Author's note:

Not my first fic, but definitely my first (and probably last) time here. Unapologetic h/c. Excessive potty mouth. Probably difficult to follow.

I have no excuse.

Worse yet: completely unbeta'd. Trust me, I'm ashamed.




Whoever said there was such a thing is a giant fucking asshole.

Dean's idea of normal deviates so far from the generic brand that he thinks about making a new word. Just for them. Maybe something like...oh fuck it. It won't be the same anyway.

But this – this, what's been going on in front of him for the past few days – he's sure, is not normal. Not even for them.

So Sam's been a royal pain over the ass this past year with his elitist "I know better than you" attitude and sucking demon blood like he's lost in the Sahara Desert and it's spouting from the only water fountain for miles. Yeah, so that's not really ideal behaviour, but he's still Dean's little brother, and brothers are still brothers, even when they do silly things like put worms in your shoes, or, you know, start the apocalypse.

But even accepting that purely on an "I'm too exhausted to give a shit right now" level, Dean's brain is throwing out warning signals left right and center. Bright neon signs that scream THIS IS NOT COOL! and PAY ATTENTION, ASSHOLE!

People are going to die; he's actually damn sure of it, but this would be a really shitty time to lose Sam. Now, after all this. Ironic, some might say.

No, this is definitely not normal.

It has been four days and as many nights. He scoffs when he's finished adding it up because it feels a hell of a lot longer. Some rogue angel has to be playing a cruel joke on him. Four measly days. This pathetic, sickly sweet version of hell seems to multiply time just as exponentially as the real thing.

At first they both suspected it was delayed detox. Because that happens...right? But, hey, it's the end of the world and all, so who are they to question reason? They actually discussed it. Not with a ton of words. But they communicated. Almost like adults. A Town Hall meeting of sorts -- without the minutes and stale donuts -- in the Impala.

At the end, a vote was taken. The result was unanimous. They would hole up for a few days until Sam dried out. Dean would research Lucifer, barter with angels, or at least Cas – you know, all that everyday stuff people do when the end of the world has begun – and Sam would...sweat.

And they did just that. Except contrary to popular belief, there isn't a whole lot of information on the internet about how to stalk Lucifer after his rise, the angels were being a surly bunch of bastards who refused to come when called, and along with all the sweat came just about every other miserable symptom any sickly person on the face of the earth has ever suffered from.

It was during the fourth night when Dean's overused, under-stimulated brain started to nag.

'Cause after this long, Sam probably shouldn't still be curled up in the fetal position on the bathroom floor, shuddering intermittently and clutching his head.

Did that happen last time?

No, but they never got this far along, he tries to reason. However, reason is as fickle as normal nowadays, so instead of admitting that maybe they've got it all wrong, he rolls up a clean towel he'd just snagged from the maid's cart, and carefully lifts Sam's ridiculously fevered, sweaty head with one hand while sliding the makeshift pillow under with the under. Dean receives a voiceless, lifeless groan in response to which he cluelessly whispers back, "You're welcome."

Satisfied with his super awesome detox nursing skills, he stands to cracking knees, nods triumphantly, then groans, "Fuck," when Sam proceeds to puke all over the bright white terry cloth.

A for effort, C- for execution.


Every night, Dean tells himself that tomorrow will be better, tomorrow things will be back to normal. Sam will be demon blood-free. They'll hit the road and stalk the devil. Ah, yes, normal.

But every time tomorrow dawns, things are not so much better, and still quite a ways from normal.

The good news is that when Dean wakes up again at 7 a.m. after an unplanned nap, he sees that Sam has crawled back into his bed and is mercifully sleeping. The bad news is...well, everything else.

Rising up onto one elbow, Dean can see over the bedside table that though Sam has managed to tow his oversized body across the room and up onto his personal Mount Everest (returning from a water run a couple days ago, Dean had found Sam lying on the floor, hand outstretched and proclaiming, "You are my Everest," to that very bed), he has failed to bring with him the pillow which had quickly replaced the aforementioned soiled towel, meaning Sam is lying cheek-flat against sheet, hands lolling lifelessly off either side of the thin mattress, his wingspan too great for the meagre double bed.

All of this Dean could overlook, even attribute to a hangover (JD, demon blood, or otherwise), if Sam weren't actually gasping for air in his sleep.

Sheets fly back, both feet find ground, Dean grabs Sam's wrist and gives it a quick tug.

"Sammy, wake up." It only has to be said once if the urgency is right, and judging by his own heartbeat, Dean is pretty damn sure he comes across sounding urgent.

The little gasp hitches, stops, comes back out as a congested wheeze.

"Mmmm...what?" It's breathy in a breathless sort of way.

Dean sighs, but leftover panic still runs wild through his veins, leaving him slightly dizzy.

Sam rolls onto his back and that's when the coughing starts. Okay, so maybe it started before, now that Dean really thinks about it – days ago in the Impala, at the diner in Scottsbluff, intermittently throughout the whole nightmare – but it wasn't like this. Since the detox started, It has been a tag to all the puking, a mere footnote to the fever. But now, like this, it's different. And not in a good way. This is a cough, not coughing. And since when does detox give you a cough?

Fucking demons...

Dean sits on his bed and watches. Waits. Cringes. The small groans Sam gives before each new round making him grip hard to the edge of the mattress. His fingers are cramped and useless when it's over.

"You okay?" Dean asks. He clumsily unscrews the cap from a half-full bottle of water that's been sitting on the bedside table for...oh...three days now.

Water doesn't go bad, does it? His brain shrugs, ignorant.

Sam turns his head, eyes bloodshot and glassy. He takes the bottle with a shaky hand, and pushes himself up with a shakier arm so that he can drink.

Dean can see the water going down; Sam's throat dips and swells with each gulp, and automatically Dean thinks of it coming back up. "Maybe you shouldn't..."

But he can't finish because Sam concludes swallowing and says, "I know," in that pathetic, acid-eaten voice of his, but what he means is, "I can't help it. So piss off."

It's just water, Dean reminds himself. He's just thirsty. Not for blood. Not demon blood, by any stretch of the imagination. And yet...

"You think maybe this is...?" Something else? Dean's internal voice finishes up for him. And God bless Sam, because even in his wretched state of barely-there, he seems to be following Dean's train of thought.

"Something else?" Sam asks before he drops back down onto the bed like a dead fish. The now mostly-empty water bottle somehow manages to stay upright in his loose grasp. He coughs again, but can't be bothered or doesn't have the energy to put any effort into it, making it futile and useless in clearing his lungs and throat.

Right. Dean forces himself to focus. "Does it feel like before?"

Sam shrugs, closes his eyes. Appears to deflate. Beaten. "Don't know." His voice cracks, so instead he whispers, "Maybe." Then and even softer, "Pro'ly not."

Alarms. Whistles. A freaking marching band. They all go off in Dean's head at once. If this isn't detox, then... what the fuck?

"Shit, Sam, are you kidding me?" It comes out louder than he expected. Louder than he intended, for sure.

Sam grimaces, runs a hand over his forehead and grips onto his hair. Looks like he wants to rip his scalp off.

"S'no big deal," Sam moans, whether from pain or frustration, Dean will never know.

"No big deal?" Damn it, where is his volume control? He makes a conscious effort to lower his voice before he speaks again. "You've been completely incapacitated with a fever for four days! Like burn a hole in the floor, fever, Sam! Brain damage fever! Hospital-worthy fever! If it's not the demon blood..."

Dean can practically hear Chuck's voice. Your body temperature was 150, your heart rate 200!

And Sam survived that. So this minor little brain-burning bug shouldn't do him any more harm, right?

Even Dean's sleep-deprived brain won't let him get away with that one, though.

It was because of the blood.

So what if he's already clean? What if he is not in fact detoxing at all? Do standard human medical rules apply? Do any rules apply anymore?

"M'not going to a hospital," Sam comes back in a surprisingly strong voice. The front is short-lived as he breaks into another deep-chested round of coughing. "Just sick," he manages to squeeze out between spasms.

"It's not normal," Dean says more to himself than his brother, who has other more pressing matters on his mind. Like breathing.

Sam has again rolled onto his side, his back to Dean, and when he finally draws in two breaths in a row without expelling a lung, Dean lays it down. "Noon, Sam. You've got 'til noon."

Sam's back heaves as he pulls in air post-coughing, but otherwise there's no response.

Dean reiterates, "If you're not better by noon, we're going to the hospital."

There's a short silence, Dean can hear the breath rustling through God-knows-what in Sam's lungs.

"Maybe you should go. Meet with Bobby." Sam's scratchy voice responds. "I'll be fine here."

And, you know, if he hadn't followed that up by throwing up that half bottle of water all over the threadbare motel carpet, Dean might have actually believed him.

Yeah, this is so not normal.

And for once, it doesn't feel mellow dramatic to believe that the world might actually be coming to an end.

Four Days Ago

"What's wrong with you?"

Sam drops the hand that was rubbing his temple down onto his lap and shakes his head.

So Dean doesn't push it. Truthfully, he forgets about it as soon as the words are out of his mouth. Truth is it's two in the morning and they're in the middle of bum-fuck Nebraska and there's this thing going on known as the end of the world, so he's mildly distracted and dog tired and pissed off, and Sam knows that and keeps quiet in the passenger seat.

Bobby calls ten minutes later, Dean asks Sam to toss him his ringing phone, which had fallen onto the floor when they'd swerved onto the shoulder an hour earlier to avoid hitting some sort of coyote...or something. He'd rather not think about it right now, honestly.

But Sam's asleep and doesn't respond, so Dean slams on the brakes and pulls off the road into an overgrown driveway leading to nothing. Sam wakes when his shoulder jerks against the seatbelt. He groans, rubs his chest and coughs into his fist.

Dean glares at him when he has to ask Bobby to repeat what he'd just said, the tinny words drowned out by Sam's cough.

Sam rolls his eyes, slides further down in the seat and coughs again, quieter this time.

"Sorry, Bobby, what was that again?" Dean waves a hand in Sam's direction. A non-verbal shut-the-fuck-up.

Bobby says it has started. People are dying. In masses. East coast. West coast. Canada, for Christ's sake. "It's too big to chase, boy," Bobby says. "We need to regroup. Get a handle on the situation before we run out blind, chasing echoes and getting ourselves killed." Dean agrees, grumbles about wasting the past two days of driving, and arranges to meet back at the hospital, as soon as they can whip their asses back there. When he hangs up the phone, he turns back to Sam, yells his name out angrily when it appears as though his brother is once again asleep.

"What?" Sam spits back, the petulant little shit.

Dean's already spinning the car around, tires squealing angrily. "What?!" Dean repeats in a deep growl. "I thought you might want to know what Bobby had to say, is all." And, yeah, he's angry. He's angry that Sam's moping and brooding when he should at the very least pretend to give a fuck about the End. Of. The. World.

"Stop the car," Sam says in that calm, flat, monotone, and that sends Dean's blood pressure soaring.

Dean laughs sardonically. "What, Sam? You gonna walk away now? I got news for you; you're not gonna like what's out there any more than this." He waves a finger back and forth between the two of them.

"No, Dean, pull over. Now!"

Okay, so he kind of missed his cue, but he's confident that he'll receive a big brother pardon in this case...considering the circumstances.

Sam's already fumbling with the door handle and has one foot on the ground before Dean can force the car to a complete stop in the soft gravel.

And then Sam's losing his dinner, lunch, breakfast, and from the sounds of things, last Halloween's candy as well. It's all retching and coughing and groaning, but on the bright side, he's fertilizing a fairly sickly looking sapling that appears to be having a bitch of a time growing in the ditch.

Then it's quiet for a while. No retching, coughing or groaning. Just a whole lot of nothing. Sam stopped making noise a good five minutes ago, judging by the clock on the dash, but has made no move to get back into the car. Dean keeps his gaze set straight ahead and calls out, "You coming?" Waits a second then adds, "Sammy?"

There's a grunt, then Sam practically crawls back into the car.

Another full minute goes by and Dean has to ask, "You gonna close your door?"

Sam appears surprised by this, like he hadn't noticed. He mumbles an apology, pulls the door shut.

Dean shifts into drive and pulls out again, doesn't speak until he's 10 miles over the speed limit. "Is it...?"

Sam, in his defense, appears to be making an effort to focus. They look at each other quickly – Sam's all wrinkled brow and squinty eyes -- but it only lasts a second, then Dean's attention is back on the road and Sam's back to staring blankly out the passenger window.

Dean lets out a sigh. "Okay." He scrubs his face his free hand. "Okay. Let's think about this..." But he can't, really, because all the thinking in the world won't provide him with a sure thing solution.

So what, then? Lock up Sam and wait for the toxins to drain from his veins?

"I don't think..." Sam coughs, clears his throat, but his voice comes out weaker than before. "I don't think I can do"

Dean frowns. "Nebraska? Why?"

"No, here, here."

It takes a second, then it dawns on Dean that he's talking about the car. "What, Sam, you think I'm going to make you detox in the car?" He doesn't really mean to, but he laughs. "Do you seriously think I'm going to let you puke all over my baby?"

And Sam's smiling, or grimacing, but it's something.

"Don't think so, Sammy. "

Three Days Ago

"Honestly, Bobby, I have no idea. A few days, maybe?"

Bobby doesn't argue. In fact, he tells Dean that they need to stay put until Sam's clean. Really clean, this time. At least there's no threat of Sam running. He wants out of this for good now. Blood, sweat, tears, fever, puke, and all. This is the end of...all that.

So while Sam endures his own personal apocalypse, Dean tries to keep busy. But it's hard to research on a good day, let alone when he can see and hear Sam from almost everywhere in the room. After a day, Dean gives up, turns on the TV, and observes his brother's struggle with lukewarm detachment.

There's nothing I can do. There's nothing I can give him. It just has to happen.

He pushes away the other voice that wants to call out, "I told you so!" 'Cause that? Not helpful.

This time, he knows Sam will survive. The human body apparently doesn't play by the book when it comes to demon blood. So Sam's bone-racking chills, the accompanying fever, the constant stream of vomit -- and then just water, which Sam obediently drinks just because Dean says so -- it's not a threat, it's just a process.

Still, it's unsettling hearing a grown man -- a giant grown man, at that -- whimper after a gruesome round of dry heaves. Brother or not. So that's when Dean starts to get involved. First by pushing the water. It rarely stays inside of Sam long enough to hydrate, but at least it gives him something to throw up other than his stomach lining.

Then Dean drags the ratty bedspread into the bathroom, encourages Sam to stand for a second so he can drape it over the floor. Sam grips the towel bar and leans heavily against the wall while Dean works to spread out the blanket. Just when Dean is about to declare it safe to sit, or kneel, on the new, softer floor, Sam throws up all over it. So much for that.

It's a cycle, Dean scientifically determines from his post on the edge of the tub. Sam spends about 20 minutes straight with his head in the toilet, then he lies flat on his back for another 20. Repeat. So Dean gives himself a purpose to help pass the time. He fills the tub with cold water, dunks a towel, and drapes it over Sam's back and neck when he's face first in the throne, and on Sam's chest when he's flat-backed on the tile.

The towel always comes away hot. Not warm, hot.

Dean grumbles, "Fucking Ruby..." every time. Because it's so much easier to be mad at her than at Sam right now.

About three hours into their little routine, Sam mutters, "Stop saying that."

Dean's first instinct is to be angry because he thinks that after everything, Sam's still protecting that bitch, then he realizes that it probably reminds Sam of...well...actually fucking Ruby.

"Sorry," he says with a shake of his head, still disbelieving. Sam coughs, gags on nothing, then reaches back to pull the now-hot towel from his back, but Dean beats him to the punch – not that that's anything to brag about right now.

Sam closes his eyes against the light and predictably reclines onto the cool floor again. "It's not your fault," he whispers rather coherently.

Dean re-dunks the towel in the tub, says, "I know, but—"

But Sam cuts him off. "Then don't apologize."

Dean whistles under his breath, lets the refreshed towel slap down onto Sam's chest with a wet thwack. "Okay then, grumpy."

And the clock starts again. Twenty minutes.

Dean knows he should be doing something more. Like hunting Lucifer. But for the time being, he's almost content to be a towel boy. A simpler solution to a complicated world: hole up in a bathroom in a creepy motel and bring a minute degree of comfort to a suffering younger brother. Awesome use of time and skill.

But mostly Dean's waiting. Dreading and waiting for the hallucinations and the screaming and the body flailing. He's certainly not disappointed when it doesn't happen, because handcuffing his little brother to bed posts has never been a fantasy of his, but it's weird...right?

Then maybe it's not. It's not like there's a whole lot of precedent to work with here.

It is what it is.

And it sucks.

Two Days Ago

Sometime around four in the morning, Sam appears to have mercifully fallen asleep and thus seizes the 20 minute up-down schedule. So Dean stands from the tub, stretches his cramped muscles, carefully steps over the speed bump on the bathroom floor and collapses face-first onto his barely touched bed.

If Sam wakes up anytime within the next three hours, Dean is unaware, because the next time he opens his eyes the morning news is on the muted TV and sun is filtering through the gauzy drapes.

He rises from the bed and with nervous anticipation, checks in on Sam. He feels like a kid running to the mailbox, expecting a package. Waiting. But Sam doesn't appear to have magically cleansed within the last three hours. At least not that Dean can tell. In fact, nothing seems to have changed. Sam's still asleep, on his back, on the bathroom floor, and Dean still smells like he hasn't showered in three days. Which he hasn't.

His stomach grumbles loudly, to which there is only one solution. He has to eat. The sooner the better.

He sniffs his t-shirt and frowns.

But first, he must shower. Now.

He doesn't bother waking Sam. What's the point? So he steps over the lump on the floor that is currently his brother, drains the bathtub of the room-temp water, runs the shower, tosses his clothes into the sink (because the floor is occupied and he'll be damned if he is going to shut the lid on the toilet) and hops under the hot stream of water.

Dean's rinsing the motel-provided, cheap shampoo from his hair when he feels a flutter of nervousness in his stomach. Shouldn't Sam have at least cracked an eye throughout all this? He peeks around the shower curtain, ascertains that Sam is breathing, then says, "Shit," as two trails of shampoo find the corners of his eyes.

And even though Dean's busy flushing his eyes under the too-hot water, he now knows Sam's alive, and maybe even awake, because he hears him coughing and moaning.

"How ya doing, Sammy?" Dean calls out over the sound of the water hitting the tub.

He pauses, cocks an ear, waits for an answer, but all he gets is two more coughs and a groan.

"Okay, then."

Dean dries off, wraps a towel around his waist, warns, "Don't open your eyes, Sam," as he steps over his brother again.

But Sam's asleep once again, which is good because Dean doesn't think he can wait any longer to put food into his far too empty stomach.

Fortunately, there's a small, relatively clean diner across the street, and even though Dean takes his egg, bacon and cheese sandwich to go, he finishes the last bite before he even slides the key into the motel room door.

He observes that nothing has changed in the ten minutes he has been gone as he slips out of his leather jacket and slings it over the back of a chair. He grabs one of the two bottles of water he snagged from the vending machine down the hall and heads into the bathroom.

"Gotta drink, Sammy," he says, twisting the cap off.

Sam has an arm draped over his eyes, but the way his fingers curl when Dean speaks lets him know he's awake.

Dean holds out a hand, says, "Sit up."

Sam grabs on, let's Dean help him into a sitting position, then slides backwards until he can lean his upper body against the bathroom wall. Dean hands him the bottle of water and orders, "Drink."

Sam closes his eyes and tilts his head back against the wall. "Just give me a second," he whispers, not sounding half as pissed off as he usually does when he's bossed around.

Making it quite clear he's not going to walk away and forget about it, Dean perches on the edge of the tub and waits. When Sam opens his eyes again, Dean points at the water. "Drink," he says again.

And Sam does -- greedily and fast, filling his mouth until his cheeks puff out and swallowing the final mouthful slowly. Dean's not sure whether Sam's trying to make a point or whether he's really that thirsty. Dean takes the empty bottle back and they wait. Sam pulls his legs up into his chest, rest his forearms on his knees, then his forehead on his arms. Neither of them says anything, of course. Wouldn't want to jinx it. But aside from some pretty painful sounding coughing, nothing happens. When five whole minutes go by and the water is still inside of Sam, Dean can't contain himself any longer.

"Looks like you're turning a corner," he says proudly, patting Sam on the shoulder. It's ridiculous, Dean realizes, but he's so relieved he wants to buy Sam a Hallmark card to commemorate the moment.

Sam's far too spent to rejoice in this small victory. "I hurt everywhere," he says into his arms, followed by, "Turn the damn light off." But after a little cajoling, he agrees that maybe he should try lying on the bed instead of the awful floor.

Moving on up, baby.

Headquarters moves out of the bathroom for the first time in three days.



Dean looks up from the notes he's been going over. "Sam, what are you trying to do?"

Sam gives a humph in response, appears to give up on the pillow he has been obsessively rearranging for the past hour. Instead, both hands go to his face, heels of his palms press into his eye sockets.

Dean moves to the side of his bed, tosses the notes aside, and puts his feet on the ground. "What's going on?" He can guess, and his guess would be that Sam has the mother of all headaches, but he'd rather hear it from the source.

"God, my head." Sam's voice is damaged and strained, and it's as if admitting it has upped the pain a few more notches. He rolls onto his side -- feet tangled in the sheets, blankets and pillows that are a mess from all the flopping around he has been doing -- but his hands stay pressed against his eyes, like he's trying to keep them from rolling out.

"Hey, Sammy." Dean leans forward, reaches a hand out that comes about a foot short of reaching his brother. "What can I do?"

"Jus' stop. Talking," he forces out through clenched teeth.

Dean pulls back the outstretched hand, runs it through his hair. "Sorry," he whispers.

It's then that his phone loudly announces a call coming in, and if Sam pushes his head and further into the mattress he might come out the other side.

"Shit," Dean growls softly as he fumbles with the phone. "Sorry, Sammy."

Dean silences the ring, but waits until he's outside the motel room to speak.

Bobby wants them on the move. He has heard that packs of demons are ransacking a town near the Wyoming border. He thinks the demons might be on the boys' tail, but they're moving slowly, because they're too busy killing everyone in their path.

"It's bad. Apparently like nothing you or I have ever seen before. If you don't think you can fight it, you gotta run. Fast."

"Can't, Bobby. Sam's...not ready."

"Still? I thought—"

"Yeah, me too."

"Well, move as soon as you can. Until then, protect yourself. Salt, paint traps, get your freakin' angel friends involved, I don't care. Just be safe, son."

Dean sighs, scans the parking lot automatically for both enemies and allies. Nothing and no one. Yet. He'd screamed for Cas so long and hard the previous day, his voice gave out. He doesn't know what to think anymore.


"Yeah, Bobby?"

"How's he doing?"

Dean looks back through the window to their room. He only sees shadows, but he knows one is Sam.

"He's been better."

"I know I don't need to tell you to take care of him but--"

"No, Bobby, you don't."

"Be careful."

One Day Ago

They both awake abruptly to gun shots. Two, Dean counts, then flinches involuntarily. Make that three.

He stealthily grabs his knife, slips out of bed, keeps his back pressed against the wall until he can grab his gun from the table. Before proceeding to the window, he glances back at Sam, and is shocked to see his brother is also standing, clutching a gun. It lives! And even though he has no shirt on, his hair's a tangled, greasy mess, and his face is devoid of all color, he looks to be in complete control of the situation.

Sam nods toward the window, and Dean noiselessly steps forward. He pinches the corner of the curtain and pulls it back just enough so that he can peek out. A cop car – sirens wailing – speeds past, and then another gunshot rings out. As soon as his eyes can process the scene across the road, his muscles relax. A crazy woman is being tackled by police, but not before she lets out one last shot into the air. Her...other half, or whoever, is yelling angrily to the sky – pantless. Dean disarms the gun, casually inspects his knife as he walks back to his bed.

"Domestic," he explains. "Cops got it." He shakes his head and adds, "Even demons aren't that stupid."

Sam tosses his own weapon carelessly onto his bed. He places his hands on his hips and sets his gaze on the carpet.

Dean waits patiently for his brother to say something. This is Sam's "conversation stance" after all. But Sam just shifts his weight and works his jaw, then slowly meanders to the bathroom, shutting the door behind him.

After Booby's call the previous day, Sam's condition nosedived. Dean wasn't sure it was possible for his brother to be in so much pain. The kid has been shot, torn to shreds, thrown from buildings, mutilated. And he'd taken all that in stride, even stitched himself up on multiple occasions. But this, whatever this was, is apparently where Sam's pain threshold peaks.

Sam hadn't even tried to make it to the bathroom when all the water he'd downed came back up. Dean was half asleep, half watching The People's Court when the choking sound immediately brought him to his feet. He had to physically turn Sam onto his side to keep him from asphyxiating.

"What the fuck, Sam? I thought you were getting better?" Sam coughed and sputtered, moaned something indecipherable.

"No, no, no," Dean grumbled when Sam tried to roll onto his back again. "You gotta stay like this." Keeping one hand on Sam's back, be fished for a couple of the pillows at the bottom of the bed and stacked them behind against his brother's back to keep him on his side.

Dean removed his hand when he was satisfied Sam would stay put, then grabbed the trash can from the bathroom and positioned it directly under Sam's head, which was still half-hanging off the side of the bed.

He would have been much more grossed out by cleaning up the mess from the floor if it wasn't literally just water. No color, no smell, could have come straight from the bottle...if he didn't know better.

Sam stayed like that. For hours. But the heaving wasn't as bad as the previous day, and his skin didn't feel as hot, so really, if you take away the killer, head-splitting, demon-expelling migraine, Dean probably would have categorized Sam as "better."

Eventually, as the night encroached, exhaustion claimed them both, though Dean's unsure who falls asleep first, and it isn't until the Bobbitts across the road decide to publicly air their dirty laundry at 3 a.m. that he cracks an eye.

Dean's surprised when he hears the shower running. Surprised, and a bit relieved. Not just because it means that Sam's obviously feeling stronger if he's taking the initiative to clean himself, but also, Sam's cleaning himself.

That much stale sweat does not smell like roses.

Dean takes the opportunity to pull the sheets from Sam's bed, strips off the pillow cases, gathers up the few towels that have made their way from the bathroom onto the backs of chairs, and dumps the armful of laundry into the closest maid's trolley, which Dean is surprised to find parked outside a room a few doors down in the middle of the night. The older lady smiles when she sees him from inside the room she's cleaning, tells him to go ahead and take whatever he wants from the cart. Dean greedily helps himself to more sheets and pillow cases than he needs, leaves the poor lady with no towels. He gives her a wink – she could probably use the lift if this is how she spends her evenings – but scurries back to his room when she seductively runs her tongue over her wrinkled upper lip.

He's not that desperate. Hopes he never will be.

Dean quickly makes up the bed, determined to get it done before Sam returns from his shower.

He hears the water turn off, but when another five minutes go by and Sam still doesn't come out, Dean knocks lightly on the door.


No answer. A turn of the knob reveals that the door is unlocked, so Dean pushes it open and averts his eyes so that he can only make out shapes and no detail in his peripheral vision. But the only shape he spots is on the floor, so he tosses aside courtesy and looks at his brother head-on. Thank God Sam managed to clothe himself again before he decided to curl up on the tile.

"Shit," Dean whispers. So much for improvement.

Sam's shivering, holding his head loosely with both hands. And that's when Dean grabs the towel, balls it up and slides it under Sam's fevered head.

Needless to say, Dean's starting to admit he's scared.

Back to Present

The clock ticks, nothing else really happens. An hour goes by, then three, four, rounding up on noon now. Sam stays in bed, sleeps like he's dead. Dean checks every few minutes to make sure he isn't.

But Sam is completely oblivious to the fact that the sand in his brother's metaphorical hourglass is slowly running out, and soon he's going to be whisked off to a place where doctors and nurses provide actual medical care for actual illnesses.

Dean's reaching for his keys and is about to tell his brother to get his ass out of bed and into the car when his phone rings.

Bobby doesn't say hi, he doesn't ask how Dean's day is, he simply says, "Get in the car and move."

Dean's first instinct is to look out the window. There's only one other car in the parking lot and it's sitting on blocks, has been since they got there. "They're that close already?"

Much to Dean's surprise, Sam sits up in bed, eyes wide and questioning. The pain creases are gone, now he just looks...sick.

"They're on top of you. Grab your brother, get the in car and drive. Now!"

"I was just about to get Sam to a hospital."

Sam doesn't react, keeps his eyes locked on the phone by Dean's ear, obviously straining to hear what Bobby's saying.

"A hospital ain't going to help that boy."

"No, Bobby, it's not the blood. He's not detoxing."

"What are you talking about?"

Dean turns back towards the window, suddenly uncomfortable under his brother's scrutiny. "He has had no hallucinations, no possession, no flying puppet acts."

"So what the hell have you been doing all this time?"

Dean swallows the small tick of anger, tells himself not to take out his frustration on a paralyzed man. Instead he answers calmly, "He has had a high fever for days now. I thought it was the detox so we were just waiting it out, but now that I'm pretty sure it's not—"

"You're pretty sure? You better be damned sure before you hand that boy over to medical professionals."

Dean pauses, chews his lip, turns back when Sam erupts into another coughing fit. He rubs his chest weakly with one hand, and keeps it there long after he's done.

Bobby's sigh prompts Dean to speak again. "They're that close, Bobby? Really?"

"I wouldn't say it if I didn't mean it."

Resigned, Dean says, "I can probably make it to you in 10 hours."

"You boys get your asses in a car and come to me. If Sam's not detoxing like you say, I think I might have stumbled upon another solution."


"D'you wanna waste time talking about it or do you actually want to do something?"

"Be there as fast as I can."

"Not fast enough."


A 10 hour drive is cut to eight and a half. Dean keeps his eyes peeled for cops (the last thing they need is to be taken into custody for breaking the speed barrier). Sam sleeps an hour here and there, and Dean's not sure whether it's his imagination, but every time Sam wakes, he seems more lucid – more capable of keeping his eyes open. The cough still plagues him – seems to be gaining intensity as the fever declines – slaying Sam's voice, but at least he tries to speak now.

He even gets out of the car and stretches his legs when Dean pumps gas.

They walk into Bobby's hospital room just before sunset. Dean mentally congratulates himself. Someone has to.

"Well it's about time. What d'ya do, crawl here?"

"Hey, Bobby," Dean says, not at all surprised at the greeting.

Bobby swiftly swings his wheelchair around to face the boys. He seems stronger than the last time Dean saw him – more color in his cheeks, face pinched in this usual irritated scowl.

Bobby eyes Sam up and down. "How you doing, boy?"

"Better, Bobby, thanks."

Bobby lifts his eyebrows. "Oh, yeah, you sound fantastic."

Sam smiles, bows his head, muffles a cough with his sleeve.

Dean doesn't waste any more time with small talk. "So what's our next move?"

"What, no foreplay?"

"I was under the impression there wasn't any time for foreplay," Dean counters.

Bobby grunts, "I'd pegged you for the type."

Dean rolls his eyes, glares at Sam who's biting his lip to hide a smile.

"Well," Bobby continues in all seriousness, "before we get too far ahead of ourselves, there's something we need to take care of." He whacks both palms off the arms of his wheelchair. "I'm no good to you like this, and he—" He motions toward Sam with a finger. "He doesn't look like he could kill a bug let alone Lucifer right now."

Out of the corner of his eye, Dean can see Sam stiffen, sit up a little straighter. But it's true. Dean's the only one at full strength and hero complex or not, he can't do this alone.

"So what do you suggest?" Sam asks.

"I was getting to that, " Bobby replies, irritated. "Since your angel friends refuse to lend a helping hand, I did some digging, and I think I've found someone who can help."

"Someone who can heal you?" Dean doesn't mean to sound so hopeful, but it has been a long time since he has gotten any good news and it sort of feels like Christmas morning.

Bobby clucks, tilts his head to the side. "Maybe," he says quietly. "A shirkah."

"Great!" Dean claps his hands ignorantly. "A shirkah." Whatever the hell that is. Sam even appears mildly amused. "Well what the hell are we waiting for?" Dean nearly shouts, already moving for the door. "Let's go."


The shirkah lives in a dilapidated house on the outskirts of nothing. Three dogs circle her yard, but Dean's not too sure they're her pets. She's a hideous woman, at least Dean thinks she's a woman, who smells like the sleeping quarters of a shrimp ship. Or what Dean imagines that would smell like – maybe a little worse.

She's missing an eye and wears a ring on every finger, including her thumbs, and they make a weird clicking sound every time she moves.

She has them come inside her surprisingly clean but musty house, and immediately takes both Bobby and Sam through a door into a dark room. She holds up a hand when Dean tries to follow. "No. You must wait here."

Dean frowns but obliges, walks aimlessly around the living room. There is no television. No pictures. No books. No magazines. Nothing to do but stare at a wall.

He has bitten every fingernail down to nothing within an hour, but all his anxious energy instantly disappears when Bobby walks out from behind the curtain.

Dean blinks hard. And, yep, Bobby's walking towards him.

Bobby holds his arms out, points to his moving legs. "How 'bout that, huh?"

Dean can't help but smile, the only words that come to him are the truth. "I can't believe it."

Bobby drops into a chair, rests his feet on the coffee table. "You'll believe it when I kick your ass."

"What did I do?"

He shrugs, says, "Nothing...yet."

"And Sam?"

"She's with him now."

They're both surprised when the door to the dark room open only five minutes after Bobby walked out.

The shirkah heads straight for Dean, places her hands on his chest.

He falls back into his chair, surprised. It feels like ice water is pouring through his veins. He wants to reach for his knife, but can't. Just as panic sets in, she removes her hands and it all stops.

Dean gasps loudly, dragging air into his frigid lungs.

She purses her lips and says, "Huh."

"Um...lady?" he chokes. "What are you doing?"

She smiles down at him apologetically. "Sorry. Just had to check."

"Check what?"

Instead of answering, she says, "I couldn't heal your brother."

Dean feels a shiver run down his spine. "No disrespect, but you can reverse paralysis yet you can't cure a simple virus?"

She waves a hand in the air; her rings click erratically. "Your brother, he's...different."

You're telling me...

He figures it's probably wiser to play dumb. "How do you figure?"

"There's something blocking the energy. It's like he has a...a shield or something. I can't penetrate it. I tried," she says, holding out her hands, palms up. The skin is scarlet red and starting to blister.

"He burned you?" Dean asks incredulously. "What does that even mean?"

"I don't know. In 30 years of healing I've never encountered anything like this."

Sam shuffles out of the dark room, looking a whole lot of the same, unfortunately. Dean catches something in his brother's eye. Shame, maybe. Who knows.

The shirkah wishes Sam good luck as she walks back into her lair.


Bobby asks to be dropped at a local pub, where he claims he has a contact. Dean suspects other motives, but knows better than to question the older hunter.

"We'll reconvene first thing in the morning," Bobby says, patting on the roof of the car. He practically skips into the pub.

When they're back on the open road, Dean speaks directly to Sam for the first time since they left the shirkah.

"You all right?"

Sam shrugs. "No worse than before, I guess."

So, yeah, not all right, because that would require Sam to be able to walk more than 100 feet without tipping over, or draw in more than half a lungful of air without the risk of expelling an organ.

"It was weird. When she touched me...I saw this," he screws his face up, grimaces, "this blinding light."

"You saw a light?"

Sam nods slowly, avoids eye contact. "Almost like an electrical shock. I was really hot, and then nothing." He turns and coughs once into his sleeve, takes a ragged breath, and then coughs a few more times, deeper. His eyelids are starting to droop, and Dean can tell his brother is fading fast.

"Well, I think I know what we need to do."

Sam groans. "God, Dean, just let it go. No rituals or healing ceremonies. Just let it be."

"What about good ol' fashioned antibiotics?"

It's only then that Sam realizes they're pulling into the entrance of a walk-in clinic.


"No arguments, Sammy. You wanna fight this thing old school, we're doing it by the book."


There's a wait. A long wait. And with every passing minute, Dean tries not to think about the people who are dying while he's sitting. Doing nothing. Well, that's not true; he's reading a five-year-old People magazine, buffing up on his pop-culture trivia.

Sam coughs and sniffles and does a good job of looking miserable, trying to cram his body into the small chair. He even mumbles something about how he's probably getting sicker just by sitting amongst all the snot-nosed children, but Dean pretends to mishear and says, "Yeah, they did, didn't they?"

Maybe it's a cheap shot because he knows Sam's too tired to correct him, but it works well enough to avoid an inevitable argument.

The wait stretches an hour before Sam is finally admitted to the curtained area, where he is quickly herded to radiology for a chest x-ray when the on-call doctor pays witness to one of Sam's impromptu coughing fits.

But when the doctor comes back in, x-rays in hand, Dean's heart beats a little faster, and for a second he is sure they were wrong to conclude that Sam's illness is not demon-related, because the doctor looks utterly baffled.

"I just looked at your x-rays..."

Sam's head pops up; he appears 100% alert for the first time in days.

"There is absolutely no fluid in your lungs."

Dean looks to Sam, realizes his brother isn't going to say anything, so he offers, "Um...that's a good thing, right?"

And just then, Sam coughs again, and the doctor points and says, "Except...that."

Dean shakes his head, looks from Sam to the doctor. "That, what?"

"Your brother has a very productive cough. Meaning he's coughing up fluid. But...there isn't any."

Sam's eyes widen as he searches out his brother's gaze.

Despite his rapidly quickening heartbeat, Dean manages to think on his feet. "Well, clearly you grabbed the wrong x-ray." He stands, pushes Sam's shoulder until he's off the exam table and on his feet, guides him towards the door.

"No," the doctor insists, "I grabbed it right off the attendant myself! Your brother was the only one in there!"

Dean turns once Sam has safely exited the room and is nearing the doors leading out of the clinic, then faces the doctor and holds up a finger. "I'd have half a mind to get my lawyer involved."

The doc is frozen, baffled for a completely different reason now. The momentary stutter is all Dean needs to get out without any further dialogue or paperwork.

He catches up with Sam in the parking lot. His brother paces a small circle outside the Impala, scratches his head in exasperation. "What the hell, Dean?"

Dean keeps marching towards the car, casts a quick glance over his shoulder to make sure nobody's watching. "I don't know, man. Let's just get out of here and we'll figure it out."


The discussion on the walk-in clinic fiasco is fairly one-sided.

Sam's done for the day. He has little to add to Dean's many hypotheses about the phantom illness, and when he does speak up, it only ends in painful, exhausting hacking. After 20 minutes and probably as many coughing fits, Sam closes his eyes and mutters something that sounds like it might be, "Can't do this right now." Dean gets the message.

So they both settle for silence -- Dean's brain racing, Sam's brain cooking, if the color of his face is any indication.

There's a motel just off the interstate, not too far from where Bobby's doing whatever it is he's doing but far enough from the clinic that Dean's sure they won't be recognized by anyone. He leaves Sam sleeping in the passenger seat, gets a room, empties their bags, then works on getting his deadweight brother out of the car.

Eventually Sam's settled on the bed closest to the door and Dean's sweating through his t-shirt.

Somewhere between the ice machine and the motel office, he had a moment of clarity. He knows what he's going to do. So he gathers the necessary supplies, salts the door and window, tucks a knife under Sam's pillow, and hops back into the car.


Parked on a barely kept road, surrounded only by spruce trees and the faint smell of skunk, Dean plants the seed and waits.

He has company merely 15 seconds later.

"What can I do for you, handsome?"

She's...not what he was expecting. Taller and older than they usually are.

Dean skips the small talk. All these demons have smart mouths anyway. It makes him feel inferior. "What did you do to Sam?"

She laughs from deep in her throat. "Oh, sweetheart, you're barking up the wrong tree."

She's in a ball gown, all sequins and stilettos, but her hair's a mess and one of her spaghetti straps has fallen off her shoulder. Dean briefly allows his brain to imagine the circumstance under which the demon snatched this vessel.

Focus! Right...

"What the hell is that supposed to mean?"

Again with the laugh. "After everything you've been through, you're still referencing hell? Cute."

"Shut up and answer my question."

"Maybe you should look a little closer."

Dean shakes his head. "What do you mean?"

"You humans. You look so sweet when you want something."

"Stop. Just..." He holds out a hand, takes a deep breath to calm himself. "Stop beating around the bush. Who is fucking around with my brother?"

"It's not us, I can tell you that much."

He cocks the hammer on his gun, lets it dangle beside his thigh. He's fresh out of patience. "Don't you fucking lie to me."

"Back off, hotstuff. Don't you think we have more important things to do right now than give your little brother the sniffles?"

Dean raises the gun, yells, "I told you not to lie to me!"

She smiles, smug little bitch. "Before you do something you're going to regret, maybe you should talk to your little angel buddies." She inspects a manicured nail. "See what they have to say."

And, shit, the realization hurts more than the fact that the stupid bitch flings him back against the car so hard he can practically hear his ribs cracking.


"Cas, you mother fucker! Get down here!"

A dog barks off in the distance. Dean turns, listens, but the only sound is gravel crunching under his feet. Then he spots it, three stretched shadows cast against the concrete wall in front of him. Spinning, he sees not just Cas, but also two, almost identical, except for the height difference, wingmen.

"So I have to swear like a sailor to get your attention these days?" Dean charges forward, pushes Cas in the chest, forcing him back a step. "Where the hell have you been, huh?

Cas straightens his tie, never breaking eye contact. "I couldn't see you. I was forbidden."

"Oh, give me a break. What is this, Romeo and Juliet? When has that ever stopped you before? Or were you afraid I was onto you?"

The bastard doesn't even bother trying to deny it. "Who told you?"

"So you did it? You made Sam sick?"

The taller wingman steps forward, "No. I did."

Dean looks over Cas' shoulder, "And who the hell are you?"

"He's my superior," Cas says. "But we're all responsible."

Dean's fingers naturally curl into tight fists. "What is wrong with you people? God, what reason could you possibly have this time?"

"You don't understand."

"You did this to him, right? You did this on purpose?"

"We did this to you. Not to him," Cas explains.


His face must say it all because wingman #1 elaborates, "We needed to get keep you away."

He wishes that, just this one time, he could actually get a non-cryptic answer to a freaking question. "From what?"

"Wyoming. Where Lucifer first initiated his new vessel."

Dean's heart sinks, a sharp bolt of pain striking through his chest. Disappointment, anger and confusion are merging into intolerance. He wants to kill someone – something – to relieve the pressure. "You mean to tell me I was that close? I could have killed him? And you stopped me?"

"He would have killed you first. He's too strong right now. He's got millions of years of pent-up adrenaline and fury and he's taking it out on everything and anything. It was too risky. We had to let him get it all out of his system. We couldn't let you go there."

"Why didn't you tell me that? Why couldn't you just come to me, for fuck sake?"

Wingman #1 smirks. "Would you have listened? Would you have let all those people die?"

Dean laughs under his breath, a laugh that implies nothing about this is funny.

"We couldn't let you get yourself killed," Cas says softly.

"What do you care?!"

Wingman #2 finally gets a word in, tells Dean in a deep baritone, "You're too important to us."

Dean throws his head back. "Oh that's hysterical." He walks a few steps to his right, tries to gather his infuriation and make some sort of sense out of the situation.

Finally, he turns back to the silent trio. "So why Sam? Why not infect me?"

"It wouldn't have worked," answers Wingman #1.

"Why, because I'm your angel bitch? Immune to your little science experiments?"

"No, because it wouldn't have stopped you."

"Wouldn't have stopped me? You nearly killed Sam."

"That was an error. We underestimated the strength of his immune system after he broke the final seal. It wouldn't have hit you as hard. We knew you'd stop for Sam, though – knew it would slow you down enough for us to get there first and control the situation. But if it were you, you still would have found a way to beat us to it. You always do."

"Is that supposed to be a compliment? Should I say thank you?"

Cas steps in front of Dean, blocking out his wingmen. "I don't expect you to understand. But I wanted you to know."

"No, you know what, I don't understand. In what universe is it all right to sacrifice hoards of people?"

"It's for the greater good—"

The words sting like acid. Since when is he "the greater good?"

"Shut up. Just...shut up." Dean closes his eyes, forces himself to take a deep breath. The three stooges are quiet, and for a second, Dean's afraid they're going to fly away before he can at least restore some form of order. "You fix him," he orders. "Now."

Wingman #1 blinks, says, "Done."

Dean laughs, resists the urge to punch the concrete wall. "That simple, huh?"

And with a flutter, they're gone. And maybe so is his the bulk of his sanity.

Sam is loud. His actions are loud, his voice is loud, his energy is loud.

Dean just wants to sleep, but Sam's bursting with health, and questions, which Dean answers honestly because he's too tired to come up with a cover story that doesn't involve the words "greater good."

Once every question has been answered, Sam moves onto things like re-lacing his shoes, claiming, "I've been wanting to do this for weeks."

Dean's halfway into unconsciousness when he hears Sam ask, "So now what?"

Dean sighs, opens his eyes and takes in the pock-marked ceiling. "How about you take the lead for a while?"

Sam lets out a short laugh, but after a second asks, "Seriously?"

"Yeah, I mean, I've had the only functioning brain for the last week. How about you pull your weight for once?"

"You're giving me full reign?"

Dean's vision starts to blur; he lets his eyes slips shut. "Go to town, Sammy."


Dean is the first awake the next morning, feeling fantastic after a full night's sleep. He walks to the nearest diner and grabs enough take-out to feed an army – after all, Sam hasn't eaten anything of substance for days. He thinks about calling Bobby, but then remembers he agreed to let Sam call the shots this morning. Dean could get used to taking the backseat...only in a metaphorical sense, of course.

When he walks back in, Sam is hunched over the side of the bed, hands massaging his temples.

Dean shakes his head. He's positive the previous day's events weren't a dream...though stranger things have happened.

The questions come out like rapid fire. "What's wrong with you? I thought you were healed? You were fine last night, right?"

Sam nods. "Yeah, but—"

Dean grabs his gun from the table, slips it under his belt. "Those lying fucking bastards. I'm going to kill them. All of them. The whole fucking lot! Jesus and the shepherds, too!"

He's halfway out the door when Sam calls out to him, "No, Dean, wait."

The adrenaline's pumping so fast and hard, Dean can feel his veins vibrating. Still, he manages to stand still long enough to shout, "What?!"

Sam shrugs, looks up sheepishly through a mess of hair. "I think I'm getting a cold."

Dean turns his head to the side, opens his mouth to speak, but no words within his mind's grasp seem to do it justice. In a flourish of curses and frustration, he slams his gun back onto the table. Shouts, "I give up!" punctuated by the slam of the door behind him.