A/N This story is for Lunasgathering who bid for me to write one for her in the Fiction Auction hosted by K Hanna Korossy recently. It was for a good cause and raised over 1600 USD in the end, through everyone's generosity.
My remit was to write a story involving the boys being trapped somewhere - with Dean incapacitated - and an angsty discussion that he would normally shy away from ensuing. This is what I came up with from that and I hope you enjoy it, Dawn – thank you very much for being so stunningly generous with your bidding!
One more thing, the title comes from a Bon Jovi song. Because even Dean admits they rock. On occasion…
"Son of a bitch!"
At the sound of the curse Sam skidded to a halt and turned around. He squinted, covering his eyes with one hand to try and hold off the worst of the snow. "Dean?"
Dean heard his brother call his name but he was too busy clenching his teeth to answer. He was on the ground, his knees pulled up to his chest and his hands clenched around the right one in an attempt to try and ease the throbbing. It honestly felt like someone was shoving a knife through his kneecap and he wasn't sure how much of the eye-watering going on was down to the cold wind and how much was from the intense pain.
The slightly panicked call was nearer this time and he spared a glance in time to see Sam staggering towards him, his head down against the wind. "I'm right here." he said, through still gritted teeth.
Sam was slightly startled to hear Dean's voice from somewhere around knee level and he just managed to stop himself literally tripping over him. Seeing the pinched look on Dean's face and the clenched jaw he realised something was obviously wrong – other than his brother being sat on his ass in the snow – and he bent down so he was level. "What's wrong?"
"My knee. I tripped over something and landed on a rock when I went down."
"Let me see."
"I said no – there's nothing we can do right now anyway and I'm not having you poking around and making it feel worse than it already does. Just help me up, ok?"
Sam fought back the urge to argue only because he could actually see snowdrifts starting to form against Dean's back, it was coming down that heavily. Standing up he held out both hands and when Dean grabbed them firmly, he pulled upwards. He was mildly impressed at quite how many new and inventive curse words Dean managed to fit into such a short sentence, smirking slightly as he put his hand on Dean's shoulder to steady him while he tried to put weight on his right leg.
At Dean's frustrated exclamation Sam frowned. "You can't walk on it?"
Dean shook his head. "I don't think so. Which is just great."
Sam sighed and tried to look around but everything was just blanketed in white.
Everything that he could see past the blizzard anyway.
It had really taken them completely by surprise. They'd been so busy following the tracks in the forest that neither of them had noticed the sky darkening until it was too late. The first fluffy flakes had gradually given way to more and more of them, and as the wind picked up they'd begun to swirl dizzyingly making it impossible to see more than a few steps in front. They'd quickly turned back in the direction of the car but that had been an hour ago and not only was it getting darker but the snow was actually falling even heavier.
They were definitely in trouble.
Sam jolted, realising Dean had been trying to get his attention. "What?"
"Oh nothing, just wondering if you wanted to stand here a bit longer and see if we could get completely buried in this damn snow." Dean said, dryly.
Sam ducked his head, seeing that that the snow really had started to settle on both of them while he'd been contemplating their current situation. Stepping closer to Dean he put his arm round his brother's waist and put Dean's arm around his shoulder, ignoring the expected protest. "Come on – just put as much weight as possible on me."
Dean wanted to say he could manage on his own but unfortunately it would have been a lie. His right leg couldn't hold any weight at all and his jeans were already beginning to feel tight around his knee as it swelled. Grimacing he gave in and gripped Sam's jacket as they started to move forward in a bizarre stumbling/hopping motion.
It was like trying to walk through treacle. Dean was beginning to feel light-headed his knee was throbbing so much, and Sam could feel his back muscles starting to seize up from walking in such a weird way. They were tired, they were soaked and they were frozen. Neither of them could even feel their hands or faces anymore. When they tripped for the third time, almost going over, Sam stopped. "Just wait a second." he said, out of breath, and Dean nodded.
Letting go of Sam's shoulder, he leant against a tree they were next to and rubbed his hands up and down his arms in an attempt to generate warmth. It didn't work. He felt his eyelids getting heavier and he blinked quickly, knowing that to close them would be tantamount to suicide right now. They were both probably heading towards hypothermia and he had a sudden flash of clarity that if they didn't get out of the snow soon they were probably going to die out here. He pushed himself up again.
Sam turned to face him, still stretching to try and ease the ache in his back. "Yeah?"
"Come on. We need to get back to the car."
Sam could hear the urgency in Dean's voice and he'd already come to pretty much the same conclusion his brother had. Saying nothing he put his arm round Dean's waist again, waited for Dean to get a good grip on his jacket, and started moving. As he noticed something out of the corner of his eye, he stopped.
"What?" said Dean, looking at him.
"Why is there blood on your shoulder?"
Dean twisted his head and saw the snow on his jacket was in fact turning pink. Damn. "Um, no idea. Come on, we need to keep moving."
Sam gave him the 'you wanna try that again?' raised eyebrow. Dean held out for about thirty seconds then sighed dramatically. "Ok, fine, I might have hit my head when I fell. It wasn't that hard though. Now can we please move?"
Sam shook his head but let it go, for now, knowing this wasn't really the time or the place. They started moving again but they hadn't gone all that much further when he suddenly stopped, making Dean jar his knee as he slipped on the snow.
Sam looked slightly apologetic but most of his attention was focused on something past Dean's shoulder. Twisting his head around Dean tried to look, and thought he could make out a dark shape just through the trees. "What the hell is that?"
"I don't know. It might be an old cabin or something – we could shelter there until this blizzard stops."
Dean hesitated for the briefest of moments then nodded. They awkwardly managed to make their way through the trees and as they got nearer they saw it was indeed a wooden cabin.
"Let's hope it's got a roof still." said Dean, and Sam gave him an unamused look.
Getting up the three steps onto the front porch was not something Dean wanted to do twice. When he'd accidentally caught his foot on the edge of one of them, jarring his knee again, he'd had to swallow to keep from throwing up all over Sam. He decided then and there that he didn't care if the place had a roof, he just wanted to sit down.
"I'll check it first." Sam said, when they reached the top, disentangling himself and leaving Dean to rest against the railing. He didn't even give his brother time to object, digging his flashlight out of his pocket and heading silently for the door. Dean couldn't risk shouting after him, just in case there was someone or something inside, so he had to settle for fuming silently and reminding himself that he really needed to smack Sam upside the head later. He literally counted the seconds and was just debating whether to try getting inside himself when the door opened and Sam came back out.
"All clear. And it has a roof." he said, with a grin. Dean rolled his eyes "Wonderful. You'll excuse me if I don't bother with the happy dance." he muttered, as Sam came over again to give him a hand.
Once they were inside and Sam had closed the door behind them the sudden absence of sound made Dean's ears pop. Swallowing a couple of times till he could hear again he looked round, switching his own flashlight on as he leant against an old table that was next to the door. The place smelt musty and unused but Sam had been right, it was intact and most importantly, it was dry.
Sam moved past him and headed towards a fireplace Dean could just about make out to their left. "I think I can get this going. I saw some wood on the porch outside."
As Sam opened the door once more, making the wind whistle though the cabin with an eerie howl, Dean half hopped into the kitchen area. He turned the tap on above the sink and winced when there was an ominous clanging noise from the pipes. After a couple of false starts the water started flowing though, and in the glow from the flashlight it looked relatively clear. He opened the various cupboards at head height, finding one or two old plates and mugs but no food. There was no fridge, but there was a stove sitting against one wall and when he tried one of the burners it stuttered into life.
Using the surfaces to move round he inched his way back to the living area, taking in the two low couches arranged next to the fireplace and the table he'd been leaning against, which had three chairs shoved haphazardly around it. Clearly the place hadn't been lived in for years but it had also been left alone.
Then again, given how far out they were, probably nobody knew it was there.
He turned as the door opened and Sam staggered in with an armful of wood. He went to move to help only to be stopped by a glare that challenged him to go ahead and try. Sighing he held his hands up and stayed where he was, getting an approving look in return. Sam carried the load across to the fireplace and dumped it in there, not bothering to clear the debris that was already at the bottom. He sat back on his heels and contemplated it for a second.
"Psychic or not, I don't think you're gonna be able to light it with your mind." said Dean and Sam glared at him. "Hilarious. We need something dry to get it going. Those logs are too damp from the snow."
Glancing round Dean settled on the chairs. Limping over he took hold of one of them. "We can use this."
Sam looked uneasy. "That's someone's furniture, Dean. They might notice a whole chair missing."
"Come on, Sam – does this place look lived in to you? I guarantee no one's stepped foot in here for years. Besides, we're leaving them two."
Sam wasn't convinced by the logic but got up anyway and took the chair from Dean. It broke apart easily and he stacked the pieces partly on top and partly underneath. Kneeling down again he took out some matches and carefully lit both piles, surrounding the damp wood with flames. He coughed a little as smoke began to rise from the logs.
As the flames caught the room was lit with a flickering glow that made it much easier to see. They both switched off their flashlights and Sam stood up, seeing Dean was still leaning against the counter. "Would you please sit down? I want to take a look at your knee anyway." he said.
Dean dropped down on one of the couches with a wince but held up a hand to stop Sam as he approached. "You know, the first aid kit is in the car and I don't think they're gonna have anything round here we can use, so why don't we just leave it alone, ok?"
"Because I need to see how much damage you've done. For all I know you've broken your kneecap and you just neglected to mention it."
Dean tried to look innocent. "I'm sure it's not that bad and besides, do you happen to have your portable x-ray machine on you? No, I thought not. So why don't we not prod the very painfully swollen knee and then I won't have to hit you."
"You know it really is great how you make this stuff so much easier."
Sam briefly considered going ahead and checking the knee anyway, then decided it was a good thing to have a full set of teeth at his age so abandoned the idea. "Alright, well will you at least let me check out your head?"
"Ok, but just look. No touching."
Sam made a big show of being excited and Dean gave him a withering look. Smirking Sam made his way over and Dean bent his head forward slightly so he could get a better view.
"Hey! What was that for?" said Sam, rubbing his arm and glaring at his brother.
"That was for poking my head!"
"I did not poke, I was looking!"
"Yeah, with your fingers."
"Oh don't be such a baby. It looks like it's stopped bleeding at least, although you've got quite a lump there."
"Wonderful. Now leave it alone, would you?"
Sam sat back and held up his hands. "How many fingers?"
"Well don't ask me dumb questions! I don't have a concussion, Sam, I think I know what that feels like by now."
Grumbling under his breath about stubborn, pain in the ass brothers he went into the kitchen area Dean had been exploring before and came back a few moments later with some candles. Lighting them he spread them around the room, making it much brighter. He took off his jacket and was 'allowed' to help Dean out of his, grudgingly, putting both of them on the backs of the remaining chairs which he moved closer to the fire. The heat was starting to spread and he shivered slightly as it began to penetrate. Picking up his flashlight he went into the room just off the one they were in and came back moments later with two blankets. He held one out to Dean, who contemplated it with a horrified look.
"Dude, do you know how many things could be living in that? Who knows what these people could have had, for all you know they died of the plague or something."
Sam rolled his eyes. "I think not, Dean, not in this part of the world and certainly not after they invented nylon. What would you prefer anyway, catching a few bugs or freezing to death?"
Dean actually thought about that, only stopping long enough to catch the blanket when Sam gave up and just threw it at him. He held it away from him at first then, with a long suffering sigh, gingerly spread it over his legs and pulled it as close as he dared.
This really was so gross.
Sitting on the couch opposite Sam was less tentative about his own blanket, pulling it around his shoulders and instantly appreciating the extra warmth. Gross or not it was preferable to getting hypothermia. They sat in silence for a bit, watching the shadows created by the flickering candles and the flames from the fire, and feeling their clothes gradually start to dry. Dean ran a hand through his hair, rubbing away the worst of the wetness. Sam had given up on that, resigning himself to feeling it drip onto his shoulders.
Longer hair did have it's disadvantages at times.
"Shame we don't have any coffee."
Sam looked over and shrugged. "Least we're out of the blizzard."
Dean shook his head. "You are such a Pollyanna sometimes."
Sam resisted the urge to stick his tongue out.
Another few minutes and Dean shifted, trying to straighten his leg a little. He winced and then looked at Sam who, predictably, tried to appear like he hadn't been watching.
Sam looked innocent. "Stop what?"
"Dude, I gotta better things to do than sit here and stare at you."
"Right. And those would be?"
Sam struggled for something. "Well, trying to work out how long this blizzard is gonna last for a start."
Dean smirked. "Oh, yeah, cos I forgot that meteorological degree you have. Go on then, how long do you think we're gonna be stuck here for?"
Sam did stick his tongue out this time and Dean just smirked even more. "Nice. Mature argument there, Sammy."
"Whatever. You can't blame me if I was staring anyway, it's not like I can actually rely on you to tell me how bad you're hurt."
"Not this again. We've had this discussion so many times, we're not doing it now. I tripped, I fell, I hurt my knee and banged my head. Big deal. It's not like I'm dying over here. Well, not today."
Dean knew the moment it slipped out that it had been the wrong thing to say. Sam's eyes glittered dangerously in the firelight and Dean would have taken a step back, had he not been sitting down.
"Not today. Right, cos it's so funny to joke about the fact you have less than a year to live. I keep forgetting how hilarious that is."
"No, Dean. You're the one who brought it up! You still think this is something we can actually laugh about? Do you?"
"Ok, first off, don't start yelling at me, ok? And secondly, I was just trying to lighten the mood so quit overreacting."
"Lighten the mood? By reminding me you're dying? Wow, you know you'd be a riot at a funeral. Maybe you could give it a go and hire yourself out, earn some extra money for me before I'm left to fend for myself."
Dean closed his eyes and dropped his head back against the edge of the couch.
This was just what they needed, another argument about the deal when they were both stuck with nowhere to go. Particularly in his case. Suddenly the blizzard was looking a lot more attractive. Opening them again he chanced a look at Sam and saw the glower aimed in his direction. He sighed. "Look, it was an offhand comment that's all. I didn't mean to bring it up and I certainly didn't mean to imply it was funny. Believe me, I know how unfunny this whole thing is, ok? So can we just drop it?"
"How did I know you were gonna say that."
"We can't drop it because I still can't get you to admit what you did was wrong, Dean! It's like you've spent your whole life with this death wish and now you've really gone and done it, you actually think it's a good thing!"
Dean stared at him and raised one eyebrow. "Death wish? You wanna be a little more dramatic? I do not have a death wish, and I do not think that going to hell is a good thing, but I am not going to say it was wrong because it wasn't! You were dead, Sam, do you get that? I had no choice!"
"Yes, you did! You could have left things as they were!"
"No I couldn't! You don't understand."
"No? Well guess what – in a few months time I will! So thanks for that."
Dean looked as if Sam had just slapped him. "It wasn't meant to be like that." he said, quietly.
Sam slumped forward, feeling the anger leave him to be replaced by the familiar ache in his chest. "So how was it supposed to be?"
Dean swallowed and looked away, focusing on the flames in the fireplace. "I had to save you. I couldn't live with you gone, I've told you that. This was never supposed to be a punishment, not for you. It's just the only option I had."
"And what about me? You expect me to just let you go, to accept that you couldn't live with me dying, and you won't understand that I feel the same way! It's not that you saved me that I have a problem with it's the price you're gonna pay, Dean. I don't know how to live with that!"
Dean was silent. There was nothing he could say, not this time. This was one problem he didn't have a solution for and the truth was, what it was doing to Sam hurt more than the idea of where he was gonna end up.
"Look at me." Sam got no response and tried again, leaning forward a little. "Please?"
When Dean finally did look up Sam felt his breath catch in his throat at the pain he could see in his brother's eyes. Without even thinking about it he got up and moved to sit next to Dean on the other couch, careful to avoid knocking his leg. "Dean, I'm not trying to hurt you with this. And I don't mean to make you feel bad, I really don't, I'm just. I'm just trying.."
When he stopped, Dean prompted him. "Just trying to what?"
Sam looked him straight in the eye. "To make you see that this goes both ways. You really don't get it, do you? All these years you've been so busy protecting me, so ready to step in front of a bullet for me, you never even understood that I didn't need you to be that. I just needed you to be there. To be my brother. And that hasn't changed, not even now. You know I saw your face, when I said what I did after you told me about the deal. You honestly never realised that before – did you?"
"You're my big brother, Dean. There is nothing I wouldn't do for you."
The words repeated themselves, loud and clear, in Dean's head and he could still feel the surprise and the warmth that they'd generated. Sam was right, it honestly had never occurred to him that Sam felt that way. He knew he cared about him, loved him even, but that had always been his role. He was the one who did whatever it took to keep his brother safe. Knowing that it went both ways, getting it confirmed like that – it had almost taken the sting out of what he'd just done.
Realising Sam was waiting for an answer still, and knowing it was pointless to lie, Dean just nodded. Sam sighed and shook his head. "Was it because I left? Because I didn't want to stay and hunt? I never meant any of that to hurt you, it was just something I had to do. But if I'd known that I'd have said it years ago. Maybe it might have made you think twice." he said, sadly.
"No!" said Dean, surprising them both with the vehemence in his voice. "Sam, I would have still gone ahead with that deal even if you'd told me that every day. Although I guess in some ways it might have solved the problem, since I would have shot you myself long before Cold Oak."
Sam snorted at the lame attempt at humour, even though it was probably pretty true. Dean really would have loved him walking around saying out loud how much his brother meant to him on a daily basis.
"Seriously, I would still make the deal, right now, if I had to." Dean continued. "There is nothing you could do or say that would change it, and that's the truth. I'm sorry, for what it's gonna do to you. But I'm not sorry I made it. And I never will be."
Sam felt his eyes sting and blinked furiously. Dean was probably gonna smack him for this whole thing later anyway, no need to make it a real 'moment' by adding tears to the mix. "I wish you'd be sorry for yourself too. You're the one who's gonna have to. Who's gonna be in. I can't even say it!"
Dean gave him a sad smile. "You don't have to."
"But I should! I'm trying to be as brave as you are about this but I don't know if I can be. I don't want you to die, Dean. Not now. Not like this. Not ever, if I'm honest."
Dean took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "I'm not being brave, Sam. I'm being realistic. There's no point going over all the ifs, buts and maybes. That's not gonna change anything. Way I see it, I got a little time left and I want to make the most of it. Try to do as much good as I can before it's too late. But my only regret is having to leave you behind. I wish I could change that, but I can't."
"But maybe I can. I know you don't want to hear it but there is a still a chance we can get you out of this, Dean. And whether you like it or not you can't stop me trying. You can't. Anymore than I could stop you making the deal in the first place."
And that was the unfortunate truth in all this. Dean had known for years that Sam was his real weakness, his Achilles heel, and now it seemed that he'd always been Sam's. It was the price they paid for being brothers. For being best friends. And while in abstract terms it was a price they were both willing to pay, in reality it made things almost impossible. Dean knew he couldn't let Sam risk undoing the deal, but he also knew that there really was no way he could stop him.
And if their positions were reversed, he'd have been doing exactly the same thing.
"So what? We keep having these conversations, these fights, until the last minute? I'm tired of going round in circles on this."
"So am I. Which is why we stop. I'm gonna do what I need to do, but you can't know about it. In the meantime you need to trust me not to get myself killed but you also need to do something else for me."
"Live. Stop acting like you're already dead and there's no point being careful. You know what I'm talking about, so don't try to pretend you don't. I can't save you if you won't save yourself, Dean."
It was a simple request. And an obvious one too. But could he really do it? As Dean sat there and looked at Sam's face, his expression half hidden in the shadows from the light of the fire, he realised he had no choice. He never had been able to live with hurting his brother and that's what he, inadvertently, was doing. He rubbed a hand over his face. "Ok. I do trust you, Sam, you know that. But I can't promise you one thing – I can't promise not to carry on trying to protect you. It's what I do, it's what I've always done. I don't know how to stop, not now."
Sam gave him a half smile. "I'm not asking you to. But don't expect me not to do the same."
Dean had to admit Sam had him there. If he argued the point he'd be being hypocritical. It really was irritating sometimes, just how good a lawyer Sam would have made.
"Fine. So are we done?" he said and Sam nodded, recognising that it was more of a statement – a plea, really – than a question. "Yeah, we're done. Heaven forbid you end up having a grown up conversation for too long after all, you might melt like the Wicked Witch."
Dean stared at him. "You did not just quote Wizard of Oz."
Sam grinned as he moved back over to his own couch. "You were the one who recognised it."
Glaring at his now very amused brother Dean pulled his flea ridden blanket a little tighter and settled down to ignore him. Sam just chuckled and got comfortable, feeling a wave of tiredness that probably had more to do with their emotional confrontation than the hike through the forest.
"Hopefully we should be able to get back to the car in the morning. I'll check out your knee when we get back to the motel." Sam said, making sure Dean knew he hadn't forgotten about it.
"Whatever. I just hope my baby is alright. You do realise we're gonna have to dig her out before we can get going again?"
Silence greeted his statement and Dean realised Sam was already drifting off. As he watched him fall asleep, Dean thought about what had been said. Maybe it couldn't hurt, letting Sam try to find a way out of the deal. As much as he stood by what he'd done, the idea of going to hell was hardly an appealing one. And although he'd not said as much, certainly not to Sam, he was scared. Probably more scared than he'd ever been, except for that moment in Cold Oak when he'd seen Sam get stabbed. He daren't hope though, not really. It would be too hard if it came to nothing. As it was he was going to have to try and help Sam come to terms with what might happen, if the worst came to the worst.
That was what he had to focus on now. Getting Sam ready to manage alone. He leant his head back, still watching his brother. Maybe that could wait a little longer though. Because for now they were both still here and that's what counted.
There was still time to make a few more memories, to go with the lifetime's worth they already had. And he'd make sure they were good ones.
Even if it was the last thing he did.