AN: This story is wholly dedicated to Sarahsrr, who requested it a long time ago. Sarah has supported me in a lot of ways, constantly willing to coax me out of writer's block, ever patient with my ramblings, and always there to boost my confidence with a review. She's a huge supporter of mine, and I want to thank her for all she's done for me. This one's (finally) for you, Sarah! Hope you like it!

Note: Tag of sorts to "A Very Supernatural Christmas" (Set somewhere after that in S3). Flashbacks are in italics.

It was cold. It was cold and snowing, which wasn't a surprise considering it was the middle of winter in upstate New York, but it made everything so much worse. There were lights, too. Tiny lights strung on garland up and down the tall light poles. Christmas lights. In the middle of a damn graveyard.

It was cold and snowing and lit up by Christmas lights, which should've made it better, but somehow made it even worse. It always got worse around Christmas. It got harder. Every year.

Sam and Dean shivered imperceptibly as they waited for the local spirit to pop up. They'd finished digging up the grave with their dad, who was working rapidly on toasting the guy before he showed.

But it was cold and snowing and lit up by Christmas lights and everything was worse, so of course the spirit popped up less than a second later. It pounced on Dad first, who dropped his lighter, then turned on Sam and Dean.

Dean aimed and fired, blasting it with rock salt. He grinned when the spirit evaporated because that was a sweet shot, especially for a kid his age, even though Dad expected no less.

The moment of pride was short-lived when the thing reappeared. Right behind Sam.

"Sam!" Dean cried as the spirit lifted his brother by the neck and squeezed.

His finger pulled the trigger without hesitation, but nothing happened.

Gun jam.

"No," he growled, checking the chamber with shaking hands.

The spirit was still squeezing, killing, and Dean tried to ignore his brother's hands as they grappled weakly at his throat.

They had seconds, goddamn seconds before it was too late and Dean's hands were shaking so bad he couldn't even—

"Dean!" Dad shouted desperately.

Dean had no sooner looked over when a gun was tossed at him. Dad's gun. Back-up. Hope.

He fired a round at the spirit. The shot went slightly wide, clipping its arm. But it was enough to stop it from killing Sam altogether. It let out a cry of pain and anger before grabbing Sam by the hair.

Dad lit his lighter.

With vicious force, the spirit slammed Sam's head into the closest gravestone, the kid slumping bonelessly to the snow-covered ground.

Not a second later, the spirit went up in flames, and the two eldest Winchesters scrambled to the youngest lying prone on the cold ground.

. . .

It was cold. A frigid breeze cut through the abandoned house, and the only light was from a decorated streetlight outside. It was probably snowing, too, but Sam and Dean couldn't see, as they were preoccupied with the spirit currently tossing the elder Winchester around like a rag doll.

Sam finished tearing up the floorboards, relieved when he spotted the small pile of bones beneath. He reached down, grabbing as many as he could.

"T-take your sw-sweet time there, Sam," Dean gasped as he landed hard on the floor.

The spirit lifted him again, and Sam clamored to get the rest of the bones. Come on, come on, come on.

His fingers made contact, and he wrenched his arm up, just as Dean was tossed into the wall…again.

No snarky comment greeted him this time, sending a jolt of fear through Sam's chest. He flicked the lighter with trembling fingers, but nothing happened.

"Shit," he hissed, flicking again. "Come on!"

Out of the corner of his eye, Sam saw the spirit lift Dean once more. Nonononono freakin' way…

Dean began to stir in the spirit's hold. "S'm…"

The lighter lit.

The drop from Sam's hand to the floor was just enough for the spirit to throw Dean in the air one last time. The next second, it was in flames, but that one miniscule moment had been enough to send Dean flying, arching. Only this time, toward the window.


The crisp shatter of the glass resounded through the empty house.

. . .

He was patched up now, but still not conscious. Dad said it was to be expected, and after securing the white bandage to Sam's head, he was out the door in a flash. Dean didn't know where he was going or why, and to his own surprise, he didn't really care.

If Dad considered it important enough to leave Sam—Sammy—on a dirty motel bed, in a cold motel room, with nothing but a patch of gauze while he still hadn't even moved…maybe he didn't want to know.

It was just so damn hard because Dean did know. He knew Dad cared and was worried, hell, scared out of his mind when they saw that spirit holding Sam. And when it smashed his skull against the stone, that horrible crack, louder than a firework…they were both scared. Dean knew that. But Dad would never admit it, even though he needed to sometimes, maybe then Dean wouldn't feel so alone and weak.

But Dad was Dad, and if he'd learned anything by now, it was that he wasn't going to change. Nothing was.

And Dean was never sure if he wanted it to or not. Those little pieces inside of Dean were always warring against each other, breaking him apart, but it wasn't any different than when Sam and Dad fought or when Sammy talked about having a normal life, so he really should be used to it by now.

Dean allowed his knees to buckle, sitting on the bed next to Sam. The back of his shaggy hair and the gentle curve of his spine were all Dean could see as his brother faced away from him. He was close, so close, no more than a foot away. But he felt too far away, Sam felt too far away, and he just wanted his brother to wake up.

"You don't have to be such a little bitch, Sam. Get your concussed head out of your ass and wake up already, huh? We're behind schedule enough as is."

Sam didn't stir, but for the rise and fall of his tiny back. The gentle motion swept away any façade Dean had left, and with Dad gone from the room, he allowed himself that tiniest sliver of vulnerability that he'd never consider as such.

"You scared the shit out of me, you know that, kid? Dad, too. You can't do that to us again." His eyes caught the red crusty substance lingering just below his fingernails, the unpleasant residue of dried blood. It wasn't much, as Sam had only gotten a scrape, but it was enough.

And it struck him that they were lucky. They were so damn lucky that Sam had escaped with a concussion and not worse. An inch lower, the direct blow of the gravestone to the temple would've killed him. A second later, that piece of shit spirit would've choked the life out of him before they could stop it. Jesus, they'd come close, so close, too close to losing him, and suddenly it felt like he couldn't breathe.

"Sam…you…You think that we—that I—could go on if you weren't there, but…I couldn't Sam. I wouldn't. Truth is…I can't imagine my life…without you in it." Dean's voice wavered, then recovered. "I don't want to."

Memory flooded Dean's mind, memory of a smaller Sam with shorter hair, but the same soulful eyes. Memory of dimples and innocence and all the things he loved about his little brother, missed about his little brother. But then his mind flashed to that night, only a few years ago, and all he could see was Sam lying on the bed beside him, silent tears streaming from eyes full of shock and betrayal. Sam had seemed so lost that night. And now, Sam was lost again. Lost to Dean, and it hurt almost as bad as it had that night.

"Remember what I told you, Sammy? When you first found out about what Dad does, what we do? I told you it'd all be better when you woke up. And it will be. You'll see. You just have to wake up.

"It'll all be better." Dean ran shaking fingers through his brother's hair and whispered, "I promise."

Feeling the exhaustive effects of the day, Dean laid beside his brother, falling into a light sleep, ready to awaken the moment Sam did.

No more than a foot away, a small tear fell, rolling gently past the ghosted smile on the younger Winchester's face.

. . .

He was patched up now, but still not conscious. Dean's head had taken a good beating, and thanks to that window, he had a neat line of stitches, now cleaned and dressed. It'd only taken Sam a few seconds to get from the pile of burning bones to Dean's side, but getting Dean to the car, then the room, and fixing him up…it felt like a lifetime. He was still shaky from adrenaline, fear. The shatter of glass rang shrilly in his ears, the memory of the ten foot drop, the starving hope in his heart that Dean had landed safely—or as safely as possible given the circumstance.

The lucky jerk had landed in a snow-covered bush, which absorbed most of his impact. But it'd been enough to draw a line of blood across the side of his forehead and a darkening bruise spreading to his hairline. Blood still stained the patch of snow where Dean's head came to rest after his tumble. Sam had done his best to shove down the mix of fear and relief, and relied on his training, his instinct to check Dean over and get them both back to the motel.

"Not one broken bone," Sam muttered. "You really do have the luck of the devil, you jerk."

Sam sat down heavily on the bed beside Dean's. His brother's back was to him, and all Sam could see was the corner of the stark white bandage on his head. Dean's back was rising and falling in an even rhythm, and the gentle silence slid into Sam's ears and wove through his mind, suddenly becoming too much, too overwhelming. It was so consuming it hurt.

Because that presence, that calming, grounding thing that kept Sam ok, even in moments of silence, moments like these…that presence would be gone in less than a year. Unless he did something to stop it, that soothing silence would become empty and cold and lost.

Something in Sam's chest pushed hard, shoving words up his throat and out his mouth.

"Y'know, we don't talk enough…about things…About when we were kids and stuff...I know you'd never let me say this while you were awake, so I might as well say it now because it really needs to be said."

Dean didn't stir.

"I remember it, all of it. How you tried to hide the truth from me, tried to protect me. But I couldn't leave well enough alone, and I forced it out of you. God, we were two of the most stubborn kids on the planet…it's a wonder Dad got through all those years with either one of us." He breathed a soft laugh, but nothing was really funny. "I remember your assurances, your attitude, your promises. I remember the look on your face when I gave you that first Christmas present, and how I wish I could make you look like that again.

"But most of all, I remember how you tried to make every moment…even the shitty ones and the ones you couldn't care less about…you still tried to make it special. Even if it meant stealing a chick's presents or lighting up your very own Charlie Brown Christmas tree, you still did it. You did it for me, and I realize that now. Everything you did, you did for me."

Sam's breath caught in his throat as a voice flashed through his mind.

"Sam…you…You think that we—that I—could go on if you weren't there, but…I couldn't Sam. I wouldn't.Truth is…I can't imagine my life…without you in it. I don't want to."

"Remember what I told you, Sammy? When you first found out about what Dad does, what we do? I told you it'd all be better when you woke up. And it will be. You'll see. You just have to wake up. It'll all be better."

"I promise."

Sam's breathing steadied as he examined his brother's back.

"A long time ago…you said that you couldn't imagine your life without me in it…But, Dean, without you…it's not a life." Sam dragged a hand across his face. "I'm gonna find a way to save you, Dean. Because I have to."

A newfound strength and determination crept through Sam's veins as he watched his brother's back rise and fall. He needed to save Dean. At all costs. He needed to get him out of his deal, kill whatever got in his way, and pull his big brother back from the edge he was skirting.

Sam needed to save Dean.

But more than that, he just needed Dean.

Words from childhood haunted him comfortingly, and his lips brought them new life.

"It'll all be better when you wake up. You'll see."

Sam sighed deeply, and the release of air did nothing to relieve the heaviness weighing upon his chest. Stretching his long body, he settled into his bed and closed his eyes. The image of Dean burned brightly beneath his lids, and he was too tired to decide if he wanted to smile or cry. Sleep pulled him under, but not before he had the chance to whisper, ever so quietly.

"I promise."

Silence soothed the space of the room, and Sam was asleep despite the weight within him whispering You're running out of time louder than just about anything he'd ever heard.

A similar heaviness settled into Dean's chest as he took a shaky breath and closed his eyes.

Because sometimes, promises weren't enough.