A/N: This was written as a gift for purplehrwonder at LJ's SPN_J2_Xmas exchange.

Merry Christmas everyone!

The Cabin in the Woods

Dad said three days, but Dean knew better than to believe he'd be back that soon. He watched the Impala pull away from the cabin, feeling a rush of guilt in not joining his father on the hunt, but Sam wasn't feeling well and had a fever, so really … Dean had no choice but to stay behind and ply his sibling with Tylenol and chicken noodle soup until Dad got back.

He could only pray that Dad would be alright on his own.

Dean let go of the flimsy curtain that covered the frosted window, shutting out the bright white flakes of snow that had started falling that morning and the fading, red taillights of the black car.

With a sigh, Dean walked over to the cold fireplace and tossed in a couple of the logs sitting beside it. He pulled off a page of the newspaper sitting on the coffee table then crumpled it up and shoved the ball under the wood before pulling out his lighter and setting the paper alight. He watched it burn for a few moments until the wood also caught on fire and a healthy blaze was going. He might not get to snuff out any ghosts by setting their bones on fire with his father that weekend, but at least this fire would keep the cabin somewhat warm as the snow piled up outside.

Dean zipped up his winter coat before holding his hands up to the warmth of the fire. Even with the blaze eating up the wood in the fireplace, it was still chilly enough in the ramshackle cabin for Dean to worry about permanent shrinkage. There wasn't exactly central heating in there - Hell, there wasn't even electricity since the place appeared to be abandoned since the Victorian era and running, hot water was only a fantasy Dean could only dream about. The place didn't even have a bathroom, just an outhouse 'round back that reeked worse than death and left splinters on his ass whenever he had to sit down on the simple wooden plank with a hole cut out of it. Everything else about the cabin was equally decrepit and miserable, but with funds running low and at least another week to go before they could pick up some new credit cards, they would have to make do with the crappy place.

They wouldn't have had to stay in the cabin at all if Sam hadn't gotten sick. They could have taken off with their father, given him some back-up on the hunt, and slept in the car if they couldn't afford a place to stay, but noooo … Sammy's got a tummy ache and Dad didn't want him being a liability on the hunt.

So, there he sits … doing nothing but freezing his nuts off and cleaning up after his brother's vomit.

Yippee … Thanks, Sam … Thanks oh so much!

Okay … to be fair, Sam was a veritable puke factory since last he got up that morning and he looked a bit like the grim reaper ran him over with a Mack truck. He felt a little sorry for the kid despite the fact that it was his fault they were stuck in this shack. Dean even tried to curb his bitching when Sam woke up a couple of hours later with a pitiful moan, sat up, then promptly up-chucked all over his sleeping bag.

So much for not bitching …

Sam gagged and heaved; the first round of puke apparently not enough to ease his ailing stomach. After an eternity, Sam finally sat shaking in his spot, pale-faced, hunched over with an arm wrapped around his middle, breathing heavily, and sweating despite the cold.

"Jesus, Sam –"Dean exclaimed at the stench of the mess covering his brother's lap. He loved his brother – he really did … but that smell… God, it was hard not to gag and sympathetically vomit himself. Dean pushed aside his revulsion and came to his brother's side, patting Sam's back, "Ya done?"

Sam nodded miserably, his mouth open as he tried to catch his breath.

"C'mon … let's get you out of that thing and clean ya up, huh?"

"S-sorry … waited too long. Should've gotten up sooner and gone to the bathroom."

"You must be delirious … there's no bathroom here, remember?"

"Oh yeah … forgot this placed sucked ass there for a sec."

Sam fumbled with the zipper of his soiled sleeping bag, but Dean jumped in and batted his hand away, zipping it down for him. Sam shimmied out from the warmth of the bag. Dressed in only a t-shirt and boxers, he sat shivering as the cold air in the cabin hit his bare skin.

Sam's teeth chattered and Dean took a little pity on his freezing brother, pulling his own sleeping bag towards him, "Go on ... use mine."

"Where will you sleep tonight?"

"Dad left his sleeping bag. I'll just use his."

Sam nodded gratefully and climbed into Dean's bag, immediately curling into a ball and pulling the warmth of the bag around himself before closing his eyes with another groan of misery.

Without any running water or a Laundromat nearby, Dean decided it was best to just fold up the stinky sleeping bag and toss it outside so it wouldn't stink up the cabin any further and make Sam's nausea any worse. The last thing they needed was his brother to start puking again.

Dean opened the door and was hit by a blast of cold wind, blowing snow and a painful, bright white light that seared his retinas. He couldn't see any of the trees he knew were surrounding them and it seemed as though the depth of the snow had grown exponentially in just the short time since his father drove away from them. Dean chucked the blanket outside then pushed the door shut against the wind.

He crossed the room and headed back to Sam who had his eyes closed, but was far from sleeping peacefully. Dean crouched and touched the back of his hand to Sam's forehead. It really was an unnecessary gesture since Dean could already feel the heat coming off his brother just by being near him, but Sam leaned into the touch and opened his fever-blurred eyes, looking up into Dean's face.

"So, Dad left already?" Sam asked.

"Yeah … he'll be back in a few days."

Sam sighed, closed his eyes and groused sarcastic, "Wonderful … three days stuck in here with you. How fun."

"And you think watching you liberate your lunch is a blast for me?"

"M'sorry my stomach bug is cramping your style."

Dean didn't respond with the quip he had sitting on the tip of his tongue, instead he got up and headed for his pack and the bottle of Tylenol he had stashed in there. He also grabbed a bottle of water from the supplies their father had left for them and a rusty metal bucket that was probably as old as the cabin and walked back over to Sam. He shook out a couple of pills and handed them along with the water to his brother.

Sam looked forlornly at the water and pills, "I don't think I can keep them down." He informed Dean as he eyed the bucket with a slightly green faced frown.

"Just try … it'll help you feel better and we can't let you get dehydrated."

Sam rolled over onto his elbow and sat up enough to take the pills and swallow a little water before handing the bottle back to Dean.

"There – that wasn't so bad, was it?"

Sam rolled his eyes then lay back down, pulling the sleeping bag tight around his shoulders again, "You got your g-gun handy?" Sam asked while his teeth clattered together.

"Why?"

"So you can just sh-shoot me and put me out of my m-misery."

"Hardy-har, Sam." Dean snorted, letting a comforting hand rest on Sam's shoulder, "Go back to sleep, bitch."

Dean watched Sam shut his eyes and try to sleep, though he could tell that it wasn't coming easily. He shifted and turned his back to Dean, curling into a tight ball with a rumbling moan and a visible shiver.

Sam suddenly sat up with that look on his face that warned Dean of what was going to happen next. At least this time he was prepared and had the bucket ready as Sam gracelessly hocked up the pills and water he had just choked down.

Shit … Sam was right about not being able to even keep the water down and this latest display of his stomach turning inside out had Dean worried that this might be something more than just the flu.

Sighing to himself, Dean ran a hand through his hair, feeling a little lost in the tiny cabin in which their father had left them. He had half a mind to call him and demand his return, but he knew what his Dad's response would be: 'people are in danger, Dean' he would say, 'they need me.'

Well … sometimes we need you too, Dean thought.

OoOoOoOo

Sam didn't really sleep.

He was tired … oh so tired, but the pain was getting worse and not sleeping through it was getting considerably harder as day slid into night.

It hadn't been that bad when he woke up that morning. I was just a bad stomach ache, probably brought on by the weird tacos Dad bought them for dinner the other day or a maybe stomach virus. Even after his first bout of nausea and vomiting, it hadn't been too bad, but steadily throughout the day, his stomach felt like it was twisting inside out while a sharp, stabbing pain ripped through his abdomen, boring through his gut all the way down to his spine like a power auger digging a hole into concrete.

Sam opened his eyes to darkness. The faint crackle and pop of the fire burning across the room mingled with the sounds of Dean's even, yet snoring breath next to him. Even though he and Dean had moved their sleeping bags closer to the fire to keep warm, he shivered as electric chills zapped through his muscles and forced him to curl in further into the bag, pulling it across his shoulders as tightly as possible.

The simple act of rolling over sent his stomach into spins and turns once more and nausea assailed him, causing his mouth to fill with saliva. He tried to breathe through it, to push it away, to not give into to another session of heaving.

God … he was so suck of puking.

He was pretty sure that Dean was getting annoyed by all of his upheavals as well since he was saddled the task of cleaning up after him. And he really felt bad for Dean – having to watch over a vomiting brother when he would rather be hunting with Dad probably wasn't what he had been expecting to do for fun that week, but Sam really couldn't help it and he certainly wouldn't mind it if he didn't have to gack anymore either.

Breathing wasn't helping to quell the riot in his stomach into submission and he was hit again by a wave of nausea that left him hyperventilating as he squeezed his eyes shut and gripped the edge of his pillow tight with his fingers.

There was little he could do to hold it back anymore and he was gonna need that damned bucket again.

Sam used shaking fingers to unzip the sleeping bag enough for him to roll out of it and crawl over to the bucket on his hands and knees, making it the two feet just in time to feel his abdominal muscles clench and get sick into it. Bile and acid burned his throat and nose as it all come up in an uncontrollable burst and the smell did nothing but cause him to heave even harder.

The upheaval soon ended, but the pain only grew and became all encompassing. Sam folded in on himself, gripping the edges of the bucket tightly and bright, neon spots floated across his vision. It was only belatedly that he realized that he was holding his breath, but as he sucked in some much needed air, the sensation of having a knife driven into his gut and twisting stole it away again.

Sam slid to the floor and curled up fetal style, shaking and quivering. His attention narrowed. All that mattered was making the pain go away, but no matter what he did, no matter how hard his arms wrapped around his stomach or how much he cried and let the tears flow from his eyes, or groaned out loud, the agony was unrelenting and would never let him go. This had to stop …

Make it go away.

Stop, stop, stop!

"Dean –"Sam choked out, his voice coming out in pitiful whimper as he called out to his sleeping brother for help.

Make it stop, make it stop …

OoOoOoOo

Rhonda hitched up her short skirt and reached underneath, bending a little as she pulled her bright, hot pink, satin panties down, lifting one leg and then the other to free them completely from her legs.

She held them up with a seductive smile then twirled them on her finger, "You like?" She asked.

"Oh yeaahh…" He grinned widely in anticipation.

She raised an eyebrow, a devilish, coy smile spreading across her face, "If you really like them, why don't you try them on?"

He stopped short and gaped at her, unprepared for her suggestion. She walked towards him with the panties still dangling from her fingers before she pulled at the elastic band with both hands, "Don't worry … they stretch."

"Uh …"

"C'mon … just –"Suddenly Rhonda froze and she sniffed the air, "Oh God … what is that smell?"

Dean smelled it too and it definitely did nothing to enhance the mood.

"Shit … is that … you?" She asked.

"What? … no … it's not me …"

"Uck …gross " She exclaimed while making a thoroughly disgusted face and sharply turning on her four inch heels. She swiftly began to walk away without looking back.

"Wait … it's not me …" She watched her disappear into a misty fog, "I'll wear the panties," he added weakly, even though she was too far away to hear him.

His shoulders sagged.

Sonofabitch …

"Dean –"

"Rhonda?"

"Dean –"

Definitely not Rhonda … she never moaned like that and she sounded and awful lot like …

"Sam?"

Dean opened his eyes, the last vestiges of his dream floating away with the cobwebs in his head. He turned towards the sound of the moaning and was hit with the smell of sickness that had been powerful enough to invade his dream. He didn't hear an answer, but he didn't need one either as his eyes adjusted to the dark and made out the shape of his little brother huddled on the floor, his face a mask of pain.

Dean was out of the sleeping bag and by Sam's side in the next heartbeat. Sam was pale, shaking and crying unlike he had ever seen him before, and that was saying a lot given the number of times he had broken a bone or been tossed around by an angry spirit. Sweat matted his hair to his forehead, but he shivered as though he were freezing as he curled up into a small ball.

"Sammy … what's going on?" Dean asked even though it was pretty obvious that Sam's 'flu' had turned into something much more.

Sam grabbed Dean's sleeve in a tight grip like a man hanging from a cliff, "God … make it stop … please. I can't take this anymore."

Dean didn't have a clue what to do other than put his hand on Sam's forehead. Shit … Sam was burning with fever. Dean ran through a list of things that could do this to his brother and none of them were good – appendicitis? E-coli … he just didn't know, but one thing was certain – Sam was in pain and he couldn't do a damn thing about it.

"Okay, Sammy. Listen, I'm gonna call Dad." Dean assured Sam, desperate to hide the panic that was building in his chest from being expressed in his voice.

Sam opened his eyes and met Dean with a fever-glazed glare, gripping his sleeve even harder, "N-no … Dad's too far … hos – hospital." He gasped.

Dean could not remember a time his brother ever begged to go to a hospital and this sent his anxiety skyrocketing like the space shuttle at take- off. This was bad … very, very bad … worse than bad … this was life or dea –

Shut up Dean … call an ambulance already.

"Hold on, kiddo. I'm gonna get you some help. You just hold on, okay?"

Sam wasn't really listening as his face twisted into a grimace and he moaned louder and tried to turn his body into an even tighter ball than it already was.

Dean reached into his pocket for his cell phone and flipped it open. He dialed 911 and held the phone up to his ear and waited for someone to pick up, but heard nothing.

He pulled the phone away from his ear and swore under his breath.

The display flashed 'no service'.

Standing, Dean moved about the cabin, hoping for even one bar of service so he could make a call and get Sam some help, because God only knew that he didn't know what else to do.

No matter where he went in the cabin, the phone remained stubbornly useless.

"Sammy?" Dean asked as he knelt next to his brother and pulled his sleeping blanket back towards him, "Think you can get back in the covers? I'm gonna go outside and see if I can get a signal, okay?"

Sam whimpered, but nodded, allowing Dean to help him back into the sleeping bag, nearly reduced to tears again as he curled up and Dean zipped him in.

Dean patted Sam's shoulder, "Hang tight. I'll be right back."

Heading for the door, Dean heard the howl of the wind outside and he knew before he even opened the door that the weather had taken a drastic turn for the worse. Sure enough, the wind and snow nearly knocked him to his ass when he opened the door and he had to push hard to shove the pile of snow that had been blown against it.

The snow drift blocking his way had to be at least four feet deep and though it was dark, there was enough ambient light for him to see that they had been practically buried inside the cabin.

Dean ventured out with phone in hand. He had to climb out of the small clearing of snow he had made between the door and the outside world, but with the snow coming up to his knees at the lowest spots, he wasn't able to venture very far. Yet still, Dean wandered around, continuing his search for a cell signal that was quickly becoming a lesson in futility. It didn't take a genius to figure out that the snow storm must have knocked out the cell towers nearest to them. Not that there was really any near them to begin with and reception had been spotty at best.

Dean returned to the cabin to review what their options were. Without a working phone, he'd need a way to contact someone. Unfortunately, the closest thing to civilization was an old, gas station two miles out from the cabin, but with the snow storm quickly becoming a blizzard, getting there was going to be a problem.

His legs were nearly numb as the snow soaked into his jeans, but he paid the discomfort no mind as he stomped back into the cabin and headed to Sam.

Sam was pretty much in the same position he had left him, curled up in a fetal position and making noises of pain that cut through Dean like a dull knife.

No phone, miles from nowhere and his little brother in such pain that when Dean grabbed his hand, Sam squeezed back with crushing strength that spoke of just how bad off he was. What was he supposed to do?

There was only one thing he could do and he didn't like it one bit and he was sure Sam wouldn't either.

"Sam … I'm gonna find help, okay?"

Sam turned onto his back and looked up at Dean with glazed eyes, "What? You're leaving?"

"I can't get the phone to work, but there's a gas station on the highway that should have one."

Sam shook his head, "But the storm … it's bad, isn't it?"

"Nah ... it's just snowing some." Dean lied and Sam didn't look at all convinced. Even sick as he was, he wasn't deaf and he was just as able to ear the walls of the cabin shake with the force of the wind.

"Bullshit. Don't go … I'll be okay until things clear up." Sam insisted. Dean really wanted to believe that, but Sam's pale, clammy skin, shaking hands, and lines of jaw-gritting pain on his face only reaffirmed his decision to find help.

"I promise I won't be gone long. It's only a couple of miles."

Not willing to be mollified by Dean's reassurances, Sam kept shaking his head, "Dean … don't … don't go out there."

Dean met Sam's eyes and saw the pleading, unspoken words behind his fear.

Please don't leave me.

But Dean's mind was set. He was getting help for his brother and a little snow wasn't about to stop him.

OoOoOoOo

Wearing just about every piece of clothing he owned did little to keep Dean warm as the wind and snow whipped about him and cut through the layers, chilling him to the marrow of his bones.

He put his head down to shield his face from the oncoming gales, attempting to pick up his pace. The first half mile had been slow going – too slow. He wanted to run, to sprint to his destination, but the piles of snow coming up well past his knees prevented him from it. Even at the agonizingly slow speed, his muscles were tight and burning and his lungs strained with the effort to pull the freezing air in.

And it didn't help matters that his feet were frozen well past the point of being numb. Though he tucked his hands deep into his pockets, he couldn't really feel them anymore either, the wool gloves he had on were proving ineffective towards the biting wind.

He hated snow. Give him Florida or California and he's a happy man, but this … this just sucked out loud. But he had to keep going, keep driving on one miserable step at a time, one foot in front of the other, legs pushing through the thick snow because there was something so much worse than frostbite and that was the mere thought of his brother laying sick back in the cabin. He still felt awful for leaving Sam behind like he had, alone in that cold cabin, sick and hurting. He wanted nothing more than to stay with him like Sam had almost begged, but whatever was wrong with him was beyond Dean's capability to handle. Sam needed a doctor more than he needed Dean.

Dean let the thought of getting Sam some help warm him a little as he trudged on. Sam could be a pain in the ass on occasion … okay, he could be a pain in the ass on most occasions, but there was no one else besides his father that he loved more. Growing up together hadn't been easy and some days it felt like Dean might be crushed under the weight of the responsibility of keeping Sam safe. But a striga that nearly took his brother's life when they were kids had taught just how important it was to be ever vigilant and always on guard for anything that might hurt his kid brother. That time, he'd been lucky as Dad had swooped in at the last minute before Sam was hurt, but Dean never forgot and from then on, he took his job as big brother and protector with deadly seriousness.

He'd practically raised the kid too with Dad being gone as much as he was – taught him how to tie his shoes laces, how to read, how to field strip a .45, how talk to girls, and how to kill a chupacabra with just one shot. And along the way, Sam had taught him a few things as well – how to care for someone, how to see the good in people, and how to stay human when it felt like he was no better than the monsters they hunt.

In many ways, Sam and Dean were polar opposites of each other. Sam loved to study while Dean would rather get some target practice in. Sam was awkward and shy around girls, whereas Dean was smooth and seductive. Perhaps the most distinctive difference was in how they thought about the life they lived. Dean loved the excitement and adrenaline pumping action of a hunt, of fighting alongside their father against the dark forces of evil in the world that normal, everyday people just couldn't understand. But Sam … he balked at it – hated it even. He had even confessed to Dean that he was scared of it all and wished that he were one of those ignorant, everyday people out there living a normal, supposedly 'safe' life. Maybe ignorance was bliss to Sam, but Dean knew that what you didn't know really could kill you.

Sure, Sam was different than Dean, but one thing they shared more than DNA and a familial bond was the need to watch out for each other. Even though Sam might hate hunting, Dean was never really worried that his brother wouldn't have his back and vice versa. He'd be damned if he'd let him down.

With only a flashlight to guide him and visibility poor even with that, he had no idea how far he still had to go or if he was indeed heading in the right direction since all he could see was white. Several times, he pulled out his cell phone on the off-chance he might pick up a signal, but the phone was just as much of a useless brick as it was before he headed out.

Dean was tiring. His muscles were reaching the point where they begged him to stop, but he forbade his body to rest and willed uncooperative legs and lungs to keep chugging along. The journey felt endless, like he might have to walk forever before he even found the highway, but he had to keep moving. Stopping wasn't an option or he'd freeze and Sam would never get the help he needed. He had to keep putting one foot in front of the other, one step at a time.

At last, a horizontal clearing became visible; he had made it to the highway. The snow was only marginally shallower here, but an hours' old set of tire tracks provided a somewhat hard-packed path for his feet and to his relief, the snow covering the tracks was only ankle deep. Chest heaving from exertion, Dean pushed aside his exhaustion and picked up his feet, finding that a slow jog was possible as long as he was careful not to slip on the snow underneath. Dad trained them hard and running miles on end was natural to him, but numb feet and cold muscles wouldn't allow him to go fast no matter how hard he pushed his body.

He had only two more miles to go – he could do this.

He would do this.

OoOoOoOoOo

Sam awoke from a restless doze, half expecting Dean to be there, but through the haze, he remembered that his brother had left him and he was alone. He wasn't sure how long it had been since Dean took off into the storm, but it was far longer than he thought it should have been.

The pain however, had not left him – it was a constant companion. So too was the cold and turning his head, he could see that the fire had burned itself down to embers and was no longer providing any sort of heat for the drafty cabin.

He huddled further into the sleeping bag, pulling the covers tight across his shoulders, but they did little to stop the shivers wracking his body. He moaned around his chattering teeth, trying to decide of moving to add another log to the fire was worth the pain it would cause in his gut. He shifted to his knees, testing to see how much he could move without too much discomfort, but a stabbing lance piercing his abdomen told him that any further movement would be a bad idea – a very, very bad idea.

Yeah … He'd just lay there.

Dean would be back soon.

He had to be – because he didn't think he could make it much longer.

OoOoOoOoOo

Finally a light was visible through the blowing snow.

It was still too hard to see if it was the gas station, but it was the first sign of other people being nearby and Dean latched onto it like a moth drawn to a flame. The jogging pace he had started back when he had first found the road had dropped off to a quick walk as his legs cramped and his lungs burned from the frosty air, but the hope of finding some help for Sam recharged his batteries and his sparked a renewed energy through his muscles. He started jogging again, ignoring the fatigue that continued to chase him until he found himself at the door to the shop.

His hope faded quickly however, when he found the entrance securely locked and the business closed.

"Oh c'mon!" He shouted out loud and kicked at the stubborn door.

He cupped his hands around his face as he pressed it close to the window, looking inside for any sign of life. Aside from the lights above the gas pumps, all of the lights were off and no one was inside.

"Crap." He muttered.

There was only one option left.

He was gonna have to break in and find a phone.

Dean eyed the door of the small mom-and-pop store. It was a simple wooden door with a window in the center and a deadbolt that appeared to be the only measure of security in place to keep anyone out after closing. Having left his lock picks behind, Dean's only choice to get inside was to use the one trick left up his sleeve: brute force. Whipping off his hat, he wrapped his hand inside it and then balled up his gloved fist, slamming it into the door window, thankful for once that his hands were so numb from the cold that he barely felt it.

The glass shattered easily, sending a percussive shock up his arm as the shards landed at his feet. He unwrapped his hand quickly then reached through the hole he had created and unlocked the deadbolt.

Stepping inside from the swirling snow flurries, Dean headed directly for the counter, ignoring all else save for the phone attached to the wall behind it. He ripped off his gloves with his teeth, pulled the receiver from its cradle then put it up to his ear.

His heart sank a moment later when no dial tone could be heard on the other end. No matter how many buttons he pressed, he couldn't establish a connection. It was just as dead as his cell phone.

"Son of a bitch!" He yelled, slamming the phone back into its cradle. The wind probably blew down not only the cell towers, but the regular phone lines too.

Shit … now what was he supposed to do? Couldn't anything work in this god-forsaken, hick town?

Dean fumed and shook his head, trying to get his frozen brain to work on a solution when his eyes landed on a small, red button next to the cash register.

A panic button?

Huh … maybe the deadbolt wasn't the only security device in the shop.

The phone might not be working, but the radio signal connected to the silent alarm might still work and bring the authorities. Sure … he'd probably find himself sitting in a jail cell for his efforts, but if Sam got help, it would all be worth it.

There really wasn't any other choice. Dean pressed the button then sat back and waited.

OoOoOoOoOo

God, it was cold.

God, everything hurt.

God, he was tired.

He drifted, floating around between those three things that made him most miserable. He couldn't get warm enough, the nausea rolling in his stomach meant that taking any of the pills Dean left behind for the pain would only result in even more pain as he threw them back up, and while the cold and pain battled it out for supremacy, that meant that sleep was off the table no matter how exhausted he was.

But more than all of that, he was worried. The walls rattled ceaselessly as the wind buffeted them and the noise it made as it whistled and squealed only made his anxiety grow. Dean was out there – for hours now … what if he was lost or hurt?

Sam felt like puking again.

His mind was getting ahead of him, he knew. Dean would come back – he would be fine – there just wasn't any way he couldn't be.

Just as he thought he couldn't feel any worse, Sam felt another spasm rip into his gut, this one more powerful than any before, making Sam roll to his hands and knees, one arm clutching his stomach as the pain tore at him from the inside. Tears leaked from his eyes and he quit trying to fight them, sobbing uncontrollably.

Hurry, Dean … please …

OoOoOoOoOo

Dean wasn't at all surprised that the cop who had braved the elements and driven through miles of icy, treacherous roads to answer a silent alarm was less interested in believing Dean's story than in slapping cuffs on him and throwing him into the back of his police SUV.

"C'mon, man …" Dean protested, shifting his arms behind his back, trying to find a position in the back seat where the handcuffs wouldn't cut into his frostbit skin, "Just check … I didn't steal anything, I just needed to find a phone."

"Yeah right," The cop responded dryly, turning over the engine of the vehicle, "You're a complete innocent in all of this … all except for the breaking and entering thing."

"Jeez … It's like I'm talking to a brick wall," Dean grumbled, "Why the hell would I push the silent alarm unless I needed help? Look … my brother ... He's sick and needs to get to hospital."

Dean saw the cop's eyes look back at him through the rearview mirror, almost questioning whether Dean was telling the truth or not, signaling to the younger man that he needed to push as much charm and sincerity as possible onto the other man.

"Please …" he nearly begged … okay, completely pleaded, pulling the same puppy-dog expression that Sam had mastered and which worked so well on him whenever his little brother wanted his way, but he didn't need to fake any of the desperation in his voice, "Just take us to the cabin. If I'm lying, you can send me jail, I don't care. I just want to get him some medical attention. Please … he's my responsibility."

Dean saw the man sigh and roll his eyes, but he knew he had him, "Where is this supposed cabin, kid?" he asked.

"This thing got four-wheel drive?" Dean asked.

"Yeah. And snow chains too."

"Then just drive north down this road a couple of miles. I'll tell you how to get there."

The officer closed his eyes and shook his head, "I'm so gonna get fired." He complained as he put the SUV in gear and drove off.

OoOoOoOoOo

The rumbling of an engine woke him.

Lights flashed.

Voices sounded distantly … two of them?

PAIN

Dean?

"Hey, kiddo … I got ya."

Hands touched his face.

"Get him in the truck, I'll radio the hospital ahead."

Who was that?

"Can you walk?"

What?

"I'll take that as a 'no'."

Hands again - one went under his legs, the other cradling his head.

"Hold on, Sammy."

He moved upward.

God, it hurt.

He moaned and cried out.

Cold.

Wind.

"I got you. Not much farther."

An engine rumbled, vibrating under him.

Warm.

Someone held him and he burrowed into their warmth.

"Hang tight, kiddo."

"Dean?"

"Yeah, it's me. Just hold on. We're getting you help, okay?"

It hurt too much to talk – to breathe.

"Sammy?"

Everything went dark.

OoOoOoOoOo

"Looks like he'll be okay," The doctor spoke as he stepped up to Dean and officer DeMaris, "We're moving him up to surgery right now to remove his appendix, but when we're all done, he should be out of the woods and back on his feet in about a week or so."

Dean let the breath he had been holding for the last few hours go and clung onto the doctor's words. Sam would be okay … he hadn't failed him. He'd be up and annoying Dean in no time at all.

"It's a good thing you two got to him in time. His appendix had already ruptured – any longer and the infection might have been too much for us to combat."

Dean gulped, forcing the spit in his mouth down his tightening throat. It had been close – way, way too close.

Officer DeMaris shook the doctor's hand as if knowing that Dean just wasn't capable of politeness at the moment, "Thanks, Doc."

"No problem, Mark. You did a good thing tonight."

DeMaris nodded and the doctor turned away, heading back through the double doors that led to the treatment area of the ER.

Turning on his heel, the cop faced Dean with a grin curling up the corner of his lips, "So … I really should be taking you down to the station for booking now that your brother is safe."

Dean splayed out his hands as if willing the other man to manacle him and drag him to the station, but officer DeMaris shook his head, "But … I happen to know the owner of the gas station and he owes me a few favors. I think I might be able to let you go if you pay for his broken window."

"Does he take Visa or Mastercard?" Dean asked good-naturedly, finding himself liking the young police officer despite his choice of profession.

"Both, I believe. So, I better hear that you paid in full for the damage by the time I get back to work tomorrow, or you'll be seeing me sooner rather than later."

"No prob. "Dean returned with a grin, adding as an after though, "officer."

"Good." DeMaris returned his grin, then shook Dean's hand. "Take of that brother of yours."

OoOoOoOoOoOo

Sam woke to warm rays of sun touching his face.

He opened his eyes and stared into the beams of light filtering though the curtains, watching dust motes float lazily down the columns of light until they hit the ground and disappeared.

Vaguely, he was aware that he was not alone and he turned his head from the sunbeams and towards the sounds of heavy snoring echoing across the room.

Dean laid slumped, eyes closed and arms folded across his chest as he slept in the chair beside the bed. He had to be uncomfortable in that position, but Sam was hesitant to wake his brother from his nap. Even fast asleep, he appeared exhausted and drained.

Enough of Sam's memory had been retained from the night before to recall how his brother had taken off into a blizzard, heedless of his own safely just to make sure that Sam was taken care of and he felt guilt at being the weakest link once again in the Winchester hierarchy – the youngest one that needed protection and looking after at all times.

Sam was still tired and achy, though not half as bad as it had been in the cabin, and he was starting to feel his eyelids grow heavy and sink back into sleep when Dean snorted and startled himself awake, opening his eyes wide with a gasp as if he had been woken from a dream or nightmare.

His eyes settled on Sam and the fear they had held seconds earlier fled in an instant, "Sammy … you okay?"

"M' fine, Dean. Just a little sore and tired," Sam responded quickly to ease the anxiousness that lined his brother's face.

Dean reached out at patted Sam's knee, "Good. You should go back to sleep."

Sam couldn't really argue with that logic; he was exhausted and just opening his eyes had made him sleepy all over again, but he couldn't fall asleep – not yet.

"Dean …"

"Yeah?"

"Thanks, man … you came back for me."

" 'Course I did, numbnuts, what else was I supposed to do?" Dean grabbed Sam's hand and gripped it tight, "I'll always come back for you, dude … always."

The End