Pairing/Characters: Sam/Dean; Sam, Dean, John
Word Count: 3184
Warnings: off-screen cannibalism, body horror
Summary: Sometimes—lately, especially—he thinks about what it would be like to eat something really, desperately hot—Sam's heat, the fever-warmth that comes off him in this tiny space.
Notes: I haven't posted any fic since September and I haven't written a one-shot since April which is....just an indication of how shitty this year has been.So uhhh indulging my thing(s) for wendigo lore and cannibalism on the hottest Christmas day on record in Texas. Neat.
The story Sam reads is "The Wendigo," from the classic Alvin Schwartz Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark collection. [thumbs up]
The food is gone.
When they first blew inside on the last rush of autumn air, there was plenty of it. Dad showed them the cellar. There was a game freezer down there, abandoned like the rest of it, packed with ice and plastic-sealed chops and sausages and ground beef, vacuum bags full of wild rabbit and venison, unlabelled packages of homemade jerky. Cans of store-bought fruit and mason jars of preserves, gallons upon gallons of water in milk jugs, lined up along the frigid cinderblock wall. Once upon a time it was someone's escape route, a shelter, but the headstone a mile into the fields says no one needs it anymore, no one but them.
Dad took the car and most of the guns. Dad said he'd be back as soon as possible. Dad said, don't ask around. I need radio silence on this case. You'll be fine, he said. No one will bother you out here.
Way off County Highway 55. No one will bother them here.
The thermometer hanging on the wall of the front porch isn't working. There's nowhere lower for the mercury to go. For miles and miles in every direction North Dakota is a wasteland, a thick crust of ice and snow so deep it eats up to Dean's thighs, sinks like sand into his boots, bites his toes through his wool socks. He couldn't walk the highway even if he could find it.
In the morning he puts on two sweatshirts and his own coat and Sam's coat, too, and goes out for only a minute, to see if, past the black skeleton trees and the rippling snow, he can see the dark ice on the road, or the passing sheen of a distant car, or the smoke of someone's chimney on the horizon. After five minutes in the wind his face goes numb and he hurries back in.
Sam, sitting close enough to the fireplace to singe his knees, looks up at him, orange-lit. Dean shakes his head.
Dad left them here at the end of November. Didn't say when he'd be back. Back then, the freezer and the jars had seemed like too much.
It's January, and the food is gone.
The house is two stories—white—the kind of white that can easily get lost in a winter like this. Before the chill set in, before everything stiffened and died and rooted into place, they dared to wander down to the road; now there's no guarantee they could ever find their way back.
Sam insists they stay inside.
Their mistake was to eat like kings. They fell into it like a fox steps into a trap. Some of it they ruined—Dean's no cook—but they ate it anyway, safely tucked away in the comparative warmth of early December, before the first blizzard, when the sun still shone in a sharp blue sky. Sam turned the radio all the way up, and Dean lit the gas stove, let it warm their faces and their fingers while frozen butter melted in the cast-iron pan and hot grease spat into their eyes. Fruit and ptarmigan and rabbit and jellies and salt and fat and cheese—nothing filled Dean up the way watching Sam eat did—it was so rare, so special, to eat their fill for once. Good food. Warm rooms.
The second floor has fallen through into the back porch and the wind comes through its roof slats and broken glass at angles, but the kitchen and the front room and the cold door to the cellar were good enough, when the doors are closed; and they ate in front of the fireplace, cross-legged on the dusty rug, and stripped down naked every night to squeeze into the same sleeping bag and feed on each other's warmth.
When the cold hit, the cold wrapped its fingers around the windowpanes and the front door handle and held on tight, the cold stalked down like a beast. First one blizzard, and then another. And the phones don't work out here, and Dad's silence is big like the sky. And the colder it got the more they cooked and the more they ate and the more.
The food is gone. They don't talk about it. Sam is working his way through the sixteen limp, water-stained, curled-up books left on the bookshelf by the fire, and doesn't leave the sleeping bag except to take a piss or get closer to the heat; Dean lingers by the windows where his breath leaves crystals of frost.
There's a slowly-molding loaf of bread in one cabinet, a few packages of jerky. The game freezer is empty. The jars are empty.
Dean lingers by the windows where the sound of his growling stomach won't give him away.
They can live for three weeks without food—that doesn't worry him. Something will break before then. Either Dad will come back or the frost will retreat or someone will come by.
Behind him Sam turns a page.
“Little House on the Prairie,” Sam says, after dark. He's chewing on a piece of rabbit jerky like a cud in the lower corner of his mouth. “That's what it reminds me of.”
“When the trains can't get through. Seven months of blizzards? I don't think it happened that way.” The fire-light catches and pools in the hollows of Sam's eyes, the space beneath his lip. “But they eat bread and potatoes until someone brings them wheat. Nothing but bread and potatoes. For weeks.”
“Kill for some potatoes right now.”
“They didn't even try to send the trains. Too dangerous.”
Dean's feet are tucked beneath the rug, where it's warmest. “If it's a little better tomorrow we could maybe walk back to Walhalla.”
Sam shakes his head. “Don't be stupid.”
“But if it's warm.”
“People die ten feet from their houses in cold like this,” Sam says, with every inch of finality an eighteen-year-old can muster. “Ten feet from their cars.”
Sam throws the last of his rabbit jerky at him, and Dean catches it, slips it into his mouth.
He shifts the sleeping bag closer to the fire, leans in inches from it to get undressed, peeling off his socks, pants, three shirts, underwear; in a dark corner of the room Sam is bending, shivering, over the radio, tuning it with bright white fingers. Traffic and weather on the eights. He hops back across the cold floor to Dean and the sleeping bag, stands ankles to Dean's shoulder to get undressed, too, and punch and shove his way into the bag beside his brother while Merle Haggard winds up and the breathless woman in Grand Forks shifts onto the airspace.
Dean can barely hear her over the rustling of the bag and the loud, harsh sound of Sam's breathing in his ear as he gets comfortable, cramped inside a space only meant for one, but already Dean is grateful for the raw heat of Sam's body pressed up against his. He catches only snatches of the weather, but it sounds like cold and more cold, sounds like a pile-up near Langdon on the 5, sounds like black ice and arctic winds.
It's hard to sleep in cold like this, with stomachs so thin and air so heavy outside, and no hope for any phone to ring. Only hope for dreamlessness; it comes eventually.
The stairs are slick with icy halfway up, crested in spires like Dean's only seen on snowglobes. Sam declined to come with him. He's melting snow over the fire in the closed-up room.
The air hits his face like a slap when he steps up above the fallen slats of the roof, and he scrambles to pull his hat down over his ears. He blinks, rests his shotgun in the corner of his elbow, reaches up to cover his face and melt the tears that have frozen over his eyes, curses softly. The sound doesn't travel. It falls into the snow and dies there.
Dean turns out of the wind, settles himself gently on a sturdy slat. He can see the tops of the trees, black witch fingers reaching forward, too sharp for any bird to settle on, but he's hoping. If he can just get something—something with meat on its bones—something to keep them going until evening tomorrow. He'll feel better about all this.
He's too cold, all the time, to be truly worried. He knows that's a problem. Knows people die on mountain summits because they just stop caring.
Dean waits for ten minutes, rests his gun across his legs briefly to melt his eyes again. Every time he blinks his eyelashes stick together, heavy and wet. He tries not to look at the snow, tries to focus on dark things around him, the fallen roof, the trees. They hurt his eyes less.
He's starting to shiver. Not a single thing has stirred out here. But he's afraid to take his eyes off the trees, just in case.
Downstairs, in the closed-up room, there's probably snowmelt boiling over the fire. Maybe Sam has found something they overlooked. Maybe when he goes down he'll find potatoes, like he wanted. A hot, skin-split potato, too hot to hold—Dean exhales a cloud of breath. He'd kill a man for that.
Water will only take the edge off for so long.
Every minute drags like a crippled thing across the front of Dean's brain and after a few more of them he calls it quits, slip-stomps his way back down the stairs, leaves his gun by the door of the front room and slips inside, shuddering hard. It's warm in here, radiant. He can feel himself thawing already.
Sam looks up at him. There's nothing on the fire but the pot of water, and he's edging it out with a pot-holder they snagged from the kitchen. “Told you it was pointless.”
“Shut up,” Dean chatters, and Sam does. He holds out a cracked coffee mug of steaming water to his brother, and Dean takes it in his gloved hands, keeps it close to his face. He sits down cross-legged next to Sam. He can feel his teeth rattling in his head.
Sam reaches up. The fingertip he touches to the tip of Dean's nose feels almost scalding hot. Dean hisses, and Sam says, “You're all white in the face.”
Dean's teeth are clattering too hard for him to answer. He takes a sip of scalding water. Closes his eyes. It feels like fire going down, a good fire.
When he opens his eyes again, Sam's face is heavy with concern.
“You're gonna get frostbite,” he says. “Your nose is gonna fall off. You're not gonna be so pretty without your nose.”
The levity in his voice falls flat. Dean cracks half a smile for effort.
“Know something stupid?”
He crowds up close to Sam, bumping shoulders. Sam leans obligingly into him.
“I forgot birds go south for the winter.”
“Thought that counts,” says Sam.
In the cellar, they count two packets of jerky, six slices of bread in a faded plastic package, and half a jar of red jelly.
“Okay,” Dean says. “We can stretch this. The weather lady said it'd warm up a little on Friday—” He squints his eyes closed, sighs. “I forget what day it is.”
“Wednesday,” Sam says. “We are not walking back to Walhalla.”
“If it's sunny—”
“Two degrees and snow blindness. No thanks.”
Dean opens the game freezer, as if it will have filled back up again in the night. Of course it hasn't.
He stands there, staring into it, daydreaming about meat hidden under layers of tight, packed ice, until Sam says, “Do you think Dad's dead?”
Dean glances at him over his shoulder. Swallows the sudden lump in his throat. “Don't say that.”
“It's been almost two months,” Sam says. His shoulders are angled uneasily.
“He's been gone longer than that before.”
“Don't act like you haven't thought about it.”
“Dude,” Dean says, “shut up.”
Sam does. He takes the package of bread under his arm and pushes the jerky toward Dean. Dean looks at it with distaste. At first it had been a novelty—rabbit jerky. Now it just reminds him how hungry he is, how badly it sits inside him.
Dean turns the radio down before he crawls into the sleeping bag, turns to face Sam's back where he lies on his side, reading by the light of the fire.
He presses up close to him, kisses his neck softly; Sam hums; he's not in the mood. Dean rests a hand on Sam's bare hip anyway. Sometimes—lately, especially—he thinks about what it would be like to eat something really, desperately hot—Sam's heat, the fever-warmth that comes off him in this tiny space.
The book Sam is reading is thin. The illustration on the page Dean can see is pencil, smudged, strangled, unnerving.
“What is that?”
“Tell me one.” Dean squeezes gently at the flesh beneath his hand. They may be starving, but Sam's still got meat where it counts, where it looks good on him.
Sam shifts; Dean leans forward a little into the press of his shoulder-blades. He reaches up one hand between their bodies to trace the hills of Sam's vertebrae.
“A wealthy man wanted to go hunting in a part of northern Canada where few people had ever hunted,” Sam reads. Dean can't tell whether the shivering of his long fingers on the page are from cold or the touch of Dean's hand. “He traveled to a trading post and tried to find a guide to take him. But no one would do it. It was too dangerous, they said.”
“I know this one,” Dean murmurs.
“Finally, he found an Indian who needed money badly, and he agreed to take him. The Indian's name was DéFago.”
Dean lets his eyes droop, lets Sam's voice blur out until it's hazy at the edges, golden like the fire-light. His toes are cold, even inside the sleeping bag; he can hear the wind howling at the door. He lets his hand drift until he feels Sam's pulse inside his leg, beating slow and steady, pumping hot blood through him.
“But the wind continued to call to him,” Sam reads, “and DéFago became more tense and more restless.”
He's so hungry. Something warm, anything.
“Then the wind called again, and DéFago broke loose and ran into the darkness.”
“The hunter could hear him screaming as he went.”
Dean knows this one. It's a wendigo story. Man-eater.
Sam's pulse is pitching up, almost imperceptibly.
“'Oh, my fiery feet, my burning feet of fire...'”
Sam pauses, and Dean doesn't say anything. He's starting to drift off. Sam is warm and soft and good against him.
Dean doesn't answer.
He falls asleep with the story unfinished, and Sam's hand pressing back, laid against his own leg, his own pulse beating. He falls asleep wondering when they'll beat in rhythm.
Sam brings him what he asks for from the kitchen. They don't go in there anymore. Nothing to heat up, no reason to let drafts slip from room to room.
Sam brings him the biggest knife he could find, towels from a paint-stuck drawer. A tiny bottle of hotel whiskey that was buried at the bottom of someone's bag.
They won't die without food. They have a week left at least. Enough snow outside to give them water forever. Dean is used to the squeeze of hunger in his gut. He knows Sam is, too. But they're sluggish, exhausted, weaker every day. The jerky is gone, the bread gone to rot. If only for their sanity, if only to be able to sleep, they need to eat something.
Only if I do it too, Sam said. As if that made it smarter, more justified. Only if we both do it.
Dean rolls up the arm of his sweatshirt. Sam places the flat head of a fire poker into the coals and watches.
It doesn't hurt as much as he had expected. He's too far back in his head to feel it. A draft has started to come in under the door; their fire is guttering. If they don't do something now, he has a dread that they won't do anything in time.
Dean cuts a rectangle, as long as his thumb and half as wide across as his palm, into the soft flesh of his upper forearm—slowly, precisely, angling the knife with his index finger.
Without being asked, Sam douses the cuts in whiskey, and that's when the pain hits Dean like a gunshot, but he grits his teeth, angles the knife sideways, leans into it—Sam's hand is on his knee now, his eyes wide in the light.
It isn't perfect. It's a piece of meat half the size of a deck of cards, and it drops heavily from Dean's raised arm onto the towel laid out between them, and when Dean exhales it hurts abruptly and incredibly.
He bites back a strangled noise, and before he can truly feel the pain Sam grasps his arm, pulls it out, lifts the poker from the fire and presses it gently to the weeping wound.
Dean swallows his scream—his whole body is shaking, and Sam is hushing him like he's a frightened animal, and Dean smells flesh burning—
—if his mouth waters only the slightest bit—
—and then it's over, and Sam is dousing a towel in whiskey and gently dabbing at the charred, red, weeping skin, and then he reaches into his duffel by the fire for a roll of the bandages they always keep.
Dean is surprised at how Sam is. Wrapping his arm like any other wound in the smell of burning hair and singed skin.
“You don't have to,” Dean says. His voice is hoarse.
“I'm hungry,” Sam says.
He holds out his hand for the knife.
Dad asks, four days later, shaking snow from his hands and his head, blue with cold, what happened to their arms, to their legs. The near-identical bandages, bulging under their clothes, the smell of whiskey and smoke floating in the tight, drafty room. He doesn't see the poker, what's burnt onto it, its blood-slickness, in the corner.
Dad asks, but they won't say.
Sometimes in winter Dean can still taste it in the back of his throat, like a meal he swallowed too fast.
Sam says he can, too.
Oh, my fiery feet, Dean hums, Sam backed up against the radiator in the third room this month, biting softly at the rectangle scar between Sam's thighs, where the skin is flushed and his pulse beats hard, my burning feet of fire--
“Dean,” Sam whimpers, raw, kiss-slick. Head still halfway back in Blackwater Ridge, still thirty miles from Walhalla, still six feet deep in winter.
At his naked back the window shivers, fogs with his heat. The cold taps once, and then moves on.