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Title: In the Midwinter Cold
Gift for: atanih88
Rating: PG-13
Pairing: Sam/Dean
Word Count: 8377
Beta: Huge thanks to scarletscarlet all mistakes that remain are my own

Summary: Sam and Dean run into a case by accident. The snow's getting thicker, the night's getting colder and soon they have no choice but to get closer (and figure out how to kill the cause.)

They're silent. Sam's been pissed off since the morning when Dean had been a complete and utter dick, and they're still not on speaking terms. They've been driving for several solid hours today, the silence a tangible quality between them. Dean has been staring straight out ahead at the road, not even bothering with music, and Sam has been making no effort to hide that yeah, he thinks Dean is a fucking jerk. When the snow starts falling it's nothing more than a minor inconvenience at first, soft flakes swirling out of the sky, heavy and quiet whirling specks in the cold winter's air. In the car, with the heater blowing hot air right at them – Dean begrudges turning the heating on, claims the Impala doesn't like it, but Sam isn't losing his toes because Dean is a tightass about his car – it feels like they're all alone in the world, just them and the snow enclosing them in a white bubble.

After an hour or two it starts to creep Sam out. It's getting darker now, almost night, and the visibility is going to shit. There's a tiny furrow in Dean's brow as though he's worried as well, though Sam knows he'll be damned if he's going to admit it. They haven't seen anywhere habitable in miles; they passed a motel about twenty miles back and since then they haven't seen as much as another car. Sam racks his memory, tries to remember this route, where the next motel will be. But he's been travelling too long, been down too many roads (and now he's earwormed himself, this day just gets better and better,) and none of this reminds him of anything.

A shiver slides through him, and he's not sure if it's just getting colder or if there's something weird going on. Nothing about this feels natural, and when he turns to stare out the window again, he's struck by how high the snow is. It's piled in thick blankets along the side of the road, specks melting on the tarmac of the road, then crystallizing. There's too much of it, there's something wrong. This isn't normal weather. He turns to Dean, since it's stupid to hold on to a grudge in circumstances like this. Dean's brow is furrowed, and Sam suspects that he's maybe known about this for some time, and the anger floods back hot and heavy to sit in his chest, ugly and strong. Screw him.

"We should turn back," he says. "There's been no cars, no landmarks, nothing."

Dean stares straight ahead. "We can't, Sammy," he says eventually, his voice soft and dark. "If we turn back we're definitely done for."

Sam looks at him disbelievingly, unsure what the hell he's talking about. "Dude, it's the sensible thing," he says. "If this isn't natural, if there's something causing this ,it's only going to have a limited sphere of influence. No way it can control more than a certain amount of land. Nothing has that much power."

He gets a long look slanted at him for his pains, Dean's eyes opaque and impenetrable for once. He shivers again; it's definitely gotten colder. Dean flicks up the heater a little bit more, stops the car and hauls out the rest of the few clothes that they keep in the trunk. When he gets back into the car and passes them to Sam, there's frost rimed on his hair, a dusting of snow on his shoulders, and Sam sees with a slow feeling of horror that his jacket is completely stiff with the cold. This is as far from natural as it gets.

Dean finally replies. "Sam, how long do you think we've been travelling?"

Sam shrugs uncomfortably. "We left the last town about three hours ago?" he hazards.

"Yeah," Dean says. "We should've passed Edmonton an hour ago in that case. There's been nothing. Nothing at all, and I think we've been travelling longer than we think." He nods at the Impala's dashboard, Sam glances at it, sees the gas light flicker on and off. "I refilled before we left ----.” Dean's voice is quiet. "We're almost out. If we turn back now, no way we'll make it, even if whatever's doing this lets us go and I don't think it's going to do that."

Sam is silent, ice water in his veins. Dean's fingers are gripped tight on the steering wheel, white knuckled and tense. This is their job, this is their life. They hunt things like this, but the cold is something different. Creeping and indomitable, nature reasserting itself. They both hate the cold, always have, but Sam hates the cold even more than he once did. Too many long nights, the heating off, clothes piled on top of you, then blankets over that, pressed up close to conserve warmth because a shitty motel decided to save money or its piece of shit boiler packed up again. Sam leans over, buffets Dean's shoulder with his own.

There's no point borrowing trouble; he knows that better than anyone else. They're going to be fine. He doesn't bother fumbling for his phone or his laptop. There's not going to be any wi-fi or signal out here. He has the weird feeling that they're treading on the edges of the world, as though just a fraction of an inch away the normal world is carrying on, like cars are there on the very far edge of his consciousness. He wonders if it's even snowing on that side. They've stopped again, chosen to struggle into their spare clothes now. No point saving them for later, many layers close to the skin and put on early are much better.

He has to laugh, though, at the sight of Dean struggling into four t-shirts and then pulling on two long-sleeved shirts until he could shrug his jacket over it all. Sam's not much better off, almost gives Dean a hernia from laughing so much as he tries to squirm into a second pair of jeans in the admittedly limited space in the front seat. When he sits back up, not bothering to button them, he pulls on more clothing until he's wearing almost everything he owns. The air is warmer and he doesn't know if it's the clothing or the laughter. It's not as stupid as it sounds. The only things that can manipulate the weather like this, in his experience, can be pretty damn good at messing with emotions as well.

When they start up the car again, there's silence between them again, and the car takes ages to sputter into life under Dean's hands. The snow has built up even in the time that they've stopped. If Sam wanted to, he could open the window and scoop up a handful, taste the cool crisp sharpness of ice water on his tongue. He leaves it outside where it belongs, turns back to catch Dean's eyes. They both know that if they don't get out soon, they're unlikely to live the night. Cold as bitter and intense as this sinks into you, gets under your skin, until you'll dream of sleeping, and curl up in the welcoming feather-white bed in front of you.

They drive onwards, like they always do. Don't stay still unless you have to. Sam remembers vaguely that he read somewhere that dodging under gunfire was stupid. Zigzagging made you a harder target to hit but it slowed you down enough to offer yourself as a vulnerable soft spot. Dean's never held with dodging, and he drives straight on now, and Sam flexes cold hands, tucks them into his layers, dreams of hot water bottles, and working heaters. Fifteen minutes pass, and he has to say it because Dean sure as hell won't. The choice is clear. They can keep driving and nothing will change, or they can stop the car, use the small amount of fuel that they have to keep the heating running as long as possible, hope they can last until daylight. He knows instinctively that if they can last until then, they have a chance of surviving. Whatever this is can control their movements, can seemingly expand the world around them and trap them in this desolate landscape, but he's fairly sure it can't actually stop the sun from rising.

He gives it another few minutes, grabs Dad's book despite the fact that they know it inside out by now, and a demi-God or spirit that could control the weather and space probably wouldn't be easily forgotten. It's calming though to feel the pages underneath his hands, and to imagine that his dad would be proud of what they're doing now. Sure enough there's no mention of anything that could possibly be what they're up against, and he shuts it with a snap, looks at Dean, at the stiff tense lines of his neck, the gritted edge of his jaw, at how goose-pimples are rising in unlikely places, shivering up on his skin like they are on Sam's.

They'd fought over the gloves, and Dean had won ,of course, tricked Sam with rock, paper, scissors because apparently even old dogs could learn new tricks, had made Sam wear them, claiming he couldn't drive with gloves on, had threatened to throw them out the window if Sam didn't stop being such a little bitch and just put them on. Dean's hands are beginning to look painful; he's never had the best of circulation, and they're pinched white as he holds onto the wheel. It ‘s ridiculous, Sam thinks that they didn't have their own gloves, and he leans over and takes one of Dean's hands, warms it between his own briskly rubbing against chilled skin that he can’t feel. Dean takes his eyes off the road for one second, and looks at Sam in a way that leaves him confused, feeling like a stranger in a strange land like for a second the snowy landscape isn't the weirdest thing about this night.

He lets Dean tug his hand away, now flushed pink over the fingers, red and scratchy from the wool, and says the obvious. "We need to stop."

If they stop they can hunt this thing, or give it their best shot. They have a trunk full of weapons; surely, they can take the fight to whatever this is, on their terms, not just drive until they can out of fuel. Or at least they can hunker down and conserve warmth. Looking at the ice that begins to creep over the windows, he has to admit that one of those plans is more valid.

If they leave the car at night, they'll die. It almost finishes him just retrieving the weapons from the trunk, bashing at it with clumsy fingers almost in panic before it opened. When he gets back in, he's blue and shaking with cold, and Dean is pissed, but when is he not pissed these days?

He feels warmth on his face as he sits there and gasps in the relatively hot air. Outside the air was like sharp tiny daggers jabbing into his throat when he sucked it in, freezing him from the inside out. The warmth on his face is Dean's hands, and he gets how cold he must be, if Dean's hands are warmer than him. The stretch of his facial muscles is almost painful now. If he had to guess, the temperature out there it wouldn't even be within waving distance of zero.

There's no need to debate their actions. Sam crawls into the back first, waits for Dean to join him. The back of the car was small when Sam was a growing teen, angry about always being in the back, kicking Dean's chair from spite and just to be a dick. Now he's a grown man, and his grown ass brother is clambering in as well, because if they don't learn to share body heat like good little children, then someone is going to find two handsome corpses in the morning. What's small and cramped for one person over six feet tall is like a sardine tin for two of them crammed in together. And yeah some things he doesn't forget from being a child, like the fact that Dean is a fucking monster when it comes to sharing space. He can't sit still, can't just lie there, has to squirm and shift, and when Sam complains, out comes the 'pot, kettle, black' accusations. Which maybe have a little bit of truth to them, but he doesn’t squirm nearly as much as Dean. After the third elbow to the ribs, he shoves him hard. Fighting may generate body heat but it's also pretty pointless in their situation. Dean shoves him back but it’s half-hearted.

The real problem is simple and neither of them wants to say it, neither of them wants to be the first person to admit it. Being enclosed isn’t exactly fun for them, not with the snow outside, gentle menacing whiteness surrounding them, humans in a tin can, and Dean, Dean can never just take the easy way. It’s simpler for Sam to surround him, but the tightness in Dean’s lips and eyes is evident. Sam gets colder, faster. He thinks it might be something to do with hell, the easy confident slide of fingers that burn to the bone, reach deep inside and trace your veins with ice. Dean doesn’t know the details, (Sam doesn’t think he could ever articulate them,) but he sees the results, gets the bigger picture. He doesn’t need to know why Sam sometimes wears thermals, will never get the iced coffee even in hot weather, just needs to know that he does.

He tries once again to tuck Dean down, but there’s not that much difference between them, not really and Dean wriggles free easily with an impatient look on his face, stares at him for a long moment, face indecipherable, then picks up the ratty old blanket they keep in the back. “Dude,” he says, carefully neutral, “really stop worming around or I will kick you in the balls and then laugh.”

He makes a face, climbs into the front again and slides the seat backwards, actually reducing the available space. Sam sees what he’s doing though, shifts so he’s on his side with his legs awkwardly curled up, and lets Dean get down beside him, braced between the seat and Sam. It can’t be comfortable for him, and Sam lets an arm flop over him and pulls him in close, thigh against thigh.

Dean's cold face is right next to Sam's, his ears red with cold, and Sam pulls him over just a little like some sort of weird blanket.”

They don’t fit together easily, but when they’ve settled there’s an odd kind of symmetry to it, Dean’s leg curls familiarly around Sam, his feet tuck in, and Sam ducks his head down and feels Dean’s hair brush his face as he tugs the blanket around them better. Slowly they begin to warm. Sam gets colder easily, but when he heats he’s like a furnace or so he’s been told by most of the people he’s slept with. He can’t remember the last time they did this. They’d stopped sometime around when Sam was thirteen or fourteen- he remembers that Dean had always got it better than Dad had, had understood that Sam needed space to himself. But he can’t remember when they stopped. There must have been one night where there was just one bed left and Dean took the floor rather than share. But he doesn’t know which one.

Then, when they were grown, there were times they’d shared again. Better one bed than none, after all. Sometimes needs must when the devil drives, a thought that even now makes him flinch somewhere deep inside. Dean feels it somehow, squeezes tighter for a second, then mumbles at him to stop being such a pussy, it’s not that cold. Dean is lying, of course, and he still sucks at it. They can’t sleep, far too dangerous to lie back and close their eyes, but Sam doesn’t want to talk either. Bad enough that they’ve got to be so close when huddling alone to lick their wounds is what they do; adding on a conversation that’s bound to piss off and hurt them both is just stupid. On the plus side of talking though, it might make it less awkward that they’re pretty much groping each other. Dean’s thoughts seem to run in the same direction, because he laughs suddenly and Sam can feel the vibrations run along his neck. It sort of tickles up this close. “Why, Miss Moneypenny,” Dean said, in quite possibly the worst Sean Connery impression ever. “You are a cheap date.”

“Fuck off are you James Bond,” Sam says back, smiling in spite of himself.

“I am. Just younger and hotter. I notice you’re not saying no to being called Miss Moneypenny though. Have a thing for the skirts?”

Sam grins wickedly, safe in the knowledge that he can’t be seen in the dark, raises his voice a pitch, and purrs back, “Why, James, you’re so naughty.”

He can feel Dean deciding whether to be horrified or amused, and settling for a snorted laugh. “That’s creepy as sin Sammy,” he says and Sam is content in a job well done.

“I win,” he says smugly, and there’s quiet for a bit. It doesn’t seem to be getting colder, and Sam dares to hope that they'll come out of this without frostbite. He twists a tiny bit to look at the time on his phone, and it’s just a little bit past in three in the morning. No less than four hours to sunrise, he estimates. They can do four hours though, he's sure of it.

Dean elbows him in the stomach again.

"What do we think it is?" he asks, and Sam would bitch about Dean expecting him to do research even without the books, if this wasn't so serious. Dean's lips are chapped and sore, the cold doesn't exactly help, and Sam can almost hear him chewing on them.

"I have no idea," he admits. He's been racking his brains since this started, trying to figure out what on earth had enough power to do this, to wrench them out of time and space and trap them in an endless winter. He'd gone through every weather god he could think of, but not many of them actually brought bad weather; that was the job of some types of evil spirits, but none of them had the reach that was displayed here. Nothing fitted the profile, at least nothing that fitted this area of the world as opposed to Norway a thousand years ago. He remembers the pagan Gods with their meadow-sweet and unseasonably warm Christmases, and he wonders, but they're dead a long time now.

Dean breathes regularly through his nose, probably because he knows that it pisses Sam off. "I don't have a clue either. Wasn't there some Native American dude who brought the snow though? Don't think he was a god or anything, but he was something."

It rings no bells, and he tells Dean that, who shrugs beside him. "Just a thought," he says, worms his fingers under Sam's jacket, and his t-shirts, insinuates his cold hand there, icy and strange, like that isn't fucking weird. Sam can't begrudge it though, his own hands aren't toasty, but he is wearing gloves so he's protected from the worst. Besides it isn't like this is the strangest thing they've done in the last month even, and it is probably the most profoundly fucked up thing in his life that he doesn't really care about that. Dean's hand warms up slowly, he's lying on the other one, and Sam shivers slowly under the touch, feels it run up his spine until he's awash with a sense of deja-vu. He shivers out from under memories too painful to touch, opens his eyes and looks at Dean. Whatever he does or doesn't remember about his time in hell, or his time as a soulless automaton, he remembers that he didn't have this, he didn't have Dean.

It's rare that they're ever this close; they dance the dance of nominal adults, give each other space, the meagre amounts of privacy that are all they can spare, turning away at crucial moments. Sam will watch Dean fuck someone through a motel curtain, but he won't brush his teeth while his brother pisses two feet away. On some level, somewhere, he's sure they can't be the only people that would make sense to, but it's not like they've got anyone left who they could try and explain it to. Sam's filled with a hopeless, restless, anxious rage at the thought.

It's when he lets his mind slip into the half-void he uses for thinking, without dropping all the way down into the yawning abyss that he knows is there, that he gets what's off about this. The atmosphere is all wrong. They're lying down, curled up against each other, like they're waiting to die. Taking no steps for their survival; displaying no hope at all. That’s not what Winchesters fucking do. Ever. He clenches his hands in frustration, feels the minute strokes along his back stop as Dean resonates his tension back to him.

"It feels wrong," Sam says, but the words are thick in his mouth. How the fuck can he explain it without sounding like a fool. I felt too good, he imagines himself saying, so I knew it couldn't be right or normal. He knows the catch of it is that Dean would believe him without question, even though he might raise an eyebrow at Sam's definition of enjoying a situation. It's a hell of a lot easier to accept that something that feels good is bad, than vice versa. He can't help remembering the night Dean told him about the djinn, about the fucked up, beautiful, perfect life he had. How he'd known deep down it was too good to be true.

"Come on," he says, sits up swiftly and pulls Dean up as well. Dean looks sleep-woozy, and Sam wonders how close they'd come to sleeping forever. Dean snaps out of it fast– he's good at that –and, after only a few seconds of bitching about nuisance brothers, he's up and ready to go, fumbling in his back pocket for his small flask of whiskey. Sam shakes his head, and Dean interrupts him. " ‘m not stupid Sammy, I know in the long run alcohol kills in the cold, but you're not getting me out of this car, unless I have a drop."

Sam realises the futility of arguing about it, just watches with disapproving eyes as Dean takes a nip from the flask, then tucks it back into his pocket. He does laugh when Dean coughs and sputters with the shock of it.

"Jesus Christ that's cold," he says grumpily. Looks like the heat of the whiskey in his belly isn't sufficient to make up for the coldness of alcohol exposed to the cold and unable to freeze. He's fully awake now though, doesn't need to ask why Sam has roused them.

Now that Sam concentrates he can feel it, feel the soft soothing mist in the car, cold as anything, threading its way through his mind and body, telling him that lying there and letting the snow take him was the best thing that he could do. Impatiently he wrenches his mind away from the thought, and finds Dean looking at him with narrowed eyes.

"What the fuck was that?" Dean asks, clearly having felt the same thing. He’s doing what he should've done from the first, winding his hands in oil stained rags, enough movement in them to hold a gun, but less exposed to the cold than before.

"I don't know," Sam says, breathing in deep. The feeling is there, but dampened now, and he doesn’t want to think about what might be directing this. They don't even know if this is on purpose, whether some spirit or god or whatever has targeted them in particular, or if they were just stupid enough or unlucky enough to have stumbled into whatever supernatural hunt lurked near by. No matter, they’re awake now, and aware, and they can combat it like that. Dean's sorting through their weapons, selecting the silver knives, two guns, the salt, and some other herbs. He looks up, briefly. "If we don't know what the fuck it is, we'll just have to go standard," he says.

Sam nods, picks up his share of the weaponry with clumsy hands and then looks outside the car. As they've been sitting there, snow has surrounded them as high as can be, and Jesus, the spirit must've done a number on them to make them think that waiting this out was a good idea.

Getting out of the car is surprisingly difficult. They have to wind down the windows, and eventually resort to using makeshift shovels to first break it away and then shove it away, and getting out the window is more difficult than he'd have thought. The snow towers around them. Smooth landscaped fields stretch out, gleaming in the faint tinge of moonlight, and Sam wonders how the fuck they're going to wade through this. If he's judging by the Impala's height, the snow around them must be at least five feet tall, if they break through the crust, they'll fall right in and probably freeze to death. They manage with difficulty to clamber up onto the Impala's hood, and then onto the roof, which under any other circumstances Dean would be pissed at beyond belief.

Gazing out into the distance they see nothing. Not a figure stirs, even the trees are mostly buried under the snow, and there's almost nothing to be seen bar bleak, endless whiteness. There's no road anymore; it's been smoothed away under this heavy drift. When they turn and look behind them there's nothing there, either. In this black and white landscape, the stars and what's left of the moon shine with a cruel fierceness, casting just enough light to see by. It's terrifying in a way, completely alien and blank, like nothing he's ever seen in his life, as though they'd been picked up and taken to the moon of some other planet. He’s never seen snow like this before in his life, especially not in an area whose weather reports had suggested a light frost. This is something different. He looks up at the sky.

It's Dean who dares to jump onto it, finds that it's almost solid under his feet. "We're going to have to risk it, Sam," he says, already looking into the distance. The cold is piercing. In the last few minutes of exertion they almost hadn't noticed it, and Sam had hoped that perhaps it wasn't as bad as they'd thought, but it's returned full force now that they're not moving. The wind is cold, whipping right through their clothes, and as bad as they'd thought it was inside, it's worse outside. Sam's nose is rapidly going numb, and his fingers aren't faring much better even with the gloves.”

Sam has the presence of mind to grab Dean's hand. "This is stupid, dude,” he says, without preamble. “Seriously. Take one of them.” He strips off his left glove, wincing as the air hits his skin, and watches as Dean fumbles it on without protest. Sam steps closer. “Remember what we used to do as kids,” he says lightly. He slides his hand into Dean's pocket and grasps his cold right hand. Sharing even a minimum amount of heat gives them some protection from the wind-chill, and even if they can barely feel each other, it keeps them close.

They're gripping their weapons tight, walking in silence; there’s no point in talking, when if you open your mouth, cold air whips into it. Sam's never been as grateful for having a full head of hair in his life. His face starts to ache, a dull throbbing pain under his cheekbones, pounding through his head, and he realises he's gritting his teeth too hard in the face of the wind and it's fucking up his sinuses. They'd headed along where they thought the road was in the lack of any particular direction to go in, and he couldn't even tell how long they'd been walking, high above the ground and almost aimlessly. Dean stops for a moment, presses freezing lips right up close to Sam's ear, and almost choking on sudden laughter, says 'Fuck, dude, we're literally both Legolas."

Sam doesn't have the words to respond, just trudges forwards.

After a time they get some indication that they're going in the right direction. There are voices on the wind, voices in a language neither of them recognise a word of, but the meaning is clear in every note of the crooning, unsettling tones. Sleep it says, lie down and sleep There's real force behind the words, real strength and neither of them are at full strength and heart at the moment. It's an effort to keep walking, to ignore the sinister urge that compels them to stop, to lay their heads down on the coldest pillow imaginable to give up. Then it all stops and they're left alone for a moment, and when the voices return, they can understand. Now it's asking them not to sleep, it's congratulating them on coming this far, praising them. Hunters it sighs, and there's a longing in its voice, a dreadful longing that feels more terrifying than anything else that has happened. It wants them to come close.

Sam can't feel the gun in his right hand anymore, has to glance at it every now and then to make sure his finger isn't too close to the trigger. He'd gone for the Glock, the best weapon in the cold, while Dean was toting the shotgun, broken over his arm, thankful they hadn't oiled and lubricated it for some time since the cold would have fucked it up pretty badly if so. He doesn't really want to discharge any shots; if they come up against whatever is causing this, every bullet could count, and his hands are way too cold to make reloading a practical option. Still the voices whisper and echo encouragement, futile praise, come closer they urge, I want you, and they keep on walking. This is the creature's turf, it's rules, and there is no point in trying to sneak up on it.

Then they begin to feel vibrations running through the snow underneath them, and instinctively hold on tighter to each other. If the ground cracks open beneath them, they're dead. Then, as fast as any animal they'd ever seen move, a deer shoots by them, four legs lifting off the ground, wet eyes rolling in its head, terror in every line of its body, nimble and swift, a thing of beauty even in desperation. Fifty yards behind it lopes a lean wolf, fast catching up, its yellow eyes fixed and intent on the prize in front of it. While they watch in amazement, the wolf puts on a burst of speed, and runs the deer down. Sam doesn't realise that his gun is up and ready to shoot it. It doesn't seem right that something as fragile and beautiful as the deer should be ripped apart with such expert brutality. Before he could even think of taking a shot though, both wolf and deer vanish.

He looks at Dean just to make sure he'd seen the whole thing and the disbelief is written all over his face as well. Twice more they witness similar incidents, a falcon swooping down on a rabbit, digging ferocious claws into, raking deep into it, killing its prey easily and with joy, then dissolving into thin air at the final stroke. Then a man runs by on foot, and yellow eyes like the wolf's blink at them for one long second, measuring them, before he turns and dashes onwards. He carries no knives, no guns, but his fingernails are sharpened and long, and his teeth are white and strong. They can't see his prey, but they know it must be there- he's focused and intent as he runs.

There is nothing to be said, and no breath to say it with, they just look at each other in bemusement and struggle onwards. When the snow begins to crack under their feet, Sam's first thought bar run is that at least it’s a break from monotony. It splits open, and they both dash as fast as they can, feet heavy and slow. It feels as though they’re moving like old men across the landscape, and all too soon, the ground opens and they fall underneath it.

Part Two


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Dec. 21st, 2012 04:02 am (UTC)
Edition #2,427
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