Sam's gaze fell on the pile of his brother's clothes he'd tossed aside such a short while ago. Dean was gone, and unless he'd disappeared into thin air, he was somewhere outside half-dressed in dangerous weather. Sam's stomach gave a sickening lurch at the thought.
He raced across the cabin and out the door, yelling Dean's name as soon as he hit the steps. The wind folded, spindled, and mutilated the shouts but he wasn't deterred and continued to shout. The cold air invaded his lungs as he sucked in air between each bellow, forcing him to cough. The hacking intermixed with his frantic calls and echoed around him but there was no answering call from his big brother.
Gaze scanning the clearing then tree line for some clue as to Dean's whereabouts, Sam continued to yell, "DEAN? DEAN, ANSWER ME!" A sudden sharp, howling gust of wind pushed a fistful of snow directly into Sam's face. He choked against the icy, crystalline fractals filling his mouth and arrowing down his windpipe. Tonguing the snow out of his mouth, Sam dashed it away with the back of his hand and paused to catch his breath. Swiping at his streaming eyes, Sam resumed studying his surroundings.
"DEAN! CAN YOU HEAR ME? DEAN?"
He can't be far. I wasn't gone that long. Please let me find him. Please, please let me find him. Pleaseletme—wait, what's that?
Sam spied some nearly-obscured indentations in the snow. They didn't look so much like footprints as they did—drag marks? Sam frowned. Or maybe they were just evidence of Dean shuffling blindly through the snow. Regardless, instinct urged Sam to follow the faint traces.
He followed the tenuous, intermittent trail of "breadcrumbs" a good distance into the trees. An unexpected screech of a bird perched high above cut through the constant clamor of the wind and startled Sam. He spared a quick glance upward. When his gaze again dipped to the ground, the vague "trail" was gone. Sam felt a spurt of panic roil in his gut. He staggered forward a few steps, gaze now glued to the ground, cursing and muttering under his breath. After another minute of searching, Sam nearly tripped over an odd, misshapen, snow-covered lump in the snow. He dropped to his knees with a cry and reached out a shaky hand, a hopeful prayer on his lips.
His gloved hand met flesh. "Dean!" Sam frantically brushed away the snow from atop his brother and gently rolled him over. Dean's complexion was gray; his lips trending toward blue. Sam pulled off a glove and felt for a pulse, sighing in relief when found the too slow, but steady, beat. Sam smoothed a palm over Dean's forehead, wincing at the feel of cold, cold skin. "Hey, bro, I got ya. I got ya. Can you wake up for me?" When there's no response, he repeated the motion. "Dean? C'mon, man." He was rewarded with a breathy, barely-there moan. "So that's it, huh? One little moan? Guess I'm carrying you then."
Sam stood and, with not a little effort, maneuvered Dean onto his shoulders in a firemen's carry. The trek back to the cabin took every bit of strength the young hunter had and he was panting and trembling by the time he staggered across the threshold to shelter for the third time. With a weary groan, Sam settled his older sibling on the couch once more.
Hastily tossing the blanket over Dean, Sam turned his attention to getting a fire going in the fireplace. Picking up the sundry pieces of wood, he'd dropped earlier; Sam arranged about half in the grate. It was then he remembered he'd need some paper to help get the kindling going. Recalling the stacks in the small shed out back, he glanced at his still-unconscious brother, worried about leaving but acknowledging to himself that he really had no choice. He sprinted to the shed as fast as the snow would allow, grabbed an armful of the old newspapers, and was back inside within a couple of minutes, relieved to find Dean still sprawled on the couch where he'd left him. Sam pulled an ever-present book of matches from his pocket, knelt and stuffed crumpled paper amongst the wood. After some coaxing, he had a modest fire going in a matter of minutes.
With the fire now ablaze, Sam discarded his coat and turned his attention to Dean. He moved the blanket aside and surveyed his brother. Dean's remaining clothes—his t-shirt, over shirt, and boxer briefs—even the knit cap—were wet and would have to come off. The gash on his thigh was bleeding again and would need to be stitched. Sam sighed. "Just had to go out for a stroll, didn't you?" he snarked fondly. Grabbing one of the towels he'd stuffed in the backpack, Sam eased down on the edge of the couch, hissing when an errant and treacherous spring dug into his hip. He eased backward a couple of inches to rectify the situation before reaching for his brother. Pulling him forward, Sam began to work him out of the long-sleeved shirt. The younger Winchester was so involved in fighting the wet, uncooperative material that he was unprepared when Dean came awake with a start and began to struggle. A flailing fist caught him just under the chin.
"Ngh—nnn. Lemme go! S'm! N-needta f-find S'm!"
"Dean! Dean, it's okay—you're okay, and I'm right here." Sam grabbed his brother's shoulders.
Dean's unfocused gaze roamed the room. "Lemme go!" He pulled weakly against Sam's hold.
Sam took hold of Dean's chin and forced his brother to look at him. "Dean, I'm right here."
The haze cleared slightly from Dean's green eyes. "S'mmy? Yer really here?"
"Yeah, dude, I'm really here. You're the one who went for a stroll in the middle of a blizzard, bro."
"Not lost and 'lone?"
Sam looked at his brother with a puzzled expression. "No, I'm not lost and alone. I told you I had to get firewood, remember?"
"We need to get you out of these wet clothes," Sam finished pulling off Dean's over shirt. Throwing it aside, he went for the t-shirt next, tugging it over Dean's head, taking the hat with it. For the time being he left the boxer briefs in place. Picking up the waiting towel, Sam quickly dried Dean off and placed the blanket back over him.
Sam started to stand but Dean's fingers closed around his wrist.
"They were here."
"They? They who?"
"Those w-winter h-hags. They were here."
Sam shook his head. "They couldn't have been here, Dean. We took care of them. They're dead."
Dean looked intently at his little brother, clearly upset. "Not dead. They told me you were lost—out there—and that you were gonna die."
"I wasn't lost. I was getting wood to build a fire. Maybe you fell asleep and with all that's happened had a nightmare." Sam listened to Dean's continued protest as he retrieved the first aid kit from the back pack.
"I'm gonna have to stitch that wound on your leg; it's bleeding again." The younger Winchester was about to gather what he needed to clean, stitch, and bandage the wound when he noticed something odd. He leaned forward. Bruises were forming on Dean's wrists and ankles. Even worse, dark handprints encircled his neck. It looked like he'd been restrained and choked. Sam touched the offensive marks and swallowed hard.
"Dude, what the hell happened to you?"