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Something Unpredictable

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It's a routine hunt, until it isn't.

It's been over seven weeks since Dean picked Sam up from Stanford. Sam and Dean are still getting used to hunting together again, and Sam doesn't want to admit how good it feels. It's different from the days when they hunted with their dad, before Sam left for college. Now it's just the two of them, and it's a definite improvement over being under Dad's thumb all the time. Sam doesn't want to think about how much better things are now, if only because he thinks he should still be grieving Jessica's death, and it bothers him sometimes that he doesn't miss her more.

Hunting with Dean is fast becoming Sam's new normal, and it isn't as terrible as he'd feared it would be. Dean's easier to get along with than he used to be, more cooperative, almost like he's grateful for Sam's company. Dean seems appreciative of Sam's skills, and as much as he teases Sam about being a "college boy," Sam can sense that Dean's proud of him. He boasts about Sam's research abilities and natural empathy to witnesses and law enforcement, even when he knows Sam's listening. He calls Sam his "partner," instead of his "little brother," which makes Sam's chest swell with pride even while he tries not to show it.

But most of all, Dean seems genuinely glad to have Sam with him. Dean seems surprised every time he looks up to find Sam next to him, as if he's forgotten how good it feels to have someone he trusts by his side. As if Sam's taller and stronger than Dean expected. As if Dean's become accustomed to hunting alone too often and it's an enormous relief to him just to have Sam next to him.

The brothers are quickly becoming a team, and after seven weeks, Sam's finding it hard to remember how it felt to be on his own. He's pretty sure it was the hunting life he'd never wanted, not Dean. Teaming up with Dean is definitely the least-worst part of that life. He'd never meant to leave Dean. Not really.

"It's an onikuma," Sam announces after spending half-a-day at the public library looking at old news articles and reading up on all the lore he could find.

Dean's spent the time talking to the locals at the Bear Paw Diner, hearing stories about a local legend that's part bear, part man. It's been killing and eating animals and a couple of farm-hands across Central Montana for the past twenty years or so, but what finally got the Winchesters' attention was when it went after a family on a hike a week ago. Mother, father, two brothers, all eviscerated and half-eaten. Animal attack, according to the local authorities. Except no animal they ever heard of took only the internal organs of its victims: heart, liver, kidney, spleen.

"Same M.O. as those farmhands ten years ago," Sam comments as he looks through his notes.

They set up shop in the Crossroads Motel just outside Shelby. It's getting cold outside as winter closes in, and the room's electric baseboard heaters keeps fritzing out. Dean just came back from his fifth trip to the manager's office to complain, and he's clearly about to give up and insist they move to another motel.

But Sam's deep in it. He has his timeline all neatly taped up on the wall along with a map showing the creature's hunting area with pins and yarn, and he's not going anywhere. He throws an annoyed glance at Dean as his brother stomps his feet and blows into his hands, then shoves them under his armpits for warmth.

"Its lair has to be somewhere in the Kootenai National Forest," Sam continues.

"Well, what are we waiting for?" Dean asks, shifting from foot to foot in an obvious effort to keep warm. "Let's go talk to the forest rangers. There must be a cave or a mine up there somewhere. We can find it, kill it, be back before nightfall. Case closed."

"Now?" Sam feels a shiver go up his spine at the thought of creeping into another dark mine so soon after their encounter with the wendigo in Colorado. Just the night before, Sam had a nightmare of finding Dean strung up in the creature's nest, bruised and bleeding and close to death. It's not a scenario he's anxious to repeat.

"Yeah, now," Dean says. "It sure beats freezing our butts off here for another night."

Sam has to agree with him there. Which is how they end up on the road within the hour, headed into the mountains to the designated ranger station. An hour after that, Sam and Dean are driving along back-woods mountain roads, then hiking up an unmarked logging track, following the map provided by the forest rangers who directed them to a series of caves deep in the mountains.

It takes them a while to find the right cave, but when they do, that's when things go to hell.

One minute, they've got the thing cornered at the back of its cave. The monster is a big bear-like creature on two-feet with huge fangs and claws. It growls unintelligibly yet glares at them with a cunning that can only be malevolent intelligence.

The next minute it's got Dean as he dives for his gun, raking its claws down Dean's backside as he hollers bloody-murder and struggles desperately to free himself. Sam fights down his panic so that he can take steady aim; he's got one shot at the creature's head or it'll be on him. Only head shots take this thing down. The farmers and game hunters who've shot at it over the years can attest to the onikuma's resiliency, to the way it shrugs off bullet-wounds like they're mere bee-stings.

"Shoot it, Sam!" Dean screams, and Sam shoots; he can't stand those desperate cries one more second.

So of course he misses, clips the creature's right shoulder instead, and now the thing's coming for him, damn it. Fuck, he's such an idiot. Why can't he shoot straight when Dean's in pain? What the hell's the matter with him?

Then it's on him, growling and grabbing, hot breath in his face, and it smells terrible. Really bad. Dead rotting things bad. It's got one claw wrapped around Sam's neck, just squeezing the life out of him. Everything's fading to black and Sam's brain is screaming at him for being such a fuck-up and getting them both killed.

"I'm sorry, Dean," Sam would say if he could, stupid, helpless, pitiful last words, he knows, but it's all he's got. He's failed again. Can't do a simple thing like shoot the monster that's attacking his brother.

Just before he loses consciousness Sam hears a gunshot.

**//**//**

Dean was always the better shot. When they were kids and Dean was teaching Sam how to shoot, he took Sam out back behind Bobby's place or across the field behind some random hunter's cabin and lined tin cans on stumps or fence posts.

"Go on, Sammy," Dean would say. "Show me whatcha got."

Sam would concentrate, grip the gun the way Dean had shown him, and miss every damn can.

"Aw, come on, Dean," Sam would complain. "They're too far away. Nobody can hit that."

Which was Dean's cue to lift his own gun and put a perfect hole in the center of each can. He seemed to be able to do it without making any real effort, without even breaking a sweat. Then he would smirk at Sam and shrug, and Sam would feel the rage boiling up inside him because it wasn't fair. Dean was better at everything. Sam was useless and stupid and little and always would be.

**//**//**

"Sam? Sammy? Come on, man, wake up! Sam!"

His head feels like it weighs a thousand pounds and it's pitch dark, but Dean's calling his name so he tries to focus.

Which is how Sam figures out his eyes are closed, because opening them feels like a Herculean task. His eyelids are so heavy they could be made of lead, and Sam's head is throbbing, filling his ears with the sound of rushing water, or maybe blood, drowning out Dean's urgent pleas.

There's not much light in the cave, and it smells. That rotting meat smell is right there next to him, and it takes Sam a minute to realize that the onikumi is lying almost on top of him, its dead weight holding him down.

"Dean!" Sam gets his hands under the creature's body and pushes, using the force of his concern for his brother to heave the monster off of him and onto the floor of the cave.

"Sammy." Dean's voice is laced with relief. "You okay?"

Sam flexes his aching limbs, winces at a couple of bruised ribs as he turns onto his side, away from the dead monster and toward his brother.

"Yeah, I think so," Sam growls. His throat's sore and probably bruised, making his voice hoarse, and his head is throbbing like a son-of-a-bitch, but he doesn't seem to be bleeding much. No broken bones. "You?"

"Yeah, I'm peachy," Dean says, but he's not moving, which is how Sam knows he's in bad shape.

Sam half crawls, half scoots across the cave floor toward his brother's voice. In the near-darkness he can barely make out Dean's shape, and when Sam gets a hand on him he feels the blood soaking through Dean's jacket immediately.

"Easy, Dean, I got you," Sam murmurs as Dean flinches away from his touch, moaning and shivering in pain.

"Jesus, Sammy," Dean gasps as Sam's hands skim over his back. Dean's sprawled out on his stomach, his arms stretched up over his head, still clutching his gun. Sam takes the gun out of Dean's hand and slides the safety on, slipping it into the back of his own waistband for safe-keeping. He's already recovered his own gun on his crawl over, and it's back where it belongs in his pocket. Recovering their weapons is an essential part of cleaning up a job, and Sam's grateful that part's done, at least.

"Okay, okay, can you move? What hurts?" Sam asks as he slides his hands down Dean's arms, then over his blood-soaked back and down his legs.

"Everything!" Dean gasps as he flinches away from Sam's touch again. "Shit, fuck! My leg!"

"Okay," Sam feels shredded denim and blood where Dean's left calf should be, where the onikuma first grabbed him, and Dean screams with pain so Sam's pretty sure it's broken. Or worse.

He needs more light, damn it. What happened to their flashlights?

"Okay, let me try to find some light, see what's going on," Sam mutters as Dean whimpers pitifully. "You're okay. You're gonna be okay. I Just need to find some light."

Sam's babbling, keeps up a steady banter just to keep his growing panic at bay. The situation is bad, and they both know it. They're in a cave in the mountains, at least twenty miles from the nearest ranger station, and it's getting dark. Dean appears to be injured beyond a simple broken bone, so getting him out of here may be more than Sam can manage on his own.

And to make matters worse, it's late-December and winter is definitely coming. When they left the motel this morning the National Weather Service was predicting a blizzard to hit the area sometime before midnight.

Sam's got to get Dean to safety, then come back and clean up the mess here before that blizzard hits.

Oh yeah, and lest Sam forget, they left the Impala at the end of a logging road and hiked their way in here from almost a mile away, just to make things a little more fun.

Sam is so screwed.

Finding a flashlight in the midst of Sam's impending panic attack is such a small victory he can't help taking a moment to breathe out a silent prayer of thanks.

Then he gets a good look at the mess that used to be Dean's leg and immediately wishes he hadn't.

"Okay, we gotta get you outta here," Sam mutters, and Dean moans. "Can you walk?"

"No. Can't," Dean gasps. He's shivering violently now, and yeah it's colder than hell in here, but Sam knows it's more than that. Dean's going into shock.

"Okay, I'll just have to carry you, then." Sam sucks in a breath, steadying himself as he starts to roll Dean onto his right side, away from the majority of his injuries.

Dean screams and fights him for a moment, then the pain overwhelms him and he passes out.

Good, Sam tells himself, fighting down his panic as the dead weight of Dean's body sags against him. This is good, He'll be easier to carry this way.

He maneuvers his body under Dean's, manages to lift him onto his shoulder, ignoring the sticky, slippery slide of Dean's blood coating everything, making it hard for Sam to get a good grip on him. He tries not to think about internal injuries, about how he might be making Dean's injuries worse by moving him. Sam doesn't have a choice. He can't leave Dean here while he goes for help. He just can't. It hurts to think about Dean waking up in this cave alone and in pain, even though he would probably understand. He would get it. But he would feel abandoned, too. It would fill him with loneliness and despair on top of the pain and the cold, and Sam just can't do that to his brother.

Plus, who is he kidding? Sam couldn't bear it if he got back and Dean was ––

No, not even thinking about that right now.

The hike back to the car is exhausting and traumatizing. After the fight with the onikuma Sam's barely upright, but his fear for Dean keeps him moving, and he's grateful his brother doesn't wake up as Sam stumbles and staggers under Dean's weight, following the path they made earlier through the undergrowth. He holds tight to Dean's body, slung over his shoulder in a fireman's carry, and tries not to think about how much blood he's lost. How far from a hospital they are. How dark it's getting as the first few flakes of snow fall around them.

Once he's got Dean settled across the backseat of the Impala, blanket tucked around him and the heat blasting, the snow is falling fast and thick. The unpaved logging road they parked on is over three miles from the highway, bumpy and rutted, and by the time Sam makes it to the slippery main road there's at least a couple of inches of snow on the ground. The car fishtails and spins out as he turns onto the slick surface, and Sam panics as he struggles to keep the car on the road in the growing gloom of the late-December evening. The snow falls thicker and faster, beyond the car's ability to maneuver, beyond the wiper-blades' ability to clear. Snow falls like ash in the headlights, silent and deadly, and after only about twenty minutes Sam has to slow down or risk spinning off the road or sliding into a drift.

When a young doe darts into the road in front of him, freezing in the glare of the headlights so Sam has barely a moment to respond, it feels almost surreal. Sam slams on the breaks, knowing full well not to, knowing he should pump the breaks instead but then he'd hit the deer for sure and he just can't do that. He won't, not if he can help it.

Time seems to slow down as the Impala fishtails ninety-degrees, then slides sideways toward the deer. Sam turns the steering wheel in the direction of the skid, hoping beyond hope he can keep the car on the road and avoid the deer at the same time.

But of course the road under the snow is a solid sheet of ice, and Sam quickly realizes he has no control as the car slides sideways off the road and into the ditch, coming to a hard stop in deep snow. Sam's head slams into the steering wheel, or maybe the windshield, and for a moment after the impact he sees stars and probably loses consciousness.

When he finally lifts his aching head, all Sam sees outside the car is a solid wall of white, whirling snow. The car's heater is still blasting, but he can see one less pool of light shining from the front of the Impala, telling him that one headlight is out, probably smashed. Dean's gonna kill him, Sam thinks nonsensically.

Then he remembers.

"Dean!" Sam bellows as he turns and twists on the bench, managing to pull himself up to look over into the backseat. Dean has slid off into the footwell, and he's not moving. Sam reaches over the back seat and pulls the blanket away, then presses his fingers against Dean's throat, over his carotid artery.

Dean's pulse is weak, but it's steady.

Sam quickly assesses his next move, deliberately ignoring his aching limbs, his throbbing head. The car is stuck, buried in the ditch at an almost forty-five-degree angle. He knows right away it would be useless to try to dig her out and get her back on the road without help.

Walking is out of the question; the snow is blinding and the storm is quickly gaining force. Neither of them are dressed warmly enough to survive more than a few hours outside in a blizzard, and Dean's condition makes it impossible anyway.

Their best bet is to hunker down, wait out the blizzard, then go for help.

If Dean makes it that long.

On an ordinary mountain road, there would be snow-plows and tow-trucks going by regularly after a blizzard like this, seeking stranded sportsmen and pre-season winter-vacationers, ready to help pull the Impala out of the snowbank, maybe even give her some chains to help her make it down to a more drivable road.

But of course this is a road that was clearly marked "Closed between December 1 and May 1" for a good reason. And of course the Winchesters ignored the sign when they drove into these mountains earlier because that's just the way they roll when they're on a hunt. Natural dangers are the least of their worries.

Sam feels the old familiar grip of entrapment that has haunted his nightmares for as long as he can remember. Sam's life is a cage that has held him entombed since he was old enough to understand it, and this most recent natural manifestation is just another reminder that he can't ever escape. He guns the engine in a last ditch effort to free the car, but it's a token gesture and he knows it. The Impala is stuck, just like the Winchesters.

Of course there's no cell service up in these mountains. They'd already established that as part of their final weapons check, before they went into the cave that landed them here, at the end of everything. Rookie move, going into this hunt on the verge of a blizzard without cell service. They knew better, but figured they could get the job done and get out before the storm hit. Brimming with bravado and competitive to a fault, the brothers had thrown caution to the wind as soon as that ranger told them about the cave, the likeliest place for the monster to hide out within range of the campground where the most recent attacks had occurred.

The snow has drifted up to the doorhandles and the world is deceptively bright in the darkness outside by the time Sam figures out what he has to do.

He can keep them warm by running the car and the heater at intervals, at least until the car runs out of gas. The car's battery will die soon afterwards, taking the heat with them. Then Sam will crawl into the backseat and curl his body around his brother, giving him whatever heat he can for as long as he can.

Dean moans softly in his unconscious state, probably feverish by now, and Sam lets himself feel a momentary gratitude that at least Dean doesn't know what's happening.

For Sam, what's happening is darkly ironic. The brothers may be able to keep each other warm for a few hours or even another day, but eventually, they will freeze to death. Not tomorrow, probably not for another two or three days, when thirst overtakes them and they start eating the snow which will bring their body temperatures down dangerously until they can no longer function.

Dean will die first, since he's the weakest and he's already suffering massive blood loss. The cold may stave off infection, but eventually his body will give out, sooner than Sam's.

Sam will live on, but not much longer.

The thought of leaving his brother and trying to go for help just isn't on Sam's list of possibilities. He won't leave Dean to die alone. He can't.

Sam could try to carry Dean out, and maybe once the storm has stopped that's what he'll do. It's not like them to just lie down and wait for death. Better to die making an effort to live. Dean will hate him for leaving the car, but he'll understand. And if they make it, they'll come back for her.

The next few hours are agonizing. By running the heater at intervals, the car stays relatively warm. Dean doesn't regain consciousness, and Sam worries about that, but decides it's for the best. Sometime in the early morning, the darkest part of the night, the car finally dies. Sam takes a deep breath, watches it freeze in the cold air inside the car, then he rolls over the front seat and into the back.

Sam curls around Dean's body and drifts off to sleep, reminding himself that at least they killed the monster. At least they did their job. They rid the world of one more nasty thing that was killing people and ruining families, and if they die with their boots on, well, that's part of the job, isn't it? Their dad would be proud.

Sam wakes with a start a couple of hours later. It's still dark, although the white-out of the blizzard makes everything seem lighter than it should be for the time of night. Dean's moaning softly again, and Sam's body is aching and sore from head to foot. He shifts as well as he can to allow Dean more room, but it's basically hopeless. They're both big guys, and even with the front bench pushed all the way forward, there's no room for Sam back here and he knows it. His body knows it. He's never been so cramped and stiff in his life.

Besides, he's laying half on top of Dean, and that's not just uncomfortable. For Dean, it's downright painful.

"Hurts, Sammy," Dean chokes out, and that's how Sam knows Dean's in real pain. No way would his brother ordinarily admit to pain.

"I know," Sam shifts his weight, trying to take his bulk off his brother's injured leg. "I'm just trying to keep us warm."

"Well, it ain't working." Dean's shivering violently, and his teeth are chattering. Sam adjusts the blanket, tries to tuck it around Dean, but that only makes him grunt and squirm more. "What the hell, Sam? Where are we?"

"We're stuck in the snow," Sam answers, trying to ignore his own shivering. "The car's out of gas and this blizzard isn't letting up anytime soon." And you're seriously injured, he doesn't add because it's obvious. He also doesn't mention the dead battery because that's obvious too.

"When it stops snowing, you need to get out there," Dean says. "Follow the road till somebody finds you."

Sam says nothing, and after a moment Dean growls, "Sam?"

"Not going anywhere without you." Sam knows he sounds like a pouting teenager, but he doesn't care. "When the snow dies down, I'll make you a sled, pull you down the mountain with me."

"My leg's busted, Sam," Dean says. "I'll never make it. I'll just hold you back."

"Not going anywhere without you," Sam insists, more vehemently this time.

"Not gonna make it till morning anyway," Dean says, and his voice is weaker now. He's gritting his teeth to keep them from chattering. "Too much blood loss."

"Don't say that," Sam says gruffly, fighting down the panic Dean's words make him feel. "You'll be fine! You're tough, Dean. You've had worse and come through just fine. Remember the chupacabra in New Mexico back in '99?"

"Yeah," Dean huffs out a trembling laugh.

"That thing pulled your hip right out of its socket," Sam goes on, more to keep Dean awake than anything. "Dad popped it back in, then made you walk out of there four miles back to the car."

"Yeah, carrying you," Dean says, his voice a tortured whisper now.

"I killed that thing," Sam huffs indignantly. "Sank my knife clear through its heart and out the other side."

"Then you fainted," Dean starts to chuckle, but it comes out in a coughing fit instead. Sam waits none-too-patiently for it to pass, worry and fear making him clench his fist in the front of Dean's jacket, just to have something to hold on to. If he doesn't, Sam knows he'll start running his hand over Dean's hair, trying to comfort him as much as to reassure himself, and he knows Dean won't want that.

Finally, Dean recovers his voice enough to say, "You always fainted at the sight of blood in those days."

"Not anymore," Sam answers, reminding them both that they're covered in Dean's blood at the moment. Probably a little monster blood, too.

"No, Sammy, not anymore," Dean agrees, and now his voice sounds ragged and tired.

Sam wishes he could see Dean's face, wishes he could see Dean's expression.

"I'm proud of you, Sam," Dean whispers. "You did good."

Sam gasps. They never say that to each other. Hell, Dad never says that, although he should. It's the kind of thing that might only come out when one of them is dying, and there is no way in hell that's happening on Sam's watch. No way.

"Shut up," Sam orders, then realizes Dean isn't moving. He's passed out again, damn him. Sam wishes again that he could see Dean's face, hopes he's not grimacing in pain even when he's unconscious. Sam's fingers find Dean's carotid artery again. Dean's pulse is weaker now, unsteady, and it makes Sam's heart hurt, makes his chest clench like he's being strangled. He closes his eyes, squeezing tight against the tears threatening to slip out of the corners, and mumbles words to a prayer he learned long ago and couldn't recite consciously right now if his life depended on it. Sam's on auto-pilot, hoping for a miracle he has no reason to expect, given the course of their lives so far. Jessica's dead, Dad's in the wind, and Dean's just as likely to die tonight as anything, especially anything good.

Sam's life is cursed. If he ever doubted that, he doesn't anymore, and there's no reason to expect anything but the worst.

**//**

The next time Sam opens his eyes, he sees Dean's face clear as day. Dean's eyes are closed, his features relaxed in sleep, and there's a smudge of blood on his cheek where Sam put it when he checked Dean's pulse. For a moment, Sam stares; Dean's face is as beautiful as it is familiar, and it always makes Sam gasp a little to look at him. When he was a teenager he used to wake up at night just so he could watch Dean sleep, sometimes in the next bed, sometimes right there beside him, like he is now. Sam studied the way Dean's long eyelashes fanned across his pale cheeks, the way his too-full lips parted in sleep, sometimes letting a little drool escape onto his pillow. On moonlit nights, or nights when the thin curtains of their motel-room barely closed against the street-lights outside, Sam could count the freckles on Dean's nose. He memorized the shadows cast by the cut of Dean's cheekbones, the cleft of his chin.

Sam left for Stanford because he couldn't stop staring at his brother.

During those years away, Sam tried to forget. He tried to convince himself he wouldn't stare again, even if Dean showed up on his doorstep, which he did two-and-a-half years ago, after they'd been separated less than a year. Sam had been embarrassingly grateful, reeling from loneliness and missing Dean more than he would admit. Of course, their reunion had been disastrous. Dean accused Sam of abandoning his family, shirking his responsibilities, leaving Dean to clean up the mess Sam made of their father, whose drinking became even more problematic after Sam left. Sam accused Dean of trying to control him, of following their father's orders blindly when it was obvious John Winchester had become a dangerous, obsessive bastard who cared only for himself and his insane quest for vengeance.

Then things got out of hand and they ended up on the floor, fighting dirty and hard until they were both exhausted and Sam was in tears. This time Dean walked out, fists clenched and jaw tight, slamming the door behind him, leaving Sam sobbing and bereft on the floor, curled up in a fetal position in an effort to hide the raging boner in his pants.

Sam redoubled his efforts to forget his tangled feelings for his brother after that, and when his former roommate introduced him to Jessica Moore, things got easier for a while.

Then Dean showed up in their apartment in Palo Alto seven weeks ago, and it was if he'd never left. They were right back where they started, and Sam couldn't take his eyes off his brother.

The woman in white wasn't wrong when she told Sam he would be unfaithful. In Sam's heart, he was already cheating, from the moment Dean re-entered his life. Jessica's death had only compounded the guilt that consumed Sam when he compared the way he felt for Jessica with the way he felt for Dean. He'd been planning to ask her to marry him, but as soon as Dean showed up Sam knew he never would. He couldn't do that to her. It wouldn't be fair.

Now Sam stares at Dean and never wants to look away.

Then he realizes there's a light shining on Dean's face, from outside the car. He couldn't see his brother when he fell asleep, and now he can. Confused, Sam glances up through the window of the Impala, searching for the source of the light. It's bright outside, the snow swirling and falling thick and fast, and everything is covered in a heavy layer of white. For a moment, Sam thinks maybe it's just the general brightness that's causing the illumination, or maybe the drifting snow has shifted and the angle just happens to send more light into the car's interior.

Then Sam sees it.

There's a house, a cabin, through the woods on the other side of the road, maybe thirty feet away. Sam's pretty sure it wasn't there before, or if it was it was hidden by driving snow. Only now that the snow has accumulated and dragged down the tree branches between the house and the road it's become visible.

Shelter, Sam's exhausted brain offers. It's shelter. Possibly heat. Maybe even food. Water.

"Okay," he huffs aloud, more to himself than to Dean. "Okay. We just need to get over there, get inside." It becomes a mantra, because he's unwilling to go even thirty feet without his brother, and if this doesn't work out, if the cabin is locked up so tight Sam can't get them inside, then Sam will do whatever he has to get shelter for Dean. Of course there's no one living there, Sam reasons quickly. How could there be, on this closed road, in this weather? And with no smoke coming from the chimney nor light coming from the shuttered windows, it's just an empty cabin waiting to serve as salvation for two hunters who otherwise might freeze to death in a blizzard.

It's kind of a miracle, Sam's tired brain provides helpfully, and then promptly ignores.

Sam wastes precious seconds trying to decide whether he should make the trek by himself first, just to check it out. Then he glances at Dean's pale face again and that's all the convincing he needs. Dean needs to be somewhere warm and sheltered, where Sam can get a good look at his wounds.

Snow has drifted up the sides of the Impala, all the way to the windows, so Sam doesn't even try to open the doors. He bundles Dean up in the blanket as best he can and pulls his own hoodie over his head. Then he rolls the back-seat window down and crawls out into the snow.

When he gets his feet under him, Sam sinks up to the tops of his thighs. The wind whips the snow around his face, stinging his eyes and making it hard to see. He reaches into the back of the Impala and hauls Dean out the window; he stumbles backwards under Dean's weight but somehow manages to stay on his feet. He decides to leave the Impala's window open for now; once he gets Dean settled in the house, he'll have to come back for their duffles and gear in the trunk anyway.

Sam half-drags, half-carries Dean toward the house, staggering backwards most of the way because he can't get under Dean's body well enough to lift him over his shoulder again. The snow is just too deep and the ground is too slippery and the wind howls and slaps at his face till he's too numb to feel it. He glances backwards periodically to be sure they're still moving in the right direction, but it's slow going, and by the time they reach the front porch Sam's legs are as numb as his hands and face.

He leaves Dean on the porch as he checks the windows and doors, but of course the place is locked up tight. Sam's lock-picking tools are back in the Impala, but he couldn't use them anyway because his hands are frozen stiff. There's no way they came this far to be deterred by a locked door, so Sam takes a step back, throws himself against the door with as much force as he can manage, and it works. The doorframe splits, the lock pops free, and the door falls open into the dark room beyond. Sam doesn't stop to consider how sore his shoulder will feel tomorrow, once it stops being so numb with cold; he grabs Dean under the armpits and hauls him backwards into the dark shelter of the cabin, kicking the door closed after them. The howling wind immediately mutes, and Sam is so relieved to be out of it he falls to his knees, pulling his flashlight out of his pocket with numb fingers, fumbling awkwardly until he gets the switch flipped.

"We made it," he gasps as Dean's face comes into view in the beam of the little light. "We're out of the storm, at least. Now we just need some heat."

Sam shines the flashlight around the room, revealing a stone fireplace with wood stacked neatly beside it and a hunting rifle mounted over the mantle. To the right of the fireplace is a kitchen, complete with an old-fashioned wood stove and a cast-iron sink. Doorless cabinets over the sink and counters reveals cans of food and cookware, and pots and pans hang on the wall. On the other side of the fireplace there's a futon couch that looks like it could fold down into a bed. A table and chairs sit in the middle of the room, and a steep staircase heading into a dark attic is built against the fourth wall. Overall, Sam gets the impression that this place is used by hunters or other sportsmen, maybe on a seasonal basis, but it doesn't seem to be currently occupied.

A quick search of the cupboards reveals lighter fluid and matches, and even a stack of old newspapers to help get the fire started. Within about twenty minutes Sam has a roaring fire blazing in the fireplace and another one in the wood stove. He finds a kerosene lamp hanging behind the door and lights it, then lays Dean out on the braided rug in front of the fire. By some miracle, the sink has running water, which Sam can only imagine comes from a well whose pump is apparently still working, despite the cold. He sets a pot of water on the stove to heat, then trudges back out into the snow to retrieve their gear from the Impala.

By the time Sam gets back he feels like a human icicle. His jeans have melted and frozen solid again, so that it's painful to move. Sam can almost hear Dean's voice in his head, telling him to get out of his frozen clothes before they melt again, but he's too distracted by Dean's labored breathing. It's imperative to get Dean's jeans cut off so Sam can clean his wounds. He finds clean rags and a jar of moonshine in one of the cupboards and uses them to wash the blood from Dean's leg and back as best he can. Dean's leg is a wreck, as Sam knew it would be, with bone protruding below the knee and ragged strips of flesh above. The long, cruel gashes made by the onikuma's claws look deep and ragged, and Sam quickly figures out which ones need stitches. Luckily, the cold has slowed the bleeding, although the warm wash water starts it up again and soon Sam's covered in fresh blood.

Forcing himself to warm his hands before he stitches Dean up, it takes Sam another half-hour to suture and bandage Dean's wounds, using the moonshine as antiseptic. He does the best he can resetting the broken bone, grateful Dean's unconscious since Sam's pretty sure he would be screaming with pain otherwise. He ties the leg to a flat piece of firewood with strips of dish-towels, trying to ignore the little voice in his head that taunts him for his lack of medical knowledge. He dissolves a couple of antibiotic tablets in water and lifts Dean's head into his lap, trying to get him to drink without choking to death. Dean's eyes flutter open as Sam wipes his lips, and although he doesn't seem aware of where they are, his eyes soften when he sees Sam, and he seems to relax visibly before he passes out again.

Sam knows Dean needs a hospital, probably needs emergency surgery if he ever hopes to walk again, but for now this is the best Sam can do. For now, he's just hoping he can keep Dean alive, to stave off infection and complications from blood loss. Sam decides it's best for Dean to be close to the fire, so he drags the futon mattress onto the rug and gently rolls Dean onto it, onto his side so he's not lying directly on his wounds. He finds blankets in the upstairs attic, and along with the sleeping bags from the Impala he creates a comfortable bed for Dean before he takes his own clothes off and pulls on a pair of dry sweatpants and a tee-shirt. His jeans are ruined, soaked in blood that has dried and stiffened, so he bags them up along with the jeans he cut off Dean's body and stuffs the bag in a corner to dispose of later. He leaves Dean's boxers on but nothing else, afraid to make him more uncomfortable by trying to dress him again.
Lastly, Sam feeds the fire before lying down on the rug facing his brother, finally allowing himself to rest. He's out almost before his head settles down on his bent arm.

It's at least an hour later when Sam opens his eyes. Dean's moaning in his sleep, shifting uncomfortably.

"Dean?" Sam leans over his brother, notes the sheen of sweat on his skin, the spots of color in his cheeks. When Sam lays his fingers on Dean's neck, he finds a racing pulse. Dean's got a fever. Sam doesn't need to feel the clammy heat of his forehead to see that. Fever's good, Sam tells himself. It means Dean's body is fighting off infection. He finds a clean rag, soaks it in cool water and wrings it out, then presses it to Dean's fevered cheeks and forehead.

"Sammy?" Dean's eyes flutter open; they're glassy and brighter than normal, watery green pools with pupils reduced to mere pinpricks. He seems to focus for a moment as he sees Sam bending over him.

"Yeah, I'm here, Dean," Sam says softly, pressing the damp cloth to Dean's skin. The cloth is already hot, so he goes back to the sink, runs more cool water on it, wrings it out again and brings it back, starts his cooling ministrations again.

Dean's eyes are closed and he's moaning again. "It hurts," he whines, so softly Sam has to lean close to hear. His throat clicks with the effort to swallow, and Sam knows his glands are swollen.

Sam feels a stab of guilt. "I know, Dean," he murmurs. "I'm sorry. We're out of painkillers." He's already searched the cabinets. They're lucky to have the antibiotics, and Sam takes two more tablets from their medical kit, struggles to lift Dean's head so he can take them. "Here. Take these. That's it."

"Not painkillers." Dean coughs after he swallows the pills and the water, covering Sam's hand with his own to steady the glass. His fingers are hot and dry and he keeps hold of Sam's hand after Sam puts the glass down.

"No, these are for the infection," Sam agrees.

Dean glances around the cabin. "Maybe they've got some hooch somewhere, huh? Maybe?"

Sam sighs. The last thing Dean needs right now is alcohol. Drinking in a snowstorm is always a bad idea. It won't help Dean heal any faster.

"Just for the pain, Sammy, so I can sleep," Dean pleads. "I need sleep if I'm gonna get better, right?"

Sam clenches his jaw and shakes his head. "Alcohol won't help you heal," he says stubbornly.

"Aw, come on, Sammy," Dean wheedles. "Just a sip. Just to take the edge off. My leg feels like it's on fire, man. Fuckin' burns." He winces and squeezes his eyes shut as he struggles to fight the pain.

Sam flinches in sympathy as tears leak out of the corners of Dean's eyes, leaving long tracks to his ears. He clutches Sam's hand, squeezing almost painfully. Fuck.

"Just a sip." Sam relents, reaching for the jar of moonshine.

Dean lips turn up in a small smile of triumph that's more of a grimace. He struggles to sit up as Sam tips the jar against his lips, lets the burning liquid trickle into Dean's mouth.

"Ah," Dean sighs. "That's better." His eyes close and he lays back, and Sam watches as the tension drains out of his face. Dean begins to breathe deeply almost immediately, and this time his breathing sounds normal, no longer labored. Sam pulls his hand free from Dean's slack fingers and checks his pulse. It's still a little fast, but stronger, no longer fluttering like a bird.

Okay, he thinks. Guess I was wrong. Sometimes alcohol helps.

Sam's awake now, so he gets up, stokes the fire, opens a can of soup and dumps it into a saucepan and heats it on the stove. The blizzard is still raging outside, so Sam pisses into a bucket on the little enclosed back porch, puts the cover on to dump later. He's still aching everywhere, and his throat is still sore, but the soup makes him feel better, warms and soothes him. He considers waking Dean, making him eat something, but he decides Dean's probably better off sleeping. His color's better, Sam notes as he squats down to check on him. Dean's still pale, but the brights spots of color on his cheeks have faded into a healthier pink. His fever's gone down on it's own, which is a good sign. Sam isn't sure what he would have done if Dean's fever hadn't gone down. The thought of cooling him down with more snow fills Sam with despair.

Sam lies down on the rug, pulling one of the blankets around himself, and lets himself breathe a sigh of relief for the first time since he carried Dean out of the onikuma's cave. For the first time since he brought Dean into this cabin, he lets himself consider the possibility that they'll survive this after all.

He falls asleep watching Dean breathing normally, his chest rising and falling under the blanket.

**//**

Fingers skim lightly over his cheek, tangle in his hair. Warm breath tickles his ear, followed by the press of soft lips.

"So hot like this, Sammy," a deep, familiar voice murmurs.

Sam squirms as his dick throbs. He leans into the touch, the lips, wanting the dream to last. The lips press along his cheek, his jaw, the corner of his mouth. Sam's lips part of their own accord, welcoming. He tips his head up and lips press against his, slow and careful, sucking on his top lip first, then the bottom. Fingers clutch Sam's chin as the kiss deepens, a warm, wet tongue darting into his mouth and making him moan. Too soon, the tongue withdraws, the lips drag along his twice more, then pull away altogether. The fingers leave his chin and the ghost of a breath flutters over his skin and is gone.

Sam's eyes open, blinking away the dream and the sleepy tingle of his overheated skin.

Dean's staring back at him, probably has been for a while, smirk turning up the corners of his sinfully lush lips.

"Hey, Sammy. Good dream?"

Heat rushes to Sam's cheeks and he rolls away, ensuring the blanket is covering his morning wood before he sits up and turns back to Dean.

"How're you feeling?" he asks, clearing his throat, which is still painfully sore.

"My leg's busted and I think I sweated an entire ocean." Dean gives a little shrug, pushing the blankets off, and Sam tries not to react to the sight of all that pale freckled skin. "Other than that, I'm fine."

"You're not fine, Dean," Sam mutters as he checks Dean's pulse, shoving the blankets aside so he can inspect Dean's bandages. "You nearly died. You lost a bucket or two of blood. You nearly froze to death."

Dean bats Sam's hands away, then grabs Sam's wrists when he won't stop trying to check on Dean's wounds. Sam stops then, looking up into Dean's big green eyes as he tries not to react to his touch.

"I said I'm fine," Dean repeats firmly. "Better. You did good." He releases Sam's wrists when Sam nods his promise not to keep picking at the bandages.

"Okay," Sam nods. "How about something to eat? I found soup in the cupboards. You need to take more antibiotics. It's better not to take them on an empty stomach."

"Sure," Dean says. "Soup sounds good." He's surprisingly agreeable; Sam frowns as he gets to his feet, stokes the fire and adds more wood as the soup heats. Dean's never a good patient. He hates being sick, hates being cared for. It's not like him to lie there so complacently while Sam tends to him like this. Usually he bitches and calls Sam a "Mother Hen." Usually he's snappish and irritable as fuck.

"Here we go," Sam announces, setting the soup, water and pills down on the floor next to Dean's make-shift sick-bed.

Dean's been watching him, he could feel it. Dean watched Sam make the soup, stoke the fire, check the storm outside, which hasn't abated in the least, as far as Sam can tell, even though it's daylight now. Dean's got that lazy grin on his face, almost a smirk, and his eyes are half-lidded and sleepy-looking, and he's just watching Sam with a relaxed expression that reminds Sam of a contented cat. Sam's been watched this way in bars, and it usually means he's about to get lucky, if he wants. If it were anyone else, Sam would feel appreciated and admired. Maybe turned-on, if the attraction was mutual.

It it were anyone but Dean, Sam would assume he was being hit on. Flirted with.

Now Sam's got to figure out a way to prop Dean up so he can eat his soup. Before, when Dean was basically unconscious, Sam had used his body, had slipped behind Dean and cradled his head and shoulders in his lap so he could keep him upright enough to swallow the pills. Now, with Dean watching him with that look on his face, Sam's not sure what to do.

"You okay?" he asks, gesturing at the soup and water. "You need any help with that?"

Let Dean ask for it if he needs it. He needs to say something, anyway. He's being entirely too quiet. Not like himself at all.

"I'm good," Dean answers, heaving himself up on one elbow so he can reach for the pills and the water with his other hand. Sam reluctantly tears his eyes away from Dean's display of upper-body strength, the way his shoulders strain with effort, his thick powerful arm muscles. Dean's built like a man who's been digging ditches all his life. Graves, in Dean's case, as Sam well knows. Sam has a sudden vision of Dean hauling himself around like this for the rest of his life, like a monster-hunting Lieutenant Dan.

There's a lump in Sam's throat and tears at the corners of his eyes. He turns away so he doesn't have to watch Dean lean over his soup, doesn't have to watch him slurping noisily. Sam busies himself getting a little soup for himself, checks on the weather again, pours himself a glass of water. By that time, Dean's finished his soup and water, and he reaches for the jar of moonshine, takes a sip before Sam swoops in and grabs it from him.

"Don't be such a buzz-kill, Sammy," Dean gripes. "It's for pain-management, man. Totally legit."

"It's not gonna help you get better," Sam answers, crossing the room to set the jar back in its cupboard, safely out of reach.

"We're trapped in a snowstorm in a mountain cabin with nothing to do and you're not even going to let us get drunk?" Dean complains. "Do you even know how lame that is?"

"You almost died, Dean," Sam says. "Your body needs to recover from blood loss, not alcohol poisoning."

"Your body needs to lighten up a little, Sam," Dean growls. "Get over here."

Sam's first response is to refuse, to rebel against the authority in Dean's command. Sam's nobody's foot soldier, always hated it when Dad barked orders at him, always resented Dean's immediate acquiescence to everything Dad told him to do. Blindly following orders wasn't something Sam could do. It just wasn't in him.

But something about Dean's tone pushes all of Sam's buttons, and not just the rebellious ones. He flushes hot from the pit of his stomach to the tips of his ears, moves toward Dean without consciously being aware he's doing it. Dean watches him approach with something in his eyes that Sam can't read, gestures to Sam to hunker down so Dean can get a good look at him. His eyes drop to Sam's throat, and Sam realizes his bruises are visible, even from a distance.

He doesn't expect Dean to reach out and touch him, but that's what he does. Sam gasps as Dean's fingers brush his throat. He tells himself he's flinching away from Dean because it hurts, but he knows better.

"What – what are you doing?" Sam's words come out as a hoarse whisper. He shifts a little on his haunches and clears his throat, trying to ignore his instant hard-on in response to Dean's touch.

"What's it look like I'm doing?" Dean smirks. "Checking you out, of course."

"Uh – okay," Sam stammers as Dean's fingers grasp his chin, turn his head to the side so Dean can get a good look.

Dean pulls the neck of Sam's tee-shirt down, inspects the bruising on his collarbone. When his hands reach down to pull Sam's tee-shirt up Sam jumps back like he's been bit.

"What's your problem?" Dean lets go of the hem of Sam's shirt but his voice is smooth as honey, his lips still turned up in a teasing grin. "I'm just trying to get a good look."

"Nothing to see," Sam says, his voice shaking. "I'm fine. Nothing serious."

"I'll be the judge of that," Dean says, voice soft but with an edge of command. "Take it off."

"No." Sam clears his throat, tries again because the first time his voice was barely there. "No. I'm fine, Dean."

"Let me see," Dean purrs, running his hand along Sam's thigh to the hem of his tee-shirt, tugging gently. He raises his eyes to Sam's and his pupils are huge. His lips are parted and damp, and there's an unmistakable flush to his cheeks that makes Sam's skin tingle.

"Oh - okay," Sam stammers, mesmerized by the intensity of Dean's expression. Sam suddenly feels reckless; he can't remember why it might not be a good idea to take his clothes off, so he does it, pulling his tee-shirt off over his head and dropping it beside him on the floor.

Dean's eyes drop to Sam's chest. His eyelashes flutter just a bit and his tongue darts out, worrying the corner of his mouth and the edge of his left canine.

Sam's heart-beat speeds up and his chest rises and falls under Dean's gaze. His breath stutters, and Dean glances up at Sam's face from under his long eyelashes, causing another stab of lust to course through Sam's gut. Sam's eyes slide closed as Dean's hand skims the surface of his skin, delicately assessing the bruises on his ribs, his stomach. Sam's lips part and he's probably panting a little at the delicious pleasure-pain of Dean's touch, leaning into it almost unconsciously.

"Sam," Dean murmurs, and Sam's eyes flutter open. Dean's pulled himself all the way up to sitting. It shouldn't be possible with his injuries, but he's leaning toward Sam as Sam leans down and their faces are so close Sam can feel Dean's breath on his cheek. His exploring hands are everywhere, gentle and careful as they return to Sam's jaw, brushing his cheek where Sam can feel a gash he didn't remember he had. Sam almost stops breathing when Dean's thumb drags across his lower lip, then stays there. He lifts his eyes to Dean's and finds them gazing back, steady and sure, before they drop to Sam's mouth.

Sam feels Dean's hands tugging him in and he goes, unable or unwilling to resist what's happening. Just before their lips meet Sam pulls back, eyes flying wide, terrified he's getting this wrong after all.

"What are – what are you doing, Dean?"

"What's it look like I'm doing, Sam?" Dean smirks as his thumb rubs along Sam's lip.

"I don't know," Sam stammers. "I don't understand. Why now?"

"Snowed in on Christmas, Sammy," Dean grins. "You're my present."

Sam's positively speechless, that's so corny. It's got to be the most stupidly romantic thing Dean's ever said to him, not that Dean's prone to stupidly romantic comments. Usually the opposite, in fact, which is why Sam's struck dumb with shock. Which is just as well, since Dean takes the opportunity to close the last few inches between them until their lips finally meet.

Dean kisses gently, tenderly, like he's afraid of hurting Sam. Sam's shivery all over from Dean's touch, gasps like a drowning man against Dean's mouth. Dean tastes sweet, traces of salt from the soup and the sharp bite of the moonshine on his tongue. Sam surges over him, pushing Dean down onto his back and following with his mouth and his body, plundering Dean's mouth with his tongue as Dean writhes beneath him, hands sliding over Sam's shoulders, his biceps, still exploring.

"Damn, you're built like a mountain, Sammy," Dean gasps when Sam lets his mouth go so Sam can kiss and nip along Dean's jaw, his throat. He finds Dean's pulse and presses his tongue against it, feels Dean's blood pounding strong and steady.

"You're okay with this," Sam breathes against Dean's ear. "You're really okay with this." He raises his head to look down into Dean's face. "You're not just delirious with fever."

Dean shakes his head. "Wanted this as long as you, Sam," he assures him. "Longer, probably."

"Why didn't you tell me?" Sam can't help whining. His head spins with all the times over the years that he forced down his raging need for his brother out of self-loathing and fear of rejection. "Why couldn't you just let me know how you felt?"

"Wanted you to be normal, Sam," Dean says, reaching up to brush the hair back from Sam's face. "Wanted you to have a shot at something better."

"Wanted you," Sam says, tears blurring his vision. "All those years missing you, wanting to be with you. Dean, you don't know how much I missed you."

"I'm here now," Dean murmurs. "In all the ways that matter."

Dean tugs Sam's face down and Sam goes, kissing Dean long and deep. Dean reaches down and finds the waistband of his sweatpants.

"Off," he demands between kisses, and Sam complies. He's naked now, and Dean takes him in hand like a pro, jacking him slow, maneuvering Sam's body so that he's straddling Dean's waist.

"Don't wanna hurt you," Sam says, breathless with need as Dean jacks him. The angle's wrong, and Dean's hold on his cock is awkward and over-hand, but the sight of Dean spread out beneath him is almost more than Sam can take.

"Not gonna hurt me," Dean grunts, using his free hand to shove his boxers down so that he can free his cock. It's hard and thick and curved a little. Sam's seen it before, of course, but this time Dean's cock is hard for him, for Sam, and Sam can stare all he wants. He has permission to stare, to touch, making Dean gasp and arch up, eyes squeezed shut against the sensation.

"Jesus, Dean," Sam pants. He lowers himself until Dean's leaking cock is between his ass-cheeks, rubs himself on it as Dean gasps again.

"Fuck, Sammy," Dean moans. "Not gonna last if you do that."

Sam leans up over Dean's head so he can reach his duffle, rifles through it for a tube of lube. He spreads it liberally over his fingers, then reaches around behind and starts working himself open. Dean watches, heavy-lidded and panting, licking his lips.

"You sure about this, little brother?" Dean asks.

"Sure as I'll ever be about anything," Sam grunts as he pumps three fingers into himself. He's been fantasizing about this for years. Now it's almost too good to be true, and he's frantic, wants it to happen yesterday before they both change their minds.

When he starts lubricating Dean's dick, Dean helps, tangling their fingers together around his cock. Then he holds his cock steady as Sam kneels up and positions himself over it. Sam closes his eyes as he starts to sink down, letting the sensations of fullness and stretching overwhelm him. Just when Sam thinks he can't take another inch, Dean's cock hits something inside him that sends sparks shooting up Sam's spine. He gasps and sinks down hard, his ass resting on Dean's pelvis.

"Fuck, Sam," Dean breathes. "So tight."

Sam huffs out a shaky laugh, spreading his hands wide over Dean's warm chest. Sweat slides down his temple and drips onto Dean's stomach, and Sam leans down, adjusting the angle of penetration so that it's almost comfortable. Dean slides his fingers through Sam's hair, cups his face as Sam leans down to kiss him. Sam circles his hips and Dean thrusts up, tentative at first, then with more force as Sam moans and gasps against Dean's mouth. They find a rhythm, and soon Dean's pumping into Sam with steady, regular thrusts, making those shivery sparks sizzle up Sam's spine with every thrust. When Sam's body clenches up Dean tenses, then lets out a tiny "oh" as he comes, moments before Sam's coming all over both their bellies. Sam breathes through the aftershocks, as Dean's dick pulses in his channel. He feels boneless, like jelly, covered with sweat and sticky with come, and he collapses on top of Dean until his brother starts to protest.

"Get off me," Dean grumbles, pushing ineffectually against Sam's shoulders. "You're like a fuckin' giant squid."

"Oh shit, sorry," Sam mutters, mustering enough energy to slide off Dean's body and onto the mattress beside him, half on the braided rug. The fire's still blazing, and it's warm against his bare skin. Sam's so sleepy, he almost doesn't feel Dean fingers in his hair, combing it back off his sweaty forehead before he's out.

**//**

When he wakes up, Dean's gone.

At first, Sam's foggy brain doesn't understand what's wrong. His body is warm and content, even the aching parts. All his pain has been eased and superseded by hazy memories of really good sex. The best sex ever, the kind that makes his toes curl and his skin hum with arousal just to think about it.

Sex with Dean.

Sam slides his hand over the bed where Dean should be, the beginnings of worry nagging at the edges of his consciousness. The room is still warm, and somehow he's under a blanket now, but Dean's definitely not there. His brother, whose leg is so badly broken he might never walk again, isn't here.

Sam raises his head, blinking away sleep as he looks around, genuine alarm skittering along his skin, pumping adrenaline through his veins.

"Dean?"

"Heya, Sammy."

Sam's head whips toward the back door, where Dean is just coming in off the enclosed porch. He's wearing jeans and a tee-shirt, and his face looks freshly washed, his hair damp and spiked.

He's walking.

"Dean? What the hell?" Sam scrambles to his feet, pulling the blanket with him not so much to hide his nakedness as to shield himself, however ineffectually. It occurs to him that something supernatural could be happening. Dean could be a shifter or a ghost or maybe he's possessed. Sam feels like a fool for not salting the doors and windows, for being too tired and overwhelmed to prepare for every possibility, the way he had been trained to do.

Dean gestures to the table, and Sam follows his gaze, notices the jar of moonshine which he put away earlier. It's now sitting dead center on the table, and Sam can see that there's a little less of it in the jar than there was before they had -- before.

"Stuff's some kind of healing potion," Dean notes. "It literally cured what ailed me."

"Wha -- how do you know?" Sam stammers, as if it isn't obvious. "I let you drink some of that!"

He feels like an idiot. It never occurred him that there might be something supernatural about the moonshine. Hell, it hadn't occurred to him that there was anything supernatural about this place at all. Sam was so blinded by the miracle of this refuge from the storm that he never stopped to think it might be a threat instead.

"Yeah, it's all your fault I'm fully recovered," Dean snarks, then shakes his head. "You didn't know, Sammy. If anyone's to blame here, it's me. I should've figured it out when I started feeling better. Broken bones don't reset themselves."

A shiver goes up Sam's spine as a sudden thought hits him hard. "You -- You think the stuff affected your thinking?" Sam asks, because he can't not. He's got a terrible sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach and he just knows the answer to this question, no matter what Dean says now.

Dean leans on the doorframe, crossing his arms and his ankles, and Sam notices he's got his boots on, the left one splattered with blood but still intact. Sam's vaguely grateful he didn't cut the thing apart when he was undressing Dean.

"If you're asking if I was under the influence when we fucked, the answer's no, Sam," Dean says firmly. "You hear me? I knew what I was doing. It was what I wanted, same as you."

Sam pulls on his sweatpants and tee-shirt and busies himself stoking the fire so he doesn't have to look at Dean, doesn't have to see how good he looks. Doesn't have to feel that stab of lust when he looks at Dean. Doesn't have to be grateful and relieved that Dean's okay. Doesn't have to face the fact that he's got something supernatural to thank for that.

Doesn't have to wait for the other shoe to fall, because he knows it will. Good things don't happen to them. This can't be a good thing. Sam should never have expected he could have this with Dean. Of course it's a supernatural accident. Of-fucking-course.

"Sam?" Dean crosses the room, stops in front of Sam to get his attention, reaching for him when Sam won't look up. "Damn it, Sammy, look at me!"

It's that same commanding voice he used before, and Sam can't help looking up, catching Dean's eye before his gaze skitters away.

"Damn it, Sam, you're not listening to me," Dean grabs hold of the front of Sam's tee-shirt, hauls him close with both fists clenched in the fabric. He pushes Sam into the wall with one leg shoved between Sam's. The good leg. The one that wasn't ripped apart and causing Dean to bleed out in the backseat of the Impala. That one.

Dean's shaking him. "You did good, you hear me?" he growls, slamming Sam into the wall for emphasis. "You got us out of that fucking snowstorm. You fucking carried me in here, even though you knew I was probably already dead." He clenches his teeth as he shakes Sam again. "You stupid fuck! You should have left me in the car to die!"

Dean closes his eyes, shakes his head like he's forcing the memory to the fore.

"I was a goner and you knew it, Sam," he says, and his voice is hoarse, choked. "But you were a fucking machine, man. You found this place and you fucking carried me in here, stitched me up, set my broken bones. You lit a fire, kept us from freezing to death. You saved us, Sam! You did that!

Sam's chest tightens and his eyes smart. He knows he's about to cry so he shakes his head, focuses on a loose nail in the floorboards.

"I never would've told you, Dean," he says miserably. "You never would've known."

Dean takes a long, shuddering breath. He loosens his hold on Sam's shirt and eases up, backs off a little.

"I always knew, Sam." Dean exhales softly, and they're standing so close Sam can feel it on his neck. "We shared a room, remember? You said my name in your sleep. A lot."

Dean lets go of Sam's shirt and cups his cheek, sliding his thumb over Sam's cheekbone.

"I was a jerk for not letting you know that I knew," he says. "I let you think it was just you, that you were alone in this thing. I'm the asshole here, Sam. I hope you see that. I need you to see that."

Sam lifts his eyes, blinking away unshed tears. "It's fucked up, the way I feel about you, Dean," he breathes. "I can't – It wasn't fair to Jessica. She deserved better."

"Yeah, welcome to my world," Dean grumbles. "I can't fuck you out of my mind, no matter how many truck-stop waitresses or movie-popcorn girls I bang. And believe me, I tried."

Sam finally lets himself look at Dean, and of course it takes his breath away. Dean's eyes are shiny and his lips are too. His skin is peach-pink and he's got this hopeful expression that's open and vulnerable and utterly belies the bravado in his tone. This is new for him, too, Sam thinks. This isn't easy for him, either.

"Dad's gonna kill us both, if he finds out," Sam says because it's the first thing that comes to his mind.

Dean raises an eyebrow, purses his lips, drops his eyes to Sam's chest. "Well, he's not gonna find out, is he?" he says. "Anyway, it's none of his business. We're adults now. Grown-up, consenting adults."

"Yeah," Sam agrees, and it occurs to him that Dean kept this to himself while Sam was underage. He was protecting Sam, doing what he thought was best for Sam. Dean was repressing his own desires to be sure Sam had a shot at a normal life, or at least as normal as it could be, at least maybe a life without incest and statutory rape on top of all the other shit.

Sam can't help wondering about the moonshine, though. Without it, would Dean have ever said anything? Would Dean have ever let Sam know how he felt?

"You know this isn't a good thing," Dean reminds him. "It's just another way we're totally fucked. So stop thinking what you're thinking. We're still screwed. We're still us."

"Yeah, I know," Sam grins, ducking his head. Leave it to Dean to know exactly the right thing to say to take the tension out of the moment, to lighten Sam's gloom and doom.

Dean obviously likes Sam's sudden change of mood. He leans up and kisses Sam, hard and fast, shoving his thigh into Sam's crotch. He pushes his hands up under Sam's tee-shirt, grabs handfuls of Sam's bare skin. Sam's hands come up and pull Dean closer, one hand on the back of his head, the other clutching at Dean's broad back, his powerful shoulders. They come up for air only long enough to take their clothes off, Dean growling in frustration as he kicks his boots off. They tumble naked onto the futon, Sam on his back with Dean between his legs, fitting together like they were made for it, like it was always going to be like this.

It's quick and dirty and everything Sam needs. Afterwards, Sam cleans up and makes food for them while Dean goes out to check on the car. When he comes back in he's frozen solid and covered with snow so Sam warms him up with food and more sex. Then Sam finds a deck of cards and they play poker for pennies.

They don't touch the moonshine again.

Later that night, they lie naked together again, Sam's head on Dean's belly after a particularly stunning blow-job. Sam strokes the fine hairs on Dean's thigh, runs his hand down over his formerly-destroyed leg, now perfectly healed without even a scar to show for the damage Sam had done his best to mend. It's occurred to Sam that the food and water might be tainted, that this entire cabin might be some kind of supernatural trap. Maybe the snowstorm isn't real.

But Sam's more relaxed than he can ever remember feeling. He hasn't stopped grieving for Jessica, and he'll probably always feel guilty about her, but he can see his way out of the vengeance trap his father followed all his life. It doesn't have to be that way. Vengeance doesn't have to rule Sam's life as it has John's. Sam's got something else to live for.

Finding and killing the thing that killed Jessica isn't the most important thing after all.

They spend another day in the cabin, eating and playing cards and having sex. Lots and lots of sex. It feels like a kind of honeymoon, although Sam's pretty sure he'd never hear the end of it if he said that out loud to Dean.

On the third morning, the skies clear and the sun comes out. They pack up their bags, put everything back the way they found it, and close the front door of the cabin. They leave the moonshine on the shelf where it was when they got there. It's unspoken between them, but to do anything else would feel like tempting fate, and with their luck they need to avoid that. They still have a ten-mile hike to the ranger station ahead of them. Not like they're out of the woods yet.

With the road clogged with drifting snow, it takes the Winchesters most of the day to hike back to civilization. No one wants to help them take a closed road into the mountains to retrieve their car, so they "borrow" a pick-up truck with a plow on the front when it gets dark. It takes them an hour to dig the Impala out of the snowbank, jump the battery and fill her with gas, then Dean drives her back to the main highway while Sam returns the truck.

"We need to go back and clean up that cave," Sam reminds Dean once they're on the road again, heading southwest toward warmer climates.

"We'll go back in the spring," Dean grunts. "That whole area will be snowed in till May. No chance anybody will find it till then."

 

Sam has to agree. Besides, they've had enough of backwoods monster-hunts to last them a good while. It's time for a little change of scenery, maybe clean up an urban mess or two instead.

The thought of the messes they'll be leaving in motels across the country from now on makes Sam grin.

"What?" Dean demands, and Sam blushes.

"Nothing," he says, flashing a smile at Dean before turning his attention back to the road. The blacktop rolls away under them as the car rumbles along, illuminated by only one headlight. They'll be stopping to fix it next time Dean sees a garage.

For now, they're back where they belong, and that's the important thing.

That's what matters.

 

fin