"Failure…"

The one acrimonious word that kept repeating itself in Sam Winchester's already chaotic mind. Failure. Failure. Failure. Failure.

"I'm a failure," Sam murmured to himself as he trudged through the icy slush on the sidewalk. It had snowed a week ago…white, fluffy, fairytale-like snow had fluttered in the air and fell gently to the earth. It was like a magical wonderland. Sam and his brother, Dean, had a magnificent snowball fight…even though Dean, being nineteen, claimed to be "too old" for that kind of stuff. Sam knew better.

He smiled a little at the memory of his brother flinging around lumpy, icy spheres with ruddy cheeks and a broad, radiant grin on his face. Good old Dean. Always made everything better…

Until Sam glanced down at the limp, slightly crinkled paper in his hands. His math test. On the right-hand corner of the paper was a prominent, hideous, and rather sizeable "F".

"F stands for failure…" A reprimanding voice parroted in his head.

Sam wanted to toss the horrid paper onto the ground and stomp it into the icy, grayish slush. Obliterating it. Wiping it from existence.

"It's still in the fucking grade book!" Sam groaned with frustration as marched along the sidewalk, bringing down each foot to the pavement with more force than the last.

Sam knew that he should've studied. And normally…well…always…Sam studied. But the day he had to study was when the snow fell and Dean challenged Sam to a snowball fight. How could he pass up the chance to have a snowball fight with Dean?

Sam looked at his score again. Nineteen percent. Sam Winchester got a nineteen percent score on a huge, significant test. Not just a stupid old quiz. Sam failed a test. He tried desperately not to cry. He had to be brave since he was almost home.

Sam dragged himself into the chilly, damp apartment building and hiked up the cold, cheerless cement stairs until he reached the fourth floor.

Sam despondently walked over to the first door on the left and turned the doorknob. It wouldn't budge. The damn door was locked.

"Can it get any worse?" Sam moaned as he banged on the door with his bitter, chapped knuckles. "Dean! Open up, goddamn it!"

The door creaked open to reveal a harassed, frazzled looking Dean. Their father wasn't home, of course. "Calm down, retard…I was just sleepin'." Dean ran a hand through his slightly tousled, sandy colored hair. He was wearing a slightly baggy black t-shirt featuring Jack Nicholson from "The Shining" and too-tight plaid pajama bottoms.

"Lazy bastard," Sam thought spitefully to himself. Though immediately he started to regret it.

"It's freezin' out here," Dean shivered slightly. "C'mon…get inside,"

Sam walked into the humble abode and felt the warmth enclose around him as Dean pushed the door shut. Sam still held the test stiffly in his hands. The fingers that clutched the paper were immune to the feeling of the heat. They felt just as icy as ever.

"What's that you got there, Sammy?" Dean peered over Sam's shoulder.

In haste, Sam slammed the paper up against his chest. "Nothing!"

Dean unraveled the navy blue scarf that was around Sam's neck and slung it over a wobbly coat rack. "Nothing?" Dean raised his eyebrows. "Doesn't look like nothing,"

"It's none of your business!" Sam snapped uncharacteristically. "Leave me alone!"

There was a short pause. Then, without warning, Dean made a rapid, quick move to swipe the paper away from Sam. But his little brother was too quick for him and moved it out of the way so Dean was groping at air.

But Dean didn't give up. He lunged at Sam's hands again, this time succeeding, and was able to pry the paper from Sam's stiff fingers.

"Dean, you asshole!" Sam shouted, his vision blurring from the tears welling up in his eyes. "Please…don't look at it!"

Dean took a moment to peer down at the test and then looked up to see his brother. A wave of passion and understanding flashed in Dean's olive colored eyes. Sam was hurting and upset. Though Dean never could truly understand why Sam got distressed over academic problems, he was able to understand the smarting pain of failure. When you feel like you've let everyone down…when you feel like you're worth nothing to the world…when you feel like you're worthless…good for nothing. Dean understood this feeling. He felt it every time when Sam would get sad, when Sam would get angry, and especially when Sam would get hurt. Sam was his responsibility and when anything ever happened to Sam…Dean felt like a failure.

"Sammy," Dean started slowly, lowering the test. "Why don't cha take off that coat and those boots and get somethin' more comfortable on?"

"Dean," Sam swallowed a huge lump in his throat. "I…"

Dean held up his hand, silencing Sam. "You don't need to say anythin'. Just skedaddle and do what I told ya to do."

"Alright," Sam nodded shakily and left the entrance hall and cutting across the shabby living room. When he reached the bedroom he and Dean shared, he kicked off his wet, heavy boots, shrugged off his thick, fleece coat, and collapsed face first onto his twin-sized bed.

He heaved another gloomy sigh with his face squashed into the goose-down pillow. He could smell the aging scent of the pillow cover. It was so familiar to him…and strangely relaxing.

He stayed like that for a few minutes until his eyes began to feel remarkably heavy. Not from sleep…but from tears that were pressing up against his closed eyelids…begging to be released.

Sam was so determined not to cry that he decided to keep his eyes squeezed shut. Even when Dean called from the kitchen,

"Sammy! C'mere!"

But Sam didn't budge from his place. Instead he kept his eyelids locked up against the bottom of his eyes…making a blockade for any tears that dared to escape.

"Sammy?!"

Sam felt horrible for ignoring Dean, but he obstinately remained at his post and kept his face smashed into the pillow.

"Sammy?" Dean's voice was getting closer. "Sammy?"

"Mmm fnn, De," Sam mumbled, finding it difficult to speak with his face slammed into a pillow.

"Sam…" Dean's voice was right by his ear. "C'mon…get up…" Sam felt the bed dip to one side. Dean was sitting on his bed.

"Lv mm aln…" Sam's speech was very muffled.

"Can't understand ya," Dean rolled his eyes and gripped Sam's shoulders, pulling him up. Sam still had his eyes tightly closed. "Sam? Why the hell are your eyes closed?"

"No reason," Sam replied with a cracked voice.

"Can you open them, then?" Dean challenged him.

"Sure I can," But Sam kept them shut.

"Um…will you open them?" Dean quirked an eyebrow.

"Why?" Sam was trying not to get defensive.

"You have pretty eyes," Dean teased. "I'm bein' serious…open your eyes."

Sam grudgingly allowed his eyelids to flip open, revealing his icy green, orb like eyes. Instantly, tears overflowed from his eyes and the salty, hot liquid poured down his cheeks.

"No, no, no…Sammy!" Dean enfolded his little brother tightly in his arms. Sam buried his head into Dean's chest and was choking back sobs. "Shh…" Dean stroked Sam's dark hair tenderly. Dean felt the wetness of Sam's tears on his shirt, but he didn't mind. What he was most conscious of was Sam's warm face nestled up against his chest.

"Sammy, why're ya cryin' like that?" Dean held him closer. Sam didn't answer. "Huh?" Dean gently kissed his brother on the head. "Ya know I hate to see ya like this."

Sam swallowed bravely and attempted to talk. "I'm…sorry…Dean. I'm…fine. Don't…worry."

"You've gotta calm down for me," Dean let Sam pull himself away. But Sam was hungry for more. He ardently took Dean's hands in his, squeezing them for support and scooted up closer to his big brother.

"Sorry, Dean," Sam sniffed a little bit, furiously sweeping away the lingering tears on his cheeks. He put on a brave face to show his brother that he was strong. "Just got…carried away."

"I'll say," Dean chuckled. But he realized there was still something wrong. "Why don't you come into the kitchen with me an' talk about it?"

"Okay," Sam nodded meekly. Dean got up from the bed and Sam repeated his action.

As they walked across the living room, Sam clutched Dean's warm, bronzed hand as he tried to keep up with Dean's longer stride.

"Clingy today, are we?" Dean chortled.

Sam latched onto Dean's middle making Dean's walk lopsided. "Yep,"

"Alright," Dean had to pry Sam off of him when they got into the kitchen. "Time to let go,"

"But I like…" Sam stopped midsentence when he got a glimpse of the square, plastic kitchen table. "Dean…"

A bright red ceramic bowl was sitting on the table. The bowl was filled with generous scoops of slightly melting, but still delicious, ice cream. Drizzled on top of it was mouthwatering hot-fudge and a copious amount of whipped cream.

"Is this…?" Sam started, stunned.

"Yep!" Dean beamed. "Made it for ya myself. May be a little melted, but…"

Dean didn't get to finish because Sam had already situated himself at the table and was sticking a silver spoon into the frozen dessert. "Dean? Is this chocolate chip cookie dough?"

"It is," Dean was grinning from ear to ear. "Your favorite,"

Before Sam took a bite, he put down the spoon and got up out of the chair. He walked over to Dean and reached up to hug his neck.

"Thanks, Dean," Sam whispered gratefully as he hugged Dean tighter.

"It's not like I got ya a girlfriend or anything," Dean laughed.

"I don't need a stupid girlfriend," Sam muttered, slowly pulling back from Dean and returning to his sundae.

"You don't, cuz' you've got me, right?" Dean smirked.

"Uh-huh," Sam had his mouth full with ice cream. He was devouring it ravenously.

"Slow down there, buddy," Dean warned. "Ya don't wanna get brain free-…"

"OW!" Sam put his head in his hands and started massaging his temples with his fingers. "Shit! Shit! Shit!"

Dean was trying hard not to laugh. "Easy tiger…brain freeze ain't that bad…"

"Yes. It. Is." Sam glared at him; face still distorted from the pain.

"It'll be gone soon," Dean informed him.

"It won't go..." Sam paused. The agony was indeed over. "Damn…"

"Learned your lesson?" Dean snickered.

Sam scowled, but ate his ice cream much slower.

After a moment, Dean spoke,

"Look…I know I'm supposed to cheer you up and all…but…can ya tell me why you're so upset?"

"Clink!"

Sam dropped the spoon at the bottom of the empty bowl. He let out another sigh. "It was a pretty important test…"

"You're only a freshman, kid," Dean said encouragingly. "Relax!"

"I can't," Sam palmed his forehead. "I just feel awful! I mean…I might have to repeat the class next year…"

"You've got like a 4.0 GPA," Dean sat down across from Sam at the table. "They won't make ya repeat a class."

"I guess so," Sam turned his head away and heaved another sigh.

Dean sensed something aloof about his brother. "Sammy…what's really wrong?"

"It's just the test,"

"Don't lie, Sammy," Dean pressed. "You can tell me."

"It's stupid," Sam protested.

"Nothin' you have to say is stupid," Dean assured him.

"It's a lot things," Sam bit his lip.

"Spit it out."

Sam let out a sigh of defeat. "Well…the other kids in my class that took the test…" The tears were coming again. "…after class…they were all saying things like, "Mom said she'd get me a new cell phone if I got an A!" or "Dad's gonna kill me"…" A tear trickled down Sam's cheek. "I just stood there…knowing that when I got home, no one would give a damn. I actually want to have Dad yelling at me for tanking the test because at least it would mean he cared. I mean…I've done so well on so many tests and no one ever says "good goin', Sam" or "I'm proud of you Sam". If you help kill a demon or get a bull's-eye in shooting practice…Dad gushes all over you…" Sam gulped. "But…I just stood there…knowing that my dad wouldn't kill me and I didn't even have a mom to…to…" Sam disintegrated into tears.

"Aww, Sammy!" Dean got up from his chair and rushed to Sam's side, massaging his shoulders. "Is that what was botherin' you?"

"Yeah," Sam's voice came out in a squeak, making him blush. "And…the thing that makes it harder is that…that I'm responsible for Mom's death…and I'm responsible for failing the test…"

"Don't talk like that!" Dean's tone was firm. "You were just a little baby. Babies aren't responsible for anythin'."

"But I'm responsible for the test!" Sam cried out. "Instead of playing in the snow with you, I should've been studying!"

There was a long pause.

"You put me before your studies?" Dean was aghast. "Who are you and what have you done with Sam?"

"I…couldn't…refuse," Sam had a faraway expression on his face. "I mean…that snowball fight was one of the most fun things I've ever done in my life. It was…"

"Worth it," Dean finished for him. Then he smiled an exhilarated smile. "God…you were so cute with all that snow in your hair and those rosy cheeks..." Dean flushed crimson when he realized what slipped out.

"You looked really great too," Sam grinned. Dean noted with amusement that Sam had chocolate on the right corner of his mouth.

"Hey…you've got a little…" Dean made a wiping motion with his hands.

Sam wiped his chin with the back of his hand. "Got it?"

"No," Dean chuckled. "Try again,"

Sam tried to clean off the left corner of his mouth. "Now?"

"No," Dean rolled his eyes and took a napkin from the napkin holder on the table. "Here," Dean took the white napkin and swept it across the "chocolated" area. "There…now you've…"

Sam wrapped his arms around Dean's neck and pulled him in for a kiss. Dean's lips were uncommonly hot and moist as they pressed against Sam's powdery, pale pink lips.

"I love you, Dean," Sam murmured.

"I love you too, Sammy," Dean smiled warmly at his brother.

"No..." Sam paused. "I…never mind…"

"Sammy?" Dean caressed the side of Sam's neck. "I love you…"

"You too, Dean," Sam was slightly confused.

"No…" Dean stroked Sam's hair. "You know that you mean the world to me…even though I may not show it most of the time. You're the center of my universe. You're my Sammy."

"Dean…" Sam stood up, letting Dean take his chair. Then he situated himself in Dean's lap. "I'd rather have you than a million A's." Sam rested his chin on Dean's broad shoulder.

Dean wrapped his arms around his little brother. "I'm proud of you, kid…and…" Dean tried to put on a stern, fatherly face. "But you can do better,"

"Oh, Dean!" Sam hugged him tighter. "You're the best,"

"I know," Dean kissed Sam on the top of his head. "So are you,"