They were somewhere near Cedar Rapids, bruised and battered by a run-in with what they'd thought was a ghost, then decided was probably just a coyote, then agreed was definitely, definitely a ghost with a mean streak after Sam got thrown clear into a pond. Well. Dean said pond, Sam said lake. That didn't matter. What mattered was that the edges were rimmed with crusty ice, and Sam was wearing his usual sixteen heavy flannel layers, so by the time he hauled himself back onto dry land Dean was just finishing up the salt'n'burn. Dean was nursing a wrenched shoulder and lower back and Sam looked like a drowned grey rat and they didn't talk except to spit out curses the whole way back to the car.
Sam snarled a few that actually made Dean a little proud of him when he insisted his soggy little brother wait for him to line the leather seat with a few big black trash bags before getting in.
Dean figured they were even again when Sam claimed the first shower by using his Sasquatch-bulk to flatten Dean against the motel doorway on the way in. By the time he'd peeled himself off the wall, gasping in air, Sam had the bathroom door swung shut and the water running on high.
Bitch, he thought fondly.
Neither felt like going out and Dean had done a little hustling just a couple days before so they called in an enormous meat-laden pizza and kicked back on their beds with the tv on. Soon enough, Sammy was sprawled out on his back, arms and feet hanging off the bed, snoring like one of those football players in the Nyquil ads. He'd taken some with his pizza, so maybe that fit. Dean tried to roll him over once but Sam just grabbed his arm and cuddled it like a teddy bear, so he gave up and put a pillow over his face and was out like a light.
The pillow fell off, which was why he could smell the smoke.
The acrid smell of burning plastic woke him up sometime in the wee hours of the morning and Dean was out of bed, on his feet before he was fully aware of what he was doing. The air in the room looked a little thick and he could hear a rumbling noise. Hurriedly he pulled on his jeans and stuffed his feet into his boots, and rushed outside.
The next room down's door was open and black smoke billowed out into the night. A teenaged couple staggered out as he watched, clearly panicked.
"Hey!" Dean called, moving towards them. "You two okay?"
The pair looked up at him, still coughing, and blanched. They glanced at each other, then turned tail and sprinted off.
"Wha- hey!" Dean yelled, exasperated. "Did you even call the fire department?"
They rounded the corner of the building and were out of sight.
"Freakin' kids," Dean muttered, and reached into his pocket for his cell phone. It wasn't there. Dammit, must've fallen out on the floor when I kicked off my jeans... Dean eyed the smoke rolling out of the gap between door and its frame. Why the hell wasn't the fire alarm system going off, anyway? And where was a fire extinguisher?
"Hey, you!" A new voice shouted. Dean turned around. An older, overweight man was jogging over as fast as he could, half dressed. "What the hell have you done?"
Dean put his hands up. "Wasn't me, I'm in the room next door. A couple of kids just ran out of there, they probably dropped a cigarette or something. You got a fire extinguisher or a phone? I don't think anyone's called 911 yet."
The man- the manager, he figured- groaned and pulled out a cell phone, stabbing the numbers quickly and walking over to the window to peer in as he started talking to dispatch.
"No, I don't think it's a big fire, I don't see any flames, just smoke..." He kicked the door open wide.
Suddenly, there was a bang. The windows blew out and Dean and the manager threw themselves to the ground to avoid the spray of glass and the spitting flames suddenly shooting out of the broken windows.
"Shit," Dean gasped, picking himself up and holding his ribs. "You sonofabitch, didn't anyone ever tell you you're not supposed to give a fire oxygen?"
The manager was shaking, terrified, as he stared in horror at the flame-filled room. Dean groaned and hauled him to his feet.
"Come on," he said urgently, slapping the man's face. "Come on. We gotta get everybody out, this is gonna spread. Why the hell aren't the smoke alarms going off?"
The manager trembled. "I- I don't know, I just took over this place from my brother-in-law, I don't know when they were put in-"
Dean snarled furiously and shoved the man away. Goddamn idiot. "Just get everybody out, okay? You start on that side and work your way down, I'll get this side."
The manager nodded and hurried down to the next door. Most of the rooms were already open; people had to have heard that bang even if they hadn't smelled the smoke yet, and sleepy-eyed truckers and underdressed girls were clumping nervously in the parking lot. A few had already jumped in their cars and driven off. Just one door on Dean's end was closed- one, and his own.
Dean had just assumed Sam was up and behind him somewhere. He always was, after all. The smell of smoke had been so strong in their room he didn't know how Sam could've slept through it for even another minute.
Except...he could've. He was exhausted from swimming around in that lake with all his heavy clothes, and he took all that Nyquil, the stuff always knocks him out...
Suddenly feeling a clenching grip around his stomach and throat, Dean hurried forward to their door. "Sammy-boy, rise and shine, sleeping beauty!" he called out. The doorknob was scalding hot when he touched it (and oh, shit, don't think about it, don't think about it don't think don't think he's FINE) so he kicked the lock through with one try, then shoved the door open.
A wall of smoke and flame met him, and he had to stagger back.
The room had flashed over already and was completely engulfed. He couldn't make out the shape of the beds, let alone if Sam was still lying in one.
Dean stared, heat searing his face and arms.
Hands were pulling frantically and his arms and shoulders, tugging him back, and there was a horrible screaming that Dean didn't realize until someone accidentally smacked his jaw was coming from his own mouth. Two fire fighters were grappling with him, trying to pull him away from the room.
"Sir, you need to get back- sir, it's too dangerous, you need to get back, there's no-one in there-"
Dean sucked in a breath and choked on a lungful of smoke. "My brother," he coughed. "He's in there. Sam's in there, my brother's- oh my God-"
Another fire fighter came staggering out of the room in time to catch his last words. He flipped up his mask and grabbed Dean by the shoulders, shaking him roughly.
"Sir, no-one is in there. I even checked the bathroom. Your brother's not in there, no-one's inside. He's not in there."
Dean stared at the fire fighter's intent brown-eyed glare. "But-"
"Your brother is not there. Now, you're a big strong guy and I don't want any of my men getting hurt if I order them to haul you out of here, but we can't do our job when you're standing here right in our way. So are you gonna go find your brother or am I gonna have to call a medic to come sedate you?" The fire fighter shook him again. Dean sucked in another breath and it felt like his first in hours.
"Sonofabitch," he breathed. He wrenched his arms out of the hands holding him, spun around and sprinted out into the parking lot. "Sam!" he yelled, scanning the bedraggled knot of people wildly. "Sammy!"
No-one answered. Dean ignored everyone staring at him. So what if he was yelling? They'd already seen his freak-out when he thought Sam was trapped in the building. He scanned the lot again. Sam definitely wasn't there; he was always so easy to pick out of a crowd, given that he usually stood half a foot over it.
Dean forced himself to breathe. He wouldn't be able to do anything if he had a panic attack. No. Calm down. The best thing to do now would be to move the car farther from the building so she wouldn't get any sparks or fire men landing on her, then methodically start combing the area for clues.
When they were little, Dad always said if they got separated, go to the car and wait. Dean made it part of his baby brother's 'if I'm lost' mantra. Follow water, don't eat things in the woods, never give real names, go to the car and wait.
Heart thudding in his throat, Dean balled his hands into fists and ran to the Impala. "Please," he muttered under his breath, not even sure who he was asking. "Please, please, please, please, please..." No-one was in the front, but there wasn't enough light to see through the windows of the back in the dark night, even with the glow of the spreading fire. Dean gritted his teeth and wrenched open the back door.
Castiel peered up at him from the other side of the car, looking vaguely uncomfortable. Sam lay sprawled on his side across the backseat with his knees bent and his feet on the floor and his head in the angel's lap, snoring loudly into Cas' stomach.
Dean dropped to his knees on the pavement.
"Hello," Castiel rasped.
"Hey," Dean said. He felt dazed.
Castiel shifted slightly. Sam snuffled loudly and shifted with him. "Your bags are in the trunk," Castiel told Dean, dropping his voice a little after a glance at Sam's tightly closed eyes. "Sam was feeling...groggy...because of the medicine he's taken, and asked my help to get himself and your belongings into the car while you took care of the fire." He shifted again, looking a little guilty, but Dean could barely spare the angel a glance. His eyes were fixed on his baby brother and that little frowny face Sam always made when he was sleeping off a cold, even when he was still a tiny baby in a blue puppy-patterned onesie. "I heard you calling," Castiel continued with a contrite tone under his voice. "But going to reassure you meant leaving Sam, and even in his unconscious state he seems to be very...resolute...that I not move." Cas shifted again and this time Dean could see that Sam was hugging the angel's legs, his thick arms wrapped determinedly around Cas' thighs to keep his pillow in place.
Dean snorted. Then he chuckled, then suddenly he was laughing. Hysterical, that's was he was, and he knew it, but he couldn't stop laughing even for the tears suddenly streaming down his cheeks. He dropped his head onto Sam's legs, clutching his baby brother's knees as his shoulders shuddered with laughing. Or crying, or whatever the hell the shock was making him do now. When he figured enough snot had dripped onto Sammy's legs and he could probably force back the sobs, Dean scrubbed his face roughly with the fabric of Sam's sweats and sat back on his heels, grinning at his blank-faced angel.
"Thanks, Cas," he said honestly and in a voice only a little gruffer than normal, because it'd only really just hit him that even if Sam had gotten himself to safety, they might've lost everything in their duffle bags and all the weapons they'd carried in.
Cas nodded, his fingers idly playing with a bit of Sam's hair.
Dean thought about letting that be that, but then decided Sam was deep asleep anyway and it's not like Cas would tell- if Castiel had to pick sides he had to go for Dean's, not Sam's- so he crawled into the car. It was a tight fit, with one grown, one overgrown, and one very overgrown man all crammed in there, but he managed, and wriggled up until he was tucked up against Sam's back, pulling the door shut with his toes and looking down into Sam's snotty, red-nosed, frown-creased face. "You stupid sonofabitch," he murmured, rubbing one fingertip along the frown lines between Sam's eyebrows until they smoothed out, just like he always did when Sam was still the littler one.
Sam made a bear-like grumbly noise and flopped a bit until he was pressed up against the warmth of Dean's front. Dean reached over and rubbed his chest a little, just to make sure Sam was breathing fine; he didn't know how much smoke Sam had breathed in before he got out, after all, and with the new cold on top of it... Sam released his grip on Cas' legs with one hand and seized Dean's arm instead, cuddling it to his chest and mumbling happily under his breath. Dean hid his smile in Sam's ruffled hair, watching the frowny-face melt into sleepy relaxation. Sam gave another giant snore and snot bubbled out of his nose.
"Are we going to stay here tonight?" Castiel asked suddenly.
Dean shrugged as well as he could, given that Sam had one of his arms held tight and the rest of him was only just barely squeezed onto the edge of the bench seat. "I'm wide awake so I figured I'd get driving, but Samantha here seems to have other ideas," he sighed dramatically. "We'll get going as soon as Sammy's done with his little cuddle fest."
The noise of the fire and shouting was heavily dulled inside the car, and despite what he'd said about being awake, Sam's warmth and rhythmic breathing (and the adrenaline crash, he figured) were lulling Dean into a doze. Cas shuffled down a little in his seat like he was trying to get more comfortable and Sam grrrrred irritably. Dean rubbed his chest again until he settled.
God, Sammy, he thought with a deep sigh, resting his head against the back of Sam's. What am I gonna do with you?
Rubbing the gentle circles into Sam's chest seemed to stop him snoring so loud so Dean kept it up until he was about ready to start snoring himself and the noise of the fire fighters had all but died away.
"Dean," Cas said suddenly.
Dean groaned a little. "Yeah, Cas?" he asked, glancing up.
Castiel wore the most mournful, woe begotten face Dean had ever seen on him, and for a moment, Dean was stunned. Then Cas opened his mouth.
"Sam is drooling on my legs."