“This is dumb.”
Sam shifted around on the ground, trying to get some warmth into the spots where the snow had snuck past his jacket. He’d already given up on his feet, claiming defeat against the wet socks and frozen toes. But he’d be damned if he was going to give in to a cold belly. There were only so many parts of his body he was willing to freeze off for a hunt and his upper torso wasn’t one of them.
When he couldn’t quite find a spot where he was relieved of the cold, he groaned and looked over at Dean, who lay a few feet away on his stomach, rifle held steady in his arms, pointed out towards the frozen lake. His brother didn’t look the least bit disturbed by the snow. Knowing Dean, he’d probably sit there all day and freeze that way if their Dad asked him to. Sam wouldn’t begin to tread into the thoughts of why they were out here, waiting on some furry snow beast they weren’t even sure existed, while John was off doing god knows what. He’d claimed he was “stalking” the beast, but Sam wondered if he wasn’t just chasing a ghost - in the non-literal sense.
“Hey,” Sam grumbled. “Did you hear me? I said this was dumb.”
Dean didn’t move his head, but his eyes traveled to Sam for just a few seconds before going back to their original position. Ever the faithful guard dog. “I heard you the first thousand times, Sammy.”
“Then why are we still out here?” Sam demanded.
“Because Dad asked us to be here,” Dean answered slowly. Sam sighed. Dean had turned eighteen three weeks ago and since then he’d been taking the whole ‘I’m an adult’ thing a bit too seriously for Sam’s liking. He wondered how long it would be before Dean grew out of it. Because, in all honesty, Dean acting mature was a bit unnerving for Sam. He hadn’t even cracked a fart joke in two weeks. That had to be an all time record for him.
“We’ve been out here for four hours,” Sam complained, watching his brother’s face remain impassive.
Dean took a slow breath. “Is that all?”
“I can’t feel my fingers!” Sam all but shouted, garnering a quick glare from his brother before he snapped his head frontward again.
“Be quiet,” Dean shushed. “We haven’t stayed out here all day waiting for this thing just so you can chase it off with your bitching.”
Sam watched his brother shift slightly and wince, probably sore and cold from staying in one position for so long. It just made him angrier. “Well frostbite wasn’t on my list of things to do today.”
Dean’s shoulders fell slightly and he lowered the gun, turning to stare at Sam. “You’re a real smart ass, you know?”
“There’s nothing even out here!” Sam said, exasperated. “You said yourself that these things are attracted to rosemary and we have a whole fucking bush of it out there on the ice. I think if it were going to come, it would have been here by now.”
“Sam, Dad asked us to-”
“I don’t care, Dean!” Sam yelled, watching as Dean’s face transformed from a look of anger to a look of shock. He had him just where he wanted him. “It’s gonna get dark soon and then what? We don’t have flashlights, we don’t have food if we have to stay out here all night. Hell, the only thing we have is a stupid blanket that’s not even waterproof! If it gets dark and starts snowing again, we’re screwed.”
Dean sighed and sat up, which was enough to prompt Sam into doing the same. He quickly wrapped his arms around himself, trying to control a shiver. Dean seemed to notice and his face softened slightly. Sam wondered why he hadn’t thought of pressing Dean’s protective older brother button sooner.
“You really think Dad would leave us out here to freeze to death?” Dean asked.
“Yeah, I do,” Sam snapped and curled in on himself a little more. “He’d probably call it a lesson in survival.”
Shaking his head, Dean stood up. Sam quickly followed suit and brushed himself off. He gave a prayer of thanks to whoever was listening that he’d finally gotten some sense into his brother to get in out of the cold. Dean started down the small slope to the frozen lake, the opposite way from which their cabin was. “Where are you going?” Sam asked, immediately disturbed again. Couldn’t they just go already?
“I’m getting the rosemary,” Dean called back, his voice irritated. “Dad would skin us alive if we came back without a kill on top of leaving the rest of his rosemary out there.”
Sam let out a low growl and started up the hill. “Like he couldn’t just buy some more.”
“Sam, you’ve got to have a little more faith in the man,” Dean called as he started out across the ice to where he’d put the rosemary earlier.
With a snort, Sam muttered, “And be like you?” He hadn’t meant for Dean to hear it, but apparently his brother’s hearing was fine tuned today. That or Dean already knew what his brother was going to say in answer.
“What was that?” he yelled, annoyed.
Sam turned around and saw Dean was halfway to the rosemary. Dean looked over his shoulder, glaring at him. “Nothing,” Sam yelled back. “Can we just go already?”
“You know, you’ve got a real mouth on you lately,” Dean said, turning back around and watching his footing. “It’s no wonder Dad gets so frustrated.”
That was the last straw. Sam grit his teeth and continued up the hill towards the walking path that had led them here. “You always side with him!” he screamed.
“I’m not siding with either of you, Sam,” Dean called. “I’m siding with this family, which you are a part of in case you’ve forgotten. So maybe you should start acting like you’re a part of it.”
“Stop acting like you know what’s best for me,” Sam shouted back, turning around again to eye his brother, who was just now reaching down for the rosemary. God, his brother was annoying even when he wasn’t trying to be. All he had to do was be there to be annoying. Sometimes he wished Dean would just leave him alone.
“I do know what’s best, I’m your brother.” Sam could practically hear Dean’s grin in the statement and normally he would appreciate the fact that Dean was trying to lighten the mood, but Sam wasn’t buying into it right now. He was too angry. And maybe not all of it was because of Dean, but their Dad wasn’t here right now so his anger had to be taken out on someone. Dean just happened to be in the way.
“God!” Sam yelled, throwing a branch out of his way as he was forced to use all fours to climb the remainder of the hill.
“Why can’t you just go away!”
And, as if by some sick, cruel joke the world decided to play on him, a loud crack suddenly resounded through the forest, bouncing off the trees and echoing in Sam’s ears like a scream he’d never forget. He whirled around, trying to keep his balance when he heard Dean’s frantic, “Shit!” He turned just in time to see the ice beneath Dean’s feet give way and his brother threw out his arms, desperate to grab onto anything that would keep him from slipping beneath the water. But the ice wasn’t strong enough and Sam felt his heart stop as Dean disappeared beneath the water.
There were only a few seconds when Sam’s body was paralyzed. He forced himself out of the stunned fear and got his mind back into the moment. “Dean!” he screamed and ran down the hill in half the time it took him to get up it. His eyes never left the black hole lapping calmly in the middle of the ice. He kept praying for Dean’s head to pop up.
After a few moments of panic, Sam gasped as Dean suddenly reappeared from beneath the ice, spluttering and coughing, his arms reaching out for anything that would get him out of the icy water. But his gloved hands just kept slipping on the ice and he couldn’t pull himself free. Even as Sam watched, Dean’s skin grew paler, his lips bluer, and his motions were slowing.
“Dean!” Sam yelled again as he reached the edge of the ice. Dean’s frantic eyes flew to him but his brother didn’t answer. Sam could hear his breath coming in short, shallow breaths mixed in with deep, aggressive gasps. “Dean, hang on!” he called, getting onto his knees. He looked around for something, anything he could use to reach his brother. God, why hadn’t they brought rope or something? They had the blanket, but Sam still had half a working brain when he realized he’d need the blanket to keep Dean warm after he got him out of the water.
When Sam realized there was nothing around him that could help, his eyes went back to his brother and Sam nearly panicked right then and there when he realized Dean had stopped struggling and now just hung loosely onto the ice, his whole body shaking, his face the palest Sam had ever seen it. His brother was going to freeze to death.
“Okay, Dean,” Sam called, watching as his brother tried to focus his eyes on him. He doubted Dean was thinking very clearly right now. “Just don’t let go of the ice, okay? I’m going to crawl across and get you. Try to keep kicking your legs, keep moving, Dean.”
Sam wasn’t sure if the small twitch of Dean’s head was a nod or a shiver, so he just nodded at his brother and laid down on his stomach, spreading his weight out evenly across the ice. He’d seen this done on a movie once, he couldn’t remember which one right now but that didn’t matter. What mattered was that he knew he didn’t very long before Sam would be pulling a body out of the water instead of his brother.
Crawling like a soldier in a trench, Sam made his way across the ice, trying to ignore the sharp cracking beneath his body. He didn’t understand why this was happening now when just four hours ago they’d both walked across the ice to place the rosemary as bait for the monster they’d been hunting. He looked back up at his brother and panic spiked through his heart as he saw Dean’s eyes were closed, his body still.
“No! Dean!” he yelled and let out a sharp breath when Dean’s eyelids opened fractionally and his brother started shivering again. “Thank god,” he whispered and then called out louder, “Dean, stay awake, man. I’m almost there.” His brother didn’t answer, but the fingers on his outstretched arm twitched towards Sam and that was good enough.
Finally, after a few agonizing seconds, he reached Dean’s hand. He wrapped his own hand around his brother’s wrist, getting a firm grip on him. With his other hand, he grabbed the back of Dean’s coat. He tried to keep his weight spread out on the ice, but there was another loud crack and he was forced to lay back down. “Shit,” he whispered and then looked at Dean’s face. His brother was watching him, blue lipped and now even his cheeks had taken on the unnatural tint. Shit, shit, shit.
“Dean, I need you to try to push while I pull, okay?” Dean just kept watching him, not giving any other response except for the pleading, pained look in his eyes. His teeth had stopped chattering and the shivers were dying down. They didn’t have much time. “Ready? On the count of three. One, two, three!” Sam pulled with all his might. He didn’t feel Dean pushing too hardly, but he could feel the strain on his brother’s arms and knew he was at least trying. That’s all he could ask for. Don’t give up, Dean, just please don’t give up.
It was hard to pull his brother out. Sam kept slipping on the ice, almost being dragged into the frozen waters himself. The ice broke a couple times and on one, he sunk nearly his entire arm into the water. The shock of just having an arm dipped in the water for a couple seconds was enough to make Sam dizzy. But it also kept him dedicated to getting Dean the fuck out of there. He groaned and grunted and pulled and hefted until finally, they found a patch of ice thick enough where Sam could sit up and get leverage to pull his brother free from the water.
They lay there for a few seconds, Sam catching his breath and Dean too far gone to do much else but let Sam take care of him. But Sam didn’t sit still for long. Dean was shaking violently again and Sam grabbed him beneath the arms to drag him the rest of the way to shore. “Okay, Dean,” he huffed as he pulled his brother onto the snow bank. “We’re out. Let’s get these clothes off, eh?” he asked, coming around front to unzip Dean’s jacket. He looked his brother in the eye, but there was no recognition there. “Hey, I don’t like it any better than you,” Sam said, almost hearing Dean’s normal protest in his head. “But we got to keep you warm, right? You probably pull this with a lot of girls. Well don’t worry, I won’t take advantage of you.” Sam chuckled to himself, aware that he sounded crazy, but he was also aware of the tears and sobs that were threatening to escape him.
Sam took Dean’s jacket off and stripped him of the three layers of shirts he’d put on earlier, because Sammy, you have to be prepared for the cold. Frostbite’s no fun. He grabbed the blanket from the pack he had on his back and wrapped it around his brother. He maneuvered Dean so he was sitting on the blanket before he pulled Dean’s wet snow pants off, leaving his brother only in his boxers before Sam wrapped the blanket around him, aware that it wouldn’t be enough to warm him. He rubbed Dean’s arms and watched his brother’s head loll and his eyes stay dull and far off.
“Okay,” Sam said to himself, looking around. “Think, Sam. We don’t have anything to start a fire with. The radio…” Sam looked towards Dean’s jacket. He let go of Dean for a second as he pulled the radio out and watched horridly as the water dripped from the walkie-talkie. “Doesn’t work,” he concluded. He went back to his brother and continued to rub his arms and legs. “The blanket’s getting wet,” he realized out loud and suddenly he couldn’t hold back the tears in his eyes anymore. A few slipped free and he angrily brushed them away.
“Uh,” Sam looked around, panicking for a second as he realized there was no one around for miles that could help. God, he was going to lose his brother. No! No, he couldn’t, he wouldn’t. Dean was going to be okay. Dean was always okay. “Uh, all right,” Sam said, making a decision. He unzipped his own coat and took it off, shivering as the wind nipped at him. He took off his shirt, wishing he’d been smart like Dean and had worn more than just one. He pulled the blanket away from Dean and slipped the shirt on over Dean’s head. Then he moved in and pulled Dean close, pressing himself against his brother before tucking the jacket around Dean and pulling the blanket around them.
“I won’t tell if you don’t,” Sam said to Dean, trying to ignore the fact that his brother felt like a popsicle. Skin wasn’t supposed to be this cold. He brought a hand up and tucked Dean’s head into the crook of his neck. “Come on, Dean,” Sam whispered, letting the tears come freely now. He wouldn’t take his hands off Dean to wipe them away. “You’re gonna be okay. You have to be. Whose going to know what I jerk I am if you’re not around to tell people, huh?” Sam paused and let out a sob.
“I didn’t mean it,” he whispered, starting to rock his brother back and forth when Dean’s shivers took on an almost convulsive quality. “I didn’t mean any of it. I know you’re my family, Dean and I know you just want to look out for me. But if you don’t wake up I’m going to say the ‘L’ word and I know how much you hate that.” Because this family never says ‘I love you.’ We haven’t said it to each other in years. But so help me, Dean, if you make me say it at your god damned funeral, I’m going to kick your ass.
“Sam? Dean?” Sam sucked in a breath and looked up. Was the cold just getting to him or had he really heard his Dad’s voice? He waited for a second, hoping it would come again. He nearly cried out when it did. “Sammy? Dean! Answer me!”
“Dad!” Sam yelled, turning around to look at the walking path up the hill. He waited for a few seconds, listening the heavy footfalls of a man running before his Dad appeared at the top of the hill. John’s eyes widened slightly at the sight. “Dad! Help!” Sam cried and that was all the eldest Winchester needed before he was bolting down the hill carelessly to get to his sons.
When John reached them, Sam all but broke down. He’d never been so happy to see his father as he was right now. All previous annoyances with the man were suddenly forgotten. Dad will make this right. He always makes things right. “What happened?” John asked, putting a hand on Dean’s forehead and frowning at the coldness in his son.
“He fell through the ice,” Sam said. “I didn’t know what to do, Dad. I was trying to keep him warm, but…”
“It’s okay, Sammy,” John said, reaching forward to scoop his son into his arms. Sam was a little reluctant to let go, but he finally did. “We’ll get him back to the cabin and get him warm and he’ll be okay, kiddo,” John assured his son. Then he looked down into Dean’s face. Sam zipped up his jacket slowly, his eyes not leaving Dean’s blue lips or closed eyelids or white face or purple hands and feet. Oh God, his brother wasn’t supposed to be that color.
“Sammy, let’s go,” John ordered and Sam was at John’s heels all the way back to the cabin.
Sam never left Dean’s side as John dressed him in pajama pants and a sweatshirt and tucked him into bed beneath four layers of blankets. He watched Dean’s face lose the blue tint and gain some color back. His brother stopped shivering about an hour after they’d gotten him tucked in. Sam and John had spent a good part of that hours rubbing his hands and feet.
Now, John was making hot chocolate and soup while Sam was propping Dean up on pillows and making sure he was comfortable enough and warm enough and jesus, Sammy, I’m fine enough. Dean had made a progression out of his non-responsive state into a sluggish scattered thought state, and finally into the god-I’m-tired state that Sam recognized after all the hunts when Dean got the short end of the stick. In a sick and twisted way, Sam was unbelievably happy that Dean had gotten back to this state. It was a normalcy he never thought he’d appreciate.
“You’re sure you’re okay?” Sam asked again as he reached and patted the pillows for the thousandth time.
“Yeah, Sammy,” Dean said tiredly but the grin was enough to put Sam at ease. “I’m fine, dude.”
John brought over two cups of hot chocolate and handed one to each of his sons. “You’re going to be sore for a few days probably, Dean-o.” Dean looked unfazed as he gave a shrug, but Sam noticed the wince. He decided not to bring any attention to it. They all knew it had been there.
“Did you catch the thing, Dad?” Dean asked after taking a sip and finding his lips still too cold to take the heat. He set the cup aside and looked at his father.
John looked apologetic for a moment before shaking his head and walking over to the table where his jacket was strewn. “No,” he said and put his jacket on. Sam frowned. Where was he going now? “Turns out we had a false lead.”
“What?” Sam squawked. “You mean we went through all of this for nothing?”
John didn’t even look at Sam when he said, “Yeah, looks like.”
“Where are you going?” Dean interjected before Sam could protest further.
“Into town, to get supplies,” John answered and reached for the door. “We’re going to stay here for a little bit until Dean gets better.”
“I feel fine, Dad,” Dean said.
“Sure you do,” John said with a wry smile before he closed the door behind him.
Sam sighed and looked at his brother. Dean looked tired, extremely tired. What an exciting day they had, but he supposed that was all part of being a Winchester. Sam reached across Dean and put his cup down next to his brother’s. Then he laid back on the bed and slipped beneath the covers, next to his brother.
“Sam, dude, you don’t have to sleep in the same bed as me,” Dean said, though there was a playful tone to his voice. Sam recognized that tone. It was the tone Dean used when he didn’t want to admit he was grateful for something.
“Yeah I do,” Sam said. “I’m not sleeping on that couch. It smells like cat pee.”
Dean chuckled, squirming his way down in the bed. Sam rolled over and helped him move the pillows into a more comfortable position so his brother could get some sleep. “So one minute you want me to go away and the next you want to sleep with me?” Sam sucked in a breath. He sat up and looked down at his brother, who looked confused as to why Sam suddenly looked so upset. “Sammy?”
“I didn’t mean it,” Sam blurted.
“What?” Dean asked, frowning.
“When I said I wanted you to go away, I didn’t mean it,” Sam said with a gulp. His eyes were dangerously close to watering.
Dean shifted slightly, trying to look his brother straight on. “Geez, Sam, I know that.”
“No, you don’t understand,” Sam said and turned around, putting his head in his hands. “God, Dean, I thought you were going to die. And the last thing I would have said to you was that I wanted you to go away.” He whipped back around and gave Dean a furious glare. “Well I don’t. I don’t ever want you to go away. Not like that.”
“Chill, Sammy, I know,” Dean said, bringing a hand up to pat Sam’s arm. “I’m not going anywhere, dude.”
Sam took a deep breath before laying back down. He turned his back to Dean and put his hands beneath his cheek, mind still reeling. “I hate it when you scare me like that,” Sam whispered, voice cracking at the end. He heard his brother sigh and a moment later there was a hand on his shoulder, giving it a squeeze. It was good enough for him. Dean didn’t have to say anything else. Sam knew what his brother was saying with just a simple touch.
Today had been close. Too close. Dean was only eighteen and already in those few short years he’d almost died more than most people who’ve lived through wars and disease. It wasn’t fair that they had this life. It wasn’t fair that Sam should have to lay awake at night trying to calm down after nearly losing his family. It wasn’t fair that Sam was already having to worry about what would be the last thing he’d ever say to his brother before they were taken away from each other. Would it be something hateful? Something loving? Something stupid? It could be anything. A simple, “dude,” or a “fuck you, Dean,” could be the last words they’d ever speak to each other. It wasn’t fair that he should have to worry about these sort of things, not with such great intensity.
“Sammy?” Dean’s voice broke the silence they’d been laying in for half an hour. Sam tried not to jolt, he’d thought Dean had been asleep. Dean’s quiet voice, his serious, tired voice sounded so distant and so lost in the vast silence of the room.
“Yeah?” Sam asked gently, wondering what his brother would say. Wondering if Dean would finally let him into the walls he’d built up around himself. He turned over slightly to eye his brother. Dean brought a hand up and Sam frowned before looking at his brother’s face. Dean’s eyes were partway closed, exhausted. But they told Sam his brother had been thinking the same things he had.
“Dude,” his brother began, tone serious. Then, without a joke in his voice, he said, “Pull my finger.”
They stared at each other for a moment. Sam not quite believing what he’d heard and Dean waiting patiently for Sam to do something. Finally Sam groaned and rolled over. “You’re sick,” he said, though his heart wasn’t in it. A smile crossed his face as he heard Dean chuckle.
It was the way they said “I love you.” And Sam would take whatever he could get.