasn't exactly the meal of choice for most hunters – or their children.

But for a kid with limited options about what he could eat, a salad seemed to be doing the trick for Sam these days.

And a kid had to do what a kid had to do...even if that meant choking down a salad instead of chicken fingers, whose breading almost always contained traces of wheat and eggs – and sometimes tree nuts – to maintain flavor and consistency in the batter before frying.

They had learned that particular lesson the hard way back when Sam was four-years old.

Dean could still remember John's horrified expression – and the way his own heart had sunk – as little Sammy had been happily eating his chicken one minute...and then had been gasping and wheezing the next before limply slumping in his booster seat.

Dean shook his head, dispersing the disturbing memory and focusing instead on their waitress as she once again approached.

"Ready?" she asked them simply; her fatigue making her look and sound bored.

"We were born ready," Dean quipped – his mood lighter because Sam's mood was lighter – and winked at the waitress.

She laughed; clearly appreciating a 17-year old kid flirting with a middle-aged woman like herself. "Well, let's hear it..." she replied; her pen hovering over her small notepad.

"I'll have the double bacon cheeseburger with fries and a Coke," Dean told her. "And no lettuce or tomato or any of that crap," he added, cringing at the thought of being tricked into eating vegetables.

The waitress laughed again as she jotted down Dean's order and then glanced at Sam; seeming pleasantly surprised that the younger of her two customers seemed like an entirely different kid than the quiet, sulky one she had first encountered a few minutes ago.

"And for you, sweetie?" she asked Sam.

Sam glanced at Dean.

Dean nodded his encouragement.

Because while he used to order Sam's food when his brother was younger, Dean had recently started letting the kid order for himself; figuring that if his brother was almost a teenager, then he needed to allow Sam to begin navigating the intricacies of managing his food allergies without big brother constantly doing it for him.

And that decision – though Dean knew it was the right one – was proving to be really fucking hard.

"Um..." Sam shifted in the booth's seat; always hating having to ask so many questions about his food and actually missing the days when Dean did this part for him. "I want water and the chef salad. But..." He glanced again at Dean and then back to the waitress. "No eggs."

The waitress nodded and made the note on the order.

"That's really important," Dean added, unable to stop himself; always feeling worried during this process since they were counting on some stranger to ensure the safety of Sam's food. "He has severe food allergies, and eggs are one of his triggers."

"Oh..." the waitress responded; her eyebrows lifted in surprise. "Well, my goodness. I'll definitely make sure no eggs come near your salad," she assured Sam.

Sam nodded his thanks to the waitress and then glanced at Dean.

Dean once again nodded his encouragement. "And..." he prompted.

Remembrance lit in Sam's eyes at the cue. "And there's no tree nuts in it, right?"

"Tree nuts?" the waitress repeated. "Do you mean peanuts?"

"No," Sam responded; his eyes widening slightly – because it was obvious the waitress had no idea what he was talking about – and glanced again at Dean.

Dean took his cue; knowing that look of alarm on his brother's face. "Like pecans, walnuts, almonds, cashews..." he listed; always amazed that people usually thought all nuts were peanuts. "Anything like that in the salad?"

"Oh..." the waitress replied and laughed. "Sorry. I'm with you now," she told them and then shook her head. "No. There's nothing like that. It's just a plain ol' chef salad. Nothing fancy. Just lettuce, tomato, cucumbers, cheese, chopped ham, and hard-boiled eggs...but we're leaving those off."

"Right. Good," Dean praised and nodded at Sam; knowing the gesture would help soothe Sam's slightly frazzled nerves. "What about the dressing?"

Sam nodded his interest in that question – thankful that Dean had taken over the tedious ordering process – and blinked expectantly at the waitress as she continued to stand beside their table.

The waitress shrugged. "Nothing special. Just something the cook whips up every day. To be honest, I don't even know what's in it."

Sam tilted his head; briefly wondering what that was like – to go through life and just eat whatever you wanted without even knowing what the food was made of...and not having to worry about it.

"We need you to find out," Dean replied; his tone polite but firm.

"Absolutely," the waitress agreed. "I'll check and let you know. But for now, just bring it on the side?"

Dean paused; considering their options. "How 'bout for now, just don't bring it at all..." he countered; suddenly suspicious of what food allergens were lurking in the homemade dressing.

Sam swallowed at the idea of having to eat dry salad – again – but knew that was better than not eating anything, especially since he was getting hungrier by the minute.

"That's too bad," the waitress commented about leaving off the salad dressing from Sam's order. "It's really good."

"I'm sure it is," Dean agreed and smiled; nonverbally dismissing her.

The waitress nodded, taking the hint. "Well, I'll put your order in and be back with your drinks," she told them and retreated to the kitchen.

Dean watched her go – giving another quick once-over to the overall diner to check its security – and then focused on Sam; quirking a smile as his brother nervously bit his lower lip while continuing to pick at the edge of the menu.

"Hey. Stop," Dean called and took the menu from in front of Sam; placing his own on top and then returning the menus to their home between the napkin holder and the salt and pepper shakers.

Sam sighed and leaned back in the booth; lifting his hand to his mouth.

"Sam..." Dean called warningly and shook his head; knowing that nervous habit #3 was about to surface and having no desire to watch his brother chew on the side of his thumbnail until the kid made his skin practically raw. "Stop," he repeated. "Relax."

Sam's face scrunched with annoyance and anxiety, but he lowered his hand; instead stuffing both hands back in the center pocket of his hoodie and gripping the EpiPen he found there.

And Dean knew he was doing that, too.

Dean smiled – wondering if Sam knew just how well his big brother knew him – and then glanced at the waitress as she wordlessly approached.

"Did you check the ingredients in the salad dressing?" Dean asked; hating how that question made him sound like a finicky foodie...but whatever. It was for Sam, and that was all that mattered.

"I did," the waitress replied proudly, setting their drinks on the table. "The cook said it's safe."

Dean looked doubtful...because "safe" was subjective. "What's in it?"

The waitress shrugged. "Oh, you know...salad dressing stuff. Some spices, a little bit of lemon juice, salt, pepper..."

Her voice faded like she couldn't possibly list all the dressing ingredients...because she didn't really know.

"I see," Dean responded dryly; annoyed that by not doing what they were asked to do, people were constantly putting his brother's life at risk. "Well, in that case...just leave the dressing off like we discussed."

Because there was no way that shit was touching Sam's food; not when Dean could sense a potential allergic reaction just talking about it.

The waitress sighed; her patience clearly starting to dwindle with her picky, bossy customers. "Fine. Anything else?"

Dean arched an eyebrow; because even though this woman was old enough to be their mom, she did not want to get an attitude with him...seriously. And especially not when he was just trying to protect Sam...

The waitress continued to stare at Dean expectantly; her hand on her hip as she stood beside the table.

"I think we're good," Dean replied; his tone polite while his expression told her to fuck off.

The waitress snorted – clearly receiving the message – and crossed to her next table.

There was a beat of silence.

"You shouldn't piss off the waitress," Sam advised his brother; his hands still tucked in the pocket of his hoodie. "She might do something to my food."

Dean pulled a face at Sam's paranoia. "No, she won't," he countered. "She knows she was being a bitch."

Sam shrugged. "You still shouldn't piss her off."

"And you should watch your language..." Dean lightly reprimanded; knowing where the kid got such language – and thankful his brother didn't seem interested in using other words Dean had unintentionally taught him over the years – but still feeling it to be his big brother duty to scold.

Do as I say, not as I do...and all that crap.

Sam sighed, turning his head to worriedly stare at the kitchen's swinging door.

Dean followed his gaze. "Will you relax?"

Sam sighed again. "I'm trying."

Dean snorted. "Could've fooled me..." he remarked and then paused. "Sam. Look at me."

Sam reluctantly did so.

"Everything is gonna be fine," Dean soothed; staring intently at Sam and making sure the kid was listening to him. "You hear me? I seriously doubt the waitress – or anybody else – will purposefully sabotage your food."

"I know," Sam hesitantly agreed. "But mistakes happen."

Dean sighed; the truth of that statement causing his own stomach to clench...because they knew that fact all too well. "Yeah..." he allowed. "But if that happens, we're armed and ready...right?"

Sam quirked a smile; knowing Dean was referring to the EpiPens they both carried.

"Right?" Dean pressed.

"Right," Sam replied, feeling slightly more relaxed at that reminder as his grip tightened around the EpiPen he still held within his hoodie pocket.

"Good," Dean praised and smiled at his brother before gently kicking the kid under the table. "Now chill the fuck out."

Sam laughed and kicked his brother back.

Dean chuckled and took a long sip of his drink as he once again glanced around the diner; taking in their surroundings as his mind was already mapping out the rest of their evening – eating, finding a motel, securing the room, checking in with John, making sure Sam took his nightly dose of preventive antihistamines before the kid went to bed, maybe cleaning a few of their guns before turning in himself...

Across the table, Sam sighed. "Where was Dad going?"

Dean blinked at the suddenness of that question and set his glass back on the table as he refocused on his brother. "I don't know," he truthfully answered. "You know how Dad is – we're on a 'need-to-know' basis and all that crap."

Sam snorted. "Yeah." He paused. "Do you think he'll come back?"

Dean frowned; hating how Sam seemed to further doubt their father's return each time John left. "Of course he'll come back," he told his brother; annoyed that Sam would ask that. "What the hell kind of question is that?"

Sam shrugged; knowing Dean didn't want to hear that if Sam were their dad, he wouldn't want to come back to a sickly kid who was a constant embarrassment and overall pain in the ass.

Dean scowled; wondering if Sam would ever figure out that he couldn't hide anything from his big brother. "Sam..." he called and waited for the kid to look at him. "Dad going off on his own has nothing to do with you. You hear me? Nothing."

Sam nodded; knowing Dean was probably right...but still feeling like he wanted to cry.

Dean shook his head; suddenly realizing why his brother had been so quiet and withdrawn after John had left earlier that afternoon. "Sammy. Stop. Whatever you're thinking...let it go. Dad does what he does because that's who Dad is. It has nothing to do with you, kiddo. I promise."

Sam stared at Dean, knowing his brother wouldn't lie to him, and shakily sighed before nodding again.

Dean smiled encouragingly. "You good?"

Sam nodded once more.

"Good," Dean praised and then tilted his head to indicate their approaching waitress. "Because here comes our food..."

Sam glanced to his left in time to see his salad appear.

"Here you go, sweetie..." the waitress told Sam, setting the oversized bowl on the table in front of the kid. "No eggs..." She paused, cutting her eyes at Dean. "And no dressing."

Dean smiled; unfazed by the waitress's meaningful glare. "Awesome."

The waitress rolled her eyes; wordlessly setting Dean's food in front of him before glancing between the brothers. "Anything else?"

"Not right now, sweetheart," Dean replied and winked.

The waitress shook her head – amused, even if she didn't want to be – and turned to go back to the kitchen.

Dean chuckled. "I think she likes me."

Sam snorted. "Whatever. She likes me better."

"Ha!" Dean retorted. "You wish."

Sam laughed and then leaned forward; taking his hands out of his hoodie pocket and warily staring at the food in front of him.

Dean frowned. "What's wrong?"

Sam shook his head. "Nothing. I was just looking at it."

"Well, don't look at it..." Dean returned. "Eat it."

Sam nodded, picking up his fork and carefully inspecting the salad; double-checking that it was indeed safe for him to eat.

Dean munched on a few stray fries dangling off the edge of his plate and watched his brother; barely resisting the urge to pick up his own fork and join Sam's inspection.

A few seconds passed.

"Sam..." Dean prompted when his brother continued to meticulously lift every leaf of lettuce in the bowl; sometimes wondering how much of Sam's food inspections were because of his fear of food allergens...and how much was because of the kid's OCD tendencies. "You done? I'd like to eat my dinner before breakfast..."

Sam scowled. "Shut up."

Dean chuckled. "Seriously...everything okay?"

Sam nodded. "I think so. I don't see anything I'm not supposed to eat."

"Good," Dean praised, still resisting the urge to look through Sam's salad for himself, and instead turned his attention to his own food; devouring half of his cheeseburger before Sam had even lifted his first forkful of salad to his mouth.

Sam sighed – hating how apprehensive he always felt before taking his first bite of food – and reminded himself that he was hungry...and that the salad was fine.

Across the table, Dean continued to eat; watching as Sam psyched himself up to eat as well and then smiling when the kid finally did.

Sam chewed slowly; always on alert for the slightest indication that his body didn't like whatever he was eating.

But...so far, so good.

"Okay?" Dean checked, knowing Sam would know what he was asking – whether the food was okay and whether Sam felt any signs of an allergic reaction.

"Okay," Sam confirmed and smiled, digging his fork back into the salad bowl.

Dean returned his brother's smile; happy and relieved that Sam seemed fine...but also strangely sad that the kid always looked so surprised when it turned out his food wasn't trying to kill him.

The brothers ate in companionable silence; both enjoying their meals, with Dean finishing before Sam...just like he always did.

Dean watched his brother; pleased that Sam had eaten almost all of his salad and knowing that was proof that the kid had been hungrier than he had admitted.

Dean nodded his approval and reached for his glass; taking another long sip of his drink as he surveyed the interior of the diner and then glanced out one of the windows up front; checking the security of the Impala as she patiently waited for them outside.

Dean smiled to himself; setting his glass back on the table and feeling surprisingly content until he heard Sam cough.

Dean's attention instantly snapped to his brother across the table. "Sam..."

Sam blinked back at him; pale and yet flushed; swallowing with difficulty and then noisily inhaling.

Dean frowned, not liking what he was seeing and hearing. "Sammy. Talk to me."

"D'n..." Sam replied, the word slurred and strangled by a tongue that was quickly swelling; his voice hoarse; his tone panicked...and his breath once again seeming noisy and choked as he wheezed loudly.

Dean's frown deepened. "It's okay," he automatically soothed his brother even as his own heart began to beat faster at the realization of what was happening.

Sam blinked against welling tears of anxiety and fear as he stared at Dean – because he also knew what was happening – and continued to wheeze; dropping his fork with a clatter as he gripped the edge of the table; physically bracing himself against the pain and panic of the increasing tightness in his chest and throat.

"It's okay," Dean repeated; reaching across the table for the salad bowl and quickly scanning the remaining leaves of lettuce for any indication of what had set off Sam's allergic reaction; knowing he would be asked to identify the trigger when they got to the emergency room.

But there was nothing.

Except...

Dean narrowed his eyes at the barely noticeable residue splattered on the edge of the bowl – like something had been spilled but wiped away – and instantly knew it was that fucking salad dressing.

"Shit," Dean hissed; wishing he had time to appropriately deal with their dumbass waitress, who apparently thought it was okay to simply wipe clean a contaminated bowl instead of making another salad in a fresh bowl.

But as much as it pissed Dean off, he knew there were more important things to deal with now...like taking care of his wheezing little brother whose lips were beginning to turn an alarming shade of blue.

"Sammy..." Dean called, shoving the salad bowl across the table and reaching into the pocket of his leather jacket for the EpiPen; noticing that Sam's left arm was now protectively wrapped around his midsection, like the kid's stomach was cramping.

...which wasn't unusual – especially when Sam had eaten tree nuts.

Dean glanced back at the bowl – vaguely wondering if the salad dressing had contained that specific allergen; and then shook his head – because he would worry about that later.

Right now, Sam needed him.

Dean swallowed, silently urging himself to stay calm as he jerked the EpiPen from his pocket and refocused on his brother across the table. "Sam..."

Sam squinted at Dean – his eyes beginning to swell shut in reaction to whatever allergen he had unknowingly ingested – and coughed weakly as he choked on his shallow inhalations; his skin becoming paler by the second as his blood pressure rapidly dropped.

Dean shook his head at what he was seeing – a fading little brother.

"No, no, no..." Dean pleaded to Sam – as if Sam had control over what his body was doing – and slid out of the booth's seat in time to catch his brother as the kid suddenly listed sideways.

"Oh my god..." a woman's voice commented nearby; the shocked tone implying she had just realized there was a medical emergency unfolding next to her table. "Is he okay?"

Dean ignored her question – because obviously Sam was not okay if the kid was on the verge of unconsciousness – and instead carefully lowered his brother to the tiled floor of the diner; following Sam down and holding the kid in his lap.

"Sammy..." Dean called, shifting to better support his brother's weight; Sam's shoulder against his chest as the kid rested in the crook of Dean's left arm. "Hey. Kiddo. Look at me."

Sam did his best to follow Dean's order; weakly turning his head in the direction of Dean's voice and squinting up at his brother as he continued to wheeze.

Dean forced a smile. "Good," he praised, fisting the EpiPen in his right hand. "Now, listen..." He reached around Sam to pull off the pen's cap. "You know the drill," he warned and showed his brother what he held.

Sam made no response; his blood pressure continuing to drop; his body struggling to breathe.

"Do you need help?" somebody asked.

"Should we call an ambulance?" another person checked.

Dean ignored them; completely focused on Sam as he continued to hold his brother in his lap and then jabbed the EpiPen into the kid's jean-clad thigh; hearing the spring-loaded needle discharge from the canister with a click.

Sam flinched from the pain of the needle penetrating his skin but made no other response.

"Hang on, Sammy..." Dean urged; his thumb soothingly rubbing back and forth over the kid's arm as he continued to hold his brother while also holding the EpiPen in place against Sam's thigh; silently counting the ten seconds needed to fully dispense the medication into Sam's system.

When the ten seconds were over, Dean released a shaky breath and pulled the EpiPen away; allowing it to fall to the floor as he visually assessed his brother's condition.

"Sam..." Dean called and pushed the kid's sweaty bangs away from his swollen eyes. "Sammy. Is that better?" he asked, knowing his brother probably wouldn't answer him.

Sam didn't; remaining motionless in Dean's arms as his chest barely rose and fell; each breath still alarmingly shallow though the volume and intensity of the wheezing had significantly decreased.

"Atta boy, Sammy..." Dean praised; feeling a brief wave of relief wash over him at the realization that the medication was already working and then reached into the center pocket of his brother's hoodie. "Round two, kiddo..." he warned; following the same procedure with the second EpiPen as he had done with the first.

"Should you be giving him two shots back-to-back like that?" someone asked.

Dean glanced up at the familiar voice as he held the discharged needle against Sam's thigh; not surprised by the small, gawking crowd that had gathered around him and his brother.

"Should you?" their waitress pressed.

Dean glared at her; completing his silent ten-second countdown before speaking. "I told you no dressing," he growled; his voice low and dangerous.

The waitress shook her head, glancing at the salad bowl still on the table and then back at Sam sprawled on the floor in his brother's arms. "I didn't bring him any."

"Bullshit," Dean hissed; grabbing the first EpiPen from the floor and stuffing it in the pocket of his leather jacket along with the second one he had just used. "I saw it on the side of the bowl where you – or somebody – had tried to wipe it off before bringing it out here to my brother."

The waitress blinked; opening her mouth to respond and then shutting it as she realized she could not defend herself against the truth.

Dean snorted disgustedly, glancing at Sam as his hand rested on the kid's chest; his brother unconscious but breathing much easier than before thanks to the double dose of epinephrine.

"I'm sorry," the waitress quietly apologized. "I'm so used to putting the dressing on the side that I did it before I even realized. But I took it off..." She paused. "And then I saw where some of it had spilled over the edge, so I just wiped it clean. I didn't think – "

" – exactly," Dean interrupted harshly. "You didn't think, and now my brother is paying for it."

"I'm sorry," the waitress said again; her tone genuine.

Dean shook his head; not interested in her lame apologies that changed nothing.

Because Sam was still sick and they still had to go to the emergency room.

Speaking of...

Dean sighed, pulling his legs underneath himself and pushing to his feet; bringing Sam with him as he stood.

The waitress frowned as she watched the older brother lift the unconscious child; securely holding the kid in his arms. "Where are you going?"

"To the hospital," Dean replied bluntly; carefully readjusting his grip on Sam to snag the Impala's keys from his pocket.

The waitress shook her head. "We already called 911. An ambulance is on its way."

"Better call 'em back and tell 'em to turn around," Dean advised; the crowd dispersing as he walked toward them; carrying Sam and heading for the diner's door.

"But they're coming," the waitress insisted. "Just wait."

Dean shook his head; because he wasn't waiting. He knew Sam was safe to transport now, and he would do it himself.

There was silence; the crowd watching as Dean approached the door and then startling when he suddenly stopped and turned to look at the waitress.

"What was in that salad dressing?" Dean asked; because while he had an idea, he still needed to know for sure so he could answer the questions he knew he would be asked at the ER.

The waitress tearfully shrugged – not having a clue – and glanced at the cook as he lingered in the doorway of the kitchen, quietly observing the drama.

Dean followed her gaze; continuing to hold Sam in his arms as he stared at the man who had made the dressing; quietly demanding to know what had caused such a severe allergic reaction in his little brother.

The man sighed. "There's lots of things in it..." he began. "Water, lemon juice, garlic powder, onion powder, cashews, salt and – "

" – cashews?" Dean interrupted sharply; silently seething.

Because he had specifically listed cashews as one of Sam's food allergens when he had earlier explained tree nuts to the waitress.

And based on her expression, she knew it, too; knew that a kid was now headed to the hospital because of her.

"I'm sorry," the waitress said again; tears welling in her eyes.

Dean sneered, shaking his head in his disgust. "So am I," he coldly replied and left the diner.

The crowd watched him go; alternately looking out the window and glancing at the waitress who had made a huge fucking mistake and had almost cost a kid his life.

Outside in the parking lot, Dean crossed to the Impala; years of practice allowing him to continue to hold his brother while opening the driver's side door and then settling Sam across the bench seat before sliding in beside him.

Dean glanced down at his brother as Sam's head rested against his thigh; giving the kid a quick once-over and assessing Sam's vitals before cranking the Impala.

"Alright, Sammy..." Dean began conversationally as if Sam would answer him. "Change of plans, kiddo," he told his brother; easing the Impala out of the parking lot and back onto the highway. "I think we'll forego our motel accommodations tonight and mooch off the local hospital instead," he further explained, protectively draping his arm over his brother to hold the kid steady on the seat beside him. "Sounds like good times, huh?"

Expectedly, Sam didn't answer.

And Dean tried not to let it bother him; knowing that Sam would be unconscious for at least an hour or so...and reminding himself to be patient as his brother's body recovered.

Dean nodded to himself and sighed; rubbing Sam's chest as he drove; the Impala's headlights shining the way as her engine soothingly rumbled beneath them.

Ten minutes later, they were at the hospital with Dean once again holding his brother in his arms as he stood in the middle of the ER and demanded help...right fucking now.

The growl had been met with immediate action as at least four nurses had swarmed them; quickly ushering the brothers into an empty triage space and drawing the curtains around them for privacy before simultaneously assessing and stabilizing their patient while firing questions at Dean.

What was the child's name? How old was he? What had happened? What had Sam ingested? How much? Had he experienced this kind of reaction before? Had an EpiPen been used? How many? How long ago? Did Sam have any other allergies? Was he allergic to any medication? Was he allergic to latex? Did he have a history of biphasic anaphylaxis?

Dean had stood beside Sam's bed; grasping the kid's small, limp hand as he had answered the nurses' questions and had watched as they had cut his brother's clothing off; attaching cardiac electrodes to Sam's narrow chest, inserting various IV lines into the kid's arms, strapping an oxygen mask to his face.

Hardly five minutes later, a doctor had appeared; yanking back the curtain as he had entered and had listened to the nurses' report on their patient.

The doctor had nodded as he had quickly completed his own examination of Sam and then had dismissed all but one of the nurses; instructing her to administer antihistamines as well as glucocorticoids and to stand by with doses of epinephrine along with vasopressin in the event of biphasic anaphylaxis.

Dean had assured them that biphasic anaphylaxis had never happened to his brother in the past; but he had agreed with – and had expected – the doctor's recommendation that Sam stay overnight in the hospital for observation just in case.

The doctor had then praised Dean for his quick action in administering Sam's EpiPens and had advised that maybe next time Dean should wait for the ambulance instead of transporting his brother himself.

Dean had made no response – knowing he had done the right thing – and had continued to hold Sam's hand as he had soothingly carded his fingers through his brother's floppy hair; willing the medications Sam had received to begin working quickly; eager to see a reduction in the inflammation of the kid's skin and the swelling of his face.

Dean had listened as the doctor had given orders to the nurse concerning medication doses and oxygen levels...and then had watched as the doctor had left the triage space just as quickly as he had arrived.

The nurse had lingered. "Is there someone I can call for you? Your parents, maybe?"

Dean had shaken his head; refraining from telling her that their mom was dead...and that their dad was busy.

"You sure?" the nurse had pressed.

Dean had nodded; knowing the nurse had meant well but just wanting to be left alone with his brother.

The nurse had sighed. "Okay," she had replied. "We'll get insurance information sorted out later when they arrive."

Dean had nodded again; sometimes thankful people assumed so much...like he and Sam had parents who had legit health insurance and who would be showing up at the hospital soon to take care of everything for their sons.

Dean had shaken his head...because it had never worked that way for them.

The nurse had moved around the small triage space; checking monitors and making notes before she had smiled politely at Dean and then had wordlessly pulled back the curtain, disappearing into the chaotic ER.

That had been two hours ago.

Since then, Sam had briefly woken up – calling for Dean but not saying much more – and then had been moved from the ER to a room in the pediatric ward on the third floor of the hospital.

And Dean had been right beside the kid the entire time.

Even now, he stood beside Sam's bed; staring down at his brother and feeling incredibly thankful that Sam's face was less swollen, his skin was less red, and the oxygen mask had been replaced by a nasal cannula.

"Are your parents here?" the pediatric nurse asked conversationally as she stood on the opposite side of the bed and jotted notes in Sam's chart.

"No," Dean replied, watching his brother's chest rise and fall in a smooth, natural rhythm.

"Oh..." the nurse responded, looking equal parts confused and concerned as she paused and glanced at Dean. "Have they been notified? Do you want me to call them?"

"No," Dean repeated and smiled tightly; hoping this nurse would let the parent issue drop as quickly as the ER nurse had wisely done. "But thanks."

The nurse frowned, seeming to get the message that her patient's parents were a sore topic. "Well, okay..." she reluctantly agreed. "But you be sure to call them later yourself, okay? Moms and dads want to know about stuff like this," she informed and pointed at Sam with her pen before resuming her notes.

Dean nodded.

Because he was sure most moms and dads did.

And he knew John needed to be told what had happened.

But he also knew the news could wait since their dad was at least one state away and certainly wouldn't come rushing back to their side just for this.

And truthfully, Dean didn't want him to.

Dean could handle anything – especially if it involved Sam – and John would just be in the way if he was there.

"Well..." the nurse sighed, closing the chart and glancing again at Dean. "Everything looks good. We'll just continue with the IV fluids and supplemental oxygen as well as keep monitoring for signs of biphasic anaphylaxis."

Dean nodded. "Sounds good," he agreed, because he knew the routine.

The nurse smiled and crossed to the door; softly closing it behind her as she left the room.

Dean sighed; his eyes scanning Sam and then scanning the monitors before he sank into the chair beside his brother's bed.

"Dude..." Dean called to his sleeping brother. "You create too much drama," he complained good-naturedly and leaned back in the chair as he rubbed his tired eyes and stretched his legs in front of him; briefly resting after one hell of an evening.

There was silence; the monitors beeping, people talking softly in the hall...and sheets rustling with restless movement.

Dean smiled at the sound even before he sat up; knowing Sam was trying to wake.

The sheets rustled again as Sam's legs moved beneath them.

Dean sighed and rose from the chair; realizing his break was over and straightening to his full height as he stood by the bed.

"Sammy..." Dean called and rubbed the kid's chest; knowing his brother sometimes needed both sound and touch to find his way out of the darkness imposed by medication. "C'mon, kiddo. Wake up."

Sam shifted and turned his head toward Dean's voice, blinking his eyes open and staring at his brother.

Dean smiled and waited.

Sam blinked again and wrinkled his nose against the nasal cannula that rested along his cheeks and above his mouth.

Dean chuckled at Sam's expression. "You're adorable," he told his brother, only half teasing. "You with me this time, or are you just passing through like last time?"

Because Sam had barely been awake two minutes when he had opened his eyes in the ER.

"M'with you," Sam responded drowsily.

"That's convincing," Dean replied dryly and sat on the edge of Sam's bed.

Sam quirked a sleepy smile. "I am," he defended even as he yawned.

Dean stared at his brother. "How do you feel?"

Sam shrugged.

"That good, huh?" Dean teased.

Sam smiled. "M'okay," he responded quietly. "Just tired. And kinda sore," he added, shifting uncomfortably and rubbing at his thigh.

Dean nodded at Sam's report; because that was to be expected after what the kid's body had been through only a few short hours ago.

Sam sighed. "Was it the salad?"

Dean shook his head. "No. It was the dressing."

Sam frowned. "But we left it off."

"Well..." Dean began, freshly pissed at what had happened. "That's what we thought."

Sam's frown deepened.

"Don't worry about it now," Dean soothed and lightly patted Sam's chest. "We'll talk about it later."

"'Kay," Sam agreed and yawned again as his eyes dipped closed. "Both Epis?"

Dean nodded, knowing what Sam was asking. "Yeah. I had to use both of 'em."

Sam sighed. "Sucks."

Dean laughed dryly. "To say the least, little brother."

Because Sam didn't even remember how much it had sucked at the time.

Sam sighed again. "They're expensive," he commented, still referring to the EpiPens.

Dean shook his head; hating it when Sam worried about money.

"Dean..."

"I'll take care of it," Dean assured his brother; because he always did. "Don't worry about it, Sammy."

Sam nodded and then paused. "Were people watchin'?"

Dean snorted. "People are always watching, Sam," he informed his brother. "Because people are inconsiderate dumbasses who don't think their actions will affect others."

Sam blinked his eyes open; hearing the anger and bitterness in his brother's voice and vaguely wondering what Dean wasn't telling him.

Dean shook his head at Sam's confused, worried expression. "It's okay," he soothed his brother. "Just..." He sighed. "Long day, man."

Sam nodded. "Sorry."

"Hey..." Dean lightly reprimanded. "Don't start that. You know this is not your fault, Sammy."

Sam nodded again. "I know. But I'm still sorry."

Dean smiled sadly, brushing Sam's bangs from his eyes. "Me too, kiddo."

There was silence between them.

Sam sighed. "Does Dad know?"

Dean shook his head. "Not yet."

Sam nodded at the news but didn't pursue it; yawning again as his eyes closed. "M'tired."

"Bet so," Dean agreed. "Go back to sleep," he urged his brother, patting the kid's chest and smoothing out the blankets that covered him. "You need all the beauty rest you can get if you're ever gonna catch up with me and my damn good looks."

Sam chuckled tiredly. "Whatever," he retorted; hearing the affection in Dean's teasing and feeling the concern in his brother's touch as Dean's hand continued to rest lightly on his chest.

Dean smiled. "I'm serious, Sammy. Go to sleep."

Sam swallowed. "What are you gonna do?"

"Cruise the hall and pick up chicks," Dean replied without missing a beat. "Sick chicks are needy and easy...or so I hear."

Sam laughed again and then coughed; shifting on the bed.

"Easy," Dean soothed and glanced at the monitors as he tucked the nasal cannula's tubing back over Sam's ear.

"M'okay," Sam assured, even as his voice sounded more breathless and hoarse than before.

Dean scowled. "Alright, dude. Enough talking for now. Go to sleep and get some rest, so we can blow this joint tomorrow. I got places to go and people to see..."

Sam smiled and nodded as he closed his eyes; settling into the pillow and turning slightly on the mattress so that he curled towards Dean as his brother continued to sit on the edge of his bed.

Dean smiled – always touched when Sam did that and wondering if the kid even realized how often he did it; always turning toward Dean no matter where they were.

The gesture made Dean's heart swell with love for the scrawny, floppy-haired kid resting beside him – his kid – and Dean was surprised by how sappy he suddenly felt; secretly hoping that just because Sam was getting older...just because his brother was turning 13 in a few weeks...didn't mean the kid wouldn't always seek him as a sanctuary.

Because Dean would always be there for Sam no matter what, food allergies and all.

"Damn right," Dean murmured in agreement with himself and then shifted on the bed; careful not to jostle his sleeping brother as he turned and leaned back on the mattress; deciding Sam shouldn't be the only one getting rest tonight.

As expected, Sam shifted as well; seeming to sense even in his sleep that Dean had changed positions and instantly curled even more toward his brother; managing to tuck himself under Dean's arm and rest his head on Dean's chest before sighing contentedly; seeming to settle and relax even more than before.

Dean froze; allowing his brother to wallow against him before quietly chuckling. "Ah, Sammy..." he called fondly and shifted under the kid's slight weight. "The things I put up with for you, huh?" he complained good-naturedly and protectively wrapped his arm around his brother.

The beeping monitors filled the silence as Dean closed his eyes.

"Night, Sammy..." Dean murmured softly; thankful to feel Sam's measured, even, easy breaths across his skin as his brother rested against him; proof that while Sam had had a rough evening, the kid was okay now.

...which was the only thing that ever mattered to Dean; that Sam was okay at the end of the day.

Whatever tomorrow brought, they would face it together...just like they always did.

Dean smiled to himself, slightly tightening his hold around his brother. "See you in the morning, kiddo," he promised and allowed himself to sleep.


FIN

Shameless Self-Promotion: For those of you who might be interested, I'm trying something new on Twitter – 140 characters of daily fanfic. The link to my account is located on my profile page, so feel free to check it out.

FYI: Biphasic anaphylaxis is the recurrence of anaphylactic symptoms within 1 to 72 hours after the initial attack with no further exposure to the allergen.