When he was six when Sam Winchester did the exact opposite thing his father'd ordered him to do and ran across a field to play in the snow. But the field wasn't terra firma it was a mostly frozen pond, and Sam fell through the ice. His father was plenty angry with him for not following orders. He heard all about it in the hour after his Dad and older brother, Dean fished him out of the frigid waters. Dean had given Sam his favorite sweatshirt to wear, telling him if he got it dirty he'd have to do Dean's chores for a month. Sam sat, wearing Dean's way too big sweatshirt and drinking the hot chocolate Dean made him. Sitting a bit in front of Sam, and to his left, saying in a voice so low John Winchester didn't hear, "leave my brother alone." Sam probably wasn't supposed to hear either, but he had.

The next day Sam found a feather along the pond's shore. Right where he'd run across the mostly frozen water. Right where he'd fallen. He stuck the feather into his pocket and kept it. He liked it because it was the same color of Dean's dark blond hair, and if he turned it just so he saw little flecks of green. Dean told him not to put the feather in his mouth. (Like, DUH! Dean!)

"Do you think there are angels?" Sam asked his brother when they were alone that night, eating hot dogs and watching TV.

Dean snorted some funny noise that made Sam giggle. "If there are they need to quit slacking and get down here and help us and Dad fight demons."

Sam lost that feather when his jeans got washed.

When he was seventeen Sam Winchester did the exact opposite his father commanded, stalking left instead of hanging back on the hunt. He didn't realize he'd stepped out onto a mostly frozen lake until he heard the all too familiar creaking and groaning, then fell through the ice. He was gonna have to rethink this prowling around in the winter thing. His father and Dean fished him out, and this time his father started bitching at him before he was completely clear of the frosty water. He tried to argue back, but his teeth were chattering too much, it was scarier at seventeen than at six for some reason to fall under ice. Dean stepped between them, one arm across Sam's chest, pointing out they needed to get back to the motel that was currently home before Sam's body temperature fell too low. As Dean shoved him into the passenger side of the Impala he heard Dean mumble in a voice too low for their father to hear, "just leave the kid alone." Sam was pretty sure he wasn't supposed to hear either. Dean made Sam strip off his layers of clothes, gave him his sweatshirt and wrapped his leather jacket around Sam's shoulders. Heat cranked, they drove home in silence, except for Sam's chattering teeth.

At the motel Dean made him coffee and soup for warmth. Said nothing, but sat on the arm of the chair Sam sat in, squirming in Dean's sweatshirt that was just a titch too small. John Winchester chewed Sam out for a really long time that night. When their father left to finish the hunt, Dean shoved Sam at the shower, telling him, "don't use up all the hot water Sammy.'

"It's Sam." Not Sammy you jackass, sheesh how hard is that? Probably a good thing Dean couldn't hear his thoughts.

Somewhere Dean found an extra few blankets, tucking them around his brother that night. When Sam had nightmares about falling through the ice, Dean rubbed his shoulder and sat up awake until Sam fell back to sleep. The next day, beside the Impala's passenger side door, on the ground Sam found a feather. It brought back a fuzzy, ancient memory. He held it and twirled it around for a few minutes, then stuffed it in his pocket when he saw Dean coming, cause, man would Dean tease him over it. That night he had another nightmare about going out onto the ice, but Dean got in the way of him and the mostly frozen water, and coaxed him out of nightmare world.

That feather went through the laundry too.

He was twenty-two when Sam Winchester started having the horrible nightmares where his girlfriend, Jess, burnt to death on the ceiling above his bed. He'd wake up, shivering, scared. But he couldn't tell her. Even with her there he felt so alone, Dean was miles away and couldn't rub his shoulder. No one pulled him from his nightmare world. Each night in the dream some figure stood steadfast between him and the fire. God, he was happy when Dean showed up unannounced and talked him into a weekend to investigate their father's disappearance, but he'd never tell Dean that. Then Dean dropped him back home, and blood dripped on his head, he opened his eyes to a waking nightmare. Jess on the ceiling, fire erupting all around. Dean got between Sam and the fire, hauling him to safety. Then spent a lot of time putting himself quietly between Sam and anything harmful, all the while being very careful to not be freaked by Sam's new visions. Sam didn't miss the feathers scattered under the Impala from time to time. He carefully buried one deep in his back pack. When they found their father, well when their father decided to be found, and Sam had to tell him about his nightmares and visions, he never really said too much. Dean did though, and then when their father got too pushy about wanting details, never telling Sam he'd help his son cope, be there for him, it didn't change a thing, because Sam was well and truly frightened by the visions, Dean wandered casually to the middle of the room, in front of Sam. Their father backed off, how Dean did that Sam never understood. He hadn't seen the look on Dean's face, but John Winchester did, and understood the unspoken words.

Dean accepted Sam's visions, and everything else about Sam. When the visions came Dean would grasp his arms, and sent fear skittering away.

Sam found a feather as they left to confront the demons, he never did figure out what happened to that one.

When he was twenty-three Sam got himself attacked by a woman infected by some demon disease. Dean, the stubborn bastard, stood between Sam and a whole lot of people. He snarled at everyone, "Stay away from my brother!" Sam was pretty sure there wasn't anyone who didn't hear Dean that day. Then despite Sam's protests, ranging from violent to tearful Dean refused to leave him. Even though he was on the other side of the room, Dean stood between Sam and disaster, because there was no way Dean would let him become some monster. Or die alone. Even though Dean didn't come right out and say it, Sam knew Dean wasn't going to let him go by himself to wherever one went when one died alone either. He'd be going there with Sam, in case the kid needed looking after. After things calmed down, and Sam didn't have any disease that would make him evil incarnate, Sam found a feather under the chair Dean had sat in for all those hours, waiting to see if Sam would get 'sick.' He tucked that feather into a side fold of his wallet.

Well, at least there hadn't been any ice.

Sam Winchester was twenty-four when he had the most terrifying experience of his life. He had a nightmare. He had the mother of all nightmares. Moving backwards, pushed along by his long legs until his back connected abruptly and painfully with the wall, he hadn't even fully woken up yet. It was probably the blood-curdling screaming that roused Dean from sleep. Dean shook him, and shouted at him, and finally just slugged him in the shoulder, but couldn't make much sense of Sam's words, spoken too fast, until Sam pointed to the wall opposite his bed, stammering, "d-d-demon." Dean jerked around to look, still holding his brother's shoulders. For a few minutes he hugged Sam close and tight, telling him the room was salted, nothing could get in, nothing, repeat NOTHING, would hurt him. Then he swung down and checked under the bed, which was sort of funny in the not really funny sort of way. He checked every inch of their motel room. There was a minor tussle with the shower curtain (it lost, Dean's knife won), but that was it. All the while Sam sat on his bed, knees pulled to his chest shuddering. He'd past up trembling and shivering a while ago. He forgot all about not being freaked out by his nightmares, they freaked him plenty. Dean apparently forgot he wasn't supposed to be scared by them either (ha!) 'cause after the defeat of the shower curtain it took Dean barely five minutes to pack their things. He grabbed Sam's wrist and hauled him to the car, shoving him in with all the tenderness and care of an attacking mountain lion. Then with absolute tenderness and care Dean wrapped his leather jacket around Sam, got into the car and drove. Dean Winchester put a lot of miles between that particular hotel room and them. Two gas tanks full as a matter of fact. All the while Sam sat in the passenger seat, surrounded by the warmth and comfort created from the scent of leather mingled with the smell of his brother. Sam didn't miss the fact Dean spent as much time watching him as he did the road.

They finally stopped, both too exhausted to drive further. Not much had been spoken between the two. What was there to say really? Seeing a yellow-eyed demon in your head who generally showed up to wreak havoc and rain down destruction was sort of a conversation stopper.

Sam went to sleep, mostly because Dean told him he had to, promising it would be ok, he was working on a plan. They'd figure this out, together. However, it wasn't ok, the demon came in his sleep again. Glowing yellow eyes, everything about it filling Sam with indescribable terror. When Dean grabbed him out of his nightmare world Sam couldn't remember much, just the yellow eyes. He couldn't tell Dean anything useful. In fact all he could do was cling helplessly to his brother, face buried in the spot on Dean's shoulder that met his neck, sobbing. Dean held him close and tight (after checking under the bed), all the while telling him, PROMISING him it would be ok. They'd make a plan, they'd fight. Nothing bad was going to happen to Sam, not on Dean's watch. Sam wasn't so sure, but Dean said that was the way it would be, so Sam figured it must be so.

They didn't drive away from that motel.

Sam couldn't concentrate on research that day. He'd barely read anything when Dean grabbed his arm, "Come on Sammy, got a plan. We've got work to do." Dean's plan turned out being drawing something looking like pentagrams on each other. Right there, Dean poked the spot on Sam's back, between his shoulder blades, just below his neck. Sam almost convinced himself it was the cold magic marker Dean used on his skin that made him shiver. Dean gave him a scrap of paper, another drawing, this one for Sam to draw on him. Sam wasn't so sure, but it was the best they had for now. And Dean said it would be ok.

Sam really didn't want to fall asleep that night, but Dean told him "it's the only way we can fight this thing, Sammy." Dean bounced happily on Sam's bed. When Sam sort of glared at him, Dean gave him a beer and settled a bowl of popcorn between them, and leaned comfortably back against the headboard. There was a decent movie on the late night. And wasn't that just like Sam's brother, face off demons with popcorn and beer? Sam laid on his side, facing Dean, not too interested in the movie, and less interested in hearing Dean recite most of the lines.

He tried really hard not to go to sleep. Without warning Dean's expression completely sobered, one hand dropped to Sam's arm, squeezing. "It'll be ok Sam. You won't be alone." Then his arm dropped to a spot on the bed between them and stayed. Sam fell sleep with his cheek pressed against Dean's forearm.

The demon didn't wait long. This time no one pulled him from the nightmare world. This time there was someone there with him, right between Sam and the demon. Someone who smelled of leather and looked suspiciously like his brother Dean. Poking at the demon's chest sheesh Dean, isn't that kinda stupid? Looking plenty pissed Dean pushed the demon back. "He's all I've got." Shove. "He's mine." Punch to the demon's middle. Sam flinched, that had to hurt. 'And...you will not…" Right cross to the jaw, Sam almost felt sorry for the demon, cause big brother Dean had a vicious right cross. Sam knew all about Dean's right cross. "Take him from me!" Sam was pretty damn sure he was supposed to hear that.

The demon was apparently impressed with the right cross, or maybe Sam's nightmare world just wasn't worth the effort.

Sam woke up. Just woke up, in the normal slightly groggy way. Pushing up on one elbow he squinted at the sun coming through the windows. Dean, still propped against the head board hadn't moved much, other than his one arm was now slung over Sam's middle. Getting up Sam clicked off the TV and quietly slipped into the bathroom for a shower.

That night, needing more cash, they found a pool hall. Sam sat in a booth, not paying much attention to anything, chatting with a few people here and there. It was late when Dean plopped into the seat beside him, big grin all over the place. The grin was infectious, Sam grinned too. Dean smacked his arm, "whatya say, blow this town?"

"Yep." Sam yawned, "I'm just gonna…" and pointed back to the men's room.

"Don't get lost." Dean smirked.

A few minutes later Sam walked back across the room, he almost never got lost in the bathroom, and something under the pool table Dean had spent a good part of the night at caught his eye. He bent down, picking it up. Staring at it for a few minutes. A feather, almost the exact same color of his brother's hair, and when he turned it just right there were little glints of color which Sam suspected would match the color of Dean's eyes. It smelled like leather. When Dean's gaze caught his, Dean grinned again and jerked his head in the 'let's go' motion to the door.

Sam settled himself in the passenger seat of the Impala, immediately wrapped in warm familiarity and the comforting scent of leather. He took out the feather, twirling it in front of his face.

"What's that?"

Sam silently held the feather up for Dean to see. "Don't stick that thing in your mouth, Sam."

"Cause that's what I was going to do next! Duh Dean!" Sam was pretty sure Dean saw his eyes rolling. And sheesh you jackass, it's SAMMY, how hard is that?! When Dean arched an eyebrow and shot him a look Sam wondered, for not the first time, if Dean really did know what he thought. "Do you think there are angels?"

Dean made a snorting noise that made him sound like he was ten, and Sam giggled as if he was six. Sam didn't miss the smile that made the corners of Dean's eyes crinkle, he was sure he wasn't supposed to see it, since it was covered up quick.

"If there are Sammy, they're a bunch of slackers who need to get their collective asses down here and give us a hand!"

Sam slide a bit down in his seat, yawned, and twisted just a bit so he was angled toward his brother. He carefully put this feather in his wallet, with the other one. He was sure he was supposed to see the totally soft look Dean turned on him for just the briefest second before thumping the top of Sam's head. "Hungry kiddo?"

"Pizza?"

"Sounds good." Just before pulling his hand back to the steering wheel it stopped thumping Sam's head, and just rested there for a few seconds. Sam was pretty sure he was supposed to notice that too.

When he was twenty-four Sam Winchester discovered there were a few absolute truths in life. He'd always have visions that freaked him out. Dean would always stand between him and the evils of the world. Don't walk on mostly frozen water, even if it is holy water. Stay AWAY from Dean Winchester's right cross. The smell of leather always made him feel warm and safe and home. Finally, big brother Dean apparently molted every so often.

Sam smiled.

Oh yeah, and don't put the feathers in your mouth….Duh!