Summary: Directly following the events in Jus In Bello, the Winchesters find themselves stuck in a small Minnesota town during

Summary: Directly following the events in Jus In Bello, the Winchesters find themselves stuck in a small Minnesota town during a blizzard, drawn into a hunt they are not prepared for.

This started as a simple tag for episode 3.12 JIB, and kind of rambled on from there. Mostly it's me taking out my frustrations about all the FRIGGIN' SNOW that has pounded the Midwest this year. I thought it would be nice to share it with our favorite demon hunters. I'm sure the boys appreciated it.

Thin Ice of a New Day

Sam shifted his focus to the threadbare brown carpet, the silence in the room oppressive to say the least. Ruby's parting words rang in his ears, his head formulating arguments to her accusations while his heart ached in acceptance of the blame. He could hear the harsh breathing of his brother and knew without looking that Dean had been hit hard by her rant as well.

His attention remained on the floor as Dean rose from the opposite bed and moved about the room. As the silence began to grate on his nerves, Sam shifted his eyes to his brother just in time to see the older man lash an arm out across the desk, sending the lamp situated there crashing into the opposite wall.

"Damn."

Sam held his breath, his sight taking in the broken shards of the light fixture that now lay shattered on the floor before returning to his brother's hunched form. Dean leaned against the desk, his left arm pulled in tight against his body, his eyes squeezed shut against obvious pain.

"Dean…"

Sam started to rise, but a shake of his brother's head kept him from completing the move. Sam could only wait as Dean slowly straightened and made his way back across the room to his bed. Without a word, he lowered himself carefully onto the mattress and pulled his legs up, resting his injured arm against his stomach and throwing the other across his eyes.

Sam idly wondered if his brother was trying to block out the world or hide himself from it.

He took a deep breath and slowly exhaled. He knew he should probably take a look at his brother's bullet wound, but Dean's current position made it clear the older man was not in the mood for any kind of concern. Leaning forward, Sam placed his elbows on his knees and buried his face in his hands. "This is all so messed up," he mumbled.

Dean's laugh held no humor.

"Ya think?" Dean didn't bother to remove his arm from across his eyes. "We screwed up."

Sam shook his head, hating the defeat in his brother's voice. "Dean, we tried. We did everything we could –"

"Fat lot of good that did, Sammy. They all died anyway. Hendrickson, Nancy…"

Sam sighed, his shoulders slumped. "Dean. Don't do this." It was one thing to admit that their good intentions may have backfired, it was another to heap more blame on their shoulders in a fight where they were struggling just to stay above water.

Dean's head slowly moved back and forth under the shield of his arm. "She was right. We didn't help at all."

Sam stared at his brother. He'd never seen Dean give up. Even when Dad had dragged them around the country, never settling into anything resembling a home, Dean had kept the family together. He had kept them strong enough to continue the quest. But lately, Sam had to admit, this war, the costs had begun to take their toll on his larger than life big brother. Dean's cracks were becoming more and more obvious and his soul was becoming more and more weary. Throughout their entire lives, even when things seemed insurmountable, Sam could never remember hearing his brother sound so… small.

Dean had reacted in outrage when Ruby wanted to sacrifice Nancy for the greater good.
He had made it very clear that they would find another way, that they were not going to start picking and choosing who got to live and who was to be sacrificed in this hellish war they'd found themselves in.

At first Sam had been torn. He'd even been tempted to listen to Ruby, to let her kill the young virgin if it meant saving the rest… saving Dean. But Dean's voice had penetrated his confusion and showed him that they couldn't start ignoring their own humanity for the sake of winning. Like Dean said, if that's how you win a war, he didn't want to win. If that happened – if they allowed it to happen -- they'd already lost.

"No, Dean. She's wrong." Sam's voice was soft, but it held conviction. "Ruby was wrong."

Dean lowered his arm and stared in confusion at his brother. "How can you say that?" He pushed himself up onto the edge of the bed and leaned forward, his eyes locked onto his brother's. "I don't remember you exactly telling the bitch 'no deal' back there, dude."

Sam nodded, dropping his eyes to the floor as he felt a flush of shame color his face. "I know. I just…" He shrugged. "I just didn't know what else to do." He returned his gaze back to his brother. "But you did."

"Yeah. Great plan. They're all dead, Sam. All of them. I blew it. I failed."

The sudden slump of Dean's shoulders nearly broke Sam's heart. "No. We didn't fail. You were right." Sam waited until the older hunter raised his head, his eyes searching for a glimmer of truth in the statement. "We can't start sacrificing innocent lives. We can't play some kind of numbers game. It's our job to protect people."

Dean nodded, a sad smile on his face. "Yeah," he breathed. "We're doing such a bang-up job so far, huh?"

Sam leaned forward, catching his brother's eyes and holding them. "Dean, we have to put the blame where it belongs. On this Lilith. The demons. We saved those people. You saved those people."

Dean searched his brother's eyes and allowed himself to believe that maybe what Sam was saying was the truth. "Yeah, maybe. Doesn't make me feel any better, though."

Sam returned his sad grin. "Me either."

The muffled tone of Dean's phone sounded from his pocket and he leaned as he used his good arm to dig into his jeans and retrieve the device.

"Yeah?"

"Dean? You boys alright?"

Dean grinned at the concern in the older hunter's voice. "Hey, Bobby." He quickly glanced at his brother, seeing his grin mirrored at the mention of their old friend's name. "We've been better," he replied honestly.

"I just saw a report on the news. Some kind of gas explosion. Wouldn't've paid it no mind except it mentioned that Fed that's been on your tail. Hendrickson. You and Sam weren't involved in any of that, were ya?"

Dean shook his head even though the man on the other end of the line couldn't see the motion. "Nah. Hendricksn had already let us go."

"Let you go? Then you were there?"

Dean took a deep breath and quickly explained what had happened.

"You said the demons came right at you?"

Dean rubbed his eyes. "Yeah. It's like they were gunning for us, Bobby. Like they had some kind of contract on us or something."

"That don't sound right."

Dean snorted in agreement. "Tell me about it. And on top of every thing, this Lilith bitch apparently has the hots for Samantha here. I don't have a friggin' clue what's going on, but whatever it is, it's way the hell over my head."

"Well I've got something that may be a bit more along your pay grade."

"Bobby, I'm not sure –"

"I've got a lead on Bela Talbot."

Dean's head shot up and he stared hard at his brother. "You found the Colt?"

"Maybe. After we left Pittsburgh, I put out some feelers. A friend contacted me this morning and said that Bela was in Minneapolis."

"What's she doing there?"

"Hell if I know. But this guy is trustworthy. If he says it's her, it's her. You and Sam up to checking it out?"

Dean raised his eyebrows in question, knowing that Sam had been able to follow the conversation despite only hearing one side. At a nod from his brother, Dean answered.

"Yeah, Bobby. We'll call you when we find something."

The snow hadn't begun to come down hard until they were across the North Dakota border. They had habitually stayed off the major interstates, taking the back highways as a precaution against any chance sightings by the authorities. At the moment, Sam was pretty sure that was a really, really stupid idea.

There was no one he trusted more behind the wheel of a car than his brother, but the winter storm that was pummeling the Midwest was currently dropping about a ton of wet, slippery snow on top of an already frozen sheet of ice that made driving conditions hazardous at best. They hadn't run across another car for the last half hour, most of the locals obviously having better sense than to try and drive in the current mess that was Minnesota Highway 10.

Dean had been forced to use both hands on the wheel, his brow creased as the pain from his wounded shoulder took a back seat to his need to keep the big Chevy on what could still be considered a road. As the Impala fishtailed for the hundredth time on the slippery asphalt, Sam held his breath as his brother decreased their speed again until the vehicle was barely crawling along through the blowing drifts.

The wind had picked up as the sun began to set, causing the almost horizontal fall of the heavy white flakes to become a mesmerizing spectacle reflecting in the headlights of the classic car.

"Dean," Sam kept his voice level, not wanting to disturb his brother's concentration. "Maybe we should just find a motel and wait this out."

Dean didn't take his gaze from the road, his voice clipped as he answered. "Great idea, Sammy. Gonna wave our magic wand and make one appear any time soon?"

Sam held his tongue, knowing Dean's frustration was directed more at the situation than him… at least he hoped so.

The narrowing field of vision obscured a sharp turn in the road, forcing Dean to wrench the wheel to the right. The back end of the heavy car slid across the snow and ice covered road as Dean fought to right her. Sam gasped a breath, his hand flying out to brace himself against the dashboard as he felt the car begin to slide out of control. Before Dean could compensate for the slide, the Impala spun completely around, jarring both occupants as it plowed through the drifts accumulating along the edge of the highway, tipping precariously towards the driver's side as it came to rest half buried in the ditch.

Sam swallowed hard, his heart thudding in his chest, his breath loud in the confined space of the car as the engine stalled and the howl of the wind rocked the Impala on its haphazard perch. A quick look showed that they were stuck, trunk down in a three-foot ditch, the car listing slightly to the left. There was no way in hell they were going to be able to drive the heavy car out of it's current position. It would take a tow truck with heavy chains to get the Chevy back onto the road.

Taking stock, he drew a deep breath, noting that outside of a slight tingle brought on by the euphoric reaction to the shock of the crash, he was unharmed. The low moan from his left told him his brother wasn't quite as lucky.

"Dean?"

The older hunter was pushed up against the driver's side door, his right hand gripping his left shoulder, his eyes screwed tightly closed against obvious pain.

"Hey, Dean," Sam slid across the slightly inclined seat, careful not to pin his brother and cause any further damage. "Man, you okay?"

"I freakin' hate snow."

Sam let out a relieved chuckle at the typically Dean response. "I guess that skiing weekend in Vermont is gonna have to wait then, huh?"

Dean finally lifted his head, giving his brother a weak glare. "Skiiing is for geeks who like to wear ugly sweaters, dude."

Sam shook his head in exasperation. "Are you okay?"

Dean leaned his head back against the window. "Yeah. Just bashed my shoulder against the door during our little Disney on Ice moment. I'm okay."

From the grunt of pain coming from his brother as he tried to shift away from the door, Sam didn't take much stock in Dean's idea of 'okay', but that was kind of par for the course when it came to the older hunter. As far as Dean was concerned, if he was breathing, he was okay. Sam had long ago realized that his job entailed the simple act of keeping his brother breathing. Everything else they could deal with.

He hoped.

Although the Impala was tilted into the ditch, Sam was able to wrestle the passenger door open, wedging it with his body as he pulled himself up and out. Sinking almost to his knees in the snow, he turned and held out a hand to his brother. Without the use of his injured left arm, Dean was forced to turn and push with his legs against the door, allowing Sam to wrap an arm around his waist and awkwardly hoist him up and out of the passenger door. Once they both got their feet under them, they were able to trudge through the still falling snow and climb back to the road.

"I hate just leaving her there," Dean said softly, his eyes squinting through the flying snow at the dark shape of the Impala. The snow was quickly covering her in a blanket of white and Sam hoped they would actually be able to find the car once the storm passed.

"It'll be okay, Dean. We'll find a tow truck in the next town and get her back on the road first thing in the morning."

Dean nodded, tucking his injured arm close to his body and pulling the collar of his coat closed with his other hand. "And just how far is this town exactly?"

Sam zipped his own jacket and shoved his hands into his pockets as he shrugged and squinted into the darkness. "If I read the map right, there should be a town called Perham about two or three miles east. If we stay on the highway, we should see a turn off."

"Great," Dean mumbled as he started to trudge east along the snow-covered road. "Why couldn't that bitch have been spotted in Arizona. Who the hell could possibly want to be in Minnesota?"

TBC