This was written for the Holiday Hurt/Comfort meme over at spn_hurtcomfort.

Original prompt: The weather is wonderful and Dean is pissed, depressed or whatever. Sam coaxes him outdoors and a few kids plaster them with snowballs. A fight ensues. Next day, Sam is sick as a dog.

Happy holidays! Much love.

:::

Sam knows it's going to be a tough day when he catches Dean spiking his morning coffee. Dean's not exactly subtle about it, coffee mug between his thighs as he unscrews the cap off his flask of whiskey, and Sam tenses up, glancing nervously around the diner. The last thing he needs is to be kicked out before he finishes his pancakes.

"Could you at least pretend to hide that?" Sam hisses.

"No," Dean says loudly, and drinks straight from the flask before tucking it back into his jacket. And not that Sam would accept, but it'd be nice if Dean had thought to offer him any. He watches his brother take a sip of the doctored coffee, Dean's eyes bloodshot and circled with dark smudges, a line furrowed harsh between his brows. Sam had fallen asleep at 1:00am to the sight of Dean on the other bed, intent face lit up sallow by the computer screen, and he'd woken at 8:00am to find him in the exact same position.

"Dean," Sam starts.

"Sam," Dean parrots, takes another gulp of the coffee. He hasn't touched his eggs.

Sam opens his mouth for another attempt but then slams it shut in deference to his first-grade teacher's voice sing-songing in his head: If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all! But christ, Dean's driving him insane. His brother's bad mood has been building slowly over the last couple days, starting with a sprained ankle from a black dog in Omaha and compounded by a snowstorm that's highlighted all-too-clearly the Impala's balding rear tires. Dean's dark tempers are nothing new, and Sam's more than familiar with the two flavors in which they come: Silent and Jackass. Dean is currently residing comfortably in the Jackass category, which Sam should be grateful for, because Silent is unnerving and not a little scary – but Jackass is fucking annoying. Makes Sam's head throb.

And Sam knows it's not just the ankle, or the snowstorm, because honestly Sam's not feelin' so hot himself. He wants to find their father too, goddammit – but you don't see him drinking at nine a.m., now do you?

"Can I have some of that?" he demands as Dean wheedles the whiskey back out of his pocket to top off the mug.

"Maybe when you're older."

"Why are you like this?" Sam asks hopelessly.

Dean chooses not to answer, tilting his chin and sending an airy gaze into the vicinity above Sam's head. Sam feels his teeth begin their rhythmic grind, and he forces his jaw still, turns away from Dean to look out the window. Their booth is snug against the glass, and Sam can feel the chill emanating into the warm diner, can see how white and shining the world is outside. After three days the snow finally let up this morning, and the sky broke open like a cattail into floats of feathery clouds and patches of astonishing blue. Sam's not sure how the sun can be so bright and still so cold.

"Excuse me," he hears Dean say as their waitress passes. "Can we have the check, when you find a minute?"

She drops it off a moment later, and Dean drains the rest of his drink (more alcohol than coffee, at this point), gives her a winning smile that she doesn't return, and smacks a twenty down on the table.

"C'mon," Dean says, pushing himself up, and Sam hastily scoops the last bite of pancake into his mouth and is pulling on his coat by the time Dean's already half-way to the door, fucked-up ankle or no. He's limping hard this morning, probably due in part to the half-flask of whiskey he's already managed to consume, and in part because he spent the night cross-legged on the bed, hunched over research. No sleep wears a body down. Sam knows this all too well.

Once outside Dean pauses for a moment and Sam catches up, watches as Dean blinks a little like the brightness of the day took him by surprise, and for just a second the pinched look eases minutely off his face – and then it's back with a vengeance, Dean swearing as he limps hastily towards their car, skidding and slipping on the heavy ice.

"Hey," he's shouting, "Get the fuck off my fucking car, asswipe!" and Sam sees, with a mixture of horror and awe, that there's a kid standing on the hood of the Impala, one hand raised above his head, poised to throw a snowball at a pink snowsuited girl standing on a dune of snow at the edge of the parking lot.

The kid, to his credit, hops off immediately, but Dean isn't finished with him.

"What the hell, man!" Dean hollers, as if he's talking to another twenty-six year-old, and Sam cringes. "You can't just climb up on other people's cars. You coulda destroyed my fuckin' hood!"

"Sorry," the boy offers, backing away, nervously clutching his snowball, and Pink Snowsuit slides down the snow bale to come stand behind him, an offer of silent support that has Sam coming forward, hands raised. They can't be more than seven or eight, and Dean's like twelve feet taller than them. It's gotta be scary as hell.

"Dean," he says, "cool down, huh? They're just kids. They didn't know."

"They knew," Dean says, glares down at them, "they fucking knew, didn't you, didn't you fucking know you can't use cars like your own personal goddamn playground?"

The boy stares up at him, face a picture of fright, and then, before Sam knows what's happened, the kid's hand is empty and Dean has a faceful of snow.

"Oh my god," Sam gasps as Dean splutters unbelievingly, and the kids give a shriek of laughter and dart away. "Oh my god," Sam wheezes again, joyous.

He's so intent on trying to keep breathing through his laughter that for a moment he doesn't know what's happened. He only knows that there's a terrible burn prickling his face, and somehow he's stopped laughing and Dean's begun.

"What the," Sam says, wiping snow away from his eyes and pretending to double over. "Ow!"

"That's what you get," Dean says matter-of-factly, starts to turn, but Sam, his hands full of secret snow, takes a step forward and then it's fucking on.

Dean's at a disadvantage because of his ankle, but he fixes that pretty quickly by tackling Sam into the snow heap on the perimeter and making sure he can't get up again. Sam manages to wriggle out from underneath him and crawl a few feet away, give himself enough time to pack a clump of snow into a clumsy ball and chuck it at Dean's ear, and he's rewarded with an aggrieved yelp.

"You fuckin' punk," Dean growls, and suddenly Sam's face is buried in snow and there's more being stuffed down the back of his jacket – but he's bigger than his brother, and he manages to reverse their positions pretty quick, Dean squirming underneath him as he gives his brother's face a good rubdown with icy, dirty snow.

"That's for being an asshole all week," Sam grits as Dean lets out a howl and shoves a handful of snow down his neck.

They're both laughing helplessly to the point where they're having trouble keeping enough breath to sustain movement, but there's something underneath the laughter, something focused and serious, and as Sam grinds Dean's face into snow he can't help but feel that the whitewash he's giving his brother is actually washing something away. Sam and Dean have been fighting one another since Sam was born, sometimes under orders, sometimes out of anger, sometimes in play like this, and it's familiar, the way he knows how to hold back enough not to seriously injure anything, but let loose enough to cause a little minor damage. They haven't sparred in a while, Sam realizes, haven't fought in any way other than cruel jabs and ceaseless taunts, and he didn't even realize they'd built up this real, excruciating tension until they're both lying on their backs in a parking lot, panting, Dean's nose bleeding sluggishly and Sam's knuckles grazed from the freezing ice.

"I won," Dean says after a moment.

"Shut the fuck up," Sam answers, but he doesn't deny it, even though Dean's the one who's gonna have to stuff tissue in his nostrils. Which is a big fat LOSE in Sam's book.

:::

The next day, Sam wakes up talking like Kermit the frog.

"Sing it," Dean commands. "Sing it, come on."

"No," Sam croaks, "God, I feel like crap. Unngggh."

"Siiiinnnngggg it."

Sam huffs a sigh that turns into a harsh cough. But once he's caught his breath, he rolls his eyes, and croons, "It's not easy being green — it seems you blend in with so many other ordinary things – And people tend to pass you over 'cause you're not standing out, like flashy sparkles in the water, or stars in the sky!"

Sam finishes with a flourish and then collapses into a coughing fit as Dean guffaws delightedly, sitting on the edge of Sam's bed to measure out a spoonful of pungent cough syrup.

"Open," Dean says, and Sam opens his mouth automatically, a reflex from years and years ago.

"Ew," Sam says, can't help himself. He hates this crap.

"Suck it up," Dean tells him readily, and Sam coughs angrily as the electric kettle lets out a pathetic, congested whistle. Dean gets up to rummage around in the complementary tea selection on top of the mini fridge, selects a lemon-honey blend and pours steaming water into a Styrofoam cup.

"Here," Dean says, "drink this, and then get your ass out of bed so we can check out."

Sam huddles back into the covers for a few precious moments and sips the tea, watches his brother limp around the motel room packing up their stuff. Dean's bad mood has finally given way to the manic cheer that usually follows a week of insufferable glowering, and Sam wonders if maybe it's passed with the snowstorm. The sun outside is bright again today, too bright, like it's trying to overcompensate for the freezing air.

"Put these on," Dean orders, tossing Sam their warmest socks, stolen from a sporting goods store a few months ago, and Sam wriggles his feet out of bed in order to tug them on. Dean's wearing a pair of the worn-out white ankle socks they seem to have an unending supply of, cheap but not very warm.

Sam misses their father – he does. And he wants to find the man. But he's lying when he tells himself he wants it just as much as Dean does. Because he remembers when Dean was sick, as a kid, remembers who it was that dosed him with cough syrup, fed him weird teas, told him to suck it up and forced him gruffly into wool socks. It wasn't Sam, that's for sure.

"You done with that lemon shit?" Dean asks, sinking down into a chair and flexing his ankle with a grimace.

"No," Sam says, and Dean rolls his eyes.

"Well, you got ten more minutes, then I'm pouring it on your head."

"I'll cough on you," Sam threatens.

"You'll die."

Sam chucks a balled-up tissue at him, and Dean ducks it easily, scowls.

"I'm gonna load the car," he says, pushing himself up. "Be not sick when I get back."

"Fuck you," Sam ribbets.

Dean tosses him a languid middle finger and slams the door behind him. A burst of frigid air swirls into the room, and Sam shivers violently.

Then he finishes his tea, puts on his sweatshirt, and waits for Dean to come back.