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Cold Comfort

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On the face of things, the whole fiasco hadn't been a hunt that would go down in the Winchesters' treasure trove of memories.

Media reports of a cougar offing locals had piqued their interest, especially when the 'cougar' had actually turned out to be a waheela. Following that breakthrough, three days of extensive research into the mysterious creature had culminated in them setting off on a two-day drive up to Maine, and following that up with countless freezing, windburnt hours of tracking the goddamn thing through the crappiest weather that a Maine winter could throw at them.

And when the scabby-assed sonofabitch had finally shown its face - and a fug-ugly, slavering pig of a face it was too - Sam had ended up with a sprained ankle after tripping over a tree root buried under a foot of snow.

It was while he was lying there clutching his ankle that the creature had taken its chance. Before he knew where he was, Sam suddenly had three hundred pounds of waheela chowing down on him.

Dashing in quickly, Dean had used a combination of momentum and his formidable strength, essentially bulldozing the thing away from his brother's prone body. Both hunter and waheela had somersaulted away from Sam, tumbling inelegantly across the ground in a cloud of powdered snow.

Sam had only just clambered to his feet, defying legs numbed by exhaustion and cold, as well as the burning pain in his injured ankle, when he heard it …

An ominous crack; as sharp and clean as a whip through the cold, clear air.

That's when the awful truth dawned; the realisation that their interminable trek through the snowbound forest had led them to a frozen lake; a frozen lake upon which Dean was currently fighting for his life against a pissed-off waheela.

The next thirty seconds had passed in a blur for Sam, as the waheela continued its attack on Dean. Reaching into the waistband of his jeans for his gun; he knew he had no option but to shoot, even as the fight raged on top of the weakening ice.

The shot had rung out, its echo strangely muted by the snow, while around them, the forest had briefly erupted with an explosion of wildlife disturbed by the gunshot. The only other sound had been the squeal of the waheela as Sam's bullet unerringly found its mark.

Seconds later, the creature had lain dead; a crumpled pile of flea-bitten fur sprawled at the epicentre of a spreading pool of crimson.

For several seconds, both hunters had just crouched silently as they stared across the width of the lake at each other, panting with exertion; the sting of the frigid air assaulting their lungs.

Then, with another splintering crack, Sam had watched in mute horror as a jagged breach opened in the ice and Dean disappeared through it with a horrified cry.

xxxxx

Sam's relief was incalculable when it became obvious that the lake wasn't deep enough to carry Dean under the ice. He could see his brother, soaked from his initial immersion, chest deep in the lake's inky depth, clinging with bloodless knuckles to the fractured edges of the ice.

Slithering across the ice on his belly, Sam ordered Dean to grab his hands; a not-inconsiderable task when all sets of fingers involved were frozen numb. However, after a great deal of cajoling, threatening, and swearing, Sam finally managed to grasp Dean's shaking hands, heaving him back out of the lake and onto the ice.

They both lay there for a moment, gasping away their shock and shivering violently.

It was Sam that moved first. "C'mon dude," he slurred through lips paralysed with the cold and chattering teeth which seemed to have taken on a life of their own. "We n-need to get back to the c-car."

With the extreme chill pervading his body, Dean's legs didn't appear to have got the memo that it was time to go. It took far longer than Sam would have liked for the two of them to shuffle on elbows and knees across the ice until he was confident they were both back on solid ground.

Finding a fresh reserve of strength now Dean was away from the danger of the ice, Sam knew his next challenge was to get Dean to the Impala - to warmth - before his body began to shut down from the extreme cold it had been exposed to.

Clumsily hauling his semi-comatose brother into a fireman's lift, Sam set about hobbling back through the forest. Oblivious to the snow that whipped and fluttered around him, and the burn of his protesting ankle; he thanked every power on earth that their trek through the wilderness had taken them on a fairly circuitous route, meaning that Dean's Baby - and their salvation - was only just over a mile away.

As they travelled through the forest, Sam talked; always prompting Dean for a response which was sometimes forthcoming, sometimes not. He talked about whatever vacuous garbage drifted through his mind, and got little more than mumbled grunts and occasional barely coherent grumbles about being 'carried like a freakin' girl' in response, but that was enough. As long as Dean wasn't sinking into unconsciousness, they were winning, and Sam's wrecked ankle would all be worth it.

After what seemed like a lifetime, a very cold, painful and exhausting lifetime, Sam finally spied the Impala's glimmering, snow-caked outline through the frosty, grey latticework of tree trunks that surrounded them in the fading light. He could have wept with relief.

He was shaking with a toxic combination of cold, pain, and exhaustion; face glowing with a sheen of sweat despite the bitter cold by the time he'd bundled Dean into the Impala's passenger seat and pulled his soaked jacket and shirt off. Shucking his own damp jacket, he wrapped it around Dean's bare shoulders, and was relieved to see that Dean was lucid enough to grasp it; numb fingers clumsily pulling it tightly around himself as he mumbled an incoherent attempt at thanks which was lost in the vibrating thrum of his chattering teeth.

Hobbling around the Impala's hood, Sam slid into the driver's side, and cranked the heat up full blast. He knew the motel was about an hour away; he vowed to make it in 45 minutes.

With a stern warning to Dean that any attempt at sleep would be rewarded with a slap, he gunned the engine, and the Impala leapt into life.

xxxxx

Sam actually made the trip in 43 minutes. During their journey, the Impala's heater had worked some magic, but Dean still seemed to be a little ways short of full lucidity, still shivering violently. Sam vaguely remembered something from the first-aid instruction their father had instilled in them, that shivering was a good thing. He couldn't actually remember why, nor did he care; a good thing was a good thing, and Sam would willingly take it.

His positive mood, however, began to wane as he struggled to hold up the full weight of a heavily listing, shivering, great lump of a brother and, at the same time, fumble a rust-caked key into the equally ill-maintained lock on their motel room door.

Eventually, stopping short at dumping Dean back into the Impala, he finally heard the satisfying click of the lock turning, and couldn't help the sigh of relief that escaped as the door swung open with a pained creak.

Depositing Dean on the side of the bed, Sam stepped over to the thermostat and cranked it up to its highest level. He was back at his brother's side with the room's entire stock of towels before Dean had even realised he'd gone.

"Okay, dude," Sam muttered, pulling in a deep breath as he removed his damp jacket from Dean's clammy shoulders; "your baby's done her bit, now I gotta do the rest." He threw the offending garment onto the floor behind him with a wet splat and began to work Dean's belt open, his numb fingers fumbling clumsily at the stiff buckle.

Throughout the whole process, Dean watched Sam work, pure trust shining through his heavy-lidded eyes. Even as Sam hauled him to his feet to remove his sodden boxers, Dean made no move to prevent it.

As he removed each garment, Sam set to work with the towel, drying the residual dampness from Dean's frigid skin, rubbing vigorously to generate some friction. He talked as he went, spewing out meandering, meaningless words that were meant only to comfort and reassure.

Eventually, after working Dean into a clean, dry pair of boxers, he tossed the damp towels into the puddle of wet clothes on the floor and stared intently into Dean's face.

"How y'doing there, bro?"

Dean nodded and managed a lop-sided smile. "Better," he whispered. "Still c-cold, bu' better."

Nodding smartly, Sam stepped back, pulling back the covers from the bed and gesturing for Dean to get under them, smiling with approval when Dean complied without question.

xxxxx

Laying quietly, Dean watched from his pillow as Sam pulled his own T-shirt off over his head, adding it to the growing laundry pile behind him. With it went his jeans, and socks. Dean's eyes followed Sam intently as he limped around the end of the bed, and hesitated momentarily.

"W-what?" Dean mumbled hoarsely as he peered over the quilt at Sam standing beside him rubbing his chin in thought.

Sam shook his head, as if emerging from a trance; "nothing," he replied; "just thought for a moment that I'd forgotten something but we're both here, both alive, the waheela's dead, so it can't be anything important."

Without another word Sam tugged the quilt back and climbed into the bed behind his shocked brother. Tugging the quilt up over them both, he reached out to pull Dean back toward him, gasping as Dean's freezing back pressed against his bare chest.

"Whad'y'doing?" Dean slurred, squirming sluggishly.

"Skin on skin," Sam grunted in reply, reeling his escaping brother in closer. "It's the best way to share body heat."

"S'embarrassing," Dean grumbled into the crook of his elbow but still, Sam noted, burrowing backward into Sam's warm presence.

"Gotta warm up your core first," Sam continued, his calloused palm rubbing warming circles over the expanse of Dean's chest. "Otherwise all the blood will rush to your extremities and then your heart'll give out and you'll die."

"Don' s-sugarcoat it, Mister Sunshine," huffed Dean, trying and failing to wriggle out of Sam's grip.

"And so, because it's kinda useful having you around," Sam grunted into the back of Dean's neck; "I've gotta warm up your core before any other part of you, so you can quit squirming, because I'm not going anywhere, and neither are you."

"Although," he added; "you can keep your icy cold size 12's to yourself."

But despite his protestations, Dean felt himself start to relax. Already the warmth of his brother's proximity was permeating his chilled bones. He found his mind drifting back to a time many years previous when the brothers routinely shared a bed for warmth and comfort. Although, he reflected, he had been the one doing the comforting in those days.

xxxxx

The dawn was creeping over the windowsill when Dean's eyes fluttered open. The room was reassuringly warm, heavy with the kind of moist closeness that results from two warm, respirating bodies sharing the same space and, glancing at his watch, he guessed that they had both been asleep for six or seven hours.

Now that he was no longer a popsicle, Dean wasn't going to dwell on the fact that Sam, in a disturbing state of undress, was sprawled all over his own similarly unclothed body like a two hundred pound duvet; ridiculously long arms and legs wrapped around him like the world's biggest venus fly trap. This night had been an unfortunate necessity. They would never speak of it again.

He wasn't going to dwell on the various minor injuries that they had both sustained during the hunt and its less-than-spectacular aftermath either.

And he sure as freakin' hell wasn't going to dwell on the shocked maid who was, at that precise moment, standing in the open doorway, mop in hand and staring in mute, crimson-faced embarrassment at the entwined bodies in the bed.

"Sam?" he grunted.

"Mmmm…wha?" The muffled response came from somewhere around the vicinity of his armpit.

"That thing you forgot last night," Dean groaned; "it wasn't by any chance the 'do not disturb' sign, was it?"
xxxxx
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