SUMMARY: Tag to 8.21-The Great Escapist. When Sam wouldn't–or couldn't–answer the phone, Dean didn't know why, but he knew it was nothing good. Missing scenes that book-end the ice bath.

SPOILERS: Set late in Season 8. References to canon incidents through 8.21.

DISCLAIMER: The characters of Supernatural belong to Eric Kripke, Jeremy Carver & Co. I am playing in their sandbox, with their toys, with much gratitude.

RATING: T for swearing, including the 'big boy' words, as Jensen once called them.

WORD COUNT: 6K+

GENRE: Gen/Hurt-Comfort

A/N: I loved The Great Escapist, but as with all great things, I wanted more. So did Freya, who asked so nicely that I write something to fill in the blanks surrounding Sam's memorable ice bath. How could I say no? I mean, to write this, I had to force myself to watch that scene over and over.*g* So, for Freya–with many thanks for the encouragement [and the homework!]. A bear hug to the always awesome Harrigan, my beta and technical support–my stories are always better thanks to you. As always, because I can't help myself, I tinkered post-beta so any remaining goofs are mine and mine alone. Also written to fill a "therapy" square in the spn_littlebro Bingo. Enjoy.

107 Degrees

Dean blasted the Impala's horn, forcing the driver of the pickup truck about to cross the intersection in front him to slam on the brakes. He cursed under his breath as he veered sharply into the oncoming lane to avoid a collision, shot a glare at the surprised old man behind the pickup's wheel, then jammed the accelerator to the floor.

The Impala's familiar growl grew louder as she picked up speed. They were clear of town limits now, just an open stretch of two-lane highway between them and the hotel.

And Sam.

His brother had called just as Dean was about to leave the Two Rivers Tribal Museum and Trading Post, but there had been no response no matter how many times he'd yelled Sam's name into the phone. Sam had been out-for-the-count when Dean left for the museum, asleep the second his head hit the pillow. He'd hoped–really hoped–Sam would stay that way until he got back, recharge his batteries to better fight off whatever it was these damn trials were doing to him. But, hey, their luck just didn't roll that way, did it?

Something had happened, but what? Dean snatched up his phone from the seat beside him. "Sammy, this is getting really old. Answer me, man." He'd never hung up after the first connection, hoping Sam would eventually pick up. "Look, if you don't quit dicking around, I swear I will put itching powder in every damn pair of boxers you own."

Even that threat didn't get a response.

"Fuck…." Dean's worry ratcheted up another notch. He dropped the phone back on the seat and silently urged the Impala to go even faster. He was driving almost twice the speed limit but God help any cop who tried to pull him over.

Knowing Sam, he'd woken up and decided he was fit to join in the hunt, even though their little exercise at the bunker's shooting range two weeks earlier had proven just how off his game he was. Healthy, his brother was a crack shot; the way he'd missed the target completely, never mind the way he'd struggled to even hold the gun steady, had scared the crap out of Dean. Scared Sam, too, by the look of things, the true toll of the trials finally impossible for even him to ignore. And that was before he started throwing off heat waves.

"I'm gonna follow the hotel manager–Doc…Dr. Scowly-Scowl. He's like a villain from Scooby-Doo."

The manager had to be tied to this somehow. That was definitely Doc Scowly in the photo at the museum, an image taken nearly a century earlier and he hadn't aged a day since. The museum curator told him that, "this was the home on earth of the great spirit's sacred messenger, that if they made offerings, their blessings would be many." But was long life one of those blessings? And eternal youth in exchange for stories? What the hell kind of deal was that? More importantly, how did it all connect with Sam and the trials?

The Impala's wheel bearings voiced their objection as Dean peeled sharply off the road and into the hotel parking lot, her brakes squealing loudly as she skidded to a sudden stop in front of the lobby entrance.

Dean threw the car into park, yanked out the keys and bolted inside the hotel. In the cursory glance he gave the lobby, there was no sign of the manager, or anyone else. He ignored the elevators, heading straight for the stairs at the back and took them two at a time all the way to the third floor. Yanking open the heavy steel fire door, he stepped out of the stairwell adjacent to their room and swung around the corner. "Sam!"

There was no answer from the other side of the door. Dean twisted the doorknob before reaching for his key; it turned freely. The door swung open, then stopped abruptly when it hit something; that something was Sam. His brother was sprawled on the floor, facing away from Dean, his phone beside him where it had obviously dropped when he collapsed.

"Damn it…." Dean pushed his way through the half-open door, stepped over Sam and dropped to his knees in front of him. "Sammy?" He knew his brother was burning up even before he touched his neck to take his pulse; the heat radiating off Sam hit him like a punch to the face. Beneath his fingers, Sam's pulse was rapid, his skin slick with sweat.

At least he was still sweating. That meant Sam wasn't completely dehydrated–yet. But the fever was damn high, and that was dangerous. Dean pushed himself up and grabbed his duffel. He yanked out the first aid kit, pulling the recently-purchased thermometer from inside. "Why the hell didn't you stay in bed, huh?" He glanced down at Sam as he gathered up a pillow from the bed, a bottle of water and a facecloth from the bathroom. "Not as good as our own beds at the bunker, I'll give you that, but not bad. Sheets are actually clean. Not sure I can say the same about the carpet you're lying on."

Dean again dropped to Sam's side, the rasp of his brother's labored breathing making his own chest tighten. He slipped the pillow under Sam's head, then slid the thermometer under his tongue. "By the way, your Doc Scowly downstairs? He's a lot older than he looks…definitely wrapped up in this somehow." He twisted the lid off the plastic bottle, tossed it aside, then poured water onto the facecloth. His jaw muscle clenched as he pressed the damp cloth to Sam's forehead, the cool cloth warming quickly under his hand. "Once we get you awake and bitching again, we'll have a little chat with him, I promise you."

The thermometer beeped and Dean pulled it from Sam's mouth.

107 degrees.

"Son of a bitch." Dean's stomach lurched. He'd expected it to be high, but this? This was…brain-cooking high. "Damn it, Sammy…going for the record?" He scrubbed a hand down his face, considering his next move; he could call 9-1-1, or throw Sam over his shoulder, toss him in the car and haul ass to the nearest ER. But both those options meant Sam's temperature stayed high until they got help. No, he had to get his fever down ASAP.

"It's OK…. We're gonna fix this." Dean scrambled to his feet and crossed quickly to the bathroom. He dropped the plug into the old claw-foot tub, then turned on the tap, filling the bath with cool water. Mind racing, he recalled an ice machine at the top of the stairwell. Dean grabbed a trash can from under the sink and headed out to the hallway.

The machine was loaded with fresh icekinda strangegiven the two of them were the only guests in the register, the only guests since 2006 for that matterbut that was a mystery to solve later when Sam was walking and talking again.

Back in the room, Dean was just in time to see a tremor race through Sam's prone form. "Damn it, Sammy, you cut that shit out, you hear me?" Seizures were a symptom of a very high fever and that's where his brother was headed if he couldn't get his temperature back into the double digits. Dean set the trash can under the bathroom sink, then quickly returned to Sam's side.

"OK, now comes the tricky part." Getting Sam into the tub would be a challenge; his brother had lost weight since taking on the trials, was nowhere near his soulless prime, but was still 6'4" and close to two hundred pounds of uncooperative arms and legs. Dean sat Sam up and moved behind him, hooking his arms under his brother's and around his chest, then hoisting him up so his back rested against Dean. Sam's head lolled forward, his arms hanging limp and his heels dragging along carpet then tile as Dean backed up into the bathroom. It was a distance of less than ten feet but by the time they were beside the tub, Dean's face was red, his T-shirt stuck to his chest with sweat from the heat radiating off Sam.

He set his brother on the floor, letting the tub support him while he turned off the tap and yanked off Sam's shoes. The clothes could stay; the less time wasted getting him into the bath the better and, if he had to add ice into the mix, the clothes would help lessen the shock. This time Dean stood in front of Sam to lift him, straddling his legs before threading his arms under his brother's and wrapping them around his back. As he hoisted him up, Sam's head tipped forward, slamming into Dean's shoulder. Dean's knees threatened to buckle, the emotional weight of the task more than his brother's physical bulk to blame. Sam was completely unresponsive; conscious, no way would his stubborn-ass little brother put up with this kind of manhandling, at least not without a litany of protests. He'd always been that way.

"I can do it myself."

"Sammy, come on. I-"

"No, I'm not a baby. I'm five now. Let me do it."

"OK, little big man." Nine-year-old Dean waved a hand at the bottle on the table. "Go for it. Down the hatch."

Sam coughed, his face crumpling in pain as the hacking bark ripped through his chest and side, momentarily weakening his resolve.

"You can do it, Sammy." Dean's voice was softer this time, his forehead wrinkling in concern. "You'll feel better when you do."

Sam eyed the bottle suspiciously, rubbing his chest. "That's not the stuff from TV, is it? You know, 'Tastes awful but it works.'" He pulled a face. "They're not lying–it's really awful."

"Wuss." Dean grinned. "But no, it's not that stuff. You've got pneumonia, not a cold. This medicine is from the doctor. Dad picked it up from the drug store while you were sleeping." He shrugged. "It's supposed to taste like bubblegum."

"Really? Bubblegum?" Sam didn't seem convinced.

"Yeah." Dean crossed his arms over of his chest. "Look, if you wanna get better, you hafta take the medicine." He moved toward the bottle. "If you won't do it, I can always hold your nose and–"

"No." Sam snatched up the bottle. "Told you…I can do it myself." He bit his bottom lip as he took off the little plastic dispensing cup that covered the lid and set it on the table before giving the bottle a shake. After unscrewing the lid, he frowned. "How much?"

Dean pointed to a line halfway up the dispensing cup. "Just to there."

"OK." Sam stuck out his tongue in concentration as he carefully poured the yellow liquid into the cup to that measure, slopping only a little as he righted the bottle. Sam fastened the cap back on, then wrinkled his nose as he picked up the cup. He rubbed his chest, then tossed back the contents and swallowed.

Sam's face crumpled. "Yuck!" He shook his head. "That doesn't taste like bubblegum."

Dean's eyes lit up mischievously. "Not even already-been-chewed gum?"

Sam's scowl started to melt.

"Or how 'bout already-been-chewed gun that's been stuck to someone's shoe?"

Sam giggled.

Dean's upper lip curled into a smile, playing to his audience of one. "Or how 'bout A-B-C gum stuck to someone's shoe after they stepped in a dog turd. Then it really would taste like crap."

"Oh, gross!" Sam threw his head back and laughed, really laughed, the misery of the foul-tasting medicine quickly forgotten, even when the laughing started him coughing again.

Dean had always loved it when Sam laughed, but there'd been damn little to laugh about lately, farty donkeys notwithstanding. His smile at the memory faded as he lowered his brother into the bath, plunging his own arms into the water up to his biceps to lean him against the end of the tub. Breathing heavily, he stepped back and picked up Sam's legs which were hanging over the side. With no resistance from Sam, he was able to bend him at the knees to get both legs into the water. "Sorry Sammy, they don't seem to make tubs big enough for little brothers who don't know when to stop growing."

Sam's head lolled to the side, his skin still flushed, his blue-checked shirt rippling as the water found its way beneath it. His breathing was growing more labored, a slight rasp audible with each inhale. Dean grabbed the thermometer from back in the room, then quickly returned to Sam's side and yanked the last clean facecloth off the towel rail. Kneeling at the side of the tub, he dunked the facecloth in the water and wiped it over Sam's face, repeating the action for a good ten minutes. Then he retook Sam's temperature; it had dropped to 106.2–down, but nowhere near far enough.

"OK, you're not gonna like this, but you're really not working with me here." Dean picked up the trash can and shook the ice into the tub, the cubes quickly covering the surface all around Sam. "Come on, man, all I want is for you to wake up and start bitching. That's second nature to you, right? So, let's stow this human furnace act, and move straight on to you chewing me out for dropping you fully clothed into a tub of ice water." He pushed himself up and sat on the edge of the bath. Dunking the washcloth in the now rapidly cooling water, he wrung it out, then pressed it to Sam's forehead. "Guess, I should've checked your pockets, huh? See if your wallet was in there?

"And you know, we really need to talk about that farty donkey memory." Dean pressed the back of his hand against Sam's forehead. His fingers were half frozen from repeatedly soaking the facecloth in the icy water, but he could still feel the heat radiating through Sam's skin. "NewsflashI've never been to the Grand Canyon. That I would remember. That pack mule ride was somewhere else, some other canyon. Montana? No. Utah, maybe? Anyway, you're the Rainman of this outfit so rise and shine and let's hash this out."

The only response from Sam was a slight hitch in his breathing.

Dean's forced smile faded, his face gray with worry. "Come on, Sammy… wake up."

xxxXXXxxx

"I can't sleep."

"You're not trying."

"Am, too."

Dean didn't look up from the comic book he was reading, "Just close your eyes…count sheep or something."

Five-year-old Sam rolled over to face Dean, pushing himself up on his elbows and blinking as he stared past the lamp on the nightstand between his bed and his brother's. "Why would I count sheep?"

"Because it's supposed to make you sleepy." Dean turned a page, still not looking over at Sam.

"That's stupid."

Dean huffed in annoyance, dropping the comic onto his lap and finally turning to face his brother. "Sammy, it's a school night. If you don't go to sleep now, you won't wake in time for the bus. And for some crazy reason, you like going to school, don't you?"

"Yeah, it's fun." Sam frowned. "You don't like school?"

Dean snorted. "Dude, there's a big difference between kindergarten and fourth grade. You may not think school's so hot when they take away your finger paints and stick you with grammar instead."

Sam sat up. "What's grammar?"

Dean rolled his eyes and picked up his comic. "Nothing you need to worry about for a few years. Be happy about that. Now go to sleep."

Sam's frown returned as he stared at Dean's comic. "That's not Batman. What is it?"

"Classics Ill-What's with all the questions?" Dean sighed, already knowing the answer. "It's 'cause Dad isn't coming home tonight, isn't it?"

Sam nodded slowly.

Dean's voice softened. "You know he has to work, and sometimes his job takes him out of town."

"I don't like his job. When he comes back, he's always tired and either sad or in a bad mood." Sam chewed his bottom lip. "And I don't like that people at his job hurt him…that when they do, you have to fix him up."

"Me neither, kiddo." Dean suddenly looked a lot older than nine. He forced a smile and held up his comic. "Look, how 'bout I read to you?"

Sam's eyes lit up. "Really?

"Yeah–maybe then you'll quit being a pain in the butt." Dean patted the bed beside him. "Come on over."

Sam threw off the covers, scrambled to his feet and jumped from his bed to Dean's.

Dean bounced as he landed. "Dude, what've you got against the floor?"

Sam giggled. "This way's faster." He slid beneath the sheets but stayed sitting up, leaning against Dean and staring at the colorful panels of the comic. "What's the story about?"

"I didn't pick it. I've got his cranky old teacher–and I mean old, really old–and she wants us learn about knights."

Sam frowned. "Like why it gets dark?"

"Not those kind of nights, doofus–these kind." Dean pointed to a picture of a man in shiny armor.

"Oh." Sam studied the panel depicting the knight. "Uncle Bobby told me about those guys...said they were really brave men, from a long, long time ago."

Dean snorted. "Not sure how brave you are if you have to fasten yourself inside a tin can before getting into a fight. Anyway, my teacher, Mrs. Quackenbush, I think she's from a long, long time ago…probably dated a knight, or something."

Sam giggled. "Mrs. Quackenbush? You're making that up."

"I swear, that's her name." Dean used his finger to draw a cross over his heart. "Anyway, old Quack-quack wanted us to read this." He picked up a book from the nightstand; it had a battered red cover and yellowed pages. Dean feigned blowing dust off it, then handed it to his brother. "King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table."

Sam frowned as he thumbed through the pages. "There's no pictures."

"Exactly." Dean held up the comic. "Which is why I got this–same story, great pictures, whole lot less words. Almost make it cool."

"I think knights are cool." Sam yawned, snuggling into Dean's side. "Start at the beginning."

Dean scowled down at Sam. "Dude, I'm halfway through. I'll just catch you up. There's this king, Arthur, and he and his knights go on this quest. The knights–"

"No…." Sam looked up at his brother, hazel eyes wide. "The beginning…."

"Sammy, I–"

"Please!"

Dean huffed out a breath as he stared down at Sam. "Fine. But only if you quit looking at me like that." He shook his head as he flipped back to the first page. "You're like a…giant puppy."

Sam giggled. "No, I'm not. I don't have whiskers, I don't have a tail, I don't–"

"Pee on the carpet." Dean smiled when Sam laughed again, then tapped the first panel. "OK, let me tell you who's who. That's King Arthur–he's the boss."

Sam nodded."Like the dad, right?"

Dean nodded. "Yeah, let's go with that. Now, that one, that's Lancelot–don't trust him."

"Why not?"

"Let's just say it involves a girl."

"Ew."

Dean snorted. "OK, that one's Galahad–the other knights think he's big deal, but he's kind of pansy, if you ask me. And that's Sir Dinadan–if I was a knight, that's who I'd be. Awesome fighter, tells jokes–he's totally cool."

Sam studied the illustrations. "Which one would I be?"

Dean bit back a grin. "Um…that one."

Sam's face fell when he saw the knight Dean pointed to. "The old guy with the book?"

"Yeah. Kinda nerdy, loves to read–seems like a perfect fit." Dean's voice deepened, suddenly sounding like a grown-up's. "His name's Metatron."

Metatron? Sam shivered at the sound of the name. Why did it scare him so much?

"Hey…."

Sam looked up at his brother; Dean sounded like Dean again.

"Y'okay?"

"No. I don't wanna be Metatron."

Dean frowned down at Sam. "Megatron? Wrong comic, dude."

Sam pointed to the old man. "You said his name was Metatron."

"No, I said his name was Merlin. There are no robots in this story. Pay attention." His frown deepened as Sam shivered at his side. "What's wrong now?"

Sam pulled up the blankets. "I'm cold."

"Easy fix–we'll get you warmed up." Dean wrapped an arm around him and rubbed Sam's upper arm rapidly. "Maybe you picked up a bug. Kindergarten, dude–one big germ factory." His eyebrow quirked. "You're not gonna puke, are you? Not in my bed."

Before Sam could shake his head, a high-pitched ringing noise filled the room–so high-pitched it hurt his ears. He jammed one ear against Dean's chest to try to block out the sound, and covered his other ear with his hand. It didn't seem to help; the ringing noise wouldn't go away.

"Sammy?"

Dean sounded like a grown-up again. Sam looked up; his brother's face flickered between young and older, much older, but both faces were scrunched up with worry. He was talking, but Sam couldn't hear him anymore, could only see his lips move. Then through the constant ringing he heard a single, loud ding.

Sam's head snapped toward the source of the noise, and his eyes widened in shock; there was an elevator door in the wall opposite the bed; the doors slid open and water gushed out, quickly flooding the room. The water was dark and, scary-looking–and full of ice cubes and books. So many books–hard covers, paperbacks, comics–tumbling and spinning as the rushing water pushed them into the room.

"Dean…." Sam swallowed. The water was already up to the top of the bed and still rising, crawling over the edge and up the covers toward him. "Dean!" There was no answer to his shout, and the comforting arm around his shoulders had vanished. He turned back toward his brother; Dean was gone.

"Dean?" Suddenly, Sam was his adult self, his head full of adult memories. The hotel room from his childhood morphed into their current room in Colorado, the one they'd come to in search of Metatron–but he was still alone, there was still an elevator door in the wall, and the water was still rising rapidly in the room, the entire surface littered with ice and books.

The water was over the bed now; it crept over his feet and up his legs, moving rapidly toward his waist. He tried to kick off the covers, get out of bed, but he couldn't move; he tried to call out, but his voice wouldn't work. And behind everything was that shrill ringing, like a white-hot needle through his head.

The water reached Sam's waist, quickly climbing to his chest. It was cold, really cold, making him shiver, making it hard to breathe. Held in place by some force–some spell?–he could only watch terrified as the rising water reached his shoulders, as the floating books bumped into him before spinning off in some unseen current. He stretched out his neck in a vain attempt to keep his head above the surface but the water was relentless, licking at his chin, then covering his mouth and nose, smothering him. In a perverse moment of clarity before the water pulled him under, the last thing he saw, bobbing in front of his face, was an old copy of Oliver Twist, the one from the box the manager had delivered to the room down the hall.

Beneath the surface, the water was pitch-black; Sam blinked, but couldn't see a thing. He screwed his eyes closed, changing nothing but exercising the one bit of control left to him. But he couldn't shut out that nauseating whistle; it played at full volume inside his head, even the water unable to mute it.

His chest grew tighter as his starved lungs fought to find air. He couldn't hold his breath much longer. Sam opened his eyes, ready to inhale, knowing it would be his last.

But it wasn't dark anymore–and suddenly he could move.

Instinct took over. Sam shoved himself up, breaking the surface of the water, his inhale audible as he desperately sucked in air. But the water still held him, icy cold and quickly sapping his strength; he had to get away from the water. He scrambled to his feet, unsteady, arms flailing, batting away hands that tried to stop him. "Get off…get off." He stumbled forward; he was out of the water, but cold–so cold.

"Take it easy, Sam."

Sam scrubbed his hands over his face, clearing water from his eyes. Dean was standing in front of him.

"Whoa, whoa…Take it easy…take it..." Dean's arms were spread wide in a non-threatening gesture. "I found you on the floor passed out."

What? Sam was shivering violently as he glanced around to get his bearings. He was in the bathroom–the motel bathroom, the bath full of water and ice, puddles and ice cubes littering the floor around the tub. That was the water he'd just escaped from? Why the hell had he been in a bath full of ice?

"Your temperature was 107…." Dean seemed to read his mind, answer his unspoken question. He yanked a towel off the rack above the bath, stepped forward and wrapped it around Sam's shoulders. "I had to force it down or you were toast."

The childhood memory twisted with facets of the case, the belief he was drowning–it was all a fever dream. Sam pulled the towel tightly around him, desperate to get warm. But the confusion of illness gave way suddenly to clarity, memories spinning through his head in high-def detail: Checking into the hotel in their quest to find Metatron…Dean leaving to check out the tribal museum…waking up to the ringing–the constant ringing–that was ripping through his head even now…his trek down the hall where he'd seen the hotel manager exit the elevator to deliver books…. The books. All the pieces suddenly clicked together.

"He's here, Dean." Sam couldn't stop shivering; he pulled the towel even tighter. "Metatron is here. I know it. I can hear him."

Worry carved deep lines into Dean's forehead. "What are you talking about?"

The ringing…. The closer Sam got to Metatron, the louder it was becoming. "All I know, is that I'm connected to him somehow."

"What?" Dean obviously didn't like those implications. "Like you've got a link to him–like a prophet?"

"I dunno." Doubt started to creep in; Sam knew it sounded crazy, but what connected to the trials didn't? "I just know he's here–Metatron is here."

"OK." Dean raised an eyebrow. "Here where?"

"I can show you…. I can show you." Sam's words were tripping over the shivers. He glanced toward the door, picturing the hallway beyond, the hallway that led to the room near the elevator–the room with the books. "The manager–he was delivering books to him."

Dean frowned. "Books?"

"Books–hardcovers, paperbacks, novels. Books!" Sam swallowed. The books had to be important, right? Even delirious, he was seeing books everywhere.

"Stories…." Suddenly, the doubt was gone from Dean's expression, like now it all made sense to him, too.

"What–" Sam didn't get a chance to finish his question; his legs chose that moment to give way. He fell backwards against the open bathroom door, slid down it and landed on his ass. "Damn it…."

"OK, stories can wait." Dean was at Sam's side almost before he hit the floor; he pressed the back of his hand to Sam's forehead, keeping it there even as Sam tried to pull away. "You're still warm, even after all that. Man, I hate fevers."

"Me, too." Sam's indignant snort sounded more like a hiccup thanks to the shivers that still raced through him. "Almost as much as ice baths."

"One hundred and seven, Sam. One-oh-seven. That's Baby's cruising speed, not a temperature, so you're welcome." Dean shook his head at Sam shivering beneath the towel. "No shower in this joint. You wanna try a warm bath?"

"No…no. I'm done with water." Sam started to push himself up. "Metatron"

"Can wait. He's been here a while–another hour or so ain't gonna make a difference." Dean shrugged at Sam's look of confusion. "I'll fill you in, but first let's get you vertical. Y'okay for a minute while I find you some dry clothes?"

Still shivering, Sam let the towel slip from his shoulders. "I already fell on my ass, Dean. Don't think I can fall off the floor."

"If there's a way, you'll find it." Dean pushed himself up and disappeared into the motel room. When he spoke again, Sam couldn't see him but the worry in his brother's voice was hard to miss. "You scared me, Sammy. Finding you like that, burning up…."

"I know." Scared me, too. With shaking hands, Sam fumbled with the buttons on his shirt. He forced a smile. "I woke up under the water, Dean. What the hell kind of first aid was that?"

"You slipped under when I turned to grab the thermometer. I was reaching in to pull you up when you freaked out." Dean reappeared in the bathroom doorway, carrying a change of clothes for Sam. He dropped the dry clothes on the closed toilet seat, then turned back to Sam, holding out a hand to help him up. "Let's try this again."

Sam grabbed his arm and hauled himself to his feet with a groan. He held on to Dean and closed his eyes until a wave of dizziness passed. Opening his eyes once he'd reclaimed his equilibrium, he nodded his thanks, then slowly began to peel off his wet shirt. He stopped when he realized Dean was watching his every move. "Dude, you're making me really uncomfortable."

"Pervert." Dean scowled. "Fine, I'll go change my own clothes–the ones that got soaked saving your ass." He slipped past Sam and disappeared back into the room. "Next time I'm leaving you on the floor…stepping right over you like you're not even there."

Sam smiled as he dropped his soggy shirt on the tiles. Yeah, love you too, Dean.

xxxXXXxxx

Sam emerged from the bathroom about ten minutes later, hair combed and dressed in the dry clothes Dean had found for him. He was pale, except for the flush of fever still high on his cheeks, and while he wasn't shaking as violently as when he'd first stumbled out of the tub, his gait was noticeably unsteady.

"Sit down before you fall down." Dean motioned to the bed, then finished hanging his wet shirt over the back of a chair to dry. "Still cold?"

Sam nodded, slowly lowering himself onto the edge of the bed. "But better."

"Good. This'll help." Dean pulled the blanket from his bed and wrapped it around Sam's shoulders, before reaching for the thermometer. "Now open up."

Predictably, Sam protested. "Dean, come on"

"Don't fight me on this, Sammy." Dean held his ground. "One hundred and seventhat's nothing to screw around with."

Sam's jaw set stubbornly. "Fine." He held out his hand. "I'll do it myself. I'm not five anymore."

That made Dean smile. "Whatever floats your boat." He handed the thermometer to Sam who jammed it in his mouth, his eyes flashing a clear 'Happy now?' For that moment, Dean was.

When the thermometer beeped, Sam scanned the readout. "One hundred and one."

"Better." The worry lines on Dean's face eased a little. "Not great, but better."

Sam gave back the thermometer, then pulled the blanket a little tighter. "Before, when I was talking about Metatron and the books, you said 'Stories' like you knew what was going on. What is going on?"

"First, drink this." Dean picked up a mug with a spoon sticking out of it from the dresser. "Chicken noodle–just like homemade. Warm you up from the inside out."

Sam took the mug, holding it tightly in both hands. "Let me guessCup-O-Soup with water heated in the coffeemaker."

"Just drink it." Dean sat down on his bed. "At the museum, there was a photo, taken maybe a hundred years ago. One of the Indiansthe native Americansin the picture was your buddy downstairs, Dr. Scowly-Scowl."

Sam frowned as he sipped the soup. "Doctor who?"

"No, not Dr. Who, Dr. Sco–" Dean rolled his eyes. "The manager–you said he reminded you of a Scooby-Doo villain."

Sam snorted. "No I didn't."

"Yeah, you did. You–" Dean sighed. Sam was sick; arguing with him was pointless. "Guess I should wait 'til later to bring up farty donkeys, huh?"

"What?"

"Never mind." Dean scrubbed a hand down his face. "Anyway, the manager, he's updated his wardrobe, but it's definitely him in that museum photo."

Sam's eyes widened. "So he's over a hundred years old?"

Dean nodded. "The old guy at the museum said the tribe was told the messenger of God would offer blessings for stories. All I can say is Metatron must want stories pretty damn bad if he's offering eternal life for a box of discount paperbacks. What the hell would he give for an e-reader?" His eyes narrowed as he studied Sam. "I say let's find out. You said you could show me where he is."

Sam glanced at the door. "I think he lives here, down the hall." He turned back to Dean, the mug shaking slightly even in a two-fisted hold. "I saw the manager delivering books to a room by the elevator–lots of books."

Dean's worry redlined. They were officially the hotel's only guests, and yet they'd ended up with a room on the same floor as the angel–the scribe of God–they'd come to Colorado to find? Not to mention, Sam's health had taken a nosedive right after he'd figured that out. Dean didn't like that coincidence one bit. "OK, then." He pushed himself up and slipped on his jacket. "I'll go check out our resident librarian. You stay put, and"

"No, I'm coming with you." Sam stood up suddenly, the blanket falling from his shoulders and soup slopping over his fingers. He took a step and would've gone down if Dean hadn't caught him.

"Whoa." Dean could feel Sam shaking in his hold. "The only place you're going is to bed–to finish your soup, get some sleep, get your strength back."

"No." Sam gulped down the remaining soup and shoved the empty mug at his brother. "I've gotta see this through. I'm not gonna get my strength back 'til the trials are done." He pushed himself away from Dean and grabbed his own jacket. He wobbled as he pulled on the coat, knuckles whitening as he grabbed a chair back to keep himself upright.

"Damn it, Sam…." Dean set the mug on the dresser and fell in step behind his brother. Sam yanked open the door and stepped into the hall, one hand on the wall to steady himself. "We should be taking you to the ER."

"They can't help me."

No, they couldn't. Dean slammed shut the door. But he sure as hell could. His arms shot out reflexively as Sam teetered dangerously. Literally or figuratively, he'd be there to catch his brother, every damn step of the way.

The End

A/N: Dialogue when Sam wakes from the ice bath and as they enter the hotel hallway at the end taken from The Great Escapist, written by the great Ben Edlund. He will be missed [Damn you, Kripke ]. I hope you enjoyed this 'missing piece.' When you have a moment, I'd love to hear from you. Thanks so much for reading. Until next time, cheers!t