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When the Cold Comes

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They won't fit.

The bed's too small and they're both too big, but Dean's too exhausted from his escape from the hospital and Sam's too singleminded to give much of a damn anymore—he arranges his brother to his liking, pushes him down against the pillows and is almost surprised when Dean allows it, when he doesn't protest but also doesn't help, limp as a rag doll as Sam tugs his boots off.

Dean's short of breath simply from lying down. Sam can hear him wheezing from the foot of the bed, shallow breaths interrupted by soft coughs like he doesn't want to exert himself, like his chest hurts because he's had a damn heart attack, and Sam toes off his own boots and crawls onto the single room bed he got because he expected Dean to not be an idiot for once and stay in the damn hospital after getting a damn death sentence.

He folds himself into what little room there is, scoots close and rests his forehead against Dean's bony shoulder, teetering on the edge of falling off the bed because they don't fit, and inhales his own shaky breath. Dean's wearing Sam's hoodie, the one Sam left in his hospital room in case it'd get cold later tonight when he returned for— for some kind of damn bedside vigil, and his brother smells like Sam's cologne but beneath that there's hospital disinfectant and something sweet like sickness, and Sam's eyes burn and his nose stings because it smells wrong even though he no longer has any conscious notion of what Dean is supposed to smell like. Leather, perhaps; motor oil and sweat—in the back of his mind there are barely-there childhood memories of curling up in bed together, inhaling Dean's still-soft baby smell mingling with cheap detergent bought in bulk from a discount store, chemicals meant to mimic the scent of flowers.

This is kinda like that. Like old times, alone together in a bed in the dark with Dad off somewhere else. And Sam, too young to know much about what lurks in the shadows, but still feeling scared and abandoned, comforted not so much by the shotgun within Dean's easy reach as by Dean's larger body tucked up against his side, big brother breath against Sam's temple and hushed whispers in his ear.

Hey. Hey, Sammy, Dean'd say, did you hear the one about... and it had never mattered if the story had been a bastardized retelling of Return of the Jedi or something Dean had made up based on nothing more than the RoboCop movie posters plastered around the mall, because Dean had been the one to tell it and for Sam that had been enough.

Years later and Sam can't wrap himself around his brother like he wants to, can't cling to him like a little boy and find comfort in the imagined invincibility of his protector, because that's not what they do anymore—not who they are—so instead he lets his forehead rest against Dean's shoulder and covers his brother's wrist with his hand. The bones there feel brittle—all in Sam's imagination—but the shivers are real.

He's imagined this his whole life—as a child, left behind; as a teenager, watching Dean grip his gun and turn one corner while Sam turned another; as a man, safe in the darkness of his bedroom with Jess curled up close—and he'd always expected blood and pain but not this creeping sickness, had accepted the inevitability of death but never envisioned anything as natural as this.

"You and me," Sam had said not two weeks ago, "we're all that's left," and Dean had laughed it off in his usual way but Sam feels the truth of it now, bone deep, jagged and cutting and world altering.

He grips Dean's wrist tighter and doesn't care if it'll leave a bruise, stares at Dean's other hand resting on his chest, the blue-tinged nail beds rising and falling with each uneven breath, and feels the familiar surprise at how easy his fingers can wrap around Dean's bones—how small he seems, Sam's unstoppable larger-than-life big brother, who used to throw his arm around Sam's shoulder when they were younger, who'd pull Sam close and smile down at him, and who still hugs like that on those rare occasions—like he's still the taller one, looping his arms around Sam's neck and pulling him in, pulling him down, making Sam hunch into him all small like the little brother he'll forever be.

It never occurs to Sam to not lean down.

On the desk by the door Sam's cellphone chirps with an incoming text. Joshua, most likely, sending the promised details on the specialist in Nebraska, and they'll have to leave soon if they're gonna make it in time for the Sunday service.

"Hey," Sam says, voice like gravel, "hey, Dean," and watches his brother's fingers twitch against his chest.