Title: Pressing Pause
Disclaimer: Not my boys! No money made!
2014 meme prompt: Dean is getting a cold. He sneezes once. Then twice. Then three times...Hey, is there a pattern developing here? Apparently Dean has come under the influence of _____ (A curse? The Trickster? Crowley?), so that each time Dean has to sneeze, the number of sneezes keeps increasing by 1. And as the sneeze count grows higher and higher, Dean tries harder and harder to fight off the sneezing...of course to no avail.
2015 meme prompt: More fun sneezing curse ideas. Mix and match! -the number of sneezes increases by 1 each time
Author Notes: Thank you to <lj user="cowboyguy"> for the amazingly helpful beta. This is my first attempt at writing Charlie, and the first draft was a complete and utter mess and failure. Hoping this revised version is much better. That awesome line there in the middle of the fic? That one’s all cowboyguy’s ;-)
Sam must have nodded off, because he suddenly found himself at the table, picking his head up from the top book in the stack he'd picked off the shelves earlier that day. He pulled the powder blue blanket tighter around his shoulders. It didn't take the IQ of a guy who'd once gone to Stanford to figure out what had woken him; the sound of his brother sneezing filled the bunker, along with two sets of footsteps.
Dean appeared in the doorway with Charlie on his arm, holding him up, guiding him forward. “Yikshh! Ihschhh! Yihtchh! YIHShhhh!” he sneezed into the hand cupped to his face. He paused then straightened up. “Nineteen?”
“That's what I got, too.” Charlie walked Dean over to a seat across from Sam at the table. Then she turned her attention to Sam. “Honestly, I thought it was an allergy or that he was coming down with a cold. I even teased him about it. He was just sneezing so much. It was kind of funny at first.”
“It's not a cold,” Dean said, his voice stuffy with congestion. “It's a cuhhhhhh.”
“Oh not again already.”
Dean nodded, mouth dropping open, nostrils flaring, eyes closing. “YIHShhhh! Ihtchh! Ihschhhh! Yihtushhh! Ihshh! IhtChhhh!”
“Wow.” Sam had seen his brother have an intense allergy attack before after a run-in with a pack of long-haired cats, but such strong, rapid-fire sneezes weren't normal, even during that. “Bless--”
“Oh, he's not done,” Charlie interrupted. “Right, Dean?”
Dean nodded while continuing to sneeze. “Yikshhhh! Yishh! Ihhshh!” And he still wasn't done. He switched from a hand cupped to his face to a nose buried in the crook of his arm. “Ihtshh! Ihfshhh! Hihkshhh! Hshhhh!”
Sam looked on the way you do when passing a car accident on the side of the highway—sympathetic and horrified but unable to look away.
“Yihkkshh! Ihshh! Yitshhh! YIHShhhh! Ihshhh! Hihschh! Ihshhh!” Finally, the sneezing fit ended and Dean gave a weak, “Twenty.”
“Yep,” Charlie confirmed.
“Twenty? Twenty sneezes? You're counting sneezes? That's a little weird, guys.”
Charlie did an eye roll that actually looked a bit like Dean's. “We started counting when it seemed there might be a pattern.”
“To the sneezes?”
Dean snuffled into his sleeve. “Obviously. What, are you slow from just wakig ub?”
Sam rubbed his hand over his face, wondering how his brother in this condition could have still figured that out.
Charlie held her hands up in surrender. “I swear I thought it was a cold or maybe a bad allergy attack. There was a cat there. Dean’s allergic to cats, right? I remember reading that in one of the books.” Dean groaned. “Anyway, after he kept sneezing, I got the feeling that this was going to take more than popping a Zyrtec, you know?”
Sam looked from Charlie to his sniffling big brother, a feeling a dread settling in him. “Dean... why are you sneezing so much?”
“Because a stupid w--”
“No!” Charlie exclaimed, but it was too late. Dean was off again.
“ihhhshuh! Yihsh! Yitshhh! Ihtchh! Ihshhh! Yikshhh! Ihshhhh! Yikshhhhh!”
Sam watched his brother snap forward and rock back again with every sneeze. There wasn't a second in-between to do anything but draw the next breath for the next sneeze. And they didn't seem to want to stop any time soon.
“yikshh! Yihtchh! Ihtchhh! Ihshhhh! Yitkshh!”
It was up to Charlie to explain, and Sam wanted answers. Now. “Every time he tries to talk about what happened or how to stop it, he starts sneezing his head off again. And by now he's up to... Dean?”
“Ihtshh! Ihshh! Ihktchhh! Ktchhhh! Hshhhh! Ihshhh! Tishhh! Yihshhh!” Dean swiped his sleeve under his arm with the wettest sniffle in the history of sniffles. “Twenty-one.”
“Hold on,” Sam actually held up a hand. “You're telling me each time he has one of these fits, he sneezes one more time than the time before?”
“It's a simple incrementing pattern,” Charlie said. “But by the time we noticed, he was already in the teens. Pretty soon...”
Sam understood. It wasn't dangerous yet, but if he got up to fifty or a hundred or worse, that was going to be some solid sneezing time. Dean would get dehydrated, maybe deprived of oxygen. Could you pass out from sneezing? Could you die from it? “This sounds like a curse.”
Dean threw his arms up in victory, letting out a relieved, “Ha!”
They'd been out investigating a strange occurrence in a town about half an hour away. Abnormal flocks of birds. Strange sounds from the forest. Three people winding up dead, their insides very much outside. Sam hated that it was so obviously their sort of thing, especially as he didn't feel up to doing anything about it. So when Charlie had stopped by—this time actually on her way to a convention a few states away—it had seemed so obvious that she would go along with Dean and help out. They must have run into something they hadn't expected. “Was it a witch?”
Dean, looking miserable and exhausted, lowered his arms and looked at Charlie imploringly.
Charlie nodded. “Confirmed. Title credits had barely finished rolling. We’d only just engaged the enemy when this one started sneezing.”
“And I've been sneezing ever since,” Dean finished. “Sammy, you've got to find the hehhh... ehhHetchhh! Yihtch! Ihkshhh! Ihshhhhhh! Ihhshhhh! heh-ihschhh!”
“He keeps saying that—something he wants me to find. But every time he gets close to telling me what it is, he sneezes again.”
“ehhhKsh! Yihshh! Ihshhh! Yitchhh! Ehshhh!”
“A hex bag.”
Dean cried out with relief in-between violent sneezes. “Ihhfsh! Ehhshh! Ihshhh! Yitsh! Ihschh! Yehshhhh!”
Sam pushed back from the table and his head spun. He tried to look steady on his feet, at least more steady than he felt, but he wobbled and had to brace himself with palms flat on the table. Dean didn't notice, as he was still sneezing, but Charlie definitely did. “Sam?”
“Yehshhh! Ihshhh! Ehshhh!”
With Charlie knowing nothing about witches and Dean sneezing, it was up to Sam to fix this, whether he felt up to it or not. “Take care of Dean. There are tissues...” It would be easier to get them himself. “I'll grab a box. Just take care of Dean, all right?”
His hand on the walls to keep himself from falling over, Sam retrieved an old box of tissues from a supply closet. He'd done an inventory a while back and though the tissues were like industrial strength sandpaper, there were plenty of them—more before Sam started feeling bad, sure, but still enough to spare a box for his super sneezy, cursed brother now.
Hugging the blanket even tighter around his shoulders, Sam went to the garage to check the Impala. This wasn't the first time he'd turned the car inside-out looking for a hex bag, and he knew the most likely spots. Witches always thought they were so clever, hiding it behind one of the license plates or under the carburetor.
But it wasn't in any of the obvious locations or the tricky ones for that matter. And it wasn't in the glove compartment or under a floor mat. He really didn’t want to have to drain the gas tank looking for it. Frustrated and tired, Sam rested his forehead against the warm, black metal roof of the car over the driver's side door. He closed his eyes.
“Sam?” Sam jumped as Charlie came over, looking more concerned about him than Dean. “I can’t help noticing that you look like you lost a fight against Ganondorf.” Suddenly feeling like Cas must when he missed a reference, Sam rubbed the back of his neck that still ached from the awkward way he’d fallen asleep earlier. He had no idea how to answer her without going into more detail about the trials. They’d told her the basics already, and she knew they were kicking his ass because normally Dean wouldn’t shut up about it. But now Dean was the one who needed help and Sam had to do the helping… it was a bit of a relief to find out he wouldn’t be alone. “So I’m here to help you out. ‘Cause Dean sneezing like that’s gonna get old fast. Now what exactly are we looking for? I read about hex bags, but the books weren’t real descriptive.”
Sam coughed and glanced back at the doorway, expecting Dean to appear there. It’d be just like his brother to try to help but end up sneezing on everything.
“Dean will be all right, unless he starts talking to himself about what happened. In which case I think we have bigger problems than some sneezes. So let me help you look.”
While they searched, Sam described what a hex bag was and Charlie explained what had happened. “It's a little brown satchel.” Sam made an O with his thumb and forefinger to show her about how big the hex bag could be. “It'll be hidden well.” He didn’t tell her what was generally in a hex bag, and she seemed to understand she’d be better off not asking.
Charlie ran her hand across the inside roof of the car, feeling for bumps. “Okay, a quest game. I’m good at those. I can do searching. Tracking? Maybe not so much…” She checked the ashtray compartments in the back. “Hey, cute. Did you know there’s a little toy—”
“Yeah. Just leave it,” Sam said with a smile. “Tell me more about this witch. What happened out there?”
“I think... I think she might have been tracking us while we were tracking her. She doubled-back on us.”
That never ended well. Sam figured they should be glad the result was just this little curse.
“When she finally showed herself, she took us by surprise. I guess I expected something a little more Wizard of Oz—broom, maybe a magic wand—but she looked so normal. She wasn’t even all that sexy. I thought we might have made a mistake. And then she started muttering something and Dean sneezed. She had a cat with her, and Dean blamed that for the first few sneezes. I thought maybe he was getting sick and just trying to be manly and tough about it, you know? The witch came at us with some sort of spell that sent me flying down this alleyway. Dean tried to fight her, but the witch got away. And every time Dean tried to talk, he sneezed. I didn't know what to do, and Dean couldn't tell me. So we had to press pause on the whole hunt and come back here.”
Sam coughed again, harder this time. He winced at the tiny bit of blood he could taste.
“Sam? You need to lie down?”
He shook his head, though that sounded pretty good right about now.
“You're really not okay, are you?”
Sam cleared his throat. “I'd be a whole lot more okay if we could find this hex bag.” They kept searching. And searching. And searching some more. “You're sure that the witch had access to the car?”
Charlie sighed and leaned against the side of the Impala. “She was out of our sight for so long. I don't know where else she could have hidden something like that if not the car. She didn't come near me...”
His eyes widened. “But the witch got near Dean.”
Charlie shook her head. “Yeah, but he'd know if he had a—” She stopped short as Sam took off toward Dean again.
He found his brother sitting at the table nursing the box of tissues. Dean raised his head, hope in his eyes. “Did you find-ihhh...”
“Dean, no!” Sam scolded, but the damage was done. “Ihschhh! Yekshhh! Ihhshhh! Ytshhh!” Dean rubbed at his eyes, tearing up from the force of the sneezes, but then he buried his nose back into a wad of tissues. “Yehschhh! Ihhshhhh! EhhhKShhhh! Yihshhhhh!”
Sam had already lost track of how many sneezes that was. He was too busy manhandling Dean, pulling his brother to his feet so he could start searching Dean's pockets.
“YehShuhh! Ihshuhhhhh! Hehhh-Ihshh! YIHShhhh!” Searching was easier said than done, given the way Dean rocked as each sneeze threw him forward.
Charlie arrived a few seconds later, a little out of breath. “Sam thinks the witch might have hidden the hex bag on you.”
Dean shook his head, but couldn't stop sneezing yet. The fit was strong, rapid-fire, and exhausting. “Yihtshhhh! Yihshuhhh! Ihshhhhhh! Eh-ehshuhhh! Yitchhh! Ihhhshhh! Yehshhhh! Yihkshhhh!”
Sam started toward Dean to pat him down, but dizziness forced him into the nearest chair at the table instead. He held onto the table as the room spun. He had to stay in control here; Dean needed him.
“Yihtshhhh! Ihshhhhh! Ehshhhh!”
“You’re done, right?” Charlie asked; she’d obviously been counting. Dean nodded, rubbing at his nose. “Good. Assume the position. I’m checking for a hex bag, and I don’t want you to say a word. You already sneezed on me enough today, thank you so much for that, by the way. You’re lucky you’re not getting my dry cleaning bill.” She went through his pockets first then patted him down as if she were a TSA agent.
Sam couldn’t understand why she couldn’t find anything. With Dean preoccupied with sneezing, it would have been easy to hide something on him. She checked her own pockets as well, just to be sure, but still came up empty. Sam’s level of frustration was making his head ache more than it had in days.
Sam was just about to suggest that Dean learn sign language because he’d never be able to speak again when Dean figured it out. He waved his arm, pointing wildly around, trying pathetically to explain “It's—eh-YIHSHHH!” He was off again, but this time fighting to speak through it. Both Sam and Charlie stood there, listening as best they could. “I hah-hahIhtchhh! Yih-Ihsh! Ehshhhh! Hah-had-IHHSchhhh! Had a... a... ah-HAHShhhh! Yahshh! a c-c-Kshhhh! Hehshhhh! Co-hshhhh!”
“A code?” Charlie guessed.
“A Colt?” Sam’s guess was no better.
Dean shook his head fervently. “hahShhh! Hih-shhhh! Cahhhh... ahhhHrshhhh! Hahshhhh! Coat!” Dean finally finished the word, though not yet done with his recent bout of sneezes. “YIHShhhhh! IHShhhh!” Charlie and Sam suddenly found themselves on a new hunt.
Charlie checked the chairs at the table then bent over and looked at the floor where it might have dropped. With a hand on the wall to keep himself upright, Sam started back down the hallway to retrace Dean's steps from the garage. He could hear Dean sneezing from down the hallway. “hehhhYshhh! Yihshh! hihkshhh! Ihshhhh! Hehhshh!” How many was that? Sam hadn't been counting, but it seemed like a lot. Dean must be getting light-headed. Sam felt light-headed too. “hah-Shhih! Yihshhh! IHPTshhhh!”
Sam's foot came into contact with something soft, and he nearly tripped over what was definitely a jacket on the floor. Sam reached down, all the blood rushing to his head, and almost couldn’t pull himself back up again. But it only took a second for the dizziness to pass. Then he snatched it up and plunged his hand into a pocket. He couldn't hear Dean sneezing any more, which was either a good or a bad sign. Sam found a mess of used napkins in one pocket and winced; some were still wet. Sam checked another pocket and cried out in triumph as he pulled a hex bag out. When he tried to call for Dean and Charlie, however, he found the dizziness was not only returning but hitting harder than ever from his excitement. His vision blurred, but he kept a tight hold of the hex bag as he passed out.
Sam wasn't out for long. He regained consciousness just as Dean and Charlie were picking him up off the floor. “Got it...” Sam said weakly, trying to keep his eyes open and not pass out again.
“Good work, Sammy. Now gihhh aw man! IhhhYihshhh! I barely ehHtshhh! Barely said ehhshuhhhh! Anything!” He had his hand out to take the hex bag, but he brought it to his nose now, rubbing as if that would help the sneezes back off... or maybe he was trying to get them to come faster so he could get it over with. “ehhShhh! Yihshh!”
Sam steadied himself on his feet and gestured for Dean and Charlie to let him go, which Dean did at once, cupping both hand to his face. Charlie was a little more reluctant, and looked skeptically at him as he leaned against a hallway wall for support.
Sam fished around in his own pockets; carrying a lighter, like a knife, was something Winchesters did even if they didn’t plan to be hunting. Sam let the lighter’s flame catch the corner of the bag, then the whole thing went up in blue flames and he was forced to drop it on the concrete floor before it burned his fingers.
“ihhTchhh! HehhTch! Yihhh...” Dean stopped. His head was thrown back, mouth open, eyes squeezed closed, nostrils twitching wildly. But no sneeze came. “ihhh... hah...” Nothing. But the expression on Dean's face didn't change. If anything, his face screwed up in concentration but he still looked like he needed to sneeze.
The hex bag on the last of the blue flames on the floor poofed out of existence, leaving behind a small pile of ash.
“Dean?” Charlie asked. “You still need to sneeze?”
Dean nodded, upper lip twitching slightly as he wrinkled his nose. “hah... ahh... 'scuse be... yeh… a secod...” Breath hitching, nostrils flaring, Dean headed back down the hallway and into the bathroom. He slammed the door behind, leaving Sam and Charlie standing there.
They looked at each other, and Charlie shrugged. “Hey, when you gotta sneeze, you gotta sneeze, right?”
Then, from behind the bathroom door, they heard a resounding, “HEYYYATCHHOO!” followed by a moan of relief and a copious amount of nose blowing.
Charlie laughed. “All this and we still didn't get the witch.”
“We'll get her,” Sam reassured her. “I'll help next time.”
Looking alarmed, “Like hell you will. I'm sorry, Sam, but you can barely stand.” She took his arm. “Don't the Men of Letters have, like, a rec room with a TV and couch? 'Cause that's what you need right now.”
Sam shook his head. There were still a few rooms they had yet to explore in the bunker, but Sam was pretty sure he would have noticed a rec room. He wasn't even sure they could get television reception in here. But, for that matter, he still couldn't figure out how they had electricity, water, and a working internet connection.
“Well, then you're doubly lucky I came along. Go get in bed. I'll grab the laptop; have Netflix, will binge. I have a feeling Dean's going to need a break after all that, and you both need a refill of your health meters before we can even think about a round two with that witch. Now go.” She gave him a little push in the direction of his bedroom.
“Yes, your highness,” Sam said weakly, one hand at the wall as he made his way to his room. With her staying on for the next week, he was sure they’d manage to gank that witch. He just wondered how long before Charlie would insist on setting up an X-Box and Playstation in the bunker.