all Cathy's fault

Cold
K Hanna Korossy

"You're not allowed to get sick again," Dean announced as he walked into the room, kicking the door shut behind him. "Ever."

Sam was curled up in bed, looking just this side of miserable. With those scraggly bangs, red cheeks, and wide, slightly glazed eyes, he looked about ten, and Dean found his voice automatically softening.

"I think I bought out half the store." He set the bags down on his bed and started to pull out items. "Cold syrup--two kinds. Vick's. Cough drops, cherry. Thera-flu—what is that, anyway? Looks like some nasty tea they jacked the price up on. Kleenex, the soft girly kind. Nasal spray. You realize what this little pharmacy cost?"

"You didn't have to get all of it," Sam whispered. Talking hurt his throat, so it was quiet conversation or nothing. Dean, perversely, missed the chatter only when it was gone. "You told me to write down a few things…"

"Yeah, well, I didn't think you'd want every single cold product known to man," Dean said without heat. He of all people knew how little experience Sam had with taking care of himself when he was sick. He'd probably written down every remedy he'd ever heard of. One bag empty, Dean quickly unpacked the other.

Sam pushed himself up a little, looking over the new purchases. "I didn't ask for orange juice. Or soup."

"It's supposed to be good for you," Dean argued. He didn't have much to go by in how to take care of the sick; it wasn't like anyone had ever looked after him. But he'd followed old wives' tales for a young Sammy, and he'd turned out okay. Those wives had to know something Dean didn't, right? "I figured since I was already out…" He shrugged.

Sam settled back, smiling.

Dean glowered at him. "This isn't funny. Of all the places you had to lay us up, you would pick Nowheresville, Indiana. I mean, at least you could have chosen a place with a bar."

"Sorry," Sam murmured, voice cracking. "I'll try to get sick someplace more urban next time."

"I told you," Dean pointed at him absently, reading the back of one of the syrup boxes, "there's not gonna be a next time." The possible side effects made him cringe. "You get sick, next thing you know, I'm sick, and we've wasted two weeks lying around watching TV."

Sam's smile vanished, leaving him looking just tired and ill. "Sorry," he repeated listlessly.

That Dean paid attention to, and he threw Sam a sideways glance as he went into the bathroom for water. "Whatever, it's okay. Don't worry about it—I've still got about a thousand left from that high-stakes game. We're good. Hey, we're about due for a vacation anyway, right?"

Sam coughed—hacked up a lung might have been a better term for it—and pointed voicelessly toward Dean.

Dean stopped. "What? What do you want, my jacket? The john?"

Frustrated, Sam shook his hand, indicating more aggressively.

Dean glanced around him, then down at the coffeepot he was holding. "Water? You want some water?"

Sam gave him a look of triumph and settled back.

"You couldn't make a drinking motion or write out H-2-O or something?" Dean groused. He grabbed the carton of juice. "And you're having OJ, not water. Vitamin C, dude," he added at Sam's exasperated look.

Sam drank half the glass in one pull, Dean couldn't help but notice as he doled out syrup, cough drops, and some sissy liqui-caps. The coffeemaker was percolating by then, and Dean poured a packet of the fancy flu tea into one of the motel-issue mugs and handed that over, too. Medicated to the gills, a flushed Sam offered him smiled thanks and pushed himself up against the headboard to sip the hot drink.

Dean dropped onto the other bed and reached for the remote. "You used to love watching cooking shows when you were sick, remember? Didn't matter if you were green and puking every ten minutes, you still wanted to see people fixing food that would've made me throw up."

Sam gave him a dopey smile over the mug. Dean tried for a moment to figure out if that was the medication or Sam's sappiness coming through, then decided he didn't want to know. He turned back to the TV, cranking up the volume as the commercials ended and cut to a Z-grade space opera. "Hey," he grinned, "I love this one! 'Let go of my pet alien thing or I'll blow up your spaceship'," he improvised in a high voice, then dropped into bass when the camera switched to another character. "'Not if I shoot you with my Acme raygun first!" Again the chipmunk voice. "'Tell you what, give me the space babe in the silver bikini and we'll call it even.'"

Sam suddenly sounded like he was choking, and Dean's head whipped around to see his brother struggling not to let a wheezy laugh turn into a coughing jag. "Don't," Sam rasped, wincing. "Hurts to laugh."

"Story of your life," Dean muttered, but relented. Red was not a good look on Sam. He turned the TV volume down to a murmur. "Why don't you get some sleep?"

Sam, nodding, was already sliding down flat in bed, the mug thunking onto the nightstand.

Half tipped over, and Dean made a grab for it before it spilled completely. The tea was mostly gone, he noted with approval. He glanced back at Sam, at the tired but wide-awake look, and opened his mouth to say something when Sam's cell rang.

Dean reached for his brother's discarded jacket and fished out the phone, glancing at it. Eyebrows climbing, he threw Sam a glance before answering the cell. "Rebecca, hey. It's Dean."

Sam pushed himself up on one elbow, interest gleaming through the glossy hazel.

"No, he's here," Dean answered the query meanwhile. "He's just, uh, indisposed at the moment. You know Sam and his hair, takes forever in the bathroom." Without looking, he ducked the pillow that sailed by his head. "Can I take a message?"

He listened, grin fading. "You sure? No explanation?"

Sam sat all the way up, the blanket sliding off him, and Dean idly reached over to grab Sam's hoodie and toss it over to him. He watched Sam drape it over himself before he turned away to dig out a pad of paper and pen from his bag.

"Yeah, I'm ready." Dean scrawled down the information. "No, I'm glad you called. We'll look into it and let you know…Yeah. Bye."

Sam's head canted in unspoken question as Dean clicked off the phone and stuck it back into Sam's jacket. Then he gave his brother his full attention. "That was your friend Becky, vacationing up in Colorado. Says they've had some weird deaths up there, people freezing to death even though it's been an unusually warm spring."

Sam's eyebrows went up.

It was a little eerie how easily Dean could read him. "I know, but some of them were dressed for the weather and they'd only been out an hour or so before they were found. I don't know, man, sounds suspicious to me, but the last thing you need right now is snow country."

Sam gave him an exasperated look.

Dean's mouth twitched. "Yeah, okay. But you're getting a full night's sleep and breakfast first, and you're not going out hunting until you quit looking like a day-old corpse, so shut up." He grinned. "Oh, that's right, you can't talk."

On anyone else, Sam's expression would have had Dean reaching for his knife, just in case.

Dean shook his head. "Seriously, dude. We don't go out until we're ready. That means both of us. I don't want something coming up behind me while you're twenty yards back trying to catch your breath."

Sam blew out a frustrated sigh and tousled a hand through his hair before nodding reluctantly.

"Good. Now get some sleep. We've got a long drive tomorrow." Which probably meant even more sleep for Sam, but that would only help. Dean wouldn't have minded staying even in this ratty room for a few more days to allow his little brother to sleep through his illness, but they couldn't ignore people dying, even for their own comfort. He meant, it, though: he wasn't risking himself or Sam to wade into something before they were ready. That wouldn't do the civilians any good, anyway, and Sam's well-being came first, before everything.

Sam dropped back down, coughing weakly and burrowing under the covers into a smaller lump than should've been possible with those long limbs. Dean glanced over at him, noting once more the red but awake eyes, and drew the open laptop over to himself.

"What do you think, cold spots? Spirits?" At Sam's weary nod, he began tapping in searches, reading aloud results. He talked low and slow, and his occasional checks revealed a heavier gaze each time, until Sam was fast asleep, exhalations a soft wheeze against the pillow.

Dean smiled, and leaned back against the headboard to keep researching.

00000

Aerosmith was turned down so low, it was just a murmur of sound in the background, and Dean beat out an equally soft accompaniment to the bass on the steering wheel with his thumbs. Sam's throat was better enough that morning that he could talk without pain, but his voice was still a soft shadow of its usual self. Dean had put the volume down just to hear him.

"So you still think it's just a cold spot?"

"Makes sense," Sam said. "Both victims were out in the same area, and there was no sign of any struggle or injury on them. I've never heard of any creature that can drain heat, have you?"

"Just your usual thermometer-yo-yoing ghosts, but that doesn't usually go into frostbite territory."

"No," Sam shook his head, agreeing. "Besides, you'd probably have other signs of manifestation, too: sightings, traces of antemortem fear in the victims, a history of violence or occultic activity in the area—there's nothing."

Dean grinned. "'Antemortem'? Dude, you sound like CSI." At the cough drop that bounced off his temple, he made an effort to sober. "Okay, fine, cold spots. Know anything about how to get rid of one?"

Sam started coughing, turning toward the window until he got it under control.

"See, that's what you get for throwing your meds at your brother." But Dean kept shooting glances his way in between watching the road. "You all right?" he asked when Sam was finally done.

"Yeah, just…" Sam coughed one more time. "Little dry still."

"So keep drinking." Dean nodded at the water bottle in his lap. "And try to keep your germs on your side of the car."

Sam shook his head as he twisted the bottle open. "You know, you should get checked for split personalities or something—you're like…man, Florence Nightingale with an attitude."

"Yeah, well, maybe if she'd had you to look out for with your finely-honed ability to attract even microscopic-sized trouble, Flo would've been a little less 'angel of mercy,' too. Besides, I'm your brother, not your nurse."

"No, you just act like it. And I am so remembering 'angel of mercy' the next time you play dumb, dude." Sam coughed again, and cleared his throat.

Dean scowled at him. "You know I'm going to have to disinfect the car after this."

"Good, maybe you'll finally clean up all the stale M&Ms under the seat," Sam said, annoyingly unperturbed. He ignored Dean's glare as he flipped through their dad's journal. "Dad never came across cold spots, but he did deal with a few different kinds of zones, like circles where nothing grows, places that make people dizzy, that kind of thing. There's not a lot you can try, but blessing the ground sometimes works."

It was a good thing for him Dean forgave easily. Not to mention he didn't really have a good comeback for the M&M line. "Blessing," Dean said gamely. "Sounds easy enough."

"Yeah, except, it's not like these zones are marked." Sam gave him a significant look. "The hard part'll be finding it."

"EMF?"

"Maybe." A shrug. "Hard to say."

Dean nodded, thumbs still keeping the beat. He looked over as Sam pulled his jacket closer around himself, and detoured one hand to the heater, nudging it a notch higher. "You sure you're not running a fever?"

"No," Sam scraped out, "just get these chills sometimes. I'm okay."

"Wimp," Dean said fondly. "Remember that time I had a hundred-and-three fever? I think Dad's temp rose a few degrees, too."

"Mine hit one-oh-four once, didn't it?"

"Yeah, when you were eight. Scared me to death. But I think I went higher after I got that infection from the loa bite."

"Higher than one-oh-four? Dean, you'd've cooked."

"Oh, yeah? Ask Dad. When we find him," Dean added a little lamely, because he hadn't meant to go there.

Sam seemed to lose interest in the little game of one-upmanship at that, coughing quietly into one hand before leaning his head against the window. He didn't look feverish, just tired and unhappy. It was enough to twist his big brother's heart.

"Hey," Dean said, and waited for Sam's lackluster interest to turn his way. "I remember getting sick once when…Mom was…still here. You know what she did?" He raised his eyebrows in invitation.

Sam was still slumped against the door, but his full attention was on Dean.

"Bought me popsicles." Dean gave him a lopsided smile. "I'd never had 'em before, but those were the best things I ever tasted."

Sam was also smiling a little, living the memory vicariously.

Dean looked at him, trying to be nonchalant and avoid any semblance of a sentimentality as he continued, "Might make your throat feel better, too."

Sam's gaze slid over to him. "Yeah, sounds good, actually."

Dean nodded, and started to look for a place to stop. He knew Sam longed for those connections with their mother and Dean wished he had more to give, but the memories cropped up rarely and randomly. He'd completely forgotten the popsicles until just then.

"I'm all right, Dean," Sam added softly, because he always had to say what Dean thought had been implied just fine. "You don't have to worry about me."

"Comes with the job, Sam," Dean said impatiently, taking an exit to what signs promised was a convenience store.

"You do know I'm not a kid anymore, right?"

It would have been a lot more impressive if his voice hadn't cracked, squeaking, at the end.

Dean shot a look of amusement at the passenger seat. And started chuckling at the faint red that crept over Sam's face. A few chagrined moments later, Sam joined in.

It felt good. And long overdue.

00000

"Wendigo."

Chilly silence.

"A banshee. No, I guess they're more into the wailing. I know! Those radioactive frogs we went after once."

"Dean—"

"Oh, how about chupacabras in heat?"

"How do you even know what chupacabras in heat sound like?"

"Uh…anyway, maybe—"

"Forget it, okay? I don't sound like any of those."

Dean glanced at his scowling brother, face alight. "Well, you don't sound like anything human, that's for sure. Especially when you do that cough-choking thing…"

Sam sneezed.

Dean pondered it. "Naw, it's more like a croaking—"

"Dean! Could we please just focus here!" Sam snapped, exasperated and hilariously croaky.

"There isn't exactly anything to focus on, Sam," Dean answered patiently. "We've been walking around for two hours, we're in the same area those hypothermia victims were, and there's nothing but trees." Sam sneezed again. "And the germ kegger you're hosting. Dude, could you at least try not to let everything in the county know we're coming?"

"Dean, could you try to not be a jerk just once?" Sam answered back with a little less than his usual aggravation.

Dean gave him a long sidelong glance, weighing the benefits of staying out longer and making sure they did a thorough job against getting Sam someplace warm and horizontal. He was wearing two layers of jacket but still looked miserable and shivering. "We should head back. If there was something out here, you probably scared it off."

"Ha-ha," Sam drawled back, and coughed.

Dean shook his head, and got ready to turn when something caught his attention. He stopped, sniffing. "Sam, you smell that?"

"You could soak me in perfume and I wouldn't smell it right now. What've you got?"

"I don't know, smells a little like…ozone." Dean glanced back at his brother. "Perfume? Something you want to tell me, Sam?"

But Sam was venturing out to the right, doing his job and scanning the area. Dean quickly dropped the teasing and did the same, staring at the EMF detector as he swung it around. Not a blip.

He turned back to his brother. "I don't know, Sam, I…"

Sam's awkward shape registered first, hunched over like an old man. Then Dean saw the white and blue shades of his face and hands, and the scrunched-shut eyes.

"Sam!" He lunged forward, arms already outstretched. Dean instinctively yanked them back as just a few inches from his brother's form, they ran into the invisible cold.

Dean had been hypothermic a few times in his life, once or twice even near death. He barely remembered the stabbing needle-pain of cold or the liquid agony over his skin, his brain shutting down as it froze.

This brought it all back. And Sam was in the middle of it.

Dean gritted his teeth and reached again.

His fingers were already numb by the time they curled stiffly around Sam's arm. It was only because the bulk of Dean's body was outside the cold spot that he was able to haul Sam backward at all. As it was, when his brother tumbled into him, body heavy and going limp, Dean could barely move his hands enough to grasp him and pull him close.

"Sammy? Talk to me, Sam."

Pulses were hard to find under cold skin, and Sam's was freezing. Dean couldn't feel a reassuring beat, but finally bent over Sam's chest, pressing his ear against layers of winter clothes. There was a sluggish thump against the side of his face, and Sam's faint breath stirred Dean's hair. Okay, alive. And only briefly exposed, so Sam's core temperature couldn't have dropped too much yet. Dean could fix this.

"Hang in there, Sam," he ordered. He unzipped Sam's two jackets, then opened his own and pulled Sam against his chest, folding the edges around him to try to trap the heat between them. No reaction from Sam. Dean rethought his persuasive technique, and instead coaxed, "Hold on, Sammy, please." He had no idea why, growing up with him and John, but Sam had always been more the touchy-feely kind.

Sam's groan was faint. As Dean debated if it meant pain, relief, or Dean, ew, Sam suddenly started to shudder, going from stillness to wracking shakes in a second.

Dean held him a little tighter. "Okay, good—shivering is good. About time you helped here." He reached down and found one of Sam's trailing, icy hands and began to gently massage it, sometimes stopping to press it between his two palms to try to rewarm the frigid skin. "Can you feel that?"

Sam groaned again, eyelashes fluttering. His head rolled toward his brother. "D'n?"

"Yeah, Sam."

"Dean, it's cold." His voice shook, adding a few c's to the last word.

Dean put the one hand down and looked for the other, starting to knead it. "I know, bro. It'll get warmer in a minute."

"Why's it so…?" Sam seemed to forget his question, head drooping toward Dean, who didn't mind the burden. Sam's teeth were clacking together so hard, it was amazing he could talk, but already the worst of the tremors seemed to be easing.

Intense exposure but short duration, Dean thought triumphantly. The two men who had died had had no one to pull them out of the cold. Like he wouldn't have if Sam had let himself be talked into staying behind in the warm room while Dean went searching. He worked Sam's hands between them and started rubbing his back and arms.

"Turn the heat up," Sam murmured against him.

Dean grinned into his hair. "You saying I'm not hot?"

There were a few beats; Sam's brain was still half-frozen and slow. Then a slurred, "Dean?"

Dean bent down again, his face near his brother's, pleased to see spots of warm in the previously snow-white cheeks. "Yeah, Sammy. I'm here."

Whatever Sam opened his mouth to say was lost in a tremendous sneeze.

Dean stared at him in shock for a second, then wiped the spray of saliva off his face with the sleeve of his jacket. Only Sam's uncomprehending, pained look saved him from being left to walk back to the car by himself. Dean silently swore, grimaced, and went back to rubbing the long limbs and holding Sam close until he stopped twitching.

But if Sam would have been aware, he would have heard a low and unhappy mutter.

"Dude, that was cold."

00000

"Hey, you think chicken soup is a preventative?" Dean glanced over at his brother and found Sam completely uninterested in his query, busy writing in the journal. It wasn't often they could add to their father's information, but Sam had become a faithful chronicler when they did.

"I don't know," he said distractedly. "I guess if it gives you more energy…"

Dean nodded; good point. And Vitamin C boosted your immunity. He popped two pills to be safe, then bent forward, waiting for the coffeemaker to finish heating water for the soup.

From behind him, under two layers of blankets, pairs of both Sam's and Dean's socks, and several clothes, Sam's battered voice reemerged. "So, where do you think a cold spot comes from?"

Dean shrugged, not bothering to turn around. "Portal to Antarctica? I don't know. Only part that matters is we could get rid of it."

"Yeah, but, don't you wonder, Dean?"

"Nope." He did glance back at Sam to assess the flushed cheeks. "Still cold?" The blessing had worked, the cold spot dispersing immediately. Sam had taken a little longer to bounce back, but he was warm and with it enough that Dean hadn't had to carry him back to the car, which was a win in his book. His brother had still leaned on him on the way out, but he'd been coherent and uninjured, merely weak. A cold plus cold had taken their toll.

Sam's eyebrow disappeared under his hair, not that it had far to go. "Under just about every piece of clothing and bedding in the room? No."

"Good. 'Cause we're not leaving here until you're totally over the whole Darth-Vader-getting-choked sound."

"But Becky—"

"Knows you're sick and is gonna wait to see you. Now shut up and keep writing or go back to your book or something."

"You had so better hope you don't get sick, because you're gonna get all this back, you know," Sam cracked and scraped through the threat.

There was the hot water, finally. Dean poured some into the Styrofoam cup and stirred. "Yeah, well, considering the only reason I'd get sick is because you sneezed on me, I'd think you'd be falling all over yourself to be nice. You know, besides the fact that I saved your life and everything."

Sam gave him a knowing grin. "So we're counting now?"

Dean stared at him a moment before looking away. "No." He covered up the mug and shook his head free of a moment's darkness before turning back to his brother. "Besides, I told you, no more getting sick, for either of us. We've got places to be."

Sam's head tilted. "Where?"

"Florida." Dean grinned. "Sun, warmth, and alligators. People are disappearing in the Everglades."

Sam groaned, which turned into a cough that had Dean walking over to thump on his back. "Sorry," he murmured, then, "Dean, people are always disappearing into the Everglades. That's because they're idiots."

"Did I mention they dream they're gonna die first?" Dean asked.

Sam considered that. "Okay," he admitted, "that sounds like our kind of gig. But, Dean, swamps?"

"It'll be fun, Sammy, and then we can hit the beaches after."

Sam made a face and slid down into bed and bedding, looking like a kid swaddled in clothes too big for him. "I hate swamps."

Dean ventured a sip of the instant soup. Perfect. He sat down with it across from Sam, who immediately reached for it. Dean scowled at him but handed it over. "Man up, dude," he grumbled, rising to fix himself another dinner. "It's just water. And mud, and mosquitoes, and…" Dean suddenly glanced back at Sam with a mischievous look. "You getting cold feet?"

Sam's aim was definitely improving.

The End