Sam was having a hard time watching Dean shift in the driver’s seat, misery scrolled across his face. When Sam had asked how Dean was feeling a half an hour ago, he’d gotten snapped at for his troubles.
A hurting Dean was a pain in the neck. He wouldn’t accept help and he wouldn’t admit there was a problem, either.
When Dean’s stomach began to grumble noisily, Sam waited for Dean to pull off the interstate and hit one of the diners or restaurants advertized along the roadside. When Dean continued on, despite the hellacious racket his stomach was making, Sam took action.
Running a hand through his hair, Sam said, “I think my blood sugar is getting low or something. Could we please find a restaurant or even a gas station?”
Dean shot him a look of annoyance but when he saw the woe-be-gone expression Sam forced his features into, he complied. Sam disliked playing the pathetic little brother card but if he wanted to find out what was bugging Dean, he wasn’t above pulling out all of the stops.
Soon they pulled into a BP station. Dean got out and reached for the gas pump, sliding a debit card for one Wile E. Coyote out of his pocket. “Why don’t you restock us? I’ll take a Mountain Dew and a bag of chips.”
By chips, Dean meant barbecue chips and with the way he was subconsciously rubbing the apex of his stomach, Sam knew that was the last thing his brother needed. Not that he was going to tell Dean that.
Nodding his agreement he headed inside the convenience store, bypassing the aisles of junk food. Instead he went to the dairy case and grabbed a couple of yogurts. Dean ate nothing but crap; it certainly wouldn’t hurt him to eat something with nutritional value. That and yogurt was pretty easy on the stomach. Sam hadn’t figured out if Dean had a virus or something more malicious but if he could keep the yogurt down, they could stop for something light in a while. Assuming Sam could get his older brother to eat what he considered tasteless swill.
Sam paid for the purchases, eschewing Mountain Dew in favor of bottled green tea for both of them, before walking to the car slowly. Dean was sitting in the driver’s seat, his hands tapping a ragged beat on the steering wheel. Sam handed him the bag with yogurt, spoons and drinks through the window. “I’m going to hit the head. Be right back.”
Not sticking around to see Dean’s reaction to his purchases, Sam hustled away. He was pleasantly surprised to find Dean shoveling yogurt into his mouth when he returned to the car which was idling in front of the convenience store.
Dean’s face, however, didn’t look pleasantly surprised. “Are you trying to kill me, Sammy? What is this crap? White slime? And I asked for Mountain Dew, not this green piss water.”
If Dean genuinely didn’t want to eat or drink what Sam had brought back, he would have high-tailed it into the store and gotten whatever the hell he wanted. Instead he sat slumped in the seat, face puckered into a deep frown as he spooned the slippery white substance into his mouth. Sam grabbed his own carton and a spoon. “It’s called yogurt and it’s good for you. You know, if you occasionally ingested food your body could actually use instead of all the chemicals and artificial flavorings you insist on pumping into it, you might feel better. Anyway, we can stop for real food whenever you want.”
It was a testament to just how poorly Dean felt that his only response was a middle finger jabbed in Sam’s general direction as he swallowed down the yogurt. Dean’s hand ghosted over his stomach, rubbing in a circle, confirming the problem Sam had been suspecting all morning.
Sam bit down on the inside of his cheek to keep from commenting further as Dean wheeled the black car back on to the road, heading for the interstate. It didn’t work. “You know it’s not like we’re in a rush. We could pull over, find a motel or something.”
“Let’s just keep going. I’m not too keen to stop in the middle of the Illinois flatlands. I’ve never seen terrain that was so…flat.” Dean’s voice held an edge of whine but Sam knew better than to argue with him. Instead he finished his yogurt, swallowed the green tea, and winced as the bright sunlight bounced off the hood of the car and reflected straight into his face.
Straight into Dean’s face, too. That on top of Dean’s stomach problems had to suck. Maybe Sam could ease his brother’s burden just a little. “You want me to drive for a while?” It was the least Sam could do. He knew it wasn’t likely Dean would surrender control of the Impala but it didn’t hurt to ask.
The whine flared into pissiness. “Why don’t you just take a nap or something. You’re getting on my last nerve.”
Yep, when Dean didn’t feel good it wasn’t a mystery. Sam didn’t want to aggravate him anymore so he leaned his head against the passenger side window and closed his eyes. A nap didn’t sound like such a bad idea.
Sam must have drifted off because the next thing he became aware of was a moan from next to him. Shit. Dean was getting worse. His pig-headed brother was never going to admit he was in pain, not in front of Sam. Sam didn’t understand the machismo involved in that behavior but Dean had been like that as long as Sam could remember.
It was up to Sam to get them off the road and hopefully get Dean some help. Rest, medicine, even a doctor if needed. A sign for an upcoming town flashed by the side of the road. Utica. Population 977. Not exactly a hotbed of activity but if Sam was right, Dean needed some rest, not excitement. “Can we pull off at Utica?”
Sam turned in time to see Dean’s nostrils flare in either pain or annoyance. “Why would I want to stop in Utica?”
Taking a calming breath, Sam pushed forward. “I’m sure it has a library and internet. We’re not on our way to a job so I’d like to pull off, get a room and do some research.”
Dean was trotting out all of his mulish tendencies. “We’re about ninety minutes from Chicago. Or the Quad Cities. I’ll take either of those over Utica. Can’t you wait?”
Sam could wait but Sam wasn’t sure Dean could, not with the way sweat was collecting above his upper lip and the green-tinged pallor was creeping over his skin. But Dean wouldn’t stop for himself. No. He was going to make Sam force him to stop.
Rubbing his forehead, Sam grimaced. He didn’t enjoy lying to his brother but sometimes it was for the greater good. “I’ve kinda got a headache that just won’t quit. I was hoping…”
“Shit, Sam, you should have said something earlier. I’ll get us a room. You don’t think it’s a vision, do you?” The concern in his brother’s voice was apparent and it made Sam feel like a heel for the deception. But he’d asked Dean to stop earlier and it hadn’t worked. A gas station wasn’t really stopping. So it was on with the farce.
“ I don’t know. I don’t think so. Thanks, Dean.” Sam forced the last into a whisper, just to make himself sound as pathetic as possible.
Dean patted Sam’s arm before tightening his grip on the steering wheel. “Hang in there, I’ll find us a place to stay. Assuming there’s something in this Podunk town.”
Sam sighed. Dean probably misinterpreted it as a sigh of relief that his head was going to get a break from the glare of the drive. Which was actually the truth now that Sam thought about it. And the veins in his temples were throbbing. He did have a headache and it was getting more painful by the minute.
They were both burnt out between their life style and their ‘gifts.’ A break would do them good.
Sam squirmed restlessly in his seat as Dean sought a motel. The pickings were pretty slim. The sign for Grizzly Jack’s Grand Bear Resort showed too many amenities bumping out of their price range. Starved Rock Lodge and Conference Center sounded like there could be business men running around in suits, getting drunk and being obnoxious. Not what Sam’s head needed. That left The Willows, a quaint boutique hotel quietly nestled in historic Utica, Illinois.
Dean snorted. Historic. The place definitely looked like a page right out of history. The boutique part sounded scary but hopefully the shoppers were quiet.
Every once in a while Sam would rub the side of his head which reaffirmed for Dean that stopping was a good thing. He navigated the Impala down the central drag and parked the car in front of The Willows, a three story hotel made of brick, brick and more brick. He wished they’d made it to Chicago. Deep dish pizza. With extra cheese and pepperoni. Lots of pepperoni.
A sharp, biting pain hit him in the mid section and it took everything Dean had not to gasp. Sam shot him a look but quickly dug the heel of his hand into an eye. The kid was definitely in distress. That made two of them. Although Dean didn’t want Sam to know about it; it was Dean’s job to take care of Sam, not the other way around.
They both shook the road off, rotating necks and stretching, as they exited the Impala. In sync, they headed for the main entrance. They had just entered the building when the flooring seemed to roll beneath their feet.
Dean grabbed Sam’s arm to steady him as Sam muttered, “Earthquake.”
With a strong jolt the motion ended. Dean released his grip on Sam’s arm, patting him on the shoulder. “We’re in Illinois, Sam, not California. I doubt that that was an earthquake.”
Two women were behind a graceful green marble counter. The younger, perkier blond, batted her eyelashes at Dean. “Did you feel that one?”
“Please, Margie, let’s not get carried away. You know earthquakes, although not common, do happen from time to time here.” The older woman patted a stray dark hair back into place.
Sam, ever the geek boy when it came to learning new things, piped up. “I guess I forgot about the fault line here. The New Madrid, right?”
The more mature looking woman positively sparkled at Dean’s brother. With a full smile and twinkling eyes, she didn’t look so matronly anymore. And her full attention was on Sam. “Why yes. That’s right. It doesn’t get nearly the press as the San Andreas Fault but I’ll have you know in 1811 and 1812, it made its presence known. A magnitude 8.0 earthquake, in fact.”
Dean allowed Sam and Laura to geek out while he booked a room from Margie. She smiled slyly, her eyes darting between Dean and Sam, when he requested one room with double beds. “We’re brothers.”
“Oh.” The blond sounded disappointed. Dean didn’t understand why people—make that women—tended to assume two guys traveling together were gay. Whatever. His stomach was slowly flipping, much like the shake-rattle-and-roll of the earlier temblor, and Dean just wanted to get settled.
They made it to their room, a nicer room than they were accustomed to lately. There was a leather couch and a fireplace and the beds looked comfortable. Dean slung his bag on one of the beds while Sam set his on a chair. When Sam rolled his neck, his face contorting in pain, Dean pushed Sam back, guiding him to a seat on the bed. “I’ll get you something for your headache. Why don’t you stretch out for a while?”
Sam didn’t argue. He didn’t say anything. He just toed off his shoes and swung his legs up on to the blue shiny comforter. The kid was so tall he had to lay on an angle to fit but by the time Dean returned with some generic Aleve and water, Sam looked settled in. With a twist of the lips which could have been gratitude, Sam levered up on an elbow and murmured his thanks before downing the pills and water. He sunk back with a stifled groan which Dean took as dismissal.
After closing the blinds in the room, Dean returned to the bathroom, filling the glass and helping himself to the pain reliever. Every once in a while it felt as though someone was socking him in the gut. He wouldn't admit it, but he was beginning to wonder if Sam was right about his diet. This was unlike any heartburn he'd ever had before) He’d chewed up the last of his Rolaids while Sam was in the convenience store. He should have gotten some more but he’d lacked the energy to move. Since it didn’t work, hadn't worked maybe the pain reliever would do the trick.
He returned to find Sam breathing deeply. Grabbing the laptop, Dean moved to the couch. He checked his email and when nothing grabbed his attention, he pulled up a search engine. He wanted to read about this New Madrid fault line. Apparently Sam wasn’t the only geek in the family. There was something kind of cool about earthquakes and the Midwest.
He’d barely gotten anywhere when his stomach jumped. Dean was on his feet and flying for the bathroom, recognizing the impending purge. Stumbling into the bathroom he flicked on the lights and fan, hoping he wouldn’t wake up Sam. His brother had his own pain to deal with and the last thing Dean wanted was an audience.
Flipping up the toilet seat, Dean leaned over and heaved. He’d had that crappy yogurt Sam had pressed on him about three hours ago and that was it. So why was his stomach turning inside out over such a measly meal? Maybe the yogurt had been bad.
When it was all said and done, Dean was kneeling before the porcelain goddess, the horrific noises of his efforts echoing in the bathroom. He rose jerkily to his feet after flushing, his mouth filling; for a moment Dean thought he was going to repeat his previous experience but a thick rope of saliva was the only substance he spit out in the sink. Cupping his hands, he splashed cold water on his face, letting it dribble down the back of his neck. He scooped the water into his mouth but leery of sending anything his stomach’s way, he merely rinsed and spit.
Toweling off, Dean stared into the mirror. He looked like crap. No wonder Sam had been shooting him looks all day. It must be some stomach bug. He hoped Sam wouldn’t catch it; Sam was a total wimp when it came to this kind of stuff. Unlike Dean who could suck it up.
Dean picked his way back to the laptop, pleased that Sam still seemed to be out. He was on his side, hand curled under his cheek. When he was sleeping, Sam managed to look vulnerable despite his massive 6'4'' frame.
That was one of the many reasons Dean didn’t need Sam hounding him about being sick. Sam had enough on his plate.
Sam had dropped off to sleep relatively easily. Strange noises filtered into his dream; a dinosaur calling to another, plaintive and lonely.
Rolling on his side, Sam tried to recapture the drowsy feeling of a moment ago but when the distant noise sounded again, jarring him further from his rest, he gave up. Sitting up, Sam listened carefully. A muted light shown through the small crack between the bathroom door and the carpet. Dean was in the bathroom. Vomiting.
Damn. Sam had hoped his brother could avoid this. Despite trying not to overhear as Dean tossed his cookies, Sam was impressed with the violence of the act. Dean definitely had something and Sam was beginning to think it wasn’t the flu.
When the toilet flushed followed by the water in the sink, Sam plumped the pillow and settled back on his side. He wished he could confront Dean with the knowledge that he was feeling subpar but from experience, Sam knew that wasn’t the way to go. He needed to approach this from an oblique angle instead of straight on.
Sam waited as long as he could before sitting up so that Dean wouldn’t feel ambushed. He visited the bathroom, rinsing his face and brushing his teeth. When he emerged, Dean’s low voice greeted him from the couch. “Hey, Sam. How’s the head?”
It frustrated Sam that Dean could openly show his concern but Sam had to be stealthy about it. “Better. Find anything?”
Dean’s color was still awful but maybe the light coming from the faux Tiffany lamp had something to do with that. His brother’s eyes did have a certain sparkle though. “Listen to this. I checked into the New Madrid fault line. The chick at the desk was right. Remember how she said that earthquake in 1812 was so strong? Well it was strong enough that a stream was stopped up and enclosed to form a lake, the Mississippi changed its course and some of the rivers even ran backward for a while.”
Sam sat on the other end of the couch. As fascinating as he found geography, he was more interested in Dean’s health at the moment. “Can I see that for a moment?”
Hugging the laptop closer, Dean shook his head no. “Keep your pants on. I’m not done yet. Supposedly church bells rang in Boston from the force of the quake, sidewalks in Washington DC cracked and chimneys in Maine toppled over. Kind of sounds apocalyptic, don’t you think? I thought I’d see if there are any seals related to this kind of thing.”
Sam shivered. It did sound apocalyptic.
His stomach chose that moment to growl and Sam realized he’d only had a container of yogurt all day. So had Dean for that matter. Maybe the battle of the laptop could wait. “I thought I’d pop downstairs, find out where there’s a restaurant nearby, and bring back some food.” Sam paused to study Dean’s washed out complexion. “Can I see the laptop for two minutes and then I’ll go on the food run?”
Dean rolled his eyes but complied, grumbling, “Just don’t screw with any of my research there, capisce?”
Sam quickly sought the link he wanted, typing ulcers in the Web MD search field. He scanned the list of symptoms, eyes widening when he saw vomiting, nausea and pain—all things Dean had exhibited recently. He passed the laptop back, not bothering to minimize the window. “I’ll be right back.”
Dropping by the desk, Sam found out there was a restaurant with simple foods within walking distance. Margie, the blond woman who appeared to be about Sam’s age, also thrust a note into his hand. “Laura jotted down some other stuff she thought you might be interested in regarding the area.” Margie’s face was a bright pink. Sam thanked her for the note and headed outside, following the directions she’d given him.
As he approached the corner, he saw a cluster of people picketing across the street. Sam wondered what was worth picketing in a town the size of Utica but didn’t particularly want to meet up with any rabid townspeople. Instead of crossing the street he turned and walked farther, deciding he’d cross at the next light. Only there wasn’t a next light. Just more people loitering on the sidewalk. Dean needed something light for his stomach and Sam was ravenous; Sam decided to take his chances and crossed the street.
End times are upon us
If thou turn to the LORD thy God, and shalt be obedient unto his voice; he will not forsake thee, neither destroy thee, nor forget the covenant of thy fathers which he sware unto them.
Signs of the times--wars, pestilence, economic despair, natural disasters. If ye are prepared ye shall not fear.
The Wicked will be consumed by fire
The sun shall be darkened and the moon shall not cause her light to shine
Armageddon or bust
The picket signs were a hodge-podge of religious beliefs but Sam could parse out some specific teachings of the Seventh-day Adventists and the Latter Day Saints. The picket signs didn’t bother Sam at all; it was the wild eyed appearance of the people that had Sam spooked.
He dove into the building with the word Restaurant written in bright neon pink letters over the door. The place, neat and clean and filled with art deco furnishings, was pretty empty so Sam approached the counter. A young man with dark hair and a friendly smile greeted him. “Hi, I’m Dave. I hope the crowd didn’t give you any trouble. The earthquake has them all riled up.”
“Why’s that?” Sam asked as he scanned the menu plunked down in front of him. He didn’t spot anything that was exactly going to be easy on the stomach. Maybe the cook could make up some scrambled eggs or something.
“Every one-hundred years this area is hit by a large earthquake and that there group thinks the next one is going to be the Big One.” The man kept his smile in place but his tone said he wasn’t pleased with the group. The man must have sensed what Sam was thinking because his smile turned sheepish. “Don’t get me wrong, I believe in freedom of religion and speech and all that, but I don’t like it when they scare away business, if you know what I mean.”
Looking around the restaurant, a lone man in the corner sipping coffee and two women on the other side talking more than eating, Sam understood the problem completely. That still didn’t' change his problem, however. “Listen, I was wondering if you have something that wouldn’t bother an upset stomach. The menu looks great but I need something a little…”
“Lighter. Sure. I’ve got some chicken and rice soup. How about I package some of that up along with some banana, applesauce and toast.” The man whipped out his order pad and started scribbling.
Sam crinkled his nose. Soup, banana, apple sauce and toast didn’t sound all that appealing. The man started to laugh. “Sorry, my wife has a weak stomach. When it bothers her she adheres to the BRAT diet—bananas, rice, applesauce and toast. Works wonders for her.”
Dean ought to love being put on a diet called brat. “Could I have two orders of that please?”
Sam pulled out the note from the clerk at the front desk when the man disappeared into the back. The cursive was precise yet loopy and reminded Sam of his third grade teacher who had taught the class to write.
My sister is a librarian here in town and she has a book you might be interested in written by a local man. It details the seismological history of the area.
Best Regards? Sam chalked up another similarity between the front desk clerk and his third grade teacher. Who but a school teacher used that salutation? He had to admit he was interested in the book though. Especially on the heels of the End of Days brigade outside.
Dave rang up Sam and handed him a big brown paper bag. “Stop by again tomorrow when you get hungry. No offense, but you look a little rough around the edges. We’ll get that stomach of yours feeling better in no time.”
Sam tried to smile at friendly Dave but it was a weak attempt. His headache was back but he focused on ignoring it. His main concern right now was Dean and his stomach.
He navigated past the picketers and back up to their room without incident. Dean was in the same spot he’d been in when Sam left—hunched over the laptop, tapping away.
With a big grin that exposed teeth as white as his face, Dean waved him over. “Dude, you’re never gonna believe what I found. This whole area experiences—“
“An earthquake about every one hundred years. Yeah, I’ve heard.” Sam was torn between amusement and regret at spoiling Dean’s news.
Full pout in place, Dean looked up at him. “What’s in the bag?”
Sam handed the bag to Dean. “I’m gonna wash up then we can eat.”
He made it to the bathroom before he heard Dean’s shrill voice. “A banana and applesauce? You freakin’ gotta be kidding me. Where’s the food, Sam?”
Sam was sure Dean would thank him for looking after his best interests. Some day.