Disclaimer: I don't own or make a profit from Supernatural
Little Girl Lost
Ten-year-old Bella Miller was lost. Worse, she was freezing. Living close to the Canadian border, the small town Northom, Minnesota was always cold, so she had dressed warmly enough for a short walk into the woods, but she was unprepared to be lost in them overnight in them. She was in charge of collecting all the mistletoe needed for that year's Christmas Pageant, but she had been so engrossed in gathering what she needed that she hadn't paid attention to where she was going. It wasn't until her tan canvas bag was full that she had looked up and realized that she had no idea where she was. She was lost, cold and all alone.
She pulled her parka tighter around her, crimping the edges of her hood around her face. She was huddled under an embankment, too afraid to walk away, too cold to move. The darkness came early so far north, and already the temperature was already starting to drop drastically. They had been having an uncharacteristically warm spell, with no snow storms or cloud cover, even though it was the end of December. However that made the nights that much sharper with cold. Her fingers and toes were burning painfully, and tears were running down her face, freezing before they reached the red scarf she had wrapped around the lower half of her face to protect her mouth and nose.
"Hey kid. What are you doing out here?"
She whipped around, to face a tall man wrapped tightly in a dark blue parka. He was skimming over the deep snow, heading directly towards her. Her first instinct was to run into his arms and cry that she wanted to go home, but her mama's voice rippled through her mind and she huddled back.
He stopped, his hands upraised, surprise on his face.
"What? You don't need help? Got everything handled then?" He cocked his brow at her disbelievingly.
"My mama told me to never talk to strangers. And you are a stranger." The ten-year-old girl informed him defiantly. The man's face softened, but he didn't lower his hands.
"Your mama has it absolutely right. You should never talk to strangers." He muttered something else under his breath that sounded suspiciously like, "Monsters come in all shapes," but she couldn't be sure.
Bella stood in the snow uncertainly. She wasn't quite sure what to do now that she had made her demand. He was a stranger so she shouldn't let him get near her, but at the same time she really wanted to go home and cuddle with her mama. But maybe she did know him. He seemed familiar. But she couldn't remember. As the hours passed her memories seemed to become fuzzier, more distant. All she could think of was her mama, her home, and the safety she needed to return to. Seeing her confusion, the man smiled gently, no hint of sarcasm or threat.
"Name's Dean. What's yours?"
"Bella," she replied uncertainly. Her mother had always told her that she should be polite to her elders and answer their questions when they asked. His smile widened, and her uncertainty began to lesson. He didn't seem so bad, he kind of reminded her of her Uncle Davy, whom her mother always referred to as a scamp. She always said it with a smile and a shake of her head.
"Well, Bella we better get you out of the cold before you freeze to death." He paused, allowing her to mull the logic of it over for a little bit. "I know where there's a cave with some blankets and stuff."
Her fear and uncertainty flashed across her face, and her mother's warnings of never going off anywhere with strange men resurfaced.
"Hey, now," he said soothingly. "I'm not going to hurt you, but if you don't get up off that snow soon, you're going to turn into a little popsicle."
She shivered, wondering if popsicles burned on the outside like she did. She was too afraid to be by herself. She didn't know what to do or how to get home. She needed an adult. She needed her mommy. And even at ten, she was smart enough to know that he was right. She couldn't sit around any longer in the snow; she already couldn't feel her bottom. Or her hands. Or her face. In fact most of her body felt foreign and distant. Like it was there, but if she prodded it she just might poke through it.
Stiffly she got to her feet, relieved when Dean made no effort to come close to her. He was still respecting her command to stay away and it made her feel safer. Most adults would have hurried their way over to her and wrapped her up in their arms whether she wanted them to or not. She liked how he respected her decision.
He motioned for her to walk with him, his smile still warm and reassuring. She trotted along beside him, still keeping her distance.
"Hey maybe you should start picking up some dry twigs that are under the trees. You are going to need a fire when we get to the cave."
Bella knew what he was doing. Her daddy had told her that it was always best to keep moving when you were cold, and then would give her an errand to keep her busy and distract from the fact that her fingers were frozen. Dean was doing the same thing. She didn't mind, it made her feel less nervous.
As they walked along, she would stop to gather up what dry pieces of wood she could find, and by the time they reached the cave's entrance she had a small armful. He led her inside and down a short passage way that opened up into a small underground room. It looked like it had been dug right out of the earth by some wild animal, but it was far too big for that to be possible. Wasn't it? She thought maybe that the long gashes in the wall were from a bear sharpening their claws. She glanced at Dean, but he didn't seem too worried about taking over some animal's den.
She followed him into the room, her nose wrinkling when the smell hit her. It was almost worse than when her golden retriever Lucky went swimming in their pond out back. It had that wet fur smell with a hint of something rotten.
"It stinks in here."
"Yah, I know, but you'll get used to it."
She walked into the center of the room, her eyes trying to adjust in the dark. She could see his shadowed form moving around, but he walked so silently that sometimes she lost track of him in the dark. She began to feel nervous again, her mama's voice practically screeching in the back of her skull.
"Put down the wood, and come get this flashlight."
Reluctantly she did as she was told taking a step towards his voice. Something rolled out of the darkness, bouncing against her booted foot. She bent down, picking up the flashlight and flicking it on, feeling instantly better. She had outgrown her fear of the dark when she was seven, but this was not her familiar room back home where everything was safe and warm. She tried to remember her room, the color of the wall paper, but the memory eluded her. The only thing she could focus on with acuity was that her stuffed pony's name was Thunder, and that she slept with him every night even though she really was too big to do so.
She swept the room with the beam of light, surprised by the amount of camping gear piled in the room. There were backpacks and sleeping bags thrown up against the walls, falling over themselves, and even a couple of rolled up tents. She swept the room once, panicking when she didn't see Dean right away. On the second sweep she found him against the wall, staring at her. Her nervousness intensified, but he smiled at her, and she felt better.
"I bet you can find some matches in one of those bags, and you can tear up some clothes to use as kindling."
Bella stared at Dean in shock. Her hand quivered a little and the beam of light danced across his face.
"I'm not allowed to play with matches." That was the cardinal rule enforced by every single adult on the planet. Or so she thought. Dean chuckled and she smiled back, forgetting that he couldn't see her mouth through her scarf.
"Well you have to learn sometime. The next time you get lost in the woods I might not be here," he said good-naturedly.
She scowled. "I'm never going into the woods again. They suck." She looked at the tents mutinously. "And I hate camping."
Dean laughed, and with that all her fear melted away. She knew then that he wasn't a bad guy, and that he was just trying to help her.
"Yah, I hate camping too. Here let me show you how to start a fire."
"Okay." She wasn't about to remind him twice that she wasn't allowed. If he wanted to break the rules then that was his business. She riffled through the bags, finding a tin of waterproof matches, a hideous red flannel that she thought would be a perfect sacrifice and a yucky granola bar that her mom sometimes made her eat when she thought Bella wasn't getting enough fiber.
They knelt down in the center of the room, and Dean showed her how to make a tepee out of her wood, and to stuff strips of cloth underneath. Very carefully she struck the match, lighting the one of the strips of cloth on fire. She watched as the small flames licked up the thin twigs of wood, leaning towards the heat. When they began to catch, Dean instructed her to add more wood to the fire, building it up until it was a modest blaze.
She sat hunched over the fire for a few minutes, soaking in the heat like a lizard on a rock in the summer. She never knew that it could feel so good to be warm, but at the moment she didn't think there was a better feeling in the world. The burning in her fingers and toes began to recede, and she sighed in relief. After a few minutes Dean rousted her, telling her to fetch some sleeping bags to lie on the ground for insulation and blankets to wrap up in. She did as he bid, more than happy to get warm.
Soon she was comfortably enough to take off her bulky parka and climb beneath the covers. She grabbed the foil wrapped granola bar, finally realizing how hungry she was. Dean sat watching her from the other side of the fire, chatting with her the entire time, until she was completely relaxed.
"Want some?" she offered.
"Naw, I'm good, kid."
She shrugged and ate the bar in three bites, for the first time not complaining about the taste. She hunkered down beneath the blankets, watching Dean through the flames.
"What are you doing out here anyways?" She asked curiously.
She frowned at him, her eyes scanning down his body.
"Where's your gun?"
"My brother has it."
That seemed a little weird to her. When her dad and brother went hunting they each had their own gun. It would be reckless to go traipsing around in the woods full of bears without a weapon in hand. And of course, there was the fact that it wasn't hunting season.
She opened her mouth to speak, but he cut her off first.
"Go to sleep, Bella. It's going to be a hard day for you tomorrow." She didn't need much encouragement, as exhausted as she was, and she drifted off into a dreamless slumber.
The next morning Bella woke with a start. The fire had died out in the middle of the night, and the cave was starting to get cold. She was still warm beneath her blankets, so it took her a few minutes to realize something was wrong. When she did, her fear was instantaneous.
"Dean?" She sat up, blankets tumbling down into her lap. She jumped to her feet, spinning around to search the room in a panic. The thought of being abandoned terrified her, and tears began to spill down her cheeks.
"Dean!" She shouted, spinning in circles. On her third or fourth pass, she nearly tripped to a stop. Dean was right behind her, smiling reassuringly. For a minute she was confused, unable to figure out where he had come from. There was only one entrance into the room, and he was standing in the back. There was no way he could have entered and gotten behind her without her seeing him.
"Its okay, Bella. I'm not going to leave you."
The panic subsided and she sniffed. She scrubbed her eyes with the back of her fist, embarrassed at being caught crying like a big baby.
"Okay, so what's the first thing we do when we break camp?"
She blinked at him, not quite sure what he was asking her. His voice was gentle and kind, calming her even further. When she didn't answer right away, he walked passed her to the fire.
"We stomp out the fire, so there are no embers that could start a forest fire. You know what Smokey says."
"No wait. What are you doing? We need that to stay warm." She charged at him, but he stepped out of the way.
The panic was back and she started to cry again. She was just so afraid that she didn't care anymore. All she wanted was to go back home.
"Bella." His tone was gentle but firm, cutting through her tears. "You can't stay here. You need to hike out. You can make it to the edge of the woods by nightfall."
"No! We can't. My daddy always told me to stay put if I ever got lost."
"Bella." He was standing directly in front of her, comforting her without touching her. "There are probably already people out searching for you, but no one is going to find this cave. It's been lost for centuries. If you just listen to me, I promise to have you home and drinking hot cocoa in your kitchen by bedtime."
She sniffled, tears running down her face. Her fear was like a cold ball of ice in her stomach. She didn't want to go back outside into the cold. She wanted to stay here were it was warm. She wanted to close her eyes and then open them back up and be in her kitchen like Dean promised.
"Hey," Dean squatted down in front of her, until they were eye level. "Don't worry, sweetie. I'm going to get you home. I promise."
She sniffed again, nodding her head. She didn't want to do what he said, but she knew he was right. If he said he would have her home by nightfall then she had to trust him.
"Okay." Her voice was shaky, but she gave him a watery smile to assure him that she agreed with his plan.
"Great. Now the first thing I want you to do is put out the fire. Then I want you to find some thermals in those bags and put them on under your clothes."
She did as he said, carefully using a knife that she found to cut slices out of a waterproof slicker to wrap her feet in before putting on her boots. She cut more strips of flannel and stuffed them in her gloves to add another layer of protections for her hands, and draped blankets over herself until she was bundled up so tight that she could barely move.
Dean snickered at her, and she glared back.
"Now you ask," she moaned back.
"Well if you do, it's too late now.
He snorted at her, leading her out of the cave, keeping her behind him while he checked the entrance for any predators that may have wandered near looking for shelter. The coast was clear, and he led her out into the woods. His direction never faltered and he assured her several times, that he knew exactly where he was going.
She got tired, but he egged her on. She got cold but he distracted her with stories of his brother. She got scared, but he promised her that he would get her home. He poked and prodded her, forcing her to keep walking when she swore she couldn't anymore, until finally just as the moon was starting to rise, they breached the edge of the woods. In the glimmering moonlight, she could see the town limits just beyond the frozen field that stretched out before them.
"That's it! We're home!" She danced in little circles, her exhaustion leaving her for just a moment as happiness and relief infused her.
"Come on." She raced ahead, stopping after a few feet when she realized that Dean wasn't following her. She turned back, her small face red with cold.
"Go on, Bella. Go home to your mama."
"Aren't you gonna come with me?"
"Naw, the cops don't like me much. I think it would be better if you went on without me."
"Are you sure?" She stood indecisively the moonlight. She wanted to run home as quickly as she could, but it seemed wrong to leave Dean standing alone in the cold, especially after he had helped her.
"Yah, get going. Your mom is probably half dead with fright."
She stood staring at him for a few more moments, her eyes glimmering with tears. She wanted to jump on him and hug him blue, but something about his stance told her that it wouldn't be welcome.
"Thank you, Dean."
He smiled at her, his white teeth flashing.
"Just don't go wandering out in the woods anymore."
She smiled back at him, spinning on her heal and racing across the field towards home.
Dean watched from the shadow of the trees as Bella trudged towards the small hamlet. He felt a presence behind him rather than heard, and all the tension in his body melted away. He shoved his hands in his pockets, smiling cockily.
"That was a real nice thing you did, Dean. Showing her the way out," Sam said, shoving his hands into his pockets, mirroring his brother.
"Yah, well. Couldn't let her freeze to death. Nasty ass way to go."
The stood there in silence for a few minutes. Keeping a careful eye on Bella as she finally made it to the edge of town.
"You know I nailed that fucking Wendigo to a goddamn tree, and burned him to ash from the inside out."
Sam slide his eyes to the side, watching his brother's jaw clench.
"I know you did, Dean. You did good."
"I'm sorry that it took so long for me to find my way you."
Sam smiled, clapping his brother on the back. "Dude, no worries. I wish you had taken longer, a lot longer, like a couple of decades, but I'm glad you're here just the same.
Dean shook him off, glaring at his brother's smirk.
"Someone's got to lead you outta here, geek boy."
"I've got a map." Sam replied is smirk growing.
"Whatever, dude. For a college student, I never met someone as bad as you when it comes to reading a map."
"Fuck-you. I read a map just fine, jerk."
They turned together, drifting over the unblemished cover of snow into the woods, their bickering echoing through the trees like the howling of wolves.
A few weeks later the Northom Ledger reported that a hunter found two bodies in the nearby woods, revealed by the first thaw of the year. They were identified as two brothers, Dean and Samuel Winchester. The youngest one, Sam, looked to have been mauled by a bear and had died instantly. His older brother, Dean, was wrapped protectively around Sam, clutching his little brother in his lap, and died hours later from hyperthermia. Their bodies were pristine, still mostly covered in ice and snow. The hunter would later tell his friends, while choking back some undefined emotion and swallowing a beer to hide it, that he could still see the tracks of frozen tears trailing down the older brother's face.
Their pictures were published, looking suspiciously like booking photos. Bella recognized Dean's picture immediately.
She took the paper to her mother, handing it too her solemnly. For weeks her mother had exclaimed to everyone that could hear that an angel had saved her baby from certain death. Since then they hadn't missed a Sunday at church, much to Bella's utter boredom.
"I told you he wasn't an angel. Just a nice man."
Her mother took the paper, reading it carefully. She noted that the estimated time of death for the brothers were weeks earlier than when her daughter had gone missing. She folded the paper carefully, tucking it away safe, before turning back to her daughter.
"No sweetie. He was an angel. An angel from God."