Refuge


 

 

 

 

PG-13 - 4900 words 

Summary: Dean’s fighting off hypothermia, his worried brother, and chick flick moments in the cold Wisconsin woods.

 

Winner of Best Story

Supernatural Fan Fiction Awards - Round 7

 

Even now, when they were running hell bent for leather into the Wisconsin woods after a damn slavering yeti, Sam could tell that Dean loved the hunting. It didn’t matter that it was frickin’ February, at twilight, which meant just one thing: cold. A kind of deep, penetrating cold that made everything gray and icy, with the wind piercing every warm spot. Sam’s fingers felt like sausages, his nose was running and the breath was freezing his lungs from the inside out.

Dean ran ahead of Sam, a few lengths behind the big, stinking yeti who shed clumps of fur in the brush as he went sweeping by. Sam struggled along a few steps behind Dean, thanks to an unlucky twist of his ankle on a rock, and the fact that he got stuck lugging the backpack filled with guns, knives, rock salt, and holy water (hey, you never know just what you’re gonna need on a hunt, right?).

They’d come upon the hulking creature just minutes earlier, interrupting it in the midst of slurping up the guts of some unlucky hikers. All three of them had frozen for an instant, looking one from another in shock and horror. Then Dean swung the machete he had been using to hack away at the thick forest undergrowth, and embedded it in the creature’s shoulder. The yeti gave a howl of pain, then jumped up and took off running. The boys hurtled into action, dashing after it pell-mell through the forest, zigzagging back and forth and back and forth along the pine-needle-strewn ground, dodging rocks and trees and thick brush. Dean swerved and paused long enough to scoop up the machete when it fell out of the creature’s shoulder. For such a huge creature the yeti moved far too fast. But Dean and Sam were young, and strong, and not about to let it get away.

Which the thing finally figured out and decided to do something about when they came to a huge, half-frozen lake ringed in pine trees. Boulders and fallen trees thick with tangled undergrowth made the path around the lake immediately more difficult. The yeti suddenly stopped, spun around on its hairy heel and lunged for Dean. Who wasn’t expecting that. He twisted to the side, an instant too late, and ran slam-bang right into the big, hard stomach of the creature. The big, hard, stinking stomach. It smelled sour and rotting and pungent, like vomit and blood: an odor that Dean knew he wouldn’t soon forget.

As Dean tried to regain his balance, the yeti snatched his wrist with its immense club-like hands, and twisted it, causing a lightning bolt of pain that made Dean drop the machete. Then, strangely, Dean found himself flying through the air, flung high and wide by the monster. Emotionlessly, he wondered if death would hurt much when he finally hit the ground. His answer came soon enough. No, it didn’t hurt. But it did surprise him, mainly because he didn’t hit the ground. Instead, his shoulder punctured a thin layer of ice covering the lake and down he went, falling and breaking through. An instant later he found himself immersed in water so cold that his chest seized up and he could not breathe. He just hung in limbo for an awful, long moment, shocked and panicked, surrounded by frigid dark green water until he felt his body move, swimming instinctively – then he was surging up out of the water, sucking in air, and all he could think was cold cold cold cold. Muscles tensed, his eyesight sharpened, all at once taking in the air around him, the brightness and clearness of the trees and the rippling water and the long gray scuds of clouds overhead. And–what the fuck? How did he get way out here? Where was Sam?

From the shore, Sam gave a cry of desperate effort. The monster bellowed in response. A gunshot cracked the sky wide open.

Emotion exploded through Dean. Sam! He pushed through the water with all his strength, hitting slime-covered rocks and skimming his toes along the bottom of the lake as he moved relentlessly, far too slowly, his wet clothes hampering his movement and clinging to him like 300-pound leeches, his boots heavier than cement. He advanced on his brother and the creature, both of them collapsed on the shores of the ice-rimmed lake.

He didn’t even remember crashing through the frozen water, because he saw only one thing: the lump of flesh that was his brother. The sight of Sam’s shock of dark hair and the terrible stillness of his body plunged an arrow of pure fear into Dean’s gut. His vision narrowed and his heartbeat drummed in his ears just as it had when Sam dragged him from his hospital bed to see Dad, lying immobile on the hospital gurney as people worked on him, trying in vain to force life back into his ruined form.

Cold water dripping into his eyes obscured his vision, but he sighted movement. God! Let it be Sam! He flung himself out of the lake, and right at the tangle of flesh, not caring if he trampled all over the yeti. Then, suddenly, arms caught him. Human arms, warm, and strong, and alive. Sam. And below Dean, on the ground, lay the twisted form of the yeti, still shuddering in his death throes, brains blown wide open by Sam’s .45.

“You hurt?” Dean said. “You were on the ground.”

“What? It knocked me over – stunned me for a minute. I’m fine. What about you? It threw you like a rag doll!” Dean realized he was hanging onto his brother’s shoulder, and Sam was holding him up. He pushed back from his brother, embarrassed by the physical contact, not even remembering how it happened.

“It’s okay,” Sam said in the same tone he would use on a spooked horse or a wailing child. “I got you.” He reached out to steady Dean.

Dean blinked, swaying on his feet, his eyes captured by the sight of the creature on the ground, its blood leaking everywhere, an agonized snarl frozen on its mouth.

“It … uh … you got it,” he said at last.

“Yeah,” Sam said, and held him at arm’s length, looking at his brother over with an expression of dawning horror. “What the hell, Dean? This is fucked up.”

Dean looked at his brother, dimly surprised by his profanity. He pushed away from Sam, stepped back and fell a little to lean against a tree. “Yeah?”

Sam looked around, his face tense. “This is bad, Dean.”

“What are you talking about? You did good. You got it.” Dean didn’t understand the problem. They were safe. Sam was okay.

“Dean, we’re in the middle of BFE. No one’s around and it’s five miles to the car.” He gestured to the sky. “It’s almost dark, and all probably 0 degrees if you figure in the frickin’ wind chill. You are soaked clean through. This is really bad.”

Dean looked down at himself, stunned. Sure, he was cold. He was shaking and his teeth were rattling up and down in his mouth and yeah, this was kinda shitty, but they faced worse on practically a daily basis.

Sam ran both hands through his hair, took a deep breath, and tried to calm himself down. “Okay, okay, I just gotta think. We can’t make it back to the car with you like this—”

“Like hell we can’t. I feel fine,” Dean said. It wasn’t exactly the truth, because he really couldn’t feel anything; not his head or his feet or the big expanse of skin and bones between the two. But he didn’t like the panic in Sam’s voice. In fact, it kind of pissed him off. He looked around, and gestured behind him.

“South, right? Let’s just start walking. Five miles will take us, what? An hour and a half? I can do that, easy.” Well, maybe not easy, but he was pretty certain he could do it.

Suddenly Sam was in his face, talking slow like he was some kind of damn retard. “We’re not walking, Dean. We’re finding shelter before you go into hypothermia. Hypothermia is serious. It can kill you.”

“Hypa, whata?” Dean’s mouth couldn’t fit around the word, and his voice sounded slurred. How strange.

“Shit!” Sam shouted. Then he clenched Dean’s arm with his big meaty paw and tugged his brother along the relatively flat surface near the shore, walking way too fast and determined, breathing labored, eyes darting here and there as he searched for some sort of shelter.

The frantic thoughts jamming Sam’s head caused his ears to ring and his stomach to flip flop wildly. Bile rushed up the back of his throat, but he pushed it down. If he’d had the luxury of a free moment, he was pretty sure he would have fallen to his knees and puked up what was left of the sausage and bell pepper pizza they’d for lunch. But that was just the point: He didn’t have a free moment. He knew about hypothermia, knew about it first hand. And it scared him just as much as any of the supposedly mythical creatures he and his brother encountered on a weekly basis.

During his first year at Stanford Sam’s roommate Chandra, a nice guy fresh from India, talked him into joining a group of Chandra’s polo teammates for a hike in the Sierra Nevadas. They’d drive out in the morning, hike until early evening, and be back in the dorms by 7:00 pm – 8:00 if they hit traffic, because in the Bay area you never knew when the freeways were going to be jammed up. It had been unseasonably warm in early April, so he and Chandra didn’t think to bring anything other than their hoodies for protection against the weather, and neither had most of the other guys. Which normally wouldn’t have been a problem, except for a freak storm that swept in by midday, just when they were near the summit of one of the loftier peaks. Even in the middle of summer 7,000 feet can be pretty cold, but during early April it was downright frigid.

Sam didn’t think much about it when Chandra began to complain about the cold. The guy liked to talk. Make that loved to talk; him with his accented, clipped English. He talked all day and half the night about anything and everything: the weather, last night’s wrestling match, even the sights on the street: (“Oh, Sam, look at that blue two-door Mustang GT. The blonde lady inside is smiling at you. She is wearing a green dress. Maybe she wants a date with you? Go for it, you stud muffin, you.”) In fact, he talked so much about such inconsequential things that sometimes Sam suspected him of doing nothing more than practicing his English.

Anyhow, one moment Chandra was complaining about the cold, and the next he was shivering like an epileptic and wandering off the trail, glassy-eyed and confused. Luckily, one of the polo team players was pre-Med and recognized the symptoms of hypothermia right away. He made Chandra lie down and everyone donated their jackets to make a nice, cozy warm cocoon for him while they figured out how to get down the mountain and to the hospital if he took a turn for the worse. Which he did. Sam remembered helping three other guys hump the dead weight of his delirious roommate down the mountain at light speed. Once they finally got to the car it took another forever driving down curvy mountain roads to get to the hospital, where Chandra earned an overnight stay and the admonition of the emergency room doctor to never, ever climb a mountain without the proper gear, because he seriously could have died. The memory left a bad taste in Sam’s mouth. And, admittedly, he was already feeling raw and bludgeoned and rather paranoid. It had only been few months since Dean had nearly died and Dad had died.

“Where are we going?” Dean asked, his voice thick and his tone kind of quiet and wondering, like he couldn’t fathom Sam’s panic.

“Good question,” Sam answered tersely. They hadn’t seen any signs of human habitation during the wild, headlong chase after the yeti, but this was Wisconsin, not Alaska, so Sam figured that they weren’t in the middle of some unpopulated, 800 square-mile nature preserve. The frozen lake, picturesque and calm, looked as though it would make a nice vacation spot, so more than likely there were houses and people and medical facilities around somewhere. At least, in the summer. Of course, today was February 4th.

“Huh?” Dean asked. His skin under Sam’s grip felt like ice. The end of Dean’s stiff, frigid sleeve kept brushing against Sam’s hand, reminding him that precious warmth was draining from his soaking wet body with every passing second.

“Never mind,” Sam said. “I’m going to take care of you.”

It was getting hard to see already, the light vanishing quickly. The little patches of snow nestled in the lee of rocks and under shady stretches of pines and in the cleft of hills were the only features that stood out with any real clarity. The lake appeared still and glassy, and the treetops surrounding it swayed back and forth, black against a dark gray sky. The wind, which had been had been gusting all day, sounded great and terrible and unstoppable, a huge whoosh that went on and on.

They stumbled along the lakeshore, over ground filled with rocks and fallen trees and waist high ferns. Dean kept jerking his arms in what Sam at first thought was an attempt to free himself from Sam’s grasp. But when Sam glanced back at his brother, he saw that the jerks were only the result of Dean’s increasingly violent shivering.

Sam felt pretty cold himself, now that the sweat from their headlong chase after the monster was drying on his skin. He had to keep stretching his fingers to make sure they continued to work and his ears felt encased in ice. Strange, the little details that occur to a guy when he’s trying to save his brother’s life.

Of course, they wouldn’t have this particular problem at all if said infuriating brother had waited for him instead of taking on the frickin’ creature all by himself. But that was Dean for you. Angry, reckless, downright frightening Dean. Yeah, he could make it back to the car. Right. Already, he was weaving around like his legs were made of wood instead of flesh. Sam glanced at him; his eyes were taking on that glazed, quiet look, the same one that he’d gotten back in the cabin when the demon in Dad’s body had split his chest open. It scared the hell out of Sam.

“Come on, Dean. You can do it. I’m not letting you give up on me now.” Sam’s voice sounded strange to his own ears. Breathless and frantic and half-choked with fear. “Come on, come on,” he murmured, again and again.

Dean raised his head, looked at Sam, all puzzled, his eyebrows pulling together. Sam could practically hear his thoughts: Dude, what is your problem?

Then his head lolled down again. He seemed fascinated by his jeans plastered to his legs. “Numb. Nuuuuuumb,” he muttered, apparently liking the sound of that word on his tongue. “And heavy.”

Dean seemed to get slower by the second. Sam tugged him on, faster and more frantically, and Dean began to stumble like a drunkard. He gave a strange moaning kind of protest and crashed to his knees once – then twice. Sam looped his arm around Dean’s waist and practically hefted him up on his hip, like a child.

And just when some serious panic had begun to flood through him, Sam saw it, half-hidden in the overgrowth. A cabin, wooden and weather-beaten and obviously deserted. Thank God! Sam felt weak with relief, all of a sudden. They dragged up the steps, tripping, making the wood creak and moan, and Sam didn’t even try the door knob; he just flung them into the door, busting it open with a crash.

Dean raised his head at the noise of the door splintering. Huh. A wooden building … some sort of cabin? Maybe Sam would stop dragging him all over God’s creation now. Somehow then, Dean found himself lying on the floor, on a dusty, braided rug, looking into the empty black maw of a fireplace. His body was moving on its own, his arms frozen to his side, fingers bent like claws, legs twitching as though he was trying to run in place. He tried to stop the shivering, tried to sit up and look around, but his body just wouldn’t obey.

He could hear Sam moving around desperately, rummaging through cabinets and cursing softly as he dug through drawers and closets. Sam seemed everywhere at once, dumping a pile of stinking, moldy old blankets on top of Dean, then tossing old magazines and newspapers into the fireplace and lugging logs in from beside the front porch. Dean watched him dazedly as he set up a tower of sticks and logs and pawed through the ancient matchbox to strike a match. Sam’s hands were shaking so hard that it took him three tries to start the fire. Dean watched the little yellow flames as they flared, then turned blue, blackening the paper and curling around the twigs in wreaths of smoke.

Sam bent over him and clawed at Dean’s clothing, his expression strained and sweat beaded on his forehead.

“Leave me ‘lone,” Dean stammered, trying to fight off his brother’s hands as he shrugged Dean out of his leather jacket and fumbled at his shirt and boots. When he grabbed for Dean’s belt buckle he got really worried. Sammy--what the hell? Trying to grope him? He slapped at his brother, making outraged noises, fought and twisted around until Sam pinned him down with an elbow to his neck and shouted in his face: “I have to get you warm, you idiot! Let me do this or I’ll knock you out first!”

The ferocity in his brother’s face surprised Dean, and he stopped fighting, just lay there all wet and helpless and twitching as Sammy pulled layer after layer of clothing off him and draped them around the room, on the rickety old mantle and a couple of half-broken chairs that sat near the fireplace. By the time Sam set Dean’s boots in front of the fire and pulled the tongues out so that they’d dry, Dean was completely naked, shivering violently under the scratchy old blankets.

Sam sat back on his haunches, elbows on his knees, and stared at his brother, who lay watching him silently, wondering why Sam still looked so worried.

“It’s been a half an hour since we got in here and your lips are still blue,” Sam said suddenly, then lay down on the braided rug and pulled the blankets over them both, his long, hard arms snaking around his brother, pulling him back against a broad, hard, warm chest, and holding him there, his legs moving in to curl up around Dean’s naked ass, frickin’ spooning him.

“Sam!” Dean cried, seizing up and struggling. This was just beyond weird.

Sam hugged him closer, his muscles tightening, his voice harsh and determined: “Stop it, Dean! I’m not going to let you die because you can’t stand to be touched. You need to be warmed up, and right now I’m the only option you have. You hear me? You need this.”

“I don’t need it, Sam. Let me go,” he said in a furious, strangled tone.

“No,” his brother replied, breath warm in his ear.

“I’m better. Really.” His muscles were seized up, tight as springs ready to break.

“Yeah, sure. Why don’t you just get up and walk back to the car then?” Sam said, managing to sound annoyed and amused at the same time.

Dean glanced up, out the begrimed window, to the pitch darkness outside. When had night fallen?

Sam sighed, suddenly placating. “Relax, Dean. Come on, okay? Just let me take care of you for once. Remember when I was small, and Dad was out on a hunt and there was one of those Midwestern lightning storms or I had a nightmare or we’d just watched Bozo the Clown on tv? ”

Dean snorted despite himself. “Yeah, I remember.”

“I would be so scared that I’d beg you to let me sleep with you. Remember that? It made everything better for a while.”

He did remember his little brother, tears springing from his eyes, fists clutched in his blanket. “Please, Dean, let me stay with you!” And of course Dean couldn’t resist the scared little kid, let him crawl into Dean’s bed and snuggle into his side, head buried in Dean’s neck. He remembered Sammy’s chubby soft arms and contented sigh, his complete trust that somehow Dean would save him from everything that was wrong in his world.

“Do you know how many times you’ve done what had to be done because I needed it?” Sam asked. “I can’t even count them. Well, now you need something. Let me do this, Dean. Let me help you. I want to. Please. Just this once.”

Dean’s knee-jerk reaction was: “No!”

But Sam sounded so earnest. So frustrated. And it reminded Dean of that clinic back in Oregon, when Sam was infected by the demon virus and they thought he was going to die, how he wanted Dean to live, how he begged for it, but there were some things that Dean just wouldn’t do, and leaving his brother to die alone wasn’t one of them.

This, though, wasn’t that bad, not really. And Sam sounded sincere, like he really wanted to help, like it would be a fucking gift to him if he helped. So Dean swallowed his pride and his distaste and decided to give in. He would let his brother care for him, even though he really didn’t need it, and thought Sam was being an overreactive sissy.

He gave a short nod, willed himself to relax, to endure. If this was what Sam wanted, if it made him feel important, well then he could give the kid that, too.

He felt Sam smiling. “Thanks, Dean. Don’t worry. We won’t ever talk of this again.”

“Better not,” Dean grumbled, and turned his head to look into the flames.

Moments ticked by, slow moments in which Sam’s arm relaxed incrementally, his breathing slowed and his body wound down and he fell asleep. For a while, Dean thought he’d never stop shivering and bucking and trembling. But slowly, ever so slowly, he began to warm up, and his twitching became less and less frequent until finally it had stopped altogether. By then, the fire had nearly burned down into red, glowing coals. Sam murmured something in his sleep, like he used to when he was small, and nuzzled Dean in the neck, his soft curly hair tickling Dean’s skin.

Dean became aware of the shadows dancing in the little cabin, the sound of his brother’s deep breathing, the noise of the wind outside, deep and low and terrible. Sam shifted a little, threw an arm over his head, and Dean smelled him – Old Spice deodorant and sweat and blood from the hunt. The scent jolted him, like a blow to the nose. Only this felt worse. Much worse. Because it brought up a distant and familiar memory, one that he’d secreted away in the deep reaches of his brain …

Suddenly, a fist seemed to close off Dean’s windpipe, and seized his chest in terrible pain. A memory rose up and consumed him: Dad holding him when he was small, his strong, hard arms wrapped around Dean’s body, making him feel safe and protected and loved in a way just as powerful as Mom’s arms did, but with a different, harder, stronger edge. Dad smelled like Old Spice and tobacco and motor oil. His voice, low and gentle, murmured in his ear: “It’s okay, Deanie. I’ve got you. I’ve got you now.”

The pain in his throat grew and grew, until it punctured his skin like barbed wire, shredding the muscles, popping tendons, squeezing out blood until it leaked from his eyes in terrible, hot, unstoppable tears. Now he was shaking again, this time with emotion, and memories, and such an intense longing for his Dad that he thought he just might crack open and bleed out right then and there, on the floor of this deserted cabin in the middle of the damn Wisconsin woods.

Sam startled awake. He’d just closed his eyes for a moment, when at last it seemed that Dean’s color had improved and his shivering had lessened. But now it was back. Dean lay on his side, his body tight as a stretched bow. Awful, pained sounds emanated from his throat. Tortured sounds.

Sam rose up on his elbow, pulled Dean’s shoulder back so that he could see his brother’s face, worried that he was having some sort of seizure. Dean turned away, tried to hide his face, but not soon enough. Sam glimpsed the tears on his cheeks. Sobbing. Dean was sobbing.

“Dean … what is it? What’s wrong?” He asked, worried that something awful had happened while he slept.

Dean shied away, pushed himself up into a sitting position, his hands on his thighs and head turned away, trying to control himself and failing.

Sam put a hand on his bare back, smoothed the tense muscles there. “Dean … please. Tell me. What is it?”

Dean tried to open his mouth, tried to speak, but the words wouldn’t come out. He struggled with himself. Tears dripped off his chin to land on his thigh.

Sam took a stab in the dark. “Is it Dad?”

After a moment, Dean said, “Yeah. I think so.” He took a breath, succeeded in choking the sobs down. “No. It … Fuck. I don’t know. Just give me a minute, okay?”

“Yeah. Okay.”

They sat in silence, listening to Dean’s harsh breathing for what seemed like half an hour. Dean’s tears dried and he reached over to the fire to stoke it again with a couple of sticks and a short log that Sam had left next to the fireplace.

Then, just as Sam was about to open his mouth to make some lame, unnecessary comment, a howl split through the woods. Close by, desolate and desperate and lonely. Terrible and eerie in a way that ghosts and demons and dead things never sounded. A wolf: looking for its pack. The howl ended on a disjointed note, sad and pathetic.

“Poor bastard,” Dean commented.

Sam gave a short, surprised laugh. Dean. Always the smart ass. “Don’t worry. He’ll find his pack.”

Dean looked at his brother, his face shadowed. “Yeah? What if he’s—” He broke off.

“What? What if he’s a werewolf?”

Dean snorted. “No. Who thinks that? You’re a freak, dude. Seriously.”

Like he didn’t already know that. “Then what?”

The howl came again, louder this time. Closer.

When it ended, Dean asked quietly, “What if he’s alone?”

Sam watched his brother’s still profile, composed and quiet, and a slow epiphany rolled through him. Ah. So this was it.

“He’s not,” Sam assured him.

“How do you know?”

“I know about wolves. They’re pack animals; it’s in their nature.” Dean stared at him, plainly skeptical, until Sam said defensively: “Seriously. I took a class: general ed, freshman year. California Wildlife. The professor talked a lot about wolves. And yes, I know that we’re not in California. But the wolves here aren’t that much different from the ones there.”

“So now you’re an expert, huh? Then answer me this: if they’re so social how did the term ‘lone wolf’ come about?”

Sam sighed, but held Dean’s gaze. Such a stubborn man, his brother. “He’s not alone, Dean. Trust me on this. He’s not.”

Dean opened his mouth to reply, then shut it again. The quiet stretched out, moment by moment. Sam hoped he hadn’t lied. Finally, it came, in the distance: a chorus of howls, faint at first, but growing stronger as more voices joined in. The pack, responding at last, calling for their absent brother. Son. Father. The lone wolf gave an answering howl, this one the loudest of all. Sam imagined he could hear the padding of the wolf’s feet as he trotted off in the direction of his pack, eyes glinting silver in the moonlight.

Sam felt his lips curve into a smile, relieved that he wasn’t full of shit after all. “See?”

Dean held Sam’s gaze for a long moment before saying quietly, “Yeah.” He took a breath, and smiled at Sam, slow and genuine. “Yeah.”

 

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