A/N: This was originally published in Blood Brothers 4 in 2010. This year's zine, Blood Brothers 5, is now available for purchase from Jeanne at TeaJunkie (at) comcast (dot) net. Replace words in parentheses as necessary.
"Hey, Sammy, want to make a snowman?"
With all the long-suffering of a little brother, Sam slowly turned back to look down the trail. Dean had a handful of snow in his hands, a wide grin on his face. "We could use them as decoys," Dean added softly, throwing a ball up and down in his gloved hand. "Set 'em up with our jackets."
"While we sit in the bushes and freeze enough that our teeth start clacking, alerting it to our presence." Sam hefted the duffel bag up onto his shoulder and headed up the path again. "No thanks."
"Yeah, wouldn't want your face to freeze like that," Dean said. Even as he hurried up after Sam, he could be heard muttering, "And I'd have to give the snowman a frown so he could brood."
Sam bit his lip to keep from grinning, instead watching the path carefully. The trees weren't as dense here as they appeared to be higher up the mountain, which meant they were most likely still in the safe zone. It was probably another half a mile up that the first trail of corpses had been found, all of them cut up and sliced in what appeared to be an almost delicate manner. It'd been odd enough to check out, and when they'd discovered the lunar cycle had been right, Sam and Dean had decided to make Grand Junction, Colorado their next stop.
"Close enough we could hit Aspen," Dean said after a few minutes had passed, his voice still quiet.
Sam glanced over his shoulder and found his brother gazing seriously back at him. Honest to god offer, which made Sam slow down a little bit.
"You hate skiing, Dean."
"I don't hate it," Dean protested.
Sam raised his eyebrow. "Funny, because I'm pretty certain the phrase, 'I hate this,' came out of your mouth the last time we tried it."
He was waiting for his brother's eye roll. "I was fourteen, Sammy. I also once said girls had cooties, and I obviously got over that." His eyebrows waggled to match his leering grin.
Sam shook his head and resumed his pace. Yeah, Dean had gotten over that: he'd been chatting up the brunette down at the lodge only about three hours before, while Sam had been drilled on the dangers of the wildlife and the avalanche possibilities.
Then he replayed what he'd just thought and leveled a glare at Dean's head. "This wouldn't have anything to do with the brunette down at the lodge who was decked out in skiing gear, would it?"
Dean stopped, face blank. Sam let out a sigh. "Of course it would. Never mind. Stupid question to ask."
"Hey, man, she offered to teach me how to ski."
"And here I thought for a moment you were offering to spend quality time with your little brother."
"Well, yeah, but later. You can already ski. I just gotta get to the point where I can kick your ass on the slopes."
Sam finally began to smile.
Dean's face lit up in obvious pleasure and surprise. He bumped Sam deliberately with an elbow and gave a quick, soft laugh; the last thing they wanted to do was set off an avalanche. The man down at the lodge had warned them about the shelf of snow sitting precariously at the top of the mountain, urging them to watch their noise. "See, that wasn't too hard, was it?" he teased.
"Just thinking about how I'm going to kick your ass later," Sam said, but his smile still remained. He didn't have a lot to smile for these days, but Dean was always a reason. Not like he was going to inform his brother of that, however; he already had too inflated an ego. "You'll be paying too much attention to your instructor and not the actual lessons."
"Not when I've been challenged like that," Dean replied. "Besides, you weigh more than I do. On top of all that snow, I don't know, dude, I don't think you're gonna slide down..."
Sam's response was on the tip of his tongue when shuffling sounds up ahead made them pause. Leaves rustled and caused Sam to carefully place his duffel on the ground, all the while reaching for his piece. They weren't even close to where the second body, the one closest to civilization, had been found. Still, his gun was loaded with silver bullets, and he knew Dean's was, too. The lunar cycle was just too much a coincidence to be ignored.
Suddenly, something small and white bounced out from the foliage, then stopped and froze upon seeing them. Sam let out a sigh of relief and even chuckled upon seeing the look on Dean's face.
"Frickin' rabbit," Dean muttered, shaking himself. "Dude, that's-"
The foliage rustled again, and this time something much bigger jumped out. The rabbit took off running. The cat started to chase after its prey, then stopped, assessing Sam and Dean as the rabbit had. Its eyes were narrow and gold, its paws too much like hands and fingers to be anything but a werecat. Exactly what they'd been hunting.
At least their guns were out. Except the silencers, to keep the shots from echoing and enticing a shift in the snow shelf, were in the weapons bag. And what the hell was the damn cat doing this far out from where the other victims had been found?
The creature growled low and pounced. Sam slid to the right and snagged the handle on the duffel bag as he moved, taking off fast through the forest. The snow covered most of the landscape, making it hard to see what was solid ground and what were roots, but Sam focused on luring the werecat into the denser part of the trees where it would have a harder time following.
He fought to hear past his pounding heart and labored breaths, then realized that was all he could hear. He dared to glance behind and found he was a decent distance from the path. The monster was nowhere to be seen. Which meant it'd taken off after Dean. "Damn it," he cursed, dropping the duffel bag fast. Dean didn't have a silencer on him, leaving Sam the only one who could take the time to put the silencer on. Time his brother didn't have if he was busy trying to lure the werecat away from Sam – which was exactly what Sam knew he was doing.
The silencer was waiting for him on top, but trying to attach it to the gun while he was cold and hopped up on adrenaline and worry didn't help. Finally, it screwed on and he began to tighten it. He checked the magazine one more time, then hoisted the duffel bag again and took off back the way he'd come.
The closer to the path he got, the louder the growling became. He dropped the duffel on the path and headed off the opposite way, darting through trees, trying to be aware of both beast and brother. Tracks in the snow were easy to find, but his brother wasn't trying to hide, he was just trying to outrun the damn thing.
Up ahead, there was a distinctively loud growl, then a quick blur of color against the white backdrop. Sam quickly made his way through the trees until he could see his brother weaving a path back down the mountain. Any minute, the werecat would be on top of him.
But not if Sam had his say first. "Hey!" he called as loudly as he dared. It was enough: the creature snapped its head around, the frustration evident on its face. Dean took the chance to run straight toward Sam, and with a loud growl the werecat did the same.
"Fall left," Sam said when Dean was close enough. Dean twisted to the side immediately, leaving Sam with a decent enough shot. He hit it in the shoulder as it flew through the forest, causing it to cry out and stumble backward. Black blood hit the snow, but the werecat still pushed itself up. With a speed Sam hadn't been anticipating it sprang up from the ground and straight at Dean, who was almost on his feet.
He wasn't going to get there in time. Sam still pushed himself forward, crying out for his brother without any care for how loud it was. He pulled the gun up as he ran and fired off another shot, which took hold in the creature's leg. It fell back again, but it still wouldn't be enough, even though Dean was on his feet and running hard by that point. Sam fired one last time as the beast pushed itself up and jumped. The bullet hit home in the heart. With a dying scream the werecat tumbled back for the final time.
The scream echoed up through the empty hills and through Sam's ears. His own shout for Dean hadn't been quiet by any means, but if his yell had been the flaming match, the werecat's scream had been the fuse. The earth shook suddenly, causing Sam to stumble, and then a horrible roar from somewhere off in the distance made his heart stop. Funny, I always expected them to be silent, he thought wildly, even as Dean barreled into him and shoved him toward the path.
"Move!" Dean shouted.
Together they ran back to the path, grabbing the duffel bag before racing down the mountain. The thunder rolling behind them was getting louder. Even though they hadn't been that high up, they were still miles from any sort of help. The avalanche would overtake them before they got even a tenth of the way down.
"Dean," Sam started breathlessly as he ran.
Dean's head was zipping side to side before he slid to a stop and started running off the path. "C'mon!" Dean yelled. "There's an overhang!"
Sure enough, there was a small alcove, a huge chunk of stone and earth jutting up high above it. It would be enough to keep them safe if they could get to it in time, because Sam could see the snow coming now. It was flying down fast and furious, more of it than Sam had ever seen in his lifetime. Oh, god.
There was a small root beneath the snow, and Sam stumbled off to the right when his foot found it. Dean was closer to the cave and might have made it in. Might have, except that he turned to find Sam, then started moving away from safety to get to his brother. Sam forced himself to move faster, if just to keep his stupid older sibling from coming back down for him. He cleared the trees, the thunder resonating in his bones, then realized Dean still wasn't moving toward the small cave. "Dean, go!" he shouted.
"Then get up here!" Dean shouted back as he flung his arm out for Sam.
Sam pushed himself forward with his arm outstretched, fingers mere inches from his brother's.
The snow barreled over the landscape and covered them both before Sam could take his brother's hand. He felt like he was drowning, pushed under and rolling at a dizzying speed, unable to fight his way to the surface for air. He kicked and tried to come out on top, completely disoriented and not even sure which way was up, or where Dean was, completely unable to breathe-
Something connected hard with his head and the ugly white faded to black.
The snow was hard to push through. Dean choked, trying to fight his way to the top. Up and down were relative terms, but he clawed as best he could against the flow, trying to get out. Finally, he forced his head above the snow and gasped for air, taking in deep lungfuls. The snow was still sending him down the mountain at a fast pace, and he reached out for anything that would stop him. A tree was bearing down on him fast, but it was also close enough to catch. Dean twisted as best he could to grab hold. The trunk hit him hard in the chest, expelling the precious air he'd fought to take in, but he refused to let go. The snow was already threatening to take his legs away.
"Sam!" he yelled, still gasping for air. His voice was barely a tremor over the thunderous roar of the snow, causing him to cringe and try to find a better hold. One of the branches above looked close enough to take, and he fought to get his feet back toward the trunk. He carefully moved so he was behind the tree, safer than on the side. There the flow wasn't as harsh, leaving him able to bring his torso and legs back together. The branch was a little harder to reach this way, but with his toes against the trunk, he pushed up and caught hold. Dragging himself up was hard as he suddenly realized how exhausted he really was. Every muscle in his body was battered, but he finally managed to get up onto the branch, higher than the stream of snow that was still coming down hard and fast.
He leaned back against the tree and scanned over the sea of white that filled his vision. "Sammy!" he shouted, eyes desperately seeking his brother. Sam had been seconds away from grabbing his hand. All Dean would have had to do was pull and throw his brother into the safety of the alcove. They'd have been fine. Instead, he was gasping for air on a branch; god knew where Sam was.
What if he was still in the snow? The remembered feeling of not being able to breathe, of suffocating under something that was usually powdered and soft, left Dean filled with a sudden terror. "Sammy!" he screamed as loud as he could. His voice made it over the rushing of the snow, but it didn't echo back; it was smothered by the snow. He strained to hear a response, but there was nothing.
How the hell had the hunt gone so bad so fast?
Okay, sure, the werecat had gotten the drop on them. It'd been way out of its territory; the surprise on Sam's face had been a testament to that. He'd marked out the radius of its hunting ground, and they'd been nowhere close to it.
And yeah, they should've planned for the avalanche because, c'mon, their lives were always crap with luck. He should've assumed it was going to happen, then they would've been fine. Dean didn't know how to plan for an avalanche, exactly, besides not going up a mountain in the first place. Sam probably would've had them pack a raft or something, or skis...
Oh, god, Sam. Dean's heart lurched in his chest, his stomach twisting as he gazed out into the never-ending snow. It was still moving, albeit not as fast now, but there still wasn't a cry for help or a shout for a big brother. Dean scanned the area desperately, but still didn't see a dark head of hair surfacing anywhere nearby.
"Sam!" he tried one last time, holding his brother's name for as long as his abused lungs would let him. The long call was cut off when Dean began to cough, his lungs begging for air. Sam still wasn't responding. The duffel bag with the extra blankets in it was gone. Dean was stuck on a mountain tree branch overlooking the slowing remnants of an avalanche, miles from any sort of help or civilization, without his little brother.
It was the last one that made him feel the most helpless, though.
"Sammy," he whispered miserably. The snow kept flowing beneath him, so for the time being, he was stuck. As soon as it stopped, he'd make his way down and start looking as best he could. He shivered and tucked his jacket more firmly around himself. His gloves were, thankfully, still in his pockets, but they'd only do so much good against the coming night and dropping temperatures.
God, he was screwed. He closed his eyes and let his head sink back against the tree.
Cold. Shivering, shuddering, cold. It seeped into his bones, rattling his entire body. He drew in a deep breath, which his lungs immediately tried to expel. He coughed and choked, trying to gasp in more air. At least he was able to inhale now. He had a faint memory of trying to breathe, forced underwater, drowning without a way up to the surface, fighting to get to-
Dean! Sam's eyes shot open as it all came flooding back. The werecat. The avalanche. Getting shoved down the mountain. Dean.
"Whoa, easy there, son," a deep voice said as soon as he tried to sit up. "You're not in any position to be moving right now."
The room spun alarmingly for a moment, making it all the easier for Sam to be pushed back down onto a soft surface. "De-"
"Just breathe easy," another voice said, lighter, feminine. "Do you know who you are?"
Sam. That much was easy, but trying to pull up the name they'd checked in with was a different story. "Sam," he said finally. It'd have to do. "Where's Dean?"
Silence prevailed. He hadn't realized he'd closed his eyes until he fought to open them. Two people, a man and a woman, were kneeling over him wearing blue professional coats. They looked serious. More to the point, they looked worried.
"There were two of you?" the woman finally asked.
Sam's heart skipped a beat in his chest. If they'd only found him...God, Dean...
"Who's Dean?" the man asked gently, seeing Sam's apparent panic.
"My...my brother," Sam stammered, pushing himself up again. Around him, the lodge walls shifted to the right, but he grit his teeth and kept going. "I gotta find him."
"Whoa, just take it easy," the man said calmly, his big hand carefully leading Sam back down to the padded bench he was lying on. The man rubbed his chin for a minute, thick fingers running up and down his coarse, dark beard. He looked like a lumberjack, a perfect Paul Bunyan type. Dean would have loved to meet him, except Dean wasn't there, which meant Sam had to go.
"The rescue crew's heading up," the woman assured him. She was pretty, red hair looking completely natural. The softness in her gaze and voice wasn't fake, either. "I'll let them know to look for your brother. Do you know where you were when the avalanche hit?"
A half a mile from where your second werecat victim was found, he wanted to say, but forced himself to think. "Um, we'd passed the...the rock in the tourist brochure. We weren't too far past that."
The man blinked. "Good god, son. That's a good four miles up, at least. When did you boys start hiking?"
"Be impressed later, Danny," the woman said with a raised eyebrow. "Go let the team know where to start looking. I'll stay here with Sam."
Lumberjack Dan left, moving swiftly toward the doors of the vacant lodge. The woman turned back with another soft smile. "Do you feel sick at all? Where does it hurt the worst?"
When Sam kept his eyes on the other medic and the doors by which he was exiting, the woman sighed. "They'll find your brother. But you're in no shape to go traipsing back up that mountain right now. You hit your head pretty hard, you've got contusions all up and down your body, you're bordering on hypothermic, and your ankle doesn't look good."
It was an implicit order, one Sam probably should've followed. But the list only made him wonder what damage Dean had sustained in the avalanche, or if his brother was even alive to catalogue the hurts. "I can't stay here," he admitted. "I have to find my brother. Ma'am, please, I can sign forms if I have to-"
"It's Lily, and there aren't any forms." She sighed, pursing her lips. "But I can't let you out there. I'm sorry, Sam. The temperature's dropping and night's coming on. Letting you go out there would be against everything I've sworn to do as a medic."
Even as she smiled sympathetically and patted him on the shoulder, even as he gave a resigned smile, Sam already knew he had to leave. They weren't going to find Dean. The team wouldn't know how Dean thought, wouldn't know how far off the trail they'd gone. Telling them they'd gone off the trail in the first place was just going to incite questions. Sam knew if Dean could have, he would've gotten to the cave. He hadn't been that far from it. If he was okay, he'd have fought his way back there, hoping Sam would do the same.
Worse, if Dean was hurt in some way, concussed or, god, unconscious, he'd never respond to the paramedics. Even if the crew somehow managed to get up to where they'd been, they could call for hours two feet from Dean and never find him because Dean didn't know them, didn't trust them. Dean would know Sam, though.
He had to get back up that mountain. He had to find Dean. But first, he had slip away from the medics, avoid the search party, and not fall on his face.
For now, he'd rest. Lily and Danny were both there, Danny coming back over from the doors. Sam wasn't going to be able to go anywhere. Might as well conserve strength for the trek back up the mountain. He closed his eyes and tried to let himself rest.
Dean woke to darkness. Disoriented, he jerked upright, then almost fell off the branch. He realized he was shivering hard, leaving him to fight to get his hands in his pockets. His gloves were slightly warm, having been pressed against his body. He pulled them on quickly, the small relief enough to make him sigh.
The snow beneath him gleamed a bluish-white under the bright moon. Enough that he could see quite a ways down the mountain. Enough that he could maybe see a lost little brother.
"Sammy?" he called desperately into the night. His voice echoed this time, but he wasn't given an answer.
The moon wasn't very high, which meant it was only going to get colder and possibly darker. He hadn't meant to fall asleep; thank god he'd woken up when he had. Falling asleep in the cold was the perfect way to never wake up again, and Dean had a little brother to find. Because damn it, Sam would be okay. Just waiting for Dean to find him.
The sky looked clear of clouds, which Dean was also thankful for: his flashlight had been in the duffel bag. The moon would be his only light source. And didn't that just fill him with joy.
Then again, nothing about this hunt was filling him with joy. Between the stupid son of a bitch werecat and the damn avalanche, the entire hunt had been rotten. But Dean would gladly let it all be forgiven and forgotten, even chalk it up as a win, if he found Sam.
Getting down from the branch was a little harder than he'd expected. His limbs felt frozen solid, so he shouldn't have been surprised to see actual ice crystals on his jacket, face, and jeans. He made himself stretch as best he could, trying to create some friction to warm up his body. There was no wind, but the biting cold was enough.
He finally wound up dangling himself above the snow, then counted to three before dropping. His feet barely sunk into it, but he still managed to send powder everywhere. The dropping temperature made the snow crunchy and gave it a little substance. Even with the amount beneath him, Dean didn't expect to sink all that much. It would make digging someone else out really tough, but-
No. Sam was more than likely out there looking for him, the giant moron, when he should've gone to get help. Dean had to trust that his brother would be fine.
Of course, that was probably what Sam would tell him: trust him to be fine while Dean went for help. Which, no, not going to happen. It wasn't that he didn't trust Sam, it was that Dean didn't trust the elements and people and werecats and the world in general. Not when it came to his brother's life. Sam was bound to be thinking the same way. That meant his little brother had to be wandering around out here, looking for Dean.
He had to believe that. Images of Sam sprawled across the snow, blood everywhere, neck snapped, eyes glassy, would fill his head if he didn't. And no, Dean didn't have an overactive imagination at all. He just knew their luck.
For all the bad luck they had, though, they were usually pretty lucky to get out of the situations they found themselves in. Maybe a little bruised and broken, but generally, they always walked out. They were definitely getting out of this one.
"Now would be a good time for skis," Dean muttered before he cupped his hands around his mouth and called for Sam again. When there was no answer, Dean began to make his way back up the mountain. He'd check the cave first – a good starting point for the both of them – and then make his way back down.
Getting away was easier than Sam had hoped.
Lily and Danny had been called over to help near the exit; since Sam had "fallen asleep," they'd obliged. As soon as Sam heard the doors shut, he was up and moving.
Okay, up and panting, trying to make the world stop spinning. The back of his head was starting to throb, and he could feel skin in various areas tighten, like he'd had stitches put in. One look at his right hand and arm proved as much. The room was still twirling around him, leaving his stomach clenching and twisting. But, god, he couldn't be sick, not when he had to find Dean. Please settle, he begged silently.
Standing helped a little. When he focused on breathing, his stomach pulled back from his throat. He moved like an old man, tentative steps with the chance of falling over if he wasn't careful. He did finally reach the lodge counter where they served drinks, but his goal wasn't liquid. Danny had shed his coat and slung it over the marble top, near to a perfect fit when Sam carefully pulled it on. Gloves were nestled in the pockets, which left him better off than he'd hoped. The flashlight tucked on the other side of the counter put a warm feeling in his chest.
Now to get out.
He made his way into the adjoining room, a space with a large fireplace and seats for visitors to curl up on when they were done skiing. Now, the chairs were perfect catches as he pushed himself from one to the other. The door on the opposite side was his goal. The lack of blinking lights above it told him that while it might be locked, it wasn't set with an alarm.
Sure enough, the door had a small lock on the inside. No windows, but he couldn't hear anything from the opposite side of the door, either. He unlocked it and leaned against the door jamb first, trying to catch his breath, then moved out slowly. He could hear voices now, but they were in the opposite direction from where he was headed. Up the mountain, he could see pinpricks of light as the rescue team vigilantly searched. They were spreading themselves out over the perimeter, though, nowhere near high enough to where Sam and Dean had last been.
Sam had to get up the mountain before they did.
The cold was more chilling than he'd thought it would be. He hissed as he stepped out and was fully wrapped in the icy air. His stitched hand was still tender when he put the gloves on, the fabric tugging on the wound. Without a scarf, his face immediately felt dry and chilled, each breath in stinging a little more than the last.
He blinked through the cold and focused on the path. There were enough trees that he could push himself up without too much trouble. And he still wasn't fully disabled: he could remain stealthy and hide from the search team and from Lily, who was bound to have returned to the lodge by now and found an empty bench. That meant he had to move.
He stumbled across the snow toward the path, steering clear of the search lights. They were really putting everything into finding Dean: for a moment Sam was grateful. These were the people they fought so hard to save. They were the reason Sam and Dean hunted. There were good people in the world.
They weren't hunter skilled, though. And that left finding Dean up to Sam.
Sam bundled up the coat tighter around himself and started off toward the trees on the side of the lodge. The flashlight remained wrapped in his good hand, but for now, the moon gave enough light to see by. The less light he cast around, the better off he'd be. Having the flashlight helped, though, because with his ankle the way it was, stumbling over a root was going to get him nowhere fast. Now was not the time to trip.
Hold on, Dean. I'm coming.
"Hold on, Sammy!" Dean called. Up ahead was the dark shadow of the overhang, the alcove beneath it. The snow under his feet shifted, only a small amount, but enough that he stopped. When it didn't do anything worse than sink him an inch, he pushed himself up again toward the cave. Almost there.
He had to shove himself off a couple of trees to get up, but finally he had his hands wrapped around the base, finally had enough purchase underneath him and ahead of him to thrust himself into the cave. The small respite from the cold left him shivering more, surprisingly, but the lack of cold air surrounding him soon quieted his shivers to minute, random tremblings. He gave a small sigh of relief before it occurred to him that he couldn't hear anyone else near him. His head jerked up.
"Sam?" he said into the darkness, even though he could see the back of the alcove, the sides, the ground and ceiling. There was nothing else inside the space. No one else.
Dean's chest twisted in worry and fear and he swallowed hard. "Sammy," he whispered, his breath fogged in the chilly night air. Everything felt colder as he pulled himself more deeply into the cave. No blanket, no heater, no scarf, no hat.
No little brother who would have diligently packed all of those items. No little brother at all.
Sam could be anywhere out there, buried waist deep in snow that was mostly frozen now. He could be lying somewhere on top of it, hurt and exposed to the elements while Dean had gone the wrong frickin' way. He could be buried beneath it, crushed under the white that Dean was hating more and more as each moment went on.
Even as Dean began to feel his fingers again and pulled in a little more warmth than he had out where he wasn't walled from the cold, he flipped up the collar on his jacket. There wasn't a question of it. Sam was out there, somewhere. Dean couldn't sit here and do nothing.
Given a choice between his own safety and Sam's, there was never a contest. Or a moment's hesitation.
He moved out toward the entrance, already feeling the biting cold once more. His jaw began to tremble, his teeth chattering behind chapped lips. "God," he muttered. Screw skis; he needed a sled. The adrenaline fueled by hope was fading, leaving weariness to start setting in. He wasn't entirely sure how much longer he was gonna last.
As long as I need to.
He pursed his lips and began the trek back down the mountain. As long as Sam was out there, Dean wasn't going to give up on him. He stumbled and pushed himself off a nearby tree, his steps slower than they'd been on the way up. Going down meant gravity was on his side; he'd go faster that way, right?
He shook himself forcefully, trying to clear his mind and wake up. Okay, the cold was probably starting to affect his thought processes. He could practically hear Sam asking him dryly what his excuse was for the other times, and he found his lips turning up into a grin. It fell a moment later when worry for his brother surged forward again. The moon wasn't that great a light source to start with, but now he was going in the wrong direction, away from it instead of toward it. The trees were starting to blur together, everything growing darker ahead of him. Dean distantly wondered just how long the cold had been altering his mind.
Another part of him was quietly wondering just how much longer he'd last. He'd used most of his energy earlier, fighting to find Sam. His nap hadn't helped, but he'd refused to think about weariness, refused to let his body give in to it, his only goal to find his brother. Keep Sam safe.
His eyes were threatening to close. He stumbled forward, barely catching a tree in time to stop himself from flying down the mountainside. He bit the inside of his cheek hard until he drew blood. The pain was enough to wake him up, the fog pulling away from his mind. Just a little bit, but it was enough. He wouldn't fall asleep. He couldn't. Not when Sam needed him.
Dean stumbled on.
When he hadn't been even half a mile up, Sam had remembered the hurt ankle. Mainly, he'd remembered it because it had reminded him unkindly.
Now he was past a mile and still climbing, but it was with protest on his ankle's part. A great amount of protest, the type that burned deep in his bones, sending shock waves of pain up his leg.
At least it felt warm. No other part of him did. His face felt frozen, and the gloves on his hands weren't doing too much good. The coat was decent, but with his head exposed and his previous injuries beginning to make themselves known, Sam was pretty much sure he was about to become a human popsicle. He hadn't been out there all that long, either.
God, who knew how Dean felt? The thought of his brother caused something deep in his chest to clench, forcing him to stop and literally remember how to breathe. He had to get up further.
He suddenly realized his goal might not be physically possible. His head was spinning, his body was trembling, and his ankle was threatening mutiny. The snow wasn't packed enough to attempt the climb without snowshoes, but he didn't have a choice. He had to get to Dean. He'd passed the rescue crew a while back, which meant it was safe to use the flashlight. He scanned for footprints, anything that would tell him his brother had been out this way.
"Dean," he risked calling, his flashlight up. The snow gave a little on his next step and he automatically reached out to steady himself against the trees. Unfortunately, his automatic response was to throw out his empty hand out to catch himself. It was his stitched hand that connected with the bark. Hard. He hissed and clenched his teeth as tightly as he could. At least he was awake now.
Suddenly, a sound from up ahead caught his attention. He twisted his flashlight around, his own pain momentarily forgotten. A low sound, muffled. Heavy, like something had dropped.
Sam edged forward slowly. He could feel his heart pounding, hopeful and afraid all at once. If it wasn't Dean, then he was out there without a weapon, absolutely screwed. Moving toward the sound was the last thing he should be doing. His call might've attracted a big cat or, knowing their luck, another werecat.
But there was a chance it was Dean. That was all the incentive Sam needed to push himself ahead and up the mountain again.
He swung the light around, trying to remember where he'd heard the sound. The moon was sliding away from him, night turning to day, and the flashlight could only illuminate so much. The trees were dark and covered most of the mountainside. Even the reflected brightness of the snow had faded, not nearly as white as it had been before. His head was pounding, vision pulsing with it, and his eyelids were frosted.
Even with all of that, Sam still saw the dark lump against the snow, human-shaped and not moving. Dean.
"Dean!" Sam shouted, hurrying forward as best he could. The screaming from his ankle was firmly denied until a later point, when Sam wasn't worrying about Dean. He pushed himself up the steep incline toward his brother, then fell to his knees. The flashlight sunk into the snow where Sam dropped it, his hands already flying to Dean's neck.
Before he could get a pulse, his brother groaned. "Dean?"
Dean slowly, slowly, but finally opened his eyes. "S'm?" he mumbled. It came out in a stutter through lips that were turning blue.
Sam immediately began wrestling his brother upright. God, he'd been out there all night, wandering around for who knew how long.
"I got you," Sam murmured. He unzipped his jacket and the instant cold left Sam unable to breathe for a moment. He pulled Dean in against him, his brother's jacket near icy to the touch. Sam shook but forced himself to hold on. He'd found Dean, and he wasn't letting go.
"I got you," Sam repeated softly, his breath hitching as his body fought for warmth. Thank god the rescue team hadn't been far behind him. He grabbed the flashlight and started waving it down the mountainside.
Dean's shudders suddenly increased in intensity, his body finally accepting the fact that it could indeed be warm. Sam let out a sigh of relief and pulled Dean in closer.
He remembered Sam's voice first.
After stumbling and weaving through the trees, falling more than once, his eyes had refused to open and then there'd been nothing.
Until...Sam. Somehow, he'd found Sam.
His body had refused to work, refused to let him open his eyes. A soft voice had filtered through the sleep-filled haze covering his mind, telling him he'd be okay. Warmth had permeated slowly throughout his entire body. When Dean had been able to open his eyes at last, the entire world had been shaking like an earthquake.
Even through the tremors, he'd seen Sam. Alive, smiling even, and right in front of him.
He'd closed his eyes again. Sam's voice had been there again, yelling words Dean hadn't been able to understand. Then there'd been a loss of warmth, loss of Sam. Even as he'd gotten his eyes open to look again there were other people. Not Sam.
He'd faded out before he could find his brother.
When he opened his eyes, Sam was right there in front of him. Laid out on a bed next to him, but he was there. Dean kept his eyes open, blinking blearily.
"You two are fighters, I'll give you that."
Dean turned toward the voice and found a pretty woman standing at the end of his bed. Not a nurse; she had a medic's badge on her jacket. Long red hair, beautiful eyes, no-nonsense expression on her face. The best type of woman to make a move on.
But not that day. "Sam okay?" he asked.
Her gaze gentled even as her eyes narrowed. "He is now. You can tell him when he wakes up that he's not going anywhere this time," she said. His face must've registered confusion, because she thankfully explained. "We found him at the base of the mountain. Your brother was pretty banged up, but insisted on finding you. He dozed off – well, we thought he fell asleep – and when we came back, he'd taken Danny's coat and flashlight and disappeared. Headed off to find you."
Dean shifted his attention back to Sam. Now that he looked, he could see the bandages around his brother's ankle and hand. There were small cuts on his face and arms, and what looked like a decent-sized red lump on the side of his head.
"He beat the search team up the mountain by a good fifteen minutes," she continued. Sam's chest rose evenly twice before she spoke again. "I think it would've been longer if we hadn't called it in and made them race up the mountain."
He swallowed hard before he turned back to her. "Thank you," he said sincerely. For looking for him. Taking care of Sam. Following after his crazy brother when he'd gone to search for Dean.
She gave a sweet smile. When she said "You're welcome," it sounded like an answer for all of his gratitude. "Now rest. I'll post guards outside the door if I have to."
Dean chuckled. "No, trust me. Not going anywhere." Not without Sam.
She gave a nod and left. Dean let himself check over his own injuries; they weren't as bad as he'd expected. His body ached like he'd been thawed, which probably wasn't far from the truth. He'd been pretty hypothermic.
"You were almost dead."
Dean glanced over at his brother. Sam's eyes were open, though it looked like he was fighting to keep them so.
"You were shaking really bad after I tried to warm you up, and then you just...stopped. Like it was too late." Sam swallowed convulsively and looked away. When he looked back, there was nothing hidden in his gaze. "You scared the hell out of me," he admitted.
"Yeah, well, back at you," Dean said. The hours of searching for Sam, that moment of hope in the cave followed by the drop in his stomach as he realized Sam wasn't there, hadn't been a picnic either. Even seeing Sam right in front of him didn't remove the worry completely. Sam was alive and safe, but he was still hurt and was probably as hypothermic as Dean. "You shouldn't have gone back up that mountain-"
"I wasn't going to leave you up there," Sam argued, even as he winced.
The only thing Dean was still hearing and seeing, though, was an injured, almost-dead-himself little brother. "Just...don't next time," Dean finally said. They were both safe, both alive. The weapons bag was god knew where, but he'd worry about that later.
Sam lost a little of the worry on his face when he frowned. "Next time?" he asked.
"Sure," Dean said, giving a grin. "When we go skiing."
Sam stared at him for a long moment, his jaw dropping open. Then he huffed a surprised laugh, smile wide on his face. "You want to go back out into the cold to go skiing," he said incredulously, but he was still smiling like he hadn't been for a while.
"Not right now," Dean protested. Not when the memory of the cold in his body was still making him shiver. "But later. I told you I'd kick your ass."
"And then there's the brunette."
"And then there's the brunette. Though I don't know, that medic with the red hair probably knows her way around on a pair of skis."
"You could use a medic when you ski," Sam said with a smirk, and even with them both still chilled from the snow, even with them both hurt and down a weapons bag, Dean still grinned back. Sammy was okay.
That was all that really mattered to Dean, in the end.