Sam is surprised when he wakes up before Dean.
It's something that rarely happens. Dean is usually good to go with four hours of sleep. He can go to bed at two o'clock in the morning - after a night at the pub of whatever town they are passing through - and still be gung-ho and soldiers-on come 6:00 the following morning.
It takes Sam a little more. He goes to bed a little earlier, wakes up a little later. And over the years, Dean's become accustomed to it. He allows his brother an extra hour or two before waking him up in his very own, oh-so-creative fashion, whether it be a body slam or a wet willy in the ear.
But this morning, Sam opens his eyes on his own accord. Peacefully.
He sits up, rubbing the sleep from his eyes. He feels like he slept for ages. And he has. When he sees that the clock reads 11:00am, his eyes nearly pop out of his sockets from surprise.
They never sleep that late. Ever.
Sam glances over at the bed next to him, where his brother is buried under the covers, still sleeping soundly. Sam raises his eyebrows at the sight.
He knows Dean is tired. He knows he's barely been sleeping - if at all.
Ever since the death of their father, Dean's been on edge and completely wired. Hell, it wasn't until yesterday afternoon that Dean gave Sam his roadside confession, letting Sam in on all the pent-up guilt and sadness he'd been feeling.
I don't know how the whole thing went down exactly, but Dad's dead because of me … and that much I do know.
It's guilt that isn't necessarily justified, but Sam understands how Dean could feel that way. Sam doesn't blame Dean, has told him that time and time again, but Dean is too consumed by guilt and loss to truly hear it.
So the sight of his sleeping brother, his brother who is out like a light, still, at 11:00 am, is a relief to Sam. The fact that he's even letting himself relax is a humongous step.
But Sam also knows that Dean wanted to be on the road before 9:00 am. Bobby called last night about some murders in Brookport, Illinois. Apparently, there've been several reports of couples being slaughtered in their homes, but any children in the house are left unharmed. Bobby thinks it's worth looking into. Dean does too.
So as much as Sam wants to let his brother sleep, he knows he needs to wake him.
"Dean," he says. "Hey, Dean." Sam lightly tosses a pillow at his brother's form, missing out on his opportunity to get even for all the times Dean has so rudely awakened him.
Dean doesn't even stir. The pillow just bounces off of him and lands on the floor.
And that sends warning signals to Sam like nothing else.
He kicks the covers off and swings his legs over the side of the bed. He crosses the tiny motel room to open the blinds, convinced that it will get Dean up and moving.
But when the sun shines in, Dean sleeps on.
Sam frowns and crosses the room again, this time standing directly over his sleeping brother. He stares down, his heart sinking when he sees that Dean is sweating something awful. His hair is matted down and his cheeks are flushed.
Sam swallows thickly as he puts the back of his hand against Dean's forehead, confirmation for something he already knew.
Dean is running a fever.
Dean flinches at Sam's touch and his eyes fly open. He immediately bats his hand away. "What're you doing?" he asks hoarsely. He squints his eyes and lifts a hand to block the sun pouring through the window. "Geez, how long did I sleep?"
"It's 11:00," Sam tells him, sitting down on the foot of the bed. "You do the math."
Dean pushes himself up into the sitting position. "Eleven o'clock!" he gripes. "Why'd you let me sleep so long? We're supposed to be on the road by now." He makes to get out of bed, but Sam reaches his hand out and holds it firmly against Dean's chest, keeping him put.
"Dean just take it easy for a second," he says. "I'm sorry it's late, but I overslept too. I think we needed it, man." You needed it.
"No, we need to get on the road," Dean protests. "People are dying, Sam. We have a job to do."
Sam rolls his eyes. Every time he's asked Dean to slow it down these past couple of weeks, Dean's thrown the "people are dying" lecture back in his face. Anything to get to the next hunt, the next distraction.
"I know we have a job to do," Sam says, keeping his voice light. "But we have to take care of ourselves, too."
Now it's Dean's turn to roll his eyes. "Well, we just got about ten hours of sleep a piece, so I think we're good to go, Sam." There's annoyance in his voice. "Let me up. I need to shower before we split."
Sam relents. "Okay," he sighs, dropping his hand so Dean can stand up. "But are you feeling alright? Because you felt really warm when—"
"I'm fine, Sam," Dean cuts him off sharply as he heads to the bathroom. "Pack up. We'll stop for grub on the road."
Sam wants to protest. He wants to stick around and rest up, especially now that he has suspicions of Dean being ill. But he knows Dean will just deny it until he can't deny it anymore, in true Winchester fashion.
So Sam vows to watch his brother closely.
He'll be there. If and when it gets out of hand.
They stop for brunch at a diner outside of town. Sam's extremely hungry, so he orders the special - waffles, sausage, eggs, and hash browns. He expects Dean to do the same.
But Dean just orders a black coffee and some eggs and toast.
"That's it?" Sam asks, eyebrows raised in concern at his brother.
"That's it," Dean repeats. He stares Sam down, as if he's daring him to say something else.
Sam does want to say something else. Because Dean's lack of appetite is cause for concern. But he knows not to push it. Not yet.
It's obvious that Dean is still on edge. He'd opened up to Sam yesterday afternoon, had pulled the Impala off to the side of the road, had confessed how he was feeling about Dad. Sam had pushed him to do that. Had tried time and time again to get Dean to talk. But every time, Dean would refuse, claim he was fine, or in extreme cases, he'd punch Sam square in the jaw.
Sam didn't care about any of that. He just wanted his brother to stop bottling up his feelings. He'd take a thousand punches if it made Dean feel better.
Then finally, yesterday, he'd let Sam in. Though Sam still got the feeling he didn't get everything off his chest that he needed to. But it was a start, and for that, he was grateful.
Sam knows how hard it is for Dean to show his emotions. He does. Growing up, Dean made it his priority to keep a strong facade in front of Sam. And Sam is eternally grateful for that. It made his childhood from hell just a little bit easier, when he could look up at his big brother and see that unwavering smirk on his face, or hear his firm words of reassurance. Even if now he knows it was all an act.
That's why Sam knows that Dean won't say a word if he's feeling ill. Dean's always had so much responsibility thrust upon him. Responsibility that he's used to handling on his own, and that includes being sick.
So instead of talking about Dean's health, they talk about the hunt. They exchange theories about what could be behind the killings in Brookport. Dean thinks it might be a Rakshasa. Sam does too, but he hopes to high heaven that it's not - the most recent Rakshasa they fought took the form of a clown, and it chilled Sam to his very core. His childhood fear of clowns sure didn't help matters.
When the food comes, Sam scarfs his meal down quickly. Dean eats his meal a little slower, but he does eat all of it. It helps Sam relax some. Maybe he's alright after all.
Sam offers to drive. Dean lets him.
And that prompts Sam to ask if he's okay. Again.
Dean nods curtly and settles into the passenger seat. "Let's just get to Brookport," he says. "Make Baby purr."
Sam grins and turns the key, always elated when Dean lets him take the wheel.
And they're off.
Sam tells Dean to get some sleep. They have a long drive ahead.
He's relieved when he hears soft snores coming from Dean's direction. Maybe a few more hours of sleep will help Dean fight off whatever it is he's fighting off.
It's around 2:00 pm when Dean stirs.
He sits up, groaning softly, bringing his hands to his temples.
"Dean," Sam says softly, glancing between the road and his brother. "You okay, man?"
"Yeah," Dean says hoarsely. "Jus'… a headache." But Dean's eyes are squeezed shut, his head is bowed, he's breathing deeply through his nose - and Sam gets the feeling it's more than an average headache.
Keeping one eye on the road, Sam reaches behind him to grab his duffel bag from the back seat. He hands it to Dean. "There's some Advil in there," he says. "See if that helps."
He grabs the water bottle from the cup holder and holds it out to Dean.
Once Dean has swallowed down some pills, he leans his head back, eyes still closed. It doesn't go unnoticed by Sam when a shiver runs through his body.
"You cold?" he asks.
"Mmm, a little," Dean answers.
Sam isn't cold by any means, but he turns the heat on anyway. He reaches across to palm Dean's forehead, mildly surprised when his skin is cool to the touch.
Glad that Dean doesn't seem to be running a fever anymore, Sam lets himself relax. "Go back to sleep, man. Maybe when you wake up your headache will be gone."
Dean nods and turns his head toward the window. It isn't long before soft snores fill the car once again.
When Dean wakes next, it's almost four o'clock.
Sam is glad he's awake. He's been driving in silence the past four hours and wouldn't mind a little company.
"Hey, Sleeping Beauty," he teases as Dean sits up and wipes the drool from his mouth. "How's the head?"
Dean considers the question, grunting slightly. "Not so good," he admits. He squints out the window at the trees whipping past. "Where are we?"
"'Bout three hours outside of Brookport," Sam tells him, glancing at his brother out of the corner of his eye. Dean is looking a little green around the gills, and Sam wonders if he's feeling nauseous. "Hey Dean, maybe we should stop and rest up for bit. You really aren't looking too good." It's worth a shot.
Dean swallows hard and Sam expects the usual response: I'm fine, Sam. Keep driving, Sam. People are dying, Sam. But instead, Dean shrugs. "Okay," he breathes. "Just for a bit." He leans forward to put his elbows on his knees. He lets his head rest in his hands.
Sam's heart sinks. The fact that Dean is even agreeing to stop makes his concern for his brother climb up a few more notches.
Sam had been looking for an exit for the past couple of miles to fill up on gas anyway. But there hadn't been an exit for a while. Sam prayed one would turn up soon.
"We'll stop at the next exit I see," he promises Dean.
They don't make it that far.
About five minutes later, Dean starts shifting in his seat. His arms are shaking slightly as he breathes deeply through his nose. He's fighting a losing battle and there will be messy consequences if he doesn't speak up. "Sam…" he gulps out finally, his voice in a slight panic.
Sam knows what Dean is trying to tell him, but he asks for confirmation anyway. "Need me to pull over?" He's already slowing the car before Dean can answer.
Dean raises a fist to his mouth, nodding vigorously, eyes squeezed shut.
Sam pulls the car to the side of the road, thankful - for his brother's sake - that traffic is light. Less people to witness what is no doubt about to occur.
Dean pushes the passenger door open and stumbles out of the car. Sam quickly puts the Impala in park and hurries around to the other side.
Dean in crouched at the rear of Impala, gripping the fender tightly. His breaths are ragged and he is sweating profusely, but he hasn't vomited yet.
"Dean?" Sam's voice is timid.
He moans lowly, prompting Sam to put a comforting hand on his shoulder. Dean fights it until he can't anymore, and before long he's retching into the overgrown grass.
Sam watches helplessly, muttering soft reassurances that probably bring little comfort.
Dean heaves until there's nothing left. When he's finished, he falls back on his heels and all but collapses at the wheel of the car. His eyes are still squeezed shut and Sam can tell his head is still killing him.
Sam is pretty certain Dean is suffering from a migraine. Jess used to get them all of the time back at Stanford, especially when she was stressed out. It was almost a guarantee that she'd endure one during finals week.
"Dean, I think you might have a migraine, man," Sam says softly. He reaches into the car to grab the water bottle. "We need to get you to a motel so you can lie down."
"But Brookport—" Dean starts to protest. It's weak at best.
"We're not the only hunters on the planet, Dean," Sam says lightly. He kneels down in front of his sick mess of a brother and hands him the water bottle. "Rinse your mouth out. I'll call Bobby when we get to a motel - let him know we can't make it."
Dean has no choice but to comply as he takes the water from Sam and sloshes some around in his mouth. He spits it back out, afraid to swallow anything that might send his stomach on another rampage. He hands the bottle back to Sam.
Sam takes it, adjusting his body so that his form is shielding the sun from Dean's eyes. Dean is still breathing heavily from his bout of sickness, and Sam wants him to catch his breath before he gets back in the car.
When Dean finally settles down and he's sure he's not going to hurl again, Sam holds a hand out to help him stand up. He keeps one hand behind his brother for stabilization as Dean clumsily gets back into the car. Sam can feel Dean's entire body trembling.
He mumbles a thanks and lets Sam close the door for him.
Sam makes sure to drive carefully, taking each turn smoothly, not wanting to add any more unnecessary pain to what his brother is already experiencing. Sam keeps a comforting hand between Dean's shoulder blades the entire drive. Dean remains hunched forward, clutching his head in his hands and breathing deeply, until they arrive at the nearest motel.
"This is humiliating," Dean groans into Sam's shoulder as Sam escorts him into the motel room. His eyes are closed to block out the sunlight and he's very unsteady on his feet. He has to lean his entire body weight on Sam. There is no way he would've made it into the motel on his own.
"Dean, it's okay to need help," Sam tells him. "I've got you."
"This blows, Sammy." There's pain in his voice.
Sam's heart tightens.
Once inside, Sam has Dean sit on the bed. He leaves the lights off for Dean's sake - but there's enough light seeping through the cracks in the blinds to get around okay. Sam palms some pills into Dean's hand, gives him the water bottle, and tells him to swallow. Dean obeys.
Sam kneels in front of him. "Level with me, man. How bad is the pain?"
"A six," he grinds out.
Sam grimaces. On the pain scale, a Winchester's six is a normal person's ten. "Do you want to lie down?"
Dean shakes his head, which was clearly a bad idea. He winces and brings his hands up to his temples. "Have to piss first," he breathes. "Can you…?"
Sam maneuvers Dean to the bathroom, helps him go about his business, then maneuvers him back to the bed. He smiles slightly when Dean makes him promise to never speak of it again. Needing assistance to use the facilities was a new low for Dean.
Once Dean is resting comfortably in bed, Sam puts a trashcan on the floor by the head of the bed. He's skeptical that Dean would be able to make it to the bathroom on his own if his stomach were to betray him again.
Sam wets a washcloth with cool water and returns to Dean. He presses it against his forehead and Dean sighs gratefully at the touch.
"Rest, Dean," he whispers.
Sam feels hopeless as he stands over his suffering brother, but at the same time he feels he's done everything he can for him. When he's fairly certain Dean's asleep, he steps outside of the room to call Bobby.
Bobby's concern for Dean matches Sam's.
"I knew that boy would make himself sick," he says. "He's too damn stubborn to take care of himself. Sam, I don't want to hear of you two doing any hunting until Dean is well, do you hear me, boy? I'll get someone else to look into the killings at Brookport."
"Yeah, Bobby, I hear you," Sam answers Loud and clear. "But it's not me you need to convince."
"I know it ain't," Bobby says, a sense knowing in his voice. He sighs heavily over the phone, and Sam can just picture him pinching the bridge of his nose. "You take care of yourself, too, Sam. I worry about you boys."
"Yeah, I know you do, Bobby." Before hanging up, Sam assures Bobby that they'll be okay and promises to touch-base with him after Dean is well.
For dinner, Sam makes-do with snacks from the vending machine. Not the healthiest of choices, but he doesn't want to leave Dean alone in the room. He does, however, sit as far away from Dean as possible, not wanting the sound - or the smell - of his Funyuns and Combos to disturb his ailing brother.
When he finishes his "dinner" he pulls out his laptop and does a little research on migraines. He knows from Jess that a lot of times they were genetically predisposed. They were for her anyway. But Dean had never had anything like it. He barely ever got headaches.
Apparently, sleep deprivation and stress could trigger them. Even if there was no history.
That explains it. Basic enough.
Sam shuts off his laptop and sinks deeper into the armchair. He lets himself enjoy the quiet and the darkness. He even allows himself to doze off a bit.
Sam really doesn't mind taking it easy. Sure, he's caught up in revenge, but the yellow-eyed demon has completely fallen off the radar. And even though he's tirelessly searched for any leads, he's always come back empty. Not to mention the Colt is gone… probably lost in the deal to save Dean for John's life.
Sam tries not to let the guilt get to him, but it's there, buried somewhere deep in the back of his mind. He had the opportunity to kill the yellow-eyed demon, but that would've meant killing his father as well. He couldn't do that. But now he can't help but notice that the demon is gone and John ended up dead anyway.
So yeah, Sam feels guilty as hell, but he knows he has to be the smart one. Because Dean feels guilty too - John did give his life for him - and his wheels are spinning. Sam's the one who keeps him on track, keeps him from losing it entirely.
Dean was closer to their father anyway. He's the one who deserves to spin out of control. Sam doesn't deserve it. He spent years butting heads with John. Heck, he butted heads with him right up until he died. And that's regret that Sam will have to live with forever.
It hurts almost as much as the guilt.
Sam is pulled from his doze when he hears Dean retching into the bin. He's shoots out of his chair and kneels down beside Dean, helping him lean far enough over edge of the bed so bile doesn't get on the sheets or his clothes.
"Son of a bitch," Dean moans between heaves, his body visibly tense from the pain in his head.
Again, Sam does his best to stay calm, murmuring soft reassurances. But Dean has tears slipping down his cheeks, is practically whimpering in pain, and the only thing Sam can offer is a hand on his back.
When Dean's finished heaving, Sam takes the bin from him. He's less than thrilled to leave his side, but he does for a brief moment. He takes the now soiled trashcan into the bathroom to be cleaned later and returns with the unused one, again, putting it by the head of Dean's bed.
He replaces the washcloth from Dean's forehead with a fresh one, this time pressing it against the back of his brother's neck. Dean has shifted to his stomach, his face buried in his pillow. Sam thinks he mumbles a thanks, but the sound is muffled at best. Dean is tense, and trembling, and his breathing is shallow.
Knowing he has to do something, Sam lies down next to Dean on the bed and starts gently massaging his neck and down his spine. It's something he used to do for Jess when she got this way. It always seemed to help, even if it was slight.
"It's okay, just settle down," Sam whispers when Dean flinches at his touch. "You're okay."
Sam continues and he doesn't stop, even when Dean's tense muscles start to relax. The fact that Dean is letting him do this speaks volumes to how awful he must feel. Sam is relieved that his presence has calmed his brother. After so many years of Dean taking care of him when he was ill, Sam certainly never minds returning the favor.
Dean falls asleep first and Sam isn't far behind.
When Sam wakes next, it's to Dean lightly shaking him awake from beside him. A civilized way to be woken up. For once.
It's morning. Seven o'clock.
At first, Sam is confused as to why he's in the same bed as Dean, but it comes back to him in flash. He sits up quickly. "You okay, man?" he asks Dean tentatively.
Through the light seeping in between the blinds, Sam sees Dean's mouth curl into a slight smile. "Yeah, I think so," he answers hoarsely. He runs his hands through his hair and lets out a deep breath. "Man, that sucked."
"That's an understatement," Sam tells him. "How's your head now?"
Dean considers. "I still have a dull headache," he admits. "But it's manageable."
It's so good to see Dean sitting up on his own, that Sam can't help but grin. Even though he has a whole lecture planned about how migraines are triggered by stress and sleep deprivation. How this had been a way for Dean's body to force him to slow down, to take it easy, to rest.
"Listen, Dean…" he begins. He breathes deeply, erasing his smile and focusing on what needs to be said.
But Dean interrupts him. "Sam, don't," he begs. "You were right, okay?" He swallows hard. "It only took one hell of a migraine to knock me on my ass, but I get it. We need to lay low for a while."
Sam breathes a sigh of relief. "And you're really okay with that?"
"Yeah, I think I am," Dean says slowly. "We need a break. Hell, we deserve one."
Sam snorts lightly. "Amen to that."
"We're just outside of St. Louis, right?" Dean asks.
"Then I say we do some sightseeing. You know, see the arch, maybe hit up a Cardinals game, drink some beer... Take it real easy."
"Sounds like a plan."
Dean swings his legs over the side of the bed and he clears his throat gruffly. His back is turned to Sam when he speaks next. "Sam, how'd you know what to do last night? You seemed to have some tricks up your sleeve."
Sam stiffens, the same way he always does when Jess comes up. He swallows hard. "Back at Stanford, Jess… sometimes she…she would…" he trails off, wondering vaguely when he'll be able to talk about Jess without it hurting so much.
"Oh." Dean turns his neck to look at Sam over his shoulder knowingly, compassion in his eyes. "Well, thanks, man. I owe you big time."
Sam wants to shake his brother, tell him that he doesn't owe him anything. He's just glad that Dean is here, with him, still alive. But he knows he'd never be able to say that over the lump in his throat.
Instead, he gives Dean's shoulder a tight squeeze and a quick pat on the back, hoping Dean feels the meaning behind it. Then he stands, realizing how empty he feels.
"You hungry?" he croaks.
Dean's eyes light up. "Starving."
"Let's go grab some food."
"I hear St. Louis is famous for their wings," Dean says as they finish getting dressed for the day. They're about ready to head out.
"It's seven o'clock in the morning!"
"Failin' to see your point there, Sammy."
Sam rolls his eyes. "You good to drive?"
Dean winks at him. "Never better."
Sam grins and tosses him the keys. He's relaxed. He's calm. He feels better than he has in a long time. He wonders vaguely if this is what being on vacation feels like.
Little do they know, in just three days, Sam will start experiencing head pains of his own. He'll start having visions again, the yellow-eyed demon will fall back on the radar, their lives will be forced back into normal. Well, their normal.
And they're okay with that. Really and truly. It's what they do best.
Back to the family business… saving people, hunting things…
But for now?
For now, they rest.