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Alone in the Cold

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It's February and they're in Montana, just south of the Canadian border, looking for the Bigfoot alpha which, apparently, is some kind of mutant (and inexplicably American) Abominable Snowman... thing. Dean doesn't even know anymore; he's stopped asking questions. This whole deal with Crowley and all the alpha bullshit in return for Sam's soul is such a friggin' mess.

But Dean's had worse ideas than trekking through a blizzard on the trail of some ten-foot hairy beast that's busy trying to knock up grizzly bears. Or at least that's what he's trying to tell himself right up until the Impala spins out on highway 93 and sends them reeling into the median, landing hood-first in a snow bank.

"Oh, this is just perfect," he says, hands clenched on the steering wheel and heart pounding.

Beside him, Sam has one hand on the dash and the other against the window, his eyes wide. He doesn't really look scared because, as Dean's noticed, Sam's never really scared anymore. But he does look stunned, eyebrows drawn up and mouth twisted. "You, uh," he says warily. "Want me to get out and push?"

Not 'Are you okay?' or 'What the hell just happened?' or some other useless, but more appropriate question. It's just yet another disheartening reminder that this isn't Sam. Another harsh reminder of why the hell they're out here chasing down a mystical giant snow monster like it's the last goddamn unicorn. Jesus Christ, Dean's life sucks sometimes.

Ignoring the question, Dean leans forward to squint out the window, the snow blindingly bright despite the overcast sky. The wind blows violently, howling as it sends gusts of snow swirling. They're trapped on all sides and the engine ticks and whines in the sudden cold, creaks with every rough gale.

"Friggin' perfect!" Dean growls again, smacking hard at the steering wheel as he drops back against the seat. He'll apologize later, of course. Lovingly clean all the dirt-encrusted snow from his baby's hubcaps and wax her shiny and new. Provided they don't turn into popsicles before then anyway.

"Looks like we might be here awhile," Sam says then and Dean glances over to see him frowning down at his phone. "There's a storm right above us--"

"Yeah, no shit."

"But it's moving pretty quick. Should pass in another couple hours or so."

A couple hours really isn't too bad; Dean's sure as hell been through a lot worse. But it's still a lot longer than Dean wants to spend in a cold, enclosed space with Captain Soulless.

"Great," he grumbles, crossing his arms over his chest. He checks the gas gauge again, mentally calculating whether they have enough to burn just to keep the heat going. But it's at less than a quarter full and he has no idea how close the nearest station is, doesn't want to push it.

Yeah, this is gonna be swell.

The first hour is spent in nearly complete silence, Dean huddled in his coat, collar popped and head covered by a woolen snowcap. The cold is seeping in slowly, biting at his toes through his boots, nestling beneath the denim of his jeans. Sam seems impervious to it, the only hint that he's feeling anything at all in the faint tapping of his feet and occasional shiver. He keeps checking his phone, once in awhile filling Dean in on weather updates.

"Yeah, it's still snowing," Dean says irritably after awhile. "Got it."

He doesn't have to look over to know Sam's scowling. "Just trying to keep up a conversation, man."

"A conversation? Really?" Dean replies, one eyebrow arched. "We're stuck in the middle of a freakin' blizzard and you wanna have small talk?"

Still frowning, Sam shrugs. "Not really, no. Just figured... whatever. Nevermind."

Dean can guess what Sam was thinking. He's not stupid. Sam's still trying to pretend to be Dean's brother, still trying to twist himself into this thing he just isn't, still going against his unnatural nature just to make Dean feel a little more at ease.

Only it's not working. The more he tries, the more apparent the differences. It makes Dean's skin crawl, makes the aching loss all the more profound, mangled and bone deep. Makes him want to punch this Sam right in the face. Again. Maybe with a sledgehammer this time.

Minutes crawl by, the silence excruciating as the cold bites at their skin. Sam's given up messing with his phone in favor of keeping his fingers covered and Dean has on his own pair of gloves, hidden beneath his coat where he's pulled in his arms, conserving as much of his own body heat as he can manage. Outside, the storm continues to rage, snow piling higher, encasing them in a isolated world of gray-white.

Dean goes through the lyrics of his favorite albums mentally one by one to pass the time, eyes closed and head tipped back. He doesn't hum any of the tunes out loud, still all too conscious of Sam in the seat next to him. He keeps his thoughts and his Metallica to himself, close to the vest, tries to match his shivering with the beat inside his head.

At some point, panic will start settling in. Once the winds calm and the sun starts peeking through and they're faced with still being stuck, buried under a mountain of snow in the middle of nowhere.

Thank fuck for the shovels in the trunk, at least.

After another hour or so, Dean starts to wonder if maybe they've stumbled into a different kind of Apocalypse, one Castiel's conveniently neglected to mention. And, he has to admit, there's a certain irony in surviving forty years in the Pit only to die of hypothermia.

Shifting in his seat, he tries stretching out his legs. They're cramped from the both the cold and lack of movement and his ass is nearly completely numb. The only upside is that his bladder is apparently frozen, the need to pee more a dull ache than a horrible need.

"You cold?" Sam asks a little while later, his nose peaking out from the collar of his coat.

Dean only arches an eyebrow in reply because, really? Really?

Sam stares at Dean for another beat or two like he's trying to decipher the silence then frowns before turning abruptly in his seat, body twisting as he slithers over the front seat and into the back. His knee comes dangerously close to smashing into Dean's nose in the process and Dean flails inside his jacket as he ducks away.

"Dude. What the hell?"

"I have an idea," Sam says, meeting Dean's gaze through the reflection in the rear view mirror. "Get back here."

"What? Why?"

"You're cold, right? I can warm you up."

Dean blinks, immediately torn between amusement, mild horror and a startlingly reminder of something he's successfully kept buried for years. "You've been watching too much porn."

"That right? Didn't know you thought such a thing was possible," Sam says, throwing him a unfuriatingly familiar smirk before stretching out across the back seat. The car groans quietly under the shifting weight and Dean glances back to check on him, snorts at the way Sam appears to be attempting to morph himself into a pretzel.

"That does not look comfortable."

"Not aiming for comfortable," Sam says, grimacing a little as he settles onto his side, right shoulder rammed up against the door and feet on the floor. He pats the strip of visible seating in front of him, looks up at Dean with a gleam that can only be defined as challenging. "C'mon."

"You have got to be kidding me."

"Spare the macho bullshit, Dean, your lips are turning blue."

Dean's eyes narrow into a glare as he huffs out a breath and turns to face the windshield again, back to Sam and arms tight around his midsection. He is cold, there's no point in denying that much -- he's fucking freezing his nuts off -- but hell if he's about to let that push him into crawling into the back seat to cuddle with the creepy, hollowed-out figment of his little brother.

"Man, seriously. There's no one out here to question your manhood or whatever. And I promise I won't touch you in the bad place." Sam's lips twist a little then, features curling into an expression Dean's only seen a couple times, times when Sam's eyes have been a murky black. "Unless you want me to."

"You're sick," Dean grumbles, the words automatic as he ignores the familiar flare of want and guilt and shame.

Sam doesn't respond immediately beyond an arch of his brow, faint grin still curling his lips. His expression clears a moment later, shifting from creepily playful to all business. "Dean, come on," he says. "It's our best bet at getting through this without our balls migrating to our lower intestines and you know it. We've sure as hell done worse for less."

The front seat is already a good couple degrees colder without Sam occupying one half of it and Dean tries to hide another shiver as discomfort winds low and tight in his gut. But, despite the truth in Sam's argument, he doesn't move. And not because of how it might look to anyone crazy enough to be trudging their way through a blizzard in the middle of northern Montana. That has nothing to do with it. Not really.

It's something else. Like the fact that he hasn't shared the backseat with Sam in about two decades, ever since Dean turned eleven and got promoted to navigator, only crawling over the seat when the trips got long and Dad got tired of shaking him awake every few miles. From there, he and Sam almost always had the same routine: he'd grab a sweatshirt or coat or dirtied towel off the floor, ball it up and shove it between his shoulder and the window. Sam would wait a minute or two for Dean to get comfortable before stretching out on the seat, legs tucked up close as he used Dean's thigh as a pillow. It was the next best thing to a hotel bed for them, safe inside their warm car, the radio and steady hum of rubber on asphalt lulled them both to sleep.

Even now, he can remember the comfort in it, the way Sam's hand would curl over his knee and his breathing would go slow and even. Remember how the sudden, quiet stillness of Dad pulling into a gas station or fast food joint would rouse them both. They'd blink and yawn, one after the other, each stretching lazily in the enclosed space. And then Sam would say something, his voice quiet and exhausted, usually wanting to know how much longer they'd be on the road, how soon until a hotel or Bobby's or some other friend of Dad's with a bed or a pull-out couch.

And Dean's answer was nearly always the same: Soon, Sammy. Go back to sleep.

Sometimes, it was even the truth.

But that was years ago. Before the Apocalypse and Lucifer and all the angel bullshit. Before Lilith and Ruby and Alistair; Jake and Cold Oak and the Yellow-Eyed Demon. Back when the worst he had to worry about was making sure Dad got home alive and sober and Sam got enough to eat for dinner. Back when his brother was really his brother. No more and no less. No sick, twisted thoughts or an empty, breathing carcass.

The car shudders and creaks under another gust of wind and Dean shudders with it, ducks his head deeper into the collar of his coat.

Behind him, Sam says his name. Just once. Soft and imploring. And it's written into Dean's very core to respond; goes against everything he knows, everything he's lived to shake his head and shut his eyes and stay right where he is. Not saying a word. Not moving.

The storm will pass eventually.