Characters: Dean, Sam
Rating: PG-13 for language
Spoilers: Set in Season 2 dove-tailing the end of Episode 2.12, Nightshifter. If you're just joining the fun, spoilers up to then.
Summary: On the run from the FBI, the brothers are sidelined by a snowstorm and find themselves at the mercy of a sheltered town filled with secrets. Staying alive means staying together as they fight to stay on the surface.
Disclaimer: They're not mine. More's the pity.
...continued from Part 2A...
The sun hadn't so much set as thrown itself behind the wall of trees, thrusting darkness upon the world in a huff and withdrawing heat from the inhabitants below.
Dean felt the cold spike with the coming night, digging through the cracks and crevasses of his make-shift gear and turning his skin numb. The wind picked up and tore tears from his eyes as he peered into the swiftly growing darkness. The moon was high and bright, a small disk of empty light in an ink-black sky. It shone down like a spotlight, tossing unfair shadows across the land that was unlucky enough to be outside its graces.
When it became too dark to see the faint outlines of the road's edge, Dean cracked one of the glow sticks, illuminating his surroundings with an ethereal neon yellow.
"This is like…the zombie apocalypse," he muttered aloud, just to hear something besides the quiet, "without the zombies. I hope."
His teeth chattered incessantly unless he clenched his jaw. However, several hours of clenching had given him a headache to rival his worst concussion. The cold seemed to only accentuate his bruises, turning the light up bright on his aches and putting his exhaustion center stage.
He strained in the quiet to hear the noise from animals who sought shelter from the shadows of the night. Zombies he could handle. Vampires, werewolves, spirits of any variety, he was ready for. Bears and regular wolves, however, that was another story.
It took him roughly three hours to reach the town sign. Holding the fading glow stick up to the wooden letters, he ran his eyes over their claims, the static-filled news report echoing in his memory.
"Yeah, and Twin Peaks was the happiest place on earth," he commented dryly, turning from the sign and finding the path once more.
Crossing the odd threshold of trees between what felt like wilderness and New Lethe, he felt his skin prickle with the stillness, sucking the remaining moister from his sun- and wind-burned cheeks and forcing him to wipe weathered tears from his eyes. He saw Sam's tracks blown away by tire treads and other footprints, following them toward a building with light and the promise of warmth emanating from its windows. It was too dark for Dean to read the sign to tell what the establishment was.
"Could be a witch's rest stop for all I care," he panted, making his way to the door.
The initial warmth was so intense it was actually painful. He stopped in the entrance and closed his eyes, swaying a moment as his body tingled, shivering from relief and cold.
For a moment, Dean was certain that voice was Bobby's. So much so that his eyes popped wide as he searched for the source. A weathered man with a kind, but wary expression stood across the hall from him, blocking the entrance to the larger room.
"I'm…," Dean found he had to pause and swallow, his lips and throat parched, cracked, and raw. "'m looking for…m'brother."
The man tilted his head quizzically and Dean watched with a sense of detachment as eyes raked over him from head to toe. He knew he had to look like a reject from a movie set with his blanket-wrapped legs and poncho, the only thing visible being his weary eyes.
"Is your brother a tall kid? Floppy hair? Kinda gangly?"
Dean raised an eyebrow. "So you've met him?"
"Son, I sent him into town about two hours ago." The man swiveled, giving Dean access to the main room.
Dean didn't move. He wasn't sure if he could.
"He was looking for a shovel and some sand. Said he had to dig you out."
"I got tired of waiting."
The man stepped forward, gripping Dean's arm. "You look half frozen."
"Looks can be deceiving," Dean replied, allowing the man to pull him further into the warmth of the diner.
The smell of coffee almost had Dean's knees buckling. Without a word, the man shoved Dean—duffel bag and all—into the nearest booth.
"Stay there. I'll get you some coffee."
At the moment, Dean didn't think he'd be able to move if the man lit the room on fire in front of him. He slowly pulled the ski mask from his face, shoving the hood back and rubbing his gloved hands over his sweaty, frozen, disheveled hair. Sniffing, he pulled the gloves off next, curling frozen fingers against his frozen cheeks and closing his eyes briefly.
The voice jarred him from his newfound heat-induced coma. The smell of coffee lifted his heavy lids.
"Didn't know what you took in it," the man shrugged, a handful of sugar packets and half-n-half cups in one hand, a steaming mug of black coffee in the other.
Dean took the coffee and breathed in the aroma before sipping the scalding liquid.
"Man takes it black. Good to know."
"You said you saw Sam?"
"Never got his name."
"Floppy-haired kid you sent out for a shovel," Dean clarified.
"Yeah," the man answered. "Said he couldn't wait until tomorrow for my truck; said his brother was back at the car."
"I was," Dean said, sipping more coffee.
"You aren't there now," the man pointed out.
Dean's eyebrows flexed. "You don't miss much."
The man raised a shoulder. "I'm the Medical Examiner," he said. "They pay me to be observant."
Dean almost grinned. If this guy said okey-dokey, he might've just found a fan. A thought occurred to him and he dug out his cell phone.
"Oh, thank God," Dean breathed. "Bars."
"Bars?" the M.E. asked.
Dean held the phone up. "Bars," he repeated, checking his voicemail. He listened as Sam informed him that he was almost to Lethe, then as Sam proclaimed the town as their kind of weird.
"Yeah, that's what I was afraid of," Dean whispered, thinking of the news report and ignoring the M.E.'s curious glance.
When he last heard Sam's message about a cabin near the lake and getting jumped, he sat up straighter, his ire heating him faster than the warm diner could.
"You know someone named Colin?" Dean asked the M.E.
The other man frowned. "Colin?"
"Lives in some cabin? Outskirts of town? Real near the lake?"
The M.E. shook his head. "Only place I know of is the Sanderson place."
"Great." Dean stood up. "Where's that?"
"Son, you need to sit down, warm up a bit. Don't mind me saying, you look a bit like death. And I should know."
Dean shoved the ski mask in his pocket, grabbing his gloves. "What I need to do is find my brother. You gonna tell me where this place is or not?"
Eyes narrowed as if weighing the consequences of forcing Dean to stand down or giving him the information he wanted, the M.E. finally nodded.
"Head west toward town until you see the fork in the road. Take a right, toward the lake. The cabin is the only one along that road, back off into the trees a bit. You got a flashlight?"
"No," Dean shook his head.
"Mandy probably has one back there somewhere," the M.E. said, standing to call out.
Dean saw a tiny woman with gray hair and sharp eyes emerge from behind the counter. She looked at Dean and he felt himself stripped bare. He had to glance away.
"You have a flashlight back there?" the M.E. asked her.
"I do. Out of batteries, though," she replied, still eyeing Dean.
What the hell is it with batteries today? Dean mentally groaned.
"It's okay," Dean turned toward the door. "I've got it covered."
"Be careful!" the M.E. called after him. "There's some…some strange things happening in New Lethe."
"Story of my life, pal," Dean replied, pulling the hood up and stepping back outside.
The frigid night air slapped his bare face with a hand full of knives. Dean gasped from the impact, then burrowed deeper into his make-shift gear. He had to force himself to take the first step away from the diner's warmth, but once he was moving, he found he wasn't inclined to stop. Movement at least meant he was doing something.
He cracked the second glow stick and followed the M.E.'s directions. Holding the light in front of him like a beacon, he found the fork in the path and continued on, looking for lights or the cabin.
A flashing neon sign that said this way, Dean would have been nice. Something to get him to Sam and out of the cold.
"I'm so friggin' sick of being cold," he whispered to the uncaring darkness.
The moon teased him with glimpses of the lake to his right, and clusters of trees that might've been a cabin to his left. After a beat of staring into the trees, he realized that he was seeing a cabin, but that it was dark and silent; no flicker of light gave away the existence of inhabitants.
His senses tingling, the hairs on the back of his neck at attention, Dean crept closer to the cabin, then shrugged out of the cross-body straps of the duffel. Setting the bag down against the base of a large tree, he unzipped it, peering inside, trying to figure out what might be best to take. Slipping off his gloves to better grip the weapons, he leaned one hand against the tree, the glow stick caught in his chilled fingers.
"You see that?"
Sam looked up at Colin's words, relieved that the aspirin was finally taking hold, dulling the hammering scream of pain behind his eyes to something that was at least tolerable.
"That…green light out there!" Colin was peering through the window, the flashlight in his hand.
Sam frowned, joining Colin at the window and following his eye line. He saw the light; couldn't place it, but it looked…almost familiar.
"It's them," Colin spat. "Bastards are coming after me because I stopped them from beating on you."
"You don't know that," Sam said, then turned quickly to face Colin when he heard the unmistakable sound of magazine being checked in a hand gun.
Gripped tightly in the soldier's hand was an M1911—very similar to Dean's favorite weapon of choice, older, less shiny, but just as deadly.
Instinctively, Sam's hand went to the small of his back, where the only weapon he'd agreed to take with him on his trek, despite the fact that Dean had tried to insist on more, was safely tucked away.
Colin flicked off the safety and took a breath, his hand on the door knob.
"Colin, wait!" Sam tried, pulling his weapon and holding it down by his side. "You don't know what that is."
The look Colin gave him should have turned him to stone. "I've been fighting these sonsabitches off for three years. You don't think I know when they're set to terrorize me? I'm done with it. It's too much."
"You can't just go…shooting people!" Sam protested, moving to stop him.
Everything seemed to speed up around him, as if he'd been suspended in time until this moment and now he was running in sand, unable to catch up to the spin of the world.
"Keep an eye on my dad."
With that last missive, Colin darted through the door, firing toward the green light.
The first shot was high and wide and sent Dean into an instinctive crouch. The second shot bounced the glow stick from his grip.
"Shit!" Dean exclaimed, turning from the bag of weapons and thrusting his hands out to find the nearest tree in the dark.
Gone were thoughts of cold and discomfort. The sound of a bullet striking something solid sent Dean's blood to rising and his breath hammering through his system in an automatic fight-or-flight reaction.
"I know you're out there!" called an angry voice. "You aren't going to get us! YOU HEAR ME! I won't let you run us off!"
Dean rolled away from a third shot, the snow hissing across his exposed skin, heading toward the lake. He could see the moonlight hitting the edges of the iced-over water like a beacon. Ducking instinctively, he ran, trying to find a place to hide until he could circle around his attacker and catch him by surprise.
The new voice sliced through Dean like a knife, bringing his head up and around, his breath wrung from his lungs.
"Colin! Wait! Don't shoot!"
"Sam…." Dean breathed, searching the darkness for his brother.
He heard rapid footfalls crunching snow under treads, harsh breaths beating against the air. Sam was there…out there and it was going to get him.
He needed to grab him, keep him close, protect him.
Searching for Sam, he stepped into a clearing between trees, the moonlight bouncing off the icy lake, throwing him into shadow.
Sam saw the figure step out from the line of trees as if offering himself up as a sacrifice to crazy. He saw the person shift, as if poised to run toward them.
"Wait!" Sam shouted again, scrambling after Colin, trying to catch the soldier before he made a mistake he'd regret for the rest of his life. "Colin! Don't!"
Colin ignored him, firing once more. Sam gasped as the figure jerked, twisted, and cried out. Before any of the still-moving figures could react, the wounded man slipped backward, arms pin wheeling for balance, falling hard against the ice on the lake, his body cracking the surface and the chilled water sucking him under with greedy fingers as he scrambled for purchase.
Sam's heart thudded painfully against his ribs as he ran.
"I got him!" Colin shouted triumphantly as the figure fell through the ice.
Sam never stopped moving. He headed for the edge of the lake, his eyes darting in a panic so complete it canceled out all other thought.
The tug of the bullet was more an annoyance than a real pain. His body was too cold to register the slice across the flesh of his shoulder and he wore too many layers for it to cut deeply.
But the damage had been done. The force of the impact destroyed his balance.
Dean felt himself spinning sideways, unable to grasp anything, unable to stop his backward slide. He almost didn't feel the impact with the ice. His breath bounced from his lungs—a visible cloud of life poised just above his body, suspended as if bidding him farewell.
The water grabbed him quickly; anxious hands pulling him down and tucking him below the surface of the ice before he was able to grab another breath to replace his lost air.
The water burned him. It was so cold that his skin felt alight with fire.
He crashed his bare fists against the ice, trying to keep his wits close, trying to drag himself back to the hole he'd gone through, but something was tugging at his legs, pulling him deeper, farther from the only means of escape he could see. He slapped his hands against the underside of the ice, desperately wanting to call out, call for help, call for Sam, but the current was insistent and kept him from finding solace.
His brain screamed. His body screamed. His lungs screamed.
The cold was shorting out logic, erasing words, cutting off meaning. All he knew was pain and ice. The only word that surfaced, the only word he recognized, was please.
Darkness was beneath the ice with him; a separate entity that had been waiting, watching for him to slip to the other side the protective shell and join it.
Darkness writhed around him, climbing his body, slipping into his blinking eyes, his gaping mouth. It was inside of him, the dark. A part of him in a way nothing had been before. He wasn't outside of himself, watching himself as he had been after the accident. He wasn't trapped in a dream or feeling the life ebb away.
He was simply wrapped in dark, its hands seductive, its mouth a caress, its eyes boring into his until he felt himself giving in. Until he shook with surrender, ready to give in.
Under the brilliant spotlight of the moon, Sam had seen the man fall in, saw the current grab and pull him, saw the shadow of his body moving beneath the surface. Sam ran along the slippery edge of the water, counting the seconds in his head, feeling himself run out of time.
When the body snagged on something, halting its movement, Sam gasped with momentary relief. He slid to a stop, falling to his rear in the snow. He leaned across the edge of the ice, pounding against it ineffectually with closed fists. He wasn't going to break through, not like that. Standing, he dug his heels in, pointed the gun at the ice just above the figure's head and began firing.
He barely felt himself shaking.
The darkness was winning despite the great crashes of thunder tearing through the water and ice. He couldn't breathe, couldn't move, couldn't fight. Thought was all-but a memory.
And then a hand grabbed him by the collar.
And he was being pulled free of the darkness, its fingers trailing down his body, leaving its tattoo on his soul. It tugged even as the hand tugged, but Dean's head broke the surface of the water and his skin tightened against the bones on his face, retreating from the cold.
The water was like liquid fire as he plunged his hand through the hole he'd created in the ice. He flailed for a moment before feeling the edge of a jacket. Reaching further, he grabbed hold, and tugged, pulling the water-logged body from the clutches of the ice-heavy lake.
And then he saw the face. His brother's face.
"Oh, shit, oh, shit, Dean," Sam gasped as his brother's blue-tinged face broke the surface of the water.
Sam's heart stopped beating, then slammed to life painful as he slipped and slid on the snow-covered bank of the lake, trying to haul Dean free.
"What the hell, man! Oh, shit shitshitshitshitshit…."
The litany of curses continued as Sam began to shiver from the cold, pulling Dean free from the water, and up to the bank. He'd yet to hear Dean make a sound.
"Breathe, Dean!" He demanded, shaking his brother as he scrambled backwards. "Breathe, dammit! Please!"
He was almost crying with panic, desperation lacing each word as he felt the heaviness of Dean's body, the death-like chill of the skin that touched his. He dropped Dean on the ground, hard, jarring both of them, and was rewarded by a gut-deep cough. Climbing over his brother's wet form, Sam grabbed two wet handfuls of blanket and turned Dean to his side, slapping him hard on the back. Water burbled from Dean's mouth, followed by another deep cough.
"That's it! Another one like that! C'mon, man! Breathe!"
Dean retched water, his body spasming in Sam's grip. He coughed, visibly working to pull air into lungs too cold to properly inflate.
Sam looked around, wildly, for Colin.
"Colin! Colin! I need your help!"
The former soldier edged closer, staring down at Dean's drenched form with an unreadable expression, his gun still clutched in his hand. Dean was instinctively curling in to himself, his legs drawing up, his shaking arms tightening against his chest as he coughed.
"It's…he's my brother, man," Sam gasped, finding it hard to connect his thoughts and complete a sentence. He was so cold. "You gotta help me."
Dropping the gun, Sam scrambled clumsily to pull at Dean's wet clothes with icy fingers. "Gotta get these off…gotta get him dry…." He was stammering, his words simply a mantra of focus in a world of hurry.
"I'm…I'm sorry," Colin whispered. "I'm so sorry."
He couldn't think, couldn't move. But he was breathing.
Dean grabbed that lifeline and gripped tight, feeling the deep ache in his lungs as air replaced water, light cutting through the darkness that still reached for him. Dimly he was aware of his brother's hands—on him, gripping him, holding him, saving him. He tried to blink, afraid to close his eyes even for that short of time.
And then he saw it. The darkness. Standing next to Sam.
A specter. A wraith.
And all he could do was shake.
"Colin," Sam pleaded, swallowing.
They had to move faster. He had to hurry. It was so cold. He couldn't untangle the clothes, couldn't get his fingers to cooperate. It was so cold—the snow, the wind the closeness of the frigid water…. He had to get Dean inside.
"I need help. Need to get him warm. Now."
Dean was shivering. Violent, almost seizure-like tremors coursed through his body as small crystals of ice began to form on his wet hair, his eyes half-opened and staring vaguely into the middle distance. Sam wrapped his arms around Dean's shoulders, leveraging him up so that Sam was crouched behind him.
Setting his heels and shoving upright with all of his might, Sam stood, a gut-deep growl accentuating his effort, his brother a heavy wet mass in his grip. He looked over to Colin for help and saw that the man was gone. He cast a desperate glance to the cabin and saw that the door was open for them.
"C'mon, Dean," Sam encouraged his shaking brother, trying to maintain his hold on the quivering, sopping form. "C'mon, man. You can do this. Walk with me. You gotta move, now, okay? Move, Dean."
Sam dragged him forward, holding as tightly as he could.
"R-r-reap… R-reap…." Dean tried.
"What? What, Dean?"
Just a few more steps…we can do this…we can do this.
Sam felt his breath turn backwards. "Reaper?" He repeated. "You saw a Reaper?"
"C-coming…c-coming f-for m-m-me…."
"No," Sam shook his head, digging deeper, finding another gear, moving faster. He was barely able to maintain his grip, but there was no way he was letting go. "No, Dean. Not this time. Not this time."
They half-stumbled, half-fell across the threshold; Sam went to his knees, scrambling to keep Dean against him, though the water was swiftly soaking through Sam's clothes as well. Sam saw that Colin had moved the couch directly in front of the fire. He was stoking the flames with several large logs.
Gaining his feet, Sam dragged Dean by the shoulders, his boots thunking and shifting across the wooden floorboards as they moved, and heaved him up on the couch, off the floor. Dean slumped almost immediately, curling forward with the force of his tremors.
Moving quickly, Sam began to remove Dean's layers of clothes.
"Close the door," he ordered Colin. "Get me some blankets. As many as you've got."
He pulled at Dean's poncho, his brother's icy face falling forward to rest against his neck. His fingers got tangled in the water-logged material.
"What the hell is all of this?" He cursed. Blankets.
Dean had wrapped blankets around him for warmth. His hands moved to the rope around Dean's waist, keeping the blanket in place; the water had soaked it, freezing it against the material of the blankets.
"Shit! I can't get this. Dammit, Dean!"
A strange sound slipped from Dean's lips; not quite a cry, not quite a whimper, but enough to send a bolt of pain through Sam's heart as Dean's shivering increased.
"I need a knife!" Sam yelled.
"What?" Colin asked, sounding dazed.
"A knife!" Sam shot him a look, seeing a pile of blankets neatly stacked next to the couch where Colin had been standing moments ago. "Need to cut this off of him!"
Colin reached into his back pocket and pulled out a slim blade, flicking it open with a soft snick. He stabbed it into the cushion of the couch for Sam to grab. Sam worked quickly, cutting the rope and duffel ties that held the wet, frozen blankets in place, then pulling the wet clothes off, layer by layer as Dean shook against him, his breath stuttering in short, desperate gasps.
"We need to get him dry." Colin stated.
"I know," Sam said, removing the last of the wet shirts and tipping Dean back to start on his boots and jeans.
"Need to warm his core first—"
"I know," Sam snapped, grabbing a blanket to cover Dean's upper body as he finished pulling the wet jeans and boxers from his lower body. "It's your fault he's in his mess," he muttered beneath his breath.
Colin turned away. "I'll get some more wood."
"Dean?" Sam continued to wrap his brother in blankets from the pile next to him, tipping him to his side and making sure to wrap the blankets around his back. He tucked one blanket around his head, drying his icy hair. "Dean, you with me? Hey, hey, look at me, man."
Dean continued to stare at a point just over Sam's shoulder, focused on nothing, his lips parted, bluish, cracked from sun and cold.
"Oh, c'mon, man, no. No no no, don't do this. Don't do this to me."
He tapped Dean's cold face, turning it to face him, terror shooting through him at the vacant, unblinking stare coupled with the low keen that rode the back of Dean's quick breaths. He was shaking so hard Sam felt the couch shift.
"Hey, hey, Dean," Sam said, pressing the heat of his palms on either side of Dean's ice-cold face. "Look at me…look at me, man. Hey, you're breathing, okay? You're breathing, you're alive. There's no Reaper. No Reaper, man."
He needed to do more, needed to warm his brother's core. The only thing he could think of was sharing body heat. Moving quickly, Sam shrugged out of his layers of shirts, and kicked his wet, snow-covered boots free. Keeping his jeans on, Sam worked his way beneath the layers of blankets, turning them so that the heat of the fire would hit Dean's back. Sam pressed Dean's frigid chest to his, wrapping his arms around his brother's shoulders.
Dean's shivering made it difficult to hold on, but Sam pulled him close, gripping him tight. He was at the wrong angle to see Dean's face, but he could feel him breathing—staggered, stuttering gasps for air that felt like he was just pretending.
"Sam?" Colin's voice was close, uncertain.
"Put more wood on the fire," Sam ordered Colin over Dean's shoulder.
Colin moved around the couch, not looking their way, and stoked the fire with more logs. The flames shot up hot and bright. Sam closed his eyes, willing heat to bleed from his body to his brother's. The sluggish ka-thunk of Dean's heart beat at half the speed of Sam's and Sam moved his hands down Dean's spine, working to warm the blood flow around his heart.
"I don't have a car," Colin said quietly from somewhere behind them. "And we don't have a phone."
Sam didn't reply, knowing what he meant: no means to get to an ER. Not that they could go there anyway. Not with Hendrickson no doubt staking out every public building in Wisconsin and Minnesota.
"C'mon, Dean," Sam whispered. "C'mon, man. Please."
Dean's shuddering breath skimmed across Sam's ear. He could feel the death-like texture of his brother's skin. He reached up and tucked the blanket closer around Dean's head and neck, looking down to make sure their feet were covered. Even through his jeans and thermal underwear, he felt the chill of Dean's legs.
"Why, huh? Why'd you do it? I was gonna come back!"
Dean simply shook against him. The heart-breaking sound had quieted and all Sam was left with was the huh-uh huh-uh sound of his brother's breath. Sam lifted his face, craning his neck to see that Dean's eyes were closed; he wasn't aware, but at least he wasn't staring blankly at nothing. Sam felt tears build painfully in his throat, cutting off any words he might utter.
He held his brother close, his face buried in the folds of blankets around Dean's head.
After what felt like hours, Sam felt Dean's trembling start to ease. Not daring to move, he waited, listening to Dean breathe. Several minutes more and Sam realized he wasn't as chilled, the heart beating against him had picked up speed to something resembling normal, and Dean's breath sounds had begun to even out slightly.
He felt his body start to relax.
Sam pulled his head up. "Dean?"
"You fell in the lake."
"G-get offa me."
"You were freezing, Dean. I had to get your core warm—"
Dean didn't move; Sam wasn't sure if he could.
But Sam felt the shift in awareness, knew that the realization that they were skin-on-skin, wrapped up under blankets was catching up with Dean. Wordlessly, and without disturbing the blankets too much, Sam slipped free. He turned Dean carefully to face the fire, grabbing the rest of the blankets and piling them on Dean, tucking them around him as tightly as possible before pulling on his own layers of shirts.
He watched his brother's face closely. Dean was still pale—frighteningly so—but his lips were no longer blue.
"Hey," Sam called quietly. "You with me?"
"Didn't fall," Dean muttered.
Sam almost smiled. "Yeah, you did, man. I watched—" his throat caught at the memory of watching the body—the body he hadn't known was Dean—fall through the ice, "—I watched you."
Sam blinked, surprised that he'd forgotten that. "Oh, damn!"
"F-flesh w-wound. Sh-shoulder."
Sam pulled the blanket away from Dean's arm, seeing the angry groove across the meat of Dean's upper shoulder, weeping sluggishly against the blankets. He looked around for Colin, finding that they were once again alone. Standing, Sam rummaged around in the kitchen, looking for the first aid kit.
Dean's ragged cough brought his head around. He highly doubted there was anything in this old, mildew and rust filled cabin to combat a cough like that. Finding the first aid kit resting on the counter next to the sink, he returned to his brother.
"Gonna just clean this out, okay?"
"'Kay," Dean whispered, his eyes still closed.
"Dean?" Sam pressed a piece of gauze soaked in hydrogen peroxide against the wound. He frowned when Dean didn't flinch. "What the hell were you doing, man?"
"L-lookin' f'y-you," Dean said. "'mpala d-died."
Sam looked at him quickly. "Died?"
A particularly harsh shiver shook Dean as he nodded. "C-couldn't just s-sit there."
Sam closed his eyes briefly, then taped a bandage over the cut on Dean's shoulder. Without another word, he tucked the blanket back up around him.
"Get some rest, man," Sam whispered.
"Where…where're we?" Dean's eyes were oddly bright in the firelight as he looked around the dimly lit room.
Sam rubbed his face. "Oz," he replied.
"F-figures," Dean replied, his eyes slipping closed.
Sam stood, pulling on his hoodie, and gathered the clothes that he hadn't cut apart to free Dean, laying them out in front of the fireplace to dry. He checked on Dean, making sure he was breathing as regularly as possible. Confused and worried as to where the people who actually lived in this house would have gone, Sam made his way back to the kitchen and opened one of the two doors he'd seen there.
It led to a set of stairs. He held his breath, listening. He could hear soft, modulated voices above him and surmised that Colin and Wallace had retreated. As he closed the door, he gaze was caught by the mirror mounted on the wall to his left. For a moment he thought he saw the reflection of someone's back—as if they were staring out through the window. He turned, but there was no one behind him.
Frowning, he looked back at the mirror, but saw only the image of his battered face.
"You are losing it, Sam," he whispered to himself, then made his way to the small door next to the fridge. It led to a bathroom.
After using the facilities, he poked around beneath the sink and found an old, rubber hot-water bottle. Turning the tap on as hot as he could get it, he filled the bottle, capped it, and returned to the warmth of the main room.
Exhausted beyond rational thought, Sam stumbled back toward the couch, going to his knees in a messy heap of limbs. He leaned forward, tucking the water bottle against Dean's chest, watching as his brother instinctively wrapped his arms around the heat. Sam rested his forehead against his cocooned brother, his hand on Dean's chest, reassured by the steady rise and fall of breath interrupted less and less frequently by shivers.
Dean's dreams had turned sideways. The darkness that had seeped into him under the ice gripped him as he stumbled through the maze in his mind.
Disjointed images textured themselves on the backs of his closed eyes and he wanted to wake up, banish them, but he was so tired. Heat swamped him chased away by a bone-cracking cold that sent him back to shivering. He thrashed against the impossible weight at his chest, shoving against the tight arms of darkness, wanting to keep it away because with it came the Reaper and with the Reaper….
It was as if he were caught in a screening of a movie about himself that he could only hear. He knew there was something happening around him, something he needed to focus on and see, but the only thing real was the cold and the heat and the only thing that he remotely recognized were the steady stream of words.
Words like easy, man, you're safe.
Words like stop fighting, Dean.
Words like I've got you, I won't let go.
Words like please stop shaking…how do I get you to stop shaking.
Words like it's not gonna get you, I won't let it get you.
Words like it's going to be okay, I'm here…I'm here….
After endless hours of words, he finally felt himself surrender—this time to warmth and peace. A big sweep of nothing washed over him and he gave way to it, needing to shut off, to disengage, to just let go.
Without warning, Dean found himself awake, his body jerking as if he'd fallen, crashing against the ground hard enough to thrust life back into his aching body. The memory of the water grabbing him, pulling him down, sucking him under slammed into him with brute force, and he groaned out loud.
Sam's groggy voice pulled at him. Dean blinked, the faded sunlight sifting through the small windows did little to illuminate their surroundings. He tried to take a deep breath, turn his head, look for Sam, but his ribs punched back and he found himself coughing, one arm wrapped around his middle, trying to keep himself from flying apart.
"No." His chest hurt. His shoulder hurt. His voice hurt. Hell, his hair hurt.
"That was a long ass night," Sam yawned.
Dean turned his head, the muscles in his neck screaming in protest.
"Where're you?" he rasped.
"I'm right here, man," Sam replied, tiredly, as if he'd said it a dozen times. Which, Dean realized belatedly, he had.
Sam sat next to him on a wooden chair, his elbows on his knees, fingers laced together. Butterfly bandages crossed a wide cut on his forehead and his eye was bruised black. Bloodshot hazel eyes peered at him from the gloom.
"What happened to you?" Dean rasped.
"Long story," Sam said. "Probably as long as yours."
Dean closed his eyes and turned his head, rubbing the tender, ice- and sun-burned skin of his face against the blankets wrapped around him. His head was wrapped in blankets, as was the rest of him. It took him a moment to realize he didn't have anything on except blankets.
"Where're my clothes?" He peeked out at Sam with one eye.
Sam gestured vaguely to the fireplace, flames crackling happily across from him.
"Some over there, some back there," Sam pointed behind Dean. "Some I had to cut off."
Dean closed his eyes, images of the previous night shifting and sliding focus behind his closed lids. He recalled the shock of pain as he fell through the ice. He remembered trying to walk toward the cabin…vague impressions of firelight and Sam were split by a terrifying image that chased him through his nightmares.
"You used my rope," Sam said suddenly. "I couldn't get it off of you. Had to cut it and the blankets."
"You took all the other clothes," Dean replied, his face buried and he tried to erase the images he didn't want to contemplate.
Images of darkness. Images of Sam. The two sliding together and crashing in a horrific Rorschach test behind his eyes.
"You were supposed to stay in the car," Sam countered.
"Couldn't," Dean muttered succinctly.
Sam sighed. "I told you that rope would come in handy."
"Imagine me rolling my eyes."
They were quiet for a bit, the sound of the fire filling the spaces between twin heartbeats.
"We crashed outside of crazy town," Sam told him.
"Define…," Dean shifted finally, bringing his face around, dislodging the blanket from around his head, "…crazy."
"Wheels off the ground, no oars in the water, crazy."
Dean groaned, closing his eyes. "Don't say…water."
"You scared me, Dean."
Sam's voice was so serious, so soft, Dean looked over at him.
"And…it's not like we could go to an ER…."
Dean was quiet, words too heavy in his mouth to push forward. Another memory bounced up—the memory of Sam holding him close, keeping him warm, saving his life. The memory of Sam's desperate words anchoring him.
"I didn't mean to fall in, Sam."
"What were you doing out there?" Sam demanded, looking up and Dean saw tears balanced on his lashes.
"I was trying to find you," Dean replied. "Couldn't see any lights on inside."
Sam sighed, dropping his head into his hands. Dean felt a cough building in his chest and pressed one hand against his ribs, holding in the ache as the air rattled through him. The way his throat felt when the air ripped across it, he knew he'd been coughing like this for awhile.
"You're going to cough up a lung," Sam said toward the floor.
"I'll be okay soon as I get up."
Sam looked up at him. "You were hypothermic, Dean. People don't just…get up from that."
"I can't stay here, Sam." He pushed up to one elbow, the couch beneath him creaking. He caught his breath, closing his eyes as his body protested the movement. "Where's…here…again?"
Sam looked at him another moment as if weighing his options. Finally, he stood, turning away. "Some cabin near the lake. Some guy named Colin lives here with his old man. Colin's a Marine—served in Iraq. His dad, Wallace, had a stroke and he's taking care of him."
He moved out of Dean's line of sight. Uncomfortable with that, Dean pushed himself further up, ignoring his body's whimpers and cries. He kept one blanket wrapped around his shoulders, clutching it with one hand as he looked over his shoulder at his brother.
"Where are they now?"
"Wallace is upstairs," Sam said, scooping coffee into a percolator and setting it on the stove before lighting the flame. He grabbed a glass and filled it with tap water. "I just checked on him a little while before you woke up. He's…fine, I guess. Colin left. Early this morning."
"Where'd he go?"
"You got me." Sam crossed over to Dean, handing him the water and waiting until he drank the glass empty. "Said something about you keeping him up and needing some fresh air."
Dean frowned. "How did I keep him up?"
Sam glanced at him. "Told you it was a long night."
Dean looked down, remembering the dreams, the terror of being trapped by the darkness. "I kept dreaming about…a Reaper."
"Yeah," Sam said, watching him. "I know."
"Coulda sworn…," he cleared his throat. "I thought I saw one. Last night."
"I know," Sam repeated softly.
Unsettled by the lack of control last night brought on, Dean rubbed the back of his head, looking away. He needed something to do, someone to be. He couldn't be a fugitive with his car buried in a snow bank. He couldn't be a protector if his brother was saving his ass. He couldn't be a hunter with nothing to hunt.
He was adrift and it scared him. It scared him more than the darkness had.
"Sam," Dean said, swallowing hard, his throat whimpering in protest and his voice betraying him by turning gravel-rough. "I think there's something going on in this town."
"How do you know that?" Sam's surprise was palpable.
Dean told him about the news report he'd heard on the radio before the Impala's battery died. "Then I got your message about this being our kind of weird…."
"You're saying you want to hunt this…whatever it is."
Dean simply looked at him, willing his brother to understand.
"No," Sam shook his head, moving away from the kitchen toward where Dean sat on the couch, his hands out as if he were about to grab him. "No way, man. Not after—"
"Sam, this is what we do!" Dean tried to push himself to his feet, but his legs trembled too much. He bit back a groan, sinking back to the couch and glanced around for his clothes.
Sam crossed the room, grabbing his boxers from the back of a chair near the fireplace. He tossed them to Dean who pulled them on under his blankets. Taking a breath, Dean tried to stand once more, reaching gratefully for Sam's hand as a brace.
"We don't have to do our jobs all the time, Dean," Sam said quietly. "Sometimes, we just have to survive."
"You have a way to get the Impala out?" Dean challenged him, leaning against the fireplace to pull on his jeans and trying not to shiver now that he was out from under the protection of the blankets.
Sam sighed, shoving his hair away from his face. "I was going to get shovels and sand, but I don't think you're going to be digging anything out anytime soon. Cooper has a truck with a winch, but—"
"Who the hell is Cooper?" Dean asked, frowning at the bandage on his shoulder before pulling his Henley over his head.
"The Medical Examiner. Met him yesterday at the diner." Sam handed Dean his flannel shirt. "He has a truck, but he wasn't too excited about me borrowing it and he has to…stand guard or something until this memorial service is over today."
Dressed in everything except his boots, Dean sat heavily on the chair Sam had vacated. "Memorial for the body they found in the lake."
"Right," Sam nodded. "They cremated her."
"Before or after the mayor drowned at his desk?"
"Before. I think."
"That's what I figured," Dean muttered, leaning forward, elbows on knees, and swallowed a cough. The last time he'd hurt this bad he'd been electrocuted. He was willing to bet he looked about as good as he had then, based on the expression on Sam's battered face when he glanced this way.
"We can do something here, Sam," Dean pressed, lifting his eyes to meet his brother's. "Help these people."
"Why should we?" Sam shot back, his eyes swimming once more. "Nothing we do…none of it matters. You still get accused of murder, we're still on the run, and there's no one to help us when we need it most."
Dean looked down, his brother's pain very real in that dusky cabin.
"You were…you felt dead, Dean." Sam's voice cracked across his name. "You were so cold and…you weren't looking at me. You weren't looking at anything. And you made this…this sound…."
"I don't remember that," Dean whispered.
Sam sniffed. "The only thing that made me think you weren't going to just…die in my arms…was the way you were shaking."
Dean took a breath. "I know what you did for me, Sam." He looked up, waiting until Sam's eyes met his. "You saved my life, man. You totally annihilated my personal space boundary…but you saved my life."
Sam didn't laugh. Watching him, Dean saw the tears lose their balance on the edge of his lashes and tumble down his cheek leaving quiet tracks on a face lined with exhaustion. Dean knew his brother hadn't gotten much—if any—sleep the night before. They were both running on empty, both beat up, and Dean could feel the press of a ragged cough at the base of his throat.
Logic stated they find a way to get the Impala out, get as much space between them and Hendrickson as possible, and go to ground. Just like they'd planned. But the war between logic and necessity had never been an easy one for Dean. Especially considering the way he defined need.
"Sam, when you were gone, I, uh…I fell asleep for a little bit. In the Impala." He cleared his throat, willing himself not to cough. "And I had this dream."
The smell of coffee shoved back the dank stench of age in the cabin. A clock ticked loudly from a wall in the kitchen. Sam's harsh breathing stabbed through the space between them.
"Well, I thought it was a dream, but it turns out it was a memory."
Sam sniffed. "'Bout what?"
"You were, I don't know, about eight maybe? And Dad was hunting a werewolf up in northern Michigan."
Sam leaned against the wall beneath the out-of-place mirror, sliding down to the ground to rest his arms across his bent knees as he listened. Dean rose, moving slowly and stiffly to the stove, and poured two mugs of coffee.
"He made us hide in this basement of an old house and told me no matter what, keep you with me. No matter what. Stay together."
Crossing the room, he handed a mug to Sam. He caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror and blinked in surprised. He looked worse than terrible. Dark circles beneath his eyes were accentuated by the pallor of his skin; cracked, peeling lips cut a slash of red across his face and the bruises from his struggle with the shapeshifter framed one cheekbone.
The worse, though, were his eyes. They matched Sam's in exhaustion—bloodshot and red-rimmed, he looked half-stoned. He looked away, remembering suddenly the blurred image of someone—Sam—standing over him on the other side of the ice, the water stinging and freezing his vision.
He slid down the wall to sit next to his brother, shoulders touching, mugs held in their chilled hands. Coughing into the crook of his elbow, he took a breath, wincing at the hitch in his chest, and continued talking.
"I could hear it outside the window of the basement. Dad was in the house, upstairs. He didn't know where it was. He was yelling at me to send you outside, telling you to run. I was yelling back no, no, we're staying together." Dean sipped the coffee. "We're staying together."
"What happened?" Sam asked, his voice hushed.
"I shoved you back into the corner of the basement, and I sat in front of you, my back to the window, and I made you look at me. I told you to repeat your multiplication tables as loud as you could."
Sam frowned, the bruise around his eye erasing years with the expression. "I remember that. I don't remember a werewolf, though."
"We never told you that's what it was."
"I thought Dad was mad at us."
"He was scared. He came down in the basement, saw us, saw the bastard working its way through the window toward us, and hauled us out of there. We ran like the devil was after us."
"He never got the werewolf?"
Dean shook his head. "Sent Pastor Jim after it."
"Huh," Sam sipped his coffee. "Why're you telling me this?"
"Dad was trying to keep us off the grid; he'd gotten a visit from Social Services earlier in the week—your teacher reported him. I can't remember why."
Sam tipped his head back against the wall. "And he found a hunt anyway."
"Or a hunt found him," Dean shrugged. "Point is, we stayed together, we stayed alive, and we got the job done. One way or another."
"So you're saying that…even though we've got nowhere to stay, and even though you almost froze to death, and even though our car is buried hip deep in snow…," Sam glanced over at him. "You still want to take on this job?"
"I'm saying…it's what we are. It's who we are. I don't think you could walk out on this anymore than I could."
"What about Hendrickson?"
Dean nodded. "Yeah, I know. We'll have to be careful."
"Careful? We have to be invisible."
Dean held out one of his hands in front of him, taking in the motion of his fingers as he curled them into a fist against his palm, remember how inadequate they'd been at breaking him free of the deadly ice.
"Thing is, Sammy," he said softly. "If I don't do this? I kinda already am."
"You are what?"
Sam set his mug down, half-turning to face him. "No you're not. I see you. And don't forget whose mug shot it is on the Channel 8 news."
Dean felt his mouth tug up into a half-smile. "That's not what I mean."
He couldn't explain to Sam any more than he could clear it up for himself, but without a purpose, without a mission, he felt himself disappearing. Sam didn't need a guardian like he used to. All he needed was a brother. For now. If he didn't do the job—especially when it was right in front of him—then what was he?
Sam sighed. "This is crazy."
Dean shrugged. "Sounds like crazy's the only game in town."
He sipped his coffee, working to ignore the sharp pain in his chest that warned of something worse, swallowing the cough that rose up out of that pain. A few aspirin, some food, and Sam by his side, and he was good to go.
"Where you want start?" Sam asked. "And don't say the scene of the crime…since that's the lake."
Dean shivered. "No thanks," he replied. "I've seen enough of the lake to last me awhile." He glanced out through the window. "I was thinking the memorial service."
"Are you kidding? There could be a ton of people there. Law enforcement, the works."
Dean grinned. "So, we do it real quiet like."
Sam dragged a hand down his face. "I'm gonna regret this."
"You're in?" Dean dipped his head, catching Sam's eyes, needed to make sure.
Sam looked back at him. "Stay together, stay alive, right?"
Dean nodded. "Bet your ass."
a/n: Thanks for reading! There will be five chapters total (each posted in two parts on LJ) and the outline has been planned out. I hope you'll stick with me to see how our heroes get out of this mess.
Enter Sandman by Metallica
Don't Look Back by Boston
Continued in Part 3 here: http://gaelicspirit.livejournal.com/108627.html