Ticked Off

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There is a black dog roaming a rather ill-kept graveyard in southern Colorado.

From what the locals had been saying, as soon as the sun goes down the howling and whining starts up. The lunar pattern doesn't indicate anything special. The area didn't have a pet cemetery. With the number of people who had heard it, it seemed doubtful that it was a hellhound.

So – a regular ol' black dog. That seems to be the consensus older and younger brother reach as they go scrambling through knee-high blades of grass, flashlight clenched in one hand, gun in the other.

The howling sounds like it is coming from everywhere; it ricochets off of century old oak trees and bounces toward them off of the ruins of an old stone church.

Dean's never heard a Shuck sound so sad before. From the short glimpses he gets of Sam's face in the darkness, he can tell his younger brother is thinking the same thing. But, there's no time to have a conversation about the emotive nature of spectral canines, whatever is out there in the dark has just let out a growl and is charging their way. They can't see where it's coming from, can only hear the sounds of four legs running through tall grass, plant-life being shoved aside by paws that rapidly plod along the earth.

"Sam!" Dean bites out sharply, pulling the trigger back on his revolver.

The boys stand back to back in the inky night, hardly any moonlight spilling downward from the cloudy sky. They move in a synchronized circle, aiming their beams of light into the darkness that surrounds them.

Dean feels Sam tense behind him.

"You've gotta be friggin' kidding me." Sam mutters softly. "Dean, turn around, but do it slowly."

"What? What the hell, Sam?" Dean spins around, not lowering his flashlight or his gun.

There is a high-pitched yelp and the dark shape backs out of the beam of the flashlight and further into the shadows.

Well, the locals were right.

It is black and it is a dog.

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The poor mongrel, some kind of Labrador mix, is half-starved by the looks of him, his ebony coat a tangled mess of burrs. It doesn't take Sam more than five minutes to find the beef jerky that Dean had been hiding in the trunk and try to feed it to the dog.

Dean chuckles to himself. The dog apparently knows better than to take Dean Winchester's jerky without asking.

Sam tosses the Slim Jims to Dean without any warning. "Try and get him in the car."

Dean looks from the bedraggled dog to the car - his car, then gives his younger sibling a look that clearly implies he thinks Sam has lost his mind. "My baby, no, no way. We'll call animal control, tell them there is a mutt out here. It is their problem."

Even before Dean can make out the glare Sam is giving him in the darkness, he already knows it is a lost cause. This is the same Sam Winchester who spent the majority of their childhood begging for a dog. While his younger brother was old enough nowadays to understand the problems of keeping a pooch with you on the road when you were performing fraud just to keep yourself fed, Sam still wasn't going to agree to just leave the dog – who clearly needed care – this far outside the town.

"We're not calling animal control when we don't even know if there is a No Kill shelter in the area. Not happening." Sam huffs, pursing his lips severely.

"Fine, whatever." Dean retorts. It wasn't like he didn't have a heart for the poor pup. He whistles through his teeth and waves a piece of jerky toward the dog, who looks extremely torn between getting something to eat and getting within hitting distance of a human.

Dean keeps his voice low and soothing as he opens up the back door to the Impala. "C'mon, Lassie. Sammy fell in the well!"

The dog immediately charges into the car with a soft whuff of happiness.

It takes Sam forever to locate a No Kill shelter within an hour of where they are and it is closed until Tuesday. With a couple days of dog sitting on the horizon, it takes even longer to find a pet friendly motel.

Sam, as much as he actively tries to be dog's best friend, doesn't have much success. All the mutt wants to do is hang around Dean – which wouldn't be such a horrible thing, except the dog is disgustingly dirty, so having him jump on the bed is a problem.

Lassie shoves his (or her, they haven't checked) head under Dean's hand, who starts to stroke the matted fur, but then withdraws his hand in revulsion.

Dean decides the dog needs a bath and he tells his brother so.

"What do you want me to do about it?" Sam asks, twisting around from where he's seated his with his laptop.

"I dunno. Give him one."

"Dude, he's clearly attached to you. You're so worried about it, you give him one." Sam replies, turning back to the screen in front of him.

"Well, you're the one who had this fantastic idea about inviting this fleabitten -," Dean flicks his eyes toward the dog, who is looking up at him with soulful eyes. If Dean thought it was possible, he'd think Lassie's feelings just got hurt. "—this dog into our motel room to stink up the joint. Besides, the cleaner he is – the more likely he is to be adopted right away, right? Why not get him off to a good start?"

Dean knows he's got his brother on the hook now, the way his mouth is twisting to one side.

Sam agrees to the task, but it takes the both of them to wrangle the stray into the bathroom. Dean escapes quickly and closes the door behind him, the sight of Gigantor struggling with a medium-sized dog a too-small bathroom with his too-large body is amusing. Adding water and suds to the equation is just hilarious.

Sam mutters softly to himself as he can hear his brother laughing. While the poor mongrel is scratching at the door to get to back to Dean, Sam turns on the water and grabs one of the tiny bottles of shampoo. Thank god for removable shower heads.

He wrestles Lassie into the tub, the dog barking and whining as he attempts to wiggle out from Sam's grasp. Grateful that he doesn't have a biter on his hands, he carefully aims the shower nozzle, long fingers pulling debris out of the knotted coat.

The dog tries to jump out of the tub just as Sam pours a handful of shampoo into his hand, but is unable to escape when the hunter blocks him bodily, soaking wet fur rubbing up against his previously dry shirt front.

Sam sighs and shakes his head with a rueful smile. It was inevitable really. He wasn't coming out of this without having a bath of his own.

Reaching out his soap-filled hand, he digs his fingers into gnarled up dog hair, working it into a lather. As the massage goes along and the canine calms down, Sam is able to get a good scrub going. Once or thrice, the pads of his fingers come across a bump, and he parts the fur to see what it is he's dealing with.

Ticks, engorged to varying sizes, one of which is nearly the size of a pencil eraser, bloated like a large pea.

After the pup is rinsed free of suds, Sam grabs the tweezers out of the first aid kit behind him.

"Good boy," he says in a low voice, taking care as he plucks out each one and drops them in the toilet bowl.

Sam stands back, admiring his handiwork. Lassie is clean – and not looking half-bad. He still looks like a mongrel, with the matted fur, but at least the soft ebony coat seemed shiny now.

"Maybe you're not just some stray, huh? Maybe you just got lost." Sam leans over and strokes the ears of man's best friend for a moment. In exchange for this, Lassie shakes his fur out, the bathroom experiencing a sudden bout of rain.

"Hey!" Sam protests, holding a hand up to shield his face as the dog sheds the excess moisture.

Dean hears all this and begins cackling on the other side of the door.

Sam figures out how he's going to get rid of the impossibly tangled sections of fur. An evil grin on his face, he grabs his older brother's electric razor.

::: ::: :::
::: ::: :::

Lassie is dropped off at an animal shelter and Sam gives the staff all the information they might need to reunite the pooch with his or her owners, if there are any. That day they pull out of town, both brothers giving wistful glances backward every once in awhile, the jagged peaks of the Rocky Mountains visible in the distance.

A week and a half later, they've just finished another hunt, a few hundred miles south of where they had been in Colorado.

It seems like one minute Dean is perfectly fine. In fact, at lunchtime he was. Then illness slams into him like a ton of bricks, his head throbbing, his stomach roiling. Dean's whole person is just a mass of hurt, joints protesting with the slightest movement. A deep soreness has set into his muscles, a full body Charley horse.

By two o'clock, his skin is crawling with that shivery feeling that only comes with fever.

Sam is asleep in the passenger's seat and Dean is fine with that, fine with Sam not seeing how he feels. He can do without being nagged by a Sasquatch, thank you very much.

That lasts about as long as his lunch does, which is about twenty more minutes. Dean finds himself pulling over to the side of the road in a hurry, pushing the door open, and hurling all his good eats onto the dirt.

Dean knows his younger brother is awake before he can hear Sam fidgeting nervously in the passenger seat, before he hears, "Uh, Dean, you okay?"

Dean's smart ass response is interrupted by more vomiting, this time splashback gets on his boots. Gross.

Sam twists around to grab a bottle of water out of the cooler in the backseat and gets out of the car. He takes a long look at his older brother and lets out a low whistle, absorbing the unhealthy flush contrasting against the pale skin of his face and the way Dean is obviously grabbing the door for support.

"You look friggin' awful."

"Nice, dude. Appreciated." Dean bites back sarcastically, taking the proffered bottle from Sam and doing a quick rinse of his mouth.

"I just mean…are you sick enough that we need to call it a day? Find someplace to stay?"

"No, dude, I'm good." When Sam eyes him suspiciously, he lies, "I feel much better now that I've—"

"Placed your lunch neatly on the side of Route 120?" Sam finishes for him.

"Pretty much, yeah."

Sam narrows his eyes while Dean withdraws back into the car under the intense scrutiny.

"C'mon, Miss Daisy. Don't you want to get to the Piggly Wiggly?" Dean waggles his eyebrows at the looming Gigantor to his left, his skull reprimanding him in response. Dean figures he keeps his poker face pretty well, though, because Sam retreats back to his side of the car and they get back on the road.

In another five minutes, Dean switches off the Motorhead album he's blaring, because damned if his head isn't beginning to throb in sync with the beat.

In another ten minutes, Dean is looking for a gas station where he can hole up in the bathroom for a few minutes and spew his guts away from prying eyes.

When involuntary shivers begin to wrack his frame, Dean knows the game is up.

Nothing is said for a further five minutes, Sam waiting for Dean to take it upon himself to admit he's sick. Of course, the elder Winchester says nothing. This is not unexpected and Sam is ready to give his brother a little prompting.

"Dude, you're sweating and shivering."


"And, you're only s'posed to do one of those at a time, I'm pretty sure."

"I'm just awesome like that," Dean tries to play off.

Sam is about to find something to say to bring Dean back to the subject of his obviously ailing health when the Impala is suddenly steered over to the side of the road and Dean scrambles to swing the door open, puking spectacularly on the gravel, yet managing to flip his middle finger at a truck that passes by the scene honking its horn.

Sam sighs and rolls his eyes, snagging the barely touched bottle of water off of the front seat where Dean left it, and strolling around the front of the car to where Dean is (still) hurling. Sam stays silent, pretends the landscape is intensely interesting. As soon as Dean is finished, he holds out his hand expectantly for the water, takes a swig, spits. It isn't until Dean goes to swing his legs back into the car that Sam speaks up.

"You look like you're gonna keel over. You really want to drive her like that?"

Dean gives Sam a look, but takes his hand off of the keys in the ignition anyway. Rather than just pushing over, Dean figures some fresh air will do him good. He goes to get up, his vision grays out and he finds himself collapsed against Sam's chest, his face smushed up against his brother's armpit, inhaling the scent of some cologne-laced deodorant.

Sam's breath is warm into his hair as he speaks. "Got your sea-legs yet?"

"Think so." Dean says, feeling more sure of the dirt under his feet as his brother helps him lean against the car.

Sam takes the opportunity of Dean looking so dazed to feel his brother's clammy forehead.

"Jesus, dude, you're on fire! Why the fuck didn't you say anything?"

Dean pulls away, eyes blurred with a feverish glaze. "Say anything?"

"Were you sick when we were on the hunt?" Sam asks angrily.

Dean sways where he stands so Sam gently lowers Dean back onto the driver's seat, but then stomps over to the other side of the car so he can root around in the glovebox until he comes up with a bottle of Motrin.

Sam shoves it into his brother's hands. "Let's cut the dance we normally do short, shall we? You're not fine. "


"What, Dean, what?" Sam snaps.


The exhaustion and misery in Dean's voice stop Sam cold, as well as the tirade building up in his mind, the chastising he'd love to give his irresponsible stubborn jackass of a brother.

"I felt fine before. I felt fine at lunch." Dean says in a dogged plain-as-day way that convinces Sam it's the truth.

"Oh." Sam replies, whatever he was planning to say lost on the warm New Mexican wind.

"Yeah. It kinda snuck up on me." Dean leans over again, his brain pounding even worse, but is able to hold whatever meager stomach contents he still possesses inside.


"Aw, Jesus, Sammy!" Dean groans, pressing his palm into his sweaty forehead. "I feel like shit."

"Yes, Dean," Sam asks patiently, "You're sick – which is precisely why I'm asking. We already got fever and nausea, what else?"

"I dunno." Dean squints up at his brother. "Flu-ey. Y'know, achy? Probably that's what it is. Probably caught the damn flu."

"Maybe." Sam frowns. "You done decorating the roadside or you need another minute?"

Dean sits up, his hand cradling his belly. "Naw, I'm good."

"Good, then scoot over and take the meds."

Dean shuffles his bones over to the other side of the vehicle, grunting as each of his joints complains loudly.

When he gets himself settled, he sees Sam regarding him quietly.


"You gonna make it?" Sam asks with genuine concern.

"Will you just drive?" Dean snaps back.

Sam says nothing, but glances meaningfully from Dean to the unopened bottle of Motrin in his elder brother's lap before restarting the car and pulling it out of park. Dean mutters to himself, but swallows down a few of the tan-coated tablets with as small a sip of water as he can manage.

It takes Sam an hour to get them to a town large enough to have a motel, an hour of surreptitious glancing at his trembling brother who is curled up in one of his usual jackets, plus the leather one. They only had to stop once for him to hurl, and now Dean's finally in some sort of half-sleep, damp hair matted to his head.

Sam wants to wake him up, get him to take the coats off, to shove water down his throat, but right now he just wants to get them to somewhere with a motel and a medical facility in case they need one. Parts of New Mexico are just one traffic light towns and vast space in between, and it with much relief that the Impala finally cruises through some city limits.

"Dean." Sam says, putting a hand on Dean's arm and squeezing gently. He gets nothing but some grumbling in response, so he squeezes a little harder.

Dean winces and sits up, his arms tucked against himself to keep in whatever warmth he can. He gazes blearily at his surroundings, a motel parking lot, which doesn't give him any clues.

"Where are we?"

"Las Vegas."

Dean blinks at Sam incredulously as he fists the gunk out of his eyes. "Why the hell did you drive us all the way to Vegas?"

"Las Vegas, New Mexico, dumbass." Sam smirks, but he softens when he sees how clearly out of it Dean is. "Lemme go get us a room. And drink some water."

"Yeah, yeah." Dean grumbles, still trying to get his bearings. He didn't think it was possible to feel worse than he did an hour ago, but here he is. There is a blacksmith inside his cranium pounding in the rhythm of his pulse, the clank of hammer harsh against the bones of his superheated skull. At least, he is assuming he's superheated. He feels like some mafia goons have stuck him in a meat locker.

The image of being surrounded by dozens of frostbitten carcasses has Dean hurriedly pushing open the door so he can aim dry heaves at the pavement, joints wrenching as he spasms painfully forward, but is only able to expel small amounts of sour saliva. A rush of air that has probably passed by a cactus or two on its way there feels like a cold winter wind as it blusters across his sweat-drenched skin. Someday bullshit irony like this is going to end up killing him.

A shadow looms over him. Sam.

"Think you can make it to the door?"

"Yes." The word whips out sharp and fast.

"Okay, alright, just asking." Sam shakes his head with the tiniest of smiles even as frustration rises up inside of him. This is a well-practiced dance routine, and Dean might be Anna Pavlova in this scenario, but even she had a choreographer.

Dean stands up slowly as if years of arthritis have besieged his knees and ends up immediately listing sideways like a housewife who hit the box of wine too hard. Sam's ready hands grab hold, fingers clutching the battered leather jacket as he hefts his brother upright, finding purchase on Dean's belt to keep him that way.

Sam uses his foot to close the door to the Impala, frowning severely when his older brother doesn't make so much as a grumble about such sacrilege behavior. Talking small slow steps to cause the least amount of pain to the pitiable corpse he's hauling along with him, Sam manages to get them both inside the motel room. Before going back outside to collect their things, particularly the first aid kit, he grabs a plastic cup from the bathroom counter and fills it with tepid water, not wanting to shock Dean's digestive tract into reversal again.

When he comes out of the bathroom, Dean has flopped down on the bed without removing either jacket or his boots. The boots can wait a little longer, the jackets can't. Sam places the water on the nightstand.

"Hey, Dean. C'mon, I need you to stay awake for another ten or fifteen max."

His older brother's face twitches, prompting a large bead of sweat to roll downward from his saturated hairline, the drop darting its path through freckles as if his face is a sickly pinball machine. Instinct causing his own stomach to plummet, Sam lays his hand along Dean's neck only to find the skin to be scorching underneath the perspiration.

"Dean, c'mon, man. Wake up." Sam squeezes the back of the elder hunter's neck with a sense of urgency.

"S'mmy?" Dean slurs slightly, the heavy lids of his eyes opening slightly to reveal slivers of dull green. "Wha'appened? Wha's wrong?"

"Nothing, man. I just need you to sit up for me and take the jackets off, okay?"

"Fuckin' freezin'." Dean replies, grunting as he sits himself up.

Sam watches his older sibling slowly peel off the two jackets, revealing a drenched AC/DC t-shirt clinging like a second skin. The exposure of air to wet clothing and skin causes Dean's body to be immediately wracked with shivering, his teeth chattering even as he tries to clamp his jaw firmly together. Pain lines are embossed deeply in his face, but he stays silent except for the clattering of his teeth.

"T-shirt off." Sam grabs a towel from the bathroom and a cheap bathrobe from the closet. It's by no means some one hundred percent cotton terrycloth spa robe, but it's dry, which is what matters until Sam can go grab the bags.

Dean's hands and arms are trembling so badly, he can't do more than get one arm out of the soaking wet tee. Watching this is like torment for Sam, one quick pull upward and Dean'd be that much closer to some sort of better comfort, and Sam'd be that much closer to the thermometer, Tylenol, and pumping Dean with as much fluid as he can. Bouncing anxiously on the balls of his feet, he tries to be patient – to not be the hovering mother-hen his brother always accuses him of being.

"S-s-sam..." Dean stutters as tooth enamel clacks together, the frustrated appeal for help clear in his eyes, trapped in damp fabric like a gnat in a spider's web. Without another moment's hesitation, Sam yanks the shirt over Dean's head before deftly patting the feverish skindry him and wrapping his brother in the bathrobe.

"I'm gonna go get the kit. Here…" Sam goes to give Dean the cup of water, but one glance at the quaking hands in front of him and he knows the contents of the wide-mouthed cup would slosh onto the floor. "Okay, be right back."

As soon as Sam is on the other side of the door, Dean flops back down on the bed. Unable to focus on why Sam needed him awake, he's become a heat-seeking missile, his arm managing to weakly tug the coverlet over his wretched form.

Roadkill, that's what he feels like. Roadkill that was run over by a racist truck after spending the entire night evading a fucking wendigo.

"No, no, no – uh-uh, Dean. I know you wanna get warm, man, but you're just going to feel worse."

His vision is all blurred and he feels the covers pulled off right as gigantic hands are pulling him up to rest against the cheap pressed wood headboard, its surface – cold and hard - increasing the hurt that is already wired into the muscles of his back. The idea of the blanket being gone sounds like the end of the world and a whine – pitiful and low – sounds in Dean's ears. It takes him a moment to realize that it was him.

The crinkling of plastic and the light smell of something sweet yet nauseating have him blinking his eyes to get a better look at what is going on. Sam is opening a pack of Twizzlers he must have gotten from the vending machine.

Dean presses his hand against his mouth for a moment, swallowing hard. "Sammy, that is just not happening."

"Not for eating. Don't worry."

Sam opens up a twenty ounce of water, gulps down an inch or two, and then bites off both ends of one of the thick red licorice wands, dropping it in the bottle as a makeshift straw before putting it into Dean's shaking hands.

"Shouldn't spill as much. Small sips."

"My brother – the genius," Dean mutters.

"Hey, you were the one that taught me the whole Twizzler straw trick. I never thought I'd see the day where it had a practical use. Hold still," Sam says, pressing the digital thermometer into his brother's ear.

After thirty seconds, it beeps loudly and Dean has to crane his neck to see the frown on his brother's face.

"Can't be good with that face."

"102.8," Sam answers, pressing a couple caplets of Tylenol into his ailing sibling's palm. "Take those and keep drinking."

After a few minutes, Dean is staring vacantly toward the floral pattern of the bedspread and Sam has to snap him back to attention. "Hey, man, keep drinking, alright? Unless you want a trip to the hospital."

"Just the flu," Dean replies, kneading his forehead with his knuckles.

"The flu lands people in the hospital. Besides, I'm not sure it is – no cough, no congestion."

"Stomach flu, then – whatthefuckever."

What-the-fuck-ever it is, after two and a half miserable days of a fever that sinks its tenterhooks into his flesh, Dean is finally feeling better, weak and wrung out, but still so much better that he practically hits Sam in the temple with the keys in his excitement to leave town. He's fine with recovering more on the road so long as the road includes leaving this godforsaken room and this godforsaken city, because – frankly, after feeling like complete shit for the better part of three days, he really could have done with a jaunt to one of Las Vegas's finer strip clubs. It seems cruel and unusual punishment that he wakes up in the wrong Las Vegas.

::: ::: :::
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Bobby calls with a gig in Iowa City, a vengeful spirit loitering around a graveyard who, in the past few months, has injured four people and just recently killed one by repeatedly bashing a kid's head on a tombstone. All of the victims were teens using the cemetery as a late night hang out, all of them with booze and some of them with previous arrests for graffiti.

After speaking with some of the witnesses and cruising the obits, it looks increasingly likely that Jillian Malloy is the ghost they need to extinguish. It also looks increasingly likely that this hunt is going to be a pain in the ass. The obituary indicated their ghost was interred in Oakland Cemetery, but Malloy's family wasn't in the area for questioning anymore, so where exactly she was planted was up for grabs.

"She's on her honeymoon," Sam says of the woman in charge of the burial records, letting his phone fall into his lap.

"Mazeltov," Dean replies. The Impala slows to a stop as a group of children is walked across the street. "They don't have anyone else that can help us out with this?"

"Nope. There's a password to get into the database and the IT guy is in the hospital."

"Graveyard roll it is," Dean sighs.

Leaving no stone unturned is something they've had to do and it more than likely is something they'll have to do again soon. It's when they roll up to entrance of Oakland Cemetery that Dean's jaw drops.

"Sam, tell me there's a tinier, more hunter friendly Oakland Cemetery. Please."

"Wish I could, man. Now do you see why I packed the cooler?"

Dean glances at Sam sheepishly, definitely recalling a solid fifteen minutes of ribbing about younger brothers who delighted in having picnics. "Yeah, well, after this is done, remind me to kick Bobby's ass."

The boneyard is forty acres of corpse real estate, all of which Sam has industriously mapped out. The plan is to split up and take it in sections, to cover more ground, but never be out of shouting range if the chick shows up. Considering they were starting their search at nine in the morning, that was doubtful, but you never knew.

There were a couple sections, thankfully, that they could ignore, the thin slate-style slabs marking turn of the century remains. It still left at least thirty-seven acres of headstones that were sprawling out in front of them.

Packing salt, iron, and canteens of water they set out in opposite directions where the car was on the graveyard roadway. As the sun slowly makes its way to the noontide sky, they wander up and down the rows of granite monuments speckled with glittering mica.

Sam's stomach rumbles loudly and he glances at his watch, surprised to find that it was already half past one. They'd figured on stopping at one o'clock for lunch and Sam hadn't bothered setting the alarm on his cell phone, because Dean's stomach was the alarm clock when it came to food. Pressing the speed key for his brother, he scans the horizon in the section he'd last seen the familiar bow-legged silhouette.

"You find her?" Dean blurts out, the moment the phones connect.

"No. Where the hell are you, man? I don't see you anywhere."

"Over at the car."

Sam sees a hand waving over the roof of the car.

"If you're eating my lunch, I'm gonna punch you square in the dick." This might be an overreaction on Sam's part, but he has just spent six hours on his feet, and - if hungry enough -Dean's certainly been known to eat his lunch before. In the distance he can see Dean walking around to the other side of the car and opening the back door, hears glass clinking together - the tell-tale sounds of his sibling pawing his way through the cooler.

"Relax, Sammy, I don't want your – carrot sticks and orange slices. Did Dionne Warwick tell you that orange is your power color today?"

"A Psychic Friends joke. Wow, Dean, that doesn't date you at all," Sam shoots back with a grin.

"Respect your elders next time and bring beer, will ya?" The line disconnects.

When Sam gets to the car, the cooler is sitting outside the car with his lunch and a bottle of Gatorade sitting neatly on top of it. The door ajar, Dean's legs are dangling outside of the car while the rest of him is draped across the backseat, so Sam kicks one of the scuffed steel-toed boots to let him know he's there and takes a seat on the metal ice chest.

"I take it you didn't find her either." Sam unwraps his turkey sandwich and bites into the rye bread with zeal.

"Nope." The response is a little tight, strained.

"You eat already?"


Sam nudges Dean's boot again. "Hey. You alright?"



"You're pretty quiet."

"You're pretty annoying. Let's switch."

Instead of taking the bait, Sam simply takes another bite of his sandwich and chews thoughtfully. He damn well knows pain in his brother's voice when it's there.

"You throw out your back again?"


"C'mon, man. I don't want to have to play twenty questions with you, but you know I will."

There's a long suffering sigh and then a few beats go by. "My head."


"No," Dean says, but there's enough hesitation that Sam knows that maybe his brother isn't sure."I think it's just the sun. It's fine."

Which explains why Dean is hiding out inside the car. "You take something?"


"Sunglasses?" Sam crunches on a carrot stick and idly flips the latch on the cooler.

"Mine broke two states back."

Sam stares fondly at the two legs dangling out of the car. "You can borrow mine, moron."

Dean grumbles something that might be considered thanks, but might also be an insult. Sam stands up and stretches, grabs one Gatorade for him and another for Dean out of the cooler before getting his sunglasses out of the laptop bag. Leaning in the car to place both of the items on his brother's stomach, he tries to get a good look at Dean's face, but his assessment is obstructed by the less-than-casually draped arm that only leaves a stubbled chin visible.

Sam gives Dean's leg a crisp smack. "Give the meds a minute. Gimme a call when you get back out there."

Fifteen minutes later he gets a text letting him know Dean's up and moving; he spies his brother's form moving slowly through the aisles of headstones. The sound of an engine rumbling catches his attention, an old silver Cadillac pulling up past where the Impala is parked. A young blonde woman gets out of the driver's side and pulls a walker out of the trunk, helping a blue-haired woman out of the car.

"S'cuse me!" Sam jogs up to the pair, the soles of his boots crunching into the gravel as he reaches the main path.

"Yes?" The old biddy nearly loses her balance craning her neck backwards to look Sam in the eyes, both he and, presumably the woman's granddaughter, reaching out to assist the older woman, their hands brushing as they both grab for the same pointy elbow.

"Isn't he a strapping young man, Susie?"

Sam blushes under the watchful gaze of the hunched octogenarian and nearly forgets what he was going to ask.

"Here let me get that," Sam rushes, taking a large terracotta pot of flowers from Susie and falling into step alongside them. As they walk, he gives them a story about how he's looking up family graves, ask them if they've seen any Malloys. As it turns out, they have – two rows over ("Right in back of my husband!") and in a section Sam would have gotten to in a couple of hours, ("My dear girl Jane, Susie's auntie, is over there"). The latter is yahtzee, in a grave that looks remarkably like Jess's, a gold oval frame inset into the granite, revealing the portrait of a girl with an awkward dimpled smile. The stone bore a streak of red paint marring its surface like an angry welt.

Sam clears his throat, trying to rid himself of the ache as he recalls how long it's been since he's visited Jessica's grave. Next time he's in California, or maybe next time they're headed west...

Sam's surprised when he feels a hand on his arm.

"Were you close?" Susie utters softly.

"Yes," he answers when he finds his voice.

"I'm sorry."

Sam nods, giving her a small smile. On the off chance that Jillian Malloy – even the same initials – decides to show her face right now, he knows he needs to keep Susie and her grandmother away from the gravesite.

"Should your grandmother be trying to plant that?" Sam points to the old lady who is precariously bent over the terracotta pot with only one hand on her walker.

"Gramma!" Susie yells in a scolding voice, making a mad dash through the tombstones.

Sam takes the opportunity to scan the horizon, the late afternoon sky turning pink as the sun prepared its descent. Dean's silhouette is far in the distance, leaning over a black slab.

"Find another Malloy?" Sam texts. He sees Dean straighten up quickly.

"No," comes the reply.

"I found her. Setting up the candle now. Meet you at the car."

Sam stakes the ground with an iron rod that curves so an oil lamp can hang from it, deftly lighting the wick and shaking the match out before it can burn his fingertips. There are several large monuments he makes note of, trying to make finding their way back tonight as easy as possible.

After walking Susie and her grandmother back to their car, he watches the silver Caddy roll away, leaning on the trunk of the Impala, his forearms taking in the heat the sun has beaten down on the black metal.

His eyes quickly found Dean, the backdrop behind him now sporting brilliant golds, making the clouds into giant nuggets suspended midair. If it was possible, his brother had hardly moved at all.

"What's the hold up?" he texts.

Sam takes a minute to repack the cooler, grabbing himself a drink while he's at it. Organizing the contents before him, he realizes he's looking at his brother's lunch, mostly untouched. Brow furrowed, he shoves the large metal chest into the backseat of the car.

Turning around, he's about to text Dean again and realizes his brother has disappeared.

A very bad feeling drops into the pit of Sam's stomach.


Nothing but chirping crickets.

Sam sprints at full speed in the direction he last saw Dean's shape. Pressing redial again and again, he doesn't let his legs slow down until he hears the tinny sounds of a Metallica ringtone. The younger Winchester stands stock still, like a leopard hunting for prey, trying to get his ears to hone in on the sound.

"Sam?" a voice replies in from the distance, familiar but lacking characteristic strength. Following the call's direction, Sam wends his way through the granite stones, shouting his brother's name again as his heart hammers in his chest.

Sam nearly trips over him.

Dean is sprawled in an ungainly heap across the well-manicured grass. The fall was hard enough that it knocked one of the lenses of Sam's sunglasses right out of the frame, a busted frame that has scratched the face wearing them. The elder Winchester squints as if just the effort of looking at his younger brother is causing him pain. As far as Sam is concerned, the feeling is mutual, although perhaps not in the same way – the scene before him unsettling to say the least.

There is a headstone right next to them of pale ivory marble swirled with veins of grey, colors which Dean seems to be imitating with much of his pallor. Beads of sweat run in rivulets down his face, the tiny rivers of perspiration crossing skin flushed a deep red. He's pushing himself upright and it looks like he's having trouble doing just that, as if he had just done one thousand push-ups and is straining to do just one more.

"Hey, what happened?" Sam helps Dean sit upright before crouching low to the ground and laying a hand on the back of his brother's neck, his thumb brushing against the damp edges of closely shorn hair.

Dean shakes his head in confusion, rubbing his hand down the lower portion of his face, wiping at the moisture collecting on his upper lip. "I dunno, man. Was fine and then BAM!" He claps his hands together, motioning to where he was found fallen upon the earth.

The heat coming off of Dean is frightening and Sam knows he needs to get him cooled down. The last rays of sunset are dragging the long shadows of the cairns set into the ground. Once the light goes, he knows their ghost is much more likely to show her face. They need to get out of there now.

Sam unfolds his body upward, his knees complaining about being forced to take his full weight, and hauls his older brother with him.

Everything is swimming before Dean's eyes, the air shimmering as if the heat of the day is getting burned off in the atmosphere. Except it is early evening now, early evening – and he feels like he's been asked to babysit dry ice, his skin aching painfully with an arctic chill that seems to have wound its way into the marrow of his bones.

"I gotcha," Sam is saying, but even in his tight grasp Dean is swaying, his legs rubbery with no strength in them.

Bright eyes that reflect the last rays of the sunset off their watery, fever-glazed surface stare at Sam's huge body, at the thin mouth that is moving. Dean finds himself chuckling, because Gigantor's muffled voice is sounding a lot like the adults in the old Snoopy cartoons he used to watch with Sammy every holiday.

Sam stares at Dean, who is babbling incoherently about Woodstock with a smile on his face while Sam is holding him up in an awkward sort of hug.

"We can listen to Woodstock in the car, but we gotta go, man," Sam pleads insistently. He's trying to move them forward one step at a time, but every attempted stride forward results in Dean sagging downward. At one point, Dean gives his younger brother a very wounded glare that Sam just doesn't understand at all. It takes him a moment to realize that in the process of hauling his sick brother upright by his pants, he also managed to give him a pretty spectacular wedgie.

"Really, Sam?"

"Sorry, it was an accident."

Dean harrumphs in disbelief, but at least he's walking a bit straighter after that. Maybe he's not as disoriented as Sam initially thought.

"I meant the bird," Dean says, seemingly out of nowhere.

Sam sighs heavily. What's that old saying about trusting your first instinct?

"Bird?" he asks tiredly, humoring his brother until he can shove him in the car.

"Woodstock, man. Snoopy's friend. Not free love."

Sam laughs, suddenly very relieved, can hardly stop laughing – and he doesn't even know why, except it seems ridiculous that he's dragging his sick brother through a cemetery, away from the very real threat of ghosts, and the topic up for discussion is an animated cartoon birdie.

While Dean busies himself being distracted by whatever tangents pop into his mind, Sam makes an executive decision and hoists his older brother in a fireman's carry over his broad back – the heat and weight oppressive. Feeling the pull in his upper thighs, Sam tries to bounce as little as possible as he continues in the direction of the Impala.

"Sammy?" Dean asks, his voice bewildered.

"Just try to relax, man."

Sam saying that, of course, means that his brother ends up doing the opposite, nearly toppling them both when Sam staggers to the right trying to compensate for the unexpected tension.

"Probably should've seen that comin', huh?" Sam asks, more to himself than to Dean as he sets his brother down and shoves him into the car like a police officer herding a suspect. He rounds the front of the car, taking a moment to stretch out the tightness that's been sinking into his low back from being on his feet all day with hardly any breaks, and has hitched up in intensity since trying to carry his jerkass big brother.

Scoping a glance at Dean – the news is not good. Pasty lips are mumbling to themselves while the elder hunter is hunched in on himself, quaking so hard droplets of sweat are flying off of his skin. Sam grabs a Gatorade out of the cooler, the bottle is every bit as dripping as Dean is; he shoves the drink into Dean's hands while he digs around in the glove compartment for meds. This would be déjà vu, except he remembers it actually happening.

"What do you want to do, Dean?" Sam asks, shaking the pills into his hand one by one. He makes a mental note he needs to pick up more Motrin.

"Time is it-t-t-t?" Dean's consonants tap-dance along his teeth.

"Almost six."

"G-g-good. We haven't missed Doctor Sexy."

Sam stares at Dean for a moment, shoving the pills into one of his trembling hands. "Doctor Who?"

His brother takes the meds, then mutters something about having a nerd for a brother before leaning forward and letting out a moan that is closer to a growl, pulls his jacket more tightly around him.

"Seriously, man, emergency room?" Sam doesn't know why he's bothering to ask, except they are both adults here.

"ER? No, man. Just the flu."

"The flu? …Again?"

Dean barks out a sarcastic laugh. "Why not? You think we'd suddenly get lucky now?"

"That's not what I meant. Two weeks later, dude, barely a state away. Not to mention it isn't even flu season."

"Your point?"

"That it isn't the flu. And if it isn't the friggin' flu – and this is the second time you're just spiking a fever and collapsing, then you need to get looked at."

Dean mutters something that Sam is pretty sure is a denial that Dean Winchester would ever – could ever - collapse. He's also pretty sure he hears something about Ellen, a doctor, and a piccolo. So long as Dean is agreeing to see a doctor, that's what's important. Sam doesn't know or care what Ellen or a piccolo have to do with it.

He throws the car into drive and fishtails onto the main road, pawing through his left front pocket – the pocket where he always puts things like the directions to the nearest hospital and fake IDs.

Not even five minutes later Sam is pulling up to the emergency entrance of Mercy Hospital.

"Okay, you need help?"

Dean snuffles loudly, waking up. "No, no help …What?"

"Go register, I'll go park the car." Sam says slowly and clearly.

"Sam," Dean replies, anunciating right back at his brother. "Where the hell are we?"

"The hospital, man. You passed out in the cemetery." Sam's brow furrows deeply. "Do you remember?"

Dean spies Sam's hand slowly reaching out – for some forehead touching or some pulse taking or some other nonsense that does not need to happen at this juncture. He smacks Gigantor's mitt away. "Of course, I remember! That doesn't explain why you brought me here!"

"Dude, why the hell wouldn't I bring you here? Your temp jumped a bunch of degrees and you started mumbling about a Dr. Sexy!"

"That's only because it's Thursday!" Dean shouts furiously. It's obvious he thinks this explanation should clear everything right up.

"And there you go not making any sense again. Get out of the car, Dean, now."

Dean lowers his voice as a pair of paramedics stroll by the car. "Shhh! Sam, it makes sense…"

"Enlighten me!" Sam huffs.

Dean's already flushed pallor deepens close to a plum in his embarrassment. "Thursday… it's on TV tonight, "Dr. Sexy" is on."

"Dr. Sexy…" Sam stares in disbelief.

"Yeah," Dean confirms, leaning back against the seat. Now that they've stopped yelling, it is like Dean's body remembers it isn't feeling that great, the shivering regaining momentum.

"You watch a show called "Dr. Sexy"?"

"Yes, no...sometimes." Dean flusters, "Nothing else is on that night."

"Maybe they'll have it on the waiting room." Sam says, nodding to the building.

"Shut up, Sam."

"Hey, you're the one who is excited to get home for a soap opera."

"It's not a-" Dean stops talking abruptly and flips Sam off instead. "Look, I'm not going in, so unless you want to continue to abuse the fire lane, I suggest you get us back to the motel."

His tone has that and-you-can't-make-me air to it that makes Sam want to punch him. Punch him unconscious and then have doctors look at him.

"People get sick, dude. They don't go to the hospital every single time."

And Sam knows Dean is right – normal people get sick, stock up on OTC meds, maybe call in sick from work. They go see their family doctor. But Sam and Dean have never had normal, have never called in sick to work. As far as Sam knows, they've never had a family doctor. So, he's far from convinced that he's doing the right thing as he pulls the Impala out of the emergency drop off area and drives back to the motel.

Sam literally has to drag his brother's carcass into the room, dropping him on top of the bed while he goes back out to the car to get a bucket of ice from the machine and some more fluids. When he comes back, Dean has stripped himself down to just his boxers, leaving them in a sweaty pile on the floor. Sam's not surprised, Dean does know the drill, after all – and just because he's refusing to go to the hospital doesn't mean he's not going to take care of himself.

He is bleeding down his face, however, and he hasn't seemed to noticed.

Sam grabs a tissue from the box on the nightstand and presses it against the long scratch, putting a reassuring hand on Dean's shoulder when his brother startles. Sam winces at the heat.

"W-what?" Dean asks, his teeth chattering as soon as he parts his lips to speak.

"I think the sunglasses scratched you when you went down. You owe me a new pair, by the way."

"I'm sure I can find you a new pair of Blu-Blockers." Dean jokes.

"Hey, don't knock the free shipping and handling," Sam shoots back with a grin. The grin soon falls, though, replaced by worried lip-biting when he feels the tiny tremors going on beneath his hand. "We need to take your temp."

"Already did." That's when Sam notices the grey case of the first aid kit blending in with the grey floral bedspread.


"103.4" Dean says, closing his eyes as a small shudder goes through his whole frame.

"Jesus, Dean." Sam says with a sigh. A worried and exasperated sigh. "So what do you want to do about Jill?"

He tears at the plastic wrapping on the motel cups, dropping a handful of ice cubes into one of them, listening to the creak and crackling of the frozen ice as the bottled water poured over it.

"Don't think you should go in alone, if that's what you're thinking."

Sam opens his mouth to argue, but Dean cuts him off. "Look, you're talking about digging six feet in the cemetery the spirit haunts. She's not going to wait until she's doused in kerosene to start causing a ruckus."

"Fine, but I should at least keep an eye on the place. Since that kid died there, it is like begging more teens to dare each other."

Dean stares at Sam for a long moment, as if assessing whether Sam's "keeping an eye on the place" still includes a lot of digging. After all the crap they've dealt with over the years, though, trust has gotten back to where it should be. Something in Sam's chest warms considerably when Dean just nods.

Still - the idea of leaving Dean alone for a few hours when he's as sick as he is just doesn't sit right with him.

"Maybe you should come with."

"Are you serious?" Dean asks, chills vibrating each syllable. "Need me to hold your hand?"

Sam snorts. "Yeah, exactly that. Look, you can lay down in the back, sleep or play whatever music you want. Just, do this for me, okay? You know that if I was as bad off as you are, you wouldn't leave me alone."

"Ugh. Whatever. We leave at 10pm."

Neither of them acknowledge out loud that that's when "Dr. Sexy" ends.

Sam spends the next couple of hours watching his half-naked brother trying desperately to get comfortable. The lights get turned off when it becomes apparent that Dean's head is giving him a sound thrashing, and in the dim flickering that strobes forth from the TV, Sam sees his older brother grimacing in pain and clutching alternately at his joints.

While the medical drama winds down to a close, Sam pours coffee into the battered aluminum thermos that is older than he is, then repacks the cooler with plenty of fluids to hydrate Dean. He wants to let his brother stay here, stretched out on a somewhat comfortable bed – wants it so bad he even considers the both of them just staying in, but neither is really an option. They always do what it is necessary. Necessary generally sucks balls – this is no different.

Dean shuffles out the door like an old man, bundled in Sam's black hoodie and still shivering, hands pulled inside the sleeves; Sam follows close behind, eyes tracking every sway and stagger. The softer blanket from the room is thrown over Sam's shoulder and he's already tossed a couple of pillows in the car. It is unseasonably chilly weather for a late spring night in Iowa, a gleeful meteorologist implying the temperatures might manage to hit a low in the late 30s – and Sam isn't such a bastard that he's going to make Dean sit out there in a t-shirt.

Tucked into the backseat, Dean tries to let the throaty rumble of the old girl soothe him to slumber while Zeppelin is helping out with the lullaby. Sam pushes fluids on him constantly and he's sweating them out just as steadily, the hoodie beginning to feel soggy against his skin. He must be sleeping part of the time, because he keeps having vivid dreams that are placing him right back on Alastair's table, his skin sticking to frozen metal, peeling off down to the muscle as he tries to free himself. He frees his arm and all his skin of his arm, like a fleshy dishwashing glove, is left in a rubbery pile next to him, steaming into the cold air.

His eyes snap open and Sam's concerned face is inches from his own. The deep pain in his arm is explained by the grip his brother has on it, his fingers enclosed tightly around his swollen elbow joint.

"You with me?" he asks.

"Yeah, think so." Dean croaks out, his throat dry.

"You were moaning." Sam offers as an explanation, along with the water. Dean takes the bottle, but his stomach's beginning to complain – the bile inching its way up to collect sourly at the back of his mouth, so he only sips enough to wet his mouth and remove some of the bitter taste.

Sam presses a hand up against his brother's head and grimaces, not only at the increase in temperature that is glaringly obvious even to his fingertips, but the fact that the hair which had been previously damp was now drying, the skin arid.

"You're not sweating, dude. This is bad. Drink!" Sam says vehemently, tearing off the blanket, trying to remain impassive when his brother begins shivering even more violently.

There is laughter and yelling outside, the tell-tale sounds of teenagers out on the prowl.

"Fucking great timing." Sam mutters.

Sam scrambles out of the car, grabbing one of the shotguns in case the ghost shows up and patting down his pocket, reassured by the familiar square shape of his fake badge in his pocket. "Hands up!"

The group of teens collectively shits a brick. Two of them run away, three of them drop their cans of spray paint. One girl with a black bob and horn-rimmed glasses stands there holding out her spray can like pepper spray. "It was you, wasn't it? You killed Jonathan!"

She's shaking like a leaf, eyes welling with tears. Great. Sam Winchester strikes fear into the hearts of teen girls everywhere. "Miss, I'm with the police department. We're just making the rounds out here to ensure that no one else is hurt. Please, drop the…spray paint."

Two of the boys in the group begin snickering, and Sam's not sure if it is nervous snickering or maybe they are just dicks laughing at their friend, until one of them opens their mouth.

"What's wrong with your partner?" the taller of the two asks.

Sam turns around to see that Dean's stumbled out of the car, and even in the moonlight it isn't hard to see why. The color that remains in his face flees like it was in Pamplona for the running of the bulls, leaving behind only a queasy grey-green in its stead.

Dean belches behind his hand. "Arggnngh. Don't do drugs, dude." Sam makes a move to go over to him, but he motions to stay put. "Here's how it's gonna go, kids. You're gonna get the hell out of here. Party anywhere but here. Make sure you tell all your little friends. Not for a week. Got it?"

"Dude, rogue cops!" the smaller of the boys loudly whispers to the other excitedly.

Sam laughs. Laughs harder still when the excitement drops from their faces at the sight of Dean taking out his gun. The entire group takes off in a sprint toward the exit.

"One week!" Dean yells into the night.

Then he pukes all over himself.

::: ::: :::

Sam nearly drags Dean back to the hospital right then, probably should have, but the reality was that any one of those drunk teens might have ended up at the emergency room that evening telling fanciful tales of a tall man with a sick compatriot and a muscle car. Instead, he bundles him into the car and breaks every speed limit on the way back to the motel. He grabs one of the dinette chairs and sits Dean on it in the shower stall under a spray of tepid water.

"Fuck!" Dean bends forward to shield himself against the cold and ache and utter misery, the sound of each retch echoing off of the tile as he continues to dehydrate. In between there is a lot of swearing and a lot of assurances that Sam is every bit the asshole he feels like he's being. Of course, he wouldn't have to be an asshole if Dean was in a hospital with an IV in his arm.

But the fever lowers and finally breaks after two more days. Sam tells himself that means they handled it right, but even so – there's that deep down nagging feeling that this isn't over.

It takes a further two days after Dean's temp is back down to normal for him to even walk around, never mind be able to provide back-up in the cemetery as Sam digs up Jillian Malloy in the middle of the night. Dean only has to fire one round of salt at the bitch, the rebound on the shotgun nearly landing him on his considerably weakened ass.

To his credit, Dean does go see some local doctor without much prompting at all. The guy doesn't seem very concerned and Sam supposed he wouldn't be either – Dean looks healthy enough now. Except Sam had been there, had seen how very sick Dean had been. The physician doesn't seem to think either bout of illness is connected, however, much more willing to peg the second instance on walking around for hours upon hours in the sunshine. Once again, Sam's not so sure – both the Winchester boys long trained in how to manage their fluid intake. As his brother is quick to remind him, however, Sam's not the one with the medical degree.

After kicking around Bobby's for a couple of days, Sam's can't justify not hunting – especially when Dean's obviously fine. In those few days that he tries to get Dean to rest, they end up running the old obstacle course their dad had set up around the salvage yard. Bobby's laughing at them from his front porch, a perfect view of Sam getting one of his huge feet stuck in a spare tire and falling flat on his face. That's encouragement enough to find a hunt.

::: ::: :::

There's a skinwalker in Winner, South Dakota. Dean makes jokes about that for hours and it isn't even one of the funnier town names they've come across. He stops laughing when Sam shows him his empty wallet; they're in between credit cards right now. They are either going to hustle enough for a room tonight or end up sleeping in the car. Luckily enough, right outside of the Winner Regional Airport, there's a sports bar – pool, darts, and poker in the back room. Burly bikers comparing the new and shiny parts on their Harleys give low whistles of appreciation when the Impala pulls into the lot.

Sam's always been better at darts than pool and he's drawn to the hexagonal boards like a moth to the flame. Dean grins widely as his younger brother crosses the smoky darkness of the bar and plays his cards right – not only managing to get a busty brunette to slide a free shot his way, but sweet talking his way into a game of Mulligan with no money down. Dean has enough money in his own wallet to bankroll a game or two of pool and that's all he's ever needed to get folks intrigued enough to start challenging him.

He's not sure exactly when the simple plan that has worked so many times before goes askew. In the roar of two-for-one beer night, Dean plays his first game displaying an obnoxious amount of bravado and then loses spectacularly. But this is what he always does. It is usually enough to leave a few people with the impression that he's an easy win, this time is no different. The second game, he usually plays pretty close – and it all depends on what kind of challenger he's got whether he wins or loses.

It wasn't close at all. A scrawny guy with tobacco-stained teeth slams him from start to finish, and what's worse is Dean doesn't know why. His opponent is a mediocre pool player at best.

The bar is packed – the smell of cigarettes and sweat, bodies pressing in on him from all sides as he tries to play his third game. His boots keep skidding on peanut shells as he steps around the green felt table, or at least that's what he tells himself when he keeps on losing his balance. Brightly colored billiard balls roll across tables all around him, the noise blending into a tremulous thunder before they snap against each other with a startling crack. The sound is lancing into Dean's brain like a bayonet.

He wants to tell himself that maybe it is just too much noise and too much smoke. When he reaches out to aim his shot, however, a chill runs up his arms that causes his sweaty hands to slip so hard on his cue that the ball bounces off of the table.

Reality starts to sink in. That doctor was fucking wrong.

Dean's not entirely sure how to get out of this game without looking like he's trying to stiff his opponent, though, and the other reality is that they need the money.

While he's trying to mull this situation over, his eyes scan the crowd for the top of Sam's shaggy head. The entire room seems to pulse in and outward with each blink of his eyes – and without knowing precisely how, he's falling backwards.

"Whoa, buddy, why don't you sit down a second, okay?" A kind grizzled face sits him down into a barstool and before he knows it there's a glass of water in front of him.

Dean swallows hard, the room still swimming around him in circles that rival carny rides. Closing his eyes, he leans forward on the bar. He hears of the voice of the helpful man asking, "You need me to call someone?"

::: ::: :::

Sam just got challenged to a sixth game of darts. There's a line of people just itching to take him on and he's willing to take all comers. A group of girls all nursing the same blue drink are pouting and putting their boyfriends' money up against him (every single one of the women winking at him when they think the others aren't looking). So, he's surprised when he looks down and sees a tough looking chick who reminds him a lot of Pamela gently tugging on his sleeve. The girls at the other table begin pouting when this newcomer waves Sam downward, motioning that she has something to say. That's when he notices she's wearing an apron.

"You Sam?" she shouts over the din.

Sam nods, beginning to search the crowd for a spiky-topped head of hair as if he knows what's coming next.

"He asked someone to get you."

The crowd automatically makes way for the large man being led to where his brother is hunched in on himself. Dean is still several feet away and already Sam knows what's going on. He immediately thanks the bartender and the bearded man who was sitting with him, asks if he can use the fire exit or if there's a backdoor in the kitchen, because it'll be easier to get him outside.

Sam gathers Dean up, feels the heat and the sweat and the ceaseless quaking.

"What the fuck, Sam? What the fuck?" Dean asks, clearly pissed at the situation he keeps finding himself in and very nearly whining about it.

"Yeah, I know," is the only reply Sam has, because this is just as ridiculous to him.

They cross the gravel parking lot and Sam sits his older brother down on the passenger seat, already tugging at the various layers Dean was wearing inside the bar. And once again, he feels like he should have seen this coming.

But what he frees from the sleeve of Dean's jacket and flannel, neither of them sees coming.

A bruising rash, blood beneath the surface of the skin, just speckles in some places and large wine-colored blotches in others, covers Dean's right arm – from his wrist all the way up to the swollen joint of his shoulder.

"What the fuck, Dean?" Sam shouts, but his older brother is staring in disbelief right along with him.

Dean blinks as if the markings on his arm will clear up any minute.

"Okay, okay… Okay." Sam says, unsure if he's repeating the word for his brother's sake or his own. "We're gonna take care of this."

Every inch of Dean's skin has returned to the agony that occurred with last two bouts of whatever it was that was kicking his ass, especially his joints, especially his right shoulder – which was always the bad shoulder. Sweat stings as it drips into his eyes; he leans his head on the ledge left by the car's open window. Dean can hear Sam on the phone with Bobby asking for directions to the hospital and can't bring himself to fight his brother on it this time. He feels much too sick, hurts way too much – and it is interfering with everything. He sees the signs of the hospital up ahead and lets himself give in completely, the fever melting him into a puddle of woozy exhaustion.

::: ::: :::

"-ink he's waking up, Bobby, I'll talk to you later."

There's a hand squeezing his left arm gently, a Gigantor hand if he ever felt one.


Dean opens his eyes, hoping for something more than the confusion his other senses are presenting him with. Antiseptic odors assault his nostrils, grounding him with the awareness that he is in the hospital. Everything hurts. The light seems too bright and he squints until he can make out the fuzzy shape of Sam. "Hey."

There's a shadow over his face for a moment and then the light over his bed clicks to a lower setting. "That better?"

Dean nods. "How long?"

"Six hours. You're doing better. Fever's down."

"Why?" He wants to specify certain things here, but his mind is far too foggy to grasp hold.

"Short answer – the dog. I think, anyway."

Dean yawns, and even the stretch of his jaw is painful. "..lost me."

"Got bit by a tick, dude." Sam nods up to the IV that is busily flooding Dean with several bags of medication - antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, fluids. "You should be fine after the meds."

A vivid memory - what his arm looked like the last time he saw it and he flips out a little with the blankets, trying to see if it still looks like he has an appendage rotting off, relieved to see the rash has receded a bit. "Dude, that shit looked like Ebola."

Sam snorts, but you can tell he doesn't really find it that funny. "You're not kidding."

Sam has just enough time to tell Dean what insurance they're using before his lids close heavily.

::: ::: :::
::: ::: :::

Three days of IV antibiotics have to course through his body before Dean is set free and they drive back to Bobby's. Two large amber pharmacy vials end up using most of the money Sam hustled – horse pills if Dean's ever seen them. A month long course of antibiotics that Sam nags him to take everyday – not because he thinks Dean would forget, but because that's the dance they do. The doctors tell him that he'll want to get a follow-up for arthritis if the swollen joints don't simmer down after all the meds are gone. It is only a few weeks later, though, that Dean is anxious to get back on the road. Aside from the aches and the occasional pins and needles, the fact that Sam is constantly trying to smear Bengay on him, there's no sign he was ever sick.

Dean is sorting through some parts in the salvage yard, looking for the fanbelt he needs when Sam comes trotting up to him with his afternoon beer and dose of doxycycline.

"Bobby says there's a black dog a hundred miles north of here." Sam says, twisting the cap off his own drink.

Dean raises an eyebrow at him and without a word walks over to where the Impala is parked, opens the trunk.

Sam follows close behind. "I take it we're taking the case," he says, watching as Dean starts checking the weapons.

"We're low on iron rounds. All set for salt." Dean says, making a mental list of what they'll need to pack. "He sure it's an actual black dog, or we going to end up playing Pound Puppies again?"

"He's sure." Sam takes a long pull off of his bottle. "You think supernatural dogs have supernatural ticks?"

Dean loads the sawed off and whips the barrels back into place with a satisfying snap. "Lucky us. We have supernatural tick repellent."

Still, Sam packs some regular tick repellent along with two boxes of freshly consecrated iron rounds. Dean pulls a cash advance off of one of the new credit cards.

After this hunt is over, they're going to the right Vegas.

the end

A/N: The ailment - for those of the medically curious persuasion - is tick-borne relapsing fever.