Dean starts coughing while they're at the county records office, xeroxing the local sewer system maps. Just the once to begin with, short and hard-edged, and it takes them both by surprise. But Dean doesn't make anything of it and so Sam turns back to his task of trying to convince the copier to stop cutting the edges off the detailed map of a particularly convoluted section of sewer. By the time they leave an hour later, though, Dean's coughing with some regularity, in tight little bursts that he muffles against his elbow.
On the way back to the motel, Dean pulls in last minute at a Happy Harry's pharmacy, an afterthought with no blinker and not enough brake. "You want to restock the first aid kit while we're here?" he asks, and Sam doesn't bother to answer, just climbs out of the car and goes to the trunk to see what's needed. They take separate paths through the store, meeting up again at the checkout counter--Sam with bandages and dental floss and the strongest painkillers available, Dean with cough drops and liquid decongestants in neon green and orange.
"I thought you hated that flavor," Sam says, flicking a finger at the green one.
"They were out of cherry." Dean says this like an accusation.
"Well, it's been a couple of years, maybe they've improved the taste."
"I wouldn't bet on it," Dean mutters, glaring at the bottle, but then they're at the front of the line and he smiles for the cashier, who's young and blonde and pretty.
He disappears into the bathroom when they get back, and after what sounds like theatrical choking that turns into another round of legitimate coughing, he reemerges to present his green tongue for Sam's approval.
"You want a pint of hot-and-sour soup?" Sam asks, after dutifully wrinkling his nose at the display. "I need food before I try to make sense of these schematics." The stack of photocopies is nearly an inch thick.
"And General Pan's chicken and an egg roll."
Dean's dozing in front of some SyFy monstrosity by the time the food arrives, and Sam's bowed to necessity and has started in on trying to locate likely ghoul lairs. Normally Dean has a better eye for that sort of thing, but he's clearly off his game tonight. Seems best to let him catch whatever sleep he can.
He rouses when Sam waves the egg roll in front of his face, and the soup wakes him up enough to confirm that Sam's marked the most promising locations. "Tonight, or wait until morning?" Sam asks after finishing his moo shu pork.
Dean pauses in shoveling chicken and rice into his mouth. "Eh. In the dark is probably a bad idea, but we also won't get anyone asking questions and we might as well go while I'm still mostly functional." He's started to get the nasally sound that means he'll be stuffed up and snotty soon.
And despite the darkness, things go as well as they ever do. The first place they try is a dud, but the second shows definite signs of activity, and from there they manage to track it back to where the ghouls have set up camp. Dean refrains from coughing at an inopportune moment, so they're able to get the drop on the pair while they're eating. Two headshots and it's all over, though Sam has to fight to keep down his own dinner when he sees what looks to be the remains of several babies. The kappa lair they'd cleaned out a few days prior had been pretty bad, but that thing had been more of an animal, functioning mostly on instinct. Ghouls at least had the ability to limit themselves to those already dead, if they chose.
"Let's get out of here," Dean says behind him, voice thick--though whether from phlegm or the stink of blood and rotting meat, Sam can't tell. "You can call it in to the cops once we're topside again." Sam doesn't envy them the job they'll have breaking it to the parents.
When they get back to their room, Dean takes a dose of the orange decongestant and sacks out almost immediately, having stolen enough of Sam's pillows to build an enormous wedge behind his back. It means he snores a bit, but that doesn't really matter--Sam can't get his brain to let go of the image and smell of those tiny, half-eaten bodies. The sounds of Dean sleeping are an almost welcome distraction.
In the morning they'll make the first leg of the drive back to Lebanon, and Dean will probably let Sam drive for a change since he'll be dosed up on cold medication. If the forecast's right, it'll be sunny and warm and lovely. Dean will bitch about Sam's music a little, but he'll fall asleep after awhile. Sam will pick a bland, clean place for them to spend the night, even though Dean will make noises about how they should probably just sleep in the car, and they'll get back home sometime after lunch, with a stop at Ladow's on their way through town so they have food for dinner.
And by then Sam will probably have nearly forgotten about the charnel pit they'd found, down there in the sewers. Just one more awful thing to leave behind him. But for now he stares at the dark ceiling and listens to Dean's labored breathing and counts the hours until he can be back in his own bed.