The room was painted gray. The bedspreads were gray and the cabinet in the little kitchen area was gray and the small refrigerator was gray. Dean thought the inside of this room might be drearier than the dark winter day outside. And, worst of all, the heater was broken. But not in the 'it didn't work and everything inside was as cold and icy as the parking lot outside' way. If that were the case, Dean would just wrap him and Sam in the old gray blankets and huddle on the bed for the afternoon. Instead, the motel room felt like the summer nights they'd spent in Mississippi last year; hot, stuffy, and awful. Dean wiped sweat off his brow and turned the thermostat down further. He considered opening the door to let in the frigid air. His Dad had told him to keep it locked, but desperate times and all...

Sammy frowned at him from where he was curled up in the bed farthest from the door. His face was pale and splotchy. "I'm cold, Dean." He said.

Dean sighed. Of course, Sammy would be cold. "That's 'cause your sick." He went to the small kitchenette in the corner and filled a glass with juice. The orange color stood out like a neon light in the space. He brought it to the bed. "Drink it." Dean said. Sam scrunched up his little face and shook his head.

"Drink it, Sammy."

"No."

"Sam. Drink it."

Sam shook his head again. He crossed his arms at his chest and glowered at Dean with a hard expression that reminded Dean so much of their dad he was taken back for a second. Annoyance soon overcame that, though. Dean clenched his fist, whole-heartedly considering holding the brat down and pouring the stupid juice down his stupid throat. Sam's small glare faltered for a moment like he could read Dean's mind, then came back full force.

"You can't make me." He said.

"Whatever." Dean walked over and threw the glass in the sink - a little harder than he had intended. The clatter of breaking glass filled his ears. The juice splashed up on the counter, the floor, and wall behind the sink. Sam's pinched expression opened up as he watched Dean. Dean felt like he was an inch away from punching the brat. He settled for kicking the bed beside Sammy's. His brother's eyes got big and watery and his lip trembled.

"I want Daddy." He said.

"I don't care." And Dean didn't. Sammy was being a real pain in the ass. It's wasn't like Dean was enjoying this anymore than him.

Sammy sniffed. "I want Daddy." Sammy's voice wobbled this time. He reached up and rubbed his eyes. "Dean…I want…" He started crying.

Dean felt himself deflate. "Sammy…" As annoying as Sam was, Dean didn't like to see him crying. And it wasn't really Sammy's fault. He was just a baby. And he was sick and the room sucked. And their dad had been gone for three days already. Dean climbed up next to him on the bed. He thumped his arm playfully, trying to sound happy and sure. "He said he'd only be gone a few days. He'll be back soon." Sam snuggled closer to him. Dean patted him on the head. "Huh. You do feel kinda cold, kiddo."

Sammy turned his head into Dean's shoulder. "That's cause it's cold in here." He said muffled through Dean's shirt. "You're just hot."

Dean considered that as he mopped the sweat off his face with his shirt sleeve. He was hot, but Sammy was cold. "I'll turn the heat back up." He said. "Hey, then we could read that book you like. The one about the talking spider and the creepy pig."

"Charlottes Web?" Sammy perked up. "I'll read and you can listen. I'm the best reader in kindergarten." Sammy said. Dean rolled his eyes and got up to crank up the heat. He climbed in beside Sam on top of the cover. Sam grinned up at him, grabbing for the book.

Dean awoke in the middle of the night. He cracked his eyes open so he could see his brother. Sam had rolled away from him towards the edge of the bed. The book lay open and battered between them. Leaning over Sam, he saw a faint figure. Dean lay very still and tried really hard not to blink. If he blinked she would disappear. Dean felt his heart thump hard against his chest.

He'd seen her leaning over his brother before. It had happened four other times, and always at night when their dad was gone and Sammy was upset or sick. Dean held his breath. He knew he should tell their dad. Strange forms hovering over Sammy were high up on his 'things that needed to be dealt with' list. But dealing with it meant killing it. And Dean knew, he knew, that flicker of white and blonde was his mom. John really didn't like Dean talking about her. And what he thought she was something bad?

Dean blinked before he realized what he was doing. "Mom…." He started, but she was gone.

Dean rolled off the bed. He checked on Sammy. His brother's face wasn't so pale and a small smile turned the corners of his face. He tucked in the blankets around him, wandered towards the bathroom, and flicked on the light. Dean frowned as he looked in the mirror. His face was all splotchy and he was still hot and his head hurt. He splashed water on his face then fished the children's Tylenol out of the medicine cabinet. He'd been saving it for Sammy, but Sammy seemed to be feeling better.

He rubbed his eyes, trying to keep them from filling up with tears, as he filled a glass of water. Dean was really glad their mom found a way to check on Sammy. Dean didn't always take care of him as good as he should and Sammy needed a mom, sometimes. Dean swallowed the pills. He flipped off the light and stumbled towards the other bed. No need for them to sleep in the same one while their dad was gone. He kicked the blankets towards the end of the bed.

He glanced over at Sammy to see if he would see her again. But all he saw was his little brother sound asleep. Sometimes he wished that she could come and check on him, too. But his dad said spirits had certain rules they had to follow. Dean knew the man had been talking about vengeful spirits and not her…but the same thing was probably true. If she could only check on one of them; it was better that it was Sammy. He flopped over and stared at the door and decided not to think about it anymore. Their dad would be back soon and then everything would be okay.

The next day Dean woke up and he wasn't hot. He was really, really cold. Sam sat beside him, the other bed abandoned, with his nose stuck in the book and his lips mouthing out words as his eyes moved down the page. Sammy's face brightened when he noticed Dean was awake. Dean glanced at the clock, surprised to see it was two o'clock in the afternoon. He struggled up. Sammy needed food.

"Dean!" Sam tossed the book beside him on the bed and grinned. Maybe the kid really could read minds or something because he said, "I made cereal all by myself this morning."

Dean was about to reply that you don't make cereal, you pour it, but Sammy looked so damn proud of himself that Dean didn't. "That's great, Sammy." He said instead.

Sam's grin widened. "And…" He held out his foot and flexed his tennis shoe. "I tied them all by myself!"

Dean grunted. He wriggled until he was able to pull the blankets over him and plopped back down on the pillow. Sammy's concerned face appeared over him moments later.

"Sammy?"

"Yeah?"

"Did…did you have any strange dreams last night?"

Sammy's face scrunched up in concentration. "I dreamed that I was eating cookies while a nice lady hummed to me. And there was a magician. And a big, blue dog."

"Oh." Dean said, pulling the blankets tighter.

Sam's face got serious. "It's okay, Dean." Sammy smiled and retrieved his book. "I'll read you the good parts and you can sleep until you feel better again. And I'll get you juice, but only if you want it. If you don't wanna drink it, I won't make you."

Dean didn't know how to respond to that. He heard Sam start reading, but before he could think about it too much, everything dimmed, and he fell back asleep.

**

Dean started awake to someone shaking him, hard. He blinked rapidly and sat up in the bed. He took in a panicked breath. What? Where was Sammy?

"Dean. Get up. Now."

Dean whipped his gaze up. The tension left him as he saw his dad standing over him with his hand on his shoulder. Sammy stood behind him and off to the left with a dejected expression. The clock read eleven at night. Dean struggled out of the covers and stood up. It was really hot again.

"Dad…" He began, feeling slow. The smoky smell of John's leather jacket was comforting. He leaned toward him to hug him, but his dad's hand kept him from moving forward. Dean blinked. "Dad…I'm glad you're back. Sammy was sick. And I haven't felt…" Dean glanced up at the unhappy expression on John's face. He looked down at the floor and continued, fumbling with the words. "I…I haven't felt…"

"What? Like cleaning up? Like looking after your brother? I don't want to hear it." John let out an exasperated breath and shook his head. "Dean, I count on you to take care of things while I'm away." There was no mistaking the irritation in his voice.

Dean bit at his bottom lip. "Yes sir." He said, feeling like he was missing something.

"Dean. Look at me." John said.

Dean looked up. John's face was bruised and there was a nasty gash on his cheek. Dark circles filled the area under both eyes. Dean's stomach fluttered. "Are you okay, Dad?"

John didn't answer. He inhaled through his nostrils, the frown on his face pulling further down. "What's the most important rule, Dean?"

Dean pulled his arms around his chest, feeling unsure. "Look out for Sammy?"

"Explain to me, then, why I found your little brother, outside, alone, at night, walking around the motel parking lot?"

Dean glanced over at Sammy. His brother shifted on his feet.

"I told you I was getting ice, Daddy." Sammy said in a soft but defiant tone. Dean saw the full bucket standing on the nightstand.

"Sam…" John warned. Sam opened his mouth to argue, but smartly closed it when Dean shot him a 'don't be stupid' look.

Dean turned back towards John. "Dad…" He said. "I didn't know that…"

"I don't want to hear it." John said in a harsh voice. He rubbed his hand over his beard and closed his eyes. He didn't move or say anything for a minute. Dean thought his body looked tense enough to snap. Finally, he took in several deep breaths and looked down at Dean. "I've had enough from both of you. I'm going to get my things out of the car. When I get back…" He turned to Sammy. "Sammy, you better be in bed, asleep. And you…" He said, turning back to Dean. "Clean the sink, the counter. And pick up the damn trash. Like you should have been doing the whole time I was gone. Then you go to bed too." He moved towards the door. "And I don't want either of you bothering me with anything until tomorrow. Do you understand?"

"Dad, I'm sorry..."

"Do you understand?" John cut him off.

"Yes sir." Dean felt a little shaky as he watched him stomp out the door. Dean trudged over towards the kitchenette. Sammy followed him. Dean sighed. "Sammy, you heard him, go to bed."

"I wanna help."

Dean's hair was damp and stuck to his forehead. He brushed it off. "You've helped me enough for one night, alright." Dean snapped, thumping on the faucet.

Sammy's big eyes got all watery again. "You looked hot. I was getting you ice…" Sam rubbed his eyes. "I was takin' care of you like you did me…"

Dean glanced to the door, then back at Sam. Tears were rolling down his brother's face now and he wore such a sad and earnest expression that Dean felt bad about snapping at him. "Thanks Sammy…" Dean rubbed his eyes…because they were scratchy…not because he was crying or anything. "But you can't go out at night by yourself. You're too little." Dean said.

Sam looked offended. "I'm big enough to help you clean up."

"I can handle it." Dean patted him on the head, trying not to sound upset. "Now get in bed before Dad gets back, alright?"

Sammy glared towards the door. "He's being mean. He yelled at me." He mumbled, about an inch away from crying again. "I wish he'd stayed gone."

"You don't mean that, Sammy." Dean sighed and pushed him toward the bed farthest from the door. "Go to bed, Sammy. Please."

Sam nodded. He climbed in the bed and huddled on the far edge of it under the covers. Sam didn't say anything when John came back a few minutes later. Their dad didn't say anything either. He turned out most of the lights, leaving Dean the small kitchen lamp to see, and went into the bathroom. Dean heard the shower turn on moments later.

Dean wetted a cloth and wiped two day old orange juice off the counter. He couldn't seem to concentrate on the countertop. It kept blurring out of focus. He'd made little progress by the time John came out of the shower. Dean scrubbed the counter harder.

John paused, frowning. "Go to bed when you're done, son."

"Yes sir." Dean wet the cloth again. The water hit his hands nice and cool. He paused, watching as his dad climbed into the bed by the door and turned away. Dean cleaned the glass out of the sink, listening as the soft sounds of his father snoring filled the room. Sammy was breathing softly and soundly from the other bed. Dean shook his head. He didn't understand how they could sleep with the room so warm.

Dean pushed his sticky hair off his forehead again. It was taking him forever to clean the place. He bent down to wipe off the floor by the sink. The cleaning cloth was cool where he was scrubbing the linoleum. He decided to rest his head on it. Just for a minute or two. Just until he wasn't so hot.

He felt a cold hand on his forehead. Dean leaned into it, letting some of the heat dissipate. His eyelids fluttered. They finally settled on open. A pale form fluttered above him. "Mom…" He reached out to the kind face above him. "Mommy." She settled beside him feeling cool like a breeze. She pointed over to John's bed. Dean couldn't help the tears that slipped down his face. "He's mad at me." He rasped out. "He doesn't want me bothering him." She frowned and nodded towards John again, looking kinda angry to Dean. He glanced over to his dad again. She motioned to John another time. "Okay." He tried to sit up. He made it about two inches before he fell back against the floor. "Too tired…sorry…" He said in a small voice. Her face twisted in worry and she rubbed his forehead again cooling him down. "Why…can't you talk to me…" Dean mumbled because he thought she would if she could. Maybe she couldn't come back if she spoke? She smiled at him sadly, leaning down to kiss his forehead. Dean started shaking. She was flickering away again. He didn't think she'd come back. "Don't go…please…" But he blinked and she was gone. And then everything went black.

Dean felt a hand on his forehead again. He tried really hard to open his eyes, but he couldn't seem to do it. "Mom…" He said, hearing his voice come out weak and whispered. The hand against his skin tensed.

"Dean, wake up, son. Open your eyes for me."

Dean smelled motel soap and the remnants of smoke. He got his eyes to crack a bit. "Dad?" He squinted up seeing John and Sammy leaning over him.

"Is he okay, Daddy?" Sammy said in a small, scared voice. "The nice lady said he was really sick."

Dean watched as their dad gave Sammy a puzzled look, then, quickly turned his attention back to Dean. "How're you feeling, son?"

"H-h-hot."

John nodded, pushing his hand firmer against his forehead. He took in a shaky breath and then picked Dean up and set him down on the bed before Dean really understood what was happening. Sammy followed them over.

"I think there's some ice left in the bucket, Sammy." John said. "Go get some towels from the bathroom, wrap the ice in them, and bring them here." Dean heard Sammy skittering away.

"We'll get you cooled down, son."

"Okay…" Dean said. "Dad…I'm sorry about…"

"Shhh…" John said. And he looked uncomfortable to Dean. Like the time he'd almost forgotten Sammy's third birthday. "It's alright." He said.

Sammy bounded back carrying two lumpy looking towels. John put one across Dean's forehead and the other by his shoulder. Sammy crawled up beside him on the bed, cradling his book.

"Are you still…mad?" Dean said.

John chuckled, not sounding amused. "I'm not mad at you." He said, leaving Dean to wonder who exactly he was mad at. But his eyes were drifting close again before he could ask him. Dean felt him replace the ice packs awhile later. He heard Sammy yawning beside him.

"Should I read to him, Daddy?"

"Maybe tomorrow, Sammy." John said and Dean felt him rubbing his arm with his thumb. "You go to sleep and I'll keep watch tonight."

The bed shifted beside Dean and he thought Sammy was probably snuggling under the covers.

"I'm sorry, kiddo." Dean heard his Dad whisper, but he didn't understand why he was apologizing.

THE END