Sam Winchester had been thirteen years old the first time he honestly thought he was going to die.
School was out for winter break, and Dad had dragged both of them to a witch hunt in Mississippi, despite Dean's insistence that Sam was too young. Apparently Dad didn't intend to return to Indiana afterwards, so he decided to bring both boys on the hunt before settling them somewhere else.
It wasn't the witch, however, that nearly did Sam in. Well, indirectly, it was. But it was actually the pneumonia that Sam contracted, after being flung into a swamp the day before New Year's Eve, inhaling a lung full of frigid brown water, and cracking three ribs in the process.
Dad dropped the boys at a house they'd squatted in a couple years ago outside Woodward, Oklahoma, on his way to check on a possible cursed object in Wyoming, promising that he would be back in less than a week to get the boys enrolled in their new school. He left them with a week's worth of food and water, an extra compression bandage so they could change the one on Sam's ribs, a couple weapons, and twenty dollars.
The house wasn't bad, an old farmhouse in the middle of nowhere. It belonged to someone Caleb knew, but the owner was in a nursing home and the next of kin didn't mind if hunters used the place occasionally as long as they didn't cause any damage and cleaned up after themselves.
When they had stayed before, it had been around Sam's birthday, and the boys had claimed the room at the top of the stairs with twin beds and big windows that looked out over the fields, now grown over with wildflowers. This time, it was the first week of January with snow on the ground. Without electricity, that bedroom at the top of the stairs was colder than a wendigo's toes. No electricity meant no television, and no lights, which severely restricted Sam's reading time, leaving both of them bored and grumpy.
Dean had dragged the mattress from one of the bigger beds downstairs and put it in front of the fireplace. He closed the door and stuffed an old tablecloth in the crack under it to seal off the room as much as possible and hold in the heat. However, it was still an old house, where cold seeped in around the windows, and when the wind blew, there were drafts the boys couldn't locate the source of. Worse, there was no way to heat the bathroom.
Two days after Dad left, a blizzard set in and Sam's cough changed.
Every time Sam's chest rattled wetly and his face creased in pain, Dean's frown deepened. When Sam started shivering, despite the fact his skin felt warm to the touch, Dean dressed him in two more layers of shirts and got a couple more blankets from upstairs.
By noon, when Sam wanted to lay down and take a nap instead of grumble about being bored, Dean was officially worried, even though he didn't say so. He put Sam as close to the fireplace as possible, tucked himself against his younger brother's back, pulled three quilts over them, and sweated like a hooker in church while Sam shivered so hard his teeth chattered.
Dean searched through everything they had and managed to find a pocket pack of aspirin with two tablets left. He made Sam take them, and a half hour later, the fever finally broke.
Dean put a couple logs on the fire, dressed Sam in one of his own hoodies, which swallowed his little brother, tucked all the quilts around him, and made him promise to stay put until Dean came back.
Sam wasn't sure how much time had passed, only that he'd fallen asleep, woke up alone coughing a few times, and woke up again with Dean's ice cold hands shaking him.
"Here, drink this," he instructed, helping Sam sit up and pressing a cup into his hand.
"What is it?" Sam croaked, wondering when his throat had gotten so scratchy.
"Hot tea with a little whiskey and honey in it for your cough." Dean answered, patiently helping Sam hold the cup.
Sam took a few sips, then pushed the cup away. "I didn't know we had any tea."
"I went and got some." Dean murmured. "Here, drink a little more."
"Did you go to town?" Sam frowned. "Dean, it's over ten miles!"
"There's a little store this side of town." Dean guided the cup back toward Sam's mouth. "It's probably only about seven miles. Here, drink a little more."
"You walked fourteen miles in a blizzard?" Sam's attempt at scolding ended in a coughing fit.
"Easy," Dean held Sam steady with one hand and the cup with the other. "I got some of that soup in a cup stuff. The broth will help with your congestion. I'll make you some of that and then I want you to take some Tylenol and some cough syrup. If you take it on an empty stomach you'll just end up puking it all over me."
"Dean," it came out as a whine.
"Shhh," Dean held the cup to Sam's mouth again. "It's okay, Sammy."
Sam drank about half of the tea before Dean let him lay back down. Dean took a pot outside and filled it with fresh snow, which he melted and boiled over the fire to make Sam's instant soup.
He helped Sam sit up, and handed him the soup.
"Do you think you could eat some crackers with it?" Dean offered.
"Don' wanna eat anything," Sam huffed.
"I know, but you need something," Dean soothed. "You gotta keep up your strength so you can fight the germs off."
"Got soup," Sam grumbled.
"Yeah, that the chicken probably walked through wearing hip waders," Dean snorted. "I don't think there's any real meat in that."
"No meat in crackers either, dumbass," Sam snarked, slurping his soup loudly.
"You want some of my sandwich?" Dean held out a potted meat sandwich with two bites taken off one side.
"That's nasty," Sam made a face. "Dean, you need something warm to eat."
"I"m fine," he shrugged, taking another bite of his sandwich.
"You walked fourteen miles in the snow," Sam pointed out. "What if you get sick too?"
"I'm fine," Dean repeated. "The lady at the store gave me a cup of coffee."
Sam finished most of his soup, and drank a little more tea before Dean decided he had enough in his stomach to keep down the acetominphen and cough syrup.
Sam was a little surprised when he saw real Robitussin rather than a generic brand.
Dean shrugged. "All they had." He held up a jar of mentholated chest rub. "Shirts off. I'll do your back."
"How did you pay for this?" Sam questioned as Dean unwrapped the bandages around his chest to spread the smelly ointment across his back. "Everything you got, that would be more than $20."
"Don't worry about it." Dean looked away. "I got it, and that's what matters."
"But what are we gonna do if we run out of food before Dad gets back?" Sam pressed on. "Did you call him? When's he gonna be back?"
Dean re-wrapped Sam's ribs instead of answering.
"Did you, Dean?" Sam persisted.
"I couldn't get him," Dean turned away a little too quickly. "Put your shirts back on. Can you drink some water? We need to keep fluids in you so you don't get dehydrated."
"Dad's not coming back when he said, is he?" Sam folded his arms.
"I don't know," Dean held out a cup of water. "I told you I couldn't reach him."
"You know something you're not telling me," Sam insisted.
"His phone was turned off, Sam," Dean sighed. "That's the truth."
"Did you leave him a message?" Sam asked before realizing how stupid that was. They didn't have a phone for Dad to call them back.
"No, I mean it's turned off like the company turned it off," Dean replied quietly.
Like the bill wasn't paid, or the company figured out the credit card paying for it was fake.
"He said he would be back in less than a week," Dean stood and cleared away the cups, wiping the potted meat off his knife.
By that time it was getting dark, and there wasn't much else they could do, so Dean straightened up around them a little before laying down beside Sam.
Sam didn't know how long he'd been asleep, didn't really realize that he had been asleep, until he woke up stripped down to his underwear, with wet towels on his neck and ankles.
"You with me?" Dean asked, his eyes a little too wide and his freckles a bit too pronounced. "Sammy?"
Sam blinked a few times, slowly becoming aware that even though he was almost naked, he was hot.
"Dean?" he whispered, his throat refusing to cooperate more than that.
"Your fever shot way up, and you were hallucinating or delirious or something." Dean smoothed the hair away from Sam's face. "You always did this when you were little when you were sick. As soon as it got dark, your fever went up. Of course, you're still little." Dean teased.
"Shut up," Sam groused.
Dean looked at his watch. "Too soon for more Tylenol. Are you getting cold? We need to keep you from getting a chill, but we've got to keep your fever down too."
Sam's answer was derailed by yet another coughing jag, which seemed to jar his ribs harder than any of the others so far.
"Back on with the clothes," Dean ordered as soon as the hacking stopped.
"Too hot," Sam whined.
"Dude, I'm cold," Dean admitted. "You gotta put some clothes back on."
Sam slipped on one t-shirt and Dean's hoodie, then kicked the towels off his ankles to wiggle back into his sweatpants.
Just that much movement was enough to send Sam into another round of coughing, which in turn set Sam to shivering again.
Dean put another log on the fire, then turned to Sam. "You want more clothes on now?"
"No," Sam muttered. "I'd have to take this jacket off."
He pulled the hood over his head and turned the ends of the sleeves inward to cover his hands like mittens. He laid back down, but immediately started coughing again.
"Hang on, kiddo," Dean sighed.
He stood, grabbed a pot, and disappeared through the door. He returned a few minutes later with a pot full of snow into which he dropped a dollop of the chest rub before putting over the fire.
"Shoulda grabbed a frigging camphor branch when we were down south," he muttered before turning to Sam. "We're gonna let that melt and steam, and that'll help you breathe better. But as stuffy as you are, you're probably going to have to prop up to be able to breathe."
Sam sighed again, and Dean stacked together the pillows and one of the quilts to raise Sam to a reclining position.
Sam spent the next couple hours tossing and turning, trying to get comfortable, his fever steadily rising despite the medication Dean gave him.
At some point, he woke up in Dean's lap, wrapped in a quilt with his head on his brother's shoulder.
Sometime before dawn, Sam woke up stripped down again, with the wet towels on his neck and ankles, but he must have been delirious, because he swore Dean was singing "Hey Jude" softly.
By the time the sun rose, Sam told Dean it hurt to breathe. His throat was so swollen he cold barely sip the water Dean kept pressing on him. Every cough rattled so deep in his chest it took his breath away, and his fever barely came down before it rose again.
Dean looked at him for a long time, and seemed to make a decision.
"Sammy, just hang tight, and I'll be back in a little while." He said, standing and reaching for his jacket.
"No," Sam whimpered.
"Sam, I'm just going to get a car so I can take you to the hospital." Dean tried to assure him.
"Dad will be mad when he gets back if he found out you took me to the hospital." Sam argued.
"He'll be a hell of a lot madder if I let you die of pneumonia!" Dean answered, zipping up the jacket. "You're burning up with fever, you're coughing up nasty green shit streaked with blood, you're getting dehydrated, and your breathing is getting shallower. We can't wait for Dad to get back, Sam."
"Don't leave me, Dean," Sam burst into tears. "I don't wanna die alone."
"I'm not gonna let you die, period." Dean promised, tugging at the hem of the hoodie Sam still wore.
"No!" Sam jerked it back down.
"C'mon, off," Dean instructed. "We'll put some more layers under it and you can put it back on."
Sam was so weak that Dean had to help dress him, putting on about four shirts, Sam's coat, and then Dean's big hoodie over all of it, pulling the hood over Sam's head.
He turned his back to his younger brother. "C'mon, Sammy, piggyback."
"Not a baby," Sam grumbled.
"Whatever," Dean snorted. "You used to beg me to do this. Dude, you can't walk because you can't even stand up, so unless you have another plan of how I'm going to get you somewhere that we can get help, piggyback it is."
Sam huffed but obediently wrapped his arms and legs around Dean.
"Okay, you gotta hold on." Dean ordered as he stood.
He flipped a qulit over his back, covering Sam, then headed out into the snow.
Sam apparently dozed off or lost consciousness or something, because it seemed like only a few minutes later, they were standing on someone's front porch. Dean told the old man who answered the door that he was trying to take his brother to the hospital, but their car had run off the road and gotten stuck in the snow, and asked if someone could take them. The man started to refuse, but when Sam raised his head and coughed, he relented.
"My son is a sheriff's deputy." the man told them. "Stay right here. I'll go call him, and he can come take you into town."
Dean thanked the man, and slipped Sam off his back. He unzipped his jacket, knelt down, pulled Sam around against his chest, and wrapped the quilt around both of them, murmuring something.
"Police, Dean?" Sam asked, his face buried in Dean's neck.
"Shhh, Sammy." Dean rubbed his hands over Sam's back. "No decent cop is going to refuse a sick kid a ride to the hospital."
The door opened a moment later, and an older lady beckoned them in. "Honestly! For George to leave you poor boys out here to freeze like that. Come in here and get warm at least."
"Thank you, ma'am," Dean nodded, following her in, but keeping his arms protectively around Sam.
"How far did you walk, anyway?" the woman chattered on.
"I don't even know," Dean shrugged.
"You both look like you're frozen through. How about some cocoa to warm you up?" she offered.
Dean hesitated, looking at Sam. "As stuffy as he is, I'm not sure he should have milk."
"I'll make it with half milk and half water." she nodded, waving for them to sit at the kitchen table.
Dean sat down, pulling Sam into his lap.
They were barely halfway done with the mugs of cocoa when the couple's son arrived, in full uniform with a hand on the gun at his hip.
Dean answered the standard questions, their names, yes they were new to the area, no they didn't need to go try to pull the car out now because it was well enough off the road, their mom had died, their dad was a truck driver out on a run and they hadn't been able to reach him, Dean was 18 so he was looking after Sam.
The officer nodded in all the right places and told them to hurry up and finish their cocoa so he could take them into town.
Sam drifted off again during the car ride, waking up when Dean hefted him into his arms to carry him inside the emergency room, thanking the officer.
It must have been a slow day in a small town, because the nurse took them straight on back, and within minutes Sam was stripped down, being poked, prodded, xrayed, and given shots.
He woke up at one point to find Dean asleep and snoring in a chair by the bed. Sometime later, Dean shook him awake gently.
"Hey Sammy, they brought you some lunch. Well, soup and hot tea, because you probably can't eat much else right now." Dean helped Sam sit up and put the tray in front of him. "Doesn't look half bad. There's actually some recognizable meat in this one and it's full of vegetables. Dude, you love vegetables. Weird ass kid." He scooped up a spoonful of the soup, blew on it, and then held it to Sam's lips when Sam made no attempt to feed himself. "Do we actually have to play the airplane game?"
Sam rolled his eyes, but opened his mouth and let Dean feed him.
"I called Pastor Jim," Dean dropped his voice with a peek over his shoulder toward the closed door. "He's gonna get Uncle Bobby to go find Dad and finish the hunt so Dad can get here."
Sam nodded, his eyelids getting heavy again.
"Half a bowl of soup, Sammy, and I promise I'll let you go back to sleep." Dean poked at Sam's lips with the spoon again.
Sam probably didn't finish half the bowl, muttering for Dean to eat it before he sank back into the darkness.
Dean woke him again when it was time for dinner. One of the nurses brought Dean a dinner tray and rolled in a folding cot so he could stay the night.
When Sam woke the next morning, Dad was beside the bed, brushing Sam's hair back and smiling sadly.
"Don't be mad at Dean," Sam rasped out hoarsely.
"I'm not mad at Dean," Dad shook his head. "He did the right thing. You just rest and get better, son."
When the nurse brought Sam's breakfast tray, Dad handed Dean the keys to the Impala and told him to go to the house, wash up and change clothes. He had to make it an order before Dean finally left.
Either Dad or Dean stayed with Sam the whole three days he was in the hospital, and once he was released, they didn't go back to the farmhouse. Dad drove them straight up to Minnesota, where they stayed in Pastor Jim's warm parsonage for two weeks, before Dad moved them to Idaho for a few months.
Dean had taken care of Sam, when Sam was the sickest he had ever been in his life.
That was why ten years later he stood over Dean, who was dressed in Sam's oversized hoodie, his lips blue from the poor circulation due to his damaged heart, and announced that he'd found someone in Nebraska who might could help.
"You're not going to let me die in peace, are you?" Dean asked.
"I'm not gonna let you die, period." Sam repeated the same promise.