A Cold Winter's Night Dream
Disclaimer: Alas, poor Winchesters, I knew them, Horatio. So did Kripke and he owns them.
Beta'd: By the delightful Wysawyg and her infamous beta bat. Ouch! Couldn't do it without you! Thanks for rushing this one to the front of the line.
I played after she beta'd (as usual) so any remaining errors are mine (of course!).
Dedicated: To Phx. This is NOT the story I promised, but it IS hurt!Sammy written just for you! :) The other is coming…someday.
Time Line: Season One, sometime between Bloody Mary and Home.
Say did the fearless hunters, Pick up the beastly spoor,
While trekking through the forest,
With steps alert and sure?
"Dean, there's two of them!" Sam tried to shout over the wind. Thirty feet away, Dean tapped the side of his head and Sam mentally kicked himself. Of course, Dean couldn't hear him in the in near blizzard conditions. Sam shivered inside his four layers of clothing. He didn't know if it was the years spent in sunny California or the years spent away from hunting that had made him less tolerant of the cold, but he decided he didn't care what the reason was, he was freezing.
Sam held up two gloved fingers, pointed to his eyes and then the glawackus on the left followed by the new creature hiding in the tree line. Dean nodded and indicated Sam should pursue the closer glawackus on the right while he would continue after the one they had originally been hunting. Sam waved a hand in response and turned sharply to head down into the trees.
Ordinarily, the falling snow would stir up nostalgic feelings of rare and wondrous times they had been allowed to stay with Pastor Jim while their dad hunted. Now, however, it only added to the danger and complexity of their situation. Sam remembered how his brother would let down his guard, relax a little, and even laugh more when they had been with the minister. As a child Sam thought it was because, like him, Dean enjoyed being on the farm and talking to Jim; but what he realized as an adult, after he went to college, was their lives were a little less scary when someone older, experienced and responsible was looking out for them.
Sam attempted to peer over the hill crest to see if he could catch a glimpse of Dean. It didn't surprise him when he couldn't and he turned his eyes back to his quarry, a fraction of a second too late. A flash of white fur barely served as a warning shot before the glawackus hit him at full speed.
Sam fell to the ground and grunted as the air was forcibly expelled from his lungs. The glawackas sat perched on his torso as sharp claws wormed underneath him and dug through his new winter jacket, hoody, and both shirts finding the tender skin of his back.
"Aaagh!" The scream ripped from Sam's throat in spite of how tightly he gritted his teeth together.
The bear-like creature used his well-established grip on Sam to pull him into a tight embrace. Sharp teeth snapped dangerously close to Sam's neck and he lowered his chin to his chest. Better his scalp was torn than the large artery in his neck. Puffs of hot, fetid breath hit his face as the glawackas panted with exertion and white fur blurred Sam's vision.
He kicked at the beast with his knees and took satisfaction in hearing it howl. Head thrown back, the razor sharp pearly teeth loomed dangerously close to Sam's face and its beady black eyes glinted with anger. He struck out again and took a deep breath of relief when the arms wrapped around his chest loosened enough for him to suck air into his lungs.
His relief was short-lived however when the glawackus renewed its grip and wrapped its legs around Sam's. As they wrestled for domination, Sam knew his only hope was the dagger he had secured to his belt before leaving the motel. He fumbled with the snap, his fingers made clumsy by adrenaline and the padding of his gloves. Frustrated and alarmed by the repeated failed attempts to unsnap the sheath, Sam squirmed in the crushing grip of the glawackas until he could use his other hand to remove his glove.
Fingers unfettered he gripped the hilt of the dagger as the ground gave way beneath him. He and the hairy beast tumbled down the hill in a tangled blur of white fur, blue jeans, claws and brown jacket. They picked up speed on their descent, the snow caking on his clothes on the wild trip. Sam connected solidly with a tree and he barely had time to register the blossoming pain in his side before they bounced back onto the snow and continued downhill.
Luckily he had not lost his grip on the weapon and Sam took advantage of the confusion. He thrust the knife into the creature's heart in one smooth motion, thick red blood running down the knife and over his hand. The glawackus opened its huge mouth and howled as the ground once more gave beneath them and the lights went out.
Dean approached the animal quietly from downwind. The silent snow blanketed the area, further protecting the glawackus from detection. Unfortunately for it, Dean was the consummate hunter. His boots made no sound on the wet snow as he approached from the creature's blind side.
It stopped to stand on its back legs and sniff the air. Dean froze and waited. His muscles twitched with the effort of remaining inactive while his mind screamed at him to take the shot. The timing was off. He needed the creature to be unprepared for the attack or it would simply disappear and he'd be back at the starting gate.
An eternity passed while he stood in the snow patiently biding his time. The animal dropped to all fours and lumbered towards the woods. Dean slowly lifted his shot gun, took aim and fired. The glawackus fell to the ground and lay still, only its white fur moved, dancing in time to the wind. He cautiously approached the beast to nudge it with his foot. It proved unnecessary. The open, glassy stare and the lolling tongue frozen to the snowy ground bore evidence to the creature's death.
The carcass would draw scavengers, hungry from the long months of little food. They would do the job of getting rid of the evidence and he could concentrate on finding his little brother. By now, Sam should have finished off the other glawackus.
The wet, new snow gave easily under his feet and he sank down to his ankles with each step. The going was slow and tiring. It took much longer than Dean wanted to admit to journey back to the last place he had seen Sam. The wind picked up as the snow continued to fall in large thick flakes, partially obscuring evidence of his brother's trail. Slight depressions in the snow lead downhill into the trees and Dean followed without hesitation.
It would be dark soon. Many times in the winter the sun would shine brightly against the glittering snow and sunshine would last until five. However, with the cloud cover and increasingly thicker falling snow, he'd be extremely lucky to have light much past four-thirty. Those thirty minutes could cost him out here. He'd probably be better off backtracking to the Impala for provisions and then setting off after Sam, but he couldn't bring himself to abandon his search for his brother before he'd started.
He continued to weigh the pros and cons of time wasted procuring supplies versus finding Sam if something had gone wrong during his hunt as he walked. He had just reached the decision to turn around for the first aid kit and the emergency supplies when he spotted the blood.
Certain now that Sam was no longer hidden from the creature and that his little brother may be hurt, Dean gave up all pretense of stealth. "Sam!" His brother's name echoed off the trees and drifted across the snow. He stood and listened for Sam to respond or any noise that was out of place in the quiet expanse, but only deafening silence greeted his ears.
Dean followed a sporadic blood trail through the trampled snow. The crimson spots lead down a steep embankment and when they disappeared off the snow and appeared on the trunk of tree, Dean's heart thumped wildly in his chest. Impact with a tree at high velocity opened the door for all types of injuries.
Dean searched the tree and the surrounding area for any sign of what had happened to his brother. The trampled, crimson spattered snow re-enacted the wrestling match between the animal and his brother in vivid detail in Dean's mind. His heart pounded hard, bouncing off his chest walls at the sight of a large stain of red on the snow at the edge of a sharp decline. He realized with growing dread that Sam must have gone over the side.
Silence. Shadows lengthened and Dean cursed. He didn't have a choice. If Sam was hurt half as bad as Dean's verging on panic brain feared he'd need the med supplies. Not to mention, the steep incline would make it extremely difficult to navigate an injured, or worse yet, incapacitated Sam up the hill. Both concerns would be rendered moot soon. Without a light it would be too dark to search for Sam in a winter night snowfall. He had to go back to the Impala now for the first aid kit and most importantly at the moment, a flashlight.
The fresh snow made running difficult and the cold air caused him to cough, but he didn't slow down until he reached the car. He panted to catch his breath as he opened the trunk and frantically gathered the supplies. He stuffed them in the duffel and slammed the lid closed. Dean glanced at his watch.
He'd only spent thirty minutes away from the search for his brother but already the sun had dipped below the horizon. He flicked on his flashlight and retraced his steps. The snow had stopped falling and the clouds were gone. Bright stars twinkled in the crisp night sky. He had to find Sam soon. The absence of cloud cover meant the temperature would drop significantly.
While the fresh snow impeded his progress Dean had no difficulty following the trail back to the sharp drop-off. He crouched low and slid down the hill, one leg extended in front of him and one hand behind for balance.
He skidded to a halt and shone his flashlight across the snowy ground and into the dark bushes. "Sammy!" The last time he'd lost his brother out in the winter woods, they hadn't been hunting and Pastor Jim and their dad had been looking for them.
No one was looking for them this time. He hadn't talked to Pastor Jim since Dad had first gone missing and he had no idea where their father was. He was the only one that was looking for Sam. Dean squared his shoulders and sharpened his focus; he would find him and Sam would be okay. Dean refused to accept any other outcome.
It was dark and cold. Minute tremors wracked his frame. Sam knew it was an involuntary reflex to warm his muscles, but the knowing didn't make it any easier. One leg was trapped under a heavy weight and the other was jammed up close to his chest. His head and shoulders were hunched over his knee and the position put pressure on his chest making it difficult to breathe.
Sam fought against panic in the pitch black. He wasn't claustrophobic; however, he wasn't kidding himself either. He knew he was a taller than average guy. His long legs meant he was often squeezed for space. Beds weren't always long enough, shower heads were too low, jeans were sometimes impossible to find and even the Impala wasn't forgiving. He fit, but his knees rode dangerously close to the glove box and after several hours he craved the simply ability to stretch his legs.
The tight space didn't allow him to straighten or to unhinge his knee or his neck. He discovered one arm was pinned under his body and he couldn't feel it anymore. With his free, glove-less hand, he felt the area around him. There was approximately eighteen inches of empty space in front of him and less than three above him. His hands and feet felt numb. It was not a good sign because it meant he had been lying buried in the cold snow for awhile.
His fingers clawed at the snow in a feeble attempt to dig out of the freezing prison. Sam panted from the exertion in the thinning air. "Come on, come on, come on," he mumbled. He numb fingers burned. "Don't you dare give up, Winchester," he chastised.
He nearly sobbed when two fingers broke through the icy snow and a rush of fresh air flooded the chamber. Despite the fact the cold air chilled his snow wet clothes, the current of oxygen was a welcome relief. He didn't even mind the snow that fell into his jacket sleeve or onto his face. Sam lowered his arm and squinted up into the tiny hole. He could see one star shining brightly and it gave him a glimmer of hope.
He wanted nothing more than to shout for his brother and have Dean come charging to the rescue. Screw his pride. At this point, he didn't care if Dean harangued him for a month about being rusty. He just wanted out of the cold. However, the self-preservation instinct that had him yearning for help also kept his lips sealed closed. He couldn't be certain the glawackus was dead.
Sam snorted. Glawackus were supposed to be campfire legends created by lonely lumberjacks at the turn of the century to amuse themselves after a long, hard and lonely day's work. They weren't supposed to be carrying off livestock or possibly responsible for two missing locals.
Sam shivered and his teeth rattled loudly in his head. The dagger! He fumbled in the pitch blackness for his knife. The dagger would cut through the snow easier than his frozen fingers. He puffed a note of bubbling anxiety. Hell, the cold metal could actually freeze to his hand. The thought stopped him dead and he quit searching. His fingers could be in very real danger of freezing and they no longer prickled with discomfort.
Unzipping his coat with shaking fingers, Sam tucked his hand into his armpit gasping at the cold and wetness. He held his fingers there until they warmed up enough to hurt. In this particular case, the sharp needles were a reassurance that his hand was not frostbitten. Sam zipped up his jacket and pulled his hand into his sleeve, holding it closed with numb fingers. He would have to search for the dagger again soon and attempt to dig further.
His other arm was hopelessly pinned under him. He couldn't wriggle enough in any direction to free it with his knee pressed tightly to his chest and his head bent at an awkward angle. The weight on the lower half of his other leg was heavy and cold. No doubt it was buried under several inches of snow.
Liquid dripped onto Sam's face and he blinked, squirming away with a gasp. The instant memory of lying on his shared bed with Jessica in a happy cookie induced euphoria moments before the first drop of blood landed on his forehead invaded his mind. He squirmed in earnest trying to escape as three more drops hit his face.
The frantic movements had the desired effect of freeing his trapped arm, but it also knocked loose chunks of slushy snow into his face. The frigid, icy water seeped into his clothes and down the collar of his jacket. As clarity returned the realization of what was happening dawned. His own body heat was warming the snow coffin. It caused drips of condensation and melting snow to rain on him and further saturate his clothing.
Sam shivered violently, his entire body wracked with shudders. The muscles in his back and shoulders rippled relentlessly under torn skin. He needed to get out of the snowy, tiny cave. He was supposed to be helping his brother. He couldn't quite remember what they'd been doing, but he had to help Dean.
"Dean!" he called weakly, all thoughts of staying hidden and safe gone. Somewhere in the back of his brain he thought he heard Dean call his name, but no matter how hard he strained to hear, the air remained silent and still.
"Please, Dean," he whispered. "I'm cold."
The blackness surrounded him, blanketing him in a freezing grip of confusion. He couldn't move his legs and it hurt to breath. Over the snowy ground a single word drifted down to Sam and coaxed a whimper out his throat as he attempted to force a response. I'm here!
"Sammy!" the call came again and brought with it a resurgence of hope.
"Dean," the whisper past frozen vocal chords wouldn't be enough. Dean wouldn't find him. Panic rose in his chest and gave voice to his fears. "Dean!"
Thunder pounded into his skull through the ground and when Dean called for him again, he sounded close by. "Sammy!"
"Dean, down here!" Sam called. His voice caught in his frozen throat and grated out past nerveless lips.
"Sammy?" Dean sounded stressed. A tinge of panic edged his tone. "Sam!"
Sam took as deep a breath as his confined position would allow and puffed out his brother's name. "Dean!"
Snow fell on Sam's face and a light flashed through his air vent. "Sam!"
He sighed in relief, Dean was here. He took a deep, shuddering breath and let the world go black. He could rest now.
Dean dug to the side of the hole he assumed his little brother had poked through the snow to get fresh air. Luckily Sam wasn't buried too deep, but that only served to worry Dean more. Sam was obviously pinned and possibly hurt or he would have been able to dig more than a small air hole. And he'd definitely been exposed to the cold weather for far too long.
"Hang on, Sam, I'm coming," he said. He continued a litany of reassurances while he dug, ignoring the fact that Sam had quit responding after calling out his name. "Just give me a minute, Sammy, I'm almost there."
The digging went slower than Dean had anticipated and he had to fight against growing anxiety. It never helped the situation to lose control of his objectivity, but when it came to Sam he didn't seem to be able to rein in his emotions. The quickly dropping temperature had turned the wet, fresh snow into crunchy layers in a short span of time.
"Sam, I swear you get into more trouble than you did when you were a kid." Nothing. If Sam was awake and aware, he lacked the strength to reply.
The final piece broke away and Dean lay down on his belly in front of the hole. He shone the light inside, catching Sam in the face, but his little brother didn't flinch from the intrusion. Sam was out cold. Scratch that, Sam was cold period.
Shivers wracked Sam's scrunched frame and Dean had to resist the urge to grab Sam's arm and pull him out. He didn't know how badly Sam was hurt and tugging on his cold-exposed limbs could cause more harm than good.
He attempted to gently pull on Sam's arm and bent leg before he realized Sam's leg was trapped under the body of the half-buried glawackus. "It's a good thing you already killed the damn thing, Sammy," Dean muttered under his breath. "As it is, I have half a mind to plug it full of silver on principle alone."
Dean stood and shone the light around the quiet woods. He needed a lever, something to edge the carcass of the glawackus enough for Sam to pull his leg free. He spotted a fallen tree not thirty feet away. "I'll be right back, Sam."
Snow crunched under his boots as Dean scouted the area around the log. He found a branch long and thick enough on the third attempt. It took some effort to break it free from the tree, the green wood bending and holding strong. He put his weight behind it and it finally snapped free, nearly taking Dean to the ground with it. He tested the strength of the tree limb and found it acceptable.
"Sam, I'm going to lift the weight off your leg and you need to pull it out." Sam mumbled incoherently. "Sammy, do you understand? You need to move your leg when I give the word."
"Dean?" Disorientation removed years from Sam's voice.
"Yeah, Sammy," Dean replied. "It's me."
"G-good," Sam stuttered through chattering teeth. "I'm c-cold."
"I know, but I'm gonna get you out of here." Dean positioned the lever under the glawackus. When I say, 'now' pull your leg out, got it?"
"G-got it." Sam shivered, his entire body shuddering.
Dean pushed down on the tree limb and the carcass lifted a fraction. "Kids, fetch mama her pryin' stick," Dean muttered a quote accompanied by a grunt. His arm muscles shook under the effort of lifting the dead weight off Sam's leg. "Now, Sam!"
Sam groaned as he moved his leg free. "Ssssimpsons?" he slurred, a slight smile on his pale face.
"Heck yeah," Dean smirked, trying to keep his tone light. "I've got one for every occasion." He could see Sam's mouth attempting to form words and he recognized the moment his little brother's eyes reflected fear when he realized he couldn't verbalize his thoughts. Confusion quickly replaced fear.
"Yeah, Sammy, it's me," Dean repeated, kneeling on the snow. "Hold still, I'm gonna pull you out now."
"'kay." Sam offered little resistance and zero help as Dean tugged him free from the hole. Sam had barely cleared the massive drift when his eyes shot around wildly and settled on Dean. "The glawackus?"
"You got it, Sam." Dean assured him. "It's dead."
Sam sighed in relief before a pain-filled moan escaped his lips. "Oh God, Dean."
"What's the matter, Sam? Where are you hurt?" Dean slowly straightened Sam's bent leg being mindful of the stiff muscles.
"Everywhere," Sam groaned. He hissed when Dean placed a hand on his back.
"Did you fall?" Dean asked. He moved his hand from Sam's back to his shoulder. Sam shook his head and Dean continued. "Did you hit your head? Are you bleeding?"
"I'm t-tired," Sam grumbled, weakly pushing Dean away.
Dean gently shook Sam's shoulder. "No sleeping, Sam." He shone the light down the length of his little brother attempting to ascertain if Sam had any noticeable injuries. Sam's face was white, three fingers on his glove-less hand were bleeding and his shallow breathing indicated possible broken ribs or hypothermia.
He pulled Sam closer to him to check his back and noticed the shredded jacket. Dean leapt over Sam's legs and knelt in the snow behind his brother. He pressed Sam's shoulder forward. "Sorry," Dean apologized when his brother groaned.
He held the flashlight under his chin and used both hands to carefully widen one of the slits far enough to check Sam's back. Blood sluggishly oozed from one of the long scratches and Dean cursed under his breath. It was time to get his brother out of the cold and back to the motel. That is, if he didn't end up taking him straight to the hospital.
"I wanna go now," Sam complained. "Ple-please?"
"How's your leg?" Dean wrapped an arm around Sam's shoulders and helped him sit up, twisting to sit in front of him. He took care not to jostle Sam too much. Hypothermia left people at risk for cardiac arrest and he'd be damned if that was happening to Sam.
Sam blinked and gave Dean a questioning look. "My leg?" He turned his gaze to his feet, stretched out in front of him. One foot jerked to the right while the other remained still. Sam looked up at Dean again, his hazel eyes fearful. "I can't move it," he said, quietly.
"It's okay." He slipped off his glove and fed Sam's icy white fingers inside. He gripped Sam's jacket in one hand and used the other to fumble through the duffle bag in search of the aluminum emergency blanket.
A gust of wind blew past the brothers and Sam shivered hard enough to dislodge himself from Dean's grasp. Dean's other hand flew up in time to keep Sam's back from hitting the ground and he gently helped his brother sit up. Sam moaned low and Dean cupped his head and pulled it forward until Sam's forehead rested against his shoulder.
"I got you, Sammy," Dean murmured a reassurance. He returned to his quest for the emergency blanket and this time his searching fingers found the small box. He tore it open with one hand and shook it free.
He draped the blanket over Sam's head and wrapped it around his shoulders. The metallic blanket was narrow and short. The best it would do was slow the heat Sam lost through his previously uncovered head.
Sam shivered hard and his head listed to the side and came to rest in the crook of Dean's neck. It was apparent Sam barely had the strength to sit up. Walking would be next to impossible and if Sam tried to hold the blanket tight it would fly out of his hands with the first winter breeze that blew down the hill.
He searched the duffel again, this time for the medical kit. The adhesive tape they used to secure dressings in place would hold Sam's space age poncho in place as well. He stuck a dozen strips of tape at the nape of Sam's neck and tossed the kit back into the duffel. With any luck, it would hold long enough to get Sam back to the car.
Dean shouldered the bag and slid his arm under Sam's to ease them both into a standing position. Sam swayed like a head heavy stalk of harvest ready wheat in an autumn wind. "I'll help you, Sam, and we'll take it slow."
Sam nodded and would have toppled over if not for Dean's strong grip. The truth was Dean planned to push Sam as hard as he needed to get his brother somewhere warm even if he had to carry him. He seriously hoped it did not come to that. Sam wasn't a cute three-year-old in fuzzy footed pajamas anymore. He was a six foot four man and while he was not bulky, he was all muscle under the hoody and bangs.
"Come on, kiddo," Dean urged. "One foot after the other, nice and slow."
Sam shivered. "I'm t-tired." His teeth rattled loudly and the shivering made it harder for Dean to hold him up.
"And cold and you want to leave," Dean completed, without a hint of annoyance. He staggered to the side when Sam tried unsuccessfully to put weight on his left leg. "That's why I need you to walk with me."
Sam mumbled and fell against Dean a second time. "Oof, Sammy. I won't tease you anymore about how skinny you are. You're damn heavy."
"C-can I g-get that in wri-writing?" Sam stuttered out, his breath escaping in puffs of white.
"I'm hurt." Dean pulled Sam's arm around his neck and tried to ignore the gasp of pain from his brother. "There was a time my word was enough."
Sam frowned. "Still is." Sam's knees gave way after a particularly hard shudder and Dean cursed. The hill seemed like an insurmountable obstacle looming ahead.
"Then trust me, Sam. I will help get you out of here, but you need to help me, okay?" The metallic blanket crinkled in Dean's ear at Sam's nod.
"Yeah." Sam locked his knees and struggled to support his own weight. "How far?"
"Not far," Dean lied. "The hill is the worst part." Sam's head bobbed and Dean found himself supporting more of Sam's bulk. He adjusted his stance to better support his brother's form and wrapped an arm around Sam's waist, mindful of the gashes on his back. "We're going to take this one step at a time."
Sam responded with a rumbling groan, but he did seem to be trying to walk. A northern winter breeze tickled knobby tree branches and whistled down the white, snow encrusted slope. Sam moaned and shook nearly as hard as the naked forest around them in the wind.
"You can do it, Sam," Dean urged. "I'll help."
Sam stumbled heavily next to him as they walked drunkenly up the hill. Halfway to the top, Sam slipped and went down hard in spite of Dean's support.
"Sorry," Sam whispered. He tried unsuccessfully to find his feet and Dean helped him to stand.
"Just a little further, Sammy," Dean coached. He winced at the flash of pain on Sam's face.
"Liar," Sam forced out. His leg started shaking and a low moan escaped his lips.
"You're getting some circulation back in that foot," Dean said. "Is it hurting?" Sam shook his head and Dean rolled his eyes. "Yeah, sure it doesn't."
"Wh-why'd you ask?" The corners of Sam's lips teased in a pale imitation of his normal smile.
"To give you a chance to tell me the truth," Dean said. He kept his tone light, but Sam's increasingly clumsy movements did nothing to ease Dean's mind. Sam hovered on the edge of mild to moderate hypothermia and he seemed to be getting worse. Sam's clothes were wet and while he'd been buried under snow before at least he had been out of the wind. "Sam, at the top of the hill we're only about a mile from the car."
A mile. It may as well be a hundred miles. Sam would never make it that far. Dean had concerns about Sam's ribs, but if Sam continued to deteriorate he would throw him over his shoulder and carry him out. It wouldn't make Sam happy and it would be hell on him, his little brother was tall and heavy especially in layers of damp clothing, but it would get them out of the cold faster.
Sam nodded and they continued up the hill. Dean wracked his brain trying to remember if there was anything else in the emergency supplies that would be helpful, but he came up empty. As they topped the hill, Dean gave an inward cheer.
"You did it, Sammy. We made it up the hill." In response, Sam's eyes rolled back in his head and he fell to the ground once more.
"Sam!" Dean used his glove free hand to feel for a pulse and breathed a sigh of relief. The beat was slow, but steady. "A mile, Sam," Dean grunted, pulling Sam to sitting and running his arms under Sam's. "A friggin' mile, man. You're trying to kill me aren't you?"
Sam's weight on his shoulder was as awkward and heavy as Dean had feared. He didn't make it more than a third of a mile trekking through the snow before he had to stop and rest. Sam roused when Dean set him on the ground to catch his breath. "D-dean?"
Sam didn't respond, but blinked at him in confusion. Dean took off his glove and placed warm fingers on Sam's cold face. Sam's shivering had increased and his teeth chattered hard enough to crack. He had to do something; it physically hurt to see his little brother suffering.
Intellectually he knew the rescuer had to take care not to succumb to the same dangers as the victim, and he knew he was sweating from carrying Sam putting him at greater risk, but Dean's heart no longer cared. He had on a t-shirt, an outer flannel and his leather coat. He could spare Sam a dry shirt.
He peeled off Sam's soaking wet outer jacket and evaluated the hoody beneath. It too was partially wet. One sleeve was wet all the way to the armpit while the other was only a little damp. The back of course was torn open, but the front of the sweatshirt was mostly dry.
Dean took off his leather coat and helped Sam into it. The effect was instantaneous. Sam ducked his head and wrapped the warm leather coat tighter around him. When he looked up at Dean this time, his eyes reflected more awareness. "You n-need it."
"I'm good, Sam," Dean insisted. "And besides we're really close to the car. Think you could walk a little more?"
Sam nodded and Dean helped him to his feet. He caught Sam sniffing the collar of his jacket and raised an eyebrow. If he had known his coat would work this well, he would have given it to Sam before carrying his heavy ass.
It took an agonizing thirty minutes to reach the car and by the time they arrived, both of the brothers were shivering. Dean eased Sam into the passenger seat and moved around to start the car. Cold air blasted out the defroster and Dean swore in frustration. The car would heat up, but it was going to take several minutes.
He turned on the interior light and took stock of the emergency supplies. The kit was primarily stocked with hunting and injury needs in mind and not wilderness survival. He dug frantically through the bag, but he came up dry except for one satchel of reactive chemicals for keeping hands warm in cold weather.
He tore open the packaging with clumsy, shaking fingers. After activating the chemicals he waited until the small satchel warmed in his hand. He only had one and the question was where to put it. He finally opted for the collar of Sam's flannel shirt. The two layers of clothing would protect Sam's skin from burning and the neck was a good place to start the warming process.
Dean leaned over, careful not to put any pressure on Sam and gently removed his wet boots. Sam's injured foot worried him and he didn't want it to swell and then have to fight to get the boot off later. The boots hugged Sam's feet tightly, but finally popped off with a squelching sound. Deciding the soggy socks needed to go too, Dean peeled them off and examined Sam's feet. They were white and very cold, but so far no swelling. He doubted Sam had any sensation in either foot.
He knew it wasn't a good idea to heat the peripheral limbs like feet and hands. It was best to warm the core and let the others slowly heat to avoid cold blood returning to the heart, but he took off his flannel shirt and wrapped it around Sam's feet anyway. The shirt wouldn't do much except keep his little brother's feet from getting any colder in his wet shoes and socks. Sam's wet jeans, however, would have to stay.
The air started to blow warm as Dean eased the car off the shoulder and onto the forest road. He drove slowly along the un-maintained road. The Impala had left deep ruts in the crusty snow on the way in and they had partially refilled with the recent snowfall. The tires squeaked loudly as rubber rubbed ice along the dual trenches.
He couldn't spare Sam a glance in these treacherous conditions. The sharply falling temperature had turned the road into a slick and dangerous drive and Dean's shivering was not helping the matter. Twin columns of light glinted off the snow while the forest loomed in dark shadows along the edges. The stars shone brightly through the gnarled tree branches and the full moon raced the brothers to the highway.
Dean flexed his fingers to relieve the tension from his white knuckle grip on the steering wheel when he turned onto the paved highway. He estimated they'd been traveling for twenty minutes already and the car was just starting to warm up.
He didn't have to look at Sam to know how cold his little brother was. The chattering teeth and low moans followed by incoherent mumbling kept Dean well informed. Sam still hovered on mild hypothermia. The leather coat and aluminum blanket had primarily kept Sam from getting any colder. The body warmed itself up best from the inside, but that would take a long time and Sam's injuries only made it that much harder for his body to rally.
"Almost there, Sam," Dean said, knowing they were a good twenty minutes from the motel yet. This time, however, his little brother didn't call him a liar. Sam didn't say anything. Dean glanced over at Sam, who sat slumped in the seat his forehead resting on the cold glass. Sam's breath caused foggy patches on the window.
"Sammy!" Dean shook his brother, but Sam didn't rouse. He pressed the accelerator down as far as he dared on the winter road and sped towards town. Dean used one hand to hold the wheel steady and the other to monitor Sam's breathing and heart rate. Sam's lack of responsiveness ate at Dean's emotional reserve.
The trip felt interminably long and tortuous. By contrast, the journey to the hunt had passed in series of rock music choruses and easy banter. He rested a hand on Sam's ice coated hair and inwardly cringed. Sam was probably losing body heat by the minute through his head in spite of the metallic blanket that half-covered the chestnut locks.
"That is one damn near worthless space blanket," he muttered in Sam's general direction. "It's probably only good for keeping you safe from alien mind probes."
Nothing. Not that he had expected Sam to suddenly open his eyes to roll them in Dean's direction, but he would have given anything to see the flash of hazel annoyance. Dean slowed marginally as he entered town. The motel was only three blocks away and he estimated his chances of getting caught speeding were nominal.
Luck was with him for a change and Dean pulled into the motel parking lot without incident. He left the engine running while he unlocked the motel room door, tossed the first aid kit on the bedside table, grabbed a pair of dry socks and cranked the heat. Dean returned to the Impala and carefully opened the passenger door. He used his free hand to brace Sam and keep him from tumbling to the asphalt.
"Wha?" Sam spluttered, his hoarse voice only barely above a whisper. He reached out with one hand blindly seeking for something to grasp onto. He found it in Dean's t-shirt.
His collar dug mercilessly into the back of his neck with his little brother suspended on his shirt. "I got you, Sam, you can let go. It's okay, I've got you." Sam's grip didn't lessen, but his clumsy fingers were easy to dislodge when Dean bent low to ease the pressure on his neck and pulled them away.
He held Sam's wrists and spoke slowly. "Sam, I need you to walk with me. I'm going to let go now and help you with your socks. Don't worry, I won't let you fall."
"'Kay." Sam blinked owlishly at him when Dean made eye contact. "Dean?"
"Yeah, Sammy, it's me." He released Sam's wrists and crouched down in front of his brother. He kept one hand on Sam's chest and the other eased a sock over his brother's fragile skin. "It's harder than I remember getting socks on with one hand," Dean muttered.
Socks on, aluminum blanket discarded in the back seat, Dean stood and leaned into the car to loop an arm through Sam's. "N-no more walking," Sam complained as full body shaking attacked the youngest Winchester with vengeance.
Sam's chattering teeth reverberated loudly in Dean's head, his cheek pressed tight against the underside of his brother's jaw. "We'll get you inside and you can lie down," Dean bargained. "Deal?" He felt Sam's head bob in affirmation on the top of his. "On three. One, two…" Dean straightened his knees and pulled Sam to standing.
Sam groaned, the throaty sound dying to a whimper as it faded. Sam's whole body was shaking from the effort of standing on muscles cramped by cold coupled with severe shivering. He walked forward Sam in tow, wincing at the small notes of pain from his little brother.
He tapped the car door closed with his hip and hustled Sam as fast as he dared into the room. They staggered over to a faded, gold vinyl chair and he lowered Sam into it to get him undressed. He couldn't put Sam into bed wet; it would only exacerbate the problem.
"You said b-bed," Sam whined piteously. He looked up at Dean, exhaustion lowering his coping ability to nonexistent. His hazel eyes welled with undefined emotion.
"Not in wet clothes," Dean explained succinctly. He removed his leather coat from Sam's shaking body and tossed it onto one of the beds. The torn hoody came next and a moan escaped his brother's lips when the fabric rubbed sensitive skin. Both shirts followed, the damp and shredded cotton stretched easily over Sam's head and Dean was able to remove them without allowing the shirts to scrape Sam's injuries.
Socks wet from the journey from the Impala to the motel were tossed on the growing heap of clothes and Dean sat back on his haunches. He was concerned about the jeans. Ice crystals had stiffened the heavy denim and Dean knew there would be no way to get them off Sam without hurting him as the inflexible material slid across cold sensitive skin.
"Just do it," Sam whispered. He shook as another massive shiver wracked his body.
"Again on three?" Dean suggested. He crouched in front of Sam to wrap his arms around Sam's waist. His brother's skin felt so cold it shocked him. He kept the worry out of his voice with a practiced skill. "One, two…"
Sam groaned and his knees buckled. "Three," Sam grated.
Dean allowed a small chuckle to escape. "I thought it was two and then go."
"Fu-funny," Sam stuttered stretching the sound between the two. Dean caught the implied curse and shot Sam a half-smirk.
He peeled Sam's jeans off his legs and ignored the small, swallowed moans as coarse denim scraped the cold-white skin. "All finished, Sammy," Dean assured him. "Walk with me."
Sam nodded blindly against the hollow of Dean's shoulder. Dean walked backwards, supporting the majority of Sam's weight while his little brother tried to follow on coltish legs. They lurched and stumbled, but made it to the bed before Sam collapsed. Dean lifted Sam's feet and twisted to place them on the bed. The movement had the desired effect, forcing his little brother to lie down.
Sam immediately turned onto his side, the red scratches on his back standing out in stark contrast to the pale white color of his skin. The blood had dried on several of the smaller cuts, but the three largest gashes seeped, drips slowly meandering down the curves of Sam's back.
Dean snatched the kit off the bedside table and hastily unwrapped several packages of gauze bandages. "Sam, I need to take care of the scratches on your back." Sam didn't utter a sound or indicate in any way that he had heard Dean.
Dean cleaned the smaller cuts with no more than a cursory effort and lightly secured the squares in place with the same tape he'd used on the aluminum blanket in the woods. He leaned forward and closely examined the largest wound.
"This one may need stitches later," Dean remarked. Sam's shallow breathing was the only sound he made in response. The larger cuts did require several layers of gauze and self-adhesive wrap clumsily applied in pell-mell fashion to help staunch the flow of blood, the task made more difficult by Sam's continuous shivering.
The immediate threat of blood loss alleviated, Dean turned his attention back to the true life threatening concern, Sam's icy cold body temperature. He grabbed Sam's duffel and rifled through it searching for warm clothes that wouldn't be too difficult to get on a six foot four rag doll.
Dean guided Sam's limbs through fresh, dry clothing. The long-sleeved tee did nothing to stop Sam's violent shaking and his skin felt like ice through the cotton. "This was so much easier when you were two."
Sam puffed a laugh or maybe he choked back a sob, it was impossible to say, but the sound caused a rush of relief to flow through Dean. He covered Sam with copious layers of polyester blankets from both beds and wrapped one over the top of his head for good measure leaving only Sam's face uncovered.
Dean scrubbed a shaky hand down the stubble on his face. He stood staring at the hypnotic rise and fall of Sam's chest. His knees trembled as the adrenaline rush keeping him moving crashed and he collapsed to the opposite bed with a sigh. He took a couple of deep breaths and mentally ran through a checklist of what he needed to do – as soon as he was sure he could stand without falling over.
The cave wasn't wet anymore and he could breathe easier, but he was still freezing. The shivering actually hurt as his stiffened muscles worked to warm him. It was a fruitless effort, unless Dean found him. He was trapped under the snow with one small air hole in a ventilated coat.
Dean. His sluggish brain clicked through pockets of memories. Dean digging him out of the snow, the painful walk back to the Impala – he shivered again and turned onto his side, curling his body in on itself in a feeble attempt to conserve heat.
Arms wrapped around him and hugged him close. He resisted, unsure of where he was or who had a strong grip on his wrists. For a brief moment he thought the glawackas may have returned and enveloped him in another suffocating embrace.
"Easy, Sammy, I'm just trying to get you warm, the blankets aren't cutting it." Strong arms held him tight and Sam fought a losing battle to open his eyes.
"Dean?" he asked unnecessarily. He knew it was his brother. No one else smelled like a combination of gun oil and cheeseburgers. Sam settled back against his brother's chest and relished the added body heat against his back and shoulders.
"Yeah, you're gonna be okay." One of Dean's legs snaked around Sam's, pulling him closer to his brother's warmth.
He lay there, skirting along the edge between sleep and awareness, his body slowly warming. The violent shaking slowly gave way to bouts of severe shivering and continuous trembling. He frowned when he realized the tremors racing across his back were Dean's as well as his own.
Sam attempted to scoot away so Dean could get warm, but his brother pulled him back in close. He put up a half-hearted fight, but Sam was no match for Dean. "It's okay, Sammy. You're okay," the big brother mantra recited in his ear.
He stopped struggling and relaxed back into Dean's embrace. He drifted between awareness and sleep comforted by the warm and solid presence at his back. "Are we cuddling?" Sam asked finally, unable to keep the incredulous note out of his chattering voice.
"Hell no," Dean protested, though his tone was light. "We're huddling. If the Navy SEALS can huddle during training exercises to stay warm, so can we."
"Sure, Dean," Sam said, his voice a mere whisper. "We're huddling." He relaxed and let his mind shut down. Dean was here and he didn't need to try to stay awake any longer.
Fire. How can I be so cold when my back is on fire? He couldn't sense Dean, but he knew his brother would not have gone far or for long. He blinked open his eyes and moaned low in his throat when another bout of intense shivering caused fresh pain to flare in his back.
Light attacked his eyes and Sam squeezed them closed again. The thick layer of blankets felt heavy and nearly suffocating and yet not nearly enough to completely chase the chill from his bones. A door creaked open and closed with a soft click followed by the quiet sounds of his brother prowling the room. Consciousness edged away as he sank into the mattress and awareness switched off.
A warm hand on his face woke him from uneasy slumber. He'd been plagued by dreams of being trapped in tight, dark spaces while the cave filled with water or snow, the last time with sandy gravel, cutting off his air supply. He drew in deep breaths relishing in the ability to breathe freely. He really hated the feeling of being choked.
The hand moved away and moments later the hum of a microwave cut through the silence. The distinctive scent of spicy tea reached Sam's nose. His throat worked convulsively at the thought of trying to swallow and he pushed back nausea.
Toasty heated pads were placed around his neck, under his arms and by his hips. He wanted to thank Dean as the direct heat slowed his shivering and brought a small amount of relief from the aching cold in his joints. He mind floated further away before the word forming behind his lips could be heard. The dreams returned immediately, invading his mind with images of darkness and cold.
He felt the bed dip and groaned when a pillow and then another joined the first one under his head. "Not thirsty," he protested weakly opening his eyes a fraction to glare half-heartedly at his brother and the steaming mug in his hand. Sam pushed the snow coffin induced nightmare back into his subconscious with newfound skill. The dreams kept him from feeling rested and yet it seemed as if all he did was sleep.
"Make a deal with you," Dean suggested. The knowing look in his eyes let Sam know he hadn't been as good about hiding the nightmare as he'd thought. "If you drink all the tea, I'll let you sleep for an hour."
"Deal." Sam tried to lift weak arms to grasp the cup, but the layers of blankets proved to be too much of an obstacle. Sam frowned when Dean lifted the mug to his lips and tilted the cup. Tepid orange-spice tea with honey danced on Sam's taste buds and soothed his throat.
He almost regretted the deal after he drank all the tea. Sam's stomach roiled and protested the invasion of the tea and honey before settling back into an uneasy truce with him. His eyes closed and he sighed as he drifted along the edges of awareness. He barely felt the hand on his forehead or the bed shift when Dean stood to cross the room and sleep claimed him again.
The familiar sounds of the first aid kit being unpacked reached Sam's ears and pulled him back the final steps to awareness. The crinkle of bandages being opened was followed by a firm grip on his shoulder and a tiny shake. "Sammy?"
"Mmm?" He'd spent too much effort in the past articulating his thoughts. Grunts and clicks worked just fine.
"I'm going to turn you on your side and change the dressings on your back." Dean's voice sounded gravelly from lack of sleep, the way it did after they'd been on an all night stake out followed by grave digging and a good salt and burn.
"Mmm," this time it was a groan of displeasure. "Lemme 'lone," Sam grumbled sleepily.
"No can do, Frosty," Dean quipped. "Gotta check those stiches."
"Stitches?" Sam asked, his brain cranking into gear. "What stitches?"
"One of the gashes on your back needed stitches," Dean explained. "I just used a few steri-strips on the others."
"Gashes?" White fur, fangs and sharp claws invaded Sam's mind and he gasped as the memory brought remembered pain. "The glawackas."
"Yeah." Dean's voice was hard and flat, but his eyes reflected only concern.
Sam obediently turned on his side when Dean pushed on his shoulder and hip. He shivered once when the blankets were pulled down to his waist and it was with an odd delay that Sam realized he hadn't been cold until Dean had removed the covers.
A cold breeze kissed his skin as Dean lifted his t-shirt and carefully removed the bandages on his back. By the time Dean had applied antibacterial ointment and bandaged the cuts, Sam was fully awake.
"How bad?" he asked after he'd been rolled over, tucked back into the blankets and seated propped in a semi-reclining position.
"They look pretty good all things considered," Dean said. "They don't look infected and the shallowest ones are scabbing over already." Dean scowled. "Of course, the bruising on your back looks like you went ten rounds with a concrete block and lost."
Sam frowned at the information. "How long have we been here?"
"Two days," Dean said casually as he packed the med kit. He chanced a glance in Sam's direction out of the corner of his eye and hurriedly resumed packing. "When's the last time you had a tetanus booster?" he tossed off casually. "Those wounds were pretty dirty and the glawackas may be a supernatural animal, but it is an animal."
"That fishing trip we took with Pastor Jim before…" Sam's voice trailed off as he cut off the line of thought. "Around four years ago."
An unreadable expression crossed Dean's face and he didn't respond to Sam's statement with any more than a head nod. Sam leaned forward to grab Dean's arm and get his attention. The movement caused a flare of pain in his side he hadn't noticed before. "Dean, what happened?"
Dean sighed heavily as if he had been expecting this question. "I was hoping you could tell me."
"I remember hunting the glawackas." He continued at Dean's nod of agreement. "It attacked me and clawed my back. I took out my dagger." He looked up and barely caught the look that momentarily crossed Dean's features with a thinning of the lips and a nearly imperceptible wince.
"Anything else?" Dean prompted. He appeared to be waiting patiently, but Sam noticed the fingers thrumming on the outside of Dean's thigh.
"We rolled downhill." Sam swallowed hard against nausea as the disorienting memory unfurled. "I hit a tree."
"That explains the bruises and the sore ribs," Dean said, his voice tight with concern and anger. Though Sam suspected misplaced guilt played a part in the tone as well.
Sam nodded and continued, "I stabbed the glawackas in the heart and then the ground gave way and we fell."
"Down that steep embankment," Dean clarified, his expression softened. "Sam, did you hit your head or get hurt anywhere I can't see when you fell or hit the tree?"
"Maybe?" Sam shifted and winced when his ribs and back protested. The look of concern on Dean's face had Sam stuttering through a reassurance. "I don't remember, but I don't think so." He placed a hand on his stomach after it rumbled loud enough for Dean to hear.
"Think you could actually eat something?" Dean asked, accepting Sam's answer.. "I might hurl if I have to smell any more of that tea."
"I don't remember more than one cup," Sam said, a laugh coloring his tone. He scooted down the bed until his head and shoulders were supported on the mound of pillows behind him.
Dean tapped him on the leg and stood to snag Sam's cell phone. He grabbed his car keys and tossed the phone into Sam's lap. Sam blinked lazily at his brother and held up his phone with an eyebrow quirked in question. "In case you need anything," Dean explained. "I'm running for hot food."
Sam nodded and let his arm flop heavily back to the bed. "Maybe I'll grab a shower," he yawned. A steaming hot shower sounded wonderful.
"How about you try eating something and you can work your way up to showering when you can stay awake for more than fifteen minutes at a whack," Dean said. It was more of a command than a suggestion.
He knew he should be annoyed that his big brother was bossing him around, but he wasn't. Instead he yawned again and closed his eyes. "Yeah, okay." He heard Dean's grunt of approval and the door clicking closed.
He smiled and burrowed further under the blankets knowing Dean would be back soon and that knowledge kept him safe from the dreams haunting his sleep. The last thing he remembered before drifting off was the throaty roar of the Impala and the distant boom of muffled Metallica.
AN: I hate advertising at the end of a dedicated fic, but with how slow I've been writing the last three weeks, it may be a week before I get anything new posted! K Hanna Korossy is running a Supernatural fanfic auction to benefit a fellow writer in need of a new wheelchair. There are over twenty authors participating and one vidder!
Visit my bio for more details.
AN2: I can't find the original verse or poem the entry line came from to accredit it properly. It is part of a poem about the glawackas from the early 1900's.
I had a fun time researching different snow shelters in wilderness survival situations and it made me want to try my hand at building one. Unfortunately, it's been in the 90's here and even on the surrounding mountains the snow is pretty much gone for the season.
Ah well, there's always next year!