Sam didn't care about the cold. Of everything that was bothering him right then and there, the cold simply wasn't on the list. Sure, it was biting at his face, making his eyes sting, and drying his already chapped lips, but he still didn't care.
He was little more concerned about the frosty brother beside him who, despite being physically warm and comfy beneath his coat and layers, was hurting Sam more than the chilled winds.
They'd lost John only a short time ago, and Dean was still acting as if he didn't care. He'd break out of his shell for a short time or two, like after their run-in with Gordon and Sam's run-in with Dean's fist, and Sam would see that his brother was still very much there. Just buried under grief and pain so deep Sam didn't think he could ever get him out.
Like that very morning. When Sam had called out his brother's name, just to ask him if he had everything they needed to get through the freak snow fall to the were-cat, Dean had snapped at him. Maybe he'd been afraid of Sam wanting to talk about John again.
Sam gently probed the inside of his cheek where Dean had slugged him. It hadn't left a bruise for more than a few days, but Sam still hurt. For Dean, his only protector, his big brother, his hero, to turn on him with his fists...
It hurt. He didn't have words enough for how much it hurt.
He missed his brother. It was stupid, considering Dean was right next to him, and if Sam stepped twice to the right, he'd run right into him. But his big brother wasn't really there. Hadn't been there since they'd run into the hospital room and found their dad on the bed and the doctor saying the words Sam still had nightmares about.
"Time of death..."
He pulled himself from his thoughts just in time to see Dean turn off to the right. He hadn't even bothered to tell Sam or make some sort of signal; just turned away to follow whatever he'd thought was worth following. Sam wasn't even irritated by the not-Dean-like action so much as he was saddened. He knew Dean wasn't really trying to leave him behind.
Well, not purposefully, at any rate.
Ever since Gordon, Sam had started wondering if maybe, just maybe, Dean would be happier if Sam wasn't there. If he had a different hunting partner, like Gordon.
Maybe Sam reminded Dean of John. For all his dismissal of the fact, Sam knew he and his dad were more alike in physical appearance and personality. It was probably why they'd clashed so often; that same stubbornness being thrown at itself made for some interesting sparks.
The more obvious thing that Sam had to remind Dean of, though, was the fact that besides Sam, Dean was the last of their family. Their mom had been gone for years, and now John was gone, too. They were orphans, really and truly, and Sam knew what John had meant to Dean. If he was being honest and masochistic, he remembered what John had meant to him so many years ago. His hero, his dad who was invincible.
Dean had never lost that image of his dad, and had been so much closer to him than Sam had.
So Sam knew that Dean was hurting. What made Sam hurt was the thought that every time Dean looked at him, Dean was reminded of that. Dean was pushing him away, separating them on a job, going off to bars by himself, being anywhere but around Sam.
Dean would probably be happier if Sam wasn't around. If he could actually be happy anymore; Sam wasn't sure about that. They were both so broken, but it was Dean that Sam was more worried about. Sam was grieving. He knew he was still mourning. He'd come across one of John's old shirts tucked in the trunk of the Impala and had buried his face in the material, if just to inhale the scent that was unmistakably his dad, and had cried long and hard, thankful Dean had been off getting dinner.
He wasn't grieving openly anymore, but Dean wasn't grieving at all. Wasn't really talking, and talked better with his fists than his mouth.
Dean took another quick step away, and Sam bit his lip, forcing his thoughts and emotions down. They were on a job. Thinking about anything except the job would lead to stupidity.
"C'mon," Dean said tersely, and Sam should've been grateful he'd said anything at all. Even though Dean sounded like he didn't want to say anything at all, didn't want to be reminded that he had his little brother tagging along, his last reminder of the broken family they both now belonged to. Only they belonged to, and Sam's throat threatened to close up.
Somehow, despite Dean's words, Sam had fallen behind. He was a good fifteen feet behind him, and Dean was rounding a hill, stepping over the other side. Sam cut a path through a clearing, jogging to catch up-
And barely registered the crack of ice before he slipped through.
He thought he'd been cold before. That was nothing compared to how he felt now. Sudden ice knives hit him so fast, completely submerging him in the icy water, that he didn't feel anything for a few seconds. Then he felt everything hitting him too quickly, too sharply, and if he didn't move in a few seconds, he felt like he'd stop moving all together, frozen at the bottom of some little pond.
He forced himself upwards, and his head hit something solid. He raised his hand and found ice above him. Panicking now, trying desperately not to breathe in water, he reached around until his fingers hit cold air. He pulled himself up and out, gasping harshly.
The world around him was moving violently, and he finally realized it was him that was shaking and shivering. He reached out across the non-broken ice, but his fingers couldn't find a purchase anywhere. Worse yet, he couldn't feel anything anymore from his fingers, and each breath into his lungs hurt. It felt as if the ice water around his chest was wrapping thick sheets of ice tighter and tighter around his ribcage, making it impossible to breathe.
And then Dean came into his vision, hurrying towards him and the ice he'd inevitably fall through. "D-Don't-t-t," Sam gasped, holding his hand to stop him. "D-Don..."
Dean came to a halt at the edge of the ice. "Then what the hell else am I supposed to do Sam?" he called, glancing around wildly. "There's not a branch long enough to reach you, and I don't have any rope on me." He glanced around one last time, then set his gaze on Sam.
Even as Sam shook his head, Dean was crouching down, gently placing his bare hands on the ice to crawl across. "D-Dean, no," Sam whispered harshly. "Don-n't, pl-p-p-please..."
There was a loud crack in the air and both froze, but the ice didn't break. Dean swallowed and kept going. "Hold on," he ordered, and Sam couldn't do it. Even though his shivering was stopping and his vision was fading, not shaking, even though he knew somewhere that he'd slip in and drown in a matter of a few more minutes if he wasn't pulled out, Sam wasn't going to let his brother do this.
Dean'd be better off without him; without a constant reminder of what he'd lost. He could finally grieve on his own, then move on, if Sam wasn't there. He'd find another hunting partner, he'd be okay, if he'd just stop coming across the damn ice. "Go back," he said, and it came out as a breathy whisper just barely heard in the silence. "J-j-jus-s-st go back, Dean. Leeee-" Sam swallowed and tried again, slipping further into the water. Dean cursed under his breath but continued towards him.
"Leav-ve me and j-just go," Sam pleaded, blinking slowly at his brother, his tears frozen on his cheeks. Please just go. You don't need me hanging on you and making everything worse. Please.
Dean laid himself out across the ice, sliding the last few inches over to Sam. "I'll go," he said softly, eyes locked on Sam. "Just not without you."
His warm hand found Sam's clammy one, and he dug his toes into the ice before pulling Sam out. Slowly, slowly, Sam was dragged out across the ice, with the icy cold air hitting his soaked clothes and...curiously, not making him any colder.
He didn't care about the cold anymore.
"Shhh, shhh, I gotcha," Dean was saying, but Sam didn't care. The ice was fine, and Dean didn't want him around anymore anyways, and they were off the ice now. Sam wasn't sure how Dean had managed that one, but he was moving through the snow, back towards the way they'd come.
Weren't they were supposed to be going the other way? "...Dean?"
Sammy. He never thought he'd miss that stupid name, but he had. Almost as much as he'd missed Dean. He was suddenly reminded of another time when they'd been so much younger, and Dean had dragged him just like he was dragging him now, dragging him into bed, and dad would tuck them under the blankets, telling Dean that he was his Dean-o, and Sam was his baby boy, and Sam felt tears sting his eyes. No more. Dad was gone. He was no one's baby boy anymore.
Something hit his cheek hard and sharp, making him open the eyes he hadn't known he'd closed. Dean was staring at him, eyes wide, desperate anger on his face, outstretched hand near his face. He'd hit Sam again. He hadn't said anything this time, and he'd gotten hit by Dean again. "Din't...din't say 'nthing," he whimpered, tears rolling helplessly down his cheeks.
"You gotta stay with me, Sammy," Dean said, and he sounded panicked. Why would he sound panicked? Sam would just go away, and Dean would be happy without the reminder of how alone they were now.
Dean called his name, shouted, but Sam's eyes were closing, and then he didn't hear anything.
Warmth. A lot of it, completely surrounding him. Blankets and clothes, both gratefully dry, and warm skin against his.
Sam opened his eyes.
Dean was gazing at him from under the blankets. His shell was long gone now, and there was blatant worry on his face, and it didn't disappear when Sam regarded him. If anything, it upped a notch. "You with me?" he asked quietly.
Sam took stock. He could feel something between his toes; bandages, most likely, to help with frostbite. He wiggled them tentatively, and gave a sigh of relief when all ten responded, albeit with pain. "Yeah," he said, voice hoarse. "I'm with you."
Dean was the one who sighed with relief now, closing his eyes briefly. "Thought I'd lost you," he mumbled. When his eyes reopened, they shone in the dim light of the hotel room, and Sam couldn't believe he'd thought what he had earlier.
If Sam left or died, Dean wouldn't be happier without the 'reminder' of their dad out of the picture, of the broken family he had. He'd have been the only one left, the sole survivor, the only remaining orphan, not even a broken family to belong to anymore.
Maybe Dean just dealt with grief differently than Sam did. He didn't know why it surprised him, considering how different they both were. Maybe he wanted to go off by himself, maybe he was avoiding Sam, maybe he was hooking up with hunters that weren't Sam.
But at the end of it all, it was Sam he came back to, it was Sam he stuck with, it was Sam he hunted with and trusted above everyone else.
He still remembered the punch, and it still hurt something inside of him to think about it.
He remembered the look on Dean's face after they'd gotten Lenore out, though. When Sam had refused to punch him in return. The look on his face had been regret, apology, pain of his own.
And he knew Dean. Maybe Sam hadn't hit Dean back, but Dean was probably beating himself up every day for it.
"I forgave you, you know," he said, making Dean blink suddenly, then blink again when the moisture in his eyes threatened to make its way down his face.
"For the punch," he said, and Dean's mouth dropped open slightly. "I forgave you the minute you hit, man. I knew you'd lash out when I said what I did. I'm not stupid."
Dean's mouth shut, and he swallowed. "Well, I am," he said, before clearing his throat. "I shouldn't have hit you. Nothing makes that okay. Don't you dare say it is," he added, looking angry again.
"I wasn't going to, because it wasn't," Sam said, leaning his head forward towards Dean's. "But I wanted you to know that I forgave you for it."
Dean swallowed again, and looked as if he wanted to say something. When Sam raised his eyebrow at him, though, Dean simply said nothing, but leaned his head forward to meet Sam's.
"Don't give up on me," Dean whispered suddenly, and Sam froze, not sure if he'd heard his brother right. "I just...I just need time, man. Don't go anywhere."
There was a lump of something in Sam's throat, and he had to swallow to get past it. "Not without you," he whispered back.
Finally, finally, Sam felt fully warm.