"You'll never guess who I saw at the museum..." Dean told Sam one minute into his drive back to the hotel, sounding like a gossiping old woman who had seen her reclusive neighbor at the grocery store and just had to tell someone about it.

But Sam, of course, didn't guess.

Because Sam was unconscious.

Was undoubtedly sprawled on the floor of their hotel room if Dean had to predict the kid's location.

Was being consumed by fever right this fucking second even as Dean raced to reach him.

Was silently burning and slowly slipping away.

But was still breathing...

Thank god...still breathing.

Dean could hear him over the phone.

In and out...

In and out...

The slow, shallow, steady sound was reassuring and grounding and the only thing keeping Dean from completely losing his shit right now.

Because Dean should already be at the hotel; should never have left Sam by himself.

Sam had been sick and feverish...and was now unconscious and unresponsive...and Dean should fucking be there.

But no.

Dean had left; had convinced himself it was safe to leave Sam for no more than an hour and was now living one version of a big brother's nightmare – a sick little brother needing help while Dean was still nine fucking minutes away from him.

Dean clenched his jaw – freshly pissed at himself, at this entire situation – and pressed harder on the gas pedal; knowing the Impala was already running at maximum speed but desperate for her to go faster.

She tried.

The classic Chevy's engine revved with the extra jolt of fuel and then evened out at a marginally faster speed.

Dean nodded his approval, smoothing his hand over the steering wheel in silent praise of his best girl, and then refocused on the only thing he loved more than their dad's old muscle car – Sammy.

Dean twitched a smile at the thought of him. "Sam..." he called, because it just made him feel better to say the kid's name.

Sam answered him the only way he could, breathing in and out.

Dean chuckled tiredly. "I sure am glad you faceplanted beside your phone, man..."

Because if Dean wasn't able to hear his brother inhale and exhale, if Dean didn't know that Sam was breathing, he would...

Dean shook his head, unable to finish the thought because he didn't know what he would do if he thought Sam was already gone.

And he didn't want to think about it.

Because there was still a danger that the fever might take Sam...that the trials might take Sam.

After all, there was one more trial to complete.

And only Sam could do it.

The only way out was through.

Dean sighed and shook his head again, tightening his grip around his phone; his hand and arm aching from having held it to his ear since Sam had called over ten minutes ago.

And speaking of time...

Dean glanced at his watch.

Eight more minutes to go before he reached the hotel.

Maybe less since the Impala was fucking flying down the highway.

If a cop tried to stop him, then the cop would be shit of out luck.

Because Dean wasn't stopping – he had a backseat full of melting ice and an unconscious little brother to save.

Everything else could fuck off.

Dean nodded and glanced over his shoulder at the bags of ice piled on top of each other, relieved that they were still more solid than liquid.

Which was good since Dean would need every single cube of ice in the bathtub...

Dean nodded once more. "I've got ice," he announced to Sam. "Six bags in the backseat with your name on 'em." He paused. "So, guess what that means?"

Sam breathed.

In and out...

In and out...

"That's right," Dean confirmed as if Sam had actually spoken. "It's bath time for Sammy."

And wasn't that going to be fun?

Dean knew from experience that Sam was all legs and all arms all over the place when the kid was unconscious.

Picking him up was like trying to wrestle with an octopus.

So, good times ahead...

Dean sighed.

Checked his speed, checked his watch.

Still flying down the highway like a proverbial bat out of hell with seven minutes to go...

"I know you're not gonna like it..." Dean continued about Sam's impending ice bath, glancing to his rearview and then back to the road. "But it's the only way, man. I mean...I don't know how high your fever is yet...but I think it's the only way."

Even though basic first aid warned against doing that – warned against plunging an overheated body into ice due to the risk of causing shock from transitioning so quickly from one extreme to another.

Plus, there was the fact that while submerging a person in ice would decrease body temperature, doing so would also lead to shivering...which in turn would just raise the person's temperature again.

And 'round and 'round you went – too hot, too cold...too hot, too cold.

Dean sighed, suddenly uncertain about what he planned to do, about how he planned to handle this situation.

Because Sam's life literally depended on the choice Dean made, and that would never get easier.

But desperate times called for desperate measures...and Dean was desperate – was so fucking desperate.

Battling for Sam always made him feel that way.

Dean swallowed and flexed his hand – a nervous gesture of splaying his fingers out and then slowly curling them back around the steering wheel as he continued to drive while his other hand continued to cramp from holding the phone.

But Dean didn't care.

No way in hell was he hanging up.

Not when Sam had called him.

Not when Dean needed to hear Sam breathing on the opposite end of the line until he could actually see the kid for himself.

Dean's hand would just have to cramp and tingle because he was staying on the phone with his brother even if their conversation was one-sided.

Dean nodded and sighed.



Speed check, time check.

The Impala was still traveling at topped-out speed.

And Dean had six minutes before he was back at the hotel, back to Sam.

"I'm taking your temperature when I get there..." Dean warned his brother, was glad he had tucked the thermometer in his kit before they had left the Batcave; was glad he had brought it along on this trip even though Sam had refused it earlier.

But now the kid had no choice.

Dean was taking his temperature.

And if Sam's fever was as high as Dean suspected it was, then he would make his little brother an instant member of the Polar Bear Club and would just deal with the consequences.

Hell, they had towels at the hotel – lots of towels.

So, Dean would be ready; would be standing by the bathtub ready to wrap Sam with as many towels as the kid needed once he was awake.

Dean would make sure this was done safely, that Sam was cooled down and then warmed up so his temperature would regulate...or at least would regulate as much as it could when under attack from a supernaturally-fueled fever.

On the opposite end of the line, Sam breathed.

In and out...

In and out...

Dean smiled.

His kid brother was a fucking rock star with this breathing routine.

"Keep it up, Sammy..." Dean encouraged. "You're doing good, man. And I'm coming. I swear I'm coming..."

Because it felt like Dean was never going to get there.


Dean glanced at his watch.

"I'm five minutes away, Sammy..."

Though, maybe it was even less because the diner Dean had just passed was only three minutes from the hotel.

He knew that because he had gotten lunch there earlier and had brought it back to their room...for whatever that had been worth since Sam hadn't eaten his.

Dean frowned at the memory, vaguely wondering if that was why Sam had passed out – low blood sugar.

It was possible...but not likely.

If Sam hadn't passed out from three days of not eating, then it was doubtful that he had lost consciousness due to skipping lunch.

But still...

"You're gonna start eating again, Sam..." Dean informed his brother, his gaze flickering from windshield to rearview and back again. "I mean it. If I bring food or cook food, then you're gonna fucking eat it. You hear me?"

Because Dean didn't want to be a nagging motherhen, but this shit was ridiculous.

Sam was getting too thin.

And a guy Sam's height couldn't afford to be too thin.

It wasn't healthy, and Dean wasn't tolerating it anymore.

So there...

Dean nodded, having no problem enforcing his authority as big brother.

On the other end of the phone, Sam breathed.

In and out...

In and out...

"Good job, Sammy..." Dean praised, his chest tightening as he realized how bad things were if you were praising your brother for breathing.

But yeah, that was their life now.

And so fucking what?

Dean would praise Sam for breathing if he wanted to.

"Damn right I will..." Dean muttered, agreeing with his own inner dialogue. "Good job, Sammy..." he repeated to his breathing little brother and then blinked when he passed the corner grocery store.

Because a time check told him that he should be four minutes away from the hotel, but Dean knew that grocery store was only two minutes from the parking lot.

Dean smiled, feeling a brief wave of relief, and proudly patted the Impala's dash before resuming his grip on the steering wheel.

Because he also knew that the only reason he was getting back to Sam two minutes earlier than expected was because his best girl was running like a thoroughbred jacked up on...

Well...whatever thoroughbreds got jacked up on.

Dean shrugged.

He didn't know.

And that didn't matter.

What mattered was that Dean's car was fucking awesome and had once again come through for him – just like family.

Dean smiled, listening to his other family – his only family – breathe in his ear; Sam's exhalations sounding like a breeze blowing through the phone.

"I'm almost there, Sammy..." Dean told his brother as he drove. "I can see the hotel sign."

And he could.

It was right there on the horizon.

Which meant Dean was this close to his brother.

"Almost there..." Dean repeated and then sighed. "I think I'm going to get one of those cart things to load the ice and bring it up," he commented, still talking into the phone like Sam could hear him. "You know, one of those bellman cart things, or whatever..."

Dean wasn't really sure what they were called, but he knew Sam would know what he was talking about.

Because this is how it worked between them – Dean brainstorming aloud while Sam filled in the gaps and corrected his vocabulary and eventually either nodded or shook his head, depending on Dean's idea.

But Dean knew that Sam would be nodding right now since this idea was a good one.

Dean nodded as well, liking the idea himself.

It would certainly be the easiest and quickest way; the only way Dean could carry all six bags of ice in one trip and not have to leave Sam.

Because that wasn't an option – once Dean was back with Sam, he was not leaving the kid again.

On his end of the phone, Sam breathed.

In and out...

In and out...

Dean took it as an agreement.

"Alright," he told his brother. "That's what I'll do. Good thing we're staying in a place nice enough to have those cart things, huh?"

Dean smiled and turned left into the hotel's parking lot.

"Okay, Sammy. I'm here," Dean announced, roughly braking and snatching the keys from the ignition, knowing the Impala would forgive him.

After all, this was for Sam – the Chevy's second favorite Winchester.

Giving a quick check to the bags of ice still piled in the backseat, Dean opened the driver's side door, then slammed it behind him as he jogged up the sidewalk.

"The eagle has landed," Dean joked into the phone, knowing Sam would've rolled his eyes if the kid had been awake.

But Sam only breathed.

That precious, rhythmic sound that had been Dean's lifeline ever since the big brother had answered Sam's call back at the museum.

Dean smiled, suddenly overwhelmed with the urge to cry but quickly shook it off.

Because there wasn't time for that – emotions would have to wait.

He was here now.

And Sam needed him.

He had a job to do.

And he was damn well going to do it.

Dean nodded, pulling open the hotel door and entering the lobby; momentarily pausing as his gaze swept the area, looking for a luggage cart.

He didn't see one.

Dean sighed. "Where would they be, Sam?" he asked his unconscious brother laying on the floor upstairs.

Because that was the kind of shit Sam always seemed to instinctively know.

Sam breathed in response.

"You're no help," Dean grumbled good-naturedly and then saw what he was looking for – a luggage cart in the room behind the check-in desk.

Dean nodded.

"Yahtzee," he quipped and crossed the lobby. "I found one," he told his brother, keeping Sam informed over the phone.

Seconds later, Dean was pulling the cart from the room, attracting the attention of the hotel manager who seemingly appeared out of nowhere.

Fast and quiet like a ninja but creepy and mysterious like...

Well, like a Scooby-Doo villain.

It seemed loopy Sam had pegged that pretty good.

Dean narrowed his eyes at Dr. Scowly-Scowl, remembering the old photograph at the museum and reminded that they needed to find out more about this guy's link to the sacred messenger.

But first, Dean needed to save his little brother...

"I'm taking this," Dean told Dr. Scowly-Scowl and offered no other explanation for going behind the check-in desk like he owned the place.

Predictably, Dr. Scowly-Scowl said nothing; only watched as Dean maneuvered the cart with one hand while still holding his phone to his ear with the other.

"And, ah...I'll be back down to chat later," Dean added dryly, glancing over his shoulder at the hotel manager. "I have some questions for you..."

But like everything else, those questions would have to wait until Sam was okay.

Speaking of...

"Alright, Sammy..." Dean called into the phone, backing out of the hotel door and pulling the cart with him. "I'm gettin' the ice and then I'm comin' up...and then it's rubber ducky time."

Dean quirked a smile, approaching the Impala and imagining Sam's unamused expression if his brother had been awake to hear Dean use that phrase – the one they used to refer to toddler Sam's bath time.

Dean's smile lingered, needing something to distract him from the dread he felt at what awaited upstairs in their room, and listened to Sam breathe over the phone as he loaded the bags of ice on the cart.

Hardly a minute later, Dean was stepping off the elevator.

"I'm here, Sam..." Dean told his brother, walking down the hallway of their floor while pushing the cart in front of him.

Sam breathed.

In and out...

In and out...

And within seconds, Dean not only heard Sam...he saw him.


Dean swallowed as he stood in the doorway of their room, having expected to feel better not worse when he finally laid eyes on his brother.

But Sam looked bad – was sweaty and pale with the flush of fever on his cheeks and around his eyes and...

"Okay..." Dean sighed, trying to draw his attention away from everything that was wrong and instead focus on what he had to do to make it right.

Dean nodded and ended the call, tossing his phone on his bed as he pushed the luggage cart into the room and kicked the door shut behind him.


Sam didn't respond.

Dean didn't expect him to.

At this point, as long as Sam kept breathing, Dean would be happy.

And Sam did.

In and out...

In and out...

Dean crouched beside his brother, his gaze traveling the length of Sam's body before he brushed damp bangs aside to briefly palm Sam's forehead, then cup his jaw.

"Jesus..." Dean quietly swore, because his kid was burning up.

Was uncomfortable to touch and had a pulse that was fucking galloping beneath Dean's fingers as he pressed them against Sam's neck.

Dean sighed, feeling his own heart hammer in his chest.

"Okay, Sammy. Okay..."

Dean stood, crossing to the bathroom.

"I got this, man. I got you. Just hang on..."

Sam breathed, oblivious to Dean sealing the drain in the tub and turning the faucet full blast; cold water rushing forth, splattering against the bottom and sides.

Dean held his fingers under the flow, nodding his approval at the freezing water, and then wiped his hand on his jeans as he turned to the sink, grabbing his kit from the counter and snatching the thermometer from inside.

"Guess who's getting their temperature taken..." Dean sing-songed as he crossed back to Sam still sprawled on the floor in the main room.

Sam had no guesses.

"That's right," Dean praised as if Sam had answered correctly. "You."

And with that, Dean was crouched beside his brother again; carefully parting Sam's lips with the tip of the thermometer, then pointing it slightly down to gently maneuver under Sam's tongue.

"Feels right..." Dean commented, having done this before, and then pressed the button to start the thermometer while holding it in place.

Dean sighed, watching Sam breathe; listening to the tub fill with water in the bathroom behind him.

"I say 105, maybe 106..." Dean predicted about Sam's temperature as the thermometer continued its own measurements and calculations.

Sam didn't weigh in with his prediction; he just breathed.

In and out...

In and out...

Dean glanced around the room, then back to his brother.

The tub continued to fill with water in the next room.

Dean shifted, his legs beginning to ache from crouching like this.

"Oh. Hey..." Dean called, suddenly remembering what he had originally wanted to tell Sam when he had first started the drive back to the hotel. "Guess who I saw at the museum..."

Dean paused, not for Sam to reply but to instead check the thermometer still doing its temperature reading thing.

Which seemed to be taking too long, but whatever...

Dean shrugged. "Anyway...there's apparently more to the hotel manager than meets the eye," he confided to Sam. "There was this old picture at the museum...we're talking hundreds of years old...and our friend Dr. Scowly-Scowl was in it looking just like he does now."

Sam breathed, unimpressed.

Dean continued. "The guy at the museum was saying that this place is the home on earth to the Great Spirit's sacred messenger and how that messenger wanted stories, and just...I don't know. I'm thinking maybe this hotel manager guy is somehow linked. Maybe linked to Metatron? Maybe..."

Dean's voice trailed off as the thermometer beeped.

"Finally..." Dean grumbled, carefully pulling it from Sam's mouth and then frowning at the temperature flashing at him from the tiny screen. "One hundred and seven?" he blurted.

Because at 108, people fucking die, Sam.

What the hell?

"Shit..." Dean hissed, tossing the thermometer on his bed as he stood; his sense of urgency instantly renewed.

But Sam was unfazed, just laying there...breathing.

In and out...

In and out...

Dean swallowed, realizing what a miracle that was with a fever of 107.


Dean's attention flickered to the bathroom, hearing the water continue to fill the tub, and then reached for the luggage cart still loaded with bags of ice beginning to drip on the carpet.

"Be right back, Sammy..." Dean told his brother, pushing the cart around Sam and into the bathroom; turning the faucet to shut off the water and then tearing the plastic bags open with both hands; dumping the ice into the tub.

Seconds later, Dean was back in the main room; shoving the cart to the corner and crossing to Sam for the final part of this.

Dean sighed.

And now for the next event – octopus wrestling.

Dean shook his head, once again crouching beside Sam; one hand reaching for Sam's arms, while the other reached for Sam's legs.

"You know..." Dean began, leaning slightly forward to lower his shoulder. "This was a hell of a lot easier when you were little..."

Dean smiled at the memory of Sam being short and scrawny and having hands that fit inside Dean's grasp.

"But now..." Dean continued, draping Sam's body over his shoulder and wincing as he lifted his brother in a fireman carry. "Now you're fucking huge..."

But light...

Shockingly light.

Thinner and lighter than he had been in years, and Dean frowned at the realization.

Because yeah, he knew Sam hadn't been eating, but shit...

This was easier than it should've been.

Dean could feel Sam's ribs against his shoulder as he carried the kid into the bathroom.

Dean shook his head, instantly over this hunger strike routine Sam had going on these past few weeks.

"You are definitely eating when you wake up..." Dean told his brother, swallowing a grunt as he braced himself and lowered Sam into the tub, the ice water sloshing as Sam sank.

Dean followed his brother down as far as he could, being careful with Sam's arms and legs; his hand hovering between Sam's head and the edge of the tub until Sam was completely submerged – was nothing but a blur of color beneath the water.

Dean swallowed, his heart hammering in his chest; his gaze alternating between his watch and his brother.

Because this had to work...but it had to work quickly.

After all, Sam couldn't breathe underwater.

Seconds passed.

"C'mon, Sammy..." Dean encouraged, standing beside the tub while he waited.

Waited to succeed as he battled fire with ice...

FIN...since I think we all know what happens next. ;)